Thursday, 30 June 2016

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Adults Love a Child Narrator #2 - Girls


It is almost a year since my novel Ways of the Doomed was published and I am astonished at the mixed readership it has attracted.  When the marketing was first planned it was agreed to pitch mostly to the Young Adult market.  I have been visiting schools all year and it's true, the kids are enthralled.  When I wrote the novel I had no audience in mind, I just wrote the book I wanted to write, so I am delighted that adults are also loving reading the harrowing adventure of my young protagonist Sorlie Mayben.  This got me thinking about other books narrated by children that have an overwhelming adult appeal, often because the subject is bigger than the narrator’s story. 

Now it’s the girls turn to show that they are just as capable as telling their stories for the adult audience.  When I looked out my reviews I found just as many girls stories as I did boys. Many of the reviews whether with girl or boy narrators are set in Africa.  This may be because I did lots of research on Africa a few years back or maybe it is because African writers seem to find it easier to tell harrowing stories from the point of view of children. Looking at the list below, I find that most of the stories are harrowing no matter where they are set but  they are stories worth reading despite that.

Not reviewed but also worth reading are The Famished Road by Ben Okri; the novels of Buchi Emecheta; Say You’re One of Them by Uwen Akpan and The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi.


 1. Precious by Sapphire


Sixteen year old Precious Jones, is illiterate, she is raped by her father, beaten by her mother, let down by the system. When she falls pregnant for the second time by her own father she is placed in an alternative teaching programme. Here she learns to read and write. This is her diary.  This brutal story is not for the faint hearted, but we are kidding ourselves if we think it is a unique story.  Too many novels portray ‘poor little rich girl’ - poor little poor girl deserves to have her story told too. Despite the trauma of the tale this is an inspirational read.





 2.  Dora, a headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch


Definitely not for the faint hearted.  I imagine teenagers hiding this novel from over anxious parents.  LGBT sex, drugs and enough swearing to make Madonna blush.  Oh but what a voice (or not) because this is a modern telling of the Sigmund Freud case study and his treatment of a young girl Ida Bauer (Dora) with hysteria which resulted in loss of voice.  The modern narrator Ida (Dora) ramrods her way through her own mental health issues, subjects her psychiatrist to a treble dose of Viagra and videos his subsequent relief. It is fun but with serious undertones.  Her mother is in denial of Ida’s father’s affair and Ida relies on her motley crew of friends to help her get even, get better, get the hell out of there.  





      3. No and Me by Delphine de Vigan 


The story is told by thirteen year old OCD sufferer, Lou Bertignac in a narrative voice that is unique and believable. She befriends No, a homeless girl living rough on the streets of Paris. With a naivety that is refreshing Lou tries to fix No's life.  The fact that the number of homeless young people currently living on the streets of Paris is staggering makes this story all the more believable. 





 4. Where’d you go Bernadette?  by Maria Semple



This book is set in Seattle, where everyone works or is connected to Microsoft, but the fifteen year old Bee uses emails, articles, hand written post-its and reports to try to discover what has happened to Bernadette, her wacky mother, who one day vanished from Bee’s life. Bee is a funny, clever and very wise narrator.  I loved this book






5    5. NOS4A2  by Joe Hill


Although this book starts with the grown up Viv McQueen, most of the book is in flashback.  Vic as a young girl can teleport to the right spot to find missing items just by riding her bike through a covered bridge.  She keeps her gift to herself and gets into all kinds of horrors when she meets bad guy Charles Manx, the man who offers children a ride in his creepy car and takes them to Christmassland.  Very scary and definitely adults only.





6.   6. The Other Hand   by Chris Cleeve 


This is the story of another Bee, this time a young girl fleeing her African village, which was cleared by soldiers for the oil companies. While on the run Bee and her sister encounter Andrew and Sarah, a white couple who try to help but with horrific consequences.  When Bee’s sister is murdered Bee travels to England to find Sarah.  A harrowing story.





7    7. The Sopranos by  Alan Warner


Five choir girls from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, a rural girl’s school, are let loose in the big town for a night of drunkenness, debauchery and shenanigans.  Their antics are hilarious and also often very sad.  Not only is this a book about teenagers written for adults, it was written by a man and proves that maybe men are not always from Mars. Alan Warner’s Morven Callar was a great female novel, The Sopranos is just as good.  Brilliant.





         8. The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz


Fifteen year old Beth lives on an isolated Canadian farm beside a Native American reservation that is being terrorised by a daemon. This becomes a metaphor for how Beth deals with her violent father’s abuse and her treatment in the community. The focus of action is a moody menacing wood, and characters are both good and evil.  The novel is sprinkled with recipes and remedies from a scrapbook and is rich in sensory descriptions.



       9. The Taxi Driver’s Daughter by Julia Darling


Novel’s written by poets are normally beautifully written and this is no exception. This is a story of a family in crisis; two teenage daughters, a mother in prison for shop lifting and a father who just wants to run away from it all. Caris is fifteen and hugely affected by her mother’s imprisonment, she is bullied at school and falls in with the bad crowd. The hopelessness of Caris’ plight is brilliantly portrayed. You just want to tell her to sort her life, but the reader can’t and nor can she.





1    10. Purple Hibiscus by   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


This book won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was Shortlisted for the Orange Prize.  The narrator fifteen year old Kambili tells the story of her family, ruled by a fanatical, misguided father who believes he is doing right by God, by half killing his family. It is only when Kambili and her brother go to live with a free thinking aunt that brutality and oppression of their old life become apparent to them.





      11. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold


One of the most famous child narrators, Suzie Salmon, uses her vantage point of heaven to narrate her story. She tells the reader how she was lured into a hiding placed, raped and murders. But her family don’t know and Suzie watch them as they agonise over her disappearance and slowly disintegrate as a unit.  A grim tale very well told.





1    12. The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson


This is a Scottish classic autobiographical novel. Little Janie MacVean is a little girl who is happy playing amongst vagrants and tinkers, but eventually ends up in an orphanage when the ‘cruelty man’ deems her mother’s upbringing unfit. The novel is filled with colourful characters and an impressive writing style that uses simple homely verbs which hit the spot every time.  A delight.






I'd be surprised if you've never read a book with a child narrator, but if you haven't I would urge you to do so.  They are more reliable and much better fun than adults.




Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Adults Love a Child Narrator #1 - Boys





It is almost a year since my novel Ways of the Doomed was published and I am astonished at the mixed readership it has attracted.  When the marketing was first planned it was agreed to pitch mostly to the Young Adult market.  I have been visiting schools all year and it's true, the kids are enthralled.  When I wrote the novel I had no audience in mind, I just wrote the book I wanted to write, so I am delighted that adults are also loving reading the harrowing adventure of my young protagonist Sorlie Mayben.  This got me thinking about other books narrated by children that have an overwhelming adult appeal, often because the subject is bigger than the narrator’s story.  I trolled through my book journals and began listing and as the list grew I realised, if I was going to highlight the best, I’d need to separate them into two posts: boy narrators and girl narrators.   Boys first for a change.


1.    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 


The charismatic Huckleberry Finn must be the original teen on the edge.  He is boy of about thirteen years old who lives with his drunk father in the deep south of the United States of America.  His schooling is neglected and he is placed into the care of Widow Douglas and Miss Watson who try to civilise him with religion.  Huck feels trapped and escapes with his friend Jim, the black slave of respectable Miss Watson, to go adventuring.  The treatment of racial issues can be shocking for today’s reader despite the fact that the main protagonist is anti-racist. This is a fun adventure story with a rock hard moral attached.





2.    A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines first published 1968


Many fictional edgy teens are poorly treated at school and Billy Casper is no exception. Brought up by a wayward mother alongside a brutal half-brother, in a Yorkshire mining village, Billy has few choices in life. His world is turned around when he finds a kestrel to train.  The story is told over the course of one day with flashback sequences which lay out the hopelessness of Billy’s life.  The reader has no option but to hold their breath and hope for a happy ending.




3.    Let the Right One In by  John Ajvide Lindqvist


The story of a friendship between young vampire Eli and a twelve year old bullied boy Oskar is perfect for a youth reading project. The story is an easy read and gruesome enough to keep young boys interested but it also has sociological merit.
The story takes place in a deprived area, in 1980's Sweden, and shows a different Sweden to the one we are used to. The sense of place is probably the best aspect of the book. I have worked in a Stockholm 

suburb in summer and that was depressing enough. This novel is set in winter and there is a chill that lasts from page one until the end. 





4.    Maggott Moon by Sally Gardner 



This novel takes place in 1956 in an occupied Britain. The narrator is an imaginative fifteen year old boy Standish Treadwell.  He lives in in Zone Seven where the Motherland keeps everyone under surveillance.  His ball ends up on the wrong side of a wall and when he goes over the top to retrieve it he finds a moon mission mock up and a heap of propaganda.  This subversive fable is told in one a unique voice that rings through your head for days. Another story you can’t pin a reading age too.  A story of what ifs and an excellent read for any age.




5.    Butter by Erin Lange 


Butter is a morbidly obese teenage boy with a passion for the saxophone and a girl in his class who he contacts anonymously on line. This is a tale of all the loves in Butter's life; his mother's suffocating love that is killing him, his father's love that Butter is denied, his love of music and his love for this on-line girl.
It is at times funny and is often very sad. I found the character of Butter believable - he could be pretty tough and very funny but also obnoxious and sarcastic.  At no time did this novel fall into sentimentality but retained its focus to the end. A good well rounded tale.





6.    The Wall by William Sutcliffe 


William Sutcliffe chose a fictional, almost dystopian setting to tell a story set in a situation similar to the Palestine/Israel divide.
Thirteen year old Joshua loses his football, discovers a tunnel and finds himself on the other side of The Wall. There he befriends a young girl and her family and agrees to look after their olive grove which is on the wrong side of the wall from them. He faces many obstacles not least his violent stepfather. This is a story about fear, and how that fear controls the lives and the choices made by the characters on both sides of the wall. It is well balanced and does not try to answer any of the questions raised in this very complex situation. A great novel for everyone young and old to learn about this Middle East conflict.




7.    Shipwrecks by Akura Yoshimura


This is a simple yet heartbreaking story of nine year old Isaku and his family. They live in a poor village by the sea. While Isaku's father has gone into bondage for three years to allow the family to have some money to stay alive Isaku finds himself head of the household and main breadwinner.
The cyclical style of prose emphasizes the monotony of trying to stay alive year in year out and poetic descriptions of the element are always in connection to that struggle. The pace is gentle, in keeping with the changes in the seasons and the paradox between Isaku's childlike thoughts and his strength give the story a sad tone which is sustained throughout.




8.    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


A coming of age horror story that Stephen King didn’t write! Middle America is visited in October by a carnival with a difference. The carousel can rejuvenate or age depending on the direction it turns, a maze of mirrors shows your nightmares and Mr Dark is hovering in the side lines. Two boys and a dad take on the evil owner and try to save themselves and the town from a wicked end. A horror masterpiece.





9.    Chronicle In Stone by Ismail Kadare




Albania’s leading literary figure and Booker prize winner, Ismail Kadare is one of my favourite authors.  Chronicle in Stone is set in his home town Gjirokaster, which is also the home town of the communist partisan leader and eventual dictator Enver Hoxha. The story is narrated by a child and at first shows normal family life in an ordinary Albanian town during WWII. The town is occupied and changes hands and allegiance several times. This situation makes for a fascinating and often cruel tale of gossip, superstition and injustice.





10.  The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses #1; The Crossing #2; Cities of the Plain #3

The Border Trilogy is, in my opinion, the best of McCarthy. John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, two young cowboys travel over the border into Mexico to begin their own adventures and a passage into adulthood that is far from pretty. The cowboy story brought up to date using all the elements, McCarthy excels in; tight, often witty dialogue, magnificent desert descriptions and a cruel sense of inevitability. 




Tuesday, 26 April 2016

#Hattastic Big Knit Challenge -The Results



Every Picture tells a story and the #Hattastic Gallery shows some of the hats knitted and bought in aid of Brain Tumour Research.





To begin with I was a bit unsure if it would work.  I set my Just Giving Page target to £250 thinking I might get lucky.  But who would buy my hats?  I lined up a couple of friends to sell them for me but seriously expected to have to donate the remainder to the homeless.

How wrong could I be.  Within hours of launching the Big Knit Challenge I had orders flying in through Facebook.  CR Smith colleagues old and new stepped up to the mark and many people who have been affected by this terrible cancer.   I was overwhelmed.  And then came the offers to help knit.  Four CR Smithies took up the needles and joined in.  They also organised a coffee morning on the Wear a Hat Day to sell their hats.
Fiona did a great job of spreading the word about the charity.  She is a popular girl and as soon as people knew the challenge was to help her the Just Giving page rose, and rose and rose... As soon as the donations slowed Fiona began spreading the word further afield.

In the end I knitted 67 hats. I sold 50 and gave the rest to the coffee morning to sell. The grand total is;

The Just Giving Page              £1640.00

My hat sales                            £1100.00

CR Smith sale                         £1000.00

Donated to BTR                      £3740.00



THANK YOU

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

#Hattastic Big Knit Challenge


Many years ago I worked with a young woman who had more life and energy for sport than anyone I have ever met. Fiona is much younger than me but was happy to play me at squash. She was a tough opponent, her strength was phenomenal.  We also played in the company five a-side football team together. Somehow I always ended up on the opposite side to Fiona and was terrified of her punishing tackles.  She persuaded the company owner to let me use his personal gym where Fiona and I would train together. She taught me how to use weights correctly and often we would meet at the gym at 6.00am and cycle miles through Fife countryside before work. I thought she was invincible.  We lost touch when I changed jobs and then picked up contact again through Facebook. 

The CR Smith Football Team 1996

On the surface she was fine. Then I discovered through a mutual friend that she had been battling a brain tumour for years. All the fight and energy she used on the sports arena was now being channelled to keep her alive. Despite her illness Fiona is still the same funny, bubbly person she was during the gym years. She has one of the most infectious laughs I've ever heard. 

Fiona ans I helped to raise £1000 for CHAS on behalf of CR Smith

During one recent communication with Fiona I became very frustrated. I wanted to do something - anything to help her. I remembered her posting about wearing a grey hat for Brain Tumour Research. That afternoon in November 2015 I started to knit hats. I haven’t stopped since.

WIP hats

I decided I would ask people to sponsor me to knit fifty hats before the end of June this year. I'll be posting regular updates of  #Hattastic Big Knit on this blog as well as pictures of the hats as they grow and details of how to purchase a hat.

https://www.justgiving.com/moira-mcpartlin1/

This Just Giving Page is for sponsorship only due to Gift Aid rules. I set it up because I realised that the challenge itself is worth sponsorship and not everyone suits a hat - I don't!

To date I've knitted thirteen hats, in six different styles. I've sold three. This amounts to a total 42482 stitches knitted using 1092 grams of wool.  And not a fur pompom in sight!

‘Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer… yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research is allocated to this devastating disease.’ BTR


On the 24th March 2016 Brain Tumour Research hold their ‘Wear a hat for a Day’ event. Do you need a hat?

Willing hat models

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Shelfie Skelfie Challange

It's look back at the year time again. Every New Year I set myself a challenge for the year ahead. Last year I set two challenges, one large, one small. One I achieved and one I failed.

I'll start with the one I failed on. It was to play chess at least once a week. On January 1st 2015 when I set it I thought it was small but would be good for me.   Because my husband worked away during the week I reckoned it would be a skoosh to play my phone. I enjoy playing chess and with my phone set to easy I could even be assured of a win. In the first couple of months I did play, but there is something quite demoralising about sitting alone on a wet, dark February night before a log fire, playing a Blackberry at chess. I gave up, there seemed no point to the challenge and I never regretted the decision to quit.


Shelfie 31st December 2014

The second challenge was greater and harder - I would not buy a book for myself in 2015. This might not seem hard for most folk but I am a confirmed biblioholic. I can't stop buying books!  At the beginning of 2015 I had a whole bookcase filled with books I had bought over many years and never read (I have more in another bookcase, but more of that later). Over the course of the year I would work my way through the bookcase and use the local library.

I am happy to say I did succeed in not buying any books (ebooks included) for myself, although I did buy a few gifts and download one free ebook to allow me to take part in a Global Reading Salon event.

So how big a challenge was this really?  It was huge!  So difficult. The first thing to happen was I attended two great lectures at my mountaineering club. The first was given by John Allen, about the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. His book Cairngorm John sounded brilliant but I couldn't buy it. Luckily one of the other club members owned a copy and loaned it to me.

The second lecture was given by hill runner Manny Gorman. This was a worse situation because Manny is a friend, I really wanted to buy his book. I had to apologise to him and explain the situation.  He came up with the solution. My novel Ways of the Doomed was due to be published in June 2015. We would swap books. Perfect.

This leads me onto the main problem I had. Many of my friends are writers who, like me, were launching books in 2015.  I wanted to support them as they supported me but couldn't buy their books. I leave this year with a list of books I must buy from these friends.

Shelfie July 2015 (books on top left are loans and gifts)

Everyone has been very understanding of my challenge. Many people bought me books as gifts, other loaned me books.  My local library has been a saviour providing me with much needed research books and new releases I couldn't live without.

I have to admit that I haven't finished all the books I took from the bookcase during the year. The larger tomes like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and Alan Bennett's Untold Stories are at my bedside but are ongoing reads along with shorter works.  I consider this challenge to be a success.

Shelfie 31st December 2015 (still some to read!)

In 2016 my reading challenge will be to work my way through the rest of these books and my 'Want to Read' list in Goodreads, (including some of the books from other shelves) but for now I will be heading out when the bookshops open in January and I will buy myself a book.