Monthly Archives: February 2014

Is It Friday Yet?

Man.

This has been a long, hard week – in so many ways. Reality (boo hiss!) has prevented me from doing as much writing as I’d like, and the writing I have done has been execrable nonsense. No – really.

As proof, let me proffer the following.

I laboured for hours yesterday on a piece of flash fiction which I had intended to submit to a prestigious competition. Its closing date? Today. Yeah. Not so clever.

Image: kotaku.com

Image: kotaku.com

Normally, my internal ‘deadline widget’ would keep me from making such a colossal mess-up, but for whatever reason it was on the fritz this week, and so things started to get on top of me. Anyway, after all the hard work of producing this piece of flash – and, for a while, I genuinely thought it was okay – I read it over this morning and realised that it literally makes no sense. None whatever. As well as that, the stuff that happens in it is physically impossible – which I know doesn’t really matter, because it’s a story. However, when the crux of what you’re writing hangs on something that couldn’t actually happen in reality, and the story relies on the events taking place just as they would in reality, then you’ve got a problem.

So, as you can imagine, there’s been plenty of wailing and tooth-gnashing this morning, and the day hasn’t even begun properly.

It hasn’t been helped by the fact that today’s Flash! Friday prompt was cruelly complicated.

image: batoto.net

image: batoto.net

All in all, I wonder if today’s one of those days which should just be rebooted. Shame I can’t just Ctrl+Alt+Del and get on with things in a better and more sensible universe.

Anyway.

So, today’s Flash! Friday required element was ‘Vendetta’ – not the word, but the concept. The prompt image was as follows:

Image: en.wikipedia.org (entry: Rosie the Riveter)

Image: en.wikipedia.org (entry: Rosie the Riveter)

And the following wee bitty tale is what I made out of all that prompty goodness.

Top Secret

I watched them, all three, huddled over Marcia’s workbench. My little buddies. Joe and his fan-club. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

‘C’mon!’ he urged. The glow of Marcia’s torch threw them into sharp relief. Carla was – I guessed – supposed to be on watch, but as always when she got close to the action, she forgot herself.

‘It looks swell,’ she said, with a low laugh. ‘Real swell, Joe!’

I took a step closer, thankful for my rubber-soled shoes. I could see the little hairs curling on the back of Carla’s neck now, smell the tang of her sweat. The torch’s hiss covered my approach.

My project – my pipework – lay on Marcia’s bench. She was welding something to the front of it. Something obscene. Something which would’ve gotten me fired.

I sighed.

I should’ve just let Joe do what he wanted, that time. Touch me. Take me.

My throat tightened.

I raised the wrench, planted my stance, and took aim.

**

I guess the fact that I managed to get a story (one I’m happy with, too) out of a pair of fiendishly complicated prompts should make me feel a bit happier about my labours. It doesn’t make up for  yesterday’s silliness, but I suppose it’s all about the horizon, isn’t it. No point looking back. Keep going. Stiff upper lip (whatever that means.)

And, thank custard, it’s Friday. Next week I’m going to be machine-like in my efficiency and productivity. I can feel it.

Happy weekend, all y’all. And thanks.

 

Some Eyeball-Tickling Links

Today’s post, dear ones, is a wail of desperation from the uttermost reaches of my very soul.

Image: flashpacker.com

Image: flashpacker.com

Writing today’s post has been a challenge.

First, I tried to draft a piece about how I will, in all likelihood, miss a submission deadline today because my brain feels like a pumpkin at Halloween, but I failed to complete said post. In short: I have written five pseudo-stories for this particular competition, and none of them will do. The deadline is tomorrow. Draw your own conclusions.

Next, I tried to draft a few hundred words about how I’m feeling re. waiting to hear from some of the places to which I have submitted work, but I also failed to complete this post. In short: I have no fingernails and very little hair left and I’ve started drinking caffeinated coffee once more, having been on a healthy ‘decaf’ kick for some weeks (but then, this was sort of inevitable.) Again, with the conclusions thing.

Finally, I considered, briefly, writing about the blasted landscape of my thoughts but soon gave that up as a bad idea.

So, instead, I have done something dreadful. I have stolen an idea – brazenly, and shamelessly – which I have seen several other bloggers use, and one which I’ve always thought looked like far too much work to be bothering with. I’ve rounded up some links to the stuff I’ve read recently which I found interesting, hilarious, touching, scary, airpunchingly brilliant, or otherwise emotionally affecting.

Turns out, it’s not that much work at all, and it was rather fun.

Not as much fun as this, admittedly, but pretty good all the same. Image: franceinlondon.com

Not as much fun as this, admittedly, but pretty good all the same.
Image: franceinlondon.com

First, the emotional stuff.

Foz Meadows is a writer and blogger who I turn to whenever I need a shot of intellectual brilliance, clear critical thinking, and perfectly constructed argument. This utterly incredible, elegant yet rapier-sharp blog post (a response to an infuriating sexist who made the most inappropriate remarks I’ve ever heard to a bunch of schoolgirls) made me want to weep with pride. It’s long, but really worth a read.

In fact, while you’re there, stick around and have a pootle through Foz’s past posts. There’s always something worth reading – and most of her posts are masterclasses in how to write, too.

FGM (or Female Genital Mutilation) is something which exercises my indignation, and I try to follow developments relating to it in the media. This article from the UK Guardian made me very pleased when I read it the other day, and very glad that there are young women like Fahma Mohamed willing to stand up and say ‘FGM is wrong, and needs to stop.’ I am not a fan of Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Education (for so many reasons), but I am glad he’s listening on this issue.

I was sort of torn about the next link, because while I fully and wholeheartedly support the idea that adults should support children’s reading at all times and in all ways, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to shape what they read. I know the tone of the article is light-hearted (and I think the book choices are excellent, for the most part), and I realise that a child encouraged in such a way would grow up to be a very interesting, well-read and broad-minded person indeed, but still… shouldn’t they read what they want? Plus, I’m not sure I agree with keeping children away from Jane Austen – once they’ve reached the appropriate age, of course.

Anyway. I’m still not sure what I think about this article, but it was interesting, and I’m still thinking about it, so it’s included. What do you think?

I love the blog of Maureen Eichner. She is a wonderful book blogger and reviewer, and a huge advocate of children’s books and the importance of good writing for young readers. I turn to her words at least once a week for guidance and inspiration. One of her recent blog posts about fairy tales, and their retellings, has stuck in my mind because I love fairy tales (as does any right-thinking person), and it’s great to have a resource like this list to hand. So, thanks to her for compiling it.

It can’t have escaped your attention that, in recent days, an article was written exhorting J.K. Rowling to stop writing because – and I quote – her books have ‘sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere,’ thereby making life impossible for any other emerging or ambitious authors. I don’t want to link to the article itself because, quite frankly, it’s bonkers – and I can’t understand how anyone who works as an author could write such a piece – but I thought this open letter to J. K. Rowling was interesting, so I’ve included it instead. As far as I’m concerned, Ms Rowling can keep writing until the sun falls out of the sky. End of story.

All Hail! Image: telegraph.co.uk

All Hail!
Image: telegraph.co.uk

And now for a bit of fun.

‘Frasier’ was an amazing TV show, as I hope you’ll agree. Recently, I’ve caught a few old episodes of ‘Cheers’, and they’ve aged extremely well. I was a bit too young to appreciate ‘Cheers’ first time ’round, but its spinoff ‘Frasier’ was a huge part of my cultural life. I found this post on Buzzfeed which gives you a list of quotes from ‘Frasier’ to cover any possible social situation – so, you’ll never be stuck for a pithy comeback ever again.

You’re welcome.

And finally – the best one of all.

I love the work – and the blog – of YA author Kristin Cashore. She seems like an awesome lady with excellent taste in everything from books to holiday destinations to nail polish to TV shows, and she recently posted up some footage of Benedict Cumberbatch on Sesame Street. If this doesn’t make you laugh – or, at least, entertain you even a small bit – there’s something deeply wrong with your insides.

So, there you have it. A blog post entirely pilfered (at least, in principle) from other people. Let’s hope my brain feels a bit less like someone has set fire to it and scraped out the ashes by the time tomorrow morning rolls around.

Adieu!

 

 

Wednesday Writing

There didn’t seem to be a Wednesday Write-In today, so I decided to improvise. One random word generator later, and the following words were mine:

Guarantee :: oar :: napkin :: silo :: slippers

Keep reading to find out what I made of ’em.

Image: dreamstime.com

Image: dreamstime.com

The Bearers

It all kicked off the mornin’ Daddy found an intruder in the silo. I knew somethin’ was wrong by the way he came walkin’ out of the barn – he looked like someone had glued his teeth shut, and he was in desperate need to yell.

‘Margaret,’ he said, comin’ up to the kitchen door, and leanin’ in. ‘Get my gun.’ His voice was quiet, which is how I knew he was real mad.

‘Now, Gus,’ said Mama, shufflin’ over to him. Her slippers whispered across the linoleum, and her arms went out like a statue of Ol’ Mary, except her robe wasn’t blue. ‘There ain’t no guarantee -‘

‘I asked for my gun, Margaret,’ said Daddy. ‘If you don’t fetch it for me this minute, I’m gon’ be forced to track through the house with my yard boots on, and there won’t be nothin’ you can say about it.’

‘Daddy, what’s goin’ on?’ I asked, wipin’ my mouth with my fingers as Mama left the room. I always got myself in a buttery mess when Mama made pancakes for a breakfast treat.

‘God’s sake, Lily! Use a paper napkin, or a washcloth, or somethin’,’ snapped Daddy, wrinklin’ his nose at me. ‘You’re raised better’n that.’ I hid my face as Mama came back, carryin’ Daddy’s shotgun. It was open, lyin’ broken over her arm like a freshly killed deer.

‘You can get your own cartridges, Gus Lamping,’ she said, handin’ him the gun. ‘I ain’t goin’ to have nothin’ more to do with this.’ Daddy grunted as he took the weapon from her, which would have to do for ‘thank you,’ I guessed.

‘Daddy! I’ll get your cartridges,’ I said, slidin’ down off my chair. ‘Please?’

‘Lily-Ella Lamping,’ he snapped, not lookin’ at me. ‘This ain’t no thing for a girl to be gettin’ mixed up in.’

‘Aw, please?‘ My heart was slitherin’ down inside me like it was losin’ its grip. ‘Daddy, I wanna see! Is it – is it one of them?‘ Sometimes, I wondered if the disease, and The Bearers who spread it, were nothin’ more than a fairytale Mama and Daddy’d made up, just for me.

‘Whatever’s in that barn is not for your eyes, child,’ said Mama, gatherin’ up her collar and holdin’ herself close. ‘You stay in here, with me.’

‘Yes, Mama,’ I said, watchin’ as Daddy slipped out through the screen door, trudgin’ around to the lean-to. I wasn’t supposed to know where his cartridges were kept, but I did. I imagined him findin’ the box, and rustlin’ around in it while keepin’ one eye trained on outside, and loadin’ the gun without even havin’ to look.

I watched, real careful, as he slammed the door to the lean-to shut. He raised the gun to his eye – judgin’ the distance, I guessed, between the house and the barn, just in case one of them things decided to spring out through the barn door – and then he shook himself, just a little, like a person does when they get cold, suddenly.

‘Jesus Almighty,’ gasped Mama. ‘Lily-Ella, you get away from that window. Right now!’ I blinked, and kept my eyes on Daddy.

He turned to face me, smooth-like and strange, just as a boat that’s lost an oar is likely to. He looked in through the window, and his eyes met mine. The whites of them had turned to red. He settled his grip around the rifle, and poised to aim.

Lily!‘ screamed Mama, runnin’ to me. ‘Get down!

The blast of Daddy’s shotgun and the impact of Mama’s arms came so close together that they were all mixed up in my head. She dragged me down off the chair and we hit the floor in a tangle of limbs.

‘Lily,’ I heard Mama gasp. ‘You gotta run, baby. You gotta run!’

‘Mama, what’s happenin’?’ I could feel her blood, hot and everywhere, spreadin’ across the floor beneath us. Her breath smelled strange. Her eyes were wide, and blue as the dawn.

‘I am your Mama, Lily-Ella,’ she gasped, pink bubbles foamin’. ‘Nobody else. You gotta remember that, baby.’ As her eyes slid closed, Daddy’s shotgun spat one more time, and then there was silence.

Feelin’ like a badly-made doll, all sewn up wrong, I inched my way back to the window. Beyond the broken shards of it, my Daddy’s broken body lay, his own shotgun lyin’ inches from his pale fingers.

The barn door creaked, and my eyes skipped up before I could think better of it.

I saw a man, as like my Daddy as his twin would be, and a woman like my Mama on a good day, wearin’ a dress so pretty that it shone. Her hair was neatly styled, and she was clean – so clean. She smiled with a bright ruby mouth, and opened her arms like they were made for runnin’ into.

‘Come on, Lily-Ella,’ she called, and it was my Mama’s voice only better, shinier, more happy. ‘Come on over here. Mama’s waitin’.’

It was an effort to close my eyes, but I did it.

Mama’s in the kitchen, Daddy’s in the yard, I sang to myself as I slid to my knees and out of sight. I knew that they didn’t need eyes to see me, though – I knew, even through the wall, that they could hear my heart. Feel my blood pumpin’. Hear my breaths, fast and cracklin’. They were comin’.

But they can’t hear my thoughts, I realised. If Mama and Daddy taught me right, and I know they did.

I looked, and saw that Mama’d left the gas stove on, keepin’ warm for the pancakes she’d planned to make for Daddy. I knew, too, that she kept her lighter in the pocket of her housecoat, even though she hadn’t been able to get cigarettes for years – not since the Bearer Invasion, when the world had gone to hell.

I wiped my eyes.

‘Mama!’ I called, getting back to my feet and starin’ out at the creature wearin’ her beloved face. ‘Hey, Mama! I’m here! Come get me!’

It smiled, and I smiled right back, my Mama’s blood still warm upon my skin.

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday REWIND – Klaatu Barada Nikto*

There’s this really cool meme I’ve been seeing on all the best blogs (dahling) over the past few weeks, and it’s called Top Ten Tuesday. It’s hosted by the lovely people over at The Broke and the Bookish, and – I’ve got to say – I’ve been wondering about taking part for a while now.

So, in honour of the fact that I took the plunge back into submitting work for publication yesterday (because it’s the ‘being brave enough to submit’, not ‘actually getting the nod’ that counts), I thought perhaps I’d try this other new thing today.

Because, you know me. I love new things.

Image: marottaonmoney.com

Image: marottaonmoney.com

Anyway.

Today is a ‘Top Ten Tuesday Rewind’, which means you have the pick of a long list of Top Ten lists to choose from (the full list is on the Broke and the Bookish website); my choice is number 86 on that list.

Top Ten Books I Would Quickly Save If My House Was Going to Be Abducted by Aliens (or any other natural disaster)

Because aliens are so a natural disaster.

1. Elidor (but only if I can bring all my editions, currently three)

This one should come as zero surprise to anyone who has read this blog, ever.

Image: lwcurrey.com

Image: lwcurrey.com

The book which fed my childhood imagination? The book which gave me my love for medieval stuff? The book which frightened my shivering soul itself almost to the point of insanity – but which had me coming back for more? Yes. A thousand times, yes. I love this book, and so should you.

2. The Earthsea Quartet

Oh, wizard Ged and your wonderful ways! I couldn’t possibly leave you behind. Not even if giant silver humanoid killing machines were smashing through my window. What would I do without the magnificence of Orm-Embar, the calm dignity of Tenar, the terror of the Dry Land? No. I would bring my Earthsea Quartet, and I would try to smuggle in ‘Tales from Earthsea’ and ‘The Other Wind’, too.

Dash it all. I’d just clear off my entire Ursula Le Guin shelf, and have done with it.

image: aadenianink.com

image: aadenianink.com

3. Six Middle English Romances, ed. Maldwyn Mills

Image: bookdepository.co.uk

Image: bookdepository.co.uk

I don’t have a reason for this beyond the following: I am a huge giant nerd; I love Middle English, particularly these six texts, and I can’t imagine not having them to hand; I would want to save them from the huge squid-like aliens with their giant fangs and scant regard for human culture; most importantly, they rock. Seriously.

4. Lords and Ladies

Terry Pratchett has written a lot of books. I would, of course, want to save them all if something with far too many legs was attempting to rip off my head, but I think I would save this one as a representative volume. Mainly, it’s because ‘Lords and Ladies’ is my favourite of the Discworld books, but it’s also because my current edition was a gift from my husband. So, you know. Kudos.

5. The Dark is Rising Sequence

Aha. I see you are on to me. ‘What’s all this, then? Saving trilogies and quadrilogies and that? You’re cheating!‘ Well, yes. Yes, I am. But the ‘Dark is Rising’ books are all in one volume, so therefore it counts as one book. Stuff it, aliens.

image: yp.smp.com

image: yp.smp.com

This book is far too excellent. I couldn’t allow it to fall into the hands of an alien civilisation, possibly because they’d eat it and spit it out and that would be that. So, it’s coming.

6. The Little Prince

I have four editions of this. Two in English, one in French and one in Irish. I’m bringing ’em all.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

What would be the point of surviving an alien attack, I ask you, if I leave behind a book which teaches me about the love of a little boy and his flower, or the loneliness of a fox, or the fact that every desert has an oasis at its heart, or how laughter amid the stars sounds like little bells, or what a boa constrictor who has swallowed an elephant looks like? Non. This book is precious. It’s coming.

7. Perrault’s Complete Fairy Tales, ed. Christopher Betts/Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales/Alan Garner’s Collected Folk Tales/Grimm Tales, ed. Philip Pullman

This speaks for itself, I feel. Yes, they are four separate books but come on. How can you save Perrault without Grimm? How can you leave behind Garner’s British folktale treasury? How can you expect me to walk out the door Angela Carter-less? It’s not happening.

image: goodreads.com

image: goodreads.com

This isn’t just about saving my favourite books (even though these are all my favourite books); it’s about saving human culture from the ravening maw of destruction. These books are, collectively, a brilliant gem of human culture. Truth. (Also, they’re pretty.)

8. Neverwhere and/or American Gods

I’m beginning to get the feeling that I’ll be eaten like an oversized, screaming hors d’oeuvre by these alien overlords. I’ll be too busy dithering at my bookshelves to bother about running away. Perhaps I should prepare a grab-bag of necessities, just in case?

Image: list.co.uk

Image: list.co.uk

I cannot choose between ‘American Gods’ and ‘Neverwhere.’ I can’t! Could you?

Then, of course, there’s the graphic novel adaptation of ‘Neverwhere’ (as illustrated handsomely above), which I also love, and then – horrors! – there’s my ‘Sandman’ collection, which I could hardly bear to leave behind… curse you, Neil Gaiman, for being so talented. You, and you alone, will be responsible for my being chewed up by aliens.

9. What Katy Did/What Katy Did Next

Susan Coolidge’s masterpieces kept me company all through my childhood. I owned a beautiful hardback edition of these two books, all in one volume, which – now that I think about it – I haven’t seen for a while.

I was fascinated by Katy and ‘all the little Carrs’, and the lemonade they used to make and the swing outside their house and the descriptions of their area and Katy’s utter gawkiness and… all of it. Just all of it. I loved these stories as a little girl, and so they’re coming.

I just hope I find my copy of the book before the aliens get here.

10. Whatever Jeanette Winterson I can get my hands on before the killer death-rays start blowing the roof off my house

Yeah. So, I have a problem with Jeanette Winterson, too. Do I save ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’? How can I save that and not save ‘Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy’? And then, how can I ask myself to live the rest of my (probably, rather short) life without ever casting my eyes upon ‘Sexing the Cherry’ again? I don’t feel life would be worth living without ‘The Passion.’

And that’s before we get anywhere near her children’s books.

Image: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

Image: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

I think what we can all take from this exercise is that if aliens do arrive on my fair isle, I shall not survive. However, at least I shall die happy, in the company of my books, and that is more than I deserve.

Happy Tuesday to you.

*Psst! Did you see what I did there?

A Soul Timid, but not Meek

I am frightened by the Devil,
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid…

Image: michaelyung.com

Image: michaelyung.com

Joni Mitchell is a huge hero of mine. I’ve been in love with her music for as long as I’ve had ears (so, quite a long time now), and the lyric above – from ‘A Case of You’, on the majestic album ‘Blue’ – is probably my favourite of her songs. I’m not sure, exactly, why I love this particular set of lines so much; perhaps it’s because it says, to me, that being afraid is perfectly all right – so long as you don’t lose your curiosity, too. It’s natural to be scared of some things, but shutting your mind off from those things forever, without admitting even a thought which relates to them, is bad news.

Maybe.

That’s the thing with song lyrics, I guess. They mean different things to different people.

I’m a fearful type, by nature. Anxious, a worrywart, ‘worst-case-scenario’. If I were a fairytale character, I’d be Chicken Little.

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

I’m afraid of lots of things, some of them rational and some of them (all right, most of them) not. I’m a quietly controlled hypochondriac. I have a lot of sympathy for the guys who stand on street corners wearing ‘The End is Nigh!’ sandwich boards. I’ve often wondered if it comes from my interest in the Middle Ages – those guys lived, teetering, on the edge of instant annihilation for centuries, too. They were convinced, with every passing generation, that this would be the one. This would be the era in which Christ would come again and perform the final Judgement. Millenarianism was de rigueur.

But perhaps that was hope, more than fear. I think there was a bit of both mixed up in there. And maybe that’s a defining characteristic of fear – a tiny, tiny shard of desire mixed into the terror makes it all the more terrifying.

I’m thinking about all this because a close family member is jetting off in a few days to spend several months abroad. While there she plans to gain a qualification in something she hopes will lead to an exciting career, and I’m sure she’ll be successful. As well as that, no doubt she’ll have adventures and experiences which will leave long-lasting memories, and she will do things that I would not do, and things that I could not do, because I would be far too afraid to even try.

But there’s a little spark, deep inside me, which wishes I could just get over myself for long enough to give it a go. A tiny spark, now. Barely there at all, really. But there, all the same.

This woman – the adventurer – has already had a year abroad in which she did death-defying things, with every indication that she was having the time of her life. Fear didn’t seem to come into it, for her. It was all about the exhilaration, the joy, the celebration of what her body was capable of. I have cousins who, when they were children, were like chalk and cheese when it came to facing their fears. One of them would throw herself at any challenge, totally uncaring of how much she could hurt herself if it all went wrong, and another who was stiff and awkward and afraid. The second child would give everything a try, as far as she was able, but would end up causing herself an injury because her fear would get in her way. The first child was lithe and fluid and free – due to her fearlessness, as well as a natural athleticism – and never suffered any physical damage from her exploits.

I think the second child, the fearful one, took after me. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we are both oldest children, and statistically likely to be more cautious and less adventurous than the siblings who come after us.

There are different types of fear, for sure. I have faced plenty of my own personal fears – public speaking, standing up for things I believed in even when I was sure it would spell disaster for me, tackling academic challenges that I felt sure were beyond me – and I came through them all reasonably unscathed. It’s when it comes to physical things, like sport or heights or speed, that my terror overwhelms any desire I might have to take part. Things that would horrify other people are no bother to me, and things that others would do without a second thought are so far beyond my level of ability that I can’t even imagine doing them. I have a friend who lives right by a massive motorway junction just outside Dublin, and she drives around it with carefree abandon – and she always did so, even when she was new to the area. She doesn’t drive dangerously – in fact, she drives far more safely due to the fact that this particular snarled-up collection of high-speed traffic lanes doesn’t make her blood run cold, as it would mine – and she has never come even close to having an accident, thank goodness. If I had to do that drive, I’d cause a multi-car pileup within five seconds, and I know it.

But I’d love to be able to do what she does. I admire her for it. I just know I never will.

Perhaps the world needs all types of fearlessness, both the risk-taking type and the emotional type. I have lived long enough to know who I am, and to be aware that I have limitations, and to give myself a break when it comes to respecting those limitations. I have the desire to be an adventurer, but the flesh is weak.

But I can write about those who are fearless, and use my own tiny sparks of curiosity – my own sense of ‘being drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid’ – to fill in the blanks when it comes to creating characters who aren’t fearful of heights, or the dark, or of throwing off the shackles of the everyday and setting off on an adventure across the world with no real plan of how to get home.

Perhaps my own fearfulness will lead me to create better characters, even. Let’s hope so, at least. It has to be good for something – right?

Image: hybridtechcar.com

Image: hybridtechcar.com

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’

This book is one I’ve wanted to read for years. I kept forgetting about it until the other day when my lovely husband handed me a copy. ‘I thought you might like this,’ he said. ‘It sounded right up your street.’

Well. They do say that when a spouse speaks their affection through books, they’re worth holding on to, don’t they?

Okay, they don’t. But they should.

Image: whytebooks.com

Image: whytebooks.com

‘Goodnight Mister Tom’, by Michelle Magorian, was originally published in 1981. It won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, an amazing feat for a first novel, and has been a classic of children’s literature ever since. It tells the story of William (‘Willie’, later ‘Will’) Beech, a London child evacuated to the countryside at the outbreak of World War II, and his relationship with Tom Oakley, the man with whom he is placed.

From the get-go, I loved Tom. He’s depicted as the typical ‘gruff’ countryman, keeps himself to himself, doesn’t bother anyone and nobody bothers him – but beneath it all you know that his neighbours respect and like him. He reacts with thinly veiled irritation when Willie is deposited on his doorstep, fresh off the London train, but almost instantly we see his annoyance begin to melt. He has the instincts of a father, and he sees straight away that Willie has been terribly abused by someone in his past. Without having to be told, Tom knows how to take care of Willie. He is patient, and he is understanding, and he is gentle. He is kind, and generous, and he gives the child space to be himself – he gives him a chance to come to trust him, and he never forces the issue.

It is one of the most beautiful ‘parent’-child relationships I’ve ever read. Often, when reading this book, I was moved to tears by Tom’s understanding of what it is to be a child, and how easily he placed himself in Willie’s shoes. It made me wish that every child had a ‘Tom’ – a parent or guardian who treated them with consistent kindness and patient love, allowing them to be who they are and express who they are without judgement.

Just a minute. I’m getting weepy again. Here, have a picture:

John Thaw (Tom) and Nick Robinson (Willie) in the 1998 movie adaptation of the book. Image: kingsroad.learningspaces.net

John Thaw (Tom) and Nick Robinson (Willie) in the 1998 movie adaptation of the book.
Image: kingsroad.learningspaces.net

Right. Anyway. As the story progresses, we learn a bit more about Tom, and his own painful past. We find out why he keeps his world small and why he has locked away all the love in his heart for so long, and we watch it slowly start to re-emerge as he and Willie grow closer. We see Willie learn how to run and laugh and play like an ordinary child, and we see him make friends – best friends – for the first time. It is through showing us all the things Willie has never experienced before that Magorian expresses the depth of the abuse he’s suffered – and that abuse is like nothing else I’ve ever read.

Willie’s life with his mother comes back into play in the latter part of the book, after she summons him back to London. He has been with Mister Tom for over six months, and he has transformed from a sick, weak, bruised and broken child into a strong, healthy boy. He is so changed that, when he arrives back in London, his mother does not recognise him. In the character of Mrs Beech, Magorian has created one of the most compellingly evil fictional mothers; we see her belittle Willie, and we see her anger when she realises that Tom has not been beating Willie regularly, as she would have wished. We see her determination to ‘break’ him once again, undoing all the good work Tom and the people of Little Weirwold have been doing since Willie arrived among them. We see, in fact, that Mrs Beech is profoundly mentally ill, and has taken out her own frustration and anger on her son.

Tom, meanwhile, has had a premonition that all is not well with Willie. A month goes by, and there is no word from the child despite several letters having been sent to him. Suspicious and uneasy, Tom – who has never ventured beyond his own village – finds his way to London, and eventually to Deptford, where Willie lives. He persuades a policeman to break down the door of the Beechs’ seemingly-abandoned flat – and, inside, they find Willie in the worst possible condition.

During this part of the story, I had to put the book down once or twice because I couldn’t deal with what I was reading. The sheer brutality of what Willie has endured is shocking, even to me; I thought I was fairly worldly, but this book showed me I am not. It was hard going, and I wondered how I would have coped with it as a younger reader. I think children would react entirely differently to this sort of thing, though: it’s almost like something out of a fairy tale, something unreal. It’s only to an adult reader that the true horror reveals itself.

Suffice it to say, I wept as I read the final twenty or thirty pages of this book. As well as Willie and Tom’s story, a character meets their death (unnecessarily, I thought, but that’s just me) which had me in a heap on the floor, and the conclusion of the story wrenched every last drop of emotion from my soul.

So, the story is wonderful.

I'm fine - honestly... Image: drhealth.md

I’m fine – honestly…
Image: drhealth.md

However, I did have a problem with the writing. Specifically, there’s a lot of showing, as opposed to telling, in this book, and it is – despite not being the heftiest of tomes – too long. Lots of what happens is not vital to the plot, and pages of pointless description and minutiae take away from the book’s power, for me. Having said that, while the style of writing is irritating at times, it shines when Magorian is writing dialogue. At that, and at characterisation, she absolutely excels. In any case, the sheer heft of the story, and the profound effect it had on me, more than make up for the perceived shortcomings in style. Perhaps, after all, there were different ‘rules’ or expectations from children’s books in 1981 in terms of how they were written, and it was Magorian’s first book.

But what a first book.

This one is highly recommended, for those of you who haven’t read it already. Just be prepared to weep, is all I’ll say.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Go read!

Some More Friday Flash

Frosty Friday greetings to you all, compadres. How goes it?

It’s a cool day here, and there are dark clouds lurking. I’m waiting for the hailstorms to start. We’re sitting in a little bubble of calm – the calm that prefaces, you just know, the biggest downpour imaginable. It’s my kind of weather.

It doesn't look quite like this, sadly.  Image: layoutsparks.com

It doesn’t look quite like this, sadly.
Image: layoutsparks.com

Work continues apace on the dismemberment of ‘Eldritch.’ I’m down to something like 48,000 words now (from about 63,000), and – particularly over the past few days – the restructuring has been going really well. It almost seems easy, which feels dangerous. I have to keep reminding myself that the words I’m working with (from the old version of the book) are a fourth or fifth draft, so it would make sense that they’re reasonably okay. Because of the revamp job I’m doing, though, it feels like I’m working on a first draft all over again, and so I’m expecting everything to be nonsense. When it isn’t, it feels weird.

Does that make sense? Probably not.

Here, have a picture of Sherlock looking confused. You're welcome. Image: sherlockreactionimages.tumblr.com

Here, have a picture of Sherlock looking confused. You’re welcome.
Image: sherlockreactionimages.tumblr.com

I am losing so much of what I thought made the book unique, and it’s not easy to carve away at words I spent so long perfecting, and choosing, and polishing, and placing with such care. But, at the same time, the story is moving along so much more quickly now and despite everything I’m getting rid of, I’m managing to hold on to lots of the fun aspects of the relationship between my two main characters. Perhaps the reason that my carve-up job is working well is because this is the way the story was meant to be, all along; I should never have been afraid to get rid of the overarching narrative conceit I had been using. I now see that it was confusing and clunky and unworkable, and just because it allowed me to tell the story from the point of view of two characters simultaneously was no reason to keep it.

Sometimes, simpler is better. In fact, nearly always, simpler is better. It’s just unfortunate that this ‘simple’ change has meant the near-total evisceration of the book.

Anyway.

So, it’s Friday. Which means I woke this morning and the first thing I did was check the Flash! Friday website for today’s clues. (No, I’m not addicted. Why on earth would you say that?)

Today’s story elements were as follows:

The compulsory element to include was ‘Aging’ – as a concept, not the actual word itself. The distinction is, of course, vital.

The prompt image was this:

Image: wallartisan.com

Image: wallartisan.com

And so, after much panicked cogitation, I came up with the following small tale:

The Long Step

Pablo knew his time had come, at last. In truth it had come years before, but nobody had wanted to take his hand and lead him to the mountain.

Nobody wanted to say goodbye.

But is wife had been gone so long that only the oldest children remembered her. The sickness had eaten her, and she’d chosen to take the Long Step early.

Pablo had no dependents now.

And so, one morning, he took his silent leave. He dressed simply, bringing only his stick. He slowly climbed the mountain road, savouring the air and the sky and the birdsong, the tang of sore muscles, the thump-thumping of his old heart.

Finally, he reached the end. The Long Step beckoned, out into eternity.

One final breath, and then…

Peace enfolded him, like a closing eye.

Surprised, the women at the mountain’s foot ran to catch the floating baby, newly reborn.

‘Who was due to Step today?’ they asked, but nobody knew.

**

Good luck with whatever the day brings your way, and remember: even if something feels like it’s not working out, or you’re afraid you’re doing something wrong, don’t worry. You could be just starting out on a larger plan, and everything is going to work out just fine.

Wait and see.