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When An Author Returns To An Old Series

A photograph of the three books that make up the His Dark Materials trilogy

As I was reading La Belle Sauvage, it struck me how relatively inaccessible it was to new readers. I say relatively because it is accessible; it’s a case of there being a lot left unsaid that relies on you having read His Dark Materials, but what’s left unsaid isn’t anything that would actively detract from the experience of a new reader, who would quite likely not notice. Pullman achieved a good balance.

Should a new book for a series that started (and ended) years ago – thinking, of course, of situations like older trilogies and new ones – be written for the original audience only – since grown up and thus creating the situation wherein you want an adult book for what was once a children’s series – or should the new book be written with an eye to the new generation?

What responsibility does the author have in the context of ages? If they were to call the new book an adult book then the intention would be clear but the result would be a book that may well not be appreciated because the original audience would be looking for more of the same – the same magic that was in the previous books.

In that way, writing in the same fashion – for children – works for both original and new readers. You want the magic of the original series; in many ways you’re actively looking for a children’s book. (With all the debates about adults reading Young Adult books, a point must surely be made about YA books in a series that started long ago. Certainly the buzz around La Belle Sauvage suggests that’s perfectly acceptable.)

There’s also a basic responsibility the author surely has – that previous fan base is most likely where sales will begin. And it’s the adults who have been waiting or, if not actively waiting in the case of a new book being a more sudden occurrence, the most appreciative.

Should we or can we expect new, younger, readers, to start with the older books? The young readers who will likely be most interested in the new books are those who have been introduced to the older books by parents, siblings, and so on, so they’re effectively in the same boat. If they haven’t read the original books yet but planned to/have had them put on their reading list by an enthusiastic adult, we can assume they’d not be ‘allowed’ to read the new book until they’d finished the originals.

This naturally moves on to content – should prior details be regurgitated? Pullman didn’t do this – if he had it may have been more of a filler book that it is – but how much is detail needed? Should the length of time between books be considered or is it safe to assume that fans who feel they’ve forgotten will have re-read the original series prior to the new release? I think it is.

Of course the lack of old details – in Pullman’s case there isn’t a long description of the ‘bad guys’ and not much world-building – may stop new readers starting with the new books. That could well be argued to be a good thing.

A lot of all this depends on the individual – what they remember, how much time and inclination they have to re-read, and whether they’re happy with any big changes. But considering the fact that there are lots of books that do include repetitive details in series – in my experience the worst is another old series, The Babysitter’s Club which effectively paraphrases or copies and pastes (I always skipped them so can’t say either way) the same first several pages of the first books continually, presumably to aid memory but actively making it look as though there’s more story – a book that doesn’t has the effect of trusting the reader to remember instead of creating the unfortunate other effect of making the reader feel the author doesn’t trust them to remember.

I think continuing for the original readers is a good thing. And it provides another book for them to introduce to the new generation (or provides the excited conversation that would intrigue a young reader to look for the older ones themselves… we can hope!)

Your thoughts?

 
The Present Past: Lydiard Park

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Park is a large estate in Swindon. Now owned by the local council, only some of the building is accessible to the public as the first floor and some parts of the ground floor are used as meeting rooms and for other council purposes, but the medieval church and the grounds are free to roam, and there is a cafe and walled garden, so all in all it constitutes a good casual day out – a fair length of time if you want to see it all, and a couple of hours if it’s your local park and you want to take the dog for a walk.

Lydiard Manor

Presumably due to the house being mostly council space, the accessible ground floor sports all kinds of rooms. You start in the side corridor rather than at the front of the house, as you do in many others, pay for entry, and walk into a large hallway/receiving hall space. The house was sold by the original owners to the council unfurnished – it had been the in the same family since the medieval period – so the furniture has been collected. It’s been done very well; the rooms are well decorated and there are plenty of paintings on the walls.

Lydiard Manor

The dining room is small, but the living rooms are large and there is a lot to see if you like to look at old items close up. The ‘state bedroom’ is pretty special, so too the blue room at the end that was likely a chapel, and of course it’s always good to see a library. The house, believed to have been built in the medieval period, was restructured in the Georgian decades so behind the walls there are even older elements. It’s that catch 22 that befalls a lot of old buildings that were restructured in the days when people didn’t think of history – the restructure has value as a historic building as much as the Tudor, so decisions have to be made in terms of keeping it as it is or cutting back further in time.

Lydiard Manor

To go back to the original family, briefly, they were called St John (or, rather, are called – one present-day relative writes about the house). There is a connection with the House of Tudor – Margaret Beauchamp, later grandmother of Henry VII, was related to the St Johns via her first marriage. They kept the house right up until the 1940s. It had been requisitioned for use as a war hospitals and training grounds whilst and at the same time this was happening the family were deciding to move on.

Lydiard Manor

Back to the estate itself, whilst the house is a short trip in itself, the church and surrounding parkland make up for it. It’s best to visit the church before you go around the park.

Something that I think can be considered special is the way access to the church is allowed; whilst you understandably can’t visit it when a service is happening (unless you want to join in, I suppose), the key to the church is available to borrow from the staff at the house. This means you get the church to yourself, or mostly for yourself – as keyholder you’re responsible for ushering out anyone who happens to enter before you leave (not to turn them away but so the church can be locked again).

Lydiard Manor

It’s really worth the visit. The church is very old and though you can’t see it from my photos – it was a little too dark near the altar – a lot of what could be assumed the original artwork remains. (At least I like to think it’s original – Catholic churches of old were very beautiful, colourful, and so it does follow that the starry ceiling of St Mary’s could date back to the pre-Reformation years.)

Lydiard Manor

So to the grounds – they are vast, more vast than they first seem (you have to start exploring to see just how much there is to find). The Chinese bridge takes you over the lake to a patch of woodland which then winds round back across the lake where you can choose to tramp round the fields or go further out. The track back to the gates takes you past the ice house, or a slightly different route takes you to the walled garden and stables, where you’ll find the cafe.

Lydiard Manor

Like most house grounds, the items of particular interest outside are near the building, so if you’re coming from afar the opening hours offer more than enough time. A keen walker may want to return to see what lies in the distance. And as the grounds do serve as a local park, it’s a lovely casual experience.

The rest of my photos

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

 
2017 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read 59 books. Less than I’d hoped but when I looked at it again I realised I’d focused on that ‘5’ – 59 is one less than 60 and 60 is the average number for me. As stated previously, I wasn’t able to read as much in December as I had planned so I’m using some of January to make up for that albeit that I’ve chosen different books. The few times Ana and Iris hosted their Long-Awaited Reads month had a continuing impact on me and when a new year rolls around I find myself thinking of books I’ve had for a while or, in the case of Philip Pullman, books I’ve had for a short time but have been waiting for for years.

As with last year I had difficulty arriving at my previously usual 5 ‘best of’ books so again there are only 3. I believe it is indeed an issue of discernment and experience and I’m just going to go with the flow. There’s a subtle difference between an amazing book and an amazing book that blows you away and I’ll continue to use the differentiation to highlight particular books.

As always, books that have been reviewed have a line underneath them and the title links to the review. Up until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you’d prefer to skip all that, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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Kit De Waal: My Name Is Leon – Confused as to why he can’t stay with his mother as he is doing a good job looking after her, Leon is taken in by a foster carer whilst his white brother is adopted. A fantastic look at the British social services in the 1980s and the wider issues involved.
Phillip Lewis: The Barrowfields – Henry looks back on his childhood, his father who tried so hard to be a writer, his distant relationships with mother and sister, and his own attempts to be someone. Utterly fantastic.
Tom Connolly: Men Like Air – Three British and one American man in New York, living their lives, getting the flu, ending strange relationships, and working in art galleries. Difficult to summarise, I’ve opted to show the comedy element; this is a fab book.

5

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4.5

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4

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3.5

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3

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2.5

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2

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  • Lindsey Hutchinson: The Workhouse Children
1.5

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1

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  • Kitty Danton: Evie’s Victory
0.5

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  • Alison Sherlock: A House To Mend A Broken Heart
My Personal Favourites

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At the start of 2017 I went back a few steps – where previously I’d got into the habit of saying ‘no goals’, in 2017 I said ‘no goals, but’. I’d considered making a vague plan for diversity in all senses of the word and I was compelled to make it formal, albeit that I didn’t set any numerical targets. Lo and behold, whilst I didn’t fail exactly, I definitely didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, so this year I’m purposefully not going to make any plan even though I want to. What I am going to do that I think (hope!) is okay to think of as a goal, is read more of my own books.

One area in which I did do well, at least in context, was older books. I added a count for books published before 1970 to my 2017 list and retrospectively, and found the number increasing without much thought. 1970 feels most right to me – a cut off is difficult and at times I feel 1970 is too young but when readers are calling Angela Thirkell’s 1960s works classics and you want to include Barbara Comyns 1950s and 1960s, that date seems the way to go.

Quotation Report

In Bayou Folk, a woman who seems 125 years old is respected, however, she is not 125 years old… she may be older.

In Get Well Soon an older man wishes people would just get on with the idea of accepting people as they are. And in The Cut, Cairo reminds us that whilst the media talks a lot about a divide and makes it seem all-pervading, most often people just get on with their lives.

In The Shifting Pools, Duncan puts forth the concept of getting over something, healing, and studies it, saying why time doesn’t heal, it merely allows you to scab over, to find new ways to live. Stasis rather than healing.

In School Of Velocity, Jan recommends a musician use the energy in the air as the house lights go down as a kind of armour. Then there’s this:

Accompaniment is a particular skill. You are the bridge between the audience and the soloist, a lens that magnifies the leading melody, a handler to the outsized personality next to you, one player who sometimes has to be two.

And in Rooms Of One’s Own, Mourby quotes from William Morris (“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”) which makes one wonder whether Marie Kondo is a fan.

I missed Wednesday’s post but with good reason – I’m getting back into the swing of things and have 3 posts in the works, it’s just that they’re not finished yet. I may have to write more than one post on La Belle Sauvage because there’s the objective side of it and then the very personal part of my overall experience. We’ll see.

What was your favourite(s) book from last year?

 
12th January 2018: Combining Goals, General Thoughts, And Reading Life

A photograph of Netley Abbey

I didn’t read as much in December as I’d planned, what with all the busyness of Christmas and other happenings. I’m hoping to make up for it later this month; I’ve many ‘easier’ books to read (I dislike that term but romance and fantasy is generally less mentally taxing, and I welcome it).

The yearly tradition of Thackeray being moved to the new year’s reading list has happened. This year he took with him Solomon Northup – he got lost amongst review copies some months ago – and Courtney J Sullivan’s The Engagements, which is a relative tome to start in late November with the festive season looming.

For the first time since I started reading avidly, I specifically asked that any Christmas presents not be books. I received one book and that was only because it was a present that had been meant for another occasion and hadn’t turned up in time. It was a strangely wonderful situation; as much as I have lots of books to get to regardless, not receiving more was freeing. And as much as receiving an awesome book can get you out of a funk, I can say that not receiving any books can do similarly. In fact I’m now raring to go, there’s just one thing I’m having to consider:

I’ve been spending a lot of time knitting. A few years ago, my Second Mum, as I’ll call her, started making me sweaters after she saw me wearing shop-bought knitwear. Having always been interested in knitting but only ever knowing enough to start but not finish a scarf (I’ve 3 of those lying around), I asked for instruction and now have enough knowledge to graduate to sweaters myself. I did the logical thing and decided to make my first project one for a small person rather than my adult self so there was less to lose if it went wrong… and then soon realised it wasn’t so logical a choice because children grow at an alarming rate. At best, my nephew will be able to wear the sweater for the rest of the cold season we’re currently in so it’s a bit of a race against the clock. I’ve decided I’ll make him a hoodie next but a couple of sizes bigger so I don’t feel the need to spend all my free time making it and can pick it up every now and then. The good thing is that the reading in the small moments idea has translated well to knitting – from what I’ve read, those who knit a lot have their projects ready for queues and public transport, just like readers their books.

So that’s taking more of my time at the moment but I’ll be finished soon and looking forward to giving time back to reading; I enjoy it but knitting is going to have to go a few steps back in the priority line.

…Because I am reading, albeit slowly. On a few present-giving occasions last year, I found myself with a selection of romance books – hence the note at the beginning of this post. I received the last two books in Eloisa James’ Desperate Duchesses series, a couple of books by Sherry Thomas, and a Sarah MacLean I’ve heard a lot about. I also received Eowyn Ivey’s To The Bright Edge Of The World, and in terms of review copies Jessie Greengrass’s Sight is high on the list. I won’t be getting to them all one after the other but most will be read fairly soon.

Once again I’ve decided not to set any particular reading goals – I’ll read as much as I can get to. Last year’s reading wasn’t as diverse as I’d hoped and I think keeping that in mind this new year may mean it’ll be better. Certainly it seems that when I make any sort of specific target in regards to anything related to books it doesn’t happen. Vague notions are best.

What are you hoping to acheive this year, in terms of reading or otherwise?

 
Second Half Of 2017 Film Round Up

In late November, I found out that Channel 5 was showing (and then, crucially, putting online) a large number of TV Christmas films. In addition to my decision to take advantage of that I thought it time I get out my Audrey Hepburn box set, which I’d been saving for that mythical perfect moment. Due to the number of Christmas films – admittedly not nearly as many as Channel 5 had available because I soon realised quality had nothing to do with their selection – I’ve split the films into two categories.

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Get Smart (USA, 2008) – A fun and silly spy movie.

Great Expectations (UK, 2012) – Lacking some of the book’s humour, but not bad overall.

He’s Just Not That Into You (USA, 2009) – I’d seen the so-so ratings but I’d wanted to see this for a few years and found it didn’t disappoint. Were the endings predictable and sometimes too sweet? Yes. But I liked the overall execution and the little things included, like the way the camera panned out from Bradley Cooper and Scarlet Johansson and they were standing on different sides of the line of a parking space.

Leap Year (USA/Ireland, 2010) – I was surprised to find out this is credited as half Irish because it felt very much like Ireland through Hollywood’s eyes.

Madagascar (USA, 2005) – Good.

Roman Holiday (USA, 1953) – Loved this. I wrote about it in November, so I’ve keep it short here.

Sabrina (USA, 1954) – That age difference and the lack of character development…

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Christmas Under Wraps (USA, 2014) – One of those average, overly sweet, films to have on in the background to help you feel festive.

A Prince For Christmas (USA, 2015) – Although this is what you expect – sickly sweet – the two leads are particularly good to the extent that it’s not a bad film at all. And the lack of any royal trappings, whilst almost certainly due to budget constraints, means it seems more realistic.

Family For Christmas (USA, 2015) – The makers of this film would like you to note that having children is better than a career in all circumstances. They also want to tell you that a woman who has had children must remain at home forever, and that if (spoiler following) you get a second chance with your ex-boyfriend, quitting your awesome job before the first date, so that you’re completely ready for the horse and carriage, is a very good idea. It’ll make the date incredibly awkward, but we’ll not mention that.

Cinderella Christmas (USA, 2016) – An interesting spin on the story, but there’s a lot of angst.

Four Christmases (USA, 2008) – Horrendous.

With 3 films on January’s list already and a couple I’m looking forward to, the new year is going well so far.

Do you like to watch holiday-themed films?

 

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