Tuesday, 6 April 2010

So there's a spider, a labrador and Uncle Quentin...: by Gillian Philip

Tonight I was trying to work out what I saw when I first saw Kirrin Island. For the life of me I can't remember. I think it was a shadowy sort of rock, about the size of four large urban roundabouts, with Sanquhar Castle plonked on top. (How did that fit?) It was not very far offshore. I wasn't a very good swimmer so I wouldn't have put it too far away.

I was wondering this because it came up at bedtime. No idea why. I think it was a distraction from the Death of Marley (the labrador, not the singer).

'Just you snuggle down and listen to The Hobbit,' says I. (Yes, I know, I should be reading it myself, not leaving it to Martin Shaw and the CD player.) 'It's OK to be sad about Marley but try and think about giant carnivorous spiders instead.'

'OK,' says the Boy Kray. 'But he doesn't get the spiders' voices right.'

Now, to my certain knowledge, my very own reluctant reader has never sat and read The Hobbit in print. The lovely Martin Shaw has patiently read it to him every night for about three months, and only from this has the BK deduced that he doesn't get the spiders right. (Bilbo is fine, Martin. Gollum is fine. It's the spiders.) So I was wondering what the process is that transforms an audiobook into words or pictures in a boy's head, then gives the images and characters, as seen by boy, voices that aren't the ones the reader is giving them. Are you with me?

My misshapen, twenty-feet-from-shore Kirrin Island can't possibly be the one Enid Blyton intended, but it must have suited me fine, because I loved those books. Maybe Kirrin Island got a bit bigger as I did? Not sure.

'Nah. Kirrin Island,' says the Boy Kray, 'is like Colonsay.'

'Blimey. That's big,' says I.

'Yeah, but Uncle Quentin's study looks like our dining room.'

At which point the Girl Kray storms in, demands to be included in the insomnia party, and adds: 'And Kirrin Cottage is like the Tardis, only the other way round, because it's bigger on the outside and tiny on the inside, and Uncle Quentin's study is NOT in our house, it's the staff room at school. LOSER.'

'So, films,' I say, rubbing my sore head, 'they must be better than books? Or audiobooks? Because you know what everything looks like and you know what everything sounds like.'

At which point I get that withering Mother-you-idiot look (from two directions), and the Boy Kray says, 'Of course not. That's why books are BETTER. It is MORE FUN making it up in your head.'

Which is reassuring. And I think one of the loveliest things about sending a book into the world (waving goodbye with a wistful smile) is knowing that nobody, but nobody, will see that story the way you (or anyone else) saw it, and you ain't never going to know how they picture it.

Be sure that I will be remembering the 'books are BETTER' conversation next time I'm dragging Reluctant Reader away from the Xbox and throwing Alex Rider at him.

In the meantime, needless to say, both Krays are long asleep, and I'm sitting here past midnight with a brain like porridge in a liquidiser. I'll still be trying to work out that spider-voice-conversion process at two o'clock in the morning.

(Above right: And Bilbo DEFINITELY doesn't look like that)


The Mole said...

I remember as a kid listening to many radio plays and comedies. The Navy Lark with pictures wouldn't have been half as good nor The Clitheroe Kid. How Around the horn would be done I have no idea. But books do grant the reader even more scope for their own voices and faces.

Katherine Langrish said...

Is that a poster for the upandcoming Hobbit film? Blimey. Bilbo does NOT look like that, does he?

It's funny, I agree, how readers see characters. I had one lass telling me my character Peer hadark hair, even though I specifically said in the book his hair is fair. I don't mind a bit, but it goes to shows how strong the mental image can be.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

You mean my Kirrin Island and Quentin's study are different from yours?


adele said...

That's one of my most regular complaints about cover art and why I wish they'd not depict characters from the book: they are forever changing hair colour, build, and on occasion even ethicity. It's my belief that the 'headless woman' covers arose after so many writers complained loudly: Oh, she doesn't look in the least like that!
I try always to read a book before I see the movie because however good the adaptation, it's never EXACTLY as you'd imagined it yourself. The Boy and the Man in The Road, eg, were too healthy looking and I became annoyed by their very clean blanket at the end.

Stroppy Author said...

I agree with Adele that I have to read the book before seeing the film - but even then the film sometimes replaces some of my previous images and I don't like it. So I end up not going to see the film, half the time!

Glad to hear Boy Kray prefers using his imagination :-)

Katherine Langrish said...

I love the BBC audio version of Paradise Lost. BUT only have it on tapes, and my latest car only plays dvds.... :-(

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucy Coats said...

The Krays are a source of much wisdom, Gillian! I don't know about anyone else, but when I read a book it unrolls in my head just like a movie and I have very definite ideas about how places and people look--which is why I'm with Anne and Adele on the book before movie rule. My Lovely Daughter won't listen to His Dark Materials--as read by Philip Pullman himself--because he has 'such a boring voice'. Golly! That's why I'm glad Noni Lewis and Simon Russell-Beale read mine. I can still see my Kirrin Island and Uncle Quentin's study (the latter was always sunny, for some reason).