The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

 

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart was a glorious read, pairing dragons and chocolate in a unique story that has quickly become one of my favourites.

[The following may contain some spoilers!]

Adventurine is a young dragon in search of her passion. Her brother has his philosophy and her sister has her poetry, and Adventurine feels like a disappointment. Determined to prove to her family that they underestimate her, she sets out to catch a dangerous prey: a human. But her chosen victim is a food mage who tempts her with the most delicious thing she has ever tasted- chocolate- and he enchants it so that it turns her into a defenceless girl. Forced to fit into human society, Adventurine begins her quest to live out her delicious, new-found passion and become an apprentice chocolatier.

The plot of this novel moves forward so satisfyingly, never too fast or too slow. Something happens in every scene and it builds up beautifully to the final resolution. The characters are vivid and teach Adventurine some valuable lessons about friendship, identity and courage. Silke proves to Adventurine that girls can be as fierce as dragons and Marina shows her that nothing is more important than work well done.

Adventurine has to work out how to be both dragon and girl and this comes together in the most exciting and unlikely way. I love how she keeps her dragon fierceness, is constantly puzzled at how humans do things and how she comes to see her new life as a treasure to be guarded. Adventurine’s first taste of chilli chocolate brings her two identities together in a fireball of flavour and was very fitting for the storyline.

But a sudden, startling wetness pricked at the back of my eyes. I’d thought I would never feel that heat in my throat again. I’d thought I’d lost my flame forever.

The description of the intricate process of chocolate making and the different flavours was one of the best parts, making the book mouthwatering and authentic. Reading it took me on an adventure like no other, so much so that it was refreshingly difficult to guess where the story might lead.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is a delicious middle-grade novel that I can’t wait to recommend! The Girl with the Dragon Heart, which stars Adventurine’s friend Silke, will be published in 2018. Read more about Stephanie Burgis and her books on her website, here.

 

 

Why you should be reading translated fiction

Why you should be reading translated fiction

Although sales of translated fiction in the UK are on the rise, it represented only 5% of all print fiction sales in 2015.  This poor figure only reminds us of the wealth of foreign ideas, stories and cultures we’re missing out on when we stick to reading solely English language literature. With Brexit and the fact that the UK lacks people who can speak a language other than English, it sometimes feels as if Britain is turning inward on itself and away from the rest of the world. We can ensure that we read widely by choosing books that have been translated from foreign languages. Here’s how this can make a difference.

Break the stereotype that foreign literature is intimidating

So many people avoid translated literature because they believe it’s elitist, philosophical, boring or over-complicated. This is the case for some books, but its also true of some British literature. By reading and talking about translated fiction, we can spread the  word that reading foreign literature is just as enjoyable as reading books that come from our own countries. There are some great stories out there, and feeling apprehensive shouldn’t stop us from discovering them.

Share in the narratives of people from different cultures
Reading translated literature allows us to broaden our cultural horizons, exposing us to songs, war, art, religions and history of different nations. It adds diversity to our reading and gives us access to stories we would never find in our own cultures.

Challenge your mind and educate yourself
Reading translated books is enriching for the mind and soul. Think of how many reading experiences we’d miss out on if we only read books by English speaking authors! We wouldn’t know War and Peace, Les Misérables or A Story of a Soul. There’d be no The Little Prince, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl or The Iliad. Not only this, but translated literature presents ideas in ways we’re not used to, using words, syntax and style in different ways than our mother-tongue does. If you’re a writer, reading it could even enhance your own writing.

Help promote recognition for translators
Books receive plenty of reviews, but when it comes to translated literature, translators are rarely mentioned. By reading and talking about translated books, we can help promote recognition for translators. If you speak two languages, read a book in its original language and then the translation, and compare. It will give you new found respect for the work translators do to bring literature to new audiences, and you can make sure other people know, too!

Help generate demand for translated fiction and appreciation of its authors, especially female. 

The task of translating, publishing and then promoting translated literature is expensive, and funding is poor. There are few prizes for this type of literature, and because authors of translated literature don’t always speak English, it can be difficult for them to promote their work in English speaking countries. By reading foreign literature, we make it more popular. Sales rise and the demand increases. This means more funding, more recognition, and more publication of literature from other countries. This can also help promote the author’s themselves, which is important, especially for female authors. Less than a third of all literary translations published in the UK and the US were originally written by women, and women writers win far fewer prizes for their translated books than male writers. Show your appreciation by getting involved with Women in Translation Month this August, by setting yourself the goal of reading two or more translated books written by women.

Let me know your favourite translated literary works and what you’re planning to read next!

Photo via Pixabay

What’s so scary about Watership Down?

What’s so scary about Watership Down?

Discussion on social media has been buzzing since parents issued complaints after Channel 5 screened Watership Down on Easter Sunday, calling it too scary and violent for children. Seriously, parents?

I’m a devoted fan of the book and the film, and despite a couple of somewhat bloody scenes, I don’t think it’s unsuitable for children. In fact, I think there should be more films like this one. It definitely wasn’t bouncing Easter bunnies, but children are tougher than we give them credit for. The vicious fighting between rabbits, or the blood covered field that appears when Fiver is predicting that death will come to the warren, is no different to many other widely accepted and well-loved films. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a child-catcher tempted children into a cage and locked them away in cave. Aslan was sacrificed by an evil queen and stabbed to death. Peter Pan falls out of his pram and never sees his family again and Peter Rabbit’s father was baked in a pie. This is all classic English storytelling, and in my opinion, it’s the best there is.

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Watership Down isn’t what we’re used to. The graphics are as detailed as a drawing, far from the simplistic shapes of a Peppa Pig cartoon. The settings are a feast for the eyes with rolling English hills, intricate cobwebs and rabbits that are fascinatingly unique in appearance. The soundtrack is beautiful, every piece of music bringing the mood of the scene to life. I think ‘Bright Eyes’ is the perfect overarching track for the whole film. The themes are real and universal: love, loyalty, sacrifice, death, survival and even religion feature in this film. It upholds the values of doing what’s right and putting other’s before yourself, and even alludes to man’s menacing footprint on the world: “They’ll never rest until they’ve spoiled the earth.” Children register this and they take it away with them.

Yes, there is a lot of death, as we see when sweet bunny Violet is ripped from the ground by a bird of prey and a badger emerges from the bushes with blood dripping from its mouth. But that is what nature is, and children should know this. Watership Down is an ode to nature, which we don’t see much of these days. The forest is dense and full of danger, the cat’s silky voice is blood-curdling, but fields of scented plants offer shelter from the elements and the currents of a river whisk the rabbits away from a lurking dog. The story is set entirely in an animal world, with very few human appearances, although the foreboding presence of man looms over them constantly. The seasons are told through the appearance and disappearance of primroses and nobody can count above the number four because a rabbit’s paw only has four claws.

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The afterlife is beautifully portrayed with the great Frith who created all things and the black rabbit who comes for the dying. To the living, the dark fur of the black rabbit and the slits of his eyes seem like an omen, something to flee. But at the end of the film we realise that he is just Frith in another form, inviting the dying to join his eternal Owsla. Richard Adams was successful in creating an entire fictional existence for rabbits, and goes into detail in his book about their social hierarchy, eating habits, and kits and mates. He even went as far as to invent the ‘lapine’ language, so that “badger” becomes a “lendri” and “silflay” means to go above ground to eat. None of this is dumbed down for children, and throughout the film the language becomes second nature to us. The complex ideas and beautiful story about how Frith created the animals and set them apart from each other is not lost on children either and there is something funny about how typically British these rabbits are- they sound like well-spoken Englishmen!

Perhaps the film should be given a PG rating, so that parents of sensitive or younger children will be forewarned when it is screened again. But as an article by Henry Barnes at the Guardian said, ratings aren’t there to act as childminders. Watership Down is a masterpiece, both as a book and as a film. I urge you to look for the beauty in it, even in some of the more gruesome scenes. We need to stop worrying about what might traumatise children and give them instead something rich and cultivating to watch, full of mythology and morals, goodness and eloquence.

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All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.” – Richard Adams

Have you read Watership Down? Do you think the film is too violent for children? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Philip Pullman’s resignation & why writing needs to be treated as a profession

Philip Pullman’s resignation & why writing needs to be treated as a profession

Author of His Dark Materials trilogy Philip Pullman has resigned from his position as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival due to the fact that they do not pay the authors appearing as speakers at the festival. Pullman, who is also president of the Society of Authors, which campaigns for speakers at literary festivals to be properly paid, felt that his two roles contradicted each other. He has been praised by numerous fellow authors for his action.

Why aren’t literature festivals paying?

Oxford Literary Festival claims they cannot afford to pay authors because, as a charity event, they receive no government funding. A spokesperson said “”We are very sad that Philip Pullman has decided to resign as patron of the festival. We are grateful for the support he has given over the years, and for his many appearances at the festival. The Oxford Literary Festival is a registered charity which does not receive any government or public funding. Each year for the festival to take place, substantial sponsorship and donations have to be raised.”

Other literary festivals such as Manx LitFest or Hay Festival subsist entirely off sponsorship, yet still manage to pay their authors. Manx Litfest pays authors a flat daily rate, expecting none of them, not even new, unknown authors, to work for free.

Literature festivals charge a fee to their visitors, and it is only right that part of the money earned should be used to pay guest authors. Without the presence of authors, these festivals would not exist.

Walking in an author’s shoes

A recent survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society revealed that the average earnings of a full time author come to a meagre £11,000 per year. It comes as no surprise then that authors need to earn from their books in other ways too. Few authors can afford the travel and accommodation expenses that come with an unpaid appearance at a literature festival. And they shouldn’t have to. “Good exposure” is not a good enough reason for an author to find him/herself out of pocket.

Authors who take time out of their day to attend a literature festival (more often that not bringing crowds of paying visitors with them) and who give talks and workshops at said festival deserve to be paid for their efforts. Yes, it is a chance to promote their work and connect with readers, but is this enough when there are bills to pay? After all, this is time they could be spending writing the next book… This isn’t to say that authors should never appear at events for free if they want to- literature festivals are about sharing literature and encouraging people to read- but if the festival is earning money, the authors should be too. As best-selling author Joanne Harris so perfectly put it: “You wouldn’t dream of not paying your caterers, so why would you even consider not paying the headline act?”

Why writing needs to be treated as a profession

Since Pullman’s resignation, a letter written by author Amanda Craig has been published in The Bookseller magazine, calling for publishers and authors to boycott literary festivals that do not pay their guest authors. The letter has 30 author signatures. Outrage at the lack of author pay has been appearing in other areas, too. The New Society of Authors want authors to receive 50% of e-book revenue, instead of the current 25%. Philip Pullman has said that if authors are not paid more then they “will become an endangered species.”

Similarly, many magazines decline to pay their freelance writers, asking them to submit articles in exchange for an opportunity to build up their portfolios and showcase their writing skills. These writing skills should be paid for! While exposure is beneficial to new freelancers, writers cannot be expected to give their time for free. Crafting an impressive piece takes effort- it’s not as easy as stringing a few words together. Would you employ a carpenter to make you a garden seat for your guests to enjoy, only to ask him to leave it to you for free, because his talent will be showcased in your front garden? It’s an unlikely comparison, but I hope you can see my point! Writers are the storytellers of our society. They create fictional worlds to escape to, bring history back to life, impart knowledge and teach, create discussion on moral issues, challenge certain viewpoints and bring awareness to issues we hadn’t thought of before. JK Rowling created a love for reading in children across the globe.

Writing needs to be treated as a profession. And Philip Pullman knows this.


Image credits:
Writer’s Block by Drew Coffman via Flickr.