Tag Archives: James Dawson

This Book is Gay – James Dawson

So I thought I would end my mini Pride weekend with a book that I spent the whole of Pride reading as I was stuck in bed with the snuffles. Shockingly despite how forward thinking we are as people sex education in the UK, and as far as I am aware in the US, Canada and Australia, still fails to encompass information for LGBT people – and at a time when HIV is rising in the younger generations. And this is in progressive countries around the world where it is legal. I certainly wish I had been able to get my younger gay hands on this when I was going through some of my turbulent (to say the least) teens. Oh and if you think this book is just for LGBT people, think again this is a book for anyone and everyone whatever your sexuality or preferences.

Hot Key Books, paperback, 2014, non fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

Lesson One

  • Sometimes men fancy men.
  • Sometimes women fancy women.
  • Sometimes women fancy men and women.
  • Sometimes men fancy women and men.
  • Sometimes people don’t fancy anyone.
  • Sometimes a man might want to be a woman.
  • Sometimes a woman might want to be a man.

Got that? It really is that simple.

Of course whilst things should be that simple, taking into account that some men fancy women and some women fancy men obviously, they aren’t. This is where James Dawson starts This Book is Gay, because things aren’t that simple, which when you see it written in black and white like that makes it seem all the more idiotic, or ‘cray’ as James often mentions in the book. What follows is a guide to the world of the LGBT community from the very beginning and those first questions in their heads to what the possibilities can be in the future.

Now I am a 33 year old gay man and I thought this might be preaching to the converted but I learned so much from this book, which I binge read in just over twenty four hours, so I can only imagine how eye opening James frank yet funny book would be to someone at the early ponderings of what they may or may not be. First there is the history of LGBT rights, which again we didn’t learn at school, then there is the state of LGBT affairs all over the world. I still cannot believe that it is illegal in some countries let alone be treated with the death penalty.

Then there comes the science bit. Dawson looks at all the varying scientific discussions there have been from genetics to epignetics, from brain structure to evolution as to why people might be gay (making me feel so much cleverer) yet also highlighting that it doesn’t really matter and we should all just get on with it. He also looks at other things which are often just as complex to negotiate. Coming out, the gay scene, apps, dating, and sexy times Dawson looks at every possible angle of sexuality whatever yours might be. So much information and yet delivered in such a digestible and upfront way, marvellous. I came away understanding so much more, especially as Dawson intersects his text with the accounts of LGBT people of all ages from places all over the world.

Before you think that this is just some rainbow bright version of events, think again. Dawson also looks at all the darker and more difficult parts of LGBT life. From bullying in schools or parents and friends having issues with you when you come out, to homophobia in general and things like drug addiction, cheating spouses and other difficulties that can be faced. I have to give huge credit to Dawson here as he could have just said ‘these people are idiots’, instead he looks at reasons for their homophobia (internal, religion, uneducated, etc) tries to get you to see where its coming from and then how to deal with it. Even the more negative aspects of the books have a positive message or way of dealing with them.

The word ‘gay’ started life meaning joyful, carefree, bright and showy, from the French term ‘gaiety’, which is still used. However, by the seventeenth century, the word had evolved: a ‘gay woman’ was a prostitute, a ‘gay man’ was promiscuous, and a ‘gay house’ was a brothel. Nice.

Initially I did worry that when the book started that there might be one too many stereotypes and what if people didn’t feel they fit in with bears, twinks, otters, butch, femme etc. Or indeed what if they don’t identify themselves as L, G, B or T. But as one chapter is entitles ‘Stereotypes are poo’ and while Dawson discusses labels he is by no means saying you should identify with any particular one, he also says while being gay/lesbian/trans/pan/queer is an important part of you it shouldn’t be the only important part and define you. Bravo!

What is I found oddly uplifting and amazing is that This Book is Gay is only a year old and is already slightly out of date. This is not James’ fault of course, I am sure that he is thrilled by the fact that progress keeps on coming. Ireland has of course had the referendum vote on equal marriage which went through and the supreme court in the United States has ruled that that equal marriage is legal in every single state. Yet with countries like India going backwards, the all kinds of crazy stuff going on in Russia and the fact there is still no mention of LGBT in sex education (due to old legislation in 1988 and its ripple effects still lingering) in the UK we still have a long way to go for full equality.

Once upon a time, there was a very bad lady – let’s, for the sake of argument, call her Maggie. She decreed that teachers must not include ‘gay lifestyles’ in sex education lessons. This was called ‘Section 28’, and it explains why I, as a young man, had no idea what a gay man was OR what they did.

I am the same generation as Mr Dawson and I feel exactly the same, whilst my life wouldn’t have necessarily been less difficult growing up as a gay man if I’d had a copy of This Book is Gay I would certainly have felt less alone and at least a little more prepared for what might have been coming my way. With This Book is Gay James Dawson writes a guide to gay lifestyles from coming out, to dating, to sex, relationships and beyond in a style that makes you feel like you having a conversation with a caring friend.

I think This Book is Gay is an incredibly important book and one which needs to have several copies stocked in libraries and schools everywhere so it can be read by LGBT people, people questioning their sexuality or just people who want to know more or understand, whatever their ages. (As the book states our heterosexual allies are incredibly important too.) It’s rare that you can say a book could save lives, but this one could especially as education of safe sex for young gay men is so thin on the ground and HIV transmission is increasing. Mr Dawson, I applaud you and this book.

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The Assumptions We Make About Books & Authors…

Last week when the lovely Thomas and I were thinking about subjects to talk about on the latest episode of The Readers Podcast he came up with the idea that we should discuss ‘bookish assumptions’. I was horrified, how dare Thomas suggest that I made assumptions about books. I mean I don’t have any, well, apart from the fact I don’t like books set on boats, set around sports (a new one), set on another planet or with a horse in them or on the cover… Oh! The thing is the more I thought about it the more I realised I do it.

Judging for Fiction Uncovered is underway, and I am reading like a little book machine. When the first batch of book arrived I was filled with excitement, so much so that I put it off for a few hours. Upon opening them I took the books out one by one and instantly started making assumptions about them. I can’t talk about what the books are, as I have sworn to secrecy, but I can say I was basing my thoughts on the following; the cover, what I had heard about the author from other readers if I recognised their name, the blurb/premise. Shameful. This was judging before I should even be judging and so I set the books on a shelf in alphabetical order by title and that is how I have been reading them, and it has been somewhat of a revelation as now I am just reading them one by one and focusing on whether the writing style and prose, story, characters, etc are working for me. Oh and if any of them are giving me a book tingle – more on that tomorrow.

The reality of the situation is that if we are having a good old mooch around a book shop these are the very things that we will judge a book on if we are honest. Though that said this is in the instances when we know very little about the book and so that is all we can judge it on. What about authors themselves, Thomas asked me before we recorded…

‘Oh I don’t judge authors, I will give anyone a whirl, I think.’
‘Really?’
‘Erm yeah, unless they have written a book about a talking horse who is stuck on a boat filled with men who can only endure the long days boxing as they are stuck in an ocean on another planet with no help.’
‘Right, so what about authors that you have seen behaving badly on social media or who have extreme views?’
‘Erm, well I won’t read those obviously, who wants to read a book written by a knobhead?’
‘Okay… and what about E.M. Forster?’
‘Oh…’

First let me tackle the authors I think are knobheads might perhaps not come across very well on social media or who have some extreme views. I like to believe that goodness and kindness will out. So if I see an author on social media or maybe read/hear an interview with an author where they are coming across like a pompous/arrogant or worse homophobic/racist/bigoted then no I really don’t want to read their book thank you very much. One, I don’t want to give them any money/sales and two; I wouldn’t want to spend my time with them in the flesh so why would I want to spend my time in their heads where the book has come from. A prime example is Ender’s Game I don’t care how good it is, I don’t want to read a book by someone with his views. I don’t mind reading books about homophobia but I don’t want to read a book written by someone whose mind is laced with it.

Secondly, and lastly in case I am going on which as I love a waffle is likely, the authors who I have read before and made assumptions about. Rise Mr E.M. Forster, who I actually (having thought about it) have to admit that I may have tarnished unfairly because I loathed A Room With A View and swore I would never read anything by him again. Why was this unfair? Well, I think really it might more have been the way it was taught by a dreadful English A Level teacher at Devizes 6th Form College in 1997/1998 who made it as painful and unbearable to dissect and repeat, repeat, repeat both book and film. However, more recently, having read The Martian (or trying to) I can confirm I will never ever attempt/bother reading Andy Weir again. Ever. (I’m sure with the huge adaptation rights he has sold he won’t be crying into his pillow.)

But are assumptions actually a bad thing? I am going to say in the most part no, occasionally yes. In the latter case I have been proved by James Dawson, E. Lockhart, R.J. Palacio and Andrew Smith that YA novels, which I had made some rather negative assumptions about, are bloody brilliant when done really well and now plan to read Patrick Ness, Lisa Williamson and many more. The reason I think no is that actually as much as we are looking for more books to fill our lives and shelves with, we also need to filter down the amount of choice there is out there. This can be through materialistic things like a bad cover, personal choices about if an author being an utter wally can put us off or if we just don’t trust horses or more importantly if we just don’t like certain authors styles of prose and their books just don’t work for us. It is all about tastes really isn’t it?

Tomorrow we will be talking about book tingles, the best things in the world. In the meantime I would love to hear some of things that make you have assumptions about books (subject matters, talking animals, genres etc) and also about the assumptions you have made about books both ones you have been right and wrong about… Help me feel a little less crazy/judgemental.

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Spooky Stories…

As you will all know tomorrow is Halloween which is one of my favourite days of the year. I think it comes second to Boxing Day, seriously these are both above my birthday and Christmas in terms of times of cheer and joy for me. Anyway, it will be Halloween and I don’t know about you but I am in just the right mood for some spooky stories and tales of terror. Which ones to read though?

Well, funny you should ask that as I have made a little selection of potential books which I thought I would share with you in case you need inspiration, though I would love more recommendations from you below…

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Cold Hand in Mine
by Robert Aickman – Recently republished by Faber & Faber, this second collection of Aickman’s ‘ strange stories’ is supposed to be one of his creepiest, weirdest and most chilling. I am really looking forward to reading these, they also happen to be my latest choice for Hear Read This when we record in a couple of weeks so I hope they are in Gav’s suitcase while he travels around America.

Say Her Name by James Dawson – I have been meaning to read this for ages, James is now the ruling Queen of Teen and should really be the Queen of Scream as his wonderful novels are like better written Point Horrors for the current generation – and I love Point Horrors! I feel especially bad for not reading this sooner as I challenged James to write this one as I said modern ghost stories can’t be scary. This will definitely be my next creepy read.

The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill. I think Susan Hill is a legend at ghost stories, well I think she is a legend in all the forms she writes in. This is one of the few of her ghostly tales that I haven’t read and is guaranteed to give me the chills. Delightful. It has also reminded me that I have an anthology somewhere of ghostly tales chosen by Hill, that could be another addition. I am currently reading one of the Simon Serrailler series of crime novels by Susan and it is marvellous.

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah. Sophie Hannah is most well known for her psychological thrillers (which I often find spookier than ghost stories as I mention on this episode of The Readers) and also for recently writing a new Poirot novel. Last year she wrote this spooky tale for the newly reinvigorated Hammer Horror imprint. It is another book I cannot believe I haven’t read yet, mind you like Susan Hill I am very behind with Sophie’s series. Shame on me.

The Mistletoe Bride and Other Stories by Kate Mosse. I have yet to read any of Kate Mosse’s novels. I tried reading Labyrinth when it came out in paperback and wasn’t in the right mood for it. I actually have this collection, subtitled ‘haunting tales’, and the equally creepy sounding The Taxidermists Daughter high up on my TBR. I sometimes like a short story collection as a way into a new author, and also ghost stories can be particularly spooky or chilling in the shorter form.

I know I have recommended it endless times but if you fancy a fast an chilling read do grab The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Oh and I also must recommend Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter. I will also have a ghostly tale up for discussion on the blog tomorrow. So which books will you be curling up with on Halloween night? Have you read any of the books I have selected? Which books would you recommend?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #30 (Part Two): Kate Neilan

Hello and welcome, to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves which sees the series of posts turning 30! So to mark this special occasion we are heading to the delights of Essex for a big old party (grab your streamers, some cupcakes, a glass of fizzy and a paper hat) as we are hosted by one of my favourite bookish couples in the whole wide world. Today we join Rob and Kate from Adventures with Words, who I have the pleasure of joining along with Gavin every month to make Hear… Read This. Less about me, and more about them as I hand over to Kate (breaking the tradition of ladies first as I let Rob share his shelves earlier as they haven’t merged shelves yet, I am not judging their relationship on this basis though… much!) to introduce her lovely self and her shelves and all other bookish shenanigans…

I’m Kate – you might know me as @magic_kitten – and I’ve always been a huge reader ever since I can remember, and even before that if you believe my parents.  I work full time as Head of Citizenship and PSHE at a secondary school in Essex, although I originally trained as an English teacher at Cambridge, after doing my English Lit degree at Durham.  While I was there, I took the (very popular) Children’s Fiction module, which reignited my love for Young Adult books, to the extent that I wrote my dissertation on His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I’m now one half of Adventures With Words, alongside Rob Chilver. He began the blog to discuss books, films, games and stories in general and in 2012 we started recording a weekly podcast too. Recently, I’ve branched out with my own ‘Young Adult Edition’. Do go to www.adventureswithwords.com and have a look.

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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?

I’m a dreadful hoarder and, until recently, I kept every book that I bought, even if I’d read it and not really thought much of it.  My book collection fills three ‘Billy’ bookcases and more; I’ve got two boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked since Rob and I moved in together over a year ago. Lately, though, I’ve had to be more ruthless.  We now have a ‘To go’ pile of books where books I know I’m not going to read again go, although, as yet, they’ve not actually gone anywhere yet! If I’m being honest, these aren’t even all my books. I still have a shelf in my old bedroom at my parents’ house full of all my Point Horrors and teenage reads. I’m thinking about retrieving them but where would they go?!

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?

Before my most recent house move (I worked out recently I’ve moved more than ten times, taking into account university, teacher training and various flats and houses since moving out), I had my bookcases very carefully organised. I had three big red ‘Billy’ bookcases, one ‘half’ bookcase with three deep shelves, and one totally non-matching white one. That one housed my (excessive) CD and DVD collection, then my half-bookcase was for YA, and one large bookcase housed my university books (a mixture of textbooks, anthologies, Complete Works of Shakespeare/Chaucer etc and various novels, plays and poetry). The other two bookcases were organised roughly by genre, then by author; you could glance at the shelves and easily see the Tolkien, Iain (M) Banks, Isabel Allende and so on.

All this lovely system was completely destroyed when we last moved house; putting two sets of things into one house just doesn’t fit, so I gave up my white bookcase…and so it began! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got two boxes of books that haven’t even seen the light of day yet – there wasn’t any urgency as they’re mostly university texts – but I’m sure I’ll want them one day… Eventually, during as summer holiday, I’ll take all these lovely stories off the shelves and rearrange them. I promise. We do have a “Blog TBR” bookcase (because piling them on the floor was becoming a little impractical) and some of these will graduate onto my own bookshelves after being read, reviewed and enjoyed.

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

Short answer? No, I’m really not sure, although I did spend quite a lot of my summer holiday aged 12 buying Point Horror books for a couple of pounds each from the second hand book stall in Norwich covered market… Still got them!

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?

I have very varied taste in books – I read literary fiction, lots of genre fiction and Young Adult – and I’m not really embarrassed about any of my choices; as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to read something that’s a bit cheesy or clichéd as long as you enjoy it. I do own the entire Twilight series (and have read them all) and I’ve got The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. No, they’re not literary masterpieces, but yes, they were enjoyable in their own ways.

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 given to me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I have a lovely set of Tolkein’s fiction with matt black covers and a small picture on the front of each one, which I really love, and a fantastic set of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in hardback, all first editions. These were from my parents and they’re very precious to me. I also have a very well-loved secondhand copy of Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks, my favourite of his science fiction novels, which was sent to me by the wonderful Gav of No Cloaks Allowed, The Readers and Hear Read This. He found it while browsing, opened up the cover, and saw that it was signed. After buying it, he tweeted about it and I jokingly tweeted back saying it would make my day (life) if I’d found it, and he sent it to me! What a lovely guy. Finally, I have one of only eight comb-bound preview copies of the final Artemis Fowl book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian. Rob knew I’m a huge fan of the series and managed to get hold of it, without letting on; as you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled.

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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?

A bit like me, my parents have a house full of books, so I always remember them being there. One of the first “proper” books I read was Jane Eyre, aged 11, but I swiftly graduated to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is absolutely hilarious when you’re supposed to be asleep but in fact you’re reading about sweary robots under your duvet using a torch…

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?

Neither a borrower or a lender be! Well, I’m not, anyway. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about pre-read books; library books always have that slightly funny smell to them, other people crack the spine or turn over the corner of pages, a habit I managed to kick. I’m a huge recommender to others, especially my mum, but she buys her own copy rather than borrow mine because she doesn’t want to give it back in less than pristine condition! I’m very aware that this is all a bit weird; libraries are brilliant, they’re just not how I read. Plus, the last time I lent a book (a first edition hardback of the first in Isabel Allende’s YA trilogy) I didn’t get it back… #fuming

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

Funny you ask that, Simon – you may recognise the titles I’m about to mention.  Only earlier today, Rob came home from work with a lovely bookish goody bag for me. My newest acquisitions are Magda by Meike Ziervogel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough and The Gigantic Beard The Was Evil by Stephen Collins. I’ve also got a fantastic little Reading Journal. I find, when I’m reading, that I’d like to jot down ideas but I don’t fancy ‘texting’ them into my phone, so I’m looking forward to using this from now on. Hopefully, it should improve my reviews, too!

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

To be honest, I think I’m extremely lucky when it comes to books; there are very few that I don’t have but do wish for. I’d love a hardback copy of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old and I’m awaiting the arrival of All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, but, other than that, it’s books that haven’t been published yet. I know they’re coming, because they’re part of series I’m reading: the final Heroes of Olympus book by Rick Riordan, and the next book in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series, not forgetting the conclusion of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy and James Dawson’s new book, Say Her Name.

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

I’m sure they’d think I’ve got very eclectic tastes – there’s a little bit of everything – but hopefully I’ve picked some great books from every genre, and hopefully they’d see things they’d love to try themselves.

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A huge thanks to Kate for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, though she really had no choice! If you haven’t go and visit Rob’s shelves, imagine all those books in one house, here! Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) 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 Kate’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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What Makes a Great Ghost Story?

I do love a good ghost story, though I have to admit I don’t read enough of them. What better time of the year, well here in the UK, is there to read them? No, not just because of the obvious fact it is Halloween today (Happy Halloween). It is autumn, my favourite season of the year as the nights are drawing in and there is a certain chill in the air. Delightful.

Of course today is Halloween and whether you celebrate it or not you simply cannot miss the ghosts, witches, monsters and gargoyles in your local shops (and no I don’t mean the other punters). Naturally for a bookish sort this will lead to thinking about supernatural reads. Or even to Ghost Huntersthe not so bookish as I mentioned the other day that it seemed the supernatural spirit (see what I did there) took over The Beard and two new spooky tales came home from the super(natural)market. I am on fire with puns today, like a witch on a stake. I am currently devouring ‘The Ghost Hunters’ by Neil Spring, all about the infamous Borley Rectory, and its very good. I am most impressed at how in such a long book he keeps the spooky suspense going as I normally like a shorter sharper shock for a ghostly tale. Which of course leads us to today’s (first, there will be another later when it goes darker) post as I was wondering what makes a truly great ghost story?

You see for me ghost stories are a tricky bunch. I am much more of a ‘chills and suspense’ kind of reader than I am a ‘blood and guts and gore’ kind of reader. As I mentioned above I tend to like a sharper ghostly tale, short stories in the main or novella’s maximum, as I find that prolonged tension doesn’t really work as well. For me. I also find ghostly tales set in modern times just don’t work. You can all too easily whip out your mobile phone or some gizmo and the fear vanishes, a good Victorian ghostly tale tends to tick all my boxes. (I actually threw a gauntlet down once that modern settings for a ghost story don’t work and guess what James Dawson was inspired to prove me wrong, this was confirmed from his own mouth!)

So to investigate what I think makes the perfect ghostly tale, whilst also using Neil Spring as a good example of a longer tale, I picked four titles from my newly restructured shelves that I thought I would dip into over this Halloween and autumn too…

Ghostly Tales

Alfred Hitchcock loved a good spooky/horror story and this collection is of some of his favourite ‘Stories Not For The Nervous’. This appeals to me immensely as I love being made to feel nervous in fiction (not in real life, in real life nerves destroy me) and I think these twenty tales and three novelettes which are included will work wonders. Next up is a selection of ‘Ghost Stories’ chosen by Susan Hill (who to me is Queen of the Ghostly Tale) which features my favourite Mr Wilkie Collins and more surprisingly, to me at least, Elizabeth Bowen and Edith Wharton. ‘The Conan Doyle Stories’ are one of my most prized possessions in the world. My Great Uncle Derrick would memorise these and tell them to me when I was very young on walking holidays, ten miles a day roughly, and Gran always said she would desperately try to keep up with us so she didn’t miss the endings. I haven’t read these for ages and should. Finally a renowned author of all things horror (and quite weird), yet new to me, H. P. Lovecraft. I have no idea if I will love these or not but it will be fun finding out.

So before I head off and start reading these dark delights, and hopefully scaring myself silly, I wondered what it was that makes the perfect ghostly tale for you all and what ghost stories you would most recommend?

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The Baby-Sitter – R.L. Stine

I am a little late for the Point Horror Book Club, alas yesterday I was taken over by a migraine and so spent the morning trying to stave it off, then having to simply let it have its wicked way all afternoon and evening – missing two bloody parties too I will have you know. However some of you are running late to this too, shame on you, by not getting your mitts on some of these Point Horror gems. I know some people have been surprised to see Savidge Reads take on this monthly challenge, especially when my other monthly challenge The Persephone Project (which we will be catching up with on Sunday) is rather at the other end of the spectrum of books and literature. Yet one thing I have been thinking about is how reading needs to be fun, and my reading sometimes needs to be more fun, and revisiting these dark yet kind of camp classics of my childhood is the perfect thing. Anyway the latest Point Horror Book Club choice has been R.L. Stine’s ‘The Baby-Sitter’ which I actually think all wannabe crime and horror writers should read, seriously.

**** Scholastic Books, paperback, 1989, fiction, 203 pages, from my own personal TBR

**** Scholastic Books, paperback, 1989, fiction, 203 pages, from my own personal TBR

For Jenny Jeffers money is tight and Christmas will soon be here. Needing the extra cash to help her mother she takes a job babysitting for the Hagen’s on the other side of town every Thursday and Saturday. The Hagen’s house is (surprise, surprise) rather like something out of a horror movie. Surrounded by woods and rather a way off the main road, their decrepit house and Mr Hagen’s odd nervous disposition would make any teenager feel slightly uneasy. Throw in the fact that Jenny has a highly over active imagination, some maniac has been beating up/killing local babysitters and the fact Jenny is in the 80’s and doesn’t have a smart phone and you are headed for horrors ahoy aren’t you?

“Maybe the kids a monster,” Jenny said, somehow feeling she had to justify her nervousness. “Maybe the parents are weird. Maybe they belong to some sort of secret cult and when I find out about it, they keep me locked up in the basement for the rest of my life so I can’t tell anyone. Maybe the house is haunted. There’s the ghost of a young girl trapped in the attic, and I accidentally let her out, and she inhabits my body and I’m not the same person anymore.”

I am slightly saddened that I had read last month’s Point Horror Book Club choice, ‘Trick or Treat’ by Richie Tankersley Cusick (a review that shows me at my most natural), before we read ‘The Baby-Sitter’ because the two both use the same object of fear – the creepy phone call. Now I know, rather like cosy crimes, most Point Horror’s do stick to the same-ish scenario but these two are very similar from that perspective. What we have to remember is that Stine did it first and so really, apart from the original urban legend of the babysitter who is called by a scary voice from the house she is in, that is what we should remember. Also Stine shows he is a master of building suspense and ending chapters on a cliff hanger that means you have to read on, hence why any budding horror or crime writer should be reading this.

For a horror novel, regardless of the market it is aimed at, ‘The Baby-Sitter’ actually lacks a lot of full on terror or jumpy moments. There are a few of the latter yet what Stine does impeccably with this book is build a sense of unease, tension and menace. Each time Jenny goes to the Hagen’s something creepy happens (a sinister phone call, banging outside, neighbours creeping around, cars parked sinisterly on the end of the drive) so as she goes back each time to babysit for the (very precocious and also sinister) little boy Donny, after convincing herself it is all in her very over active imagination, we are waiting for the next slightly more awful thing to happen until it comes to a head. I thought this was done really deftly and honestly lots of writers, budding or not actually, could learn from this.

Our host, James Dawson, your dream babysitter

Our host, James Dawson, your dream babysitter

So good was it that I forgave him for bringing in one of the most annoying characters I have ever come across in the form of Jenny’s possible boyfriend Chuck. Irritating doesn’t even cover it. Unhinged too, which adds to it all, could it be that Jenny’s own possible love interest could be the one calling and threatening her? I also forgave Stine for lines like “Let’s go into Sock City,” Jenny said. “I like to look at socks.” I don’t know any teenagers who like socks, or even give a monkey’s about their socks, not so in the case of Jenny and her friends.

I’m really pleased I read ‘The Baby-Sitter’ and actually think it was the first time I had read it, which is quite shocking as it is one of the most famous with several sequels and I was such a fan of this series as a youth. You can see why Stine became one of the kings of teen horror, he puts a real effort into unnerving the reader and building the fear rather than going over the top like ‘Trick or Treat’ did – enjoyable as it was. Alas I don’t see any writing courses taking me seriously and popping this on any courses about suspense, unease and atmosphere but they bloody well should.

So who joined in to read this and what did you make of it? Which were your favourite Point Horror’s that we should be looking out for? Did Point Horrors completely pass you by? Have you read any of Stine’s other non PH work and should I be off to read that? Don’t forget to pop to host James’ website for more and do join us next month for ‘Funhouse’ by Diane Hoh.

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Filed under R.L. Stine, Review, Scholastic Books, The Point Horror Book Club

Trick or Treat – Richie Tankersley Cusick

Well we are going from one extreme to the other on Savidge Reads. Yesterday we had the latest Persephone Project instalment, the diaries of a victim of the holocaust, now today we have the first in the Point Horror Book Club organised by the lovely James Dawson. Some might see this as going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Well, that is how we roll here at Savidge Reads as, after all, we all like to read a wide range of varied material don’t we? I have to say reading ‘Trick or Treat’, by Richie Tankersley Cusick which was also the 6th ever (out of hundreds) Point Horror novel, has been a chilling, comforting, nostalgic and occasionally laugh out loud experience.

**** Scholastic Books, paperback, 1989, fiction, 209 pages, from my own personal TBR

As ‘Trick or Treat’ opens, our heroine (though this becomes debatable, as she is a bit of a pain in the arse – more on that later) Martha has been uprooted from her life in Chicago as her father, only two years after the death of his wife and Martha’s mother, has married (via elopement, shock horror) Sally and so now they are all moving in together, with Sally’s son Conor, to a house in the arse end of nowhere that is very creepy and resides between a wood and a cemetery. Once there Martha feels an extra specially spooky coldness in her room, as if something awful happened in there, and soon enough she starts getting strange phone calls. Could this be to do with the not so distant murder of the young girl, Elizabeth, whose room it was and who Martha looks rather spookily like? (Erm, yes!)

‘The phone rang.
With a surge of relief Martha remembered that Blake was going to call, and she raced for the phone before Conor could answer it.
“Hello?”
“Hello, Elizabeth,” the voice whispered.
And it wasn’t Blake who drew a long, raspy breath… and let it out again… breathing… breathing… while her heart beat like a frantic wing in her throat.
“Who – who is this?”
It wasn’t Blake who began to laugh and then suddenly went quiet – the awful, terrible silence going on and on forever…
“Hello/” Martha cried. “Who is this!”
“You’re dead, Elizabeth. Trick or treat.”’

Now to be fair, if this happened to me I would be quite miffed. Yet Martha practically screams (and scream she does a lot, or often ends on the verge of a scream, hand clasped to mouth) VICTIM. She’s clearly very hormonal and full of teenage angst, mainly hating everyone in the world she finds herself and yet wondering why she can’t make many friends. A mystery that isn’t it?

Fortunately she is fairly pretty and the local heart throb, Blake, takes a shine to her. In fact many men seem to fall for her – it must be her almost constant fear of everything and blonde hair – even one of her teachers (who is Blake’s cousin) and possibly her own stepbrother seem strangely besotted with her. Ewww. Mind you, one of them is most likely a murderer, so not really a catch after all. I have to say if I had spent much time with her I might have been tempted to become a psychopath myself and wanted to kill her, so I started to thoroughly enjoy her torment and whoever was causing it the more the book went on.

To be serious for a moment (all adopt serious faces please, right now) I have to admit that Richie Tankersley Cusick, who shall be known from now as RTC to save my fingers, is bloody (see what I did there, oh no serious face again) good at creating a real sense of unease. She makes an old spooky house really spooky, a school late one evening very threatening and I did genuinely get chills and thrills as I was reading along.

 ‘“The house looked strangely ghostlike, rising through pale wisps of fog, its dark stone walls and chimneys interwoven with bare, twisted trees. Silhouetted there in the twilight, its gables crawled with dead ivy, it’s tattered awnings drooping like eyelids hiding secrets. Like something in a dream, not quite real. Not quite safe…”’

I also did rather a lot of laughing, in a nice way. The younger me who read these, and I am sure I read this one back in the day though it is a fuzzy memory, would have been revelling half thrilled and half horrified in the melodrama of it all. Now, as a 31 year old, part of me was still scared (no, really, I was – delightfully so) but part of me just laughed at the camp nature of it all.

‘“I’m dead,” Martha whispered, and she began to cry, and Conor held her tighter and rocked her.
“No. It was only a nightmare. Go back to sleep.”
“I’m scared,” Martha said, her voice was muffled against his bare shoulder, and sleep was a deep, deep sea, pulling her down.’

See isn’t Martha a drama queen? Honestly, tut – she had only seen a shadow! I think we all know who Martha grew up to be don’t we?

I am so, so glad that the lovely James of Dawson has decided to start this book group/challenge. I had forgotten the world where everyone drove a ‘station wagon’ (which I thought every American owned and was so jealous we just had a Nissan Micra), where your teachers were “boyishly handsome”, where all the boys were “so strong, yet so tender” often running “hands through thick, tawny hair” and where your parents were writers and artists and just buggered off for weeks leaving you alone at the hands of a psychopath! Honestly… it is compulsive reading, you can see why I loved them can’t you?  They are like the horror of Stephen King meets the camper jumpy horror of the Scream films meets the gothic of Rebecca meets teenage Mills and Boon meets Scooby Doo. Genius! If you haven’t read one you really should just for the experience and ‘Trick or Treat’ ticks all the Point Horror boxes. You’ll be chilled, thrilled, laugh a lot and just really enjoy yourself, what could be better in a book than that. I can’t wait for R.L. Stine’s (the God of Point Horror) ‘The Baby-sitter’ on the 13th of next month.

Speaking of enjoyment, I have really enjoyed reviewing this book. I am pondering if I should make all my reviews like this, slightly sarcastic yet good humouredly so, what do you think? Back to Point Horror’s though, who else read this – either as a teenager or an adult – and what did you think? (Do not forget to read, and comment on, James’ hilarious review of this book.) Will you be joining in for more frightening frolics as we go?

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Filed under Review, Richie Tankersley Cusick, Scholastic Books, The Point Horror Book Club