Plans are now seriously underway for this summer's Port Eliot Festival, 19th to 22nd July, which also means planning is in progress for the dovegreyreader tent, which will be up in the walled garden again and offering a welcoming bunting-clad, plein-air literary salon with added knitting and cups of tea.
I am not sure who will be taking the guest spots on the sofa yet, but at the last meeting I had with Cathy St Germans, and as we ran through the Festival line-up, the name Brian Selznick came up ...
'Is that any relation to...'
'Yes... and you must read The Invention of Hugo Cabret.'
There were further endorsements from around the room and really who am I to argue.
Brian Selznick is an artist of extraodinary skill and The Invention of Hugo Cabret a fabulous flight of the imagination, a form of graphic novel for children and subsequently a film. The book has solid rather than speech bubble text, and hundreds of full page greyscale illustrations to accompany, and the illustrations, in true graphic novel form, often tell as much of the story as the text. In fact the first forty-five pages are pure picture so when the book arrived you can imagine who grabbed it first.
So Bookhound was flicking away really fast through these forty-five pages and there's me saying..
'You're not supposed to read it that fast..."
'But I have to, it's telling the story already...'
And you too can see those opening pages here.
And when I wrestled it back and settled down with this weighty 535 page tome that afternoon I did the same, expecting to be reading this one for weeks but eventually finishing it the same day, because how could I not.
The story is set in Paris in 1931 and a boy named Hugo Cabret, who lives in the walls of a train station has, in the absence of his uncle, taken charge of the clocks around the station, secretly winding them all up on a daily basis. Hugo's father was a clockmaker until his death and having left Hugo the enigma of a partially restored automaton, the mystery to be solved... what exactly will the automaton write with the pen it holds in its hand if Hugo can manage to get it working.
By the time the name Georges Melies emerged I was already on the edge of my seat...well approaching the edge of the sofa on which I was reclining, and with this book well propped up because it is very heavy, but I was immediately back in Paris in about 1999 with Offspringette.
We had left 'the boys' at home and gone for a girly few days to Paris, shopping and sightseeing just before Offspringette went off to university, and we had done a very proper job on walking around Pere Lachaise cemetery, ostensibly to visit Jim (Morrison) and it had poured with rain and we had got very lost in this Parisian hinterland of the dead. Offspringette was headed for a degree in film and media and then a traineeship at the BBC so, this being her, she had done her homework and when we stumbled across the grave of Georges Melies there was delight all round. The father of special effects in the motion picture and I had never heard of him, so it was all explained to me whilst standing there, soaked to the skin looking at this..
And as I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret it all came back to me. The sad story of the man who made film magic but couldn't move with the times and who quickly went out of fashion in the 1920s. Ensuing bankruptcy meant most of his films were sold for the silver content and destroyed and Georges, a demoralised and broken man, set up a toy kiosk on the Montparnasse railway station.
Brian Selznick weaves all this beautifully into this book which is in itself a wondefully filmic read. To read pictures in books perhaps a skill many of us children of the 1950s were expected to leave behind in our childhood, so to find a book like this, where the expectation is that the reader will do exactly that, always feels like a bit of a furtive treat. I would have absolutely adored this book as a child and its opening sequence of black-bordered pictures transported me back to the wonder of the Majestic cinema in Mitcham. I felt as if I was watching on the big screen, each picture slowly increasing in size as the panorama of Paris and Hugo's life unfolds.
First published in 2007 I am sure many of you will have seen this book, or seen the film Hugo, but if not it would make a great gift for a child near you ... and then you could read it before you wrapped it up and wheel-barrowed it round there...besides which it also has beautiful scenes set in a bookshop and you know how much we all love those...
So back to where we started, I am hoping to get a glimpse of Brian Selznick at Port Eliot and perhaps I can point the Happy Campers in the direction of his main event to report back for us, because I feel sure it will be one worth seeing.