Return to the Secret Garden – or, on Fanfiction

If you’ve read this blog before you may have picked up on the fact that I love Burnett’s The Secret Garden. It is one of the few novels that I return to at least once every year, and its warming charm has not been lessened in the slightest. It is a criminally underrated piece of magic that has a special place in my heart.
Because of this, I naturally felt a little flutter when I saw a new novel in my local bookshop, called Return to the Secret Garden. Could it be? Frances Burnett has been gone for a long time, so obviously somebody with a great love for the original work picked it up and decided to keep the magic going just once more. I couldn’t help myself. Of course I walked out with this book in my hands and a smile on my face.

I should have been more careful. People always say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but you should. A lot of time and effort has gone into making that cover, and to have it represent the story within. It is also a marketing tool, as a certain type of cover would fall into a genre and therefore a market more easily. So looking at the shiny, metallic pink cover of this novel I should have heard it screaming for a 12 year old girl interested in I don’t know, horses or something. It’s definitely not like there is anything wrong with that genre, or even with this kind of aggressive marketing. It is, however, not befitting the style of the original novel.

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Reading this novel really felt like I was reading a piece of fanfiction rather than a “real” novel. Fanfiction is when fans take characters and/or a setting from a certain work of fiction and write their own based off of that. The most famous platform for fanfiction is fanfiction.net. This type of writing is an act of fan love, and dedication for the source material. There is also a lot of it, and most of it is not very good (take note however, that some of it is!). A very famous example of fanfiction (taken to extreme success based on plagiarism), is Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as a Twilight fanfiction.

The problems with fanfiction as opposed to original novels are plenty but not crippling or necessarily true for all of them. The main problem, however, is that the work is based off of (generally) famous works that have a fan base already. Because of that the fan authors write with the underlying assumption that you already know the characters, and don’t waste time with character development. They also tend to forget about the age-old rule of show don’t tell. And that is the issue with this novel.

I won’t go into the plot of it, mostly because it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things: it’s almost the same as the original (another fanfiction staple). Let me just say a few final things to round off this review.

Holly Webb, the author of this sequel, seems like a lovely lady whose passion for the original work is very clear and rivals my own. I liked her vision of how the original characters would develop over time and the world war, and I applaud her for taking this risk. Her descriptions of the garden were pleasing, and I felt that her modern day Colin was very understandable and sympathetic – maybe even more so than the original!
That said, having the plot of this novel be almost the same as the original, and even adding a diary that “Mary wrote during the plot of the first novel” (which she obviously didn’t because we followed her through all of the novel and it wasn’t mentioned once, also it doesn’t match her style at all, also she couldn’t write)…. not a fan.

This is not the worst novel ever. Its descriptions of wartime impacting young children and families are good and very interesting, and the love for the original really shines through.
That said, this also not a good novel. The writing feels immature in a way, with a lot of telling rather than showing, and the plot is simply recycled.
I recommend this book to its intended audience, as demonstrated by the cover, the 12 year old girls interested in light reads about other girls with a little bit of non-threatening mystery.

Ms. Webb, if you happen to come across this review, I know it sounds bad and I have to admit I didn’t enjoy reading your book. However, I am also not your intended audience and came at it expecting something in a style completely different from what it is. I think it’s great that you were able to develop your passion for this great story into a work of your own. Best of luck to you in the future.

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Café Nom de Plume (Edinburgh)

It’s hard, being on a diet and blogging about tea and cakes every Monday, not gonna lie. (Coincidentally, that may be a part of the reason why I’m on a diet…) That said, there is a specific kind of feeling of achievement when you’ve calculated your calorific budget so that you can fit in scone and cake on the same day!

Last week my partner and I experienced that joy when we went to Café Nom de Plume in Edinburgh. This is a kind of bohemian, hipsterish café that also does dinner etc. The decor is Mediterranean (?) in a way, and the staff is very friendly.

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And sure, that’s all important and lovely – but let’s get to the tea and cakes!
The tea they serve here is regular Twinings bagged tea, nothing fancy but good enough. If you’re a bit of a tea snob, this may not be the place for you. The tea I went for was the Cranberry and Raspberry infusion? It was alright, heavy on the raspberry, your typical berry tea. The real stars of the show were the pastries though.

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Did I mention our Instagram yet? ^_^ tea.and.tales

I went for a fruit scone with clotted cream, which you pay extra for, and a chocolate fudge cake. The clotted cream is really not worth it. It comes in a hotel style single serving package, and there’s a thick skin on top of it. It’s not particularly appetising, so beware. That said, the scone was lovely and I did like having the choice between many little jam packages.
The cake was something else entirely. The right amount of moist, the right amount of fudge, and so so beautiful too.

Short wrap up: this is a nice cafe. From what I could tell (and smell) the food here is good. It’s got a relaxed and relaxing atmosphere, and the staff is very good and attentive. Don’t go here for a mind blowing tea experience, but do enjoy the cakes.

Tom’s Midnight Garden

Today it’s time to talk about a beautiful little book called Tom’s Midnight Garden. I picked it up from the classics section of my local bookstore, and absolutely fell in love with it! I cannot believe that I have never read this book before, especially considering my deep love for Burnett’s The Secret Garden. So, to rectify this sad mistake, I will now share this lovely little tale with all of you guys!

Tom’s Midnight Garden tells the story of Tom, who after his brother gets the measels gets evacuated/quarantined at his aunt and uncle’s place. They think he may have the measels also, so he’s not to go outside for fear of infecting others as well. Being kept indoors at all times and forced to rest, Tom, like most children, get bored pretty much immediately. Lucky for him, however, the landlady’s grandfather’s clock rings 13 at midnight, opening the garden to the past. There, in his midnight garden, he befriends a girl named Hatty – the only one* who can see him. Every night he visits her in the garden, but time seems to pass most strangely…

Much like the book itself, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I truly love this book, it is right up there with Burnett’s The Secret Garden for me with their utopic gardens, unhappy and lonely children making friends, English stateliness and sweet happy endings. For the ending to Tom’s Midnight Garden is the kind to leave you all warm and fuzzy inside! I won’t spoil it here (in fact, I think I will leave out the spoiler section all together from now on), as it is something that should be experienced. Although it’s not a twist, you shouldn’t be thinking of it whilst reading it – it would be like dreaming of your dessert all through your Michelin dinner!
Much like The Secret Garden, this book makes me want to go outside and play like I used to when I was young. Whereas the former makes me want to go into a garden to see it bloom, Tom’s Midnight Garden makes me want to take my partner by the hand and run through the hills. I think this difference may be because the protagonist is a boy, and because of that the author diverted the focus from the blooming garden to the adventures and play of the children. Neither approach is better than the other, and both are executed superbly!

To go with this read, I recommend Night Melody by Anteaques. This tea is a delicious herbal infusion of Rooibos, lime blossoms and honeybush. It’s caffein free and actually does help with sleep! The reason this tea is great with this novel is that it is light and fresh (maybe not traditionally refreshing without the caffein), and has a lovely floral, gardeny flavour to it due to the blossoms and the honeybush. It is a delicate combination of flavours that calls for a bit of a longer infusion – I’d recommend around 5 minutes for all the flavours to be sufficiently defined. For what is better than a wild adventure in the meadows than a fresh and floral cup of tea?

I fully recommend this novel, and this tea. They are both of them perfect on a “warm” spring day, and make your skin call out for a bout of kisses from the sun!

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Dalriada (Portobello)

The past couple of weeks have been rather inconsistent here on the blog, with my PhD application, holidays, and a small personal issue, but we’re back in the full swing of things starting this week!

Last weekend my partner and I went for a short beach escape to Portobello. It’s smallish, and it was freezing, but the sun was out and it was beautiful! After a walk on the promenade we went for lunch and tea at a place recommend to us by a friend: Dalriada.

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This restaurant/pub is by the beach, in a beautiful stately home. There’s a lot of seating outside, which is optimistic but always nice. As stated above this is not really a tea room at all, it’s more of a gastro pub that has tea and cakes. So don’t go expecting the best afternoon tea you’ve ever had!
That said, you should expect a decent cup of tea with a slice of delicious cake. 

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This picture and more can be found on our Instagram tea.and.tales :)!

I went for a refreshing cup of peppermint tea, it was a standard bag and I don’t know what the brand was but it was quite alright (peppermint tea being hard to get wrong). The absolute star of the show was the Caramel Shortbread Cake. Maybe it’s because I’m on a strict diet (the logical outcome from being an afternoon tea fanatic, unfortunately..), but this cake was perfect. It was slightly moist, but certainly not wet, it had subtle hints of (salted?) caramel, and a slight trace of chocolate. So. Yummy.

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This place is pretty good. It feels a bit strange to have this cosy pub thing right by the beach, and to have tea and cakes in it, but my God was that cake beautiful. It made me cheat on my diet but it was well worth it!
The staff is very friendly, but don’t really seem to understand what’s happening around them. It took a while to get the order in, and the waitress looked absolutely lost. That said, they are friendly and the food is good.

Overall, I would recommend Dalriada. If you’re out by the beach and need a quick refreshment, go and have a slice of heaven there. You will not be disappointed!

Tinder – and The Big Reveal

Yes, I know the danger of posting this on April the 1st, but dear reader you can trust me in this. (I don’t do April Fool’s!) In the past couple of posts, and on my Instagram (tea.and.tales shameless plug) I have recently been hinting at exciting developments that had an influence on my punctuality and, well…life in general. I couldn’t really talk about it before because it wasn’t official, but now it is and I am free to say that…
I will be pursuing a PhD in Children’s Literature later this year!
I don’t think I need to explain just why this makes me tremble with excitement, and I’ll take a brief moment here to thank my family and my partner for helping me get there.
Thank you.

The subject I will be studying is the impact of war on the reader of children’s literature, and I am absolutely fascinated and excited about it! That’s why, in the hopes of showing you, my dear reader, I will be discussing Tinder by Sally Gardner here today!

Tinder tells the story of Otto Hundebiss (meaning Dogbite), an adolescent boy soldier who tires of war and denies death. After running away from the battlefield he encounters a strange man who offers him shoes and dice, the latter of which will tell him what way to go. Otto is getting stalked by a strange werewolf kind of creature, and seeks shelter in a tree – where he meets a lady. He immediately falls head over heels in love, and after she runs away he makes it his quest to find her. On his way to find her, Otto encounters a magnificent castle with a magical secret..

I really love the writing style in this novel. It feels like a modern Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, both in the language and in its fairytale-esque tropes. The castle and it’s secrets, the themes of transformation and paranoia and uncertainty all tie in together beautifully and with great effect. Otto is greatly damaged by the unnamed war he was in – as, indeed, the world seems to be also. Otto and everyone he encounters is terrified of a beast stalking them, which nobody else can see. Many have died, and fear rules the land. Nobody trusts anybody anymore, and when Otto enters a new city he is shunned and ostracised. You are left to wonder how much of what is happening is real, and how much of it is in Otto’s head – a feeling which is only emphasised at the end.
The war is always looming on the background, and the lack of affirmed reality mark this story for me as a depiction of a young mind marked by the horrors of war. Otto is forever changed by his experiences on the battlefront, but they are not on the foreground of the story.

This story is dark, intriguing, and reminds me of old fashioned fairytales with a dark twist, a la Through the Woods. Because of that, it goes well with Jing Tea’s Bohea Lapsang. It’s smoky, and reminiscent of a pine forest (a big part of the setting, actually!)

I know this is a short post, but I really want to keep the mystery of the story alive for you readers. This tale has so many layers and reads like a deep character study underneath the surface rescue story. Together with the Bohea Lapsang this read is quite the experience that I highly recommend!

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