Introduced by Tom Bullough
Alan Garner is, for my money, the finest novelist in Britain – although, in truth, only two of his books really do it for me, and only The Stone Book Quartet remains in my mind, pure, without the slightest doubt or misgiving. So, basically I think Alan Garner is the finest novelist in Britain on the basis of one, 172-page book, published in the first case (between 1976 and 1978) as four short stories for children.
The Stone Book Quartet has none of the magical elements of his best-known books, The Owl Service or The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. That is, it stays inside conventional reality, though the writing is so distilled, so child-eyed that it achieves a kind of rapture. It tells the semi-biographical stories of four generations of Garner’s family: four children living in rural Cheshire at moments of particular importance in their lives: Mary in 1864, Joseph in 1886, Robert in 1914 and William in 1941. In the first, The Stone Book, Mary is charged with delivering her father’s tea to the top of the church spire where he is working as a stonemason:
Tac, tac, tac, tac. She climbed to the hammer. The spire was thin. Father was not working, but giving her a rhythm. The sky was now inside the ladder. The ladder was broader than the spire.
Here he lifts her onto the weathercock, which she ‘rides’ in joy and terror to check that it is moving properly. Later, he takes her to an abandoned mine and shows her a tunnel down which she can fit, and he cannot, leading to a cavern of ancient paintings and footprints of visitors long since dead that appear to be as fresh as her own. The Stone Book, I suppose you could say, shows Mary discovering the parameters of her life, her place in the landscape, her place within history. But it is about love too, and trust, and craftsmanship, and the pleasures of tricking a small-minded parson.
There is so much to wonder at in The Stone Book Quartet. Garner’s use of Cheshire dialect is always sparing, always suggestive, never quaint or patronising. His themes are great themes – myth, religion, technological progress – but his characters never stray beyond Alderley Edge. And then there is that lovely, layering structure.
If my next novel Addlands is influenced by anything then it is this book. In fact, just as I was writing the paragraph before last, I realised that Addlands begins very much as The Stone Book Quartet ends: on a hill in January 1941 with the Luftwaffe dropping bombs in the distance.
Tom Bullough is taking part in a panel discussion Abergavenny Writing Festival on Friday 22 April. Scroll to the end of this post to book tickets.
Meet the Professionals: Editing & Publishing
Meet the Professionals: Editing & Publishing
Creative Network event at Abergavenny Writing Festival
The Kings Arms, Nevill St, Abergavenny
Friday 22 April, 4 – 5.30pm
Hosted by the Creative Network this event will provide a professional insight into getting your work published. If you want to learn more about the publishing process and how to expand your readership join us for an informative panel discussion with leading authors Tom Bullough and Rachel Tresize, Seren editor Penny Thomas and publisher Simon Hicks.
£7 per ticket
£5 for Creative Network members / Students
Rachel Trezise is a novelist, short story writer and playwright, born in the Rhondda Valley. Her debut short story collection ‘Fresh Apples’ won the International Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006. Her most recent story collection ‘Cosmic Latte’ won the Edge Hill Readers’ Award in 2014. Her debut play ‘Tonypandemonium’ was staged by National Theatre Wales in 2013.
Tom Bullough grew up on a hill farm in Radnorshire, and now lives in the Brecon Beacons. He is the author of four novels, including Addlands, which will be published by Granta in June. At present, among other things, he has a PhD by Portfolio in Creative Writing and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of South Wales.
Seren is Wales’ leading independent literary publisher, specialising in English-language writing from Wales. Simon Hicks was a copywriter and features editor. He now works in sales, marketing, design and production for Seren. Penny Thomas is a fiction editor for Seren and also runs Firefly Press, publishing books for children and young adults.
The Creative Network supports arts practitioners through opportunities for collaboration, discussion, promotion and training. The Network is focused (although not exclusively) on the Black Mountains and surrounding areas of Brecon, Crickhowell, Hay on Wye, Abergavenny, Monmouth and Heads of the Valleys. The Network currently has over 100 members working across the visual, applied, literary and performing arts and creative industries.
Emma Beynon, Community Projects Manager
T: 01873 811579 / E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to book a ticket.
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