So Long Terry And Thanks For All The Dark Faeries

Like so many people my life as a writer has had the steady background influence of Terry Pratchett’s work. It was not something I truly recognised until his sad passing a week ago, far too young and with many literary footsteps still to tread.

I didn’t really like “Sourcery’, the first book of his that I read, To be honest I’ve never fully engaged with Rincewind and all that studied ineptitude. But there were enough concepts, ideas and let’s face it jokes in there to keep me happy. After that I read Equal Rites and enjoyed that a lot more, but it was ‘Lords and Ladies ‘which converted me once and for all to the Pratchett way.

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I loved it so much that I based an A Level Theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on it with my students at Bridgwater College. Along with Raymond Feist’s book “Faerie Tale’, ‘Lords and Ladies’ introduced me to the idea of fairies being far from light and airy Cottingham a’ fluttery. ‘No-one ever said a fairy was nice’ remains one of my all time favourite quotes. In my mind and work fairies have remained these creatures of unease where ‘glamour’ has a totally different meaning and since then I’ve been far more drawn towards the dark side of fairy. Nowadays it’s the likes of Graham Joyce’s ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ and the Harry Dresden novels of Jim Butcher but the lure of the ‘un-seelie court’ remains and Terry started it.

My by now far too mature students may not remember but they bought me the Josh Kirby Discworld portfolio, a book so big it won’t fit comfortably anywhere. And that’s maybe as good a way as any of describing Terry Pratchett’s work. A world and a body of work, to all intents and purposes, too big to fit comfortably anywhere and why not. Surely nothing Terry Pratchett wrote could ever be described as comfortable. Years ago when the critic Tom Paulin accused him of being a complete amateur because he didn’t even write chapters, he responded to the complaint by using it as a quote on the back of his next book. Now that’s style!

Of course Lords and Ladies provided something even more important in my literary development because it introduced me to Granny Weatherwax and even more importantly to the irrepressible Nanny Ogg, a single toothed cackler who could find a double entrendre in Queen Victoria’s mourning dress.

The witches have always been my favourites, so it’s with a sadness tinged with delight that I hear that the final novel to be published will be one of the increasingly wonderful, witty and wise Tiffany Aching series. I can only hope both of the old girls are in it.

Thanks Terry and I do hope it’s not just bananas in the afterlife.

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Lucy’s Wanderings In The Grove of Books

I’m a writer. I write children’s books mainly and sometimes the other kind. I read a lot and a life without reading would be desolation. I could just about give up music, favourite TV and DVD but I would be lost without being lost in a book.

I”ll shut myself in one, draw those book curtains and snuggle down with my book cocoa or if it’s daytime my book caffeine. Who needs drugs? I’ve been addicted all these years and hardly realised it. There are millions of fellow addicts to encourage me in my own personal twelve step book programme. Step one – read more books. Step; two. – well you get the point.

I’ve had one book published and hope to publish a good many more. I’m fifty five but in my legs no more than thirty five. I”m a child at heart perhaps because I’ve kept my early love of children’s books close and never felt ashamed of it. Oh it nodded off for a few years, just in case someone more adult and mature was watching. Now however I”m out and proud carrying my children’s books in their own covers unashamedly jumbled up with the so called adult ones.

So why write another blog about books? Because I’m a writer who reads a lot but never records what I think. Because I could write a list of the great books I’ve read in the last few years where some opinion or insight has been forgotten in the spider web which has entangled them in my memory.

Because I want to write a blog which shares my love of books for both adults and children and to explore the unexpected bridges between them

My favourite book is The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

It’s a book within which I can find fun and joy, love and wisdom time and time again. Then there are the three books which make up The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. These remain the best things I have ever read in the fantasy genre and always leave me newly stunned after each reading. I”ll add to the list Music and Silence by Rose Tremain, which among many other strengths has the best collection of well drawn and eccentric, earthy and true female characters ever assembled in one historic period. Three writers and works with wholly different things to recommend them. Ain’t reading great?

I’ve read all of them many times and that’s my criteria for a favourite book; to want to pick it up again and willingly be lost in its world again.

My favourite book for children is Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond.It was given to me and my late wife Celia by a dear friend and I wish she knew half of how much it’s meant to me. I’d never heard of David Almond but now I devour everything he writes. His gift to me as a writer is the ability to create memorable female characters as a ‘side-kick’ to the male protagonist. Girls so wonderful in their own right that that they upstage our hero and sometimes and quite rightly end up with their own book.

I also love his sense of place and the close knit family community ready to pull together at the slightest hint of adversity even if they don’t always agree with every bit of it.

The first book I remember enjoying was either read to me at Nunsthorpe  School in Grimsby, or by a family babysitter when I was seven or eight.

I went out and bought The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe soon after. If I were to pin down what made me fall in love with the Narnia books then I’d have to say it was the snow. I’m a sucker for anything set in snow because I love the stuff. Having said that I don’t drive and would doubtless change my mind pretty abruptly if I did ! But I also loved Mr Tumnus the Faun, and the snow queen witch and Edmund and the turkish delight and Aslan coming back from the dead. I also loved brave Lucy who no-one believed. I must have loved her because when forty odd years later I came to write The Seven, I called my favourite character Lucy.

My Lucy is the same age as I was when I first read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. She’s never been a happy child and can’t really understand why. She has a secret place, a grove of seven trees where a beautiful lady once taught her a rhyme. Every birthday she goes up there and sings it and nothing happens. But this time its her seventh and we all know about sevens.

The bridge between Lewis’s Lucy and mine has been a long one with, like the best stories, a lot of unexpected turns and diversions. Sometimes I couldn’t see the wood for the trees ahead.

But the books have always been my guide.

Great Oak – Saturday March 14th

Here’s Lucy

On Saturday I am doing a storytelling and book reading at The Great Oak Bookshop in Llanidloes.

At any such event you need to decide what to do. How do you fill that time between the excited arrival of all those eager faces, (well I do write fantasy!) and their eventual departure clutching a copy of the black, red and blue tome, (see previous). Do you spin them a tale or two of your own or someone else’s? Do you perhaps gross them out with all the really gruesome bits from the story of Branwen? Do you just drone from the book and therefore give the reader little insight into what actually makes your book tick? Worse still if it is a slow starter you might even put them off!

Well I’m a storyteller who certainly can’t keep still so one thing’s for certain and that is that I won’t stay in one place for long.

Hey wait a minute I could tell them about the characters. About Chris and Margaret, Tony and his mum. Eleri and Lucy. Ah yes especially Lucy.

Lucy is the character I love most in The Seven and maybe in anything I’ve written. She is surly, rude and never uses a lot of words when a few more emphatic ones will do. One day a few years ago before The Seven was published I saw her in the actual grove. Just for those few minutes she’d become a boy. A boy of the same age and disposition digging with a stick under the right tree and wearing wellies and a scruffy leather coat too long for him. All he lacked were the blue designer specs. He gave us the sort of look which said that if he were Lucy we’d all be in trouble. Then I left him there in peace and completely unaware he’d been Lucy for a few minutes.

What else can I say about Lucy Morgan. She’s unhappy but doesn’t remember why. She’s deaf in one ear and both her parents and the local GP are equally confused about why! She loves animals but there are few humans she gets on with. She hates cruelty to animals above anything. And like both Tony and Chris she has no idea how special she is.

Lucy isn’t pretty pretty in pink and let’s all stop for tea with ringlets and freckles. Nor is she a tomboy with a boy’s name whose best friend is a dog. (There is a dog involved but Bryn is more of a nuisance than a companion)  She doesn’t really like her brothers and sister and there certainly isn’t a friendly fawn to greet her when she opens her particular gateway. Unlike many of David Almond’s wonderful girl characters say she doesn’t have a male best friend either. She’s resolutely on her own and that’s the way she likes it aha aha.

No Lucy is one of those characters who walks alone for most of her life and when she does find a friend it will be the most unexpected person imaginable. And she’ll be far braver than anyone could ever have anticipated because of course everyone has underestimated her.

 

So yes whatever else I do on Saturday I”m going to share some of Lucy with you. Hope to see you there and here’s the link.

http://www.greatoakbooks.co.uk/

Meantime you might have noticed that Lucy’s got her own blog now on this very site. It’s about books because as you might not know, Lucy loves books.