Tag Archives: Sandra Greaves

Five Times Five

Mesdames et Messieurs,

Please find hereunder my version of this splendid post, which I saw for the first time on the blog of the marvellous Lady Rara Saur (who, in turn, snaffled it from here.) It asks one to detail one’s top five preferences in five different categories and so – me being me – I had to have a crack at it. I love making lists, particularly if they’re not lists of things I have to get done. (Having said that, I like making To-Do Lists, too, because I’m the type who likes to tick stuff off when it’s completed. But anyway.)

On with the show.

Tap-tap-tap Hello? Image: chazzw.wordpress.com

*Tap-tap-tap* Hello? Is this thing on?
Image: chazzw.wordpress.com

Five Things I Am Passionate About

1. Writing and Reading. I’m lumping these in together because, in my mind, you can’t have one without the other.

2. Child protection – whether that be on an individual, personal basis or a governmental/NGO/macro level. I want to live in a world where no child knows fear, or want, or hunger, or neglect. I want to be part of making that world.

3. Education – particularly literacy and numeracy. I’d love to see the fostering of a culture where education is seen as something to be striven for, and where people are encouraged to be proud of their own academic ambitions. The more widely read we are, the less likely we are to repeat the mistakes of our past, and the more likely we are to accept others for who they are.

4. Living ‘small’ – by which I don’t mean living a lesser life. I mean living a life wherein love, and family, and community, and togetherness, matter more than who has the biggest house or the most expensive car or the ‘best’ job. Whatever happened to happiness?

5. Equality. Peoples, races, nations, genders (all of ’em)… we’re all the same, beneath the skin. It amazes me how people think they’re different from, and therefore better than, people in other countries/other religious groups/other types of relationship. Why can’t we all just get a grip, and put the fear aside?

Five Things I Would Like To Do Before I Die

1. See my work published. I would love to see one of my books, battered and dog-eared and torn and cherished and loved and read to shreds, in the hands of a child. It might take the rest of my life, but hopefully it’ll happen someday.

2. Visit Iceland, and see the Northern Lights. Just – because.

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

3. Live in Paris, even if it’s only for a little while. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than slipping down the boulevard for a few pains au chocolat and slipping back home again, looking chic and nonchalant and exuding sangfroid, and actually locking your own front door behind you. Of course, knowing Paris, you’d have to walk up sixteen flights of stairs to a garret room for which you’d be paying through the nose in council tax, etc. – but it would be so worth it.

4. Repay my husband, my family and my friends for all the support – both practical and spiritual – they’ve given me all through my life, but particularly since I decided to follow my dream. I don’t think they’ll ever know how much it means.

5. Reach a moment of total mental satisfaction, knowing that I have done what I was put on earth to do and that I have done it as well as I possibly could, just once.

Five Things I Say A Lot

1. ‘Sorry!’ (I’m the kind of person who, when they walk into a door, will apologise to the door. Yup.)

2. ‘I forgotted.’ (This is the way I tell my husband that I have forgotten something. I try to make it sound cute, in order to cut through the irritation. Weirdly, when it comes to dates, anniversaries, phone numbers, birthdays, significant events and so on, I have a memory like a steel trap. For practicalities, I am useless. Go figure.)

3. ‘Ya big eejit’ (Irish for ‘You rather foolish person.’ Normally, this is self-directed, but it can also be used as a term of both abuse and affection to almost anyone.)

4. ‘Ah, no worries, I’ll be grand. I’m sure they can make something for me.’ (Usually recited when I’m about to go out for food, anywhere, and whoever I’m dining with starts fretting about whether or not my ‘dietary requirements’ will be catered for. As a vegetarian, I still get looked at like a space alien when I ask what a restaurant’s meat-free options are. ‘Well, we have salmon,’ I get told, a lot. ‘Salmon’s a living creature too, you know,’ doesn’t usually go down well as a response, FYI.)

5. ‘Feck!’ or some derivative thereof. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a vile swearword; it’s equivalent to ‘darn’ or ‘poppycock’, and is utterly inoffensive. I have a variety of colourful phrases which would be considered vile, but I’ll leave those to your imagination.

Five Books or Magazines I’ve Read Recently

1. Fire and Hemlock by the goddess that was Diana Wynne Jones (It’s a book.  It’s Awesome. Technically, this was a re-re-reread, but that hardly matters.)

2. An old copy of New Scientist (one of the benefits of being married to a nerdy-type.)

3. The Food supplement from the Guardian newspaper (I’m always on the hunt for recipes.)

4. ‘The Pardoner’s Prologue’ and ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ from The Canterbury Tales. Someone was writing an essay on it and needed a bit of guidance, and it was nice to blow the dust off my PhD for a few hours.

5. The Skull in the Wood by Sandra Greaves. (It’s a book. It’s Awesome.)

Five Favourite Movies

1. The Princess Bride. Gotta be. ‘No more rhyming now, I mean it!/Anybody want a peanut?’ used to make me laugh to the point of puking when I was a kid. I also love Miracle Max and his ‘I’m not a witch! I’m your wife!’ But the main reason I love this movie can be summed up in two words: Inigo Montoya. My crush on Mandy Patinkin is alive and well to this day.

2. Willow. I’m really not sure what my favourite thing about this film is – the gorgeous baby who played Elora Dannan (who’s probably got babies of her own by now), the wonderful Ufgood family, the devil-may-care Madmartigan (for whom I may have had complicated feelings, looking back), or the scary-as-all-hell witch-queen Bavmorda who literally gave me the freaky collywobbles for years.

3. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. This movie defined my teenage-hood. Claire Danes? Leo di Caprio? Rock music soundtrack? Hells, yes. It’s also the first movie I saw on my own in a cinema, which gives it extra significance.

4. Life is Beautiful. I have complicated feelings about this one, insofar as I loved it when I saw it, but I’d never be able to watch it again because my first viewing of it almost killed me. Suffice to say everyone should give it a go, but be aware that it will break your heart.

Image: snarksquad.com

Image: snarksquad.com

5. The Never-Ending Story. I watched this one again a couple of years ago and wept, not only because it’s still a gorgeous movie but because it reminded me of my childhood so much. The bit where Atreyu is on board Falcor and they fly around a piece of space-rubble and the Ivory Tower comes into view and the music just swells up… yeah. I generally get something in my eye around that point.

So! There you have it. If anyone wants to take part in this meme, be sure to link back to Benzeknees – and let me know, too! I’d love to read your answers to these questions. Adios!

 

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.