Tag Archives: Smithfield

Book Review Saturday – ‘Dark Warning’

I came upon this book while searching for new reads by Irish authors. Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, a writer based in Co Wicklow, fit the bill perfectly; ‘Dark Warning’ was my first introduction to her work. Since reading it I have also purchased ‘Hagwitch’, another of her books, and I’m on the lookout for ‘Timecatcher’, which I believe is her first novel.

So, you might be able to guess that I’ve become a fan.

Image: marielouisefitzpatrick.com

Image: marielouisefitzpatrick.com

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, which takes place in Georgian Dublin. It’s not a setting I’ve often come across in fiction, and I was immediately interested. The novel is steeped in the language, slang and geography of that period, including places and streetnames (like the wonderful Thundercut Alley and Smithfield Market) and is extremely well written from that point of view. This is helped by the fact that Ms. Fitzpatrick chooses to take a real-life Dublin character of that time, ‘Billy-the-Bowl,’ as a major character in her story, weaving events from his life through the tale of her protagonist, young Taney Tyrell. If you’re going to read this story, and you don’t already know the legend of ‘Billy-the-Bowl’ (sometimes ‘Billy-in-the-Bowl’), then don’t Google him beforehand and spoil the surprise for yourself. Let the story unfold as it should, is my advice.

Taney lives in Smithfield, in the city centre, with her Da, her stepmother Mary Kate, and her (extremely cute-sounding) little brother Jon Jon. Her mother died when Taney was a child, but despite this she is a living, breathing presence throughout the story. Her mother’s life, and aspects of her character, live on in Taney; she resembles her, and shares some of her otherworldly talents. From our first meeting with Taney, we realise that she has gifts which transcend the ‘norm’ – she can see things before they happen, and has the potential to read fortunes, though this is a talent we see her develop as the book goes on. Most frighteningly, she sometimes loses control of her ‘spirit’, drifting away from her body with a sense of tempting freedom, and must struggle hard to control this. Taney is often told how dangerous her gifts are, and is told only that they ‘destroyed’ her mother – she isn’t told why or how. Also, she must keep them secret, though this proves difficult. Ella’s fate is darkly hinted at throughout, though Taney doesn’t find out exactly what happened to her mother, and how it’s connected to their shared gifts, until the end of the story.

Taney meets Billy by the shores of the river Liffey one day after a particularly bad spell of bullying by the other children in her locality. He saves her from their mistreatment, and they become close friends. I got the impression that Taney develops a crush on Billy, though she never says anything to that effect – he is described (in accordance with the historical record of him) as being remarkably handsome and personable, as well as extremely charming and friendly, and well known by all. Billy is noteworthy also because has been born without legs, and manages to get around in his ‘bowl’ – or, a half-barrel, made specially for him by the coopers in Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery. He uses this bowl, together with two ‘clubs’, to speed around the cobbled streets he calls home. Rejected by his mother at birth, Billy was raised by nuns, and is constantly on the run from inspectors from the House of Industry, who want to take him in. Billy knows this will spell his doom – he’ll be condemned to a life of hard labour and grim living conditions, for such is what was done with the differently abled in previous eras – and he wishes to avoid this at all costs. So, he and Taney become a team. He protects her from bullies, and she keeps him from his violent, self-destructive depressions, and from harm.

Where this takes a turn for the dark is when Billy discovers Taney’s talents. He begins to make use of her for his own ends, asking her to help him in his gambling exploits. Soon, they amass a healthy fortune, and Taney dreams of escaping to London, to start anew in a city where neither she, nor her talents, are known. Then, her stepmother starts to bring her to work with her in an attempt to take her mind off her ‘dreaming’ – i.e. her gifts – and so her life as a charwoman begins, working in a ‘big house’ for a wealthy family. Billy runs into some difficulty, and she gives him her savings in order to help him out of it, hoping to earn it back and keep her dreams on track. However, she later finds out that Billy is in bigger trouble than she thought, and begins to distance herself from him.

As Taney tries to build her future, and her friendship with Billy starts to fade into her past, talk of a dangerous individual known as the ‘Stoneybatter Strangler’ starts to zip around the streets of Dublin. Taney finds it harder to keep her talents under wraps as she begins to have visions of the women being targeted by the Strangler, including the most unfortunate of the lot, who dies as a result of his attack. She cannot see his face in her visions, but she is torn between wanting her visions to tell her more (so that she might help to apprehend the Strangler) and less (because the visions frighten her, and she worries that they put her in danger, too). When she has a vision of the Strangler attacking a woman she knows and is fond of, Taney cannot control herself any longer, and rushes to intercept him – thereby coming face to face with her own greatest fear.

I was gripped by ‘Dark Warning’ from the first page to the last – it is very well written, and the voice is engaging and fresh. Taney is a wonderful character, and I particularly loved that the book is told in her first-person perspective, so we learn along with her about her talents and their uses, and about the identity of the fearsome Strangler. I found her to be believable, warm, and realistic, no doubt helped by the setting and my own familiarity with Dublin city, but also because of Ms. Fitzpatrick’s use of language and dialogue to describe her, and bring Taney and her family to life. ‘Dark Warning’ is a historical novel which wears its history lightly, a supernatural novel which doesn’t overdo the paranormal aspects, and primarily a story about a young girl finding her way in the world and learning to come out from under her mother’s shadow. It’s a great book, and I hope you check it out.

Happy Saturday! Get out there and read!

Rebelling and Rulebreaking (Part 1)

Well. What a weekend that was. How is everyone this morning? I hope you’re all as happy as, and slightly less exhausted than, my good self.

Today’s blog post is going to be all about this:

Image: jabberworks.co.uk (also, a site worth visiting in its own right!)

Image: jabberworks.co.uk (also, a site worth visiting in its own right!)

My brain, this cloudy morning, is swimming with everything I learned and saw and felt this past weekend at ‘Rebels and Rulebreakers’, the Children’s Books Ireland conference – and I was only able to attend the first day. I’d probably be bamboozled altogether if I’d been lucky enough to attend both days! But that’s a treat for next year, hopefully.

I’d been looking forward to Rebels and Rulebreakers for weeks, impatiently waiting for the days to roll around, and – quite possibly – talking about it incessantly. So, on Saturday morning, bright and early, my wonderful husband drove me all the way to Dublin, just to be sure I made it to the conference on time. Where we live, there are loads of trains and buses to the capital, but at the weekends they run on ‘country time’ – i.e. they don’t start until quite late in the morning (trains), and/or they turn up when they feel like it (buses). So, because I was lucky enough to have a lift, I was a little early. I wandered around Smithfield (a very pretty part of Dublin city, where the Jameson Whiskey Distillery is – you may have heard of that!) looking at things like the gorgeous wall art looking down over the central square, and the faux meadow, complete with grass and niftily carved wooden sheep, around which children – and several parents – were having great fun. The place was filled with tourists and sightseers, and there was such a bright and happy buzz over everything.

I was a little nervous, though. I felt like an interloper on the red carpet at the Oscars. But more of that anon.

After I’d registered, and received my snazzy name-tag, lanyard and conference tote bag, I was ready to hit the bookshop. I think I may have been the first person to wander down towards it, which is just the way I like it. I picked up some gems, including this wonderful book (which I actually managed to read, in its entirety, on Saturday, between talks and over lunch and on the way home. It’s that good):

Image: yellowbrickreads.com

Image: yellowbrickreads.com

There was just time for some chatting, and some exploration of the Lighthouse Cinema (the building in which the conference was taking place – an absolutely beautiful space) before the first talk of the morning.

The opening talk was given by Sarah Ardizzone, a translator of children’s and YA books from French to English, and it was eye-opening. I learned that translating a book from one language to another is so much more than dustily looking up words in a dictionary and placing them in an approximation of the right order on the page. Instead, it’s like delivering a baby, perhaps; you have to handle this living, squirming, new and unknown creature, a text that breathes and pulses in its own language, and capture not only the story it’s telling but also the nuances of the words – the slang (which is forever changing), the cultural moment, the complex, organic, fresh wonder of it – accurately and realistically and idiomatically in an entirely different language. Ms. Ardizzone told us how she interacts with young people from England, and also France and the Francophone world, in order to develop an ear for the music of their ‘slanguage’, their sparkling uses for words, their unique way of constructing sentences, to make sure the translation she produces will speak to the young people who read it, and sound authentic and real. She gave an insight into how translation, and the act of translation, can help to bring schoolchildren together, and she told us about a project called Translation Nation, with which she is heavily involved, which aims to bring children together in collaborative translation, working with stories and tales from all over the world.

The saddest statistic of the day, however, came from Ms. Ardizzone’s talk. She said that, in the Anglophone world, only between 1 and 3 per cent of children’s books are translated from other languages. What a world of stories children who can only read English are missing out on.

Next came a talk from the French illustrator extraordinaire, Hervé Tullet.

Image: oldcatblackboo.blogspot.com

Image: oldcatblackboo.blogspot.com

I don’t think I’ve ever been so entertained by a man making noises and pointing at shapes in a picture book ever before in my life. We’d already been introduced to M. Tullet during Ms. Ardizzone’s talk, when she’d asked him to step in and play the role of the ‘Loup’ (Wolf) in a French-language edition of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ – so, I expected him to be funny.

But I didn’t expect him to make me laugh so hard that tears rolled down my face.

He read from a selection of his work, including his masterful ‘I Am Blop’, a book that takes one simple shape (the ‘blop’ of the title) and manages to use it to teach children about size, colour, number, perspective, reflection, as well as themselves and their place in the world. I was astounded as I watched M. Tullet bring his own book to life using sounds and voice effects.

Image: timeout.com

Image: timeout.com

Unless I’d seen it performed in front of me, I’d never have believed such a simple shape could literally bring me to a new level of understanding. Funnily enough, I felt my own perception change and grow as I watched the performance, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that Blop itself does not change shape at all throughout the book. As I watched, my mind was opened and brought to a place in which I could completely understand how a child would see Blop – see it negotiating its world, fitting in (or not) with its peers, growing bigger, changing colour, changing from being the only blop on the page to being one of many – and how they would understand, instinctively, that they, the child reading or being read to, were just like Blop.  And, more importantly, if Blop can hold its own through all this change and newness and growth, so can they. What an encouraging and confidence-building little book – and all done with a shape, and minimal text!

Oh, but look. I’ve reached my upper word limit for blog posts already. I have so much more to share, but it will have to wait for another day. In the spirit of rebelling and rulebreaking, then, I’ll break my recollections into several blog posts, and I hope you’ll enjoy reliving my memories of a wonderful day along with me.

Happy new week, everyone! And remember – you are Blop.