As a huge fan of the first Ivy Pocket book, Anyone But Ivy Pocket, I am very excited to read Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket!, written by Caleb Krisp and illustrated by John Kelly. It’s out today, published by Bloomsbury, so we celebrated by asking Caleb to take part in our fabulous 5-4-3-2-1 feature!
5 classics you wish more people were reading today
This is tricky. Who’s to say what is or is not a classic? Apparently, me. Which is a huge relief because I have excellent taste and am rather wonderful. My definition of a classic is a book I genuinely love that I wish more people would pick up and read.
1) The Rose and the Key by Joseph Sheridan Le fanu – This is completely bonkers. Utterly mad. A great cauldron of breathlessly gothic nonsense. And I love it. The plot is a treat. Our heroine, Maud, is sent away by her pathologically unhinged mother for a weekend in the country – only her destination is less of a posh estate and more of a mental institution. Maud is a few scones short of a tea party and doesn’t catch on for several chapters – she still thinks she’s visiting an aristocratic family! – but the book is so deliciously dark I couldn’t put it down.
2) Aunt Jane’s Nieces by Edith Van Dyne – Edith is a pseudonym used by Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum. I came upon this book by accident many years ago and feel for its earnest charms. The story concerns three cousins who are invited by their crotchety Aunt to her grand estate so that she might get to know them all before she dies. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly original here, but the story is told with all the charm and irresistibility of a lemon tart. It is the literary equivalent of watching an old black and white movie on a rainy sunday afternoon.
3) No Name by Wilkie Collins – I am a sucker for books about revenge and this one’s a ripping yarn. Following their parent’s death, two sisters are left homeless and penniless due to their illegitimacy (the poor dears hadn’t a clue). It’s all terribly cruel. They lose everything they hold dear and whatnot. What follows is a long and occasionally rambling narrative about the fate of the two girls. Of most interest for me is Magdalen, who is propelled by a thrust for vengeance – she’s smart, inventive, resourceful and it’s a delight to follow her journey to it’s surprising conclusion.
4) The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber – Though only written in 2005 for me this is a true classic. The tale of a boy called Lump, who is described as the “ugliest boy in the world” is a fable that will amuse and delight on one page and positively break your heart on the next. Lump is abandoned in the woods – oh how I long to be abandoned in the woods! – and found by a witch who takes him in. Lump’s nanny is a bear and there is a talking cat. The narrative has a mesmeric quality and the world Michael Gruber evokes is both magical and true.
5) Careful, He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott – PS is six. He’s an orphan. His life with Aunt Lila in Sydney is simple, money is in short supply, but he is loved. Then Aunt Vanessa sails in from England, determined to assume guardianship of PS. What I love about this book is that we view the tussle between these two Aunts through PS’s eyes. His take on events packs a punch. It’s a forgotten book in many ways but a truly marvellous one.
4 places you love to read
1) I spent several years in a locked box, and it was delightfully quiet. There are few better places to read without being disturbed. Though, it’s important to note that you will need a torch and quite possibly a large supply of oxygen.
2) The train. Yes, trains can be noisy, crowded and stinky. Which is precisely why they are an essential reading location. Surely there is not better place to escape from – vanishing between the pages of a much loved book and taking a journey of the imagination.
3) Watching television. Isn’t television the worst? Well, no, not really. Some of it is rather good. But there are always boring bits. Commercials. Dream sequences. Recaps of the previous episode. I always keep a book beside me for when things get dull. As an added bonus, having a book in front of my face means I can ignore the people sitting around me. Joy.
4) Elevators. I’ve been stuck in elevators on seven separate occasions. Okay, two. Fine – one, if you’re being ridiculously factual. It was a hospital elevator. Terrifically crowded. The air thick with countless air born viruses. We were in there for almost an hour. Now generally that wouldn’t be a problem – as noted earlier, I have a fondness for locked boxes. But in this instant I was in there with my mother, who felt it was the right moment to lecture me on my lack of employment, poor social skills and fondness for pound cake. Fortunately, I had a book in my backpack. It was a hardback and rather thick. As such, I was able to knock myself unconscious. Books are marvellous things.
3 authors you’d want with you if you were stranded on a desert island
1) Charles Dickens, simply because being stranded on a deserted island is certain to become tedious once the soul-crushing futility of your fate has settled in. As such, you would need an excellent storyteller – and who could be better than Dickens? Well, there’s me, I suppose. But I’m almost certain I would find island life very draining and would only have enough strength to recline on a bed of palm leaves, eat mangos and listen to Dickens.
2) David Walliams. Yes, Mr Walliams is a talented writer. But he also has a fondness for swimming across large stretches of water. And I have no doubt he would offer to swim from our deserted island in search of the mainland. This would be something of a win/win for me. If Mr Walliams reaches civilisation, then I am saved. And if he doesn’t, the title of the highest selling children’s author in Britain is suddenly and delightfully vacant.
3) Jane Austen. It is a little known fact (quite possible because it’s not true) that when Jane Austen died they found amongst her personal papers a set of designs for a flying contraption fashioned out of bamboo, coconuts and pufferfish. This device was considered so forward thinking it was suppressed by a posse of diabolical literary historians determined to keep our eyes on books, not up in the clouds. I am certain that Jane could build such a contraption from the natural resources of our deserted island and spirit us back home.
2 songs that sum up the last novel you wrote perfectly
1) Running up that Hill by Kate Bush
2) Please, Please, Please by The Smiths
1 piece of advice you’d give yourself if you could travel back in time to before you became a published author
1) I know you have your heart set on writing semi-autobiographical literary fiction with the kind of spare prose usually reserved for traffic reports. But that is not going to work out for you. Remember that seven volume series you were going to write in 1989 about the boy wizard and his chums at wizard school? Write that. Immediately.