Tag Archives: Nicholas Stuart Gray

The Literary Cat – Cat as Catalyst


The cat versus dog argument is as old as time. In The Curious Incidence of Dogs in Publishing  Daniel Engber argues that while cats rule the internet, dogs reign in print. Alison Flood responded with Are cats top dogs in the world of literature?, claiming that literary cats still hold the crown.

It must be taken into account when arguing this whether you are a dog or a cat person, because there will always be a certain amount of bias. I am not a dog person, I have always owned cats. The dogs I have known well only amount to two, my best friend’s Jack Russell terrier, some 20 odd years ago, and another friend’s pit bull, probably another ten years ago. Far from being at all ferocious, the pit bull would spend all of my visit to his home determinedly trying to lick me. When any exposed hands, feet or face failed him he would then proceed to drool on my shoes. He left me with the lasting impression that dogs are slightly dopey. Only my current neighbour’s dog, some little thing of which breed I have no idea, has really delighted me. He makes constant bids for freedom and bares his ridiculously small teeth at me when I admonish him to go home. There is a dog with a courageous spirit.

Now I have come across enough dogs in my reading. Growing up on Enid Blyton, it was clear she thought dogs were the real family pet. With the exception of a few, cats were never the centre of the family and usually had a puppy companion. They still never enchanted me enough to want a dog. Because dogs lack that mysterious, ethereal quality that cats have.

There may be some heroic dogs in literature, but a dog is mainly companion, loyal and steadfast friend. There are cats who are literary icons. Let’s face it, cats will always steal the show.

Let’s look at one of the most recognised figures in children’s literature

The Cat in the Hat
Everybody loves The Cat in the Hat. While it’s true Go Dog Go also sported a hat, he’s just not as stylish.


Literary legend Puss in Boots. Much argued-about by adults, and much-loved by children. But still a trickster.
The-Cheshire-Cat118 years on, the Cheshire Cat is still one of the most weird and wonderful magical cats in all of literature. While the term “grinning like a Cheshire Cat” was coined earlier than Alice in Wonderland,  it has since largely been associated with Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat.



Cats are of course a traditional witch’s companion. Sometimes good, sometimes villain, usually black. J.K Rowling bent the black-cat-rules slightly with the wonderful Crookshanks, Hermoine Granger’s squashed-faced familiar. Crookshanks aided Sirius Black in uncovering the identity of Peter Pettigrew in one of my favourite plot-twists of all time. All thanks to the cat.



Another beloved cat in children’s literature, the Carbonel series by Barbara Sleigh featured the beautiful black cat Carbonel, but not a willing witch’s companion. Carbonel was kidnapped by the evil witch Mrs. Cantrip as a kitten, but he had a bigger destiny, as King of Cats. While he does enlist the help of children Rosemary and John (or subjects, rather) to escape, he always lets them know who is boss.


pangurbanPangur Bán first appeared in the 9th century. It is an old Irish poem written by an unknown Irish monk about his cat.  Twelve centuries on he appeared in Fay Sampson’s Pangur Bán series featuring Pangur Bán, his friend, Niall the monk, and Finnglas, a Welsh princess. You could definitely call him one of the oldest cats in literature.

Grimbold of the night world is one of the most outstanding cats in literature. He slips between the mundane and magical realms, a weaver of magic and a changer of fortunes. He may disdain human folly in a typical cat-like fashion, but Grimbold understands much more about humans than human do about themselves. A superb catalyst, aided by an equally brilliant little boy, in one of the finest tales of magic ever told.

I Can’t Believe You’ve Never Read…

little_womenI have long since lost count of how many times I have heard this. Last year I remember deciding to read Little Women, to the shock of several people I know who all said the same thing “I can’t believe you haven’t read it” Well I hadn’t, never seen the movie either, so I read the book. I also spent most of the book waiting for Beth to die, because at least three people told me “Beth is so sad” Well, she didn’t die, she got sick, and recovered.  I won’t say I felt cheated though. Only a bit baffled. I haven’t read on yet.

I suspect it was slightly too American for me, that is to say pleasant rambling American houses and fields don’t quite capture my imagination like a Dickensian London or an English country house does. I still prefer Little Princess or Secret Garden. But as for classics I “should have” read when I was a kid, I still have some catching up to do.

I’m going to have to blame my primary school librarian. I asked Mel yesterday if she remembered what books we had in the library (as we went to primary school together) and we agreed there was not a lot in the way of English classics. A lot of Enid Blyton, there was a set of Narnia books, probably a couple of Edith Nesbit, and that’s all I remember. We both think there was a lot of Aussie authors, and I remember there were a lot of Paul Jennings books. So while I remember reading the Narnia books over and over, and there was probably Francis Hodgson Burnett, P.L Travers and Mary Norton, there was no Rosemary Sutcliff, Susan Cooper, Nicholas Stuart Gray or Barbara Sleigh. No Chalet School either, or Elsie J. Oxenham.

I often read what was lying around the house. And anything people told me was “too old” for me, this would guarantee me reading it. Animal Farm became my favourite book and led to a life-long affair, after I borrowed my brother’s school copy to read. Of course he told me I wouldn’t get it as I was only ten, well I think I still get it in the way I got it when I was ten. Twenty-five years on I still read it almost every year, sometimes more.

I didn’t catch up in my teens either. I was reading either crappy teen books (usually my sister’s) or indulging my teenage angst and reading bleak classics (when I started blowing all of my pocket money at the Moorabbin Book Exchange every week) Well to be fair I read a lot of the less-bleak classics too. Still I had a strange fondness for Camus and Dostoyevsky.

I still have never finished Crime and Punishment, I will not lie.

As a bookseller I still discover new/old children’s authors. Being a collector I need to get a set together before I start reading, matching of course, so I can indulge in a day or two or a week in a new fairytale.

This week, The Borrowers.


2013 Reading List – The Return of the King



I am still suffering some severe Hobbit-fever.

history-middle-earthOf course January usually begins with Tolkien for me, and I’ve finished my yearly read of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This year for the first time I’ve gone straight into further reading, and a few days ago I finished reading The Silmarillion for the first time in many, many years (and seemingly no less difficult than the first time I read it). Last year I painstakingly collected the massive 12-part-plus-index History of Middle Earth, plus the two-part History of the Hobbit to add to my collection. After checking out an article from the Tolkien Library on Recommended Reading Order I’ve decided to continue on with Unfinished Tales and The Book of Lost Tales part One and Two for this month.

The book I am most looking forward to this year is The Fall of Arthur, with my favourite author of all time telling one of my favourite mythologies.

Christopher Tolkien is releasing another previously unpublished work this year in May. The Fall of Arthur is based on King Arthur’s last days, and will also include three essays by Christopher, one being a look at the links between the story of King Arthur and Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

I will undoubtedly want to read more on Arthut after I am finished. I have already read quite a few mythology books on Arthur so I’d like  to re-read some old and try some new fiction. For now I’ve ordered the Merlin books by Mary Stewart, which Craig recommended for my historical fiction reading. Other titles will probably be in the children’s fiction genre.

(and just when I think I am safe from more Voyager Collector Editions)


Several of these new cloth-bound editions are now on my list.

T.H White’s Once and Future King and Book of Merlyn is high on my list for children’s books this year. I am determined to get a lot more children’s books read this year, especially ones I haven’t read before. I have a set of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth  and Legend of King Arthur books, Fay Sampson’s Finglass books and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising Sequence to get through first. Next on the list is The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, some Edith Nesbit, Philippa Pearce and more Nicholas Stuart Gray, my favourite new find last year.


Being a speculative fiction fan is a life-long quest. If I ever think I have managed to make a small dent in my reading then I just discover another twelve epic series I need to catch up on.

On the fantasy/science fiction front (and it is looking to be a fantasy-themed reading year) I’ve got some Orson Scott Card, Rowena Cory Daniells, Sheri S. Tepper, Robin Hobb, Terry Pratchett and Richard K. Morgan on the pile. I’ve not got a lot of YA titles on my list, just some Garth Nix and I have a copy of The Hunger Games here, which I have been eyeing with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity.

Authors I am terribly behind on still include Raymond E. Feist (ten books!), who is releasing the last book on Midkemia this year, and Robert Jordan.

I’m actually slightly envious of everyone who is finally reading the last book in The Wheel of Time saga, I started reading them about 10 years ago and still have four to catch up on.

George R.R Martin has released a sample chapter, from The Winds of Winter, the next book in a Song of Ice and Fire. You can read it here. I am of course, holding off until the book is released, and refusing to get excited until Dymocks actually emails me to tell me I can pre-order the book.


2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Olga has
read 5 books toward her goal of 70 books.





2012 The Year in Reading and Other Bookish Things


 “I am in fact, a hobbit in all but size” J.R.R Tolkien

I have been enjoying a rather Hobbity holiday. This is usually the time of the year I start reading Lord of the Rings, and watching the movies (my new Blu Ray boxed set this year) but I don’t always read The Hobbit before I start LOTR, in fact I will usually read it later. Having read it directly before I started Fellowship of the Ring I was able to enjoy it more as a prequel, more than usual in any case. I sometimes forget the references to Dale and the Mountain during Bilbo’s birthday party, the last chapter in The Lord of the Rings in which we are still allowed to be children.

Of course we had been looking forward to The Hobbit movie all year, and it did not fail to disappoint. Our traditional Boxing Day cinema day was at Imax this year, which was very nearly a disaster. As a rule I don’t usually go to first sessions in 3D (from a past experience where they couldn’t get the 3D working) so I booked the early afternoon session for us. When we got to the absolutely packed Imax cinema we went downstairs to wait in line. 30 minutes past the start of the session time we were still waiting and rumours were floating around that the projector had broken. This caused everything from tears to outrage to people looking extremely ill. We were fortunate they fixed it (we got in about 45 minutes later) as when we got home we discovered the people in the first session had been ejected after the projector broke.

Also,  not cleaning the lens,  leaving fibres magnified to enormous proportions on the screen through the whole film was distracting and not acceptable.

Also I couldn’t use my new Oakley 3D glasses Craig got me for Christmas, and every time I tilted my head the screen blurred.

Needless to say, Imax is now on my mortal enemy list.

Our second viewing was in 48 frames the following Sunday. It certainly is impressive, it’s outstanding in a CGI-heavy film, but it took me much longer to get used to than I thought it would. I thought I’d be good after ten minutes but it took me most of the film to “not notice” it. I have planned one last viewing, and I’ll probably see it in regular 24 fps 3D. No distractions.

The movie itself? Just perfect. Everything I wanted and more. And better than LOTR, as I was expecting it to be. I read an interesting article today which was talking about the critics panning it. I was surprised, of course, until I started reading the sort of comments the critics were making. My favourite stupid remark was any reference to the “necromancer”-cum-Sauron in The Hobbit is merely “Jackson cross-promoting his earlier films,”

Really? If you’re not familiar with the vast world of Middle Earth and are wondering why Jackson chose to make three films I suggest you read the following article

Dislike Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit? Then You Don’t Know Tolkien

And behold,  my Tolkien reading pile. Fear it.



Back to last years reading, I read far too many…

History Books

I haven’t checked exactly how many I read on my Goodreads list but it was a many-month quest until my brain started screaming in protest. Tudor history to be exact, many good, and a few very bad.

Favourite history book this year goes to Julia Fox’s Sister Queens and she’s on my favourite historian list again. Julia Fox has taken a much-maligned woman in history and turned history on its head, again.

Worst history book I read last year was The Boleyns by David Loades. Loades is usually a lauded historian so I was expecting far better, and at least accurate information, and I got little.

This brings me to my beef with Amberley Publishing (who published Loades’ last book and will be publishing his next one). Currently cashing in on the Tudor craze, Amberley are releasing Tudor History books at an alarming rate. Historians don’t usually release one book a year, they’re not writing fiction, and I suspect most of the stuff they are publishing is flimsy, and forced. I bought three of their books last year and only found one of them mildly satisfying.

Also,  re-releasing the truly appalling “biography” of Anne Boleyn by Norah Lofts is going too far.

And an excellent birthday present from Craig…


Nugæ Antiquæ by Sir John Harington, from the library of Thomas Philip de Grey, 2nd Earl de Grey of Wrest Park and where I suspect Volume II may still reside. This one came from Ireland, where he was Lord Lieutenant from 1841 to 1844

Now onto…

Historical Fiction

Which I did tell myself I wouldn’t read too much of this year, but I did. A lot when I was sick in bed with the flu, but I did discover one gem.

Susan Higginbotham’s, Her Highness, The Traitor hands down, the best Tudor historical fiction I have read to date. While I don’t think complete historical accuracy is absolutely necessary, it is really wonderful to read a book that is historically accurate with excellent storytelling.

I should also mention Philippa Gregory’s The Kingmaker’s Daughter , the latest instalment in the Cousins War series. This book focused on Anne Neville, and the series is starting to come together beautifully. The crossover of the events from The White Queen from a different character’s point-of-view was superb. Philippa also released an interesting YA novel this year, Changeling. Don’t let the publisher’s blurb fool you, this isn’t the usual paranormal fare. It’s historical with a nice throwback to older children’s mystery books, and I loved it.

I think I am the only person in the world who hated  Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. Truly.

And onto…

Fantasy Books

I did not read nearly enough new fantasy books this year, I only read half-a-dozen and mostly young adult. I read my first Garth Nix (and was lucky enough to meet him at an author talk this year) A Confusion of Princes and am planning on reading a lot more of his books soon.

I also really enjoyed Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, although I didn’t quite buy her  protagonist as a cold-blooded assassin (always difficult in YA books when there’s the inevitable love-triangle) I enjoyed the story-telling, and I enjoyed Celaena. And the candy.

Worst fantasy book, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Jorgy-Porgy hardly made my blood run cold, I spent most of the book scoffing at him.

Also people please check the actual definition of sociopath, a much over-used word. I know it sounds really cool to say aloud , but it doesn’t apply to everyone who behaves badly.

We certainly did get a lot of visitors to the blog after that review. Thanks Mark.

I bought a couple of  Tolkien-related books, The Art of the Hobbit with Tolkien’s complete artwork for The Hobbit and a stunning signed and numbered deluxe edition of Cor Blok’s Tolkien artwork, A Tolkien Tapestry: Pictures to Accompany The Lord of the Rings. Cor Blok ‘s illustrations appeared on the covers of the Dutch editions and Tolkien himself owned two of his paintings. This is one of my favourites, Riddles in the Dark



On Children’s Books

I didn’t start reading many until later in the year, some time after I had finished a whole lot of history books, but I read steadily until my traditional pre-Christmas Chronicles of Narnia re-read.

Note to self: change reading order of Narnia from publisher’s recommended chronological order to C.S Lewis’s published order. Or I will spend Christmas morning sobbing over the turkey again as Narnia falls.

I started off with a few Noel Streatfeild, who is, in a word, gorgeous. Favourite so far is Thursday’s Child.

I managed to get the rest of the sequels to Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C O’Brien, his daughter Jane Leslie Conly, who did a wonderful job on them.

Much earlier in the year I read the Wind in the Willows for the first time since having it read to me more than 25 years ago. I then discovered the sequels by William Horwood. You can read about my Wanders in the Willows here. I think Horwood wrote flawless sequels to these books, and they are probably the best continuation of a classic I have ever read. They also led to much weeping.

The Song of Pentecost by W.J Corbett was a real find. It follows the quest of a tribe of harvest mice leaving their home which is being overrun by humans and pollution. There are two sequels which I also read, but the first book was my favourite.

“And ever the stars in their millions shone down
on the world, and it’s folk
for they shall
we all shall, have stars”

(From the Ballad of Fox of Furrowfield)

But the best for last…


I think the greatest treasures I came across this year was Nicholas Stuart Gray. Nicholas Stuart Gray’s books have not been reprinted, and are really rather difficult to get hold of. I discovered them a few years ago as a bookseller, but had never read them. Cassandra Golds (one of my favourite authors) is a big fan of his books and I had seen her mention him often enough to rouse my curiosity.  Earlier in the year I started putting a few aside for myself, a small collection of six books so far. Then early in December I read one, then another three in rapid succession. I really could not put them down, they are weird and wonderful, both humorous and grave, and they have an amazing and surprising depth to them.


And now, Farewell…


Maurice Sendak










Margaret Mahy










Jan Berenstain











Nina Bawden











Ray Bradbury











Bryce Courtenay











Professor Eric Ives