Nowt fishy as Rachel cook(e)s up Mackem treat

What a brilliant April Fool wheeze.

My friend Rachel Cooke, a bright, funny and award-winning writer on the Observer, drew on her own lifelong support of Sunderland to dream up a seemingly serious review of Alice in Sunderland. This, she said, was a brand new book exploring far-fetched links between the North East, and Wearside in particular, and Lewis Carroll and his great creation, Alice in Wonderland.

I half imagined Rachel pitching the idea at an editorial conference, seeing off a dozen other contenders from around the paper, getting the go-ahead and then composing a bogus critique that would be so good, so persuasive that it would hoodwink readers into believing it was the real thing.

It took me an entire ferry trip from one side of the Channel to the other, once I’d scoured my edition of the Observer in vain for a proper report of Cardiff 0 Sunderland 1, to get the joke. It was April 1 and I’d fallen for what the French call a poisson d’avril.

But no sooner had I decided that this must be a spoof than a text version of “phone a friend” revealed the even more shocking truth: Bryan Talbot’s work was for real, a “graphic novel” according to the publishers, Jonathan Cape, and a “wise and witty” book in the words of the newspaper’s headline writer. How could I have doubted you, Rachel?

READ ON and you’ll see that there’s a free copy of this fascinating sounding book going spare for one lucky reader of Salut! Sunderland.

Rachel Cook’s review says Alice in Sunderland is a book “so full of facts it would make your head ache if it didn’t look so beautiful”.

She describes the years of painstaking research and artistic endeavour devoted by Talbot, an admirer of Lewis Carroll and resident in Sunderland since his wife got a university job there, to establishing Alice in Wonderland‘s Mackem connections. Carroll’s family, it appears, hailed from the North East as did the family of Alice Liddell, his inspiration for Alice.

Not much to do with SAFC, you may be thinking. But look at the drawings, with Red and White imagery sitting alongside solid historical detail.

If we take Rachel’s word for it (my copy is on its way), this is a magical book and anyone with a love of the North East and its traditions would find it fascinating. But she says her opinion would be the same without her Mackem roots (a great granddad was a shop steward in the shipyards and chopped up dining table chairs for firewood during the 1920s strikes).

And very soon I will be setting an appropriate little competition to mark the forthcoming 5,000th visit to Salut! Sunderland. Modest but encouraging progress – thanks to all those who have strayed in here occasionally or see it as a place worth returning to over and again.

Imagine: you might win the book just as – or better still, just before – Sunderland clinch promotion.

* Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot. Published: Jonathan Cape, £16.99

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