Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Story of My Life (+ Giveaway Winner)

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
~ CS Lewis

In the dim and distant shadows of the half-forgotten past, Sunny from A Splash of Ink sent my way a tag of her creation, the Children's Books Tag. It has a simple premise:

What books did you read as a child?

I am a huge believer that all the books I've read have shaped me, as a person and as a writer, so today I am going to throw some appreciation on the favourites that I talk about less often: the children's books.

Thank you to Sunny for the tag! Also, you should definitely go and read her blog because she's awesome and shares lovely things about books and writing, and her picture skills are like WHOA, and also her header is the prettiest I've ever seen, which is reason enough to follow, right?

Even the smell of these books brings back so many memories. The illustrations are the most beautiful things; everything about them is gorgeous, the typeface, the size (they're tiny!), everything. Beatrix Potter was a genius.

I would 
also like to spotlight The Mice of Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem and Oakapple Wood by Jenny Partridge, some other charming books about mice in clothes. The illustrations!

 Also, on the topic of talking animals, The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. I was reading this to my nephew a few weeks ago and it is genius. I don't think there are many better artists or storytellers than Judith Kerr. When we become older, we stop taking magic and talking tigers and nefarious waistcoated mice as a matter of course, but as children we are more than happy to accept these things in books. I think that the key to writing well is, as we grow older, not to lose our sense of wonder in the world, or our love of the magical and the strange.
Speaking of talking animals! A childhood devoid of Narnia is a sad thing to contemplate. It's all part of the same thing, that child's belief that maybe, if you push far enough through the wardrobe's fur coats, you'll find yourself in a magical world on the other side. This is the boundary writers need to break down; we need to keep alive the idea that, through the pages of the book, we can reach those magical times in those far off worlds.
Also, CS Lewis is the master of religion in fiction. As a Christian fantasy writer, he is my gold standard. “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical  explanation is that I was made for another world." ~ CS Lewis
All hail the king of the macabre and the strange! A boy who concocts a bizarre growth potion to mutate the animals on his farm and eventually his own grandmother. A giant, mutant peach full of giant, mutant insects. A very definitely mad inventor living shut up in his factory. Bald and terrifying witches who eat children. The more you think about Roald Dahl's books, the creepier they are ... and the more wonderful. It is a truth universally acknowledged that children like to frightened out of their wits, and I can't forget my sense of gleeful dread whenever I read The Witches. Dahl just proves what I've been talking about: that an adult should never lose their fascination with the strange and the unbelievable. He is very near the top of my Dead Authors I'd Give A Limb to Meet list. And his stories for adults are amazing -- like the children's books, but darker.
A lot of people are a bit disparaging about Enid Blighton, because the Famous Five books are a bit tame, but they are also the soundtrack of my childhood! I found them very, very exciting, and they introduced me to gender-balanced character squads, which YA does not always possess (because apparently all trios need to be two boys and one girl). As for The Faraway Tree, it was my favourite book for a time! Yay for magic trees! (My current novel is about magic trees, so along the way Enid Blighton and CS Lewis have obviously been doing something right.) AND I LOVED THE SCHOOL STORIES! I think the first ones I read were The Naughtiest Girl in the School, and then Twins at St Clare's, and then finally (the most famous) Mallory Towers. All the heroines of these books are spunky girls who sometimes lose their tempers but at the end of the day are always Jolly Good Sorts, and there are always midnight feasts and irascible French teachers addressed as Mademoiselle, and catty girls whom everyone dislikes but usually have tragic backstories, so the heroine befriends them (as I said, she's a Jolly Good Sort), and, gah! I'm making myself want to reread!

I just love Enid Blighton and I have no regrets.
Jacqueline Wilson = an essential part of a tweenage British girl's education. Her books cover (almost) everything, and they are so funny, and so often have hilarious sassy narrators, or shy timid narrators, or any kind of narrator ... whoever you are, you can find yourself in Jacqueline Wilson! I distinctly remember my feeling of sadness when, aged fourteen or so, I saw her new book in the library and knew that I was too old to take it out. But from the age of nine to twelve I solidly read through her corpus. Love that woman. My favourites of hers were Midnight and My Sister Jodie, and I would love to reread one day. 

This is also the place to highlight Jean Ure and Cathy Cassidy, two authors in the same vein as Wilson. Out of the three I think Cassidy was my favourite; I loved Scarlet and Dizzy and Cherry Crush and all of them! Agh, this is making me quite nostalgic ...
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery // Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield // Little Women by LM Alcott
(Slowly) rereading the Anne series over the past couple of years has been one of life's true joys. 
PERCY IS AWESOME! Along with Jacqueline Wilson he introduced me to sassy narrators (most children's books are in the third person, have you noticed that?), and also I went through a massive (I mean it) Greek mythology phase because of these books. (I did have friends, I promise.) So, even nowadays, if you need some handy info on the Olympians, I'm your gal. Over the past year I've reread the first five, which has been delightful, and I can't wait to start the second series (which I've never read).
Fantasy! Genre of my heart!
I don't remember much about the Inkheart trilogy, except that involves reading yourself in and out of book worlds, to which I say heck yes! But I'm going to reread them this Christmas. Yay!
I love the Septimus Heap series! They have lots of cool stuff about magic-y lore and alchemy and what-have-you, and are set in a very cool world, and are just generally a top class fantasy series. I never actually finished them -- I fell off the end -- but when I reread I feel my life shall be complete.
This is another high fantasy series that has really influenced me. I reread them last Christmas and it was a true experience of joy. I've seen them called “Game of Thrones for youngsters", which is not a bad description, They have: an amazing feisty kick-ass heroine; a lot of brilliant humour; many richly diverse fantasy cultures; LOTS OF BLOOD AND WAR; and also the shipping is real. AND YET, to this day I am the only person I've ever met who has read them. Why?! Why and how?! Somebody do me a favour and get to it with this trilogy. Love, love, love.
THIS SERIES IS MY ONE LOVE. These were the books that introduced me to historical fiction (which I used to love, before I got older and historical fiction turned into historical romance, which I kind of detest with something of a fiery passion), and to my love of the Roman world. Over the past year I've reread the first six and they really are such a delight! The heroine, Flavia, can be bossy but is wonderful, and her friends are marvellous, and though they're little short books each one has an individual mystery which keeps me guessing! I find these as exciting as any adult crime fiction, no word of a lie. And again, the shipping is very very real. Do yourself a favour and read the Roman Mysteries. 
If we're honest with ourselves, there isn't much point in my trying to convey the importance of these books to me. How can I do justice to the characters, the heartstopping plots, the beautiful complexity of a world that is unlike any other? I was recently reading a post on the Perpetual Page Turner about Jamie's first-time reading of the books at 30, and it almost moved me to tears. She said this: “the magic of Harry Potter is that it gives you what you need when you read it." It really resonated with me. On first reading the books aged nine I loved the exciting magical world of Hogwarts, the brilliantly woven stories and the character of Hermione, the bushy-haired, sharp-tongued, clever girl who reminded me so much of myself. Then, when I was twelve, the deaths hit home. Aged fifteen I loved the teenage angst, Harry's first crush on Cho and all the hilarity of that relationship, and the friendships within the Golden Trio, which are sometimes strained but ultimately pull through thick and thin. That reading was also the time I fell madly in love with Fred Weasley, and the time when Hermione's fear of failure hit me hard. Through understanding her character, that was also the time I realised I was not a Ravenclaw as I had vaguely imagined but a Gryffindor. Harry Potter has taught me so much about writing, fantasy, magic, characters, the world and myself, and I will never stop being grateful to these incredible books. I can't wait to read them aged eighteen and see what new thing I discover.
Before my Harry Potter related emotion overwhelms me, I'd like to jump in with one last book, not fiction this time. I will probably always maintain that this is the best book I've ever purchased. I love stories, but you can get stories out of the library. This book, however, has been my companion for nearly ten years and it still never lets me down! If you are at all craftily inclined, JUST BUY THIS BOOK. Osborne is a fount of dreams and this book is air.
Thank you once again to Sunny for this tag! This post has made me both emotional and nostalgic for the books of my childhood. Thank goodness rereading exists. Imagine if there were a rule that we could only read books once. What a cruel dark world that would be. 

ONE LAST THING: Thank you to everyone who entered my fourth blogoversary giveaway, and thanks especially to you lovely lot who filled out the survey! The winner of the giveaway is Debbie K. Congratulations to her!


So, have you read any of these? Would someone please read the Icemark Chronicles, please?! What resonated with you the last time you read Harry Potter? And what was your favourite book as a child?


  1. Children's books are among the few childhood things you can re-visit, and still enjoy. The best ones were always the ones that I noticed the adults also liked.
    Years later, I am still reading children's books- to my little brother. I love watching him pick up on deep themes and laugh over the silly parts. There was even one time when he asked me to stop reading for a minute, so that he could take the time to properly have a 'fan-boy' moment.

    1. That is very true! I feel like that should be a quotation on Pinterest or something!

      What a lovely memory! How old is your brother? And what are you reading to him? What was he fan-boying over?! :D

    2. He's five, but I read MG or YA books to him sometimes (providing they're not too dark). The whole thing started when he took a liking to the covers of the Tales of Goldstone Wood books I took out from the library. The fan-boy moment was over a historical fiction titled 'Adam of the Road', when Adam gets to see his dog, his friend, and his father again, after having lost all three for most of the book.

    3. Ah, I've heard those books are very good (Tracey from Adventure Awaits loves them); I'll have to check them out sometime! That sounds like a wonderful climax, I'm glad you are teaching him to appreciate literature!

  2. YAY YOU DID THE TAG!!! Thanks so much for doing it! Also thanks for saying all those lovely things about my blog. You are too kind.

    It's so interesting to see the books that you enjoyed, especially since there were some that I didn't even recognize. Even though I didn't recognize the exact books, the genres and cover art style were so familiar to the ones I read.

    Obviously I'm on the same page as you with HP, Anne of Green Gables and Roald Dahl, though. Interestingly enough, I didn't include any of those in my post. I might have to do a take two with all the books I forgot about, haha.

    So happy you held on to this and did it! Thanks a bunch!

    1. I DID DO THE TAG! Thank you for it! And you're immensely welcome :)

      It is funny/lovely how cover art carries through! Sometimes it annoys me, especially in YA, that genre is so predictable based on cover, but there is a charm about all of these covers, I think.

      There are a few books I forgot/didn't own, which was sad! Maybe a round two would be nice :)

      I loved it, thanks again for tagging me! :D

  3. Yesterday I actually cleaned my bookshelf and moved my childhood books to my wardrobe. And the amount of Jacqueline Wilson books I found looked like a shrine to that author O.o and My Sister Jodie was my favourite toooooo! It made me cry so much but it was uberly fantastic! I think I was around 12 when I just thought enough was enough, these Jacqueline Wilson books are all so depressing. I need new books and thus my education of "other" books began.
    This is also when I read all the Harry Potter books in one go. Previously I had only read the first three a couple of times each.
    ALSO -- LITTLE WOMEN! I think that treasure of a book is my number one childhood book. I now have th gorgeous Thread cover of Little Women!! <3

    I have never heard of the Icemark Chronicles but I shall undertake your challenge and try to find a copy to see if they are worthy of the compliment "GoT for youngsters"

    Marian xxx

    P.S I missed your blog <3

    1. Sad! Some of the books on here are on my shelf, but more are elsewhere in the house. But yes, JACQUELINE WILSON! The two in the pic were the only two I had (apart from Candyfloss, though I didn't see that one when I was looking -- she was in the elsewhere-in-the-house bracket). I loved that book sooo much. But they weren't all depressing! That one was, but there were lots and lots with happy endings. Like Candyfloss (love that book) and Cookie and Midnight ...

      When you were 12? Weirdly, when I was first time reading them I read the first four in a couple of weeks (pretty fast aged 9 I guess, and I remember reading Goblet in like 2 days), and then took a fortnight off before reading the last 3? And I don't know whether I was intimidated by Order's size (seems unlikely, I've always liked big books and I cannot lie), or too excited after the climax of Goblet and needing a break or SOMETHING, but it is very strange to look back on.

      I NEED TO REREAD IT! I love my cover so much. I've not seen the Threads one but if it's anything like Emma I bet it's gorgeous <333

      NO ONE EVER HAS! ~wails for eternity~ BUT PLEASE DO!

      PS I missed you <3

  4. I did this tag a while back. We have very similar readings tastes (! I love Narnia, Percy Jackson, Inkheart, and Little Women. ^ ^ I read all of those as a child. I need to read Harry Potter. I wasn't allowed to as a kid, but I watched the movies as an adult and I really really enjoyed them. I've been told by so many people that I need to read the books because they're better. XD They're on my list!

    1. You should so definitely read Harry Potter! I'm doing a post very soon actually about God and magic and where they interlock, in response to some Christians' wariness around magic in books. And yes, they're so much better than the films!!!!!

  5. I remember that I really stayed away from Harry Potter when I was little because my mom had been watching the first Harry Potter movie and I was with her, and was too little to be able to digest that Voldemort had no nose and was on the back of someone's head. (It was kinda scarring for me, as you can tell) But now, I'm starting to read the series :)


  6. I don't think I've read any of these. . . I might have read Beatrix Potter sometimes, but that was about it. Strangely, I didn't grow up on much fantasy until I hit my late teen years and started branching out with my reading. I think it was because magic was not allowed in our books or movies. Which is a little sad because as you said, believing in the impossible and wondering in the world is a part of childhood and a part of it of it that we ought to hold onto. Although my parents did read Narnia aloud to us! And trust me, I loved every bit of it. Narnia was something I wanted to believe in even though I knew it wasn't logical. I really think I need to read The Icemark Chronicles! You always mention it and it sounds so good!

    1. Really?! No, indeed, you have read Percy Jackson, at least the first two. I know this to be a fact.

      YOU SHOULD RETURN TO BEATRIX POTTER. She's such a babe. My word.

      I'm 88% certain my next post is going to be called God and Magic and it's just going to be a big defense of fantasy and how Christianity and fantasy fit together. Remember we talked about that in the original TRB emails, it was actually you who suggested I turn my thoughts into a post XD
      Speaking of, what's the TDT chat?!

      You should reread Narnia! Also, did you really never read Little Women? Obviously I want to recommend ALL THE BOOKS to you (hence why I wrote the post), but I'd prioritise Anne of Green Gables (don't I go on about that series enough?!) and Roald Dahl. I honestly believe Dahl is one of the best writers who's ever lived and I'm absolutely certain he'd be right up your streets. His books are funny and creepy and fab. Need I say more?

      Also Harry, obviously, but I think I've made my feelings on that topic clear many a time.

      BUT THE ICEMARK CHRONICLES ARE SO GOOD. I'm always trying to force them down people's throats, yes, because NO ONE'S READ THEM AND IT'S SO SAD.


      OK, I'm done!

    2. I've read Percy, yes. But it was much more recent; I wasn't a teen anymore when I started the series (still need to finish, but The Battle of the Labyrinth is never in the library).

      AH! Yes! I'm going to read it soon. (Actually it will be the third post I've read on the same topic today.) I will no doubt enjoy it and I can't wait to hear what else you have to say on the subject. :D

      Oh, The Dream Thieves! Yes, I need to email you about that. But our internet at the moment is non-existent. I'm currently at the library. . . Soon though! I actually took a ton of notes on it in a little notebook. Just, gosh! Maggie's writing style is so amazing.

      Agh! Okay, so I forgot you mentioned Anne of Green Gables. I loved it when I was a kid! (I actually have a radio theater version by Focus on the Family. If you ever chance upon it, give it a listen. It's beautiful and I think you'd like it.) I nearly read all the books until a friend diverted me to Emily of New Moon, which I liked much more. Which is saying something. I read Little Women too, but it was never a favorite. I'm not sure why because Jo rocked as an early feminist type AND she was a writer. Perhaps I ought to reread it too.

      Didn't Dahl write The Neverending Story, or am I confused? (Because that was good as well.)

      Haha! Okay, maybe I need to make my own compilation of childhood books.

      PS- I'm currently some pages into A Farewell to Arms and I CANNOT STAND the protagonist. Please tell me he gets better and there's character development or something to look forward to.

    3. Right, got it. Battle is really good though, potentially my favourite of the series. (Though I do love Thief.) But yeah. Read Battle. And I'm going to read the second cycle soon, yayayay!

      Yes, I've seen your Amazon-length comment, not read it yet though! XD

      I feel you about internet worries. But I'll be interested to hear your thoughts.

      LOVE THEM SO MUCH. You should return to the series. I recently read the fifth one which was an absolute delight. Can't wait to read Emily! And yes to LW reread!

      Not that I've heard of, but I'll have a look on Goodreads, one sec ...

      ~one sec elapses~

      The top results are Michael Ende, Ashwini Bhatt and Leonore Fleischer (appaz The Neverending Story is a popular title, unsurprisingly), so, no. But check out Matilda. And The Witches. (And just all of them, kay?)


      PS YES HE DOES. THIS IS WHAT I WROTE MY DISSERTATION ABOUT. HOW LOVE CHANGES HIM. YOU'LL COME TO LOVE HIM TRUST ME. (I loved him, and it takes a lot for me to love a character called Frederick because I normally hate seeing my charries' names in other books. So yeah. That's how much I love him.)

  7. OHHHHH SO MANY MEMORIES HERE!! I loved the Roman Mysteries!! EEEEP. They were hysterical and hilarious and wonderful. <3 And Inkheart, and Narnia OF COURSE. I think I grew up on like 90% diet of Narnia on repeat. (I had audio books and I'd just listen to them all and then start them again. #noregrets) AHHH I love childhood books. :') I'm too scared to reread them now though, in case I ruin good memories. XD

    1. YOU DID?!?! I KNOW HARDLY ANY OTHER FANS! GAHHH! OK but I have ALWAYS had good experiences rereading so I say, go for it!


Thanks for commenting! :)