Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

Finally I’ve finished my series, re-reading my favourite books as a child. The last book in my series is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. A British classic of the 1980s.

Adrian is a painful teenager with delusions of intellectual grandeur living through Thatcher’s Britain with his dysfunctional and disappointing parents. Adrian copes with his first pimples, his parents’ marital problems and his own crushes with an amazing lack of self-awareness. It is laugh out funny and I knew most of the jokes already.

220px-thesecretdiaryofadrianmole

Reading Adrian Mole was like going back in time (in the Tardis with Peter Davison, of course because it’s 1983). I was thrown back into the 1980s when all my favourite music and television came out of the UK. I also vividly remember Adrian Mole TV series and recently watched part of episode 1. It is so faithful to the book, it made me realise why I seemed to remember every second word. I’ve also had the theme tune from the late great Ian Dury in my head ever since.

I had a quick look on Goodreads and it appears that Adrian Mole is now on school curriculums. It is a slice of life in Thatcher’s Britain but I wonder whether kids today would appreciate it like I did. Has it dated?

I remember this book too well to be subjective. In some way, I wished I’d never read it before, so I could enjoy it all over again. It’s funny and poignant. In a similar way to my first year of my arts degree when I finally got some of the gags from The Young Ones, I understood a whole lot more as an adult. The writing is simple, clever and layered.

It was fun visiting Adrian Mole again, but I’m glad I don’t actually know him. He really is a pretentious little git.

 

Reading habits of a beta reader

Today, an interview with a beloved beta reader of mine, Andrew. Andrew’s a voracious reader and so let’s learn a little more about his reading habits.

Tell me a little about yourself?

OK, single. Love city living. Currently binging on the show Jane the Virgin.

What are you currently reading?

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It’s about what happens when the world’s roatation slows down through the eyes of an 11 year-old girl. Good read.
12401556

How and when did you develop your love of reading?

I’ve always enjoyed reading, but it wasn’t until around 2007 when I started really buying up books by the tonne each year to read.
It kind of got kicked started from a friend I worked with you would mention the books she’d read each morning to and from work on her 1 hr train ride.

What are your favourite genres?

At the moment I’m really into supernatural drama

What was the best book you read in 2015?

Hounded by Kevin Hearne. Can’t recommend it enough. Really enjoyed it was wasn’t expecting much as urban fantasy isn’t something that’s ever been on my radar. Had the book on my shelf for nearly 3 years before I even opened. Once I’d finished I ordered the next 7 books in the series.
51wscfsmo3l-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Who is your favourite character of all time?

I’ve got to give this one to Scarlett O’Hara. I was Gone with the Wind obsessed as a 16 year-old and what I loved about Scarlett is that she had everything against her but she never let it get in the way of what she wanted.
GWTW is still my most read book. About every 5 years I pick it up and enjoy the over 1,000 pages epic.
gone-with-the-wind

Are you monogamous with your books? Or a book sl*t?

Oh, I usually have about 3 going at once. I pick one up each morning depending on how I feel.
Note: Sl*t.

Where is your ideal place to read?

Home on the lounge with a quiet CD playing in the back ground.

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences you?

I admit I do judge a book by it’s cover. Kevin Hearne’s Hounded got me by the hot guy on the cover. He he. The cover gets my attention, but it’s the synopsis on the back that will get me to buy a book or not.

What’s your reading goal for 2016?

I’m not going to mad this year, just a small goal of 35 books.

Thanks to the lovely Andrew. Feel free to answer any of my questions for yourself…what was your favourite book of 2015?

Recent reads – Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

One of the curious things about my writing life is I write sci-fi but I don’t often read it. I’ve recently made an effort to read some “masterworks” to fill my gaps.

Don’t you hate it when you find a brilliant “new” writer, only to find out they are already dead? I’m definitely late to the Octavia Butler party, the trail blazing African American female sci-fi writer. Before reading a word of her work, only her bio, I was filled with deep respect for Butler.

First I read Bloodchild (mainly because it was free and I am cheap). I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the alien host and her human servants. Although reading the end notes, I jumped to the conclusion (like many others) that it was a story about slavery. Apparently not!

Then while on a recent trip to the US, I came across Parable of the Sower in a bookshop. The luxury of holidays gave me time to devour it quickly. If I’d been at home (and not required to be social), I would’ve curled up in a corner until I finished it.

In Parable of the Sower, Lauren is 17 and lives in a neighbourhood compound in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Her father is the local preacher and community leader where the neighbours band together to keep themselves safe from the dangers outside the walls. The outside world is dangerous, filled with drug addicts who revel in fire.

Lauren listens to her father’s sermons but she has her own ideas about what God is. Over time her thoughts formulate in her mind, she is creating her own religion. It is called Earthseed.

One night, the compound and Lauren’s world is breached. She leaves and must fend for herself on the highways of California, looking for safety and a new life. All the while, building on her ideas for a new faith.

But the Parable of the Sower is much more than a dystopian road story.

As an aspirant writer, this is one of those books that made me want to put my pen down and give it all away. The prose so crisp and precise. The concepts so big and mind-chewing. This is what I want to be when I grow up.

As I said in my review of AYTGIMM, I’m ignorant about religion. The Parable of the Sower passage from the Bible has no meaning to me. I brought no preconceived ideas when I started reading.

With the chaos around her, Lauren sees God as objective. God is change and cares only about survival. There is no moral overlay about right or wrong. It just is. This reminds of the concepts in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile. Another book which wowed me.

I was struck by a single line. “Some people see nature as God.” Pow. There’s my worldview in a nutshell in a way I’d never considered it before. The way some people see God is the way I see nature/the universe. Awe inspiring and all powerful. But like Lauren, I never placed the moral overlay on nature. She doesn’t care about you and me as individuals. She only wants to continue on.

This book has stayed with me for months now. What more can you ask for in a book? Entertainment plus a soul searching challenge on your view of the universe.

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Blog posts have been a little tardy. I’ve been distracted by the main game, my fiction. But let’s return to my favourite childhood books.

The next book in my series revisiting childhood classics is from Judy Blume. A classic children’s writer, I remember her books fondly. But funny how your memory plays tricks on you.

Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire – John Dewey (1859-1952)

As an 80s child, my reading life was chock full of Judy Blume. I owned a copy of Starring Sally J Friedman As Herself.  (This could explain why a kid in Tasmania in the late 1980s was reading biographies of old film stars like Lana Turner. Although as a voracious reader, I did work my way through most of the books in my small local library.)

Blubber. Super Fudge. Forever was the taboo book when I was in Grade 6, to be hidden from the parents under the mattress because it had s.e.x in it.

Then of course Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (AYTGIMM). The quintessential book on growing up. So today, I’m revisiting my old friend, Margaret.

Margaret has just moved to Jersey from NYC and she’s eleven. The child of a Jewish father and a Christian mother,  she has grown up without religion, yet she talks to God every night. Margaret has a new school, new friends and new womanly body to manage.

Before I started to read this book, my memories of AYTGIMM were all about bras and periods. I expected it to be full of female body stuff. A fiction version of Everygirl. But on re-reading, I was surprised to discover that puberty is only one part of the story. The more important storyline is Margaret’s spiritual search. Is she Jewish or is she Christian? Who is this God she speaks to?

Looking at the title of this book, the religious element is completely obvious.  Like Margaret, I grew up without religion, but I never went through a religious curiosity phase like she does. Margaret chooses to explore religion as the topic of her year long school project. As a child, this part of the story must not have resonated with me. Perhaps the difference is the overt religious tension in Margaret’s family. Or I blocked it out and focused on the juicy stuff.

AYTGIMM was probably the first time I read about someone like me, dealing with their newly adult bits, bras and periods, secret clubs and talking on the phone for hours about (very important) nothing. The “Two Minutes in a Closet” brought back cringe worthy memories of my own Grade 6 parties. Did we get the idea from this book? Although we used an ensuite bathroom. It brought back memories of my own experiences of being eleven.

The stand-out characters were Sylvia, Margaret’s grandmother and Laura Danker. Interfering and vibrant, Sylvia sounds like a super fun grandma but incredibly infuriating for Margaret’s mother. Laura Danker is a tragic innocent character. An early developer, the world makes assumptions about her morals just because she has boobs.

I didn’t enjoy AYTGIMM as much as I thought I would. The puberty stuff is of no interest anymore and neither is the religious angle. But I hope this book still resonates with eleven year old girls wondering what’s going on with their bodies and making sense of religious tension in their family. Just not for me.

Next book in line is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Apparently I’m in good company as this is also a favourite of JK Rowling.

www.onehundredonebooks.wordpress.com

Top 5 Influential Childhood books – Anne of Green Gables

The next book in my series of revisiting childhood favourites is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

Ah the memories…when I opened the first few pages of Anne of Green Gables, I was transported back to Grade 5 and my small primary school library in Launceston, Tasmania where I first borrowed this book. All the iconic phrases made me smile; the puffed sleeves, the alabaster brow, kindred spirits, bosom friends. I can see why people travel to Prince Edward Island today to see where Anne lived.

If you haven’t read or seen Anne of Green Gables, basically it’s the story of an eleven year old orphan* who is mistakenly sent to live with a gruff brother and sister in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. The brother and sister really wanted a boy to help with the farm work but instead Anne arrives, filled with wild imaginative romantic notions and who cannot stop talking.

Reading Anne of Green Gables again was an absolute joy. I had forgotten what a wonderful character she is, so quirky and irrepressible. Despite her terrible childhood prior to moving to Avonlea, Anne is optimistic. An uneducated orphan, she built a fertile imagination to cope. But Anne is not all sunshine and lollipops, she’s feisty and stubborn. She stands up for herself and others if she feels she is being mistreated. There is no doubting why this is an absolute classic, Anne is such an endearing character who leaps off the page.

The novel travels through Anne’s life from aged eleven to over sixteen. Anne doesn’t just flounce about the countryside for 300 pages. We see Anne mature, and to some extent, conform. Towards the end of the book, where Anne buckles down to study hard for her examinations, I missed the quirky, nutty, overly emotive Anne. She makes tough decisions in the end, particularly hard decisions for a sixteen year old. Compared to the Blyton boarding school books where the characters are of similar ages, Anne grows up and makes adult decisions, unlike the protected girls from St.Clare’s.

Side note – Were 17 year olds really teaching school in Canada in the early 20th century?

Like Blyton, there are very few men in Anne of Green Gables too. Only the man-of-few-words Matthew and her number one rival, Gilbert Blythe. Anne is surrounded by strong, opinionated and capable women.

From a structural perspective, I wondered whether this book was originally a serial. The structure is very episodic, with 10 page self-contained chapters, perfect for a quick 15-20 minute read before bed or perhaps designed for reading to children. The structure reminded me of a TV series with the “story of the week” with its beginning, middle and end, plus a thin thread of overarching story. I’m now inspired to try this structure myself… one day. I’ve already got 5 novels in the works at the moment, in various stages from Draft#7 at 100k words to a paragraph of jotted thoughts. Maybe in 2018?

All in all, Anne of Green Gables stands up as a wonderful read and truly worthy of its classic status.

What’s next? Get ready for the real side of blossoming womanhood. It’s time for bras and periods with Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.

Do you have fond memories of Anne with an e?

*What’s with orphans in childhood literature? I’m sure there’s a million PhD theses on this topic.

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – Enid Blyton

Here’s the first instalment of a new blog series where I revisit my favourite children’s books, beginning with Enid Blyton’s The O’Sullivan Twins.

I loved Enid Blyton …

Good old Aunty Enid is the grand dame of influences. A little passe and politically incorrect these days but Blyton was the influence for me. From Noddy to The Enchanted Wood to the Famous Five to the Naughtiest Girl/St.Clares/Mallory Towers series, Blyton was my author.

I owned a large illustrated copy of The Enchanted Wood and dressed up as Silkie for Book Week (another reference to Book Week dress-ups in a future blog post). The Famous Five probably whet my appetite for mysteries and I also remember the 70s telly series fondly. Sing along with me now… “George and Timmy the dog..”

I loved most of Enid’s book but her boarding school books were my absolute favourite. Maybe I need some therapy to understand why. I loved the idea of midnight feasts, “short sheeting”, French prep, being “sent to Coventry” and lacrosse. I longed to go to boarding school and devoured all of these books.

Then I re-read the O’Sullivan twins…

I don’t spend much time in the children’s section of bookshops, so I was shocked at the number of Enid Blyton books still on the shelves. I thought in these days of Harry Potter, YA and MG galore, Aunty Enid would be less popular. Wrong.

From the first few lines of The O’Sullivan Twins, I was transported back. The words and the character were so familiar. How many times had I read this before? I giggled along at the quintessentially British language and the tropes. It was all there; midnight feasts, “bricks” and “old girls”, lacrosse matches, French prep, descriptions of cake and “being sent to Coventry”. The now sensible O’Sullivan Twins return to St.Clare’s for their second term, this time accompanied by their “feather-headed bleating” cousin Alison.

But as I progressed through the book, I was transported back to the feelings of a tweenie. I was shocked by the way the girls treat each other, there’s an awful lot of bullying in this book. Girls ganging up on each other, gossiping and isolating individuals for their “mean and spiteful” behaviour. And this is exactly what I remember about being a tweenie.

This is a moral tale for playing by the rules and conforming. Margery is the sullen outsider who redeems herself and teaches the twins a lesson about assumptions. I was surprised how old the girls were (fourteen to sixteen). The girls at St.Clare’s lead a terribly sheltered life, yet there is tragedy and teen angst, father-daughter relationships, family accidents and poverty. Aside from their fathers and one mention of a gardener, there are no men in the world of St.Clare’s. Is that what Blyton was trying to do? Create a series of books to teach young women the right way to behave in WW2 Britain?

With my writer hat on, I was surprised at the “head-hopping” or point of view changes within the same paragraph. I thought ‘head-hopping’ was a big no-no. But if Aunty Enid can do it…?

When I finished the last page and said goodbye to my old friends, my feelings on boarding school have changed. I couldn’t think of anything worse than going to St.Clare’s with all the bullying and conformity. But I am hankering for an afternoon tea with “Buns and jam! Fruit cake! Meringues! Chocolate eclairs!”

What are your memories of Enid Blyton?

Re-reading my top 5 fave childhood books

I was pulling together a series of blog posts on my top 5 most influential books of my childhood and an idea struck me. Why not re-read all five books and review them with adult eyes.

So I’ll be reading and blogging about….

  • The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton
  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
  • Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume

All female writers too.

Look out for the posts in the weeks to follow….

Have you re-read your favourite childhood books as an adult?

It’s not you, it’s me – should I feel bad for abandoning books?

I have never been one to commit to books, or movies or TV shows. I can walk away at any time, even just a few moments before the end. If it hasn’t grabbed my attention, I can move on. No qualms. Maybe I’m just a commitment phobe.

But now as I’m spending hours and hours of my time writing and editing, every time I put aside a book for something newer and shinier, I have second thoughts. A little tinge of guilt…should I feel bad when I abandon reading a book?

http://www.booyorkcity.com

On the guilt inducing side…

I feel for the writer, now that I have some idea of the process. The hours, weeks, months and years poured into crafting every single word. Sometimes I feel bad for skimming over sentences, thinking back to my last writing session, where I laboured for forty five minutes over a single sentence. A sentence some callous reader could just skip over!

Then I think about how the writer made it through the gauntlet of the publishing world (although a lesser consideration these days with the thriving indie market), through the anguish of finding an agent and getting selected by a publisher. If it made it through the publishing gauntlet, it must be good, right?

On the other hand

Life is short. There are so many other books I could be reading. There are so many other fish in the sea. If it isn’t doing it for me, I should move on guilt-free.

This does not mean the book is bad. It just isn’t right for me at this moment. If I’m in the mood for a mystery with a hunchback lawyer from the 15th century, then an urban fantasy with a mixed race London bobby in the magical division is not going to cut it.

Of course, reading anything after a fantastic book is hard. Rebounds are always fleeting.

Other times, I’ve abandoned a book only to pick it up again later and devour it. Sometimes I’ve just got to be in the right mood.

After this conversation with myself, I’ve decided I don’t need to feel guilty about abandoning a book. It’s not you book, it’s me.

Do you abandon books?

Recent reads – The Profession by Steven Pressfield

Since listening to Shawn Coyne on The Creative Penn podcast, I’ve been obsessed with the Story Grid – advice for editing novels.

The Story Grid (book soon to be released) is a story design system and a step-by-step process for analysing and improving your writing. It teaches you to be your own editor. Definitely one for process-minded, plotter, spreadsheet nerds like me.

Shawn Coyne works closely with Steven Pressfield (of War of Art, which I blogged about in my recent post on Kicking Resistance in the nuts) and one of my recent completed reads was Steven Pressfield’s The Profession. While reading, I had one eye firmly on the Story Grid system, looking for the tips and structure outlined by Coyne. Luckily, The Profession is also a cracking read.

The Profession is set in the near future, following the story of Gent, a soldier for hire. The Middle East is a mess of corporations, tribal war lords and nation-states, all vying for supremacy and protecting their interests by hiring mercenaries. Gent, after years of warfare and campaigns, knows no other life.

I am a warrior. What I narrate in these pages is between me and other warriors. I will say things only they will credit and only they understand.

Gent works for a disgraced US General, Salter. His devotion to Salter is absolute. He loves this man and unquestioning, follows this man into anything.

Now, on the face of it, this is a book for blokes. It’s a geo-political thriller with gun fights and machinations, warriors and mercenaries and there’s a lot of gear porn in it. Loads of description about guns and bombs and helicopters. Information I skipped over.

Yet underneath the testosterone, there is something epic about this story, something mythic. I’m no historical scholar and Pressfield’s other works include Roman historical novels,  but there was something familiar about the tale of Gent and his loyalty to Salter. It resonated. Is it based on a myth or is it completely original? I’m not sure and I don’t care. Richer than your average thriller, I was moved by Gent’s anguish as he faces the tests of his love and devotion to Salter and choosing right from wrong. It felt bigger than just blowing stuff up.

Back to the Story Grid, I flicked backwards and forwards between reading this for pleasure and looking for the elements of the Grid in it. One of the key elements of the Story Grid is internal and external value at stake. Although I was looking for the structure through out the book, this was a great example of the battle between the main character’s internal and external values. How the character changes through the story and how inner conflict and external conflict play out.

I recommend The Profession for an intelligent, fast paced read (and for writers, I recommend the Story Grid.)

Recent reads – The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

I’m a bit late to this party but The Rook is a highly awarded book which I thoroughly enjoyed. The travesty is I picked it up from a local second hand book shop in the $2 bin. Bargain for me, but such a shame. Worth every cent!

The Rook is an urban fantasy set in modern day London. Myfanwy Thomas, a high ranking official in a secret paranormal government agency, has regained consciousness, she has two black eyes and no memory of who she is. Luckily she has letters in her pocket from herself, explaining what to do next.

In a similar vein to Ben Aaronovitch (but can I suggest maybe better?!), The Rook is funny, weird and richly imaginative speeding along with gripping action and bizarre monstrous characters.The world of Myfanwy and The Chequy is so vivid and well detailed, I can almost picture the television series.
Hunt this one down and immerse yourself in Myfanwy’s world. When’s No.2 coming out?

wpid-DanielOMalleyTheRook-2014-03-10-14-20