Recommendations for Teachers for Downtime

With half-term on the horizon, I thought it might be timely to share a few recent adult books for a bit of escapist joy of our own. These cover a range of genres, so hopefully there’s something here that will appeal no matter your reading tastes.

Contemporary UK-set Urban Crime (Police Procedural)

Someone Else's Skin (DI Marnie Rome 1)Someone Else’s Skin, Sarah Hilary. OK, this is not so recent (2014), but that’s only because I have to recommend the first in this excellent series (we’re up to the fourth now). These books follow the career of DI Marnie Rome and her DS Noah Jake. I love them because they’re brilliantly written, totally absorbing and the representation they offer is a breath of fresh air in terms of diversity. To be fair, that is something found more in UK than US procedurals (hat-tip to Val McDermid, for example), but these are strong examples of something very ‘now’, very British and very moral. Hilary always raises an issue in her Marnie Rome books – I’ve always learned something, and always been gripped by the story. Her narration features the odd chapter from the perpetrator’s perspective (without giving away their identity), which intensifies the action. Beautifully done, and well worth a look. [Teacher hat on: also worth showing to students if you’re doing the Crime incarnation of the AQA Lit A Level. Sorry, couldn’t help myself…]

1980s US-set Nostalgia/Coming-of-age

The Impossible Fortress, Jason Rekulak. This book is about 14 year olds in 1987, which made me almost the same age as the protags at the same time, so the heavy references in the first couple of chapters to anchor the text were an amazing memory blast personally. The book is chock-full of early computer gaming and coding (with tapes!!), teen boy obsessions (Playboy, for example) and terrible ideas (because teen boys) and I should probably warn potential readers that the early part of it felt really ‘blokey’ to me but it’s much more intelligent and sensitive than it initially presents itself to be. It’s a well-done coming-of-age set firmly in a specific time-frame which I enjoyed a lot and would definitely recommend for its 80s nostalgia and its exploration of masculinity and growing up.

Romantic Comedy (with a splash of magic realism)

If You Could See Me Now, Keris Stainton. This hilarious novel features Izzy whose life is not quite what she’d wish for and whose boyfriend rather takes her for granted. And then something rather unexpected (and magical) happens and she’s forced to re-examine everything. I really enjoyed this – the characterisation is warm and easy to accept, and the crazy magic twist works in context. I found myself laughing often, with too many oh-so-familiar small details. I’ve always enjoyed Keris’s YA and children’s titles in the past – this is her first book for adults, but her trademark warmth and wit and keen ear for dialogue make it just as successful.

Black Comedy/Thriller (from serial killer’s perspective)

Sweetpea, C J Skuse. This irreverent and hilarious novel had me trying desperately not to laugh out loud on the bus, which is not what you expect from a serial killer novel, but the voice is superb. Rhiannon narrates and also shares snippets from her diary, often lists of people (or types of people) who annoy her – some of which you can easily understand and others are way beyond reasonable. The portrayal of her psychopathy is fab because you are happily nodding along with her complaints about other people and then suddenly it takes a turn and is all way too much. I should probably mention that there is quite a strong level of violence (and sex, for that matter) in this novel, and the language is also very much adult.

Folklore/Fairytale Retelling

A Pocketful of Crows, Joanne Harris (publishing 19 Oct). This is a treat of a book. Based on a Child ballad and featuring gorgeous line illustrations, it’s a feast of love, betrayal and revenge. I enjoyed getting lost in this and felt that it was something that Angela Carter would have taken real pleasure in – a delightful textural weaving of elements out of a relatively short original piece.

What will you pick up over half term?

 

Blog Tour: Flexing Your Creative Muscle with Maz Evans

Today, I’ve got Maz Evans here as part of her Who Let the Gods Out blog tour (see below for more on the fab Greek-mythology-based romp for 9+)

As our heartfelt New Year promises to nurture physical muscles languish at the bottom of a selection box, I propose that now is a good time to turn our attention to a different muscle – our creativity.

No, I’m not high on my gluten-free, alkaline, low-GI protein smoothie – creativity is a muscle like any other. Use it often and it will become more powerful. Let it waste and no amount of supportive underwear can help it.

Think about it. At some point in your life, maybe you’ve learned to play an instrument or taken up a sport? You weren’t born with these skills. You may have had some natural ability, but in order to fully realise it, you had to practice. The more you play the violin, the less your neighbours want to move. The more you practise your penalty shoot-outs, the fewer windows needed replacing. The more creative you are, the more creative you become.

When I run my Story Stew workshops, I always start by asking everyone if they believe themselves to be a creative, or non-creative person. Various hands go up – as does a sigh of disbelief when I tell them there is no such thing as a non-creative person. But you have to be creative to get through a day on planet Earth. You solve problems – creative. You tell stories – creative. You persuade people to do things for you – creative. You probably tell at least one lie – wrong, but creative.

Next time you’re writing a story, force your creativity to work harder. If you’re writing about a man who wants a dog, why not make him a woman? And she’s a hippo. And she actually wants a parsnip. But she lives on Jupiter where no parsnips will grow. And unless she delivers a parsnip trifle by 3pm, the Lesser-Spotted Krinkenshlob will eat her favourite orange stripy hat…

As demonstrated, you may come up with a load of rubbish. Sometimes your first idea is your best. But somewhere in the mental seed-tray, an idea might start to germinate. At the very least, now your brain is warmed up, you will make your original idea more inventive. Your brain is busy and looking for an easy solution – make it work harder.

So this February, resolve to tone up your creativity and whip your ideas into shape.

Because let’s be honest. It’s got to leave a better taste than this smoothie…

@MaryAliceEvans

Maz Evans runs creative writing workshops for all ages. For more info visit www.maz.world.

Elliot’s mum is ill and his home is under threat, but a shooting star crashes to earth and changes his life forever. The star is Virgo – a young Zodiac goddess on a mission. But the pair accidentally release Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and must then turn to the old Olympian gods for help. After centuries of cushy retirement on earth, are Zeus and his crew up to the task of saving the world – and solving Elliot’s problems too?

Who Let the Gods Out is Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month for February and is out now from Chicken House.