Thursday, 19 May 2016

Should There be a Qualitative Distinction between Adult and Children’s Literature?

My piece last week on the tributes to Alan Garner reminded me of the age -old dispute of whether so called young adult and children’s literature can realistically be viewed as mainstream literature. I am reminded on Alan Garner’s Red Shift which – with some discussion - was placed on both adult and children’s lists in libraries.

It’s an old discussion which has never really been resolved.

Of course, well written, perfectly crafted stories touching fundamental issues with poetic simplicity, published in the young-adult/children’s literature field,certainly should count as mainstream literature. Writers like Alan Garner, David Almond, Susan Cooper and Lucy Boston come to mind. Perhaps it’s the elements of magic so clearly intuited by  children and some special adults are a link between these writers.

This discussion means a lot to me. Written simply as novels, my first four books were placed by the publishers into the Young-Adult and Children’s Novel category. These novels were read and enjoyed by adults as well as children. In writing them I never saw then as any different from my later adult novels. I researched and told the story as it blossomed in my mind. I didn’t write them for ‘young adults’ or ‘children from eight to twelve years.’  For me they were just stories I was compelled to write. 

I was reminded of this on Monday when I was sorting out the shelf of my
own books. I came across a novel of mine called French Leave, on the flap of which was the review of the earlier novel The Real Life of Studs McGuire. It was from Growing Point, then a prime review source for children’s books. It said  The Real Life of Studs McGuire states the urban dilemma fair and square in an up-to-date setting and through strongly contemporary characters...the action is swift and exciting enough to carry the message to th0se who read it,...
I like that, It reminded me of the joy of writing about Studs. This one was categorised as ‘Young Adult’... 

Next I came across a novel of mine called Cruelty Games which was
On Kindle and Paperback here 
published as an adult novel. These are very different novels but both of them centre on the inner and outer lives of boys of sixteen and their impact on the lives around them. Interestingly my present novel-in-progress The Blue Pool, centres around Dee, an eccentric girl of thirteen and her impact on the people around her. It will be categorised as an adult novel,


Both Studs and Cruelty Games were  published by mainstream publishers and have been more recently republished by me.  I thought perhaps adults, young  and old,  might enjoy reading them and deciding whether they should be placed in and adult or young adult category.  

Or any category at all?
Wx

Monday, 9 May 2016

Alan Garner, Elidor, and Me



 Garner lives and works close to the Edge and is neither metropolitan nor provincial, He’s closer to being parochial, in Patrick Cavanaugh’s sense, never being ‘in any doubt about the social and artistic validity of his parish'. But he’s more than that. He goes under the parish to fetch out stones, he cleans them, he inspects them, he turns them into steeples and into walls, he lifts them up to the stars above. He turns stones to words. He is the first in his line to use words not things... David Almond.


The postman – late today – hands over the package. It is beautifully packed, so I open it carefully to find a book that I’d forgotten I’d ordered. It’s a finely produced book – good paper, good bindings. I smell it, as I always do with new books: a seductive smell for a lifelong reader,

I had forgotten it, because it’s months since I made my contribution to this important book – a crowd-funded publication by Unbound of London. My own name is there in the back, with hundreds of other individuals who contributed to the publishing process.

First Light, meticulously edited by Erica Wagner, comprises a series of
celebratory essays and tributes to Alan Garner - that leading shamanistic literary writer of his generation - that magus of the stones and the earth -who can take us back with ease to into the magical ages of bronze and iron and the Celtic sunrise.

Children are at the centre of Alan Garner’s novels which speak clearly to children who read. But he does not speak just to children. He speaks to all of us in the language of storytelling which links the reality of today with the the myths and magic embedded our human identity that we have inherited from with our Iron Age, Bronze Age and Celtic ancestors.

One important element in all Garner’s writing is that – unlike many so-called; fantasy writers today – it derives nothing from the more esoteric escapist fiction of CS Lewis or Tolkien. Looked at properly, Alan Garner – like David Almond, quoted above -  is much better labelled a reality writer than a fantasy writer.,

This volume,First Light, features tributes from a wide range of writers: from
Margaret Atwood to Neil Gaimon, from Helen Dunmore to Philip Pullman, from Rowan Williams to David Almond  

David Almond’s contribution is my favourite. As a writer he is closest to Alan Garner in having the magical skill of using child characters to give us access to the everyday magic all around us.  Children today can do this, still wrapped as they are, in the birth-caul of innocence. We can do it too, using the child inside us as a conduit for wonderful insights.

These days an increasingly rigid desire to catologue literature has led the public imagination to categorise the work of supreme writers such as Garner and Almond as ‘Children’s Literature’. Both of them are garlanded with prizes and awards acknowledging their success specifically in this field. But they are much more universally significant writers than that,


This collection of essays – in which every contributor has her or his own personal story of the impact of Alan Garner on their lives and their writing - convinces me even more that it’s time we stop  marginalising writers inspired by and accessible to children and honour them in the mainstream of literature.

Every reader will have their favourite in this collection. As I have said my favourite is David Almond’s .And I was touched by the very different contributions from two of Alan’s children the novelist Elizabeth and the scientist Joseph.

Philip Pullman, in a fine appreciation, embraces the difficult task of analysing the depth and complexity of Garner’s craft: ‘There’s an area of human activity where wiliness and cunning share a border with magic and the ability to call spirits from the vasty deep, and to call a storyteller crafty is not to disparage his craft but to acknowledge the borderland between conscious skill and inspiration from somewhere unreachable by logic and reason.’ He goes on: ‘There’s much I’ve stolen from Garner but this interest in craft, and the craft of story-telling has been the most rewarding.’

As T S Eliot once said, ‘All good writers steal. The trick is to steal from the best…’

For me, as a writer, the most inspiring words come Alan Garner himself. At the bottom level, my stories have to work as entertainment, keep a reader turning the page to find out what happens next. At the top level, they have to work for me, say what I want to express. In fact, I must write poetry, making words work on more than one level, subjecting myself to the poetic disciplines - pace, compression, simplicity.


Most of all I hope First Light will send shoals of readers back to reading the excellent novels of Alan Garner.

My favourites are  the fabulous Elidor 

and The Stone Book QuartetWhat’s yours?


Personal note: My novel The Pathfinder also draws on Iron Age and Bronze Age and Celtic identity colliding with the Roman occupation of Britain, See in side panel,      wx



Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Identity, Reading in Prison, and the Novels of Charlotte Mendelson

I first encountered the work of Charlotte Mendelson in a woman’s prison. 


I was reminded of this when I came across an announcement about 
the setting up of a partnership between. The Booker Prize Foundation and Prison Reading Groups to support books and reading in prisons. 

I’ve written here and  here before about my adventures involving reading and writing in prison, reflecting on my views that reading good literature can change lives in an out of prison,

In prison a group of us read, discussed and reviewed the novels on the 2008 Orange Prize short list. (It’s now called the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction). Charlotte Mendelson’s novel When We Were Bad was on the shortlist. Of course the very title caused ripple of ironic laughter among the women the group.

We voted this novel the winner and were disappointed when the judges’ insight was not as good as ours. The women loved this novel; they really ‘got’ this deeply felt, beautifully written story growing out of the complexity of North London life. This specifically located novel really struck a chord with these women, from all kinds of background and areas of the country,

Wherever they are now (most will be ‘on the out’) I hope they get hold of Mandelson’s 2013 Booker long-listed novel Almost English. This excellent novel didn’t win that prize either. What are these judges up to? I wonder.

Almost English is a literary and psychological tour de force focusing on the politics and privileges embedded in close family life, especially in the lives of the women in a certain family with sixteen year of Marina and her mother Laura at the centre.

As the title suggests the story focuses on the nature of individual identity in a changing world. Marina’s family has roots in Hungary. Or is it Czechoslovakia? Or is it the Ukraine? In Marina's family this complex identity is embodied in Marina’s grandmother and two great aunts who speak Hungarian with each other and their own quaint version of English (Hunglish?) in the wider family. Very kindly Mendelson provides us with a glossary of Hungarian words and also a list of English as she is spoken by Hungarians. This lingua franca allows us to access with more insight the self-confidence of such a family stubbornly refusing to give up their way of speaking, their way of thinking. The writer also provides us with sources on Hungarian cuisine and history. (Food is important in this novel).

This information does not distract us from the narrative, rather it involves us more, deepening and strengthening our understanding of lives lived - even to the present generation - on the rich margins of so-called British culture. Our cities are enriched by generations of man ‘almost English’. I am ‘almost English’ myself, my family having been extracted from Wales two generations ago.

This book is a great read:


Marina, the sixteen year old at the centre of this story, is clearly English. Her mother is English. And her grandmother and great aunts are clearly and proudly not English and still an intrinsic part of the cosmopolitan nexus that is London, that most English of cities. This writer expresses the comedy and the subtly hidden tragedies of this cultural paradox.

Coming from the complex institution of this Almost English family Marina finds herself in the ultra-English institution of the English Public School with its own arcane rituals, meanings and dark areas. What happens when Marina and her mother Laura deal with this paradox is at the core of this novel.

My comments here might make this novel somewhat earnest. Nothing is further from the truth. This writer’s accessible style, her great prose, her fluid storytelling, her intricate humour and the meticulous attention to colourful detail makes this a great novel.

Those women in prison would have relished this novel, with their experience of negotiating lives as outsiders, inside and outside prison.

It makes me think that Almost English should have won the Booker prize just as When We Were Bad should have won the Orange Prize.

Ah, well.  Almost there. Perhaps the next novel?


After-note:  I wrote a novel called Paulie’s Web. inspired by my prison experiences.  It might appeal. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Importance of Books: My List

I’ve just made a list of books I've read in the last year.  


Stephen King, in his seminal book On Writing declares how important it is for anyone who aspires to write that they should read. A lot.

We should read all kinds of stuff – deep, shallow, funny, serious,

tragic comedic. Stephen King lists the great number of books he had read in a year. Interestingly he includes in the list the many books he has read in audio form. For some people – not me- this might be seen as kind of cheating, an  easy way.


But I have this friend who consumes books on audio every single day while he is working at more manual tasks. He points out that with an audio book you listen to every word. You don’t skip. Every word counts. As it should.

I once gave a talk to a reading group for people of all ages who were sight-impaired. The discussion was vigorous and interesting . These readers had an unsurpassed grasp on the detail, the characterisation and the narrative of the novels we were discussing – all read on Audio Books.

And, like audio books, reading on Kindle, Tablets and Phones is sadly sniffed at in some quarters. And yet, my inside source tells me the 46% of books are read in this form. Thank God they do. Some of those are my books and perhaps yours.

It’s been my lifetime delight to curl up with a good book, seduced by the smell and feel of new paper and the sight of great prose. But now as well as this I also love listening to stories on my iPod, and racing through novels and research sources on Kindle and on the internet. So the modern way works brilliantly for this reader and writer.

So this is why this morning I made a list of the books I’ve read in the last year. I’ve read them all with appreciation and enjoyment. It’s not been intentional but probably my list signifies my preoccupations as a writer as well as a reader. Perhaps your book is there! On my list there is – as there should be – lots of fiction there as well as sources of information and research for my new and my  earlier book. The books  range from the serious to the light hearted, the trivial to the serious, from the poetic to the informative.


Do you have your own list? Let me have it with a 50 word bio. and I’ll post it here on Life Twice Tasted.


So anyway – here’s my list:

  1. Sometimes a River Song  Avril Joy
  2. Phantom Notes Brian  Turner
  3. Partners  John Grisham
  4. Bonjour Darling  Heather Francis
  5. The Last American Martyr  Tom Winton
  6. Wake  Anna Hope
  7. The Ballroom  Anna Hope
  8. The Dark is Rising  Susan Cooper
  9. A Murder of No Account  Julia Underwood
  10. Twin Piques  Tracie Bannister
  11. The Story Sisters Alice Hoffman
  12. Solem  Clive Johnson
  13. Hadrians Wall Path Walking into History: Jane V Blanchard 
  14. Decide Where to Go  Eileen Elgey
  15. Lazy France in Marseillan Laurence Phillips.
  16. Noonday  Pat Barker
  17. One of Ours  Willa Cather
  18. Parades End  Ford Maddox Ford
  19. Five Children on the Western Front  Kate Saunders
  20. Plainsong  Kent Haruf
  21. The Last Ballad  Helen Cannam
  22. Ill Met by Moonlight  W Stanley Moss
  23. Night Soldiers  Alan Furst
  24. The White Venus  Rupert Colley
  25. The Last Englishman  H.L.Carr  Byron Rogers
  26. The Lost Guide to Life and Love Sharon Griffiths
  27. Mushrooms .Collins Gem
  28. Dip  Andrew Fusek Peters
  29. Zone of interest  Martin Amis
  30. The Diary od Adam and Eve Mark Twain  
  31. The Risk of Reading:  How literature helps us understand ourselves and the world.  Robert Waxler
  32. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase  Joan Aiken
  33. New Grub Street  George Gissing
  34. Wild Swim  Kate Rew
  35. Swimming Home  Debora Levy
  36. A Month in the Country  H.L. Carr.
  37. Waterlog   Roger Deakin
  38. 12 Years a Slave  Soloman Northup
  39. A King in Yellow  H.P.Lovecraft
  40. The City and the City   China Miéville
  41. The Judas Goat  Robert P Parkerf
  42. The Last Iceberg Anne Ousby
  43. Jamaica Inn  Daphne du Maurier
  44. The Centauress  Kathleen Jones
  45. Death at the Castello   Erica Yeoman
  46. Ring of Clay  Margaret Kaine
  47. The Book Thief  Markus Zusak
  48. The Blackbird House Alice Hoffman
  49. Robert Graves: Life on the Edge   Miranda Seymout
  50. On Writing: a member of the craft   Stephen King
  51. The Secret Life of Bees   Sue Monk Kidd
  52. The Birds and Other Stories  Daphne du Maurier
  53. Dear Life ( Short stories) Alice Munro
  54. How Fiction Works   James Wood
  55. It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again Julia Cameron 
  56. The Avenue A Newcastle Backstreet Boyhood        Samuel W Herbert


  
  

It took  a hundred books to

research The Pathfinder


Monday, 18 April 2016

Dee and Her Lists New Novel W.I.P

..

Demelza – called Dee, the thirteen year old heroine of my new novel, makes  images and lists as part of her strategy of dealing with the unreliability and blindness of the adults around her.

There is a lot of water in this novel. Dee likes water.

Beach with Tankers


Here she is:

                               Salt crystals                                                
 Surging sea
Spray
Arms plunging
Dog leapng
Far horizon
Big ship passing
Rearing rocks
Stone sea wall
Woman with wild hair 
Metal teeth glittering in the sun


Beach with dog 

White horses on the swelling  tide
Unicorns surging after 
Peeling paint on a gate
Scottish dagger with red hair   



Pool with Boat




Waterfall


                   


© Dee Bellasis.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Birthday Tribute to Charlotte Bronte

.

Charlotte Brontë was born two hundred years ago on April 21, 1816, in West Yorkshire. Charlotte was the eldest of the three Brontë sisters who survived into adulthood and whose novels have become classics of English literature. Ever since they have been an inspiration to many writers including myself.

The following story was written several years ago, after a visit to Norton Conyers, the house which was allegedly visited by Charlotte as a young woman when she was working as a governess. It is also alleged that it was here at Norton Conyers that she first heard a story about a mad woman in the attic.


My story explores Charlotte’s experience in letters 

to her sister Emily. 


Here it is:

 
Letter to Emily


Mrs Hedgewick decreed that as Lottie was so very small she could sit with the children on their side of the carriage. This meant that Lottie was squashed into the corner with baby Rupert on her knee. Rupert was her favourite: six months old and plump and pliant, he smiled with delight every time he saw her even though it had only been a week since she had joined the family.
From her corner of the carriage Lottie watched as Mrs Hedgewick spread her skirts and place her parasol before her, clasping its silver peacock head tightly to counterbalance the rocking of the coach.
Young Sarah reach out her hand and pinched her sister Julia, who howled and flailed out against the hand, catapulting Sarah into Lottie’s shoulder and making Rupert cry, In the seat by the window James folded his arms with their tight razor elbows and stuck out his chin. ‘Mother,’ he shouted above the din, ‘This is a madhouse. Do make them stop.’
Mrs Hedgewick turned her gaze from the rolling Yorkshire countryside and fixed Lottie with her mean porcine stare. ‘Miss Lottie, the children!’ she said grimly. ‘According to your father you have been a little mother to your own sisters, I have seen little evidence of such qualities in my house. ‘See to your charges!’
The screaming battle between the girls slowed. Rupert stirred and whimpered on Lottie’s knee, The eyes of the three older children locked eagerly onto Lottie’s face, displaying the clinical interest that had chilled her from the first moment she’s met them at Hedgefield House,
‘That’s enough, Julia! Sarah!’ Lottie said sharply, injecting her voice with all the firmness she could muster, It was very hard to play the bully. Her own little sisters could be cajoled with a jest, rewarded with a story or a picture. She’d never had to raise her voice,
Sarah, sharp kited eyes on Lottie, reached out and pinched Julia’s fat cheek. Julia shrieked and pulled Sarah’s snaky curls. Exhaling a loud sigh Lottie stood up in the swaying coach and thrust the baby onto his mother’s unwilling lap. Then she turned to pull the brawling sisters apart, holding each one by the back of her dainty muslin frock, ‘Now James,’ she said grimly to their brother,’ You will move to the centre so that you are between your sisters, You will be the constable, the peacemaker.’
‘The boy shrugged.’ Perfectly comfortable here, thank you ma-am,’ he said, smoothing the fine serge of his knickerbockers with blunt, ill-shaped fingers.
Lottie met his gaze with a look which, she knew, made her own sisters tremble, Into that look she forced all her power – all her contempt for this boy and his ignorant, pig-faced family; all her anger at being forced into this work for a miserable, grudgingly bestowed pittance; all her despair at being parted from her sisters with their gentle hands, their bright knowing eyes, and their knife sharp minds. ‘You will move, James!’ she said, ‘Or I will know the reason why,’
Mumbling under his breath James shuffled along the3 seat. Lottie thrust a girl either side of him, straightening their shoulders and pulling their skirt into some semblance of order. She squeezed in beside Sarah, She could smell the sweat that had gathered in her hair under her bonnet and was starting to trickle down her neck.
‘Miss Lottie! Do take Rupert.’ Mrs Hedgewick thrust the whimpering child towards her,’ He is slavering so. And my dress with be creased to high heaven. What Lady Gardam will think I can’t imagine. She will take us for paupers.’ She pulled down the sleeves of her exquisite dress, a vision in palest blue fine lawn, and patted the sausage curl drooping on her cheek.
As Lottie settled Rupert in her own creased lap and stroked his face to stop the whimpering she considered the vulgarity of Mrs Hedgwick’s remark. Here was baby Rupert immaculate in a diaphanous dress of trimmed organdie and the other children were also pristine in showy clothes just brought up from London on the train. Lottie was quite aware that she herself, in her six year old mended gown, would draw attention to the poverty of her condition.
She glanced out of the window, already composing an amusing letter to her little sister Em. This one would mention the Hedgehogs – as she referred to her employers in this sanity-saving correspondence – making calls, as one does in the country,
Lottie put her face closer to the thick glass of the carriage window. Through the trees she glimpsed a flash of blue – a whole shelf of delphiniums, above which, stretching elegantly on a long bank sat a weathered brick house with high chimneys, Its wide double doors were overshadowed by an extended portico bracketed with great stone buckets of flaring geranium.
‘This must be Colyer House, Mrs Hedgewick?’ she ventured.
Lottie’s employer nodded her satisfaction, her second chin wobbling slightly. ‘Not one of the great houses my dear, but substantial. The family have been here since the Norman Conquest and Sir Richard is a leading man in the North, He and Mr Sedgwick are most intimate friends. And Lady Gertrude…’she paused. ‘So gracious.’
Lottie had written to her sister that the she-Hedgehog had aspirations above the status of the he-Hedgehog.  He was modest enough despite the fact that he was already a very successful farmer and man of business. The she Hedgehog only seems happy dear Em in the company of people who, with various degrees of subtlety, patronise her and put her down. Poor she-Hedgehog generally fails even to notice the slights, contenting herself with the opportunity to bask in the glimmering, distant light of those whom she sees as ‘leading people;
Now Lottie watched as the house came into view then vanished behind tall trees and then back again. Its windows winked and its warm brick glowed in the July sun. The caught her breath. Mrs Hedgewick was correct in saying this was not one of the great houses. A curved, decorative roof had been rather clumsily added to the pediment at the front, contrasting in a comical fashion with the battlemented walls behind.
However as it grew closer and closer the sight of the house moved Lottie so much that she felt the itch of tears in the bones under her eyes, She felt she had seen this house somewhere before, had known it. She searched the far corners of her memory, turning over images like a woman sorting her laundry. At the back of her mind an urgent sense of familiarity fought to claim recognition,
Then she smiled. There was that day when the three of them had been sitting round the table in their little parlour. She herself had been working on her small watercolour, Em had been scribbling away in her tiny script. Annie was embroidering a flourishing P on a handkerchief for their father, who was locked in his study wrestling with his God and his own inability to write about pure faith, Annie had stuck her needle in her cloth and peered short-sightedly at Lottie’s painting. ‘That’s a fine house, Lottie, Such a grand entrance. Who should we make to live there, do you think?’
Em had looked up from her page, blinking. ‘A tall man, dark I think,’ she said, joining in their old game. ’Somewhat severe.’
‘He has suffered in life,’ Annie put in her portion. ‘And that makes him snappy, like an injured dog.’
‘But his heard is true,’ concluded Lottie, applying her sable brush to some flowering sage which she made to flower in profusion below the tall window.
‘Miss Lottie! Miss Lottie!’ She was dragged back to the present by Mrs Hedgewick’s voice which was laced with the familiarly dangerous wheedling tone. ‘You are again in one of your dazes, Wake up! Can you not see we have arrived?’
The carriage had stopped rocking and was still. A footman stood to attention beside the carved door, Lottie blinked as she saw the purple sage flowering in profusion beneath one of the tall windows.
She struggled down from the carriage, the sleeping Rupert now a dead weight on her aching arm. The other children alighted and they all watched as Mrs He3dgewick signalled the footman to assist her in stepping down from the carriage,

Lady Gardam did not rise to welcome them when they were announced into her drawing room. She merely patted the sofa beside her. ‘How delightful to see you, Mrs Sedgewick,’ she said in a dry papery voice. ‘And you are en famille I see,’
Mrs Hedgewick presented James, who bowed, and Sarah and Julia, who curtseyed, ‘And the baby is Rupert,’ she said, proudly, not noticing her ladyship’s raised brows,
‘Clearly a fine child,’ said Lady Gardam, without looking at him. She raised her lizard eyes to Lottie, who exchanged look for look, ‘And this is?’
‘This is Miss Branwell, Lady Gardam, The children’s governess.’
‘Ah,’ said her ladyship. ‘Perhaps Miss Branwell will take her charges to the old nursery. There are pastimes there, although alas our own children are long gone.’ He wavering gaze left Lottie and fixed on the hovering footman, ‘Conduct the children and Miss Branwell to the nursery Robert. Then tell cook to send milk and cakes up to the nursery. Mrs Hedgewick and I will take tea here,’
‘…Then, Em I was hustled out of the door. Such contempt in her old voice. You should have heard it. The children and I were definitely not invited. The she Hedgehog had definitely stepped over a line that she never even knew was there. I wonder what this dithery old wreck of an aristocrat wants with the she-Hedgehog. Something to do the he-Hedgehog’s great wealth perhaps. That seems usually the case when such people curry favour with the Hedgehogs of this world,’

The nursery was scruffy and cluttered with objects. Sarah and Julia immediately started fighting over a very bog rocking horse. James pulled a box off a high shelf, knelt on the floor and a whole heap of lead soldiers fell with a clatter onto the bare wooden floor.
Lottie’s shoulders ached with Rupert’s dead weight. The room smelled damp. She shivered,
‘I’ll light thoo a fire if thoo wants.’ The footman’s voice raked her ear, ‘Fire’s allus laid in here,’
She turned to look at him for the first time. He was stocky, no more than sixteen with thick wild hair and beetling brows.
She nodded. ‘Thank you,’ she said.
He took a flint box from the mantle shelf and knelt down beside the fire, ‘Nah need for thanks,’ he grunted, ‘It’s onny a job like.’
She looked at his averted face; at his busy hands with their sprouting black hair, ‘Would there be anywhere I could lire the baby?’ she said, ‘He needs to sleep.’
‘Room next door, Night nussery,’ he grunted. ‘Yah’ll find a cot in there. Nah bairn in there for years, but.’
In the night nursery she hunted in a cupboard and found a blanket smelling of mothballs to put on the bare cot mattress. She laid Rupert on the bumpy surface and his head fell back, his baby mouth opening slightly like the inside of a fresh strawberry, She waited until he was properly asleep and when she got back into the day nursery the fire was blazing and the footman had gone. The little sisters had abandoned the rocking horse and had opened a cupboard from which were tumbling enticing doll figures and mechanicals. James was fighting the battle of Agincourt on the nursery table.
Lottie subsided into the fire- side chair and stared at the dancing flames. Her eyelids drooped. The letter in her head continued. The footman, dearest Em is the queerest fellow; he has hair on the back of his hands and a gleam in his eye that spoke great revolt. There is this energy about him. And yet he is submissive enough. But in that very submission there is a kind of menace. The children are playing and the baby is asleep. Oh it’s so good to sit just a few moments and do nothing. The she-Hedgehog has had me trotting to her porcine will every hour since I arrived at the Hedgehoggery. And still, Em, I cannot please! I feel she is at the point of dismissing me from minute to minute.

‘Miss Lottie! Miss Lottie!’ Her skirt was being pulled. Young Julia was poking her little snout close to Lottie’s face. ‘Rupert’s gone, Miss Lottie, You were asleep and we heard a noise and when we went in there, into that room, he was not there. Rupert’s gone, Miss Lottie,’ Lottie looked from child to child. James was rubbing a leaden infantryman on his immaculate sleeve eyeing her dispassionately. Sara was pulling a dress onto a naked cloth doll,
Lottie leapt to her feet and raced into the night nursery, Rupert and his blanket were gone. In the filtered light from the curtained window the surface of the lumpy mattress was as bare as the moon. She turned round and raced back through the door. ‘Where have you put him, you naughty girls?’ She shook Julia and Sarah by their plump shoulders.
Julia’s twisted away, her lip jutting out, ‘I told you, Miss Lottie,’ she wined. ‘We heard a noise and when we came in here he was gone.’
Sarah started to cry.
Lottie looked across at James,
He put the leaden soldier in his pocket and shrugged, ‘I didn’t hear any noise. Then he cocked his head. ‘There! That’s him crying. Didn’t you hear him? It came from somewhere upstairs,’
She frowned at him,’ I hear no noise.’
He looked at her steadily, ‘I’m telling you, I heard a noise upstairs,’
She raced out onto the deserted landing then walked along until she found a door to a staircase. She clambered up the narrow staircase her nose wrinkling at the smell of dust and dead mice, She ducked to save her head from a sloping roof joist and found herself in  a narrow corridor, She opened one door after another peering into one ill lit room after another making out the shabby detritus of the lives of female servants, She ducked her head again entered a doorway at the end of the corridor, Now she was in a long room with a  straw paillasse in each corner covered in blankets, Fusty coats hung drunkenly from hooks curiously mimicking their owner’s male  bodies. Polished Sunday boots were to attention standing by the battered pillows, waiting for their owners to enjoy their rime off, to be themselves,
Lottie marched on to a door at the far end of the room and round herself in a narrow room with a high window bare except for a bed on legs and a rusty narrow hip bath. The high window was small and round. She stood on tip toes to peer through it, She could see the edge of one of the old battlemented walls and beyond that the park and the rising  Yorkshire hills, In any other mood she would have gasped at the beauty and reached for her paintbrushes,
But now she was angry, ‘Wold goose chase,’ she muttered, striding back to the door, ‘Wild goose chase!’ she shouted now in her frustration. She pushed at the door but it would not open. She pushed harder and harder but it refused to open. She banged on it with her fists. It clicked against a bolt or some other barrier on the other side. She kicked it hard and recoiled as she jolted her toe,
She leaned her cheek against the door’s rough plank surface and rested for a moment. And so, dear Em, I am locked in this dingy stinking attic. Children’s mischief of course. One of the porcine monsters has locked the door behind me, I must shout, get them to hear me. But I will sound gentle so they come.’
Gentle she was but soon she started to shout until her voice was hoarse. She went across and opened the tiny window and shouted more, Then she took off her boots and threw them out of the little window, only to hear them clatter one by one, on the leaden roof nit as she had hoped on the ground far below where it might, she hoped, have drawn attention from a passing gardener,
She went back to the door, slid down with her back to the door and bit her lips to stop the hot tears of frustration spilling down her cheeks. The crackling silence taunted her in the dusty space. She started to shout again, banging the door every few minutes. In time the outside dark crept into the room and closed its fist around her. That was when she started to shout continuously, screaming and moaning her deep distress, kicking away at the hard resisting door,
Dawn came and through the window she could see the rain falling on the battlement. The light was starting to fade again when he finally heard noises outside the door. ‘Let me out! Let me out! You little monsters. Don’t think I don’t know your nasty little name. Pig-monsters, I’ll murder you when you get out.’
The noise outside the door ceased.
‘Let me out,’ she whispered. ‘Please let me out. Please.
Suddenly the heavy door was yanked open and she stood blinking as the light of a lantern flooded into the darkened attic. Holding the lantern was the young footman, Robert. He held a heavy cudgel in his hand. ‘What is it? What’s oop in here?’ He raised the lantern and peered at her. Then the fear drained from his voice, ‘Miss. Miss, can it be thoo?’
Lottie put her dirty hands up tie her loosened hair and cast her eyes down to her dirty stockinged feet,’ ‘The children,’ she said dully, ‘They locked me in. Wait till I get my hands on him.’
‘Thoo’ll need a long reach miss. They left straight for home yesterday. The lad said you’d gone off, away, left them. Said you’d gone off away, left them to it. We searched down to the far wall and through the woods. Ten men out there. You weren’t there so they – that is her Ladyship – decided the Lad was right,’
‘But Rupert, the baby? He was lost. Did they find him?’
‘The babby? Not lost at all, Housemaid brought milk up for t’bairns and said you was asleep, Babby was grizzling so she took him down to the kitchen to find him a titty bottle,’
She rubbed a dirty hand across her brow, ‘But listen! I’ve been shouting and banging for hours. You must have heard me. She scrabbled at her hair trying to pit its snaky straggles into some kind of order.
‘Aye miss, we heard ‘em, them noises … all the time, into the night too. We hear them regular, day and night, a woman banging and screaming. Thoo say – it’s an old tale in these parts. There was this lass locked in here for years by her husband. That’s what they say, like. They say the lass had a babby and smothered it and was locked in here to keep her out of the madhouse, Flung herself off the room in t’end, so they say,’
So now, I am beginning to get back my breath Em. And the boy in relishing his doleful tale.
‘The staff here’ve been scared out of their wits at your shouting and wailing, Her Ladyship, as usual, tells us we were dreaming it, Deaf as a post she can be. I was the only one dared come.’ He lifted the lantern nearer to his face and in the darting light his black eyes sparked into hers. ‘Happened to that lass no worse than to my own ma, who died afore Ah was born, They say they pulled us from her like she was a dead pig, They do say also that Ah roared uncommon lusty from the second Ah came out if her,’

‘… and then dear Em, I fainted, When I came to I found the young footman carrying me down the steep stairs like a baby. I blush to say it but the boy was nuzzling my neck like a day old pup. And despite his fine livery he smelt of the byre,
They sent for the she-Hedgehog of course but she did not blame the children. Instead she gave me notice and a guinea for my trouble. But no reference, mark you!
This is, as you will see, a great relief. I have decided now that I will come home. I will be with you and dearest Annie tomorrow. Something is brewing in my head about us earning our living in quite another way. Being a little mother to brats is surely the short end of the stick. The perverse nature of this life has convinced me there is a way we can all stay at home and flourish,
So I will be home tomorrow, Em. Be sure to light the lamp on our favourite table, won’t you?
Love to Annie
Your loving sister Charlotte.


Ends


@ Wendy Robertson 2016






 



Monday, 28 March 2016

Does The Use Of Colons And Semi-Colons Date Your Style?

In 2013 I wrote a post asking the question Does The Use Of Colons And Semi-Colons Date Your Style? 


It still seems to me a relevant question IT occurred to me again as I
am editing my new novel (very exciting!) and have also been reviewing other people’s work and giving editorial judgements.


We all have attitudes to prose – our own and that of other writers. As for me, I love the subtle energy that colons and semicolons add to prose. They are syntactical tools that act to smooth the progress from sentence to sentence. They energise the forward movement of the narrative.

Some people do seem to have problems with the use of colons and semi-colons. But really it’s not so difficult: we can use the colon to provide a pause before introducing related information, while we may use the semicolon to create a break in a sentence that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop.

But there are times when we as writers need to stand back a little.

Recently I asked a friend – a good editor – to cast a final eye over a story I'd been polishing making it ready for a prestigious competition.

My friend said many very good things about the story, then hesitated. 
‘What is it?’ I say, with writerly anxiety.
‘Well. The colons and the semi-colons…’
‘What about them?’ I am defensive. I love these subtle tools of syntax.
‘Well, somehow, I’m stubbing my toe on them.’
My eyes narrow. ‘They’re all correct.’ I say.
‘Well somehow they look…’ she hesitates. ‘It’s different with essays and factual. In fiction they look…’
Then it dawns on me. ‘…dated, old fashioned?’
She colours, ‘Well, not quite…’

But that’s certainly what she means.

I really, really hate to think that my style might be dated. I like to think I have an open mind: a fresh view of the world in my work. Each novel, each story is a fresh adventure for present day audiences to read. I like to think my writing reflects this for my readers. I hope it does.

I went through my story again, reviewed the colons and semi-colons and removed two of them. I’m not sure whether or not it was an improvement. I have no answer as yet to this dilemma. We’ll see

Do you bother about colons and semi-colons?


Colons and semicolons galore in THE PATHFINDER 


5 Star Amazon Review

 ‘The past has never felt so real as in the last days of Roman Britain and the uneasy peace between natives and conquerors portrayed in Wendy Robertson's 'Pathfinder'. Heroine Elen is a beautifully drawn character uniting natives with the conquerors.
Pathways lead in two directions and fey Elen's 'honeycomb' mind leads back centuries into the mists of time. But she is young and resourceful and her ordained path leads from her beloved coastal marshland of West Briaininto Roman Gaul when the Roman leader of Britain Magnus Maximum falls I love with the native girl, drawing her father and warrior brothers into his military schemes.
      The novel is filled with believable,fascinating characters including Aunt Olwen a drowned spirit, song-writer brother Lleu and Quin the faithful Roman devoted to both Elen and Magnus Maximum.
       It is a delightful, thought provoking read and I could not put it down. So many questions answered so many tantalisingly left. Elen has a future in her homeland and I want to know more.’






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