DAY 21 – Favourite picture book from childhood

When they say “Picture Book”, do they mean those books you picked up when you first started reading-the ones with only one or two lines of writing on each page? If that’s the case, I don’t think I have a favourite. Instead I’ll talk about two books both of which, although have plenty of words, are not short on pictures either.

I am very disappointed with myself. I searched everywhere for my Ladybird copy of Dracula but can’t seem to find it. I know its somewhere in my house but knowing Murphy’s Law I’ll probably only find it when I don’t need it or least expect it. I really wanted to show off the little book that made such an impression on me when I was a child. The illustrations especially are beautiful and very vivid.
Luckily, while searching the net, I found an image of the cover (exactly the same as mine)-you can see it on the side.
The story itself is off course, a much shorter version and told in the 3rd person. It’s beautifully written however and still manages to capture the eerie mood of the novel.

I talk about Dracula so much I thought I’d mention another children’s book I absolutely loved (and still do). Witch Stories for Bedtime by various authors is a collection of 7 stories about, yes you guessed it, witches. I read these stories over and over again when I was a kid and I’m not embarrassed to say it, but I think read them well into my teens too!

Along with the gorgeous illustrations by Jane Launchbury these stories are just awesome, and while perusing them now, I can still remember each one.
There is one story (written by Elizabeth Waugh) about the good and kindly Thomasina and her magical island where everything is made of some type of confectionary- from seashells made of bubblegum, to toffee trees and streams of lemonade.
Another tale called “Rachel and the Magic stone” (by Deborah Tyler) is about two witch sisters who keep quarreling over a magic stone given to them.
Then there was a funny one (by Sue Seddon) about a witch who hates cats and is forced to keep one by the Chief Witch. She tries to get rid of the cat but the little feline seems more powerful than her!
There were also some scary and unsettling tales too. Two of the stories seemed to be Hansel and Gretel-inspired while one called “Grumblog” (by Jane Garrett) is about a witch who messes with Mother Nature and then gets her comeuppance in the end.

The Magic Island by Elizabeth Waugh

My favourite story however was entitled “The Witches who Came To Stay” (written by Philip Steele), about 3 sisters who are shipwrecked on an island and impose themselves on a solitary fisherman-the only inhabitant on the island. He’s pissed off, off course, but he’s attracted to the youngest sister who’s quite feisty and verbally abuses him. The women make themselves at home (and a nuisance) and demand that the fisherman have their breakfast ready on time the following morning. They threaten to turn him into all sorts of creatures if he disobeys any of their requests. From this one story I learnt what a porpoise and an archaeopteryx (it’s a type of dinosaur) are. The plucky fisherman steals one of their spellbooks while they’re asleep and starts preparing pies for breakfasts. He adds a special potion to each pie. One sister turns into a fish and he throws her out to sea; the other turns into a seagull and then flies away. The youngest consumes a love potion prepared by the fisherman. She falls in love with him and they live happily ever after. You gotta love it!!

Here are a couple more pics from the book…

The Witch Who Didn't Have A Cat by Sue Seddon

The Witches Who Came To Stay by Philip Steele

With my brain filled with witches and vampires, I must have been one strange kid…

NM 🙂

DAY 19 – Book that turned you on

My biggest fear here is that I may come across as a prude. I have never read any Mills and Boon (a fact that I’m proud to admit), Danielle Steel or any other famous romance novel for that matter.

I once attempted to read one of those ‘penny-dreadful’ (my own term) erotic novels only to descend, 5 minutes later, into fits of laughter. Hardly a turn-on.
I’m of the firm belief that when it comes to sex in any art-form, less is more. The less graphic it is, the more exciting it tends to be. The power of suggestion and the power of the imagination are completely underrated, which is why gratuitous scenes in books, debase themselves to farcical proportions with its aim lost to the reader. Unless the reader has no brains or imagination off course.

Written in 1872, Carmilla predates Dracula by 25+ years and is described as the first lesbian vampire story.

Getting back to the topic…

My choice here is based on a memory going back more than 10 years. When I picked up Carmilla, I was very young and this choice is influenced by my initial reaction to reading this novella. I don’t remember the exact details of the story but I do know the gist of it and recollect these two very important facts:
1) I recall admiring Le Fanu’s style of writing and 2) I remember giggling like a virginal school girl who has yet to be given the ‘Birds and Bees’ talk.

As a juvenile-minded young teenager I found certain passages to be highly suggestive. Suggestively lesbian that is. Yes, Carmilla is a vampire whose only victims are young pretty girls. I’m sure Sappho would have loved this book.
Because I read this book so long ago, I wondered if my reaction now as an adult would be the same as back then. Would it still be so hot? Or would it be as erotic as a picture of a puppy?
Unfortunately because I had borrowed this book from the library, I don’t have a copy of my own. Thankfully we have the internet. Searching the net I found this passage:

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses…

I can hear a few men screaming “More! More!” Sorry boys that was it.

Okay, so not exactly PG18 material, but it’s still hot in its own way. Or is it? What do you think? Was I being young and naïve back then? Or is this enough to make a straight gal question her sexuality?
Hmmm I wonder……

NM 😀

DAY 08 of Book Challenge – Book that scares you

Now you would think I’d be in my element right now, being a horror addict and everything but initially I found this very difficult.

My first thought was to choose M.R James’ Collected Ghost Stories. There is a reason why he’s considered England’s King of the Ghost story. This collection contains some of the scariest short stories I’ve ever read. But I’m assuming however that this topic means I have to pick an actual novel per se.

After thinking a bit, I considered Karen Maitland’s Company Of Liars and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian but in retrospect, these were bland considerations.
I also nearly chose Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum which I read when I was in school and which had a decidedly macabre effect on my young mind, only to be reminded that it was in fact a short story as well.
I ran through all the Stephen King, John Connelly, Peter Straub and Dean Koontz books I’ve read in my lifetime and I came to only one conclusion. Some books are called classics for a reason. Even while thinking about all these other great horror novels, Bram Stoker’s Dracula just did not want to leave me alone. I did not want to consider it initially for fear of appearing too mainstream and superficial but it kept invading my thoughts like how the Count kept intruding on Mina’s.
Throughout my life, I have read so many different editions of Dracula- a children’s’ version (yes it does exist), many abridged versions, all down to my very own full-length Penguin Classics copy.

Dracula by Bram Stoker, after fighting very valiantly in my mind, has officially taken its place as my No.1 scariest book.

So is it really scary? Or is this one of those cases where we have to make provisions for the conservative Victorian mindset and take the very first audience’s reaction into consideration rather than our own?
I might be bias here but flippin’ hell, you can bet your holy rose water it’s scary!
I will admit that there are some Dickensian instances where the prose goes on a little ramble (I wonder if those Victorians really did write that superfluously in their journals?).

Gary Oldman, my favourite Dracula

There are many singular moments that make up for it however. The scariest scene ever for me, from ANY book in fact, is the one where Jonathan Harker is waiting at the Borgo pass for the special carriage to take him to the Castle.
No movie version of Dracula has ever come close to the book in capturing the terror and fear of this scene in my opinion.

There are other notable passages but I could be here all day.

I hope everybody will start to understand my aversion to modern vampire fiction now. After reading Dracula, you really can’t take the likes of Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer seriously anymore. Well I can’t anyway.

DAY 06 – Favourite YA Book

I really don’t want to come across as a dunce but I’m having a hard time defining what young adult fiction is.
I get the impression that it targets mainly teenagers and the books themselves involve teenagers battling with the trials and tribulations of growing up and other extraneous situations.

Hence Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockheart books are considered YA fiction and therefore one would forgive me for thinking that Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian should be categorized in the same genre as well (Kostova’s heroine reminds me so much of Sally Lockheart for some reason).

Yet I do not see The Historian in the same mold, as say, Twilight. Yes, it’s about vampirism and deals with a young girl trying to find out who she really is, but there’s an intelligence about this book that has been grossly underrated. Fans of vampire literature might have thought it very brave or highly optimistic of Kostova to bring Dracula back to life in this novel but she handled it brilliantly. And coming from me, that’s saying something.
The Historian is very maturely written and has a very adult contemporary feel to it despite the main character being a 16-year-old girl. Therein lies my confusion.

If The Historian can indeed be classified as young adult fiction then I would choose that as my favourite YA book.
Otherwise, to be on the safe side, Harry Potter would be my most obvious and natural choice.

Muses, Vampires And Just Plain Boredom

I’ve been offline for almost 2 weeks now due to my Internet contract expiring. I had to wait to get connected again, hence my long absence. Believe it or not there is one good thing about not having the Internet at home: you get loads more done than you would have normally, even if you didn’t mean to.
Dancing around to J-Lo’s Papi like a crazy clubber high on E might not be considered productive in any way, but I did start a new short story. And what a start it was.

In between the hectic dance moves and the dreary ennui (otherwise known as no internet) an idea struck me; or rather it pervaded my thoughts and inspired me long after the fact.
Most writers refer to this sort of thing as the ‘awakening of the Muse’ or whatever. But as far as I’m concerned this was no Muse. The Muse is like sudden divine inspiration, a remnant of some arcane piece of Hermetic wisdom that’s being passed down from higher powers, vertically filtering itself through a light tube into the top of your head.
This idea of mine was not the result of the Muse. It was more the result of a daydream gone astray. The Muses call for action. Daydreams call for…well just that, daydreaming.

Hours had passed. Hours that most would have been considered a waste. I brought myself back to consciousness just before the daydream turned farcical and nonsensical, and instead of just pondering about it, I decided to turn it into a story.
Usually for me an idea comes in a flash, in a moment of minute clarity. In this case, the spark came not in the form an idea but in the actual thought that this might make a cool story; the idea seemed to be there already, stewing.
As a result the story was easy to write. Within 2 days I outlined, drafted and began writing it and now with only a week having passed, I’m two-thirds of the way to completing it. For those couple of days I was working at such a frenzied pace I was convinced that my brain was high on… (okay, now I’m convinced our local municipality is adding Ecstacy tablets into our drinking water!)
Anyway I thought it was fun to reflect on how moments of sheer boredom can actually result in some thing creative.

Carmilla likes getting to know her lady-friends. Illustration by DH Friston, 1872

By the way, did I mention that this new story is about vampires? I made a promise a long time ago that I would avoid writing about vampires (Bride of Corinth doesn’t count as I had rehashed an already established legend). Not because I have no interest in them, on the absolute contrary. They are the stars of the horror genre and it’s purely out of respect that I refuse to write a vampire tale. The days of Le Fanu and Stoker are over.

But here I sit eating my words, disgusted at my own audacity to think that I can pull off a brilliant piece of work like Carmilla.
Well I’m here to tell you that it ain’t no Carmilla (sorry about the double negative, I’m trying to make a grand statement here). And while Peter Haining will never consider it for any of his anthologies, I’ve enjoyed writing it and that I suppose is what really matters.

And if nobody likes it, I’ll just blame it on the drinking water.

NM 🙂