Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Terry Pratchett news

Terry Pratchett fans may be interested in the following news (a quote from Terry himself) received via the Discworld Monthly Newsletter:

"The news here is that Making Money has gone off to the publisher; currently the various works in progress are The Folklore of Discworld, which I am working on with Jacqueline Simpson (co-author of The Lore of the Land, among many other books on folklore). Lu Tse's Yearbook of Enlightenment (the next Discworld diary) and Nation, a young adult book for next year, which is not Discworld, and not what people are usually thinking about when they use the term fantasy. I am about 10,000 words into it already and actually wrote about 5,000 words of it when I was at the Australian convention a few weeks ago. Well, if the jetlag means you are wide awake at three o'clock in the morning, why waste the time!"

Making Money is another story about Moist Von Lipwig, the protagonist of Going Postal, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I look forward to this novel. And The Folklore of Discworld sounds fascinating !

Also mentioned in the DWM newsletter, was "The Art of Josh Kirby", an exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool which will run from 16 June to 30 September 2007.

It's the first retrospective exhibition of science fiction artist Josh Kirby, who was born in Liverpool in 1928 and trained at Liverpool School of Art. He began his career producing film posters, moving to book and cover art for magazines. Some of his more famous work includes the first cover of Ian Fleming's Moonraker and the poster for Monty Python's Life of Brian; he is probably best known for his cover illustrations of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. The exhibition will comprise around 150 works spanning the whole of his career, such as artwork for book covers and magazines, personal studies, large-scale oils, film posters, and preparatory sketches. Selections from the Discworld series will be included, but the exhibition will also reach far beyond that to show visitors the full range of his output. It will be packed with visions of weird worlds, fantastic and magical creatures, monsters, maidens and much more. The incredible detail, imaginiation and skill behind Josh's art will be fully revealed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Immersion in a Virtual World

You may recall that back in August, I ranted rather, about something I had read in the essay collection Reading The Lord of the Rings: New Writings on Tolkien's Classic edited by Robert Eaglestone. This came back to me today, when I was sorting through a large pile of notes for book reviews. And I remembered that not only did Jay Bolter's comment annoy me, but so do this remark from Marie-Laure Ryan:

"immersion [in a virtual world] promotes a passive attitude in the reader" (Ryan, Narrative as Virtual Reality, p. 11)

I've been thinking a lot about immersion in a virtual world, since I've been immersed in one myself for the past couple of months, as regular readers will know. It's known to fans as the Whoniverse (short for the Doctor Who universe, logically). My own immersion in a virtual world feels far from passive, to tell the truth. I've moved from being a viewer of the New Doctor Who TV episodes, to being a "sub-creator", writing fiction that allows me to create my own characters, places and events that impact on the Doctor. I'm now actively watching the TV episodes (of both New and Classic Doctor Who), "reading" the show through an analysis of character behaviour and interactions, and analysis of plot and pace. I'm also reading (as you'll have noticed) "Doctor Who" books - fiction and non-fiction, and discussing both the TV episodes and the books avidly with everyone around me, be they devoted Whovians, or non-fans.

I have also begun to read fiction of all kinds on yet another level. In addition to reading as a "pure" reader (someone who just wants to know "what happens next?"), and reading as a critic (someone who asks how book A compares with all the other books by author X, or how it compares with other books in book A's (sub)genre), I now find myself reading as a fiction writer, wondering about complex plots, checking character behaviour for consistency (which is easier to do if only one author is responsible for writing a character, but rather harder if the character, like the Doctor, has been written by many authors and has had a number of incarnations!), looking at narrative structure - in terms of paragraphing and chapter breaks, as much as anything else. And I've concluded that my life as a reader was definitely more passive when I wasn't immersed in a virtual world.

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

Rose: Hold on a minute, you can't just go swanning off!
The Doctor: Yeah I can, here I am, this is me, swanning off. See ya!

("Rose", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spring Heeled Jack - Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's Spring-Heeled Jack is a vivid Victorian tale told in words and comic strips, the latter drawn by David Mostyn. This quick-witted, fast-moving adventure story tells of three defenceless sibling orphans who attempt to escape from the Alderman Cawn-Plaster Memorial Orphanage in London on a dark and stormy night. Closely watched by Mack the Knife and other villainous villains, the three children weave their way through the dark and dangerous streets of the city, in constant fear of being caught and returned to the care of the rancid Mr Killjoy and his horribly horrid assistant, Miss Gasket. Fortunately for the orphans, Spring Heeled Jack, the hooded superhero to beat all hooded superheroes, who dresses like the devil and is ready for action against the evil-doers and scallywags of London's dark streets, comes to their aid.

This is a lively and amusing tale, although I confess I initially found the comic strips (which appear amidst the text more or less at random) slightly distracting. Each chapter begins with a quotation - including, funnily, one from Spring Heeled Jack by Philip Pullman ! I'm sure that this book will be enjoyed by younger readers.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Clockwork, or All Wound Up - Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's Clockwork is a short but very compelling tale about a German town named Glockenheim where the residents set great store by their clockmaking tradition: each time an apprentice becomes master of his craft, he commemorates the occasion by adding a new figure to the town's great clock. On the eve of one such celebration, a sinister train of events is set in motion when the local novelist Fritz entertains the villagers with his most recent work: the tale of Prince Florian, the son of the deceased local ruler, whose fate is linked to a brilliant clockmaker named Dr Kalmenius. However Fritz's narrative is interrupted by the arrival of a cloaked man who appears to have sprung straight from the pages of his story: the aforementioned enigmatic Dr. Kalmenius of Schatzberg, who has come - or so it appears - to help the young apprentice clockmaker Karl to achieve an unearned triumph at the next day's ceremonies. Meanwhile, poor Prince Florian, whose time has nearly run out, stumbles into Glockenheim and finds the innkeeper's little daughter Gretl, who is the one person there who is capable of restoring true life to the mechanical prince.

Each character in this tale gets his or her just deserts with a fairy-tale ending that pays fitting and playful tribute to the story's twin themes: "So they both lived happily ever after" and "that was how they all wound up"; this book is both about clockwork and about storytelling and offers an interesting point of view about the art of storytelling:

"For every once upon a time there must be a story to follow, because if a story doesn't, something else will, and it might not be as harmless as a story." (p. 76)

Clockwork is also available from

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone Update

I've posted a spoilerish review of the first episode of the TV series, Lewis, over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. I put it over there for the American fans who don't want their viewing to be spoiled since I've no idea when the show will air in the US, so considered yourselves warned if you look before you've seen the episode!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Poetry Friday 38

The Mind is a Hawk

The mind is like a hawk, trying to survive
on hardscrabble. Hunting, you wheel
sometimes for hours on thermals

rising from sand so dry no trees
grow native. Some days, you circle
only bones and snakeskin, the same old

cactus and mesquite. The secret
is not to give up on shadows, but glide
until nothing expects it, staring

to make a desert give up dead-still
ideas like rabbits with round eyes
and rapidly beating hearts.

by Walter McDonald

From Night Landing © Harper and Row.

I posted this poem once before on my Blog, back when I was still new to Blogging and long before I took it into my head to begin perpetrating fiction on an unsuspecting world. The poem captured my imagination then, and I put a copy of it up on my wall, above my computer desk. I've found myself re-reading it now and again in the past month since I started writing fiction. And it's a fantastic poem - but it's not true to my experience of writing - at least not so far. My mind is like a tiny raft on a raging river that's in full flood. My mind is shooting the rapids and all I have with which to steer myself off the rocks is a broken oar. And I'm desperately worried I'm going to get washed overboard and drowned because this raft isn't under my control. I've written one story - it's about 22000 words long, so a novella really. And up until the weekend, I thought that would be it - that I could steer my tiny raft into a quiet backwater and walk away from it. But it turned out that I missed my aim and shot past the backwater so now I'm in the throes of researching and writing a second story. I've given up saying I won't write any more fiction after this - my head's bursting with ideas desperate to free themselves from the river's grip, and I've no idea how long it'll be before they come racing down the river after me ! This means there will continue to be fewer book reviews from me as I'm taking an average of three days to read one novel - and it doesn't help that I'm also doing reading research for the stories, of course ! I promise not to bore you silly with my ramblings about my writing experience, however - this is by way of being a public service announcement as much as the sharing of a poem that I find fascinating if currently alien to my writing experience.

And for the curious, I've now opened up to all readers the private Blog where I've been posting my fiction. Comments are moderated, as on this Blog and the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone, so don't expect to immediately see any comment you choose to leave me.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Teaspoon and an Open Mind - Michael White

Michael White's A Teaspoon and An Open Mind is lengthily subtitled "The Science of Doctor Who: From Cybernetics and Regeneration to Teleportation and Time Travel" and it uses the renewal of the long-running BBC series "Doctor Who" as a jumping off point to discuss and analyse some of the things that The Doctor takes for granted. Based on the Time Lord’s abilities (time travel; regeneration) or other implications of the show (super-civilisations and robots) it briefly surveys the contemporary frontiers of science. It is an enthusiastic if sceptical look at the cherished fantasies, not just of "Doctor Who" fans, but of science fiction writers from Mary Shelley to Issac Asimov and onwards. Many of the things that the Doctor takes for granted are mankind's oldest longings: to live forever; to see into the future or revisit the past; to travel to the stars and beyond; or to believe that, somewhere out there, are other beings.

White reports that most of these things will remain unfulfilled and he sets out the universal laws which mean that much science fiction will never progress to become science fact. But he also shows that technology has repeatedly outstripped the human imagination throughout history. For example, he quotes the respected scientist Lord Kelvin's claim (made in 1892) that "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible" and notes that a mere 11 years later the Wright brothers took their first flight.

Readers looking for analysis of the Doctor's abilities will probably be disappointed by this book. For much of it, apart from a final summary chapter, the Doctor is scarcely mentioned, which means that some of the SF phenomena he tackles have little to do with the show. His chapter on teleportation for example, begins by admitting that the TARDIS hardly ever teleports - and in fact this chapter has far more to do with "Star Trek" than "Doctor Who". The chapter on telepathy and telekinesis, whilst very interesting to me, seemed just as tenuous.

As science books go (and I've read a few "Science Of" books now: on Terry Pratchett's Discworld, The Lord of the Rings, Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials", to name just a few), it's actually quite readable, but as a "Science of Doctor Who" title, it's more of a disappointment. Luckily, I've also got the library copy of the first edition of Paul Parsons' The Science of Doctor Who (which apparently does a much better job of covering the subject) on my TBR pile. It will be interesting to compare the two books. (There's a new edition of Parsons' book out in April.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Doctor Who Short Trips: Zodiac - ed. Jacqueline Raynor

The Doctor Who Short Trips: Zodiac short story anthology is edited by Jacqueline Raynor. This was the first short stories volume published by Big Finish in the Short Trips series. Each story has a special, astrological introduction by Jim Sangster and it features 12 stories (as you might expect), each one of which relates to one of the signs of the Zodiac, as follows:

Aries: "The True and Indisputable Facts in the Case of the Ram’s Skull" by Mark Michalowski features the first Doctor, Ian and Barbara
Taurus: "Growing Higher" by Paul Leonard features the eighth Doctor and Fitz
Gemini: "Twin Piques" by Tony Keetch features the second Doctor and Jamie
Cancer: "Still Lives" by Ian Potter features the third Doctor, Liz and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Leo: "Constant Companion" by Simon A. Forward features the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe
Virgo: "Virgin Lands" by Sarah Groenewegen features the seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice Summerfield
Libra: "The Switching" features Simon Guerrier, the third Doctor, Jo and UNIT
Scorpio: "Jealous, Possessive" by Paul Magrs features K-9 Marks I and II (but no Doctor)
Sagittarius: "Five Card Draw" by Todd Green features the fifth Doctor and Peri (plus some of his other "selves")
Capricorn: "I Was A Monster!!!" by Joseph Lidster features the fourth Doctor and Romana II (Romana is a Time Lady and regenerated once during the original Doctor Who series, "Romana II" refers to her second self)
Aquarius: "The Invertebrates of Doom" by Andrew Collins features the seventh Doctor and Mel
Pisces: "The Stabber" by Alison Lawson features the sixth Doctor and Peri

I particularly enjoyed "The True and Indisputable Facts in the Case of the Ram’s Skull" which features author and poet Edgar Allen Poe; "Constant Companion" which features a tantalising cat-like creature which amplified telepathic abilities; and my favourite was "Five Card Draw" in which the Fifth Doctor responds to a telepathic summons and materialises inside a mediaeval castle where he find his first, second, and third selves. Then a future self, dressed in a loud, colourful coat arrives, and the first Doctor suggests a game of Poker whilst explaining that he has called on his future selves for assistance, all except his manipulative seventh self. The fourth decided not to come, and the confused eighth self did not respond. The first Doctor explains that whilst Ben and Polly were visiting a friend, he came to this castle to do some target practice with a golden bow he has acquired from Gallutia. However, none of his future selves can remember quite what happened on Gallutia. When he lands, he sees a young lady being attacked by bandits, who flee in panic when the TARDIS materialises in their midst. The Doctor rescued her, pulling her into the TARDIS, but when he emerges to see if the coast is clear he is surrounded by a group of angry and frightened knights who accuse him of kidnapping Lady Mary through sorcery. The Doctor flees into the castle and raises the drawbridge, but the knights lay siege to the castle so that he is unable to return to the TARDIS. Hence he summons his future selves to his assistance. This story particularly interested me because it features this meeting between various incarnations of the Doctor. I know that the TV series has done something similar on more than one occasion in order to celebrate an anniversary, but this is the first time I've seen it in a print story.

I confess that the title of the Aquarius story made me laugh - it sounds very Terry Pratchettesque, and the story is quite humorous.

* * * * * *

Talking of Doctor Who, I've just received The Stone Rose Audiobook and The Feast of the Drowned Audiobook both read by David Tennant. Now if you're a regular reader, you'll know I don't "do" audiobooks as a rule - I find them too slow. BUT, these are read by David Tennant and I've already read (and own) the books. So I'm going to try listening to the audiobooks whilst reading along with David to stop me trying to do anything else whilst listening, which would result in me "tuning out" the audiobook ! I'll let you know if it works !

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Carnival of Children's Literature 11

Mother Reader is hosting the 11th Carnival of Children's Literature. She didn't suggest a theme so there's an interesting and eclectic mixture of posts over there. Do take a look...

An Introduction to Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively was born on March 17, 1933 in Cairo, Egypt. At the age of 12 she was sent to school in England and in 1956 she graduated with a degree in History from St. Anne's College, Oxford University. Lively still lives in England with her husband Jack, who is a Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick. She has two children: Adam, who published his first novel at 26, and Josephine, who is an oboist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Lively began writing in 1970 and her work is generally concerned with the continuity of past and present, and with the relationship between personal memory and history. She says, "Perhaps what I'm interested in... is the operation of memory, the ways in which the physical world is composed of memory, the ways in which it's an encumbrance and the ways in which it's an asset... I can hardly decide which it is. But it's something that I'm constantly aware of and constantly seeing new ways of exploring fictionally." Other frequent themes in Lively's books are death and loss; for example, The House at Norham Gardens is concerned with Claire and the not-too-distant deaths of her great Aunts, and what it will mean to her when both her parents are already dead.

Lively's children's books include:

1970 Astercote (About a village that's literally trapped in the past - Review)
1971 The Whispering Knights (About 3 children who decide to re-create a Witch's Brew, and the consequences that accrue - Review)
1971 The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy (What happens when an ancient ritual is performed in the modern day - Review)
1972 The Driftway (About a boy who comes to terms with his stepmother after a series of "encounters" with people from the past - Review)
1973 The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (About a ghost who thinks a 20th century boy is his latest apprentice - Review)
1974 The House in Norham Gardens (About an orphan girl who faces up to the knowledge that she will lose her guardian aunts in the not-too-distant future - Review)
1975 Boy Without a Name (About a nameless boy who learns to be a stonemason and earns a name for himself - Review)
1976 A Stitch in Time (About a girl who finds links with the past via a sampler - Review)
1978 The Voyage of QV66 (A futuristic tale with a dystopian theme – and talking animals - Review)
1981 The Revenge of Samuel Stokes (About a ghost who objects to a modern building developing that's been created on the site of his landscaped masterpiece - Review)
1984 Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories (A collection of short stories - Review)

Since the publication of her first novel, Astercote in 1970, Lively has developed into a writer who is as prolific as she is wide-ranging. She is the author of over forty novels, short story collections and children’s fiction, and has published in everything from The Literary Review to Woman’s Own, from Cosmopolitan to Books and Bookmen. As the diversity of publications suggests, Lively’s work appeals to both a youthful, popular audience keen to find escape within a good book, and to an academic audience, which is interested in her experimental narrative techniques and her creation of what post-modern scholars sometimes refer to as "historiographical metafiction".

In discussing her storytelling, Lively has this to say:

"In writing fiction I am trying to impose order upon chaos, to give structure and meaning to what is apparently random. People have always sought explanations and palliatives for the arbitrary judgements of fate. I am an agnostic, and while I would not suggest the construction of fiction as an alternative to religious belief, it does seem to me that many writers - and I am certainly one - look at it as an opportunity to perceive and explain pattern and meaning in human existence. I am also deeply conscious of the limitations of experience - the sense in which the writer is fettered by gender, age and social and historical context. It seems to me that the challenge of writing novels and short stories is to transcend and translate personal experience, to try to give a universal and comprehensible significance to things which seem part of the fortuitous scenery of one's own life. But a view of the world is essentially and inevitably a personal one, conditioned by circumstance; I write within the English tradition of saying serious things in a relatively light-hearted way. Two of the qualities I most admire in other writers are accuracy and concision - the ability to say most by saying least; with this in mind what I am always trying to do is to find ways of translating ideas and observations into character and narrative. The short story can act as a concentrated beam of light; the novel is a more expansive and dispersed reflection. They do different things, I think, but both depend upon selection and metamorphosis - taking from life the situations that seem to offer insights, and then giving them the form and discipline of fiction." (From the Contemporary Writers site.)

Jay Amory website

You may recall that back in November, I reported on the comments of debut novelist, Jay Amory, about the role of adults in YA books. I'm still waiting (slightly less patiently) for the library to get me a copy of his book The Fledging of Az Gabrielson, but in the meantime, he now has his own website. Admittedly there's not a lot there yet, but it's possible to sign up for email updates, and it mentions that his new book Pirates Of The Relentless Desert will be out in August.

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

Jackie: I'm in my dressing gown.
The Doctor: Yes, you are.
Jackie: There's a strange man in my bedroom.
The Doctor: Yes, there is.
Jackie: Well, anything could happen.
The Doctor: Ah... No!

("Rose", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times - Lynn Brittney

Lynn Brittney's Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times is more or less a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello as a spy story.

In Elizabethan England, the Spymaster General, Sir Francis Walsingham, has formed an intelligence network to ensure that England's Queen remains safe from assassination. Walsingham is always on the lookout for new agents, and 13 year old boy actor, Nathan Fox, has just caught his eye. Nathan is a gifted young actor in the same company as actor and fledgling playwright, William Shakespeare. Nathan is of gypsy descent which makes him a skilled acrobat and horseman. He also picks up accents and languages very easily. The Spymaster General sends one of his top agents, John Pearce (a former actor himself), to recruit Nathan, who accepts with considerable delight and excitement. He leaves the theatre, but not before promising to keep Will Shakespeare fully informed of his adventures, and is taken to Master Robey's School of Defence to learn the skills that will keep him alive: dagger-throwing, sword-fighting, and street-fighting, as well as code-breaking. He sets off on his first assignment, partnering Pearce, and they travel to Venice to secure an alliance against the dreaded Spaniards. In Venice, Nathan and John, who are posing as servant and master, meet the great General Othello. However, their mission doesn't go quite as planned and the partners become embroiled in the events that surround the tragic love affair between General Othello and the young noblewoman, Desdemona.

I read Shakespeare's Othello a few years ago, so I knew how the main plot of this story was going to turn out. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not as it meant I wasn't reading the story with any expectation of it turning out to be anything other than a tragedy, from the point of view of Desdemona and Othello. I also knew in advance that this was the first book in a series, so I didn't fear for Nathan's survival at any point, even though he got into some life-and-death situations. For younger readers, though, this probably won't be an issue, and it will probably work well as an introduction to Shakespeare's play.

Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times has been shortlisted for the 2007 Waterstones Prize. There's a Nathan Fox website that's got some useful references for children who've been reading the story.

I received my copy of Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times from the author.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sky High movie

I've seen Disney's movie Sky High more than once, but apparently never reviewed it here before.

14 year old Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is about to start his first day of high school and he's attending his parents' alma mater, so the pressure to live up to their legacy is huge. But the pressure's even greater than most kids face since Will's parents (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) are the biggest superheroes known to humanity. As The Commander and Jetstream, they work together to save the world. But Will has a big problem; he has no super powers of his own. So when he gets to Sky High, Will is quickly put in the Sidekicks' class, something he tries to keep from his parents. Even so, he quickly makes friends and begins to settle in - he even attracts the attentions of the beautiful student body president, something unheard of for a freshman in the Sidekick class, or Hero Support if you prefer.

However, danger lurks around every corner and Will finds himself with an arch nemesis on his first day on campus, and someone is watching the Strongholds' "Secret Sanctum". Are Will's super-powers going to develop in time to help him cope with these problems, which only multiply when an old villain with a new power reappears on the scene, ensuring the pressure is on Will and his sidekick friends to save his parents, his school, and the earth itself !

OK, being Disney, this film's got a fairly strong "message", but that doesn't mean it isn't funny and enjoyable too. I particularly enjoyed Lynda Carter's brief appearances as the school principal, Principal Powers, and she manages to get the best line in the whole movie.

Sky High is also available from

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Monsters Inside - Stephen Cole

Stephen Cole's The Monsters Inside is another of the earliest New Doctor Who Adventures novels and features the Doctor and Rose as played by Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. Once again, I didn't feel that the author had captured the "voice" of the Ninth Doctor; this is a criticism I also made in my review of Justin Richards' The Clockwise Man, and I'm now wondering if it's because the Ninth Doctor is relatively taciturn, at least compared to David Tennant's Tenth Doctor who, by his own admission in "The Christmas Invasion", has "got a gob" (which isn't to say he can't shut up, just that he does talk far more than the Ninth Doctor ever did!).

However, I did enjoy this story which sees the TARDIS take the Doctor and Rose to a brutal deep-space prison colony, Justicia, where they're told they've violated the law simply by landing there, so they're both imprisoned, without a trial. Whilst Rose finds herself locked up in a teenage borstal, the Doctor is trapped in a scientific labour camp. Each is determined to find the other, and soon both Rose and the Doctor are risking life and limb in order to escape and find the other. But their dangerous plans are complicated by some old enemies, the Slitheen. I have to confess, when I saw Season 1's "Aliens of London" and "World War Three", I hated the Slitheen - the big, green, farting aliens just seemed too childish. However, "Boom Town" changed my mind about them.

The question that the Doctor and Rose face is whether the Slitheen are fellow prisoners, as they claim to be, or staging a takeover for their own sinister purposes. Their ability to disguise themselves as human drives much of the suspense and drama of this novel, with Rose (in particular) never quite sure just who is human and who is a Slitheen. Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that there is another family of Raxacoricofallapatorians on the loose, and Stephen Cole manages to blur the line between the traditional roles of good guys and bad guys to such good effect that you're left guessing who's "good" and who's "bad" until the very end of the novel.

The Monsters Inside is also available from

Friday, February 16, 2007

Poetry Friday 37

A Midsummer-Night's Dream Act V. Scene II.

[Enter PUCK.]

[Puck] Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavy ploughman snores,
All with weary task fordone.
Now the wasted brands do glow,
Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shroud.
Now it is the time of night
That the graves, all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate’s team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic; not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow’d house:
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door.

[Enter OBERON and TITANIA, with their Train]

[Oberon]Through the house give glimmering light
By the dead and drowsy fire;
Every elf and fairy sprite
Hop as light as bird from brier;
And this ditty after me
Sing and dance it trippingly.

[Titania] First, rehearse your song by rote,
To each word a warbling note:
Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
Will we sing, and bless this place.
[Song and dance.]

[Oberon] Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we,
Which by us shall blessed be;
And the issue there create
Ever shall be fortunate.
So shall all the couples three
Ever true in loving be;
And the blots of Nature’s hand
Shall not in their issue stand:
Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,
Nor mark prodigious, such as are
Despised in nativity,
Shall upon their children be.
With this field-dew consecrate,
Every fairy take his gait,
And each several chamber bless,
Through this palace, with sweet peace;
Ever shall in safety rest,
And the owner of it blest.
Trip away;
Make no stay;
Meet me all by break of day.
[Exeunt OBERON, TITANIA, and Train.]

[Puck] If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I’m an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

William Shakespeare

This is by way of being a reminder that the King of Shadows Book Group discussion is still open and further comments are very welcome!

I Was A Rat! - Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's I Was A Rat! is a delightful take-off on the fairytale, Cinderella, interspersed with hilarious articles from "The Daily Scourge" newspaper. Their satiric spin on the media will be appreciated by young and old: "As for the rise in juvenile crime, it's easy. The kids are doing it, aren't they? Then there's no need to look any further. BLAME THE KIDS!!!"

If you've ever wondered what happened to the creatures that were transformed into Cinderella's footmen and page, then this story will amuse and entertain you. One little lad who was having too much fun sliding down banisters with the page boys from the palace, missed Cinderella's coach back home. He finally wends his way through the town to the house of a childless couple called Bob and Joan (a cobbler and washerwoman), where he answers their questions with the phrase "I was a rat!"

They name him Roger for the son they never had and he proceeds to stumble through a series of misadventures, whilst eating pencils, tassels and miscellaneous other (usually inedible) items. There is a quality of innocence and ignorance to this rat-boy, who trusts a little too easily. He gets into trouble at school, and with the Philosopher Royal and his cat Bluebottle, he's put in a freak show, and then falls in with a gang of boy thieves. When he tries to go back to being a rat, people fear the "Monster of the Sewers" as the Daily Scourge dubs him, and it seems that Roger might end up being "Sterminated".

Before that fate can befall him, however, Cinderella, who used to be Mary Jane and is now the lovely Princess Aurelia, gets to meet up again with Roger the former rat, and they commiserate about their situations, which aren't quite as either one of them anticipated. But as Mary Jane concludes "I don't think it's what you are that matters. I think it's what you do."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Cybils Winners Are Up!

OK, I'm not going to make you trek over to the Cybils website without first telling you that the winner in the Science Fiction and Fantasy category (for which I was a nominations panellist) is Ptolemy's Gate, the third book in the Bartimeaus trilogy written by Jonathan Stroud (and which I read and reviewed a year ago). Woo Hoo ! Hooray for Jonathan (and Bartimaeus !)

Doctor Who Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors - ed. John Binns

The Doctor Who Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors short story collection edited by John Binns is one of many such anthologies produced by Big Finish, the company that was also responsible for keeping Doctor Who fans supplied with new stories whilst the TV show was off-air with their audio dramas.

This short story anthology, as you might guess from the subtitle, is a collection of horror stories - well sort of. Some of the stories are merely supernatural and unnerving, rather than outright terrifying.

  • The Exiles by Lance Parkin features the First Doctor and his granddaughter Susan

  • Mire and Clay by Gareth Wigmore also features the First Doctor and his Companions Ian and Barbara

  • Ash by Trevor Baxendale features the First Doctor and Susan again.

  • Face-Painter by Tara Samms 2nd Jamie and Victoria

  • Losing Track of Time by Juliet E. McKenna features the Third Doctor and his Companion Jo

  • The Discourse of Flies by Jeremy Daw features the Third Doctor and his Companion Sarah

  • The Fear by Alex Leithes features the Fourth Doctor and K-9

  • Mauritz by Jonathan Morris features the Fourth Doctor and his Companion Adric

  • The Comet's Tail by John Binns features the Fifth Doctor

  • Long Term by Andrew Campbell features the Fifth

  • Soul Mate by David Bailey features the Fifth Doctor and his Companions Nyssa and Tegan

  • Whiskey and Water by Marc Platt features the Sixth Doctor

  • The Death of Me by Robert Shearman also features the Sixth Doctor

  • This is My Life by William Keith feautres the Seventh Doctor (and it's a poem)

  • Gazing Void by Huw Wilkins features the Eighth Doctor

  • For me, the scariest stories were "Mire and Clay", "Face Painter", "Long Term" and "Mauritz" - very odd, psychological stories that I was glad I'd read in daylight, rather than in bed one night ! I confess to enjoying "Losing Track of Time" the most - but then I'm biased because Juliet E McKenna is one of my favourite living fantasy authors AND the story is set in the Bodleian Library in Oxford ! Doctor Who Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors is also available from

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    CYBILS - And the winners are -

    Announced tomorrow - so be sure to keep an eye on the CYBILS website - remember, the winners will be posted there at 4 pm, EST on February 14th (9 pm GMT - it's a good job I'm off work on Thursday and can stay up late to get the news live!)

    World Book Day Meme

    What ten books can't you live without ? For its 10th anniversary, World Book Day in Britain wants to find out which ten books you cannot live without. And they're running a competition to find out - which I'm not desperate to enter, but I thought it would be interesting find out what everyone would choose. World Book Day are gathering the data for a definitive top ten to be published on World Book Day - March 1st, and you will be able to find these books, complete with extracts exclusively on

    Choosing just ten is pretty difficult, but here's my top ten - in strictly alphabetical order:

    King of Shadows - Susan Cooper
    The Owl Service - Alan Garner
    Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones
    The House in Norham Gardens - Penelope Lively
    Sabriel - Garth Nix
    A Hat Full of Sky - Terry Pratchett
    His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J K Rowling
    Ptolemy's Gate - Jonathan Stroud
    The Lord of the Rings - J R R Tolkien

    Doctor Who Quote of the Week

    [Rose upon noticing the Doctor being throttled by the Nestene-influenced plastic arm.]
    Rose: Oh, you men are all the same. Give a man a plastic hand.

    ("Rose", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

    The Edge of the Forest Volume II - February issue

    The Edge of the Forest (aka TEotF) is celebrating its first anniversary with this new issue. Here's what in the Forest this month:

    Monday, February 12, 2007

    The Making of Me - Robert Westall

    The Making of Me is Robert Westall's posthumous autobiography. Westall was the author of 50 acclaimed children's books, including such 20th century classics as The Machine-Gunners (Review) , The Kingdom by the Sea, The Scarecrows and Blitzcat Review. He was awarded the Carnegie Medal twice and also received the Guardian Award and the Smarties Prize. Westall grew up on Tyneside, which is the setting of many of his books, and when the Second World War broke out he was 10. He enjoyed it, finding the war exciting, even though Tyneside was heavily bombed and the young Bob had to live through the terror of the air raids. His upbringing and family life during the 1930s and 1940s is vividly brought to life in his autobiographical writings: the influences of his surroundings, the character and expectations of his parents and grandparents, the brutality of school life and what it meant in his peer group to be both short-sighted and fat - are all influences that were to resurface later in his writings, some of them, like Futuretrack 5, are savage indictments of social class. The Making of Me is a fascinating account of the early life of an important and influential children's writer of the 20th century, and provides a unique insight into his writing.

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Framed - Frank Cottrell Boyce

    Frank Cottrell Boyce's Framed is on the Cybils Middle Grade fiction shortlist, so I heard about it via one or other (or more) of the Cybils panellists' Blogs, and it sounded good so I snagged it from the library and finally read it on Friday. It's interesting that I really enjoyed this funny book, despite the fact it's largely about art, cars and football - none of which hold much interest for me!

    The narrator, Dylan, is the only boy living in a tiny Welsh town named Manod. His parents run the Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel garage, and when he's not trying to find someone with whom to play football, Dylan is in charge of the petrol log. This means he keeps track of everyone coming in and out of Manod: what car they drive, their names, even their favourite snacks. But when a mysterious convoy of lorries makes the trek up the misty mountain road towards an old, disused mine, even Dylan is baffled. Who are these people? And what are they hiding?

    This is a story inspired by the true story of how, during World War II, the contents of the National Gallery in London were stored in Welsh slate mines. Once a month, a morale-boosting masterpiece would be unveiled in the village, then returned to London for viewing. Boyce sets his story in the not-too-distant future where London has been flooded, so the nation's favourite paintings have been evacuated to the mines of Manod. When the man in charge of the project to keep the paintings safe, learns that Dylan has named their two chickens after two of the most famous painters in the world, he assumes that Dylan is also an art fan (having failed to ever encounter the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo). Blinded by his belief that Dylan is an art-appreciating prodigy, Quentin Lester fails to realise the effect that seeing some of the paintings has on various of the townsfolk: including intricate still life window displays, a psychedelic parade of umbrellas (it practically always rains in Manod, which may explain why the crime rate is so low), and the re-opening of the town's boating lake.

    This is a funny and touching exploration of how Art - its beauty and its value - touches the life of one little boy and his big family in a very small town.

    Framed is also available from - buy, beg or borrow a copy from somewhere and enjoy a very funny book.

    Saturday, February 10, 2007


    You may recall that last March I mentioned watching a TV show named Lewis, a follow up to the much-loved and much-missed Inspector Morse (featuring Kevin Whately's Sergeant Lewis, sidekick to the late John Thaw's Morse. The brilliant news for fans is that a 3 episode series of Lewis has now been made (some of it was filmed literally just up the road from the building where I work) and it will be aired on February 18 in the UK. I won't catch it, but the Region 2 Lewis DVD boxset will be released in the UK on March 12. It's a 5-disc boxset, featuring the three new episodes, the original "pilot" episode from last year, and various features (including a "Making Of"). Needless to say, it's already on my Amazon wishlist ! I've no idea when Lewis will be airing in the US, I'm afraid, but I can tell you that the DVD of the "pilot" is available from as Mystery! Inspector Lewis.

    Philip Pullman on Narrative

    You may recall that I mentioned recently that Philip Pullman would be giving the annual Richard Hillary Memorial Lecture, entitled "POCO A POCO: The Fundamental Particles of Narrative". (The lecture is given in memory of the heroic airman Richard Hillary, a Spitfire pilot, who died in the Second World War). The lecture was last night and a friend and I took ourselves through Oxford's snowy streets to hear Philip speak and it was worth it (of course !) The following is a verbatim account of Philip's talk, based on my notes - although as usual when I listen to Philip, I was listening more than writing !

    Philip began with two extracts from Clockwork and I Was A Rat! (neither of which I've yet read, though I own a secondhand copy of the latter); both extracts included an instance of something being poured out of one vessel and into another. Philip explained that this act of pouring liquid from one vessel to another can be seen as a Fundamental Particle of Narrative - it happens in a multitude of contexts, yet we can always make sense of it, and it often conveys a lot more information than might immediately be supposed. To prove his point, Philip showed us a number of photos, cartoons and paintings that involved this simple act, and showed us what else we understood from the various images: such as a Charles Addams cartoon in which the Addams family are about to pour a large pan of something hot onto the heads of some unsuspecting carol singers below - our unconscious minds interpret the image we seem and make sense of its context from other contexts - the image of carol singers, the wisp of steam coming from the pan of liquid.

    Stories are not made up of words, or language, as we might suppose, suggested Philip, but of events. Although both language and Time are important to storytelling, the Fundamental Particles of Narrative are events, they are abstract rather than concrete. We receive an enormous amount of information every day, most of it through our eyes, yet it never overwhelms us because our unconscious effortlessly processes the information we receive and fits it into contexts that allow us to make narrative sense of the information.

    Fundamental Particles of Narrative are neutral, but they have a metaphorical charge that allows them to mean more than one thing, and this move from the literal to the metaphorical is what allows them to be used to make narrative sense of events. The Fundamental Particles of Narrative are grounded in actions, in our physical experiences. Philip said that the one thing he longs for readers to take away from reading the "His Dark Materials" series, is the value of bodily experiences, and he quoted Will telling Lyra (in The Amber Spyglass) that the Angels were jealous of the humans bodies, and that for an angel to possess a body would be an ecstasy of feeling and experiencing. He quoted from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

    Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses. the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

    Philip also discussed inspiration, or what non-writers mean by inspiration, and said that it was not something he had ever discussed with another writer. He pointed out that it is perfectly possible to write without inspiration, but being inspired means that the curtain is twitched aside for a moment allowing light to illuminate the scene. Philip echoed something that Tolkien once said - that writing whilst inspired feels more like discovery than invention, and he noted that inspiration doesn't last long - but it doesn't have to, just long enough to offer encouragement and to cheer up the writer. Philip then talked about the idea of inspiration as a spring into which the writer can dip, an unlimited, generous source (unlike a well). He quoted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan:

    A mighty fountain momently was forced:
    Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
    Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
    Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
    And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
    It flung up momently the sacred river.
    Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
    Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
    Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
    And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
    And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
    Ancestral voices prophesying war!

    The shadow of the dome of pleasure
    Floated midway on the waves;
    Where was heard the mingled measure
    From the fountain and the caves.
    It was a miracle of rare device,
    A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!

    After the talk, Philip answered questions from the audience, and said that all children need to read and sing nursery rhymes and to read fairy tales. He recommended that every school teacher has a stock of 30 - 40 stories (one for each week of the school year) in their heads which they can tell children - without reading from a book. He recommended that teachers (and parents) find the stories that suit them to tell to children, but said that it was very important for children to hear stories, as well as read them. He also observed that theories of literature don't show the reader what's not in the text, but instead act as a filer to highlight things the reader might not otherwise notice - just as a yellow filter on a black and white film, will highlight the blue of the sky and the white of clouds.

    * * * * * *

    This was a fascinating talk (I've never yet been to a dull one by Philip, it has to be said), but I think I wouldn't have found it quite as fascinating had I heard it a few weeks ago, than I did hearing it last night. So what difference does three weeks make ? Well in the last three weeks I've started "committing fiction" - I'm writing a spec fic story (with a historical slant). This is the first time, since the age of about 10, that I've succeeded in writing more than 3 pages of fiction. I'm not promising it's going to be great literature - but it's a story that has insisted on being written - to my complete astonishment; after all, I've been saying for the last 15 years, at least, that I didn't have the imagination to write fiction - but perhaps I just hadn't found the story I needed to tell? I don't know. I do know that it's taking up almost all my spare time - which is why you'll find fewer book reviews here of late! I've not stopped reading fiction, but a lot of it is Doctor Who fiction, for the simple reason that I'm writing a Doctor Who story. I'm also reading books about the historical period in which the story is set (both fiction and non-fiction), and until I get this story out of my head and firmly pinned on paper, you should expect to see a few less book reviews on my Blog (and more of them will be Doctor Who books when they do appear!).

    Oh, and no, I don't plan to send my story to the BBC or to a publisher - I'm just writing it for my own satisfaction - and perhaps to prove that I can write fiction after all!

    Friday, February 09, 2007

    Poetry Friday 36

    This week's poem is by Thomas Babbington Macaualy:

    'Horatius' - A Lay Made About the Year Of The City CCCLX


    Lars Porsena of Closium
    By the Nine Gods he swore
    That the great house of Tarquin
    Should suffer wrong no more.
    By the Nine Gods he swore it,
    And named a trysting day,
    And bade his messengers ride forth,
    East and west and south and north,
    To summon his array.


    East and west and south and north
    The messengers ride fast,
    And tower and town and cottage
    Have heard the trumpet's blast.
    Shame on the false Etruscan
    Who lingers in his home,
    When Porsena of Clusium
    Is on the march for Rome.


    The horsemen and the footmen
    Are pouring in amain
    From many a stately market-place,
    From many a fruitful plain,
    From many a lonely hamlet,
    Which, hid by beech and pine,
    Like an eagle's nest, hangs on the crest
    Of purple Apennine;


    From lordly Volaterræ,
    Where scowls the far-famed hold
    Piled by the hands of giants
    For godlike kings of old;
    From seagirt Populonia,
    Whose sentinels descry
    Sardinia's snowy mountain-tops
    Fringing the southern sky;


    From the proud mart of Pisæ,
    Queen of the western waves,
    Where ride Massilia's triremes
    Heavy with fair-haired slaves;
    From where sweet Clanis wanders
    Through corn and vines and flowers;
    From where Cortona lifts to heaven
    Her diadem of towers.


    Tall are the oaks whose acorns
    Drop in dark Auser's rill;
    Fat are the stags that champ the boughs
    Of the Ciminian hill;
    Beyond all streams Clitumnus
    Is to the herdsman dear;
    Best of all pools the fowler loves
    The great Volsinian mere.


    But now no stroke of woodman
    Is heard by Auser's rill;
    No hunter tracks the stag's green path
    Up the Ciminian hill;
    Unwatched along Clitumnus
    Grazes the milk-white steer;
    Unharmed the water fowl may dip
    In the Volsminian mere.


    The harvests of Arretium,
    This year, old men shall reap;
    This year, young boys in Umbro
    Shall plunge the struggling sheep;
    And in the vats of Luna,
    This year, the must shall foam
    Round the white feet of laughing girls
    Whose sires have marched to Rome.


    There be thirty chosen prophets,
    The wisest of the land,
    Who alway by Lars Porsena
    Both morn and evening stand:
    Evening and morn the Thirty
    Have turned the verses o'er,
    Traced from the right on linen white
    By mighty seers of yore.


    And with one voice the Thirty
    Have their glad answer given:
    "Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena;
    Go forth, beloved of Heaven;
    Go, and return in glory
    To Clusium's royal dome;
    And hang round Nurscia's altars
    The golden shields of Rome."


    And now hath every city
    Sent up her tale of men;
    The foot are fourscore thousand,
    The horse are thousands ten.
    Before the gates of Sutrium
    Is met the great array.
    A proud man was Lars Porsena
    Upon the trysting day.


    For all the Etruscan armies
    Were ranged beneath his eye,
    And many a banished Roman,
    And many a stout ally;
    And with a mighty following
    To join the muster came
    The Tusculan Mamilius,
    Prince of the Latian name.


    But by the yellow Tiber
    Was tumult and affright:
    From all the spacious champaign
    To Rome men took their flight.
    A mile around the city,
    The throng stopped up the ways;
    A fearful sight it was to see
    Through two long nights and days.


    For aged folks on crutches,
    And women great with child,
    And mothers sobbing over babes
    That clung to them and smiled,
    And sick men borne in litters
    High on the necks of slaves,
    And troops of sun-burned husbandmen
    With reaping-hooks and staves,


    And droves of mules and asses
    Laden with skins of wine,
    And endless flocks of goats and sheep,
    And endless herds of kine,
    And endless trains of wagons
    That creaked beneath the weight
    Of corn-sacks and of household goods,
    Choked every roaring gate.


    Now, from the rock Tarpeian,
    Could the wan burghers spy
    The line of blazing villages
    Red in the midnight sky.
    The Fathers of the City,
    They sat all night and day,
    For every hour some horseman come
    With tidings of dismay.


    To eastward and to westward
    Have spread the Tuscan bands;
    Nor house, nor fence, nor dovecote
    In Crustumerium stands.
    Verbenna down to Ostia
    Hath wasted all the plain;
    Astur hath stormed Janiculum,
    And the stout guards are slain.


    I wis, in all the Senate, [wis: know]
    There was no heart so bold,
    But sore it ached, and fast it beat,
    When that ill news was told.
    Forthwith up rose the Consul,
    Up rose the Fathers all;
    In haste they girded up their gowns,
    And hied them to the wall.


    They held a council standing,
    Before the River-Gate;
    Short time was there, ye well may guess,
    For musing or debate.
    Out spake the Consul roundly:
    "The bridge must straight go down;
    For, since Janiculum is lost,
    Nought else can save the town."


    Just then a scout came flying,
    All wild with haste and fear:
    "To arms! to arms! Sir Consul:
    Lars Porsena is here."
    On the low hills to westward
    The Consul fixed his eye,
    And saw the swarthy storm of dust
    Rise fast along the sky.


    And nearer fast and nearer
    Doth the red whirlwind come;
    And louder still and still more loud,
    From underneath that rolling cloud,
    Is heard the trumpet's war-note proud,
    The trampling, and the hum.
    And plainly and more plainly
    Now through the gloom appears,
    Far to left and far to right,
    In broken gleams of dark-blue light,
    The long array of helmets bright,
    The long array of spears.


    And plainly and more plainly,
    Above that glimmering line,
    Now might ye see the banners
    Of twelve fair cities shine;
    But the banner of proud Clusium
    Was highest of them all,
    The terror of the Umbrian,
    The terror of the Gaul.


    And plainly and more plainly
    Now might the burghers know,
    By port and vest, by horse and crest,
    Each warlike Lucumo.
    There Cilnius of Arretium
    On his fleet roan was seen;
    And Astur of the four-fold shield,
    Girt with the brand none else may wield,
    Tolumnius with the belt of gold,
    And dark Verbenna from the hold
    By reedy Thrasymene.


    Fast by the royal standard,
    O'erlooking all the war,
    Lars Porsena of Clusium
    Sat in his ivory car.
    By the right wheel rode Mamilius,
    Prince of the Latian name;
    And by the left false Sextus,
    That wrought the deed of shame.


    But when the face of Sextus
    Was seen among the foes,
    A yell that rent the firmament
    From all the town arose.
    On the house-tops was no woman
    But spat towards him and hissed,
    No child but screamed out curses,
    And shook its little fist.


    But the Consul's brow was sad,
    And the Consul's speech was low,
    And darkly looked he at the wall,
    And darkly at the foe.
    "Their van will be upon us
    Before the bridge goes down;
    And if they once may win the bridge,
    What hope to save the town?"


    Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The Captain of the Gate:
    "To every man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.
    And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
    For the ashes of his fathers,
    And the temples of his gods,

    You can find the rest of this lengthy poem here.

    And you're probably wondering why I'm quoting a lay about Ancient Rome. The answer is, Doctor Who - a character named Mr Jefferson quotes the last four lines of stanza 27 (above) by way of a memorial for a character named Scooti, whom the Doctor, Rose and the various occupants of a Sanctuary Base that's built on an Impossible Planet (from the episode, "The Impossible Planet"), find dead. Being me, I had to look up the lines Jefferson quotes after I watched the episode again last weekend. The science in the episode may not be accurate - I know little about Black Holes and have no idea whether a planet could ever be in geostationary orbit around a Black Hole - but I know poetry when I hear it, and I was intrigued enough to find out just what writer Matt Jones had Jefferson quoting, because it sounded vaguely familiar.

    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    Tom's Midnight Garden - Philippa Pearce

    Philippa Pearce's novel, Tom's Midnight Garden won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1958 and has been dramatised a number of times (more on that shortly).

    When Tom Long's younger brother, Peter, gets measles (back in the days before all children were automatically immunised against this illness), Tom is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in their small flat which has no garden. Since Tom may be infectious, he's not allowed to go out and, lacking exercise and eating more than usual (thanks to the rich diet his aunt is supplying), Tom is not sleeping at night. The only thing that interests Tom is the strange grandfather clock in the hall of the big house which has been divided into flats. The clock seems to have its own ideas about time, especially after midnight when it's in the habit of striking thirteen! Finding himself compelled to investigate, Tom slips out of the back door, whilst his aunt and uncle sleep, and finds himself in an astonishing garden that's in full bloom, instead of in the expected back yard containing dustbins and a car under a tarpaulin.

    Tom explores the garden, rather nervously at first and discovers that four children live in the house with this magnificent garden: three are boys and one is a girl. Unfortunately for Tom, who would have liked to play with James, only the boys' cousin, Hatty, seems able to see him - and she believes he's a ghost. In fact, Tom does behave rather like a ghost - he's able to walk through walls and doors, and he leaves no footprints. But the pair make friend and have plays some wonderful, absorbing games, climbing trees and hiding in special places. Only Abel, the gardener, seems to pay any attention to Hatty's strange, solitary games, and if he can see anything at all he says nothing about it, merely hanging on to his Bible.

    However, something strange happens to Time, even in this fantastic garden, because although Tom goes to play with Hatty every night during his stay with his aunt and uncle, she seems to be growing up fast. And as Hatty grows up, Tom seems to her to be growing fainter. They manage to share one last adventure before Tom has to go back to his parents and brother, and the start of the new school year. This adventure involves a pair of skating boots, a secret hiding place, and the two children wearing the same pair of skates at the same time.

    This is a terrific story and I can quite see why it's become a classic of children's literature. It's been dramatised on a number of occasions: the BBC produced a full-cast dramatisation audiobook, as well as filming it as a mini-series more than once. There's also a full-length movie. I shall have a look for the movie or one of the mini-series in a few months time (once the images from the book are out of my head and I can do the visual dramatisation justice).

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    Heretic - Sarah Singleton

    Sarah Singleton's Heretic won the Booktrust Teenage Prize 2005.

    The novel is set in 16th century Protestant England during which Roman Catholics were persecuted, and enemies of the heretical faith were believed to lurk in every corner. Although Sarah Singleton may seem to sympathise with the Catholic faith, the story moves back in time to the 13th century, when a mother of two was executed for witchcraft by the Catholic Church, showing that intolerance has always been an issue, and demonstrating just how dangerous it was to go against established religion. The fear of discovery, the pain inflicted on the "unfaithful", and the inability of a child to protect their family are some of the most moving passages in this novel. The language is very descriptive, brimming with elaborate adjectives, similes and metaphors. At the same time, though, there is a dark, gloomy sense of mystery and intrigue throughout the book: enemies of the faith hide away whilst their persecutors are watching and following them every step. Woven throughout the tale of 16th century England are fantastical and magical worlds, along with a host of strange and sometimes dangerous creatures: a green girl from the Shadow Land, faeries who trick and delude you, goblins, and some blood-thirsty angels who are quite unlike the holy creatures about whom we are used to reading.

    This story is no mere simple tale of good and evil. Even the angels and the faeries are vengeful and cruel, inflicting torment on those who are thirsty for others' blood. I didn't find this an easy book to read - in fact, I stopped part way through to read a few other books in quick succession. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under the age of about 14, to be honest. It's rather more intense than Singleton's Century.

    The cover photo is one again by Simon Marsden, whose photo archive you can find here.