Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Comfort Books and Writing Heroes - Lucy Coats

The world is a fairly scary place right now, and when I'm scared, or tired, or ill, I turn to books. Most specifically comfort books. There are many writers I could turn to, but for this post I want to talk about one in particular -- Robin McKinley, because that's who I'm re-reading right now. Maybe it's because unpacking any one of her books is the thing that makes anywhere I am—hospital, house, holiday—feel like home.  Maybe it's because her books are the first thing I reach for in times of stress or trouble. Maybe it's because she’s brave and crabby and funny and she likes dogs and horses and roses and bells and quirky female protagonists who like books.

I remember the exact moment Robin first thumped into my consciousness like some ‘oh yes’ meteor moment. I was a young editor then, and her first two books—The Blue Sword (Newbery Honor) and The Hero and the Crown (Newbery Award)—had just been published in the UK by the great Julia MacRae.  I was sitting in a little green office, looking at a brick wall, opening a book I'd nicked from the publisher next door, and suddenly I was somewhere else.  This wonderful writer had taken me away, entranced me, made me forget who I was and where I was and what I was supposed to be doing.  She’d opened the door to a whole new world of fantasy and I jumped in and slammed it shut behind me.  When, years later, I defected from the world of editing to the world of being a writer myself, hers was one of the sure hands I felt on my shoulder, guiding me as I wrote my first novel, Hootcat Hill.  It’s not that I wanted to write like some fan-fic Robin clone—I have my own style and voice.  It was more a case of a kind of writerly cameraderie, feeling as if she and I come from the same sort of universe—a universe where mythical dragons, women of strong opinions, and the minutiae of growing things in gardens are part of our mutual language.

Right now I'm reading her two retellings of the Beauty and the Beast story, Beauty and Rose Daughter. It's rare to find an author so entranced by a story that she tells it twice, and I love both versions. I know it's rampant escapism -- but isn't that what we as authors do? Isn't that what all good books do? Don't get me wrong -- I love a book which makes me think. But in the end, what I really desire is for the story and characters to pull me in and take me somewhere else, to dunk and immerse me so fully that everything else recedes. Revisiting these old favourites is just what I need right now, and, let's face it, it's better for me than a mound of chocolate which would be the other feelgood option.

What are your favourite comfort reads? And are you, like me, currently in need of them?

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review

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AnneR said...

Definitely in need of comfort reading. And am turning to sci fi authors, some of whom I've not read since I was a teenager: John Wyndham, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut. I don't usually like anything fantasy-ish - I prefer books that deal with the borders of reality, the extremes of normal experience. But we seem to be living that every day now and it gets tiresome. For the same reason, I'm not writing any fiction. The no man's land I like to occupy is getting crowded with reality.

Mary Hoffman said...

I loved Beauty! Particularly all the stuff about magic dribbling out of teapots and not believing in fish.

catdownunder said...

Both the Senior Cat (aka my father) and I have been in need of comfort reading of late. Last night I heard a chuckle and then a roar of laughter. I'd left Hound of Hades on the table after it had been returned by a young neighbour - and the Senior Cat was reading it. I am instructed to tell you he thought it was "very, very funny".

Anne Booth said...

I've never read these books and you have definitely made me want to read them. Like you, I am finding the world a rather disturbing place and I think that I will try and track them down now! They sound just what I need to read.

Lucy Coats said...

Thank you all! AnneR -- I haven't read those since I was a teenager either. Maybe I should put those on my list too, though I'm not sure Vonnegut would be very comforting. Mary -- absolutely. Robin has such an amazing way of making the ordinary extraordinary. Cat -- thank you, and I'm delighted to have given the Senior Cat cause for laughter. Anne B -- apart from anything else, it's a good exercise in seeing the process of a writer growing and changing. I've read the two versions back to back, and I can definitely see a difference in language and craft.