A while ago, I was asked to write a short piece for The Irish Times on one of my favourite childhood books. This is what I wrote…
Although written in the early seventies, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume still
resonates today. We meet nine year old Peter Hatcher who tells us exactly how his toddler brother
Farley has ruined both his and his parents’ lives. Farley, who prefers to be known as Fudge, is two
and a half when the book begins. He’s hyperactive, rambunctious and always gets his way. If things
don’t go how Fudge likes, he throws himself onto the floor, screaming, kicking and banging his fists.
As Peter recounts the many crimes of his brother, we also meet Jimmy – Peter’s best friend – and
Sheila – their infuriating, know-it-all classmate who just happens to live in the same building as the
Joe Hill is one of my favourite new horror writers. His work is always so original and manages to meld fantasy and terror as well as Neil Gaiman. He writes characters you care for and the plots keep you guessing right up till the last page.
So I was thrilled when I heard that Fox were adapting his comic-book series Locke & Key for TV. I was even more thrilled when I heard that the cast would include the much underused Nick Stahl and Ireland’s own Sarah Bolger and that it would be directed by Mark Romenek (‘Never Let Me Go’, Johnny Cash ‘Hurt’ video, etc).
Somewhere at home, in my parents’ house, under my old bed or under stacks of broken toys in one of the wardrobes or under Christmas decorations in the attic is a box of books. There are, I would guess, 40 or 50 of these paperbacks, all the spines broken, the pages dog-eared and the covers worn. Most of them cost £3.99 at the time although as the years went by, this rose to a staggering £4.99. They all have gaudy, illustrated covers reminiscent of seventies and eighties cheap slasher films. These books are Point Horrors.
The first book I read in the series was The Babysitter by RL Stine. I don’t know what age I was – (although I’d make a guess at 10) – but the books were all about 15 and 16 year olds being stalked by serial killers or murderous ghosts and I was probably too young. From the moment I picked up The Babysitter, the Point Horror books were a constant companion for the next few years. Read the rest of this entry »
During the week, author Terry Pratchett – who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s – broadcast a documentary on the BBC. It was called ‘Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die’ and detailed his own, and others attempts to be receive assisted suicide in Switzerland. Certainly a sobering and painfully sad documentary; but an important one, nonetheless.
It got me thinking about Pratchett and the huge number of books he’s written. He wrote a book with Neil Gaiman – (‘Good Omens’, which, I’m sure, I will write about in the future) – is one of my favourites. But of the Discworld novels, of which there are now about 40 titles, the one that stands out for me most is Mort.
At just over 300 pages, Mort is one of his shorter novels but, to me, this translates as most succinct. While I often find the other Discworld books can stray off the point at times, Mort sticks rigidly to the classic, three-act story-telling structure. We meet a teenager called Mort, whose farmer father believes that his thoughtful temperament prevents him from finding gainful employment. The plot begins when Mort’s dad brings his son to a local employment fair. Thoughout the day, Mort fails to find a new employer. Then, as all hope was lost and at midnight, a stranger arrives in a black coat riding a white horse. He offers Mort a job, which the boy accepts gratefully. The only hitch is that the man is Death and that Mort’s new job is as an apprenticeship ushering souls into the next life. So begins a rollicking adventure that’s part comedy/parody, part fantasy, part romance and part reflection-on-death-itself.
If you like fantasy fiction and you haven’t read Neil Gaiman then I question your devotion to the genre. In fact, scratch that. If you like a good story full stop and you haven’t read Gaiman, then you’re missing out.
He’s an English author who spends most of his time in the States and a lot of his time on Twitter. He’s most well known for The Sandman series of graphic novels as well as the prose novels American Gods, Stardust and Coraline but he’s written so much in his ever-expanding career that it really would be surprising if you haven’t touched on his work in some form. For instance, he wrote the amazing recent Doctor Who episode entitled The Doctor’s Wife.
Why do I like him? Well, I could go on for a while, but my favourite thing about Gaiman and his writing is that he clearly loves stories. He has such a wealth of knowledge about myths, legends, fantasy and just pure story that his own work is infused with a sense of magic that you don’t find from many other authors. He is not just a great fantasy writer; he is the greatest living storyteller we have today. So rather than waffle on anymore I thought I’d just pick out a few of my favourite examples of his work…