Friday 27 January 2012

REVIEW - 'A Monster Calls', Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2011)

Lonely thirteen-year-old Conor is going though some more dramatic-than-usual upheavals for a teenage boy. When he is awoken one night by an unexpected visitor, he begins a painful journey. But can he face up to it's conclusion?

I yanked this book from the shelf of my local library with a giddy head - I've only completed the first third of Ness's Chaos Walking Trilogy (a more about my slow-coach reasoning later), but this one book was more than enough to get me mega-excited about this offering.

Based on an idea by the Carnegie-medal-winning author, Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness was asked to turn the idea into a novel after Dowd tragically died of cancer.

This book sat heavy on my heart. But in a good way, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Conor's long, often silent days of solitude, at home and at school are bleakly atomospheric. The gradual reveal of the reasons behind his suffering is skillfully done. He is not necessarily a lovable character - he is stubborn, his own worst enemy - but I just wanted to give him a great big bear hug. Probably exactly the sort of reaction that would repel him. You get the picture.

The structure builds up the tension magnificently - The arrival of the monster in the dead of the night kicks of the telling of three fables that lead up to the unveiling of Conor's own truth. The irony is, being a book filled with the most achingly beautiful monochrome illustrations, that nothing in this story is black and white. Everything serves to remind us of the complications and contradictions that are tangled up in the big decisions we have to make in life.

Ness uses his words to great effect - fully formed three dimensional characters leap from the page with just one line of dialogue. The monster, in particular, is like a prickly Dumbledore with twig fetish, if you can imagine such a thing.

One of the most important, most striking things about this book, is that it is a BOOK. 'Yes. I know' I hear you cry. 'This is a book blog, I am reading a book review, you silly mare. Of course it is a bloody book.' Now, I love my Kindle, I covert an iPad, but there is nothing like cradling a proper hardcover than relishes it's physical status. I mentioned Jim Kay's amazing illustrations earlier. They don't just compliment the story - but it would be half the book without (yes, apologies for stating the bleedin' obvious again). This aren't dainty pretty pictures by any means, but they are just perfect.

I mentioned my delay in reading the last two thirds of the Chaos Walking Trilogy. Well this also stems from beautiful book syndrome - I was fortunate enough to find a pristine hardcover copy of 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' in the second hand bookshop where I used to work. Now, I can't NOT buy equally pristine copies of the other two, but this shall have to wait until funds permit me to do so. Gosh darn it.

Monday 23 January 2012

Why I Love Skins...(or where I go a bit fangirl on your ass)

First off, apologies to anyone reading this who

a) doesn't have the foggiest what this 'skins' thing I write about is
b) who hates skins with a passion (but I guess you wouldn't have clicked on the link anyway, so I'm addressing this one to thin air)

Well, Skins in a British TV show about a group of teenagers residing in the lovely city of Bristol. It contains mucho sex, drugs, general naughtiness and it goes without saying that I LOVE IT.  It started in 2007 and is now about to air it's 6th series. You can get a bit more of a back story here. Needless to say, it's pretty damn good and, in my opinion, essential viewing for anyone who writes/loves contemporary YA.

It's unique structure, in which the cast iS changed every two series, has been praised/critisised/attacked with crazed vitriol, but it has made sure it has stayed fresh and noticed.

For me, in the context of writing YA, well, I wouldn't be if it wasn't for this TV show. Some of the first stories I developed stemmed from me attempting to think up a new, hypothetical cast and story lines for the show. Everything about it, the writing (definitely the writing), the acting, the photography, the way it uses music, just send shivers down my spine.

Now, I may not be it's target audience. The great stand-up and occasional Skins supporting actor, Chris Addison, recently said that Skins is only for teenagers. As much as I think he's a bit of a dude in every other respect, I am living testament to the fact that he is wrong on this count. I'm sure I'm not the only *cough* early thirty-something *cough* who can't get enough of it. I'm certain the fact that I read and write YA is a clear indication that a small/large part of personality has clung onto the seventeen-year-old mentality and refused to shake it off. Why have I become so obsessed with this show? Well, my theory is that when the first series was broadcast, I had just given birth to my first born. I have vivid memories of being heavily pregnant and not being able to switch on the telly without 'Standing in the Way of Control' shouting out at me. And, consequently, me pouring scorn over trendy looking try-hard trailer in my overly-hormonal state.
Well, I missed the first episode. Probably something to do with new-baby-woolly-head (it's a recognised condition - look it up), BUT I was intrigued enough to tune into the next one, focusing on the troubled Cassie. And from the moment we see her drifting down the college corridor, walking her fingers along the handrail, I was properly, utterly HOOKED. I think realising that that stage of my life was well and truly over made me want to cling onto this fantasy version even more.

Well, enough of the cod-psychology bollocks. Here's my top things about SKINS -


I never come across a TV show that uses music to such brilliant dramatic effect. Not just in terms of a well chosen soundtrack, but inspired musical set-pieces that move the story along and make us love the characters even more. So many, many to choose from (Cook doing Barry Manilow, JJ and his Ukelele Orchestra), most, unfortunately not on YouTube, so I'll give you the classic climax to the first series...*hits massive gong* WARNING, SPOILERS!


Yes, we all know the magnificence of YA rests on the shoulders of the characters and this is no different. And what set we've had. I won't go into details on all of them, but my faves have been (in no particular order) (actually, in a sort of chronological order) Sid, Chris, Effy, JJ, Naomi, Alo & Mini. BUT my all time, top Skins bloke has to be COOK. Because, well, HE'S COOK!
And most of them are pretty easy on the eye too.


Ok, ok, so, it's not necessarily a completely realistic portrayl of teenage life. I, for one, never partook in a granny steeple chase or attacked my frenemy with a rock to the noggin. Or, ahem, other stuff. But what it does do is so completely articulate specific emotions without patronising, whether it be getting your heart blown into smithereens, falling for the wrong person or the acute pain of friendship. The unique structure of the series, where most episodes focus on a particular character make the viewing experience so much more intense. More favourites, this time episodes -

Series 1 - Chris, Effy, The Finale
Series 2 - Sid (Just one hour of some of the finest TV you will ever witness), Effy
Series 3 - Thomas, Naomi, JJ, The Finale
Series 4 - Emily, Freddie, JJ (I think this one has to be my top pick - it has everything)
Series 5 - Alo

I have to admit, I'm a Gen 2 girl. Series 3 was just brilliant. It finds it's feet - just a little bit more outrageous, intense and beautiful. Here's a great fan vid I found today that sums it up - *hits even bigger gong marked 'SPOILERS'*

Series 5 came under a bit of stick - I have to say, I thought it played it a bit safe, but it still had moments of genius, and Series 6 looks pretty bloody amazing. I will be tuning in in, oh, just under an hour. And I hope you will be too...

And on a more literary note, I'll be doing a double review of the Skins Gen 2 and Gen 3 novels at some point in the not too distant future. Watch this space...

Thursday 12 January 2012

Home is Where the Jaffa Cake Is...

You may or may not have noticed, there has been a substantial delay between now and my last post. I have not been a lazy heffer. Well, not all of the time. After just over two years of Australian living my brood and I have decided that a life Down Under what not what we want right now. We missed London. We missed seasonal weather. We missed Marks and Spencers. And Boots. (you UK peeps know what I'm talking about) We missed living in a cramped little flat in our little corner of West Laaarrnndon. Cramped, but close to everyone and everything we love. It's remarkable how you have to travel to the other side of the world to realise where your heart truly lies. And it turns out mine rests in the Hammersmith/Shepherds Bush borders.

Yes, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, the grass is always greener, blah blah blah. But what about the BOOKS, I hear you ask. Well, if you're not, it's what you should be asking. And if you're not that fussed, well then I'll tell you anyway.

Here's what might be turning up on this blog in 2012 -

I'm planning a couple of themed months in the next few, er, months. First up, seeing as I won't be doing much of it in the near future, I will henceforth be designating February (or possibly March, depending on how lazy I am) the MONTH OF TRAVEL. Seeing as it's a bit of a non-month in many respects, my aim will be to brighten your dark mornings and early evenings with tales from far-flung shores and some closer to home. I'll be reviewing a bit of a mix - some travel-themed YA (coz that's what I loves reading), travel biographies, some classic travel literature. Pretty much anything that takes my fancy.

I'm also planning to do a month of Young Adult Classics. I haven't always been a YA nut. This is only a fairly recent development. So I feel like I should be genning up on the genre. I'll be looking at some big, proper classics and stuff which I, personally, consider essential reading. And maybe some books that I read as a Young Adult (because those days are long gone).

Just a quick mention of another post I'll be doing in the next couple of weeks - in honour of the impending news series one of my favourite telly shows, the magnificent SKINS, I'll be telling you all exactly why I love it so much and why I wouldn't writing YA without it. And just a bit of an excuse to post of my top clips.

And as for me, I'm hoping 2012 will be the year I knuckle down with this whole writing lark. Seeing as I won't emigrating again any time soon, I plan to be penning more articles, finishing my novel (nearly done with first draft - exciting times!) and generally being a right bore about it all.

Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes. Toodles for now. xx