Not sure how this is going to go . . . not a murder fiction reader! Out in January by Stuart MacBride.
I could really go off some people. And I’m really starting to go off Patrick Ness. He keeps making me cry.
I usually only cry from pure frustration. Oh, and illness, when I’m tired, need feeding, thirsty, confused, hurt, bruised or broken. Or a combination of these which makes me an unbearable human being. You get the general idea. I don’t do happy crying really, and can keep myself contained when reading or tv viewing – mostly. In fact I can count on one hand the number of books which have had me properly sobbing – not just a sigh of sadness and a glimmering droplet to the eye; I mean full on, eye-swelling blubbering usually only reserved for the spare time I get with Steve (poor lamb).
J. K. Rowling did it to me twice (although I do attribute one of those occasions to a hormonal imbalance – oh, I forgot to mention hormonal!) and I am quite positive (although I cannot remember truthfully) a grown up book has tugged more than one heart string, but it is Patrick Ness who really gets me gasping for air. Git.
In The Knife of Never Letting Go, he broke me good and proper through a medium I usually . . . hate. Yes, that would be the word. I have no time for animal based antics in stories written or otherwise; I refused to watch Lassie, I loathed Flipper and don’t even get me started on Gentle Ben. Needless to say, Black Beauty is not on my shelves. Granted, the first instalment of Chaos Walking is definitely not an animal story, but it does have the humanistic incarnation of a Jack Russell which I just fell head over heels in love with. This in itself was totally unexpected for me and I can only attribute this to Ness’ wonderful writing and skilful toying with feelings like in some slightly sadistic emotional playground. I had to stop reading. I physically had to put the book down to pull myself together. I would actually force people into reading this book in front of me just to see them crumble as I did (now who’s sadistic?!).
A Monster Calls is a book with just the same controlling power. Emotionally stunning, beautifully written and with the most incredible illustrations (children’s version, although the cover to the adult version is also rather pretty) this is a book I long to own forever. I was lucky enough to borrow a signed copy from a colleague and completely understand why it is something he treasures. Regardless of the fact that its gorgeous and personalised, the true value is hidden within the words. Although not as compelling as the Chaos Walking trilogy, there is a simple subtle truth in what I regard as a modern fairytale. There are not enough stories like this out there these days. So many are trying too hard to be something grander, deeper, huger, more ‘franchisable’. Ness keeps things simple, understated and raw.
It tells the story of a young boy, Conor, struggling to cope with his mother’s illness. Anyone who has sadly dealt with such problems too soon and too young will instantly connect with the story. But seeing the state I was in, I would possibly not recommend reading it alone! Hand holding may be preferable. However, covering all this, weaving through Conor’s torment and desperate need for punishment, is a story almost straight out of folklore itself. It could easily be a tale passed from mouth to ear for hundreds of years, retold around camp fires under blankets of stars. Yet, at the same time, the subject matter of terminal cancer makes the story startlingly contemporary and horrifically sad.
As an adult, ‘lessons’ and ‘preachings’ in children’s books are horrendous. They are an anvil around the neck, detracting from pure, unadulterated, guilt free indulgence of the imagination. They make us cringe and think back to crummy 90′s TV shows and their daily life lessons – don’t do drugs kids – and all that blarny. It puts me off. However, I may be changing my mind. Although the themes of grief and anger are constantly at the surface, this is definitely a book which does not fit the mould. It must be read to children, they should investigate for themselves. Not just for dealing with great loss and sadness, but also to just no that its OK to feel like crap. That actually, not everything is wonderful and no, you don’t have to suffer alone. Granted, most children won’t have a giant Yew monster coming to life in the middle of their school, but you get the gist.
But more than this, the whole book is based on inspiration. Ness was never meant to write this book. It was an idea germinated by Siobhan Dowd; not an author I’d previously heard of, but one of Ness’ literary heroes. She penned the idea whilst undergoing her own cancer treatments. Sadly, she never completed the tale she had planned to tell. Ness did not want to try and emulate her voice or style, to do so in his mind was in injustice to her and her ideas. Instead, he said he,
felt—and feel—as if I’ve been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, ‘Go. Run with it. Make trouble’.
I adore this line. I love the idea that he is no more than the rest of us; reading under duvets dreaming our tales inspired by others. Children should know this too. Should feel inspired. Should – will – read this story and devour the illustrations and feel empowered, feel inspired. They will conjure their own monsters and in turn create mischief. Make their own trouble.
It is a great, great work and should be adored by one and all. And if nothing else, I dare you to read Patrick Ness’ quick introduction at the start when next you browse the book shops – there will be no way you can walk away without it.
Or something like that.
Its been a while, too many months in fact. This year has been an interesting one to say the least and soooooooooooo much has happened since last we spoke. I am no longer a teacher (yipeeeee!) and no longer a Miss (double yipeeeeeee!). It is probably a good thing that I am no longer in the classroom, mainly due to the fact that my married name would undoubtedly be changed by the little angels from Mrs Webley to: Mrs Wibbly, Mrs Wobbly, Mrs Wibbly-Wobbly or any other variation on this theme! There were precious few alternatives to Crawford, although Miss CrowFoot was probably the most interesting.
For the remainder of the year, I plan on getting this little blog back out into the world, get myself reading at full speed again and enjoy the fact that my evenings and weekends are my own for the first time in my professional life. Once this hellish year is done and dusted I intend to get to my butt firmly back on the writing horse and actually send my manuscripts to publishers! And I will no longer have the fact that I’m losing the plot and melting into a slush of tears and hysteria, as a convenient excuse not to.
In fact, I have never quite been so content with my lot, despite the fact that my husband (!!!) is still living a hundred miles away from me during the week. I may also be earning less than half my usually salary and only on a short term contract, but I LOVE my job!! I am currently working as a book selector for a library services company in Preston – in a nutshell, I am shopping for books all – day – long! To some of you this may seem a little tedious; it is ever so slightly more complicated than my nutshell, but it SO much fun. My overriding disbelief is just how calm everyday is; how relaxed and . . . myself I feel . . . AT WORK! Not only do I spend my week looking at books (and having to walk through a library to get to my desk!) I get to do it in an environment which doesn’t knock hard on the crazy door! But more than this – I have actual human, adult conversation during the day.
I cannot begin to tell you the value of being able to talk with other people (other than children) through the day, on conversation topics which are not limited to weighty complaints about the profession, colleagues or pupils. I cannot, in all honesty, tell you what this has done to my general sense of well-being – I never really noticed how the vast negativity of others can drain the soul. All I can say to all the lovely people I have previously worked with in he teaching world – I cannot recommend ENOUGH that options be kept open. There is another world out there, a poorer one, but a lighter one!
As for today, I’m going to sit back and read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, before the gentleman who loaned it thinks I’ve eaten it!
My second foray into the world of Pratchett has hit a stumbling bloke. My ever growing attention deficit disorder. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Night Watch, its perfectly fine. Its a nice tale. I think from the bland words of choice you might realise that I am not overly enthused. I do want to finish the story as I do quite like Pratchett’s style, but I am clearly not hooked. I often loose track of who is narrating, of the connections between characters because, sadly, I’ve switched off. I am starting to wonder if the vast popularity of these books is simply because they are easy to read. I float through the pages but I find that I have paid so little attention that I have to return ten pages or so to catch back up.
There is humour within though which I enjoy, but it is also perhaps this light-hearted attitude which is detaching me from the tale. I like a little grit – even in my teen/kids books. I need something sinister within. This book just seems like a whimsical jaunt without much substance. I will persevere though. I think. But I find myself distracted. Having not bought up the whole of Hay-on-Wye recently, I suffered a peculiar sense of buyer’s remorse – not in the typical notion but in reverse. So when dashing into a book shop for school resources, I treated myself to something gorgeously green . . .
I WANT TO READ IT NOW!!! Not only is it by one of my favourite authors, Mr Philip Reeve, but it looks fabulous on my book shelf – it has green pages!!! I worry for Pratchett and his Night Watch, I’m thinking Goblins won’t stay closed for long!
“Those who can, teach.”
We’ve heard the line thousands of times. Some who don’t work in the Education sector see teachers as whiny so-and-sos who don’t appreciate the pay and holidays which other lines of employment simply can’t afford. After all, what have we teachers to complain about?! We finish at 3.30 don’t we? Rock up at ten to nine? Have 17,000 days off work a year?! Don’t get me started. When you break it down, a teacher’s hourly rate is shocking. I am yet to find a full time teacher who has either a life or sanity. And why? Its not because we don’t try hard enough or suffer a lack of efficiency. Far from it. Some of the best educators I know are the most ridiculously organised and never-endingly hard working, to the point of sacrifice of health and relationships. The problem? Our education system is broken.
I have said it over and over again. Government after government has simply paper over cracks in a crumbling infrastructure with so many lines of red tape and pointless pieces of paper that the UK education system is staring to look like a badly crafted paper mache project. The problem is, the balloon inside deflated long ago and we are running out of PVA glue. OK, this metaphor maybe on the brink of getting out of hand, but you realise my sentiment surely. We run a vastly outdated system in this country which no longer provides any real quality to anyone other than the extremely talented. Coupled with a magazine culture of instant stardom and a general Britishness of complacency, we have right royally screwed the generations. I include my own education in this. Children of my generation were taught subjects such as mathematics by teachers throwing Peak Maths books at us and letting us ‘get on with it’. It took me two years to complete a stage five book. Not because I was dumb at Numeracy, quite the reverse, at that age nothing much was expected of me. By teachers that is. I was simply to turn the next page when I had completed the one before. So I took my time.
Once secondary education began, I fell into a black hole created by the most evil of Maths teachers; an ex-navy boxer who bullied his pupils into mathematical submission. I didn’t thrive. I lost interest. I was defeated.
So, some of the crack papering may have improved quality, for some, in the short term but the lasting, damaging effects are starting to be seen. We have a country of people with 2:1 degrees (myself included) and no practical skill. We are told there is only one way to be and one way of thinking throughout our education, that to be academic is the only path and what has it done for us? We have a nation of defeatests. We have a nation of children growing up who know exactly how to answer a three mark reading question, or find solutions to algebraic equations but no independent though. No ‘divergent thinking’. My personal belief is that we need to start again. We need to scrap the rubbish that is holding back a once great nation and torturing teachers the length and breadth of our country. We need to strip back the broken layers of gummed together codswallop to rediscover what is really important. In such a time as this with a battered economy and an inability as a country to produce anything of worth beyond reality TV shows, desperate measures are required. Our children will never become the next inspirational generation if they are on their knees under the weight of standardised tests.
Back in November, I attended a truly enlightening training course during which we were shown an RSA Animate video. The RSA is a fellowship is an:
enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Through its ideas, research and 27,000-strong Fellowship it seeks to understand and enhance human capability so we can close the gap between today’s reality and people’s hopes for a better world.
This video in particular is not only an engaging animation, but a eye opening vision into Changing Education Paradigms. Delivered, I believe, in 2010, Sir Ken Robinson (an international educational advisor to governments) clearly states why our education system, to be crude, is utter crap. However, he puts it far more eloquently. It is an extraordinary talk which inspires me so very much. This man needs to break the system, needs to open the eyes and un-clog the ears of the nations politicians. Not everyone can be an academic Etonian with a first class honours in PPE – precious few actually want to. But until we fix our education, until we update our methods of learning and realise a creative future, there may be little else to work towards. And only then, maybe, just maybe, teachers can finally show they CAN do their job. Do it well and have a life.
Watch the clip. I guarantee it will resonate.
In December I turned thirty. I wasn’t overly thrilled at leaving my twenties but have gradually settled into my new decade with hopeful new plans and exciting times ahead. Although these are hard to forge at the minute. Like the onset of two day hangovers, trials seem more difficult to dilute on this side of the big THREE OH! Finding time to get together gets harder the more responsibility and change affects our age, but it doesn’t mean that fun, games and the simple pleasures in life evaporate over night – we just need to make that little extra effort for one another. Which is why I was so unbelievably touched over the bank holiday weekend.
For my birthday, my big brother organised a weekend break for eight of us in the book capital of the UK, Hay-on-Wye. And what an incredible time I had. Not only was I immersed in a place more saturated in words than I have ever experienced before, but good friends, food and even sunshine helped celebrate my belated birthday in style. Oh, and to make it even more special, I was whisked back to fond childhood days as we stayed the weekend in static caravans at Black Mountain View touring park. Just over the border into Wales, this was a stunning little corner with an incredibly friendly owner who even left us home made Welsh Cakes on our arrival
Hay itself is beautiful. Old and small and completely crammed with book stores of all styles and variety. Bizarre little curio shops and antiques/junk shops spliced between the booky types made pleasant breaks between the perusing of spines both new and broken. But I am sad to say I did not make the most of the wealth of literature at my finger tips. I only returned with two books; Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean and Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. Not sure I could have picked two books any further apart on the spectrum, but I like that about my reading choices. I like to keep myself guessing as to what will take my fancy next. But I feel as if I failed. I failed Hay! However, being faced with some many, many aisles of books, I was totally overwhelmed. My heart skipped several beats as I wandered slowly along never ending shelves, scented delicately between ancient dust and fresh print, yet I found it almost impossible to know where to begin. As it was also a social weekend with conversations to be had, beer to be drunk and canoes to capsize (of yes, I ended up swimming in the river Wye. Not the warmest day of my life!) I felt incapable of losing myself between the pages.
In one shop in particular, I could have spent days, if not weeks. Richard Booth’s Bookshop is just the holiday destination I delight in. The photo below is of the second floor atrium where comfy sofas and suntrap windows entice you to stay forever. But if you fancy a little more of the creepy sensation, the basement is home to eerie corridors of books not dissimilar from a certain scene in Ghostbusters! Such a special place
Erika took with her a list of some 350 books which she intends to read. Being a fan of lists, I am equally in awe and perturbed by such organisation. I sometimes feel a sadness of reading only short-listed and prize winning books, that perhaps great fiction is passing my friend by. However, with the little town of Hay as her Mecca, I suddenly saw the greatness in her work! With ease and calm her arms became laden with genius pieces of literature and my jealousy spiralled. She had a system. Something I have never really devised when buying books. While I was dithering, rocking and sweating in a corner, totally overdosing on words and pages and print, she casually spent a small fortune without even the slightest hint of over indulgence.
The next time I return to Hay-on-Wye, for there will be several nexts I believe, I will be prepared. I shall have a list. But I do not regret not making the most of this first foray into my own personal wonderland. For this weekend, there were more important things. I shall always find five minutes for a book, a snatched moment between work and life and sleep. No. This weekend was about getting together. Finding a little more than a snatched moment to spend time with those important to me. We do not do it nearly often enough and I hope these short annual jaunts together continue.
What are we raised to believe? All fairy tales, children’s stories, teachers and parents lull you into a sensation that anything is possible, with regards to our human future that is. That if you work hard enough, give yourself direction and a sprinkling of magic fairy dust, that life is meant to be just peachy! Beyond the castles and wicked witches lies a life of sunshine dappled contentedness in the arms of a steely white knight. The gallant heroes do exist, truly. I found mine, although his gallant steed resembles a ten year old battered green fiesta. Which is actually mine. Regardless, he is there by my side, handsome and courageous, but with a magic mirror reflecting the reality to which we are desperately trying to avoid.
As any little girl, I have been under the misapprehension that the magic kiss in the end is all that is needed to endure a long life of whimsical fancy. It may, and in my case has, brought prince charming into my world but I still feel like I am languishing in Rapunzel’s tower. For what all these wondrous fairy tales don’t tell us perpetual pink clad little girls, is that the mess created by the exploding dragon or tragically deposed super-villain, needs to be rectified by YOU and you alone. No one sticks around in Sleeping Beauty to clean up the melted mess that is Maleficent’s oozing destruction – it magically vanishes. Who cleaned out the oven after Hansel and Gretel so callously destroyed an old lady? And only Roald Dahl hinted at the fact that Little Red might now sport a wolf skin coat. No, the tragic fall out of any fairytale is conveniently swept under the rug.
These stories teach little children to be a little guarded, yes, but by the end of the last page to be filled with optimism that dreams really do come true. But these illusions, in reality dangle like fragile, dew heavy gossamer threads. One drip too many and the seemingly strong structure comes crashing to the ground – making everyone soggy in the process. These tales do not teach of backbone or the ability to ‘stand up’ for oneself but merely rely on the ingenuity of others to come to the rescue. In fact, Red had it closest in my mind, being ultra wary of the wolf and realising something was desperately wrong. However, she did nothing about it but merely sauntered around the edges of danger waiting for the woodcutter to come along. By which time, it was all too late for dearest Granny. Had Red challenged the stalking long before, had she not led the Big Bad Wolf towards Grandma’s cottage, nobody would have needed to scrub the wooden floor boards with bleach to remove the stench of wolf guts. In short, a big old mess would have been averted.
I understand why children’s stories have to end with optimism and joy, otherwise we might all be on Prozac by the age of five. But these illusions can hold so strong that even a sensible, reasonably intelligent thirty year old can still hide her head in the sand and wait for it all to go away. As if in a magic puff. But by not looking, someone is going to sneak upon you, either to gobble up or poison or wreak some other nonsensical misplaced idea of revenge upon you. Fairy tale books don’t teach girls to be strong. They teach them to wait. And look pretty. Well not this little girl, not any more. Waiting creates one huge pile up of mess and I am off to find a magic broom to clean it all up. And perhaps some blusher along the way!
You may be seeing more of these book inspired wedding-posts over the coming weeks. Not content with planning my own marvellous day, I can’t help but design fantasy days for some of my favourite literary characters! It may be said that I have too much time on my hands, it could also be suggested that I am a little tapped. Either way, I don’t care. The ladies out there can’t tell me they have not, at some point, made similar fantastical deliberations over lace or tulle? Silk or satin? Red or white roses? Mad Hatter or March Hare? Ok, maybe just me then.
But I could be Alice on her big day, perhaps these are just a few little pieces I might choose . . .
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