How fundamentalism has helped a children’s classic to the screen

aurora-borealis-69221_1280

Image:Pixabay

Why is children’s and YA fiction so underrated?

It still seems to me that the general populace are under the delusion that writing for young people is somehow easier than writing for adults.

I guess I can see why to some extent.

Often in the past, the word counts have been shorter than adult books, which translates to many as less effort from the author (though this has changed over time – Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books are chunky enough to hammer plasterboard into place). And some of the subject matter hasn’t helped as much is genre – fantasy, sci-fi, horror etc. And as we all know, ‘genre’ – whether in books or on the screen – often translates with reviewers as populist-not-really-serious-just-aiming-for-the-big-bucks rather than writing something-worthy-where-nothing-happens-apart-from-the-protagonists-growing-slightly-older-literary-fiction.

This preconception is not altogether true, of course.

Yes, there’s a fair bit of sparkly vampire nonsense out there and who could fail to notice the number of black-covered, fang-themed knock-offs cramming the bookshop shelves after the huge success of Twilight? As you also must have seen the grey simulacrums that stuffed the same shelves when E. L James was at her mucky masochistic height.

(On a side note, how quickly must publishers churn this stuff out when they spot a mega hit? It takes big publishers up to two years to get a book out in normal circumstances, yet Ninety Shades of Grey, Seventy Shades of Off-White and 101 Unhygienic Things To Do With a Handwhisk were chugging through the tills before most of us had agreed on a ‘safe word’.)*

Anyway, I digress.

A lot of serious subjects are tackled in the world of kids’ fiction. Apart from approaching heavyweight subjects such as mental illness, sexuality, suicide, the individual’s fight against totalitarianism, many are at least as well written as most ‘adult’ fiction.

Take the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Yep, they’re classed as kids books, but if you haven’t read them, please don’t let this put you off. They are well written, layered, dealing with more complex issues than 90% of the ‘2 for 1’ paperbacks in your local Tesco.

The Amber Spyglass was the first children’s book nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize – that’s how well written this stuff is.

Problem is, movie makers in their wisdom, thought it would be a good idea to take this knotty, beautiful trilogy and turn it into popcorn-multiplex fodder, as you may have witnessed in 2007’s The Golden Compass, reducing the subtle etchings of the first book into a one-note plot-driven piece (complete with new-Bond Daniel Craig) and skewing the public’s perception of the works in the process.

After lobbying from Christian fundamentalists in the States, the film had a disappointing box office and the sequels went unmade.

However, thanks to our beloved BBC, all is not lost – at least for those of us living in good old Blighty. For Auntie Beeb has commissioned a series based on the trilogy. So over several hours, we can hope to see something closer to Pullman’s original idea realised.

So, hurray for Pullman! Hurray for the Beeb! And hurray for intolerance!

For if there had been no anti-Golden Compass lobby, all three books may have been made into less than adequate films, thus making another adaptation redundant.

Do watch the BBC adaptation if you can – but read the books first, as a reminder of how great some children’s literature can be. 

***

 

*Don’t search Goodporn for these titles – I made them up. As I made up Goodporn. Or, at least, I hope I did.

How I fell in love at first sight

heart-431155_1280

Image: Pixabay

Do you believe in Love at First Sight?

Personally, I never believed. You see, I think to claim to be in love – really in love – you need to get to know the object of your desire a little first.

You have to discover that yes, he too went to a street party for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee where he ate sausage rolls and took part in a three-legged race. That he too watched Tiswas on Saturday mornings. That he bought Space Dust from the corner shop on his way home from school and instead of making it last, tipped the whole sachet onto his tongue and pressed his mouth up to his best mate’s ear so they could share its slightly painful, explosive joy.

You have to know that he loved Blackadder and The Young Ones, loathed Bernard Manning and Terry and June. You have to find that you both love guitar music and curry.

And that, even if you disagree on a few of the details, you bascially see the world the same way.

I’ve always thought that this Love at First Sight thing was pretty superficial. That all anyone is saying when they use this tired old cliche is that their primal instincts have kicked in and told them this largely symmetrical, fit, healthy person has strong genes. And maybe that person’s genes would look pretty good all mixed up with their own  …

So, Lust-At-First-Sight-As-A-Way-To-Make-Your-Genes-Live-On-Into-The-Next-Generation? Yes, I believe in that.

At least, that’s what I thought. Now, my whole life view might just have been turned upside down.

The object of my affection is small, medium build, brown with a healthy shine and a spotless, perfect exterior. 

But this isn’t a superficial, base craving. I looked past this beautiful ‘packaging’, to what was within, and from the very first word I was hooked, smitten, obssessed – yearning for the times when I can slip beneath the covers and spend time with my new love, enjoying every thrilling moment …

Shall I tell you the name of my obssession? It’s Neverwhere.

What do you mean, that’s a weird name for a man? What’s that got to do with it? Oh, I see. No, no my dears, my new obssession is entirely of the paperback variety. And shame on you for thinking otherwise …

You see, I so often find with books that it takes me a while to buy into the premise, or to begin to care about the characters, or to get caught up in their plight. I can spend chapters reading slowly, with little enthusiasm or drive, feeling more than a little Meh about what’s happening to whom, where, when and why.

Maybe I read too many of the wrong books too often*. But not this time.

From the beginning of Neverwhere** by Neil Gaiman, I knew I was going to love it …

 Eldritch old Scots women predicting dark futures involving doors, a young woman on the run, two sinister strangers with a penchant for knives and rat dinners all overlaid with humour as black as a midnight walk in a sewer

What’s not to love?

So, here’s a question for you chaps. How quickly have you fallen in love with a book? After the first chapter? The first page? Paragraph? Sentence? Or do you need to get to know a book before you fall?

***

*To be fair, I felt the same about the last book I read – The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. Victorian London, brothels, prostitutes, dark filth-filled alleyways and prose you could melt into. Yum.

**Yes, I know. For a woman who claims to love all things dark, I’m coming very late to this Gaiman-shaped party. What can I say? I’m an idiot.

 

 

 

Four books starring Father Christmas

santa-claus-1012097_1280

Image: Pixabay

We’re over halfway through our Advent calendar. My kitchen is filling up with nuts – roasted monkeys, salted and dry roasted peanuts, in their shells sheathed in a nylon net …

I know these last can be a pain, that all family members are likely to visit the local hospital some time before the New Year due to injuries from ricochetting almond splinters. But I’ve tried buying the pre-shelled variety and they’re not as much fun. Perhaps it’s that tiny spark of triumph felt when, through sheer brute force, you finally reach that ounce of nutflesh – and without losing a finger.

Anyway half-eaten calendars and nuts equal only one thing – Christmas is nearly upon us.

Working in retail, this means I’ll be in the shop right up until the last day and will no doubt spend Christmas Day half asleep and with my feet up. 

But to steer us all through the next week of fighting septagenarians for the last box of crackers / bag of cranberries / sage, chestnut and onion-stuffed pork and bacon crown (with port wine coulis), I have complied – for a festive Wednesday Word Tangle – a short list of books where dear old

FATHER CHRISTMAS

has a starring role …

 Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

 

Although Briggs is better known for his story, The Snowman (‘we’re walking in the aaaaaiiir’), this is another great book, a kids’ cartoon from the 1970s  which depicts Father Christmas being bit of a curmudgeon, cussing his way through Christmas deliveries, negotiating cats, TV aerials and milkmen before coming home to a lone turkey dinner.

He’s a boozer, he loves his pipe and takes a hot water bottle to bed with him.

Father Christmas IS an Englishman.

 

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S.Lewis

You can’t get more Christmassy than this book.

In a snowbound, magical land filled with dwarves and fauns and talking beavers – a land where it is ‘Always winter but never Christmas’ – a tall, gowned figure driving a sleigh appears …

Father Christmass’s visit to the Pevenseys in TLTWATW is bittersweet. Yes, it means that thanks to Aslan, the festive season can finally arrive, the snows begin to melt.

But the fact the old man brings weaponry and a potion that can cure any injury as presents FOR CHILDREN suggests there will be no watching the Queen’s speech and hammering each other at Monopoly this year.

 

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Image result for the ghost of christmas present

It’s a bit of a cheat, this one, because you won’t find Father Christmas listed in the dramatis personae of Carol

BUT if you read the description of the Ghost of Christmas Present and see John Leech‘s original illustrations (above), the similarities are pretty obvious.

‘Present’ is a giant, clad in a green, fur-trimmed coat (Father Christmas was often depicted in green before the late 19th C), a holly wreath about his head, shimmering with icicles. He’s full of joy and love for the season, surrounded by food, drink and goodwill that he wants to share with a bemused Scrooge.

He’s more pagan Green Man than Coke marketing icon, but none the worse for that.

 

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas – Clement C. Moore

Not strictly that drunken bon viveur, Father Christmas, rather St. Nicholas.

It’s thanks to Moore we know what Nick’s reindeer are called (though Rudolph was clearly off sick in 1823 as he is obvious by his absence). And the fact that those reindeer are tiny – as is Nick himself. It would explain why it’s so easy for him to get down chimneys, but how many of us actually imagine him as small as he’s described in the poem?

I was struggling to find a lovely version on Youtube. Dick van Dyke nearly made it on here. Then I found this mildly unsettling puppet show (above) from the 50s or 60s to totally creep you out. Enjoy!

***

What stories featuring Father Christmas / Pere Noel / Santa / Sintaklaas are your favourites? Do share them here.

***

Thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W

How to make sure you always buy the perfect Christmas presents

goose-15032_1280

Image: Pixabay

 

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

Well, actually, these days the goose is probably already dead and nestling companionably with pigs in blankets and Yorskshire puddings, solid as a boulder in a freezer at the local supermarket.

Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? That’s what we all ask each other at this time of year, isn’t it.

It’s like some kind of competition where no one’s actually laid down any rules …

‘Have you finished your shopping yet?’

‘Well, no, I …’

‘Oh, I finished mine in October. Well, actually, I’ve been buying presents all year, whenever I’ve seen the absolutely perfect gift – a real pet unicorn with magic powers for my neice, Saoirse: dominion over the World Wide Web for my nephew, Augustus: global peace for Great Aunt Philomena – she’s always been such a softy …’

These preternatural organisational skills leaves the ordinary, shambolic mortal feeling inferior, an amateur in the shopping stakes, knowing that they’ll still be scrabbling around on Christmas Eve for the last perfume hamper / marmalades of the world gift box / port and Game of Thrones slipper set (the left foot being Tyrion Lannister, the right his sister Cersei which means your feet will constantly bicker and plot to have each other killed). 

All of this means you’ll wake up on Christmas Day, exhausted, loathing mankind and all of its works, plough through a kilo of Whisky Liquer chocolates before you’ve peeled a sprout and be nauseous and semi – comatose before you get to open your first present.

May I give you some friendly advice? Don’t do it to yourself. Don’t put yourself under all that pressure, competiting with other shoppers, family, the world in an attempt to make that one day of the year the most magical, sparkly-special perfect it can be. No day can live up to that.

Take it easy on yourself. Instead of buying people tat they don’t want and don’t need (does anyone really need a plastic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that poops caramel coloured jelly beans? I think not) buy everyone you love – everyone you really love –

A BOOK TOKEN. 

This is beneficial to mankind on several levels.

*You don’t have to stress yourself into an early, tinsel-and-cranberry-filled grave trying think about a million different presents, leaving you calmer and more able to enjoy the season.

*The recipient gets the opportunity to buy some wonderful fiction or some glorious non-fiction.

*A bookshop in your locality will receive a trickle of cash which may contribute to its survival – and who of us wish to see another bookshop close?

And if none of your friends and family are readers? If they wallow in the delusion that all there is to life is seeeing what’s trending on social media and collecting their own bodily fluids in jars around the house?

Then buy the token anyway. The bookshop still gets the cash and you’ve still given the ignoramous in your life a present.

Happy shopping.

***

This post was inspired by a conversation with fellow blogger, the bookish John Guillen at Write me a Book John

 

 

Nothing says Christmas like rubber eyeballs

gift-444520_1280

Image: Pixabay

 

It’s a bit late in the day to be writing a blog post. Late for me, anyway.

You see, I’ve been out this morning, trawling the high street, eschweing the decadent comforts of online shopping to rub shoulders with the Great Unwashed, the Great Impolite – the Great ‘Getting in my sodding way when I want a look at that vegan, gluten-free, flavour-free cookbook / rubber eyeballs on that shelf’*. 

Yes, I was Christmas shopping.

It can be a painful experience, can’t it? Especially when you have a couple of really important people to buy for and no idea exactly what they want.

It feels a little like a marathon, or a trek through the wilderness, where, overcome by the weight of novelty slippers in the shape of Darth Vader, chocolates resembling reindeer droppings and boas of tinsel as thick as your arm, you begin to over heat.

The blowers are pumping hot air into every store and you’ve worn your winter coat even though it’s an unseasonably warm December day, and you can’t take it off because you’ve nowhere to stow it. And you become so hot and weary and hassled and distracted by all the lights and tinny carols, you are in serious danger of making some rather poor decisions …

Wonder if Auntie Doreen would like a Russian Roulette game with chilli chocolates. How about a knitted willy warmer for Uncle Fred – just his colours …

Needing sanctuary, I ran for the safe haven of Waterstones, probably the UK’s largest surviving book chain.

I wanted the soft lighting, the dark bookshelves, the low music and hushed voices …

I found a pimped-up bookstore with a sofa-strewn cafe where ‘Science’ and the ‘Arts’ used to be, an entire section selling readers’ accessories (magnifying glasses, bookmarks, tiny lamps you clip to your book or your nose or wherever) and what can only be described as a toy shop attached to ‘childrens’  literature’.

It was bright, lively – humming with people. There was a school trip camped out in the cafe trashing their new carpet with destroyed Lemon Drizzle.

I so longed for the dreary gloom of the old shop.

***

What do you think of modern bookshops? Is it a shame they have to diversify to survive or do you think there’s no shop that can’t be improved by tea and cake? Do let me know.

*Yes, that’s right – there’s nothing that says Christmas to an eleven year old boy more than a rubber eyeball.

Jabberwocky: Do writers still invent words?

2015-11-26 09.55.55

Image: Copyright Lynn Love 2015

 

The above rather dodgy image is mine.

I don’t mean I bought it somewhere, downloaded it or purloined it in some nefarious activity. No, it’s mine as in, I drew it. I ‘aged’ the paper with tea, creased it to look as though it had been locked in an ancient chest for centuries, shaped the slightly broken-necked creature.

It comes from a time, twenty plus years ago when I still drew – if not brilliantly, and in a rather 6th form, indie-pretentious way – before I realised there were people who could do that stuff way better than I could, so hey, why not leave them to it and I’ll get on with the reading, scribbling lark.

Now, the reason I’m sharing my ropy, New-Age doodle is because of a conversation that happened just this a.m here, at Love Towers. (No, the house isn’t really called that – only in my head.)

My son came downstairs and said he’d been looking at The Jabberwocky. For those of you unfamiliar it, it’s a poem, a saga of youth triumphing over monster in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.

‘It’s all made up,’ said my son.

He meant the words, not the creature, for as we all know Jabberwockys are entirely factual, if critically endangered largely because they backed themselves into an evolutionary corner by restricting their diet to Mock Turtle soup and Kendal Mint Cake, the numbers of Mock Turtles having dropped severely over recent years due to cat predation. It’s a serious and seriously neglected issue – I shall raise a petition.

Anyway, back to the poem.

Just in this opening stanza, Carroll has invented –

‘brillig’, ‘slithy’, ‘toves’, ‘wabe’, ‘mimsy’, ‘borogroves’, ‘mome raths’, ‘outgrabe’.

That’s a lot to make up, even for a nonsense poem. And a few of the words from the poem have passed into popular usage –  I love ‘burble’  and ‘galumphing’ truly is a work of genius – you can almost hear the weight in the syllables.

I started to wonder – does this really happens anymore?

Do writers take existing words and smoosh them together – such as ‘slithy’, a mixture of ‘lith’ and ‘slimy’ according to Humpty Dumpty – or is language now more static than it used to be, with new words only being added to the dictionary through common usage by the general public, rather than being sneaked in by writers?

Of course, words for new concepts were still being invented in the twentieth century – George Orwell’s 1984 gifted us Newspeak, Big Brother (as an allusion to an overtly intrusive State), Room 101 (somewhere holding your worst nightmares) – the title itself becoming shorthand for a distopian future. It’s a tribute to Orwell’s prescience that the terms still feel relevant today. 

We can all name instances of character names which are widely known – Katniss Everdeen, Dumbledore* – but in recent years have authors invented verbs or adjectives which we now use everyday? Will they ever again?

Come on, you clever lot. I’m sure you can all think of some examples I’m ignorant of. Enlighten me.

***

*Though Dumbledore was a dialect word for bumblebee, so not strictly original.

 

A pile of steaming dung: when a $ 2 million advance becomes worthless

against-light-866809_1280

Image: Pixabay

I’ve burbled on a few times on this blog about my dream of having a publishing contract, being given an advance of six figures, a movie deal … A poster of my face as large as the side of a fifty story building pasted across the moon so people could recognise me from earth …

Well, maybe not the last one.

I suppose I’d translated a large advance and being the subject of a bidding war into literary success, a sure fire winning combo for a solid writing career. A story I read today has made me rethink.

The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli gave City on Fire by the interestingly named Garth Risk Hallberg a scathing review. Vincentelli called the book an

Overhyped … steaming pile of literary dung.

The 900 page novel was at the centre of a bidding war some while back, which garnered the debut author $2 million – ten publishers bidding over $1 million. The book has already got a movie deal.

Now, not being familiar with the NYP, I don’t know if it makes a habit of flying in the face of accepted wisdom – I don’t know if their writers tend to be perverse for the sake of argument. I’m guessing from the shock tactics of the piece’s title, it’s not seen as a serious literary journal. Maybe one of our American cousins reading this could enligthen me.

But the book certainly hasn’t captured the readers’ imagination as the publishers will have hoped – the book was languising at number 825 in the Amazon chart as Vincentelli wrote her piece.

And although the Guardian was less scathing, admitting Hallberg was a promising talent, it did say the book was no masterpiece.

Now, first off, I’m feeling sorry for Hallberg.

Yes, he’s already earned a pile of dosh from the book. But he didn’t ask to be caught in a bidding war and the ‘genius’ of his novel was something bandied about by publishers, not him, I’m sure.

Maybe it would have been better for him if his career had a quieter start, with less fanfair, allowing his talent to gradually grow with each new book he released. 

Instead, it may have stalled before it’s properly begun. I do hope not.

And second off? Well, we all know publishers have missed signing great books because they’re hard to categorise or just plain weird – but that so many could misjudge the reading zeitgeist, leaving themselves so seriously out of pocket … That’s surprised me.

It’s made me rethink my own parameters for success. Maybe I won’t be so desperate for that six figure contract after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Fire-Garth-Risk-Hallberg/dp/0385353774

http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Fire-Garth-Risk-Hallberg/dp/0385353774