Monthly Archives: September 2010

Season of lists

Having thought it’d be last Saturday, and found it wasn’t, I naturally assumed it’d be this Saturday, so swept the decks, if not much else, in preparation. And it wasn’t. It seemed. And then, come Sunday morning, I found it was, after all.

‘It’ being the Guardian children’s fiction prize shortlist. When I wrote about those other shortlists a few days ago, I felt this one was bound to follow immediately. As things tend to do. Some years ago I asked to be put on the mailing list (see, another list) for this prize, and was told I would be. I’ve since asked every year, and somehow it’s not happened.

My Sunday morning revelation only appeared in the form of a brief column in the Review by Mal Peet musing on his role as one of the judges. It was well hidden. The column. Not Mal’s role as judge.

I google and still I don’t find them. At times I get the impression that the ‘home’ website for every award is the last one to update itself. One I mentioned earlier this week only listed the 2009 award. I had thought I’d at least get an early-ish warning on facebook, but not this week.

Don’t worry. My moan is almost done now.

So, to the list. (Here is where I have to search my own blog to see what I predicted. I have a dreadful feeling I was seriously out this time.)

OK, check done. I got two right. And here is the list:

Now, by Morris Gleitzman

Unhooking the Moon, by Gregory Hughes

The Ogre of Oglefort, by Eva Ibbotson

Ghost Hunter, by Michelle Paver

Interestingly two of the choices are ‘last book in a series’ books. I believe someone criticised that as not being a good idea. I don’t think it matters. You could sort of get the prize for ‘long-standing service’.

I have only read Now. Which is wonderful. Really want to read about the Ogre. Unhooking the Moon sounds interesting, and the only reason I’ve not read Ghost Hunter is that I never got started on Michelle Paver’s books, so feel I have an awful lot of catching up to do.

Won’t say which one, but I think I may have a favourite.


After I said what I said about science fiction earlier this week, I started thinking. It’s not true that nobody reads sci-fi, and maybe it’s even less true because we aren’t labelling books properly. If they have to be labelled.

We’ve become so keen on fantasy in recent years that it has become the label for anything not totally real. And we may have travelled to the moon and back, but in general space travel isn’t terribly real. That makes it fantasy. Maybe.

It was my use of the clever word dystopia when I reviewed WE by John Dickinson which really set me thinking. Is it only sci-fi when it involves travel through space? Because there’s Oisín McGann’s Small-Minded Giants, for example. Pretty dystopic, if you ask me. Future world (on Earth) where people live in a way totally alien to how we live here and now. And not in a nice futuristic way, either.

Oisín’s book reminds me very much of Julie Bertagna’s Exodus; of where the people fleeing their flooded islands end up. ‘Paradise’ to some maybe, but dystopia to others. Fantasy or sci-fi, or neither?

I always had this theory that the Retired Children’s Librarian dislikes fantasy because she equates it with sci-fi and she equates that with space travel, which to her mind is dreadful. Pippi Longstocking is fantasy, while not having much to do with rockets and interplanetary adventure. And she likes Pippi.

Terry Pratchett said how he fancies himself as a sci-fi writer for a bit, while he reckons his partner-to-be, Stephen Baxter, in their next book venture is a sci-fi writer who quite likes the idea of writing fantasy. It is very close.

So perhaps we need to re-label some fantasy? There’s more to sci-fi than Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. In fact, how much do the Asimov robots differ from J K Rowling’s characters?

The Resident IT Consultant added his question when we discussed this. Is Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking sci-fi? There are spaceships.

The author with her whole country behind her

It could be that Candy Gourlay’s neighbour is wrong. It could be that lots of countries are proud of their children’s authors and do everything in their power to show their support. Or it could be that her neighbour is right, and that the great interest taken by the Philippine Embassy in Tall Story goes way above the call of patriotic duty to their citizens.

Candy Gourlay

Philippine flag

I did think that although Candy’s novel is one of the best books I’ve read for a very long time and it really deserves all that praise and attention from the Ambassador, that there must be many other books by and about Filipinos. But I learned last night that the Philippines does not have the kind of children’s book publishing that we in the West take for granted, in which case all this makes perfect sense.

So H.E. Antonio M. Lagdameo is doing a wonderful job supporting both Candy and her book, and also all Filipino children who now have a great role model in Candy’s 8 foot giant. He was saying how his grandchildren could recognise themselves in their own experience going to another country to live.

Glasses and red somethings

Anyway, His Excellency invited a few people around on Friday night, for yet another celebration of Tall Story, and he even asked me, which was kind of him. I have yet to become blasé over embassy receptions, so I took myself off to London.

Richard Gourlay

Tall Story at the Philippine Embassy

Candy is a woman who shamelessly uses her fantastic family to promote her book, so they were all there. The Philippine contingency only in a video, but that video was full of singing people and cute babies, and it resulted in the whole roomful of people at the embassy bursting into song. (You’d think they were Swedish.) Mr G almost recognised me, and as introductions go you can’t beat telling a handsome teenager that you’ve slept in his bed. The eldest junior Gourlay is so well brought up that he thought his Mum was being rude in calling me a witch…

Andy Mulligan

There were lots of librarians, and other literary influencers. Random’s Corinne was there, despite a long week away doing bookish things. She’s the sort of woman who happily abandons her poor cat for yet another evening out. Corinne introduced me to Andy Mulligan, author of Trash, the other David Fickling Philippine novel of the year.

Fiona Dunbar

Fiona Dunbar was there, of course. We managed to have our usual – unplanned – meeting in the toilet regions, where I heard about her new books. Coming soon to a bookshop near you. Fiona’s and Candy’s agent Hilary Delamere was there too. Although I have to own up to having gone round this week calling her Felicity in my mind. It’ll be old age. My old age.

David Fickling

David Fickling came along, but as soon as he saw me he clapped his hand over his mouth and Mrs F moved in between us, so we were quite safe. There were also a whole lot of people I don’t know. As someone said, it’s interesting mingling in a totally new group. But hot. And crowded. I was introduced to someone with some sort of chicken website, which has nothing to do with chickens. Quite obvious.

2 x Tall Story

To finish off after the speeches and the singing and the sandwiches and drinks, Candy signed books. They had piles of both the DFB version of Tall Story and the new paperback from the Philippines. Candy signed and signed, and if I hadn’t noticed her presence later on facebook I’d have assumed she’d still be there signing. I got on the broomstick and flew home.

Bookwitch bites #24

Book launch sign

It’s lists and launch time at bookwitch towers with my bites one day early.

Last night Keren David had a launch party for her second novel, Almost True. I wasn’t present as unfortunately there’s a limit to how frequently I can do the commute to London. And I’m afraid I’m on my way there today, although not to see the Pope if I can help it.

Keren David at her Almost True book launch

Gillian Philip

Gillian Philip has been shortlisted for the Royal Mail’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards, along with Barry Hutchison, Julia Donaldson, Debi Gliori, Elizabeth Laird, Cathy MacPhail, Lucinda Hare, John Fardell and Simon Puttock. Luckily there are several categories so more than one of these lovely people can win. I hope they do. Not sure what they win if they win. Stamps?

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2010 judges have also come up with a shortlist, or rather two shortlists, because you can’t have too many lists of whatever length:

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Six and Under

Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets by Quentin Blake

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

The Nanny Goat’s Kid by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell

The Scariest Monster in the World by Lee Weatherly, illustrated by Algy Craig Hall

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Seven to Fourteen

The Clumsies Make a Mess by Sorrel Anderson, illustrated by Nicola Slater

Einstein’s Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan

The Incredible Luck of Alfie Pluck by Jamie Rix, illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood

Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

I gather Philip Ardagh, who is one of the judges, may almost have read too many funny books in the course of duty. I believe it was something like 130, which is enough to put you off even that which you like best.

Right, I have a train to catch. See you tomorrow.

Cherry Crush

The first in Cathy Cassidy’s new series The Chocolate Box Girls, Cherry Crush features the odd one out. Cherry moves with her single Dad from Glasgow to Somerset, where her Dad has found a new girlfriend he wants to move in with. The girlfriend is lovely, but she has four daughters of her own.

Things don’t go smoothly, but if they had, there would have been no book. Cherry gets on with everyone except Honey, the eldest. She gets on very well with Honey’s boyfriend. Not a good idea. Or is it?

Cherry Crush

Dad and girlfriend decide to start up a fancy chocolate company and everyone pitches in to help. I got quite exhausted keeping pace with all they find time to do, but it’s a great setting, with plenty of scope for personal development for all five girls.

Cherry tends to be economical with the truth, which leads to problems, but then she hasn’t grown up being told all there is to know about her own background, either.

Wonderful book in true Cathy Cassidy style, with yet another wonderful CC boy.

And of course I have no interest in the chocolate.


I’m very bad. Really very, very bad. I joked with someone at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. (Note to self: don’t ever joke again!) It backfired, and I’m not sure if the person I spoke to doesn’t have a sense of humour, or just didn’t want to apply it.

It was suggested I could be considered a fire hazard. I was a little taken aback, but you live and learn.

Shortly afterwards I came across Theresa Breslin with her Mr B, and I happened to mention what had been said, and I could see Mr B’s eyes light up. I suspected the worst.

A few days later there was a small parcel waiting for me in the yurt:

Hazardous stuff

With his penchant for customised clothing, this is exactly what I should have expected Mr B to do.

Thank you!


I think it has to be WE, rather than We. It’s an acronym which stands for World Ear, and not ‘you and me’. On that basis John Dickinson’s sci-fi novel is not like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel by the same name. I was interested to read that John didn’t know about Zamyatin when he wrote the book, as that’s was my first thought when I heard of his book.

The old We was one of the musts for the teenage me, going through the standard dystopian novels you were supposed to read in those days. The days when 1984 was still in the future. So I like this kind of stuff, and either you don’t get so much of it these days, or I’m not noticing. Actually, I saw some reviews in the Guardian just the other day. But I wonder if teenagers read less sci-fi nowadays?

WE isn’t set all that far into the future, but it’s at a time when there is space travel, of sorts. Colonies, of sorts, in various places in our solar system. It’s about Paul, who gets sent out to live the rest of his life in the company of three others, somewhere at the less fashionable end of the solar system.

It starts with Paul having the World Ear function removed in an operation, as he won’t need it out there. Think of it as having facebook forcibly removed from your body, along with google and your mobile. Pretty horrible, in other words.

The beginning of the novel has a compulsive feel to it. You just have to read and read. Then – to me – it slowed down. It didn’t stop being interesting, but there was less urgency. Paul discovers that truth is a relative thing, and that life may not be only what he’s been used to. With the WE removed he needs to learn to speak and to interact with his moon base mates.

And the big question is why the authorities sent him there. Earth looks different from the outskirts of the known world. Is there someone sabotaging things? What exactly is going on?

WE starts you on a lot of thinking about life, universe and everything. But I do wonder why it’s being published as a children’s/YA book. There are no young characters in it at all, and for the most part with its limited cast of four adults, it could almost be a stage play. Is it a ‘young novel’ because it was teenagers who read that sort of thing back in the olden days?

Mortal Coil

For a while there I thought Derek Landy had forgotten he has another four Skulduggery Pleasant books to write. He appeared to be particularly keen on killing characters off. I daresay the end wasn’t as ‘dead’ as it might have been. But chilling. There is nothing quite so scary as a smiling baddie. Or is there?

So, fairly reassuring then, to be left hanging, with only a year to go.

Valkyrie is worried, and sets about trying to sort her problems all by herself. And that’s not yucky and gory at all. Oh, no. Had I not been an insensitive fan of NCIS I think I may well have fainted there and then.

Blood flowing all over Ireland, and then some. Or so it seemed. There’s a bit of Twilight. Also a brief nod to The Princess Bride. And if that sounds soppy, it isn’t. Soppiness galore with all the love. Love not necessarily destined to go well. If I’d been Valkyrie I’d have…

It’s winter. It’s cold and slippery out. (Wonder where the inspiration for that came from?) Tanith finds her sexy outfit a bit on the chilly side. And I think I need to learn that fire-from-the-fingers trick, if it really makes icy pavements less treacherous.

I like books where bad and good is fluid. You can’t be sure if someone’s always going to be on your side or not. Except for when it’s… And possibly when they all…

Some bad things are scarier than others.

This is no vicarage

I think I get it now. This fascination for Nordic crime. People like Adèle Geras, who can’t have enough of the gritty crime from our cold and dark countries. And me, who shudders at the mere thought of some of the bleak grittiness.

I’m currently reading a much talked about Swedish crime novel, which can remain anonymous for the time being. Started it on Friday night and read solidly for an hour, or about 100 pages. Then I thought to myself that it was so unpleasant that I might as well give up and save myself the remaining 500 pages. Ghastly crime (I know they all are, really) and not a single likeable character.

Then for good measure I continued yesterday. It’s scary and off-putting and I still can’t stand the characters. I don’t like the Stockholm setting, because although I don’t live there, I feel I could do. In which case I do not want that sort of stuff happening on my home ground. I can see myself leading that kind of drab life and I feel vaguely sick.

But that’s what you like, isn’t it? If it’s grim and it’s grim in a different place, for people not living your kind of life, then it’s just ‘nice’ to watch from the safe distance of your armchair. While I can see myself there, I’m scared.

I used to have this theory that readers with ‘cosy’ British lives enjoy the murderous Ikea life style in the glow of the Aurora and all that. You’re safe in your semidetached lives. And I used to think that I adore cosy English crime because it’s different. Set in charming surroundings, with interestingly different characters, and totally unattainable.

Now though, I find crime like Stephen Booth’s – for instance – a little bit too close to home. But still quite enjoyable, as the Peak District is still a few miles down the road.

And isn’t that why we like Agatha Christie? Most of us can’t aspire to that kind of life (partly because it’s now in the past), and feel secure in the knowledge that we won’t be murdered in any mansions or vicarages anytime soon.

Having come to this brilliant conclusion I had to try and decide what type of crime writing I do like and feel comfortable with. Irish fantasy. Quite safe. V I Warshawski, safely far away in Chicago. Mma Ramotswe. Very far away. And yes, Stieg Larsson. Because for some reason I can’t see myself living in his settings. Anything with humour, really. Like Donna Moore’s mad capers. Not real. A reflection on society, but not my life.

I yearn for more Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Safe time, safe class. Yes, I want safe crime. Something that is unlikely to reach me.

Bookwitch bites #23

You know how you always hate the way you look in photographs? (Unless you are a little bit narcissistic.) Well, I think it’s time people recognise that they look good to others, in some of those photos. Last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival I published a photo of Theresa Breslin, which she didn’t like. So I changed it. I still maintain it’s a good picture, but Theresa is allowed to disagree.

I was thinking of this when I saw the photo of her that accompanied the interview by Michelle Pauli in the Guardian last week. It may have been taken by the great Murdo Macleod himself, but he seems to go for the weirdly interesting rather than leaving women looking beautiful. Anyway, there is an interview, and that is good.

There is another issue of Armadillo magazine out now, so feel free to pop over for some reviews and stuff.


Somewhat late, but better that than never, here is a photo of Derek Landy with his greatest fan Charlie. Both very fine looking boys. The book they’re smiling over isn’t half bad either.

Queen Cathy

And the Queen of Teen has been crowned and it is Cathy Cassidy! Excellent choice, and Cathy looks right at home in that crown, doesn’t she? And only marginally pink. Very queenly hair.

It almost makes me wish I’d had the strength to travel down to Godalming to join them in their pinkness after all. Although I gather Cathy had the support of Meg Rosoff, and possibly that of Doc Martens.