One for them: Mein schonstes Wimmelbuch
If our family’s weakness in Waterstones in England is legendary then it can be no surprise that when we found ourselves meandering past a bookshop in Innsbruck the whole family turned as one to go and explore the children’s department. H, with a GCSE German under his belt, can have a pretty good stab at reading children’s books with only the occasional detour to Google Translate, but my German makes that policeman in Allo Allo look entirely fluent in French, so it’s just as well that the words in this wonderful book are entirely limited to the ones on the front cover.
But to describe it as a mere picture book is to do it a disservice, and that’s why I think it can slip under the reading radar despite not actually having words. A Wimmelbuch is a made up German word for a picture book where there’s lots to look at (now you see why they made a word up). Literally it means a teeming book, as in a book that is teeming with vignettes. Where’s Wally is the classic English example, but I can remember from my own childhood loving pictures of cut away houses or big ships, where you could see everything from the sailors shovelling coal in the boiler room, to the posh lady loosing her parasol overboard from the top deck. The more you looked, the more you saw.
It’s true for this Wimmelbuch too; it’s a board book, bigger than A4, and filled with thirteen different spreads, a ‘greatest hits’ from some of the other themed books, from a swimming pool on the first page all the way through to the ski slopes of winter at the end, via Oktoberfest, a construction site, the park, the harbour, and a beach, to name but a few.
The pictures are beautifully illustrated, with gorgeous colours and a lovely way of capturing action. There’s an irreverence in them too; so in the pool scene there’s a little boy peeing into a bush, in the market someone has bumped into a customer with a train of trolleys and a look in their eye that suggests that it might not be completely an accident, and the mountain roads have both picnickers and litter pickers.
Each of the little pictures on the front and back covers appears somewhere in the book and I know Kitty enjoys challenging herself to find them. For Pip (whose birthday present it was) the pictures are more than enough; he will quite happily sit and stare for ages and ages, and then eventually look up solely, point to the pool and declare it: “Bath Mama!”
One for me: Save the Cat!
I was recommended Save the Cat a while ago, duly bought it, and then put it on the bookshelf meaning to get around to reading it as soon as life settled down and I had a bit more time for writing. Cue the hysterical laughter. One more child later I realised that more time was a very long way off and picked up the book. It is meant as a screenwriting handbook, was recommended as a creative writing guide, and yet even if you never wanted to write a single word I think you’d find it fascinating.
Step by step and in incredibly readable chapters, Blake Snyder completely dissects just about every film you’ve ever seen. His theory is that a film’s success or failure rides on whether or not they have a good ‘Save the Cat’ moment; the bit that makes the character likeable and gets you on their side, regardless of what they they go on to do in the rest of the plot. For example, Lara Croft fails because she’s just not that interesting but Pirates of the Caribbean succeeded because a few scenes in Jack Sparrow saves Elizabeth and from the on we’re with him.
I did a GSCE in Drama because (a) I liked making costumes (big surprise!) and (b) I liked peeking behind the curtain, to see how stories are told, and how lighting and costume and pacing gives you all the clues that would be far too wordy to spell out, and this is a peep behind the script; laying bare the building blocks and why the work, so it was always going to be a winner with me.
From a writing point of view too there are so many tips and tricks and exercises that while written to help an aspiring screenwriter work just as well for anyone trying to tell a story. I’m trying to get back into doing even a little bit of creative writing this autumn and I know it’s already made me think about some of the ideas I have floating about in notebooks; pummelling them into shape in my mind, with the hope that one day they’ll all be set free.
I’ve bought the sequel (Save the Cat! Strikes Back) as an audiobook and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in (so no spoilers if you’ve read it!)