Still Scared: Talking Children's Horror

Still Scared: Talking Children's Horror

Mercedes Ice and Kasper in the Glitter

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This time we talked about ‘Mercedes Ice’ and ‘Kasper in the Glitter’ by Philip Ridley.

Other Philip Ridley children’s books referenced in the episode were Scribbleboy, Vinegar Street, Krindlekrax, Meteorite Spoon and Zip’s Apollo.

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Ren: Welcome to Still Scared: Talking Children’s Horror, a podcast about creepy, spooky and disturbing children’s books, films and TV. I’m Ren Wednesday, my co-host is Adam Whybray and today we’re talking about Mercedes Ice and Kasper in the Glitter, by Philip Ridley. Enjoy!

Ren Good evening, Adam

Adam: Yo-yo-yo-yippy-yo-yippy-yay

Ren: Welcome to Ridley week, which I’m very excited about, because this was one on my list right from the beginning for what to do for this podcast.

Adam: And I was excited but slightly apprehensive, because Ridley is a weird fish.

Ren: Oh yeah, that’s for sure. Both in the children’s book game, and in —

Adam: — the in-your-face British theatre genre.

Ren: Which he’s more known for, and his screenplays, but for a period in the ‘90s, he was definitely pretty well-known for his odd children’s books.

Adam: Certainly if you look at the cover quotes it says things like: ‘Ridley has to be Dahl’s successor’ and so forth, so clearly for a time he was regarded as a big name in kid’s fiction.

Ren: In primary school we studied Meteorite Spoon, and there was just a few years when they were everywhere. And now I think they’re actually possibly out of print.

Adam: They’re quite hard to find. I tend to snap them up when I find them in second-hand book stores, but you don’t come across them that often. As for me, I think Krindlekrax was read to us in primary school, which is the one about the alligator in the sewers. I have vague memories of that one. But I really came to him through being a theatre student and reading Pitchfork Disney. Which I think was one of the first things we did together, when we became friends, was read Pitchfork Disney on a park bench.

Ren: Yeah, that was good. Nerdy students that we were.

Adam: Well, York’s the nerdiest of universities. There aren’t many universities where the pantomime society’s the biggest society on campus.

Ren: I remember going to Leeds and being at their university and being like ‘Ah, this is where the cool people go. I see’.

So. We’re doing Mercedes Ice and Kasper in the Glitter, neither of which are straightforwardly horror. But, Ridley’s books are hard to categorise in general and they’re kind of fairy tales.

Adam: Urban fairy tales is a term I’ve seen crop up.

Ren: That’s what the blurb for Mercedes Ice says ‘an urban fairy story for modern children’. Which is a decent enough description of his children’s books in general.

Adam: And the interesting thing is, right, that there isn’t that much difference between the children’s books and the plays for adults. There’s obviously far more taboo material, and general death and destruction in the plays for adults, but in terms of the banter and the patter and the way the characters talk - and the general poise of the characters, the way they carry themselves. Young whippersnappers, bobby dazzlers with quiffs, preening themselves and talking in East End patter, that’s very common in both.

Ren: And the fantastical names that they tend to have. These slightly larger than life characters. It is really interesting because the children’s books and adult plays are definitely on a spectrum.

Adam: Yeah, they definitely all feel like they belong in the same universe.

Ren: Yeah. Just with differing gradiations, I guess.

Adam: Differing gradiations of ‘orribleness.

Ren: They’re definitely all about cities. Because Ridley lived for nearly all his life in the East End of London —

Adam: He’s not dead is he!

Ren: No, no, he’s just moved further out!

Adam: Not moved to another plane of existence!

Ren: No, he’s moved to Deptford or something. I read an interview that said he’d moved for the first time in his life, just further east.*

Adam: Do you consider yourself an East Ender, at heart?

Ren: Uh, no. I don’t think I count at all. Stoke Newington doesn’t count.

Adam: You sometimes walk with with the East End swagger!

Ren: Hmm. I’m dubious.

Adam:But you are a London kid.

Ren: Yes, broadly speaking. Not born and raised but did live there for a large part of my life.

Adam: Because I do like Ridley quite a lot, but I suspect that you’re, in the way that I can relate to Postman Pat, I imagine that the world of Ridley’s books probably makes more intuitive sense to you. They’re very much city books.

Ren: Particularly, well, all of them, but particularly the two we’re discussing here, are fairy tales about cities. Shall we get into Mercedes Ice?

Adam: Yes. So, Mercedes Ice is the first.

Ren:It’s one of his earliest children’s books, and the title is Mercedes Ice, who is a character in the book, but really the main character is kind of the tower block, Shadow Point as the book follows the building from when it starts to be built, through to its completion, then its decline and then its destruction at the end of the story.

Adam That’s a nice way of looking at it.

Ren That’s my semi-clever point that I came up when thinking about this.

So, Rosie Glow, who’s later known Mrs Ice, is the character who’s life is inextricably bound up with Shadow Point. She’s born on the same day construction starts, and she admires it as it’s being built, and dreams of one day living on its top floor. She marries a boy, Timothy Ice, who also loves the new building, and they get their flat right at the top.

But quickly, Shadow Point begins to degrade, and I’ve got a quote:

‘Before long the smooth, grey concrete became buckled and discoloured. The big windows were impossible to clean so they became thick with dust and let no light in. The silver gleam of the television ariels soon became a rusty forest on the roof of the building, like a gigantic bird’s nest.

Shadow Point became dark. Hundreds of pigeons and sparrows made their homes in the maze of television ariels. Before long, thousands of birds were squawking and screaming around Shadow Point. The bird droppings stuck to the side of the building and turned green and hard. Soon Shadow Point began to change shape. It started to resemble a mountain rising bleak and menacing above the rooftops.’

So Rosie and Timothy start to become the worse for wear as well, their relationship struggling as all Timothy can talk about is cars, and Rosie becomes housebound. Timothy meets his end after being chased up thirty floors of the building by a ferocious rat —

Adam Which I think is the point of the book I would have bailed as a kid.

Ren Yeah, I specifically remember reading this book and getting quite freaked out at the point, and my mum looking at it being like ‘What is this?? What are you reading??’

So Rosie is pregnant with her child Mercedes. And this is where the title character comes in, Mercedes Ice, named after the car that Timothy also dreamed about.

Adam He’s almost like the self-appointed main character?

Ren Yeah, there’s no reason why he is, particularly!

Adam But you feel like Mercedes Ice himself would regard himself as the main character.

Ren Yeah. He’s not very sympathetic, quite a domineering kid.

Rosie’s only friend is Hilda Sparkle, who also has no husband, and a daughter called Hickory. Mercedes and Hickory grow up exploring the flats, knowing every corner of it. Hickory’s territory is the basement, and Mercedes’s is the roof, although he wants control over everything, and Hickory as well.

In the end, a series of events lead up to Rosie filling the building with gas and lighting a match, and all of Shadow Point collapsing in a huge explosion. The only two survivors are Mercedes and Hickory, and Hickory claims the crown of the cobweb kingdom and makes Mercedes her slave.

Adam: It’s really interesting, the ending. Because you know that everyone else has died, it doesn’t explicitly state it but you know. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes Shadow Point feels like a real building, and sometimes it feels like a magical extension of the people’s lives.

Ren: Yeah, the building does sort of feel semi-real. No-one apart from the named characters ever see anyone else in Shadow Point, so it has this eerie urban alienation that comes up a lot in Ridley’s stories. I don’t know if you’ve read any others of the children’s books?

Adam: I have Dakota of the White Flats, and Krindlekrax I remember vaguely. But certainly it’s true of the plays as well. In Pitchfork Disney the brother and sister are isolated in their flat and talk as if it’s the end of the world, but you never quite know if it is post-apocalyptic, or if it’s just that they never leave.

Ren: There’s lots of people living in crumbling buildings, or houses that are standing alone when all the rest around them have been demolished, or new houses that have just been built but hardly anyone’s moved into them yet. There’s lots of these empty urban spaces.

The tone of this book is very odd. It’s very detached, and I think that’s because it’s following the lifespan of the building rather than any particular building so much.

Adam: I think that’s part of it, and it feels like the characters lives have been overshadowed by the building, or almost pre-destined by the building. They don’t seem to have autonomous lives outside of the building, almost.

Ren: Yeah, the scope of the story is these flats, the school playground and a couple of other houses nearby. But that’s the extent of the world.

Adam: Which is how the world often feels when you’re a kid, because your movements and life are so circumscribed as a child. Certainly growing up in a village, it’s very different to an urban experience but the village was my world, and even going into Ipswich which is not a big town, but it felt like another world to me. Mostly I was at school, or at my house.

Ren: We’ve alluded to it, but it has quite an extravagant death tally for a children’s book.

Adam: And quite a matter-of-fact way of dealing with death.

Ren: Yes. The first death we get is —

Adam: Did you actually keep a tally?

Ren: I did actually keep a tally, yes.

Adam: I know you well enough that when you said ‘death tally’ I thought, Ren’s made a tally.

Ren: So Skip the construction worker who Rosie befriends as a little girl, when he’s one of the builders on Shadow Point, and she talks to him about how much she loves the building. And one day she sees a stretcher going past with his golden helmet on top, and that’s the end of Skip.

Both Rosie and Timothy’s fathers die off-screen, so to speak, and they meet in the graveyard and say ‘My father’s dead’, ‘Oh, my father’s dead too’. And then both their mothers die, by the time they’re living in shadow point together.

Adam: One of them’s knocked down by a bus.

Ren: Yes, and the other one chokes on a whelk, or a cockle, because Timothy works on the seafood stall in the market. And then as we’ve mentioned, Timothy himself is dispatched in quite a horrifying way, and then at the end Rosie and everyone in the building, if there is indeed anyone else in the building, apart from Hickory and Mercedes.

Adam: But I think also there’s this odd blunted emotional affect among some of Ridley’s characters. The kids don’t seem particularly concerned that their parents have just been killed at the end of the book, they just kind of get on with it like: ‘Yeah! I’m the queen of the building now, and you’re my slave!’ There’s something quite mercenary about a lot of Ridley characters. They’re all quite scrappy survivors and often quite hard-edged. When we get onto Kasper in the Glitter, Kasper himself is a sensitive soul and is thrust into a world with scrappy survivors.

Ren: And I think as his books go on, there’s more emotion to them. In fact, the most recent one I’ve read, Zip’s Apollo is overflowing with emotion, really.

Adam: That’s interesting, because I think the plays have gotten colder. I think the earliest plays, like Pitchfork Disney are very openly emotional, but there’s one he wrote recently about a couple who are trying to climb up the property ladder, and murder lots of people to get nicer and nicer houses, and that one’s really nasty and cold.*

He’s followed counter emotional trajectories, I think.

Ren: Zip’s Apollo, I really like it, but it’s bordering on sentimental.

Adam: (mock gasp) Oh no!

Ren: Oh no, emotion! Genuine emotion!

Adam: You’re like, ‘I just want the ‘orribleness!’

Ren: No, I really like it, and it has a trans character as well, like an explicitly trans character.

Adam: Ah, that’s ace. Ridley is gay, and maybe not so much Mercedes Ice, but Kasper in the Glitter feels to me like a very queer book.

Ren: Okay, now I’ve been criticised by Alex that we keep saying things are queer then not explaining why they’re queer.

Adam: I mean, do you agree with me that Kasper in the Glitter feels queer?

Ren: Yeah, I think it’s kind of similar to the Oz books, in that it has this gaggle of outsiders feel and found family, which I think is inherently quite a queer concept.

Adam: I think also, and I want to express this without it becoming a weird thing, but I feel like there’s quite a lot of play with femme and butch characters in Ridley’s stuff in general. I guess there’s just quite a lot of gender performativity, that characters become quite concerned with say, their sparkling suit or their wonderful quiff, or their bouffant hairstyle, and this is part of how they interact with the world. It becomes very central to their identity in quite a performative way. Like Nicholas Cage with his snakeskin suit in Wild at Heart, for instance.

Ren: Yeah, there’s definitely lots of characters whose style is very central to how they face the world.

Adam: Yeah, that’s a nice way of putting it.

So do you want to describe the basic plot of Kasper in the Glitter?

Ren: Yeah, I maybe went a bit overboard with this description. It’s quite long, but let’s see.

Adam: I mean, I can try and soundtrack it with my accordion.

(Adam does a musical squeeze of an accordion)

Ren: (astonished) Why do you have an accordion??

Adam: Well, I was reading an article about what makes a podcast successful, and it said they need musical interludes. I mean obviously it’s a problem that I can’t play accordion.

Ren: Okay, well maybe during this description, after I’ve gone on for a while do you want to do an accordion interlude?

Adam: Okay, I’ll do a trill. An accordion trill.

Ren:Alright, good.

Kasper is the title character in a much more usual sense than in Mercedes Ice. He’s a ten year-old boy who has never been allowed to leave the perimeters of his house and garden, and who cooks and cleans for his mother, Pumpkin, who spends her days trying to look as ‘sparkling’ as possible, and dreams at night of the days before the neighbourhood was demolished, and their house was a functioning beauty salon.

One day a boy called Heartthrob appears in Kasper’s garden, trying to steal his roses. Kasper invited him in, and he tells Kasper about the world outside, and how the city is divided into the ‘glitter’ and the ‘gloom’, the glitter being where the ‘found’ are lived who have homes, and the gloom where the ‘lost’ live, who are homeless. The next morning, Pumpkin’s favourite rose-shaped golden brooch is missing, and Kasper is convinced that Heartthrob must have stolen it. He heads out in the night, leaving the garden for the first time on a quest to find the bridge that Heartthrob lives under, and get the brooch back.

Cue accordion.

Adam: (squeeze of the accordion)

Ren Good.

When he arrives in the city he gets swept up by the entourage of King Streetwise, who calls himself the king of the gloom, and lives in a palace that is an abandoned church. He is surrounded by his ‘Argonauts’ who cleanse the palace of things he doesn’t like, like moths and roses that remind him of his lost love, with the ‘prettiest hair in the gloom’, a girl called Hushabye Brightwing. If they don’t do their jobs well enough, King Streetwise gives them a black eye.

Kasper finds out that Heartthrob was one of King Streetwise’s Argonauts, who ran away with Hushabye, and he’s entranced by the king so he tells him where to find them. The entourage heads out, but the bridge they arrive at isn’t the right one, and when the Lost who live there refuse to acknowledge Streetwise as their king, he orders the Argonauts to rip apart all the cardboard that they sleep on.

Kasper realises after that that Streetwise is not a friend after all, and runs off, only to find the bridge where Heartthrob and Hushabye are staying —

Adam: (unexpected accordion)

Ren: Hushabye (who is now completely bald) tells Kasper the true story of Streetwise, including the fact that all the so-called Argonauts are kids that Streetwise has tempted to run away from home.

Kasper goes home to Pumpkin, and upsets her by telling her that she needs to start doing housework and cooking, and that he wants to have friends. Heartthrob and Hushabye come to his house, but King Streetwise follows the trail of rose petals, and bursts into the house, kidnapping Pumpkin.

The three of them make a plan to get Pumpkin back, by filling a tub with moths, papering over the top, and covering it with cream to make it resemble an enormous banoffee pie. Streetwise falls for it, and in the confusion and fear of the moths, starts knocking over all the candles in the palace, setting it alight. Kasper and Hushabye rescue Pumpkin who’s become catatonic from distress and trapped under a bell in the tower, but the stairs have collapsed and they can’t escape.

Pumpkin snaps out of her fugue, and directs the Argonauts to hold out the gold cloak, so they can jump onto it like a trampoline. They escape, and Pumpkin gives a speech offering shelter to all of the lost at her home. That night, Kasper gets a visit from a bedraggled and smoke-blackened King Streetwise, who tries to persuade him that Pumpkin doesn’t need him anymore, and that they should run away into the gloom together. But Pumpkin appears and tells him to get away, Kasper and Pumpkin are reunited, and they have a new purpose, to save any more kids from being tricked by Streetwise.

Adam: (final accordion squeeze)

Ren: Yep, very good. So I hope that’s clear enough, there’s a fair amount of plot in Kasper in the Glitter.

Adam: Yes, it’s like a mini Dickensian street odyssey.

Ren: What did you make of it? Where you reading it for the first time?

Adam: Yeah, and for the first half I wasn’t that keen, and then it suddenly clicked with me and I loved it. I don’t know why, at first… there’s always something just a little bit queasy about Ridley to me. Like, I guess it’s the way that characters have this tendency to repeat the same phrases. Everyone seems just slightly automated almost, you can imagine that all the characters are clockwork people. And I just wasn’t clicking with it. And then around midway it all suddenly fell into place, and then I really, really enjoyed it. And it’s been a long time since that’s happened to me. Usually I’m not sure about a book and it stays like that, or I love it from the start. Whereas this took me a while to get into, but once I settled into it. It might just be that he’s a very peculiar writer and it’s been a while, and once I got back into it I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ren: He definitely has his own ticks. As you said, each of the characters has their own way of addressing people. So with the Argonauts, one of them calls everyone ‘chief’, one of them calls everyone ‘mate’, one of them calls everyone —

Adam: — ‘old bean’

Ren: — ‘old bean’, ‘squire’, and then they all say the same thing one after the other adding their own catchphrase.

Adam: Did you say there’s quite a lot of that in Vinegar Street as well?

Ren: Yeah, it’s similar. I think each character has their own pet name or endearment that they use. That’s another really good one, I love Vinegar Street. It didn’t quite sneak into this episode.

Certainly in Zip’s Apollo, which is entirely dialogue, interestingly. Each character has their own font, but also all their vocal ticks help you distinguish them.

Adam: I think I really liked Kasper as a protagonist as well, perhaps because I kind of relate to him a fair amount.

Ren: I imagine that Kasper would take very seriously an oath to God and the queen.

Adam: Yeah, I think I was quite a Kasper-like child, basically. He’s quite by the book, and he’s a kind-hearted soul really, but he’s also a bit buttoned up, and so he lets things build up and then suddenly gets very flustered and upset and indignant about things. He fluctuates between self-abasement and indignance, and I was like, ‘Yep, that’s me. Got my number’. And also he makes a great banoffee pie, and banoffee pie is the dessert of the gods.

Ren: It really is! I don’t know if I loved banoffee pie before reading this book, or if the book is just —

Adam: — really great propaganda for banoffee pie.

Ren: — really great banoffee pie propaganda, yes.

Adam: Have you tried banoffee pie with a dollop of marmalade on top, then?

Ren: I don’t think I have!

Adam: It did make me want to try it.

Ren: That’s Kasper’s special trick in making banoffee pie.

Adam: Which I must admit, must be nicer than marmalade crumble.

Ren: It did remind me of marmalade crumble.

Adam: That was my old housemate Tai-Heng, once wanted to… I think I baked her something, and she wanted to bake me something. So she’d gone to the supermarket and brought marmalade, I think just thinking that it was a fruit filling? And made marmalade crumble, and then, I don’t want to say pressured me into eating lots of it, but kind of. Expectantly watched me as I choked it down.

And I once ate 1,200 grams of Cadbury’s caramel chocolate in one sitting, as I’m sure you remember.

Ren: I do, it was upsetting to be honest.

Adam: No, no, a proud moment — not an upsetting moment. I do remember at the time, you were like ‘Adam, you’ve just eaten all of that’. And I was like ‘Oh ho, yes I have!’ and you were like ‘No, seriously. You’ve got a problem. I’m not joking’.

I did genuinely feel like I might die. It was awful, my body felt like it was shutting down, like ‘nope, you’ve done it this time’. It was quite scary. But almost as bad was the marmalade crumble, which was the most relentlessly sugary thing. It burned as it went down. But I think marmalade on banoffee pie is better.

Ren: I think that would be quite nice.

Adam: Quite tangy. I think Ridley has a thing for quirky foodstuffs. Or just characters really liking one foodstuff.

Ren: In Scribbleboy there’s two characters who can diagnose people what pizza and ice-cream respectively they most want to eat, which was an idea I always loved.

Adam: I don’t know if there are jellied eels in any of his books, but jellied eels strike me as quite a Philip Ridley thing. Quirky, slightly unusual foodstuff you get in Britain.

Ren: Slightly grotesque.

Adam: Yeah, slightly grotesque but slightly scrumptious. Well, I mean I’m vegetarian, not that I would eat jellied eels. But they do it for some people.

Ren: So the thing that Kasper in the Glitter particularly made me think of was parents in Ridley books. There are lots of imperfect parents and parental figures that are not actually bad people, but like Pumpkin can be quite self-absorbed and miserable and wrapped in their own problems to the extent that they’re oblivious to what their children actually need.

Adam: Yeah, Pumpkin’s not cruel but she is neglectful. And I think you do feel for her, you do like Pumpkin and you can see why she’d be charming. She’s lovable, but she’s very much an imperfect mother character.

Ren: Yeah, she has a sudden turnaround at the end where she realises that she’s been selfish and putting too much pressure on Kasper, but she is likeable but she’s also… and I think this is Ridley’s think, he makes these characters likeable. I think he’s just quite understanding of these imperfect characters and imperfect parents.

Adam: He doesn’t believe in monsters, I think. Quite strongly. And even in his adult plays where people can do quite monstrous things, he’s quite radically compassionate, and quite willing to push that into disturbing places, that level of compassion, almost, in some of the adult plays.

Ren: I think he’s very conscious of what has happened to these people that is driving them to act in this way.

Adam: I like that Hushabye, in the book, who’s probably the most outright heroic figure, I like that she never says that anything’s cruel, she just says that it’s silly.

Ren: Yeah, I really like that too. It does seem kind somehow, that people are maybe not bad, but they’re foolish and acting in ridiculous ways.

Adam: I quite like the way she divides up behaviours into ’silly’ and ‘sensible’ rather than good and bad.

Ren: This is one of the things that I most like about Philip Ridley’s children’s books is that lots of characters who would be demonised by other writers, are presented as flawed but not irredeemable. Particularly the adults. Like, in Vinegar Street you have a character who’s an alcoholic, and in Zip’s Apollo the mum is grieving and incredibly depressed and can’t really look after her kids at all. You have lots of characters who are suffering in various ways, and that means that they’re not great parents, but it’s not because they’re bad people.

Adam: I think Rosie Ice becoming housebound in Mercedes Ice is actually pulled off very nicely. It doesn’t quite tip into fatphobia, and I think for most writers it would. Maybe you could say that it falls in with commonplace ideas about eating compulsively and stuff, but I think it’s rendered quite sympathetically.

She’s certainly never made to seem grotesque at all, and I think this is definitely something that marks out Philip Ridley as different from Roald Dahl. I quite like Roald Dahl, but he is mean. Roald Dahl books are properly judgemental.

So I think in a way it’s quite a superficial comparison. I can see why you’d draw the comparison, because you have these larger-than-life characters and dark fairy tales and characters with eccentric ticks, but I think with Roald Dahl there’s often a sense that we’re — I do like some of the warmer Roald Dahls, I like The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me quite a lot, for instance, but some of them, like The Twits, it’s quite a nasty book. It feels quite sneering.

So do you think Kasper in the Glitter is scary, though? Because you obviously wanted to do Ridley and you said it doesn’t quite count as horror.

Ren: I think probably the scariest part of it is the figure of Streetwise, who wants to tempt children away from their families and their homes to become part of his entourage.

Adam: Well, he’s a bit of an artful dodger type character. He is a kid himself, right? But he uses emotionally abusive tactics to try and lure kids, and I think the book tries to make a distinction between what’s love and what’s forcing people to love you.

Ren: I don’t think Kasper in the Glitter is really horror, but it has that unsettling edge, that mirror-world thing. Sort of similar to Neverwhere, the world above the streets and the world below the streets.

Adam: And the idea of there being these homeless kids, who the ‘army of the upright’, to quote Virginia Woolf, just walk by and pay no heed to.

I can read the passage that I did find disturbing, I’d be interested to know if it was one that also leapt out at you:

‘They were almost under the bridge now. Kasper could see that the homeless were all about his age. Another train thundered by. It made Kasper’s ears ring. But the sleeping lost did not wake. They must be used to it, thought Kasper. Yellow. Blue. Yellow. Blue. ‘WAKE UP!’ boomed The King. His voice reverberated under the bridge. The lost opened their eyes and struggled out of their cardboard boxes. The King’s golden cloak reflected first the light of the street lamp, then the light of the moon. Yellow. Blue. Yellow. Blue. ‘Well - hey there! - listen to me, you sleepy Lost,’ announced The King. ‘I am here to find the love of my life. Hushabye Brightwing!’ The Argonauts shuffled forward. ‘Hushabye, squires.’ ‘With the beautiful hair, old beans.’ ‘Love of his life, chiefs.’ ‘Woof, maties.’ Kasper could see that the Argonauts’ faces were twitching with excitement: eyes wide, nostrils flared, tongues licking lips. ‘Far be it for me,’ began Jingo, whispering in Kasper’s ear, ‘to tell someone with a sequin what to do, but you can put me down now if you want to.’ Kasper did so, then looked at the walls under the bridge. There were several posters. But none of a tropical island. Good heavens! thought Kasper. This is not The Arch. ‘Do you know where my Hushabye is?’ The King was demanding. The newly awakened Lost shook their heads. The King jumped from his Chariot and approached them. Kasper said, ‘This isn’t the right bridge.’ The King glared at him. His eyes changed colour with the light. Yellow. Blue. Yellow. Blue. ‘There’s no poster of a tropical island,’ explained Kasper. ‘So Hushabye isn’t here!’ The Argonauts muttered amongst themselves. ‘Wrong bridge, squires.’ ‘Wrong bridge, old beans.’ ‘Wrong bridge, chiefs.’ ‘Woof, maties.’ Then, ‘Gracious me!’ muttered Jingo. The King collapsed to his knees and clutched at his chest. ‘Ouch!’ he whined. ‘Another night without my Hushabye! Another night before I see her pretty hair — ouch, ouch, ouch!’ Then he glared at The Lost. ‘Tell me, you sleepy and trembling moonlight dude, do you know who I am?’ The Lost were too afraid to speak. ‘Well - hey there! - I’m your King!’ yelled Streetwise. ‘And that means you belong to me! That means… I’m your best friend!’ He pointed at The Lost. ‘Say it!’ he demanded. ‘Soothe the ouch in my chest. Turn my totally yukky night into a little bit of a yum! Say “King Streetwise is my best friend!”’ Stardust and Moonglow snarled. ‘Say it!’ Still The Lost said nothing. The King got to his feet and raised his fist in the air. His rings gleamed. Yellow. Blue. Yellow. Blue. His eyes were raging. The Argonauts muttered… ‘They’re not going to say it, squires.’ ‘Nothing, old beans.’ ‘Not a word, chiefs.’ ‘Woof, maties.’ Then, ‘Gracious me!’ said Jingo. ‘Silence!’ The dogs snarled louder. The King raised his fist in the air. ‘TEAR THEIR CARDBOARD,’ he screeched. ‘TEAR IT ALL!’ And suddenly, the tunnel was a cauldron of noise and panic. The Argonauts rushed forward and started ripping the cardboard boxes The Lost had been sleeping in. The Lost screamed. The dogs howled. The Argonauts laughed. The street lamp flickered. Blue. Yellow. Blue. Yellow.’

Yeah, that bit freaked me a bit.

Ren: It’s disturbing, yeah.

Adam: Everything feels quite feverish, and slightly out of control. And I want to talk about the illustrations a bit, because the illustration by Chris Riddell is presumably one of the lost — have you got this?

Ren: Yeah, I do, it’s horrible. So it’s this incredibly squat, dirty figure wearing layers and layers of clothes and this three-pronged bobble hat, seen from above. Their eyes and mouth wide open in a scream, and below this cracked streetlamp. It’s pretty horrifying.

Adam: It’s a disturbing picture. So, you really like Chris Riddell’s illustrations, I take it. What do you like about them?

Ren: I love all the cross-hatching, and the use of black and white. I think he’s really good at light and dark, and also the very defined textures of them.

Adam: That’s true, they all look quite tactile somehow. I find them a little bit squirmy, I don’t know, they give me weird feelings in my tummy. They’re all very knobbly, all the characters have very knobbly elbows and knobbly knees.

Ren: It’s part of his quite defined cross-hatching style, there’s lot of knuckles and knees and noses that are quite prominent.

Adam: Little things poking out. And clothes that don’t quite fit. Either really sagging clothes, or really tightly pinched-in clothes. It definitely suits Ridley’s world. They’re a definite match, but they make me feel a little bit icky. Just literally, I find looking at them makes me feel weird.

Has he also done some books with animals?

Ren: I think so.

Adam: Because I think I’ve seen his illustrations of mice, little mice-people and that didn’t bother me in the slightest. So it’s definitely something about how he does people.

Ren: They do seem quite like a collection of body parts and clothes, in a way.

Adam: Yeah, I mean, I’m not saying that you’re a collection of body parts and clothes, but I can see why you’d like it. You do like your puppet movement. Like when you used to do all your shovelling with the imaginary big spoon.

Ren:?? What??

Adam: Do you not remember? You used to do it to freak me out!

Ren: I don’t remember this!

Adam:You used to say ‘I’ll spoon it all up!’ and then you’d do this puppet spooning motion really maniacally, like you had a big spoon.

Ren: Wow.

Adam: You did! I swear you did this!

Ren: I mean, it sounds like something I’d do, I just don’t remember.

Adam: It’s singed in my memory!

Ren: Well, speaking of which, kind of, shall we do our Textures of the Week.

Adam: Yes, I’ll get my accordion.

(Terrible cacophony of rattling, accordion and Ren and Adam singing ’Texture of the wee’ tunelessly)

Ren: Do you want to go first?

Adam: I mean, I guess Ridley’s and Riddell’s textures together. But I suppose the marmalade on the banoffee. Just because I spent so much time trying to picture it, and trying to work out if I wanted to eat it or not. I couldn’t quite decide. I’m definitely going to try it, I’ll have to report back.

Ren: I was going to go with Hickory Sparkle’s cape of cobwebs.

Adam: Ooh, yeah! That was great.

Ren: She finds a sheet of cobwebs and puts it around herself as a cape. And then Mercedes Ice has his corresponding cape. He makes his devoted mother sew for him, by fishing for rats by casting a line down the side of the building, reel them in, kill them and skin them and then stitch them into a cape of rat skins for her beloved Mercedes.

Adam: Hehehe.

Ren: Urrrgghhhh.

Adam: See, I was kind of alright with that.

Ren: I think that’s probably it. That’s all my notes, anyway.

Adam:I don’t think I have much more to say, just that Ridley offers some curious worlds to get lost in, so I would recommend them. There’s no-one quite like him. He’s a curious but very engaging writer. I do like him.

Ren: Me too.

Adam: And don’t order them from Amazon, but maybe Amazon independent retails is ethically okay?

Ren:Maybe? It is kind of unfortunately one of the only places to get them. Unless you want to scour lots of second-hand shops.

Adam: They do crop up, so look out for them.

Ren: They tend to have quite glittery covers.

Adam:Oh yeah, my cover of Kasper in the Glitter is glittery. It’s one of the things I really like about it, because they obviously have this glitter page, shiny hologram stuff, and then over the top of it is the blue cover and they’ve cut out the shapes for Kasper in the Glitter. But that means that if the cover gets scratched, and mine’s second-hand so on the back it has lots of nicks and scratches, and you can see the glitter. The nicks and scratches glitter, which seems so Ridley!

Ren: Yeah, that’s perfect!

Do you have a sign-off, old bean?

Adam: Let’s just keep it at that. Keep it spooky, old beans!

Ren: Keep it spooky, chiefs. See you next time.

Adam: Thanks for listening!

  • Illford.

  • Radiant Vermin, 2015.


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About this podcast

A podcast in which one film lecturer and one scaredy-cat discuss creepy, spooky and disturbing children's books, films and tv.

by Ren Wednesday, Adam Whybray


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