We’re very pleased to feature a guest post, especially as it has been written by fellow author Keith Anthony, whose debut novel, Times and Places was published last year.
It is a warm and deeply touching read with many serendipitous echoes of the key themes in Legend of the Lost. Here, Keith explores those similarities…
In February 2018, my novel Times and Places was published, in which Fergus (a late middle aged man) seeks to come to terms with the loss, a decade earlier, of his only child, twenty-four year old Justine.
The chapters alternate between an exotic present-day cruise, taken by Fergus, and other key “times and places” in his and Justine’s lives over the years.
Since losing his daughter, Fergus has become increasingly anxious, and he hopes this idyllic holiday will help him conquer his nerves. In fact, a series of bizarre events and close confinement with his fellow passengers – particularly an overbearing, somehow spiderish woman he nicknames the “Arachnid Lady” – bring him to a transformational crisis, a point of change.
I explore what it might be like to lose a loved one long before their time, and examine the questions of faith such a trauma would pose.
I wanted to do so within an accessible book which, as well as deploying pathos, was rich in observational humour, romance, spiced with gothic horror and which followed a number of different strands to weave around each other, converging neatly at the end.
The choice of an alternating chapter format allowed my story to visit diverse locations, enabling me to capture and compare the rich beauty of our world.
Times and Places is published by the Book Guild and each month I look for their latest standout publications.
There is a certain kinship between authors sharing a small publisher, and the variety is astonishing. In this way, I came across Legend of t Lost and fellow author Ian P Buckingham.
I was first drawn to its cover and enigmatic title, but disappointed to discover it was aimed at older children and younger adults… alas, not me! Yet I still felt an appeal.
I started to follow and exchange messages with Ian on Twitter. We connected over a mutual enthusiasm for UK wildlife and before long, as Ian reflected on similarities between our work, I decided – whatever my age – to give Legend of the Lost a try and I’m very pleased I did.
I don’t know why some adults are reticent to admit to reading fantasy or children’s books. The Harry Potter phenomenon should have put paid to that. Nevertheless, you might expect a young person’s fantasy novel to be very different fromy adult fiction, my genre. Yet it soon became apparent our books have a spirit and several themes in common.
They both have a journey and discovery motif, they both have loss and discovery at their core and in addition, both are part set in West Cornwall with their hearts in the Chiltern countryside. What’s more, in the respective books, nature is magical, but vulnerable.
Of course, in Legend of the Lost, as well as people and animals, our world is shared simultaneously by faerie-folk, nymphs, mermaids, witches and werebeasts of every description – there is a super-natural element, but it remains paralell to the natural just as the pastoral and the civil run side by side in mine.
Foxes make brief but charismatic appearances in both books, as my cover implies, and Ian’s caricature of Vulpe the vixen is spot on:
“Foxes are neither dogs nor cats, neither weak nor strong, neither fast nor slow. They are, in many ways, the best of all those animals and tread a fine line between most things, including the so-called forces for good and ill”.
An underlying theme in Legend of the Lost is how, too often, human industries poison and pollute the natural world, literally turning nature bad in a variety of ways both literal and metaphoric. I too tried to capture man’s environmental impact by taking my idealised vision of Slovenia (a country I love) and comparing it with crowded southern England.
On a visit there, Justine’s boyfriend marvels at the unspoiled Slovenian countryside which:
“…left him jealous that his own country’s rural culture was rather less valued, ever increasingly squeezed by expanding cities, and scarred by the transport links between them.”
As its title suggests, a feeling of time and place is distilled into my novel. I was struck that the same could be sensed in Ian’s. For example, on the ship, Fergus dances with his wife and reflects back on the parties of his youth:
“…there how you danced mattered, here it didn’t. He pictured his struggling youthful self without envy, he was happy to be when and where he was, in this time and place…”
While, in Legend of the Lost, reflecting on impactful moments in her young life, Holly muses how:
“She loved a mystery and what a delight that this one was right here and now in her favourite time and place.”
I hope also that both books, within their wild imaginings, project important nuggets of truth.
I was struck by Ian’s conclusion, echoing his earlier description of the complexity of the character of the duplicitous fox:
“One of the gravest mistakes people make in life is to assume that people are all good or all bad. The truth is that sometimes bad things happen to people we thought of as good and great things can happen to those we formerly considered evil.”
On the face of it, there is not a fantastic creature, not a faerie, nymph or mermaid to be found in Times and Places. Yes the books are different and target distinct ages, yet I do think they are visited by that same spirit, that of our natural – even super-natural – world. Its siren voice calls out, reminding us of what is important and that, like the fox or Werewytch in Legend of the Lost and the Arachnid Lady in Times and Places, nothing and nobody is entirely good or bad.
Ian’s whimsical and fantastical settings were enchanting. Legend of the Lost is beautifully written, with grown-up lessons for children and for adults who have retained their sense of wonder. It reminded me how we learn so many of our values from the great books we read as children, whether with adults or independently.
While our two books have their own, individual messages as well, I’m pleased they have such cross-over, that they share a magic I so wanted Times and Places to project!
Genre labels and categories can be miseading at times. Hopefully, to readers of any age, both books offer reflections on the pressures facing the world we humans dominate, but which we share with our animal neighbours… and, who knows, maybe the faerie folk who tend them too?