Book review – Paul Magrs – “Christmassy Tales” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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I’m rather shockingly reviewing out of order today, because I wanted to share with you this EXCELLENT book in time for you to buy it for yourself or someone else for Christmas (it’s available in paperback and ebook). Yes, it’s that good. And although I’m a loyal Paul Magrs fan, and should therefore have high expectations of his work, this exceeded my expectations by quite a way. I was expecting there to be more stuff I’d read before (I’d read just two of the fourteen stories before, one of which was published as a lovely standalone book last year) and didn’t realise it was going to be such a lovely substantial volume – 425 pages of excellent stories! This is the last read in my Magrsathon, in which I have enjoyed reading and re-reading books by Paul Magrs every month.

Paul Magrs – “Christmassy Tales”

(14 November 2020)

I couldn’t resist a) buying myself this new book and b) dipping into it when it arrived, and devoured “Fester and the Christmas Mouse” – I was never able to read Paul’s story of his late and beloved stray cat, as I can never read any pet-centred books, but I was glad to read this delightful tale of a Christmas day, a careful cat and a tiny lost mouse.

I then forced myself to read just one or two stories a day this month, as they all revolved around Christmas. Yes, looking at the contents page, there is a Christmas Trilobite and a Christmas Hoover, and this sums up the delicious mix of working-class down-to-earth observation and delightful whimsy which is Paul’s trademark and very much in evidence here.

The collection opens with “Stardust and Snow”, a reprint of Paul’s beautiful story about a boy who wins a competition to meet David Bowie. I originally read this on Christmas Day last year (my review here) and it was just as magical and still brought a tear to my eye. Other stand-out stories (although there wasn’t a dud among them), which ran from sci fi to fairy tales to sci fi fairy tales set on disappointed planets to observation and memories of a north-eastern working-class childhood to a writer visited by a ghost of Christmas Past at his desk, included “Party Like it’s 1979” with its warm memories and tiny details (anyone else remember purple, smudged, banda’d sheets from school?). “The Fabulous Animal Jamboree”, like the children’s book where all the dogs come out of the pictures in the National Gallery, features museum animals from around the world gathering for fun, and a celebration of difference and being your authentic self, and “The Christmas Trilobite” is a wonderful spin through alternative stories and endings as the ancient creature visits Paul the adult writer to demand his own Christmas story.

We finish off with a brand-new Brenda and Effie story (with Robert, hooray!) where they meet Iris Wildthyme (had they met before? I think not. I’ve never quite understood Iris but she has turned up in a couple of my reads this year and I just absorb the fun and weirdness) and … well, you’ll have to read it to find out.

A super collection and one I know I’ll dig out for Christmasses in the future to enjoy again. What a lovely end to my twelve months of Paul Magrs reading!

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

 

State of the TBR December 2020 and Book Confessions #DiverseDecember #Magrsathon @PaulMagrs

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I have been trying to clear the decks and not buy new books in order to prepare for the Great Christmas and Birthday Influx and I don’t feel I’ve really succeeded at either! I did finish 12 books in November, six of which were off the physical TBR (the others were a mix of review books and Kindle ones). I set out to read one book for Australia Reading Month, which I read (“The Three Miss Kings“) and I took part enthusiastically in Non-Fiction November – I set out five books to read, finished three and started one, and read a bit more non-fiction through the month, and posted my four themed posts and enjoyed linking up with more non-fiction readers.

So this is how the TBR stands, at least it’s not two full shelves, I suppose, and has moved along. The pile to the side is Christmas books which will be read between Christmas and New Year (apart from one of them, see more below) and the ones on top are my remaining Thirkell war novels and three lovely British Library books I haven’t been able to get to yet.

I’m currently reading these three. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” has been a thought- and discussion-provoking readalong with my best friend Emma – we took to reading books together during lockdown and enjoy a bit of time on a Thursday evening. We’re quite slow with these as we sometimes have a chat rather than a read, but it’s a lovely thing to do. We have one chapter and the afterword left of this. I just started “The Good Immigrant USA” to go with my read of the UK version, and am learning new things with this one, too, and Jonathan Gornall’s “How to Build a Boat” is just getting started. The first two will be contributing to the DiverseDecember reading challenge hosted by The Writes of Womxn (thank you to Ali for alerting me to this one) – they will be blogging about Black Brown and Indigenous writers who identify as women but we’re free to read anything and use the hashtag. More on that below – including not pushing myself to read loads and feeling I’ve failed!

Up next, Emma and my next read together will be Isabella Tree’s “Wilding” which was discussed in “On the Marsh” which I’ve just finished and I’ve been looking forward to reading for ages. Of course those BL books will be devoured, too. For my LAST BOOK in my Paul Magrsathon I was going to re-read his lovely “Stardust and Snow” which I read on Christmas Day last year, but then he brought out this “Christmassy Tales” volume which includes that one and a host of other short stories. I have already dipped into it to read his Fester Cat story (from the book he wrote by his late lovely pet) and I am not going to be able to resist it now we’ve got into December – there’s a story about a Christmas Trilobite! I will be reading the four light Christmas novels I bought in October between Christmas and New Year, and I have assigned myself Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan novels to read for DiverseDecember. Yes, I have “Brit(ish)” and “Black and British” and various other books but I don’t want to force the issue or read all my BLM books in a rush, so I will enjoy these and see what else I can add in.

New books in

The aforementioned “Christmassy Tales” arrived last week and I also bought my friend Katharine D’Souza’s new novella “Friend Indeed” on the day of publication. I wish I’d got it read for Novellas in November but it will be a Novella in December instead. Bizarrely, Past Me decided to do some Amazon pre-orders in August and September and I was somewhat surprised to receive Jane Linfoot’s “Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea” (book five in her series) and Sairish Hussain’s “The Family Tree” (shortlisted now for the Costa First Novel Award” following the fortunes of a family emigrating to the UK. Both obviously “me” but do I recall ordering them? I do not.


Did you have a good reading month in November? Tempted to join DiverseDecember? Bought anything new or holding off? Is there room on your shelves for Christmas incomings???

Book review – Paul Magrs – “The Mars Trilogy: Lost on Mars, The Martian Girl, The Heart of Mars” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Excitement here on the blog, because we have a Guest Post – this doesn’t happen very often but my friend Charlotte read the Mars Trilogy (with her daughters reading the first instalment) and kindly wrote a review for me. 

Paul Magrs – “The Mars Trilogy”

The very fact that the family in ‘Lost on Mars’ by Dr. Who writer, Paul Magrs, is the ‘Robinson family’ suggests that this series of books will fit nicely into the young adult sci-fi genre but also resonate with anyone who loves the geeky period of 60s sci-fi. The first book introduces us to Lora Robinson, with her pioneering family and trusty robot, a rebooted sunbed affectionately named ‘Toaster’. We gain an understanding of Frontier life on terraformed Mars, with handy references to how the atmosphere was altered to allow humans to live and breathe freely.

We read this book as a family, my two daughters enjoyed the humour Toaster brought to the story not to mention the fact that the Earth Authorities believed that an essential item for any travellers to Mars would have to be a sunbed. They also identified with Lora, who narrated the story and introduces us to this strange world where she is one of the third generation of settlers on a hostile planet. She has affection for her grandmother, an original space-faring traveller and through her, we gain snippets of information about the journey, the planet, the problems and her parents and younger brother.

Like all good quest sagas, Lora, finds out knowledge that could mean the destruction of their tiny community and embarks on a mission to get anyone who wishes to safety, far away from the evil Martian ghosts.

The place where she finally arrives opens her eyes to an almost unbelievable town full of humans who have been settled for many years. Lora’s quest is only just starting at the end of the first book and we are left with more questions than answers.

The second book, entitled ‘The Martian Girl’, takes us further into understanding the planet, the factions and the dilemmas that Lora faces.  I read this one alone and enjoyed the way the description was vivid, full of colour to enhance the imagination. Towns such as Our Town, Bandit Town and City Inside mean that the description is just enough to help any reader gain a full impression of the setting as a backdrop for the action. I enjoyed the use of the many Servo-furnishings; in this episode we are introduced to Barbra, a vocal and caring vending machine. The robots stick faithfully to Asimov’s three rules of robotics, meaning that on occasion, things may become a little predictable.  Having said that, my teenage daughters didn’t know Asimov and therefore the suspense was intact. We also meet another of the family: Aunty Ruby, who seems to be a natural matriarch and has her own agenda in the town.

The third and final book involved a plot which ties together the original travellers and their space ships along with the native Martians who now appear benevolent and a race enigmatically called ‘The Ancient Ones’.  There is a satirical message about the dangers of excessive screen time and also how dependent people seem to becoming on the use of tech. None of this is overly ‘preachy’ and it fits well into the story and Lora’s continuing quest to solve planet-sized problems.

The tale is rounded off with Lora managing to fulfil her quest and the dreams and wishes of several other characters are also fulfilled. I became quite fond of some of the non-human characters; Sook, Karl and the aforementioned Toaster.  This was a good trilogy to read with my daughters, we will finish the other two books when they are ready for more travels to Mars.


Charlotte and her husband and two daughters are an active family: the girls are readers, performers and part-time bakers.

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

 

Book review – Paul Magrs – “666 Charing Cross Road” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

Excitingly, I’ve been reading this one alongside Bookish Beck (thank you for participating!) and you will find her review here.  I last read this spooky chronicle in  September 2011 after I’d been sent a proof copy by the publisher. Back then I liked what I liked now, and took issue with something that didn’t bother me so much this time around; at least I was into writing decently long reviews by then!

Paul Magrs – “666 Charing Cross Road”

(08 September 2011)

A slightly-too-scary-for-me vampire novel set excitingly mainly in New York, with naturally an excursion to the famous bookselling road in London (somewhere I went a lot myself when I lived in central London). Magrs’ inimitable style translates well, I think, to its new location, and Headline clearly supported him with good editing and proofreading. There’s a lovely underlying celebration of genre novels although with some authors who have a touch of horror themselves, and of course a love of bookshops similar to that in last month’s read of “Exchange”.

There’s lots of intertextuality, with Mr Danby making an appearance, many nods to Helene Hanff and more. I loved the strong older (one very old!) female characters who are there to try to save the day (even Consuela, who ends up in a bit of a bad way, is still a strong matriarch by the end) and the respect Liza has as a publisher’s reader, and one of them has a sister in another link to others of Magrs’ books (I’ve loved picking out this aspect of the books, reading so many of them in one year). I still think Jack should be introduced to Robert from the Brenda and Effie series – can this happen, please? (or has it already?)

Daniel the villain is truly nasty and scary and his cult of personality is all too believable, but Bessie is not as alarming as the first time I read it, as I knew (in about the only bit of the novel that I remembered from last time) that she wasn’t a force of evil. She reminded me of the Green Witch from Susan Cooper’s novel this time around. I did still have to read the book in daylight hours, however … A suitable read for Halloween Month, especially as it’s set from now through to Christmastime!

Bookish Beck’s review is up here, and she enjoyed it, too, hooray!

Next up is a guest review from a friend who read the Mars Trilogy, and then I need to decide whether it’s a re-read of “Stardust and Snow” or the new “Christmassy Tales” for December …

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

 

State of the TBR October 2020

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We have no piles! I finished eighteen books (EIGHTEEN BOOKS!) in September (one was one I’d been reading for months with my best friend and one was a cartoon book, but still) and even though only five of those were from the physical shelf (five were ebooks, three review books that came in during the month, four were off the piles on top and one was from my main shelves) and I took one off that I just did not fancy reading (“Julian Grenfell” by Nicolas Moseley, a Persephone I bough in Oxfam, which I will gift onwards) it was enough to shift things around so that everything can stand up.

In fact, can you see, at the end … there’s a GAP! I can’t remember when I last had a space for one book on the TBR without creating Piles! And there aren’t many balanced on the top now, either, just three WW2 Angela Thirkell novels left to go!

I’m just finishing off the wonderful “Kitted Out” which I am reviewing for Shiny New Books, that will be done by the end of the day, and I’m currently reading “Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey” by Madeleine Bunting, which is a wonderful book taking its time on each of about 20 islands, with history and reportage and nature, and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” is my current readalong with best friend Emma. We’ve covered the first chapter so far – I did know a fair bit of the history it covers, much thanks to David Olusoga et al’s excellent Alt HIstory strand “Black British History We’re Not Taught in Schools“, but not all of it by any means, so I learned a lot about Black support organisations and fascinating individuals and I’m looking forward to reading more tonight.

Next up I need to read “Slay in Your Lane” by by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, which shared stories of successful Black British women and offers advice to Black women wishing to follow their paths, because I won their follow-up book, “Loud Black Girls”, where 20 writers ask what’s next on NetGalley and that’s published today. Then my Paul Magrsathon carries on with “666 Charing Cross Road” which I’ve selected because Bookish Beck can get hold of a copy and it fits into her plan for spooky October reading. Also recently published in Arvin Ahmadi’s “How it All Blew Up”, another NetGalley win, which is described thus: “A nuanced take on growing up brown, Muslim and gay in today’s America, HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is the story of one boy’s struggle to come out to his family, and how that painful process exists right alongside his silly, sexy romp through Italy. “

And after that, as I’m now beautifully almost only a year behind myself, and as the books on the start of my TBR, with one notable exception, are a bit samey – monocultural to an extent, and mainly about nature! – whereas the newest ones are a bit more diverse in all ways, I think I might start alternating again, especially now I can get to the back shelf without moving Piles. I do of course still have a million books on Kindle too, so those will feature as well, and I know of at least two review books winging their way to me. Fun times!

I have a week off work next week so hope for a good batch of reading then. Not going anywhere as I’m in the middle of the Midlands extra lockdown region and very near some big hotspots, so no day trips or meeting up with friends in their houses or gardens, let alone holidays, but some clearing out and, yes, lots of reading …

Have you read any of these featured books? What are your October reading plans? Any challenges?

Book review – Paul Magrs – “Exchange” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

Did you read my exclusive interview with Paul last month? I’m back onto reading my way through a good number of his books now, and spent a very pleasant afternoon in the garden at the weekend re-reading “Exchange”. This is the book that literally introduced me to Paul – I’d read his Phoenix Court novels and others but it was when I came across the concept of BookCrossing being mentioned in this novel that I tracked him down to the university where he was then teaching creative writing, dared to email him (I’ve only sent fan mail to him, Iris Murdoch and Erica Jong …) and now can call him a friend! Hooray!

I read this book previously in 2006 (I first read it VIA BookCrossing!) and 2012 – rather amusingly, I’d forgotten a big plot point around how the characters got to discussing BookCrossing but remembered the hero and the Book Exchange and the feel of the novel. And I’m pleased to say it was just as delightful, third time round!

Paul Magrs – “Exchange”

(28 April 2009)

Simon’s living with his grandparents after, in the grand tradition of young adult and children’s books through the ages, his parents are killed in an accident (I don’t mean to downplay that but it’s such a common way of freeing up your protagonist, isn’t it?). He spends Saturdays on days out to different towns, and bookshops, with his gran, Winnie:

It’s all tea cakes and Earl Grey and bags of sweets and lovely novels. What more could we want, eh? What more could we possibly want? (p. 25)

But Simon does want a little bit more, it turns out, so it’s exciting when they find a new Book Exchange and make some new friends (I loved fierce Kelly even more this time). This time around, this passage seemed to sum up the book for me:

Bitter and black. It sounded cool. Like a vampire or a hardbitten detective. Really, though, Simon liked his coffee with frothy milk, two sugars and a jaffa cake or two. (p. 71) (this has reminded me of my review of “The Diary of a Dr Who Addict“)

It’s funny, because last time it was this passage:

He was wooing her with gateaux and frothy mochas and the tender ministrations of his plastic hands …

although both are very “Paul Magrs” ways of putting things.

This time round I liked Ada, the writer Winnie knew in her childhood, a lot more, and I drew from the book the messages that it’s OK not to rush into things, that friendship is sometimes so very much the best option, and that we all need time to find ourselves. That’s a pretty good set of precepts to get out of a book, isn’t it. Simon is a typical Magrs hero, shy and sensitive and buried in books (cf “Starlight and Snow”, “Dr Who Addict”, “Strange Boy”, “All the Rage” and I love having such a gentle character at the centre of this rare non-magical Magrs read.

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

Bank holiday bonus! An interview with Paul Magrs #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Paul Magrs and Liz Dexter in Manchester in 2013

Paul and Liz in Manchester

As part of my Paul Magrsathon, in which I’ve been reading, and encouraging other people to read, the novels of Paul Magrs during the year, Paul kindly agreed to do an interview with me and here it is as a bank holiday bonus!

When I read “Exchange” (which I’m reading and reviewing next month), I got all over-excited when I came across its mention of BookCrossing, tracked Paul’s work (at the time) email address down and emailed him! Over the years, we’ve become friends, and I actually got to meet Paul back in 2013 (we had afternoon tea in the cafe of Manchester’s Art Museum and a poke around a few bookshops, of course).

I hope you enjoy this little view into Paul’s writing life …

Phoenix Court and beyond

Hello, Paul! So, what was it like revisiting Phoenix Court for the Lethe Press reprint?

It was very moving to return to them. I wrote them in my early twenties – and I felt so brave then! Mixing characters of all kinds of sexualities and bringing in magical realist effects, and writing about the streets and the towns in the North East of England that I grew up in. These books had wonderful reviews and they have fans, too – but like so many books they were allowed to drop through the net and go out of print – almost straight away. I thought they were gone forever, and I had resigned myself to that. But Steve Berman and Matt Bright at Lethe Press were determined to do nice new versions of them.

It was so exciting when they brought them back out and of course I rushed to take part in the pre-order! Did you change or edit the novels at all?

I decided not to alter the text of the books at all. I toyed with the idea, but it seemed somehow the wrong thing to do.

Fair enough! Who was your favourite character when you wrote them and how did that change?

My favourite character was always Penny, I think – the teen with the telekinetic powers. I brought her back as a grown up, years later in ‘Hell’s Belles’, and she joined the cast of the Brenda and Effie Mysteries. I love all my characters, though, and it’s hard to pick one out over another.

How did you decide which short stories to include in the reprinted volumes?

That was easy to decide on, but tricky to do. I dug out all the stories that were published in magazines and anthologies during those same years. Some of them complemented the novels rather nicely – ‘Nude on the Moon’ was commissioned by Lisa Tuttle for a collection of stories with an erotic theme, and it picked up Liz and Cliff’s story, so it was natural to put that in with ‘Does it Show?’  And ‘Patient Iris’ led to the publication of my first book, and it was obvious it should go at the start of ‘Marked for Life.’ Others have a more complicated history, for example the story ‘Jep’ – about the leopard-skinned baby – belongs to the middle of ‘Could it be Magic?’ It was cut (wrongly maybe?) at the edit stage, and finds its place now as a dreamlike flashback at the end of the book.

Oh, that makes sense. I think it should have gone back in but it’s great as a story, too. Tell us how “Fancy Man” got lost and how you reclaimed it.

It was a dreadful experience, having that cancelled. I was in the middle of various house moves and I was lecturing and writing and working too hard – and files and boxes of papers were put in the wrong place. What I thought was the complete manuscript of the book turned out to be only the first half – a very messed-up copy, ruined through rewriting. And I had no idea where the complete book was. I shrugged and moved on. ‘Fancy Man’ was clearly cursed. Books often fall by the wayside, and sometimes it’s for the best…  But then, years later – I found a fat folder of loose sheets. Foxed and spotted with damp and mould. And there it was! My lost novel. Just as Lethe was gearing up to do my first novels again. I think it was the process of looking out those ‘extra short stories’ that my missing fourth novel came back into my life…!

What’s your favourite book out of all the ones you’ve written?

This changes each time I’m asked the question. As of now – July 2020 – I would say it’s ‘The Story of Fester Cat.’ It’s so personal. It was so immediate and direct and a book that I had to write, there and then, working in a blaze of energy that’s quite rare. I was very proud of that book. Penguin US brought it out, and I was hugely disappointed it never came out in this country. It seems like it’s in limbo now, which is a shame. People really love that book.

Would you change any of the books you’ve written, looking back on them now?

Very interesting question! I’ve developed and changed in so many ways. I’d write all of them completely differently now. I’d be stricter with plotting, probably. I’d take fewer crazy detours and be less experimental. But I’m not sure that would improve them!  I think I’d make many of my books *longer.* I think, being slightly older, I find I want to stay in the story longer than I did. I don’t want to leave those stories.

Is there a book by someone else you wish you’d written?

Many! But then they wouldn’t be mine, or theirs, any more. I read to escape my own writing, and I write to escape other people’s.

I love that! What’s the best bit of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

‘Keep it on camera.’ From the tutor of my MA Writing Course, David Craig, in 1991.

That’s brilliant! And you do. You teach and write about writing: what do you think the best bit of writing advice is that you’ve given someone?

Write every day.

Good advice. Who are your top five favourite authors and why?

I love writers who feel as if they’re sitting down and telling me *stuff.* Who are saying to me: ‘Oh, it’s you again – hello! Here, listen to this…’  And I’d say – Anne Tyler, Armistead Maupin, Truman Capote, Natalie Goldberg, Alan Bennett.  Many, many others, too. I read a lot. And I’m always listening for that chatty, confiding, trusting voice.

Ah, I’m re-reading all of Anne Tyler next year! Is there anyone else who writes like you, who “goes with” you? Someone who “If you like Paul Magrs novels, you will like this”?

I really, really don’t know. Aspects of what I do you might get elsewhere, in other people’s books. But I’m not really like anyone. That’s what people in publishing often say – like it’s a terrible and difficult thing. But I think it’s a good thing. It’s a Tigger kind of thing.

And you know what? I think you’re right!

Thanks so much to Paul for taking the time to think about and write down the answers to these questions – very illuminating and interesting!

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

Book review- Paul Magrs – “All the Rage” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

I was really looking forward to re-reading this one and it didn’t disappoint. I first read it in 2002 from the library (that must have been Lewisham Library, where I discovered Paul’s books from the late 90s onwards, and probably the last one of his I had from there, as I swapped over to the smaller Charing Cross Library when I moved into central London in 2003), and then again in 2008 after buying it in Hay-on-Wye in May of that year. I do love having authors I can re-read, although I know a lot of people don’t do much re-reading (I think next year  might include a re-reading challenge of some sort).

Paul Magrs – “All the Rage”

(18 May 2008 – bookshop in Hay-on-Wye)

A ‘straight’ novel with no magic realism but still with Paul’s trademark wit and warmth, revolving around the story, in alternate chapters, of a boy-girl-boy-girl band in the 1980s who mess up their Eurovision chance but are taken to the hearts of the British public then follows the inevitable trajectory of fall-outs and new musical directions, and of Tim discovering Debbie Now in her mum’s karaoke bar years later and embarking on an epic road and rail trip around the UK of her past. Discovering their hit is going to be covered by a vapid starlet, they collect Tony, Debs’ old best friend (who lives with a rather marvellous creation, another has-been pop star, who has gone beyond gender and, it appears, sense) and then her ex-husband Clive as the plot spins faster and faster, ending up with a hilarious set-piece.

Will meeting Tony be a let-down for Tim, who saw him as someone like him on the telly before he even knew who he was? Is Tim’s job at the shop selling rubbish for your house gone forever (funnily enough, the scenes in the store rooms at the beginnning of the novel made me think of Catherine O’Flynn’s “What Was Lost“, which is partly set in the backstage of a shopping centre, and of course I found I read both novels in April and August 2008!) and can he repair his friendship with colleague Shanna?

Full of warmth – Tony being the centre of this, supporting Debs by shouting out the truth about both of them at school, carefully laundering Tim and Debs’ clothes when they stay over – and care for characters who don’t have much self-confidence (Tim is “just … being nice, not wanting to disappoint people”). There are also big, over-the-top characters: Brenda the fourth member of the band with her helmet of telly hair and Roy the enormous and unapologetic transvestite band manager. Oh, and characters from other novels, something I love about Pau’s books – I whooped out loud when they met a tall, black guy working in a chip shop in Blackpool and yes! it was Timon from “Fancy Man” (although that book was lost by then, so this is the first time I would have made that connection!)

A great fun re-read with a big, warm heart.


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series plus Paul’s excellent books about creative writing are available new. Find all my posts here.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “The Diary of a Dr Who Addict” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

A re-read of a book I first read back in 2014. I was going to pick up a few of Paul’s novels that I didn’t have to read during my Magrsathon, but unfortunately quite a lot of the older ones are now out of print and I’m feeling (temporarily I hope) a bit funny about second-hand books, even ordered online and quarantined. But what a joy to go back to this one and spend a Sunday afternoon in the company of a boy working out what his place in the world might be.

Paul Magrs – “The Diary of a Dr Who Addict”

(08 December 2013, BookCrossing Not-So-Secret Santa gift)

A re-read of this lovely, warm little coming-of-age tale where David must adjust to a new stepdad plus his American mum (one of those great older adults who love books and reading who often crop up in Paul’s novels) as well as his emerging sexuality, the development of his writing and his troubled relationship with his former best friend, Robert, who appears to be moving away from him alarmingly. One major place this shows up is in their relationship to Dr Who – as Peter Davison becomes The Doctor, and they get the chance to go to the big exhibition in Blackpool, Robert starts to see the home-made, contingent feeling of the show (The Show) as a failing, not a strength.

There are as usual some fabulous strong women characters in the book, with Robert’s sister particularly trying to break out of the standard mould, and a big theme of the fine line between over-protection and too much freedom. Robert and David’s differing personalities and experiences are beautifully summed up:

Robert is an anarchist. He read something about being one in the NME and now he gets cross about most things we have to do, especially at school. I find the whole anarchist thing interesting, but quite hard to get a grip on. The idea of no rules at all makes me feel a bit unsteady. (p. 41)

We do have a positive ending as David dares to break free a little but in a controlled way, just as he wants it; as he watches Robert showing off with a pint, he meets a quite different friend, a role model and one who, amazingly, doesn’t mock David for his interest. Hooray!


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series plus Paul’s excellent books about creative writing are available new.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Fancy Man” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Look at me, all done with my Paul Magrsathon book and it’s only half-way through the month! I was very intrigued by this one, his fourth and lost novel, republished by Lethe Press along with his Phoenix Court trilogy (you can buy them all from their website or on Amazon) after he found the slightly damp manuscript in his writing shed and decided to revisit it. I’ve now finished all the Lethe reissues and thoroughly enjoyed them. As usual, you get an introduction talking about the context and writing of the book and two bonus short stories.

Paul Magrs – “Fancy Man”

(11 April 2018)

A standalone novel which only has a glance at Phoenix Court but does inhabit the same 1990s Edinburgh world as “Could it Be Magic?” including some of the same fabulous queer venues. I loved this romp through the life of third sister Wendy, her best friend Timon and her cousin Colin (someone who is HIV+ and doesn’t die, making a change from a lot of novels of a similar vintage) as she moves from Blackpool on the death of her mother to move in with Auntie Anne of the ‘good legs’ and her lottery-winner ex-husband (are you keeping up here?) in Edinburgh. Her two older sisters serve as alternative paths she could have taken, one using life as art in a writing career, the other settling for boring housewifedom.

As the editor who turned this one down pointed out, everyone in the book is a little bit odd – but then again, isn’t everybody a bit odd in life anyway? I particularly loved the German amputee laundrette owners, one of whom is hilariously given her own section to narrate, and then there are UFO-spotters and a unicorn death cult as well as all sorts of odd goings on. It’s alternate fiction, set in a world where Scotland is independent and you go through a tartan arch to get there on the train, although this aspect isn’t really dwelt on, just a little funny addition. Great fun and perfectly readable, with a more solid timeline going through a section of just one character’s life. it is supposed to be based around James’ “Portrait of a Lady” which I read on holiday in Tunisia in 1999 and do not remember, but you certainly don’t need to have read or know that book to enjoy this one.

There’s a magical Christmas story in “Glittery Fag” where you can create your own hero if you try hard enough, and thrillingly, lovely Robert from the Brenda and Effie novels has an adventure with his aunt in Venice in “Baubles”.


Next month I’m starting the Mars trilogy, which I’m a bit trepidatious about as I don’t read much sci-fi or other-planetary stuff in general. I trust Paul, but I hope I can keep up with the tropes he uses and, I’m sure, subtly undermines. Anyone fancy reading them along with me?

Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

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