Kid’s Lit At The Olympic Opening Ceremony

After what has seemed an interminable wait the London 2012 Olympics have finally arrived. I am incredibly excited about the whole thing having secured a ticket for the women’s basketball (I will report back from my visit to the Olympic Park next Sunday) and, equally exciting, a ticket for Paralympic weight lifting.

It was the official opening ceremony last night and today’s Tortoise Soup blog will give my views of the ceremony and especially the section devoted to children’s literature. As a Brit, I can have a tendency to be overly cynical. I was expecting the ceremony to be pretty rubbish in all honesty: as a nation we are skint, the unions are calling strikes left, right and centre and the previous Beijing opening ceremony had set a remarkably high benchmark. Well, I was proved very wrong as the ceremony surpassed all of my expectations and delivered a Gold medal performance of its own.

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Danny Boyle is an enigma. I loved his ‘Trainspotting’ but was left cold by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and disappointed by everything else that he has directed. But he was spot on with his direction last night: we didn’t try to outdo China, we ignored that ceremony altogether and went our own special way.

Yes, the Olympics should be primarily about sport but Boyle chose to make the opening ceremony abou three things that we Brits as a nation should treasure: our industrial heritage; our sense of humour; our culture.

There were brilliantly bizarre moments of humour: Mr Bean played the Chariots Of Fire tune, the Queen skydived from a helicopter with James Bond. These perfectly summed up our inherent eccentricity that is in danger of being lost in the increasing globalisation of our island.

The most brilliant section of all though was the one dedicated to children’s literature. I believe that culture is the leading legacy that the United Kingdom has left to the world. From Chaucer to Betjeman, from Purcell to Britten and the Beatles, from Gainsborough to Hockney – these purveyors of genius are the true heroes of Britannia.

I also believe that children’s literature is the most important literature of all. I used to read a book every night as a child, I loved the Moomin series of books by Tove Jansson so much that I read them until the covers fell off. This began a life long love affair with reading that endures and strengthens with every passing year. It is what inspired me to become a children’s author – I hope that my new novel Tortoise Soup can also inspire children to discover the unique wonder of reading.

As a children’s author it was a thrilling moment when I realised that the Olympics shared my views, that they had dedicated a whole section of the London opening ceremony to children’s literature! I have many friends on Twitter (follow me @ByronTinker) who are in the industry as agents, publicists and authors and I know that they too were thrilled. Voldemort stomped around the arena. The Child Catcher looked on menacingly as J K Rowling read from Peter Pan. Thankfully, Mary Poppins was there, as always, to save the day. It was all executed so brilliantly, it could only have been better if my heroes Byron and Ruby had been there!

So I want to say a big thank you to Danny Boyle and to everybody who was involved in any way. You made me so happy, so proud to be British and to be involved in the brilliance of children’s literature. If the ceremony has encouraged children across the world to pick up a book and enter a world of imagination and wonderment then Great Britain has become even greater!

The Wonder Of Tortoises

There have been interesting developments for my children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ in the last few days with two publishers expressing an interest in it. Hopefully, I should have more news for you all soon.

People may ask why I have chosen a tortoise, Byron, as the hero of the story rather than a more conventional creature such as a dog or a cat? Well, I have my own beautiful little tortoise called Ovid and my time spent with him has taught me how amazing these beautiful creatures really are. August 1st 2012 will mark the second ever ‘Tortival’ – the International Tortoise Carnival that celebrates our shelled friends. In celebration of this event, today’s Tortoise Soup blog will reveal some incredible but true facts about tortoises.

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Tortoises are one of the most ancient species in the world. The first tortoises roamed our planet 225 million years ago, that is millions of years earlier than the first dinosaurs. So if you have a pet tortoise then you really have your own little dinosaur stomping around your house!

Because they are so ancient the tortoise also provides the answer to the age old question: ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ Birds evolved from reptiles such as tortoises and as tortoises hatch from eggs then the answer is simple – eggs were around millions of years before chickens.

Charles Darwin was a tortoise jockey! On his groundbreaking journey to the Galapagos Islands the father of evolution noted of the islands’ giant tortoises: “I frequently got on their backs, and then, upon giving a few raps on the hinder part of the shell, they would rise up and walk away; but I found it very difficult to maintain my balance.”

Speaking of the Galapagos Island, the most famous Galapagos native, the late lamented Lonesome George, was held hostage by terrorists on two occasions. For more on this wonderful tortoise see my earlier blog: https://tortoisesoup.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/lonesome-george-a-tribute-to-my-hero/

Tortoises are much more agile than people think. Some species are excellent diggers and climbers, and they can move at a fair old lick when they want to. No wonder the hare was no match for his shelled rival, take a look at this daredevil tortoise in action:

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Tortoises are incredibly resilient. Whatever killed the dinosaurs could not wipe out tortoises, they also survived two prolonged ice ages unscathed. All tortoises are long living, if cared for correctly, and some species can live for more than two hundred years.

Tortoises are not slow in foot, and neither are they slow in mind. Several scientific studies are showing tortoises to be much smarter than previously thought. A professor at Bradford University was part of a group testing the cognitive abilities of rats within a maze. He brought his own pet tortoises to try it and they easily outperformed the rats, completing the maze much quicker and remembering the fastest route for future attempts.

So now you see how wonderful these magnificent reptiles can be, no wonder tortoises are one of the most popular pets in the United Kingdom today. Indeed, reptiles as a whole (including tortoises and turtles) overtook dogs in an official survey last year to become the countries second most common pet (after cats).

If you would like to read about an incredible tortoise adventure, or have children who like to read about animals that overcome the toughest obstacles then do keep an eye out for my novel ‘Tortoise Soup’. It should be hitting bookshelves in the near future. Even by the fantastic standards that tortoises set, the escapades of Byron Tinker and his beloved friend Ruby have to be read to be believed!

Animals of all shapes and sizes bring joy and love into our lives. If you want to share your tortoise love, then please comment below!

Fifty Shades Of Grey – The Juggernaut

Ubiquitous: ‘present, appearing, or found everywhere’ (old definition). Ubiquitous: ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ (new definition).

The world has been conquered, not by aliens as I always expected up to the age of around 30, but by a novel. Not merely a novel, a way of life. All bow down before E.L.James and her ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’. We have surrendered to banality, but a few of us are running screaming to the hills.

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What is Fifty Shades Of Grey, I hear absolutely nobody ask? We all know what it is, because it is a behemoth that cannot be avoided. Put two women in a room for more than ten minutes and they will have mentioned Fifty Shades Of Grey at least twenty times. A friend of mine is a lay minister in the Catholic church, he tells me how he overheard a group of elderly women discussing it at the back of the church last week: they weren’t criticising it, as you might expect, they had all actually read it! I went to my local Asda yesterday and I couldn’t get to the salads aisle because it was blocked by a huge stack of Fifty Shades Of Grey from the floor to the ceiling. I had to edge around them carefully to grab the packet of florette crispy for my tortoise; one false move and I would have been buried beneath a bland avalanche.

I must say here that I have actually read the book. Which is a lot more than most people have, I defy anybody of sound mind to get more than a hundred pages in. Unless they were getting paid for it, as I was in my role as occasional book critic for my local paper.

It deserves an award: the bad sex award. When I first heard that there was a bad sex award I was enraptured: at last something that I could win! Especially if there was a solo spot. Only joking of course, my last partner said that I was an animal in bed. A boar. But this bad sex award is for bad sex in literature. Normally I would expect Martin Amis to collect this ‘honour’ ad infinitum but Fifty Shades Of Grey’s particularly twee take on sado-eroticism will surely take some beating. And then a bit more beating. Amidst repeated descriptions of moistness and squelching.

Here are some crackers from the tawdry tome:

The muscles in the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delightful fashion.

I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.” (Fortunately Clive Revel-Horwood wasn’t there with a score card, because he would surely say it was a ‘disaaaaster’.)

My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid, desire.” (Pass the immodium).

Fifty Shades Of Grey fails on every level. It is appallingly written. It is relentlessly repetitive, the same (b)anal expressions are used again and again. I think that this book uses the term ‘inner goddess’ more than it has ever been used in the whole previous history of the Earth. The protagonists are called Anastasia and Christian. Anastasia and Christian! Why not just call them Kylie and Nigel. Even as porn, it is blander than a chicken korma when it should be a tindaloo. The Stateside setting is laughable: James has never been to Seattle and boy it shows.

The worst offence of all, of course, is that the message of the book is deeply disturbing: that women are worth less then men, that it is good to subjugate yourself to a man. That cruel, savage men are sexy. That an abusive childhood gives a man the right to abuse women.That freedom for women is over-rated. That women can only be powerful when they are being overpowered.

There is one solitary level on which Fifty Shades Of Grey is a success. The financial level. It brings in pile upon pile of money. I am crazy about literature, but this doesn’t count as literature in any way shape or form. Jordan’s ghostwriter (may they be forever punished) can churn out better trash than this. Fifty Shades Of Grey doesn’t count as reading, it is anti-reading. It is a book for people who hate books. It is artifice for those who despise art and fail to believe that reading can be a moving, uplifting, soul-enriching experience.

If you agree or disagree, then please leave your comments below, these are just my opinions after all but I hope that I am not alone in them. Fifty Shades Of Grey? I would rather read Tortoise Soup to be honest (coming soon, my fellow book lovers, coming soon). Yes, Fifty Shades Of Grey is a juggernaut, but who wants to be run over by a juggernaut?