I’m currently knee deep in supply teaching work and trying to work on the Earth Balm Music material, learning much about the limitless possibilities of music software and my limited abilities on the piano keyboard on the way. I have a day’s break today and just as well because I feel compelled to post about the passing of the great Ursula K Le Guin. The news has finally made up my mind for me – she is my favourite author of all that I have read (and she is in some high calibre company with Rosemary Sutcliff, Joan Aiken, Susan Cooper, Philippa Pearce etc.). Her characters are so well developed, her books explore ideas about social systems and politics so subtly and she handles big plot moments so delicately. I’m about to radically thin out my book collection and I’m keeping all of my UKLG books as I know I’ll only regret losing them if I pass them on. Please, let her be known as more than just a science fiction / fantasy author because she was so much more.

Photograph of author Ursula K Le Guin. Source Wikipedia, credit Gorthian.

Here is a quote from Ursula’s Wikipedia page:

Le Guin exploits the creative flexibility of the science fiction and fantasy genres to undertake thorough explorations of dimensions of both social and psychological identity and of broader cultural and social structures. In doing so, she draws on sociology, anthropology, and psychology leading some critics to categorize her work as soft science fiction. She objected to this classification of her writing, arguing the term is divisive and implies a narrow view of what constitutes valid science fiction. Underlying ideas of anarchism and environmentalism also make repeated appearances throughout Le Guin’s work


Books and She Moved

I keep meaning to start writing proper reviews of books. I was going to begin with Terry Pratchett’s “The Last Hero” hardback ‘picture book’ which I managed to get for £2.99 in Swansea’s Oxfam.  The many and rather magnificent illustrations seemed to have a profound effect on TP’s prose (or perhaps my way of reading was altered by the format) and I took a while to adjust to the experience. After adjusting, the book really was a riot and the illustrations really did enhance the reading experience. Before I could write a review, I began reading “Thief of Time” and that novel is proving so enjoyable that I haven’t had the inclination to write the review. Still, all in good time eh?

I began writing an Earth Balm arrangement of “She Moved Through the Fair” recently but abandoned it and have instead completed a solo guitar arrangement in the altered Csus2 tuning. It’s not the best tuning for a Mixolydian melody but I was able to use some of the ideas in my arrangement of “Lisa Lân” to accommodate the flattened seventh.

Narrative text illustration

One of the reasons that I was an avid reader of narrative writing in my childhood was the quality of book illustration in the 1960s.  I was reminded of this recently when re-reading one of my favourite children’s anthologies: Philippa Pearce‘s “What the Neighbours Did“. The illustrator for my edition of the book is Faith Jaques and I love this work. I’d like to post a scan of one of the drawings and hope it will not offend / contravene any copyright.

Victor G Ambrus’s work has also been an inspiration and a source of enjoyment.

More recently, I have enjoyed Peter Bailey’s illustrations for Corgi Yearling‘s editions of Philip Pullman‘s children’s books and Dick de Wilde’s illustrations in Bill Naughton‘s anthology “The Goalkeeper’s Revenge“.

It is probably just nostalgia but I’m sure that the scratchiness and quality of line in these black and white illustrations have more character than modern digitally created work (Ooh! Did I really say that?).

Illustration by Victor Ambrus from “Russian Blue” book by Helen Griffiths (copyright Hutchinson Books).
Illustration by Dick de Wilde from “The Goalkeeper’s Revenge” by Bill Naughton (copyright Puffin books).
Illustration by Faith Jaques from “What the Neighbours Did” by Philipa Pearce (copyright Puffin books).

UKLG notes

Thanks to calmgrove, I’m seriously considering a series of pictures (and perhaps music) inspired by the writings of Ursula K Le Guin. I thought I might share some of the notes I’ve been taking from “A Wizard of Earthsea“. Apologies for the untidiness, handwriting never was my forte.

Picture of vocabulary from “Wizard of Earthsea”. Copyright Ursula K Le Guin.


Also, this from the UKLG website, looks fascinating (though, as always, I’m somewhat late for the party):

The Left Hand of Darkness

This is it (The Left Hand of Darkness), the book I’ve been waiting to read and the book generally regarded as “Ursula Le Guin’s masterpiece” – Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. I bought it today in Foyles, Bristol along with Carlo Rovelli’s “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics“.  It was on the shelves at Waterstones too but I couldn’t find the Rovelli book there and wanted both. I know, I could have bought each from different stores but that would be alien to me. UKLG books are a puzzle, they seem to be either in all book shops at any given moment or in none at all in another given moment. I keep eyeing up Melvyn Peake’s “The Gormenghast Trilogy” but I’m too mean to pay the £18 cover price.

Looking forward to reading these – I may have to go to bed super-early!!


carlo rovelli

Tyke Tiler

There was very little on TV last night that I considered worth watching so I went to bed and re-read Gene Kemp’s “The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler“.

It’s so obvious that the author worked as a teacher, the book is full of references to everyday life in a primary school that are as true now as when the book was published in the late 70s.

Kemp’s characterisations are well developed without the need to describe the children in great detail – their actions speak for themselves. The teachers featured in the narrative are such accurate characterisations – we all know a teacher like each one of them. I might even be able to recognise myself in one or two of them. Other people might recognise me in different ones :).

And even though I knew of the revelation on the penultimate page, it was still as enjoyable and still as much a surprise when it came. On re-reading, the clues are there throughout the narrative.

If I still had year six, I’d be using this as a class reader.


Snow Spider finished

I finished reading the “Snow Spider” trilogy by Jenny Nimmo a few days ago but have been too busy with school work to post.

It’s a great trilogy and the book comes to a well written and plotted end that ties all plot lines together. There was no over-blown finale just a gentle kind of conflict with characters who regretted having to choose a violent solution. That much reminded me of Ursula K LeGuin’s “Earthsea” series.

I’ve found a copy of Joan Aiken’s “The Scream” in the school library so I’ll be starting on that book next.

I’m also on a 2 week break so expect me to be making a nuisance of myself posting to this blog.