Weird worlds;Children's books;Features amp; Arts

12th November 1999 at 00:00
FOLLOWING BLUE WATER. By Jenny Sullivan. Pont Young Adult pound;4.95. THE STONES ARE HATCHING. By Geraldine McCaughrean. Oxford University Press pound;5.99.

In both these novels, other worlds lie close to the surface of everyday life. The opening of Following Blue Water seems unlikely to lead in such a direction; readers meet assertive 17-year-old Angharad, her parents and their new partners, and the creative arts centre in north Wales where she is to spend the summer.

But, falling into the past - a trick which she learns to repeat with the aid of a dragon disc - Angharad inhabits a 12th-century family with pressing problems. Her experiences take on a farcical tone; she is emphatically a 1990s teenager and her language and attitudes are incomprehensible to those around her. The germ of Jenny Sullivan's story came from the possibility that Welsh navigators reached America centuries before Columbus, by following "blue water" (the Gulf Stream). Angharad, researching in the library, learns that a repeat voyage almost certainly ended in the death of the admirable Madoc and her earlier self - but can past events be changed? The confiding first-person narrative will attract those who may not normally choose time-slip novels.

Geraldine McCaughrean's The Stones are Hatching has a younger main character, Phelim is only 11, but makes greater demands on its reader. From the opening, before gaining bearings of time, place or character, we are plunged into a series of weird happenings as Phelim is called upon to defeat the Stoor Worm, awakened by the guns of the Great War.

But McCaughrean is a superb storyteller, and her tale is irresistible. Drawing on folklore and rural tradition, she creates an array of fearsome creatures - the Noonday Twister, cornwives, merrows who capture the souls of fishermen in lobster-pots. The real pleasure of this book is in the powerful, evocative prose - there are memorable descriptions on every page.

Linda Newbery

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