Shadowmaker – the beginning

Teenage girl tattoos

Image : Pixabay

Here, just for fun, is the opening of my YA novel Shadowmaker, a time travel yarn that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while now. It’s had a little notice – a shortlsting in a magazine competition and it made it to second reads in a Hodderscape open house – but no takers as yet. As I’m considering putting it back out there, any creative criticism – especially from you YA readers and writers – would be gratefully received.


 

The Gift

Edie looked around the kitchen, at food-splashed walls the colour of cowpats and woodlice moored to the floor by lakes of cooking oil. Shouldn’t August sunshine make a place look less like a squat?

‘It’s disgusting.’ She was tired of  carrying boxes and being sticky with dirt. And although they still hadn’t unpacked yet, she was already tired of living in a basement.

‘It’s fine,’ Mum said, dragging the bucket closer to her. ‘Just needs a bit of love. More importantly, it’s cheap. My new job doesn’t pay enough to be fussy.’

Edie groaned. ‘It doesn’t need love, it needs a blowtorch. The carpet looks like a defrosting woolly mammoth.’

Mum giggled. ‘Funny.’

Edie wasn’t trying to be funny. She’d left her friends and her home behind for a flat that smelt like a fish and chip shop run by rats. The thought made her want to punch the wall.

Mum hadn’t listened when Edie begged to stay in Manchester. So one Saturday, after an hour of swearing and door slamming, Edie stormed from the house to the nearest salon, where she’d had every inch of her shoulder-length copper hair shaved from her head. Mum hadn’t said a word when Edie returned home, but her eyes had spoken for her. She’d loved Edie’s hair – and Edie had been sure to keep it cropped ever since.

‘Make yourself useful,’ said Mum, emerging from the cupboard to flick her with a rubber glove the colour of phlegm. ‘Could you fetch me some fresh water, please?’

Edie twitched her arm away. ‘Well, that’s assault, for a start.’

Mum fixed her with cool green eyes and her ‘you’re pushing your luck’ face. ‘How about you mope less and help more. And after you’ve fetched the water, can you nip upstairs and ask Flora for the back door key.’

Edie sagged. ‘Can’t you go? The house stinks of poodles and pee.’

‘Don’t be mean, love. She’s an old lady living alone. She’d appreciate the company.’

‘She’d have more company if she didn’t smell of poodles and pee.’

‘Edie!’

‘All right, for goodness sake!’

      ***

If only she had a Taser.

As her finger touched the bell, there was an explosion of yapping from the other side of the door. Before today, Great Aunt Flora had just been spidery writing in birthday cards and a five pound note every Christmas.  Now they were living in her basement. Would Edie have to call her Aunty? Well, she could get stuffed. Mum and her Nan had been her only relatives for sixteen years. Now Nan had died, she didn’t want or need a replacement.

‘Bluey!’ Flora’s voice was the same pitch as the dogs’ yapping and was so loud, she could’ve been standing on the step beside Edie. ‘Leave Poppet alone or it’s the naughty step for you. Sammy, move your bum. Budge, you lot. Mummy’s got to open the door. Where’s that key?’

A couple of minutes and a torrent of swearing later and the key was found, two chains swung free and four bolts were loose. Despite the hot sun on the back of her neck, Edie thought of crypts as the door creaked open and through a narrow crack, she glimpsed a walnut face and two raisin eyes.

‘Hi, Flora. Mum asked me…’

‘Quick.’

She gripped Edie’s arm, pulling her inside as the front door slammed shut. Edie blinked in the gloomy hallway. There was a smell like public lavatories and soft, snuffling noises coming from somewhere by her ankles. She jumped as something rough and wet brushed the back of her hand.

‘They’re just curious, lovey.’ Flora’s voice receded along the hall. ‘Sorry if I was a bit rough, but Bluey’s a little sod. Nearly escaped yesterday when the postman delivered the nightie I’d ordered. A cracker it is, all pink and flowery. You can’t hardly see the bra cups for lace.’

Edie tried not to imagine Flora wearing a nightie, but failed.

‘Little bugger’s got an adventurous soul, see,’ said Flora.

‘Is that the dog or  the postman?’

Silhouetted against a rectangle of light from the kitchen doorway, Flora tossed a sluggish miniature poodle  to one side with a flick of her slipper. The dog shivered from nose to rump then trotted towards Edie, joining a circle of eager, weepy-eyed faces.

‘Don’t let’em bother you,’ called Flora. ‘Suckers for tickles, that’s all. Come to the kitchen. Got some squash somewhere .’

As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, Edie glimpsed walls crowded with photographs and portraits, surrounded by chocolate brown wallpaper and pale green paintwork – it was like an art gallery inside a mint Aero. Keen to escape all the eyes, she headed for the kitchen, dogs parting before her. She was pretty sure a grave would feel less claustrophobic.

The kitchen resembled a junk shop,  cluttered with stacks of yellowing newspapers, food packets, tins and dismantled electrical appliances. Edie picked up something that looked like a food mixer with a propeller on the top.

Flora blushed. ‘Great fun taking ‘em apart, bloody nightmare putting ‘em back together again. Now where’s that squash? Ah, pantry.’ Flora ducked through a bead curtain with a clatter of plastic.

Edie was reluctant to trust even mucky jeans to Flora’s chairs, which had the same greasy sheen as the basement’s kitchen counters. There were more photos hung by the cooker, so for lack of anything else to do, she wandered over, careful to avoid an Everest of mouldy tea bags heaped by the gas ring. The first picture she looked at was of a young woman in a long dress, hair scraped back from her face. Behind the woman hung a painted backdrop of broken stone columns and tumbling roses. On the cardboard mount in gold lettering, an inscription read Albert Dee esq 1881.

‘There you go. Found ‘e under a load of old fairy lights.’ Flora reappeared from the pantry draped in cobwebs, a sprinkling of dust in her hair. ‘Why’s it what you want’s always at the back?’ She brandished a mug filled with something luminous.

The liquid had a chemical smell, a mixture of fruit and plastic chairs. Edie forced a smile, carefully resting the mug on the draining board.

‘You found my pics, then,’ said Flora. ‘Gorgeous, wasn’t I?’

Edie looked between the graceful figure in the photograph and the gnome-woman beside her. ‘That’s you?’ The words were out of her mouth before she could think of something polite to say.

Flora just smiled. ‘Oh, yeah. ‘Bout 21 there.’ She pointed to the next picture along, which had crinkled from the heat of the oven. ‘Bit younger there. Too skinny, but that was mostly corset. Good one of the ghost, though.’

‘Ghost?’ Edie had seen the smudge of grey but assumed it was dirt. Now, as she peered closer, the mark resolved into a translucent figure, dark blotches marking the eyes and mouth.

‘I was so young when I met Albert,’ sighed Flora. ‘He was a snapper in town and I was a girl who saw dead folk. Being a medium was fashionable then, see.’ She traced the name with her fingertip. ‘So handsome ‒ moustache like a floor brush. All fake, o’ course.’

‘The moustache?’ Conversations with Flora mangled her brain.

Flora laughed, showing a mouthful of unnaturally white teeth. ‘Not the ‘tache, Muppet. The pics. You can’t photograph real ghosts.’ She dabbed at her nose with her cardigan sleeve. ‘Now, what do you want?’ Flora was soon scuffing back to the pantry.

Edie looked up at the gold lettering: 1881

 

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K. Rawson : Hitlist

 

 

Anyone who spends time exploring the wide open plains, narrow gorges, warm shallows and chilly depths of WordPress will be aware of what a wonderfully creative slew of people there are out there.

Every time you discover one of these people it’s as if you’ve stumbled across a nugget of gold, a precious stone you can hold in your palm. And because of the intimate nature of reading, you can feel that discovery is all you’re own, a wonderful secret few others have seen.

But there are some discoveries that should be shouted from the rooftops …

Those of you who take part in the writing prompt What pegman saw will have already discovered the talented writer and fellow Friday Fictioneer K. Rawson‘s stunning short fiction, but did you also know that she’s written a novel for young adults with a great premise and the most timely of subjects?

K herself describes the book as

‘a YA Novel about a teenage girl who writes a computer virus to get revenge on cyberbullies’.

Do take a read of the preview above.

 

Welcome to the ‘beautiful jungle’ of kids’ fiction

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Image: Pixabay

You wait for one blog post about the merits of children’s fiction, and then two come along at once ...

The other day, I was whining on about how underrated kid’s literature was. How the adult reading public tend to see the classification YA or childrens’ and flee like kittens on a hot griddle.

I was pontificating about how serious the themes in YA often are, how high the quality of writing is in books such as Booker Longlister Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. How not all fiction for young people drips with vampires and werewolves and soppy, sparkly love triangles.

People just don’t read the stuff, I whined. Why won’t anyone listen to me? I prattled. Seriously, if you want to read a writer in full whinge mode, then here is a good place to start.

And then do you know what happened?

The next day – the very next day – after that blog was blogged, the Costa Book of the Year was announced. Formerly the Whitbread Book Awards, they’re a pretty deal. Previous winners include Ian McEwan, Seamus Heaney, Salman Rushdie, Ted Hughes, Hilary Mantell – some of the biggest of the big hitters in literary terms.

There are categories for first novel, novel, biography, poetry and children’s books and then an overall winner is chosen.

And that winner this year was …

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge – a novel written for children featuring a 14-year-old heroine.

Now, I’m not saying tha Costa judges allowed the contents of this blog to sway their final decision. I would never suggest I have the ear of such a prestigious group of people, though it seems a hell of a coincidence, doesn’t it?

And, though I haven’t yet read The Lie Tree I will definitely search it out in the future – it’s a Victorian murder mystery which involves science, gender politics and a tree that grows when you whisper lies to it. What’s not to love about that presmise?

It’s only the second time the Costa Book of the Year has been won by a children’s book, the first one being … The Amber Spyglass

Now, I’m sure the total of £35,000 in prize money Hardinge won will be very much appreciated.

But even better in my view, will be the increase in attention and sales, which will perhaps spill over to other kid’s writers.

As Hardinge said when accepting the award,

For those people who might be hearing this who think that children’s and YA fiction is not their thing please do come and explore – there’s a beautiful jungle out there.

***

There were some other, very fine nominees for the award, my particualr favourite being Kate Atkinson –  if you haven’t read any of her books, you could do worse than start with her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum.

 

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

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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.

Tales of the Shadowmaker: Worst Girlfriend Part One

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Really, what choice did Alex give me?

All right, she wasn’t the worst girlfriend I’ve ever had. That prize should probably go to Sarah the tattooist and vampire wannabe, who filed her canines to points and bit me when she got excited – which, considering she was a massive Leonard Cohen fan, was surprisingly often.

Close runner up was Hannah, who’d rather dismantle her Harley-Davidson ‒ on my new Ikea beech effect dining table ‒ than sit and eat my lovingly prepared spinach and Dairylea lasagne.

Don’t get me wrong, Alex is great. In lots of ways, really great. Beautiful, quirky, smart, quirky, runs her own business, quirky, drives a cherry red Porsche 911 that Jeremy Clarkson wouldn’t throw out of bed. Bit of a disturbing image there, but you know what I mean.

Picked up on the quirky, then? Oh, I loved that about her to begin with. Ah, the beginning…

I was sitting in Lucky’s Bar during Happy Hour, or Functioning Alcoholic Hour as I call it. Lucky’s is one of those dumps that’s survivable during the day, if you can ignore the smell which is like a full ashtray soaking in a bowl of beer into which a Doberman has just peed. At night, of course, the place is a no-go area unless you have a death wish or own a Kevlar onesy.

If the Hour of cheap drinks was intended to help business, it hadn’t worked. There were four of us in that afternoon – me, Fat Sweaty Guy, Skinny Looks-Like-A-Drug-Addict Guy and Covered-in-Homemade-Tattoos-Scary-Builder Guy. We’d each found our own corner of the room, as far away from the others as physically possible because if you’re in Lucky’s at three o’clock on a Tuesday, you’re not there for the company.

The barman had stopped rubbing beer glasses with a filthy towel and was leaning on the bar, his thumb flicking up and down his phone screen, his elbows wedged in the drip tray. I’d finished my beer ten minutes earlier but didn’t have the energy to order another. Besides, the longer I sat there, the more I was convinced the five of us had slipped out of the universe, into an alternate time stream, where the barman’s thumb would always flick the screen, the same fly would mark out the same triangle over my head, time and again, forever. Or maybe that was the Stella talking.

The fruit machine winked a seductive sequence of red, green and gold lights. My forearm was stuck to the table with semi-dried beer and I didn’t have the energy to disengage. The CD player was on an eighties loop and not in a good way ‒ we’re talking Orville and Joe Dolce rather than The Smiths and New Order.

Why was I sitting in a joyless city centre purgatory on a Tuesday afternoon instead of being at work? Well, the Friday before I was invited to be part of a ‘future interchange movement involving the rationalisation and reorganisation of roles and responsibilities’, which all sounded very exciting until I realised it meant me packing my Snoopy mug and my I hate Mondays coaster and leaving work with a month’s severance and zilch redundancy money.

Some would say I was drowning my sorrows. I like to think I was regrouping, reconfiguring, ‘planning a forward action from a challenging dip in financial growth’.

I was just trying to interpret one of Scary-Builder Guy’s tattoos – a daringly, avant-garde representation of Winnie the Pooh doing something unimaginably uncomfortable to Eeyore with a very large carrot – when Alex walked in.

Have you ever seen a stunningly beautiful, copper-haired, five foot eight girl enter a grotty city centre bar wearing red PVC boots, a tartan mini-dress with a bustle, carrying a silver topped cane and dragging a wheeled leather suitcase large enough to hold a medium-sized human male in the foetal position? Me neither. Not before that Tuesday, anyway.

The barman looked up from his phone, thumb in mid-scroll. Fat Sweaty Guy and Skinny Looks-Like-A-Drug-Addict Guy exchanged a look. Covered-in-Homemade- Tattoos-Scary-Builder Guy stopped plucking lumps of dried plaster from his overalls with his thumbnail and ‒ I guess as there was no one else to share the moment with ‒ looked at me. It was a speck of time on the backside of the universe, but with one flick of his eyes, I swear he said,

  ‘Well, this is a turn up, eh? Who’d have thought it, pillocks like us, sitting in a dump like this. Just shows you never know when Lady Fortune is going to reach into your day, grab you by the jockeys and shake you ‘til something comes loose. Be lucky.’

It was quite a bonding moment. Brought a tear to my eye.

Perhaps one of us should’ve played the dashing hero, offered to help her with her case. But, let’s face it none of us were hero material. We stared speechless, immobile, unable numpties caught in her radiance.

She eased her bag to a halt in the middle of the floor, teetered to the bar, wriggled up onto a stool and said in a voice which I later compared to that of a small, female James Earl Jones, ‘Tequila, please, with a Snakebite-and-black chaser.’

I mean, come on – that’s quite an opener.

But I’m not an idiot and I’m no masochist. Maybe in a parallel universe, there’s another version of me who isn’t a thirty-three-year-old unemployed telephone marketer living in two rented rooms above a fish and chip shop in the crappy end of town. But I’m not him. So I stayed put, tucked my head down low and waited for that oasis of womanhood in my desert of a life to swig her drinks and pass on through.

It was then that a pint of purple liquid was dumped on the table in front of me.

‘This seat taken?’ she said.

To be Continued …


Welcome to the world of The Shadowmaker

In honour of the fact my YA manuscript, Shadowmaker, is about to wing its way into the submissions process, I thought I’d introduce you to its world.

Tales of the Shadowmaker are short stories inspired by the novel. The characters dwell in the same world, they live by the same rules, perhaps rubbing shoulders with the novel’s protagonists, perhaps not.

They may be humorous, they may be dark. They’ll always be filled with Shadows …

Lord of the Flies : Books in the Blood # 12

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

The Romans believed that human beings were not born properly formed, that they need shaping to enable them to grow into decent citizens. This is why they beat their children as a matter of course – how on earth were you supposed to breed effective conquerors and Empire builders if you didn’t punch all the softness out during the formative years?

In the Middle Ages, people thought bear cubs were born as a formless lump and the reason their parents licked them so much was that they had to be pushed into the right shape – imagine a blob of furry modelling clay and you’ve got the idea. Hence the expression ‘licked into shape’.

‘Where are you going with this?’ I hear you cry, and by the way I do wish you wouldn’t do that – it’s like having a virtual Greek Chorus following me across the webby-sphere. Stick with me – a point will be made.

I can see where these ancient thinkers were coming from. Maybe not with the bears, but to be fair they probably just made that up – I’m sure you could count the number of Medieval thinkers who got close to a bear cub and lived on one hand. Not one of their hands, of course, because presumably they’d come away without digits to do any counting on. But I digress.

But the Romans had a point, because human’s are born only partly formed. We lack in experience and knowledge, of course, as anyone who’s ever watched a toddler try and do almost anything can testify. They fall over,  bump into furniture, burst into tears seemingly without reason, burble nonsense then start throwing things when you can’t understand them … They are my Uncle Stan after a Payday Friday visit to the Squint and Spyglass pub.

And emotionally, small children are bit … Odd. This may be controversial (and completely unproven), but it seems  to me children are born without empathy – it’s something they learn with experience. Ever seen a toddler fall and hurt itself whilst surrounded by other toddlers? The rest of the crowd carry on pushing building bricks up their noses and eating the contents of the sandpit.  I’m not really suggesting that we’re all born sociopaths and that it’s only with experience and example that we learn to care for others … Or am I?

Which brings me onto today’s Books in the Blood,

Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Now, this is another Secondary School set book that many of you will have read. I already know from previous conversations online that some of you  REALLY didn’t like this book. And who can blame you? To be honest, I’d be a little worried for anyone who read this book time and time again. If this is your go-to book when you’re feeling low, when you want to snuggle up in your onesy, a big mug of Horlicks in hand … You should be wearing that rather fetching jacket with the fastenings at the back – you know the one with the long sleeves and the buckle motif.

This is a book to admire, but is it one to love?

It’s very well written – remember the scene on the beach at night, the description of the light on the waves, of the bright fish swimming around a body?

But the bodies, of course are one of the problems. Because Golding creates a world devoid of adults, stuffed with young boys and once they’ve shrugged of any semblance of civilisation, they revert to that primal state the Romans were so worried about. The world the boys create is nasty and brutish, where there’s no room for the soft, the sensitive or the weak. It’s an unjust world where those with a sense of decency won’t survive long. (I can hear you students of history shouting ‘But that’s what Roman society was all about.’ A discussion for another time, friends).

I suppose it’s many people’s first introduction to dystopian fiction and there’s little out there that’s more dystopian. Have you heard anyone criticise the plots of The Hunger Games and other YA books for being too violent for the young, as if this is a recent phenomenon, a symptom of the modern era’s degradation? Just remind them of this book and the fact it was school that made us read it.

I remember finding it creepy, disturbing, genuinely depressing, making me want to flee back to the reassuring comforts of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. If this was what ‘adult reading’ was all about, give me the Beano.

I’ve said this before on Word Shamble, remember Golding taught at a boys’ school – if anyone knew about how heartless children can be, it was him.

A sobering thought.

Books in the Blood #5: The Owl Service by Alan Garner

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As an adult, I’ve revisited a chunk of books I first read when I was a child and I’m not sure why.

Maybe as I draw further away from childhood and I can only now experience my younger self through the rear view mirror of memory, I’m desperate to find something I’ve lost.

I don’t think it’s about recapturing my youth – the mirror and the bathroom scales plot together to remind me that that would be an exercise in pointlessness. I have to work hard to keep this wreck of a body functional. From my feet to my back, to my internal workings, it all needs keeping an eye on, whereas once everything seemed to run smoothly with little attention from me. Those corns won’t buff themselves, people.

I really wouldn’t want to be a kid again anyway.

I remember having a conversation with a friend who waxed lyrical about how wonderful his childhood was. According to him it was such a perfect, joyous time, you’d think he grew up in a Famous Five book, filled with exciting adventures catching foreign spies – and lashings of ginger beer for tea. He even used the cliché ‘best years of my life.’

I actually found listening to him a bit irritating. Because, I remember childhood quite differently.

Fear seemed an constant companion, forever holding my clammy hand: fear of the dark and the monsters that splashed about in the loo, ready to take a bite out of the unwary backside. Fear of insanity (yes, at around the age of ten I had a morbid fear of going mad, though worrying about going mad probably took me closer than any actual mental instability).

I worried about school, maths and P.E being regularly terrifying and humiliating ordeals for the humanity-minded plumpster I was. I worried about the bully that spat in my hair whenever she was given the opportunity.

And there was the overriding sensation of being painfully self-conscious, of feeling out of place in my own body, amongst other teens and in the world. I would’ve gladly been bewitched Sleeping Beauty-like by a bad fairy, happy for the most thorny of roses to clamber and tangle around my room, trapping me until I was old enough to not care about how lumpy I looked in drainpipe jeans.

Safe to say, I didn’t recognise childhood as my friend described it. Though, he’s a very confident, easy-going guy, so maybe that carried him over his own bumps and troughs with little damage.

Rereading a once loved book is, though, an exercise in self-assessment.

This week’s Book in the Blood is The Owl Service by Alan Garner. I had a copy bought for me a few years ago after dropping some very heavy and specific hints to my in-laws around the time of my birthday. I read the book eagerly, remembering how much I’d loved it as an adolescent, how I’d adored the mystical elements, the young love, the spine-tingling chills.

The story centres on a trio of young people in a farmhouse in Wales. Unexplained scratching and knocking from the attic draws two of them to discover a china dinner service with an abstract design that could just depict the faces of owls.

There’s a lot to love about this book. Garner is a genius at slow, creeping shudders. He blends violent Welsh myth with modern life, until the characters are compelled to re-enact the past, as if they’re possessed by dead spirits. It’s otherworldly, with a distinctly trippy element – it was first published in 1967 and you feel that sixties ethic through the book.

But what struck me – and here’s where the self-assessment came in – was how much more disturbing I found it as an adult than as a kid. The ending is vague to say the least and how much children’s fiction today doesn’t have a nicely tidied up last act? As the characters lose their grip on their own identities, the tone becomes increasingly unsettling. I remember nothing of this from the first time I read it. I took it all at face value then, accepting its odd qualities as part of the adventure.

Maybe the problem is I’ve had so many more years of conventional story telling rammed into in my head now – beginning, middle, end, story and character arcs – that I find it hard to accept anything different.

I’m glad I read this book as a child – it’s way too grown up for me to appreciate as an adult.