Tag Archives: Ian Fleming

Bring on the scare

Earlier this week I found myself enthusiastically agreeing with an article in the Sydney Morning Herald with the engaging headline Why it’s good to horrify children.

The thrust of the article by Irish author John Connolly, linked above for your viewing pleasure, is that scary books are good for kids. That young adults might actually take some useful life lessons from these tales. That stories where characters conquer the darkest of situations might just show kids that they can overcome tough times too.

Mr Connolly and I are of a very similar vintage and grew up in the era before bookstores developed YA sections. Judging from his article, we worked our way through the same canon of adult authors: Wyndham, MacLean, Fleming, King, Stoker, Mary Shelley and more. (The Shining scared me silly and it took me until this year to summon the courage to watch the movie (alone) – only to be scared all over again.)

Prior to tackling these adult authors I had early exposure to horror through the Grimm brothers’ collections of ‘fairy tales’. Anyone considered the subject material of Rumplestiltskin lately? Deceit, death penalties, abduction, pledging your first born child…

Anyway, I endorse Mr Connolly’s words for a few reasons:

1. I reckon young readers need to explore the dark side from a safe place. Where better than in books?

2. Whenever I visit schools or conduct writing workshops I can guarantee that the students, no matter how lively, will shut up and listen if I discuss things I’ve seen from my crime reporting days. The darker and gorier the better.

3. Storytellers have been using scary tales since the beginning of time to teach lessons to children. I’m familiar with the story of the Nargun from the indigenous Gunai Kurnai clans of south eastern Victoria. The Nargun lived in a cave or “den” under a waterfall, pictured here, and would come out after dark to snare children who had wandered too far from their family campfires. At its simplest, it was a horror story of children being eaten by a monster. At a functional level, it assisted with birth control by deterring teens from sneaking off and getting frisky – and kept them away from a particularly sacred site.

Hmmm, wonder if I can conjure up a Nargun before my kids hit adolescence?

No Bonding experience

My mates and I caught the new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, last week. Very disappointing. Perhaps it’s because the flick wasn’t based on one of Ian Fleming’s novels. It just felt flat.

Despite having grown up with Sean Connery and Roger Moore as Bond (childhood flashback to seeing the actual Lotus submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me at the Melbourne Motor Show – very cool!) I’ve got no issue with Daniel Craig’s more aggro version of the hitman. My problem is that all the elements from the books I loved as a boy and recommend to boys today are being neglected.

Quantum of Solace featured a wimpy villain, only a token nod to Bond’s womanising ways, action scenes that seemed to be there for the sake of action rather than for the (vague) plot, no suspense, little humour and characters that, apart from M, were as engaging as cardboard cut-outs. On top of all that, the heroine was fairly clueless, rather than sassy and smart-mouthed as Fleming seemed to prefer.

I’ve seen reviews that said QoS is more Bourne than Bond. Yes, sure, but at least the Bourne films had a plot and tension. QoS started with a half decent car chase and deteriorated from there.

What spoke to me was just how excited my mates were to be seeing a new Bond film. The original Ian Fleming recipe still appeals to boys of all ages, over several generations. Time to review the ingredients list, film folk.

Books for boys

An invitation to speak at a book-flavoured breakfast for fathers and sons this week saw me cover a couple of topics – a brief version of my Melbourne Writers’ Festival chat on Ned Kelly and a rundown of the books that I enjoyed reading as a lad. For good measure, I threw in those that I’ve read recently and would recommend to male readers.

Some of the fathers have since requested the list and it goes as follows:

John Wyndham cover
John Wyndham cover

Childhood favourites
To the Wild Sky – Ivan Southall
Biggles books generally – Capt W.E. Johns (mainly because my Dad had oodles of these.)
A Pictorial History of Bushrangers – Tom Prior et. al
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series – C.S. Lewis
Asterix books – Goscinny & Uderzo (a great way to learn wordplay and puns)
Tintin books – Herge (Is this why I became a reporter?)
The Chrysalids / The Trouble with Lichen / The Midwich Cuckoos … anything by John Wyndham
The Stand – Stephen King
Blade Runner – Philip K Dick (actual book title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
1984 – George Orwell
A Kindness Cup – Thea Astley (a book that I believe still influences my life)
The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien

And while I forgot to mention them on Thursday, I’d also include just about all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.

Current recommendations for YA readers
The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling (more fun to read to my son than solo)
Tomorrow When the War Began series – John Marsden (favourite book Burning for Revenge)
Boys of Blood & Bone – David Metzenthen
Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori series) – Lian Hearn
Samurai Kids series (White Crane, Owl Ninja, others to follow) – Sandy Fussell (My son and I got a lot of laughs out of these books.)
Gravity – Scot Gardner (also One Dead Seagull and White Ute Dreaming)
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Fighting Ruben Wolfe – Markus Zusak
The Messenger – Markus Zusak

Of course, there are plenty more titles that have inspired and informed me. When I work out the technology, I hope to post a library shelf to show you what’s currently on my bedside table.

Happy reading.

NB: This post has attracted a LOT of eyeballs. For those who are interested, here’s a follow up post where I expand on my ideas about boys and reading.

To check out my personal library, click here. I have added a Books for Boys tag to anything I think cuts the mustard.