Posted by: Natalie | May 12, 2010

I, Coriander

A quick read, for me!

I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. Sally Gardner is an excellent children’s fiction writer with a skill of placing stories in a historical context – something I am attempting myself. I had read (most of) The Red Necklace a couple of years ago and was completely inspired. I say I only read part of it because I was on a barging holiday with friends and there was so much to distract me that the book got forgotten. I regret this, and I will rectify the situation, eventually!

Unlike The Red Necklace which is set during the French Revolution, I, Coriander‘s epoch panicked me a little. The date given in the blurb is the exact year in which my story begins, 1643. However, it quickly became apparent that this story doesn’t actually focus on the Civil Wars themselves. Most of the detail occurs during the Puritan era, ending at the Restoration – this specific time frame is being saved for a much later volume of my Civil War obsessed project! It was something of a relief. Sally Gardner is such a fantastic, award winning author that I was concerned my pages would never be able to compete with hers. However, there is a chance!

I, Coriander is very much a girls book. And I have to say, it was not as good as I had anticipated. This is possibly because girly stories bore me a little. The story of Coriander and her Royalist parents feels a little thin. It is a perfectly lovely story with reference to magic and fairies and a nod to something much more sinister, but that is all it is; a nod. I am aware that it is a children’s book, but it just wasn’t gripping enough. Events and dilemmas appear on the pages without any real sense of background, reasoning or purpose. Yes they are all tied together at the end, as all good children’s books should, but I feel like there is a layer missing. Everything happens too quickly leaving little room for suspense or intrigue. It is, in short, a little flat.

But, I did learn some important lessons from the read. As I know the Civil War era fairly well, and I know the initial setting like the back of my hand, I know I am bogging myself down with detail. I am trying to put too much into the non-essential simply because I love the detail. I am hoping to tell this story over two, more than likely three, books (see, wishful thinking!) so I need to remember there is time to spread the detail, patience is something I can allow.

I, Coriander, despite being of a similar time frame, is so unbelievably different to what I want to publish that I am hugely relieved. My first book is set predominantly in the Spring of 1643 when the local area was being ripped to shreds by the onset of war. I want to create a much more grim world that is heavy with the scent of war. I want the fact that the place is so volatile and unpredictable to be key to the plot. I want a sense of mistrust, treachery and tyranny to lie beneath the children’s story of magic and mystery. I want there to be a sense of underlying fear that keeps the characters and the reader on their toes. I want danger! I suspect, in places, Sally Gardner was also aiming for some of this to seep through – members of Coriander’s family escape to France for fear of Cromwell’s Puritan tyranny – but I didn’t really appreciate the sense of urgency. Maybe it was just me, maybe I didn’t take as much care over its reading as I should have done – it’s up for debate I guess.

I do like how she writes though. I like the structure and the flow and I aspire to be more efficient with my words. It is a book I shall keep because should I ever have children of my own, it is one I would want to share with them. And I still believe Sally Gardner is the Queen of Historical Fiction for children because she gets it! She gets across the essence of the era without over labouring the detail. And in context, the detail presented in I, Coriander was well suited to the little girl’s fairy story that was told. I am inspired, so much so that today I am starting another of her books, The Silver Blade.

I am hoping that once my book is a little more polished and a little more suitable for strangers to read, that I can submit it to Sally Gardner’s Literary Agent, Rosemary Sandberg. How amazing would it be if not only I could successfully write historical fiction but have it worked on by the same people as one of my fiction writing heroines?! Lofty dreams indeed!

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