Tag Archives: Arthur Ransome

Decluttering someone else’s books?

Even if the someone else is your child?

The headline in the interiors newsletter in my inbox got my hackles up: ‘The One Question I Ask Myself When Decluttering My Kids’ Books.’ I thought, you can’t do that! Even if it makes your home that much neater. They are not yours to make a decision on.

But, it does seem that they had primarily toddler books in mind; picture books and similar, that you read to your child. You are to ask yourself ‘Do I enjoy reading this book?’

Fair enough. I can see what they are saying, and why.

It makes me think of two memories from the past. The long-suffering faces of my hosts when they promised their ten-year-old that she could pick any board game she wanted to play that evening. As she went to get it, they groaned, knowing full well which one it was going to be. (Luckily for me, I quite liked the game, but might not have admitted to it.)

The child likes what it likes, no matter how boring the adult finds it. That goes for books, too.

And the other thing; the sad fate of the Resident IT Consultant’s childhood books. They are no more. Or at least, they are not with us. Someone else might have got them from Oxfam. I don’t want the Grandmother to sound like a bad person. She wasn’t. But it seems that when her firstborn went to university, his books went too. Not with him, but presumably handed over to a charity shop. I imagine she was merely tidying up, neatening something that would no longer be needed.

He’s since been buying new old Arthur Ransomes to build up a second childhood collection. However, some books can’t come back. And I feel it was his right to decide, if and what and when.

But maybe it’s OK to declutter some early picture books. Or maybe not. You can’t be sure that your now three-year-old won’t one day ecstatically buy a dog-eared copy of some boring old picture book that they have sorely missed for the last 25 years. While that ‘quality’ book you hung on to always bored them stiff.

Besides, if at the toddler stage you already have too many books for your child, maybe it would have been better to go to the library?

How to be Shakespeare

This is such a brilliant idea! Here I have two books from the British Library, by Deborah Patterson, on how to be your own William Shakespeare. Or J K Rowling or Tolkien. Or if you want to set the bar really high, Jules Verne or Arthur Ransome.

We’re actually back in the territory of writing in books, which is so tempting, but which could also lead to some less legit scribbling in all sorts of other books than these two. But my fingers are itching, just looking at the – inviting – pages in Deborah’s two My Book of Stories books.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own Shakespearean tales

In ‘write your own Shakespearean tales,’ she introduces old Will’s plays, with quotes and pictures and All Those Lovely Designated Pages For Writing On! So read a bit about dear Hamlet and then see what you can do about beating Mr Shakespeare at his own game.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own adventures

Likewise, in ‘write your own Adventures,’ we meet some of the classics in children’s literature; Alice, Peter Pan, Dorothy, Toad, Harry Potter, the Hobbit and all those others.

And then there are word games and that kind of thing, so really, you are in for a treat, playing and writing, all in one go.

Why am I so old? I was made for these books!

‘Extraordinary tellers of stories’

Daniel Hahn had trouble getting his tongue round the above words, but as he said, it might have been worth the wait. It was.

The witch travelled yesterday. Remind me not to do that again. Ever. There was a major IT hitch on almost all fronts on arrival in London, but if you are reading this, then it ‘solved itself.’ You know, sort of putting petrol in your mobile phone kind of thing.

OK, so you’re at Waterstones piccalilli (I thought Anne Rooney was being funny, but it seems she just suffered predictive texting) and you’re there to hear Penelope Lively and Philip Pullman tell Daniel Hahn anything he asks. Who – apart from your good self – will be in the audience? Anne Rooney was there, and so was Celia Rees, without whom I wouldn’t have known this was even on. Thank you! And then there was the lady in the row in front of me (i.e. second from the back), Judith Kerr. That’s what I call class.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

(And before I forget, please let me mention how friendly and helpful the organisers were. They were friendly and helpful. I was trying to do really weird things with tickets and then it turned out to be dead easy, and they were pleased that my friend was Anne Rooney.)

I very nearly sat down on the chairs where Penelope and Philip went to sit before going ‘on stage’ so it was lucky I didn’t. I’ve not seen Philip for almost three years. I’d hazard a guess that he hasn’t seen his barber since then either. Very cool.

In his introduction Daniel Hahn reflected that when he grows up he will become Penelope Lively. I think this was based on the fact that all three of them either are or have been something great in the Society of Authors. And he listed their books, making a wild guess that if we wanted to buy any, then Waterstones probably had them somewhere in their shop.

Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively and Daniel Hahn

Penelope seems to be proof that home education works, since that’s what she got as a child in Egypt. She read a lot. By WWII, Arthur Ransome’s books had arrived in Cairo, and all those lakes and all that rain seemed like fantasy. Later on she was sent to boarding school, where punishment for bad behaviour was an hour’s reading in the library. Both she and Philip are of the opinion that the kind of reading you do as a child is something you’ll never get back.

Philip learned how big the world is on his many trips round the globe by boat. He read the Just So stories, Noddy and comics (they were allowed in Australia, apparently), and he read Moomin in Battersea library. He needs the rythm of words, and when he’s writing he can’t tolerate music. Penelope agreed about rythm, and often reads her writing out loud to see if it works.

Penelope Lively

Her writing career came from her obsessive reading. She writes less these days, but always writes something. Philip compared the early days when he worked as a teacher all day, and still was able to write at night. Now he manages his three pages per day, but that’s it. (And no, no one asked about the Book of Dust.)

While Penelope generally knows what is going to happen in a book, Philip writes ‘in the dark’ and is quite opposed to planning. Daniel wanted to know if they are optimists, despite last week’s [political] results, and they are. Both agreed that stories are a human necessity and always will be. Both prefer paper books, and Philip pointed out it’s so difficult to dry your Kindle if you drop it in the bath, with thousands of books on it.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

Philip reckons that the good thing about the very large publishing companies we have today, is that their sheer size means there is room for smaller publishers in the holes between them. And that’s good.

Philip Pullman

Book festivals and book groups are new concepts for authors, and Philip likened author events to a roadshow, but without the possibility of filling large arenas or selling any merchandising. Although Daniel tried to suggest we could buy some HDM hats afterwards…

A book that really affected them when they were young, was a version of Robin Hood where Robin dies, for Philip, and Nicholas Nickleby for Penelope. The reason Philip introduced daemons in HDM was to make it easier to write; it was his version of Raymond Chandler’s idea of introducing a man with a gun whenever necessary.

Diversity is obviously important; it’s what you seek in books. Both to find yourself in the book, as well as learning about others. Neither of them writes a last page or chapter to use as a goal for their writing. Penelope might have an important scene, whereas Philip writes in the order you read, and he knows when he gets to the end.

He is superstitious and prefers to write at his own table, with all his ‘lucky’ things around him, although he has written in many different places too. Except in a concert hall. Penelope can write anywhere and often has done, including in airports. She quite likes to write in the garden.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

Daniel Hahn

And on that note Daniel brought things to a close, which meant that the audience got wine and an opportunity to chat with the two Ps and to have books signed. And Daniel also had his book there (which I should have thought of!) to be bought and signed.

Before returning to my temporary home to face my IT woes, I had a nice chat with Celia Rees, thanking her for her part in this evening, and saying how this is the way we like our events.

Philip Pullman x 2

He doesn’t do many events these days, but not even Philip Pullman can say no to Carol Ann Duffy. That’s why we could all pile into the large lecture theatre at MMU to hear him talk about, well, stuff. And a little Dust, although we were left fairly much in the dark about it. Literally too, until someone finally switched on all the lights, and stopped switching them off again. (James!)

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Sherry Ashworth acted the fan-struck moderator who wanted to know what most of us wanted to know. It’s reassuring that even Philip first read and loved Noddy, almost like a normal small person. He loved Arthur Ransome’s books, but not the awful illustrations, and he read Moomin, whose creator Tove Jansson was a real artist. The sex in the Alexandria Quartet made him want to grow up to be just like the characters in the books.

Philip enjoys being a ‘totalitarian’ when he writes. ‘I kill people, I bring them back to life, and I like it.’ Whereas when people read, they can read as they like, with no one seeing into their heads. Writing books, and persuading readers they want to read them, should be like sitting in the market, telling a story. People can stop and listen if they want, and they can pay a little, if they think it’s good.

Philip Pullman

There is a Lyra in every school class, and it’s love that Lyra does best. What Philip does, or so he says, is write three pages of Dust every day. He maintains there will be a book, eventually.

But one of the things that kept him from Dust was the archbishop’s challenge to write about Jesus, so that’s what he did. Philip said he thinks about God all the time. He also had to write the two short books set in Lyra’s world. (So that sort of explains the last six years, then?)

While Philip took a break, Sherry collected questions from the audience. It was a surprisingly young audience for an author who appeals as much to adults.

Pullman fan with books

He reckons his parents were mainly surprised that their dreamy son got a book published, but he is sad they didn’t live to see his real success. His advice to get published is to write a good book, and not to plan too much. He planned his second novel so carefully he got bored and had to write something else instead.

The armoured bears came as a surprise when he was writing Northern Lights, and he feels that if you’re writing things at school, you should write first and plan after. That way the two will agree and you will get much better marks. Philip doesn’t believe in writer’s block, and says you have to sit at your desk, because that’s where the ideas will come, and if you’re not there you will miss them.

His reasons for writing are to earn money, and because it’s therapeutic. It becomes a habit, it’s fun when all goes well and he likes getting language right. (Who or whom?) Page 70 is always the hard one, and he once gave up reading a book after two words. (That was the Booker winner.) Don’t start with a pronoun, or you’ll drive Mr Pullman crazy, and steer clear of the present tense. He loves The Magic Pudding and has re-read it many times.

When asked how he feels the Golden Compass film could be improved on, he suggested it would have been a good idea to put in the scenes actually filmed but not used. He’d also have preferred the real ending, instead of a resolution coupled with a cliffhanger. By now Dakota is too old and Daniel Craig too expensive.

Philip Pullman

Thursday evening finished with a signing in the next room, and it was good to see the stampede as the audience tried to get there first.

We didn’t need to, because we had our own appointment with Philip on Friday morning. We ran a little late in the downpour, with our train deciding to sit just outside the station for ten minutes. But Philip had checked out, and sat in the Midland’s lounge when we arrived, so all was well.

Philip Pullman

Greetings from shared friends were exchanged, and we reminisced about our last interview in Gothenburg seven years ago (and still no Book of Dust!). We did talk Dust a little, but you’ll have to wait to read what Philip said. There is another book that has sneaked in, and we talked about the various campaigns he’s involved in, and many other things. The advantage of doing it this way round is that we could concentrate on what wasn’t mentioned the night before.

Philip worried a bit about the possible cost of the tap water we had ordered, but I suggested he make a run for it, so he left to catch his train south through the floods. We stayed on, nursing our iced water for a while, reluctant to go back out into all that other water.