John Bauer: sparks my imagination every time

#bookadayuk is one of the better Twitter hashtag events. A different book with a different theme, chosen by readers each day throughout June. Such a lovely, simple idea from new HarperCollinsUK imprint The Borough Press.

Here’s the full list, just in case you haven’t seen it. I didn’t spot it until today: 3 June and have been kicking myself for missing the first two days. Despite thinking off myself as a free-thinking, anarchic type, I have such an inbuilt nervous regard of rule and regulations that I just can’t bring myself to put my Day 1, 1st June, on Twitter today. So hurrah for Weekly Blog Club and the chance to play catch-up.

There are some categories that have got me thinking already. In fact, I will have to treat this like an advent calendar and not peek ahead to later days, or I can easily spend the whole day thinking of books. But I think I’m allowed to list a few here to inspire any one who’s yet to join in:

12th: Pretend to have read it: there’s a few that can go into this category. It’s possible there might even be one or two from university days, when I was terrified at the jump from finding myself Good at English to not having read ANY of the shelves and libraries full of texts that the omniscient people in my Modern Literature seminar had got through.

19th: Still can’t stop talking about it: I suppose I’ll have to make a vow that not every single book will be Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. If I’d had his blue-covered Turtle Diaries to hand, that would have been my choice for today: One with a blue cover.

27th: Want to be one of the characters. Wow: where to start with that? Perhaps I’m wrong and I should spend much of today considering it. These are serious choices. Anyway: time to catch up with Days One and Two. These are somewhat similar.

1st: Favourite book from childhood. It’s ‘book’, not ‘novel’, so that makes a difference and it’s book singular. Yes, I am taking this very seriously. I said I am a respecter of rules. Favourite novel would probably be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I won’t go into detail now because I’m writing a blog post to celebrate its 50th anniversary for Words and Pictures, the online magazine of the British Isles region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

‘Books’ would probably have been the Jill pony series by Ruby Ferguson. There are no words to describe how I loved them. I longed with all my heart to be Jill, while trapped in a pony-free home without enough money for riding lessons and over-protective parents who wouldn’t have let me within a mile of a scary horse anyway.

I didn’t have many books when I was a kid and once I got to school, I read my way throughout the bookshelves fast. So teachers used to take me to the town library. Skirting past the staircase (because upstairs, in the museum,  the nightmare-inducing skeleton used to grin at you)  I picked the same book, time and time again: Myths of the Norsemen, by Roger  Lancelyn Green. The link goes to a blog post that details all the chapters.

Everything in it spoke to me. I knew the Greek myths too well and was bored by them. Anyway, what tedious Greek god could compare with Loki the trickster, beautiful Baldur and his heart-breaking brother Hodur? I tried to work out how to pronounce Yggdrasill, the World Tree, and upgraded my pony fetish to an eight-legged horse. There was always something new to find out and wonder over and imagine. It set my reading tastes for good. Beside my bed, there’s Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Joanne Harris’s Gospel of Loki, both for re-reading. Reading her library tale in the link, we could be the same person: her being a wildly-successful author aside …

Fast forward some 40 years to June 2: Best bargain. John Bauer‘s Sagovarld – Swedish Faerie and Folk Tales, picked up for a few crowns in a Stockholm secondhand shop. So much has changed. I’ve found a huge birth family in Sweden: seven brothers and sisters, just like a fairy tale. I’ve walked thought the forests and swum in the lakes I used to dream about.

This could also go in for June 8th: Own more than one copy. My original, battered Swedish version is somewhere in a book pile. The picture is of a second copy closer to hand: a present from Swedish family. I’ve got copies in English too. Yes, I like John Bauer. Another book of Norse legends, bought for my daughter, has a blue cover, taking me back full circle to today’s choice.

#bookadayuk – the best kind of distraction.

*amended 10 June as the hashtag was changed by the organiser







Kill the Talking Elk

Leap_the_Elk  _and_Princess_Tuvstar_ John_Bauer
Leap the Elk and Princess Tuvstar, John Bauer

Not the rubbish sequel to Drop the Dead Donkey: writing advice from my daughter.

It hasn’t been quite the productive week for writing I planned, mainly because of two events. The first is lovely but has kept me busy: I’m volunteering to help organise this year’s Writeidea Festival, London’s only free literature festival. I’ll post about that as soon as the website is live. Do please follow @writeidea to find out more in the meantime.

The second wasn’t quite so much fun. I ran into a nasty git and was assaulted. I’ll post about that too after he’s been sentenced early next month. It’s preoccupied my thoughts to an extent that has taken me by surprise, hardened cynic that I am.

So: writing. It’s now 1120 on Friday morning and I have written about four words since I got up at 0700. I’ve edited the first 5K words again and am about to rewrite a first turning point, where the action steps up a gear and forces a change for the main character. Her name has also changed over the past week.

She was nicknamed Moo and this has altered to Mu. Because, reasons. It might not sound much but it feels like one of the family wandered home and announced they wanted to be known as something different.

Anyway, back to elk. I have rather a thing about elk. I have been to Sweden perhaps 20 times now and, apart from at Skansen, the wonderful open air museum in Stockholm, I have never seen an elk. This is a constant source of amusement to my Swedish family, who take a sadistic delight in pointing out the abundance of elk in my absence.

‘Oh, look over there! That’s where we saw the mama elk and her twin babies, yesterday before you arrived/the day after you left.’ I’ve seen elk-hunting platforms on all over Småland, where most of my siblings live, and evidently ex-brother-in-law Adolf (I bet no-one else has one of those round here) makes a comfortable living from organising such hunting.

They are beautiful creatures. Although I know they kill a number of people each year by running into cars, I love seeing the elk warning signs on the road and long to meet one face to face in the wild.

So, when I wanted some form of magical animal in my Young Adult fantasy novel, part of which is set in Swedish forests, elk seemed obvious. A talking elk might not be in the league of Pantalaimon, Lyra’s daemon by Phillip Pullman in His Dark Materials – the greatest animal sidekick in literature – but he was the best I could do.

Sadly, Amelia loathes him. She also dislikes my heroine but rather fancies one of the boys in the story. I’m taking any views to mean the characters have some three-dimensionality or credibility so am not too worried about them.

I’ve learning a lot about my writing. I begin loads of sentences with pronouns (see?) and repeat phrases constantly. Description comes hard to me and I’m naturally concise, probably as a result of years of news- rather than feature-based journalism and pr.

And I think that the elk stays. For the moment.

The pic is by John Bauer, illustrator of Swedish folk stories, taken from bauer.artpassions.net