On sunsets, bird poo and loo poetry, by Enid Richemont
This is the cover image of the last of my Early Reader books - I did four this year, with Franklin Watts, my publisher at Hachette, as part of their "Reading Champion" series. I love the colours - that wonderful 'sailing into the sunset' atmosphere, with the ogres' castle in the distance - but found the two animals rather strange, although Andy did his research and told me that there's a kind of Japanese dog that does look like that, so I have to believe him. And of course, this is a version of a well-known Japanese story - the story of Momotaro, the Peach Boy
Writing-wise, I have mixed feelings about these books, as the 'educational' requirement always mean that the text is fiddled with to fit the rules. In the past, I've always enjoyed working with editors - I worked with some brilliant ones, like Anne Carter, and the very eminent, but sadly deceased Wendy Boase, she of the Branford-Boase Prize. This, however, isn't creative editing - it's more like squeezing the words into the requisite mould.
Working with their illustrators, though, is always a joy. This was one of the first books I did with them. The theme - pigeon poo. The inspiration? Bird poo all over our windscreen, usually in Autumn when it was often coloured by the berries they'd been eating! The illustrator, Gwyneth Williamson, brought out so much of the humour in the story, adding some visual humour of her own, too. And of course, there were seeds in the poo, plus fertilizer, so lovely plants grew out of it. To my amazement, the book was translated into Arabic, which, given the subject matter, I found a bit surprising, but gratifying.
"Easy Reading" as opposed to what, exactly? A challenging struggle through a difficult text during which I have to back-pedal to remind myself of who is who, and what exactly is happening? And yet... the critics said it was brilliant.
The latest prize-winning "Easy Read" novel, recommended by friend - took over my reading life for almost two days, but left me unsatisfied. I couldn't, later, believe in the protagonist, and found, in retrospect, that all the very many issue-related buttons the author had pressed predictable and irritating (and no, I will not name the book as it might be one of yours.) I can see why it grabbed people, though.
So back to the challenging read, the slow read, praised by the critics and still not finished, but... well, I'll have to go back to it because the main character was memorable, and the language beautiful. There were too many things happening at a detailed, snail's rate, and a voice inside my head yelling: Get on with the bloody story! But I'll have to go back to it because there are so many things I missed the first time round, which isn't finished yet. Yes, I'll have to go back to it.
And on beautiful writing - well, if you put me on a desert island with a limited book supply and presumably no power source, I'd go for poetry every time. The book on the right was picked up in a library sale decades ago, and then forgotten. I've recently re-discovered it, and it's magical. I was an art student in Eire, but I never picked up the language. This book has contemporary (then - the 80s) Irish poetry with English translations side by side, and even the translations echo the musicality of the original Gaelic. It's now become my loo book, doubling up as my bath book, which is a major compliment.
In a few weeks' time, I'll be having some fairly serious surgery, so I'm already setting things up in case of mishaps, which can occur. General anaesthetics are like mini-deaths, and how wonderful to go like that, not wake up, no pain, no suffering. In the meantime, and while I'm still alive, I'm sharing the first two chapters of my latest MG novel - comments and crits welcome. So far, no takers. It's called: "SAMI'S FLOWER."
No one talked much to Sami except his teacher.
There were groups in the playground, but Sami didn’t join them. There were games in the playground, but Sami didn’t play.
“We must all be specially nice to Sami,” Mrs Williams had told them. “Because Sami’s own country has been having a war.”
Class Three had tried to be nice. They’d tried to be friendly. But Sami only scowled and wandered away.
Each day Sami’s mum came to fetch him. She wore a big flowered head scarf and stood all alone. But the minute she saw Sami, she rushed up to him and cuddled him.
The other boys began to snigger.
“What a baby!” they whispered.
“Never talks to us,” said Simon.
“Never hangs around with us,” grumbled Liam.
Sami couldn’t understand the words, but he knew they didn’t like him, and each afternoon he was glad to go home.
Every day, Sami's mum went shopping in the little supermarket round the corner, where she didn't need words, because there were lots of pictures. Sometimes the bossy lady who'd found them somewhere to live went along too.
Mum would buy chick peas and beans, and rice, garlic and courgettes and peppers, oranges and dates, biscuits, sweets and tea.
Then, after supper, she and Sami would watch TV, and try to make sense of the stories.
At last, Mum would say, “Bedtime, Sami”, but bed-time was scary, because when Sami closed his eyes, he remembered things, and often the nasty dreams came.
Once again, Dad and Sami's big brother Rashid would go out, and not come back.
Then the bombs would start falling.
In a Top Secret Space lab, three very clever scientists - Maria, Ahmed and Steve - were working on very clever plants. Plants that could survive the Martian climate. Plants that needed very little soil. Plants you could have on a spaceship. Plants that might grow and grow.
The burglars who broke in didn't care about any of this. They only cared about the expensive laptops you could sell in the pub. They only cared about the money.
One of them picked up a shiny object inside a test tube. He thought it was pretty. He thought he might give it to his girlfriend, but when the alarm went off he threw it away, and the test tube shattered.
Now Sami had always liked looking at things on the ground, things other people never noticed. At home, he liked spotting just where the lizards disappeared into cracks. He liked watching small beetles riding over the little tufts of grass that grew between the paving stones. If you were tiny, like an insect, he thought, they'd feel like really huge gardens.
“Sami's always walking with his head down,” Gran used to grumble. “Bad for his back.”
“Your toes won't drop off, you know, if you stop looking at them, Sami,” teased Dad.
“A real man walks upright,” said Sami's big brother, Rashid.
Even in this cold, foreign land, Sami still found things to see, and think about, and find, down there, on the pavement. Once, he'd found a couple of coins. Once, he'd spotted a tiny mouse looking out of its hole.
“Walk with your head up,” Mum kept saying. “Be proud.”
“But I'm looking,” said Sami.
One day, walking home from school with Mum, Sami spotted a shiny thing in the gutter, so he picked it up.
“Dirty,” said Mum. “Throw it away,”
There had been bits of broken glass around the shiny thing. One of them cut Sami's finger, making it bleed.
“Home at once,” ordered Mum. She didn't notice Sami slipping the shiny thing into his pocket.
In the bathroom, they ran warm water over Sami's finger and covered it with a plaster. Later, in his room, Sami pulled on one of Mum's kitchen gloves, took out the thing he'd picked up and rinsed it in the sink. If it hadn't been so shiny, it looked a bit like a seed.
A very big seed