Tag Archives: Alan Garner

Book Review Saturday – ‘Shadow of the Wolf’

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

This book came highly recommended from some very highly reputable sources. One of them was a bookseller whose opinion I hold in high enough regard as to be comparable with Chaucer’s himself; the other was a knowledgeable and well-read Twitter follower who gushed about it in enthusiastic tones when I said I wanted to read it. So, that sealed my fate.

To be fair, though, I was sold as soon as I heard it was a retelling of the Robin Hood myth, and that it had elements of Alan Garner and Mythago Wood in it. We all know how much I adore Alan Garner, but I also adore Robert Holdstock’s marvellous Mythago Wood, and so I was hooked long before I ever had the recommendations. Not just hooked – sinkered. Beyond all hope.

Now, of course the problem with books which are highly recommended is this. Sometimes they live up to expectation, and you’re left foaming at the mouth once you’ve finished, frantically pressing the tome into the hands of all who know and love you. And sometimes – they don’t.

Shadow of the Wolf is not a book which left me foaming at the mouth. Having said that, it’s not bad – it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, in fact. But somehow, it left me a bit sad inside, probably at the idea that there was so much in it which was good, but somehow I remained detached from it, overall.

However. One thing it does do extraordinarily well – better than nearly any book I’ve read – is create a sense of place. And not just any place, but a forest so alive, so real and menacing and beautiful and bountiful and terrifying and strange that it is, in every sense, as much a character as any of the humans. Of course it’s Sherwood Forest, but it’s made up of many other forests which overlap and intermingle and merge, which made my heart glad as it recalled the heavily-forested reality of the Middle Ages in which the book is firmly set. It places a small boy, Robin Loxley, in this forest, and it shows him being lost beyond all hope of finding right in its heart, and then it shows us how he survives. It takes characters with the same names as the ones we know – Robin, and Marian (here Marian Delbosque, which I felt was particularly appropriate), and much later Will Scarlett and the Sheriff of Nottingham – and gives them entirely different stories from anything we’ve ever encountered before.

And all this is brilliant.

But I felt that, at times, things just went too far.

A lot of the book takes place in the forest itself, with Robin learning how to master it and interacting with the dread, powerful and mythical forces he finds within it (particularly the fearful Lady of the Forest, who gave me the creeps big time), and dealing with the enormous setbacks he faces once he loses his family, and then Marian, in turn. As well as simply keeping himself alive from one day to the next and one season to the next, he has to work out what has happened to his loved ones, and why – and whether he has any chance of ever getting them back. I enjoyed the scenes where he is in training with Sir Bors and his boys, because they were so well-described that I felt like I was watching them unspool in front of me; I enjoyed the scenes with the creatures in the forest, and I thrilled to the hints of medieval myth and legend which thread through their depictions. I particularly enjoyed the way in which Tim Hall uses the myth of Robin Hood’s prowess with a bow and arrow, and how it is reimagined here. But, every now and again, the book pushed the story down a path I couldn’t believe, and I found it hard to walk those paths. I also felt the sheer evil of the evil characters veered into the overblown at times, though one scene near the end of the book rescued the Sheriff from caricature, for me. He shows a depth of character and layers of complexity at a vulnerable moment which made him more ‘alive’, and I appreciated that. Other evil characters aren’t so lucky, and remain one-note throughout.

This book does ‘have it all’, on some levels. Drama, romance, action, gore (and it has that in actual spades, so be warned), mythology, psychology, historical ‘reality’, tension, terror (veering into horror at some junctures), friendship, honour, people banding together in order to survive (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘Merrie Men’, or indeed ‘Merrie Lasses’), and it’s clear that the author knows not only the legends, but also the historical period, intimately. You’ll smell the sweat and blood, you’ll taste the food, you’ll feel the strain of the bowstring, and you’ll hear the sounds of the forest all around.

But, for me, I was left feeling somewhat hollow and unsatisfied at the book’s close. Lots is left unexplained (because sequels, but it’s annoying), and I felt as though I had nobody to root for, as I didn’t particularly like anyone. I think this might be the problem: I found it hard to connect to the characters in this story. Perhaps that’s me; perhaps not. I’ll let you decide.

So, I’d recommend this book, but with reservations. It’s marketed as ‘YA’, but I’m not sure I’d place it there. Robin and Marian are young in it, but that doesn’t make it a YA book. It’s historical fiction; it’s mythological retelling; it’s an adventure story. In many ways, it’s beyond definition. Certainly, it’s memorable. Give it a try.

Check out a preview of the book at the publisher’s website, and see if it’s for you.

Underappreciated Stories

Sometimes, the flood of books surrounding us, as readers, can seem overwhelming. With the internet allowing anyone who wishes to self-publish, as well as the traditional publishing industry which, though under pressure, is still chugging away, and the sheer amount of books already published, in every language, it sometimes boggles my mind that so many books exist, and I will only ever read a tiny fraction of what’s out there.

Having said that, sometimes I look through my bookshelves (which are groaning, yes) and realise that even if for some reason books stopped being published tomorrow (what a nightmare!) I would have a collection of stories already amassed which would likely keep me entertained for the rest of my life. In preparing for this post I checked through some of my collection and found books I’d forgotten I owned, or ones I read so long ago that I could use a refresher, or ones which I love but which don’t seem to get talked about much anymore. Not every book can retain stellar status, of course: sometimes, really excellent books get published and for whatever reason fall beneath the flood. Hugely talented authors get ‘forgotten’, except among the people who love them.

This is a shame.

I adore Alan Garner, as anyone who knows me will be aware, but he’s an author whose (passionate, devoted) fanbase is small. I also love the work of Frances Hardinge, who – for some reason, unknown to me – is an author who is about one-fifth as well-known and widely read as she ought to be, but like Garner she attracts a passionate fanbase. It’s wonderful to have such a heartfelt following, but there are other authors whose work I love and who seem not to have the same sort of fanbase – so this post is for them.

Jenny Nimmo

The Snow Spider Trilogy, Egmont, 2005. Image copyright: SJ O'Hart

The Snow Spider Trilogy, Egmont, 2005.
Image copyright: SJ O’Hart

Jenny Nimmo has been writing for young readers for years, and she is probably best known for her series about Charlie Bone, the Children of the Red King books. However, my favourite of her works is her magnificent Snow Spider Trilogy, which encompasses The Snow Spider, Emlyn’s Moon and The Chestnut Soldier, and which are masterworks of fantasy fiction. The stories introduce us to Gwyn Griffiths, a boy who is given five magical gifts on his ninth birthday, and who uses them to get to the bottom of the mystery of what happened to his sister Bethan, who disappeared when he was a younger child. Gwyn has magical lineage, being descended from the wizards of Welsh folklore, but his parents don’t hold any truck with nonsense like that – and so it’s up to Gwyn to prove to them that it’s the truth, as well as deal with newfound powers. I love these books for loads of reasons, Nimmo’s beautiful writing in the main but also their sensitive and delicate treatment of Welsh mythology and folklore (which, incidentally, is something she shares with another author, further down this list). Nimmo is still writing, and her work has been adapted for the stage, but for some reason she’s not talked about as much as I’d like. So, she’s top of my list of underappreciated masters. Check her out.

Kevin Crossley-Holland

So, yeah. I have loads of reasons to love Kevin Crossley-Holland’s work, namely because as well as being a wonderful children’s author he’s also an Anglo-Saxonist who has lectured and taught for many years – so, he covers all the bases, for me. Only the other day I remarked to someone how often it happens that people who write for children are also medievalists – Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Crossley-Holland – or have an interest in medieval folklore or mythology. Clearly, if you have the sort of mind which appreciates the myths of medieval Europe, you’re onto a winner when it comes to imaginative literature. In any case, I’ve read Crossley-Holland’s creative and non-fiction work, and I love it all, but his trilogy of books about Arthur (later expanded with a fourth book), The Seeing-Stone, At the Crossing-Places, and King of the Middle March (with Gatty’s Tale being the latter book) are simply wonderful. They look at the life of a medieval boy named Arthur – but not the Arthur – who is growing up, becoming a knight in the usual fashion, and who has a magical seeing-stone which shows him the life of the other Arthur, hundreds of years before. In the seeing-stone, a piece of obsidian, he watches scenes unfolding which seem to him to mirror the challenges and stresses he is facing, and which his namesake – the glorious and legendary king – also faced. I adore these books; they’re beautiful. So, check him out, too.

Catherine Webb

Catherine Webb published her first book at the age of fourteen, and it was spectacular. Entitled Mirror Dreams, it was about a fantasy world wherein dreams – good ones and bad ones alike – exist within the Kingdoms of the Void. When the Lords of Nightkeep kill the king of Dreams, and people all over the world begin to fall asleep and not wake up, it is up to Laenan Kite – an inhabitant of Dream – to save the day. I couldn’t believe this book was written by such a young author; Webb’s command of language, dialogue and characterisation (not to mention the sheer scope of her plotting) left me flabbergasted. I adore her books about Horatio Lyle, too, a detective in a version of Victorian London who gets into all manner of scrapes with his two teenage sidekicks and his faithful dog, Tate. Webb has a gift for snarky, humorous dialogue and excellent interplay between characters, and I don’t feel her books get enough attention. She is currently writing under another name, and has achieved great success with that, but check out her early work, too. It’s marvellous.

Catherine Fisher

I’ve mentioned Catherine Fisher on the blog before, I’m sure (and check out this Saturday’s book review, wherein she’ll be mentioned yet again!) but the reason for this is: she doesn’t get half the credit she deserves, in my opinion.

Red Fox (imprint of Random House Children's Books), 2002, edition of 'Corbenic' Image credit: SJ O'Hart

Red Fox (imprint of Random House Children’s Books), 2002, edition of ‘Corbenic’
Image credit: SJ O’Hart

Catherine Fisher has written some of the most imaginative and thrilling stories I’ve ever read, and again she has a certain medieval-archaeological-historical feel to her work, which underpins but in no way overwhelms it. As well as Corbenic, above (of which more on Saturday), she has written the beautiful Snow-Walker Trilogy, the amazing Darkhenge, about the forces which can be unleashed when people unwittingly disturb things they shouldn’t, and the masterwork Incarceron, about a sentient prison, as well as many more. She has, in short, written so much that even an uber-fan like me hasn’t read all of it, but I really think she’s a writer who isn’t read widely enough or appreciated deeply enough. Her way with words, her soft touches of folklore, her use of Welsh mythology, her beautiful dialogue, her compassionate handling of relationships and the psychology behind her characters is second to none.

So. There you have it. Some of my ‘hidden gems’, which I hope you’ll check out (Christmas is coming, after all!), and perhaps, in time, you’ll be the one passionately spreading the word about these authors, and their work.

Are there any writers who, in your opinion, are underappreciated? I’d love to hear about them! On second thought, my bookshelves are looking a bit thin…

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Owl Service’

Alan Garner’s The Owl Service is far from being a new book, either to me or in terms of its publication history; it was originally published in 1967, but I first read it as a teenager and it’s been one of my firm favourites ever since. The edition I have dates from 2002.

Recently, I went on a bit of an Alan Garner binge and read three of his books in the space of a couple of days. The Owl Service is the one that stuck most in my mind.

Image: celticmythpodshow.com

Image: celticmythpodshow.com

This book is powerful, in every sense. It’s about an ancient story being brought back to life in a ‘modern’ – i.e. 1960s – Welsh valley, accidentally, through the involvement of a group of children thrown together for a long, fraught summer, and throughout there is mention of the ‘power’, the sleeping power of the older story, which is gradually waking. Garner manages to imbue his book with this same power; you almost feel as though you are as much a part of the story, and of the story-within-a-story, as any of the characters. The language is cryptic at times, the dialogue fragmentary, the setting claustrophobic – but it all works perfectly.

We meet Alison, her mother Margaret (who is never actually seen in the book, merely mentioned by other characters), Margaret’s new husband Clive and Clive’s son Roger. They are taking their first holiday together as a family since Margaret and Clive’s recent wedding, and Alison and Roger are learning to negotiate one another as step-siblings. They go to stay at a country house in the Welsh countryside which had belonged to Alison’s late father; he bequeathed it to her, and her sense of being the ‘owner’ of the house, but not the one with the power over it (as it is her mother and stepfather who are responsible for running it) is a pervasive theme. Alison’s father inherited the house from his cousin Bertram, who was killed in the valley at around the time Alison was born, under mysterious circumstances. Despite this, however, he is still a central character in the story. The house comes with staff – Huw Halfbacon, the groundskeeper, and the cook-cum-housekeeper Nancy, who – for her own reasons – chafes at the bit in her role, and feels resentful at having to work there at all. There is also Nancy’s son, Gwyn, The three teenagers, and their at times tense relationship with one another, is the pivot around which this book turns – for they are not just Roger, Alison and Gwyn. They are part of a larger tale, one which has been told time and again for centuries, and which has always worked out the same way – with a death.

As the story opens we are in Alison’s bedroom. She has just heard scratching noises coming from the attic above her head, and she enlists the help of Gwyn to get to the bottom of it. In the roof they find a stack of plates – a full dinner service – all of which are decorated with a complicated floral motif. Immediately, Alison is gripped by the design on the plates. She sees it differently to everyone else; where they see flowers, she sees owls, and she begins to trace the pattern compulsively onto sheets of paper, over and over, cutting it out and folding it to make a three-dimensional model of an owl. As quickly as she makes her paper owls, they vanish – but nobody will admit to having taken them.

And, as soon as she’s copied the pattern from the plate, it disappears.

In the recreation room, the plaster starts to come away from a recently patched-up bit of wall. Behind it lies a painting of a beautiful woman with an intense stare, which must have been there for hundreds of years – yet Huw Halfbacon, a man who seems to mix his own life up with the legends and stories of Wales, declares it was his own uncle who painted it. The tension between the children, and indeed the adults, grows to almost unbearable levels as the rest of the plaster falls away and the lady is revealed in her full glory – and then, one day, she disappears, too, leaving only a bare wooden wall behind.

‘She’s come’, says Huw.

But who is ‘she’?

Garner mixes his tale of three fractured children, all of whom have, in some sense or other, lost a parent and who are all looking for their role in life, ready in one sense to step into their future while at the same time not being certain where that future will bring them, with the tale of Blodeuwedd, the woman made of flowers, who appears in the Welsh epic poem The Mabinogion. In mythology, she was created by Gwydion as a wife to Lleu, but she betrays him for the love of another, a man named Gronw. She then encourages Gronw to kill Lleu, and is turned into an owl as punishment. Blodeuwedd, her power and frustration and rage, is the spirit which haunts the lives of all in the valley, and because she was awakened there her story is played and replayed there, over and over. Roger, Alison and Gwyn are only the latest in a long line to play the roles.

This book is a marvel of characterisation, dialogue, subtlety, suspense and atmosphere. Clipped conversations, the use of Welsh instead of English (though the book is written in English throughout), the clash between the social classes (very much evident in the way Clive and Roger treat characters like Huw and Gwyn, and as Margaret is reported to do too, in terms of making fun of their accents and aspirations), and the oppressive nature of the house which contains too many people and too much history is just perfect from start to finish. Of course, it’s a little ‘of its time’ in its terminology and technology, but that’s easily overcome. The power and timelessness of the story will draw in even the most modern of readers.

If you haven’t come across this one already, I’d counsel giving it a go. Highly recommended.

Masterpieces of Children’s Literature

Earlier this week, a reader used the words ‘masterpieces of children’s literature’ in a search engine, and as a result they came upon my blog. I’m not sure whether they went away disappointed, or if they found what they were looking for, because I’ve never really written about the broad scope of children’s literature here; it is my primary passion in life, and yet I’ve never actually gone into it in any detail.

In honour of that blog searcher, then, I’d like to write a little about children’s literature, its history and development, and some of the masterpieces of the genre.

I promise it won’t be boring. There’ll be blood and gore and highly inappropriate content, and everything. Sort of.

Is it just me, or is this really creepy? *shudder* Photo Credit: Stewart Leiwakabessy via Compfight cc</a

Is it just me, or is this really creepy? *shudder*
Photo Credit: Stewart Leiwakabessy via Compfight cc

So, it’s probably not news to anyone that the idea of ‘children’s literature’ didn’t really exist until the mid to late eighteenth century; before that, texts were written for children, of course, but they were without exception things like ‘horn books’, or primers to help them learn to read, primarily composed of Scripture excerpts and lessons. Early literature didn’t really distinguish between ‘adult’ readers and ‘child’ readers in the sense that nobody wondered whether kids would like to read stuff that appealed to their imaginations – in fact, it was precisely this sort of flightiness that literature for children sought to keep under wraps. Early writing for young readers was all about control and instruction. Even fairy tales (now considered the foundation of children’s literature) weren’t originally designed for child readers, and were sanitised thoroughly by nineteenth-century moralists to make them ‘suitable’, which is a shame.

I recently attended a lecture about children’s literature in which the speaker discussed Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift, as a story which is full of allusions to things kids wouldn’t have a clue about, like history, politics and sexuality but which is, nevertheless, for children. I was inclined to agree. A tale which deals with changing body size, the arbitrary nature of justice in a world you don’t understand, and being utterly lost, are all things familiar to anyone who loves to write or read children’s books, even now. It’s incredible to think it dates from the 1720s.

Throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, texts and stories written with children in mind began to proliferate. However, they were heavy on the moralistic didacticism, and light on the fun. Swiss Family Robinson, published in 1812, is a great adventure story but it was designed to teach. At the Back of the North Wind, from 1868, is a good example of a story which is full of wonder and imagination, but also stuffed with the sickly-sweet idealisation of childhood; between its goody-two-shoes narrator and its puke-tastic ending, it wouldn’t last two seconds with a modern child reader. Little Women was also published in 1868, and it’s admittedly a masterpiece – but it’s also full of lessons, despite being as different from North Wind as it’s possible for two texts to be. I’m not really a fan of either.

Argh! Scary, no? Photo Credit: chicks57 via Compfight cc

Argh! Scary, no?
Photo Credit: chicks57 via Compfight cc

Oscar Wilde did a good job, in my opinion, of marrying the didacticism with wonderful stories. His fairy tales, including The Happy Prince, are still considered masterpieces – though, again, I’m not sure what modern children would make of them. They’re probably more appealing to adults, these days.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland dates, scarily, to 1865; it’s definitely a masterpiece, though it’s also stuffed full of lessons and allusions, not that you’d notice them because the story is so much fun. Considering that this was originally cooked up to keep three little girls amused on a summer’s afternoon, I think it definitely passes the ‘was this intended for children?’ test with flying colours. With Mark Twain and his The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, books about adventure which try to teach the world a lesson, as opposed to the children doing the reading, come into their own. I’m not sure how ground-breaking Huck’s relationship with Jim was perceived at the time these books were new, but I can guess that it was pretty spectacular. As the nineteenth century drew to a close we had stories like Kidnapped and Treasure Island and The Jungle Book, all of which are considered masterpieces of children’s literature but which, to me, illustrate the changes in taste between then and now; I’m not sure modern readers have the patience for such monumental works. Kipling’s Stalky & Co., from 1899, would probably be classed as ‘YA’ literature these days; slightly on the risqué side, the stories which make up this book were based on the author’s own recollections of his younger days.

The twentieth century saw Oz, which nobody can argue with; full of allusions and references which children might miss but their parents would not, it and its sequels are definitely masterpieces. The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon, from Kenneth Grahame, and Winnie the Pooh from A. A. Milne still charm children today. E. Nesbit’s work, spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is wonderful – The Story of the Treasure Seekers,The Railway Children and more. She influenced writers like Edward Eager whose novels mention some of her characters, entwining them with his own in a sort of ‘story-Otherworld’, which is fantastic. Eager’s The Time Garden is a charming children’s novel from the 1950s, which I love. Her Bastable children also turn up in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and her influence stretched as far as Diana Wynne Jones and other writers who place ordinary children into extraordinary, magic-tinged scenarios. Marjorie Phillips’ Annabel and Bryony, from 1953, is a sweet (if very old-fashioned) story about fairies which hasn’t aged as well as some of its contemporaries, but which is still beautiful. Alan Garner appeared as the 1960s dawned, and remains one of the towering greats of ‘children’s’ literature (even though he never actually defined himself as a writer for children); everyone should read The Weirdstone of BrisingamenThe Moon of Gomrath and Elidor, and that’s just for starters.

And… I should’ve guessed this would take up more than one blog post! The ‘Golden Age of Children’s Literature’ was considered to have taken place in the nineteenth century, but in some ways I think we’re living through it now. Since the mid-twentieth century, I think more masterpieces of children’s literature have been written than existed in the entirety of human culture up to that point, but there’s no room left in this post to talk about them.

I’m sure I’ve missed hundreds of books which others would consider masterpieces, and which I’ve either forgotten about or not managed to read yet. What would you add to the list of Children’s Literature Masterpieces?

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn’t)

Last night, about 2 a.m., our fire alarm started to go bip every thirty seconds. Just out of the blue, you know? Like it was lonely, and wanted to sing itself a little song. Anyway, it dragged the Husband and I out of a sleep which was, until that point, deep as oblivion. There followed nearly an hour of trying to figure out what the heck was wrong and how to fix it without setting off either a) the fire alarm proper or b) the house alarm – which wouldn’t have made us very popular with our neighbours or, indeed, each other.

So, we woke this morning feeling rather worse for wear.

Artist: Charles M. Shulz Image sourced: biblioklept.org

Artist: Charles M. Shulz
Image sourced: biblioklept.org

As a direct result of this (and the fact that all the writing I’ve done over the past twenty-four hours has either been on social media or in preparation for the Date with an Agent event this weekend, which I’ll be attending), today’s blog post is a Top Ten Tuesday, hosted as ever by the fine folks at The Broke and the Bookish.

The theme this week is:

Top Ten Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn’t)

1. The Divergent Trilogy (Veronica Roth)

I wrote a bit about these books on the blog when I read them and I went through the issues I had with them, particularly with book one, Divergent. While the books did improve a bit as they went on, I found the voice (or rather ‘voices’, because there were supposed to be more than one) in book three (Allegiant) to be a challenging read. Some of the illogical bits in the first book did get explained by the end, but I found myself no warmer towards the characters at the end than I was at the beginning. I finished these books because they’d been blockbuster smash hits and I wanted to see if I was missing anything, but also because they were a birthday gift. I feel awful including them in this list because of that fact, but there you have it.

Image: yabookreviewer.wordpress.com

Image: yabookreviewer.wordpress.com

2. The Maze Runner Trilogy (James Dashner)

I don’t want to say too much about these, because I’ll be reviewing them on Saturday. Let’s just say I was challenged to read them, and that was one of the main reasons I didn’t fling them against the nearest wall.

3. Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)

Well. Isn’t this a surprise? Did you think a Neil Gaiman book would turn up on a list like this? I bet you didn’t.

Image: genreforjapan.com

Image: genreforjapan.com

Now, nobody who reads this blog is unaware of my adoration for Neil Gaiman. However, it is the truth that Anansi Boys was a challenge, and the only reason I finished it was (of course) because it was a Neil Gaiman book. I didn’t like the characters, I think – it’s been almost ten years since I read this book, and I only read it once. Something about the sheer nastiness in the story put me off. I appreciate it’s about a trickster god and, common misperceptions about Loki aside, they’re not generally very nice individuals, but still. I might give Anansi Boys another go in a year or two and see if I’ve grown into it.

4. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones)

I had never heard of this until one day, while looking up a Diana Wynne Jones book for a customer in the bookshop in which I used to work, I came across it. I read the title out in surprise, and the customer said ‘Oh, haven’t you read that one? Give it a go, it’s great.’ I immediately ordered it for myself (this was the only drawback to working in a bookshop, for my bank balance at least), and when it arrived I was delighted.

Image: books4yourkids.com

Image: books4yourkids.com

However, I began to read it as soon as I got home and – bleh. The humour didn’t grab me, the concept behind the book (a sort of spoof travel guide to a generic ‘Fantasyland’, which pitilessly lampoons the conventions of fantasy writing) left me cold and I found it boring. So, I did put it down – for a while. I came back to it a few months later, though, possibly in a better frame of mind, and read it cover to cover with huge delight.

The customer was right: it is great. I’m glad I gave this one another chance.

5. Red Shift (Alan Garner)

Have I taken leave of my senses, I hear you ask? A book by my all-time literary hero Alan Garner is on a list of books I almost didn’t finish?

Well, yes.

Image: freebooknotes.com

Image: freebooknotes.com

Alan Garner is an immensely intelligent man, and he brings that intelligence to his writing. His books can often be twisty, complex, filled with scientific, cosmological and philosophical ideas. All this is wonderful, of course, and I’m normally all over it. But, somehow, in Red Shift it’s just a little too much for me. I have read this book four times, with difficulty, and I don’t think I’ve ever understood it. It tells a time-slip story where three periods of history are interconnected through a Stone Age axehead, an artifact which is important to all the characters despite the fact that they are separated by hundreds of years. It’s a marvel of imagination and language, and I have been meaning to give it another go. Perhaps I’ve finally grown a big enough brain to finally be able to read it all, start to finish, without stopping.

6. Gold Dust (Geraldine McCaughrean)

I love Geraldine McCaughrean, too. She’s a legend in children’s books. I feel almost like I’m letting off fireworks in a church just by saying that I came within a hair’s breadth of not finishing one of her novels, but I cannot lie. Gold Dust just didn’t work for me. I didn’t enjoy the voice, or the story, or the characters. I’m sorry about it, though, if that helps.

7. The Last Four Things (Paul Hoffman)

I picked up this book because I thought, stupidly, that it would be about ‘the four last things’ – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – of medieval eschatology. It’s not, of course. It’s about a character named Thomas Cale and his induction into a shady secret society whose aim it is to bring the world to an end. I finished it only because I bought it on honeymoon and it has sentimental value; if this wasn’t the case, it’d have ended up in a second-hand shop a long time ago.

8. The Vision of Piers Plowman (William Langland)

Image: hachette.com.au

Image: hachette.com.au

Right, so this is a text I had to read for college; I fought it all the way, though. It’s possibly my least favourite of all the books (technically, it’s a long poem) I had to read for my studies and I freely admit I only finished it because I had to. Having said that, I appreciate it as a masterwork of allegory and symbolism, but holy heck is it hard.

If any of my old students are reading this, disregard the last few sentences. I read this because it’s a work of genius and everything I told you in class about how great it is is completely, one hundred percent true. All right? Good.

9. Tristram Shandy (Laurence Sterne)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a crazy thing. Filled with exaggeration, digression, tangents which ramble on not for pages but for entire volumes, pages which are left blank, taking its sources from all over the place, and some of the most refreshing language of its age, it’s almost like a book that should have been written during the postmodern era. It’s insane. It’s hard to read. But it’s worth the struggle. It dates from the mid-eighteenth century and even the language is a challenge to modern eyes, but I’m glad it’s under my belt.

10. Every Dead Thing (John Connolly)

I am a huge John Connolly fan – now. At the time I first began to read his work, it was almost too much for me; too creepy, too scary, too gory, too everything. A friend recommended him, and so I bought the first four of his Charlie Parker novels, beginning with Every Dead Thing. It took me four attempts to finish it, but after that I was on a roll. I ripped through the rest of Connolly’s work, and I’ve been a religious collector of his books ever since. Genius. But scary.

Image: johnconnollybooks.com

Image: johnconnollybooks.com

So, that’s me. Care to share your own top ten list of books you almost put down – but didn’t?

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?

Book Review Saturday – ‘The Skull in the Wood’

Oh, thank goodness for this book. Thank goodness.

Image: sandragreaves.com

Image: sandragreaves.com

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed good, solid, decently scary, folklore-tinged, well-written storytelling until I read this book, Sandra Greaves’ debut novel. Published late last year by the wonderful Chicken House, it’s a gem. I hope the author is planning to keep writing, and that there are plenty more stories where this one came from.

The novel is narrated through the alternating viewpoints of two primary characters, thirteen-year-old cousins Matt and Tilda, who are forced to live together during a particularly charged and emotional time in Matt’s life. His parents have just separated, and his father has removed himself entirely from the family, leaving Matt to deal with his mother’s new boyfriend Paul (the ‘four-eyed pillock’, as Matt memorably describes him on page 1.) Matt, understandably, struggles to cope. He decides to decamp to his uncle’s house – the widower of his mother’s late sister – in order to get some space. This brings him into close contact not only with Tilda, but with Kitty – his bubbly, beautiful five-year-old cousin who is, in so many ways, the focal point and the heart of the story.

Among the new people he meets on Dartmoor (for this is where his uncle and cousins live) is Gabe, the handyman neighbour, an older man who is in touch with the local folklore. Gabe is a strange and slightly odd character, interesting and layered and eccentric, and I loved him. It’s from him that Matt hears about Old Scratch Wood, a scrubby area of woodland, apparently the oldest in England, which lies some miles away across the moor. Gabe warns him off going there, which – of course – has the effect of making Matt want to see it as soon as possible. Tilda is instructed to bring him, and – during the course of their attempts to frighten one another half to death inside the spooky old wood – they discover something strange, buried deep in the long-undisturbed soil. This strange object starts to have an effect not only on Matt and Tilda and their relationship to one another, but also the continued existence of Tilda’s family. It is so slow and gradual that the children don’t understand that a larger force, a corrosive force, is at work, but Gabe knows better. He repeatedly tries to warn the children about the ‘gabbleratchet,’ a gathering of infernal darkness heralded by birds; at first, of course, they have no time for what they perceive as nonsense, but they soon learn that they’re mistaken to treat it so lightly. Gabe has seen the gabbleratchet once before, and he knows exactly what to look for…

This was a delicious story – and I mean ‘story’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a satisfying read which ticks all the boxes and sends the customer home singing, with no bells or whistles or unnecessary faff. It had everything I adore in a book, and more. I loved the mingling of the supernatural – and the darn spooky supernatural, at that – with the ordinary, everyday existence of the characters; I loved the ‘city boy’ Matt and his inability to get into the flow of life on a farm. I adored beautiful Kitty and her sparkly, sunny ways. I even liked Tilda, bruised and battered since the death of her mother, forced to take on too much responsibility, afraid that the life she knows and loves is about to be taken from her – and with nobody upon whom to focus her anger besides her cousin.

In so many ways this story reminded me of Alan Garner’s work; it’s not in the same league in terms of language, at least for me, but it definitely comes from the same mindset. It features so much stuff I love, which I also find in Garner’s work: a traditional setting, taking in folklore and folk wisdom (I loved the ‘gabbleratchet’, a version of which is also found in Garner’s majestic ‘The Moon of Gomrath’); confused and frightened children facing down a supernatural power vastly superior to themselves; innocence threatened, and deep family secrets coming to the fore.

Image: amazon.co.uk

Image: amazon.co.uk

The central motif of the story – the actual skull itself, which has lain in Old Scratch Wood for so many years – is thrillingly spooky. I loved the way Sandra Greaves uses the characters’ inability to appreciate the changes in the skull as a way of pointing out to the reader that it contains some deep and disturbing power, and I loved the way the gabbleratchet is described. It’s different, while remaining completely true to its traditional roots. A reader doesn’t need to be familiar with English – or, I suppose, British – folklore to understand or appreciate the power of the gabbleratchet, as it’s so well described and perfectly utilised within this story, but if you do, it can only help to heighten your appreciation for the finer details in the story. I loved, too, that the raising of the gabbleratchet is not the only problem the children face – there are also ‘real life’ issues for them to deal with, including separated or deceased parents, parents taking new partners, families with money worries, devastating illness and fears for the future, which end up being harder to sort out than the supernatural.

This book is well-written, expertly handled and perfectly realised. It has great pace and suspense, as well as emotional heft. I know it’s early days for 2014 yet, but I don’t expect to read many books this year which will top this one.

Highly recommended.

Recommended Books (Vol. 1)

The other day on Twitter, a very kind lady named Steph asked me if I’d ever blogged a list of books I’d recommend. I thought about it, and realised that I hadn’t, really, ever written a post like that. I do random book reviews, and I’ve talked a bit about why I buy certain books and not others (which, no doubt, you’re aware of if you’ve been hanging out here for a while), but I’ve never put together an actual list of books I would recommend to others.

It’s been on my mind for a few days now, and I think I’ll give it a go.

It’s a bit scary, though, in some ways. It’s sort of like opening the door to your mind and showing people around, hoping they won’t turn their nose up at your choice of curtains or finger your upholstery in a derisory way, going ‘Really? This fabric? Couldn’t she afford anything better?’

'Well, I never! How *could* she choose that colour for the walls? Has she *no* decorum? You wouldn't see that at one of my candlelight suppers!' Image: politicsworldwide.com

‘Well, I never! How *could* she choose that colour for the walls? Has she *no* decorum? You wouldn’t see that at one of my candlelight suppers!’
Image: politicsworldwide.com

Anyway.

So, the list of books below are some of those which I found world-enhancing, life-changing, utterly wonderful in every way, and which I’d recommend everyone reads as soon as possible. Here goes. Be gentle.

The Silver SwordIan Seraillier. I first read this book in first class at primary school (so, I was about seven or eight); we were going through a World War II phase, wherein we read this book, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank, and another book I adore called I Am David by Anne Holm.  Everyone in the world has heard of Anne Frank, but not everyone has heard of the others. So, that’s why these ones are recommended.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle. I brought this book on a family holiday when I was about ten, and I lost it. I almost lost my reason, too. The strop was almighty and unmerciful, and nobody escaped my wrath. I actually found it again years later, after I’d already bought myself two replacement copies, but I didn’t apologise to my family for the temper tantrum. So it goes.

Speaking of l’Engle, though – as much as I adore A Wrinkle in Time, I’m not completely sold on the other books in the series of which this book is the first volume. As they go on, they get a bit less interesting and a bit more ‘preachy’. But Wrinkle is definitely worth reading.

I’ve already wittered on about The Little Prince and Elidor before, so I won’t do it again.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and The Owl Service, all by Alan Garner, are so amazing that I don’t have a word to describe them. Just read them, as soon as possible, and then read everything Alan Garner has ever written, including Boneland, Strandloper, Thursbitch, The Stone Book Quartet, The Voice that Thundersand anything else I may have forgotten.

I need to go and have a lie-down now, after thinking about Alan Garner’s books. They’re that good.

Right. Next, move on to Susan Cooper, and her magnificent The Dark is Rising sequence of books; once you’ve read them, try Victory for size, a story which links the modern day to the Battle of Trafalgar, and which is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. I read the last fifty pages of it through a veil of tears. Just a fair warning.

Then, there’s Jenny Nimmo, and her Snow-Spider Trilogy, which is fabulous.

There’s also John Connolly, who has written for children (beautifully), but who also has the marvellous Charlie Parker detective novels, all of which are worth reading; my favourite is Bad Men.

I’ve spoken before on this blog about Jeanette Winterson. To be honest, I’d find it impossible to recommend one of her books above any of the others, but if I had to, it’d be Sexing the Cherry. Or The Passion. Or The Power Book. Or Written on the Body. Gah! I can’t choose. Read them all, and you decide.

Margaret Atwood. What can I say about her? Read The Edible Woman, and follow it up with Surfacing, and then let me know if your mind is blown. Because mine was when I first read these books. I was the same age as Atwood had been when she’d written them, and I went into a funk of ‘what on earth am I doing with my life?’ that lasted about four years.

It’s pretty unfashionable not to read and love Neil Gaiman these days; I’m no exception to the rule. Pick anything he’s written and give it a go, and I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. I recommend all his novels (perhaps not Anansi Boys as much as the others, for some reason), but my absolute favourite Gaiman is Sandman, his graphic novel. Genius.

I love Garth Nix. I read The Abhorsen Trilogy several years ago, and was astounded. Those books inspired me to write more than (I think) any other young adult/children’s book I’ve ever read. Give them a whirl, if you haven’t already.

When it comes to Ursula le Guin, everyone recommends The Earthsea Quartet. Of course, I do, too. But there’s so much more to her than that. The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, and The Word for World is Forest are also amazing.

I’ve just finished reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly, either. I took a chance on it, as I’d never read anything by the author before, and I was richly rewarded for it. A beautiful, completely unique book, it’s great and should be widely read.

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando changed my life when I first read it. It showed me what a novel can do, by breaking every single narrative rule in the universe and then making a brilliant story out of the shards. Incredible.

Also, Sylvia Plath’s Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, which isn’t a novel (it’s a collection of stories). This book left a lasting impression on me. Everyone has read The Bell Jar (also wonderful), but not as many people have read Plath’s stories. So, do it.

I reckon that’s enough for one day. I have a feeling I’ll revisit this topic, because I’ve really enjoyed taking a stroll through my bookish memories.

Have you read any/all of the books I mention here? What did you think? Would you agree that they’re worth recommending to others, or am I off my trolley?

Preparing for the Final Draft

It’s only now I’ve written it that I realise how over-dramatic the title of this post sounds – like I’m going to be shipped off-planet to help save humankind from alien warlords who love nothing more than smearing human entrails all over their breakfast, or whatever. The ‘draft’ I’m talking about is a bit less exciting than that, of course. The WiP sits, in its folder, on my kitchen table, resplendent in its livery of red pen corrections, waiting for me to finish it – and tomorrow, it will finally be time for me to begin that process.

I’m almost grateful that Christmas is nearly upon us, and that our house needed the cleaning of its life before the festivities kick off, because it’s given me something to do for the last few days as the WiP settled. I can really see the wisdom showed by my writerly idol, Alan Garner, who worked for years as a manual labourer between books because he wanted to do something of value, using physical (as opposed to mental) energy, allowing him to think about his books at the back of his mind. It seemed to work, as he’s written some of the most fabulous books in the English language! My WiP isn’t fit to tie the sandals of even the least of his books, of course, but I’ve also enjoyed the time away from the words. It’s good to sit down at the end of the day and feel pleasantly weary, muscles aching from being used, and your brain at peace. I worked for years in jobs which would leave me completely worn out at the end of the day, my brain screaming for rest – that sort of feeling is a creativity killer. But the sort of work I did yesterday is valuable, I think. A rest from your writing, once in a while, is important.

I won't be doing it in bare feet, though. Crazy stuff.

Who washes a floor in bare feet? Not me, in Ireland, in December, that’s for sure!

Today, I’m planning to wash the kitchen floor, which is one of those jobs I like – you get instant positive feedback, i.e. the floor looks shiny immediately, which pleases my inner magpie. But the best part of this job is, of course, the fact that the floor has to dry for several hours afterwards, meaning I have no choice but to take to a quiet corner somewhere and read. I really do love it when life gives you no option but to read! I’m currently devouring another Celine Kiernan book, ‘The Rebel Prince’, which is the last instalment in her Moorehawke Trilogy. I have a feeling I’ll be blogging a review of these books in the coming days.

It’s weird to think that other people may, one day, read my words, and hopefully they’ll like them. Maybe eventually some of these may be ‘paying customers’, but I know my family and friends will probably be my first readers. The other day, while having tea with a friend, I had an epiphany – it struck me that other people don’t have a clue what my book is about. I know that this seems obvious, but for whatever reason – probably because my brain has been steeped in this story for so, so long – it only really hit me at that point that nobody else in the world knows this whole story. It felt strange, exciting, almost exhilarating, and it makes me a little bit scared at the thought of sharing the story with other people. I never really appreciated before how difficult it is to have an inner life which seems as real, to you, as your outer life. Sharing a book you’ve worked on and loved for weeks and months and years is, actually, as intense an experience as introducing a partner to your parents for the first time, or trying to integrate two groups of friends. You desperately hope everyone likes each other, and that they’ll all get on. It’s easy to use this as an excuse to never share your fictive world with anyone else, but I’m not falling into that trap this time.

This final draft will be completed soon. I will have it prepared before Christmas. *Deep breaths* And then I will allow other people to read it, if they wish – starting with my darling husband, who has been bugging me to let him read it for weeks now.

Happy Thursday, wherever you are! Whatever you’re up to, I hope it’s more interesting than washing a floor…

Book Nostalgia

Do you have books that you remember reading for the first time, or that you associate strongly with a particular time in your life, or that you feel changed your life in some way?  Oh good – then it’s not just me.

When I was 7, my cousin (from a different country and 15 years older than me, hence she was the living embodiment of ‘cool’) gave me a book, telling me it was one she’d read when she was little, and now she didn’t need it any more.  I took it from her, immediately captivated by the cover image, which showed a rearing white horse.  But then I looked at the picture more closely. ‘It’s a unicorn!‘ I cried, to my cousin’s delight.  I remember taking it up to my room, which at that time had a little seat in the window (perfect for reading), and as soon as I had started this book, there was nothing that could entice me to move.  Dinner was ignored, as were my friends, as was the sunshine outside the window.  I had to finish the book.  I remember being electrified by scenes where shadow-people from another world project themselves onto a boy’s bedroom wall – those scenes terrified me, but it was terror mixed with exhilaration.  I was afraid to look at my own bedroom wall, for fear of what I might see there.  I kept reading.  I read about four ancient treasures, found by four siblings, which have the power to save or destroy another world.  I read about a dark hill, which exuded a black light-beam in order to find its enemies, and which the child-hero had to enter in order to save his family.  I read about the unicorn, who had to sing to save the world, and even as a child I knew that this song would spell its doom.  I finished the book, I cried, I wiped my eyes and then I started it again.

The book was ‘Elidor’, by Alan Garner, and it changed my life.  It was the book which awakened my imagination, and which fixed forever my love of mythology, folklore, fantasy fiction, fairytales, even historical fiction.  There is a little verse of poetry in the book, which is important to the plot, and it is written in a language that seemed like angels’ speech to me as a child; it turned out to be something even better than that.  It was the first time I had ever read Middle English, though I didn’t know what it was at the time – later, much later, during my Ph.D. studies into the medieval period, I recalled ‘Elidor’ and smiled to see how much influence it’d had over my life.

The first book I ever tried to write, I remember with a rueful grin, was a sequel to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s magical ‘The Little Prince’.  That, also, was a book which touched my sentimental heart and made me cry bitter tears for the loss of the Prince, and his departure for another unknown world at the end of the story.  The narrator poignantly asks the reader to tell him if the little prince ever returns to earth, and so my book (complete with illustrations, I’ll have you know) was based on that idea – the little prince had returned, and I was rushing to tell the author the good news, so that the friends could be reunited.  Little did I know that, of course, in real life M. de Saint-Exupery had long since disappeared himself.  When I found out that he had been lost in action during WWII, I mourned for him as I would have for one of my own family.

These two books are the pillars around which I built my childhood.  I can’t overstate how important they were, and are, to me.  I still read them at least once a year, and I love them just as much now as I did then – and, believe it or not, every time I read them, I learn something new.

As I grew up, of course, I began to love other books – but that’s for another day, and another blog post.