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.

How I fell in love at first sight

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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.

 

 

 

How to make sure you always buy the perfect Christmas presents

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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

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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.

How to stop young people sexting and get them reading instead

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Sometimes I think we have our priorities wrong.

As a pedestrian, I feel mildly narked I’m kept waiting at a crossing as vehicles are prioritised and fly merrily on their way. (Well, let’s be realistic. With the state of Bristol’s traffic, they crawl at the pace of a tortoise that’s just been discharged from the vet’s after a double hip replacement.)

It’s as if a ton of metal, spark plugs, fan belts and a hundred odd years of invention is more important than a messy old heart muscle, a pair of wheezy lungs and millions of years of evolution.

That’s when I’m a pedestrian, of course. When I’m riding in the bus or on the rare occasion I’m in a car, I’ll swear at the red lights as much as the next traveller.

It’s sad how we prioritise the young over the old, too, holding up the bloom of youth, our days of acne and dangerously high hormone levels, as the pinnacle of our lives from which the only way is down. We don’t revere the experience that the elderly have, the wisdom, the sheer bloody mindedness, tenacity and old school opinions that can make them so interesting to talk to – if a nightmare to share a Christmas with.

Of, course, I’m increasingly feeling this way as I grow into what other people would term ‘older lady’ status. I feel I have a truck load of knowledge and experience to impart to younger people, especially my son – just don’t expect me to recall any of it quickly.

The reason for my PRE – RAMBLE (a rambling preamble and a word I just made up, but will now use more often) is reading.

You see, I don’t want reading as a wonderful, engaging, enlightening pasttime to go the way of the dodo and the ra-ra skirt. I want to encourage young people to continue reading and not turn to gaming and publishing photos of their genitalia on social media as ways to pass the long hours before the sweet release of death. To do this, may I suggest prioritising readers by installing

READING LANES.

You know, like cycle lanes but for the less physically fit. Special paths (with a drawing of a book on the ground in lovely, luminous paint, of course) would be made extra smooth, to avoid trip hazards – no raised curbs or wonky paving slabs here. Also, readers will automatically have right of way when crossing a road, so they don’t even need to look up from their books, no longer having to choose between life and finding out whodunnit.

You might need an especially adapted Sat Nav (with a lovely, soothing voice – probably Stephen Fry) to stop you from veering off into the river / flower beds / oncoming traffic, though.

We could extend the idea to make the top deck of buses a Quiet Zone for readers, installing book rests and overhead lamps at every seat and a lending library at the back, so you could borrow a book from one bus and when you’ve finished, leave it on the next bus you travel on.

I think these ideas might make us love the written word just a bit more.

Or not.


What do you think? What innovations would you bring in to encourage people to read?

How reading can unite mankind – one book at a time

Can I have a look at your paper when you've finished, mate? Image:Pixabay

Can I have a look at your paper when you’ve finished, mate? Image:Pixabay

I’ve talked before about judging someone’s personality by the contents of their bookshelves. But I’m not finished judging there. I’ve got a whole ocean of judging welling up inside me, ready to slosh over into a fresh blog post. Want me to prove it? Okay, here goes.

I like people a little more if they read books … And I like them a little less if they don’t.

I suppose it’s not much of a surprise I love fellow readers as I’m someone whose life can be measured in the books they’ve read and especially – if you were feeling cynical, and hey, it’s a Monday, we’re all entitled to feel a twinge of grumbly old git on a Monday – you might say it’s especially because I’m an aspiring writer that I love to see people read.

I mean, every sad, tragic, hollow human being who would rather watch YouTube vids of other people playing computer games than read a great book, is one less potential reader for my as yet unpublished canon of classic literature.

And as a side note, I can’t quite believe that people spend hourse doing this – watching footage of other people gaming. Surely, if we look hard enough, we’ll find this in Revelation, besides the many headed beasties and men riding Pale Horses … ‘And lo, the land will o’erflow with Peeping Toms on a landscape that exists not in our world. And their will be a great wailing and gnashing of teeth …’

Any-hoo, it’s not my own revenue I see sailing down the proverbial Swannie. It’s just, each time I see the girl who lives near me who risks tripping over raised pavements slabs and stepping in slithering Everests of dog mess so she can walk and still read her book – it makes me smile.

Each time I sit on the bus and see a fellow traveller with their nose tucked in one of those old fashioned, leafy, papery things – what did we call them? Oh, yeah, books – instead of dashing through fb posts or thier Twitter feed or abusing the bus driver, it makes me feel just a tiny bit happier.

Because I know what it is to be them.

I know that even if they’re young enough to be my kid, old enough to have edited the original Revelation, if they loathe chocolate (weirdos) or own a cabal of cats that hunt down every native songbird within a ten mile radius and gives them no more rebuke than a ‘Naughty kitty’ for their sins (evil) – we have a deep and meanful shared experience.

We both know what it’s like to lose hours in a book, to never really want to return, to have a writer transport them away from the bus and the old lady sitting next to them who smells vaguely of wee.

We’ve both been on that same journey.

And in a busy, crazy world, where we seem to notice the differences more than we feel the similarities, anything that unifies is a grand and beautiful thing. 


Are you like me – do you distrust people who don’t read? Or are you less of a judgemental old woman and love them anyway? Let me know what you think.

Reading hardbacks should be an Olympic sport: why paperbacks win every time

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

I most often read lying down.

Don’t worry. It may sound like it, but this isn’t going to be some kind of weird confessional blog version of an exploitative Channel Five documentary …

Coming clean: my harrowing addiction to eating soap.

Or

Sewers and me: thirty years of staring into another man’s hole.

You will find none of that here. My horizontal habits are not a filthy secret I feel compelled to share, but you do need to understand them for my ensuing argument to make sense.

I mainly read in bed and as a precursor to sleep. This means, that rather than reading sitting, propped up on a stack of feathery pillows or a quilted, stuffed headboard as many, normal people would do, I read lying on my side. I like reading in this way. It feels warm and comfortable cocooned in a duvet. And when the heavy tendrils of sleep descend, I don’t have to rearrange an Everest of soft furnishings to doze off – all I have to do is reach out to click my lamp off.

Why is this relevant and why do you feel the need to tell the world about your sleeping habits, you exhibitionist weirdo?

Well, maybe this habit is why I no longer read hardbacks. Ever tried reading a hardback lying down? Bugger syncronised swimming, Reading a Hardback Lying in your Side should be an Olympic sport for the workout it puts your wrists through. Hardbacks are too large, heavy, awkward and inflexible. Imagine trying to read a blackboard in bed and you’ll have an idea what I’m talking about.

Of course, they’re also a heck of a lot more money than paperbacks, and if you like to read on the bus or in a cafe, having a hardback with you is like carrying the footings to a bungalow in your handbag.

Three good reasons why paperbacks win over hardbacks.


But what do you think? Do you prefer hardbacks or paperbacks and why? 

Why this writer needs to be punished

Image: Pixabay 'My God, it's full of stars'

Image: Pixabay
‘My God, it’s full of stars’

I have a terrible thing to confess.

I know, you’re thinking the worst. Murder, arson, wearing socks with sandals and horribly short shorts that ride up between chubby thighs when I run for the bus? Ooh, now there’s an image. Well, you’ll be happy to learn it’s none of these, but it’s pretty serious all the same.

I’m trying to be a Writer. But I’m better at being a Reader, I’ve been doing it a long time and have become quite the dab hand at it. In fact, if they gave adults gold stars for reading, then I reckon I’d have a gallery of them by now, I’m that good. (Why don’t we get gold stars after we leave school? If I had a chart and some lovely, shiny stickers to give out at home, I’m confident I’d never find the toilet seat up again.)

But it’s the way I read books I have to confess.

No, it’s not by E reader. I don’t see that there’s anything to confess about using such devices. We’re all adults here. If we want to consume our books electronically rather than through ink and paper, I’m not going to judge.

I still read books the old fashioned way, but it’s my supply method that’s shameful.

I DON’T USE MY LOCAL LIBRARY

I know. If there was a union for *Aspiring, Sarcastic, Smart Aleck Writers (and I’d bothered to join) I should be drummed out  immediately.

I used to go alot when my son was small. I read to him from when he was four months old, dragging him to our local library ever couple of weeks to pick up a new batch of primary coloured, slightly sticky picture books to inspire him to love reading as much as I did when I was young.

Now he’s eleven and gets his reading kicks elsewhere (birthday / Christmas / pocket money / school). So I don’t go either. I got fed up of not having anything other than James Patterson and Lee Child to choose from (a gross exagerration, of course, but I do find the selection at my local library uninspiring) and there are second hand book stalls to buy from and charity shops and Waterstones always has a buy-one-get-one-with-a-bit-off deal and then The Book People are always sending me emails about their latest sales and I can order from them without leaving the sofa  ….

So, even though I know libraries in the UK may go the way of the dodo and the thylacine, that the government want to dismantle the whole system our philanthropic forebears put in place, even though I’ll be the first to rail against the cuts if our local library is closed … Still, I don’t use them.

When was the last time you borrowed a book from your library? Or do you only use them when you need the loo or to snuggle up to the radiators on icy days?

Am I an evil person who should be forced to read every one star reviewed book in Amazon’s catalogue?**


Here’s an interesting if sad review of the rate of library closures.

*ASSAW – it’s catchy, there’s no denying.

**This review made me laugh out loud. It was so good, I was almost tempted to order a copy … I read the sample pages of the book it’s talking about and my brain nearly fell out. Ah, the joy of self publishing.

Books in the blood # 1

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The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius.  ~Rebecca Pepper Sinkler

Ooh, let’s hope so, because I’ve been meaning for some while to write a regular post about books I loved as a kid, books that hooked me, inspired me, and maybe I’ll sneak in some books that peed me off too.

I’m talking independent reading here, so I won’t include anything that involves flaps, is made of fabric or stars caterpillars with eating disorders. Or anthropomorphism in any form.

Truth is, I’m curious to know if the books I read as a child and young adult informed my writing preferences and style, or if I was drawn to these books because I was already inclined to The Dark Ways. I’m not sure if I’ll be any clearer by the end of this thread, but it gives me the chance to rattle on about some books I love.

Now we have the ground rules covered, let’s begin.

First up is Charlote Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. (That’s the book, not the song by The Cure. The song is based on the book, though the video stars a VERY grown up, saucy, make-up-laden version of Charlotte!) 

Now, I was no reading genius. I was not devouring the words of Homer at my mother’s breast or quoting Plath at nursery school or discussing the merits of Dickens over Austen whilst eating my fish fingers and chips. In fact, part of the reason I won’t be including many books for very young children, is I don’t really remember many. I don’t know if that’s because I have a terrible memory or because my parents didn’t read to me – I’ll leave that for my shrink to work out.

But the first book I do clearly remember is Charlotte Sometimes. In fact, I think it was the first book I read entirely alone.

Picture the scene. It’s the late seventies, so there was a lot of brown, big floral prints and the smell of Findus Crispy Pancakes hanging in the air – I guess I’m about eight-years-old. If you want to imagine mini-me, think of a moon-faced, knock-kneed barrel on skinny legs with a huge gap between her front teeth, with long, tangly reddish hair and B.O. (All kids had B.O in the seventies in the UK, as most of us were still only having one bath a week and an occasional scrub down at the bathroom sink in-between. I’ve asked lots of other people of my age and we were all the same – delightful.)

This little barrel is being encouraged to read by her teachers. There is a school library and on the shelves, wrapped in a thick plastic cover, with its dog-eared pages, is this book. Imagine my sticky little fingers grabbing it to my chubby little chest. I open the cover and read…

The book is about a young girl called Charlotte who is sent away to boarding school. On arrival, she finds she can travel back in time, swapping lives with the girl who slept in her bed during the First World War. Charlotte has to be clever, deceitful and resilient, especially when she’s in danger of being stuck in the past forever.

I don’t know what it was I loved so much about this story.

There was the pride of reading a book alone.

There was the whole boarding school genre, popular with generations of children and authors (see Harry Potter, the Malory Towers books, The Worst Witch etc, etc etc) though, as a parent, I’m not sure what it says about home life that many of us find the idea of dormitories and shared bathrooms so alluring.

There was the fiesty heroine, of course – always a lovely thing when you’re a plump no hoper with low self-esteem and bully issues.

And there was the time travel. Now, those of you who have read my previous posts or my About page will know what a weird, obsessive personality I am when it comes to history. It snakes into my own writing – including my YA novel a lot.

It’s an open secret that on the day Stephen Hawking invents a time machine (and he will) I’ll be at the front of the queue, wearing a ruff, a doublet and a pair of hose I’ve had made especially for the occasion.

And, of course, when Charlotte goes back in time, she is effectively talking to ghosts, girls who are dead in the present.

So, there you have it. The first book to spark the flame of reading for me, full of history, time travel, the supernatural and plucky young gels in pinafore dresses.


Do you have a first book? One that sticks in your memory as triggering a love of the written word, that made you read under the covers at night?

Let me know. 

Quote of the day

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“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.

Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
William Faulkner