The Dark Is Rising Readalong #TDiRS22 & #Headliners2023 Online Event

Annabel’s readalong was the excuse I needed to try something by children’s fantasy author Susan Cooper – she’s one of those much-beloved English writers who happened to pass me by during my upbringing in the States. I’ve been aware of The Dark Is Rising (1973) for just a few years, learning about it from the Twitter readalong run by Robert Macfarlane. (My husband took part in that, having also missed out on Cooper in his childhood.)

Christmas is approaching, and with it a blizzard, but first comes Will Stanton’s birthday on Midwinter Day. A gathering of rooks and a farmer’s ominous pronouncement (“The Walker is abroad. And this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining”) and gift of an iron talisman are signals that his eleventh birthday will be different than those that came before. While his large family gets on with their preparations for a traditional English Christmas, they have no idea Will is being ferried by a white horse to a magic hall, where he is let in on the secret of his membership in an ancient alliance meant to combat the forces of darkness. Merriman will be his guide as he gathers Signs and follows the Old Ones’ Ways.

I loved the evocation of a cosy holiday season, and its contrast with the cosmic conflict going on under the surface.

He was not the same Will Stanton that he had been a very few days before. Now and forever, he knew, he inhabited a different timescale from that of everyone he had ever known or loved…But he managed to turn his thoughts away from all these things, even from the two invading, threatening figures of the Dark. For this was Christmas, which had always been a time of magic, to him and to all the world. This was a brightness, a shining festival, and while its enchantment was on the world the charmed circle of his family and home would be protected against any invasion from outside.

The bustling family atmosphere is reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s books (e.g., Meet the Austins), as is the nebulous world-building (A Wrinkle in Time) – I found little in the way of concrete detail to latch onto, and like with Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, I felt out of my depth with the allusions to local legend. Good vs. evil battles are a mainstay of fantasy and children’s fiction, like in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, or The Chronicles of Narnia I read over and over between the ages of about five and nine. Had I read this, too, as a child, I’m sure I would have loved it, but I guess I’m too literal-minded an adult these days; it’s hard for me to get swept up in the magic. See also Annabel’s review. (Public library)

Headliners 2023 Online Event

For a small fee (the proceeds went to The Arts Emergency Fund), I joined in this Zoom event hosted by Headline Books and Tandem Collective yesterday evening to learn about 10 of the publisher’s major 2023 releases.

Six of the authors were interviewed live by Sarah Shaffi; the other four had contributed pre-recorded video introductions. Here’s a super-brief rundown, in the order in which they appeared, with my notes on potential readalikes:

Dazzling by Chikodili Emelumadu (16 February)

Two girls at a restrictive Nigerian boarding school tap into their power as “Leopard People” to bring back their missing fathers and achieve more than anyone expects of them.

Sounds like: Akwaeke Emezi’s works

A Pebble in the Throat by Aasmah Mir (2 March)

A memoir contrasting her upbringing in Glasgow with her mother’s in Pakistan, this promises to be thought-provoking on the topics of racism and gender stereotypes.

Sounds like: Brown Baby or Brit(ish)

River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer (19 January)

In 1834 Barbados, a former slave leaves her sugarcane plantation to find her five children. Shearer is a mixed-race descendant of Windrush immigrants and wanted to focus not so much on slavery as on its aftermath and the effects of forced dispersion.

Sounds like: Sugar Money

Becoming Ted by Matt Cain (19 January)

In a Northern seaside town, Ted is dumped by his husband and decides to pursue his dream of becoming a drag queen.

Sounds like: Rachel Joyce’s works

Mother’s Day by Abigail Burdess (2 March)

As a baby, Anna was left by the side of the road*; now she’s found her birth mother, just as she learns she’s pregnant herself. Described as a darkly comic thriller à la Single White Female.

(*Burdess had forgotten that this really happened to her best childhood friend; her mum had to remind her of it!)

Sounds like: A Crooked Tree or When the Stars Go Dark

Me, Myself and Mini Me by Charlotte Crosby (2 March)

A reality TV star’s memoir of having a child after an ectopic pregnancy.

Sounds like: Something Katie Price would ‘write’. I had not heard of this celebrity author before and don’t mean to sound judgmental, but the impression made by her appearance (heavily altered by cosmetic surgery) was not favourable.

All the Little Bird Hearts by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow (2 March)

In the Lake District in the 1980s, Sunday is an autistic mother raising a daughter, Dolly. The arrival of glamorous next-door neighbours upends their lives.

Sounds like: Claire Fuller’s works

The Year of the Cat by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (19 January)

A work of creative nonfiction about adopting a cat named Mackerel (who briefly appeared on the video) during lockdown, and deciding whether or not to have a child.

Sounds like: Motherhood, with a cat

The Book of Eve by Meg Clothier (30 March)

Set in Northern Italy in 1500, this is about a convent librarian who discovers a rich tradition of goddess worship that could upend the patriarchy.

Sounds like: Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s and Maggie O’Farrell’s historical novels

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay (6 July)

A historical heist novel set in 1905, this is about Mrs King, a Mayfair housekeeper who takes revenge for her dismissal by assembling a gang of disgruntled women to strip her former employer’s house right under her nose during a party.

Sounds like: Richard Osman’s works

If there was a theme to the evening, it was women’s power!

I’m most keen to read The Year of the Cat, but I’d happily try 3–4 of the novels if my library acquired them.

Which of these 2023 releases appeal to you most?


16 responses

  1. I guess TDiR is going to be tricky if you’ve not grown up steeped in British children’s books and the myths and legends of Britain/England. I was able to get swept away in it still last time I read it, as an adult, and also appreciated the width of the cultures of the Old Ones, which Kaggsy mentions in her review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll try Garner again with Treacle Walker, but I’m not sure if I’d try another by Cooper.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel I need to (re)read most of Garner’s earlier stuff to enjoy Treacle Walker properly.


      2. Uh oh, really? Then I haven’t a hope!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s probably just me, because I read the ones that were available when I was a child/teen but then missed some and I feel like I’d like to remind myself (if I can face The Owl Service, which terrified both me and Matthew and still does!).


  2. If it’s any help with understanding the background influences to TDiR I’ll be posting a piece in a few days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I came across an interesting Susan Cooper quote in an unexpected place today (Blurb Your Enthusiasm by Louise Willder): “We don’t altogether know what we’re doing. It’s the hauntings in the unconscious mind of the fantasy writer, not understood or even recognized, that lead him or her to choose fantasy as a medium.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. An excellent quote, particularly the phrase “the hauntings in the unconscious mind” – and those hauntings, the themes and issues and emotions that ache to be given form, are I suspect what spurs most writers, whatever their genre.


  3. Good review. I’ve never heard of this author before. I only read Wrinkle in Time as an adult–I am the original generation for Wrinkle, but as a child I had no appetite for magic or science fiction. That’s only expanded a little as an adult, but enough that I loved that one at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read Wrinkle as a child and then reread it as an adult and didn’t care for it either time, alas. But I’ve discovered L’Engle’s writing for adults, nonfiction at least, and enjoyed it.


  4. I’m fairly sure that The Dark Is Rising is the second in the series. Did you read Over Sea, Under Stone? I did, but wasn’t much interested in reading any of the others. I think maybe the legend that you were uninformed about may have been explained in OS, US.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s right, it’s the second book but is said to stand alone. I don’t think I’d take a chance on another one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wasn’t that thrilled by the first one.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Apart from Alex’s book, I’m most interested in Dazzling and The Book of Eve. I loathe Cosslett’s journalism so I’ll be steering clear of her!

    I didn’t even get on with the dark is rising as a teen…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote in my notes that he reminded me of a younger Rupert Everett 😉

      I hope The Book of Eve is indeed like Hargrave’s historical fiction and not more like Bridget Collins’, etc.

      I don’t think I’ve come across much of Coslett’s writing before. The cat + having children dilemma themes are enough of a draw, though I know she ends up making the opposite decision to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love Bridget Collins, so I think I’d go Collins over Hargrave… Though a mix would also be great!

        Young Rupert Everett 😂😂

        Liked by 1 person

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