Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.
And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins
A unique middle-grade novel, this is the story of Tash, Sam and their escape from Tibet to India to find the Dali Lama and save Tash’s parents. I loved it first of all for its diversity. Jess Butterworth brings us into contact with Tibetan and Indian culture, and with the religion of Buddhism. I think this kind of diversity is so important in children’s literature. The political backdrop of the story, occupied Tibet and the propaganda it entailed, was enlightening and I finished the book feeling like I had learned something.
The prose is short, sharp and colourful and propels the plot forward at an action-packed pace. The chapters are also short and snappy and break the story up into chunks that are easy to read- encouraging for children who may feel intimidated by reading. The last paragraph of chapter 1 is perfect. It hooks the reader and sets the atmosphere for the rest of the novel.
“There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I think these words often. Sometimes, I even say them. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them.
The depiction of these foreign places and cultures awaken the senses and make them feel authentic. We know that they are, because Jess spent much of her childhood living in the foothills of the Himalayas! The Himalayas are where a lot of the story takes place, and the journey across them is accompanied by irresistible descriptions of intricately painted prayer bowls, long-haired yaks and Tibetan food! Yak cheese, spicy curries and momos, a type of south-asian dumpling.
I liked how Tash and Sam grow as people throughout their adventure. One thing I would say is that it would have been good for their personalities to have been developed a bit more, and that I would definitely enjoy reading more about them in a further story to get to know them in a setting where survival isn’t their main priority. The ending of the novel was very moving, and I think it’s great that some facts about Tibet were included on the final page.
This is a fantastic book which is relevant to today’s crises: refugees, conflict and children growing up in war zones. Although there’s danger, gruelling journeys and battles to survive, there is also hope, and hope is the essence of Tash’s story.
I’ve read and loved all of Rebecca Mascull’s novels, but The Wild Air was my favourite yet. Set in the Edwardian era and the world of early aviation, it is the story of Della Dobbs and her extraordinary flying adventure.
In Edwardian England, aeroplanes are a new, magical invention, while female pilots are rare indeed.
When shy Della Dobbs meets her mother’s aunt, her life changes forever. Great Auntie Betty has come home from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, across whose windswept dunes the Wright Brothers tested their historic flying machines. Della develops a burning ambition to fly and Betty is determined to help her.
But the Great War is coming and it threatens to destroy everything – and everyone – Della loves.
Uplifting and page-turning, THE WILD AIR is a story about love, loss and following your dreams against all odds.
Although it doesn’t have a particularly fast paced plot, this novel is a page turner. One thing Rebecca Mascull does exceptionally well is characterisation. She has us fall in love with a character, hooks us to their situation or predicament so intensely that we have no choice but to read on until the end. For me, the protagonist, Della, was so real that she walked right off the page, as did Betty, Pop, Dud, Mam and Cleo. The relationships between the characters are complex I could almost feel the emotions pass between them.
Della encounters obstacle after obstacle on her quest to become a pilot, and the authenticity of the era and setting reveals the shocking reality of the sexism and violence that aviatrices had to face for simply wanting to fly. Della is an intriguing character. While it’s great to have gutsy, ‘tomboy’ female characters, these days this can be overdone. Della was a breath of fresh air- she is a quiet, dutiful daughter who tinkers with bicycles in her spare time. It made her defiance, and her journey to self discovery, all the more satisfying. I felt like I was watching her grow as a person with my own eyes, and I found myself rooting for her from the very first page.
The writing, as usual, is exquisite- especially the flying descriptions. A blend of poetry and aviation jargon! The novel is written in the third person but Rebecca has still managed to capture Della’s voice. She doesn’t speak as eloquently or as metaphorically as the protagonists of previous books, but this reflects Della’s social class, upbringing and beautiful simplicity. “Della talked aloud to herself. She did that when it was marvellous and she revelled in the complete wonder of flying, the secret joy of it. Or when it was bad. When the mist came down or the wind got up something terrible and she was fighting the weather in order to come back alive.”
Also intertwined with the main plot is a beautiful, very pure but not at all cheesy love story, through which Rebecca contrasts the freedom of the skies with the despair and horror of the war. I also love how she included some research at the end of the book about female aviatrices of this era so as to bring their stories to light.
I was captivated by this novel and I’ll never look at an airplane the same again!
Owl is a typical teenager who doodles in maths class and is constantly texting her best friend- at least that what she thinks. Her mother, an artist who drinks jasmine tea and sketches winter landscapes gave Owl a name she would grow into, with her feathery hair and beaky nose. She avoids talking about Owl’s mysterious father, who Owl has never met. But Owl’s longing to know where she comes from is getting stronger and as winter approaches, the mystery begins to unfurl.
This is a beautiful middle grade novel with such a clever idea at its heart. Alternating between Owl’s 1st person POV chapters and fairy-tale passages that give background to some of the ‘elementals’, it pulls us deeper into the spellbinding story behind Owl’s existence. Something extraordinary is happening to Owl- something she cannot explain. As the winter frost begins to coat the world outside her window, it simultaneously tingles across her skin. Literally. “I look down at myself again, hoping that I imagined it, caught up in the bloom of new winter. But, as I watch, little flower-like crystals start to spread over my forearms.”
Along with her best friend, Mallory and the strange new boy Alberic, Owl finds herself caught up in the adventure that is the discovery of her father, Jack Frost. How do you bond with the icon of winter? Although this novel is set for the most part in the real world, parts of it are set in another, ethereal world. It is the world of the changing seasons, and at the heart of it sits the court of Mother Earth. The problem: the guardians of this seasonal harmony have forgotten their purpose, and this could endanger not only Owl’s relationship with her newfound father, but also her life and the natural world.
Owl is funny, at times sarcastic. The voice Amy Wilson created for her is distinct and fits her perfectly. I love how the descriptions of different characters fit the season they are associated with. “His copper eyes blaze in the near-dawn murk, even the freckles in his skin seem to glow…I step back, suddenly aware of how tall he is, how angular. There’s a wiry strength in him that I’d never really thought about before.” Can you guess? Then there’s the deep, instinctive friendship Owl shares with Mallory and the way their personalities complement each other and drive the narrative onwards.
Owl finds herself with a mission, a calling bigger than herself and a place in a world beyond the knowledge of humankind. A Girl Called Owl is a spectacular portrayal of nature and its many faces, interweaving legend, fairy-tale, perseverance and friendship into a story that teaches that love and strength can be found in the most unlikely people.
You can purchase A Girl Called Owl here. Let me know what you think on Twitter @typewritereduk !
Today I’m welcoming the lovely Charles Lambert to Typewritered to talk about his novel ‘The Children’s Home’, published by Gallic Books. Here is the blurb:
A beguiling and disarming novel about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor.
Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins, lives on a sprawling estate, cut off from a threatening world. One day, his housekeeper, Engel, discovers a baby left on the doorstep. Soon more children arrive, among them stern, watchful David. With the help of Engel and town physician Doctor Crane, Morgan takes the children in, allowing them to explore the mansion … and to begin to uncover the strange and disturbing secrets it holds.
Cloaked in eerie atmosphere, this distorted fairy tale and the unsettling questions it raises will stay with the reader long after the final page.
Thanks so much, Charles!
Where did the idea for ‘The Children’s Home’ come from?
The first idea wasn’t so much an idea as an image of a man alone in a high room. I wanted to know why he was there and why he was alone. I was reading a novel by Clarice Lispector at the time and she says something in it about monsters, and that what makes someone a monster might be what makes them human, and that also fed into my sense of who Morgan was. I knew that I didn’t want him to be lonely and I wanted to understand how that could be avoided.
I wrote the novel over a very long period – about ten years – in a series of bursts, and the inspiration for it came from a host of different places, so many it’s hard for me to remember. But an installation by Christian Boltanski of folded children’s clothes came at exactly the right moment and pointed me in a direction I hadn’t seen or expected up to that point. Dreams also played their, often gory, part.
Would you say this novel fits into a specific genre? Eg: magical realism? Surrealist fiction? Literary?
Yes. Yes. And yes. And I think we can throw in Gothic and Fairy tale for good measure. Which is another way of saying that it doesn’t actually fit that neatly into any genre. I don’t think in genre terms when I write, in the sense of feeling an obligation to respect a fixed set of rules, although I’ve drawn on various genres quite a lot. But I’m quite capable of writing what looks like a murder investigation and not providing a culprit, which is something that has delighted and infuriated my readers in more or less equal proportions.
The writing in ‘The Children’s Home’ has a unique, stream of consciousness style. As I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your earlier work, can you tell me if this this always the case, or is it unique to this particular novel?
Each book requires its own style, I think. My first, Little Monsters, was written in the first person, and alternated between a child’s view of the world and that of an adult. In other books, I’ve used a choral approach, with viewpoints shifting from one character to the next, with each partial viewpoint contributing to the story as a whole. My work is often set in Italy, where I live, and my characters frequently have to negotiate in a world that doesn’t belong to them culturally or linguistically, and this definitely has an effect on the way they think and express themselves. The Children’s Home is set in a place where anything might happen, and often does, and I wanted to naturalise that by having a rather formal, almost Edwardian tone to the language. But, as I said, each book sets its own agenda…
I would describe ‘The Children’s Home’ as elusive, compelling and slightly gothic. The story begins with gifted children turning up out of nowhere into the home of a man who hides away from the world. They begin to change him, but as the story continues it grows darker. I’ve never read anything quite like it. Did the different themes in the novel come naturally as the story formed or did you intend on incorporating them from the beginning?
As I said above the book grew in fits and starts, but the main themes, of isolation and self-loathing and self-acceptance, were there from the beginning, as was the idea of monstrousness, and the various forms this could take. Sometimes people can be monstrous and yet believe they’re doing good, and vice versa. The challenge for me was to find a story that would make these themes live and, as is the way with stories, bring out a complexity I hadn’t expected, and that’s what happened, I think. But I’m anticipating your next question…
Many have disagreed on the interpretation of this novel and the lasting impact it has on the reader. There is love and acceptance mixed with secrets and evil. Without revealing too much of the plot, can you tell me what was your intention with this novel? Did you look to convey a particular message when writing or did you deliberately lean towards keeping it ambiguous, open to different interpretations?
I can’t say anything about lasting impact, although I’d obviously like that to be the case. It’s certainly a book that divides readers and those who are uncomfortable with ambiguity have had problems with it. My intention with the book, as with all books, is to make a world that convinces out of words. The challenge with this particular book was to make a world that both is and isn’t the world we live in, something I’ve done several times in my short fiction, but never in a novel. It has to ring true, even if it’s unrecognisable or only recognisable in part. China Miéville is a writer who does this with great assurance, I think. I don’t have messages as such, and I don’t think it’s the job of fiction to proselytise or persuade, but no human act resists interpretation, and that’s especially true of something as constructed as a work of fiction. But I love the idea of the work being open to more than one interpretation. One of the most satisfying things about publishing a book is to have people discover things in it you weren’t aware of when you wrote it – things that are actually, wonderfully, serendipitously, there.
A recent review on Fiction Unbound(http://www.fictionunbound.com/blog/2016/5/12/mooncultsandorphans), for example, uses the cult of Artemis as a way into the book, and finds some creepily precise correspondences. Did I know this as I wrote? I don’t know if I did or not, and I’m not sure how much I want or need to know. I loved the classical world as a child, so maybe I had it stored away and waiting. However it happened, the links are there!
Do you have a writing routine? What does this look like?
I write when I can. I work as an editor for a UN agency and also teach English at one of Rome’s three universities, so time is always short. I can’t afford to have a routine because something else might interrupt me, and then I’m buggered. I write on the train, at work when I get a chance, in the early hours of the morning if I wake up and find myself thinking about the work in progress, as I often do. Sometimes I push everything else to one side because I have to get something written, and then I have to live with the consequences. At other times, I aim for the canonical 1000 words a day…
Do you plan your stories carefully with character profiles, timelines, post-it notes etc. or do you prefer to allow the story to come to you as you write?
Which writers (if any) have influenced your writing?
Too many to name. I’ve always read voraciously – a little less these days for lack of time. I loved the English modernists – Lawrence, Huxley, Woolf, Waugh – as a teenager. At university, I read Pynchon and poetry, and Isherwood, lots of Isherwood. I had a long affair with Trollope, Thackeray, George Eliot and the Russians when I first came to live in Italy in my 20s and I still re-read Trollope every couple of years or so as a kind of re-rooting process. Perec taught me the fun of constraints, and how less is more. Gay writers – from Genet to White (Edmund and Patrick), Tournier, more Isherwood, Rechy, Frank O’Hara – have been massively important to me. I love Penelope Fitzgerald and Sybille Bedford and Anthony Powell. Right now, I’m nuts for Knausgaard. I like genre writing a lot as well: King, MR James, Duane Swierczynski (fantastic pulp fiction writer), Simenon, Vargas, and I’ve recently discovered Pascal Garnier – highly recommended. I’m a Game of Thrones nerd. How and how much all this has influenced me is anybody’s guess!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors of fiction?
The same advice we all give, I think. Write, read, write, read, write, read, write. Edit. Listen to advice, but don’t necessarily take it. Oh yes, and that thing about killing your darlings…I like that.