A review – from Momo

Malkin Moonlight by Emma Cox, reviewed by Momo.

Every journey begins with one paw step.

Malkin is a true hero.  He is a cat with nine lives, but early in his life one is lost.  He knows he has a destiny – he feels the tug of some unseen force.  The moon explains this :

There is a kindness inside you, little cat, and peace.  … You will be brave, even when those around you are afraid. And you will make great sacrifices for friendship – you will be a true friend.”

As a young kitten he is nearly downed, along with his brothers and sister, by his owner.  Luckily Malkin escapes and finds his way to an inn where he meets Roux.

Malkin has not seen a cat that looks like this before. She is the colour of cream and smoke. Her fur is longer than his and softer looking. … She smells of wet grass and small flowers.”

When the inn is sold Roux and Malkin move to the recycling centre.  He finds a group of cats living there and while they welcome this new pair they warn of  danger over the wall.  Malkin knows, however, this is the place, over the wall, that he needs to go.  He must use his gifts to reunite this group of cats – the wild and the domestic, the clean and the unclean – but first come some terrible fights between this group of recycling cats and the Putrescibles.  These are the cats who have been exiled to live in the garbage dump beside the recycling centre.  It is a truly terrible place.  These cats, led by the aptly named Toxic, are starving and smell utterly putrid.

Some things you need to know about the cats in this book :

  • They have nine lives as you might expect but when a life is lost is quite harrowing
  • Their senses are very keen but can be ‘turned off’ which is lucky when Malkin ventures over the wall
  • Cats have a sixth sense which allows one cat to ‘read’ another
  • The moon is a special friend to all cats

There are a lot of themes in Malkin Moonlight but the love story between Malkin and Roux is especially beautiful.  The scenes in the garbage dump are also well described and I almost needed to hold my breath so I would not smell the putrid environment.  The names used for each section in the recycling centre will make you smile – glass bottles and jars, mattresses, mixed textiles and clothes and my favourite section – Newspapers where the cats go to read the news each day.

Here is a set of writing ideas based on each chapter, written by the author.

After reading Malkin Moonlight I recommend you look for Varjak Paw and The story of a seagull and the cat who taught her to fly.

I am not really a cat person but I thoroughly enjoyed Malkin Moonlight.  If you pick up this book and you are not sure about reading it take a look at chapter 36 and 37 – they will give you an excellent idea of the emotions and action in this story.

 
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Mimosa Sets Off

Here is a Malkin Moonlight first birthday celebratory story…

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Picture by Arabella Board.

Chapter One

One morning the sky is full of the noise of seagulls being friends, and perhaps just a little bossy with each other, while below the recycling trucks are going about their usual business of emptying glass. The air is warm, and Roux tilts her nose to it.

‘It’s going to be hot,’ she says. ‘A lovely summer’s day, which it should be today.’

‘Why should it be sunny, mama?’ Mimosa asks.

‘Because it is a special day, and we do not like the rain, do we my love?’

‘No, mama, we do not. The rain makes my fur wet and my paws cold and my nose gets in a very bad mood. But why is it a special day? You haven’t said.’

Just then she sees her very best friend Calica, sitting on the wall that divides the Recycling Centre from the Nature Park. Calica has a mouth full of flowers. She drops the flowers on to a pile she has already collected, ‘Mimosa! Mimosa! We’ve been called to Newspapers/Magazines/Books – your mother says there is important news.’

‘Mama…’ says Mimosa turning, but her mother is walking away her tail raised in a determined fashion, heading for Newspapers. ‘Come on, Calica, let’s go and find out what it is.’

Over in Newspapers, Dew is sitting on top of a big green bin, waiting for everyone to assemble. He has a look of importance on his face.

‘Oh, but Malkin, it worries me,’ Roux is whispering. ‘Mimosa is so like you. She’s more like you every single day and you remember what the moon told us.’

‘I do. That she will be a fine explorer, and she has something rare inside her, but we are not to tell her and we must let her go, when the time comes, when her sixth sense and her heart pull her away.’

‘That’s the bad bit, but it’s not the worst bit, Malkin. You know the even worse bit.’

‘I know, my love. I know what troubles you: that Mimosa might not come back from her exploring.’

‘Oh Malkin, I fear we will lose her forever. That the pull will take her somewhere: it will become too strong and she will not come home. Or she will meet terrible …’ but Roux finds she cannot finish that sentence, so she starts another, ‘Even when she is here half the time it feels as if she’s not, not really. I remember when she was still a tiny kitten and Dew read her the book about Wild Things, and afterwards she ran up to me, with the words still reflecting in her eyes, and she said, Mummy, Mummy, I want to sail to an island. Let me go, do. Yet she knows nothing of the world. You must prevent her leaving, when she tries to.’

‘Roux,’ Malkin says, looking into his wife’s pale green eyes, ‘you know that we can’t. We can’t go against the moon: not the one in the sky nor the one in her soul. When the moon gave her the present on her forehead, I think a little moon magic got mixed up in her blood and travelled to her heart.’ And Malkin draws his wife close, and breathes in her smell of wet grass and the smallest, sweetest flowers, and he remembers the night the moon united them in marriage, and he considers that being close to Roux is, in fact, the very best feeling in the world. The smoke and cream coloured cat rubs her head into the white circle around her husband’s neck.

‘Pardon us for interrupting,’ says Yellow, appearing with Marmelade. ‘Thought we’d say hello.’

‘Oh, hello you two. Marmelade! That is very beautiful. What is it?’

‘Bonjour, cherie. This? This is just a little trinket, a little something-and- nothing. Yellow found it for me in the Re-Use Shop. It is called a tiara, cherie, and it is made of the diamonds. It is clear to me that a princess has thrown it away as it is a little broken. This is the way of royalty. I know, it is in my blood. Set it straight, Yellow, it is falling over one eye.’

‘We cannot have that, my lady,’ and Yellow pushes the tiara up, ‘we have to see those beautiful eyes of yours.’

‘Ah but cherie, why have we all been called to Newspapers? And why is Dew sitting all puffed up like that? He should know that the pride is a very terrible thing. Humility is a virtue,’ and she sticks her blue nose up in the air.

‘It’s gonna be a scorcher!’ Yellow says, ruffling his fur and setting his ears back. ‘Like a bit o’ sun I do. What are Mimosa and Calica talking about over there? Mimosa pointing all around like that, like she’s explainin’ something and Calica is lookin’ mighty sad.’

‘That cat is saying goodbye. Adieu. I can tell these things. I am very sorry for you and Malkin, cherie, but I am afraid you are going to lose that one.’

A mew escapes Roux and Malkin puts his paw on top of hers so their rings are together.

‘Not lose like that, cherie, not all the lives at once! Non! Mimosa is too clever for this. I mean she is one for the wanderings. She will be gone and it will be soon.’

‘But I don’t want her to go, Marmelade.’

‘It is true that you don’t, and yet you have to let her leave. It is the nature of love, I’m afraid. Perhaps she will return, perhaps non. But take comfort from Crispin – here he comes. Look at him. That one will never leave – he is too greedy. Mon Dieu! I do not know why he is not the size of a bin. He must have very good genes.’

‘His genes might be good, Marmelade,’ Yellow says, ‘but you have the finest genes in this Recycling Centre.’

‘Merci, cheri, it is because I am a Chartreux descended from the French nobility.’

Crispin joins the semi-circle of cats, licks sushi from his mouth, and tucks his tail in neatly. He sits next to Calica, as he always does, and notices that her nose is quivering a little, and that when she tries to greet him her words come out in a muddle, so she falls silent, and twitching.

‘What’s this all about then? Why’ve we been summoned?’ Crispin asks her, but she stays silent, and twitching, and Crispin notices that her vast blue eyes look very shiny.

He looks up at Dew and thinks for a moment that he seems older, and his one life does not shine so strongly from him, but at that moment Foss and Sonata arrive with Toxic and Salt. Once everyone is settled in the semi circle, Dew clears his throat, then begins.

‘Cats! There is news of the biggest kind!’

‘Quick news?’ asks Marmelade, but Dew ignores her.

‘Big news. News of the most important kind.’

All the cats tilt their ears forward.

‘Today it is our dear friend Malkin’s birthday and you are all cordially invited to a party over this evening in Glass Bottles and Jars!’

‘Hooray!’ all the cats say, then the cat choir begins to sing.

‘Happy birthday, darling,’ Roux says.

Malkin shakes his head, ‘I had clean forgotten.’

‘Then it is just as well you have me.’ and Roux bumps her husband’s nose with her own, and he feels her happiness for him, but deep beneath, lurking like the worst kind of danger, he feels her worry.

Chapter Two

Late that night, long after the party has finished, Malkin is wandering, because he finds he cannot sleep. He stops in front of a green bin, raises his tail, and makes a magnificent leap, as if he’s cut off his deal with gravity. He lands without a sound. He raises his nose to the magic of the moon-pull. “Please, oh Moon,” he says, then he kneels, and touches his nose to the cold metal, and the wind ruffles the moon ring around his neck.

The moon pulls a cloud from her face. “Good night, Malkin Moonlight, and happy birthday.”

“Good night, Moon,” says Malkin, dropping another bow, “and thank you. I have not seen you for such a long time.”

“You have been busy helping others, and so have I, but now you need my help.”

“It is true. I have come to ask for your help.”

“Mimosa is ready to leave your Recycling Home. She feels the pull, as you did. It is very strong in her.”

“Roux is worried – so worried.”

“But you both know that she has to follow the pull, because it is the tug of destiny.”

“We do know. And we are so grateful that you blessed her with your moon presents. But we are so afraid.”

“And yet you know you must let her go.”

“We do. But would you…?”

“I will watch her, Malkin, but you know I cannot watch her all the time.”

“But if she ever falls into terrible danger?”

“Then I will appear.”

Malkin drops another bow that makes the moon swell with pride for the little black cat she named so long ago.

“Remember that she was born when I was full, Malkin. Her sixth sense is very strong. She has my blessing on her forehead, and on her front paws. She will step lightly into trouble, and spring lightly away.”

“And she has all nine lives, although, Moon, sometimes she is so reckless. We don’t know what to do with her. We don’t know where she gets it from.”

“Mimosa has something rare inside her Malkin. You know this.”

“I do.”

“And you also know that now is the time to let her go.”

For a moment all is quiet. The night wraps the comfort of its cloak around the black cat.

“I will tell Roux,” Malkin says, and his voice has a scratch running through it, “that perhaps we will not see her again.”

“It is right, Malkin, to let her go.”

“Do we still have some time with her, oh Moon?”

“You know the answer to that in your heart.”

And Malkin listens to his heart, and he knows it is time to let his daughter go.

Nearby, in Mattresses, his wife makes a small sound of sorrow in her sleep just as a small black kitten, with a full moon on her forehead, opens sharp green eyes, and stretches out a white paw.

Then she stretches out another white paw.

Mimosa looks at her two white socks and she feels the strongest sensation. It has been growing and growing in her, like an ache or a mild pain, but now it no longer hurts. Now it just feels complete, and right, and completely right.

So the kitten goes to touch her nose against that of her mother Roux, and her brother Crispin, and her best friend Calica, who she has already taken the time to say goodbye to – Calica is soft inside and out, and Mimosa knows that if she had not warned her she was leaving it would have hurt her too badly.

Then Mimosa leaps away from Mattresses. She has one more person to say goodbye to, and she can feel him near.

Under the crisp, cold moonlight, she sees her father walking towards her.

She stands still.

“I know,” her father says, taking his last few paw steps towards her, and pressing her cold nose with his. “I know.”

“It’s so strong, pappy.”

The scratch in Malkin’s voice is worse than ever. “The moon will guide you,” he says, “Look to the moon.”

“You have been to see her, pappy.”

“I have.”

Mimosa looks up at the velvet sky. “Yes,” says she, “I have always felt connected to the Moon, and the feeling has been growing stronger and stronger. Wherever I am, I will look at her, and think of you. The world may be a big place, I believe it is, but the night sky is not so vast. I can always see the moon, unless she is new and then I still feel her in me, in my blood and my sinews, and in my socks and right behind where she placed the circle on my forehead. I feel her strongly, as if I have the whole of her in my mind.”

“So you will never be too proud to ask for her help. Sometimes you can be…” but the scratch has become too loud, and has cut Malkin’s words in two.

Mimosa looks up at the sky, and pretends she has not heard the break in her father’s words. “I will never be too proud to ask for help,” she says.

“You promise.”

“I promise.”

“And Mimosa?”

“Pappy?”

“Will you come home one day?” Again he stops speaking, and looks at the full moon reflected in his daughter’s eyes, so like his own. “For your mother?”

“If I can, pappy, I will.”

They bump noses one final time, then Mimosa turns from the Recycling Centre that she was born in, and heads towards Exit/Entrance. She leaps on to the barrier that separates her home from the rest of the world, looks one last time at the silhouette of her father, then Mimosa Moonlight stretches out a white-socked paw, and takes the first paw step of her journey.

Chapter Three

The night is very black, and Mimosa wears it just beautifully. She is made for darkness, cut from it, and lit by the stars. Her heart is sad to say goodbye to her home, but her head feels bright and full of light, because her paws are springing, and her thoughts say Explore!

“Made for the night,” she says to comfort herself as she runs, “cut from the darkness. The shadows are my friends, for I have my own light, on me and in me.”

The roundabout is waiting for her, asking circular questions.

There are not so many cars, and Mimosa is not afraid of traffic or loud noises, born as she was in her Recycling Centre home, but the circle confuses her, and she feels her sixth sense spin round and round in circles. Every time it starts to break away in one particular direction, the circle starts spinning again, and it is so hard to read. She sits still and focuses all her senses, but particularly her sixth. Then she knows which direction to head in because the perfect feeling of being herself hums inside her more strongly.

“So this is exploring,” she says as she runs, nose to the wind and the new smells it carries, “It is like the feeling of nose bumps, and reading, and my mother’s eyes when she looks at me closely, and how I feel when my father Malkin talks to all the cats at home.” Then she is reflective, just for a moment. “It is also like the fights with my brother, Crispin. Oh how he loves to cause a fight, and win it.” But then Mimosa feels the whisker-tickle of sorrow, so she steels herself, and, for a while, casts away experience and her thoughts of home. “The Recycling Centre will always be my home,” she says, “and it will always be there. But I have something to do before I can return. And I must follow its pull.”

Short story competition

National Literacy Trust with Bloomsbury have launched a new competition.

We launch new short story competition with Bloomsbury

28 Feb 2017

Short_Story_Prize_third

Emma Cox, winner of the New Children’s Author Prize 2015 said:

“This is a magical opportunity to grasp with both hands  – how fabulous to write a twisted, wicked modern take on a fairy tale…. I’d say don’t doubt yourself: enter this competition. Have faith in the talent that you have, throw in a bit of luck, some powerful magic and support the wonderful work of the National Literacy Trust. Set yourself achievable targets, start scribbling ideas down now, carry your story in your head wherever you go … it’s a wonderful experience, and if you’re one of the 10 winning writers you will have created your own happy ever after. Just think of that.” 

The One Memory of Flora Banks; Emily Barr

Three reviews of a wonderful book for the TES published last week.

the one memory of flora banks, emily barr, penguin, book review

Teacher review

This is a great coming-of-age book: first love, first kiss, adventure, exploration and those memories you revisit over and over again when you’re falling in love for the first time. The only difference is this is the only recent memory that Flora has – her first kiss – and it is revisited over and over again because Flora suffers from anterograde amnesia. Normally she can remember very little from her real life as a 17-year-old girl (her memories end at 10 years old) but this kiss has jogged something, unlocked something, and surely that means it is worth something? Surely that means this kiss must be the Romeo and Juliet of first kisses: it is magical, it is meant to be, it must equal true love.

This is a love story written to the teenager you remember being, and it is beautifully written. It is compelling and keeps your interest to the end. The fact that Flora has only this one memory doesn’t distance her from other teenagers or from her teenage readers: we all become a little fixated under the spell of first love: real life is put on hold, and we indulge ourselves in another secretive world that has been created between just two people. In this case, a very secretive world, as the boy whom Flora remembers kissing is Drake, the boyfriend of her best friend.

Even though Flora is a teenager with an unusual condition, Emily Barr perfectly evokes universal themes. The reader shares the same sense of vulnerability as Flora: the danger that comes at every turn from a life where you do not have the confidence of knowing what has just happened – Flora has to prompt herself with messages on her hands and arms – and the same sense of hope: that she will get to kiss Drake again.

‘Chipping away at the stone’

Barr’s simple writing style – the story is told in short, often naive and startling honest sentences – is beautifully effective. Flora has to order the things around her – in her head, in her life – in simple ways, and filter straight through to the important things. She has no time to indulge: she has to state the truth as she sees it. Other characters are reflected through her eyes as they move in and out of her life and her short memories in an almost dream-like way. Somehow this narrative makes for the most wonderfully atmospheric, quiet and calm descriptions of nature – rather like a stark black-and-white photograph of sea or snow, or an Alfred Wallis painting. I loved being inside Flora’s head when she was standing by the sea in Cornwall or in the arctic tundra – I felt the expanse let me breathe in cold, clean air after being stuck in that one memory inside Flora’s claustrophobic family home.

Michelangelo described stone sculpture as the slow release of a form as it emerged out of the marble block excavated from deep in the mountains of Cararra. He said that it was his job as an artist to liberate the human form trapped inside the block by gradually chipping away at the stone – that the statue was already inside, and he was just releasing it. I love that notion dearly, and I get the same feeling from this book: that there are wonderful things written in the stars for Flora, but she has to chip away to release them from this memory-limited prescription-drug-induced fug she is trapped n. She needs to be allowed – by adults – to fail, to explore, to experiment, and to put herself in harm’s way, because she deserves a life of her own creation: just as all teenagers do. One is often filled with a sense of sorrow at just what a wonderful life a girl like Flora could have if she did not suffer from her condition, but it is comforting that her memory has seized on one wonderful moment of being.

I think teenage girls will adore this book – will make friends with Flora, and hold tightly to her graffitied hand for every step of her journey.

Emma Cox, ageless

Pupil reviews

‘Into the valley of death’

I read the majority of this book sitting at my desk at school. It was raining and thundering as though the storm had a purpose to fight for, the exam timetable sat in front of me proclaiming the week’s torture and the whole scene felt very Tennysonesque. “Cannons to the left of them, cannons to the right.”

Except, of course, when I rode “into the valley of Death”, I was not one of the six hundred, but alone.

I was not looking forward to it – the blurb screams “issue book” (which I have ranted about before), and the cover is downright depressing if you think about it. However, I am learning. I have even begun to say “literary appraisal” instead of “criticism”, and I pledge to be balanced and rational. Honest.

I tried very hard to find the set-up plausible, because after all, this is another young-adult novel with much the same story and message as the others. It tells the story of a 17-year-old trapped inside her own head. The only original thing about it is the reason why: anterograde amnesia.

I suppose we should start at the very beginning, which we all know is a very good place to start, particularly when unpicking stitching.

‘Her confusion is confusing’

Conventionally, the story starts with a heroine, (or hero, but the girls go first in my book). The problem I found with Flora Banks is that her confusion is confusing. She doesn’t really know who she is. Neither do we. If a heroine is not self-assured then how is she inspiring? That’s like Jane Eyre without her parting speech (“equal — as we are!”) or Elizabeth Bennet saying “Maybe” when Darcy proposes. Perhaps the inspiration in Flora is supposed to be how she copes with her illness, except she doesn’t cope. As the days go by, she defines herself more and more by other people. She has no character to speak of, outside her all-encompassing amnesia.

Quite frankly, the whole thing is very anti-feminist. The main female characters are incompetent, shallow, and teary. Flora defines herself by a boy, and it tears her one friendship apart, because her friend defines herself by the same boy. By the time we get to page 157, the boy is causing Flora to self-harm: “I scratch “DRAKE” so deeply into my flesh that it starts to bleed. That is good and I work harder… I like the pain of it.”

I wonder, is it only me who feels young-adult novels present love as an evil, or at least stronger in the presence of it?

There is something double-edged about a kiss starting the restoration process of Flora’s memory. Of course it’s a beautiful idea and the basis for a wonderful love story, but this isn’t a wonderful love story. It’s an issue book about love, which are not the same thing.

‘A bad book’

I am not going to say that this book is badly written, because I don’t think it is, but I do think it’s a bad book.

I’ll admit that Flora’s brother Jacob was moving, and almost made me cry. He was one of the only half-decent and inspiring people. I say people because that’s what issues books are about – people and problems. This, though, is what they so often get wrong, and why I don’t like many of them. They mistake “people with problems” for “problematic people”.

In case all the alliteration is clouding my point, I just couldn’t enjoy a book which dampens down all its own characters and ideas.

The plot was largely implausible and I frequently found Flora remembering or not remembering things that were wrong in line with her original diagnosis.

All of this said, Emily Barr had set herself a hard task. To write a heroine who doesn’t know her own mind has never been done before. At least not quite like this.

I wonder why.

Flora’s repetition of “I am seventeen”, “I kissed a boy,” “I’m Flora Banks” is, I suppose, trying to show her memory loss, but the fatal flaw is that we are told that inside her head she is 10. And she was normal at the age of 10. Emily Barr clearly doesn’t know any 10 year olds. I do. They don’t talk, act, or think like that.

The plot itself was depressing but more so was the feeling when I finished the book: tired, drained, and still sitting listening to the rain, but now in bed.

“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.”

And into the valley of death rode I.

Eleanor Clark, 13

‘An isolated island’

Flora Banks is one extraordinary girl! Whether she is walking around her own home discovering her own things for the first time (again), or pursuing her one true love in a passionate flurry of emotion, she never fails to entertain or evoke sympathy – her innocent and naive approach to life makes sure of that.

Yet, beyond the comforts and restrictions of her own home, this girl has a strong impulsive nature that is unleashed when confronted with exciting new experiences and people to share them with.

We see this contrast of character as she abandons her pills (which deliberately send her into a drugged up and foggy mental state). She has escaped from a life wrapped in cotton wool, where exhilaration or thrills were completely inaccessible. Having a first kiss, and remembering it also, offered a new lease of life for Flora, which she grasped with both hands, realising how liberating it is to feel such sensations or, more precisely, to feel ALIVE.

This book addresses a condition that is common to many people and affects their lives dramatically. Amnesia is not only difficult for those who suffer from it, but for those who are a part of the sufferer’s life but have become estranged – unintentionally – from their world. It is an isolated island at times, that is hard to reach and painful to discover.

‘A brain unique’

In this book, a particular variation of amnesia is explored. Instead of being constantly confused, Flora is given memories, and they are taken away again within a matter of hours. The only ones that have stayed with her were prior to the accident.

To attempt to touch on such a topic – sensitive to many people – is tricky, especially as it requires unstitching the complicated thought processes of a brain unique compared to others.

To achieve this, the writer repeats the regular recollections of Miss Banks every time she wakes up to read her life story, or her messily tattooed arms. This became an annoyance to me, as I found she was kissing Drake again – this time in chunky boots and a blue dress. One memory became an obsession! This was when I was inclined to skip a page; still, I was faithful and hung on.

Another thing that puzzled me in the latter chapters was the flitting to and from a sort of dreamland, which became merged with reality; I felt it was disruptive and found I was to question whether she was asleep and what time it was. Similarly, the passages where she would drift off to the ceiling or the clouds and watch herself felt a bit off-piste.

At the end when she meets Drake and Nadia, the emails are unfolded and Drake insists that Flora wrote them of her own accord, then throws Flora into a state of further disconcertment by saying he kissed Lily not her. This works well, as it shocks the reader.

‘Indefinite conclusion’

When the summit of the book is reached, as Paige tells Flora that she’s coming off her pills, she explains for the first time (the second time is in her letter) what really happened the night of the farewell party: Lily photographed the kiss between Drake and a certain blonde 17-year-old girl, in a white dress and yellow shoes which she doesn’t like. So Drake lied about the kiss, but the legitimacy of the correspondence was left unexplained. Perhaps Barr intended for it to be left, or maybe it was self-explanatory. I can’t decide.

Finally, the ending draws the indefinite conclusion that Flora (the now officially ADULT version) agrees to escape from her padded cell of a home, to be studied by neurologist, Dr Joe Epstein. To me, the ending doesn’t satisfy, but that may be the sign of a good book. I cannot deny that it is a well-written and insightful interpretation of life with this disease.

I feel it needs a sequel – or perhaps this will be the first of a trilogy, so that the many questions that are posed at the end of this book may be answered. For example: will there only ever be one memory of Flora Banks?

Ciara Morris, 13