Category Archives: Children’s

Free Chaos Walking Short Stories

I am shocked. Genuinely shocked.

And then dismayed at the world form being so self-centred that a small act of generosity can shock me.

Patrick Ness is a multiple Carnegie award winning author – and I’m sure winner and nominee in numerous other awards too. I’m not going to say that he’s a Young Adult author: he is just an author. For us all. His novels range from science fiction to mythic magic realism to genuine emotion. His A Monster Calls still gets me: lump in throat, eyes prickling kind of getting.

Anyways… Patrick Ness’ trilogy Chaos Walking is brilliant: a wonderfully realised universe; fully rounded and engaging characters; a fabulous balance between action and emotion. And in addition to the three books of the trilogy, there are three short stories filling in some of the gaps in this fantastic world.

Available for free.

Download them from HERE.

Three original shirt stories from a truly exceptional writer.

For free.

Why did I not know of this before?

Go.

Download.

Stop reading this; read them!

20140803-185416-68056970.jpg

20140803-185417-68057099.jpg

20140803-185416-68056799.jpg

Advertisements

Fairytale Remix

Being Dad to a twelve month old daughter, my days are replete with a steady diet of Disney at the moment! Not to mention my own reading preferences which tends towards the Fairytale and mythological. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a book I return to over and again. As is the rather disturbing In The Company Of Wolves based on her versions of Red Riding Hood in The Bloody Chamber which can be seen here.

One example of a Grimm fairytale which exemplifies the moral and narrative ambiguity of the genre is conveniently brief and a single paragraph long:

Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in a short time he lay on his deathbed. After he was lowered into his grave and covered over with earth, one of his little arms suddenly emerged and reached up into the air. They pushed it back down and covered the earth with fresh earth, but that did not help. The little arm kept popping out. So the child’s mother had to go to the grave herself and smack the little arm with a switch. After she had done that, the arm withdrew, and then, for the first time, the child had peace beneath the earth.

This is deliciously sparse: the image of the child’s arm stubbornly popping up out of the grave is undoubtedly comic: it’s almost Monty Pythonesque in its visual comedy. I have visions of the villagers surrounding the grave, whacking the arm like a game of human Whack-A-Mole! But… was the child buried alive? The paragraph doesn’t actually say he died: are we laughing at the desperate attempts of a sick child to claw its way out of its grave? And allowing a child to become ill and die because it didn’t obey its mother? It doesn’t recall sound like a Christian way for “the dear Lord” to respond. Is the recalcitrant hand a sign of divine remorse, a forgiving resurrection thwarted by human ignorance? And why does it say the mother ‘had” to go? What compelled her? Was she torn from her grieving by the villagers? However stubborn her child was, and all children are incredibly stubborn, a mother would mourn its death keenly. And keen mournfully. Is the mother a victim of or a symbol of the oppressive dictatorial (and male?) village? Is it significant that the mother reverts to violence when the others could be seen as tenderly covering the arm over? How convincing is the peace discovered in the final sentence?

So this sounds like a fabulous conference at Comic-Con that I wish could have attended.

20140802-074224-27744116.jpg

Things I’ve learned from Tangled

20140725-065738-25058188.jpg

This is my little girl’s favourite film… alongside Frozen. And, having watched it frequently this holiday already – often with her in my arms at 5 am

20140725-070053-25253743.jpg
there are a few things I have learned which, I believe, will be of use in future life…

1) The best parents are silent, even in the face of disease, pain, joy and the loss of their child;

2) Goatees work. Ladies love them!

3) In the event of being evil enough to steal a child, lie about her birthday;

4) Never trust a chameleon;

5) Hair with magical growth and glowing and healing properties is restricted to the head;

6) Magical hair changes length according to the needs of the plot;

7) Using the nickname ‘flower’ for someone named after lettuce leaves is both creepy and makes perfect sense;

8) Floating lanterns solve everything;

9) It is perfectly reasonable that a hook can play the piano;

10) ‘Unarrested’ is a word. Really.

11) Anthropomorphic horse can fight with swords;

12) Changing your name from Flynn to Eugene completely absolves you of a lifetime of thievery;

13) Having suffered one hair-based magical adventure, it is perfectly reasonable to hide and refuse to help when you stumble into a second one. Not selfish at all. It’s fine to let you friend Elsa be driven from her home because of magic.

20140725-071816-26296896.jpg

14) Mirrors are extraordinarily good at cutting hair;

and finally,

15) Having a male narrator is all you need to mark a film as ‘boy friendly’ and most definitely not a Disney Princess film. Even if Rapunzel was deliberately made a Princess for the film. Which was made by Disney.

Frozen

My daughter loves Frozen.

So much so that we bought it for her. And considering she is only 12 months old, this is quite a big thing! Her first Disney film! It’s likely to have a place in her heart for ever!

And a film in which the “act of true love” which acts as a deus ex machina is familial rather than romantic isn’t a bad role model … especially as her father has banned her dating until she’s 35!

20140713-135410-50050386.jpg

But there is so much just wrong with this film! I’m not sure where to start! Idina Menzel’s singing voice as Queen Elsa is very high-pitched and shrieky to my old arthritic ears… but I can forgive that. Olaf the talking snowman is on a par with Jar Jar Binks in the annoying sidekick stakes. I’m worried that these trolls appear to be child-snatchers: why did Kristof never return home? Is there some Norweigan Sweatshop racket going on?

The biggest problems I have, however, are these:

1. The Queen has damned Arendelle to an eternal winter, it is declared… And yet it appear that the film takes place over the space of perhaps 24 hours (excluding the backstory montage). Yes, granted, the winter has struck in mid-July or August which doesn’t bode well… but eternal? Really? Inconvenient. Unexpected. Sudden. Unseasonal. I’d have accepted all those and many other adjectives. But one thing the winter patently is not is eternal!

2. Hans. The transition from simpering mooncalf to either hero or villain is utterly unconvincing. The scene I particularly object to is this one

20140713-141841-51521206.jpg
It is an unguarded moment; no one is watching him; he’s hidden by the boat. To prepare us for the eventual villainy, to introduce an element of cohesion and pre-figuration a mocking sneer was needed. Instead, we get that simpering smile.

The reason for these discrepancies appears to be on account of a song. According to IMDB

Originally, Queen Elsa was intended to be the villain of the story. However, when the character’s major song, “Let it Go,” was played for the producers, they concluded that the song was not only very appealing, but its themes of personal empowerment and self-acceptance were too positive for a villain to express. Thus, the story was rewritten to have Elsa as an isolated innocent who is alarmed upon learning that her powers are inadvertently causing harm and struggles to control her powers with Anna’s help.

.
I’m imagining the Disney think tank as they decided to make Elsa scared rather than malicious and the need to have some form of antagonist… Whereupon Hans was shoehorned into the role somewhat uncomfortably.

Would it not have been better to re-write the song and give it to Elsa?

No. I’m sorry, Disney. But if you want a good intelligent reworking of The Snow Queen, you need to read The Girl With The Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, my review of which is here.

20140713-150332-54212943.jpg

Poll: Carnegie 2013

Seven Types of Reader

Apparently there are only seven plots in the entire world… and also seven types of readers! A certain sense of symmetry there!

Click here to read the original article – from quite a while ago – but these are my thoughts.

1. The Book Thief

Okay. Hands up. It’s a fair cop. This is me. I have on my book shelf a number of books that originated elsewhere. My old school library. Friends. Work book swap shelves.

I am in fair company. Apparently there is a description of a hobbit in The Lord Of The Rings who

was a great borrower of books and worse than usual at returning them.

The name of this kleptomaniac hobbit would have escaped me without the search function of my ebook: he is Huge Bracegirdle. Google was no help as it is bloated with filmic rather than literary hobbits. But – returning to the point – this book-pilfering hobbit who occupies about three lines in the book is apparently intended to be a self-portrait of J. R. R. Tolkien himself.

20130309-130332.jpg

And it’s not my fault! The books, the stories sing to me! They want to stay!

My favourite stolen book isWuthering Heights which I stole from school when I was 17, as I was reading it for A-level. I’d like to say it’s full of surprisingly insightful annotation… Alas it’s more chock full of cringe inducingly juvenile annotation, doodles, notes to whoever may have been sitting next to me. And I do believe one or two phalluses (phalli?). Teenage humour hasn’t changed much in the intervening twenty years! And Wuthering Heights is still my favourite book!

2. The Dog Earer

Yes. Me again.

There are few books I have without broken spines, scuffed edges and turned-down corners. I’m not overly worried about the book. The fabric of the book. See the state of my Wuthering Heights mentioned above. Some of my books even have shopping lists in them. When I’m famous these will become jolly sought after.

I have considered this before, why I don’t mind my books being dog-eared whilst, simultaneously I love my books.

I think, firstly, that I don’t love books at all: I love the stories, the narratives, the characters, not the books. This is, in part, why I have no objection to my ebook: I don’t mind if that narrative and those characters come digitally or on paper, so long as I have them.

Secondly, and this is a gripe I have with the ebook, the tattier the book, the better read, better loved the narrative. That pristine book on the bookshelf may as well be in a cellophane wrapping. A toy in played with. A marriage unconsummated. A child unloved.

3. The Serendipity Screamer

Odd phrase that reeks of the writer shoehorning in an alliteration.

The Sharer would be a far more acceptable Anglo-Saxon alternative.

Now, this is only partially me: I like to share my experience of reading and discuss with others my books and blog about them.

But I don’t share the book! It’s my book. What if I want to read it again?! What if I want to check something? What if I get in an argument and need to prove my point (which would, obviously, be compellingly right!)?

I like the idea of people who leave their used books on the bus for someone else to pick up … but I couldn’t do that. And I’m not sure I’d pick one up: I’d worry about depriving the owner of their book; and of the owner coming back having just popped to the toilet rather than leaving it to be picked up; and of unknown germs… I worry that there are piles of books being burnt at the bus terminus having been left philanthropically and not picked up!

Maybe the only people who get these books are the bus drivers. Maybe bus drivers are the intellectual future of the human race without ever buying a book!

4. The Self-Conscious Reader

These people are ashamed of either the fact of reading or their choice of material.

Me?

Hell no!

I teach and do a duty at lunchtime which I take as my reading time. I amble about, reading as I go, talking to kids about the books – and occasionally barking at them to get out, get in, put food in the bin, pick up litter, put down that child. But I am a public reader.

Nor do I care what I am seen reading: genre fiction, classics, children’s books, comics, poetry, popular, cult or esoteric. Even Fifty Shades (which I gave up on after 100 pages: so incredibly dull and tedious and just bad!)

5. The Did-Not-Finisher

I see no shame in failing to finish a book.

There is – in my humble view – no such thing as a bad book, just books that aren’t right for you.

Have I not finished a book? Of course I have! Fifty Shades of Gray for one! There are so many fabulous books out there waiting to meet me, why would I spend any more time with Christian Gray than I had to?! Other unfinished books? Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon, House of Leaves by Danielewski – although that was more to do with wanting to find it in paper rather than electronically, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – I mean the title said it all!

6. The Underliner

Yup!

Me again!

I scrawl, highlight, underline. I annotate.

I bought a touchscreen Sony e-reader the PRS-650 which Mrs P upgraded for me to the PRS-T1 (which still sounds like an intellectual, reading terminator to me!) specifically so I could underline in it!

I can’t help it!

I was trained to do it at Cambridge University – they called it Practical Criticism there; the library tends to call it graffiti!

I teach my students to do it.

I find a pithy phrase; a muscular image; an evocative line and I’m reaching for the pen!

I’m an Underliner and I’m proud!

7. The Reader-Of-Things-You’ve-Never-Heard-Of

I don’t thing this applies to me! Mrs P’s insistent it does!

My reading tends to be driven by what is in Smiths or Waterstones. The Richard and Judy Book Club tends to put me off books! But all very popular and top ten.

The most abstruse and esoteric of my favourite reads probably comes from my University career: I do like a bit of post-Colonial literature, having done a dissertation on Wole Soyinka as part of my finals. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is sublime.

20130309-161317.jpg

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was lovely.
And Athol Fugard’s Tsotsi!

Oh and Arundhati Roy’s God Of Small Things.

And I do read Chaucer for entertainment: it is joyful! And Gawain and The Grene Knight. But they’re not esoteric. They’re really not.

I do remember the first time I tried to discuss someone’s apparent interest in steampunk – which i adore! oh China Miéville! Oh Railsea! Perdido Street Station! and they looked as if I’d tried to proposition them in some way!

And Mikhail Bulgarkov and Andrey Kurkov. My Russian phase.

20130309-161207.jpg