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Review: The Peculiars by Kieran Larwood

Fancy reading a story about a Victorian freakshow?

Want a tale of hair-raising adventure, a smattering of steam-punk inventions, a break-in to The Crystal Palace, a quick look at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (in the dark), get your hands on Faraday’s machine and even see the Ko-i-Nor diamond?

Well, you’ll find all that in Kieran Larwood’s debut novel (now republished), with added friendship, escapades and dung pellets.

This is the story of Sheba, a ‘wolf-girl’ who is part of Grunchgirdle’s very small, shabby travelling freakshow.

‘Everyone said she had a lovely head of hair.

And face of hair. And hands of hair.

In fact, she was covered from head to foot.’

Sheba is ‘exceptional’, with excellent olfactory skills, a talent for lock picking, and is literate. But the only qualities people see are her wolf-like appearances.

She is sold by Grunchgirdle to the equally descriptively named Plumpscuttle for his (slightly) larger freakshow. Sheba joins his caravan to London – the sprawling, stinking Metropolis – where they sit each night to be gawped at by paying customers.

Sheba joins the ‘cast’ including Monkeyboy, Gigantus, the ninja warrior Sister Moon and Mama Rat. She is accepted into ‘The Peculiars’ with affection and appreciation,

9781911490210finding a sort of family for the first time in her life. The team might appear terrifying or unusual on the surface, but prove to be big-hearted, sensitive and brave friends.

When ‘Mudlarks’ begin to disappear, The Peculiars investigate. They are pursued by an evil woman and her devious accomplices, leading to the thrilling adventures mentioned above.

You can even read a little of the work of Famous Lady Novelist, Gertrude Lacygusset!

There is genuine peril within. I found myself worrying about the characters, racing through the final chapters as the team solved the mystery and foiled the ‘baddies’.

Another excellent book from Chicken House publishers. Although not actually a new book – it’s a reissue from 2012, originally titled The Freaks – it’s a great read. And the new cover by Karl James Mountford is gorgeous!

Recommended for confident readers from eight upwards. Thrilling!

ISBN 9781911490210

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Posted by on 18/02/2018 in review

 

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On Not Reading But Writing

I’ve been spending more of my free time writing and performing than usual this month.
Admittedly, that’s not a very long time in measurable terms, but it has made me think in terms of a word-producer rather than merely a word-consumer. It’s as though I’ve broken through the fourth wall and am looking at the inner workings of the art form.

I’m not claiming that my few words thrown onto the page are necessarily any good, that I’m ever going to be the next ‘Big Thing’, or even that more than a few people will hear or read my words; but I have been encouraged to keep throwing those words down, challenging myself to express and experiment, to find my written voice.

The discipline of a fortnightly writers’ group has been instrumental in this experimentation, as have been a few sessions with a group of amazingly talented and inspirational performance poets. I have been involved with two performance events in the past week – one in a church, the other in a gallery – and produced pieces specifically for these events. Hearing one’s words performed by actors in a splendid setting is transformative; both for one’s words and for one’s view of oneself as a writer.
I AM a writer!

Most of the pieces have been poetry but I enjoyed the challenge of writing a prose piece, creating a character based on an artwork. The resultant piece – read by an experienced actor in front of the Victorian painting- owed much to my formative teens obsessed with the Bronte family and was probably not wholly original, but I relished the time to create and explore a moment in someone’s life, a person who only exists in my own head.

Detail of a reworking of this picture ( in London's V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for a piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

The Poor Teacher by Richard Redgrave (1849) Detail of a reworking of this picture (in London’s V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for my piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

And so, I continue to find brief moments to write, enjoying the challenge of wringing out the words to express something, I also continue in my reading quest: themed and reflective, (self-)directed and disciplined.
Now, excuse me, I have another Regency romantic hero to fall in love with…

 
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Posted by on 18/02/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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