Jellybaby corpses and other gruesome stuff

Last time I went to Waterstones Argyle Street (Glasgow, for those of you who don’t know) was to talk to John Barrowman. That was nice. Two and a half years later I returned to launch Kirkland Ciccone’s second novel Endless Empress, only to find that in the corner where John’s fans had queued, someone had built a café. Very nice (but where will they queue next time?). And toilets (where the interview happened…). Also very nice, not to mention convenient.

Endless Empress

Where was I? Oh, yes, launching Ciccone’s book. (I might have told you already how disappointed I was when I found out that’s not his real name. Well, last night I discovered he doesn’t know how to pronounce it, either. Or, his publisher and editor – Keith Charters – doesn’t. Might be a Cumbernauld thing, I suppose.)

So, there we were, about to launch. He has lots of friends, that Kirkland, and many of them were there. It was probably the most uniformly aged audience I’ve come across, outside schools.

Kirkland Ciccone

He wore dead leopard. Fake dead leopard, I hope (it looked a bit cheap, so it probably was), and it made him unbearably warm, which is why Kirkland had to take it off as soon as he’d stopped his crazy talk.

Keith Charters

Kirkland was introduced by Keith, who reckons his author is the funniest thing since sliced bread. When editing the book, there was always something new to discover on every read-through.

Endless Empress had a few provisional titles before it became EE; Dead Teenagers, Enkadar, Bombers, The X39 Is Late Again, and finally Endless Empress. Kirkland doesn’t want to write normal YA books (I can well believe it) and is hoping to prove himself to his old school. Or was it teacher? He’s a ‘pop culture sponge’ who listens to what people say in queues.

He cried when he had to read Women In Love at school (Cumbernauld, again). We were entertained by tales of his crazy, chainsaw wielding neighbour, as well as talking bushes (a flasher who mistook Kirkland for a girl), and women crying by the ice cream van. Kirkland doesn’t like Thomas the Tank Engine.

Kirkland Ciccone

At one point in the pre-publication days he worried that the book might be too realistic. He felt that the high school massacre he wrote about almost came true. And his Elvis impersonator killer did too.

Kirkland wanted a really cool and edgy cover. Keith got him art student Ida Henrich, who has made a pretty spectacular cover, despite the fire at the Glasgow School of Art.

Kirkland Ciccone and Ida Henrich

We got the Spanish holiday story again. His mum took him to Spain on holiday when he was a child. When he was invited to the Tidelines book festival in Saltcoats last year, he discovered that Saltcoats had a lot in common with Spain. In fact, it was Spain. Like many good mums his mum pretended a Spanish holiday.

This camp – not manly – author is of the YA generation. He was terribly excited to have been invited to lunch with Julia Donaldson and Theresa Breslin (except it seems he was incapable of going to the right restaurant). Kirkland finished by saying he hoped people would like Endless Empress as much as he loves it himself (quite) and that £7.99 might seem much, but it’s the price of two coffees and a muffin. Apparently.

Waterstones Cafe

Then there was Irn-Bru and wine and jellybabies (which look like corpses, or some such thing). I’d been promised Coke. What I got was Waterstones water with Waterstones ice.

What happened to my Coke?

Dragons at Crumbling Castle

It was touch and go with the glacé cherries. But four hours before I learned that every house has a packet somewhere, we re-acquired a tub of cherries. Phew.

Terry Pratchett’s youthful short stories, as collected in Dragons at Crumbling Castle, just prove that he has always been what he is. Only he was younger once, but then that is an affliction we have all suffered from.

Terry Pratchett, Dragons at Crumbling Castle

I admit, I was worried that someone, somewhere was scraping the barrel, and that I’d not like this book so much. I’m sorry, I occasionally get very crazy notions. Won’t happen again.

There are Carpet People stories, and abominable snowmen and tortoises, boring knights and people who dance funny and a bus that jumps through time. And those dragons.

This is a lovely collection of stories. The illustrations by Mark Beech are quite crazy, in a Quentin Blake-ish sort of style, and I must warn you that on page 169 there is a picture of individuals wearing feather head-dresses. But then I suppose Terry isn’t running for diversity.

These stories are far too good for children. Oops, I mean for children not to share with older people. But you knew that.

To be more right than others

Honestly, I prepared last Wednesday’s blog post because I liked the list of books and its ethos, but basically I was being lazy. I imagined the list would pass silently by most of you.

But oh no. When you least expect it, trouble brews. And it brewed pretty stormily, too. Because two of the books celebrating diversity were ‘only spouting stereotyping.’ In this case of Native Americans (and I don’t know if this is the acceptable term, but it was used by my attackers), and no one could have been more surprised than I was.

The authors, on the other hand, were not. They have been the target for this kind of thing before.

As I said, I have not read Apache, so will leave it out for the moment. I have read and enjoyed Amazing Grace. My understanding of the diversity aspect of Grace is that it’s because she is a black girl in England. The fact that she spends a moment pretending to be a Native American is beside the point. There are many of us who have done so.

Now, you could (as an author or a publisher) consult specialists, to make sure you don’t go upsetting anyone. I understand this happens more often than you think. But experts can be ‘wrong,’ too, or not of quite the same persuasion as those who later complain or harass.

What’s more, the comments last week felt as if they were aimed at me. I didn’t compile the list and I didn’t write the books, although I wish I had. I am white, but that doesn’t automatically make me one of the people who have mistreated Native Americans. There are many white people who have also been – and still are – unfairly treated and discriminated against.

When you feel really strongly about something, there is a tendency to forget others. It’s ‘me, me, me’ all the way. It’s also easy to use a tone of voice that will generally not get you far. Even for serious matters, a sense of humour and a portion of intelligent conversation will get you more followers and better results.

Most children like pretending. It’s part of normal childhood. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you use violence or have access to an adult’s weapons (as is far too common in some places). As a dear friend of mine put it: ‘I don’t think little girls wearing head-dresses and sitting cross-legged is the cause of the tremendously awful situation of Indians, or if all these illustrations were wiped off the face of the earth, anything would change.’

When the young Witch played at being an Indian, it was from the perspective of admiring the people she saw in Westerns on television. They seemed exciting and they looked beautiful. To be told now that I was stereotyping, and effectively colluding in the awful treatment of these people in real life is upsetting, and also very useless. No one saw me. If they had, I’d have looked pitiful. It was on the inside of my mind that great things were taking place. I didn’t use books or obtain views of the world from the – apparently – bad British media. I only had Hollywood films.

I’m sure I am far more prejudiced than I would like to think. I don’t always have all the facts, or the totally correct, most recent facts. But I mean well, and any political correctness comes from my heart, not through clichés. It’s human to make mistakes. I’d like to think that any persecution of authors of children’s books are just that; human mistakes.

I make plenty of mistakes, all the time. And I’d prefer not be criticised for it, but I’d rather someone tells me off for the bad things I do, than for an author who has written a rather lovely book about a nice little girl who likes to play and use her imagination. Neither I, or the author or Grace have had anything to do with what mostly white Americans have done to the people who lived there first.

Nor do I believe that removing a couple of books from a list will make life better for Native Americans.

Night Runner

Tim Bowler’s latest book, Night Runner, is absolutely normal, by which I mean it’s got none of the supernatural that he is so well known for. It was almost a relief. Sometimes I’d rather be scared by ordinary decent mean-ness than by the inexplicable.

And you certainly are in this book. Tim has come up with some really nasty characters in Night Runner.

Tim Bowler, Night Runner

Zinny knows his parents are involved – probably separately – in some funny business. He just doesn’t know quite what. His mum seems to be having an affair, and his dad is never at home, and when he is, he is violent. Not popular at school, Zinny has no one to turn to when things go even more wrong.

Not that he would, anyway. And I think that’s what this thriller is about; the fact that teenagers don’t necessarily share the bad stuff that happens to them with anyone, even if they have a sympathetic headteacher. Instead they attempt to sort things out on their own, and end up in a worse pickle than before.

This happens to Zinny. The wrong people tell him to do things, or else.

In the end you almost agree with poor Zinny; things are so bad that it won’t matter if the worst happens. Almost.

Very, very exciting, and without a ghost of a ghost.

Kalmar and me

Meet Kalmar, Ivar’s second cousin. Actually, I’m not sure it is Kalmar. That might have been the Habitat cousin once removed. But a witch has to call her shelves by name, so they will be be Kalmar. They came from the Coop in Sweden, and travelled here in that fateful VW van I’ve mentioned before. The one so full of wardrobes  – and shelves – that we thought it’d never make it.

Ivar is the current IKEA ‘equivalent,’ which used to be called Ingo. It’s hard to keep up with these booky boys, who can’t all be Billy. I preferred Kalmar because he was taller. I wanted tall, because that way I’d have room for more books.

The first house the Resident IT Consultant and I lived in had a small livingroom. It had small everything, really, but the livingroom was where the shelves had to go. By the end we had five bookcases in that room. Could have done with more.

Then we moved Kalmar and ourselves to a much larger house, where Kalmar moved from room to room, wherever he was needed. When Offspring wanted space, I reluctantly put Kalmar up for sale in Loot. Luckily, only half the parts were sold, and in the end I decided the remaining two bookcases were just right for Offspring. One in each room. Offspring. Kalmar.

Then the shelves shifted round again, and Daughter got both Kalmars and Son had some new Ivars. When Daughter went to university I appropriated Kalmar for my own needs. And in this latest move, I’m afraid to say I thought Kalmar might go and live in the garage. We do need lots of shelves, but Kalmar is deep, and could theoretically be replaced by someone half as deep, thereby leaving more room for us. (Did I mention this house is smaller? Although not as small as the first house.)

But I am nothing if not dithery, so I have decreed that Kalmar will live in Son’s room (=guest room), but will need to be white. 32 years as pine is more than enough, and white is the new, erm, new, whatever.

So, I am painting. I need to out-paint the Resident IT Consultant, who’s been attached to a paintbrush for far too long. I am the painter here. (For anything of a size that I can reach up to, or bend down to.)

The shelves before

Here stand all 16 Kalmar shelves, awaiting their very first meeting with undercoat. They are in a room which is itself awaiting all manner of things, and is therefore available, and one must make the most of an empty room, now that the Resident IT Consultant has killed and buried its wallful of fitted wardrobes.

The shelves before

I am going to give the undersides of the shelves one coat (undercoat; geddit?), just in case someone sees the pine shine if they lie down on the floor and look up the underneath of Kalmar. Which will have to pay for being too deep by doubling everything. One in front, one in the back.

Bad(diel and) Bookwitch

There’s no point in trying to play it safe, as has become obvious in the last few days.

A couple of weeks ago I referred obliquely to a celebrity children’s book. I was asked to do an interview with the author, but on second thoughts I decided against, because he didn’t have time to take part in this publicity the way I’d like.

I knew next to nothing about David Baddiel, so had nothing bad to say. Or good. After googling him, I found him to be a pleasant looking man, and as he has previously written a few adult novels, I’m thinking he might not be a bad author, even of children’s books. The topic – choosing your parents – doesn’t appeal, but then I’m more parent than child, and would rather not be unchosen by mine.

Guardian article

Reading the Guardian Family last Saturday I discovered David had had time for them. At least to pose for a very nice photo. The interview might have been a phone one, for all I know, and is sufficiently padded that it could have been pretty brief. And I guess the article writer hadn’t read the book.

If I’d got access to David, I would have. And let’s be honest, I was only vaguely interested in the whole thing because he’s a bit famous (while not being Katie Price). And because I didn’t know him or his work, I felt that might make it fun.

Apparently he did a radio interview about the book as well. That’s fine. His publicist got him a lot of attention, as she should do. I just don’t know why I was asked. I don’t get paid. I need something in return, other than a book. To meet people I have chosen myself is my main reward. Having ‘unknowns’ thrust upon me, I need to feel there is something a wee bit different, even outstanding, about my victim.

And they do need to reciprocate a little in effort. I will travel, and meet up, and write up, in return for as little as twenty minutes in person. Stupid of me, I know.

David seems like a nice man. Which is nice. Just too busy. Which for his sake is probably also nice. I’m also busy, so it was for the best that we were busy being busy at the same time.

So who’s Danny Weston?

After all he put me through reading The Piper, I decided I needed to know more about Danny Weston. I suspect there’s some funny business going on here. I just wonder what?

Anyway, I sent over some searching questions, and this is what came back:

Danny Weston

Danny Weston… the name sounds awfully familiar. I can’t believe this is your first book.

I’m a late developer, Witch. I’ve had ideas for books kicking around in my head for a very long time and finally one of them has popped to the surface.

I note that you live in Manchester. Have we met? No, I’d remember that face. (Somehow your name makes me think you’d look like Johnny Depp. I don’t know why.)

Some people have occasionally mistaken me for another author of children’s fiction, which is a mystery to me, as I’m far better looking than him.

The Piper is rather a scary story. Do you enjoy frightening little children?

It is great fun – and very therapeutic.

I’m guessing you said ‘yes.’ I‘d like to know why.

I think children enjoy being frightened by stories. It’s hardly a surprise. What are the first stories we give them to read? Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel are horror stories, pure and simple. It always amuses me when parents wonder why their children have such dark imaginations!

Do you have personal experience of Romney Marsh?

Romney Marsh is one of the bleakest wildernesses in the British Isles. I have spent many happy hours there. St Leonard’s church in Hythe, for instance, has thousands of human skulls stored in the crypt. What’s not to like?

What about quicksand?

Dreadful stuff. Tends to get underfoot…

And what’s the thing with those dolls? (We obviously don’t want any spoilers here.)

I don’t know about you but I do find china dolls rather terrifying… even when they don’t talk to you.

I can see The Piper as a film. Can you?

Yes, please! I think it would make a splendid movie, though it certainly wouldn’t be what they call a ‘feel-good’ film. I have actually written a screenplay for it, just in case anybody should be interested in pursuing the idea.

Have you got plans for any more books?

My next book is already written and should arrive some time in 2015. It’s called Mr Sparks and concerns the adventures of a psychotic ventriloquist’s dummy. Happy days!

Will you be doing events? If so, any near me? (I’ll have to make sure I’m away.)

I will find you anyway, Witch. You can run but you can’t hide. As for events, I’m planning to be haunting schools up and down the UK. Anybody who is interested can get in touch via my good friend Philip Caveney’s website –

philip-caveney.co.uk (He won’t mind.)

Finally, I have thought a great deal about this: Where do you get your inspiration?

That question! I hate that question! Wait… come back! Why are you running away?

Is he gone yet? The man’s crazy. Skulls. That’s sick. Ventriloquist’s dummy! It’s probably going to be worse than those dolls near Romney Marsh. Aarrgghhh!!