Books

Happy 20 Years of Potter!

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In which we get nostalgic for the Boy who Lived by talking about the way he changed my life. 

I got married in April. That’s not the important part. Due to my husband’s job, we couldn’t get the time for a formal honeymoon. Instead, we only had a weekend. We spent that at the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studios London because we’re just amazing like that.

We did things like chilling in the great hall and riding the Hogwarts Express and flying on broomsticks, and heading into the forbidden forest, and bowing to Buckbeak, and drinking butterbeer and flying in a Ford Anglia and strutting down Diagon Ally and buying wands, and walking the Great Hall, and finding the sorting hat in Dumbledor’s office and a whole bunch of other ridiculously awesome stuff*.

On the way back, once we had taken as much magic as we could with our narrow time slot, we were discussing Harry Potter. It played such a significant part of both our childhood’s. We grew in a generation founded on the magic of Harry Potter – a book series which arguably redefined the reading world and made reading ‘cool’ again. Now it was even a significant part of our wedding by being our surrogate honeymoon.

Husband was like many avid fans who basically started the series when it arrived on the scene in 1997. Most of my avid HP fan friends are the same; they were reading the series from the publication of book one. I, sadly, was a little late to the show.

Actually, I was late to reading in general, because my brain-hole liked to confuse me. Anyone with dyslexia** can attest to how frustrating reading as an activity can be when words jump about and letters reorganise themselves. I remember years of Primary school feeling inadequate because I just couldn’t work around the way words danced and changed all the time.  It wasn’t until Secondary School that it was even discovered I had an issue, and one kind teacher*** helped me to navigate the condition enough to at least be able to read accurately^.

In any case, one of the first books I managed to get through was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire^^. I had read a few much shorter books before hand, but nothing in the fantasy genre. Actually, the only reason I ventured into HP was that my sister had it on a plane ride back from Cyprus, and my Gameboy Colour died en route. So, we shared the book, each reading a chapter. When we landed, my siblings lost interest, and I spent the next three days locked away finishing it.

I devoured it. The moment I got back to school, I found Philosopher’s Stone in the school library and spent every spare moment in there reading it. They also had Prisoner of Azkaban so I read that next. I came down with mumps and swindled my parents into cheering me up with Chamber of Secrets. 

It’s funny. I know where I was and how each book came into my life, I think because Harry Potter was such a revolutionary, eye-opening story for me. After HP, I hunted down anything remotely related to magic and fantasy, and it started me on a path of reading which has never diminished, only grown. It made me create my own stories, inspiring a love of writing which became the foundation of my degree and the means by which I made my living.

I have established life-long friendships because of Harry Potter fandom.

On my second date with (now) Husband, we spoke avidly about his dislike for the Harry Potter films in comparison to the books. We spoke about our respective houses^^^ and the fact he once wrote self-insert fanfiction around the wizarding world. I can’t help but feel a significant part of our initial bonding was based on a mutual love of the Harry Potter books. And I know many other couples out there with the same story. Heck, people have Harry Potter themed weddings nowadays.

How many friendships and marriages owe thanks even just in part to this phenomenon?How many ‘reluctant readers’*^, would never have developed a love of reading if this series had never come to light? How many creative pursuits would never have been realised? It’s incalculable.

Yet, even now the world continues, in new movies and plays and even theme parks. The story of one boy’s quest to rid the world of an evil dictator continues to inspire children 20-years since it’s first publication on this day in 1997.

And all because of one woman; a woman who, at the time, was struggling with the weight of everyday life, living in relative poverty, trying to support a young child. One brave woman who had an idea about a boy with a lightning scar. It must have been impossible to even imagine the incredible journey that single boy would take to become the household name he is today. It makes me so proud when I think of her, and so grateful for her giving the world a story so powerful it revolutionised reading and helped define a generation.

Who knew that one day, there wouldn’t be a child in our world who wouldn’t know his name.

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Footnotes of Fun

*The feature image is me heading into Platform 9 and 3/4 with a bit of zingity pow in my step. Husband would not jump in his photo…. Husband is the lllaaammmmeeee.

**Shout out to my fellow awesome peeps who battled their own brains to be able to read – we may be slower than most, but studies prove slow readers actually take in and remember stories better than their speedy reading counterparts. *is dancing*.

***Dear Mrs Kramer, I shall forever hold your memory with unwavering gratitude for a) understanding my problem b) taking the extra time and energy to help me understand the problem c) for instilling in me the ability to enjoy reading. Wherever you are Mrs K, I love you (yes love, no shame) and you are the reason this blog exists today. Without you, books and writing would never have become such a core part of who I am. Best. Teacher. Ever.

^Ma spellding is still the suxxx.

^^Fun fact: the first time I read Harry Potter, I did so completely out of order, because I wasn’t aware series were a thing. I read 4,1,3,2 respectively. Before book 7 arrived on the scene I did read 1-6 again in order. I recommend that. Everything makes much more sense and book three isn’t super spoiled because you know Siris is a good guy because you’ve already read 4.

^^^Ravenclaw (*avid cheering*) and Griffindor. Our children will be wise and brave.

*^No shame. I was one for most of my young childhood.

The Bargain

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So, due to the library closure post being priority last week, I didn’t get around to mentioning that Chris returned from his latest ventures upon the ocean blue*. I met him at the train station, and so I was able to prepare him for the influx of books I had purchased during our long separation**. Partly because I wanted to ensure he knew I hadn’t been spending money frivolously*** for four months, when I know we’re saving for future expenditures. Mostly, though, I wanted to alert him to the shelf crisis. In his absence^ I have managed to fill all the available space on my bookshelves, and am having to get creative with stacking. Even this is now pushing the capacity of the shelves.

This is where Chris and I differ slightly in our solutions. For me this simply means buy another shelf to house more books. Then you buy more books to fill the shelves, and then more shelves for the books and on ad infinitum^^ until we just live in a library, which, as far as I am concerned, is the dream. Chris’ less wonderful answer is for me to get rid of books^^^. My exact answer was: “No. Shelves or divorce?”

In any case, the subject came up again a few times over the five days he was around. My sister was also around for a visit during the week, so we were focused mainly on enjoying the hours I wasn’t at work. Hol and I hadn’t been in person together for a while, since she lives in Switzerland with my parents, and the closest we can get barring expensive air travel is Skype. Recently, I put her onto reading a web-comic I became obsessed with*^ and in an attempt to support the artist and enjoy the story offline, I purchased the published volume from Amazon.

Only to discover I had accidentally acquired an Italian version^*. Le sigh.

It’s not so bad right. Return the Italian version, and purchase another in English when the amount is refunded. Except, when I searched Amazon for a replacement I could read without Rosetta Stone, I found only soft-back editions were available in English. Usually, I prefer paper-backs, but this book is in itself a piece of art, and I’m not sure if the paper-back comes with all the extras. While it did occur to me to undertake learning Italian to navigate around the problem, and keep my beautiful hardback copy, it was suggested to me this might be unnecessary… and the stupidest reason to pay for second language lessons ever*^*.

When I showed the book to Chris, wearing my sad face, he pointed out I should wait for the return to come through before buying another one. I think this is because he worried I would actually keep the Italian version anyway, therefore adding to the too many books issue. He might have been right. I mean, that way I get a hardback edition and a paper-back edition, and I could maybe find a better excuse to learn Italian some point in the future. Besides, graphic novels are much thinner than conventional novel paperbacks, so they wouldn’t take up sooo much room.

I think it was at this point, or at least soon afterwards, that my to-read shelf came up for discussion. One of my lower shelves on the second bookcase is used to store books I have purchased and not yet read. Apparently, this is a space-consuming and inefficient means of book-reading, at least with so many**^. I guess he has a point, not a good one, but a point. I know readers who buy by need; they finish one book and then buy the next one. My trouble is I have a tendancy to read everywhere and anytime- at work, in the bath, on the bus, while waiting for appointments, when I should be sleeping, more than once when holding deep conversation, when I’m eating dinner. Really anywhere that allows a free hand so I can hold the book^^*. And when you read that way, you may suddenly require a new book at inopportune times, when the books shops are closed*^*^ or far away, and ordering from Amazon will still take a day for delivery. I stock my shelf in preparation; I suppose all I’m really guilty of is over-preparedness. Le sigh.

When I was pouting about my Italian book, Chris pointed out I had a whole shelf of unread books to get through before I needed to worry about another one coming in. “That’s different,” I said, “I was looking forward to reading through it, because I was in the mood for that book.”

C: “But you read it online?”

Me: “Your point?”

C: “Um…. that you already read it, and you can read it again any time you want.”

Me: “Your point?”

C: “Is that you can read it without the book.”

Me: “But I want to read the book version.”

C: “It’s the same!”

Me: “But I want to feel the pages, and look at the pretty art up close. Not on a screen.”

C: “… You have a problem.”

Me: “I went to the original site, but the shipping to the UK is almost as much as the book…. Can I have £50 so I can buy it from the main site?”^*^*

C: “-_-… You have a whole to-read shelf, all those books. Maybe if you finish them, I’ll buy you the bootlegging cats book.”

You would think after nearly two years together, Chris would know better than to make nonchalant comments about buying me books. Particularly expensive ones from the US. I turned, my smile Cheshire cat like, pondering the power Chris had just given me, and how to play the outcome right.

“So, if I finish all the books on my to-read shelf, you will buy me the book from the main site?”

C: “Yes, but that won’t happen, coz you’ll buy more.”

Me: “But what if I don’t buy more? What if I finish the to-read shelf without buying any more books to add to it.”

C: “Then I’ll buy you the book.”

Me: “Why? What’s the catch? What are you up to? This is not serious. You’re not serious. Are you?”

C: “Yep. But you can’t buy anymore books until you finish all those.”

Me: “Okay, but I want the second volume too. And the art-book and the playing cards when they come out.” *^^*

C: “Fine. But every book. And if you buy books, they count. The shelf has to be empty.”

Me: “O_o….. 8) Gauntlet picked up”.

My sister witnessed this agreement, so Chris, not that he would, can’t wiggle free when I complete the task,

However, when I counted up the stack, I realised Chris has a good amount of time to save up for my expensive prize. That’s just the books I own; if you add the library books I currently have waiting to be read, it could be a substantial amount of time before I see any returns on my investment. Plus, I have pre-ordered sequels due to arrive on their publication dates, and some of the stack are the first installments to series, which I may want to continue immediately.  No wonder Chris was so sure. I think he knows at some point for some reason I’m going to end up adding to that pile, especially with a Waterstone’s gift card now burning a hole in my pocket. He might be right, I do have a problem. I’m like a smoker trying to quit.

There are benefits to this challenge however; the to-read pile is getting to the point where I’m not even sure what’s on it anymore. There are some books which I’ve had for years, and just never got around to reading because newer more exciting releases took precidence. Many are from the 4 for 99p deals at a local charity shop which I used to splurge on during my poor days; I only got them to make up the number needed for the deal^**^. There are all sorts of genres and styles to choose from, and a verity of publication dates, some as recent as a week ago, others classics. There’s enough to satisfy whatever mood I’m in. Theoretically anyway.

I don’t really have an excuse(*).

So, here we go. Bargain struck, challenge accepted, conditions laid down. No more buying books I haven’t read until I finish the ones I have.

*gulp*.

This bargain was actually struck on the 15th March 2016, but I elected to post it now so the library closure post could take precedence (and so I had some editing time). I’m actually already two books down. I’ll keep you updated on my progress, you know, if I don’t fail miserably by next week. *gulp again*. 

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*Come to think of it, I’m not sure I actually mentioned he left again. I’m not certain I even alluded to his departure, which took place back in November. Two weeks after his return, because the Navy loves me like that. Anyway, he came back earlier this month and is now based a lot closer, at least for a little while. Unless the Navy decides it loves me again, and shows its great admiration for me by sending Chris on an important mission in the middle of Timbuktu, to, you know, keep an eye on the salt trade or something.

**Although, if he didn’t predict this occurrence in one way or another I’m not sure he knows me too well. How else am I to fill the void in my soul during his deployments? And the shelves and stuff?

***I mean as much as spending excess income on books can be ‘frivolous’, which in my opinion is never. And I know relationships require sacrifices…. just not books.

^ ie. His voice in my ear banishing the book-buying-fairy who sits on my shoulder and convinces me that ‘just one more won’t hurt. You’ll like this one. All the cool kids are reading it.’

^^Full disclosure: I could not for the life of me remember this term, and when I turned to Google for help it basically spat at me. Not actual saliva, you understand, just really unhelpful answers. It tried to refer me to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art when I typed in what I thought was a close rendition of the Latin phrase. In the end I had to text Chris for the answer, because he knows this stuff. Chris is the new Google. Tell your friends.

^^^ -_- Feel free to jeer at the screen fellow bibliophiles. Hoarding is not good for anyone… unless you hoard books, then you’re that cool person who lives, eats and sleeps in a library.

*^ If you enjoy booze smuggling, prohibition era cats you should check it out too.

^*Usually I find nice surprises when I buy books online. When I bought a copy of Leviathan a few years back, I was delighted to discover I had been sent a rare cover edition. Another time, I purchased a used copy listed as ‘not bad’ (for 1p!) to be sent a copy which looked new, and once I even managed to buy a book in store to get home and discover the edition was signed by the author. My luck has been dwindling lately, though; I got a battered copy of a book which I don’t think is in print anymore, and now a beautiful graphic novel turns up in a language I can’t understand. Oh , crudele destino , perché mi hai abbandonato ?

*^* I disagree. Here are some stupid reasons to pay for second language lessons 1)You want to insult a man in his own tongue. 2)You are moving to a country, but they speak your first language, but you want to seem cultured and intelligent. 3)To easily by-pass street sellers and door-to-door salesmen by convincingly telling them you don’t speak their language. 4) Per leggere questa frase senza utilizzare l’applicazione di un certo popolare motore di ricerca si traducono , come ho fatto io di scriverlo . Zuppa, chiavi , lampada , turbine , e gomma da masticare . Queste sono solo parole a caso che saranno in italiano , confondendo la mia non italiano di lingua ipotetica pubblico . Questo probabilmente non ha nemmeno senso in italiano . Eppure , forse lo fa . Mai andare a dare in su , senza mai andare a deluderti , mai andare a correre e si deserto. (Sorry to any Italian speakers made to endure that for the sake of this joke).

**^At some point during his deployment Chris was apparently crowned ‘Grand General of Rules for Buying Books’ and has thus placed his doctrine on my otherwise un-criticized habits. Apparently, buying books just because they come as part of the ‘buy one get one half price’ deal is unnecessary, and buying books ‘because the cover was cool/pretty/interesting’ is unreasonable. I don’t get it either.

^^*Without bending the spine; it’s possible people, you just have to believe, and be as anal about protecting the binding as I am.

*^*^Now, this is the moment where the traitorous heathens start banging on about the wondrous convenience of a kindle. No. Just no. I will never convert to those cold, artless, non-book-smelling, eye melting contraptions. Books should not be able to go online, and should not be made of plastic; books should have the heavenly smell of dusty pages, have pages you can turn delicately with a flip, and become art when stacked upon shelves with their brethren. I will never give up the beauty of true books, never!!!!

^*^*I was joking. Chris does not expect me to ask permission or for money to buy things, but I often consult with him when I make large, unnecessary payments…. just not books.

*^^* At this point I was just seeing how far I could push it.

^**^ Which I now realise is  pretty lame, considering the extra expence was probably pennies, and I was in a Charity Shop.   It occurs to me I should now proceed to spend some of the money I save during this challenge on a donation to said charity to thank them for keeping me in books when I was low on income, and considered them a luxury item. Yeah, I’m going to do that.

(*) But if you think of one, please feel free to comment below or email me and let me know. Because I really want one.

Here I Sit Before The Library Moves

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Plymouth Central Library is relocating. Today will be the last day it opens those particular doors to the public. And as I sit here in the old stacks one last time*, I am filled with deep nostalgic sadness.

We go back, this old building and I. Practically back to my first few months in Plymouth when I was naught more than a disillusioned teenager trying to find my feet in my newly independent world**. Initially, I went with an associate in my University course*** trying to find a reference book for an essay, all copies of which had been checked out of the Uni library for weeks, and thus had a waiting list you could march a parade on. Rumour had it, the public library had a few non-lending editions on their stacks. So, we hopped in her car, and went searching.

I didn’t really start using the Library until my final year of Uni, when I lived almost opposite in my studio flat. During the days of not being able to afford the heating, it became a sanctuary of warmth and study, with a quiet room which saw the creation of a significant portion of my dissertation. After Uni, when I lived in my basement room at the noisy centre of the basement, it then saw the crafting of several creative experiments and ghostwriting projects. There is not a corner of the stacks I haven’t hunkered down in at some point, either hunched over a table scribbling or with my nose in fiction. Over my penniless days, I participated in free film screenings^ and book sales, just grateful these things are open and available for impoverished writers with dreams of greatness^^.

There are many memories of my youthful days locked away among the stacks in that building, and while I know the Library is moving not closing, I feel like I am saying goodbye to an old reliable grandmother.

I understand the relocation. If libraries are to thrive in the modern world, they need to adapt to modern standards. The new building is more central, and completely open-plan, leaving behind the rustic, academic atmosphere which, I suppose, can be intimidating to non-academics who just want a place to read and relax^*. Concerns I had about the move have been waylaid by researching what is to become of the now shell in which the library was housed. The plan is to convert the space into part of the History Centre with support from the Museum next door, with ideas of introducing better heritage resources for the community. And the new library appears to have everything its predecessor had, except in a more open and colourful environment.

The only fear I haven’t managed to quell through understanding is what might happen to the stain-glass window. The window on the main stairwell of the library entryway depicts an array of literary figures in the style similar to what you might find in a cathedral, and I have coveted it and been awed by it since I first laid eyes on it.Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they’ll somehow transport the glass over to the new building, maybe incorporate it into the internal decor, but I hope so, and if not, I shall miss it.

Tonight the lights of the library will go off for the last time. The books will be boxed up and moved, and the stacks will be empty, and the quiet room will suddenly be silent in a way that was never intended. For now, here I sit*^, sadder than I thought I would be, staring round at the old familiar rooms, like sitting in a spot of endless time, where all the past and present mes^^* are together feeling and growing in this place in a single moment.

I walked around one last time, remembering. I sat at the last table in the reference room, where I perched many times poised at the keyboard, and I touched the old wood of the shelves, I took out some books and returned some others, just like all those times all those days ago.

I said goodbye to an old friend.

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*I really did pen this upstairs in the study room, but I did so the previous Friday to the date of publication. For the sake of drama you can pretend I’m there on the final day of opening, maybe the last to leave those huge studded front doors, a tear wistfully rolling down my cheek, a bittersweet song of memory playing in the background.

**I was not a pretty picture back then by any means.

***Not Creative Writing at the time. This was the year I was trying to make my parents proud by choosing a career path which wouldn’t land me in a box in a dark alley warming myself over a burning kerosene barrel. My mother was genuinely concerned writing would lead to harder drugs, like following my whimsy or joining a circus. Of course, she meant well, and she is actually pretty proud of me now I think.

^Including The Hobbit and Les Miserables, two films based on books which I have read, both of which I borrowed from that library, and both I was pleased I didn’t spend a ton of money attempting to see at the cinema.

^^That was a very youthful ideal; to be honest I think I would’ve been happy with just getting off the ground.

^*And that is the point of the library. Much as the old timey academic ambiance suits serious study, it goes over a lot better if the environment is welcoming to everyone, especially children, and conducive to finding joy in reading and books.

*^ Again, days before. This is beginning to feel like I might have strange time-travelling abilities, but I suppose if I did this wouldn’t be an issue. If anyone out there knows Dr Who, please feel free to point him to this blog. Tell him to come now. I’ll wait….. No, huh? Worth a shot.

^^* Does ‘me’ have a plural? It was either ‘mes’ or ‘mesai’ and the second sounded too Japanese to be right.

The Curious Journeys of Library Books

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My reading year has begun in earnest, which is the best start to any year if you ask me. Things didn’t kick off so well at the start of 2015, when I didn’t get through a single volume of anything throughout January, and ended up reading a string of disappointing YA books in February, which descended me into a slump until July. This year we’re a week in and I’m already a ways into my third book. I’m pleased.

I picked up the second book from the library. As usual I went in to drop a few rentals off without much intention of taking anything else out, but caught sight of what appeared to be a fun little book (and was) hanging out in the non-fiction section. I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction kick, and even though I have plenty at home, I couldn’t pass it up. So, I swiped my card, took my ticket and set off home.

The book itself had an intriguing tag-line, which is why I was compelled to lift it from the shelving.

How a Small Piece of Stationery Turned into a Great Big Adventure’ 

I like these quirky adventure books, much akin to the Dave Gorman comedy books, in which ordinary people take on unique  self-designated adventures. It’s amazing how such simple ideas translate into fascinating stories which connect people.

And that got me thinking about books as adventure tools. I don’t mean in the you-can-go-anywhere-in-your-imagination way, which is true but not an unexplored concept. My thoughts took me somewhere a little more literal.

Last September I took a rather unexpected trip to Dubai. I ordered a travel book from the library, and though I read it, I decided it was a safe idea to take the tome with me for future reference. So, I renewed it a few days before travel and packed it with luggage. It landed with me at DXB, along with one copy of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier , also taken from the library, and the third volume of a fantasy trilogy which I owned. Three books had taken a 3396.08 mile trip with me to this new exotic land, one of which was actually a guide about that exotic land.

While abroad I actually contemplated this; I wondered if this was the first time the book had made this journey from London to Dubai, or whether perhaps someone else had used it as a personal tour guide the way I intended. Of course, lacking the ability to gain that information, speculate was all I could really do. Though, it was fascinating to think about. For the benefit of anyone else in the same position, I actually wrote an attachment on the date sticker in the front alerting future borrowers to the epic transcontinental flight this particular copy had taken.

Then I kind of forgot. After the holiday, I unpacked the book, returned it to the library and went about returning to normal life. I borrowed books and returned them, but mostly I left the travel section alone, Dubai became a fond memory as did the tomes I had taken with me.

Until this month when I saw that tag-line, and I started thinking about how small items in our possession can become significant parts of our stories. I tend to take a book wherever I go, and I have a great memory for keeping track of what I was reading where and when, particularly at interesting and significant moments of my life.

For instance, the day I met my current partner, I was reading a The Shock of the Fall, and I remember because I actually thought how much of a contrast it was to be reading about the challenges of mental health problems when I met what turned out to be the love of my life. In the Summer of 2013 when a break-up left me a little off kilter, I recall wanting to read dark things. I was visiting my sister, who offered me Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror upon my departure, and I read it all on the train journey back home.

Some people see book shelves as a display case, mine is a treasure trove of life events, and wonderful little memories, as I’m sure it is for most bibliophiles. My books have become an irreplaceable part of my story as much as their content have become part of my mind. However, the majority of my books were bought new, and their journey began with me; library books hold a completely different history. They shuffle in and out of my life with the whims of my reading habits, and, depending on their popularity, the lives of many other readers as well.

The book I took out last week, for example, had six previous date stamps ranging between 2007-2009. I suppose it’s possible more people have taken it out since then, but given the now exclusive electronic lending system, simply haven’t stamped the date. Without access to the library database I can only know when someone borrowed the book, not who, and without meeting the borrower in question I can’t know why. But wouldn’t that be awesome? Wouldn’t that be such a fantastic way of connecting with people? Did they read the book, or did it sit on the coffee table for three weeks? Did they like it? Did they go to the library for the express reason of taking that book out, or was it an unexpected find?

I have had clues as to previous borrowers before, through items left between the pages. Everything from forgotten bookmarks to postcards, obviously used as a substitute. I’ve kept many of these items, in the same way Ariel collected human objects in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Without conclusive context I can’t really know why people wrote these cards and their relationships to the recipients. I can only guess based on what is written and how. I can’t know if the letters were forgotten by mistake, or through neglect and lack of care. Sometimes, I wish books could actually talk, because I have a feeling they would have a more rounded knowledge base for such matters.

I remember reading The Passage back when I was entertaining the notion of reviewing books. In my review for that book I talked about the reader being like an item shifting through the character’s pockets, a really gripping idea which held the story together through several sub-plots and time zones. Library books do much the same thing. They pass between many world’s and many timelines, being a fly on the wall to snippets of many varied lives.

Is it possible to be reincarnated as a library book? Because I could see that being a perfectly fascinating way of experiencing existence for a while.

When I returned from Dubai, in the midst of contemplating the idea that it had actually traveled to its namesake country, I wrote a note in the book explaining so. Just right of my written return date, I wrote ‘This book actually traveled to Dubai’ and then the relevant dates of travel.

I did this under the impression that I couldn’t be the only person to have wondered about these things. So, at least someone taking the book to Dubai would know it had been before, and they would ponder under what circumstances it was taken and by who. It’s not much, but it’s something to perk an interest.

I wanted someone to know it had been a part of my life for an exciting snippet, and it would be so for them now as well.

Oh how a small item of interest can be part of your great adventure.

Storytime Saturday Proposal

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I want to start something new here today, pertaining to my love of stories.

An integral part of being any form of storyteller is a growing experience of stories in many different varieties and mediums. Obviously, being a reader, I have a wide familiarity with written fiction, and my job exposes me to true life accounts of everyday living, but I lack a deeper sense of visual forms of creative storytelling, and I don’t often read newspaper stories or short stories. This is a means to combat my ignorance.

Every week or every few weeks (a noble goal by my standards, I know), I will present a story of some kind to you hear. These will not be reviews; I am not going to attempt to influence your thoughts on the story presented, I am simply going to establish how I feel about the story and the way it’s told. I’ll be giving more of a personal evaluation in the hopes of understanding ways in which stories can be told and how they are told. Depending on certain aspects, I may be more or less elaborate, and I may even research around the method or matter. We’ll see how this develops as it happens.

The official start date will be July 19th, 2014, and, as the name suggests, will continue every Saturday I am able to post. This is very much an experiment at the moment, and if I end up hating it or not gaining much from it, I’ll stop. But I’m going to give it a whirl.

Just wanted to let you know, and solidify the idea on page (screen).

 

The Tale of Tip and The Stone By Alice Radwell

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I wanted to create a simple story focused entirely on plot theme (aka a fable). Fables traditionally don’t emphasize character development or complicated scenes. The idea is to keep it simple and drive the theme (and moral) right through to the end. I tried to experiment with language use, but, as you can probably distinguish, my personal style faded back as the story progressed. I actually think it’s a decent first go at a type of storytelling that’s very well known. I just hope the moral stands out. Thoughts? You can comment below. Enjoy

The Tale of Tip and The Stone 

By Alice Radwell

Once upon a time there was a small village of strange creatures. They were small, so small they could hide behind the leaves of the forest, and each one was slightly different to the other. All were basically the same from the front. They all had two eyes, a little nose and a mouth through which to speak. All had two arms to collect the vegetation of the forest, and all had two legs to carry themselves over the branches, and all would cry when they were sad and smile when they were happy. However, stuck on the back of each creature was a magical stone; each individual creature had a separate stone. They were all different colours and shapes. Some had red or yellow or green. Some resembled hearts and others looked like fish, but everybody had one, except one creature who lived high, high up in the tree.

This little creature was named Tip, and he stayed safely at the top of the tree. From high up he could watch all the other creatures scurrying and having fun below, and he could see all their beautiful stones glowing on their backs.

“Oh,” Tip signed, wearily. “How beautiful they are. If only I had a pretty stone all my own, then I would be happy too.” But poor Tip just didn’t know what to do, and he sat by himself at the top of the tree thinking about all the wonderful stones the other creatures had.

Sometimes the other creatures would climb up to see him. Often they would sit with him and talk about how sad they were.

“Oh, Tip,” said Bun, one day. “I wish my stone were like Brush’s stone. Mine is small and looks like a cake, but his is tall and looks like a paintbrush. All I can do is bake. I wish I could paint glorious pictures like Brush. Why isn’t my stone as nice as his stone?”

And little Tip smiled at Bun. “Your stone is wonderful,” he replied, truthfully. “With your stone you make the best cakes and bread in all the tree. Why, if I had a stone as wonderful as yours, Bun, I would be happy and proud and bake all day long!”

Tip would do this for everyone who came to him in woe; he would be so happy to see their stones glowing again that he would even forget he didn’t have one. Then when night came and it was quiet, he would look up at the sky and feel sad, because he just wanted to be like everyone else, and have a stone as special as wonderful as everyone else. “Why Mr Sky?” he would ask, mournfully. “I’d do anything to have a stone all my own,” but Mr Sky just stayed very still.

Then, one night, Tip was woken by an odd noise outside his leafy home. Something was ruffling about outside. Tip hurried out to discover a large, white and black bird. It’s little eye shone in the moonlight, and in its beak, twinkling like a tiny star was a small stone. Enchanted, Tip hurried over to the bird. “Hello! Hello!” he called, gleefully. The bird turned to him, laying the stone down on the branch. “Mr bird! It is wonderful to see you tonight!”

“Thank you, little one,” the bird replied. “My name is Mrs Magpie.”

Tip stopped suddenly, his cheeks flushed at his mistake. Mrs Magpie laughed kindly and gestured him over with a wing; Tip hurried over, despite his embarrassment. “I’m Tip,” he said. “People call me that because I live at the tip-top of the tree. I was just wondering, Mrs Magpie, where you found such a beautiful stone.”

“There are many of them in the pond not far from here,” she explained. “They glitter in the water in the moonlight, and I take them for my nest.”

Tip was elated. Finally! If he could go to the pond, he could choose a stone, and then his stone would be as lovely as everyone else’s. “Thank you, Mrs Magpie!” Tip exclaimed. “Tomorrow I will walk to the pond and get a stone for myself.”

Surprisingly, Mrs Magpie laughed again, in a kind way, as though to a silly child. “Tip, why would you venture so far for such a silly trinket?” she asked.

“I would like a beautiful stone like that one,” he said, resolutely. “Goodnight, Mrs Magpie!” and he hurried inside to pack his things for his journey. He packed a map and some food into a bag and went to sleep.

The next day, Tip climbed all the way down the trunk to the bottom of the tree. He set out across the grass, which was taller than he was, motivated by the thought of his perfect star stone waiting at the bottom of the pond. When he returned with something so special, all the other creatures would smile and cheer, and agree he had a stone as wonderful as any. But, suddenly, a little way from the tree, Tip heard a strange noise. Sniff sniff, sob sob. Confused, he began to call out. “Hello? Is somebody there? Do you need help?”

“Hello?” came a small, shy reply. Tip followed the voice to a small bush, where two yellow eyes peeped out at him. “Who are you?”

“I’m Tip, who are you?”

“Amber,” she responded.

“Why are you crying, Amber? Are you hurt?”

She shook her head and gave another quick sniff. “I’m lost. I’ve been going around in circles for days and days, and I don’t know what to do.” The poor creature looked scared and lonely, and Tip thought she must miss her home very much.

“You can have my map!” he said, pulling the paper from his bag. “If you follow the route on this map, you’ll get back home in no time!” and without another thought, he handed the map to Amber. She beamed at him, taking it in her tiny fist.

“Oh thank-you!” she said. “Now I can go home!” And she hugged him quickly and started off for her home.

Tip continued towards the pond, but after just a few more minutes of walking, he heard a strange noise nearby. “Grrrrooorrrrrrggghhh” it went, and again, “Grrrrrooooorrrrggghhhh” So, curious, Tip followed the sound to a rock. Sitting against the rock was an elderly creature, clutching his belly, which rumbled loudly. “Hello,” said Tip. “Are you alright?”

“Oh! Hello!” the old man, replied. “No, no I don’t think I’m alright. I wondered too far and ran out of food, and now all I can do is lay around, too hungry to move.”

“Oh no!” Tip cried. The poor old man must be in pain having not eaten for so long. Tip dug his hand into his bag and pulled out the bread and jam he had packed for his journey. With a smile, he held it out to the hungry man. Instantly, his eyes brightened just looking at the offering; he quickly snatched it up and devoured it. Tip smiled. Suddenly, the rumbling of the old man’s belly stopped and he got to his feet.

“I can stand!” he exclaimed. “Oh, thank you, thank you! I should go home!” And he was off, using his new energy to get himself home.

And little Tip continued on, getting closer and closer to the pond, and to his dream of owning a stone. At last he would be special. What colour would it be and what shape? He remembered the stone Mrs Magpie had and smiled to himself. If his stone was half as enchanting he would never be unhappy again.

Suddenly, for the third time that day, Tip heard an unusual sound. “thud thud thud, huff!” it went, and a minute later, “thud thud thud, huff!”. Tip scurried over to find out what the problem was. Someone was rustling through the grasses, pushing between the blades. Every few seconds they would stop and then begin again. “Hello?” called Tip. “Do you need some help?”

“Thud, thud, thud, huff!”

Tip pushed through the grass until he found the source of the disturbance. A woman plodded along, her arms heavy with large berries. As she stumbled forward, her face hidden by the round delights, she lost her balance and the berries fell to the ground. Thud, thud, thud. Frustrated, the woman gave an audible huff. She noticed Tip and placed her hands on her hips. “I have to get these berries home!” she said, “my children will want their tea, but every time I walk, I drop them.” Tip felt for the poor woman and her children waiting for their dinner. If she only had something to carry the berries, she would get back to them in not time. Then, Tip remembered he had given away his map, and his food and now his bag was empty. He promptly offered the empty satchel to the woman, opening the top to allow her to place her goods inside. She gratefully unloaded her arms, moving them around to ease the stiffness in her muscles. “Thank-you!” she said. “Now I can carry these with no problem!” She secured the bag over her shoulder, and bid Tip farewell, walking with ease away through the grass.

Finally, as the sun began to set, Tip reached the pond. He was hungry and tired, but could only smile at the sight of it. Sadly, he could see no stones twinkling at the bottom, only his own reflection on the surface of the calm water. As the light faded, Tip rested his feet and peered down into the pond, and surely, as the sunlight dimmed and finally gave way to night, glimmering spots appeared in the water. Tip’s eyes grew wide as he watched more and more stones shimmer beneath the waterline, hundreds of them. Which one should he choose? Tip removed his shoes and waded into the water. The pond was cool, and rippled with his movements. He dived down and reached for a stone, now so near. The cool, slippery surface of the stone found him even in the darkness; he closed his hand and pulled it up with him.

At least he had it. A stone his own. He swam back to the land, excited to see what it looked like, to see it shine as he remembered, but it did not. The stone was black and dull, with no twinkle at all, and it was a lump of bumps and dimples. When he tried again, he emerged with a similar stone. No matter how many times he tried, he couldn’t find a beautiful stone, not one that shined like those on the back’s of his fellow creatures. Dejected, he sat alone watching the water fall still again, realizing the sparkling was simply a reflection of the night sky. And the stars were simply too far to reach.

Tip fell asleep on the bank of the pond and was woken the next morning by Mrs Magpie. Sadly, Tip had been fooled by the moonlight on the stone she had found, and had been tricked by the laughing stars. “I don’t understand why you wanted one anyway,” Mrs Magpie asked. “When you have that pretty one right in your back!”

“What? But I have no stone!” Tip replied.

“Yes you do!” Mrs Magpie, insisted. “I thought, when I saw it, it was the most beautiful jewel I had ever seen.”

Tip rushed to the water, and turned his back to see his reflection in the dawn sun. Sure enough, right there on little Tip’s back was a shimmering stone, as lovely as any he had seen. “It’s true!” he cried, happily. “A stone my very own, right here on my back, but I couldn’t see it!”

“That’s because it’s on your back,” laughed Mrs Magpie. “It makes it easy for others to see, but not you.”

“It’s green!” Tip continued. “It’s green and it looks like a watering can!”

“I think they call you Tip,” said Mrs Magpie, “not because you live at the tip-top of the tree, but because you tip up your kindness onto others.”

And Tip remembered all the people he helped at home and on his journey, and he was proud of his stone which was as lovely as everyone else’s.

The End.

William Shakespeare: 450 Years of the Bard

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“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” — William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

William Shakespeare. One of the greatest men in history, one of the most quoted, present in almost every school English curriculum, with works as influential today as they were when first performed for an Elizabethan audience. Today marks the 450th anniversary of his birth (as far as we are able to discern), and yet his name is still recognizable throughout the world. Chances are you are able to name at least three of his plays, could identify his picture, and quote him with ease. It’s amazing to think about just how far Shakespeare’s works have spread over time and space. But, how exactly does a simple playwright born in 1564 maintain such a presence in the vastly different world of 2014? Myself, I hail the bard as one of the greatest literary figures to have lived, but I know others who would disagree as to his relevance, which is a shame. So, here are my reasons for praising Mr Shakespeare so much, and why I believe his works are as important today as they have ever been.

First, some back story. It’ll do you well to know that Shakespeare began writing at an interesting period in history; England was the world’s great superpower, and as such the economy was thriving under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Art and culture became an accessible luxury for even the lowest classes, and this opened up a wealth of opportunists for artists of every medium. Shakespeare himself began his career as the co-owner and actor of a small theatre company in London. However, past his booming profession as a writer, little is known about his personal life. One thing is certain, Shakespeare, as a product of growing lower class audiences, was a play-write for the people. Nowadays, due to the difference in language and culture, it may be hard to see this, but Shakespeare designed his stories to be seen and understood by everyone.

Like many writers of the time, Shakespeare used dramatic themes and a variety of characters to draw audiences in, a methodology of the craft still used in literature to this very day. Arguably, Shakespeare solidified the idea of characterisation being fundamental to presenting themes. He used his characters to draw out his underlying ideas, rather than the other way around, and this meant that audiences related to cast and could therefore follow plots more simply. Despite what you might believe, non of Shakespeare’s more popular plays are actually all that complex; no more so than a dramatic novel anyway. If you can navigate the language (which is down to nothing more than exposure) the story-lines are easy to follow. Shakespeare wrote for the masses, and his miraculous use of theme is what makes him so popular in schools.

So, what do I keep drowning on about ‘theme’? Yes, William Shakespeare was a master of weaving theme, character and plot seamlessly, but why does that make him significant today? It’s not like we lack other examples of this talent from the same era and later. The difference, for me anyway, is that Shakespeare wrote about subjects still being questioned today. He always found the obscurity to subjects like love, anger and humour and wasn’t afraid to express them in risky ways, and he ridiculed monarch and average man alike. His works were so beloved because they experimented with general understanding. Think you understand love, here’s two kids who never get to explore love due to anger. Think you know pride, here’s a king whose pride blinds him to truth. Shakespeare knew how to keep things interesting and still keep them meaningful, for everyone. It’s no wonder his stories have hung around so long; even by today’s standards they’re unique. In fact they’re the basis of many, many, many retellings. What’s more, they never lose their impact. Even something as ubiquitous as Romeo and Juliet, with a thousand and one variations, is still being mined for what it has to offer.

And that is the genius of Shakespeare. His timeless stories. It’s the same reason the Grimm fairy-tales are still being told and retold. There’s always something new to be found in anything Shakespeare has written, because he allowed for many variations of people to interpret the contents of his works. It’s a shame so many people are put off his plays, because they were written with you, the general, every man audience in mind. So, today, on the 450th birthday of the Bard-of-Avon, I urge you to watch a Shakespeare play and enjoy it, because you will gain something from doing so, if you stop thinking about what you’ve been told to see, and just be drawn in.

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare. Thanks for all the awesome stories, and for revolutionizing the art of storytelling.