The Phantom Tollbooth

Lethargy, the Doldrums. I was 10 years old and clueless as to what these words meant let alone how to pronounce, “lethargy.” So I went to the dictionary and began my love affair with The Phantom Tollbooth.

It was also the book that helped me fall in love with words and literature.

It is a book of wonder and I have read it at each decade of my life.

I love this book so much that I have “To Lands Beyond” tattooed on my arm in an open book.

There is something so magical about this book and I am disappointed I did not write down how I felt when I read it all those times. I had no idea that I would be doing a reading experiment with myself every decade so this read through I will pay particular attention to my emotions.

What sparked my rereading of this book in my 20s was getting it as a gift from a very good friend of mine. It was the 35th Anniversary issue and she wrote a lovely note inside. I was in a very unhealthy relationship and stuck in my life. We talked about how to unstick ourselves and must have mentioned this book and here it was, my journey was about to begin again. Where would this next step, page, door take me? It took me home to find myself again and never doubt my strength and resolve. That was the 26 year old version of this book.

The 36 year old version was the acting version. When I was in undergrad I used this book as my theater book, meaning that we had to act out scenes from it and be filmed so we could see and hear how we projected, emoted and paced with words. I had so much fun using this book because it was so familiar and getting to act out the opening scene was a highlight of my 30s. I was building on the strength from 26 to 36.

Who knew a child’s book could be the impetus for such success?

I read it again at 42 for fun as my life was in quite the upheaval. My late wife was sick off and on and we tried to tap into the things that made us feel happy or good. So I went to my trusty paperback still in pristine condition and read once more about Milo and his adventures. I had many years of memories from this book and my late wife knew how much I loved this book she got me the annotated volume as a wedding gift. It came with pictures of the author and illustrator being silly as they autographed this book!! I was beyond the lands beyond. I was floating in pure joy and happiness. It was the perfect gift and we were about to go on the perfect trip to Thailand and get married.

We had another 5 years of good and bad and I struggled to find my happy again after her passing. It took a whole lot of help from friends to get through that dark period and I am very glad to be on this side of the blackness. I have found love again and I couldn’t be happier. We packed up and moved to a quieter life to write and be creative and find new adventures together.

Now at 50 I am about to embark on a very different, but familiar journey with Milo and Tock as we all head into strange lands together. I am very excited to see and feel this book again after having been through so much at each decade.

To Lands Beyond indeed; lead the way Milo.

Writer’s Corner Tab is Up

Hello lovelies!!

I have something very special for you today.

There is a new section on the CoffeeFitnessUnicorn page.

Today I am introducing you to Gavin Gardiner in the Writer’s Corner.

Gavin’s debut novel comes out this Friday, April 9, 2021 and this is release week!!

Welcome to a new horror.


Writer’s Corner

Meet Gavin Gardiner. Scottish gentleman, cat lover, and horror writer.

For Rye is Gavin’s first published novel being released April 9, 2021

If You Could Describe For Rye in three words, what would they be?

Two of the most crucial elements in fiction are conflict and character change. I’d been particularly fascinated by the concept of character change for a long time, revelling in everything from Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk to Breaking Bad. There’s something that truly resonates with us when a character undergoes a tangible transformation, and I’d began wondering whether I might be capable of writing a character that undergoes some radical psychological change in the context of a horror novel, and just how radical I might be able to make that transformation.

So yes, I’m tempted to be awkward and answer your question with: transformation, transformation, transformation.

Another word that might fit the bill would be ‘rebirth’. One of the main themes of the book is actually hidden in plain sight, in the main character’s name, no less. ‘Renata’ comes from the Latin ‘Renatus’, which itself means ‘born again’. My understanding is that it refers to spiritual rebirth, specifically baptism, the name being prevalent in ancient Rome where baptisms played an important social role.

Anyway, fire and water are both recurring motifs throughout For Rye, and without giving too much away to your readers, Renata goes through two figurative baptisms: one in a very significant (and grisly) scene in a graveyard under torrential rain, and the other in another crucial scene involving fire. The two baptisms Renata goes through – which are both pivotal moments in her transformation – are via the polar opposite elements of fire and water, which is meant to represent the moral complexity of her transformation: if a traditional water baptism is ‘good’, then a fire baptism may be seen as ‘bad’, therefore we already have a hint that Renata’s transformation isn’t going to be entirely wholesome, and most likely steeped in both ‘bad’ and ‘good’; fire and water.

To summarise, I guess the three words I would choose to describe For Rye would be: ‘transformation’, ‘rebirth’, and ‘fucking gruesome’.

Damn, that’s four.

How Did This Refreshing Book Come About?

Well, as I mentioned before, my fascination with character change played a pretty big role in the decision to write this book. But there was another factor, without which my musings of transformation would never have been enough for this novel to come into existence.

My friend and film analyst Ewan Rayner has spent countless evenings with me discussing and dissecting story, character, plot, and everything else that goes into a compelling movie or novel. He’s repeatedly put me to shame with his encyclopaedic knowledge and insights, but he also coaxed the flames of my obsession with story until a book just had to be written. I can’t put into words how much I’ve learnt from him, but I’m confident that For Rye would never have happened had those endless evenings of discussion never taken place.

I’d encourage budding writers of all genres to grab every opportunity they can to discuss their craft with someone equally as passionate as they are. You can read all the books in the world, watch all the films, gorge upon every textbook on structure and technique, but if you don’t apply all that information by way of stimulating conversations and debates about all things writing, then you’ll never truly understand the information. As Bruce Lee said: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply.”

So this book came about from exactly these kinds of stimulating conversations and debates, and I have Ewan to thank for that. I’m glad you found For Rye so refreshing, and I have to believe that this freshness was also a result of everything I learnt from him. So yeah, cheers to Ewan!

What Is The One Thing You Want Us To Be Left With From For Rye?

Having read the novel, you yourself know that this ain’t a happy story. It was never my intention to give readers a morally fulfilling experience, or to make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I’ve had enough of that. I knew the patterns and tropes and structure into which most of the horrors I’ve read slot, and although I’m probably a fool for going against the grain, I wanted above all else to shake my readers. 

Personally, I find For Rye disturbing. I’ve read books that are more explicit and graphic, but I still find my little nightmare extremely hard going. I want this novel to disturb you as much as it disturbs me, if only by its abandonment of certain established patterns of modern fiction. Maybe what shakes me most about For Rye is its moral uncertainty; the fact that throughout the book ‘goodies’, in the traditional sense, have the capacity to turn into ‘baddies’, and baddies into goodies. It is my hope that you’re pulled out of your comfort zone and reminded that the spectrum of good and evil is a slippery one.

If reading For Rye shakes you as much as writing the thing shook me, then I’ll sleep easy.


Follow Gavin on his social media pages and sign up for his newsletter on his website:

https://gavingardinerhorror.com

https://www.instagram.com/ggardinerhorror/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS9lVOrizVkuHbOzX2OFQCg


I had the pleasure of beta reading “For Rye” and was blown away by the freshness of the prose, the originality of the story, and the classic gothic and horror elements. I was hooked instantly by Gavin’s words. 


In a few months we will do another IG Live to discuss All Things For Rye.

Joins us again as we deep dive into Gavin’s “little nightmare.”