> Skip to content

A beautifully illustrated account of the search for an undiscovered genius, the Norfolk fisherman who became an artist. Winner of the East Anglian Book of the Year 2015 Winner of the New Angle Book Prize 2017

Winner of the East Anglian Book of the Year 2015
Winner of the New Angle Book Prize 2017
John Craske, a Norfok fisherman, was born in 1881 and in 1917, when he had just turned thirty-six, he fell seriously ill. For the rest of his life he kept moving in and out of what was described as ‘a stuporous state’. In 1923 he started making paintings of the sea and boats and the coastline seen from the sea, and later, when he was too ill to stand and paint, he turned to embroidery, which he could do lying in bed. His embroideries were also the sea, including his masterpiece, a huge embroidery of The Evacuation of Dunkirk.

Very few facts about Craske are known, and only a few scattered photographs have survived, together with accounts by the writer Sylvia Townsend Warner and her lover Valentine Ackland, who discovered Craske in 1937. So - as with all her books - Julia Blackburn’s account of his life is far from a conventional biography. Instead it is a quest which takes her in many strange directions - to fishermen’s cottages in Sheringham, a grand hotel fallen on hard times in Great Yarmouth and to the isolated Watch House far out in the Blakeney estuary; to Cromer and the bizarre story of Einstein’s stay there, guarded by dashing young women in jodhpurs with shotguns.

Threads is a book about life and death and the strange country between the two where John Craske seemed to live. It is also about life after death, as Julia’s beloved husband Herman, a vivid presence in the early pages of the book, dies before it is finished.

In a gentle meditation on art and fame; on the nature of time and the fact of mortality; and illustrated with Craske’s paintings and embroideries, Threads shows, yet again, that Julia Blackburn can conjure a magic that is spellbinding and utterly her own.

Reviews

Oh, what a miraculous book this is: parochial, weird and inconclusive in a way that few books dare to be these days, and illustrated so generously, with something beautiful or interesting on every other page. Buy it, and let it take you out to sea, no sou’wester required.

Rachel Cooke, Observer

Wonderful… I lay down her book without knowing the cause of the “mental stupors” that defined Craske’s life, or understanding his relationship to his complicated family, but feeling I had inhaled the cold salt of the East Anglian coastline from which he sailed when he was well, and run my fingers across the bright wool of the embroideries he made when he was not.

Helen Brown, 5 stars, Daily Telegraph

I believe I have already found my book of the year. Blackburn’s “biography”… almost defies the category… But it is so beautifully and hypnotically done that each page leaves you spellbound. Rarely can such an unusual telling so thoroughly, and so movingly, reflect the nature of the life being told.

Lesley McDowell, Herald

I wish I could quote something from every page as that would convince you to read this book… This is a book to remind you that wonders lie scattered like jewels in the most ordinary places.

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

It is hard to pin down what it is that makes Threads such a warmly attractive book… Julia Blackburn is an odd, sometimes even disconcerting writer, but she is an amazingly good one, too. The words she puts on paper do what written words should do: they make things real… She leaves her reader feeling grateful and happy.

Literary Review

A cleverly crafted book that is far more than the obvious sum of its parts… [A] truly delightful book.

Honor Clerk, Spectator

[An] extraordinary book.

Chloe Colchester, Oldie

A beautifully illustrated, wry, emphatic and deeply moving triumph.

Dan Brotzel, Lady

A poignant meditation on creativity and grief.

Dan Brotzel, Press

Subtle and absorbing book.

4 stars, UK Press Syndication

The book sounds like a haphazard collection of anecdotes, but is in fact a richly satisfying whole tied together by the autobiographical component. This is a book to be read slowly and savoured for the quality of Blackburn’s vision and her subtle, unadorned yet poetic prose.

Vanessa Berridge, 5 stars, Sunday Express

[A] wonderfully eccentric biography.

Peter Carty, Independent

A poignant meditation on creativity and grief.

Kate Whiting, UK Press Syndication

Charming and unusual book.

Four Shires

Strange, engrossing…superbly illustrated.

Caroline Jackson, Country Life

Craske remains as private a man as before…but Blackburn’s eloquent appreciation of his work and her sympathy with his sorrows make this remarkable book the best tribute he could have received.

Claire Harman, Guardian

Her most glittering book to date.

Ian Collins, Eastern Daily Press

This is biography with a difference.

Dovegreyreader Scribbles

Compelling and beautifully written.

Country & Town House

My favourite book of the year.

Rachel Joyce, Observer

It is hard to tell whether this is a simple or a complicated book: its power lies in its being both.

Alexandra Harris, The Times Literary Supplement

I don’t know of many books that give a better sense of the frustrations and excitement of research.

Ian Patterson, London Review of Books

The energy is infectious, but the tone is melancholic.

Ian Patterson, London Review of Books

Blackburn captures the understated artist John Craske with elegance and precision.

Bridget Arsenault, Vanity Fair

A vibrant account of the life of Norfolk fisherman John Craske […] another maverick choice of subject by this always compelling writer.

Penelope Lively, Guardian

Outsider art requires outsider biography, and Blackburn, an expert in finding new forms to fit odd lives, has managed her task magnificently.

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

Beautifully delicate.

Big Issue

Richly satisfying.

Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express

A gorgeous, dreamy quest, for a man named John Craske.

Rose George, New Statesman

The book has an understated charm and is a beautifully rendered portrait of an artist’s life and landscape.

Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

This tender biography is gossipy and philosophical by turns.

Daily Telegraph

Executed with undeniable skill and the sense of an intimate acquaintance with life on the open seas.

Herald Scotland

Unusually moving.

William Leith, Evening Standard

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9780099582199

    August 15, 2017

    Vintage

    352 pages

    RRP $39.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback

    9780224097765

    April 15, 2015

    Jonathan Cape

    352 pages

    RRP $55.00

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9781448161195

    April 2, 2015

    Vintage Digital

    352 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle AU
    • iBooks
    • Google Play EBook AU
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks