Saturday, 27 August 2011

Warning: Wardrobe May Contain Lion And Traces Of Snow

I've just read a book that reminded me of how I used to feel when I was around 11 and YEARNED with all my heart for life to be less real than it is. It was (or, at the time of writing, will be, as not in fact published till September 15th) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I won't do any of that smug "I've got a proof copy" stuff, or indeed add any spoilers, so if I say it's AS GOOD AS "JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL" you will know what I mean, and if you don't you probably aren't a huge fan of Wardrobe literature.
Wardrobe literature, since you ask (yeah yeah), is anything that lets you believe that somewhere, if you can only find it, there is a door to somewhere amazing, or a box that contains something amazing, or a tiny odd shop that sells something amazing, etc etc, that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the boring old tax-paying workaday hangover road-rage noisy-neighbour Real World is just a waiting room for somewhere much better, where anything is possible. Wardrobe literature introduces the real world and then dismisses it. It doesn't bamboozle you by throwing you headfirst into Middle Earth or Earthsea, like a travel brochure for somewhere exotic you will never visit and don't speak the language anyway. Devotees of wardrobe literature get excited by antique shops and libraries. They feel a prickling of the hairs on the back of their necks when they see, you've guessed it, a large old wardrobe, or a hidden door, or dusty attic steps. They stop telling people how excited these things make them because they worry that it sounds a bit childish, but the feeling never goes. The phrase "based on a true story" makes them sigh heavily and switch off.
I have attached a very sketchy reading list below. If I have glaringly omitted anything, please let me know...

Suggested Wardrobe Literature for adults:

The Solitudes, Little Big - John Crowley
Declare, Last Call - Tim Powers
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susannah Clarke
The Twelfth Enchantment - David Liss
The Magicians - Lev Grossman
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
Waking The Moon - Elizabeth Hand
American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Rivers Of London - Ben Aaronovitch
Farundell - L R Fredericks
The Glamour - Christopher Priest
The Book Of Skulls - Robert Silverburg
Mockingbird - Sean Stewart
Time And Again - Jack Finney
Prospero's Children - Jan Siegel
Weaveworld - Clive Barker

Suggested Wardrobe Literature for children:

Anything by the extraordinary and unmatchable Diana Wynne Jones
The Dark Is Rising series - Susan Cooper
The Perilous Gard - Marie Pope Osborne
Marianne Dreams, Thursday - Catherine Storr
Castle Of Bone - Penelope Farmer
Elidor , The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen, The Owl Service - Alan Garner
A Traveller In Time - Alison Uttley
The Giant Under The Snow - John Gordon
Mistress Masham's Repose - T H White
The Children Of Green Knowe - Lucy Boston
Stravaganza: City Of Masks - Mary Hoffman
The House Of Arden - E Nesbit
Tom's Midnight Garden - Philippa Pearce
And, it goes without saying, the Narnia books by C S Lewis.

Friday, 10 June 2011

How I Pass The Time When I'm Unable To Sleep

I am the very model of a blogger unreliable,
My application's sketchy and my updates rarely viable,
My posting is erratic and my facts unverifiable,
I am the very model of a blogger unreliable.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Not Funny

Oh calm down, I don't mean "Life Is Very Serious" or anything like that. Just that since I haven't written anything for ages I felt I had to break the back of it at some point, and I have nothing amusing to frilly it up with. This will be one of those po-faced and humourless blog entries that should have been written by a 17 year old boy striving to understand the mundanity of life, followed by discovering the Nietzschean darkness of his tormented soul, before going crazy with a paintball gun in the local dry-cleaner's (that's the PG version).
I apologise if any of you are 17 year old boys. If you are, my goodness have you subscribed to the wrong blog feed. All the hot teenage wannabe-Goth chicks are on MySpace, and anyway they fancy Robert Pattinson (really no idea why, I'm with you on that one).
So here's the problem - I used to write this because it made me snigger in a frankly immature way. I am now my own worst critic; every time I start a blog entry I find my lip curling in what practised writers refer to as the "Sarcastic Bystander" way. The hint, apparently, to avoid taking yourself too seriously, is to imagine everything you write being read aloud by a sarcastic bystander: "Lolita, my light, my life, my sin, my soul... seriously Vlad, you fancy yourself a bit with the poncey alliteration, don't you?"
ANYway. Upshot is I have decided not to be such a prat about blogging. I will do this more often. Even if I sneer at myself as I do it. Possibly I will (in the manner of Stella Gibbons putting asterisks next to the prose passages she was most proud of in Cold Comfort Farm) highlight selected blog entries with "well, it made me laugh, anyway". Or just do a David Sedaris and actually be funny...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Fingers Crossed

Just had an email from First Direct saying they would send me some paperwork to be signed, and "subject to the usual checks" I would soon become one of the happy Elect, frolicking in a flowery meadow of elite-hood, rather than wearing the scarlet letter S.
Of course now I'm panicking - will their "usual checks" be the equivalent of Talking To Her Mates After A Reasonably Good First Date? Will they find out that, financially speaking, I have a tendency to cry when drinking gin and stand on pub tables slurring mournfully along to "Don't Cry Out Loud"? Am I the kind of bank customer who equates to a slightly needy ex who sticks Garfield cartoons to her fridge and has a rear car window shelf full of cuddly toys and bejewelled tissue-box holders?
My other worry (even more irrational) is that I will turn out to be the victim of a huge scam - and that First Direct doesn't exist at all, but is an offshoot of Reverend James Willy Enterprises plc - and I and countless others have fallen victim to their seductive ads showing happy bankers talking to "real people" (or no-life "we're all MAD here!!!!!!" wonks as per the ad, but I digress).
But all of this is academic at the moment, as I wait by the letterbox, like a Victorian soldier's sweetheart, waiting for a tiny billet doux to raise my spirits... Oh First Direct, will you be my Valentine?

"Vouchsafe how many years you have resided at your present address, fair maid", quoth he.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

You say Santander and I say Salander

Had another exciting (! SO not.) exchange with my current financial services provider, the extraordinary circus sideshow that is Banco Abbey De Santander Nacional or whatever (regularly voted number 1 for appalling customer service! No argument from this customer, oh no). Who blocked my card because of "an unusual transaction". Then claimed they hadn't blocked it, but said they'd unblock it. The "unusual transaction" was a direct debit of £3.29 that goes out once a week, regular as clockwork. The man in the Complaints department agreed that it was a strange course of action to take - but hey, that's the wacky world o' banking! So yet again I'm vowing to move to First Direct (please don't ruin my day by telling me they're just as bad, I'M NOT LISTENING LA LA LA). When I have a day off. And I will follow this by channelling Lisbeth Salander for enough time to hack their website to say "We're Crap! And Proud Of It! And There's NOTHING You Can Do! Ha Ha Ha!!!" Well, I can dream anyway.
Apart from that brief blip, a good week so far - so good, in fact, that I have a sore shoulder from trudging home, my bag straining at the seams with proof copies of things I ACTUALLY WANT TO READ. I'm amazed I have time to update at all. In fact I haven't.
And finally: an invoice we received the other day. Nice to know the lovely Bookpoint are branching out and providing other items than books and stationery.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

What the more chi-chi menus describe as "a melange".

How swiftly time passes when you're failing to update a blog (here I would like you to imagine a montage of tiny scenes from my daily life, book pages blurring as I read, hair growing inch by inch as time speeds by, waistline also increasing exponentially as the twin evils of Christmas and We Have To Finish These Leftovers wreak their vile havoc, all to the haunting strains of "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler On The Roof).
That's enough of that.
There is very little to say about Christmas 2010 apart from the fact that it was calm, relaxed, and I got everything I wanted. I have accordingly struck at least one ridiculously expensive perfume off my WANT list.
Oh yes, we went on holiday! I would elaborate, but it was Thailand again, and I've already bored you all with tales of the slow loris we saw in Khao Lak AND my near-addiction to chilis, so I won't go on, except to say that no, we do not have a sex-dungeon full of ladyboys (in reply to people who say with deep suspicion "Thailand again?"). I had a moment while eating a VERY HOT Panang curry where the endorphin rush brought on by the chilis caused the inside of my head to start to expand, and I may or may not have seen the face of Buddha in a thousand revolving lotuses, or perhaps that was the lemongrass martini I had had several of beforehand. Either way, sod you, Carlos Castaneda.
I read, and was bowled over by, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. I think there's some kind of blind spot that makes authors of grownup fiction think that writing kids' books must be a piece of cake (McNab, Patterson, Ryan, Grisham, I'm looking at you and frowning), despite the fact that this is completely untrue. Talented authors of kids' books are rare and wonderful things, and having once written successfully for children they seem better able to turn their hands to very good adult fiction (Geraldine McCaughrean, Diana Wynne Jones, etc). Dark Matter is so creepy and implicit that I was very glad indeed I was reading it in the sweltering Thai sunshine - it's set in the Arctic, about a jolly 1930s group of exploring chaps who fall foul of some nameless malevolent presence in the long wastes of the sunless Arctic winter. Fabulously atmospheric and, like M R James, best read in a brightly-lit house full of people. HIGHLY recommended.
Updates to ensue more regularly...