Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Katy Did

I have a bone to pick with Aunt Izzie for I hold her partly responsible for Katie's horrific fall from the swing which left her unable to walk for two years. Aunt Izzie knew the swing was unsafe - but instead of explaining to 12 year old Katie: "The swing is unsafe, a support has been damaged, it will be fixed by tomorrow," she exercised her ridiculous theory that a child must obey unquestioningly, as if she were a soldier or an automaton... Is it hardly any surprise that intelligent, high spirited Katie defied her spoil-sport aunt and ran off down the garden without a backward glance, to swing on the forbidden swing?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Faithful Place

Tana French
I don’t know about you but before I commit to a psychological thriller I always read its beginning, then its end to find out who the killer is. Then I decide whether or not to read the rest of the story – for me the pleasure in reading a thriller is the stalking of the killer and the running of him/her to ground. (I do accept it’s the duty of thriller writers to feed the reader red herrings but frankly I find them boring.)
With Faithful Place it was not necessary to read the end of the book - the killer was waving and shouting to me right from our first introduction – yippee! - so I settled with satisfaction to follow the story of Frank who left home at nineteen after an aborted elopement with Rose who lived on his street, who was his secret girlfriend, who dumped him with a terse note, on the night they’d planned to run away together.
Twenty years later Frank is a cop and his family despise him for it. They’re from the Liberties, in inner city Dublin, where ‘the rules on my road went like this: no matter how skint you are, if you got to the pub then you stand your round; if your mate gets into a fight, you stick around to drag him off as soon as you see blood, so no one loses face; you leave the heroin to them down in the flats; even if you’re an anarchist punk rocker this month, you go to Mass on Sunday; and no matter what, you never, ever squeal on anyone.’
So Frank and his family don’t keep in touch until a suitcase is discovered stuffed up a fireplace in the derelict house where twenty years before Frank had arranged to meet Rose. To run away with her to England. Except she never turned up....
Frank returns to the Liberties and very quickly discovers not just Rose’s suitcase, but Rose’s poor body dumped and concealed in the basement of the derelict house. And in spite of the rules he was reared with, he begins with ruthless determination to find out who killed his girlfriend and to bring that person to justice. Even if that person is part of his close knit dysfunctional family – he says: “Personally, I would, in fact, have bet on at least one member of my family coming to a sticky and complicated end.”
The thing that stands out in this book is the unapologetic usages of proper Dublin speak. And the vivid portrayal of Irish people and Irish life. I can probably name you a dozen contemporary Irish novelists, off the top of my head, who routinely set their stories in Dublin yet they could be set in any old town – the dialogue is so carefully bland, and apart from a couple of tourist-friendly landmarks there’s no local colour or points of reference at all. Fair play to Tana French, who studied acting at Trinity College, for drawing to our unequivocal attention the Irish love of rashers for breakfast and singalongs at a wake. And equally impressive is her ability to convincingly write a male leading character. About this she says: “Because of the acting background, creating and inhabiting a character was what I’d been doing for a long time. Writing from the perspective of someone of the opposite sex didn’t seem like a particularly huge leap – not nearly as huge as, for example, writing dialogue for a killer.’
VERDICT: A chilling reminder that though you can choose your friends, you can’t choose your family.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reading for Pleasure

I've only spent the past ten years banging on about the joy of reading - how you're never lonely when you've a book, how reading broadens the mind, that reading for pleasure is fun. Nobody listened, nobody cared.
"We'd far rather watch TV," they said, "Climb a tree, ride a bike, wreck the house..."
I persevered with their reading. Fifteen minutes every day whether they liked it or not. And I made them read stuff that was difficult for them - Just William, Laura Ingalls, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
"These books are classics," I told them, "I read them when I was your age."
They rolled their eyes and said, "Mummy, you grew up in the back of beyond. There was no TV. No DVDs. What else was there for you to do?"
I began to loose heart. Began to think I was an old fossil. That I was suffering from some sort of disillusion about children and reading and children's books...
Until this summer. When Maud (10) discovered Lemony Snickett, and Rex (9) became addicted to Percy Jackson. Now the shout is:
"Just another chapter Mummy! I can't wait to find out what happens next..."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Holidays

The ambient outside temperature is somewhere round the mid-40s, the humidity is 100% To combat cabin fever the children have found new hobbies -
Maud (10) is learning to iron and she's taken up crossword puzzles
Rex (9) cleans bathrooms and enjoys Sudoku
Flor (8) washes dishes and loves 'Find the Word' puzzles
Beatrice (7) hoovers and does jigsaws .
We've also been baking biscuits, reading classic novels together and playing Junior Trivial Pursuit.
It's ten weeks till they go back to school and already I'm counting the days.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Glorious Twelfth

Today is the Glorious Twelfth.
When I was growing up, in my part of rural Ulster, even during the worst of the Troubles, my mother cooked us a fry for breakfast, my father wore a dark suit and we were taken to watch the bands in the village. Sometimes Catholic kids threw stones; it added to the festival atmosphere.
This morning my mother texted me: 'Do you know what day this is? Do you remember anything about your cultural heritage?'
Of course I remember my cultural heritage!
I rushed straight out to the ex-patriate supermarket and bought bacon and sausages for a big fry up.
Then I told Nick: "Now, you'll have to put on a dark suit, and you need a bowler hat, and you'd better carry that black umbrella Saba uses to keep off the sun...."
"And then what?"
"Then we march down the street and throw a few stones at the Kerala Catholic Men's Association..."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Skulduggery Pleasant

Derek Landy
Not so very long ago, before we moved to live in Bahrain, I was a member of Irish PEN. We met once a month in the United Arts Club to discuss contemporary Irish writing and writing related topics – one month there was a panel of Irish publishers and literary agents and the topic was ‘How to get published...’
The panellists said all the same thing – they were inundated with unsolicited manuscripts and did not have time to read them. They were reduced to reading only those writers recommended by word of mouth.
A lone voice from the back of the hall said: “But what about the true original – the writer who starves in a garret, who does not have literary friends, who is not already established?”
Derek Landy was at this time living and working on his family’s farm. All day he cut cauliflowers, pulled leeks and packed lettuce; and all day he was thinking about the novel he was writing. After work he sat down and wrote out all the things he’d been thinking about.
His novel was about a twelve year old girl, Stephanie, who inherits her uncle’s house when he dies. The first night she spends alone in the house, Stephanie is attacked by a man who demands a mysterious key. He’s seeking a magical object, the Sceptre of the Ancients to give to his master, Nefarian Serpine, who will use it to establish himself as master of the magical universe… Brave Stephanie puts up a terrific fight until she’s rescued by her uncle’s odd friend, and Serpine’s sworn enemy, Skulduggery Pleasant.
Skulduggery was once a powerful magician until Serpine killed him, burnt him and dumped his bones in a river. Now Skulduggery is a skeleton held together by magic and fuelled by vengeance...
Suddenly Stephanie’s humdrum existence is altered beyond recognition- she’s introduced to a magical world which coexists with the real world. She becomes Skulduggery’s partner, and when she’s off gallivanting with him, her reflection pretends to be her so her parents are never alarmed by her curious disappearances...
Once it was written Skulduggery Pleasant was snapped up by Harper Collins and Derek Landy, a true original, was offered an advance of one million pounds – I’ve written the number in words so you don’t think my finger slipped on the zero key. The book is dedicated to his parents – his mother in particular ‘for the look on her face’ when he told her. It’s marketed for confident young readers, it says age 9+ on the cover but don’t let that put you off, in this case age is just a number – like Harry Potter these novels can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Skulduggery is such a terrific character, so charming and articulate; he is without doubt the first skeleton I’ve ever heard shouting “Flee” in a novel...
And Stephanie is an excellent role model – she’s intelligent, resourceful, tough. And not afraid to challenge authority. (Derek Landy, a karate sensei, says he modelled her on girls he trained in the dojo).
Now Mr Landy has written four books about Skulduggery Pleasant - Dark Days is the latest release. Stephanie is no longer a child, she’s a force to be reckoned with in the magical world, she has taken the name Valkyrie Cain, and she’s plotting a dare devil rescue of Skulduggery who has been sucked into a magical hell by the Faceless Ones....
VERDICT: Beware the quiet man among the cabbages – he could be plotting out a novel full of magic, horror, action, suspense – it’s always the quiet ones you have watch...

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Full time working mothers I salute you!
Saba has gone to Eritrea on holiday - she's not seen her sons in two years - last year she had to stay in Bahrain to get her work visa renewed. So even though I'm longing to write my anti-chicklit novel I have instead been doing the housework - OMG it's so terribly time consuming, the odd hour here and there that I'd spend at my desk is now spent ironing. Or hoovering up dog hairs. Or washing the dishes. Or scrubbing the top of the kitchen cupboards (yuk!) or wiping dust from the ceiling fans.
I'm finding it impossible to think literary thoughts. Yesterday a wonderful idea popped into my head but I was too busy scrubbing a saucepan to write it down. This morning I woke and my first thought was "I have not yet cleaned the bathrooms..."