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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...To Us He Gives The Keeping...", 6 Dec 2010
By 
Mark Barry "Mark Barry" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
When I read Ian Clayton's "Bringing It All Back Home", I was quietly blown away. Ballbreakingly funny, incisively articulate and bursting to the gills with gloriously recalled memories of music and its effect on his life - I loved every noun-filled page of it. But there was an unexpected hammerblow at the end of his debut. A huge and terrible personal tragedy had befallen him, his wife Heather and their twin son Edward and "Our Billie" is his reaction to that loss - the drowning of their 9-year old daughter in a freak boating accident in 2006.

His wife Heather (and Billie's mother) wittily characterises her hubby as a "...a working class tough guy who knows a lot of big words..." Freelance writer and broadcaster for 25 years, widely travelled in the USA, Europe and even Russia, Clayton is a stoical Yorkshireman whose led writer's workshops in Prisons, Hospitals, Schools and Art Centres. He has a self-deprecating style that suits his down-to-earth honesty. You can 'feel' the warmth of the man and the strength of his family.

So why did he write this book? As the father of a 19-year old Autistic son myself, I know so well his all-abiding need to make her life matter - for her not to be just another statistic on an ignored Government list somewhere. Clayton wants his Billie to be remembered. She was a real person who once laughed and had hopes and dreams like the rest of us. And in this book, he needed to get across a lot of information that is difficult to say - and painful to revisit. And yet he's managed to dig deep and chronicle his family's cruel loss with courage and an almost unbearable poignancy.

Reading "Our Billie" (named after Billie Holiday), you also get the sense of how much the grieving process distorts everything - days become detached and unreal - the intense missing of her comes on him in waves. It abates of course with time, but it never goes away - nor in many ways would he want it to. A downside however (if you could call it that) is that there are frustrating chapters that seem to break the flow - stuff on the Miner's Strike - on his unfathomable father - on Sarajevo - subjects that seem strangely at odds with the title of the book. But then as you read between the lines, you realise that what you're really getting is his anger and mounting rage coming out `sideways' (there was also an ugly court case regarding the hire company's reckless endangerment of life). I suppose we all use subtle defence mechanisms when real hurt is involved.

But then just as the heartache threatens to swallow everything whole - he hits you with wonderfully recalled memories that bring the beautifully photogenic child on the front cover to life...that realize her spirit. When Billie picked up a stranded worm after a rainstorm and placed it in the grass again so that it could wriggle its way back to its family - when she giggled with pleasure at her no-nonsense 90-year old Aunt Alice who complained about the hardness of the carrots on her plate in a posh restaurant - feeding her army of 30 Teddy Bears and Dolls in her bedroom with cough syrup lest any of them get sick - standing at a wall overlooking a stream in Whitby when a kingfisher zipped by... This was a girl who had a teeshirt that said "Be Happy" (she was laid to rest in it).

The aftermath for the Clayton family is spoken about in shockingly candid detail too - coping with it, not coping with it. His own helplessness on the day as the river's current physically beat him and the sweating water nightmares that followed for months - hearing the lyrics to "Tom Traubert's Blues" by Tom Waits where the beaten soldier ruminates that "...everything's broken..." - crossing a field and remembering a fence he once leapfrogged just to hear her laugh - their son Edward sobbing as Jon Voight tries to wake Dustin Hoffman on the bus into Miami at the end of "Midnight Cowboy" - his wife not being able to look at the last school photograph of her on her bedroom wall - the awkward silence of friends in local pubs who just don't know what to say except to offer him a pint...

This is a father who has lost his daughter - a once living breathing hopeful creature who enchanted everyone she ever met - and he 'needs' to make her loss matter. "Our Billie" is not an easy read for sure, but it is a moving one. And as I look at her photograph - I wish I'd met her - shook her hand and told her how utterly brill she was.

Off the coast of Cleveland in the USA, a boat was shipwrecked on a stormy night for want of 'lower lights' from the town on the shore to guide it into safety. In 1871 a moved Phillip Bliss published a hymn about the avoidable tragedy called "Keep The Lower Lights Burning". It's subsequently become known as the 'Lighthouse Hymn' and the author sings it to himself sometimes when he's out walking where his daughter walked.

A lyric from it titles this review.

"Keep The Lower Lights Burning" - A Hymn From 1871

1. Brightly beams our Father's mercy,
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Refrain:
Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor struggling, fainting seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Refrain

2. Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

Refrain

3. Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Things Bright and beautiful, 9 April 2010
By 
M. Prest "maureen prest" (Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.....
This song could have been written for Billie Holiday Clayton, the daughter of Ian, the word smith who has just taken me through the pages of his book "Our Billie",
it is every parents worst nightmare, the tragedy of losing a child, the grief, the guilt the sheer hell of a spring day's adventure which turns into the most tragic nightmare, a day which has turned all the families lives around and one which will be with them for the rest of their days.
It is the true story of the events of a spring day, when an innocent trip up a lazy river in a canoe, turns into a raging monster and swallows them up, spitting out the Father and son but swallowing the beautiful Billie, twin sister to Edward who survives.
This is the most moving story I have ever read, as Ian tells his story I am constantly pushing my feet into the soggy boots he has to borrow, as his own are swept away down the cruel river, trying to imagine how I would feel in the same circumstances, my heart goes out to all. At times I feel I am intruding, such is the talent of the writer.
This is the story of love and survival, not with the bitterness of the day, but with the wonderful strength of spirit, of a family determined to turn their own loss into a positive. Billie will never be forgotten, her memory will live on and shape the musical lives of the children of her home town of Featherstone, in Yorkshire, her family inspired by Billie's love of music, work ceaselessley raising funds to buy musical instruments for the children also providing the tuition to play them, who knows one day the "Billie Holiday Clayton Fund" will produce one musician she would have been proud of, who knows it may even be her twin brother Edward, who is studying the piano.
This is a book every parent should read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars our billie, 6 April 2010
By 
Mrs. Victoria H. Evans "torrie" (pontefract ,england) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
This has to be the best book i have read in a very,very long time,It has so many emotions,Each page you turn tells you another part of Billies,Ian's, Heathers and Edwards life,and holds new emotion, And holds so much History.As a mother i can empathize with the feelings within the book,The pain that was and indeed is still felt when the tragedy happened is raw,I have never cried so much reading a book before,Yet there is also a lot of happiness with in the pages too. I would recommend this book to everyone i could not put it down.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our Billie, 28 Nov 2010
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
I felt a certain amount of apprehension when I opened the book and saw the lovely photograph of Ian and Billie. But this book does not contain any false sentiment and is not misery lit.

Written from the heart, this is a beautiful honest book. Like 'Bringing it all back home' it takes you on a roller coaster ride and once you start reading, it is difficult to stop. Both books, I believe, deserve more than one read to be fully appreciated. Sometimes, not deliberately, we take the ones we love for granted and if this book does nothing more than cause you to appreciate your loved ones and give them a huge hug, then Ian's job is done.

My love to Ian, Heather and Edward.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Takes a Village, 27 April 2011
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
This book had every potential to be maudlin and over-dramatic. And yet, it is not. In fact, it is the best book I have ever read about loss... not just the loss of a child, which is the tragedy at the heart of the story, but the loss of community and of a way of life as well. Clayton writes beautifully about his home town of Featherstone and the changes that have beset it since the bitter miners' strike of 1984-85. There is much to mourn in what has been lost in the slow destruction of northern working-class culture. And yet, there is much to celebrate as well. For, what helps parents Ian and Heather and their son Edward, Billie's twin, through the horrific times, which are described in this book with honesty and a lack of self-pity, are the ties that continue to bind them to Featherstone and to the community that grieves right along with them and that ultimately helps pull them through. As an American anthropologist, who has a great affection for the once-industrial north of England, the evocation of former mining communities like Featherstone, a place where I have, in fact, spent some time, is part of the beauty and tender pain of this book. For American readers who are not familiar with this cultural millieu, you may struggle a bit with some of the references but the story is, in most respects, a universal one which is, in this case, particularly well-told. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to mourn for one as well. Throughout the difficult history of Thatcherite and post-Thatcher England, the village of Featherstone has endured, demonstrating that same kind of resilience that Ian, Heather and Edward also show in their coming to terms with what will always be, at some level, an unfathomable event in their lives.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poignant read., 5 Oct 2010
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
I bought this book after hearing Ian twice on Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2. I found it a very poignant read. The love that the whole family had/has for Billie shines through. Whilst read the book you get the feeling that Billie had an "old head on young shoulders." Interwoven with the story of Billie are Ian's recollections of Northern life and the miners strike. I have a queue of friends waiting to read this book. It is a story that will have a lasting impact on anyone who reads it. As a mother who has herself lost a child albeit in different circumstances, it makes you appreciate everything you have around you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, tender, honest - beautfiful, 25 Nov 2011
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
Books often select the reader. I approached this book with trepidation. I'm the father of two young children and the subject matter is every parents worst nightmare. One brief glance at the blurb had me thinking 'how on earth could anyone cope...' Let's then be clear, this wasn't a book I selected; it happened in reverse, it kind of chose me. Something in me told me it was worth reading. It reached out to me and having read it it is clear that the man who wrote it reaches out too. It's not just his story, it's mine too; and it's ours.
What's more it's not really a book about grief, though grief comes into it; for me it's a book about connections, about being human. Its also entertaining and humorous. It's kind of everything you don't expect it to be. And that's the great surprise; it's also what makes it beautiful. It's also honest. Just about the most honest book I've read.
Social research into happiness has proved that what makes people the happiest and most content is a sense of being connected, in other words how they connect within their family, their community and within their friendship groups. The more connected we are, the more contented we are. Money, research has proved, is the least important factor. Ian Clayton is connected and Our Billie is a book of intersecting lines of connectedness. People, stories, folklore, memories, family, history, community, childhood, parenthood, joy and woe all overlap and then fuse together to form a narrative that joins up not just how Ian arrived, but how he departed, how he travelled and the shattering heartbreak along the way. 'We don't live alone, we are members of one body..' wrote J.B. Priestley. We emphatically do not. Ian's grief, to many insurmountable, has been diffused through the love of family, friends and his local community. They shared it with him first; now we share it.
Something remarkable happens in this book: out of pain comes delight. Delight in the ordinary, the mundane, delight in nature, delight in the companionship of others, and delight in sharing time with a beautiful, special young child. It begins in tragedy, but ends in delight and wisdom and something else, a sense of otherness, that somehow we are all connected. For anyone who wants proof that finding the strength to go on and the possibility of future happiness is best found in being entwined with the lives of others, then read this book.
Bruno Bettelheim once wrote that 'raising children is a creative endeavor, an art rather than a science.' I believe Ian Clayton knows this more than probably all of us. From that same spirit of artistic endeavour comes something very rare, a book and a story that reaches out to the reader - a book that needs to be read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Message to the author..., 7 Mar 2011
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
Ian, I have just finished reading your beautiful book Our Billie. I simply could not put it down and didn't want to reach the end as I now feel bereft that your conversation with me is now over.

Yes, Ian, that is what the book feels like, a personal conversation between you and the reader - in this case me. I shall miss that continuing conversation.

I cried, of course I cried but you also made me laugh out loud with your wit and honesty. It is good to see that Edward has inherited those enchanting characteristics from you. You have a very special lad there and it's clear that you and Heather cherish him as much as you cherish the memory of your beautiful and talented daughter.

How you have survived such a tragedy and are able to talk and write about it with such humility and clarity of mind beats me. I am a Yorkshire lass myself and understand the spirit and bluntness of the "race" but I could never be as understanding and compassionate as you are. Not just about this dreadful event but about life in general.

You and Heather are to be admired and Edward is so lucky to have such wonderful parents. Give each other a Yorkshire hug from me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our Billie, by Ian Clayton, 1 Feb 2011
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
Having read 'Bringing It All Back Home' and reading about Billie's tragic death at the end of this book, I didn't think I could bring myself to read Our Billie, it was such a heartbreaking thing to read about. However, I met Ian recently and we got chatting. Thinking over what we both said, I decided to order the book. I'm almost at the end now and am glad I had the courage to buy this book. It is quite possibly the hardest book that a parent could write, but Ian has written something that, though is sometimes sad and painful to read, is also full of joy and brings Billie to life, even for someone like me who never met her and sadly never will. This is a beautiful memoir to an obviously beloved daughter. Do read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtakingly honesty and full of hope, 19 Jan 2011
By 
Cathy (Yorks, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
Ian Clayton, writes with such honesty and openess about a tragedy that most of us would have trouble just thinking about, let alone attempt to put into words. Even as he shares his deepest feelings and his devastating loss, he manages to retain a vestige of hope; that Billie's, all too, short time on this Earth, will mean something positive, for a very long time to come. Anyone who feels apprehensive about reading a book on such an emotive subject as losing a child, should put their fears aside, because Ian Clayton possessess the skill and ability to tell his familiy's story, so that it leaves the reader with a sense of hope and understanding of something that starts out so hopeless and unfathomable. A real love story, that was a true privilege to read.
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Our Billie
Our Billie by Ian Clayton (Paperback - 1 April 2010)
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