Jo’s Monday Blog: On the Wisdom of Owls

Athene Noctua is hunting again.

Yes, here I am still in an antique land, basking in 106 degrees of heat, whilst my poor blackbirds and robins are beginning to wonder whether the tales of their fathers and forefathers of this big round yellow ball of warmth in the sky are just old mens’ tales and the house sitter is wondering if she should be bailing out the pond . . .

And as it would be unbearably cruel of me to rub this in, instead, I will draw your attention to Athene Noctua, the little owl, which is currently haunting the roofs of the sitesi where @LitgentDrury and I are diligently whittling down our respective slush piles – well, he is; I am still working my way through the 450,000-word “favour” for a colleague (it’s a damn good thing I am enjoying it, otherwise there would most definitely be words).

Wol – for what else could he be christened? – has a mate, and neither of them are particularly shy – or indeed nocturnal – maybe not surprising, given the size of the insects around here (the three-inch-long cricket who ensured no sleep, even after a day finding the ruined city of Iasos, the even-longer centipede who found a pale English shoulder a fine place to while away the hours, or the scorpion that was foolish enough to wander into a friend’s hall – it disappeared into a hole and she couldn’t think how else to ensure it didn’t reappear in the dark night to take revenge – so she siliconed up the hole!). This is nature red in tooth and claw here, believe me!

And what exactly, Beloved Reader, has any of this got to do with publishing? Well, I was watching Wol sitting a few feet away and twisting his head around to glare at us because we were interfering with his dinner by trying to take photos of the enormous cricket he’d obviously decided was his and I started to think about how many of my favourite books featured owls. The very first, obviously, was A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, and of course owls cropped up a lot in all of the Greek myths I devoured – and hence the Latin name for the little owl: named after Athene, the goddess of wisdom.

But more than any of those,I started thinking about The Owl Service by Alan Garner, one of the truly great fantasy writers Britain produces with such pleasing regularity. Garner didn’t write much, to my eternal sorrow, but everything he wrote was a gem. I read The Owl Service first, so it always has a special place in my heart. So entranced was I that I immediately went off to the second-hand bookshop and demanded – and got! (I could be persuasive in those days!) a tattered copy of the Mabinogion . . . and that in turn led me to Lloyd Alexander, and then to Evangeline Walton, whose magical quartet based on the Welsh legends was being published by Lin Carter under the Ballantine Adult Fantasy imprint . . . That particular line of books became one of the seminal influences in my life, and the search for the unicorn-emblazoned covers turned me into a treasure-seeker (ah, Edith Nesbit – another great British writer . . . But I digress).

Or actually, I don’t. You see, that’s my point, Beloved Reader: books are a never-ending treasure trail, each one leading you to someone else. If you like Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son, published this month, look at all the books the reviewers are comparing it to, and try one – Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, for example. Fantasy, SF and Horror readers are renowned for having the most eclectic of reading tastes, and maybe that’s because we follow the trails laid down by writers before and after.

I shall leave you with that thought – and one final word about Alan Garner, who will be receiving the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement at this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, in Canada. It’s an acknowledgement richly deserved, and I for one am thrilled for him.

Right, I’ m off to sack a castle . . .

Jo Fletcher, by the sunny shores of Lake Tuzla

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