Friday 31 August 2012

Napoleon Exhibition NGV

The National Gallery of Victoria has a blockbuster Napoleon exhibition on until October 7 2012. An extraordinary collection of artworks and artifacts about Napoleon, his first wife Josephine, their lives and their enthusiasm for Australia!

The publicity for this exhibition has been huge. Ads in the weekend supplements each and every week. My Melbourne friends all seemed to have been, some multiple times. Resident Judge went. The Intrepid Reader went. Everyone loves it. So, I was expecting to like the Napoleon exhibition, and I was excited to find time today to go. Naturally, I wasn't disappointed. It's an astonishing exhibition. Well worth going, and the audio tour adds much to the experience for the patient and inclined.

Napoleon (the exhibition) gives us a chronological walk through the tumultuous times of late 18th and early 19th century France, and Australia. We start off in the court of Louis XVI, famously married to Austrian princess Marie Antoinette. We see a lock of Louis's hair, gorgeous paintings of the couple. Then terrible paintings of the revolution, the horrific prisons, the execution platforms. Particularly moving is Jacques-Louis David's Death of Marat, an extraordinary painting I hadn't seen before, and a simple revolutionary pike used to parade guillotined heads about the streets of Paris, next to a portrait of a friend of Marie Antoinette who met such a ghastly fate. Her head was paraded in front of Marie Antoinette to show her what had happened and as a prelude to her own gruesome death.

La Perouse is not a famous name to most Australians perhaps, although he is still marked by a suburb in Sydney, but it's absolutely fascinating to learn about his journey to Australia at the very founding of British settlement in 1788. La Perouse arrived the same week as the First Fleet in January 1788. He spent six weeks in Botany Bay, before sailing off to the Solomon Islands, where he and his crews all perished in a shipwreck. Louis XVI didn't know of his fate of course, and all the while when he was incarcerated after the French Revolution of July 1789, it is said that he asked each morning if there was any news of Monsieur de la Perouse. Even on the morning of his execution, having been visited by his family for the last time the night before he asked about Monsieur de la Perouse. I found that particularly moving.

We then come across a bright young military student from Corsica. Napoleon and Josephine were both not French by birth, and apparently spoke French that was quite heavily accented. Napoleon rose up through the ranks of the army, fighting famous battles in Egypt, and in Europe, crossing the Alps into Italy to fight the Austrian army, which gives us Jacques-Louis David's heroic portrait of Napoleon, used to promote the exhibition. Apparently Napoleon in reality crossed the Alps on a more sure-footed mule rather than the robust white stallion pawing the air, but it makes a much better picture doesn't it?

Extraordinary to see a dress worn at Napoleon's coronation on December 2 1804 at Notre Dame in Paris, normally held in a private collection. Jacques-Louis David's massive painting to mark the occasion is my favourite painting in the Louvre. It dominates a room in the Large French Paintings section. I love standing before it, dwarfed, in awe of the opulence and majesty of the scene. I have the fridge magnet version on my fridge door at home and gaze at it every day. How wonderful then to hear the astonishing music played at the coronation? Sadly not available on CD, I asked. Two massed choirs, it was sumptuous and gorgeous. Almost worth going back, just to hear it again. I wasn't aware that Napoleon was said to have crowned himself, upsetting the pontiff awaiting the task. Indeed there is a sketch by David of just such a scene, although it is not the version portrayed in the official portrait. And fascinating to learn of the use of bees, on Napoleon's robes and throughout the cathedral, symbolising immortality and resurrection. The whole coronation and beyond was of course more typical of the monarchy that had been abolished with so much bloodshed and violence in 1789.

And the Australian connection? Absolutely fascinating to see maps displayed with Southern Australia labelled as Terre Napoleon. We could have been French! Napoleon and Josephine were both quite fascinated with Australia. Josephine pursued specimens of Australian flora and fauna for her private residence at Malmaison (naturally a new destination has been added to the French wishlist). Kangaroos, emus and black swans graced these most French of gardens, amongst other exotic species. Black swans were said to be her favourite. Indeed Empress Josephine is reported to be the first person to breed black swans in captivity! Sadly she also aided the extinction of two species of emus.

Even after his death Napoleon may have contributed to Australia. Napoleon was initially buried in St Helena, buried in a field under willow trees. It is thought that visitors to his grave may have taken willow cuttings enroute to Australia and so perhaps the willows I see out of my kitchen window have their origins at Napoleon's burial place in St Helena? I hope so. I shall choose to believe that they do.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 29/8/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

Recently I reread The Secret Garden (see my review), a 100 year old book set in Yorkshire. I knew that there would be some new words.

1. Broom (Noun)

"Nor it isn't fields nor mountains, it's just miles and miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse and broom, and nothing lives on but wild ponies and sheep."

A group of shrubs, most species have yellow flowers, but a few have white, orange, red, pink or purple flowers. Wiki

Image source
I would have thought it some sort of pea I suspect. 

2. Palanquins (Noun)

They were of different sizes, and some had their mahouts or palanquins on their backs. 

Palanquin is the French word for a litter, a wheelless carriage, usually carried by humans. Wikipaedia. Here it is clearly the elephantine variant. 

Image source

3. Daffydowndillys (Noun)

"Crocuses an' snowdrops an' daffydowndillys."

I know what daffodills are of course, but hadn't come across daffydowndillys before. I just love it!

4. Mignonette (Noun)

"Mignonette's th' sweetest smellin' thing as grows an' it'll grow wherever you cast it, same as poppies will."

A genus of fragrant herbaceous plants native to the Mediterranean and Southwest Asia. Grown for its sweet, ambrosial scent. Used in flower arrangements, perfume, pot pourri. Wiki. 

Image source

5. Wuthering

Mary told him her story about the midnight wuthering of the wind which had wakened her and about the faint, far-off sounds of the complaining voice which had led her down the dark corridors with her candle and ha ended with her opening of the door of the dimly lighted room with the carven four-poster bed in the corner. 

A wind blowing strongly with a roaring sound. Northern English dialect.

A famous word of course, I was intrigued to see it here. 

6. Clemmin', clemming (Verb)

"But at last I seed a bit o' white by a rock on top  o' th' moor an' I climbed up an' found th' little 'un half dead wi' cold an' clemmin'."

To be hungry or cause to be hungry. Germanic origin.

7. Fakirs (Noun)

Magic is a great thing, and scarecly anyone know anything about it except a few people in old books- and Mary a little, because she was born in India, where there are fakirs. 

A Muslim Sufi ascetic in the Middle East and South Asia. Wandering dervishes teaching Islam and living on alms. Wikipaedia. 

I'm not sure that this definition fits all that well, but it will have to do. 

8. Pother (Noun)

They was quite in a pother yesterday. 

i) A commotion; a disturbance.
ii) A state of nervous activity; a fuss.
iii) A cloud of smoke or dust that chokes or smothers. 

9. Salver

The man held a salver with some letters on it and he waited quietly until Mr Craven took them. 

A flat try of silver or other metal used for carrying or serving glasses, cups and dishes at table or for the presenting of a letter or card by a servant. 

Image source

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Jackie French!

I'm just loving the Melbourne Writers Festival. So many great sessions. Yesterday I went to a session titled Meet Jackie French as part of the schools program. The room was packed, mainly with kids, most of whom are enthusiastic readers, and many of whom want to be writers. Great to see kids at the festival. Participating. Engaged. Asking questions. Queueing to get their books signed after sessions. Authors as rock stars! Fantastic.

Jackie French has had many jobs of course, and her years in tv showed. She grabbed a microphone, stood up and just talked, and talked, so passionately. She really worked the room. The kids, and we brave grown ups, loved it.

Jackie French published her first book in 1992 (even though it had been accepted 5 years earlier!), and has published more than 130 books since then! I just tried to work out how many books she's published this year, and I can't. I think she writes faster than I read... Happily this day she mainly spoke about her recent book Nanberry. An extraordinary book that was one of my favourite reads of 2011. Check out my enthusiastic review here.

She spoke about the story, and she spoke about the process of writing the book. Nanberry wasn't the book she planned to write. Initially she planned to write a short, funny book "The Possum Who Kissed A Convict", it was a story she already knew and she thought it would be an easy book to write. But then she kept finding more stories accidentally. She met a descendent of Nanberry's at a conference. She found out more about Rachel Turner when documents from the Old Bailey came online.

Nanberry was a "very, very difficult book to write". It was four books that became one. Jackie French clearly knows her Aussie history, and is extremely passionate about it. When speaking of Waltzing Matilda she became even more enervated when she described it's origins as a song of defiance, and her despair that it has now devolved to be a folk song.

More generally she always writes the ending of a book first. Though of course, the ending may change during the writing process. When asked about her mastery of multiple genres, she said that she would hate to be limited to one genre, and she compared it to being forced to eat only one food all the time.

Big news- Jackie French's next book will be out on Dec 1 2012. The Girl from Snowy River. Yes Girl.  It's a sequel to A Waltz for Matilda. Another book I need to hurry up and read.

The Big Issue Fiction Edition 2012

As part of this year's Melbourne Writers Festival I was lucky to be able to attend the launch of the 2012 fiction edition of The Big Issue.

Melissa Cranenburgh, co-editor of The Big Issue

The Big Issue is such a fantastic concept. A fortnightly magazine, with great content, sold by vendors who often don't otherwise have any income- people with mental illness, drug or addiction problems or other tough circumstances. The vendor keeps half of the $5 cover price. Becoming a vendor helps not just with income, but socialisation, confidence and many other benefits too. The Big Issue started in Britain in the early 90s. The Australian edition was launched on the steps of Flinders Street Station in 1996. Since that time over 7 million copies have been sold, giving more than $15 million to the vendors.

There are no vendors where I live but I always buy a copy when I'm in Sydney or Melbourne.

Sir Andrew Motion launching the issue

2012 is the 8th year for the fiction edition, which has 12 short stories, 6 are commissioned by the editors and 6 are the result of a submission process- over 400 writers submitted their work. One contribution is getting a lot of media attention (including a lovely radio piece on Radio National today) this year because a Hollywood actor, James Franco (of course I had no real idea who he actually is) wrote it. The other commissioned authors are Margo Lanagan (I'll finally get to read some of her work! YAY), Tony Birch (new to me, but he sounds really interesting), Sophie Cunningham, Wayne Macauley and James Bradley.

The launch was a really interesting session. Sophie Cunningham and Tony Birch were there, as well as one of the writers selected through the sumbission process, 22 year old Rafael SW. They all spoke and read from their stories. Although at the end Chris Flynn asked about the other writers who had come through the submission process, and I think all of them were in the room! A big moment for them all.

The 2012 fiction edition is on sale until September 10. I hope you get the chance to buy one too. Now to just get time to finish reading it.

Monday 27 August 2012

Graffiti Moon (with some random Melbourne graffiti)

I always really enjoy reading some fiction based around travel locations. So when I had the chance to travel to Melbourne for the Melbourne Writers Festival this year I was keen to read some local writing. Happily I chanced on this review of Graffiti Moon in the week or so before I left. Perfect timing.

Graffiti Moon was an Honour Book for the Older Readers in the Children's Book Council of Australia Awards in 2011. It also won the Young Adult prize for the Prime Minister's Literary Award in 2011 and the NSW Premier's Literary Award. So I'd seen it around and was thrilled to start.

Graffiti Moon is the story of one hot Melbourne night. Lucy is finishing high school and going for a night of fun adventure with her friends Jazz and Daisy. Daisy has a boyfriend, Dylan, but he's forgotten her birthday and is throwing eggs at her head in a show of boyhood excitement at finishing school.

Lucy is an artistic type, she has been learning glass blowing from an artist in a local studio and working on her Year 12 major piece. Both her parents are creative too, her mother is trying to finish a novel, her father a magician. Of course they have to hold down more pedestrian jobs to pay the bills. Things aren't running all that smoothly and her father is currently living in the shed in the backyard.

Lucy is besotted with a local graffiti artist Shadow. She sees his work on walls in the local area, and is moved by his work, his artistry. She knows that he isn't like the boys at her school. Lucy hasn't met him, but she plans to, although his identity is a closely guarded secret and he works stealthily at night with his partner Poet who provides the words to Shadow's vision.

I like that about art, that what you see is sometimes more about who you are than what's on the wall. 

But tonight she is out with her girlfriends and stuck with Dylan and his two friends, Ed and Leo. She plans to use this night to find Shadow and meet him.

There are many, many art and artist references, which I know I wouldn't have got when I was a younger reader. Jeffrey Smart. Rothko. Vermeer. Magritte. Some others that I have never heard of before. Cath Crowley does a good job of incorporating enough about these artists and their works that you get the meaning, without it seeming forced. Cleverly told in three alternating voices. Lucy. Ed and Poet. I was very quickly drawn into this wonderful, funny story.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Birdwatching at Lake Macquarie

Lake Macquarie is a picturesque lake a few hours north of Sydney. I grew up there and still visit quite regularly. It's a great place to watch birds and it was actually watching the birds there when we lived on the waterfront for a year that got me interested in seeking out birds.

I went for a walk at a local park, and saw lots more species this day, but most weren't quite so happy to sit still for a photo. 

Little pied cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos)

Galahs are quite common birds over most of Australia, I see them pretty much every day. Often in my own backyard. I love this photo though, for the beautiful scaled effect he's got going with his feathers. 
Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla)

It's a bit boring when your Mum just walks around taking pictures of birds

A noisy flock of Little Corellas (Cacatua sanguinea)
returning home for the evening
Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Life in Ten Houses

I hadn't heard of Penguin Specials until I stumbled upon this ad in the Weekend Australian Magazine last week. 

A new series of ebooks designed to fill the quick read niche. I knew that I would immediately need to read Sonya Hartnett's Life in Ten Houses. I like her work, am interested in her writing, and am about to head off to Melbourne. YAY!

Very quickly it was sitting on my ipad, even though I'm not all that well acquainted with ebooks as yet. And of course, I picked up a few other Penguin Singles while I was there. They have a free sampler available, which looks like a good bet. I also bought Will Self's The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker- who could resist such a title? and Bob Brown's One Person, One Value.

So even while each inidividual Single is cheap, they're not when you buy 3 at once. Actually I can't see the price now that I've bought it, but I think this 24 page morsel was $3.99. I'm not sure whether that represents value or not. I suspect I lean to the side of not. It was great to read, and if I thought most of the money went to the author I'd be quite happy with the price, but I can't imagine it does.

Life in Ten Houses is a meditation on the difference between a house and a home, and the influence of a house on a writer. Actually it's an interesting insight into Sonya Hartnett's world. Sonya is a proud Melburnian, and rightly so. Melbourne was named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Only the second city in the world at that time to hold such an honour. The first was Edinburgh. The list now includes Iowa City, Dublin and Reykjavik. A third of Australia's writers live in Melbourne, and a third of our bookstores are open for business there!

Sonya Hartnett grew up in the eastern and northern suburbs of Melbourne, and she describes them as the "roof and walls and floor as well as the launching place of my imagination". She describes the many houses that she has lived in over the past 12 years. 10 addresses is too, too many in such a short time, but perhaps logically she loves "the packing, the regular reassessing of the worth of those objects that share my life".

Sonya is really on a quest for her Last House, the place she will live out her days, "which is less a specific building than some corner of the world that miraculously confers upon me a sense of eternal contentedness". I really like that conceptually, I'm not in my Last House. I wonder where it will be?

Particularly interesting were the sections where she discussed her writing. She discusses her writing process, her need to write, her anxieties. A decade ago she was "partially employed" by her writing and supplementing her income by working part-time at the Hill of Content bookshop, a door I'm bound to darken in the next fortnight. Thursday's Child was her cornerstone book, career changing, and yet inspired by "hours spent in idle observation of the ants that dug ceaselessly at the foundations of the house". Having seen a stage show adaptation of Thursday's Child that makes perfect sense.

Sonya Hartnett is typically categorised as a children's author. She did win the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2008. And yet she states that she has written three children's books of the 20 or so she has now published. She points out The Silver Donkey (2004) "the first of my children's novels", and The Children of the King (see my review), "the third of the children's novels". Sadly, she doesn't mention what she considers her second. The Midnight Zoo?

Somewhat humbly she claims to be "no social commentator", and then asserts

I am an examiner of the ancient subjects- friendship, nature, family; forgiveness, courage, loyalty- and in a world where jets fly into buildings and teenagers sew their lips together while politicians justify their inclination to lie, it's right to keep such themes alive. Indeed it was around this time that I began to consider writing more specifically for children: children's literature narrows the focus of those grand old subjects, distils them into their purest and most noble form.
I think that I'll wonder most about this question:
Do the books we need find us, or do we shape ourselves around the books we find?

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Paris

Browsing through my library catalogue checking out books for Paris in July I came across Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Paris and knew that I would have to read it. And an interesting read it is too.

It must be said that I don't know a lot about French history. I remember studying the French Revolution in high school Modern History. But that was in the 70s, and what can I really remember? Not that much. Names mainly, and the general gist of the thing. I'd never been taught about older French history, nor given it a thought I suppose.

So it was very interesting to learn of early Paris. Celtic ironage people settled into the limestone hills near the Seine in the seventh century BC. A village was created on the Ile de la Cite about 300 years BC. It was the time of the Parisii, "boat people", who fished and traded on the Seine.

Paris was invaded by the Romans before the birth of Christ, and the Romans built a settlement on Ile de la Cite, which they called Lutetia Parisiorum. Lutetia grew over the next few hundred years to spread to both sides of the river.

The Vikings began invading in the 9th century AD, sailing their boats down the Seine to attack Paris six times in 10 years. They laid seige in 885. Complicated political machinations (that I don't fully understand) led to Ile de France breaking away from what was then the Frankish Empire to form France.

Despite centuries of war and religious fighting Paris blossomed. Notre Dame was constructed between 1163 and 1345. Plague arrived a few years later in 1348 near the start of the Hundred Years War. Tumultuous times continued in the 17th and 18th centuries with increasing disparity between rich and poor culminating in the French Revolution of 1789.

Interesting to note that it was the Revolution that created the opportunity for Paris to become a culinary leader of the world. The Parisian chefs had traditionally prepared their meals for the nobility, they found themselves without employment after the aristocracy had largely been guillotined and so they opened restaurants for the public.

The beauty of central Paris that I love so much was created when Georges-Eugene Haussmann was given the job of rebuilding the city in 1850 by Napoleon III (Napoleon's nephew Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte). More than 20,000 buildings were torn down, and 40,000 new buildings constructed in Second Empire style- 5 or 6 story apartment buildings with wide facades, mansard roofs, wrought iron balconies and tall windows- that is all so familiar, and delightful.

Paris was again under seige in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. Hot air balloons were used to communicate with the outside world during this time, and famously many of the animals in the Paris Zoo were killed for food.

I grew up seeing images of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I'd never thought about the construction phase of the Eiffel Tower.

Paris was occupied by Nazi forces from June 1940 to August 1944. The Resistance leader was General Charles de Gaulle. I probably should have known that. At least I do now.

Extraordinary to see Nazi officers sitting enjoying Parisian cafes

I was surprised to learn that the population of Paris in 2001 was only 2.2 million people. Although it appears that this "Paris" would be the 20 central arrondissements inside the periphery. The population of central Paris peaked in 1920 at 2.9 million. The population of the broader Paris metropolitan area is around 12 million currently.

Daily Life in Ancient and Modern Paris is part of a series published by Runestone Press. Other cities include London, Timbuktu, Istanbul and Cairo.

Sunday 19 August 2012

The Secret Garden

I just finished a reread of The Secret Garden. And what a wonderful secret garden it is. 

The Secret Garden was initially published in serial form in 1910, and as a book in 1911. Frances Hodgson Burnett was more well known as a writer for adults in her lifetime, now her books for adults are little known, and she is thought of as a children's writer. She was twice married and a somewhat controversial figure, leading a trans-Atlantic life long before it was easily possible. This most English of books was actually written in Long Island, New York! The Secret Garden was not particularly successful during her lifetime, when Little Lord Fauntleroy was the more popular title. 

Mary Lennox is the spoilt, pampered and ignored only child of a wealthy couple living in India during the British Raj. She is tended to by servants, and rarely sees her parents. Very soon Mary is orphaned in India during a cholera outbreak. Mary is sent back to England to live with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, except her uncle is never home, and spends the vast amount of his time travelling the Continent to assuage his grief. 

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a thin little face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression. Her hair was yellow, and her face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been ill in one way or another.

When Mary meets her cousin Colin he is a similarly difficult child. A coddled invalid, and a ranting hypochondriac prone to tantrums so severe that he needed to be calmed with bromide. Colin takes to Mary and they forge a strong bond centred on their deep love for the secret garden.

Misselthwaite Manor and the Yorkshire moor are almost other characters in the book. There are near continual references to the colour and smell of the moor in spring and summer. The winds wuther around the house. There are mysterious nocturnal cries in the way of Jane Eyre. It was not a surprise to find that Frances Hodgson Burnett was a great fan of the Brontes.

Frances Hodgson Burnett extolls the healing properties of nature, and the health giving properties of a strong bond with the natural world. A charming, inquisitive robin inhabits the secret garden and a lovely section in the latter stages of the book is actually narrated by the robin! This seems rather avant garde for such an early 20th century work.

Ultimately redemptive and restorative, The Secret Garden is an uplifting read for adults and children alike. It has been nominated as a comfort read by the  Reading Agency in Britain. I can well see why. My only challenge now will be to not buy the gorgeous edition I saw last week illustrated by Lauren Child. 

Saturday 18 August 2012

Masked Lapwing

Recently I was visiting my parents. I noticed that the lapwings were doing unusual things. They don't normally hang out on a neighbour's roof. 

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles), with a male magpie lark (the smaller black and white bird)

They were spending a lot of time on the neighbour's lawn too. We were staying at the neighbours, house sitting, I was usually up late watching the Tour de France, and I would see them out on the lawn at all hours. 

I began to understand why.
They appeared to sit on the nest during the night, and guard it closely during daylight. 

I was excited to see their nest, as I'd never seen one before. Lapwings have rather remarkable behaviours while nesting. They screech rather loudly, divebomb intruders, and will attempt to draw predators away while pretending to be injured.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 15/8/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

This weeks words are from Sonya Hartnett's intriguing The Children of the King. And quite excitingly, and rather surprisingly, it's an all verb edition today. 

1. Wittering (Verb)

Large groups of children had already disembarked at two or three stations earlier along the way; now, at this grand station, the last and largest group was disgorged, wide eyed and wittering. 

To chatter or babble pointlessly or at unnecessary length. The Free Dictionary

An absolutely fabulous concept!

2. Flensed (Verb)

The flensed creature stared through white holes where its eyes should have been. 

To strip the blubber or skin from (a whale, for example). Norwegian. The Free Dictionary

3. Smutted (Verb)

She scanned the ruins and couldn't see anything but smutted stone and smudged sky. 

To blacken or smudge, as with smoke or grime. The Free Dictionary. 

4. Whiffling (Verb)

When fresh tea had been brought and steam was whiffling from the cups, the storyteller resumed.

i) To move or think erratically; vacillate
ii) To blow in fitful gusts; puff.
iii) To whistle lightly. The Free Dictionary. 

5. Smirched (Verb)

The walls of the castle, decorated by weeds and smirched by the mossy hands of years, folded around each other like a stony house of cards stilled in mid-collapse.  

To soil, stain, or dirty with or as if a smearing agent. The Free Dictionary.

Cool picture, but I can't find the source.

Tuesday 14 August 2012


I've been aching to read some Eoin Colfer since I saw him speak in Adelaide in May. He was funny, so very, very funny. And clever, that I knew his writing would have to be funny and clever too. Well I hoped it would be. I will have to wait until later in the year to read his most famous creation Artemis Fowl, but recently I was searching the library shelves for an audiobook to share with my son on a car trip, and much to my delight he picked up this Colfer title. Neither of us knew anything about it. My 11 year old merely judged the audiobook by the cover. After all, isn't that what covers are for?

We'd never used an audiobook for a car trip before, filled as they are with endless rounds of judging Eurovision, so it was a bit of a novelty for both of us.  I listen to some nonfiction audiobooks in the car travelling to and from work, but haven't had a great track record listening to fiction, my thoughts tend to drift off, and I lose track of the story. 

Airman is an unusual story, set in 19th century Ireland it tells the story of a young boy Conor Broekhart who was born in a hot air balloon, and so born with a love of flying. Conor's family live on the Saltee Islands off the coast of County Wexford in Ireland. A real setting for an imagined story. Actually the Saltee Islands look amazing, and have definitely gone straight onto my must see list. Puffins. They have puffins there.

Conor's father Declan Broekhart works for the King, and is the captain of the Saltee Sharpshooters. There is a baddie with the wonderful moniker of Hugo Bonvilain, who of course wants power and glory for himself. Bonvilain sets a trap for Conor, and a train of rather violent events ensue.

I liked the first disc most of the 3 discs of the story. It was the gentle, lilting story that I was hoping for. The second and third discs was more of a boys own adventure, and a little much for me at times, really quite dark. I even dozed off during these latter discs, which is a risk whenever I sit in the passengers seat it must be said. Master Wicker thoroughly enjoyed the story, and the listening experience, and I hope we will share more audiobooks on  car journeys.