Monthly Archives: February 2018

Belle and Sébastien

Feeling enthusiastic about Cécile Aubry’s Belle and Sébastien (newly translated by Gregory Norminton), and with the Resident IT Consultant claiming he’d watched it on television as a child (something he rarely admits to), I set about finding out why I only recognised it as a classic book title, but had no recollection of reading the book or being offered it as small screen entertainment.

It made me want to weep. First, because this mid-1960s French children’s novel shows up as a recent film; not even the 1967 television series. Second, because someone has changed the plot so much that they might as well have written a new script about a boy and his dog. And I can find no trace of the book having existed in Swedish translation. I could be wrong, but they are only enthusing about the 2013 film…

Cécile Aubry and Helen Stephens, Belle and Sébastien

This is a lovely book, with illustrations by Helen Stephens done with a real 1960s vibe. Maybe, just maybe, the story is set before the 1964 mentioned in the book, but there are no nazis or fleeing jews and Sébastien’s adopted grandfather does not want to kill the dog Belle. Any nastiness comes from the villagers in this southern Alps French community. That is what the book is about; a boy finding a dog to love, and the ignorant, and scared, villagers wanting to kill the dog they believe is dangerous.

I was thinking that this kind of group unpleasantness would be hard to have in a modern book, and that it clearly shows the passage of time. It works here, though. The period feel is similar to that of I Am David, except this is set almost exclusively in a quiet backwater where the Mayor and the Doctor are the men people listen to.

Sébastien was born in the mountains and his mother died giving birth, so the local gamekeeper brings him up, alongside his own grandchildren. Belle, the dog, was born at the same time, and ends up escaping into the wild when both are six years old. It’s as if they were meant for each other. It’s an easy love to understand. They ‘just’ have to win over the mistrustful villagers who don’t want their children eaten by this ‘beast.’

Really lovely story, which again goes to prove you can have lots of different tales about a boy and his dog.

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Working on it

There was a photo from Kes – alternately of the Barry Hines novel A Kestrel for a Knave – in the Guardian recently. I have already forgotten what the article was about. But when I saw it, it suddenly hit me why I never liked Kes.

I know one is not supposed to say that. It was a set book at university, and I dutifully read it, understood little enough and disliked it. Not only because of its lack of a happy ending, but more that I couldn’t comprehend how a family could be like that. I understand now that I was very lucky not to know how families can be, but I didn’t then.

In fact, the trouble for me was class. I knew about class, I suppose, but class in Sweden doesn’t manifest itself in the same way, and it had never been anything I thought a lot about. I never felt it was all that obvious. True, some of us had less money and smaller homes, but [I thought] we were mostly all the same.

What’s more, with the help of the BBC, I knew for a fact that in England everyone had stepped out of an Agatha Christie/Enid Blyton book. And Kes didn’t fit the bill. There was no chintz and no good manners. I just didn’t know what to do with what I found in Kes.

The easiest thing was to dislike it.

I had read – older – Swedish working class novels. Mostly because I had to and less because I wanted to. And I must have assumed that things were tough in those books because it had happened some time ago, i.e. it wasn’t life as we knew it ‘now.’ But whatever was in them, it always felt as if it was closer to my own life than not.

A Different Dog

The boy is different, too. We never learn his name; he is just the boy. The dog is the dog, too, but is given a name by the boy.

In Paul Jennings’ short book about this boy and dog pair, both of them have a problem.

Paul Jennings, A Different Dog

The boy’s mother has just used his bed for firewood. That’s how cold and how poor they are. The boy sets off one morning to try his luck at something which might make life better for them. He is being bullied by his peers, and he is unable to talk.

When he meets the dog, he discovers that the dog is unable to walk.

And the truth about the dog is shocking, but the boy won’t give in. He needs to make life better for the dog.

He doesn’t think about himself.

This is a lovely and slightly different story on the theme of boy and dog.

Ordeal by teacher

I grew up surrounded by teachers. Yes, I know, most of you have had quite a few of them in your early lives. I had a few more, what with being the child of one and therefore getting to enjoy many more teachers as friends of the house, so to speak. And that didn’t stop when I left school, for obvious reasons.

I have liked them as much as you like people in general. No better but no odder than the rest of us.

So I was at first surprised by the Resident IT Consultant’s feelings about teachers, but I have become aware how right he is. One of the main characters in this old blog post of mine is a former teacher. And that’s probably half the trouble. Some teachers aren’t nice in the first place. Others forget that they are no longer teachers, with the ‘right’ to tell anyone and everyone off at all times. Those that remain teachers lose track of who they can reasonably treat like naughty children.

And no, that does not include me.

Which brings me to Nicola Morgan, who is excellent in so many ways. She is an author, who does school events. What’s more, she has done extensive research into other areas and written books about her findings, and now she travels the country giving talks on this. She’s good. She has made interesting discoveries and she presents them really well. Anyone would be lucky to hear Nicola speak.

But do those teachers behave? No they don’t. Well, quite a few do, of course, and she has met many good hosts during her travels. But recently she had one or two bad trips, where [head] teachers forgot she is a professional, invited by them and paid by them, and she shouldn’t be treated like a child, whose every move has to be controlled. Or that you drive off leaving her standing alone in the dark outside a school at the end of a long day, with her hoping a taxi will turn up.

Nicola is surprisingly polite still, but decided to put some of her experiences into a blog post on her website. I suspect she’s still holding back a little, but urge you to read what life at school is like, even for invited adults.

Is last best?

I’d been all set to muse a bit about third books in trilogies, when Helen Grant mentioned another [potentially bad] aspect of writing trilogies, at her Thursday launch.

When asked about the likelihood of a sequel for Ghost, and the question then sliding quickly on to trilogies, Helen pointed out that one awkward thing about them is that for the author who carefully plots books one, two and three, there is much that needs to be written after the first book. But if that doesn’t sell well, the publisher might decide against the next two books.

And then where will you be, a third into a story and no end in sight?

It is, of course, what initially happened to Nick Green’s The Cat Kin. He self published the second and third books, before the whole trilogy was picked up by Strident.

But as Helen said, while she was lucky with her Forbidden Spaces trilogy and it did get published, there was perhaps rather too scant attention from the publisher towards the end.

So, there is every reason to stick to standalone novels. There is always the possibility of sequels by public demand.

Anyway, what I was really getting to here, is the seeming lack of interest from publishers when book three is about to be born. Increasingly, I hear nothing about the ends of trilogies, and there are no review copies available.

I always feel a bit guilty at this point. Am I merely seen as looking for a free book for my own reading pleasure?

Probably.

While I can see there might be less of a need for a big fanfare or a highly publicised launch for the end of a trilogy, a few review copies won’t cost much, compared with other kinds of advertising. Maybe not send out unsolicited book threes, but send to anyone who inquires?

Because I feel third books have often been the best. It’s as if the whole trilogy has been moving towards this point. Not that it’s only a book much the same as the first two and what’s the fuss?

Helen’s Urban Legends was riveting. Especially page 38! And the third books in Michael Grant’s Front Lines and Lee Weatherly’s alternate WWII series were masterpieces of great YA writing. Maybe publishers assume that the fans liked the first ones, so they will discover a way to the end, without reviews or mentions of the books.

These days I find myself looking at sequels to books I’ve never heard of, or the last in a series of books where the publisher has dutifully sent out both proofs and finished copies, when I’ve not shown interest in any of them.

(And, I don’t actually know this, but did J K Rowling get a contract for all seven Harry Potter books? From the start, I mean. Also, there didn’t seem to be any lulls in the publicity when we got to books five, six or even seven. We should have been tired of them by then, surely?)

Ghost has launched

‘Are you turning left?’ I asked, as my kind driver for the evening, Moira Mcpartlin, indicated. In the end we went right. And it went right, all the way to Perth, where Moira parked the car twice. I’d not had my walk for the day, so that was good. We even asked a policeman where we were. Or at least, where we were going.

Clare Cain, Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

To Helen Grant’s launch for Ghost, in case you have been left wondering. Our host at Waterstones ran between unlocking the shops’s front door, to unstacking chairs, serving drinks and selling books. We provided advice as to whether we thought the banner for Ghost was likely to topple and hit the Helens as they talked.

Because you can’t have too many Helens. Last night it was Helen Lewis-McPhee who grilled Helen Grant on her ‘often dark and shadowy mind.’ After an intro-duction from publisher Clare Cain, Helen Grant read from her book, choosing the windowsill chapter early on, to avoid too many spoilers.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Ghost has been the worst book to write, taking first one year, and then another year to rewrite when Helen’s agent said she should. (Personally I have some strong words to say about that. But this is not the place.) As she put it when asked by someone in the audience, some of the changes were good, others merely made it different. And she’s now ready to write something really cheesy, for a change.

I’m not sure this ‘rather dark’ author does cheesy. Helen believes in ghosts in as much that she expects to run into some old, but dead, friends in the street one day.

She starts and ends her days by going on social media, but between that Helen feels it’s important to experience the day happening, maybe by visiting one of the many falling-down houses she enjoys so much, or other ruins. Helen often takes her son when exploring, whereas her husband is unable to ‘sneak around enough.’ She likes being alone out there, too, being quiet.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Asked what she’s working on now, Helen said it’s several different things as she can’t make her mind up. And she ‘cannot say anything briefly.’

Another question was about a sequel to Ghost. Probably not, but she admitted that certain things must happen after the ending to the current book, so…

Helen Grant, Ghost

After all this people mingled and bought books and drank wine and were cultural. (I find Perth a little more grown-up than Stirling. Maybe I ought to go more often.)

Ghost launch Perth

When my copy of the book had been signed, my driver walked us back to the car and drove us safely all the way home, and only once suggested I might be interested in taking up singing.

Odd friends

You can be odd in different ways. You can be simply odd. Or you are odd because there’s only one of you (and I think this is so unfair; you don’t always have to be a pair).

Or you could be a [toy] lion called Rory, who always waits for a bed time story from his friend, the little girl.

Jeanne Willis and Holly Clifton-Brown, Tell Me a Story, Rory

We have a lovely small lion in Jeanne Willis’s Tell Me a Story, Rory, with illustrations by Holly Clifton-Brown. Rory has a large mane for such a tiny lion, and he lives for his little girl’s stories. Until the day she goes away. Little girls eventually stop being little.

There’s nothing else for it. Rory has to tell himself a story.

As for Simon Sock in Sue Hendra’s and Paul Linnet’s story by the same name, with rather stripey pictures by Nick East, he finds out he is odd. That’s why he never gets chosen from the sock drawer. You have to be one of a pair. (Much like in life!)

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet and Nick East, Simon Sock

Simon starts looking for a mate, but there’s something not quite right about them. Until he does find his very own mate, Simone, who’d been missing under the chest of drawers. But she wants to watch television, so it’s not a happy ending for them.

Until… Betty the Banana offers to come out and play. You can be odd, but still not odd.