So, I’ve broken my book buying ban with only one fucking day to go in the month. Why did I do it? Because I knew that I wouldn’t finish either of the books I’ve got on the go by the time I had to write this review. So, I popped into my local bookshop to see if I could find a quick read that looked interesting. I found it in the small selection of graphic novels and, after reading the quote on the front, decided I couldn’t not read it. “A story of courage and heroism to inspire young people everywhere.” I mean who could ignore an endorsement like that? Especially when the back cover reveals that Malala Yousafzai was also a fan. The graphic novel version of Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner is actually the adaptation of the 2018 animated film based on the book. So, I have just read the novelisation of a film I haven’t seen that was based on a book I haven’t read. Whatever could go wrong?
We’re only 6 days from Christmas day and I’m feeling anything but festive. Forget one of my dark days, it’s been a dark week so far. I understand that the idea of being completely happy in your job is a lie that we’ve been fed since childhood but I was, at least, hoping the happy moments would outweigh the sad. Not this week. Out of the 4 shifts I’ve done so far this week, I’ve come away wanting to sit in the dark and cry after 3 of them. Which has had a massive knock-on effect on my reading so I’m nowhere near finishing Murder on the Orient Express. It’s a rereading so, realistically, I could still have written a review of it but, to be honest, I just want to go to bed and forget this week ever happened. So, I went searching for an easy book tag to fill in the space in my schedule and even that proved to be too draining. And now I’m sat here feeling defeated and quite pathetic for letting this get to me so much. I hate being the kind of person who constantly moans about work and who gets so upset about it. But, unfortunately, some days there are just so many frustrating things that, instead of washing over my head, they just end up drowning me. Still, I’d hate myself just as much if I didn’t get a post up, so I searched the internet for an appropriately Christmassy tag. Let’s see how this goes.
As I mentioned in one of my 30 Books for my 30th posts, I was incredibly excited about the release of this new Tracy Beaker book. I’ve loved Jacqueline Wilson since I was a young girl and would say that she definitely inspired me when I was growing up. The Story of Tracy Beaker was one of the first of her books that I read so the idea of revisiting the character now she was also an adult was exciting. This was going to be one of those literary events that bring together readers young and old. It would appeal to readers of the target age of Wilson’s books and the now grown-up readers who enjoyed her books as children. And it was a literary event that I knew that I couldn’t miss. I genuinely couldn’t wait to get started on this book. Although, kickoff was delayed somewhat thanks to Matt fucking Haig. But as soon as I opened that first page it was like going back in time. Back to a time when reading was constantly magical. When I only ever read books that were fun and I never felt guilty about how quickly I was getting through them. My Mum Tracy Beaker was a book I was only reading for myself. It didn’t matter how literary or worthwhile it was. It didn’t matter how great it was going to be. It was all about getting back to that childish love of reading that Jacqueline Wilson first helped to instil in me. It was a celebration of who I was, who I am now, and who I could be afterwards. It was a celebration of everything that Wilson did for me as a child. Basically, this book was kind of a big deal.
I don’t read enough graphic novels but I do love them. To the extent that every time I read a great one I think to myself “I should read more graphic novels”. It was Sabrina that really got my heart pumping for a good graphic novel this year so when I was given the chance to read a new release from Pushkin Press. It is the prequel to Jakob Wegelius’ critically acclaimed The Murderer’s Ape. I hadn’t read The Murderer’s Ape but everything that I found out about it suggested that it would the kind of thing I loved. And the promise of a unique and rare graphic novel was something I couldn’t ignore. It arrived last Thursday and I immediately started reading it. I was done by Friday and I’ve already ordered Wegelius’ first book.
There’s something quite scary about nostalgia. When you revisit something that you loved as a child there is always the danger it won’t be the same. Which is why I’ve tended to avoid most of the reboots of my most loved childhood TV and films. It’s the reason I only got round to watching the two new Paddington films recently instead of when the first one came out. I just didn’t think it would the same. I didn’t think there was any chance that the CGI bear would give me the same feelings as the cartoon one did in my youth. As we now know, I loved both of the films and feel like an idiot for not believing that I would. So, when Christopher Robin was announced I treated it with less suspicion. I knew that it was possible to make a really good live action version of one of my childhood favourite animated classics. Plus, you know, Ewan McGregor’s face is always a reason to get excited. Continue reading
I have to be honest and start this post by saying that I never had any intention of watching this film. It looked so bad and, as a fan of the book, thought it was a terrible legacy for Beatrix Potter’s famous rabbit. That was until I heard the story of James Corden’s dad email to Mark Kermode about the critics review. In it, Kermode described Corden’s performance as “appallingly irritating” which prompted the actor’s dad to write into his show to disagree with him. Replying that, as a parent, it was only the prerogative of himself or his wife to describe their son as such. In the email he also complained about the feedback Kermode gave The Greatest Showman but for different reasons. It wasn’t quite as epic as finding out that James Corden and Hugh Jackman are related. Although, it was a truly brilliant thing that I’m very glad happened. But the whole affair has got me thinking about the film more and, helped along by my recent obsession with Domhnall Gleeson’s face, I decided I had to see for myself who was right? Malcolm Corden or Mark Kermode. Let’s find out.
Dear His Dark Materials,
I feel weird writing this letter to you because we barely know each other. The truth is, I tried to read you when I was younger but, once I’d finished The Northern Lights, I put you aside never to go back. I just didn’t get you. I really wanted to love you and there were plenty of aspects that I did enjoy. I just got to the and realised I hadn’t really taken in what I’d just read. I’d basically been sleep reading the whole book and taken no real notice of the plot. It made me think, it’s probably not wise to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’re bad. I enjoyed the writing. There was no part of me that thought ‘this book is too bad to carry on with’. I just didn’t feel compelled to continue.
It’s something that I’ve always been vaguely embarrassed to admit to. I think I’ve always felt that it was, in some ways, super shameful to have not read you. You’re an important part of literary history. I remember when we got you. My mother found you in a bookshop in Scotland and bought them so I could read you. I started the first book almost immediately but, as I’ve already said, you remained incomplete. I don’t think I ever mentioned it to her that I didn’t finish it. In fact, I remember getting a copy of Lyra’s Oxford a few years later for Christmas. Clearly I’d managed to fool my family into thinking I’d read you. I imagine I did the same thing with everyone else. Which is crazy. No matter how great your reputation, you are still just a book. I shouldn’t have a problem with not having read you.
The problem is, this seems to be a bit of problem for a lot of people. Whenever I’ve mentioned on Bookstagram that I never finished you there are people who can’t believe it’s possible. Now I’m super happy that you have such dedicated and loyal fans. It’s great. However, the more people tell me to read you the more I pull away from you. I imagine nowadays that you and I could become friends. We probably do have a lot in common and would get on well. But you only get one chance to make a first impression. And, quite frankly. the first time we met you did very little to sell yourself to me. You’re like that one really popular person that all your friends love but who I have “a weird feeling about”. It’s not that I think you’re a terrible person but there’s something about you that bugs me.
So I don’t know if I’ll ever read you. I kind of want to and I kind of feel as though as I should. But, there are books I desire to read more. I can’t forget that year. That year young me (I can’t remember how old) made the decision not to do what people thought she should. When I made a choice not to read something for the sake of it. When I decided that this series probably wasn’t for me. I made that choice years ago and it’s difficult to go back on it.
I can’t choose my nature, but I can choose what I do,
Dear J K Rowling,
I’ll try to make sure that this letter isn’t too long. I think that in the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve presented my feelings towards you quite clearly. But, after writing my letter to the Harry Potter books earlier this month, my sense of disappointment is even stronger right now. Also, earlier this month you caused yet another stir by liking a tweet that has been considered as transphobic. I just find myself sitting here and wondering “what has happened to the author of one of my most loved series?”
This next comparison is, admittedly, a little extreme and I’m a little reticent to carry on with it but we’ve come this far. These days you’re most know for your political statements on Twitter. Particularly against US President, Donald Trump. Now, I’m sure you’ve come across the idea that people who are too similar are always going to risk butting heads. Of course, I’d never say you were anywhere near Trump’s league of disgraceful and immoral behaviour but, you have to see, there are some similarities. You both attack people using your social media to a vast following (for very different purposes mind), you both routinely ignore and block critics of your viewpoints, and you rewrite the narrative to work in your favour.
By that last one I’m referring to your constant supply of tweets from fans explaining how you saved them from depression. Now, I’m absolutely positive that you have helped people. And I’m glad that people have found comfort in your writing and think it’s great that you helped so many people. You are a genuinely good person. However, there are just as many people out there who are not satisfied with some of your recent decisions. Where are their retweets? Where are their answers? You’re writing your own narrative to further your image. Between your political, professional, and charity related tweets, your feed is just a long supply of retweets of people fawning all over you. You continue to feed this idea that you are the hero who changed her own life and the lives of so many people, which, whilst true, is not the full story.
It’s probably not your fault but there are times when it feels as though you’re suffering from the same thing Harry Potter himself was in the final 3 books: the Chosen One complex. If enough people have, basically, canonised you over the years then I imagine you might feel untouchable. But that doesn’t mean you can do anything. With this latest Twitter scandal, your response wasn’t the first-hand account of what happened. No, you got your assistant to make a statement on your behalf that blamed middle-age. Whilst I’m not convinced of the excuse anyway (you know if you mistakenly like a tweet or not), the fact that it didn’t come from you directly is just another example of how removed you are from your fans these days.
When people were outraged about the casting of Johnny Depp after accusations of his domestic abuse you brushed them off by essentially saying “he’s always been nice to me”. When people were annoyed by the announcement that Dumbledore would remain in the closet for Fantastic Beasts 2 you remained silent. You’re continually praised for reaching out to your fans but, unless it’s a good PR opportunity, you mostly remain suspiciously quiet. I’d go so far as to say that your attitude towards the fandom nowadays is pretty casual. As is your attitude towards adding to the canon. Incidentally, a thing you continually promised you wouldn’t do. You just don’t seem to care anymore. As if you know the majority of fans won’t say anything against you and you’ll ignore the ones that do.
Look at The Cursed Child: what we must now consider to be the 8th book in the series. Something you were so proud to create. Yeah, so proud that you had pretty much no involvement. Never has anything reeked more of money-grabbing than the 2 part fanfiction-esque play that many of your fans would never be able to see for various reasons. The ones that can’t make it to London? Who cares. The ones that can’t afford it? You don’t need them anyway. You just care about the people willing to hand over their cash, right? The people who will visit the theme parks and the studio tour. People who will watch a series of 5 films based on the smallest book in the fucking world. The people who will buy the accompanying screenplay of the film for god know’s what reason. This is a franchise that knows its fans will spend and continually manipulates them for it. Which, I should point out, isn’t your decision per se. However, there is a level of complicity at play.
You are often compared to George Lucas when it comes to your creation. Both of you, people will say, don’t know when to stop and are risking their fans’ loyalty in doing so. I’d say you were worse than George Lucas. He, at least, was changing Star Wars because he wanted to make them as good as he could. He was blinded by the improving technology in graphics and went a bit mad. The films were his children and he wanted to help them grow up. You? As far as I can see you just want to stay relevant. Everyone wants to continue making money and making sure people remember the series. The thing is, people would remember anyway. Your fans, your true fans, don’t need constant updates on Pottermore. They don’t need tweets every year saying you regret killing people. We were happy with the books.
Besides, if your ‘improvements’ were so important then why not include them first time round? If it was so vital to point out that Dumbledore was gay then why keep it hidden? Why continue to deny it? On the one hand, you celebrate casting a black woman as Hermione whilst, on the other, you fail to definitely state race in your books. You want to seem like you represent everyone but you do so by not adequately representing anyone. You have always played it safe. Creating works that never challenge the status quo too much but that channel an idea of hope and rebellion. Your characters are fighting an evil power that threatens the right’s of a section of society. Yet you refuse to openly represent the under-represented in your major roles. It’s sad.
Once upon a time, you were such an important person in my life. Your books gave me so much and made me feel like I was part of something. I felt connected to so many other people in the world because of my love of these books. As I’ve grown up, I’ve not only seen that the books themselves are flawed but that you and the community you have created is. I’ll always respect you as a human being and a writer. You achieved a great deal and have done a lot to help people. You are, when it comes down to it, a genuinely fantastic person and a wonderful figure in the world. But, still, I find myself pulling away from you. I guess it’s just difficult when the people you idolised growing up turn out to be as flawed as the rest of us. Just a bit sad.
To hurt is as human as to breathe,
Dear 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!
Dear 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 your 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 you 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 the 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. 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