Sunday, 5 February 2017

Taking a Chance

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. If you're not familiar with this blog, scroll down to see what it's all about.

 Taking a Chance (Post 36)

 As you might remember, the book from Post 34 (A Bird, a Bloke and a Boyfriend) was my nod to Pygmalion with teenager Sarah making herself a boyfriend out of clay. Today's book, Taking a Chance (1995) is a bow to two other classic poetic tales; the Scottish border ballad Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. Both these old tales feature a man named Thomas (Tam being a Scots form of that name) who is taken by the Fairy Queen. The stories are not the same, but they deal with some of the same themes. I discovered these ballads in my teens and early twenties through reading a mix of poetry and novels which included Kilmeny of the Orchard (LM Montgomery), Tam Lin (Pamela Dean), Thursday (Catherine Storr), The Hawthorn Tree (Patrick Little) and my favourite; Fire and Hemlock (Diana Wynne Jones). These stories are widely different from one another, but they all play with the same themes, and I was inspired to have a go myself. In Taking a Chance, young Thomas Rimmer has always lived with his dad. When Tom, his father, is hurt, no one knows what to do with Thomas, but then Abigail Rimmer turns up, claiming to be Tom's wife and Thomas's mother. She has documentary proof, and Thomas agrees to take a chance and go with her. Living with Abigail, who is fey and possibly magical, is difficult and Thomas desperately needs certainty. As he gradually comes to terms with a mother who can paint dreams, play with time and seemingly conjure a dog companion for her son, he learns something of the reason for his parents' estrangement. By the time Tom Rimmer is able to leave the hospital, Thomas and Abigail have reached an understanding and the future looks hopeful.

The original ballads are not particularly suited to very young readers, but by making the point of view character a child I was able to avoid what you might call adult themes. The parallels in names and situations were, I thought, close enough but to the best of my knowledge no one ever noticed. Certainly no one ever mentioned it to me if they did.  

It wasn't the first time I'd played with classical material and (obviously) wasn't the last but I'd love to know if anyone ever did notice the probable source.

About the Blog 
Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future.

The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 


  1. This is a good look at using written material from another writer for our own use. Writers are not thieves, but they certainly can be borrowers and re-users.

  2. There seems to be a difference is borrowing from classic stories (usually so old they don't have an identifiable author) which I do, and more modern stuff (which I don't). Even when the source is a Grimm or Perault story you can go back and find they used even older sources.


Thanks for reading