Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A Fantastical Passion - Lucy Coats


I have a passion for fantasy—both reading it and writing it. There, I’ve admitted it—stood up to be counted, stuck my head above the parapet, ready to defend myself against any verbal bullets and brickbats. I too am a purveyor of lies (see previous post), as well as a traveller into the arcane worlds of the imaginary, and I am proud to say so. My childhood was full of hobbits, fauns with umbrellas, and weirdstones, but I discovered almost all my favourite children’s fantasy authors well after I had grown up and, perhaps, might be thought by some to be too old for such indulgences. I find, looking in my bookshelves, that most of them are women, and I would like to pay tribute to the sisterhood of ‘sheroes’ here—they are the ones whose work encouraged me in my fledgling desire to create and write about fantasy worlds of my own.

I was in my early twenties and a very junior editor at Heinemann when I came across the indomitable Damarian heroines of Robin McKinley, then published by Julia Macrae. I’ve just received her new book—Chalice—and am hoarding it like a dragon does its treasure until I have proper leisure to savour what I know will be its joyously sardonic humour. Something in Robin’s very particular style of writing spoke to me—showed me that it was possible to dance to a different fantasy drum. We have corresponded sporadically over the years, and have found that both of us like the discipline of creating gardens and pruning roses—and getting the nature bits in our books right, even if they are made-up bits of nature sometimes.

Diana Wynne-Jones was a latecomer to my bookshelves too—most of my editions of her works are American hardbacks, bought in the ‘80’s from the chaotic but lovely Books of Wonder in its old home in New York on 7th Avenue. I visited its new incarnation a few months ago, and was delighted to be able to discover new fantasy authors and eat cupcakes at the same time. Wizard Howl sets my teeth on edge at times with his arrogance, but I love Sophie in all her incarnations—and most of the Chrestomanci books are works of fantasy genius. It was a delight to discover a new one—The Pinhoe Egg—last year, and to renew my accquaintance with the Chant family.

How did I miss out on Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy for so long? I suspect that I was too involved with the high-flown works of literature I had to read for my degree when they first came out. Again, it was a delight when more novels in the series appeared fairly recently, and I could find out what happened to Ged later in his life, and to all the inhabitants of those myriad islands which are as real as the Cyclades or Sporades to me.

Last, but by no means least for me, came Tamora Pierce and her Lioness. What she has created in Tortall is a saga ranging back and forth over several generations. There is always a danger of disappointment when authors write about their characters’ forbears or descendants, but Pierce manages the transition from main teenage hero or heroine to parent of the next generation with deft grace. It is wonderful to meet old friends from previous books and to hear what has gone on with them in the intervening years. I can’t wait for the next.

All of the above is why, having vowed I wouldn’t do it because I couldn’t see how, I am now writing a sequel to my own fantasy novel, Hootcat Hill, at the urgent request of many of my readers. I feel all those admired and looked-up-to ‘sheroes’ at my shoulder urging me on. Besides, I understand only too well the position of the reader who wants to know ‘what happened afterwards’—and I want the huge excitement of finding that information out for myself as I enter into yet another world of my own creation. So far it’s already quite a journey!

11 comments:

Anne Rooney said...

Although I don't write fantasy (I don't think... depends where you draw the boundaries), I remember reading plenty as a child. All those Alan Garner books - I was scared of those caves in Weirdstone for *years*. There's a place that is more real than many a geographical location.

I love the idea of all those sheroes egging you on. Go for it!

ian said...

Lucy

How refreshing to read of your shameless pleasure in the creation of fantasy and your own world. I have come late to writing it myself but have the most vivid memories of reading it. The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe for instance, borrowed from Hove library sometime in the early 1950's, that moment of stepping out into the winter place and seeing Mr Tumnus and the lamp post has never left me, either in the sensation of the words, or in the impact of the drawing by the late and wonderful Pauline Baynes. It is in fact a sort of benchmark of early memory, as indelible in its way as seeing Burt Lancaster swing into view on the big screen during the opening sequence of The Crimson Pirate which I saw probably in the same year.It was standing room only in the Granada Hove that night.
All Best
Ian beck

asakiyume said...

I love fantasy writing, always have. When I was in college and had to read "serious" stuff, I pushed it as close to fantasy as I could manage (e.g., Tales of Hoffmann...)

I'll have to come back and read comments to see what other classics people especially cherish. Ones that haven't yet been mentioned that I liked as a child were Madeleine L'Engle's books and Lloyd Alexander's books, also Anne McCaffrey's dragon books and Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase and its sequels (but especially the first).

But there are many many more....

Lucy Coats said...

Anne--it was being chased through the rustling beechleaves (such a brilliant image)along the dells of Alderley Edge by the svartalfar things. Kept me under the bedclothes for many a night...

And Ian--that's definitely me! Totally shameless! Mr Tumnus seems to have been a seminal moment for many writers on this blog--he's always getting a mention.

Asakiyume--I do hope people will leave their favourites. I agree about yours (although Lloyd Alexander was another who found me in adulthood--I love Hen Wen). I should like to have mentioned more, but if I had, my post would have turned into a novel!

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I too was passionate about the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I read the whole series over and over the the first book in paricular until it fell apart. But I then didn't find any other real fantasy I enjoyed until I was 11 and stole Lord of the Rings from my parents' shelves. Then began another long love affair...I still haven't forgiven the teacher who confiscated it as an 'unsuitable book'.

Anne Rooney said...

Ah yes, Mr Tumnus.... I remember walking up the path to the university library on snowy evenings as an undergraduate, all the overhanging trees heavy with snow and the white path lit only in pools by old-style street lamps and thinking this must be Narnia. (And Lewis doubtless made that journey a few times, so perhaps it did inspire him.)

These early memories have a lasting impact - the other days, someone approached me with a request for some help with a research project, and I was about to dismiss it with a 'too busy' email until I discovered one of the trio is Alan Garner. How could I say no? Work with Alan Garner?!!! I owe him so much!

Lucy Coats said...

OMG! You're working with Alan Garner, Anne? What I wouldn't give....

adele said...

Good luck with all your writing, Lucy! I am a fantasy non-lover in general and positively ALLERGIC to Tolkein etc but do love anything spooky or strange or Gothic. I urge all fantasy fans and non-fans alike to try a book called RED SPIKES which is short stories by Margo Lanagan (David Fickling Books) who is an Aussie writer of the kind of Angela Carter-type oddness and scariness that I really love. It's fanatastic, to coin a phrase....

Jane Henry said...

Hi Lucy, Oh guilty as charged. Am with you all the way on fantasy. I once had a dinner party and every guest bar one admitted to climbing in their wardrobe to look for Narnia...

Diana Wynne Jones has long been a favoruite of mine, discovered at the edges of my childhood when I was really too old for such stuff, but love her and Ursula le Guin.

And when I had a proper job I had the great privilege of being Tamora Pierce's editor. (Those were the days when I used to pinch myself and think someone is PAYING me to do this...). If Susan Price is about, I can also say my proudest moment as an editor was working on her fabulous Sterkarm Handshake. (When's book 3 coming, Susan?!!!)
I think fantasy is all about what is best and worst in humanity and above all its about storytelling - my favourite living fantasy author (apart from those already mentioned of course) is Terry Pratchett, whose Discworld holds up a mirror to our own world with wit, humanity and so much humour

John Brindley said...

As a children's writer of what I like to think of as science-fact based fiction, I never use unscientific fantasy, but this does not prevent me enjoying the creation of new worlds, possible futures resulting from the science and technologies of today. Fantastic worlds can be created without the use of magic wands.

Gillian Philip said...

I was terrified by the underground scenes in the Weirdstone of Brisingamen but I read it over and over again - always convinced that this time, Colin would get stuck forever. And I've always been desperate for a third instalment after the Moon of Gomrath (please tell me I've been stupid and there is one?)

I'm a frustrated fantasy writer - I wrote four of the darn things and kept being told 'nobody wants fantasy these days. Not after all the Harry Potter-alikes.' Finally I'm getting them published but it's been a long wait...

With you on Susan Price, Jane. I LOVED the Ghost Drum and I think Hayao Miyazaki should make the movie.

And Anne, I am SICK with envy. Working with Alan Garner! Eek!