Friday, 26 October 2012

Edith Pattou on North Child

Edith Pattou talks to Armadillo editor Louise Ellis-Barrett about her stunning novel North Child.  This interview ties in with the imminent release of a luxury hardback edition.  To learn more about this stunning book and the inspiration behind the story read on ...

North Child is a charming story and it was published some time ago now, how did you feel when you were told that a luxury edition was being planned?
I was thrilled!  I’ve been so awed and pleased by North Child’s lasting appeal in both Great Britain and the United States (where the title of the book is East). In fact, it was recently nominated by National Public Radio in the U.S. to be part of a list of the “Best-Ever Teen Novels of all Time”.

How did the idea for the story come to you.  I imagine that outside Norway their fairytales are not that well known.
I first read the fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” when I was a child in a book of fairy tales called The Blue Fairy Book. I immediately loved the brave heroine who goes to the end of the world to rescue her prince.

The story is truly enchanting and the new edition will add to the appeal that it already has.  How long did it take you to find your voice and the voice of Rose?
Rose’s voice came to me quickly probably because it had been rattling around in my head since I was a little girl.  The other voices came fairly easily as well, once I got to know their characters. The White Bear was the trickiest, but when I lit on the idea of making his voice more like poetry, it flowed nicely from there.

How long did it take you to write the book?  Was it an idea that was with you for a long time before making it to the page or did the ideas just flow?
It took me about two years to write North Child. And the idea came to me indirectly through another book I was writing that I had gotten blocked on. That story had a handful of fairytales interwoven into the plot. But when I realized it was Rose’s story I wanted to tell, no more writer’s block!

Is Rose your favourite character or are there others who spoke to you loudly whilst you were writing?  The Troll Queen for example, is she really all that bad or do you want readers to feel sympathy with her?
Rose is probably my favorite character but I have quite a fondness for the White Bear as well. And  loyal, dear Neddy. And as for the Troll Queen, while her actions are inexcusable and wicked, I did want to humanize her, find some sympathy for her in myself. She loved, not wisely but too too deeply.

Did you travel with Rose on her journey?  Could you imagine yourself as her travelling with a stranger to an unknown land?  It is all very romantic!
Yes! Partly because of all the research I did, there were definitely moments when I felt like I was right there with her: at her loom, underwater encased in sealskin, finally lighting that candle, and even in the ice palace. In fact, during the writing of NORTH CHILD I did actually get to travel on a ship through a fjord in Norway which was lovely.  Truthfully, though, I like to think my heart could be as dauntless as Rose’s, but not sure my body could’ve taken all that freezing cold weather!

Did you have a readership in mind when you wrote the book or did you just hope that it would have a strong appeal to a young audience with a love of adventure and fairytale i.e. most children!
When I write I don’t actually envision an audience, or try to figure out what age I’m writing to. I just tell the story inside me that is clamoring to be told.  I’ve found to my delight that NORTH CHILD has found a wide audience, from ten year olds up to 60 year olds.

The story is highly lyrical, the language is enchanting, have you always written stories in this way or were you inspired by a favourite author?
I think that because of its romantic, epic, fairytale qualities, NORTH CHILD needed to be told in that way. And I do enjoy writing in that ageless, elegant style. When I was young I loved the books of C.S. Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliffe, and J.R.R. Tolkien (still do, in fact) and I’m sure they had a lasting influence on me.

Is fantasy the genre you feel happiest in?  Is it the genre you read for your own pleasure too?
I do love writing fantasy, though have just finished writing a contemporary realistic teen novel, as well as a funny picture book for younger children. And in terms of what I like to read, I read pretty much everything. Right now I’m simultaneously reading a mystery, a classic adult novel by a Latin American author, and a new teen historical thriller.

If you could have been a character from a fairytale who would you choose to be and why?
Lovely question!  And I hate to be biased but I’m afraid I have to pick that unnamed heroine in the fairytale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”! I always loved that not only did she get to ride on the back of a great white bear, but she also got to ride on the backs of the south, east, west and north winds.

I see that questions for reading groups have been created, are these questions of your devising?
My publisher came up with the questions, but they did run them by me for my approval. I think they did a splendid job!

When you did your research for the story did you have to buy lots of books, make copious notes and find somewhere to store all the newfound knowledge?  What have you done with it all since?
I did buy lots of books and made very copious notes. In fact, I accumulated piles and piles of file folders with headings like “Maps and mapmaking”, “The Arctic”, “Weaving”, “Polar bears,” etc. Those folders all went into a very large box which I stored in my basement. And, in fact, I have very recently brought that box upstairs and unpacked (and dusted off!) all those folders because I’ve begun work on a sequel to NORTH CHILD! It has been a great treat to sift through the papers and to reacquaint myself with the characters. It’s a little like reuniting with a group of old, well-loved friends. And so far I’m very much enjoying this brand new journey Rose and I have begun!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Happy 100th Tarzan!

The following blog has been written by Andy Briggs author of the all new Tarzan stories published by Faber.  Excellent books which bring the adventures to a whole new audience and keep the adventure going after 100 years!  Read on to find out more from Andy himself - huge thanks to Andy for taking the time to do this -  and look out for an interveuw to come soon ...

Andy Briggs

A lot can happen in a hundred years. We have mastered powered flight, landed men on the moon, created an instantaneous global communications network and pushed the boundaries of science farther and faster than ever before. The world has changed beyond our wildest predictions... except, it hasn’t changed much for one man. An Ape Man carved from the imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs and raised by wild apes in the heart of Africa. He is Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.

The world famous hero first graced the pages of All-Story magazine in 1912 in Tarzan of the Apes, and he has remained in print ever since, fuelling successive generations’ thirst for adventure. I was raised on Burroughs’ books and epic Tarzan TV shows and movies; it was a form of escapism and entertainment rolled into one. Burroughs wrote 26 Tarzan books, there have been numerous comics and TV shows, and 89 movies - every generation has their own Tarzan and I had the great fortune to bring him alive for a whole new generation of fans.

However, I didn’t want to continue the classic story, I wanted to reinvent him so he stays relevant to our current world. Nobody has been allowed to tinker with Tarzan before, he’s still owned by the family Estate - but I had an idea for a fresh new, contemporary, version of Tarzan, something I was convinced would appeal to new readers and keep the life-long fans happy too.

And they let me do it! Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy was my first venture - followed by Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior.

Burroughs’ books remain classic adventure tales and I constantly urge people to go back and re-read them. My Tarzan is not a replacement, if anything he lives in a slightly parallel world to the original as I bring the story forward to the present day.

The first problem is where to set it. The original story took place in the coastal jungles of Gabon in West Africa, jungles that have now suffered from extensive logging, so I edged my story over into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like almost all countries with the word “democratic” in their name, it’s one of the most dangerous places on earth. An ideal hunting ground for a new Tarzan.

Tarzan himself was created in a culture of colonialism, where White Man was king and whipped the ignorant natives into shape. Some critics argue that Burroughs’ writing was racist, but that is certainly not the case - it was simply the a product of the time. Those aspects of the story had to go, but the Congo freely offered up replacements for me to play with. Tarzan doesn’t hunt the primitive natives, instead he faces armed and intelligent rebel soldiers who populate the inaccessible jungle and offer a greater threat for the Ape Man. Gone are the white hunters in search of bagging game for fun; they’re replaced by insidious poachers who threaten endangered wildlife as they ply the illegal animal trade - which is now a multi-billion dollar global industry, just below narcotics and gun running.
My next consideration was what I should do about the apes, the peculiar man-like Mangani species that raised Tarzan as their own. Now, science has shown us that there is no such ape species out there. Through the pioneering world of Dr Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, who dedicated their lives to research chimpanzees and mountain gorillas (and who were both inspired by Tarzan to do so) we know that Burroughs’ ape species was pure fiction. Or was it?
When he wrote Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs’ Mangani were hairy mountain men, living in the depths of the jungle. Chimpanzees and gorillas were known, but locals spoke of mysterious mountain men, unknown to science. It was in 1902 that Captain Robert Von Beringe “discovered” the first mountain gorilla (of course, the locals knew all about them), and it was many more years before any research was seriously undertaken to study them. I believe Burroughs based his Mangani on those legends and was writing about mountain gorillas, even if he wasn’t completely aware of it - so I used them too, backed by a little more science.
Next come Jane Porter and Robbie Canler (who was always in the original book). How can they be believable modern characters in Tarzan’s world? In Tarzan of the Apes, Jane was taken into the jungle by her dotty father, who was a scientist. I was keen to move away from that image, and decided that her father should be leading an illegal logging expedition through the heart of the jungle. It sets him up as an antagonist, and gives Jane plenty of reasons to loathe Africa - although her father, Professor Archimedes Q. Porter (now known simply as, Archie), still retains some of his scientific background.
Robbie is no longer Jane’s suitor, well, not quite. He’s a much more complex character than the brave, dashing, and somewhat simple, Robert Canler in Tarzan of the Apes. Robbie has his own dark secrets that have propelled him to lose himself in Africa.
And Jane herself - there can be no Tarzan without Jane. I wanted Jane to represent a modern girl. She’s tough, independent, and although she can’t beat Tarzan’s raw strength, she is smarter - making the two of them a perfect team. My Jane has a mobile phone - of course she does, she’s a modern girl - but what use is that in the jungle? None at all. With no signal and no way to charge the battery, it just becomes a useless piece of junk; a relic to the “civilized” world she has left behind. It proves that, no matter what technological marvels we have, the jungle is just as hostile a place now, as it was a hundred years ago.
When people refer to my Tarzan as “young Tarzan”, I flinch. This is not the young adventures of... it’s the new adventures of... But Tarzan of the Apes has always been about young characters; in it we follow Tarzan’s life from when he was born. When he meets Jane he is still a teenager - anywhere between 15 and 19, Burroughs doesn’t make it clear. And Jane is of “marrying age” which, a century ago, placed her around 15 or 16. Over the years we have all perceived Tarzan and Jane in our own way, usually influenced by the actors who portrayed them on the silver screen. We tend to age them relative to our own age (after all, we all want to be one or the other, right?), and I wanted to try and capture that magical element. Like Peter Pan, Tarzan and Jane have always refused to grow up - and I like it that way. I believe that is why Tarzan is a character a 9 year old and a 90 year old can sit and talk about with the same level of enthusiasm. He spans generations; he inspires us all. And I hope my own contemporary Tarzan stories would get a thumbs-up from the great Edgar Rice Burroughs as a counterpoint to his own classics.
Above all, Tarzan is now ready to entertain people for another 100 years... and I wonder how the world will have changed by then...

Friday, 5 October 2012

A Simply Incredible Week

National Children's Book Week, National Poetry day, the announcment of the SLA Librarian of the Year - well done Adam Lancaster, Black History Month, it's non-stop action and celebration at the moment.

Add to that recent events including a chance for the London YLG to nominate their Carnergie and Greenaway titles, a recent author event witht he amazing and inspiring Leigh Bardurgo and much more to come it is time to sit back and find a few minutes to enjoy a simply incredible book...

With the incredible in mind this Blog (the content below is written by Armadillo reviewer Liz Bankes) looks at the simple yet amazing story of one boy...

Simply Incredible

My Brother Simple by Marie Aude Mareil (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter), published by Bloomsbury, Aug 2012

Kleber moves to the city with his brother Simple, who has learning difficulties. Kleber is determined, however difficult life on their own might be, that Simple is not going to live in an institution. Their new housemates all react differently to having Simple in their lives but it soon becomes clear that he’s changing everything – and he’s no i-di-ot.

My Brother Simple is one of those books that when you finish reading it, makes you feel like you are in the finale of a film. You want to wave it aloft (probably while standing on a chair in a crowd place) and shout THIS BOOK IS INCREDIBLE, NOW YOU MUST READ IT while triumphant music plays.

It is one of those books that, when you meet someone else who has read it, results in this sort of conversation:
Oh I LOVE that book!
The bit when he–
YES! Oh and when him and girl and all the–
I just found it really, yeah
YEAH it was so you know?

And other people wonder what you’re on about, so you tell them to read it and then they do and they say OH MY GOD I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN.

It is one of those books that reminds you that it is the way you treat people that matters. And that small gestures and acts of kindness can change the world.

It is one of those books that makes you very grumpy that you don’t live in Paris.

My favourite thing about this books is that it approaches life’s problems with humour, whether this is living with learning difficulties or just generally living with other people and learning to love them, understand them and treat them right. Each character has their own set of problems, habits and oddnesses that make up who they are and that create hilarious situations – even if they can only laugh about them afterwards. And of course once the characters have made you laugh, you immediately care A LOT about what happens to them.  The inhabitants of the Paris flat that Kleber and Simple move into climb up into your brain and live there, seeming utterly real, making you laugh out loud and, at moments, making you cry.

There’s Enzo, a lazy and irritable literature student for whom eating Nutella with a spoon is one of the day’s highlights – well, at least it distracts him from being painfully in love with his housemate, and best friend’s sister, Aria. Infuriatingly for Enzo, Aria and her boyfriend Emmanuel are the golden couple – good-looking, in love and training to be doctors, but Simple’s arrival has them at odds, hinting that things might not be so wonderful after all. Corentin is Enzo’s best friend and Aria’s brother, preoccupied with losing weight and getting a girlfriend, but can’t work out what’s holding him back. Kleber is the youngest and still at school. He’s having to juggle work, fancying girls and being responsible for his big brother. Simple is thrilled at his new home, living with his two favourite people – Kleber and Mister Babbit, his talkative toy rabbit. And there’s one thing he wants to know – he wants to know about love. Will his dysfunctional flatmates be the ones to teach him?  

At the centre of the book is Simple. When Kleber explains to strangers, particularly ones that Simple has just threatened with his toy gun, that his brother has learning difficulties, Simple clarifies that he is ‘an i-di-ot’. Spelling it out like that shows the emptiness of the word – and how ridiculous it is to apply a word like that to the bundle of personality, experiences and details that is a person. Anyone that thinks of Simple as an idiot, a retard, or any other word, ignores the person and what he is capable of. The two girls Kleber fancies in his class – Beatrice and Zahra – illustrate this. One sees Simple as an annoyance and the other appreciates him for who he is.

Simple has a child’s view of the world. He sees things simply. He tells a woman in the street she is fat. He tells Aria she is beautiful, which is more than Enzo can do. He sees Enzo and Aria fighting and tells them fighting is wrong. They should make up. Reading it, we agree: they should make up and just bloody well admit they love each other. But it’s not that simple. However, Simple’s take on life has an effect on everyone. They think about what really matters and each in their own way has a realisation about their life. At the same time they realise that rather than trying to change him and make him admit that his beloved Mister Babbit is a toy, they should accept that he sees the world differently and let him discover things in the way that suits him. Trying to make someone ‘normal’ doesn’t really work when you realise that normal doesn’t really exist. It’s Simple really.