Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The forgotten and the fantastical

There's all sorts I need to write about at the moment, and a million books I've loved and want to rave about, so much I've been overwhelmed and paralysed into not-starting. Plus, and I know this sounds like an excuse, but don't even dare to dismiss it as one unless you too have more than one pre-school-age child and an evening job, I really am finding time hard to manage. It's not just about deciding to work harder or stretch myself thinner: there really are only a few hours in the day when I can be at a computer, hard in the day with the children, then in the evenings I absolutely must earn a living, and when I've done the money-bit and turned to my own projects the boys get into the phase of evening when they just take it in turns to wake, and won't settle without me. I'm trying to think of innovative ways to eke out more time, and drawing a blank. Setting the alarm "an hour earlier" as is so commonly recommended doesn't work amazingly well if your children's start time varies so massively - today we've all been awake since 5.30 and I'm not sure I'm committed enough to my art that I'd have been able to leap up at 4.30. Plus, I feel fairly sure that my getting up early would just wake them, and it's hard enough as it is, getting to that time of morning when you've done all the activities and good mothering and stuff, and it's still only 9am....

I loved The Forgotten and the Fantastical because it did that thing to me that some books do - it made me want to join in. It made me think about fairy tales, and which ones I'd like to tell again in my own way, and what messages they're giving us. I blogged a little about it a while back, about the hidden values and their dangers, but that didn't really say much about the book.
There are 11 stories, varying from fairly straight re-tellings through creative re-imaginings and brand new stories. It's hard to pick out which ones were particularly special, but I did think the opening and closing pieces, from N J Ramsden,. were properly disturbing, in a good way. The boy and the bird was just magical and lyrical and troubling and I had to read it twice before I could carry on.
Then there was the glorious Red Riding Hood retelling, Footfalls of the hunter, visceral and urgent and a proper making the story her own. Gepetto's child has a Blade runner kind of feel, but it's more original than that makes it sound. And I was deeply impressed by the versatility of the two Marija Smits stories - assuming a range of narrative voices is something I'd love to be able to do with any kind of skill, and she does just this, with Screaming Sue having a Holden Caulfield sort of tone.
I'm not trying to belittle these stories at all by comparing and referencing to other things, in fact quite the opposite. Really worthwhile reading for me gains its value through creating resonances, echoes of what I've read or seen or thought about before and noises that keep chiming through my head making me want to try my own reflections. So when writing puts me in mind of something else, then something else again, it's properly paying for itself, giving me lots of fuel for my money.

And on what might seem like a slightly shallow note, it's a physically beautiful book - a lovely size to hold, and eyecatching cover, and quirky little pictures at the start of each story. It doesn't matter as much as the words inside, but it helps to make it feel special, and this matters to me when more and more of the books I buy these days are for my kindle - I like a book that I can enjoy physically as well as intellectually and emotionally, if that doesn't sound too pompous. It's a feature of everything that Mother's Milk Books sells - a physical loveliness that pulls you in before you even begin reading.

Not such a blog silence until next time, I swear. I want to write about the stresses and strains of work, about trying to balance the callings to do so many things, the rough rough challenges of a sensitive yet boisterous four year old displaced by his brother, the glorious smell and feel of a plump baby, the fun and games of learning to use a sewing machine, oh, all sorts, there's so much in there waiting for a chance to tumble out....maybe some speech recognition software and a bit of benign neglect are called for.


  1. Reading The Forgotten and the Fantastical made me want to join in too!

    I've got lots of sympathy for your daily routine, Helen. I think it's amazing you're finding the time to blog at all... (They will get bigger, and it will all change...)

  2. I'm amazed you can blog at all. Anyone who has three off-spring under the age of 5 AND a job is incredible. Did you know that (and this might have changed since my day, so don't quote me) if you have three under the age of 5, you're in some kind of special category with health visitors, as worthy of extra support - and I'm not sure if that translates into anything useful, or just that your file goes on the top of the pile. But maybe it'll make you feel heroic, just knowing that.

  3. Thank you so so much for this wonderful review, and for you kind words re: my stories. It's simply so lovely to have someone write a considered and thoughtful review. It makes the hours put into the writing worth it!