Disney Posts

Zoe Gilbert’s “Folk”

Zoe Gilbert’s debut collection of short stories Folk as the title suggests been inspired by folklore and oral tradition of storytelling. The stories are set in the fictional land of Neverness, a community of fishermen. The stories are not interlinked but stories revolve around the villagers and their rituals such as the gorse bush kissing game between the adolescents followed by the burning of the vegetation by the elders. Passing of time is measured by the ageing folk whose stories are told. It is a world where there is little difference between reality as most know it and that which exists within folklore. For instance the presence of Verlyn Webbe with his one human arm and one winged arm is unusual but not sufficiently enough to merit comment. When his son Marram is born with down on one hand his mother is agitated and keeps trimming it, otherwise no one else is particularly perturbed. This is life.

Folk is part of Zoe Gilbert’s Ph. D dissertation on the short story at the University of Chichester. Her guide is Alison MacLeod, a remarkable short story writer herself. Zoe Gilbert won the Costa Short Story Award 2014 for her story ‘Fishskin, Hareskin’ which is won when the public votes for the best story from a shortlist. It is about a deeply sad fishwife Ervet, newly married, who yearns for her former life. It is probably also about post-partum depression but what comes through is the intense repulsion Ervet feels for fisherfolk despite being one of them herself. Even her unborn child is constantly referred to as fish. It is a melancholic yet hypnotic story. Zoe Gilbert’s admiration for Angela Carter style of writing and her “adult interest in folktales and more-Grimm-less-Disney fairy tales” are brought together with elegance in Folk.

The fine magical beauty of folklore blossoms in Folk. Zoe Gilbert is a writer to watch out for in coming years.

Zoe Gilbert Folk Bloomsbury, London, 2018. 

28 February 2018 

Aunt Sass: Christmas Stories

Aunt Sass: Christmas Stories by P. L. Travers is defined as “autobiographical notes” in her the book blurb. It may be so but are absolutely delightful vignettes of childhood spent in Australia in the early twentieth century. These three stories were written probably as gifts to be shared at Christmas time, printed privately, and are about people — fiesty Aunt Sass or Christina Saraset her great-aunt, loyal and ever resourceful Ah Wong their Chinese cook and colourful Johnny Delaney a farm hand — all of whom had a lifetime influence upon the writer. P. L. Travers is better known as the author of the Mary Poppins stories. Of her great-aunt Travers writes:

…with her died something that the world will not gladly lose, something strong and faithful and tender. A human being that had cast off its rough outer skin to stand forth at last in beauty. A mind that was proud and incorruptible and a heart compact of love. 

When I heard of it, I thought to myself, ‘Someday, inspite of her, I shall commit the “disrespectful vulgarity” of putting Aunt Sass in a book.’

And then it occured to me that this had already been done, though unconsciously and without intent. We write more than we know we are writing. We do not guess at the roots that made our fruit. I suddenly realised that there is a book through which Aunt Sass, stern and tender, secret and proud, anonymous and loving, stalks with her silent feet. 

You will find her occasionally in the pages of Mary Poppins

In her introduction to the book Victoria Coren Mitchell says:

These stories should be a delight for any reader, but particularly magical for fans of P.L. Travers’ great masterpiece, the Mary Poppins stories. Many of the preoccupations of those wonderful novels appear in these pages: merry-go-rounds, gorgon nurses, small dogs, smart hats, suns and moons and comets and constellations. 

The spirit is there too, and many of the ideas: predominantly, that children know darkness. P.L. Travers disliked the Disney version of Mary Poppins because she found it too cartoonish and sunny. Her own books made room for the fear and sadness of children, their natural and tragic awareness of impermanence. As she says here, in the story of Johnny Delaney: ‘Children have strong and deep emotions but not mechanism to deal with them.’ 

Written in the 1940s but a pleasure to read now seven decades later. Worth getting!

P. L. Travers  Aunt Sass: Christmas Stories Virago Modern Classics, London, 1941, rpt 2014. Hb. pp. Rs 599 

16 August 2017 

World Book Fair, Delhi, Jan 2017

The world book fair was held in Delhi between 7-15 January 2017. It was another magnificent show put together by National Book Trust. I wrote about it for Scroll. The article was published on 29 Jan 2017. ) 

Three discoveries (and some footnotes) about readers and publishers from the World Book Fair

The death of reading has been greatly exaggerated. Yet again.

At first sight, the World Book Fair in Delhi looked like the scene of family holidays, with up to three generations milling around, some pulling suitcases on wheels filled with books. Actually, with the gradual disappearance of bookshops, the WBF has become an annual pilgrimage of sorts for book-buyers. Here are the three trends we discovered in the 2017 edition:

Children are reading, and reading, and reading…

The findings of Scholastic India ‘s Kids & Family Reading Report (KFRR) confirm that parents most frequently turn to book fairs or book clubs to find books for their child, followed by bookshops and libraries. Eight out of ten children cite one of their parents as the person from whom they get ideas about which books to read for fun.

Curiously enough, what parents want in books for their children is often just what the children want too. Despite this being the digital age, six out of ten parents prefer that their children read printed books. This is particularly true for parents of children aged between six and eight. Perhaps surprisingly, a majority of children, 80%, agree: they will always want to read printed books despite the easy availability of ebooks.

The findings of the report were confirmed independently by observing the phenomenal crowds in Hall 14 of the World Book Fair in Delhi in January, where the children’s literature publishers had been placed. These were astounding even on weekday mornings! Over the weekend queues to enter the hall snaked their way round Pragati Maidan to the food court and beyond. Remarkably, everyone was standing patiently.

The pavilions were overflowing with interested customers of all ages. Children scurried around like excited little pixies, flipping through books, making piles, some throwing tantrums with their parents demanding more than the budgets allowed, and many just plonking themselves on the carpets, absorbed in reading, oblivious to the crowds swirling around them.

Their interest was evident even during the packed storytelling sessions with writers like Ruskin Bond, Paro Anand and Prashant Pinge. This is corroborated by Neeraj Jain, Managing Director, Scholastic India, who said, “Using the findings of KFRR we created our stall as a reading zone. The combination of books, events, interactions and dedicated reading zone made it a pleasurable experience.”

Even adults were discovering new titles for their children. For instance, huddled around a shelf displaying Scholastic Teen Voice titles were a bunch of parents and teachers flipping through the books, exclaiming on their perceived difficulty of finding reading material for adolescents. The series in question contains page-turners built around crucial issues that matter to teens – bullying, drinking, technology, nutrition, fitness, goal-setting, depression, dealing with divorce, and responding to prejudice. Added Aparna Sharma, Managing Director, Dorling Kindersley Books: “We found that representatives from school libraries and other education institutions use this event to search out good books and order in bulk.”

And it wasn’t just the children’s publishers. Academic publishers like Oxford University Press had primary school children dragging their parents to browse through the titles, being familiar with the brand from their school textbooks. This held true even for DK books who, for the first time since they began participating in the fair, had a large table laden with books and generous shelf space in the Penguin Random House stall.

Global publishers are more interested in publishing books from India than selling in India

The hall for international participants was thinly populated. Most of the participants seemed to have come for trade discussions. Many of these conversations were taking place on the sidelines or at other events outside the fair ground, since foreign participants, in particular, were daunted by the vast crowds. The launch of the Google Indic Languages cell at FICCI was announced at the CEOs’ breakfast meeting. Another significant announcement came from Jacks Thomas, Director, London Book Fair, where there will be a “Spotlight on India” at the Fair to mark the UK-India Year of Culture in March 2017.

Yet, as an overseas publisher said, “The World Book Fair is exclusively a business-to-consumer fair, quite unlike any they have in Europe”. This marked a significant shift of sorts. In the past the World Book Fair had been known for a range of international publishers, representing diverse cultures, languages and literature, selling their books directly to readers. Even India’s neighbouring countries used to participate in huge numbers, bringing across fine multiple literatures. This was not the case this time. As a result, long-time visitors to the fair were heard lamenting that its soul was missing – it felt as if an era had ended.

But people bought books, a lot of them

Despite the worry about demonetisation impacting sales, brisk business was done, with sales being 25% higher than in 2016, according to back-of-the-envelope estimates.

According to Kumar Samresh, Deputy Director, Publicity, National Book Trust, there were record footfalls at the 2017 edition of the fair, with 4 lakh complimentary multiple entry passes being supplemented 1.9 lakh individual entries based on ticket sales. There was also free entry schoolchildren, senior citizens, and, as usual, VIPs. Rajdeep Mukherjee, VP, Pan Macmillan India confirmed “a 30℅ rise in footfall, mainly led by young adult readers, but it was the Man Booker award winning title like The Sellout which has been a sellout literally!”

The other changes we observed

  • The rising sale of textbooks and educational aids.
  • The increasing popularity of books from franchises like Disney, Barbie, and Lego, or from brands like Marvel Comics and Geronimo Stilton.
  • Older people cautioning youngsters to buy only “relevant” books.
  • The overwhelming presence of religious publications.
  • The preponderance of digital technology vendors, primarily in the area of educational publishing.
  • Print-on-demand books (goodbye, inventories).

( All the images used in the article were taken by me during the fair.)

29 January 2017 

David Duchovny, “Holy Cow”

Holy Cow…My editor told me if I add some sex, curses, and maybe some potty humour, this will sell better to my “audience”. I don’t know who my audience is. I want everybody to hear this story, but my editor says human adults won’t take a talking animal seriously…So she’s gonna market it as a kids’ book. Which is fine by me, I like kids, but then she says, “Adults are gonna read this book to their kids so you have to sprinkle little inside jokes along the way with some allusions to pop culture from the last thirty years so they don’t get too bored. …”  ( p. 29)
 
David Duchovny’s debut novel, Holy Cow, is about Elsie Bovary ( a cow), Shalom, formerly known as Jerry ( a pig who has converted to Judaism) and Tom ( a turkey). These anthropomorphic animals are living happily together on a farm, when for personal reasons they decide to escape. It is a memoir dictated by Elsie to her editor at a secret location. Elsie discovers that most cows end their lives in an abbatoir, so wants to go to India where cows are revered, Shalom is keen to visit Israel and Tom wants to go to Turkey. This motley group of friends manage to buy airline tickets online and go off on international travel. Along the way, Shalom manages to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict and is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

It took about twelve hours for Shalom and Tom to descend from the silly sky. But that’s the thing, you can’t just stay high. What goes up must come down. I had spent a long time dreaming of India, it’s true. But I’m not upset that India didn’t turn out the way I had planned, didn’t in the end  match up with my dream India. Without my vision of a dream India, I never would have gone anywhere, never would have had any adventures at all. So I guess it’s not so important that dreams come true, it’s just important you have a dream to begin with, to get you to take your first steps. ( p.203)  

According to David Duchovny, this story began as an idea for an animation film. He pitched it to Disney and Pixar,  but it was rejected. This was ten years ago. Plus he was always keen to visit India. Finally he was persuaded by Jonathan Galassi, Farrar, Straus and Giroux to write it as a novel. David Duchovny studied English Literature at Princeton and Yale where he submitted a thesis on Beckett called “The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels”. But as he said in his NYT interview, he likes fooling around with words. He likes language, “more Joycean, although that will sound really pretentious.”

Holy Cow may be a bildungsroman in the guise of a fable for children, but it really does not matter. It is a story that is smart. This is going to achieve cult status for its zaniness, sharp wit and intelligent irreverence with which it takes on “serious issues” such as religion, politics, conflict, animal slaughter, and vegetarian/vegan debates.  The storytelling is pithy, with the dialogue moving at a crackling good pace. As David Duchovny said in an interview to Kirkus, “Years of acting had made me sensitive to dialogue.” The illustrations by Natalya Balnova are perfect. Read it.

Holy Cow novel, UK website: http://www.holycownovel.co.uk/

Elsie on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HolyCowNovel

David Duchovny interviewed by Kirkus: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/tv/video/kirkus-tv-david-duchovny/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=image&utm_campaign=020315

Interviews in the New York Times ( 30 Jan 2015) : http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/01/magazine/david-duchovny-i-like-fooling-around-with-words.html?_r=0  and LA Times ( 30 Jan 2015): http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-david-duchovny-20150201-story.html#page=1

Reviews from The Guardian ( 4 February 2015): http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/04/holy-cow-david-duchovny-review and Washington Post ( 3 February 2015): http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/actor-david-duchovnys-first-novel-holy-cow-is-a-madcap-fable-about-growing-up/2015/02/03/7638c694-a8b2-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html and Huffington Post ( 3 February 2015): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/02/david-duchovny-book_n_6598702.html?ir=India

David Duchovny Holy Cow Headline, London, 2015. 

5 February 2015