Harry Potter 20

I have recently been torn about my Hogwarts House. The latest Pottermore Sorting technology puts me in Ravenclaw. Wit, Learning, Wisdom. All very admirable qualities. But I have a sneaking suspicion I’m more than a little bit Hufflepuff. (Dedication, Patience, Loyalty) Most of the people I’m close to are Ravenclaw too. So I’m glad I would have company at least, to answer the questions posed at the common room door.

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I have written extensively about Harry Potter before, but as today is 20 years since the release of The Philosopher’s Stone, I wanted to say some more words about what these books have meant to me!

(Here’s a piece from 2011 I wrote for the Derry News after the final film came out.) As I say here, my Harry Potter love story began 19 years ago with The Chamber of Secrets in the Shantallow Library. I remember it quite vividly! I was 9 years old.

Hogwarts completely captured my imagination, and more. I think everyone can relate to Harry’s isolation and struggles. Harry Potter was just as much of an escape from the real world for us muggles, as Hogwarts was escape from the Dursleys for Harry himself.

I remember the giddy excitement in the weeks before a new book was released. My Dad always preordered them for me. I read obsessively on Mugglenet and Harry Potter message boards about the hilarious escapades of those across the water in the USA and England queuing for their copies. The fun! I longed to go to a midnight release party, dressed up and the geeky community of it all.

Community. Connection. I think this is mostly why Harry Potter and the world JK Rowling created is so important. My friends are major Harry Potter geeks to this day. I’m 28 now. My best friend Aisling and I call each other Fred (me) and George (her) partly because she had a phase of giving everyone opposite sex names AND we used to and still do have eerily similar things happen in life. Fred and George Weasley were the twin brothers of Ron Weasley. Hilarious, ginger, hearts of gold.

My little sister Ellen (10), who’s a ‘word millionaire’ by the way, she’s read 1 million words in books according to her school <3, and I read the beautiful illustrated editions when I remember… Bad sister!

By coincidence my colleague Charlotte and I are going to London to see the play at the Palace Theatre The Cursed Child and The Harry Potter Studio Tour this week. Leaving tomorrow! It’s been booked for 10 months or so. And now I’m writing this instead of packing. Squeeee! I’m so excited and we have bonded so much already because of HP!

I know a boy who’s returning home from Finland tomorrow. He’s studied a semester there, and has spent a large portion of the last few weeks trying to find Durmstrang Institute… Or maybe that was his magical Erasmus exhange programme from Hogwarts. I hope he isn’t too addled with Dark Arts when I see him!

My George told me to dig out this email I sent her while she was in America for the summer when we were 15/16. It’s about the sixth book, but check my enthusiasm!

On Tuesday, 19 July 2005, 19:29,  <fiona—-@bt—t.com> wrote:

Heya George

Ok, as promised I’ll type out the stuff I wrote in my file block!! You’ll probably get bored, sorry! And it kinda looks like I hated it, but I didn’t really, or I’d be in a state of depression now! Here goes, *ahem*
Stuff about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to email Aisling about
1. Why did Dumbledore trust Snape all these years? I was waiting to hear a brilliant reason, and thought Snape might be good underneath! I was looking forward to hearing it! Now all the years of “I trust Severus Snape” mystery was for nothing… she seemed to be building up to something there! I’m amazed Dumbledore couldn’t see through the hook nosed, filthy greasy haired stuck up evil legitimens death eater! Come on, Dumbledore was perfect, infallible, until book 6 where he acted weird then ass hole killed him. I so miss him *sob* I cried when Dumbledore said “I’m not worried, I’m with you” to Harry. Premonition he was going to die. Cried again of course when he did.
2. There was way too much snogging! Half of it could have been left out! Plus, I’m way jealous of Tonks. I  love Lupin!! Hairy palms and all.
3. Dumbledore, God rest his soul, didn’t actually get around to telling the full story of his injured hand! He said once it was a great story and he didn’t have time, then he just mentioned it in passing! Say what now? I know it was destroying the ring…but still.
4. Why did Snape get the Defence Against the Dark Arts job? And we never saw him teaching a class did we? When he taught potions, nearly every class was written about! Hold on… could Dumbledore have been under the Imperius curse to trust Snape in this book and give him that job?
5. How come Lucius Malfoy’s still in Azkaban if the Dementors have left? Could he not escape. (I’m not demanding u answer these questions, by the way!)
6. Sirius!!! He was barely mentioned, I half hoped he would come back. And what about the two way mirrors?
That’s my initial thoughts anyway. I forgot about Trelawney…good point. She’s probably still standing there!! There are A LOT of unanswered questions!! But wasn’t “U-No-Poo” funny? The constipation sensation that’s gripping the nation!!! What a weird thing to happen to Bill, get your face mauled by a werewolf who wasn’t transformed… crazy!
Well, hope you enjoyed my fanatical musings, looking forward to hearing from you. Must go see if some Harry Potter message boards are open, see what other people think.
Talk soon
love ya
Fiona xoxo

Hilarious. I will probably never grow up.

Ok, I love this story of connection. Aisling/George has recently adopted an ADORABLE puppy. His name is Harry Pupper and he has his own instagram.  When she visited the family who owned the litter, she met a young girl, lets call her Katie. Katie is about 9 I think, and when she heard Aisling was calling her puppy Harry she was delighted. She is a big fan and said no one at school likes Harry Potter except her. Katie’s mum explained quietly to Aisling that Kate has Asperger’s Sydrome and children at school make it difficult for her. Katie happily renamed all the puppies in the litter, (and I was trying to convince my Mum to adopt Hagrid for a while). Katie’s dad is very ill, he has terminal cancer and Aisling could see that Katie was buoyed up by the world of Harry Potter and the connection Harry still felt with his parents even after death. Katie’s mum said Katie lit up while talking to Aisling and the world of Harry Potter really stimulated her imagination and communication. When my friend returned again to collect her new wee Harry, she came armed with some HP merchandise and handmade bookmarks saying, ‘Don’t let the muggles get you down.’ I’m not crying, you’re crying.

I think Harry Potter is so long lasting because it’s a story in these hard strange times where Good prevails. It’s a tale of hope, courage and friendship. And who could do without those right now?

Perhaps it’s a bit like my interest in The Walking Dead. We are drawn mor eto the lives and interactions of the characters and their lives than the magic, per se. Although the magic helps!

I have a funny story from work this week. Because of the anniversary we have some pretty nice merchandise like cauldron bowls, muggle studies notebooks, Gryffindor common room signs, cute mugs etc. There are also posters, one of which lists spells and charms and illustrates the wand movement required… So on a late Wednesday night, no customers about, I whip out a rolled up poster and start practising my REPARO wand movement. (Quite swirly) My friend/colleague Chelsea rounds the corner. ‘Are you…dancing?’ No, Chelsea. It’s worse than that… Please don’t tell every…Oh, never mind. Ha!

I would say my favourite book is The Prisoner of Azkaban maybe it’s because it’s the book before they start getting super dark. But also Harry meets his Godfather Sirius. Which is fraught with terror for a while until he understands. Also time travel, I have discovered is one of my favourite themes.

My favourite character is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.  He is like Atticus Finch where wisdom is concerned. Gentle and twinkly, brave and always there… All the best quotes come from him, too.

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From Etsy here

Congratulations on 20 years, JK Rowling. You’re a real hero of mine. Lumos ❤ Keep being a light to children and big children everywhere. And thank you.

All the Light…

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‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her they way home. The microscopic layers within the invaluable diamond that her father guards in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is the most beautiful book. It’s been on my list for ages, and is the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner. I was so passionate about it, telling everyone about it and recommending it. I had forgotten that it is a WWII book, I find the subject so interesting, and because of the angle of French Revolution, really from the viewpoint of a child/16-year-old it is very unique.

I found the character of Marie-Laure a wonderful creation. Her relationship with her father is the most loving, magical thing. ‘The despair doesn’t last. Marie-Laure is too young and her father is too patient.’ The wooden replica of the city, the little wooden puzzle boxes that her father fashions with a bon bon or truffle inside for her birthday, are so precious and intricate. Marie-Laure and her father are forced to flee to Saint-Malo and a ‘76% crazy’ great-uncle when the Germans arrive.

At the beginning I found Werner’s story boring, and I just wanted to get back to France and Marie-Laure, but Werner’s interest in science and technology and Etienne-the-great-uncle’s attic secret interconnect and I began to hope for/dread the connecting of the two characters. Werner is eventually posted in France…

Here are some tweets on the matter. Follow me on Twitter for such stuff!

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The writing is absolutely beautiful. There are so many devastating moments made beautiful by the sentences. The observations, the relationships, the trust. I pretty much loved it and I think you should read it.

‘Do you think, Madame, that in heaven we will really get to see God face-to-face’

‘We might.’

‘What if you’re blind?’

‘I’d expect that of God wants us to see something, we’ll see it.’

The war intensifies and Werner is forced to do more and more things that haunt him, bringing him closer and closer to Marie-Laure who is doing her bit with her nervous great-uncle for France. The story flashes forwards and backwards and it flows. It’s full of suspense and is utterly captivating.

I can’t wait to read more by Mr Doerr, and this story will remain with me.

What I Read: February

My first time doing a post like this, I was reading a similar one on my timeline the other day and I thought it was a neat way of rounding up reads.. My friend Claire noted that I was on book 12 of the year and suggested I blog, so I hope this will do in the mean time! I do like when people mention LLL ‘in real life’, I’m always surprised people are actually reading!

My Dear Bessie by Simon Garfield

I have written a blog post about this one already, it was beautiful in its own way, and being a massive snail mail fan I loved this war-time love letter story. It’s like Chris and Bessie almost became celebrities to each other as they wrote, they so longed to meet, and they waited such a long time. The letters are so intimate it was definitely wrong to read them, but it’s just so amazing and beautiful, their love was forged so strongly through words posted overseas in terrible times. I wish more of Bessie’s letters had survived, and I thought it was so interesting that their son had never heard of the letters until after his father died.

The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall

I ordered this book of short stories because I loved The Electric Michelangelo so much. This is a rather eerie collection, with stories all written around the human body. The writing is very effective, and some of the endings especially will stay with me. I do like the form of the short story, it’s nice for a change. It was very different to the other book of hers that I read and could quote from forever, but I would be interested to read more from this author.

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

Again, I have already documented my love for this. I never was a Crime fan before Robert Galbraith. This one is about a missing writer, and an awful poison pen manuscript, dishing the dirt on plenty of famous writers that he knows. I love the characters of the detective protagonist Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. So much so that I need them to get together at some stage and I stalk fan art on the internet.

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

In truth I only read about half of this in February, it took me a few weeks to read it, it’s over 700 pages long.  I confessed to my colleague and the Book Manager at work that I feared that I wasn’t intelligent enough to fully appreciate it. Yes, it’s expansive and the gradual traumatic flashbacks are well executed. It’s interesting how we get a background on all four of the friends but it’s Jude’s story that takes centre stage. I think Willem was my favourite character. I knew Jude’s secrets were going to be distressing and there are descriptions of his self harm that I will never be able to erase from my mind. He suffered unspeakable abuse as a child and is damaged in every way a person can be. It’s truly heartbreaking in places, and yet sometimes you want to shake him. It is a book with reading and I would be really interested to hear other people’s take on it.

I have read a few more since, so I will hopefully get a March post organised in due time. Hope everyone has a nice St. Patrick’s Day!

Loose Ending

When I’m not in work, it’s how I’m feeling mostly. At a loose end. Applying for better work positions requires more energy than I feel I have, but I’m constantly worrying about my lack of savings and what people think of me. I fear no one is going to be interested in the person ‘wasting’ their education/training.

Most girls are guilty of neglecting friends when they are in a relationship. I know I am. And then when it ends you don’t want to lean on these friends too much, for fear they think you’re using them. I’m trying not to be too needy but I’m still feeling lonely. Last weekend my beautiful friend Abbye drove up from Belfast and we both stayed at a B&B in town. It was an uplifting, funny adventure. We went for a long lunch with dessert and impassioned catching up, we bought PJs in Primark, we went to a Lego Exhibition in the Nerve Centre, we bought a bottle of gin and plastic wine glasses, we did Crow Stands, we listened to Josh Ritter and Toots and the Maytals and got ready in half an hour, we went to Walled City Brewery and had flight boards of local craft beer, ‘pintxo’s’ and cocktails, talked about EVERYTHING, decided it was a Ventathon 2016 and I didn’t realise how much I needed it!

I had the worst driving lesson on Thursday night. I’m almost regressing. How can I be so forgetful? I’m half convinced I have memory problems. I nearly decided to park it (pardon the pun) for now -I’d never be able to afford a car anyway- but I shall persevere.

I’m trying to be open, and kind, and connect with people. Deep down I know everything is ok. I have a lovely present for my Mum and I’m looking forward to appreciating her tomorrow.

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I seem to be surrounded by people having babies. My friend R is living in Belfast and she had a little boy near the beginning of February, I was up to see her a week or more ago and I just feel fiercely proud of her. He is very beautiful. I’m not really panicking on that end. Yet.

I’m getting so much comfort from the songs of Josh Ritter. He’s always there. I love to find new meanings to the rich lyrics, I’ve used certain lines this week on a 10 year anniversary card, my Mother’s Day card, and my BFF Aisling gave me a wee shout out on a local radio station with ‘Snow is Gone’  and it really cheered me up.

I’m worried I won’t get all the time off I need for wedding related things, and I won’t fit into any bridesmaid dresses.

I never feel I’m doing enough, you know? I feel like everyone else thinks that about me too. I want to just have faith and trust that things will appear, and work out. I’m craving being around friendly faces. I don’t want my job to define me or restrict me, and I don’t want to kill myself looking for the perfect one either.

To my shame I have been writing nothing but blog posts, but I have been reading an awful lot. I’m simultaneously reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and Making it Up as I Go Along by Marian Keyes. One heavy and distressing and over 700 pages, the other light hearted and laugh out loud funny. Books are a major comfort too.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this. I’m sure it’s boring and self centred. I just had to write and kind of sort my feelings out. I’m nothing if not honest.

Today I dyed my hair Honey Chocolate and kind of basked in a patch of sunlight reading and browsing and eating cake based things. And hoping.

WBD 16: A Day of Books

Happy World Book Day 2016!

This is the 19th year there’s been a World Book Day, and on 3rd March 2016 children of all ages will come together to appreciate reading. Very loudly and very happily. The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.

World Book Day may be for children but we can all celebrate, where would we be without books? I would like to praise and be grateful for all the gifts that books have given me in life. I’m having a slow period of reading two books at once but you know what? My TBR pile will be there waiting when I finish, and I will always have a friend to bring for coffee, keep me company at lunch, and keep me up to the wee hours.

Well, I will be working in a bookshop (but possibly in the stationery dept) on World Book Day, but hope to still be able to soak up some of the excitement. There are people coming from the local Arts Centre to hold readings and fun with primary school children. Last year I faced my fears and read two books to a full class, but we will see!

Lately it seems a bit of a stress fest for parents who have to find and make costumes so that their offspring can dress up as their favourite book character. Today I had a request for green felt so that a frazzled Mum could attempt a Peter Pan as ‘he isn’t allowed to dress up as Batman.’ Also people looking for The Little Mermaid, Spy Kids (easy costume?) Winnie the Witch, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Enormous Crocoldile and many other books for inspiration. Good luck to all you creative parents and kids!

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The best thing about World Book Day is that all primary and some secondary schoolchildren will get a £1 book token that can be exchanged for one of the 10 WBD books  (otherwise cost £1 each) or to get £1 off any book of their choice. I’ve been eyeing up the Rainbow Rowell offering Kindred Spirits.

I love to try to encourage children to read. I like to buy books as presents for new babies and I half heartedly began reading The Philosopher’s Stone with Ellen and Jacob. (I genuinely laugh out loud and love it when I can make the time!) For children, books are gateways to actual magic. There is so much to be learned and discovered. There are characters to fall in love with. There is escapism and so much more.

My Mum still laughs about my P.7 teacher telling her that I was not saying my morning prayer because I was reading a book under the table. I’ve always had late nights not being able to part with the characters and sleep. I’ve zoned out completely, not hearing someone calling my name. I would wish these things on every child, as no harm will come of it.

Let’s resolve to talk to a child about reading today, encourage them to use their book tokens, and join the world in celebrating a day of books!

Slow Burning: The Electric Michelangelo

On the windswept front of Morecambe Bay, Cy Parks spends his childhood years first in a guest house for consumptives run by his mother and then as apprentice to alcoholic tattoo-artist Eliot Riley. Thirsty for new experiences, he departs for America and finds himself in the riotous world of the Coney Island board walk, where he sets up his own business as ‘The Electric Michelangelo’. In this carnival environment of roller-coasters and freak-shows, Cy becomes enamoured with Grace, a mysterious immigrant and circus performer who commissions him to cover her entire body in tattooed eyes.

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This morning I finished The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall. It’s a truly amazing and beautiful book. A masterpiece like the ones Cy etched on hundreds of bodies. I don’t really know where to begin. It took me four or five weeks to read this book, which is really long for me. G bought it for me in Foyle Books second-hand as he thought it seemed like my kind of book. It IS a slow burner, but the prose is so artistic and the story slow and descriptive in places, it seems a lot of people found this. It isn’t a complaint. I’m glad I took all the lunchtimes and falling asleep in the lamplight to get to know Cy Parks and his story.

I loved the settings, Morecambe Bay and Coney Island. I briefly visited Morecambe with my aunties when they lived in Lancaster for the year.

I loved the fact that it was about love, loss and the art of tattooing. There are wonderful paragraphs that describe the process and emotional stamp of tattoos. It does make you appreciate and perhaps want to get ‘scraped’ yourself.

Cy Parks’ mother Reeda ran a hotel for consumptives from 1907 in Morecambe. One of the first scenes is Cy holding basins for the sick to cough and hack bloody messes into. It’s pretty gruesome, along with the midnight scenes and painful, clotted clues that the hotel also housed secret abortions had me swaying light headedly in the break room.

Reeda Parks is a wonderful character and I have pinned on of her quotes up on my wall.

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Eliot Riley is the dangerous, alcoholic womanizing Bolshevik that Cy fatefully becomes apprenticed to. The ten years he spends being taught and abused by Riley shape his life forever.

When Riley horrendously dies, Cy goes to America and ends up with a stall on the board walk at Coney Island and a new name, The Electric Michelangelo. He is nestled among the freak shows and the hot dogs, and things often take a magical and surreal turn.

I was fascinated by the character of Claudia, a huge muscled woman married to the equally big Viking Arturus ‘Turo.’

‘Claudia had a secret…She was obsessed with the baby incubator exhibit at Coney. She could not keep away from it….Cy had passed the place often but had never been inside the show. He disapproved of it. It was one of the more extreme and less tasteful enterprises at the Island, a macabre maternity ward. Beyond the unseemliness of the place it also disturbed him on a sinister, childhood level, for it brought to mind the strange work of his mother, all the children of her unmaking, all the undone babies of Morecambe Bay…

Claudia had miscarried six times in her life and Arturas did not blame her, even as she was confounded by her own body and wept for not giving their love issue. He fixed their dead children’s names to her mighty body in black ink, like eulogies on a mausolem.’

So much pain and struggling to understand in this book. This just about broke my heart.

Cy’s main and late coming love interest is a fascinating woman, a circus performer called Grace who lives in his building. He watched the light from her window and her silhouette on the wall opposite like a cinema screen. She is mixed race of unknown origin and has a horse called Maximus. She is a chess champion and asks him to tattoo her whole body with the same green, unblinking eye. The tattooing is a strange and intimate affair where Cy has to struggle to keep his feelings under control. Grace is so intelligent, scary sometimes and unreachable. Tragedy and loss happen in the most devastating way, all tied into skin and seeing and love…

Tattoos and the art of tattooing lends itself wonderfully to beautiful writing. It’s something I would like to read more about.

There were instances when Cy’s needle unwittingly dived down into a soul and struck upon meaning, then confidential matter came up, unstemmable as arterial blood or gushing oil, and customers confessed the meaning behind the art.

There are very wise points regarding feminism, and women and sex. It’s the kind of book that you really want to discuss with someone, like the ending. What it means… I really think I’m going on too much, but I really recommend this book. If you’ve read it, tell me what you think!

The Guardian’s review from March 2004 says it so much more eloquently and clearly.

A huge wonderful achievement from Sarah Hall, and I’m looking forward to hunting out her other work and hopefully finding her on twitter.

The Versions of Us – Book Love

A book by Laura Barnett. I implore you to read it! I wanted to write a review while it was fresh in my head, but my time ran away with me and I’m working 6 days a week at the moment.

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What if you had said yes…?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog.

What happens next will determine the rest of their lives.

We follow three different versions of their future- together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twits and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

I was mesmerised by this beautiful book. My copy is absolutely gorgeous with lemon bicycle printed endpapers and a detailed green hardback. I’m jealous of Laura Barnett. She’s a journalist with the Guardian and this is her first novel. And what a story it is.

Even in the version where Eva and Jim don’t be together, they are inexplicably linked and drawn together throughout their whole lives. I loved it because the version you think you are rooting for, when they get together and that is that…twists and tragedies still occur and the whole situation is messy and not how you might have imagined it. There are lovely clever things such as in the version where they have been together around ten years and are going to a 30th birthday party. Eva is wearing a playsuit and feels good but a slightly drunken and bitter Jim says ‘You aren’t wearing that are you? You look like an overgrown baby.’ An upset Eva changes. However in the next chapter in a version where Eva and Jim are merely acquaintances Jim is delighted to find Eva at this party and complimentsher. She is wearing the playsuit. She wore it because there was no Jim to tell her not to… My heart.

Some people complained that the troop of different characters (including the fluctuations of different children!) are confusing, but I think it was really interesting and anyway, ultimately everyone else falls away because the book is about Eva and Jim. I read the book over several weeks (it was too heavy to take to Prague) and I was definitely savouring it.

The writing is really beautiful and full of wisdom. I found myself wanting to underline parts of it. I instagrammed sentences.

It scared me about love and it rang true, it broke my heart and it made me cry real tears at the kitchen table on my day off. A real work of art and will stay with me for a long time.

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