Reaching Authors

When I was little, I adored The Famous Five. I wrote a letter to Enid Blyton to tell her so. This was quite a big deal. I can’t remember if I actually found some sort of address or if I just sent it to “Enid Blyton, England” in the certain knowledge that she was so famous it was bound to find her but I wrote her a fan letter.

I gushed about how much I loved The Famous Five and how wonderful she was. I took time and wrote very neatly in my best writing and sent it off, shaking with excitement because I was writing to a real author and of course she would reply and I would treasure it for the rest of my life.

She never wrote back.

Of course, the fact that she’d been dead for about 20 years may have been some sort of excuse, but still. Anyway, although my love of her books remained and I went on to devour more for years, especially the St Clare’s series, I didn’t try to connect with any more authors. Maybe some little part of me decided that she hadn’t written back because authors just don’t do that – they are mystical creatures who must be kept on pedestals. I kind of equated authors with pop stars; in fact they were even more amazing because I wasn’t really ever into pop music but books were my best friends. I think my parents did try and tell me that Enid Blyton was dead but by then the damage was done; I was SCARRED for life (well, ok that might be a slight exaggeration. But only slight *sniff*).

Anyway, I was thinking about it all the other day. I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of a fantastic book, which I’ll be reviewing soon (if you’re interested, it was Bloodstone by Gillian Philip, the sequel to Firebrand which I reviewed on here last year as well as interviewing Seth MacGregor, the main character). There were frequent occasions when I picked up my phone and tweeted a message to Gillian to say how much I’d enjoyed a particular part. I didn’t even think about it until one really heartstopping moment after which I sent her a private message telling her how that one passage had made me feel. Then out of nowhere I remembered my Enid Blyton debacle and the contrast really struck me.

It was nothing to send an author a quick message, not just about how much I liked her work overall, but about one particular passage of one particular book. And Gillian messaged me back. This was nothing unusual, we frequently chat on Twitter but that in itself is quite amazing when you stop to think about it. I think it is amazing, actually, on many levels. As an aspiring author myself now, I dream about fan mail, who doesn’t? And things like Twitter and Facebook Pages and this blog make it so much easier to get that fan mail and feedback quickly. I reckon if I get published feedback like this will keep me motivated and and reassured that people are enjoying my writing (hopefully anyway…). And for the reader, especially younger readers perhaps, that sense of authors being mystical beings who must be worshipped from afar might be broken down as they can reach them way more easily than I could. It’s another little endorsement for the Wonders of the Internet and a reminder that we are very lucky to have the technology that we do.

I do wonder what Enid Blyton would have made of it. Would she have been on Twitter? Not likely, from some of the things I’ve heard. Maybe she is an author best admired from afar, I don’t know. But it’d be great fun to think of what her twitter name would be. @gingerbeer maybe?

Nosy Crow – Three Little Pigs

One of the things I’ve said about ebooks from the beginning is “Great idea, but children’s books won’t work that way.” One of the many examples of me not thinking out of the box, as proven recently by Nosy Crow‘s Three Little Pigs iOs app.

We got this recently as a treat for Daniel as I’d heard many great things about it and when we got the iPad it was a good chance to try it out. I was absolutely blown away. It’s not the first children’s book app we’ve had, but it’s on a different level. One of my problems with the earlier book apps was that they were basically just reading the story and the interactivity was limited to the child turning the page or possible pressing a picture to get an extra sound effect. Two, if you were lucky. Now that’s all well and good but it’s why I always thought children’s ebooks wouldn’t work. Daniel wasn’t really getting anything from those he wouldn’t have got from us reading to him except the convenience of it always being there, and we were all missing out on the chance of snuggling up with a story.

The Nosy Crow app was different. On one level it can be read to the child as the other apps I mentioned. But if you press ‘Read and Play’ it comes into its own. The child is actually driving the story. It’s not interactive or reactive – it’s proactive. Daniel has to help the pigs build the house for example, or blow the house down. Even 14 month-old Emily knows that to blow the house down she has to blow on the screen (of course, she hasn’t QUITE got the hang of blowing yet, it’s more a spattering of saliva all over the iPad screen. And kudos to her daddy who winces a little inside but still lets her have the fun of joining in).

There ARE elements that are more like Easter Eggs, and they are charming, such as finding a little rabbit playing hide and seek in the hay bales, but they are extras, they’re not the whole point of the app which is how it should be.

The animation is fantastic, and it really reacts to you – for example when all three houses are built at the end tilting the iPad slightly adjusts the angle of the picture. When the truck is driving along the road, a similar effect. And I have to say the child reading the story has a great career in the media – they are not twee or affected, but inject life and drama into the experience.

I still don’t think ebooks will replace children’s picture books entirely, but unless I’ve misunderstood, Nosy Crow aren’t trying to. They have produced a complementary reading experience and other companies trying to do the same thing should really take them as an example of how it should be done. It cost £4.99, so slightly less than a paper picture book and well worth every penny. Nosy Crow are bringing out another app soon and I can’t wait to see it.

And one final thing? It’s perfect for snuggling up together.

Opposite of Amber

So my first failure of the A to Z Challenge – I missed N completely. Totally stumped on that one. I could think of topics – names for example – I just didn’t have anything remotely interesting to say!

Moving swiftly on, O comes very nicely to coincide with a book I was planning to review on here anyway. Continue reading “Opposite of Amber”

Recommending Oneself to Strangers

I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers…I have not the talent which some people possess,’ said Darcy, ‘of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.’

While watching the BBC programme Faulks on Fiction on Saturday night, I was very incensed by the theory Sebastian Faulks put forward that Mr Darcy suffered from some sort of clinical depression. Not because there is anything wrong with anyone suffering from a mental illness, including a romantic hero, but because it seemed to me to be a complete misjudgement of one of my favourite fictional characters.

I have always believed Mr Darcy to be shy above all else, and I’ve not changed my mind on seeing any of the adaptations or, as unusual as it sounds, reading the book. He has his fair share of misplaced pride and arrogance, but all of this is controlled and dominated by shyness.

The quote above, from Mr Darcy’s conversation with Elizabeth at Rosings, is absolutely typical of a shy person, and his behaviour at the Meryton assembly probably how I would behave at a similar event, without the filter before people’s eyes of being a rich, handsome bachelor. Granted, it’s a bit of an understatement – given the choice, most shy people would probably change it to “I am completely unable to recommend myself to strangers and I have not the talent of conversing with almost everyone unless I’m very comfortable with them.” Let’s look at the evidence…

  • Meryton assembly – our first meeting with Darcy. He only dances with the ladies he has come with, he only speaks to his own party. And the speech which seals his fate with Lizzie?

You know how I detest [dancing], unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At an assembly such as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.

I have to say, if I were brought along to a boisterous party full of total strangers, it would be a punishment to me to dance with them as well. And, as Lizzie points out later, talking while dancing is common or even obligatory, making the whole thing so much worse. That telling phrase, “Unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner” is so important but missed out of most of the adaptations. It could be superfluous, except that it’s an important distinction when you are shy and could mark Darcy out early on as shy rather than proud.

  • The quote at the start of this post. He is “ill-qualified to recommend himself to strangers”. We should be as puzzled as Lizzie – why? He is young, handsome, rich, and brought up in the circles which should have put him most at ease. It is not just in Meryton company that he is uneasy; he does not make a distinction between being able to converse easily with strangers in a different social sphere or his own.
  • It is obviously a family trait – as soon as Elizabeth meets Georgiana she recognises that she is exceedingly shy although she has been spoken of as proud.
  • The evidence of his friends, with whom he is obviously comfortable and able to relax. They see him as a good friend. Even Wickham allows that he is different among friends, but turns it around to mean “equals in station” rather than intimate acquaintances.
  • The most important thing in my opinion – when we see Darcy on his home turf, he is a different person. He is calm, collected, pleasant and very welcoming to Mr & Mrs Gardiner, even though (as Lizzie thinks) they are “some of those very people against whom his pride had revolted”.

I think there are two strands to the problem. Firstly, it is a truth universally acknowledged that people who are shy are often mistaken for proud, haughty or above themselves. I don’t know how many times I have been painfully conscious of giving this impression myself but been completely unable to change my behaviour. The alternative impression is that we are just plain stupid and dull and cannot think of anything interesting to say. Mr Darcy’s situation in life, combined with an element of natural pride, sets him up for the first mistake. And to someone as outgoing as Lizzie, his behaviour must be completely incomprehensible.

Secondly, Darcy is as much a victim of his times and circumstances as a beneficiary of them. Even now, in an age where it is generally recommended that men get in touch with their sensitive sides, you don’t get many men admitting to shyness. Women are slightly more open about it, but men will tend to disguise it wherever possible; there is still an image of the ideal man as being strong and confident as much as there is of the ideal woman being so. In Georgian England, men (particularly of Darcy’s standing) were confident or weak, no grey areas. Darcy can’t afford to be weak, he has an estate to run, a sister to protect and establish and family reputation to uphold. Haughty, and therefore confident, it is. A big difference is in how Lizzie reacts to the two Darcys. Mr Darcy is proud and disagreeable; Georgiana, by virtue of her youth and sex, is allowed to be shy. He also has to be wary of showing weakness – remember, a close friend betrayed him. Combined with a natural shyness, it’s the death blow to any social confidence or ability to relax and trust that Darcy may have had.

So that’s my case for him being shy. With respect to Mr Faulks, I can’t help disagreeing about the clinical depression. I’m not an expert on mental health, but I’ve had some experience of depression with people close to me, and what I’ve noticed in their behaviour doesn’t correspond at all to Darcy’s. They had mood swings, and the times of detachment from those around them was completely indiscriminatory, being the same to either strangers or friends with the exception that those they trusted most got the worst of it, not the best as in Darcy’s case. He also shows no signs of neglecting his estate or retreating from social occasions; he might be quiet, even surly, but he’s there and other than the Meryton assembly, he even dances. Granted, there might be the odd time he seems dejected or morose, but a) he’s suffering from unrequited love, give him a break, and b) what kind of romantic hero doesn’t brood every now and then? in fact, what kind of human doesn’t brood every now and then?

Given all the above, I’m sticking with my original picture of Mr Darcy as shy and sensitive. It’s actually, in my opinion, quite astute of a Georgian spinster to have drawn a shy man so deftly.

Top job, Miss Austen.

Bound to Love

Bound to Love – Sally Clements

I’ve just finished reading this romance which is released today (see links below) from Embrace Books’ Red Velvet line, which they describe as “sexy, sophisticated romance”; I have to say, that sums up Sally’s book perfectly. I’ll let you read the blurb then I’ll put my own thoughts.

Sally ClementsJake Forrester, a controlled, self-reliant security expert  scarred by his father’s murder is pursuing his goal of an independent life, relying on

himself and logic, until he’s forced to accept the help of an impulsive, spirited goldsmith who follows her instincts, wherever they may lead.

When Tempest MacKenzie witnesses a gorgeous stranger being bundled into a van, she tries to help him, but becomes tangled in a complex web of intrigue. Tempest finds stubborn Jake attractive, compelling and infuriating, his logic the complete antithesis of her reliance on her instincts. And Jake is fascinated and attracted to the feisty redhead.

As they spend time together trying to thwart a heist at the British Museum, the attraction between them flares out of control. The thief has a grudge against Jake, and danger stalks their every move. Will Jake learn to trust Tempest’s intuition, before it’s too late?

The two protagonists are well drawn. Jake very much appeals to me, being tall, dark, gorgeous and combining assertiveness with a sweet vulnerability. Tempest is the aptly-named heroine who does not sit around waiting for a rescue but does her own fair share of rescuing others. I read this through in a couple of sittings, cheering Tempest and Jake on through non-stop adventure and passion. Bound to Love is a real page-turner which will not disappoint any modern romance reader!

Embrace Books are a new imprint of Salt Publishing, and I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen so far. If Sally’s book is indicative of their titles, I for one will be a big fan. I really love their covers too, not your usual romance covers, and Sally’s is a great example.

If you want a thrilling and romantic read for Valentine’s day, I do recommend Bound to Love.

Sally’s blog is, you can catch her on twitter @sallywriter, and at her crit group’s blog (The Minxes of Romance) here

Bound to Love is available in print and e-book from here, and from here. You can also find it here at Salt Publishing’s Embrace Books: Red Velvet page.