Tag Archives: Dan Rhodes

Other People’s Bookshelves #73 – Dan Coxon

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the company of author and editor Dan Coxon. He’s put on a might fine spread of nibbles and drinks for us, so do grab a few and settle down on those comfy chairs as we get to know Dan better and have a right old rifle through his bookshelves….

I’m an author, editor and father, not necessarily in that order. My travel memoir Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand was published four years ago, and was used as background for the ITV documentary River Deep, Mountain High last year. I also write short fiction, with stories in Gutter, Neon, The Lonely Crowd, The Portland Review, Flash, and many more; forthcoming in Unthology and Popshot. Non-fiction all over the place, from Salon to The Scottish Cricketer. From 2013-2015 I edited Litro magazine, and I’m in the process of editing an anthology of short stories about fatherhood, entitled Being Dad. We’re currently taking pre-sales and raising funds on Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-coxon/being-dad-short-stories-about-fatherhood). Please check it out – we have stories from Toby Litt, Dan Rhodes, Courttia Newland, Nicholas Royle and Nikesh Shukla, amongst others. It’s going to be wonderful.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

My natural instinct is to keep everything, good or bad. I guess I’m a hoarder, at least when it comes to the written word. In reality I’ve shed a few books over the years. Generally speaking, every book I read moves onto the shelves shortly afterwards. But some only take up temporary residence, while others are there for good. Signed copies (by anyone) and a few favoured authors (Iain Banks, Will Self, Ian McEwan, William Burroughs, Doug Coupland) will always find a space on my shelves, no matter what. Plus anything by someone I actually know in real life, or anything that blows me away. Basically, I’m always looking for a good excuse to hang onto books.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

For almost ten years I worked in the book trade, first as a bookseller, then as a bookshop manager. During that time my shelves were immaculate – arranged according to genre, then by author. It was basically like having a little bookstore in my house. Now that I have two kids, I have less space, and less time. I still have a ‘to read’ shelf, where all my latest purchases and the books I’d like to revisit reside. And a ‘friends’ shelf, stacked with books by authors I know (this is still growing – I may need two shelves at some point soon). Beyond that, I’m ashamed to say that most of my books are arranged according to size. Non-fiction is still separate, but it’s mostly a case of fitting in as many tomes as I possibly can. One day, when I have the time and the space, I’d love to return to a proper system again. I’d love to have all my short fiction in one place.

As for culling, my wife and I went travelling for a year at one point (part of which formed the basis for Ka Mate), and I cut a lot of books from the collection. The remainder were stored in friends’ attics for twelve months, so I had to be ruthless. The same happened when we moved to Seattle for a few years, and on the way back again. We’d fill boxes with the titles we were happy to part with, then we’d invite friends round to take their pick. If they were going to a good home it wasn’t such a tearful parting. I like to think that my shelves are still out there, just residing in my friends’ collections.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I’ll come clean – I had to check on this one. I always had so many books around when I was a kid that it’s hard to remember specifics. It turns out that my Mum can’t remember either. It was possibly one of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, although I thought I received those for Christmas. Given my childhood reading habits, it’s quite likely that it was one of the Doctor Who novelisations. I still have the Narnia books (nice editions, that have been passed down through my half-siblings and back to me), but I only have a handful of Classic Who novels in modern versions, nothing like the books I had back then.

What I do remember is that I had a rolling list of books I wanted, written on the back of a Waterstone’s bookmark (these were one-sided at the time, with a maroon front). At first it was just five or six titles that I’d heard of and wanted to read, but within a few years it had expanded to multiple bookmarks, with titles and authors packed in tiny handwriting on the back. I’d give these to my parents at every birthday, without telling them that most of the books were rarities or out of print. I was always interested in reading out-of-the-way books, the ones that everyone had forgotten about. These days there’s probably an app that will hunt them all down for you. But when I was a kid I loved having my never-ending wish list.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

To be honest, anything I was truly embarrassed by was thrown out during the culling. I do have a shelf of my juvenilia – Michael Moorcock’s Elric books, those early Doctor Who novelisations, Alan Garner’s The Owl Service – mostly the same editions that I had growing up. These sit directly behind my TV, in plain sight, so I wouldn’t exactly call them hidden. I’m actually rather proud of them. If people don’t ‘get’ them, then they probably don’t ‘get’ me either. I’ve been living with those books for so long that they’ve become part of who I am. Having said that, my wife does have a few Patricia Cornwells that I’ve stowed away, out of sight. Her later novels are just awful.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

For my 21st birthday my Dad bought me a 1st edition boxed set of Lord of the Rings, so that would be the easy choice. Quite apart from the sentimental attachment, it’s also worth more than any other books that I own, by a rather large margin! Beyond that, there’s a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson that my dad stole from a local library about fifty years ago. I’ve been dragging that around for so long that I couldn’t bear to part with it now. The same goes for the copy of Moby-Dick that I pilfered from our school supplies when I was 17. (They’ll probably read this now and demand it back. It’s not even a particularly nice copy, but we spent an entire term wandering the playing fields reading excerpts from it, imagining that we were the Dead Poets’ Society. If nothing else, it’s an irreplaceable reminder of what a pretentious tosser I was in my teens.)

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I think it was the Selected Stories of H.G. Wells. My dad is a rabid science fiction reader, and our shelves were always dominated by his books. I seem to remember an illustrated edition of this book, although I may be making that up. I read these stories fairly early, and loved the sense of imagination and adventure that came with them. I was lucky that my parents encouraged my reading habit, and didn’t mind me dipping into their shelves on occasion. I haven’t read them in a while, but there’s a copy still buried on one of my shelves somewhere. ‘The Time-Machine’ probably looms larger in my subconscious than any other single story, and I’ve taken a few shots at writing a time travel story over the years. Maybe it also explains why I’m still an unrepentant Doctor Who fan.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I borrow quite a lot of books – I firmly believe in the library system, and if we don’t use it, we may lose it. Whenever I read something that I like, which I’ve borrowed, I have to ask myself whether I’m likely to read it again. If I will, then I’ll buy a copy (especially if I want to make notes on it, I wouldn’t deface library property!). In most cases, though, upon honest reflection, I decide that my shelves probably can’t take the extra weight.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I’ve been cutting back on book purchases this year. I have such a backlog of wonderful reading that I want to dedicate some time to catching up with the pile. I have made a couple of purchases in the last month or two, though. Most recent was at the Green Man Festival, in Wales. I’d read most of the book I’d taken with me on the train, and it rained solidly for much of Saturday and Sunday, so I was tent-bound with nothing to do. Luckily there was a well-stocked book stall, where I bought J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (irresistible, given the weather) and Christopher Priest’s The Affirmation. I’m happy to say that both were excellent.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

There are always books that I want to own, but I’ve gradually come to realise that I’ll never have the time to read them all. Currently, as I type this, I’m craving Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, as well as Jonathan Evison’s latest, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!. But I will resist, for now at least.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I think they’d probably be a little confused. My shelves are quite a mess at the moment. But I like to think that they’d pause for a moment and find an unsuspected gem or two hidden in the stacks. Reading is always at its most exciting when it serves up unexpected pleasures, and there are some genuine treasures in among the chaos. Or maybe they’d just see a Doctor Who-loving geek with a love of impenetrably pretentious modern literature – either is fine by me.

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A huge thanks to Dan for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can check out his short story collection kickstarter here. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Dan’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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With a Zero at Its Heart – Charles Lambert

If I was to mention to you a book written in 24 themed chapters, each with 10 numbered paragraphs of exactly 120 words in length then your thoughts may go several ways. Some of you may think it sounds pretentious, some of you may think it sounds too clever and a gimmick, some of you may think it sounds like an author testing their craft and being experimental leading to amazing results. The latter of you would be right, the book I am describing is Charles Lambert’s With a Zero at Its Heart which I had the pleasure of living with for a while recently and was rather sad to leave.

The Friday Project, paperback, 2014, fiction/non-fiction (you decide), 150 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I can’t decide if With a Zero at Its Heart is a novel or a memoir. I can’t decide if it matters. I have decided that with each chapter being made up of ten concise short bursts of recollection around a theme that it lingers somewhere delightfully between the two. I have also decided it is going to be quite a mission to do it justice and explain just how wonderfully it evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it.

What is so clever about With a Zero at Its Heart is the way that the novel is constructed. I don’t just mean the 24 chapters with 10 paragraphs all of 120 characters, though this makes for a very condensed work and intensifies the gamut of emotions (joy, sorrow, love, loss, the works) throughout. Initially because every paragraph in every themed chapter is from a different point in the narrator/authors life you worry that you are disconnected. Soon you feel completely opposite as the more you read the more you connect these snippets and short stories from a life into the wider whole story. For example we follow, on and off, the huge story that is the experience of the death of his parents, we also follow smaller stories like a bunch of cleaned bottles which clearly are a vivid part of his memory and have a tale to tell. There is something joyous in the celebration and companionship of the bigger and smaller stories all interweaving.

He’s waiting for his father to get home, standing on the sofa beside the bay window that looks out onto the street. When the car comes round the corner he waves and jumps up and down. His father drives past the window and beneath the arch that leads into the yard, then storms into the house. He’s furious. He walks across the room and grabs the arm of his son, who’s still on the sofa, and pulls him off until the boy is half-standing, half-crouching on the floor. His father slaps him round the back of the head. By the time his mother comes in they’re both shaking. That sofa’s new, his father says. He must think I’m made of money.

It is in a way a collection of 240, I think I have done the maths right there, moments that in themselves are a small story and world within the bigger universe of a person’s memory. Here also the themes in each chapter come in to play. The titles are wonderful, with a sense of the serious and the fun, like ‘Language or Death and Cucumbers’, ‘Money Or Brown Sauce Sandwiches’ or ‘Correspondence or Coterminous with the Cat’. Yet what is fascinating is that as we read about subject like death, money, sex, and the body we see how the relevance of those words and indeed those objects change as his life progresses. The first paragraph/memory/story being the earliest and then they come nearer to the future.

It is also a book very much about books, writing and the power of words and language. Through both the experimental form, showing us what words can do in varied and unusual ways and the fact that the prose is so short, sharp and beautifully pristine. As I mentioned the condensing of it has a real intensity which will sit with you throughout. It is of course also the story of a young man who becomes a writer and creator of stories themselves.

His favourite aunt gives him a typewriter. The first thing he writes is a story about people who gather in a room above a shop to invoke the devil. When they hear the clatter of cloven hooves on the stairs the story ends, but the typewriter continues to tap out words, and then paragraphs, and then pages until the floor is covered. He picks them up and places them in a box as fast as they come, and then a second box, and then a third. There is no end to it. I am nothing more than a channel, he whispers to himself, and the typewriter pauses for a moment and then, on a new sheet, types the word Possession.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I loved With a Zero at Its Heart. I found it deeply touching and moving in its subject and prose, and also exciting for its form. It is one of those wonderful books which tests you slightly as a reader, plays with you (in a good way) and then grabs hold of you and takes you over. It is a relatively short book yet one that I was reading both in gulps and then having a break to let all the stories settle and the bigger picture slowly but surely form. It is in essence the story of a life in 24 chapters and is quite unlike anything I have read before. Highly recommended reading, one of the most original books I have read in a very long time.

I am definitely going to have to head to more of Charles Lambert’s back catalogue as it is rare that an author can write a book with such an unusual form and make something so emotive and compelling. The last time I came across such books were Dan Rhodes’ Anthropology and the slightly shorter – in all senses – and teeny bit more gimmicky (if I am being honest, though I liked it a lot)  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. I have to say though, Lambert’s has a much heftier emotional punch than either, and you know how much I love Mr Rhodes! Have any of you read any of Charles Lambert’s novels and if so which should I head to next? Which other original and ‘experimental’ books have you tried and been rather bowled over by and why?

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Filed under Books of 2014, Charles Lambert, Review, The Friday project

The Quiet Savidge…

There are a lot of should have’s going through my mind today. I should have responded to all the lovely comments you have left. I should have written lots of reviews, one of which should have been of ‘The Quiet American’, and scheduled lots of posts. Shoulda, woulda, coulda… I haven’t! Sorry.

In fact I have been struggling to get through ‘The Quiet American’ as I have been reading it on my e-reader which I have noticed I zone out of quite a lot, possibly because I am spending too many hours staring at a screen at the moment. It has now arrived, along with the other three Greene For Gran titles, so I can get back to the ‘actual’ book. Two copies actually arrived so I will do a giveaway when I review it, finally.

Greene For Gran

Things have been c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-razy with work as we get to the last week before Liverpool International Music Festival launches and I have been spending most of my time sat in front of a computer and so to then sit and type anything has seemed like the last thing I have wanted to be doing. In fact my reading has slowed down again because I am spending most of my free time either running (don’t laugh, I am training for a marathon – more on that soon) or just chilling out in front of some appallingly trashy telly that I simply won’t mention because even if you swore you wouldn’t you would judge me.

One of the other things I have been also been doing is going to book groups. Not one book group, but two! One of which I mentioned earlier in the week because it meant I had the utter joy of reading ‘The Princess Bride’ for the first time, I have seen the film umpteen times (it is one of my mother’s favourites) but never touched the book. It was an interesting, and rather large, group though the book didn’t get that much air time. I think most of the people felt it was a fairly entertaining romp but nothing more, which made me stay quiet from declaring my love for it. They are reading a lot of books I have read already, which is not their fault, so I will probably go back and see how they discuss ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and decide if I stay or go. Does that make me sound like a bit of a pompous/fussy/arrogant twat? I don’t mean it to.

I went to another one today (Gran would be so proud being a book group addict herself) where they were discussing ‘Little Hands Clapping’, by one of my favourite authors Dan Rhodes. It is an LGBT group and much smaller than the other one but blow me down we were nattering about the book over a coffee for 2 hours (well with several tangents) which flew by. They meet less regularly but the books they have read are lots I have missed, including the next one which is ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes which I came home to dig out and discovered this…

AM Holmes

Yes another book I have two copies of! I think I am going to keep the hardback over the paperback, it’s heavier but the type is bigger and it’s a first edition – oh and I like hardback cover sooooo much. It has reminded me though that I am in dire need of a book sort out, and I need to be ruthless, really ruthless. I am going to start on the shelves below soon and really ask myself ‘did I buy it or ever ask for it, do I think I might read it anytime soon, would someone probably like a copy more than me, etc.’

ShelvesI am going to really go for it tomorrow and I shall report back. What is news with you? What have you been reading? How are you getting on with your Graham Greene’s if you have been reading them? What else do you have to report?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Marry Me – Dan Rhodes

Fret not, this is not some random post where I declare my love for Dan Rhodes and ask for his hand, though I have been a big fan of his for years and years I wouldn’t go that far. However ‘Marry Me’ is the title of Dan Rhodes latest collection of short stories, which seemed the perfect antidote for having had a real book slump after the torture experience of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. I needed something that would make reading a joy and get me thinking and that is just what ‘Marry Me’ did.

**** Canongate Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 158 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The theme in all the short tales in ‘Marry Me’ are, rather unsurprisingly from the title, all based around marriage. Be these tales of people who are thinking of getting married, getting married, having just been married or ending their marriage the whole gambit is covered here. You have couples getting married through true love, guilt, accident and people getting out of it for the same reason.

Describing them like that makes them sound like they are all going to be rather dark and cynical, and whilst there are a good few dark little twisted tales (part of the reason I am a fan of Rhodes writing so much) here there are also some that are incredibly raw and also rather sentimental and tender too even if it is not initially obvious.

Science

You would think in a collection of 79 oh-so-short stories there might be some kind of repetitive nature. I will admit that on occasion there were a few that opened with ‘when my fiancé died…’ and there were lots of cheating spouses and husbands who thought everything was fine when it really wasn’t yet the book is brimming with variety. ‘Perfect’ shows the lengths that people will go to for the most special, better than anyone else’s, of days. ’Androids’ takes the theme of, erm, themed weddings to a very dark (but I laughed so, so hard) conclusion. ‘Her Old Self’ shows you should never marry someone because you think you are doing them a favour or out of guilt. There was even a hint of a different genre, science fiction, in ‘Cold’ where a woman gets sick of her husband interfering with the plans she asks him to be cryogenically frozen for a few weeks to let her get on with.

Stick

What I always admire with Dan Rhodes work is how he likes to contradict himself and throw the reader completely. Here he does this by being super critical of marriage, despite the fact the book is dedicated to ‘wife features’, on the one hand and then suddenly giving you a quirky cute tale that you weren’t expecting. This is always the case in both his novels and his short stories. With his short stories like these, and many of the tales in his previous collection Anthropology, which at the longest can be a page and a half and at their shortest a few sentences (flash fiction really) it is like his brilliance is concentrated. He can create a situation and atmosphere in a paragraph a whole character in a sentence, it is quite mind-bogglingly clever. They are also overall darkly funny, you’ll laugh when you normally wouldn’t.

Hat

I would heartily recommend anyone and everyone give ‘Marry Me’ ago. You might not want to buy it for someone you love, they might not get the way it’s meant, but if you love literature, language and the way that words can work at their most concentrated (and because you like to be entertained and made to laugh) then you should definitely give this a whirl. I would highly recommend it, like I would all the books of Rhodes that I have read.

I have just realised that Dan Rhodes should really be in my Hall of Fame, as I have read and liked so much of his work, but I am going to save that for when I have read ‘This is Life’ which has been on my TBR for far too long and I have been saving to read for a rainy day. Who else has read Dan Rhodes and what do you think of his work?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review, Short Stories

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Reads of 2012

Do you find that you get to the end of the year, start to see everyone’s books of the year, start compiling your own and then suddenly think ‘why didn’t I read that? Or that? Or that?’ I know taht i do. Actually, I do a list like this mentally every year, I thought I had posted one on the blog last year but I can’t find it currently, never mind. I decided that I would compile one for you this weekend, before I post my books of the year at the end of next week, and who knows they may be some of the first reads of 2013!

  

  • Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (started this one, then put it down as got a deluge of Green Carnation Prize submissions to read)
  • The Yips – Nicola Barker (see excuse above)
  • The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling (was really excited by this, then heard too much about it, then Gran said it wasn’t very good. She has now said it got a lot better in the end, so I will give it a whirl after Dickens I think, if the whim tales me)

  

  • This is Life – Dan Rhodes (very cross with myself about this one as Dan Rhodes is one of my favourite authors and so I should have read this straight away, it is also one of the Fiction Uncovered titles and I love that promotion)
  • HHhH – Laurent Binet (I wasn’t too fussed about this debut until I saw Marieke Hardy singing its praises on the First Tuesday Book Club, have wanted to read it since)
  • Gossip From The Forest – Sara Maitland (a book about fairy tales and forests and the relationship between the two, very me, very cross)

 

  • John Saturnall’s Feast – Lawrence Norfolk (a book set to appeal to foodies like ‘Perfume’ appealed to anyone who likes scents, and a dark book too, started this twice and each time more Green Carnation submissions arrived, too big a book to read in bits and bobs)
  • Building Stories – Chris Ware (a graphic novel in a box that pushes the boundaries of fiction be it graphic or not, erm yes please)
  • When Nights Were Cold – Susanna Jones (another of the Fiction Uncovered titles which appealed to me because I have a rather random obsession with the Arctic and Antarctic and this is set in the Victorian period – I imagined this would have been one of my reads of the year)

  

  • Every Contact Leaves A Trace – Elanor Dymott (this sounded like an unusual literary thriller/murder mystery and I should have read more of those this year)
  • A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausgaard (admittedly I had no idea this book existed until I started seeing other bloggers ends of the year lists, the bloggers who loved it really loved it and they are all blogs I trust, this may be my first read of 2013 – I like to start with a gooden)
  • Any of the Simon Serrailler series – Susan Hill (I intended to read two this year to start catching up again, I haven’t read one, bad, bad me)

So which have been your shoulda, woulda, coulda reads of the year? What titles, new or old, can you not believe or feel gutted you haven’t read yet?

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Why Do We Love A Good Fairytale?

As the air has taken a rather autumnal feel here in the Wirral and after reading the quirky ‘Topsy Turvy Tales’, I have turned to reading the Grimm Brothers fairytales (between all the other reading I am doing that I can’t discuss) and I was wondering why as adults we still find fairytales so appealing.

Now if you are thinking that I am happily sat reading the old ladybird classics of an evening you would be wrong. Though I do have my old (very) battered versions from my childhood which I think I actually pilfered was passed on from my mother and aunties and uncle and then saw my siblings reading them (and battering them more) before I managed to get my mitts on them again. Anyway, I have been reading the ‘uncut’- as it were – versions of these tales and yet again, as I was with Perrault’s collection and Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, I am shocked at how much darker, twisted and gruesome the tales really are. Disney this is not.

I was actually thinking that children might be more scared of these versions and hence that is why they have been edited, but actually I bet kids would love them, especially when the baddies really come a cropper. I know as an adult I am, but what has led me back to reading them from those initial days a few decades (ugh!) ago?

As a child I loved fairytales for the following reasons…

  1. There was invariably a wood in them and my childhood home was surrounded by them meaning I thought these adventures could have happened in my childhood (particularly my favourite ‘Rapunzel’ as shown below as on our hill we had a very similar type of tower in the woods, seriously look below)
  2. There was generally a sense of menace, something I still love in a book now.
  3. There were elements of the magical and was invariably a witch or talking animal involved, I believed in both of these things vehemently for years, until I was about 24 in probability, ha.
  4. There was a happy ending and love conquered all, naive and slushy but true.
  5. They were a complete escape.

 

I was very lucky as apart from pilfering being loaned the Ladybird Classics, of which my favourite was Rapunzel as I mentioned, I had an amazing Granddad, called Bongy, who made more fairytales for me when I went to Newcastle with my mother while she was at university. Each week, or every few weeks, another tale of ‘The Amazing Adventures of Esmerelda and her Friends’ would arrive in the post, all hand written and hand drawn. Again real life and fiction merged as Esmerelda would visit her friend Simon bringing all her friends including a duck called Rapunzel and nine hens, all of which I had back at my grandparents in Matlock waiting for me in the holidays.

So where is this nostalgia trip leading? Well that is my point. I think one of the reasons we love fairytales is the nostalgia, well at least it is for me, and the fact there is something very safe in a fairytale no matter how menacing they get. I think, even if we know it might not always be true or run smoothly, we believe in love and the idea of a, hopefully, happy ending for all of us one day. It’s the ideal isn’t it? I also think it is the escapism, even if the world is quite similar there is something ethereal and magical about it that makes us know it is not our world but just tangible enough that it could be. Am I making sense?

It isn’t just the ‘adult’ (only not adult-adult you understand) versions of the tales we had as children though. Authors like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, John Connelly and soon Philip Pullman have re-worked or used the ideas of traditional fairytales in their fictions. Authors like Dan Rhodes, Lucy Wood, Ali Shaw and Eowyn Ivey have also created their own original fairytales for an adult audience which are working wonders and shows we do still love them.

I also wonder if a fairytale is really the true essence of stories. Tales made from folklore, legends and myths handed down by word and discussed before they were ever put to paper, it is what stories and therefore, I think, novels originate and even when you are reading a modern novel with no sign of magic or talking animals your still being told a story and a fairytale of a kind because none of it is real, just a little more cloaked.

What do you think, and what is your favourite fairytale?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Fiction Uncovered 2012

I have been waiting for this list of books to be announced for weeks, finally it is here, the Fiction Uncovered list of titles for 2012. If you are currently thinking ‘well what on earth is that’ let me explain, this is not a longlist of books of which one will eventually win a prize, it is list of eight titles that may just have gone under the radar and have been deemed, by a team of judges, as being books we all should have read because they are excellent yet didn’t get the buzz that they deserved. These selected titles are then promoted in book shops (including the lovely Book Barge) around the UK and in libraries, lovely. Well now it is back for 2012. I even voted for a book I wanted to see on the list if I were a judge, I must go to that list again to get even more recommendations. Anyway…

So why am I so excited? Well in part it’s the fact that it is another list of books that I might want to read (I have to admit I think I actually want to real ALL the books on this years list) and because its pushing books which might not have been pushed. The other reason is more personal as last year this is where I first heard about, and then tried, ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and we all know how that read went don’t we? I was also introduced to Ray Robinson’s fantastic novel ‘Forgetting Zoe’. I have both their previous novel/s to read in the future. I also started both Tim Pears ‘Disputed Land’, which I loved but was a little too close to home at a specific time so I had to stop, and Sarah Moss’ ‘Night Waking’ which I was loving but had to crack on with reading the Green Carnation Prize submissions, which is what could stop me from reading this years eight which, with my brief thoughts below each ones blurb, are…

Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke by Peter Benson (Alma Books)

When young Elliot gets a labourer’s job at Mr Evans’s after being sacked from a pig farm for liberating six of its sows, he thinks he’ll have even more opportunities to lean on gates or stare at fields. But his best mate Spike keeps getting him into trouble, first by showing him what is being grown in a tucked-away polytunnel, and then turning up at his caravan’s door with a van full of weed. As Elliot tries to help his friend get rid of the hot merchandise, they find themselves at the receiving end of a cruel cat-and-mouse game.

Simon says: The fact this has polytunnel (my mother has just got some she is obsessed about) in the blurb makes me think of The Archers and we all know how much I love that show. It also sounds like an English countryside book, which I also love. I must read it.

My Former Heart by Cressida Connolly (Fourth Estate)

When she grew up, Ruth would say that she could place the day that her mother had decided to go away. She didn’t know the actual date, but she recalled the occasion: it was on the afternoon of a wet day, early in 1942, during a visit to the cinema. She thought she could even pinpoint the exact moment at which Iris had made up her mind to go, leaving her only child behind. Neither of them could have guessed then that they would never live together again. Spanning the second half of the last century, “My Former Heart”, Cressida Connolly’s mesmerising first novel, charts the lives of three generations of Iris’s family, the mother who walked away from her child. Ruth will be deserted again, many years later, by a husband she loves, but not before she has had two children by him. She leaves London to live with her uncle, where she creates a new life for herself with another woman. And we follow the lives of her two children, trying to make a place for themselves in the world in the shadow of the family that precedes them. With its large cast of fascinating characters, this is an outstanding novel about families and their ability to adapt. It surely marks the beginning of long career as a novelist for Cressida Connolly.

Simon says: The LGBT twist in the blurb interests me and would make it stand out in its type of fiction if you know what I mean. I was slightly worried when I saw this was compared to Alan Hollinghursts latest novel, only this is only 240 pages. I am intrigued.

Lucky Bunny by Jill Dawson (Sceptre)

Crime is a man’s business, so they say, though not according to Queenie Dove. A self-proclaimed genius when it comes to thieving and escape, she reckons she’s done pretty well. Yes, she had a tough childhood in London’s East End during the Depression, with a father in and out of prison. But she survived the Blitz, learned how to get by on her wits, and soon graduated from shoplifting to more glamorous crimes. Daring, clever and sexy, she thrived in the Soho of the Krays and the clubs of Mayfair, fell wildly in love, and got away with it all. Or did she? For beneath Queenie’s vivacious, unrepentant account lies another story – of punishment and loss, and a passionate relationship that turns sour. To the end, she believes she was lucky, but did she simply play the hand that fate dealt her? Vividly portraying the times and circles she moved in, Lucky Bunny captures an intriguing, engaging woman as it questions how far we are in control of our own lives.

Simon says: This has been on my radar for ages, so reading it is a no brainer, in fact it will be a done deal.

Crushed Mexican Spiders by Tibor Fischer (Unbound)

‘Crushed Mexican Spiders’ is classic Fischer. Don’t be fooled by the title: the poet laureate of London grime is on home ground as a women returns home to discover the key to her Brixton flat no longer works – Haunting images and crisp one-liners are about all that link it with the second tale, ‘Possibly Forty Ships’, the true story of the Trojan War. In a scene straight out of a Tarantino movie, an old man is being tortured, pressed to reveal how the greatest legend of all really happened. Let’s just say it bears scant resemblance to Homer: ‘If you see war as a few ships sinking in the middle of the waves, a few dozen warriors in armour, frankly not as gleaming as it could be, being welcomed whole-heartedly by the water, far, far away from Troy, if you see that as war, then it was a war – ‘ The stories are being illustrated by the work of the acclaimed Czech photographer Hana Vojakova .

Simon says: At a mere 64 pages and with illustrations I want to read this just to see how it is so powerful in so few words, I also like the Unbound project so if I read it I will kill two bords of intrigue with one stone.

Hit and Run by Doug Johnstone (Faber and Faber)

Driving home from a party with his girlfriend and brother, all of them drunk and high on stolen pills, Billy Blackmore accidentally hits someone in the night. In a panic, they all decide to drive off. But the next day Billy wakes to find he has to cover the story for the local paper. It turns out the dead man was Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord and, as Billy struggles with what he’s done, he is sucked into a nightmare of guilt, retribution and violence. From the author of the acclaimed “Smokeheads”, “Hit & Run” is another pitch-black psychological thriller.

Simon says: I heard about this thanks to a review of Kim’s on Reading Matters and was intrigued. I like the fact a thriller has made the list too, I like a good thriller, only concern is it might be a bit ‘blokey’ for me though that could be a good test.

When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones (Mantle)

In turn of the century London, Grace Farringdon dreams of polar explorations and of escape from her stifling home with her protective parents and eccentric, agoraphobic sister. But while Grace longs to cross glaciers and survive sub-zero conditions with her hero Ernest Shackleton, she seems destined for nothing more than marriage, or a life shackled to the family home. But when Grace secretly applies to Candlin, a women’s college filled with intelligent, like-minded women, she finally feels her ambitions beginning to be take shape. There she forms an Antarctic Exploration Society with the gregarious suffragette Locke, the reserved and studious Hooper and the strange, enigmatic Parr, and before long the group are defying their times and their families by climbing the peaks of Snowdonia and planning an ambitious trip to the perilous Alps. Fifteen years later, trapped in her Dulwich home, Grace is haunted by the terrible events that took place out on the mountains. She is the society’s only survivor and for years people have demanded the truth of what happened, the group’s horrible legacy a millstone around her neck. Now, as the eve of the Second World War approaches, Grace is finally ready to remember and to confess…

Simon says: The phrases ‘turn of the century’, ‘agoraphobic sister’ and ‘polar explorations’ have me officially sold. I am going to beg, steal or borrow a copy of this.

The Light of Amsterdam by David Park (Bloomsbury)

It is December in Belfast, Christmas is approaching and three sets of people are about to make their way to Amsterdam. Alan, a university art teacher stands watching the grey sky blacken waiting for George Best’s funeral cortege to pass. He will go to Amsterdam to see Bob Dylan in concert but also in the aftermath of his divorce, in the hope that the city which once welcomed him as a young man and seemed to promise a better future, will reignite those sustaining memories. He doesn’t yet know that his troubled teenage son Jack will accompany his pilgrimage. Karen is a single mother struggling to make ends meet by working in a care home and cleaning city centre offices. She is determined to give her daughter the best wedding that she can. But as she boards the plane with her daughter’s hen party she will soon be shocked into questioning where her life of sacrifices has brought her. Meanwhile middle-aged couple, Marion and Richard are taking a break from running their garden centre to celebrate Marion’s birthday. In Amsterdam, Marion’s anxieties and insecurities about age, desire and motherhood come to the surface and lead her to make a decision that threatens to change the course of her marriage. As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before. Tender and humane, and elevating the ordinary to something timeless and important, The Light of Amsterdam is a novel of compassion and rare dignity.

Simon says: I was a little nonchalant about this one with Alan’s ‘situation’ but I then read about the other two and now rather fancy reading this.

This is Life by Dan Rhodes (Canongate)

This is Life is a missing baby mystery and an enchanted Parisian adventure. Hand in hand with lovable heroine Aurelie Renard, you will see life as you’ve never seen it before, discover the key to great art, witness the true cost of love, and learn how all these things may be controlled by the in-breath of a cormorant. Chock-full of charming characters and hilarious set-pieces this is a hugely enjoyable novel that will make you see life anew.

Simon says: The only book on the list by an author I have read before (and love, seriously he is brilliant) and I am thrilled that Dan is on the list, so as its one of the few of his I haven’t read already I will DEFINITELY be reading this one and probably within the next week or two. If you haven’t read him you must, ‘Gold’ has been my favourite (funny and heartbreaking) so far, I have high hopes for this.

So that is the list. What do you make of it and indeed the venture of Fiction Uncovered itself (the website is here)? Have you read any of these or anything else by the authors? I would love some further insight.

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