Wednesday, November 19, 2014

10 ways in which Ivanhoe is like The Hunger Games trilogy

Just recently I've been reading the great classic novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, and one of the things that struck me is that although it is titled Ivanhoe, the hero, who bears that name, is out of action for large chunks of the book. He appears early on, gets injured, and then spends a long time lying about in a tent, being carried through the forest in a litter, and then languishing in a castle being tended by a beautiful girl. Although he does finally recover so that he can gallop to the rescue at the end of the book, he misses one of the best fights because he is still lying in bed. This scenario seemed strangely familiar somehow. Aha, I thought, this is just like Peeta in The Hunger Games. But when I thought about it, there were a whole bunch of other similarities. 
Therefore, I bring you: 10 ways in which Ivanhoe is like The Hunger Games trilogy. You're welcome. 
  1. There are the haves (the Norman nobility, the residents of the Capitol) and the have-nots (the dispossessed Saxons, the residents of the Districts). The have-nots tend to supplement their diet by poaching deer.
  2. There is an evil ruler who is skin-crawlingly horrible: Prince John in Ivanhoe, and President Snow in The Hunger Games
  3. There is a whole lot of fighting with different weapons, quite a lot of it in the woods. Bows and arrows feature heavily.
  4. There’s a special signal of a short series of notes. Rue has her four-note mockingjay call, and in Ivanhoe the outlaws have a three note bugle signal to summon help. Three notes, four notes, practically the same really.
  5. The arena gets wrecked in both. In Catching Fire, Katniss shoots a hole in the force field and destroys it. Meanwhile, in 12th century England, Torquilstone castle, scene of a climactic battle, is stormed and burnt down to the ground. 
  6. There’s a hot love triangle with one blonde and one brunette. In Ivanhoe, the hero has to decide between blonde Saxon princess Rowena and dark haired Jewish beauty Rebecca. In The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss has to decide between blond Peeta and dark haired Gale. At the end, the reader is still sucking their teeth over the choice.
  7. The hero spends most of the book injured and out of action, being tended by the heroine. In The Hunger Games, Peeta lies around in a cave having his brow mopped by Katniss; meanwhile Ivanhoe lies around in a tent, a litter and later a castle, having his brow mopped by Rebecca.
  8. There is an older, unfit bloke who drinks too much. Haymitch, meet Friar Tuck.
  9. There is one character who dresses in bizarre colourful clothes and says things which would probably provoke the other characters if they didn’t have a certain amount of affection for them. I’m thinking Wamba the jester here, and Effie Trinket.
  10. There are three volumes in each. Aha, you may be thinking, The Hunger Games is a trilogy, but Ivanhoe is just one book, available as a handy Penguin paperback. This is true, but actually the first edition came in three volumes. I win.   

My reading pledge for Book Week Scotland 2014

Book Week Scotland begins on 24th November, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I'm delighted to be one of the Author Ambassadors for 2014.

As part of my ambassadorial role, I had to make a reading pledge, which you can do too, here: Make a reading pledge.

My pledge was to read a short story, poem or novel extract by a Scottish author to my family every day during Book Week Scotland (whether they like it or not). My daughter, who is a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories, has been trying to persuade me to read The Horror of the Heights every single day...

Anyway, as well as reading to my family, I thought it would be great to make a second reading pledge, and make it a bit more personal: something that would challenge me and expand my knowledge of Scottish fiction.

Several weeks ago, I passed through Waverley station in Edinburgh and saw a display of free paperbacks about the classic Scottish author Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832, as I can now quote with confidence, having read this small volume). The books were issued as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Scott's novel Waverley. 

I decided that in honour of this anniversary, I would pledge to read one of Scott's novels for Book Week Scotland. I suppose perhaps I should have gone for Waverley itself, but it is set during the Jacobite uprising of 1745, a period of Scottish history I am pretty hazy about, because I did my long-ago History O'level down in England. I was afraid that without a grip on the history behind the book, I might not fully appreciate it. So instead I thought I would tackle Ivanhoe, which is set in 12th century England.

I have to put my hand up here and admit that I tried to read Ivanhoe once before, so long ago that when I found my battered Penguin Classics copy of the book, I discovered my maiden name was written inside it! I seem to recall that I got as far as the joust at Ashby-la-Zouche before running aground. I felt, though, that now was the time for another go, and I monitored my reading progress publicly on Goodreads to prevent myself from wimping out again.

So, how did I get on? Well, perhaps time has worked some miracle on me, because I didn't have any trouble finishing the book this time! I would freely admit that this isn't a book for everyone, though I wouldn't be as harsh as the person on Twitter who told me "life's too short" to read it! It does require an investment of time and concentration. It was published in 1819, after all, and it's a historical novel, so as well as 19th century literary flourishes there is some obscure vocabulary to contend with ("alembic", anyone?!). It is also a fabulously exciting, swashbuckling and romantic story, with some moments of high drama and deep pathos, and peppered with flashes of Scott's dry wit. It's hard not to love a book that encompasses an evil, passionate Knight Templar, a handsome young hero travelling incognito, not one but two beautiful heroines, and cameo appearances from Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. Antique humour does not always stand the test of years, but I thought the scenes with Friar Tuck were really hilarious. I also loved the archaic language, which was very elegantly done (I shall probably be addressing members of my family as "thou" for weeks after reading this book). Ivanhoe has definitely whetted my appetite for more of Scott's works.

I started reading the book on 3rd November, because I thought (rightly, as it turns out) that it would be no good trying to read the entire thing in the space of Book Week Scotland. I've finished it a few days short of the beginning of Book Week, and I'll be choosing an excerpt from it as one of the pieces I read to my family next week.

Do make a reading pledge of your own! I'm thrilled that Book Week Scotland has encouraged me to discover something I might otherwise not have read.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Metropolis - what I thought, where and when to see!

As I think I've said before, I'm not really a reviewer but I like to let people know about things I've enjoyed, so here is one of them: Fritz Lang's stunning Metropolis with live musical score by Dmytro Morykit, which I saw (and heard) yesterday evening at Strathearn Artspace in Crieff.

I've been having a personal "mini season" of very old films just recently - my daughter and I went to see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the Glasgow Film Theatre and followed it up with Fritz Lang's M at Dundee Contemporary Arts. So when I found out that Metropolis was actually being screened in my home town, I was naturally very keen to go!

This was the second time that Dmytro Morykit has performed his live piano score to Metropolis here in Crieff, but unfortunately I was unable to attend the first time because I was away in Belgium. Dmytro has since taken his performance to various other venues including Wilton's Music Hall in London, but I had been hoping that he would return to Crieff. When I heard that a repeat performance was in fact planned, I was absolutely thrilled, and having attended I can say that I was definitely not disappointed. It was a superb evening. Such was my enthusiasm for the whole idea that I bought tickets for my husband and teenage son as well as for myself and my film fan daughter, and it is a testament to the power of the performance that they were both enthralled. I accept that classic silent films are not everyone's cup of tea, but this one is a masterpiece, and the live music absolutely completed the experience. At the end of the evening, having played for over two hours and entirely from memory, Dmytro Morykit got a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.

I think the thing that particularly impressed me about Dmytro's Metropolis score is that it is very sensitive to the style and age of the film, whilst being contemporary enough to engage a modern audience. It is dramatic, and conveys the mood of the different scenes very well, and yet it would also stand alone as a gorgeous piece of music. I thoroughly recommend this performance - do go, if you have a chance to experience it.

Dmytro Morykit is planning a tour in Northern Ireland in early 2015, and as he has already taken Metropolis to various locations around the UK, I am hopeful that further performances will be planned in due course. You can find details on his website, here:

Fangirly: me with Dmytro Morykit at Strathearn Artspace!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A grisly gift for Hallowe'en!

Last year, I made an audio version of one of my ghost stories (Lilith's Story) available free on Soundcloud.

I wrote that particular story in the place where it is set, Innerpeffray Library here in Perthshire, Scotland. It was actually written on Hallowe'en itself, as I was "writer in residence" at the library that day. That experience led to an unexpected Hallowe'en adventure, as I have described in a previous blog post!

As last year's story seemed to be quite well received, I thought I'd make another one available for Hallowe'en 2014. You can find it on Soundcloud, here: Grauer Hans  - it can be listened to, shared or downloaded for a limited period (probably until November 7th, one week after Hallowe'en, unless there is a lot of demand for it!).

Grauer Hans ("Grey Hans" - and don't worry, although the title is German, the story is in English!) first appeared in Shades of Darkness, an Ash Tree Press anthology edited by Barbara and Christopher Roden. It has since been reprinted in The Sea Change & Other Stories, a collection of my stories published by Swan River Press in Dublin. The collection contains seven stories together with story notes, and if you are interested in reading all of them, copies are available to buy from Swan River's website.

This is what I said about the story in the story notes:

'The setting of Grauer Hans is never explicitly identified, but I had Bad Münstereifel in mind. I lived in the town, which is not far from Cologne, for seven years, and it inspired my first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, as well as providing the location. Bad Münstereifel is a place with a long and colourful history (plague, floods, war, witch trials) and a great many local legends. The figure of Grauer Hans himself was inspired by a tradition that a friend in Münstereifel related to me. In Germany, as well as other European countries such as Holland and Belgium, Saint Nicholas brings presents to good little children on the eve of 6th December. He is sometimes accompanied by a less amiable figure, personified as Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus, who punishes badly-behaved children. Allegedly this character was known locally as Hans and was supposed to abduct naughty children; the friend told me that in the past when someone dressed as Saint Nicholas visited the children of the town, he would be accompanied by someone called Hans who would put the naughty ones in a sack and shake them around to give them a fright. I have not been able to verify this story but over the border in Alsace, Saint Nicholas' companion is known as Hans Trapp, so who knows? At any rate, this folk tale made an evil impression on me and largely inspired my own "Grey Hans".'

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Week Scotland packs a punch!

I'm absolutely thrilled to say (for the benefit of those who haven't already heard my outpourings on Twitter) that I am one of the four Author Ambassadors for Book Week Scotland 2014! The other three are Paul Cuddihy, Shari Low and Ross King. We will be doing our very best to spread the word about Book Week Scotland and how brilliant books and reading are!

The 2014 programme was officially launched this week at a boxing gym in Edinburgh - a strange place for a literary event, you might think, but all became clear when some of Scotland's best-known book characters slugged it out for the title of "Favourite"! The question won't be settled, however, until the readers have voted too!

You can read all about the programme on the Scottish Book Trust's website here:

and you can vote for your favourite character here:

One of the fabulous activities taking place this year is the distribution of free books to every P1 schoolchild in Scotland. I'm very proud to be an advocate for this brilliant initiative, which will bring these books into thousands of homes.

You can hear me talking about my favourite library on the SBT's Audioboom page here:

If you're on Twitter, you can follow Book Week Scotland @BookWeekScot or me @helengrantsays for updates on activities and events.

Do think about making your own reading pledge for Book Week Scotland, which is 24-30 November 2014. Even if you don't actually live in Scotland, there's no reason you can't make one!
You could read one to your kids - the Scottish Book Trust website has some great lists of books including this one for 3-7 year olds:
Or, why not make this the week you finally get around to reading a book by Robert Louis Stevenson, Iain Banks or Christopher Brookmyre? As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, what could be nicer than to settle down with a wee dram (or an Irn Bru!) and plunge into a book? Go on, you know you want to...

(Photo of Hit Girl and Hermione Granger by Rob McDougall)