Review by Brian Timmis, Lydbury North Writers Group.
Beautiful! Uncompromisingly original!
Review by Duncan Swallow, writer.
After strictly rationing myself so I didn’t reach the end too fast, I finished Snailbeach Tails, a book by a friend of mine, Julia Dean-Richards. It’s truly wonderful. I loved it from the opening lines.
It’s a delight.
Firstly, it’s hardback with a real paper slipcase. I do like hardbacks. The cover carries a beautiful illustration by Julia’s collaborator Fran O’Boyle. There are more illustrations inside. It’s not ‘lavishly illustrated’ at all, but where the illustrations fall is just right, and they are beautiful.
The story is by turns whimsical, mystical, philosophical, funny, and wise. There’s a bit of scatology in there too to make for surprise, and occasional flashes of present day humour to make you grin.
Much of the language is odd. It looks like English, but it isn’t. You’ll find words you don’t recognise, that seem to have been made up, but it doesn’t matter. You can still understand what’s going on.
I suppose you’d call it a fantasy, with its cast of talking animals, the Story Book Girl, and a Bag Lady, but it’s much more than that. Also it reads as if it’s meant to be spoken, narrated in the tradition of storytelling, and storytelling was ever about basic truths masquerading as half-truths and out and out fabrication This is how Snailbeach Tails works.
If they ever made a film of this book, I know who I’d have writing and performing the soundtrack music. Caravan, that’s who I’d have.
So a wondrous book that put paid to my writing intentions for today. Best laid plans of mice and men? Best laid plans of mouses, mooses, and men more like.
Snailbeach Tails, by Julia Dean-Richards …our local artist and author and poet. Illustrated by Fran Boyle. Reviewed by John M Grainger, Snailbeach. Salop. Jan 2013.
Is it tails or tales? There’s the rub. There is ‘wonful’ flexibility in ‘woding and spellng’, but then you would not think a dog or a moose to be a reincarnated lexicographer. Julia moves from poetry to poetic prose to illustrative newspeak, and as an Artist.
In form there are a series of interrelated stories (fairy stories for children and adults), which are surprisingly chronological for 2012, eventually turning full circle. I like this, having been brought up on Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince and The Little Mermaid.
There are a number of worldly wise oldies… there are baddies that include the Holly King and the Devil and a girl that gets ‘sort’ of born , then becomes progressively a story book girl, lost girl and bird girl. Clearly, as with most fairy stories, there is a clash between the goodies and the baddies, and between good and evil. As in all the best stories, tragedy is of course followed by hope. Recognisable Snailbeach and Stiperstones features are there, but as regards people at least, identities will always be speculative….. Fran Boyle’s Illustrations are perfect for these stories… a bit Beatrix Potterish!
Julia retains the mystery in the enigma, I doubt she does interviews to explain…. she won’t even tell me what ‘squiggles’ are. I think she simply IS the story teller. Make of it what you will.