The Princess of Felling by Elaine Cusack – Poetry, politics and pop in a book of memories


This is a very positive book about the power of remembering and the character of a place. Memory is explored in a detailed and impressive way, with the use of photographs, poetry and text, supplemented by maps of an unusual nature. The whole book is an unusual and sometimes moving tribute to love and more in the life of a remarkable woman. Elaine Cusack is a woman who grew up in a distinctive area of the North East of England, Felling in Gates head near the river Tyne. She captures the idea of a  strong family close in many ways and certainly geographically. Beyond that, she writes of her ventures into a world of music, of poetry and more. This is an unusual book, full of colour in many ways. It goes to prove that there is no such thing as an ordinary life, in this celebration of memory and place. 


This book is subtitled “Poetry, Politics Pop”. This is a non linear tale of a life that began at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, and featured some special people. Elaine explains the ruined pumping station that became in imagination a castle fit for a princess, that gave her an identity which has been at the back of her mind for many years. She explores memories of places, well known rooms, smells and sounds that evokes people and relationships long past. Grandmothers, aunts and uncles playmates and cousins are lovingly remembered in a delightful scrapbook of stuff. This is non linear so the death of much loved parents is mentioned early on in the  book, and later anecdotes of kindness and loyalty from them are especially moving. 


There are passages which feature stories of childhood, toys abandoned and games enjoyed. This is a vivid telling of common tales and all the more powerful for their familiarity, of pop stars followed and concerts much enjoyed. There are stories of letters written to celebrities who warmly reply. The obsession with pop music means that Elaine begins to write lyrics and has ideas for songs that become poems, and poetry is expanded into a new love that continues throughout life. Happily a gift for words is matched with the confidence encouraged by parents, so that publication and competition success leads to writing courses and similar that refine natural talent and flair. This is the heart of the book, a love of creative writing that has produced a book which stands the test of interest to those who are not familiar with the area. 


Happily this is a book of interest to many people, even those who did not grow up in the same time and have similar memories. Apart from the deaths of loved ones, there is another hint of sadness and regret in this otherwise happy book, as the author refers to an abusive relationship and the resulting anorexia which had to be resolved with the kindly support of friends. It is the inclusion of elements like this that make this a three dimensional and realistic book in its honesty and love for life, however tricky. This is a very special book which will be received well by those with an interest in the area or the excitement of coming of age in a different century, but a recent place for many.  The actress Jill Halfpenny accurately wrote of Elaine’s “words allow me to remember things that I didn’t know I’d forgotten”, which will be true for many of us.  


This special book is not available from Amazon and similar, but can be ordered from my favourite independent bookshop  or direct from Elaine’s publisher Other outlets are probably sadly closed at the moment, as they include libraries, but I’m sure one of those two links will be able to help!