jennygordon: (Magpie)
Something rather wonderful happened to me today.

Remember a couple of weeks back, I was bewailing the demise of my favourite notebooks, and mentioned that I'd written to the company who made them with a plea to reinstate them?

Well, this morning, my lovely Postlady (who wears shorts and bare legs no matter the weather) knocked at the door, bearing a large parcel. I got very excited and told her the story, then dashed indoors to open it.

IMG_3630

Inside, was a very sweet letter from the Notebook-Buyer-In-Chief, thanking me for my letter and informing me that they have decided to continue making the notebooks in question. They won't hit the shops in the Autumn, but hopefully the enclosed gift would tide me over until then.

The gift?
IMG_3631

IMG_3633

I know!

Eight of my lovely sparkly notebooks!

Look at them all. Aren't they perfect? There are even silver and gold ones, which I haven't seen before.

How exciting is that?!

I'm all blissed out in notebook heaven.

What great customer service. I'm utterly delighted. It's so kind of the lady who took the time to reply to me so quickly.

It's made my day. Made my week, in fact!

Now all I have to do is fill them with my stories (oh, the hardship - lol!)
jennygordon: (Froud)
Oh no!

You know how important it is for us writerly types to find the perfect notebook? And you remember how I've talked about my lovely sparkly purple notebooks that are gradually filling with the tale of my MoulderingBook, and how I love them?

Well, last week I went to stock up on some more, and ... where were they?

I asked the very helpful lady in the shop, and she head-scratched for a moment, then remembered that they had gone into the sale. She rang another local branch to see if they had any left, but no luck.

I dashed home and searched online, and there they were! Hurrah!

Oh.

Line discontinued.

"But, but, that's not fair!" I wailed. "They're my most favourite of favourite notebooks. I love their narrow-ruled lines and their ivory pages, and how there are so many pages in the book that they are stable enough for me to prop them on my knee to write without need of additional support. And the pages are stitched into the spine, so they don't pop out. And they're perfectly big enough, but not so big they're unwieldy. And they're just so pretty ..."

I pulled myself together and went browsing for an alternative, but it was no use; there simply wasn't a notebook to compare.

So ...

... I've written a letter to the Mr Boss-Man of the company, asking him, everso nicely, if he might reconsider withdrawing my lovely sparkly purple notebooks.

*Sigh*

All I can do now is cross everything and hope.
jennygordon: (Water Lily)
One of my earliest musical memories is of seeing Kate Bush's video of 'Wuthering Heights' on 'Top of the Pops'. Despite my father making the obligatory "Dad jokes" about withering tights, I was utterly spellbound by this strange, beautiful, otherworlldy creature doing cartwheels in her long, white gown and singing what Neil Gaiman referred to in a recent documentary as "banshee music".

I've grown up with Kate's music. While I haven't been a consistent, avid listener, it has slipped into the forefront of my awareness at many of the pivotal moments of my life. One of the first albums I bought with hard-saved pocket money was her 'Lionheart'. I was at art college years later when I heard that, after years of silence, she had a new album out. That album was 'The Sensual World', and I clearly remember my delight when I found it on the shelf at the local independent record shop. Often, the people I have been closest to throughout my life have been Kate Bush admirers too; it's like a secret club.

In the same recent documentary, Neil Gaiman recalls his amazement at this musician who wasn't afraid of books, or of writers, embracing literature and celebrating it in her music. As well as being inspired by Emily Bronte's novel, Kate has made many nods to literature in her work, not least of which is Molly Bloom's soliloquy from James Joyce's 'Ulysses', which appears to great and powerful effecting in the single of 'The Sensual World'. It was actually Kate's song, 'Wuthering Heights' that inspired me to read the novel (at far too young an age!)

Just as writing inspired Kate, in many ways, Kate's music fueled and fed the writer in me. So many of her songs tell a story. I adore the forbidden beauty of 'Kashka from Baghdad' who "lives in sin with another man." 'Oh England, My Lionheart' still brings a lump to my throat as she tells of a World War II pilot who shot down and as he falls to his death, he thinks of all the things he loves about England ("you read me Shakespeare on the rolling turf.")

Kate Bush

There has been something magical in the way Kate's music has woven in and out of my life, forever carrying with it the memories and emotions of other times I heard the songs. Only with 'The Sensual World' and 'The Red Shoes' have I rushed out to buy the albums the minute they were released. The other albums have come into my life and possession at other times, for other reasons. But always, it seems, at the perfect time. There has only been one blip: when 'Aerial' was bought for me, it wasn't at the right time. I barely listened to it before consigning it to the shelf. It wasn't until some years later when I met [livejournal.com profile] readthisandweep here on LJ, and she wrote about how she listens to the second disc of the double album as part of her morning routine that I dug it out, listened again, and fell in love.

'50 Words for Snow' was released in 2011, yet I have only just felt the desire to order it. Again, this is a pivotal time in my life, and again, Kate's music is a part of it.

Tomorrow night, Kate Bush will perform the first of a series of dates at London's Hammersmith Apollo.She hasn't performed for more than three decades. The tickets for the shows sold out in less than fifteen minutes of going on sale.

Fifteen minutes!

Who knew Kate Bush is loved so much?!

While I'm not one of those lucky people who will be there to see her, I shall be there in spirit.

To celebrate this series of shows, the BBC hosted two programmes about Kate Bush on Friday night: the aforementioned documentary of her career, and a complication of all her appearance at the BBC over the years. They were on quite late, so I set up to record them, planning to watch at another time. I flicked over before I went to bed to check they were recording okay, and ended up staying up to watch, spellbound all over again.
jennygordon: (Great Grey Heron)
It's the beginning of December, which means it's time for 'The Dark is Rising.' I mentioned a while back that I was planning to re-(x multiple) read the second book in Susan Cooper's classic children's series about old magic and the ancient battle between Light and Dark. 'The Dark is Rising' (second in the series of five novels, collectively known by the same title) is set around Midwinter, and I like to re-visit it around the same time of year every few years. It now seems extra timely because Susan Cooper has recently won a Lifetime Achievement award (along with Tanith Lee) at the 2013 World Fantasy Convention — and about time too! In honour of this, I've decided to re-read the entire 'Dark is Rising' sequence, and have dug out my omnibus edition ...

The Dark is Rising Omnibus

I first read the series when I was maybe ten or eleven years old. Back then, the editions in print had gorgeous, evocative, and delightfully disturbing covers by Michael Heslop.

Like so many of us who have grown up to become writers ourselves — and so many who haven't — 'The Dark is Rising' series had a huge and enduring impact on me and my imagination. When I visited some of the places the books are set on family holidays, particularly Cornwall and North Wales, I experienced them through the filter of Will Stanton and the Drew children, who are the heroes of the novels. The wild beauty of those places that would have stirred my soul regardless was enhanced by the power with which Cooper had evoked them in my imagination long before I ever saw them for myself. Nowadays, I live in England's West Country, not too far from Stanton Drew stone circle.

Stanton Drew stone circle

Surely it's no coincidence that Cooper names her heroes as she did ...

Just retrieving the omnibus edition from my bookshelf and flicking through the pages, I feel again that familiar stirring of excitement at the story waiting for me there. The poem that accompanies the books, which is also a riddle that foretells the shape of their journey, floats to the surface of my mind, where it has lain, memorised by heart so many years ago.

"When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six Signs the circle, and the Grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the Greenwitch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree."
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
I'm not a big one for 'meet-the-author' events, but when I heard that Robin Hobb, a veritable legend in her own lifetime, was visiting a bookshop near where I live to sign her latest book, I made a note in my diary. I first knew Hobb's work twenty years ago, when she was writing as Megan Lindholm, in the days before she reinvented herself as Robin Hobb. It was under that name that she wrote one of my favourite books — 'Cloven Hooves' — which I've mentioned on my blog before, and which I took along to yesterday's signing.

"You know," Megan/Robin said when I handed her my much-loved copy of the book, "This is the strangest book I've ever written. It's in first person, present tense, and it was exhausting to write."

I'm not surprised, since it's the power of that first person, present, voice that is one of the things I love about the book.

Published 20 years ago, 'Cloven Hooves' tells of Evelyn, who grows up in the wilds of Alaska, and who is more at home out in the wild than with other people. Her only friend is Pan, a young faun from legend, who shares her connection to the wild things. An outsider even in her own family, the book opens with Evelyn and her husband and small son leaving Alaska to live with her in-laws on their farm, to help out there for a season. Those in-laws don't understand Evelyn, and she is isolated and ostracised by the clan, to the degree that when tragedy strikes, she isn't allowed to claim her feelings, nor even to find out what actually happened.

By this time, Pan has shown up in her life again, and it is with Pan that Evelyn leaves the farmstead and heads off into the wilderness. There, she spends the autumn and winter with Pan, healing, and reconnecting with what is of true importance in her life.

Like the best fairytales, 'Cloven Hooves' works on many levels. It can be read at face value, but its metaphorical roots reach so deep it's impossible to shake them off. Or so it proved for me, at least.

I read 'Cloven Hooves' at a formative stage in my writing life, and it taught me two important things:

1. The immense power of fantasy-as-metaphor, and
2. The immediate and emotive force of first person, present.

Which is why I wanted to head down to Waterstone's yesterday to say "Hi," to an author who, through a single book, proved such a significant influence on me. And she was lovely. Despite the length of the signing queue, she was happy to spend time with each person; to make their moment with a favourite author special.

"Thank you," she said to me, "for bringing this book along today. It's brought back memories of a happy time in my life."

I think I'll be reading 'Cloven Hooves' again soon ...
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)

Do you know what I realised the other day?

I no longer have any Susan Seddon Boulet art on the walls in my house. There are pictures by the Pre-Raphaelites, Brian Froud, Klimt, Anne Sudworth and original art and photographs by my friend Dan, but no Boulet.

It’s a crime!

Who’s stolen my Boulet prints?

Remember those pictures you used to do at primary school where you cover a sheet of paper with a mess of colour patches, then colour over the whole thing with black crayon, then use a pointy stick to draw over it, thus revealing the colours beneath? We all did those, right? Right? Well, her technique reminds me of that.

Inspired by Native American, South American and other world myths, her art is deeply spiritual and often dreamlike. She conjures the spirit of myth better than almost anyone I know.

Since I discovered her amazing art as a teen, I’ve had her work on display, but somewhere along the way, the prints by her that I once had around the house (whichever house I lived in at the time) have vanished.

I really must do something about that!

I began a couple of weeks ago by introducing my new thumbnail avatar on LJ (see above). It’s a gorgeous painting titled, ‘Sky Watcher’. The colours here don’t do it justice. In the flesh, the sky is a beautiful singing turquoise.

While I’m rooting around in the cupboard for my old prints, here’s a flavour of her work so you can see why I’m so shocked it’s no longer hanging on my walls.

This one is called ‘The Storytellers’, which I thought would be particularly appropriate here:

The Storytellers

And if you like that, you can check out more of her art here (though, annoyingly, they don’t provide the titles):

http://www.tendreams.org/boulet.htm

http://www.tendreams.org/boulet3.htm

http://www.tendreams.org/boulet9.htm
jennygordon: (Bluebells)

That man, Joss Whedon, ‘e’s a flipping’ genius, ‘e is. 

I’ve recently embarked on a re-watch of Season One of “Dollhouse”, and, as well as apparently making me come over all Cockney, it’s renewed my appreciation for all things Whedon. 

Yet another of his TV series to fall foul of scheduling cock-ups and poor decision-making on the part of the studio, “Dollhouse” only ran to two seasons, but they’re little gems, both of them. Not least because of the fact that, since Whedon had good notice of the series’ cancellation, he was able to wrap up the story in a way that gave a fair indication of where he had intended to go with the series had it run for longer. 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, especially as I’m only a couple of episodes in at the moment, and they’re the ones I wanted to talk about in the context of Joss Whedon = genius. 

Within two 45 minute episodes, and even within the first one alone, Whedon has skilfully succeeded in immersing us in the world and characters of “Dollhouse”. 

I feel a list coming on. 

  • With a light touch, he’s introduced the concept of the organisation known as the “Dollhouse”, explained the set-up and what they do
  • Each of the two self-contained plots of the episodes is complete and satisfying in itself, while
  • Also laying building blocks concerning the greater over-arching plot
  • Since this is a series re-watch, I can see where, even from the very beginning, he is seeding clues and events significant to the greater plot
  • Whedon’s primary strength has always lain in his characterisation, and in these initial two episodes, he has already introduced all of the main players. We may only have had glimpses of them, but they’re already established in the setting. And that’s no small achievement, since there area at least 10 of them. Developed to varying degrees, given the small amount of screen time to date, something memorable about each character has already been introduced
  • The premise of “Dollhouse” is unsettling enough, and knowing Whedon, you trust him to do something intriguing with it. Already, he’s giving us fragments of a Bigger Picture and a Greater Threat
  • And even on a first viewing, it’s all so effortlessly interesting and intriguing. 

Phew! That’s such a lot to get into two little episodes, and yet it’s all so masterfully managed that it’s never info dump and is never overwhelming. 

For me, “Dollhouse” really shows a (screen) writer at the top of his game, all of his tools in peak condition and being skilfully employed. 

If you’re a Joss Whedon fan, what do you reckon? Do you have a favourite show of his? I’d love to hear what, which and why. I’m also hearing good things about his new film, “The Cabin in the Woods”; has anyone seen it?  

In the meantime, I’m off to do some more worshipping at the Great Man’s altar.

jennygordon: (Angel)

When I was a wee sprog – I’m guessing around 10 years old – I discovered this book in the local library:

It revolutionised my world!

The story of a musician called Lir who is ‘called’ to a strange castle where a girl named Lilune lives, locked up in the castle by two old hags for, they claim, her own good.  Lilune lives only by night, and has no experience of the outside world until Lir appears and she persuades him to rescue her.  Yet when she leaves the safety of the castle and the hags, Lilune soon discovers that her erstwhile keepers may have been right to imprison her there.

This theme of an innocent, who learns she has some inherent ‘evil’ is one that shows up time and again in Lee’s strange, rich, fantastical worlds, as I was to discover as I was soon inhaling everything I could by her.  With an extensive catalogue of fantasy, science fiction and horror novels to her name, it’s still those early Young Adult books of hers that I number among my favourites: The Castle of Dark, The Winter Players and Companions on the Road are perfect capsules of her unique work.

Astonishingly prolific, Lee’s books aren’t always easy or indeed pleasant reading, drawn as she is to the darker side of human nature, but it’s her rich, sometimes dense language, and the strange worlds it conjures that played a significant role in shaping my imagination from an early age.  And indeed, which had a large influence on my early writing. 

From re-imagining fairytales in a way I guarantee you won’t find anywhere else, to exploring notions of Ancient Egyptian gods in Victorian London, strange pseudo-Babylonian gods in her Flat Earth series, and versions of vampires not presented by any other author, Tanith Lee’s canon is widespread and includes vast numbers of short stories as well as novels.  Her themes often feature feminism and sexuality, and in her novels, you’ll encounter a breed of strong female characters that will make you quake and cheer by turn.

I don’t think I’m too far off the mark in saying that Tanith Lee’s work is utterly unique, and while there have been pale imitators of her rich and lyrical imagination, none can do it like she does it.

If you’re tempted to give her a try, her Young Adult fiction such as The Castle of the Dark would be an excellent place to start.

jennygordon: (Clematis)

“Like her, he was a master, and could not bear to be entirely without an audience ... one solitary witness, who could appreciate his artistry, the tremendous scope and complexity of his undertaking."  

Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey

Back in 2001, Jacqueline Carey wowed the genre world with her innovative and original first novel, Kushiel’s Dart. Set in a skewed Renaissance world, the novel is the first in a series, the original trilogy of which features the remarkable heroine, Phèdre nó Delaunay. Born to the Night Court (the name given to the collective Houses of exquisite, highly-prized, highly trained courtesans of both sexes), raised by a mysterious nobleman and sent out into the world as a most unusual spy, her story is an engrossing gem that I recommend so highly I can’t reach far enough, even on tiptoe.

So, why should you read Jacqueline Carey? Well, for many reasons, these seven for starters ...

Read more... )

jennygordon: (Angel)

I’ve logged on to LiveJournal this morning to read the terribly sad news that Diane Wynne Jones has passed away.  I’ve already written a little about what an inspiration her wonderful books have been for me here, so I’ll keep this brief. 

I’m sure Diana’s many magical novels have been an important part of so many people’s lives, and I hope she knew how immensely well-loved those books have been and continue to be.  At a time when so many ‘greats’ in all walks of life seem to be leaving these shores for the Land in the West, we stand here on the beach waving off another.  I wonder if she would laugh at that metaphor and refer me to her classic "Tough Guide to Fantasyland"! 

[livejournal.com profile] hierathsuggested spending the day wafting around the house in a silk dressing gown, à la Chrestomanci as a fitting way of paying tribute to her memory, which feels just perfect to me. 

‘Bye Diana.  Safe travels.

ETA: Neil Gaiman, who was a close friend of Diana Wynne Jones, has posted this wonderful and moving tribute to her on his blog:  http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2011/03/being-alive.html
jennygordon: (Gargoyle)

A while ago, I commented that it’s a rare author who truly manages to conjure the past in a way that feels ‘true’. For me, Robert Holdstock achieves this in ways that leaves me deeply and irreversibly affected by both the strangeness of his vision and the fact that it seems to touch something deep inside me that recognises the ancient worlds he describes. Call it racial memory, call it literature-fuelled hallucinations, the power of his Mythago Wood and Merlin Codex series are undeniable. It’s the former I would like to concentrate on here.

All of the Mythago Wood books stand alone, while each also expands on the themes introduced in the first, Mythago Wood. The eponymous wood is Ryhope Wood, one of the last remnants of the Primal Forest which once covered prehistoric Britain. Ryhope Wood possesses a kind of sentience which enables it to touch the psyche and racial memory of those people who live nearby. Riffing on Jungian psychology, it pulls from their conscious memory and subconscious folk memory icons of myth which it creates out of the stuff of the woodland and breathes life into. So, within it dwell Robin Hood figures, Arthur figures, Guineveres, Jasons (as in The Argonaut) and so on. But Holdstock is interested in the most ancient forms of these figures; the rootstock which led to the mythologised character. So the wood utilises the most primal of race memories, producing instead Guiwenneth of the Green, a Dark Age heroine of the Native British, an aged and cunning Jason, the strange Jacks who are a sort of living Green Man figure. Along with these more familiar figures of myth, the wood creates much older types, those who we do not consciously recall, but who touch a nerve within us as though, somewhere deep inside, we remember them too. Among these are the Jaguth, a brotherhood of questing warriors from the Bronze Age, and Tig, a strange boy who is destined to shape the religion of the Neolithic tomb builders.

      

Many of the books focus on the Huxley family. The elder Huxley made a scientific study of Ryhope Wood and was the first to name its creations ‘mythagos’. When he vanished into the wood, his son, Christian was quick to follow, along with his second son, Steven some years later. For all of them, the beautiful Guiwenneth, re-created by each in the form their subconscious conjures her, plays a central role in their destiny. Eventually, of course, all three of them were to become the stuff of legend themselves.

  

The second novel, Lavondyss ... (clicky to read more) )

jennygordon: (Default)
Fourteen years ago, I was working in a bookshop in Nottingham.  One day, I noticed a little hardback book with the most exquisite cover art on the Fantasy shelves.  The book was by an author I'd never heard of, and the blurb made the story sound convoluted and strange, so I put it back on the shelf.  Yet, day after day I would reach for that book, smooth the cover, love the smallness of it in my hands, read a line or two, and wonder.  I finally bought it.  Read it.  Fell in love with it.  The tale it told was just as strange and enchanted as the cover art, full of gorgeous words and bright, jewel-like images.  A re-imagining of a British folktale lay at its heart, layered with honestly drawn characters and lyrical language that made it seem like emerging from a dream when I turned the final page.

"They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the colour of buttermilk, but I saw him walk out of the wood."   So reads the first line.  Go on, say it aloud, let it roll around your tongue, settle inside you and conjure secrets.  Who rode into the village on a horse the colour of buttermilk?  Why did he give the villagers cause to talk about him later?  What was he doing in the wood, and who is the narrator who saw him there?  I'd tell you, but you'd enjoy it far more if you just went and read the book for yourself.  Oh?  You think you might like to, only I haven't ... of course I haven't.  Silly me.

The book was 'Winter Rose' by Patricia McKillip, with cover art by Japanese artist, Kinuko Y Craft.

More under the cut (click here) ... )
jennygordon: (Naiad)
Last week, I read on Maggie Stiefvater's blog the terribly sad news that the children's author Diana Wynne Jones has been suffering from lung cancer and has recently opted to discontinue treatment.  As the many comments on Maggie's post show, Diana's books have been loved by so many of us who discovered them as children and still love them and return to them as adults.  I'm pretty sure that the first book I bought with my very own money was 'Charmed Life', and after reading the news, I've picked it up and started reading it all over again, and you know what?  It's just as wonderfully inventive and funny and inspirational as it was the first time.  In fact, I distinctly recall being immensely disappointed that, when I got to the end of it, I couldn't find any more books just like it.  And I mean EXACTLY like it.  Of course, somewhere along the way (I was only seven), I realised that there were books just like it out there, only they had different titles and different characters, although for a time they had exactly the same author because I went through a phase of inhaling everything by Diana Wynne Jones that I could find.

And you know something else?  I've always known that her books were a huge formative influence on my reading preferences and on my own imagination.  But it's only now that I'm re-reading 'Charmed Life' for the first time in ages that I'm realising just how great an influence they've also been on my writing too.  I think that says something pretty amazing about the power an author can have.  Imagine finding your own work cited in those terms.  How incredible, not to mention how incredibly humbling would that be?

Some years ago was lucky enough to see Diana lecture at a local university.  She was as inspiring and as entertaining in person as in her books.  I hope she knows how very loved her books are by so many people.  And if you weren't lucky enough to discover her as a seven-year-old, don't worry - it's not too late.  Head over to your local bookshop and pick one up.  I'd recommend 'Charmed Life' every time.

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