I work in what is possibly the loveliest bookshop in Yorkshire (modesty forbids we claim anything more – but if you all want to insist we will accept all accolades). It should come as no surprise then that authors enjoy doing events for us. Or even just popping in for a coffee, to be fair. We love to do talks, signing sessions and even film shows in store but one of my favourite formats is a book launch. Mostly because it usually means that the author is local (but a little bit because there is an outside chance of a glass of vino…). And if the book is a debut that’s even better – we’ll be able to brag that we did the launch for their debut when they win the Booker/get a huge movie deal/marry royalty. Or just get them to come in and sign more stock later, whatever. This week we have a double whammy – a book launch for a Yorkshire author from a publisher based less than 20 miles from Bradford. The launch is on Thursday night, starting at 7pm – come along if you like!
Anyway, onto the book itself. Donna Crick-Oakley lives on the top floor of a block of flats in Huddersfield and, it seems, wishes the world could be more like the books she reads – which are largely tales of chivalry, of knights and princesses. In the early part of the book she decides to brave the outside world by costuming herself as a knight-errant (okay, she doesn’t have any actual armour but gets very creative with a range of kitchen metal ware). This doesn’t go well but does reconnect her with Sammy, a boy she knew at primary school and who gave her the nickname she uses in her fantasy life: Donna Creosote. A large part of the story is, it seems, Donna’s daydreams of her adventures which bear more than a passing resemblance to those of Don Quixote. This is no coincidence – Don Quixote is, famously, a man driven mad by his overindulgence in chivalric literature – and you quickly realise that Donna is a very unhappy, troubled young woman.
Dan Micklethwaite has previously written poetry and short stories and, interestingly, this novel reads like a short story. But, rather wonderfully, a short story which has enough time and space to develop properly and just enough poetry to remind me of the fairy tales Donna loves. And it isn’t all about the fantasy world either – the problems that beset Donna are very real ones about her relationship with her parents, with men and with alcohol. Donna Crick-Oakley seems to have very little self-esteem: Donna Creosote is stronger and more confident. She just isn’t real. I was expecting this to be a funny, quirky little story with, possibly, a developing romance and although it was all these things it was much more. Sad, a bit frustrating, and thought-provoking too. And (hooray) no happy ever after.