Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

We Have Ways of Making You Talk…

The very kind and talented Brian S. Creek (check out his blog, ladies and gentlefolk) nominated me for a Liebster Award just before Christmas. Now, things have been sort of all over the shop for me since then, and so this is the first chance I’m getting to address the questions asked of me. Also, it’s true that this nomination makes my third (count ’em!) Liebster nomination, and so, at this stage, there’s probably very little left about me that y’all don’t know.

But, nevertheless, let’s give these here questions a shot. Ready? Buckle up!

And make sure your trays are in the upright position, while you're at it... Photo Credit: frankieleon via Compfight cc

And make sure your trays are in the upright position, while you’re at it…
Photo Credit: frankieleon via Compfight cc

If you could have any super power for a day, what would it be?

I’ve often thought about this question, and I remember answering it before in terms of how I’d love to have the words to solve all arguments, without causing anyone any offence. I’d still love to have that power, but I think – given the world we live in, and the events of recent times, and my feelings of utter helplessness in the face of all of it – that I’d quite like to be a version of a human Care Bear, or something. I’d love to have the power to spread love and compassion throughout the world, and to make everyone think first of others, and then themselves. I’d love to be able to make people see the world from the point of view of another person. That would be an amazing superpower – except, to have any effect, I’d have to have it for a lot longer than one day.

One day would be a start, though.

Who is the most famous person you’ve met?

So, if you’ve been hanging out here for a while, you’ll know about this. I reckon Neil Gaiman is probably the most famous person I’ve ‘met’, if squeaking at an author at a book signing counts as ‘meeting.’ Besides that, I’ve met a President (of Ireland, so not as cool as some other presidents), and I almost met the Princess Royal once (that’s Princess Anne, Her Majesty the Queen’s daughter, for those not in the know). I was in the same room as her and breathed the same air, but didn’t quite get to shake the royal gloved hand. Oh, well.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

Argh, you see? One of these ‘impossible to answer’ questions. I’d love to live in Reykjavík, just because I’ve been in love with it, and with Iceland, all my life. I’d love to live on Svalbard. I want to live in Tromso. I would love to live in Paris, because I adore that city. I’d love to live in Dubrovnik, because it’s beautiful (and old). I’d love to live in the middle of nowhere in the wilderness of northern Canada. I’d love to live in Tasmania, because one of my favourite people in the world is there.

So I guess I should probably say I’m happy where I am. *sigh*

What was the first story you can remember writing?

I had a great teacher in primary school named Mrs Mythen. I loved her, and she – I’m pretty sure – was fond of me, too. She knew I loved English and writing, and that whenever the class had a spelling- or writing-related task to complete, that I’d be done before the others, and so she used to give me extra work to keep me quiet. We used to write little stories together, and we used also to write poems together, where I’d write one verse and the teacher would write another, and so on. One of these poems was about a witch and her overflowing cauldron, I remember, and it was lots of fun. It also got me used to taking criticism – Mrs Mythen was a hard taskmistress!

I’ve talked before about how my first ‘story’ was a sequel to The Little Prince, and this is true, but upon giving the question some serious consideration this morning, I think perhaps my witchy poem was earlier. I’d have been about six years old, maybe.

Which book do you wish you’d written and why?

I’d love to be facetious here and say ‘The Little Red Book’ or ‘The Bible’ (because sales, darnit), but no. I wish I’d written so many books (the Earthsea books, The Dark is Rising sequence, basically anything by Neil Gaiman and/or Jeanette Winterson), so I’ll say this: I wish I’d written my own next book. I hope to always have ideas, and the space in my mind to complete them, and the peace in my heart to do them justice, and so I’ll always wish to have written the book I’m currently working on to the best of my ability, just to have to opportunity to move on to the next.

If you could write a sequel to a movie that doesn’t already have one how would it go?

This is easy. I’d write a sequel to Labyrinth where I was Sarah, and I’d fight my way to the goblin city just so I could sweep Jareth the Goblin King off his booted feet. Mrs Goblin King has a ring to it, right?

Image: crafthubs.com

Image: crafthubs.com

If you could be on a writing panel with three other authors, who would they be?

Good question. I guess it depends what sort of writing panel we’re talking about: if it was a kidlit writing panel, then I’d choose Frances Hardinge, Alan Garner (even though he doesn’t technically write for children, apparently) and Catherine Fisher. If it was an SF/fantasy writing panel, it’d be unlikely I’d be asked, but I’d choose Ursula leGuin, Neil Gaiman and the late, lamented Robert Holdstock.

You’re given a time travel device that allows only one time jump. What date do you go to?

I’d love to say Chaucerian London, but I know I’d last about three seconds in the mud and dirt and ordure, so I wouldn’t want to go there and have no way of getting back. In fact, I don’t like going anywhere without a clear escape plan, so this question is giving me the sweats.

Let’s say I choose ‘tomorrow’, and leave it at that. (Phew!)

What’s your biggest regret to date?

My regrets are mainly for stuff I didn’t do, rather than things I did. I have fallen out with friends, which I regret terribly, and I didn’t say something to someone when I could have which might have changed the course of their life entirely – but then, things have worked out extremely well for that person, regardless, so maybe things happened just as they were supposed to. I find it very hard to forgive myself for ‘failings’, so I try to live my life regret-free as far as possible. It’s just neater that way.

If you could live in any fictional world (filmed or written) where would it be?

Another question I’ve often thought about. I love Hobbiton (because who doesn’t?) and Lothlorien, either the filmed or written versions, but actually I think I’d love to live in the world of Star Trek. Post-money, post-race, post-gender discrimination, the entire galaxy working for peace and reconciliation, and on top of all that we get to fly spaceships and use ray guns? Sign me up, Scotty.

What are your goals for 2015?

To look after my health; to spend more time with my family; to stop beating myself up psychologically (hahaha!); to write as often as I can and as well as I can; to work very hard on a particular project and bring it in on time; to work on being as happy as I can be; to work on being the best person I can be, for everyone I love (and everyone else!)

So, those are the answers to the 11 fiendish questions posed by Brian. I’m not going to tag anyone, mainly because everyone I know who’d be interested in doing a Liebster post has already been Liebstered, repeatedly, but if you fancy taking a punt at these questions, have at it. Just make sure to link back here so I can check out your answers! Thank you, Brian, for including me in your nominations, and I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know me a little better.

Happy Monday, everybody – may your week be wordy and bright!

Flash! Friday – ‘Monkey on Your Back’

 

Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar. CC 2.0 photo by David Stanley.

Barbary Macaque, Gibraltar. CC 2.0 photo by David Stanley.

Monkey on Your Back

Tired. So tired.

My last success a distant memory. Scraps, and leftovers, and charity, have been my portion ever since, but the sun is warm, here; the pace slow. It is the perfect place to start looking. The ideal spot in which to begin again.

I swing, lightly, onto a pitted metal balcony. My nose twitches with the scent of effort. Through an open window I hear muttering, the clack-clacking of a typewriter.

Soundlessly, I pad toward the room. A man sits at a desk. Novels, all bearing his likeness, lie scattered around, but he struggles, it seems, with today’s words.

I smile. I can help with that.

He screams as I climb onto his back and sink my claws in, but then his fingers reach for the keys. He begins again. It is good work. His best. With every word, I feel my strength returning.

Soon, and until it is too late, he won’t even notice I am here.

**

Years ago, I’m sure I read a vintage short story about a monkey which acted as a sort of ‘twisted Muse’ to a writer, driving him mad as he strove for greater and greater success. I can’t remember how it ends – and I also can’t remember the name of the story, so if anyone can help, please let me know – but when I saw today’s prompt, I knew this was where I had to take my tale. Flash! Friday‘s nefarious rules for today’s challenge stated that we had to write a story based on the image prompt above, and ‘a famous writer’ – not necessarily a named famous writer, but simply one which features in the story. So, what was a gal to do?

I’m not sure if the monkey in the original story was a soul-vampire (or whatever the monkey in my tale is; I’m afraid to really look) – I just know that it was about an unhealthy relationship between hard work, inspiration and mental and physical health, which is why the phrase ‘monkey on your back’ has come into use now as a shorthand way of describing a drug addiction, or something which is a burden but which the sufferer cannot, or will not, part with. Writers and their muses have long had a tortured relationship in fiction, but usually it’s the writer who torments the Muse – just check out the way Calliope is treated in Dream Country if you don’t believe me – and so I like the idea of it being the Muse tormenting (and quite possibly destroying) the writer, this time around.

Anyway. Whatever your feelings on monkeys, Muses, or drama-queen writers, I hope you enjoy my tiny tale this Friday. Tune in tomorrow for a book review (it’s fun, I promise), and I’ll see y’all next week for more travels through the labyrinthine torture chamber that is my mind. Adios!

Surprised by Books

This weekend, we spend some time with dear friends (and their darling little girl), which was very book-centric in the best possible way. I am far from being the only writer they know – and I’m very much on the bottom rung of the ladder of success in comparison to the others – and we are all big readers (including the darling little girl, of course). So, we talked about agents and book deals and academia and thesis-writing and books we love and Jane Austen and books for children and a whole heap of fabulousness.

Over the course of all this chit-chat, a book token was given by them to my husband as a gift. ‘There’s a bookshop in (local town)’, they told us. ‘And it’s open on Sundays. And there’s plenty of parking.’

Well.

We took our leave, and we trucked on down to this local town, and we sniffed out the bookshop, and – inevitably, dear readers – we went in.

We’d been warned that it only had a ‘small’ children’s section down at the back, so I was expecting maybe one bay of books, or a couple of shelves. However, I was met instead by five full bays, with more displays on the floor, and a whole wall of children’s picture books. This, of course, was ignoring the rest of the shop, which was just as cool. I immediately glued myself to the section in which I am most at home while my beloved went rummaging in the non-fiction sections.

But wait. Are you ready for this bit?

Between special offers and the generally excellent prices, I managed to purchase three books for the princely sum of twenty euro fifty cent, including (finally!) a replacement copy of my missing Stardust; now, my Gaiman collection is once more complete. Twenty euro! For three books! I practically danced to the register.

I was blown away not only by the great selection of books, the size of the children’s and YA section, the general appearance of the shop and the helpfulness of the staff, but also by the prices. I’m not a person who balks at the cost of books – I firmly believe they are objects worthy of a little expense (which is why I don’t buy very many any more, unfortunately) and that the knock-down prices offered by certain vendors, both online and off, are doing extraordinary harm to the book industry. Perhaps that’s a naïve viewpoint, but it’s mine, and it’s formed from years of experience. So, I like to buy books at full price where possible, in a bookshop – preferably, like this one was, an independent – and I don’t care that it costs more. For me, when it comes to book purchasing, cost is the least important factor, and I try to cut my coat to suit my cloth – in other words, I only buy books I really want, when I can. If I can’t afford something, I don’t even consider running to a piracy website and downloading an illegal free copy (because it’s infringing my ‘right to read’, apparently, to have copyright on books and actually, shock horror, charge money for them), or even downloading a legal, but dirt-cheap, copy; I just don’t feel that’s giving a fair deal to the people who worked hard to bring that book to the marketplace. If I can’t afford a book, I wait until I can. If a shop doesn’t have a book in stock, I wait for it to come in.

I think, sometimes, we’ve lost the art of waiting for stuff.

I’ve been looking for a copy of Stardust for ages – it’s funny how, even though Neil Gaiman is a writing superstar, not all his books are easy to find – but I wanted one, and so I persevered. Unfortunately the one I now have is the movie tie-in edition, which is a bit annoying because it makes me seem like an ‘ooh, look! There’s a lovely shiny movie! Let’s get the book and pretend we’ve been fans all along!’ type…

Ta-daa!

Ta-daa!

…but it’s better than being Stardust-less, and so I take what I can get. I will always miss my original copy, though, with its lovely (albeit Claire Danes-lite) cover art.

Gosh. Well this post started off being about the wonder of an undiscovered bookshop and has sort of devolved into a mini-rant about fair book pricing and copyright theft; I don’t mean to preach or sound ‘worthy’ or make anyone feel bad for their choices, so I’ll wrap it up here. My choices are mine, and I don’t judge anyone else for theirs (except those terrible people who run piracy websites and the equally terrible people who buy books from them while knowing they’re not sanctioned); I just worry about the future of the book industry, and my future choices as a consumer. I don’t want to live in a world without bookshops which take your breath away when you walk into them, and where just the right book is sitting, waiting for you to take it home. I don’t want to be a reader in a world where our only choice is to download the text to a screen. I don’t want to feel like, with every book I read, I’m hurting the industry and making writers work for nothing.

I’ll comfort myself with the thought that the bookshop we spent a happy hour in yesterday was full for most of the time we were there, and that our modest purchases were far from being the only ones put through the register. I hope, though, that our speed-obsessed, have-it-now society will start to slow down a little and realise that there are things worth waiting for, and worth paying a fair price for. Books, I feel, should definitely be included in those categories.

 

 

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?

My Top Ten Literary Turning Points

Life is full of ‘crucible’ moments, isn’t it? Moments which, when you look back, you recognise as being particularly important for one reason or another, influential in your development as a person, and pivotal in your individual history. I have plenty of these moments; not all of them revolve around books, but – me being me – the most important ones do. I’ve already discussed, at some length, the importance of books like The Little Prince and Elidor to me so I won’t revisit those here (you can check out this post if you’re interested), but what follows is a roughly chronological list of books which, when I first encountered them, had a profound effect on the direction of my life.

1. The Diary of a Young Girl

I was introduced to Anne Frank’s diary at around the age of seven or eight, when our teacher set it as a class text. We were only supposed to read sections of it but – of course – I ended up reading the whole thing in my own time. All our teacher told us about Anne Frank was that she had written her book when she wasn’t much older than us, and that she had lived at the time of a terrible war. I don’t think I can over-emphasise, then, how it felt to read to the end of this incredible book and learn, out of the blue, that Anne did not survive this war. By the time I’d read the first few entries, I was already in love with Anne and her family – a love which has endured to this day – and it broke my heart when I read the postscript describing how the Franks had been betrayed, and how they’d died. I felt like I’d lost a friend, and it was the first time I’d been faced with the evil that can exist in the world, made all the more terrible by being juxtaposed with some of the greatest good I’d ever read about.

Reading The Diary of a Young Girl changed my life and left an indelible impression on me, and so it was a shoo-in for my list.

Image: annefrank.org

Image: annefrank.org

2. Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters

I know I’ve mentioned pTerry on the blog before (by the way, if you don’t know why he’s called pTerry by his fans, I exhort you to find out), but he’s important enough to be included on this list again. The first Pratchett book I read was Wyrd Sisters, which I remember begging my father to buy me one sunny Saturday afternoon when I was about eight or nine. He’d long accepted the fact that I was a bookaholic by then, and in lieu of pocket money (an alien concept to my brother and I as kids) he’d agreed to buy me a book every week or two. So, on this particular book-hunting trip, I spotted the thrilling cover of Wyrd Sisters, fell instantly in love, and it was that book or no book.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

My dad was a bit dubious about buying this book for his teeny-weeny child (which, if you look at the cover, is entirely understandable), but he trusted my judgement and it came home with us. I devoured it, didn’t understand the plot at all, but loved it anyway. I told myself ‘I’ll put this book away until I’m bigger and I’ll read it again then,’ and I did exactly that.

I loved it, and I love it still. It was the first ‘big person’s book’ I read, and for that reason it’s one of my pivotal reads.

3. Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t

I think I’ve read pretty much every Judy Blume book in existence – Deenie and Tiger Eyes very nearly made this list, too – but I’ve chosen Margaret and Then Again because I read them both in quick succession the year I turned twelve, itself a pivotal age. Margaret taught me a lot about what was facing me as I teetered on the brink of adolescence, terrifying and tantalising me in equal measure, and Then Again gave me a much-needed window into the mind of the average teenage boy. From Margaret, I learned all about menstruation and complicated friendships, and from Then Again I learned that, underneath all their inexplicable mystique, boys were just like me. That was a mind-blowing lesson.

4. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

I read loads of books during my time at secondary school, but for some reason this one sticks out the  most. I guess this is because I studied it during the last two years of my post-primary education and then took an exam on it, and during that time I probably read it six or seven times. I’d never really been in love with a fictional character before I met Heathcliff, and even though I now see him as an emotionally manipulative loon, some of my heightened hormonal adoration remains. I adored this book when I first read it, and it was my first classic.

5. Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!

I studied English Literature at university, and – naturally enough – I read a ton of books. I could have picked any volume out of hundreds, but this one made the cut as a pivotal read because its protagonist, Alexandra Bergson, nestled in my heart and has never left. A big-boned, hard-working country girl, Alexandra is determined to make the farm she inherits from her father viable once again, and she pours every drop of her effort into her land. At one point in the novel she has a dream where she is picked up and carried effortlessly by a golden man, a man the colour of her cornfields, whom she senses loves her with the sensual passion that is missing from her real life. She is particularly moved by the fact that he is strong enough to carry her, as in reality she knows no man who would be capable of such a feat, and she wakes in tears. Alexandra is all about deep-seated passions – feelings buried so deep she can’t even admit them to herself – and, at the time in my life when I first met her I identified with her in a very profound way.

6. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History

The Secret History is the book which almost got me fired from my first real job after college, because I was caught repeatedly reading it under my desk. It was, to the best of my recollection, the most unputdownable book I’d ever read up to that point in my life. It stuck straight to my brain because it described the kind of milieu I had just left – the world of the university – which was, at that time, the place in which I wanted to spend the rest of my career. I dreamed about a life in academia while answering phones and preparing mail-outs, and even though I’ve long since abandoned that dream, for very good reasons, this book gave me a taste of what I yearned for. It also made me feel glad that I was a literary nerd, which was a huge comfort.

7. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

So, this book isn’t my favourite of the Harry Potter series (that would be The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, fact fans), but it’s on the pivotal reads list because it’s the one where… it’s the book in which… Oh, goodness. I just can’t say it.

Image: vadamagazine.com

Image: vadamagazine.com

I adored Dumbledore. I can’t even explain why. I prefer him even to Gandalf, which is saying something. When I read that scene, the one where he… anyway, I remember screaming ‘No!’ and weeping, uncontrollably, as though I’d just been punched in the solar plexus. I had to close the book, allow myself time for a good cry, and then attempt to finish it through a veil of tears despite the fact that all the sunshine had just been removed from my life.

Yes. This is how emotionally invested I can allow myself to become in fictional characters.

So. This is the book that taught me how to keep going with a book series even when the heart has been ripped out of it. Pivotal, I’m sure you’ll agree.

8. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman

I wish I knew more about graphic novels. It’s a genre into which I’ve always intended to immerse myself, but I’ve never quite managed to get around to it. The only graphic novel series I’ve ever read in its entirety is Sandman, but – to be fair – if you’re only going to read one, then Sandman is a good one to pick. Based around a family of siblings known as the Endless, consisting of Death, Delirium, Desire, Destiny, Destruction, Despair and Dream, the latter being the central character in the series, it follows their interactions with the fate of the universe and the lives of humans both individually and generally. The Endless are not gods – they are older even than that – but they are more like personifications of their names, and each of them has a vital role in the correct running of our universe and all universes. They are definitely a dysfunctional family unit, but their adventures make for compelling and awe-inspiring reading. Also, the art is incredible. Several artists illustrated the series, but I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite.

9. The SF Masterworks Series

All right, so these aren’t a book, singular, but they were definitely a pivotal literary event in my life. I discovered the SF Masterworks series while I worked as a bookseller, and it was almost more than I could do to avoid ordering them all in for myself. I have managed to collect several of them, however, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Look out for their distinctive yellowish covers, and collect away. They are fantastic. They taught me how big a nerd I am, and how comfortable I am with that knowledge.

10. The Dream of the Rood

I couldn’t leave a list like this without mentioning a medieval text. The Dream of the Rood is an anonymous Old English poem about Christ’s crucifixion written from the point of view of the cross, which is exactly as nuts as it sounds. It’s a psychedelic piece of literature, and it transfixed me when I first read it. In my final year at university we were asked to write a paper on it, and even though there were plenty of widely available translations (or modernisations, really) of the text, I wrote my own, painstakingly working through the poem word for word. I’ve never been so absorbed by anything in my life, before or since.

I wrote the paper. I got a First. It was awesome.

Also, as a direct result of this text I did an MA and then a Ph.D. in medieval literature, which led – indirectly, but clearly – to the rest of my life’s happiness. So, pretty pivotal.

So, there you have it. My life’s defining moments, as expressed in books. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and if you have, please consider writing one of your own and linking back here. I’d love to read what your top ten (or five, or twenty) literary turning points are.

My Neil Gaiman collection, aka my pride and joy.

My Neil Gaiman collection, aka my pride and joy.

 

 

 

 

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?

Meeting your Heroes

The husband and I had an interesting chat over the weekend. During this particular conversation we were talking about the wonder that is book signings, where an utterly calm and controlled reader (ahem) gets the chance to meet, shake hands (possibly) and say ‘hello’ to an author whose work they adore. I haven’t had a chance to do this for many a long year, but I do appreciate book signings as one of the high points of modern culture.

‘I met Neil Gaiman at a book signing once,’ mused The Husband, in the course of our discussion. ‘I thought he was creepy.’

Image: twitter.com

Image: twitter.com

‘Creepy?’ I responded, barely keeping the aghast in. ‘How on earth could you think he was creepy?’

‘Well, you know,’ responded my beloved. ‘He wears all that black. And he got up and read out stuff about death, and weirdness like that.’

(I suppose I should say at this point that my husband is more of a book collector than a book reader; he owns a lot of Neil Gaiman books, but I’m not sure he’s read very many. So, perhaps we can forgive him for not really knowing that death and weirdness and dark stuff are, quite possibly, the main building blocks of nearly all Neil Gaiman books.)

‘But,’ I spluttered in reply. ‘Didn’t you perhaps think that all that was an act, you know, like he was performing, in order to get the audience interested in the book?’

‘Maybe,’ sniffed my love. ‘But even so. Creepy.’

And he wouldn’t be convinced otherwise.

I, too, have had the pleasure of meeting Neil Gaiman at a book signing, many years ago. He was promoting the then newly-published ‘Graveyard Book’ at the time, and I – along with several hundred other fans – were crowded into the basement of a large Dublin bookshop, waiting impatiently for our hero to appear. When he did, a massive wave of excited applause greeted him, which he almost seemed embarrassed by.

Image: blogs.slj.com

Image: blogs.slj.com

He stood before us and read, at length, from his work. I had bought the book a few hours before, in preparation for having it signed, and already had it half-digested, so I was already familiar with the section its author chose to read, but that didn’t matter. It was like having an award-winning actor take to the stage – the huge room, filled to the brim with people, was silent as a tomb as Neil Gaiman read, and the book came to life before our eyes. Anyone who has ever been to a public event in Ireland will know how impressive it is to keep a huge crowd of Irish people quiet, by the way: we are the worst audiences in the world, in my humble opinion. I’ve been to hundreds of gigs and other events where the act performing can’t be heard over the clamour of conversation from the gathered crowd. I’ve lost count of the amount of musicians whose live act has been spoiled because some buffoon beside me can’t shut up talking about his weekend out on the tiles or his granny’s infected toe or the ‘eejit’ he has to sit beside at work – and yelling ‘Shut Up!’ just makes it worse. Believe me, I’ve tried it.

So, Mr Gaiman held the audience spellbound on this occasion. When the reading was complete he took questions – some inane, some rather good – and answered them with charm and wit, and not a little self-deprecation. He spoke for hours without any appearance of fatigue. Then, the signing began.

It was a bit like this. Image: blog.gnip.com

It was a bit like this.
Image: blog.gnip.com

Time was taken with every attendee; everyone was asked to write their name on a piece of paper to aid proceedings (always a necessity in Ireland, where people can have names that go on for a week or two, and are full of unlikely-seeming letters), and as I queued I saw people walking away from Neil Gaiman’s desk like they’d just been at a religious service, clutching their freshly signed copies of ‘The Graveyard Book’ to their chests with fervent glee. Gradually, slowly but inexorably, my place in the queue grew closer and closer to the Great Signing Table.

And then – like a dream – it was my turn.

I'm not saying I was *exactly* like this, but I wasn't far off. Image: kurotorro.tumblr.com

I’m not saying I was *exactly* like this, but I wasn’t far off.
Image: kurotorro.tumblr.com

‘Omigod Mr Gaiman I’ve been a fan for so long, like years and I’ve read everything you’ve ever written and you’re omigod amazing and I love you so much you’re just an absolute and utter genius,’ I may have said, in a voice like a hamster on helium.

‘My dear,’ purred Neil Gaiman, with a smile. ‘You’re too kind.’

And so, my book was signed. I was told what a lovely name I had. I was thanked for coming. I was thanked for being a fan, and for buying the books, and – in short – rewarded for my devotion. And all of that was fantastic.

But then, Neil Gaiman did an even more awesome thing.

I attended this particular book signing with a good friend of mine, a woman who has impaired vision, speech and mobility, and who is also hard of hearing. She is one of the cleverest and best-read people I know, and she is also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. I introduced her to Neil, telling him her first name, and then I stepped back so as not to interfere with her moment with her hero – and he could not have been more kind. My friend’s difficulties were unmistakeable, and because of that he spoke to her slowly and clearly, looking her right in the eye, and he spent longer with her than he did with anyone else. He asked her about her favourite of his books, and which characters she liked and disliked, and then he did a special, unique doodle in her book along with his signature and a message designed just for her.

My friend – and me, I have to admit – came away from that experience walking on air.

So – sure. Neil Gaiman dresses in black. He talks about death a lot – but then, she’s one of his best-loved characters, right?

Image: comicsalliance.com

Image: comicsalliance.com

His books tend to be a little odd – but brilliant with it. I can sort of see what my husband meant by saying he came across as ‘creepy’ – but I think that’s a stage presence, something he does for effect.

All I know is, my experience of meeting Neil Gaiman showed me a kind, patient, caring person who took the time to talk to a devoted fan, a fan who came away from his signing table with a grin that didn’t fade for weeks. That’s the mark of a good human being, in my book.

Have you ever met any of your heroes? Did you have a good or bad experience? I’d love to hear all about it.