Tag Archives: Dave Rudden

Celebrating Ireland

Yesterday, among other things, it was St Patrick’s Day. I’m proud of my nation’s day, even though, truth be told, my nation itself causes me more problems than pride most of the time. I spent yesterday huddled indoors hoping it would stop raining for long enough to get to our local parade (spoiler: it didn’t), and so it passed mostly unremarked; this was a pity, as I love St Patrick’s Day parades with all their mismatched, homemade, amateur whimsy. They’re a true celebration of what living in a rural town in Ireland looks and feels like, and though some of it doesn’t deserve to be romanticised, some of it is pure fun. If you celebrated it, I hope you enjoyed yourself.

In honour of the national day, I wanted to spend a bit of time bigging up my fellow Irish writers, just because. There are a lot of them, so I’m beginning this post by apologising (which is, of course, the most Irish thing of all); I’m bound to forget someone, and I mean no disrespect. I put it down to my being old and grey(ish) and not having enough space in my brain-pan for everything that needs to fit into it. So, if you don’t see yourself here and you feel, all told, that you should be, do let me know. Also, I’m going to focus on kidlit/YA types, mostly because I’m lazy and this is the age-group I know best – but also because the best writing happens there, and because if I opened my focus to literary fiction I’d literally be writing this blogpost for the rest of my life. We Irish, we know our words.

Irish Books

With apologies to Mr Walliams, who isn’t included in my Irish roundup! Photo: SJ O’Hart

Right. To begin at the beginning.

If you haven’t already made the acquaintance of the one-man wonder show that is Dave Rudden, I heartily recommend you do. His second novel, The Forever Court, is imminent, and as his first – Knights of the Borrowed Dark – was one of the best books I have ever read (and I have read many books, so this is A Good Thing), I fully expect the second book in this series to be stupendous. As well as that he’s one of the nicest people around, full of excellent writing advice and general nerdery/geekery on Twitter, and he sports a beard of wonder which deserves to be more widely admired.

I also kneel before the throne of Claire Hennessy, who has been around so long in Irish writing circles (despite still being a very young lady) that she practically functions as its fulcrum. She has a publishing record as long as your arm, having released her first book into the world while she was still in her teens, and her novel Like Other Girls is forthcoming from Hot Key Books in May. This is only the latest in a body of work which is noteworthy for its feminism, intelligence and social awareness, and Claire is one of the most interesting writers, speakers and  human beings I know. She’s also an awesome creative writing teacher with Big Smoke Writing Factory, as I can personally attest.

I am a Celine Kiernan completist, and I wait with bated breath whenever she mentions she has another book coming. Her Moorehawke Trilogy is world-class fantasy, and her novel Into the Grey is a stunning piece of work. My favourite of her works is Resonance, her most recent, which is an incredible piece of writing, storytelling, world-building and imagination, and I can’t recommend it more highly. She can’t write her next book fast enough for me.

Then there’s the one-woman powerhouse that is E.R. Murray, who manages – it seems – to constantly be writing four books at once, and all of them to an excellent standard. Her Nine Lives series about Ebony Smart, a young girl with the power to reincarnate, is published by Mercier Press. As if that wasn’t enough, her YA story about a young girl struggling to cope with the challenges of her family life with the help of her mother’s recipe book is called Caramel Hearts, published by Alma Press. E.R. is widely regarded as an in-demand speaker, creative writing teacher, and author, and she is a warm and welcoming presence on the Irish literary scene.

Kieran Fanning (who daylights as a teacher) is the author of The Black Lotus, published by Chicken House Books in the UK and Scholastic in the US, which is one of the best books for kids I’ve read in years. It encompasses adventure, martial arts, time travel, history, superpowers and an epic battle – and I loved it. He’s a supportive and helpful voice on social media, a source of huge encouragement for newbies like me, and an authority on making books and literature accessible and interesting to children. Anyone who writes for children in Ireland should be following his every word.

Nigel Quinlan’s The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox stands, in my humble onion, shoulder-to-shoulder with Pat O’Shea, a legend of Irish children’s literature. When I read Weatherbox I was reminded of nothing more than O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigana book which was a gigantic part of my childhood. In its zany humour, utterly Irish turns of phrase, and completely bonkers family, it’s a book which made me laugh while keeping me glued to the plot. I enjoyed it so much, and I can’t wait to see what Quinlan does next. Also, if you’re looking for bonkers zany humour on Twitter, Nigel‘s your man.

I can’t write a post like this without mentioning Louise O’Neill, who has – deservedly – enjoyed worldwide success with her novels Only Ever Yours and Asking For It, which tackle some of the most complex aspects of modern life as experienced, primarily, by young women. They are books which can be searingly painful to read, simply because they are so true, and so important. Her work has drawn comparison with that of Margaret Atwood, and the clarity O’Neill brings to her dissection of what it is to be female in a world which seems to hate women is utterly compelling.

There are so many more incredible Irish writers I could mention, including Sarah Webb, Sheena Wilkinson, Siobhan Parkinson, Deirdre Sullivan, Eoin Colfer, Oisin McGann, Derek Landy, Sarah Crossan, P.J. Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Shane Hegarty (who has enjoyed recent film success with his trilogy of Darkmouth books), Alan Early (whose Arthur Quinn novels about resurrected Vikings and Norse Gods taking over Dublin city are fantastic), Oliver Jeffers, Máire Zepf, Tarsila Kruse (who I’m claiming as Irish!), and more who I’m sure I’m forgetting that I really would be here all day, so I’ll have to leave it at that. Ireland is producing some top-notch writing for children, teens and young readers, as well as its already enviable record in relation to literary fiction, and it’s a great time to be part of it.

So, Beannachtaí lá le Phádraig oraibh go leor, and take my word for it: the best way to celebrate St Patrick is to check out a book by an Irish writer. Maith thú, beir bua, is bain taitneamh as na leabhair!

 

Book Review – ‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’

TL;DR – just buy and read this book already, okay? And when you’re done, let me know so we can enthuse about it together.

KOTBD

Image: penguin.co.uk

Longer version: hoo wee.

Right. So, you know when you’re editing your own work, and you’re getting on fairly well (or, at least, you’re getting on with it) and you come up against a book you’ve been wanting to read for ages? And you crumble in the face of temptation, and you read the long-awaited book?

Well. Normally, that would be okay. But when the book is Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark, you may just have a problem. Because this book is good. Really, really good. So good that it makes everything else around it seem like dross, much like a thousand-watt bulb will drown out a candle flame. As a result, reading your own work in tandem with it is likely to bring on existential dread.

At least, it did for me.

KOTBD is the story of orphan Denizen Hardwick, who lives in Crosscaper Orphanage on Ireland’s west coast. He and his best mate Simon have lived in the orphanage all their lives, and things are pretty grim – but not, on the whole, as grim as they could be. No, there’s plenty of space for things to get way worse – and that happens around the time Denizen turns thirteen. Firstly, two very weird (and extremely spooky) visitors come calling to Crosscaper looking for him (though they go away empty-handed, at least at first), and secondly he discovers he has an aunt he never knew about, who sends her employee to go and pick him up so they can have a heart-to-heart. Naturally, learning about long-lost family, to an orphan, is a bit of a bittersweet thing; great to have an aunt, but why on earth has she never come forward until now?

It all becomes clear when Denizen is on his way to his aunt’s house in Dublin in the company of Grey, her second-in-command. They’re ambushed on the road by something Denizen can’t find words to describe – a creature made of darkness and debris, so powerful it tears a hole in the fabric of reality in order to try to wipe him out. But Grey fights it off, and after a sugary tea (for the shock), they’re on their way again.

But Grey refuses to answer Denizen’s questions. In fact, Denizen has a bunch of questions, and nobody seems interested in answering them.

In Dublin, Denizen realises his aunt lives in an embassy-style building, though the flag isn’t one he’s familiar with. He meets the members of her household, and he marvels at the weirdness of the place – but all that pales into insignificance when he meets his aunt herself. Easily the most impressive female character I think I’ve ever read, I loved Vivian Hardwick from the second I ‘met’ her, despite her initial coldness towards her nephew. Resplendent and powerful and afraid of nothing, this is a woman I would cheer for (from a safe distance). She is a powerful and accomplished member of an ancient order of warriors who set themselves against the Tenebrae, or the creatures of darkness – and, as Denizen soon learns, the same power of Light is in his veins.

But, every time the power is used, there is a Cost to pay, and Denizen must decide whether he is willing to pay the Cost, take up his mantle as a Knight, and fight alongside his aunt – or whether to learn enough to control his power and stop it hurting him or anyone else, and leave the whole thing behind.

I think you can probably guess what way he decides to go…

This story, in some ways, is full of things I’d seen before (orphans, hidden relatives, secret powers, turning thirteen), but in another way it’s entirely fresh. In Rudden’s hands, all these elements become brand-new, and the book is utterly compelling. Partly this is down to the writing style, which is absolutely wonderful, filled with expertly judged sentences, spot-on imagery, excellent set-pieces and pitch-perfect dialogue, and partly it’s down to the way the elements are spun, and the small touches which Rudden adds to make things new and interesting, as well as the fascinating characters. Each of them is interesting enough to have a book written about them in their own right, and that’s some achievement. I loved the idea of the Cost, and I loved the downright bone-rattlingly scary baddies (The Man in the Waistcoat, the Woman in White, and the Opening Boy), and I loved Grey (oh, how I loved Grey) and – of course – I adored Denizen himself, brave and determined and snarky and devoted to Simon and awkward and inadequate and utterly perfect. The settings, descriptions, pacing, plot, language and characters in this book are just… look. There aren’t enough superlatives, okay? Suffice to say, I found a home for this one on my Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett shelf (no higher honour can be paid to a book in my ownership besides to be placed alongside my Alan Garners and Ursula Le Guins), and I am itching with impatience for the next installment in the trilogy.

Dave Rudden is one of those annoyingly brilliant people, a debut novelist whose work reads like a twenty-year veteran – and he appears to be rather a nice man, to boot. I recommend you follow him on Twitter (@d_ruddenwrites and/or @KOTBDofficial), and I heartily recommend you equip yourself with a copy of Knights of the Borrowed Dark. It is the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it simultaneously gave me the shivers you only get when reading a really excellent piece of literature and the terrors you get when forced to question your own career choices. Don’t read this book if you have any other calls on your time; block off enough hours to finish it in one sitting, and just dive in.

And make sure you leave the lights on.