This week’s Covetable Cover is a well-known classic that many of us have either read at school or have checked off our ‘100 books to read before you die’ lists. I’m not going to tell you what it is straight away, have a look at the symbolic items that are emphasized on the cover and try to work out which book this is….
Got it yet?
This book is extremely well known and many people have read it and are familiar with the symbolic items that are shown here. You’ll notice that the designer did not put the title on the front of the book because the visual description should immediately identify the book to the reader.
This is ‘Lord of The Flies’ by William Golding, a Folio Edition.
The book centers on a group of English School boys who are marooned on a desert island following a plane crash. What starts out as an exciting adventure with no adults, slowly begins to descend into power struggles, savagery and ultimately violence. If you have ever hesitated to read this book, then hesitate no more. It is a little bit of everything, horror, a coming-of age story, an allegory on the human condition. It is a novel about the “The end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.”
“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart…”
On the cover we can see what looks to be a young boy turned towards us. Though he is obscured we can see his outline, his hair is a mess and he seems to have broken his glasses. This is one of the, some would say tragic main characters, ‘Piggy’. To the new reader, it raises questions, why are his glasses broken? Why do we only see him in shadow? Why is he surrounded by red? To the returning reader each of these questions has an answer. The glasses are a main symbol in the story which initiates the power struggle and the moment they are broken initiates the descent of the boys into savagery. The fact that Piggy is not seen in detail represents the fact that he is seen as a nuisance by the other boys and that their descent into savagery has made the boys unrecognisable. The red surrounding the figure can simply represent the sunset on the island but also represents the violence and death that is a consequence of their abandoning of their societal rules.
‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury is a classic book that you always find on those ‘100 books to read before you die’ lists. It’s a book that everyone has heard of and you feel like most people have read, either through force at school or self-improvement in adulthood. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ for me, had come up in recommendations, reading lists and in my peripheral reading vision, time and time again but it was only this year that I decided to read it.
Being an avid reader, I empathised with the main message of the book which is the importance of reading and, not just critical thinking, but independent thought. Loud flashy images, screens which fill entire living rooms and short meaningless entertainment have taken over Bradbury’s unspecified world and has distracted the populace to such a degree they no longer think for themselves or are interested in learning or growing in intellect. Obviously this is perfect for the government because they can now do what ever the heck they like and everyone will be too distracted and dumbed down to notice (Does this sound familiar?). Interestingly, Bradbury doesn’t lay the blame solely at the feet of the government as other dystopian literature does but also on the individual populace for allowing this to happen, as one of his characters states, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” As many people have said before me, this book can be applied to our society as a cautionary tale, a reminder to not always buy into the new fad, to continue to read and think for yourself no matter the year, decade or century. Not to be drawn into the ‘tyranny of the masses’ and follow the crowd but to continue to think, discuss and analyse our society for its betterment. As you can now see, it has become one of my favourite books and Bradbury one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend it and quite frankly could go on and on about this book, but that’s not why we’re here today.
As all of us are at some point, I was looking for some guidance on how to continue to grow as a writer. Imagine my joy when I realized that Bradbury had actually written a book to help me do just that! So, who better for me to get advice from than one of my favourite authors!
‘Zen in the Art of Writing’ is a series of essays which concentrate on certain elements of his writing methods and inspiration. It has many pearls of wisdom and advice which I will be taking through into my writing and you might find useful too. So here are some top tips from Ray Bradbury on how to become a better writer.
Writing during difficult periods of your life
Bradbury believes that writing teaches us that we are alive. Who here cannot say that after a particularly good writing session they haven’t felt more alive and satisfied. He believes that through writing we can begin to understand that life is ‘a gift and a privilege, not a right’ and we must earn that because although our writing cannot prevent us from experiencing life’s negatives it can revitalise us despite everything around us. Therefore for Bradbury writing is not only about embracing life and exploring it but also about survival, as he says, ‘Not to write, for many of us, is to die’.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
I very much empathised with this as there are days when I don’t write and in the back of my mind the page is always calling me. Often it can be satiated just by writing for 20 minutes, often there are days where the feeling takes me and I can write all day. Even Bradbury himself states that he becomes uneasy after even a day not writing and after three he starts going a bit loopy. The point is not to be too hard on yourself and to practice as often as you can but this can often be difficult if life is taking a downward turn. The key is to keeping going despite everything, Bradbury says,’ The smallest effort means to win’ against the world and not writing can mean that the ‘world would catch up with you and try to sicken you’. He believes that even ‘an hour’s writing is tonic’, it’s the little bit of poison that is taken to build immunity to life’s own venom. Writing makes sense of life, both the light and dark, it can help the reader and the writer to work through life’s horrors. As Bradbury says, ‘Who amongst us has not had a cancer-dead friend? Which family exists where some relative has not been maimed by the automobile?….The list is endless and crushing if we do not creatively oppose it.’ Now Bradbury may come across a little flippant here but he does go on to say that writing can be a cure, that although we never get over these things it can be a form of ‘therapy’ and that when life throws you a curve ball or a tragedy, ‘You must leap to set up your diving board and dive head first into your typewriter’. Obviously everyone is different and deals with life in a different way, some things in life hit harder than others, but writing as a form of working through your own feelings and extracting meaning from difficult situations is a workable theory. It may help us all to make sense of life and to push through our difficult periods and come out the other side.
Taking Joy in your work
I don’t think many of us need to be told to take joy in our work, it is inherent in the craft. Bradbury believes that all writers should harness this ‘Zest’ and ‘Gusto’ and imbue your work with it. Don’t be distracted by the commercial markets, what’s popular or the ‘avant-garde coterie’ because if you are, you are not being yourself and ‘without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer’. Take what annoys you, what you hate, what outrages you about society and use it in tandem with your enthusiasm to create. Bradbury tells of the numerous times he would walk around the neighborhood at night to think about his writing, only to be stopped by the police often enough that it birthed ‘The Pedestrian’. A story of a man who is arrested and study by government scientists because he prefers to look at ‘untelevised reality and breathing in un air-conditioned air’. Ideas and inspiration can also come from the things you love; objects, concepts, people. Use your enthusiasm for what you love and weave stories around them. Even the most unassuming of items can be sources of inspiration, a spider’s web, a scientific journal, a shoe. As Bradbury says, ‘ Ideas lie everywhere, like apples fallen and melting in the grass…’
The first thing a writer should be is excited. he should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms…’
Bradbury’s gives his formula as this, ‘ What do you want more than anything in the world? What do you love? What do you hate? Find a character like yourself who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him orders, Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story‘.
Bradbury also talks about how as writers, we should also use our ‘Gusto’ to help us to find joy even with the more technical side of writing. Grammar checking and drafting are not to most glamorous of tasks for the writer but Bradbury urges you to take ‘ joy in the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world, who, reading your story, will catch fire too…’ That initial joy of getting it all down on paper will get you through the drafting and redrafting and will even help those that stumble with ‘grammatical tools and literary knowledge’. Passion is key, so use your ‘Zest’ and ‘Gusto’ to move you to find ideas, write and enjoy your craft.
What else can we learn from Ray Bradbury? Find out in Part 2, coming soon!
This week’s Covetable Cover is ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ by V.E. Schwab. The book is the first in a trilogy with an interesting take on the effect of magic on alternate universes and the magic-users who traverse them. The cover uses visual description to hint at the character travelling between worlds in the story. For example, here you see a person stepping from one of the coloured circles to the other suggesting travel, much like jumping between stepping stones on a river. Also, if you look carefully the maps seem to be different in colour and layout, but they still give you a feeling that they are just different parts of the same map. Can you guess from the cover what item is used to help traverse these alternate realities? It is highlighted in a very ‘subtle’ way. This is a great example of how even simple graphic design can often be just as effective, descriptive and beautiful as a complex cover design. Great covers tell the reader just enough to draw them in.
Leave a comment on what you love about this cover, whether you’ve read the book or would like to. I’d also love to hear about the book covers you love!
Feel free to contact me and suggest any beautiful covers you would like to see featured.
“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
In the style of the original Grimm Fairy tales which I have loved all my life.
Once there was a poor, young girl who lived in the forest with her father and aunt. Her father was a woodsman who hunted in the forest and provided what he could for his family. He spent long days hunting in the woodland and worried about leaving the young girl on her own at the cabin. Needing someone to look after the girl as she grew, he asked his spinster sister to come and live with them. Unfortunately for the girl, her aunt was a greedy, resentful and spiteful woman who blamed everyone else for her own hardship. She always concentrated on what she didn’t have rather than be grateful for what she did have. She soon became jealous of the girl’s youth and carefree nature which gave her a beauty that could only be found by having a happy soul. The aunt, who’s soul was dark and unhappy, resented that the girl seemed contented despite the fact that they were so poor
“Why do you smile girl, do you not see that we have nothing, what is there to be happy about?” she would snap.
“We have a roof over our heads and we have each other and the forest to feed us, we have everything we need.” The young girl would always reply with an innocent smile.
The aunt would always snarl at her and exhale in exasperation but in her heart the girl was delighted to live in the forest. All she needed was what the forest could provide for sustenance, a clear, babbling stream, the beautiful birdsong which rose to a crescendo every morning and the cool cover of the variety of mighty trees that surround their humble wooden cabin. One of her favourite things in the world was to walk barefoot amongst the fallen leaves and hear their crunch underfoot. She loved to see the squirrels scurry up the trees and perform acrobatic feats and catch glimpses of skittish deer in the bracken. She felt at home in the forest.
As the years passed, being a resentful woman, the aunt grew tired of the girl’s carefree nature and was determined to dampen the light in her eyes. The aunt gave the girl all of the most back-breaking chores around the house and would berate her for the smallest mistake, whether it was true or not; not enough firewood, too much firewood, more water, not enough water, not the right berries, too much dust on the floor, and on and on. Day after day the aunt berated the girl to beat down her soul and slowly the light died behind the girl’s eyes. The father knew that something was wrong but was always too tired from hunting and managing the forest to understand what was wrong with the girl. He could see that she was not the lively carefree girl that he once knew when she was young and this troubled him.
One day, the aunt sent the girl into the forest to collect berries for their evening meal, she shoved the basket into the girl’s stomach. ‘You have been a useless child for so long, I don’t know why I bother sending you out into the forest again and again. You never get enough berries and they are always too bitter and small, this time there must be more than 500 berries in that basket or don’t come back because you are clearly of no use to us,’ she shouted after her.
The down-trodden girl trudged into the forest along her normal route, the leaves crunched beneath each step but she no longer found any joy in it. Search as she might she could not find any berries along her usual route. She desperately searched and searched for hours, terrified that she may not be able to return home. The girl had always been told to stick to the path in the forest so as to not become lost and she had always followed this advice and been safe. But the light of day was growing dim and she only had a handful of berries in her basket, nowhere near the 500 her aunt wanted.
“My aunt is right, I’m no use to anyone, I can’t even complete a simple task like collecting berries. Maybe I should stray from the path, there may be more berries further into the forest and if I get eaten, then it will be no great loss.”
So she strayed off the path into the enveloping forest, the once friendly trees threw eerie shapes across her path as the sun was setting. More than once she tripped on upturned roots and caught her cape on grasping branches that seemed like clawing, gnarled hands in the encroaching darkness. The girl pressed on, searching around her feet for the berries she needed but it was becoming more and more difficult to recognize where she was. A low mist began to descend on the forest, so she could barely see her hand in front of her face. It curled around the trees, flowing and turning through the jagged branches. The girl was becoming afraid as she had been wandering for hours and had realized that she was lost. The noises that were so familiar in the daytime became sinister and supernatural at night. She clutched at her chest in fright, wound her cape closer around her and walked faster. Eventually the girl was so gripped with fear she stumbled quickly forward and her foot caught in the root of a nearby tree. Forward she tumbled and tumbled down a leaf-littered hill.
The noises that were so familiar in the daytime became sinister and supernatural at night…
The girl checked that she was intact and tried to stand but her ankle was terribly painful. She hobbled to stand and began brushing the leaves off her clothes and looked up to find she had fallen into a mossy hollow. The moss was a luscious emerald green, fluffy, soft and cool underfoot and had even begun to creep up the earthen walls. In the middle of the hollow she saw an ivory tree illuminated by a warm shaft of light, though she could not think where it could be coming from as the hollow seemed so cosy and enclosed. Small, indigo wisps, resembling fireflies, seemed to dance through the shivelight and land around the tree trunk. The tree had a silvery bark that reminded her of a birch but its trunk was thicker and had more texture with fissures and deep cracks which betrayed its age. It grew on its side as if it had once been felled by an unknown force but refused to die. Its milky white roots were still gripping the ground, thick, and weaving intricate patterns through the moss that surrounded the tree. The branches grew upwards away from the tree trunk and each limb looked delicate but strong at the same time. Each branch grew an abundance of leaves which were dusky pink arrowheads and seemed iridescent in the light. The girl felt a strong sense of comfort here, almost as if the tree was calling for her to sit at its side and rest her weary soul. She was so tired and frightened that a cascade of emotion built in her chest and burst forth into sobs of relief. The moss around the trunk looked dry and soft, so she hobbled over to the tree and slumped down at its side. As she sat onto the moss it seemed to envelope her perfectly and it released an earthy perfume that reminded her of the happier days of her childhood. She lay her head back against the ivory trunk and began to weep more fervently. The girl was so terribly miserable, despite this moment of respite and even because of it. She felt useless and lonely and knew that eventually she would have to go home with no berries, only to be thrown out. She wept and wept.
A gentle, melodic voice broke into her sobbing, “Why are you crying?”
She looked up to see the most beautiful stag she had ever seen standing before her, its head was lowered to look at her and its large, kind, brown eyes stared in concern at her tear-stained face. The stag was larger than any of the deer she had ever seen in the forest. It towered above her but despite this she did not feel afraid. The shaft of light illuminating the tree formed a halo of light around the stag’s velvety antlers, each of which seemed to have grown from a pedicle on its head, upwards in an intricate pattern, looping and interlacing, growing out and then round to meet in a crown-like shape above its head. Its russet hide looked smooth and soft as silk; the girl almost reached out to touch it.
Shaking off her fascination, she realised she had been asked a question and took a deep breath,
“My life is miserable. I am lost and I have hurt my foot. I have not collected enough berries for dinner which will be long past by now and my aunt will surely throw me out when I return home” she said.
“It will not do to have you cry” said the stag, pawing the earth with its large black hooves. ‘Why not stay a while and we can talk, tell me more of your troubles’. So the girl explained all about her love for the forest, living with her cruel aunt and how she had come to the stag’s hollow. The stag listened closely and decided that the girl was kind-hearted and would help her. The stag could see that the hearth of the girl’s heart was a dull ember, almost extinguished by her aunt’s cruel treatment, so he reached up to the tree and picked a leaf from it. He bade the girl eat the leaf as it would comfort her. The girl did as he asked and found that it melted in her mouth. As she swallowed a warm, comforting feeling spread down her throat and into her chest as if she had swallowed a beam of sunlight on a warm summer’s day. She felt warmth return to her limbs and hope return to her heart which caused her eyes to tear.
“Thank you” she said, “I thought I would never feel this way again, how can I repay you for this kindness?”
“I am sorry for the trouble your aunt has given you and if it is berries you need, I can provide them to you, for you should not lose your home because of this errand. If I give you these berries however, you must promise never to tell anyone where you found them. If you wish to repay me, I enjoy your company and ask only that you come and visit me every day.”
A large smile broke across her face and her cheeks flushed. The girl had enjoyed talking with the stag so much and she gladly agreed.
The stag touched her basket with its huge antlers and it suddenly filled with the most delicious, full and ripe berries she had ever seen. They were large, scarlet and looked fit to burst with sweet juice. The girl was amazed and so grateful, though her smile grew fainter as she realized she did not know how to return to this sanctuary and so could not keep her promise.
The stag reassured her and said, “Have no fear this is my hollow and I want you to visit again so I will tell you how to return. Just follow the trail of bluebells that bloom on the forest floor and you will find me. It is time to leave my dear, hold onto my antlers and I will guide you out of the fog.” His antlers were as soft as satin under her palms, softer than she had imagined, and so he led her away.
Once they had reached her path home, she thanked the stag over and over again and she could swear that it had smiled. The handsome stag bowed to her and turned into the forest; she couldn’t help but watch it disappear into the mist.
When she returned home her aunt berated her for being so late and taking so long. When the girl handed her the basket, her aunt’s eyes danced with hunger for she had never seen fruits so delicious and full before. She narrowed her eyes in suspicion, “Where did you get these?”
Remembering what the stag told her the girl lied and said, “By the stream, it must be the water that makes them grow so large and juicy.”
“I know that you stupid girl!” spat her aunt, “I see there are at least 500 berries here. I suppose you think you are very clever; I won’t throw you out tonight but let’s see if you can be just as useful tomorrow. I have my doubts.”
Her aunt’s words had less effect on the girl that night and she went to bed clutching to the warmth that had been ignited in her chest.
The aunt eyed the basket full of fruit greedily, ‘Why shouldn’t I have it, the girl was so late back and I had to wait for her when I could have gone to bed. She’s made me so tired and I never get enough food living here. I deserve it after all I’ve done for these people’, she thought. She sat down at the wooden table and put a juicy berry in her mouth. The juice burst forth over her tongue as she bit into the soft skin and it filled her mouth with the sweetest nectar. She had another and another until the whole basket was empty. She went to bed full and satisfied while the girl had gone to bed with nothing.
The juice burst forth over her tongue as she bit into the soft skin and it filled her mouth with the sweetest nectar. She had another and another until the whole basket was empty.
The next day, the aunt told the girl to go out and get more berries. The girl was confused as to where the whole basket of berries had gone to but the aunt replied haughtily, ‘I don’t have to tell you, now go and get some more’. Each day the girl went out and collected the berries her aunt requested, more and more each day. She would bring back the ripe juicy berries in the amounts her aunt had asked and the girl noticed that each time the basket became empty and her aunt became plumper and plumper. What her aunt didn’t know, is that every day the girl would follow the bluebell trail that led to the hollow of the stag and they would sit and chat for hours. They would talk about the forest, its animals and how the balance of the forest is maintained. Sometimes she and the stag would fall asleep on the moss, with her head resting on his silky smooth coat which was warm and comforting. Each day after visiting with the stag, the girl would return with the berries and feeling lighter and happier; the spark of joy was returning to her eyes which gave her a beauty which shone from the inside out. Having been eating the berries that the girl spent her days collecting, the aunt had become healthier but also rather rotund. This of course she blamed on the girl despite it being of her own doing. Once more the aunt grew resentful of the girl; she grew suspicious seeing her so light and happy. She asked again where the girl had picked the berries, and the answer was always the same: “Down by the stream where they can get juicy and big.”
“But why does it take you so long to get them?” The Aunt enquired.
“They are all deep within the stream and river so my skirts become full of water and heavy, so I move slowly” replied the girl.
“But then why are your skirts not wet when you return home?” asked the aunt hoping the catch her out.
“That is what also takes time, aunt, I must wait for my skirts to dry in the sunshine, otherwise they would become muddy and I would dirty the floors of our house.”
The aunt’s suspicions were not satiated, it seemed that the girl had an answer for all of her questions. Days passed and as the girl grew happier, she seemed to grow more beautiful. The aunt’s anger grew and her jealously began to make her unreasonable. She needed to know what the girl did to make her so happy, so one day she asked the girl to complete what she thought was an impossible task, “Today you must collect three baskets of berries.” The girl told her that would be no problem and skipped off into the forest. The aunt tried to follow but a mist descended and she became lost and had to return home. The girl returned home with three baskets full of delicious berries, the aunt was amazed, but of course ate all three baskets greedily, leaving none for anyone else.
The next day, she gave the girl what she thought was an even more impossible task and asked her to bring back five baskets of berries. This time however, when the aunt followed again, she noticed the girl was following a trail of bluebells, so she did the same. She kept her distance and saw the girl arrive at a beautiful hollow, where a large stag, seemed to be waiting for the girl. The girl seemed to glow with happiness when she saw the beast and the aunt watched them talk and laugh. The aunt was seething with jealousy and returned home in a fury, crashing through the trees and trampling anything in her way.
Later that night she spoke to the girl’s father and said, ” We have only been living off a few meagre berries and the few rabbits you bring in, but I have seen a large stag in the forest, larger than I’ve ever seen, that would feed us all winter if we could catch it and kill it.”
The father, as a good woodsman and hunter, knew that the lore of the forest was never to take more than you need and had always provided enough for the family to live off. But he also knew that winters could be difficult in the forest and a large stag would help to feed the family for the whole season. This also meant he could spend more time at home with his daughter. So he agreed to go with the aunt the next day to the place where she had seen the stag.
The next day, after the girl had left to pick berries, the aunt told the girl’s father to accompany her and they followed the trail of blue bells which led them to the stag’s hollow. There they both saw the large majestic stag sitting peacefully beneath the fallen tree. The aunt noticed the girl’s baskets nearby but the girl was not with the stag, she imagined the look on the girl’s face when she came back to find the stag dead and smiled.
“Now” hissed the aunt,” Kill it now and we shall dine like kings all winter.”
The father was a hardworking and sensible man of the forest and he knew he was looking at a special creature and was unsure about killing it. The stag turned its head and looked straight at where they were crouching. The girl emerged from the back of the hollow singing a cheerful ditty below her breath. In panic, the father, thinking she had not seen the creature, broke from his hiding place and told her to keep back from the beast. The girl looked stricken, as she first saw her father and then the crossbow that he carried. Her father raised his crossbow at the magnificent stag but with no thought for her own safety the girl threw herself across the stag’s body shouting at her father to desist and weeping in desperation.
“Please! No father! I love him, you don’t understand!”, she shouted burying her face in the stag’s soft neck.
Seeing his precious daughter weep, he could not bring himself to shoot the stag. In his heart he knew it would be a crime to kill it and rid the world of such a beautiful creature. He lowered the cross bow.
“I will not kill your beast, daughter, he is too magnificent but how can you love an animal?
The stag immediately turned into a handsome young man with the very same, kind brown eyes and velvety antlers on his head, which now appeared like a crown. The father finally understood who and what this magnificent beast was and went down on one knee and bent his head.
“Thank you”, said the young man, “I know that it must have been a temptation to kill such a large animal to feed your family, especially as winter is approaching”. He shot a look at the aunt, who met his eye and quickly looked away, “as you have no doubt realised, I am the Prince of the Forest. I have seen that you never take more than what you need and treat my forest with care. Your daughter and I have grown to love each other and I wish to ask you for her hand in marriage and as a dowry I promise that you will never go hungry again in my forest.”
“I am truly honoured your majesty but I love my daughter and will not give her away so lightly and for a dowry which only benefits me, what say you daughter? Do you want this?”
“I love him father and I want to share his life. We will live happily in the forest; it is my home as well as his.” replied the girl smiling with relief and embracing the Prince.
“Then so be it” said her father, “My daughter knows her own mind and she has chosen. I wish you both every happiness. I hope that you will take care of my daughter your highness and that I can continue to hunt and take only what I need from the forest”
The Prince bowed to the girl’s father and explained that there would now never be a day that his table would not be bountiful and that he would always be welcome at Stag’s Hollow to come and visit.
The aunt listening to all of this and was incensed, “What about me? I deserve something too; I’ve worked hard every day to raise that girl even though she was not mine. She is slow and useless. All of this at my own expense, with no gratitude from anyone!”
The Prince looked at the aunt coolly, after hearing about the aunt’s treatment of the girl he knew this to be untrue. What he did know to be true was that she had been following the girl on more than one occasion and knew that the aunt had brought the girl’s father here to kill him under the pretence of caring for the family. Nothing went on in the forest that the Stag Prince did not know about.
“Well I think I know what you deserve dear aunt. I know that you have enjoyed the berries that have been brought back for you by my beloved. It must be more than 100 baskets by now.” The aunt looked nervously at the girl’s father, who was looking a little confused. “Those berries are the divine fruits of the forest and if you sell them you will become rich, you will also become famous for their delicious flavour.” The aunt’s eyes shone with greed and ambition, for she knew how delicious the berries were and knew that this could come to pass. “I will tell you where to find them as long as you promise to not take more than you need. This is the rule of the forest, everything in balance”.
The aunt nodded fervently, breaking her promise in her mind as soon as she was making it. The Prince told her where to find the berries and the aunt ran to find them as quickly as she could without saying thank you or showing any kind of appreciation or deference.
Once she arrived where the berries grew, she fell to her hands and knees on the bank of the wide river, its cool, quick-running water glinted invitingly in the warm sunlight. A little way out from the bank, just below the surface, she spied the delicious red orbs. She licked her lips and hitched up her skirts to wade into the fast-flowing river. She made a dip in her apron to collect the berries, but as she picked them, she began eating more than she was placing in her apron. She needed more berries, so she waded in deeper and deeper into the river, not thinking of the danger. She could only think of the gold, silks and the fine things she would buy when she was rich. She thought of the grand houses she would buy and those she would be asked to dine in. She thought of the delicious fat geese she would eat and the fine cutlery she would use. The aunt ate more and more, and collected more and more in her apron. She convinced herself that the more berries she had, the richer she would be. Her skirts and clothes were becoming heavier with water, and with every handful of berries she ate and put into her apron she felt heavier and heavier. Mesmerized by her greed she did not realize that she was sealing her own fate. She took more and more, ate more and more and waded further and further and sank deeper and deeper. Eventually she was so heavy she sank to the bottom of the river and was never seen again.
The girl and the stag prince lived happily in the forest forevermore. If you are ever in the forest you may be lucky enough to see the girl and her prince, skipping through the shivelight at dusk.
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This week’s Covetable Cover is John Connolly’s ‘The Book of Lost Things’. It’s a very dark and creepy fairy-tale themed story which i would highly recommend. It’s a great example of a design which weaves hidden items from the story into the cover. Can you find all the keys and items woven into the thorns?
Leave a comment on what you love about this cover, whether you’ve read the book or would like to. I’d also love to hear about the book covers you love and whether you also love the book covers I feature each week.
Feel free to contact me and suggest any beautiful covers you would like to see featured.
“Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.”
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I often do. Quite frankly there are some gorgeous book covers around so I’m not sure you can really blame me. I have bookcases full of books whose stories I love but whose covers are equally as beautiful. There are just some covers that call to me and say ‘Yes, I’m the one for you’. I’ve always admired the illustrators and designers who accurately, intelligently and beautifully reflect a book’s story, atmosphere and events on its cover, without giving too much away. It’s always just enough that when a story has been read, the cover becomes a shared secret between the reader, writer and designer. So in between my fiction and articles I will be featuring some covetable book covers; the ones that make my book-lover heart quiver. I’d love to hear about the book covers you love and whether you also love the book covers I feature each week, so feel free to leave me a comment. Look out for the first covetable cover next week!
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When I was around 6-years-old, little me found an unusual box hidden away amongst my parents’ belongings. Initially I had no idea what it was, but the appearance of such an interesting case fueled my curiosity. This curiosity has never left me and whenever I am presented with a box or container, I am filled with a burning passion, much like Brad Pitt in ‘Seven’, to know, ‘What’s in the booooox!’. The more interesting the container, the more fevered my quest for knowledge. I’m a sucker for Kinder Eggs, despite not even liking the chocolate and mostly being disappointed with the toy I receive. Honestly it can be anything, post, birthday gifts (which don’t even have to be for me!), boxes in antique shops, subscription boxes are also dangerous territory for me. If it looks like it might contain the treasure of the Sierra Madre, I’m there. I hone in like an eagle who spotted its prey and will not be dissuaded from my quest to know its contents. This grim determination which was thus birthed by finding out the contents of said case, leads me to why I am here writing to you today, let me explain how.
The box that I had found , which clearly began this container obsession of mine, was a large pale green, plastic case, with a faded white plastic handle and a silver lock. Up to this point I though I knew of everything that was contained in our home but this was ‘new’, I had to know what was inside. I dragged that box out of its cubby hole (it was very heavy for a little person!), set it down and got to work on the lock. I remember the tiny silver pre-moulded key was attached to the handle of the typewriter by a frayed piece of string, just long enough the reach the lock. I took the key, placed it in the lock and turned, it gave a satisfying, tiny click and with fevered excitement I tried to lift the lid. It wouldn’t budge, one of my first experiences of what I like to call, ‘container frustration’, but luckily it only reinforces my determination. Setting my face into a determined grimace, furrowed brow and all, I examined the box and found two silver protrusions sticking out from the sides of the lock. I tried the left, I tried the right, nothing. Then, I tried together. Click, fump. It had opened, a little gap now tantalizing teasing what would be inside. My little fingers reached between the space and lifted the lid all the way over. I was met by pale green keys, with letters of the alphabet on them, but not in the order I knew them to go in, and other strange symbols that I didn’t recognize. There were small metal arms that flew up to a large black tube above the keys when I pressed them and the whole machine looked magical, an array of pale green and beige metal casing, interspersed with dark grey metal machinery. It was the most amazing thing I had yet seen in my few years on this earth. It was mesmerizing, it was amazing, it was beautiful….I had no idea was it was, I had to know its secrets.
It was mesmerizing, it was amazing, it was beautiful….I had no idea was it was, I had to know its secrets.
Much like a dream, my memories at this point become disjointed and hazy but I do remember one of my parents explaining to me what this curious object was. It was a typewriter, instead of writing things by hand you can type them out instead, which was quicker. They placed a piece of paper into the machine between the strip of black ribbon and the black tube and turned the knobs at the side to feed the paper into the machine. It made an extremely satisfying furtttt, furtttt, furtttt, sound with each turn of the knob. I knew this was going to be good. They then explained that if I hit the keys, the metal arms attached to that key would hit the ribbon and stamp the letters onto the piece of paper. My first attempt was a bit of a dud as I didn’t use enough strength to get that arm all the way to the page but then I went for it, ‘Clack!’. There it was, proudly standing out in all black, dressed in its best, amongst the sea of white, ‘f’. Oh boy that felt good, so i tried another letter and another, ‘Clack, Clack, Clack, Clack’. Finally I had tried all the letters but a couple and had got to the end of the page, and suddenly ‘Ding’. A clear highly pitched small bell sounded from the machine, obviously to indicate the joy it was finding in being used again after all this time and to reward me for using it. Each line I completed rewarded me with a satisfyingly happy ‘Ding!’ and I was shown how to press the long silver arm protruding from the left of the typewriter to move onto a new line and feed each line of letters and symbols to the ever-increasingly happy machine.
I was having a great time, the voyage to satisfy my curiosity had taken me on a journey I had never been on and it was lighting a fire in me that would refuse to be put out throughout my life. Looking at the lines of various lines of symbols and letters, as happy as I was, I knew I needed to type something that meant something. I need to have it make sense. So with some help I replaced my piece of paper and had my first experience of writing. I was there sat in front of a blank page, a keyboard in front of me and a story to be told and weaved into existence. Stories, whether good or bad, are birthed when the person first puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. The symbols begin to weave your story into a complete tapestry; They communicate the journey of thought becoming reality and share that experience, whether fictional or true, with the reader.
The symbols begin to weave your story into a complete tapestry; They communicate the journey of thought becoming reality and share that experience, whether fictional or true, with the reader.
As I was around six-years-old I sat down at a typewriter and wrote a story about some pirates and a lion. The pirates were dastardly and had found a treasure map that would lead them to a cave filled with treasure, they were all for this, so they set sail and arrived at the island and searched long and hard for the cave. Eventually they found the cave and the treasure but what they weren’t expecting was that it was guarded by a ferocious lion. Being pirates, obviously they tried to steal the bounty but were unfortunately all eaten by the lion, who only left their bones. (I was clearly a bit dark, even then). Now i don’t know whether it was grammatically correct, whether it had any punctuation or even whether it made much sense, but what i do know is that it lit a candle in me that although would sputter throughout my life, would never really extinguish. The joy of weaving stories and the act of writing itself.
As I grew and took part in formal education to a fuller degree, less importance was put on the imagination and more was placed on the technical side of writing; punctuation, grammar, structure. Hand-in hand with this I became an avid reader, thirsty for every kind of story. Stories from Roald Dahl, to abridged Shakespeare stories and classics like Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows even King Solomon’s Mines and Black Beauty. I enjoyed reading and writing; Discovering how to use language to enjoy other people’s writing and create it myself. I still love to read and discover new stories and luckily that has never dissipated, but the writing became something to fear.
One moment sticks in my mind as the point at which writing became something other people did. I was in Year Six at Primary School, about 10-years-old, having been tasked with writing a story. I had just read Black Beauty so thought it would be a great idea to do a memoir with the main character as the horse; the horse would narrate its life, describing its many trials and tribulations. The horse went through all manner of owners and experiences, finally becoming a race horse and unfortunately expiring shortly after having passed the finish line, winning a grand derby. A tragic end for sure, and worthy of a epilogue by the jockey, who had ridden the horse to reflect on it’s life and the sadness of its death. My teacher said that it didn’t make sense; the whole story was narrated by the horse and then the jockey had written the epilogue, that was ridiculous. Now what I should have said at the time was, ‘…but it’s a story about a horse’s life, narrated by the horse, like black beauty. Are you telling me Anna Sewell had it wrong? Sure, horses themselves can’t write books so why should the epilogue written by the jockey make less sense?’ But I was ten, I thought he knew best and it was beyond saving. Maybe the execution of my story was not what I had imagined it to be in my mind, but I took my teacher’s criticism to heart and decided that I was clearly not good enough to write, my ideas were silly and I should just stop.
From then on I ‘grew up’ and stopped having time for writing my own stories. I believed I wasn’t good enough, so I just enjoyed the ones that others wrote. I dabbled in poetry for a while, which petered off, and even began a journalism course to satiate my desire to write. The journalism came to an abrupt end when I was told that instead of presenting the facts as they are, to inform people, I was to write to sensationalize so that more newspapers would be sold. Not comfortable with that, I decided journalism wasn’t for me. So lost in a directionless ocean of writing limbo, my writing hibernated below the surface.
Now, I have mustered up the courage again, with a lot of encouragement from my nearest and dearest, to write and tell stories in my own way. I often think my desire to write is like an elusive wisp or deer that when startled may disappear and not been seen again for years. This time I hope it sticks around. I’m also hoping that you, the reader, will join me on my journey of rediscovering writing; stoking the flames of that fire that was ignited so long ago, when I first wrote about pirates and lions on an old typewriter. As we know, often it is the journey that is the most interesting part to watch unfold not the destination, just ask Bilbo Baggins.
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“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
The question isn’t ‘What do you want to do?’ because really, deep down, you know what you have always wanted to do. It’s a question of how to begin, where do I start? We look up to those seemingly lucky few who appear to have reached their goals and aspirations with admiration and mild envy, wondering where they even got the courage to start. What is it that we need to be able to begin?
There’s a reason why so many sayings that capture a beginning sound a little terrifying and speak of the unknown. ‘A leap of faith’ always conjures images of a diver, arms wide-spread, jumping off a cliff into an unknown abyss. To begin something takes that leap of faith, it’s a chance that you take on yourself. You must trust that your ideas, dreams and abilities are things that can be relied on to take you to where you want to go. Often it is the wavering of this trust that causes us to doubt ourselves, sometimes to not even begin to start looking for what it is we need or hope to become.
To begin something takes a leap of faith, it’s a chance you take on yourself.
The beginning of a journey whether personal or physical can be exciting, nerve-wracking and even terrifying. The world makes us risk averse, ‘What if people don’t like it?’, ‘What if no one comes to my shop?’, ‘What if the thing I pour my heart into isn’t worth it?’ These are all valid concerns but which come from self-doubt and stop us in our tracks.
Now, I’m not saying that to begin is easy. All too often there is a ‘Just get on with it’ attitude that pervades, pushed on us by motivational quotes, speeches and even well-meaning friends and family. That is not to say that those means of support are not well-intended or in some cases sorely needed, it’s that the people who supply them have nothing at risk. They having nothing to lose by encouraging you to pursue your goals, its a win-win for them. The only person who is risking anything, is you. So as well-meaning as it is, it can be off-putting in some ways. It can become a pressure to rise to a certain expectation, when you’re not sure if you can begin in the first place. Plus often material obstacles can be an issue, like money, it can be easy for a rich person to tell someone to just get on with it, they have more money as their safety net, so what about the everyday person? Is it harder to begin without that safety net? Probably, but despite what our doubt says, we all have it in us to take that chance on ourselves. We can take ownership of our goals, be our own safety net and trust that no matter what happens we can see it through to the end. Even if we hit hurdles along the way we can pick ourselves up again, dust ourselves off and carry on.
Even if we hit hurdles along the way we can pick ourselves up again, dust ourselves off and carry on.
So trust yourself to begin that journey, know that you will grow and with practice you will get better. There will be twists and turns along the way, sure there might even be obstacles; days where you’re not sure if you can carry on, days where you question what the heck you were thinking in the first place. It can be scary to start but trust yourself to become who you want to be. Know that as you grow, the dream that you had to begin with may change and grow as well, you may even discard it and start on a new dream, endless possibilities abound and in the end you’ll learn more about yourself.
So what are you waiting for…begin.
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