Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Adapting

I know which layby it would be. Just as I know which house is Mr Micawber’s.

It’s funny how you picture things in a way that clearly has nothing to do with what’s in a book, or how it’s been described.

The Swedish book business newsletter Boktugg mentioned one debut author’s solution to having a book launch when bookshops were not available. And I rather approve. She invited prospective book buyers to come to a certain layby – and this being Sweden, I imagine somewhere deep in the woods – one afternoon, and there she was, sitting in her car, signing copies of her new book.

Not that I have a book to sign, but I could immediately visualise which layby I would use, should it ever come to this. ‘My’ one even has a snack van stationed there, although I suppose if it were a real lockdown, it would have to be shut, instead of open for business. And perhaps one would need permission from the authorities. But as an idea I like it.

So that’s my layby sorted.

Mr Micawber’s house is obviously nothing at all like the ‘real’ Mr Micawber’s abode, which I imagine would be brick or stone and somewhere in civilisation. My Micawber house is a ramshackle, wooden, 20th century house in the Swedish countryside. I decided many years ago, as we travelled past it every day, that that’s what it was. And to this day I can’t unthink the label as a most unlikely Dickensian house. With a smoked salmon shop across the road…

Collecting coupons

I mentioned David Copperfield the other day. There are two of him on my foreign shelves. One in the original, and one an adapted version translated into Swedish.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

In my childhood there was a series of classic children’s books called Sagas Berömda Böcker. They were a little out of my price range, so I believe most of mine were gifts from the Retired Children’s Librarian.

I liked them a lot, and they helped give me a slightly wrong idea of what’s a classic and what’s a children’s book. Because when they are translated, and adapted (=abridged), it usually makes books child friendly. They caused me to consider Ivanhoe a children’s book, which surprised the Resident IT Consultant quite a bit to begin with.

How could I know it wasn’t?

This series gave me Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas, as well as David Copperfield and Ivanhoe. I was desperate to collect enough of them. If you got five (I think) of the coupons attached to the books, you could send off for 50 personalised Ex Libris stickers, and I wanted those really badly.

The Ex Libris

As you can’t see, I must have scraped enough together for my stickers. The one above is the blank one that came with the book.

I have a dreadful feeling I never did put all of them into books. I think I tired of them before I got to the end. But it’s a clever way of making young readers want more.

As I grew older and possibly more sensible, I felt a certain amount of shame for having read abridged books. By now I feel it was OK. It got me started, and the books were not short by any means; just ‘adapted.’

Another prune

Who’s going to take the books away? That’s what I’d like to know.

We’re on holiday, but as the Resident IT Consultant tackled the wilderness ‘garden’ I tackled the books. I am a Bookwitch, after all. I’d been going soft and allowing all kinds of books to remain. But being realistic, how many potential readers of a dozen or so volumes of Swedish poetry am I likely to find around here?

Books

But I looked at all the books, and found some of the old dears looking quite promising in one way or another. So they stayed. As did both versions of David Copperfield. But more of him later.

Yes, that is a copy of Don Quijote, below. I asked the Resident IT Consultant, whom I consulted, if that was right. Apparently it’s not a very good translation. And we clearly don’t want that.

Books

Then I liberated the children’s books from near the bed and by doing so freed an awful lot of dust. You wouldn’t believe how much dust there was. Even if you are good at collecting the grey fluffy stuff, it will be nothing compared to what I’d inadvertently done.

Perhaps I’ll breathe more easily now.

The amalgamated books allowed to remain look reasonably neat now. There is room for more to join them, or for – small – knick-knacks. Except I don’t do that kind of ‘styling.’ There are two pairs of binoculars, however.

I’ve put the going-away books in five large paper carrier bags. I trust if I think positive thoughts that they will depart under their own steam. Somehow.

The memorial service

They didn’t go in for children’s books so much in the 1930s and 40s. That will be why the Grandmother, when she learned to read all those years ago, read Dickens and Scott for fun by the age of eight. And that’s why Daughter did a reading of the end of The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott at her Grandmother’s memorial service on Wednesday.

It was quite a nice service, if I do say so myself. We persuaded Son to be our MC, and he introduced the Resident IT Consultant’s eulogy, which was fairly amusing in places. The Grandmother had once been too young to sign the Official Secrets Act (while having cause to do so). And she used a cardboard box for the Resident IT Consultant to sleep in.

Odd sleeping habits must have run in the family, as her sister reminisced about the three or four years the two of them slept in the understairs cupboard, like some early Harry Potters.

At the crematorium before the memorial Son had the pleasure of hearing ‘Paul Temple’ reading William Penn, and this piece was repeated by Daughter in the next session.

We’re not exactly in the habit of organising this kind of thing, but we knew what we wanted. It was the knowing where to get hold of the right people that was hard. (Many thanks to the Scottish children’s author who didn’t object to questions about suitable musicians.)

In the end we were lucky, as Paul Temple introduced us to a 16-year-old local girl who played Schubert and Stradella on the cello, before charming everyone by singing Mononoke Hime – in Japanese – a cappella. Even an old witch can shed a tear over such perfection.

Initially we’d asked a local church if we could use it as our venue, but we were found too God-less, which meant that we actually ended up somewhere quite perfect in its place. Cowane’s Hospital was just right; the right size, nice and old, beautiful acoustics, situated next to the castle, and generally feeling like our kind of place.

Stirling Highland Hotel

Afterwards we wandered downhill a little – literally – for afternoon tea at the Stirling Highland Hotel, where I normally go to hear about gruesome murders during Bloody Scotland. It couldn’t have been nicer. And no funeral tea is complete without a quick trip upstairs to the Old High School Telescope. The Resident IT Consultant helped paint it, decades ago.

The Nights Before Christmas

This gorgeous, large volume of collected Christmas classics, illustrated by Tony Ross, contains 24 stories, poems and extracts from wellknown books. As anyone can work out from that – apart from me, initially – you have one thing to read for every night through December. In other words; the best kind of advent calendar.

Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas

There’s material you will already know, and hopefully brand new reads as well. I used to read The Little Match-Seller over and over as a child. It’s so very sad. And then there are things I didn’t know at all, like the fact that Christina Rossetti wrote In the Bleak Midwinter. That was a revelation.

You get extracts from Little Women and A Christmas Carol, and there are many tales about Christmas trees in various forms, and shoemakers seem to be big, too. The Bible and the hymn book both feature, as do Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain.

I believe I always say this about anthologies and collections, but I do hope it will lead today’s children to investigate some of the classics. There is more to Christmas than farting santas. This is a beautiful book, suitably ‘modernised’ by Tony’s pictures.

Next year I will begin reading on December 1st and I will enjoy every step of the way.

An Austen-free upbringing

After wondering why I didn’t read the books by Jane Austen or the Brontës in my early teens, I suddenly realised why, and who I could blame for this regrettable shortcoming. (Always important, because it certainly wasn’t my fault.)

My Swedish teacher when I was 15, is who. The last year of secondary school we had free reading once a week. I am – with my mature adult hindsight – guessing it was a way to get the non-readers to read. Anything. At. All.

We were allowed to read whatever we wanted, and could bring our own books or use the school library. I generally sat down with an Alistair MacLean, or similar. Generally in English (which is odd for a Swedish lesson, but never mind). Naturally the teacher would have preferred me not to.

So she suggested books I might try. The only one I remember is Pella. I am sure the Pella books were fantastic, and the teacher had most likely loved them when she was young. But I was 15, and I was reading MacLean. Pella would – possibly – have been right for me about three years earlier.

All these years I’ve remembered the teacher’s badly chosen suggested books and I have understood what she was hoping for. I just haven’t thought of what she ought to have pointed me in the direction of instead, because she was quite right in wanting me to better myself with something other than MacLean.

I already loved all manner of romances; the kind where a young governess meets her new employer who is a brooding and somewhat strange man, and where they eventually fall in love and live happily ever after. The Jane Eyre copycats. Reader, I had no idea there existed the real thing and that it would have been much more satisfying. (Not better than MacLean, obviously, but as good…)

We knew of Pride and Prejudice because it had been on television. At that point I was of an age where understanding there’d be a book as well was too much to expect. We knew about Vanity Fair, because that too had been on television. Also, Heathcliff ran around the moors on television, and I knew there was a book, but it didn’t tempt me at all.

I knew about Dickens because we had children’s abridged versions. And yes, he’d been on television.

Mother-of-witch was many things, and for someone of her background she had an astounding number of proper books and books in English. But she had not been brought up on the classic governesses, and so she could not point me in their direction. Which is fine.

But my well educated mother tongue teacher could have. And should have.

At last!

I’m doing it! I’m actually, finally reading it! ‘It’ being An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories from 1986, edited by Dennis Pepper.

Dennis Pepper, An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories

Having bought the book well used from the school library ‘some’ years back, I always meant to read it over the immediate Christmas period. The one about ten years ago… The book emerged every December and waited hopefully by my side and then it retreated after yet another busy busy Christmas, where I got round to reading one book instead of the half dozen I’d fondly imagined I’d be relaxing with.

There are about 30 short stories, written by everybody from Dickens to Geraldine McCaughrean. (You have to remember the collection is 27 years old. Some authors hadn’t even been invented back then.)

I understand some stories were commissioned, while others have been chosen for their Christmassy theme from classics and elsewhere. Some authors I’d never heard of, while the story by Jacqueline Wilson is like no JW story you’ve ever read.

Jesus is there, from the school nativity to actual Bethlehem, but mostly you get a tremendous amount of carol singing, with a few ghosts and the odd vampire. More vicars and snowy landscapes than you can shake a stick at, so really very traditional. It’s nice. The stories are mostly no more than five pages each, so they make for quick nostalgic dips in between whatever else you need to do at this time of year.

I was especially happy to get re-acquainted with David Henry Wilson’s Jeremy James, who Son and I used to like a lot. Among the other names that I do know are Jan Mark, Sue Townsend, James Riordan, Laurie Lee and Robert Swindells. But as with so many anthologies you don’t need to know the writers. You simply discover new-old authors as you read along.

In a way it’s quite good I waited, because I’m enjoying myself. I’ve still got a few stories to go, but I’ve also got a few more days until I ‘must’ read a ‘mellandags’ book. I shall explain that one later.

The Casual Vacancy

This isn’t one of those the-day-after reviews. I feel The Casual Vacancy required more time to read and digest than a Harry Potter style overnight read. The Casual Vacancy is no Harry Potter, and that’s just as well.

I have to admit that I don’t generally read, or even like, (adult) novels featuring the ghastly lives of sad and bitter people, with the odd bit of romance (hardly any, actually) thrown in. But The Casual Vacancy made for interesting reading, and J K Rowling may be no Dickens, but she does have a way with looking at our society. The Emperor’s New Clothes, kind of thing.

Neither the advance blurb, nor the reviews I glanced at beforehand described adequately what this book is about. I wonder if reviewers read it in too much of a hurry? In which case the publishers were wrong to embargo the novel quite so protectively.

Be that as it may. I quite liked TCV in the end. Pagford is a village seemingly full of unpleasant people, living too close to each other while hating their neighbours, or suspecting them of whatever they prefer to suspect people of. The Fields is where the undesirable and poor live. Barry Fairbrother came from the Fields, and made it to live in Pagford.

And that’s where he dies, on page four. He wanted the best for the Fields, but no one else seems to.

You want to believe that by the end of the novel some poor soul will have a better and happier life through some marvellous development or other. This might count as a ‘Dumbledore is dead’ kind of spoiler, but what you’d expect to happen in real life happens.

I think we – occasionally – need books that tell it as it is, with no fairy tale ending. I trust the kind of lifestyle J K has portrayed in both the Fields and in Pagford is worse than real life, but I’m not hopeful. I know I am pretty much like several of the women in TCV, and not in a flattering way, either. I went to school with teenagers like the Pagford/Fields ones.

There are four likeable characters in the book, which isn’t bad going for this neighbourhood.

It’d be great if something changed because people have read TCV. I don’t believe it will, but I’d like it to.

(The many brackets drove me bananas, but that might be a result of editing. Too many and too long. And I doubt that dyslexia prevents you from becoming bilingual.)

First Chinley BookFest

Chinley BookFest

The Resident IT Consultant put his walking gear and waterproofs in the car. Unfortunately, the First Chinley BookFest turned out to be far too much fun for any walking to take place. That’s apart from our scurrying between Venue One and Venue Two, up and down the main street in the village, between the Women’s Institute were the author events were, and the community centre were people ate cake, bought books and ate more cake.

Chinley BookFest

Confession; we did not climb out of bed for the ten o’clock event with Edwina Currie. Somehow we didn’t feel the urge. However, Philip Caveney and Stephen Booth must be considered big draws for a Bookwitch, and to get the pair of them in one local BookFest on one Sunday afternoon was a real bonus.

Speaking of urges. We merely came from Stockport, all of 30 minutes away. One Stephen Booth fan came from Australia. Slight difference, there. But that’s books for you. Sometimes you go a bit crazy. It’s nice, though. If you can. (And one of these days I will learn how to take photos with smartphones. It’s not done by holding it the wrong way round, apparently.)

Chinley BookFest

What a wonderful little BookFest! Just the kind you can enjoy with not too much fuss. Chinley is a hard-to-get-to sort of village on the western end of Derbyshire not looking like, but feeling pretty much like Midsomer. Minus the murders. Although, Stephen Booth did call his talk ‘Where the bodies are buried,’ but I’m sure he only intended that in a fictional way. His books are fiction.

Chinley BookFest

We lunched with Philip and his Lady Caveney, and by that I mean we ate our sandwiches at the Women’s Institute before Philip’s talk, while they tucked into their salads. Very cosy. And his shoes were quite cool.

Philip Caveney

Philip’s photo of himself as a young man rather cancelled out those shoes, however. Long hair! Hairy face! Those were the days. He talked about his early days as a writer, inspired by Ray Bradbury, and then how his daughter Grace had caused him to become a children’s author simply in order to prevent her from reading his adult novels, which were so not suitable at her age.

He tried to cheat, of course, but Grace made him write a whole book, and after that more books happened, and they keep happening. It seems a last Sebastian Darke will be published later this year, and because you can never write too many books at any one time, Philip has recently published his first ebook, The Talent, which is a crossover type of story. (More about that at a later date.)

Philip Caveney, Spy Another Day

Coming soon is the second cinema book, Spy Another Day, from which Philip read to us. A short bit only. The bit that makes you want more. I can’t wait! And should this writing career not support him, he could take up singing. Philip sang very passably from his book. Well, from the film in the book, I suppose. He is inexplicably fond of old-fashioned cinemas with sticky carpets.

Philip Caveney

Not surprisingly, when reading for pleasure, he picks what’s recent and good, to keep up with what’s doing well, alternating between adult and children’s. I’m not sure Philip answered the question on whether he’ll write for adults again, but he did point out there’s little difference. Except children’s books have to be better.

Quite.

We spent the interval at the community centre, where the Resident IT Consultant splashed out rather, buying four second hand books. I walked round looking at everything from the Charles Dickens table to the book patterned fabric. Also saw Stephen Booth unpacking his box of books, and Philip and Lady C enjoying well deserved mugs of something, before returning home to lovely Stockport.

Second hand books for sale at Chinley BookFest

Spotty mug

Entering into the spirit of things, we had mugs of tea and homemade cake. What mugs! Reminiscent of Cath Kidston, no less. And what cake! The Resident IT Consultant took the sensible executive decision to get two kinds for us to share. Someone walked round handing out programmes for the next literary event, which will be the Derbyshire Literature Festival in May.

Book cushion

To make sure of bagging seats to my liking, we went over to the WI again on the heels of Stephen Booth. I’m afraid I stalked him when he went outside again, grabbing a little chat outside the ironmongers (I think). For some reason we talked about Ms Currie, before seamlessly switching to Stephen’s brilliant Swedish success, and via the Bristol Crimefest to Reginald Hill.

After a while we realised that Stephen might need to go back in to talk to the rest of the roomful of people. The organiser introduced him by telling us how she read her first Fry and Cooper before moving to the Peak District. Maybe she was looking for somewhere to stash her dead bodies.

Stephen Booth

Stephen explained how he prefers to write about a place where he doesn’t live, in order to keep it fresh and at a distance. He’s with Sherlock Holmes in seeing more evil in the country than in the city. Apparently it is well known that the Peak District is good for getting rid of bodies, and especially so in reservoirs, but not to worry about our tap water.

He likes the contrast between the White Peak and the Dark Peak, and the edgy contrast between country and city. Fans have been known to read his books with an Ordnance Survey map to hand, but that didn’t prevent him from getting his east and his west mixed up when a character travelled ‘east’ from Snake Pass to Glossop. It was when he found that Boots in Edendale had accidentally moved between books that he started making his own map of his fictional town. (No matter what Stephen says, to me Edendale will always be Buxton.)

To avoid being sued too often Stephen uses real places, changing them ever so slightly. Not that that helps. Someone reported having heard the peacock he wrote about, and even saw the same people camping… (It’s fiction!!) But it must be wonderful to inspire such keen fans, that they will even go out and test whether a particular place has a mobile signal.

Stephen Booth

Listening to this cross between Stephen King and the Brontës is always fun and entertaining. It’s fascinating the way coincidences happen, and the way Stephen can make use of the weirdest stuff in writing his books. He even caused his agent to see decomposing bodies where there were none. (Poor woman.) Why frighten us, when we can do it ourselves?

I was all ready to return home and continue reading my Booth book number six, except I can’t, because it’s the book I allowed Son to take with him to India. (And that will be the only mention of India for today. Thank you for your patience.)

Stephen Booth, Scared to Live

I made up for this by getting the Resident IT Consultant an early birthday present in the shape of a genuine Stephen Booth paperback (number seven), signed and discounted. (I mean, it was very expensive, dear. Erm, no, I just remembered, you’re from Scotland. It was a bargain. Should have bought two.)

They sold the remaining cakes for half price. Because we hadn’t ‘eaten a thing’ all day, I bought some to have when we got home. There were divine scones and extremely drizzley lemon cake slices. But I’m afraid we ate it all before I thought of taking a photo.

Second hand books

Here’s to the next Chinley BookFest!

Dickens

I said I wasn’t going to ‘do Dickens.’ The 200th celebrations have been plentiful without me. But I couldn’t resist this ‘picture book’ by Brita Granström and Mick Manning. I have learned more from their brief, non-fiction book than I would from most longer and perhaps ‘worthier’ works. Possibly because I tend to switch off after a while, and this was just the right length.

Charles Dickens, Scenes From An Extraordinary Life contains the bare bones of facts while depicting the life of Dickens in great detailed drawings, sometimes cartoon style. A picture really can replace a lot of words.

The reader follows Dickens from when he was a very noisy baby all the way to his funeral 58 years later. And because his life is shown like this, you can stop and say to yourself, ‘that’s rather like it was in [insert title of Dickens novel],’ and you realise how he got some of his ideas.

Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Charles Dickens

And once you’ve had that thought, there is a short cartoon style summary of the very novel you had in mind. And whether you’ve not read it or have difficulty remembering just how it went, well, don’t expect to get it here! Just enough to get you interested, at which point you’re told to go read the book. So only a shortcut to tell you about it. Not a shortcut to reading the novel. No cheating.

I’d like to think that any young reader who knew nothing about Dickens, or who thought he’d be a boring old man, will most likely want to start on their own first Dickens, about Oliver or Nicholas or Martin. Or any of the others.

I could get used to this kind of book; a brief wiki in pictures. Let Brita and Mick do all the hard work. Let me enjoy.