3 Reasons for my Shameful Secret

abundance bazaar biscuits blur

Biscuits or books?

I have a shameful secret. My book shelves are full of books I haven’t read. Shocking, isn’t it? You’d think that instead of browsing Blackwell’s and Waterstones for the latest hot reads, I’d get through the stack building up at home first. Good housekeeping, surely. Like eating all the biscuits in the tin before going out to buy more.

Cider with RosieWell, not really. For a start, less than half the titles stretching out until the crack of doom across my walls are down to me. When, many years ago, my husband and I united our separate collections of 500 or so each in marriage, I looked forward to throwing out the many duplicates that must occur. There were 6. From which one can only conclude that either we complemented each other nicely, or had absolutely nothing in common. I wish I could remember what those 6 books were, as that might shed some light on the situation, but I can’t. Cider with Rosie, possibly, and The Catcher in the Rye. Certainly not Science Fiction, Fantasy, Travel, Anthropology, Psychology, Cell Biology, History, Biography, Classical Music, Wood Engraving or a free copy of the Book of Mormon picked up in Salt Lake City on a gap year holiday. In other words, my undergraduate accumulation of Eng Lit underwent a rather exciting broadening of horizons, thanks to its new shelf fellows.The Catcher in the Rye

Since then our store has only grown, with beautiful Folio Society editions of the great classics rendering redundant all the old dog-eared paperbacks (which I still can’t bear to throw away). And I have to admit that an uncomfortable proportion of all our books are ones I’ve bought, Fully Intending To Read One Day but have not, as yet, got round to.  There are various reasons for this:

  1. The author is well-known but doesn’t grab me,
  2. The book looks dauntingly thick.
  3. The title puts me off.

Pathetic, really.

The Once and Future KingSo I have resolved to tackle the backlog, beginning with a book that comes into Category 3, in spite of its passing 1 and 2 with flying colours. I have huge admiration for T H White (1), whose The Once and Future King is one of the best books I have read in my life; and, far from being of a daunting width (2), this one is pleasingly slender. But –  Mistress Masham’s Repose? It sounds like a twee fest of Miss Muffet clad little girls playing in a prettily decorated wendy house.

Mistress Masham's Repose.png

I could not have been more wrong. Wronger I could not have been. Mistress Masham’s Repose turns out to be a glorious riff on 18th century literature, with Gulliver’s Travels at its heart but sweeping in references to Alexander Pope, Dr Johnson and a whole sheaf of other literary figures. Mistress Masham herself doesn’t even figure in this delightful tale (it’s just the name of an island in the parkland of a vast, crumbling stately home); the heroine is Maria, a brave and resourceful 10 year-old orphan who, stumbling one day on a hidden colony of Lilliputians, battles to protect them from her evil governess and the governess’s crony, a most unchristian vicar. I love the way T H White makes absolutely no concessions to his readership in what is meant to be a children’s book, though if I’d tried to read it as a child I probably would have taken a different view. Gullivers TravelsA thorough knowledge of Gulliver’s Travels, including the lands of Laputa and the Houyhnhnms, is taken for granted, and much of the dialogue is in a flowery 18th century English, to the point where Maria wonders whether she too might start speaking in Capital Letters. Yet somehow the richness of the story and the sheer powerfulness of the characters win through and all I can do is kick myself for missing out on this wonderful read for so long.

Still, I’ve learnt my lesson. Now for the next in my treasure of neglected works.

Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

Erm…

 

(From an article first published on Authors Electric Blog)

 

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Sicily: a Paradise of Beauty… and Squalor

Some chapters on in The Leopard (I know, I know, I’m a slow reader but it’s been a crazy summer), a paragraph brought me up short. Not for its quality of writing (which goes without saying) but because the aspect of 19th century Sicily it describes chimes uncannily with what will strike any traveler there today:

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Bella Sicilia

the contrast between the wild, extraordinary beauty of the landscape and the heaps of refuse spread along roads, fields, streets, lapping the foundations of baroque churches and palaces and spilling over into mediaeval squares.

Litter is of course a problem all over the world but Sicily takes it to a whole new level, appalling not just the tourists who flock there for its wealth of classical architecture, but visitors from other parts of Italy too.

Gattopardo 2Now, according to Lampedusa, this is nothing new. When he wrote The Leopard in 1957, plastics, aluminium and other non-biodegradable items made up a much smaller proportion of rubbish than they do today; yet the attitude that would allow them to become such a problem in Sicily in particular goes back hundreds of years. Set against the backdrop of Italian Unification in 1861, the novel depicts officials arriving from the northern province of Piedmont being aghast by what they see:

In front of every house the refuse of squalid meals accumulated along leprous walls, trembling dogs were rooting about…

In Lampedusa’s view, filth and beauty existing cheek by jowl is rooted deep in the Sicilian mindset, itself created by the sheer difficulty of survival in such a harsh landscape and climate. The hero, Don Fabrizio, recalls the reaction of some visiting foreign naval officers (British, as it happens):

They were ecstatic about the view, the vehemence of the light; they confessed, though, that they had been horrified at the squalor, decay, filth of the streets around. I didn’t explain to them that one thing was derived from the other.

pasta dish

A Paradise of Pasta

Reading this brought me straight back to a holiday my husband and I took in Sicily with some friends a couple of years ago. What we didn’t realise was that these friends were great Montalbano fans (as in the TV series). For them, Sicily was a paradise of home-made pasta served in simple trattorie; of streets winding through honey-coloured villages to empty, squeaky-clean squares; of enchanting fishermen’s cottages looking out on to wide stretches of golden and spotless beaches. Their distress at the Day-Glo plastic, empty cans and rotting food disfiguring every beautiful scene was acute.

rubbish

No thanks

The mess bothered me too but not as much because I didn’t have that perfect television picture in my head of what it should be like. It’s not that the cameras had lied, exactly; more that they’d been positioned to cut out all the ugly bits. And each location had clearly been given a good clean-up before every shot.

The funny thing is, our friends knew deep down that filming creates its own reality. Part of the joy of watching a series like Montalbano is the beautiful setting; why would a film director want to spoil it?

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Montalbano: a dream of Sicily

Yet we buy the dream all the same without realising it, which means that visiting the location of a favourite film or TV programme sets us up for disappointment. I rarely watch the hugely popular Inspector Morse series but when I do am amused to find, for instance, the detective knocking on the door of a house in Jericho with the Sheldonian Theatre in view just behind it, making an aesthetically pleasing but geographically impossible picture.

Sheldonian-Theatre-oxford

The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford: aesthetically pleasing, just not in Jericho.

Not quite the same as trails of litter everywhere (though we have our fair share of that in Oxford too); but something that could still disconcert an ardent Morse fan trying, literally, to follow in their hero’s footsteps.

None of which solves Sicily’s rubbish problems. If Lampedusa was right, only a massive shift in the Sicilians’ own outlook will do that.

 

(From an article first published on Authors Electric Blog)

 

Lampedusa, The Leopard, Gelato and Me

The LeopardRight, I’m finally getting round to it. A book I should have read long ago. It’s one of the world’s great classics and I’m slightly embarrassed not to have tackled it before, especially as so many people have told me how brilliant it is.

Set in Sicily in1861, The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is a powerful account of the Italian Risorgimento through the eyes of Prince Fabrizio Salina, whose coat of arms provides the book’s title. But rather than a blood and thunder depiction of Garibaldi’s arrival with his 1000 Redshirts, followed by the collapse of the Bourbon royal forces under his swift onslaught, the narrative concentrates on the effects such huge social and political upheaval had on the Sicilian class system, still largely unchanged since feudal times.

Henry VIII Workshop_of_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_-_Google_Art_Project

Henry VIII: no slouch when it came to autocracy

Accustomed to a power over household, lands and the local populace that Henry VIII – no slouch himself when it came to autocracy – might have envied, Prince Fabrizio finds himself forced to bow to expediency, voting for the Unification of Italy against the interests of his own class, and dealing with the unsavoury, corrupt, fabulously wealthy-through-illicit-means Don Calegero, several rungs beneath him on the social ladder.  Why does the prince do these things? To survive. ‘Everything must change in order for everything to remain the same,’ is the most famous quotation from this book.

 

To my surprise, The Leopard is a terrific read, more than deserving its place among the greatest literary works of all time.

So why the surprise?  Well, when I said I’d never tackled it before, that wasn’t quite true. A long time ago, in my gap year, I spent a couple of months in Florence learning Italian (mainly by way of articulating gelato flavours and trying not to be accosted in the street). Somewhat ambitiously, I borrowed a copy of Il Gattopardo from the library but got no further than the first few pages.

dessert ice cream summer sweet

What Really Matters in Italy

Not just because the language was difficult; if the story had grabbed me I’d have persisted, or at least switched to an English translation. No, it was the character of the prince himself that disgusted me, in particular the cruel, disdainful way he treated all the women around him. A hero who behaved like this was one I wanted nothing more to do with. And this was decades before #metoo.

Now, taking The Leopard up again, I was prepared to find my rudimentary Italian of the time at fault. Surely Salina couldn’t have been as bad as all that.

Oh yes, he could. I hadn’t grasped the half of it. In the first 20 pages, he terrifies his grown-up children into quaking submission, while a timid gesture of affection from his wife prompts him to call publicly for his carriage late at night in order to visit a brothel, leaving the hysterical Princess alone and pleading from the bedroom window. At the brothel, Marianina, blank-eyed and worn out by over use, duly obliges, poverty and social inferiority giving her no other choice. Both her miserable situation and his sad, neglected wife’s give the prince a brief twinge of conscience, but not much. I very nearly threw the book on one side all over again.

But I didn’t. And reading on, I realised what Lampedusa was doing. He allows his hero to behave this way not because he finds it admirable, but the opposite. Significantly, Salina never again shows such concentrated brutality as in these first pages; rather, he develops as an intelligent, reasonable, even kind landlord who doesn’t hound his tenant farmers for their rents and tries to persuade them to give the new regime their mandate, knowing it will be the worse for them if they don’t. By creating such a rounded portrait, Lampedusa shows how even the most decent, humane, magnanimous spirit is corrupted by power; the prince is a tyrant to his wife, family and underlings because he can be. Il GattopardoI expected The Leopard to be a lament for a golden, paternalistic age; instead, while Lampedusa portrays the new nationalist government as hypocritical and corrupt from the word go, he is equally clear-eyed about the flaws of the system it is replacing. The nobility, as represented by Salina, is an outdated, no longer fit for purpose ruling class, whose rigid hierarchical structure becomes the cause of its own demise. The prince scorns his own children, whose apathy and weakness he compares unfavourably with his nephew Tancredi Falconeri’s brave and sparky personality. The fact that Tancredi’s fatherlessness has allowed his spirit to grow free and his ambition to soar escapes the Prince, who has successfully crushed all individuality and purpose in his own sons and daughters. Planning a brilliant political career for Tancredi, the prince dismisses his smitten daughter Concetta as a possible bride because her timid, submissive nature would always make her a ‘leaden weight at her husband’s feet.’ Yet who has forced this ‘submissive nature’ on the girl but the prince himse
Oh, and there’s also that small matter of Tancredi having to marry money – a lot of it – since before dying, his father managed to gamble away the entire Falconeri family’s wealth. Really, the nobility – a class to which the author himself belongs – doesn’t come out of the story very well.

Middlemarch

Sorry, Middlemarch

While I wish I hadn’t left it quite so long, I’m glad I didn’t force my 18 year-old self to continue reading The Leopard (bad enough having to do that with Middlemarch, a book I’ve never learnt to love). I’m not sure I’d’ve got the subtleties at that age, and fear I might have fallen for the easy, boyish, swashbuckling charm of Tancredi, just as his uncle does.

And I’m only half way through. Tancredi may yet develop into something more than a handsome figurehead for the old aristocracy, surviving by allying itself to a voracious, politically aware, ruthless nouveau riche in the form of the beautiful Angelica Calagero.

I’m not holding my breath.

 

Garibaldi

Giuseppe Garibaldi, redshirted hero of the Italian Risorgimento

 

 

Never mind the story, what’s the theme?

Sometimes when submitting my work, I get a question that stumps me:

What’s the theme of your story?

It’s a story, I want to reply, it doesn’t have a theme. Which isn’t strictly true, but to expect a writer to sum up the complex interweaving of character, purpose and plot that makes up a novel in one word feels to me like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. I don’t know about you, but I don’t sit down and decide to write a book about human relationships, or loneliness, or the abuse of power, bullying, courage in the face of danger, overcoming difficulties or redemption. A story forms itself in my mind which will have all these elements and more, but it won’t be about any single one of these.

 It will be about an unconfident, friendless 12 year-old girl who finds herself on a journey to the bottom of Hell (Ante’s Inferno), or a geeky 13 year-old boy, driven by desperation to make a pact with a demon (The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst).
Or an angry 11 year-old sent away from home to a school where the only person who will speak to her is a weird, excitable 9 year-old boy that all the other girls pretend isn’t there (The Fall of a Sparrow, current wip). Other elements are woven into the story – Greek mythology, Dante’s Inferno and WW1 in Ante’s Inferno, Elizabethan magic and the Faustus legend in Henry Fowst – but no single one of these becomes THE story’s theme and nor should it be. If you really want to boil my books down to a single theme, it’s about a young person who finds life and making friends difficult, who through a series of challenges and dangers gains experience, self-knowledge and a better relationship with the world around them.

Jane EyreNot a great sales pitch, is it? I mean, you could summarise just about any book that’s ever been written this way – Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Three Little Pigs, for heavens sake -and give no flavour of what they are really about.

Do we demand this of all works of literature, that each be identified by a single theme? How about:

Macbeth: the battle between Good and Evil.

The Lord of the Rings: the battle between Good and Evil (with hobbits).

Harry Potter: the battle between Good and Evil (with wizards).

The Narnia Chronicles: the battle between Good and Evil (with multiple mythological creatures).The Last Battle

His Dark Materials; the battle between Good and Evil (with daemons).

Um…

I realise I may be missing something here. Worse, that if I can’t summon up an original way to label my stories, then maybe they are just not strong enough to stand out. I hope not. But I also suspect a covert laziness on the part of the person demanding a theme, to find an easy way to sell my book to their colleagues or (more likely) reject it out of hand. Your hero has trouble making friends, do they? Ah, so that’s the Bullying Theme. We have enough of those on our list already, sorry.

This is my problem with themes. If you write children’s books, your main character is a child. They will have enemies or there would be no story. The enemies are not nice to them. This is called bullying. It is exactly what happens in books for adults, only there it’s called threatening, menacing, violent behavior etc, and the people who do it are Bad Guys, Villains, Psychos. Yet no publisher would dismiss a gripping, page-turning thriller just because yet again, it’s about Bad People Being Nasty to Good (or at least not so bad) People.

Bullying appears in my stories but they are not ‘about’ bullying. The behavior arises from clashes between the characters, conflicting goals, problems in their own lives, troubled back stories and secret fears. All the ingredients, in short, needed to build characters strong enough to drive an exciting, complex, satisfying story where the reader really cares what happens.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

 

 

Bucking the trend in children’s books at the Buckingham Literary Festival

St John & St James, Chackmore 1

Happy festivalling! With Year 6 teacher Mr Davidson

Two days ago I drove to Stowe for a school visit. No, not that school, the famous one set in the fabulous 18th century neoclassical Stowe House; rather, the delightful St James & St John Church of England Primary School at Chackmore, a small village nestling on land that slopes up to the glorious Stowe Landscape Gardens (owned by the National Trust). Now in its third year, the Buckingham Literary Festival is going from strength to strength and I was thrilled to be invited to be part of its schools outreach programme, enthusing young people with the joys of reading and writing.

St John & James 5

Presenting the original Doctor Faustus, or Joannes Faustus

If I have a bee in my bonnet, it’s about how often children are underestimated in the pleasure they can derive from complex ideas in books. I write stories inspired by great classical and historical themes, subjects often deemed ‘too difficult’ for children. But in my experience, as long as the story is clearly written, fast-paced and gripping, and the characters sympathetic and well-rounded, young readers can easily absorb ideas from the adult literary world and often grasp them more instinctively than people many years older.

Year 6 at St James & St John knew nothing about Elizabethan magic or the legend of Doctor Faustus but they listened attentively as I told them about my book, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst, and had no trouble understanding the dangers of a Faustian pact. Which will hopefully serve them well in their future lives, if ever they feel under pressure – like poor Henry – to enter into the Wrong Sort of Agreement….

St John & St James, Chackmore 4

And now for the book signing!

They were a super audience, enthusiastically taking part in my 7 Ingredients Every Story Needs workshop and coming up with some really interesting questions at the end. The one that struck me most was from a girl who asked, ‘Why did you choose writing?’ Almost the same question as the more usual, ‘What made you become a writer?’ except that the answer leapt out in a way that surprised even me.

St John & St James, Chackmore 2Because you don’t choose writing, do you? It chooses you.

Thank you, St James and St John and Buckingham Literary Festival, for inviting me and for your splendid organisation.  The festival proper begins TONIGHT with a fun Quiz, followed by 3 days of events featuring top authors, Friday 15th – Sunday 17th June.

How to be a relaxed parent: read to your children.

Book House Summertown

The Book House, Summertown, closing in June 2018

Two weeks ago I had the melancholy task of collecting a book from the Book House, Summertown, Oxford.  Before I am deluged with outrage that I could ever describe a bookshop visit as melancholy, I’ll explain that this wonderful, deceptively spacious (as estate agents love to put it) jewel of a bookshop is closing in June 2018, and they’d asked me to take back the one copy of Ante’s Inferno still on their shelves.

Ante Passchendaele jacket

A younger sibling of the glorious Aladdin’s Cave that is the Book House in Thame, the Book House, Summertown, has been a fixture of this part of Oxford for nearly 30 years.

Book House Thame

Aladdin’s Cave – the Book House, Thame

 

During that time the Summertown shopping centre – as so many throughout the UK – underwent a sea change in character, with traditional stores giving way to coffee and charity shops. When I arrived in the 1980s, there were 3 butchers, 3 greengrocers, 2 newsagents, 2 off licences, a toyshop, a pet shop, a post office and, oh joy, a bookshop.

All have gone now, with the Book House holding out valiantly years longer than the others. Life has changed, our shopping habits have changed and – saddest of all – so have our reading habits. We are all reading less than we used to; according to the wonderful Book House manager Renee Holler (herself a prolific children’s author), sales are down even in children’s books, supposedly a growth area in the UK market.  Competition from ebooks, Amazon and supermarkets offering cut-price paperbacks add to the pressure and increasingly, it’s all too much for delightful independent bookshops like the Summertown Book House to withstand.

One reason for the decline in reading among children, according to the annual Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer survey from Nielsen Book Research, is that we are reading to them less than we used to. In 2013, 69% of preschool children were read to daily in 2013; five years later, only 51%. Parents of three to four-year-olds apparently ‘struggle to find energy at the end of the day.’

Dinosaur bookCall me a dinosaur (ooh, yes please) but this statement puzzles me as much as it saddens. Do these parents not put their toddlers to bed? In my memory, amid the nightly chaos of trying to clear up toys (rarely succeeded), cajoling squalling youngsters upstairs, into and out of the bath and finally to their beds, that moment when at last we sat down together and read Janet and Allen Ahlberg’s Peepo Peepoor Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea was the gentlest, easiest and most relaxing of parental input.

So relaxing, in fact, that I’d frequently read myself to sleep, much to the annoyance of the child on my lap who’d turn and pinch my cheeks awake again. How do these parents, who lack the energy to read to their children, settle them into their beds without it?The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Now I have a 2 year-old grand-daughter, bedtime isn’t (yet) one of my tasks. But during the day she only has to set eyes on me to demand ‘Old King Cole’ (her current obsession, narrowly running ahead of Humpty Dumpty and the Grand Old Duke of York) before taking my hand and leading me to the sofa for a surfeit of nursery rhymes. I’m only too happy to comply, having always found reading aloud much less effort than creating imaginary games of Shops, or Lions and Zookeeper (to pick two of my daughter’s favourites when young). Their time will come, of course, along with the joys of television, ipads etc which for now the parents can control. But when it does, I’ll do all I can to keep alive this early love of books.

Meanwhile, a heartfelt plea: I totally get why Amazon is so successful. Online ordering is so convenient; I love having things delivered direct to my house instead of having to traipse round city centres trying to find them. So why not use the online ordering system operated by bookshops such as Blackwell’s and Waterstones? Often the prices match Amazon’s; you may have to wait a couple of days more for the delivery, that’s all. The difference is that you’re supporting not only the bookshops but also publishers, since while bookshops and wholesalers demand a 40 – 55% discount on the RRP of each title, Amazon is the greediest with its insistence of 60%.

And above all – as a little girl at Pegasus Primary School (part of the Blackbird Academy Trust) advised the Duchess of Cambridge on a recent visit – read to your children!

Leading your characters into temptation

On the subject of food (can you tell it’s a favourite with me?), there’s another role it can play in books, very different from the nurturing, life-enhancing way I looked at last month. Just the opposite, in fact. And while this works as a literary and moral device, it can be pretty cruel to your characters.

Serpent-goddess-eve

And so it begins…

To begin at the beginning… How does the serpent corrupt Eve in the Garden of Eden? With a crisp, juicy apple, thus setting in motion 2,000 years of imagery in which the poor apple takes the brunt of all the evil in the world. Interestingly the idea of fruit being a catalyst for trouble isn’t just a Judeo-Christian one: think of the six pomegranate seeds swallowed by Persephone when kidnapped by Hades, which bind her to the Underworld for half the year. Or the golden apple thrown by Eris, Greek goddess of discord, into the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, which reappears at the judgement of Paris, only for him to assign it to the wrong goddess and kickstart the Trojan War.

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Golden Apple of Discord

With such powerful religious and classical antecedents, no wonder the idea of Forbidden Fruit took such hold on the western imagination, a vein of wicked temptation running from the Garden of Earthly Delights of mediaeval literature to the yearning for apricots that betrays the Duchess of Malfi to the clandestine plum pudding Edmund Gosse nibbles, in Father and Son.

Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

This last example is especially poignant, since it comes from a memoir, not fiction. A member of the puritan Plymouth Brethren, Gosse’s father believed the pleasures associated with celebrating Christmas – singing, dancing, fine clothes and feasting – to be the work of the devil. Aghast that his little son should be so deprived, the maids feed him a slice of the plum pudding they’ve secretly made for themselves; his father, discovering the crime, ‘flung the idolatrous confectionery on to the middle of the [dust heap], and then raked it deep down into the mass.’

plum pudding

Idolatrous Confectionary

I find this scene heartbreaking to read. As Gosse himself writes, ‘The suddenness, the violence, the velocity of this extraordinary act made an impression on my memory which nothing will ever efface’ – all arising from a fear that what is enjoyable to the senses must by definition be sinful. Here is the exact opposite of the ‘speckled cannon ball…blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy,’ that cheers the table of the hard-up Cratchit family in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Oliver TwistIndeed, while Dickens makes brilliant metaphorical use of natural phenomena (the fog in Bleak House, for instance, confusing and entrapping as the legal system; or the predatory Carker’s white teeth in Dombey and Son) he is the last writer to endow an apple, a pudding, or anything else with evil characteristics. There’s nothing like a poverty-stricken childhood to teach you the true value of food. It is hunger, not greed, that prompts Oliver to ask for more (Oliver Twist). Pip quakes in terror that his theft of a pie will be discovered; yet he stole not for himself, but to feed a starving runaway convict (Great Expectations).

Great Expectations

Once food is seen for what it is – nourishing, tasty, a source of pleasure and celebration with friends – treating any part of it as somehow inherently wicked becomes both impossible and heartless.

The Lion the Witch and the WardrobeNot for some of the great children’s writers though. It’s hard on Edmund, in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, that while his sister Lucy can safely be treated to tea and toast by a faun, he unwittingly seals his pact with the White Witch by accepting the treats she offers. (‘He had the look of one who had been with the Witch and eaten her food,’ says Mr Beaver.) The drink – ‘very sweet and foamy and creamy’ – is enchanted, of course, so no ordinary food; yet there’s a sense in which Edmund is being punished for enjoying it so much.

The Magician's nephew

And in The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis actually recreates the Garden of Eden, with poor Digory being tempted by the Witch to eat the apple from the Tree of Life (‘A terrible thirst and hunger came over him and a longing to taste that fruit’) rather than bring it, as instructed, to Aslan.

Do modern children’s books put their heroes through this kind of Food As Temptation ordeal? My impression is no, and a good thing too. Far better for the smells and tastes of delicious things to be celebrated, so encouraging a healthy relationship with eating, rather than treated as a test for your characters to fail, as some of the children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory do, or the ever-hungry Dick in The Faraway Tree. Surely in our more secular age we can dispense with this biblical sense of guilt surrounding food. 

Not as simple as that. The popular culture young readers are growing into lays a heavy burden of blame on delectable goodies, from Salman Rushdie’s famous Naughty But Nice advertising slogan for cream cakes to Slimming World’s use of the term ‘syns’ for treats (short for ‘synergy’, I know, but that fools nobody).

Naughty but Nice

Naughty… but nice

We may no longer believe literally in the idea of Forbidden Fruit; but we are a long way from being free of its power. Cake, anyone?

 

(Adapted from an article originally published on Authors Electric Blogspot.)