Children's Literature

It’s not just for kids.

Generally I’m not a great fan of watching the film/ TV series of a book I’ve read. I don’t like how they miss things out or change parts. I don’t like being told that a character looks nothing like I had them in my head. This hasn’t always been the case, in fact as a child it often went the other way round.

A couple of blogs ago I mentioned a children’s book and it got me thinking; so much of good children’s literature has been adapted for television or for the cinema. Of course as a kid you don’t really realise that some of brilliant things you are watching was a book first. Well I assume that’s the case, I lost touch with children’s television a long long time ago. That’s not to say it doesn’t still hold an important position, I just can’t compare now with what I experienced.

The fact is all those years ago there were so many good adaptions of books on television, and if I enjoyed watching them, as this was before streaming or even (shock!) DVDs, I’d go and get the book. (You didn’t really buy many videos, it was mainly used to tape stuff off the telly which would invariably be taped over later.)

These were the days of CBBC and the broom cupboard (other children’s programming were available… well one other was which was on ITV or “the other side”). Each adaption would generally be six episodes long and you would have to wait the full six weeks to see the whole story… if you missed an episode, well the chances are you would never get to see it again – unless by some chance they repeated it in the next year or so.

Specifically there are two that I think of fondly and I do still have the books on my shelves… well in a box at the moment, but when the shelves come back they will be there.

Firstly in the eighties (Wikipedia tells me it was 1989), there was a very English serial made about a boy who looked at a clock and went back to the Victorian times. This was of course Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. Published in 1958 this won the Carnegie Medal which is a British award for children’s literature. As a TV programme I found it fascinating and as a book unputdownable, even though I remembered the story. The “current” era of the novel is set in the 1950’s (ish – dates are not stated) which was present when the book was written and only just over thirty years before broadcast, which is horrifying as we’re thirty years from broadcast now, going forward in time!

Set in Cambridgeshire and telling the story of a friendship between Tom from the fifties and Hatty, a girl from Victorian times, it’s a beautifully written tale which, although it plays with the concept of time travel, doesn’t feel sci-fi (because it isn’t). Whilst it has intrigue it keeps things simple enough for an adult to understand and complicated enough for a child not to get bored. There have been other adaptions, but I won’t bother with them (I’m sure they are good) the 1980’s one will always be the definitive for me, and of course the book tops that.

“I meant to ask Hatty questions about the garden,’ Tom wrote to Peter, ‘but somehow I forgot.’ He always forgot. In the daytime, in the Kitsons’ flat, he thought only of the garden, and sometimes he wondered about it: where it came from, what it all meant. Then he planned cunning questions to put to Hatty, that she would have to answer fully and without fancy; but each night, when he walked into the garden, he forgot to be a detective, and instead remembered only that he was a boy and this was the garden for a boy and that Hatty was his playmate.”
― Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden

The other one I that I distinctly remember is almost as different as you can get but still be brilliant (although there are some concepts in the two that cross paths). Set in what was then modern day England this was a story that got increasingly bizarre but still managed to keep to a logical and comprehendible story. This really was thinking outside the box and when I discovered it was a book first I was delighted.

I’m talking about Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve not actually read anything else by her and I feel I should because not only are the ideas in this book very strange, they are written in a way that doesn’t put you off but makes you want to know more, and, as I’ve said, the logic works. Published in 1984 this was adapted in 1992.

This starts when a boy called Howard discovers that someone called Archer has sent a Goon to collect a tax of words his father has to write. As Howard investigates he discovers that within the real world is another more baffling one, one ran by a group of very odd types. And that’s as much as I’ll say, go and read it to discover exactly what is going on.

“You don’t give hired assassins supper, do you?” Quentin smiled. “No, but when a wolf follows your sleigh, you give it meat.”
― Diana Wynne Jones, Archer’s Goon

I still love both these books and recommend them to parents who want a good read for their children. I was never really aware of the expression YA Fiction until years later and I gather it is doing good things getting teenagers reading. I haven’t read a lot of it as there is just so much other stuff to read, but in what I would refer to as “the classic children’s literature” there is still a wealth for them to discover.

Contrary to what adults would tell me about what television was going to do, because of the two examples I’ve mentioned above and others, I was drawn to reading by it and not pulled away from it.

Buy Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Buy Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones

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The Tragedy Of Queen Alexia… Available To Read

In full on The Writers Club

I love listening to Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics on BBC Radio 4. In the episode on Euripides she retells the play Medea and is amazing. Inspired by how miserable it is I decided to see if I could have a go at a short play based on Greek theatre. The Tragedy Of Queen Alexia is the result.

A woman late thirties (ALEXIA) is sitting on the ground centre stage. She has been traveling in difficult conditions for a long while and you can tell by the state of her practical but good quality clothes. She is staring into the distance. Behind her is a white screen.

Masked women (CHORUS) enter from behind the screen, briefly look at ALEXIA then stand beside her and turn to the audience.


The Kingdom is in ruins
It is so nearly rent
A war has broken out
Which the King could not prevent

His family were taken
A wife and his two sons
Only little children
And the woman he so loves

Somehow she escaped their hold
She knows she must return
To a King so enraged
He would let the whole world burn

The CHORUS takes a step back to the right of the screen and sit on a bench. A noise from the right. ALEXIA turns to look offstage to see who is coming.

ALEXIA: Who is that?

A woman late thirties (IRINA) enters from the left. She shows the signs of hardship, her clothes are not the quality of ALEXIA’s. She looks down to ALEXIA putting a cup down next to her.

IRINA: It is a little water, it was all we could spare.

ALEXIA: Where are my children?

IRINA : You will get your answers but first be assured that you are safe here. We are supporters of the King and your face is not one we would take in error Queen Alexia.

ALEXIA: (Relieved) You have my thanks in giving me your hospitality. But please where are my sons Rico and Dya? They are so young…

ALEXIA stands and IRINA follows.

IRINA: They are being looked after. Become calm.

ALEXIA : Who are you?

IRINA: My name is Irina. I no longer know who I am…

ALEXIA: Your answers are not reassuring me. How long have I been here?

IRINA: You have been here for only one day. Our spies found you on the edge of the forest, looking all but dead. You must have all been exhausted beyond your limits. It was a large risk.

ALEXIA: We had to travel at night. We are free now but I know the price on our head and the danger as it will not now be paid.

IRINA: I meant it was a risk for us. This village has been under siege for two years, from just after the war began. We took in your cousins for refuge and the enemy surrounded us. They would have been taken and executed. Our loyalty has cost us.

ALEXIA: When this is over you will be much repaid. My family are still here?

IRINA: We dug a tunnel under the barricade and they fled to other parts three months ago. It was only just in time. Soon after the soldiers made camp at the mouth of the passage, they do not know it is there. If they found it they would come and realise their prize was gone. We would then all be slain.

ALEXIA: Your noble sacrifices…

IRINA: Are more than you could ever comprehend in a nightmare.

Read the full play here at The Writers Club

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A Whole New Logic

It’s a universe in itself.

Each book is a world, thought out and destined by the writer. The author has full control over the lives and the events of the character’s lives. Therefore a bookshelf is many universes sitting side by side. In some we recognise something close to our actual reality; a true story or a book on a historical period for example. Some other books just slightly change the world as we know it to accommodate their tale.

It’s a well-known trope to set the novel in what feels like reality only to be said to be happening in a fictional town or country, but as if it were part of our geography. Of course in Science Fiction we have actuality plus, and in some cases plus plus. In Fantasy it is, of course, the whole point.

There are some books, however, that just throw all the laws of physics out the window and make everything bend to the story.

For example The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a universe in itself. While it’s a children’s book, there is a lot of clever devices and intelligent observations that make this enjoyable for any age. The concept is that a young lad finds the eponymous tollbooth in his room with a map to the Lands Beyond. Not realising what will happen he uses his toy car to drive through the tollbooth and soon ends in a completely different reality.

As the novel progresses it becomes clear he has a mission, but this doesn’t stop the tale and the author taking the reader to some pretty strange places (there are The Mountains of Ignorance where people therefore live in Ignorance) and introducing some strange characters (the Princesses Rhyme and Reason who were taken away, hence the land no longer has Rhyme or Reason).

“And illegal barking,” he added, frowning at the watchdog. “It’s against the law to bark without using the barking meter. Are you ready to be sentenced?”
“Only a judge can sentence you,” said Milo, who remembered reading that in one of his schoolbooks.
“Good point,” replied the policeman, taking off his cap and putting on a long black robe. “I am also the judge. Now would you like a long or a short sentence?”
“A short one, if you please,” said Milo.
“Good,” said the judge, rapping his gavel three times. “I always have trouble remembering the long ones. How about ‘I am.’? That’s the shortest sentence I know.”
Everyone agreed that it was a very fair sentence, and the judge continued: “There will also be a small additional penalty of six million years in prison. Case closed,” he pronounced, rapping his gavel again. “Come with me. I’ll take you to the dungeon
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

The whole point is a big wordplay, where idioms are true, and a commentary on our life. Therefore like a lot of stories that at first don’t seem to represent what we know as real, this eventually becomes a reflection of the points about society the author wants to make.

Elsewhere some novels are said to be set in our world but the events are so bizarre that there is no way they can be. Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn is set on an island apparently off the coast of the USA. It is said to be the home of the man who invented the saying “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” The concept is that a statue on the island commemorating this has the phrase on, however a tile falls off and the government decide to ban that letter. As the book goes on more and more letters fall from the monument and the alphabet decreases. Because the story is told as a series of correspondences between characters these letters also disappear from the actual book and the wording and spelling of words gets more inventive as the plot goes on to accommodate the new laws. It’s very strange but also clever and just the right length so the concept doesn’t become tiring.

“U” is gone. I suppose you’re aware. The 1st aeiouy to go. Up until now the other graphemes were not aeiouys. When the aeiouys start to go, Ella, writing to you turns exponentially more grueling. I will not throw in the towel, though. I trust that you won’t either. I truly relish our partnership.”
― Mark Dunn, Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters

The fact is if you are a writer and you have that blank page you can do literally whatever you want, there is no need to stick to our logic if you want to invent your own. “Any story” means whatever your imagination can create, there really are no limits in fiction.

Buy The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Buy Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

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The Travel/ Reading Dilemma

Confusing cultures.

One of the things I love about going on holiday is it gives me so much time away from normal life and I have so many more opportunities to read. Especially true is this if I’m flying. I have the bus to the airport, the long wait in departures (the OCD in me can not cope unless I am through security at least two hours before the gate closes), and then the flight. Perfect time for reading if I don’t fall asleep (put me on an aeroplane and I can be out before the safety announcement and probably not wake until we land – at which point I get annoyed about the missed opportunity to read).

I’m not a beach or pool person. I like exploring and wandering so I spend most of my time away drifting down random streets and wishing I was still a photographer (a heart breaking story I’ll put you all through on a blog one day).

A book and a raki after a day exploring.

Then there is the inevitable café time. I love sitting with a cup of tea in a café, if it’s warm I need to be outside; it’s a mixture of people watching, writing my own stories in my head and just being one of those people I am jealous of when I’m running around like a mad thing at home.

There is also travel within the country if I get bored of looking out the window and, because I tend to travel alone, evenings. I don’t go to bars or clubs when I’m away, nightlife to me is sitting reading a book somewhere – maybe with a beer.

But here comes the problem. I love travel; to see new places and experience new things. I’ve just come back from Albania and there is a very rich history and culture there and I loved exploring it.


The people are so nice! On a few occasions I would ask if I was on the right bus to get to where I wanted and they would come with me to my destination and make sure I didn’t get lost; I didn’t really need them to but it was really nice of them and I got to chat to a lot of locals this way. One of them even paid for my ticket (40 lek = about 25p) when I only had a big note to pay with.

As always I took books with me and so I found myself in the middle of Tirana reading about Yorkshire in the 1940’s or surrounded by old castles but my head was full of 1920’s Oxford. This can be a little jarring.

Last summer I took a road trip through south west England. I was reading about a man who moved to a foreign country and was having difficulty fitting in with the culture and was trying not to let his English mannerisms upset the locals. Eventually I got it into my head because I was in a different place I had to be careful not to let my Englishness upset the locals – regardless of the fact this was my country and we were all English!

One of the most bizarre culture clashes I experienced was when I was reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom as I was travelled through India. It’s quite an absorbing and intense (though thoroughly enjoyable and informative) read. Mandela goes to some detail explaining the culture and traditions he grew up with as well as the atmosphere in the country he lived in later in life. At times I would look up and expect to be in South Africa and then have the double jolt of realising not only was I not but I was also not at home and in a very different climate. It’s like reading books set in the winter during summertime or the other way round.

I suppose the solution is to make my reading material match the environment of where I am, but this is not so easily done. I was in San Marino last year…

I did take East of Eden to North California with me and had the joys of passing Salinas as I read, with one eye out the window and one in the book. It was a really good experience to see the landscape I was reading about albeit many years later. Just looking at the undulating golden countryside and the farm land made me imagine that these events could be happening just the other side of that hill (although some if not most of them you would hope were not). I love Steinbeck anyway but it did add something special to be there, of course when I went to Cannery Row I then regretted I’d brought the wrong book. Me, I can never be happy.

But for as long as I love immersing myself in different cultures, either in reality or on the written page, there will always be this clash and at the end of the day that’s ok by me.

Buy Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Buy East Of Eden by John Steinbeck

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2019 In Reading Part Two

My reads not the books that came out this year…

This is the second part of my look back at some of the books I’ve read this year, including the end of the world as we know it and turn of last century Kenya. Again I’m trying not to give too much of the actual plot away as I like it to unfold as I go along so don’t want to spoil it for you, instead here is a general outline and how I felt about it.

The Day Of The Triffids – John Wyndham. I bought this second hand in 1995 and started it then; for some reason I couldn’t get into it and I decided to have a break. Nearly twenty five years later and it was time for the break to be over! When I started it again I failed to understand why I had such difficulty with it the first time. It’s gripping! I had in my head what I thought I remembered happening in it and was amazed to discover that not much of it was in the plot, I’d invented a whole load of other things. I was convinced they went to Paris at one point, where that came from I’ll never know but I was looking out for it for quite some time. I guess it’s set at the time it was written, the very early fifties (nearly seventy years ago!) and tells of that world changed overnight. It’s bleak reading but the narrator takes you through his story in such away you really feel for the characters, and want to know what they make of the various massive issues they now have to contend with. It’s also quite realistic in how they deal with what is happening, with plenty of human faults on display and some good as well as bad choices made by all. There is a logic to a well thought out plot and I really enjoyed this so I’m not annoyed I put it down so long ago as I think I got so much more out of it this time.

“Nobody is going to be muddle-headed enough to confuse ignorance with innocence now – it’s too important. Nor is ignorance going to be cute or funny anymore. It is going to be dangerous, very dangerous.”
― John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids

The Double – Fydor Dostoevsky. I’ve not much of Dostoevsky’s cannon left to read so I’m savouring what is left as much as possible. However it’s been a while so I allowed myself to read this one now. To be honest I don’t think it’s his best work. It starts of well enough but the style of narration began to get a little wearing. The “Hero” of the piece, as he is called, is somewhat annoying and I can understand why he’s having such a tough time of things. The concept (given in the title of the book so it’s not a spoiler) is that Golyadkin meets a duplicate of himself, the only difference is this one succeeds at everything whereas the original one is failing. This leads to problems. Not just in the actual plot but also as the prose becomes a bit too wordy it’s hard to not lose focus. It’s deliberately vague in places and you only really have the not very pleasant Golyadkin to give us opinions on what is happening. I did get through it and there are some things to enjoy, but it was a bit of a struggle. A further note is that in 2013 Richard Ayoade made a film of the book and it’s brilliant. I watched it after I read the novel, something I rarely do, but because I’d struggled with it I wanted to see what others made of it. There are some changes, it’s not set in mid-19th Century St Petersburg but in a dystopian version of the 1980’s – ish and the main character is very likeable. I’d recommend reading the book if you like Russian literature, but after go and watch the film.

“Sorrow is concealed in gilded palaces, and there’s no escaping it.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Double

The Making Of Modern Britain – Andrew Marr. This is a follow up to the excellent A History Of Modern Britain. Whilst the first book deals with events from after the Second World War finishes (very thoroughly and with insight that helps you see the whole history given in isolation but also as part of the big picture – go and read that as well) this one keeps to the early part of the 20th Century. It’s subtitled “From Queen Victoria to VE Day”. Over all it’s a chronological account of that exact period, first dealing with an overview of each sub era and then breaks it down into the nitty gritty trying to help the reader see what it really would have been like to have been living through these events and the general changes to British culture and politics. There is a huge amount to learn here and the writer’s style is easy to digest, but not lightweight. For lovers of history I’d recommend both this book and its brother.

“My dream is that by returning to our not-so-distant history, I might remind readers why, with all its faults, this is a lucky place to be living in, and one we can be quietly proud of.”
― Andrew Marr, The Making of Modern Britain

Out Of Africa – Karen Blixen. I vaguely remember the very long film and that is love story. This is the real account of Blixen’s life and it’s not remotely about romantic things at all. Well not romantic in the “woman falls for man” kind of way; it does however show some very pleasant sides to what living on a large farm just outside of Nairobi before the First World War would have been like. It sounds brilliant, although I wonder how much of it is seen through rose tinted glasses as I’m sure it was a lot more hard work than Blixen makes out. She seems a very nice person who values the natives and their culture just as much as she does her role as the farm manager. She writes about individual members of the tribes who live on her land and work for her as well as anecdotes that happened during her time there. She is never condescending but shows real interest in differences in their way of life to hers. It’s a dense read, you can’t really get through it quickly but is well worth the effort to see Africa through Blixen’s eyes.

“No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it.”
― Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

Buy The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham
Buy The Double by Fydor Dostoevsky
Buy The Making Of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr
Buy Out Of Africa by Karen Blixen

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2019 In Reading Part One

My reads not the books that came out this year…

At the end of the year I tend to look back on the books I’ve read during that time and feel a nice sense of accomplishment. This year I’ve got through some ones that had been sitting in my reading pile for years – I think the longest one had been sitting there unread since 1995!

In this first of two parts are a few impressions of some of my reads as I’m sure others will come up in later posts. I don’t like knowing too much about a book before I read it therefore I’m limiting myself to my impressions of the books so if you like that type of thing you might want to give them ago yourself. The result is there are some spoilers but I’ve tried to keep them to a minimum.

The Good Terrorist – Doris Lessing. I bought this when I was away and it was one of the few English books available in the bookshop. I’d always wanted to read somethings by Nobel Winner Doris Lessing and as an introduction I’m willing to try more. I didn’t know anything about the plot and I never read the back so I just let the story unfold. Told from the view point of Alice and set in Britain in the 1980s this follows the events of a growing group of people who squat in a house in London and Alice’s relationships with them and torn ambitions as she wants to be a free spirit but also look after the house and its inhabitants. At times this can be grim (especially the graphic depictions of the house when they first move in) but is very readable. It’s a clever piece of work as many opinions of the main character are shocking and some of her actions cruel even if she does try and justify them, but there is something engaging in the character that makes you want things to turn out well for her – hence I guess the title.

“There was a certain struggling fury that went with being jobless, and persevering, and being turned down, that was different from simply being jobless.”
― Doris Lessing, The Good Terrorist

Goodbye To Berlin – Christopher Isherwood. I got this in Hay on Wye last year as I wanted to find something new there that I hadn’t got on my Amazon list. Therefore again I didn’t know much about it before I started, other than I love Berlin and thought it would be interesting to see the tail end of the Weimar Republic from an English eye witness. It is a fictionalised account of his life there and it’s not all cabarets and cocktails, even if the musical based on it is called “Cabaret”. Instead it’s an engaging account of the day to day life of a writer and his friends in the shadow of Nazism. The characters he meets are colourful and as they are based on real citizen of Berlin you wonder their fate in the years that followed. There is little plot here really but, as his style is so engrossing and he is an interesting character to follow, I found I’d flown through it.

“I think’, said Sally, ‘it must be marvellous to be a novelist. You’re frightfully dreamy and unpractical and unbusinesslike, and people imagine they can fairly swindle you as much as they want – and then you sit down and write a book about them which fairly shows them what swine they all are, and it’s the most terrific success and you make pots of money.”
― Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin

The Last Train To Zona Verde – Paul Theroux. I was surprised to learn the travel writer is Louis Theroux’s father, just thought I’d through that in there. This is one of the last travel books by Paul Theroux published in 2013 and in it you see him contemplating the experience of traveling as an older man. The journey is one by public transport from Cape Town up through Namibia and Angola until he’s had enough. It’s a part of the world I don’t know too much about and as I am unlikely to go there myself (although I’ve travelled to some pretty odd locations) I feel I’ve learnt a lot. In the pages of this account I was educated about communities and ways of life in the harsh deserts and poor towns and villages of south east Africa. Theroux’s observations are of real lives, ones that make my own existence look like luxury. There is a wonderful part where the bus he is on breaks down in a small village in south Angola where everyone is stranded for the night. This isn’t on the tourist trail but a clapped out bus full of locals and it’s just a case of make do with everyone else; what’s nice is Theroux doesn’t complain about this but just gets on with it, thriving on the experiences it’s giving him and the chance to meet those he might well not have done if it had not happened.

“Most people come to Africa to see large or outlandish animals in the wild, while some others — “the new gang — the gang of virtue” — make the visit to tell Africans how to improve their lives. And many people do both — animal watching in the early morning, busybodying in the afternoon.”
― Paul Theroux, The Last Train to Zona Verde: Overland from Cape Town to Angola

Claudius The God – Robert Graves. I bought this last year along with I Claudius but only read the first one at the time as I’d enjoyed it so much I wanted to savour the second. Carrying on from the point when Claudius becomes Emperor (if you think that’s a spoiler shame on you) it purports to be his own account of the events that follow up until his death. It’s a very intricate read, but not a hard one as Graves presents this section of ancient history in very accessible text. Admittedly the large chuck at the beginning about Herod is not as compelling as what follows and feels like a hurdle you have to overcome to get to the good bit, but having the experience of reading I Claudius before-hand and roughly knowing what is coming it’s endurable. As plots and counter plots ensue Graves is very good at controlling the story. It’s arguable how much of this is accurate history and how much is creative licence either by Graves or his source texts, but it still is a fascinating slice of Roman history that made me want to learn more.

“On occasions of this sort it was, I must admit, very pleasurable to be a monarch: to be able to get important things done by smothering stupid opposition with a single authoritative word.”
― Robert Graves, Claudius the God

Buy The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing
Buy Goodbye To Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
Buy The Last Train To Zona Verde by Paul Theroux
Buy Claudius The God by Robert Graves

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And The Winner Is…

Thank you for this award.

This week the laureates of the Nobel Prize For Literature 2018 and 2019 both received their awards. I’m not going to get into the controversy over one of them, instead I’m wondering how many writers have fantasied about winning it for themselves.

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded most years since 1901 and it’s always extremely satisfying when one is named to actually know who they are (the latest two? I’ll be honest and say I’ve never heard of them before). The Prize is given for the full collection of a person’s work and not a specific text (or relevant piece), although sometimes a particular work is mentioned.

The point then is; hands up if you’ve ever fantasied about winning an award for your work. Have you imagined them calling out your name? Planning your reaction? Don’t lie. I don’t actually believe I will win a Nobel of course, it’s totally impossible. I don’t have delusional dreams, just dreams of grandeur.

In reality we’d be foolish to take these dreams seriously, but a writer’s job is to imagine and often to imagine the impossible. It’s hard wired into us, so it’s not a major step for imagination to turn to fantasising. Add wanting to do well with your work and again it’s not too far from dreaming about achieving great things because of it.

The interesting thing is some writers who have won the Nobel haven’t dreamed it was possible for them have achieved this.

In 2017 Kazuo Ishiguro won for some brilliant novels, ones I’m pretentious enough to wish I’d read before he won it. (Bob Dylan is the only laureate of whom I had “read” the works of before they were announced… come on Michael Palin.)

On wining Kazuo Ishiguro is quoted as saying “I thought the normal procedure is that the winner is told first, so I didn’t believe it for a long time. When the BBC phoned, I thought it might be true.” Procedure’s of the Academy aside even when the BBC told him, he still doesn’t seem certain. If the BBC told me I’d be on that plane to Stockholm that afternoon, long before I was expected. I’d just loiter outside the Palace looking smug until the actual ceremony. I suppose that’s why the modest and brilliant writer Kazuo Ishiguro is doing so well compared to arrogant old me.

Being a writer, especially one who has tried to go through the official route of submitting to an agency you get so many knock backs, or non-replies you need something positive to aim for. Just after we’ve submitted something, to an agent or for a competition, what is going through our minds? Probably a mixture of outright being accepted or claiming first place right down the spectrum to it being laughed at and put in the bin. But somewhere in there, we have that hope. The fact that we put ourselves through it again and again means this train of thinking is becoming a habit to us; we practically live on the roller-coaster.

The question is does it do any harm to occasionally fantasise about winning something?

I mean how many people who want to be a pop star imagine winning the X Factor or whatever? It’s not just in our field nearly everyone must have daydreamed about their name being read out after hearing “And the winner is…”. I guess for a writer we just dream of a classier prize (see I’m arrogant and smug).

There is an interesting verse in the song L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N by Noah And The Whale (a band so far above that of a reality TV winner) that tells of an artist who manipulates the story of what is actually happening in his life:

“Some people wear their history like a map on their face
And Joey was an artist just living out of case
But his best work was his letters home

Extended works of fiction about imaginary success
When chorus girls in neon were his closest things to friends
But to a writer, the truth is no big deal”

There is so much truth there that I’m sure it’s been experienced by the lyricist and by many many more. The whole issue of how true writing has to be is another subject for another day but should we let the truth get in the way of moments of daydreaming?

When we are so used to planning the lives and the ups and downs of our character’s journeys do we start to do that for ourselves? Of course in a novel or play we want there to be some jeopardy and some greying of how well things turn out. If we could write the rest of our lives, or careers as a writer, I’m sure we’d be a lot kinder to ourselves then we are to our creations.

Instead sometimes the best prizes we can realistically hope to get is some nice words said about what we’ve written.

In the end I don’t think it hurts to imagine too much, but only if we also have our feet firmly in reality at the same time; and I guess the blending of both worlds is what makes us want to write fiction anyway.

Buy The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Listen L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N

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