30 Books For My 30th – Number 21

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img_4561Dear Fantastic Mr Fox,

I realise as a book lover that I should probably have been more drawn to Matilda when I was younger. I should probably have seen myself somewhere in the tale of a girl who loves books and teaching people a lesson. They’re kind of my favourite things to do. And I did love her. I mean she’s basically the poster child for the eternally bookish and the book is the same age as I am. Still, when I was younger, it was you, Fantastic Mr Fox, that captivated me so much as a child. And who wouldn’t love this epic story of good triumphing over evil… especially when that good is a really cunning fox?

As a child I was part of pretty tight-knit group of friends. It comprised of myself, my twin sister, and out best friend at the time. We spent nearly all of time together. We loved the same things. And one of those things was you. One of my most vivid memories from childhood is being driven somewhere by our friend’s mum and begging her to let us listen to the cassette tape of you audio book. We must have worn that tape out considering the amount we listened to it. I’m pretty sure we would speak along with it and everything. We must have driven her mother insane. But we loved it.

There is no writer who can quite match up to Roald Dahl for being able to give a child what they want from a book. He never crosses the line with his darkness but he isn’t afraid to scare kids a bit. Boggis and Bunce and Bean are grotesque characters. They are genuinely disgusting and vicious and that’s really refreshing for a child. As a young reader, you aren’t really used to characters who are so realistically evil. You are used to fairy tale villains who are obviously just fictional. You know, evil queens who kill people who are more beautiful than they are. Or evil stepmothers who hate their beautiful stepdaughters. Basically we’re used to villains who are obsessed with looks and nothing else.

But you were different. You presented us with an image that was understandable in the real world. A group of farmers that wanted to kill a wild animal. And, let’s be honest, they were justified. I love Mr Fox, don’t get me wrong, but he did keep eating their livestock. I always wanted him to succeed but I could totally get why they were a bit miffed. This isn’t normal for children’s literature. You don’t get evil people who it is, on some deep deep level, okay to sympathise with… just a little bit. I worry I’m coming across as the kind of person who wants to see people kill foxes. I’m not. I love them. Mostly because of you; partly because of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Love them. Still, I’d be annoyed if one kept eating my chickens just to piss me off.

You are as clever and well-written as any other Roald Dahl book but there was obviously something so wonderful about you that we all kept coming back to. The cynical and realistic part of me wants to say it was because we all just bloody loved animals. It’s true. Part of the reason I love Aladdin so much is because Jasmine has a fucking tiger. I’ve wanted to be her all my life. But, I also like to think, in my nostalgic and dreamy way, that we knew then that you were special. That we knew you were a simple story told in a truly Dahl-esque style. That you were funny and scary at the same time. That you were rich in detail despite being so short. That you showed us that it’s important to stick up for yourselves. That it’s so easy to be underestimated and you can use that to your advantage. That you were more than just the tale of a fox being able to outsmart a group of farmers.

But probably not. We probably just loved that you were about a fox and that you got your tail shot off. Oh, and that rhyme is bloody memorable.
To Mr Fox! Long may he live!
Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 20

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dscn7296Dear 1984,

I’m a liar. Or at least I was a liar. For more years than I’d care to admit to I lied about having read you. Don’t judge me. I was a teenage literary student who hadn’t read one of the most revered books of all time. How could I possibly admit to not having read Orwell’s classic? So I didn’t. I not only pretended that I’d read you but that I loved you. I had discussions with friends about you. I argued in your favour. It was ridiculous. But I got away with. In fact, it was so easy that I decided that I could continue to put you off. It seemed like a massive hassle when I was so good at bullshitting.

I eventually did read you and I enjoyed you. I think I always had a sneaking suspicion that I didn’t love you as much as I’d always pretended but I ignored it. I’d finally read the book that so many people loved. The ultimate in dystopian fiction. I finally felt worthy of the title of book nerd. Even if I did, secretly, just wish I’d read Animal Farm again. That nagging feeling of doubt continued to get to me. That gnawing in the back of my brain that said “1984 isn’t actually that good” was impossible to shake. So, a couple of years ago, I reread you. And I came to a decision.

You aren’t a great novel. But you aren’t a bad novel either. I think there are a lot of great ideas at play in this work and I appreciate your overall message. I get the point of Orwell trying to point out the dangers of totalitarianism and I understand that you hold an important place in literary history. I get it. But all of that cleverness under the surface doesn’t change the fact that, really 1984, you aren’t that great a book. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that on my last read through I was bored. I didn’t even finish you! I just couldn’t do it.

However, I understand that it would be wrong to totally dismiss you. So I’m using a phrase that Orwell himself discusses in great detail. You are a good bad book. Orwell defines this terms as:

the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one’s intellect simply refuses to take seriously

Which I think sums up my feelings about you, 1984. I love you as an idea and I love so many aspects of you. There are plenty of moments that I think are relevant today and your narrative never fails to start some sort of discussion. You are a book that never fails to excite me in some way. However, I find that I can’t really take you seriously. You can’t deny that you are flawed, right?

I mean you’re so melodramatic and kind of ludicrous. There are so many parts of the plot that just seem insane and absolutely unworkable. We all know that Big Brother is a very obvious caricature of Stalin, yes, but there are aspects of his government that just wouldn’t work. It’s not a system with any kind of longevity. Plus, I can’t help but feel that Orwell has been a bit too obvious with the whole analogy thanks to his powerful hatred of communism. It just lacks the necessary subtlety to always work.

You also lack a lot of subtlety in terms of writing. Orwell is clumsy and long-winded. I mean think of the huge section where we sit and watch Winston reading a book. I think I skipped most of it in my last read. I can’t help but feel that there was a better way to get this information across to the reader. There is so much detail piled in here to get Orwell’s point across that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the story. And don’t even get me started on the attempt to realise a Cockney accent. It’s mega cringe.

And I’m only saying this because you’re still a good enough book that it won’t matter. You’ve changed the world of literary and you’ve changed the world in general. You have seeped into society. You’ve changed our language. You’ve empowered people to stand up for themselves. You’ve forced us to see the negatives in front of our eyes. You’re also not completely terribly written. There are some passages of stunning descriptions of your dystopian world. You have endured for good reason. But, it would be amiss of me not to point out that you are flawed. That’s probably what makes you so impressive. For something so ridiculous to be so powerful is, perhaps, the true definition of a literary classic. So, I’ll continue to defend you but I’ll be doing so well-aware that beneath your legend there is the frail, flawed body. You look like the Disney Hercules after his training but are, in fact, Disney Hercules before his training. Still a demi-God but a much less impressive one.
Confession is not betrayal
Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 19

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dscn7286Dear Wordsworth,

This is a difficult letter to write. It’s always hard to reach out to a past love without it being weird. Because I did love you once. Or at least I think I did. I, at least, felt like I should. You were so important a figure. So distinguished. So loved. It was like I didn’t have a choice but to love you. Especially because I’d already decided that my future lay, at least in terms of my education, in the realm of Romanticism. If you want to study this period it’s kind of impossible to ignore you. We all know you were like the father of the whole movement. Plus, I went to a university in Lancashire, near your beloved Lake District, so they properly loved you.

So I tried. I played the part. And I did love some of your poems. Tintern Abbey is a wonderful piece of prose and the first book of The Prelude is a fabulous thing to read. I don’t think you are terrible, by any means, but I can’t say that I was as enamoured as I felt I should be. I don’t wish to sound rude but there are better poets out there. Obviously there are worse (not mentioning any names *cough* Keats) but it’s not like you were that special. I kept thinking “maybe I’m just not getting it” or “maybe it’s just too clever for me”. I started to doubt myself and just forced myself to like you more. I got deeper and deeper until I genuinely didn’t know what to believe anymore. But, really, I think you’re okay.

Have you ever heard the song ‘If I didn’t have you’ by Tim Minchin? I don’t see why you would have considering you died in 1850 but go with me for a second. In that song, the comedian postulates that if he hadn’t met his wife when he did then he’s probably just have fallen in love with someone else. It’s a great song, worth a listen if you ever feel like it. But, my point is, if I hadn’t ever read any of your poems then I don’t feel as though my life would be missing something. Basically, if I didn’t have you then some other poet would do. And even you have to admit that in between all of your big hitters there are a lot of duds. Coleridge knew it. Hazlitt knew it. You must have known it. Surely just because ‘I wandered lonely’ has stood the test of time doesn’t mean we can forgive all of your boring political shit later in life? Right?

But maybe this isn’t a fair assessment. I think it’s safe to say we have a pretty messy break-up so it might be clouding my judgement. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to write my undergraduate dissertation on a poet that I wasn’t sure I liked but that was the choice I made. For months I studied your poems, your diaries, and you letters. I knew you so well it meant there were very few surprises left. Our relationship started to go stale. By the end, we were like the married couple in ‘Brothers on a Hotel Bed’ by Death Cab For Cutie. Saying goodbye from our own separate sides. We spent too much time together. Stopped appreciating each other. We only stayed together for the essay. Once it grew up and moved out of the house we had nothing left keeping us together.

So, that’s why I haven’t really been in touch with you lately. I went through a period of saying hurtful things about you to make myself feel better. It wasn’t the most mature thing I’ve ever done but it made me feel better. And I learnt my lesson. Everything I wrote about in my postgraduate dissertation is still something I love. I ended up finding something good. So I hope you have too. One day, maybe, we can be friends again. After all, we went through so much together that it feels like such a shame to waste it. We’ll see.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
Laura

30 Books For My 30th – Number 18

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dscn7269Dear Frankenstein,

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this letter let me just say happy birthday. What a wonderful year; both of us celebrating significant ages. Your 200 does make my mere 30 years seem a bit trifling, so thanks for that, but at least you’re one of the few things that actually makes me feel young these days. And, let’s be honest, you look really great for it. If I look half as good when I reach my bicentenary year then I’ll be happier than a mad scientist bringing a corpse back to life.

Now, in relation to a lot of the books on this list, we haven’t known each other for that long. I think I first read you as a 15-year-old probably. I guess I wasn’t in a big rush because I’d seen so many hammy, black and white film adaptations. You see a big lumbering monster capturing women and fleeing from angry mobs with pitchforks a hundred times then you’re not necessarily in a rush to read the book.  I expected you to be camp and overly kitsch. A bit embarrassing. But, thankfully, I was introduced to an English teacher who made me read you. And I’m so glad they did.

Let me be honest with you for a second; I’m a pretty bad bookworm. I don’t tend to reread books all that often. There are certain ones I make an exception for but it’s very infrequent. I don’t set aside a few weeks every year to read the same novel again and again because I love it so much. There are more than a few people who I follow on Instagram who will read the Harry Potter series at least once a year sometimes more. How can they do that to themselves? Do they not have a massive library of unread books to read first? And, really, I’m of the belief that too much of something is a bad thing. If I were to revisit my favourite books too often then I’d eventually hate them. And I already dislike most of the books I read these days. I’d have nothing left. So I tend to just fall in love with a book and deposit it safely on my bookshelf and never speak to it again. Well, I might occasionally stroke it or take it down to photograph it but I tend not to open its pages. It’s safer.

But you broke the mould. You changed the rules. You have the honour of being the book that I have reread most in my lifetime. Okay, so we’ve established that that’s not a very meaningful title to give, especially after I’ve just read something by someone claiming to have read you 50 times, but for me its huge. I’d love to say I did it off my own back but I didn’t. Nope, you followed me everywhere I went. I couldn’t get away from you. You were my Annie Wilkes. Every time I thought I’d got away you would come back in and cut off another of my feet with your axe. I read you for about 5/6 years in a row for my English studies. I started to think I was cursed or something. Every time, I thought to myself, there is literally nothing more I can get from this book but, every time, I was wrong.

You are so much more than the story of a man creating a murderous monster. Yes, you’re the grandfather of modern science-fiction. Yes, there is a lot of mythology surrounding your creation. Yes, you revitalised gothic fiction of the age. But you have so much more to say. So much to say about the human spirit, about science, about obsession, and about fitting into society. You were revolutionary. You changed everything. You changed literature. You changed me. I enjoyed every new read even more than the first time. I fell more and more in love with you every time. And I will continue to fall in love with you every time I read you.

You are a beautifully crafted novel and by someone so young. There is such heartbreak and pain within your pages along with such exciting prose. You are, to borrow a word found so frequently in your film counterparts, alive! I don’t think any book out there has made me feel so many different emotions every single time. You have created some of the most memorable and human characters I’ve ever read and are one of the most interesting books I’ve ever studied. You could debate on who the real victim of this novel is for years and still change your mind every other week. You were, most likely, my first introduction to proper gothic fiction and I’m sure you started my obsession, even if I didn’t know it at the time. You are a book that I will never get bored with and will recommend to everyone. You are everything.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine
Laura

30 Books For My 30th – Number 17

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dscn7247Dear Northanger Abbey,

I have a question for you: why do so many people hate you? I seriously do not understand it. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen in general but I know a lot of people who are hardcore fans. And what confuses me more than their absolute adoration of her as a writer is that they all seem to share a dislike of you. Which is crazy. You’re the best thing she’s ever written. You are, by far, the most entertaining of the Austen novels I’ve read and you’re heroine is the one I found most endearing. I know everyone wants to be Lizzy Bennett but I always saw Catherine Morland as someone I may once have been.

Most book nerds have, unofficially, pronounced Belle from Beauty and the Beast as the icon of what we live for. She lives in her books and craves adventure so I get it. However, if we want to find a female character who really typifies what it means to be a book lover then it’s Catherine. She is so obsessed with what she reads that she imagines it happening around her. If she were living this day then she would be writing fanfiction and creating Tumblrs about her favourite ships. Belle has a pretentious side to her whilst Catherine is just straight up adorable. Naive, definitely, but her behaviour is totally forgivable. Totally understandable. I see people like her on Bookstagram all the time so I don’t see why more of them don’t adore her.

Maybe it’s just that modern audiences don’t get the parody? I know a lot of people who have read this and then gone on to read The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is great because Ann Radcliffe is a sensation. However, it means you don’t get the context until after the fact. If you go into this book without an understand of what very early gothic fiction was like then you’ll think it’s all just melodramatic nonsense. Instead of a very clever parody. They won’t fully appreciate how intricate it all is. How funny. How subversive. You don’t get enough credit.

Neither does your romantic hero. There’s a lot of love for Mr Darcy out there. A lot. Another thing I don’t get about Austen fans. Darcy isn’t the kind of man you fall in love with. Who is the kind of guy you fall for? Why, Henry Tilney, of course. Henry doesn’t take time to get used to. He’s charming, funny, sweet, and kind from the off set. He is patient with Catherine and forgives her for being a bit excitable. He lacks the good looks of someone like Willoughby or Wickham but he’s in no way unattractive. He loves his sister and is an avid reader. Basically, Henry Tilney is the perfect man. So why don’t more people see it?

I don’t understand. I’ll always love you. You were the book that made me give Jane Austen a second chance. I was sure I would never be able to fully appreciate anything that she wrote until you came along. Now, I’m willing to see more positives. I reread Sense and Sensibility a few years after I read you and I enjoyed it more. You were the book that finally made me see that there was more to Jane Austen. I can’t say that you’ve fully changed my opinion but you’ve made me more open minded. You were my Henry Tilney.
I am delighted with the book!
Laura

30 Books For My 30th – Number 16

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img_4489Dear Agatha Christie,

I admit that I probably took a bit of time actually getting around to reading your books. There were so many times that I’d heard them dismissed as “cosy crime” that I thought they were beneath me. They definitely sounded like the kind of thing that I, a super serious and embarrassingly pretentious literature student, shouldn’t be reading. I was, to put it mildly, an idiot. I cared so much about the image I was portraying that I stopped reading for enjoyment. When I remembered that was the main aim I was able to see what I’d been missing. I’ve had lots of enjoyable reading experiences over the years but none compare to your novels. Even now, when I reread books I know the ending to, I still find myself utterly engrossed in your plots. Still convinced that the ending I know is coming will never happen. I was a fool to dismiss you. But, in my defence, it’s not like I’m alone. So many people see you in a nostalgic light. As something silly and old that takes them back. You’ve essentially been categorised as an old friend, which you are, but it’s not the end of the story.

The thing is, you aren’t just “cosy crime”. I mean you are when compared to the identical examples of psychological thrillers that are being churned out every few months. Books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. The ones that need to rely on unnecessary violence and supremely grim ‘reality’ because it’s all they have. The truth is, for all the sexual violence and pseudo-psychology of these books, I hated them. They bored me. They weren’t well written and they were super obvious. I could tell from the first few chapters of Girl on a Train who the killer was and I stopped reading Gone Girl because it was blatantly obvious where Gillian Flynn was going with it. These books are all style and no substance… but they have that high fashion thing that nobody in the real-world really likes but has to accept because they don’t get it.

You’re books are the real deal. To dismiss them as “cosy” is the biggest injustice of all time. To refer to them as casual reading that you do between heavy reads is an insult. You didn’t write to shock your audience or to make headlines. You didn’t need to be the next big sensation. You wrote for real readers. Readers who don’t need thoughtless melodrama to excite them. You wrote well-plotted stories about characters that seem realistic. You had such a sense of people. That’s the reason your books have lasted. You understand the importance of the plot and what drives the plot. At the heart of every one of your murder mysteries is the one piece that moves everything else forward: the body. Once that’s in place, you have all the pieces you need to explore all aspects of humanity. To dig deep into the effect that evil has on the world. To question why people would commit murder. There’s a lot of depth people often refuse to see.

And yes, you also happen to have written some of the most exciting and shocking plot twists of all time. I remember the first times I read The Murder of Roger Aykroyd and And Then There Were None. I was genuinely shocked by the twists. I pride myself on being able to figure out where mystery writers are going with their plots but, more often than not, you stump me. You’re so detail focused that the reader becomes embroiled in the mystery. They don’t have a choice but to take on the role of detective and solve the crime too. Some of your endings were groundbreaking and still haven’t been surpassed to this day. Roger Aykroyd changed literature for fuck’s sake. It’s changed my view of you and of the genre.

You have written some of the most deceptive plots in all of literary history but the biggest piece of deception you are guilty of is your own writing. You manage to create books that can be enjoyed by people of various ages. They are simple enough for a younger reader whilst still with enough depth for a seasoned one. You skirt on the edge of darkness and evil without every firmly planting yourself in it. These are books that are so easily dismissed as childish and simplistic. But there is so much hidden away beneath the surface. You just need to engage you little grey cells to see it.
Very few of us are what we seem.
Laura

 

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 15

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 Dear George RR Martin,

dscn7223

First and foremost, I have a confession to make: I didn’t start reading your A Song of Ice and Fire series until after I’d seen the TV show. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but I think I’ve been too afraid to say it out loud before. You know what some bookish people are like. To be fair though, I was only 8 when the first book came out. If the publishing industry didn’t give a shut about fantasy at that time then why would you expect me to be? I was probably too occupied by whatever 8 year-old me was bothered about. Probably my dog or Dawson’s Creek or something.

So I was in my 20s by the time I read your books but, from that moment, I adored them. You were like Tolkien and JK Rowling had a child who grew up to write awesome books. Combining the epic fantasy setting of Tolkien with the hard-hearted attitude to character death of Rowling. Plus a bit of uncomfortable sex scenes for good measure. And we all know I love a creepy book sex scene. Especially if it involves a dwarf whose nose got cut off in battle.

As the years went by your books got harder to read but not because they’re bad. You’ve just put so much into them. There are so many additional characters and subplots that it’s difficult to keep track. And that book that focused on the South despite all the good shit happening in the North? Not the best. However, I’m not really writing this letter because your books changed my life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore them and would call it my favourite series. But I’m writing this to you, George RR, because you get a lot of shit these days. It’s been… a while since the 5th book was released. And, you may have noticed, people are getting frustrated. Very frustrated.

I bet you look back to the pre-HBO times and just think “remember when I only had a few loyal fans who were willing to wait years between books?” Not anymore. The TV crowd, people like me, are more impatient. They’ve never has to wait for your books. So this is hell. And they’re taking it out on you. I say “fuck them”. Readers like to think they own books but we just loan them from the writer. We share them and take what we need from them. But these books are yours. I’d rather read a book you’re proud to publish than a book you’ve rushed to meet a deadline. Yes, maybe you did put too much into the story. Maybe you’re finding it too difficult to tie up all of the loose ends. But the loose ends are the reason we love the books. So take the necessary months and years it’ll take to finish.

Because these books are like no other. You’ve introduced to some of my most loved characters and have made me feel a cavalcade of emotions. I read the Red Wedding scene and literally threw the book across the room I was so upset. I’m always terrified you’ll kill off someone I love. Like Brienne. I swear, if she meets a grisly end I’ll find you. Liam Neeson style. She’s perfect. She speaks to me in a way no other female character ever has. We’ve shared so many experiences. Shared so many feelings. I need her to survive. Just like I need your books. But I need them to be finished. So finish them and take as much time as you need.

 

A true man does what he will, not what he must.
Laura

 

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 14

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dscn7213Dear The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,

Picture the scene: September 2010, a 22 year-old me is at an English department meet and greet before starting my Postgraduate degree and I’m stuck talking to my strange new Professor. It’s all as awkward as you’d hope until he asks me one simple question: “why did you chose to study the Romantic period?” Well?

It was an Ancient Mariner,
And he really spoke to me.
With his long grey beard and glittering eye,
He changed the life of me.

I’ve decided it’s better that I don’t continue the rest of this letter by butchering Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sensational words but, hopefully, you get the point. The reason I was so desperate to study Romanticism was you.

It was during my A Level studies that I was first introduced to you and it really did change my life. I’d read and kind of enjoyed poetry before but it was all rather pedestrian. It was poetry that seemed as though it was meant to be studied but not enjoyed, if that makes sense. I didn’t hate poetry, by any means, but I still hadn’t been brought around to the idea that one could really enjoy consuming it. Until we studied the epic tale of a crazy old sailor. I was genuinely amazed by what I was reading. I didn’t know poetry could excite me so much.

This was a new world and I was obsessed. I loved every line. I loved every rhyme. I loved every time … I read you. You were the first poem that I read so often I was able to learn you off by heart. And I’m not just talking about your first two stanzas. I knew loads. Not all of you, because you’re quite long, but I still think it was pretty impressive. I’m sure even Coleridge needed to be reminded of the later stanzas too. You were the first poem to convince me I could, and should, read poetry outside of the classroom. I admit, being about 15/16 at the time, it was a little depressing that it took me so long but I was never very taken by sonnets.

You were so much more than the poems we’d studied previously. You were archaic but new. You were gothic and scary yet reassuring and joyful. Expertly mixing the supernatural with the natural. You were everything that early Romanticism stood for and I wanted more. Just like your titular mariner, you hypnotised me. Your words opened my eyes to a new world of prose. Your simple structure and metre only complimented the complexity within your story. The dramatic tale and the ever-moving narrative would always draw me in. Still always draws me in.

I admit that, as the years go by, I can see all the faults that Coleridge saw. The moral is a little hammy and the archaic language is a bit much. Turns out you aren’t as perfect as my naive teenage self once thought you were. But. I still love you. I always will. You changed the whole trajectory of my life. I went to university and studied as much of this era as I could. You pushed me further towards gothic fiction. Everything I achieved during my four years of higher education can be traced back to you. You inspired me. You made me.
Farewell, farewell!
Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 13

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dscn7205Dear Jacqueline Wilson,

This letter should be one full of joy and celebrating the news that you’re writing a new Tracy Beaker story. Narrated by Tracy’s 9-year-old daughter. I remember reading The Story of Tracy Beaker as a child. It inspired me in so many ways. I wanted to write. I started keeping a diary. I watched the TV show even when I was far too old to be doing so. I can’t wait to read the newest adventure and see how Tracy grew up. I’m sure I’m not alone. There will be an entire generation of women who grew up with your stories who will have experienced that same wave of nostalgia that I did. It’s the kind of impact you have as a writer.

So why is it not a letter full of joy? In the last few hours I’ve read a lot of negative comments from mothers who have decided your books aren’t appropriate for their daughters. Apparently, they are too dark and mature for their precious flowers. Apparently, your realistic representation of the hardships experienced by a wide range of youths might damage them. Well, as someone who couldn’t stop reading your books when I was younger, they didn’t do me any harm.

Quite the opposite in fact. Your stories for younger children entertained me and got me excited about reading. I pestered my poor mother every time you released a new book. I needed everything you wrote. The Illustrated Mum made me desperate for a tattoo. The Lottie Project made me want to learn more about history. The Bed and Breakfast Star made me want to be funny. The Suitcase Kid made me appreciate my family all the more. Most of all I adored Double Act because it was the first significant book I’d read about being a twin. I saw myself and my sister in the characters of Ruby and Garnet. It helped to read about twins who were so different and drifting apart. It helped to read about characters that I understood. You knew your audience and created novels that would guide them.

As well as teaching them about things they would normally never have seen. Thanks to you I was introduced to children living genuinely difficult lives. You forced me to confront the notion that people in this world have harder lives than I do and to appreciate what I had. Things could always be worse. You made me think about other people before myself. I didn’t necessarily know it at the time but you were already helping me grow into the socially and politically minded woman I am now.

The thing that makes your novels so fantastic is your unwillingness to speak down to your audience. You didn’t try to pussy-foot around them. You didn’t present the world through rose-tinted glasses. You wrote about real problems and real people. You write about the kind of children that might usually be overlooked in children’s stories. You gave a voice to the voiceless and let them know everything could and would be okay. That somebody understood them.

You understood me. One of the most powerful reading experiences I’ve ever had was reading your novel Girls Under Pressure. I’ve never felt so strongly that a novel knew me before. I, like nearly every young person, have always struggled with body image. I’ve never been comfortable with the way I look or, more specifically, with my size. Never more so than the time I was reading your books. Girls Under Pressure could have been written about me. I don’t want to get melodramatic but you quite probably saved me. The amount of time I spent focusing on how fat I was could easily have led to some horrible decisions. Reading a novel about the consequences of eating disorders was enough to force me to see that it wasn’t an easy answer. Refusing to eat or throwing up wouldn’t magically make life okay. I’m still not happy with the way I look but I can say that I’ve never, even during my lowest points, been tempted to walk that line.

You helped me in so many ways. To hear people say they don’t want their children reading your stories is absurd. You taught me more about who I was as a person than anything else I read when I was younger. I appreciate that books like Harry Potter have a lot to teach people but I never saw myself in them. They never really understood me. You did. You seemed to know what I was feeling and were able to tell me it would get better. You changed my life. I normally try to end these letters with an appropriate quotation but that doesn’t seem right here. Instead…

Thank you for everything

Laura

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 12

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dscn7184Dear Lord of the Rings,

When I first decided to do this project I knew that this would be an important letter. You’re one of those series of books that I have such a deep emotional connection to simply because you were a gift. A gift from my father who, I knew, had liked the books when he was younger. Reading them made me feel closer to him. After the first one, I even read his old copies. It was a strangely bonding experience even though we’ve never actually discussed the series. Maybe I’m just putting too much sentimentality onto an act that, in all likelihood, he’s not thought of since but, goddammit, I’m a bit of a drama queen so indulge me.

As I keep proving my memory of significant literary events from my childhood is abysmal. So, really, I have no memory of the exact date I first got given a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring but I  do know I got it for Christmas. I remember sitting on my parents bed early in the morning with my twin and opening our presents. I can’t pretend I was necessarily thrilled when I first saw it but I was young and distracted by other things. I was an idiot, basically.

And I continued to be an idiot for a good few years. I tried to read you as soon as I got you but I didn’t get too far. I’m not even sure that, on the first try, I even made it through the first chapter. Sorry but, in my defence, you are a bit of a slog. I think I tried a few times over the years but never got all the way through you. Until I watched the film. I know I probably lose some bookish points for admitting that but, unfortunately, it’s the truth. I adored everything about Peter Jackson’s first installment and it inspired me to pick you up again.

I finally made it through your first book and I fell in love with Tolkien’s writing. I get that he uses too many songs and has too many pit stops along the way. He’s incredibly descriptive and takes his sweet time making a point. It’s a difficult and indulgent read but there is so much charm within your pages it’s hard not to want to carry on. He created more than just a story: he created a whole world that you want to immerse yourself in. You want to meet these characters. You want to walk these lands. You never want to leave. It’s an epic tale that was unlike anything I’d ever read before. The only fantasy that I’d probably consumed up until this point was likely only watered down YA nonsense. You were the real deal. You didn’t hold back or speak down to us. You challenged me as a reader and I was desperate to prove myself.

So I sped (compared to the journey I went on with the first book anyway) through The Two Towers and mourned for Boromir all over again. I rejoiced at seeing Theoden as he should be: powerful and wise. I welcomed back Gandalf and begged Aragorn to leave Arwen for Eowyn. I loved every minute of it… and, let’s be honest, there were a lot of minutes. I was cocky by the time I’d finished. I thought I understood you and could beat you. Thought I had become the kind of reader that could sail through your final book with ease.

I was wrong.

It was about halfway through The Return of the King that I realised I hadn’t prepared enough. I was like those hikers you hear about that try to climb Ben Nevis wearing trainers and a pair of shorts. Yes, I didn’t nearly die of hypothermia but I think the analogy stands. I thought I’d be okay without proper boots and walking gear but I got stuck. I left you for a bit before carrying on. Still I failed. You were too tough a climb. I don’t know how many attempts it took before I reached your summit but, eventually, I made it. And it felt great. I was exhausted, obviously, but it was an accomplishment.

I’ve never dared to try to read you again but I’ll never forget how it felt the first time. How it felt to finally achieve the very thing I’d worked so hard for. I’ve never put so much effort into reading. I know it probably seems like a bad thing but it’s not. You weren’t difficult because you were bad but because you’re so good. Maybe too good. Tolkien put so much into you that it’s difficult to come to terms with that. You’re the original bookish nerd. You’re the ultimate social introvert. You don’t let every reader in but the ones that prove themselves are friends forever. It just takes that little bit longer to get to know the real you. And I’m glad I never gave up.

 

All’s well that ends better.

Laura

 

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