Tag Archives: Mary Shelley

Mister Creecher

It didn’t end as I expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected from Chris Priestley’s most recent book. But it was different. That’s all.

The other thing about Mister Creecher is that because it’s inspired by another author’s well known novel, you sort of lose track of what’s what. I’m one of those people Chris mentions, who have not read Frankenstein, but somehow ‘know’ all they need to know anyway. The first thing that happened was that I forgot whether there was any truth in Mary Shelley’s story.

No, that’s not what I mean. Whether any of her characters were ‘real.’ After Charlie Higson’s talk about that fateful holiday in 1816, and me reading This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel some months ago, I felt as if many of the characters were real people, put into one – or several – of these stories. It’s what happens when you meet the same people several times.

I’m not making sense, am I?

It’s 1818 and Frankenstein’s monster is in London, looking for Frankenstein. He happens to meet orphaned pickpocket Billy, and after scaring him witless just by looking monster-ous, the two end up together, almost friends.

Frankenstein and his friend Clerval are holidaying in London, before travelling further north. Billy and Creecher follow them, except it’s not easy for a scary and enormous monster to travel unobtrusively. None of them are angels, but neither are they totally bad. In fact, it’s even hard to tell if Frankenstein is bad or not.

I had worried in case Mister Creecher was going to be as scary as Chris’s other books. It’s not. A lot of the time it is simply a nice early 19th century novel, albeit with a little gruesomeness on the side. But when you stop and think about what they do, all of them, it’s suddenly not so nice. And you wonder what the purpose of the story is. The monster can surely not live happily ever after? Can Billy?

Taking a new look at something familiar is nearly always interesting. This story is based not only on Frankenstein, but has bit of Dickens in it as well. You’re at home, but you’re not. And I was very relieved not to be scared witless.

Highly recommended.

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This Dark Endeavour

…and here is the Bookwitch, just crossing the finishing line of her twelve months of Foreign Reading Challenge. Not that a Canadian book is all that foreign, but it’s not British, and that was the whole point.

As you know, I like my main characters to be likeable. They don’t have to be good, but they need to have a certain something. Victor Frankenstein – yes, that Victor Frankenstein – is someone I didn’t particularly like. This prequel to Mary Shelley’s novel, written by Kenneth Oppel is a very exciting and easy to read thriller/horror story. Quite gory in places, but brave soul that I am, I only skipped about six pages towards the end. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will have no trouble working out which pages.

Not being an expert on the original Frankenstein, I was fascinated to see how Kenneth has incorporated the necessary bits from the original novel with his own new ideas, including a Geneva address like Woolstonekraft Alley. The love of Frankenstein’s life is in the book, and so is the faithful friend.

Kenneth Oppel, This Dark Endeavour

Victor has also been furnished with a twin brother who is just like him, only that little bit nicer and more popular, so he is jealous of Konrad. They are teenagers and we see them at home outside Geneva, being taught by Mr Frankenstein the elder, and finding a library of forbidden books underneath their castle.

Then Konrad falls ill, and to save his brother Victor and the other two enter into a world of alchemy and deceit, hoping to find the Elixir of Life.

It’s adventure of the kind that almost makes me ill with worry, and it doesn’t always go as well as we’d like. I couldn’t foresee exactly what they would do, but it was easy to guess what must ultimately happen, and it did.

Julie Bertagna, flying pigs and the future

The Midland Hotel

There is a first time for everything. I have never been womanhandled by an author before. And anyone half my size is ill advised to try it. But Julie Bertagna had a brave go on Saturday morning, and I slunk back to my favourite seat at the back. Seems I’m too much of a distraction at the front (naturally), which is why I like it at the back, and I had only been obeying orders to come nearer the front. Truly. Will never do so ever again.

Afterwards Julie said she realised I would write something like this. Too late! ; ) She blamed it on me being like family (i.e. an embarrassment). I was even warned about taking pictures…

The Midland Hotel

Julie had left the perpetual rain cloud hovering over Glasgow for sunny Manchester to give a talk on Friday evening to a large group of teachers, while missing the joys of accidentally bumping into Professor Brian Cox. (Sean Connery was quite enough for you, Julie!)

On Saturday morning the bookwitch crawled out of bed early, for eleven o’clock at the Midland Hotel. Very nice venue. I could tell that Julie’s teenage girl fans were impressed with their surroundings. Nice room, and tea and juice and biscuits. Unlike me they had dressed up a bit, too.

Julie based her talk on the Exodus trilogy, and started by going through science fiction in the olden days, from Frankenstein’s monster via H G Wells to 1984 and The Matrix. In Exodus it’s the Earth itself which is the monster of the story, when water levels rise, forcing a change in how people live. A few years ago when many places, including Glasgow, flooded, Julie found sales of her book rocketing, proving that people do want to read about dying worlds.

In her youth Julie expected the future to be robots, holidaying on the moon and other magic. Predictions usually go wrong. We do have magic these days, but not in a form you could have imagined. It’s our iPods and text messages and similar. Like my camera, when I can operate it and am allowed to…

She likes David Tennant best of the Doctors, talked about flying cows and other creatures in hurricane Katrina, the Large Hadron Collider, and how our Universe probably is like just one bubble in a bath full of bubbles. And Lord Byron was a male Lady Gaga.

Manchester Literature Festival 2011

Julie took the opportunity to help Manchester Literature Festival launch a short story competition for teenagers, featuring Manchester in the future. She came up with so many ideas, that even I could half see myself entering, were it not for those extra few years that would disqualify me. The girls in the room had lots of great plot ideas, that they were willing to share. We were reminded that Mary Shelley was a teenager when she came up with her science fiction, so there is every likelihood of this competition going well.

Julie Bertagna at the Manchester Literature Festival

They also had an unusually good selection of questions. One good way of starting a story is to write something that you then ditch, in favour of jumping straight to what matters. Julie might write a fourth book in the trilogy, but only if ideas that keep her awake at night pop up. She also likes endings that ‘infuriate you.’ I think that might mean endings that don’t spell out every little detail, leaving something to the imagination.

Poster for the Manchester Children's Books Festival

This was an especially good event. We all want Julie to come back soon; Manchester Literature Festival, Manchester Children’s Book Festival, the girls, and even me. (I’ll be the one at the back.)

(And you know why there are more pictures of posters and hotel interiors than of the star performer, don’t you? Good thing Photowitch was unavailable.)

The Dead

Charlie Higson

I felt fairly certain he didn’t look like that last time. Floppy hair and some sort of beard. Didn’t feel right. At all. (So I google imaged Charlie Higson when I got home, just to see what he most likely looked like when we were last in the same room together. Shorter hair and no beard is the answer.)

Very nice to find that the Manchester Children’s Book Festival has the odd event on during the festival drought period, and nicer still to find myself asked to pop along and fill up any empty seats (something I do so well). As another seat-filler I brought Son along. You know you need to entertain children in their time off education, and it’s only ten years since Son was the same age as the multicoloured (school uniform-wise) schoolchildren who did fill up the lecture theatre at MMU on Thursday.

Charlie Higson

OK, so Charlie Higson hit town with tales of the dead. His new zombie book also happens to be called The Dead. It’s about zombies, and we were treated to a trailer of the film, soon to be here (I think). Charlie cleverly began by telling his audience about the kind of boring and far too common question he and other authors hate to be asked. The ‘where do you get your ideas?’ one. Then he spent the next 45 minutes telling us where.

There would have been no vampires or zombies without the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Charlie did say he thought that for there to be no Stephenie Meyer books would be a good thing, but… The subsequent ash cloud prevented more than planes from flying, and poor Lord Byron found he couldn’t make boat trips on Lake Geneva on his holiday in 1816. So he and his pals had to stay in and tell each other scary stories, and not only did Mary Shelley (to be) dream up Frankenstein, but Byron’s personal drug dealer (sorry, doctor) John Polidori came up with The Vampyre, which later inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Charlie Higson

Charlie himself has been especially inspired by the film Night of the Living Dead, and he wants to frighten kids, to ‘scar them for life.’ His own bloodthirsty children egg him on to kill more characters, whenever he reads his books to them, and Charlie only felt he had got it right when his youngest had serious nightmares. Don’t feel sorry for him. This is the child who ‘loved it when the eyeballs exploded’. In amongst the blood and the gore Charlie also tries to ‘slip in a bit of plot and character’, while working on getting the black squiggles on white background (that’s words on paper, to you) ‘come alive’. A bit zombie-like.

When someone asked Charlie if he’d ever write a vampire book, he replied that ‘vampires suck’. Oh, how witty. But he seems to feel the world has enough of them by now. His advice is to write what you want to read. His own first books were for adults, so he warned the children not to go looking for them. ‘Don’t read!’ he said, before realising that this might well be the best thing to say to get someone to read.

Charlie Higson

A quick, and unscientific, show of the hands indicated that boys like zombies and girls like vampires. Presumably Edward type vampires, except they don’t exist. What girls do end up with are zombies, who are ‘basically typical teenage boys.’

It’s not every author who gets to walk into a lecture theatre to the accompaniment of whistling and cheering, and the applause at the end wasn’t of the forced ‘we-must-thank-X so please clap hands, children’. Charlie also had a good way of telling his audience to shut up. No hard feelings, though, as just about everyone queued up for books and to get them signed afterwards.

Charlie Higson

I was almost carried away by the idea of a signed book too. But then I remembered my reason for not stopping to chat to Charlie. I couldn’t face telling the man – yet again – that I still haven’t read his books. I know they are wonderful. I know. But I’ve run out of time. And zombies… No. Good for teenage boys. Not for elderly witches.

And then after returning home and telling Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant all about Mount Tambora and Byron I had to go and read a magazine article which told me Charlie was wrong. There were vampires back in the 14th century. At least. And it seems I’ve visited the corpse of one several times in my innocent childhood.