Eighteen Nineteen

Contemporary engraving of Queen Victoria

Are you one of those people who loves seeing 12.34 appear on a digital clock, gazes delightedly at the mileometer (odometer) as it clicks over to all the same digits in a row, or got excited at one minute past eight in the evening of the 20th of January, 2001?

No? No matter; you clearly won’t be excited at the arrival of the year Twenty twenty (no vision, see). But this year at least gives me a chance to look back two centuries to 1819 — I do savour saying “eighteen-nineteen” — and a few greats, particularly literary greats, of the Victorian era.

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Spelling it out

Occasionally it’s nice to do a fun meme, right? Here’s one that grabbed my attention, courtesy of Lynne at Fictionophile via Paula at Book Jotter.

There are Rules — of course — for My Blog’s Name in Books:

1. Spell out your blog’s name (this is where you wish your blog’s name was shorter LOL).
2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. (Note you cannot ADD to your TBR to complete this challenge – the books must already be on your Goodreads TBR. )
3. Have fun!

I think I can stick to these — except I don’t have a Goodreads TBR list, the simple reason being that this list would include more than half my books!

(In case you’re wondering, a good proportion of those books are non-fiction or reference, and — yes — I’ve dipped into pretty much all of them. But back to the matter in hand… )

So perusing my shelves I’ve come up with a mixed selection of new-to-me and time-for-a-reread books spelling out CALMGROVE.

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Absolute hell

Roald Dahl in 1982By Hans van Dijk / Anefo - Derived from Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36726305
Roald Dahl in 1982 by Hans van Dijk / Anefo, derived from Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36726305

If Roald Dahl was still alive he’d be approaching his 100th birthday in September 2016. As it is he died in 1990, but not before leaving an extraordinary legacy of books for adults and, of course, children. In 1984 he published a memoir of his early years, Boy: Tales of a Childhood, and towards the end of this he compares the life of the writer that he became with one of his first jobs, working for Shell. “I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do,” he writes, one suspects with his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek. “The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman.”

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Stories both exciting and different

Peter Dickinson in 1999 Photo: Brian Smith
Peter Dickinson in 1999 Photo: Brian Smith (Daily Telegraph)

In my current phase (though I suspect it’ll be a permanent phase) of mixing re-reads in with titles and writers new to me it struck me that an overview of some of the authors I’m revisiting might give an indication of why I find them eminently readable. Oddly, the book I’m reading and enjoying now — The Ropemaker (shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2001 and winning the Mythopoeic Award in 2002) — is a fantasy novel by one of these writers which, even though it’s been sitting on my shelves for a couple of years, proves to be a title I hadn’t tackled before.

The Ropemaker‘s creator Peter Dickinson, who died at the age of 88 in December 2015, authored a wide range of books including children’s novels and detective stories. Rather to his disgust he was perhaps best known for The Changes Trilogy which appeared as separate children’s novels nearly fifty years ago, beginning with The Weathermonger (1968) and continuing with Heartsease (1969) and The Devil’s Children (1970). The Weathermonger, while perhaps the weakest of the three, is the most Arthurian, an aspect which attracted it to me when I first read it many years ago. In the author’s own words, “The Weathermonger sprang from a nightmare. I had lain awake retelling the dream, putting myself in charge of it, outwitting or defeating its monsters, in order to get back to sleep, but instead had spent the rest of the night finishing the story in my head.” This dream furnished the premise of the trilogy, “set in a near-future England in which use of machines is equated with witchcraft,” all brought on by the chance re-awakening of that archetypal wizard Merlin.

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Interview with a storyteller

storyteller

Cheryl Mahoney’s pen portrait tells us she is a fantasy writer “living in California and dreaming of fairylands”. Her two published novels are in the Grimm tradition, but with a modern twist. The Wanderers was published in 2013 and concerns a talking cat, a witch’s daughter and a wandering adventurer who wants to live by the rules that govern the fairytale world, until it starts to go horribly wrong. The Storyteller and Her Sisters was published recently and is a story about twelve trapped princesses who must dance every night with twelve princes; but they are not the passive victims that the Grimm story would have us believe. Both titles are available in ebook and paperback format, with the second also on Kindle.

Besides novels, she also writes an excellent book review blog, Tales of the Marvelous, a title inspired by L Frank Baum’s confession “”Since I can remember, my eyes have always grown big at tales of the marvelous.” Here you can read discussions on books in a number of genres, from fantasy to detective, and from SF to historical fiction. I recently asked her about her approach to her own writing. Continue reading “Interview with a storyteller”