Winter novels

I thought I’d compile a list of my favourite books to read in winter. Living in a relatively sheltered area of England, I don’t get to see much snow, but I see a lot of rain and glaring white-ish grey skies that, while also giving me headaches, makes the old seasonal blues a frequent thing. So, I turn to novels containing winters as they SHOULD be.

1) Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Northern-Lights-His-Dark-Materials/dp/1407130226/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1478112386&sr=8-1&keywords=Northern+lights

Talking polar bears, witches, a journey to the Arctic. An alethiometer-wielding child in a place where every human has an animal familiar. Love it.

2) North Child by Edith Pattou

https://www.amazon.co.uk/North-Child-Edith-Pattou/dp/1409540545/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1478112726&sr=8-1&keywords=North+child

And another sentient polar bear. I seem to have a thing for polar bears. This is a really strange retelling of an old fairy tale, with weird troll people and amnesia-inducing hot chocolate thrown in, which would be great if it existed in real life because then nobody would have to get drunk.

3) The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Rising-Vintage-Childrens-Classics/dp/0099583089/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1478112986&sr=8-2&keywords=The+Dark+is+Rising

I got into the entire series this book is part of after reading my mother’s copy of “Silver on the Tree” when I had glandular fever. The way the evil forces are equated with the twelve nights of Christmas gives one a warm fuzzy feeling.

4) The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Weirdstone-Brisingamen-Tale-Alderley/dp/B00CJV0P6C/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478113348&sr=1-2-fkmr0&keywords=The+Wyrdstone+of+Brisingamen

OK, so it’s not very wintry, but it contains ravens and tunnels and goblins, all part of an atmosphere that you equate with autumn at least. (No, we do not get goblins in winter where I live. But hey, the weirdstone was once owned by Freya of the Norse gods, which I equate with all things snowy.)

5) Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frost-Giants-World-Book-Gaiman/dp/B00E31YRGK/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478113599&sr=1-2&keywords=odd+and+the+frost+giants

Talking of Norse gods, here they are again in the service of a boy with a lame leg and an unusually persistent smile. One for the kids, but I’ve never let stuff like age limits get in my way.

 

part 2 coming up soon. All of you stay warm.

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Only Time

What is time?

What’s it meant to be for, exactly?

I mean, you can do an awful lot of stuff with it – spend it, save it, kill it, keep it, waste it, half it (well, at least in sports) and you can even make it. But you can’t actually see it. It has no physical appearance whatsoever. It hasn’t got a sound (or has it? What if we could hear time?) and those of you who presume it ticks, you’re stereotyping. You can’t smell it, or hold it or do anything to prove its there, except maybe stuff with light. People try to measure it with clocks and watches and calendars, but these are all man-made objects, so is the notion of time just a man-made abstract idea for something else? We try to describe it with words – today, tomorrow, last year – but that puts limits on it that don’t really exist. Because whatever time is, or isn’t, it is endless. It’s been with us since the beginning of time and I dare say it will keep going until…until what?

What then?

Inevitably we’d call it something mundane like the Day After Time or something that just mitosisizes it.

I would sit here some more and cogitate about this, but I don’t know whether I have the time.

Book-finding Frustration

I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence–and it is mainly down to frustration. I have a long list of poetry excerpts by people such as T.S. Eliot, Walter de la Mare, Christina Rossetti, W.H. Auden, etc, and they were excerpts I copied down from an old library book, aged twelve or so. I neglected to note down the title, the author, or anything else specific about this novel. Thus, when I went to find the book in the library and it was no longer there, I realised I couldn’t remember the title/author for the life of me.

Which brings me to this blog post. Perhaps if I can describe what I can remember, one of you crazy clever folks out there might know the thing I’m on about.

It was a children’s/young adult fantasy fiction. The cover may have been green and silver. Poetry was quoted before the start of each chapter, e.g.:

“I could come here and concrete the dark” – Anon.

“‘Oh where are you going?’ said reader to rider,

‘That valley is fatal where furnaces burn,

Yonder’s the midden whose odours will madden,

That gap is the grave where the tall return.'”

The story borrowed from Greek mythology, I think, in the sense that somewhere inside its pages it claimed that sleep was the brother of death. There were three brothers in the story who were banished from another world – not because they were evil, but because one of them fell in love with a human woman and had a daughter. The brothers might have been lords of sleep, death and dream, but my memory is nebulous. It is told in the third person, mostly from the girl’s point of view, about how she lives with her father (no mother?) and they meet up with her two uncles at a funeral for somebody in a big house in the countryside. She meets her cousin, a boy, for the first time. She is shy, and has a kind of crush on him (ergh) and won’t talk much, hiding behind her long hair. I remember her thinking she could watch him through her hair without him seeing her or something.

They find out their uncles/fathers were the three lords of this other world we go to when we die/dream, and that the two of them are their successors and should be able to visit that world to see their grandmother. Anyway, a doorway opens up to the other world at a certain time, and the other world is constantly changing depending on every random thought you have in your mind, which is why it is dangerous. Their grandmother rules it and she’s like a witch. She was the one who banished the three brothers. The boy and the girl have the idea that the three brothers would like to return, if only they could find it (they couldn’t any more, as they were kicked out). So, one night the two kids find the portal and go through, not fully aware of the danger. I don’t exactly recall why they went through – curiosity? Wanting to see Grandma? To steal a magic sword? Anyway, the three brothers find out when it’s too late, and can’t go after them. I’m not sure, but I think the kids went to the otherworld in their sleep, and the three brothers have to guard their sleeping bodies and hope they will wake up. They must hope their kids get out in time, because after a length of time they will be trapped in the otherworld. I’ve a feeling the childless brother deliberately arranged it so the kids would overhear them talking about the other world and go in, in case it would make the witch let them back in again.)

The rest is even more vague. The kids go through a sort of maze, then a desert, and all kinds of other things, losing track of time and trying to discipline their thoughts so nothing frightening appears. Finally they get into their grandma’s castle or whatever and it’s all topsy-turvy and sinister. Their grandma isn’t so nice. They nearly get hurt or trapped or something, but manage to make it back and “wake up”.

At the end there is a section where the two kids are outdoors, the girl is hiding behind her hair again and the boy tucks it behind her ear and holds her hand. (They don’t snog. That would be a bit yuck, in a children’s book.)

So there we go. Any title/author suggestions in the comments would be very welcome.

 

winter window 001 I doubt we'll be getting any snow in these parts this year, so I made my own and stuck it to my window. It throws interesting shadows when the moon's out. Regarding my piece of writing that is appearing in Poetic Diversity, it will be in next April's issue.

I doubt we’ll be getting any snow in these parts this year, so I made my own and stuck it to my window. It throws interesting shadows when the moon’s out. Regarding my piece of writing that is appearing in Poetic Diversity, it will be in next April’s issue.

 

Snowdog

Snowdog like Lola

Well, I live in a country where it doesn’t snow often. Didn’t use to, anyway. But this year it did, and having already made a man, then a woman, I decided to make…a dog. As with everything I make with snow, it looks creepy (according to my mother) but that isn’t exactly the intended effect. My next-door neighbour is convinced that it was an Egyptian statue I was creating and now probably thinks I’m into Alternative Religion. It’s meant to be a White German Shepherd. Can you tell?

Snowdog 2

Moon-faced Witches

The Blackthorn Witches, siamese moths 001

A strange dream that I had: In a smoky yellow sky fly witches on brooms and other likely implements, in front of a dying sun. Their faces are the Moon, and the shadows on them are sad. Twigs are their hair, and their arms are dry branches. Their bodies are only desiccated leaves, thrown about by the wind.

Am I on drugs?…Only Ibuprofen.

A New Year

The station clock read 11.30. Half an hour to go.
Sitting in an uncomfortable, cracked leather seat at a sticky table, Ed wondered why it was that everybody held midnight in such high regard.
The Witching Hour. The time when Cinderella lost a shoe. The start of tomorrow. Ringing the new year in.
Why couldn’t people choose a more convenient time for such nonsense? Like, say, 7.30? He had to wake up every morning at 5 a.m. He was tired. He was cranky. And he had to wait, because his bus was late.
Ed hated waiting. He hated a lot of things.
Even his daughter had been born at midnight. The nerve.
Looking at it in a different way, the bus being late was not a huge problem. His daughter was sleeping at a friend’s house that night, there was nobody impatiently waiting for him at home. He could go on a jaunt around the city, if he was that kind of person, and be back in time to pick up his offspring for the school run.
He stayed where he sat. Maybe the chair was sticky, too, and Ed just hadn’t noticed.
He didn’t see her walk in. Ed paused in the middle of reading a story about a riot in the Times and glanced up – and there she was. A woman, sitting right opposite him, watching him with avid interest and the sort of air common to those who are not sure if they want to be noticed or not.
And her appearance was odd, too. She regarded him steadily through long-lashed placid eyes, her head, neck and shoulders thrown back in a way that suggested she could spit like a sailor.
Those eyes really were large and brown. Her pupils were huge, containing nothing but his reflection, and there was a hint of hazel around them. Her hair…there was something odd about her hair. He’d work it out in a minute.
“Can I help you?” he said coldly, and rattled his newspaper.
“Yes,” she said. “Do you have a light?”
On the word “light” a flash of very yellow, oddly square teeth appeared under her top lip. She had no incisors. Ed blinked.
“No,” he said. “Do you mind? I’m trying to do the Sudoku.”
“That’s my favourite dance!” she said. “So much better than dressage.”
Ed just looked at her. Her appearance did not bother him as much as it would have done at any other time; many late night revellers had passed through the bus station wearing an odd assortment of hats and scarves, tutus and fairy lights, deely-boppers, capes and wigs. It was all part of the end of the festive season. And there is a quality about the time of night, near the midpoint, which defies disbelief and relaxes certain types of people.
“Fancy dress party, is it?” Ed said. He wondered if she was wearing special contact lenses.
The woman didn’t blink. She had not blinked throughout the entire conversation. She looked left, then right, and over her shoulder to check no one was listening. Ed didn’t know why she bothered – the last load of people had got onto the number 34 and now there was only one elderly couple in the far corner.
She leaned towards him, flared her nostrils, and said, “No. It’s a reconnaissance mission, and if we’re lucky, we might find him, and then it will be a rescue.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Ed asked, mystified. Was she on drugs?
“Us,” the woman replied. “You, me, and the others.”
“What others?”
She shook her head. “Never mind them, they’re all working undercover, part time. Most of them have retired, actually. Well, the ones who came before 1900 have. It doesn’t matter. You’re a stooge, you can afford to be a bit dim.”
Ed was floundering. Was this woman claiming to have worked with people from the eighteen hundreds? She was far too young for that. And then he noticed something else. The woman…her hair was hanging only down one side of her head, but none of it looked to be sprouting from the other side of her scalp. Moving of its own accord, and there was no breeze to stir it. It was like a red pile of snakes, or dreadlocks, and unusually thick for a human’s.
Ed deliberately folded his paper and attempted to put his reading glasses away with trembling hands.
“Either I’m going mad,” he said, “or you spiked my coffee. I’m leaving now.”
“It is vital that you stay put,” she said with a voice of iron. “If you do not work to the plan, one of them will have to take you out. They’re crack shots, the months. Especially Death Sember.”
Ed slowly sank back into his seat. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What do you want? Why me?”
“Easy, easy! I need you to help me find someone. My brother…or is he my father? Anyway, we have information that he’s trapped in your house.”
“There’s nobody in my house.”
“There is. We received an infogram from him on the twenty-ninth. He was hiding in your house from the enemy, but it didn’t look like you’d be opening your door at the right time for him to exit without being seen. Which is why we’re here.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Ed asked again, annoyed. “Who is this man? Why are you wasting my time? I haven’t done anything to deserve it.”
The woman stuck out her hand. “Pleased to meet you,” she said. “I am Agent 2014. I work for the Y.R.S.”
“The Y…?”
“The Y.R.S. It stands for Year Recovery Squad. Normally they don’t send newbies out on missions, not since the Caesar’s time and we lost control of February. We don’t want more Rogue Months. But I can handle it.”
Ed was speechless. What could he say? The woman was clearly deranged. It would be cruel of him to leave her alone, here, for some stranger to take advantage of.
The doors to the bus station cafeteria burst inwards behind the strange woman to admit yet another mob of merrymakers, some of which were dressed in large football shirts and, bizarrely, St. Trinian – style wigs.
Ed was considering getting the attention of one of this crowd so he could call the police on one of their mobile phones, when the nearest braided footie fan waved at someone and his hand passed through the woman’s head. She wasn’t solid. He was hallucinating after all.
Agent 2014 was unperturbed, suffering no damage to her cranium whatsoever. She sat, waiting for him to answer her. Not knowing what else to do, Ed humoured the zanier parts of his brain for once and simply asked:
“Who do you need to find?”
“The one who was last on duty. Agent 2013. He was never very lucky, right from when he was a Second.”
“Second what?”
“You know. Sixty of them work for a Minute. You can’t start at the top in this game. You get promoted over Time, climb through the ranks.”
“And who was this ma…Agent hiding from?”
“The Rogue Months. Normally, they come out with us and protect the Years, sort of like snipers, bodyguards, crack shots like I said. But the Rogue Months…they left us, formed their own kind of outfit. They’re trying to exterminate us.”
“Tell me why.”
“They don’t like Mondays.”
“Ha ha.”
“Or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. They hate being hated. You people…humans…you wish the early winter mornings, working hours and dark nights away. You live for the weekend. Consequently the Months often feel unappreciated, especially the colder ones. So some of them branched out and turned renegade. It happens.”
“Renegade months?”
“Exactly! Where do you reckon Lost Weekends come from? John Lennon had a massive one.”

At precisely 11.40 that night, Agent 2014 led Ed out of the station and somehow hailed a taxi.
“It’s urgent,” she said to the driver as they bundled into the back. “We need to get to Mr. Ed’s house by midnight, if not before. Can you manage that?”
“Depends where you live,” the driver grunted.
Ed gave his address, with some reluctance due to the madwoman, or hallucination, huddled up beside him. How good was her memory? He had the feeling she could be a stalker. And oddly enough, she felt reassuringly solid to him, despite the hand-through-ghostly-head incident all of five minutes ago.
The driver laughed. “I can’t get you there by then! Not unless I get myself arrested for breaking the speed limit.”
“Just drive,” Agent 2014 suggested. “I have some Time at my disposal, I can manipulate it a little.”
“Well, ain’t that nice,” the driver said, and they set off.

Ed’s house stood dark and empty, a brooding terraced presence with four windows, a cluttered attic, and a starling’s nest in the gutter. As he knew, his daughter Zoe was sleeping somewhere else. There really was nobody in it. Of course there wasn’t. The place only had four rooms, the attic was full and inaccessible without a stepladder. There was no possibility that the year 2013 could be hiding in it. And he’d let this demented stranger trick him into taking her home. What did she want? A place to sleep? Money? A one night stand? She wasn’t his type.
He wondered if it was still too late to call the police.
“Shush!” The woman who called herself 2014 placed a finger to her lips, though Ed had not said anything, and then the taxi driver froze.
He froze. Literally. His body ceased to move, and he was trapped in an odd position with one hand raised to scratch his ear, his expression the sort that Ed would be embarrassed to wear in a badly timed photograph.
Ed gave up. He couldn’t explain it. “What now?” he said.
“I’ll go first,” Agent 2014 said. “I’ll ring the doorbell to let him know we’re coming to rescue him.”
“I don’t have a doorbell.”
“I’ll knock. And they aren’t expecting to see me. The Rogue Months are looking out for you. While I distract them, you sneak around the back and let yourself in that way.”
“I don’t have a back door key.”
2014 looked at Ed, her brows furrowed. “Then how do you lock your back door? You do have a back door, don’t you?”
“Yes!” Ed said. Somehow he got the impression that his not having a doorbell lowered his esteem in her eyes. “I meant I don’t carry it with me. I keep the key indoors, so I don’t lose it.”
2014 crossed her arms in a delicate motion. “That’s very silly.”
“Well, I can’t help it if -”
“Never mind. It’s nearly five to midnight. Now or never. You’ll have to smash the door in or break a window.”
“Break my own window?” Ed yelped, but Agent 2014 was already running up the path to his front door and banging on it.
Now or never, as she said. Ed opened the door on his side of the cab and ducked instinctively into the bushes lining the pavement, even though he saw or heard no sign of anyone, let alone a Rogue Month, anywhere. What did a Month look like, anyway? Were they small and scuttling, or humanoid and odd like 2014? Were they invisible? But if they were invisible, they wouldn’t need to go undercover, would they – or was that the Years? It was all so confusing. He’d always imagined the winter months to be blue, blue as dusk. He wished it was dusk now. He’d feel an awful lot safer if there was a tad more light –
Something rustled on the other side of the bush.
Something grabbed his arm.
“Ahh!” he squeaked – and saw it was Agent 2014. “What do you think you’re doing?” he hissed. “They’ll get me…”
Suddenly Agent 2014 started to laugh. She carried on laughing, from an enervated titter to a full- blown bray of helplessness as she saw the look of confusion grow on his face.
“What?” Ed said irritably. “What?”
2014 clutched at his arm feebly. Once the hysterics had rattled to a stop, she breathed and said, “I’m sorry. I’ve got the wrong house.”
“What?”
“I’ve got my coordinates wrong. It happens sometimes. You aren’t the fellow we’re looking for.”

The world turned on its head.

Ed blinked at the young girl standing before him. He had a dim, unsettling memory of a woman with red, one-sided hair. She was not this girl. This girl was wearing a school uniform, one bag full of books on her shoulder. Next to her was Zoe.
“Made you jump, Dad!” Zoe giggled, and gave him a hug.
This was a turnaround. The most of Zoe that Ed had known for the past year had consisted of stony looks and moping silences from behind her closed bedroom door.
“Ira?” Ed said to her friend, taking a wild guess.
She nodded. “Pleased to meet you. Um. I have to tell you Zoe can’t sleep over at ours tonight. I have to do a huge bit of coursework which I forgot about.”
“You,” Ed frowned. “Are you the one who thinks Sudoku is a dance move?”
Ira laughed.
“Dad. You’ve never met Ira. Remember?” Zoe said.
“Wild horses wouldn’t drag it out of me,” Ed mused, and in the distance came the sound of the church bells striking midnight. It was the New Year, now, and Ed felt lighter in his heart as he welcomed his daughter and her new friend into the house and the fireworks started to explode overhead.
He was the last through the front door, and noticed something the two girls did not. He leaned backwards on the threshold and examined the wall next to the door.
“Zoe?” he called. “Since when did we have a doorbell?”
– Hannah Adcock (c) 2014

Just a little story celebrating the New Year. If you are Chinese, (unlike me) have a very lucky Year of The Horse.

My author page is at http://www.facebook.com/wyrdstories