Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

It’s time for part four of my “revisiting childhood favourites” series with The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.

Maria Merryweather is an orphan (of course) and sent to live with her long lost uncle in the West Country at Moonacre Manor. She takes the long journey by carriage through the night with her bilious governess and Wiggins, her grumpy spoiled spaniel. Her new home is mysterious, mythic and magical. Her uncle tells tales of the tragic love story of the Moon Princess and Sir Wrolf, the first Merryweather, and of course the rarely seen little white horse.

Firstly it must be said, this book should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in glorious world-building. The descriptions of Moonacre Manor and its characters are vibrant and rich. From cosy cave houses and circular bedrooms in towers to a curmedgeonly dwarf with a rich vocabulary baking fairy cakes and lavish descriptions of hearty country meals (very reminiscent of Enid Blyton) to a cat that can write and the grumpy spoiled Wiggins, the spaniel.

But the story itself is a little strange. The haughty Maria bullies her family (both immediate and estranged) into complying with her wishes. All the while maintaining a relationship with a shepherd boy which no one questions. And this is supposedly 1842. There is much talk of “wicked men” and yet she converts them to goodness with harsh words and pearls. Reality aside, she is a firebrand who gets what she wants. A feisty female protagonist.

But the pleasure in this book is the imaginative world-building. If you are interested in descriptions or characterisation, I urge you read this book. Especially the first few chapters as Maria explores her new home.

Bird calls, barrels and Navy SEALs – random research

I’m terrible at book monogamy. I got distracted from my reading of Anne of Green Gables (the new shiny thing is Kim Newman’s The Quorum) for my blog series revisiting my favourite children’s book, so no review today. Although I am enjoying spending time with that feisty nutty Anne Shirley again.

Today’s blog post is about research. Or three random research topics for my current manuscript. I needed to describe the call of a hawk, find out what was inside an elite soldier’s survival pack and the different parts of a barrel. My writing is educational too!

  • Bird calls

This site has written descriptions of bird calls, as well as audio clips to listen for yourself. Perfect for describing the screech of a hawk overhead, which is kee-eeeee-arr, if you were wondering. Those twitchers are cool people.

  • Navy SEAL Survival Packs

My current manuscript includes a secret military operation to bring back a fugitive. So I needed to know what is in a standard issue survival kit for a Navy SEAL. This article in Time shows the current contents as well as the contents in the packs from 1960s.

https://timemilitary.files.wordpress.com

  • Parts of a barrel

Did you know that the wooden planks forming the main body of a barrel were called “staves”? I do now.

https://salutwineco.files.wordpress.com

What random internet research have you done this week?

Tiny apartments – the fancy and the appalling

As cities get bigger and more people move to find work, pressure on housing increases. Tiny apartments is one solution.

Like all interior design porn, small apartments get attention. The perfectly minimalistic Nordic designed tiny space with only the bare essentials.

A micro-apartment for James Bond perhaps?

www.businessinsider.com

Or a pristine serene monk cell? But where do you put the telly?

www.lituanus.org

That is all nice for a photo shoot but how do people really live when they only have 10sqm (300 sf), or less, of space.

Look at Hong Kong…

www.nvusdesigns.com

…where whole families live in similarly small space.

www.nvus.nl

www.cantonese.tierlinck.net

…or live in bunk like storage cages.

www.dailymail.co.uk

It’s not just in Hong Kong, here’s an example in London

www.guardian.co.uk

Dystopia is here already.

Lakes of liquid mercury and Bears take back Chernobyl

OK, it’s a massive cliche but the world is an amazing place and truth is stranger than fiction. Here are a couple of news items which caught my eye and fuelled my imagination.

Lakes of liquid mercury

Archeologists excavating a Mexican pyramid site found a chamber filled with liquid mercury sealed for over 1,800 years. This lake of liquid mercury suggests the existence of the tomb of a very important individual. Liquid mercury has no apparent purpose for the ancient Mesoamericans. The archeologists theorising that the liquid mercury represents an Underworld River like the River Styx or a dark mirror to look into the supernatural world.  Reminiscent of a scene from a Mummy movie.

Bears take back Chernobyl

It’s almost thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster and nature is taking back the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Scientists on the Ukrainian side, have positioned over 80 cameras to document the animals now living in the radioactive zone, including endangered horses, grey wolves, lynx and even brown bears. The way nature bounces back and takes over in such a short period always fascinates me.

What fuelled your imagination this week?

www.vecteezy.com

Inspiration – indigenous people and the power of storytelling

My novel in progress, Return to the Monolith, has a plot line about indigenous people being forced off their tribal lands and ostracised. It also raises how colonials have ignored and discredited the wisdom of indigenous people. Their wisdom and knowledge of the land honed through thousands of years of living in the landscape

This week I saw this news story from ABC about scientists verifying the myths of the Aboriginal people explaining how palm trees got to Central Australia. This story has been handed down through generations for possibly 30,000 years. The power of storytelling?

The researcher mentions how science can learn from the knowledge of indigenous people. The researcher goes further to suggest that more Aboriginal myths, including those about mega fauna (and how I love my mega fauna!) should be analysed further for factual information.

Let’s hope there is more of this collaboration between indigenous people and scientists to share their knowledge. Science does not always know best.

Top 5 dystopian movie influences

I like movies. I’ve seen a lot of movies (so many I can barely remember a lot of them).  Movies inspire me to write, I look back to various scenes, characters and worlds when creating my own little universes. It’s all storytelling in the end.

In the spirit of my favourite film podcast, Filmspotting, here’s five dystopian movies which have influenced me with their world building or premise. Some of these films are great, some are a bit dodgy but their settings or various scenes have influenced me.

Note: before you yell out at your screen, “hey you, where’s …?”, I ruled out anything from a famous book. This means Blade Runner, 1984, Farenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange etc are all out.

In no particular order….

Children of Men

The world where fertility is gone is a frightening premise. A great dystopian world which can be easily imagined from our current world, the familiar London streets, only grubbier, greyer and more violent. A few more things go wrong in our world and we could be facing into this.

Of course, there are the brilliant single shot sequences, the scrummy Clive Owen and a bit of Michael Caine to round it out.

Dead End Drive In

This is a weird Australian film where the dregs of society are locked inside a drive-in. The government is rounding up all the “no hopers” and locking them away. This is another familiar yet creative twist on 1980s Australia, when the economy was struggling and millions were out of work. The acting is dodgy, there are loads of explosions and heaps of 1980s Australian celebrity cameos. But what intrigued me is the premise of taking an everyday activity (like a drive-in) and turning it into a tool for tyranny.

www.fangirlmag.com

Alphaville

I found this film very cold, but love the mixture of hard boiled noir in a dystopian world. There are no out there sci-fi or futuristic sets or costumes. It’s 1960s France with a twist. The gravelly voice of Alpha 60, the sentenient computer system, is chilling and ingrained in my memory.

www.thefilmstage.com

Metropolis

How can you look past the grandmaster of all dystopian movies? The art design, the costumes, the story line. It rocks and it’s almost 80 years old. What else can I say?

www.uow.edu.au

The Omega Man

Controversial? Is this post apocalyptic or dystopian? The opening scenes are the most influential, empty Los Angeles with Charlton Heston driving around, watching the Woodstock doco in the abandoned theatre utterly alone. This was the first time, I felt the eeriness of a city with no people. Reminds me of a time I was in a London tube carriage all on my own. Spooky. Yes, this is based on I Am Legend, so I could be breaking my own rules here. Oops.

As you can see from this list, I’m a bit art-house, but I’m comfortable with that.

What other dystopian movies have influenced you?

How to find your way home without breadcrumbs or GPS

Another world building inspiration post today, but quite different to my last post on city living. This week, I’m intrigued by natural navigation, how to read the landscape, whether using trees or animals or the more obvious sun and stars, to find your way home without maps or GPS or breadcrumbs (if you’re Hansel and Gretel).

This is information we’ve (city dwellers) lost and the people who’ve retained this ancient wisdom are now shrouded in mystery and awe – Aboriginal trackers from my side of the globe or Inuits reading ice formations or Bedouins understanding the direction of the wind from dune shapes. An interesting side note, the last official Aboriginal police tracker retired from the Queensland police force in 2014. The skills, whilst rare, are still vitally important when people go missing in the “wild”.

I stumbled across Tristan Gooley‘s work on a podcast. Gooley teaches natural navigation in his native UK but his website covers small tips even for the city dweller. For examples birds sitting on a rooftop will face away from the wind, trees grow thicker on the sunny side and spider webs are woven out of the wind.

www.wallpaperhi.comHe even has tips on navigating in a city – if it’s 8.30am and you’re looking for a train station, go against the flow of people and you’ll most likely find a station. Common sense, yes?

I’m currently writing about a fictitious native people who live closely associated with the land. This information inspires me when developing how they read their landscape and navigate through thick forests. But in my real life, I’m now watching the clouds whenever I walk outside, trying to understand where weather fronts are coming from, especially if I’ve forgotten my umbrella.

The Tower of David

I’m introducing a different segment of posts – inspiration. Interesting stuff sparking my imagination.

A central theme of my writing is how we humans are adapting to our changing world. Whether we like it or not, we are animals, but we are living in an alien world of the built environment. A world changing so fast, can we keep up?

I came across the story of the Tower of David (Centro Financiero Confinanzas) in Caracas, Venezuela, a half-finished abandoned skyscraper taken over by squatters. The squatters building their own homes with bricks, bringing in electricity, setting up businesses and growing a community. It appeared in an episode of the TV show Homeland.

www.hereisthecity.com

www.meridithkohut.photoshelter.com

www.we-heart.com

Known as the tallest slum in the world, the government moved the squatters out in July 2014 into new homes as part of their rehousing scheme.

I am interested in the way people scrape together shelter in a modern built environment, exactly as if they were living in nature, building a home out of whatever they can find. These skills still exist in the modern world.

The Tower of David is an interesting example of people “making do” when the economy and the government fails them. People falling back on their own resourcefulness.

More stunning pictures in The Atlantic.