Category Archives: Adele Geras

Paws and Whiskers

Who knew Philip Pullman has had dogs? Yeah, I suppose you all did, except me. He doesn’t strike me as a pet person, somehow. But he has had dogs. Three, of which two were very stupid, according to the doting Philip.

I learned all this in Paws and Whiskers, which is an anthology about cats and dogs, chosen by none other than Jacqueline Wilson. She wrote about her own cats, and they sounded so lovely I was halfway to Battersea and its Dogs & Cats* Home before I remembered I don’t want a pet.

Being my normal cynical self, I was intending to glance at this anthology, before handing it to someone who might appreciate it. Seems that person is me. I have only sampled the odd thing here and there – so far – but I can see that P&W will have to join my shelf of collections, where I can dip in and out of stories as and when I need something nice. (Will have to see about getting the shelf made longer.)

Jacqueline Wilson, Paws and Whiskers

Jacqueline has written a new story herself, and there is also her old Werepuppy. Apart from Philip Pullman, you can read about Malorie Blackman’s fondness for German shepherds, even when they are cowards. The usual suspects like Michael Morpurgo and Enid Blyton are there, as is Sharon Creech with her lovely Dog. Adèle Geras has written about a cat I didn’t know she once had, including a poem about her beloved pet, who was never left alone when they went on holiday. They took turns…

Patrick Ness is there with his much missed Manchee, along with countless expected and unexpected authors who have had pets, or who have written about them. Some pieces are excerpts from books, and other stories have been specially written for P&W.

The really good thing with this kind of selection of writing is that if you love Jacqueline (and who doesn’t?) you will discover new writers and their work, simply because if it’s good enough for your hero, it will be good enough for you.

Illustrations – as nearly always – by Nick Sharratt.

*Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the home.

The Green Behind the Glass

It wasn’t lost, exactly. Nor forgotten. But it was lucky I decided to sort through The Books Behind the Door the other day. Because that’s where I discovered The Green Behind the Glass by Adèle Geras. I’d like to think that its purpose in hiding there was to give me more pleasure when I found it again.

This brief volume of eight short stories about love is a true period piece. Published in 1982, the stories are typical of what fiction for teens was like back then, and I have to say (am I showing my age?) I miss that kind of story every now and then. And Adèle is very good with short stories. She’s good with love.

Adèle Geras, The Green Behind the Glass

It’s not all straigtforward love, either. Some of the stories end badly; others end unexpectedly, perhaps leaving the character(s) with a new kind of life to look ahead to. Not happy ever after. But hope.

The first story is about – possibly – unrequited love in WWI. Plus the fact that war was rather bad for other reasons. Then there’s the girl who helps a friend to write love letters, falling in love with the recipient of them. Paris when you’re young and poor, but can sing in the streets to earn some money. Paris = love. For some.

In one story the teenage girl and her mother both fall in love with the same, useless, man. Falling in love with the wrong person is a common problem, and there is more unrequited love in Monday.

Then we have the sixth former in the 1950s, at boarding school away from his home in Borneo (very nicely done, but then Adèle knows what she’s writing about), who meets a kind of Mrs Robinson. Or the young girl who leads such a  sheltered life that it’s a miracle there can be any love story at all.

Finally, the young unmarried couple who find they are pregnant, which was less acceptable thirty years ago.

This whole book was like a gift from the past. Which – literally – it was. Thank you Adèle! I shall try and keep better control of The Books Behind the Door in future.

Goodbye Norm

Norm Geras died yesterday morning. He’d been ill for some time, and earlier this year when I asked Adèle how he was, her reply wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. So I knew what to expect, but you still feel sad when it happens.

He was such a widely respected man, and I was extremely flattered when asked to contribute to his Normblog profile early on in my blogging career. That someone like Norm would consider me ‘grown-up’ enough to contribute felt astounding.

I didn’t read his blog every day, but as his facebook friend I caught most of his daily comments about ‘everything.’ When I acquired a new fb friend some years ago, the thing that really impressed her was that I was friends with Norman Geras!

The first thing I ever heard about Norm was about his room, filled with books on cricket. He had a lot, though I understand he actually parted with some of his collection before he and Adèle moved from Manchester three years ago. I admire him for that, now that I am facing a cull in my collection of not-cricket books.

Norm and Adèle Geras with grapes and strawberries

We met when Daughter and I came to their house to interview Adèle four years ago. Not wanting to eat with us girls – or perhaps not being allowed to – his salad was brought to his office, but he came down for cake and strawberries later.

Norm kept blogging and generally staying in touch with the online world until last week. I kept checking, always hoping he’d be there.

(People have been collecting tributes and links on this new blog.)

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

Innerpeffray Library

Innerpeffray Library

You know when people share their favouritest place with you, and you’re afraid you’ll hate it and that it will cause problems between you and all that? Helen Grant has been going on and on about Innerpeffray Library – almost in the middle of nowhere in Perthshire – for so long, that I thought she might, just possibly, be deluded.

Innerpeffray Library - graveyard

Innerpeffray Library

Dear reader, she’s actually right. Innerpeffray is the place to go (especially if it doesn’t rain) for the library experience with a difference. (Pardon me if I sound like an advertisement.) It’s a beautiful old building, next to an old chapel – with graveyard – in the loveliest of settings; green fields with sheep in, a grassy ‘drive’ covered in tiny daisies, lovely plants along the path there, future nettle soup on the side, and a warm welcome when you arrive.

Innerpeffray Library

The librarian is called Lara, and I have rarely had such a fantastic guide anywhere. She talked history with the Resident IT Consultant and Helen, while I listened to these well educated, knowledgeable people, pretending I was too. For any little topic that came up, she found the book to illustrate it. (It’s almost as if Lara reads the books they have in there.)

Innerpeffray Library

She found me a Swedish book. They have two, but the other proved elusive when searched for. There was a book on witchcraft, which I gather is the vilest of crimes, trumping everything else. Hmm. This year’s exhibition is on crime, since that’s what we mere mortals like.

Innerpeffray Library

Lara climbs on the exceedingly tall ladder as though she was born to it. Apparently you have to go on a ladder-climbing course before you can work there. (Very relieved to hear that volunteers aren’t allowed to. So I could volunteer…)

Lara at Innerpeffray Library

They do events. Helen Grant did something spooky there recently, and has vowed to return for Halloween (which sounds great; if a little scary). Alexander McCall Smith is appearing at Innerpeffray to play very bad music. In fact, this coming weekend is full of fun sounding things to do. At one point Lara had to go off to see to some champagne. Later there was smoked salmon business needing her attention.

Innerpeffray Library

And even though it is now in a deserted corner of Perthshire’s lovely fields, when I asked that most commonly asked question ‘why is it here?’ I learned that when it started, it was a very busy part of the world, what with the river below, and all sorts of things.

Innerpeffray Library

People came to borrow books, and you can see the register of borrowers, which includes servants, and I found ‘a serf’ as well. This freedom with the books remains today. Unlike other museum type places where you can touch nothing; here you are allowed to. (Only not if your fingers are covered in clotted cream.) In the end I was frightened I’d tear one of the pages, so hardly dared to leaf through the witchcraft tome.

Helen Grant at Innerpeffray Library

So, I can totally identify with Helen who comes here a lot. She suffered over the winter when they were closed, and could hardly wait to pop over when the library winter came to an end.

Innerpeffray Library

And you know, somewhere that has a purple panelled toilet, as well as a chapel where you can get married, beats a lot of places you might visit. If you can find it. You go down that road, and then you take that almost invisible turning, and later on you go left, follow the winding road and at some point you turn down some other road, at the end of which you will find you’ve arrived.

Unless you approach from some other direction.

Innerpeffray Library

Only politeness made us leave when it was Lara’s lunch break. That, and the fact that we too needed lunch. We went back to Schloss Grant and shared bread and cheese and salad, with fresh strawberries (which were very nice), and after that we actually ate some Battenbergs too. We talked books and publishing. The cats were woken so they could say hello.

Helen told me something I mustn’t repeat, which I won’t, because not only am I nice (so so) but I have forgotten what it was. She gave me her new collection of short stories, which I hope won’t scare me too much (I’ll get back to you on that) and then she showed us the door. Very politely.

I would recommend this outing to anyone. Unfortunately, not all of you can do the last part, but Lara and the library are waiting for you. Perhaps get married there, and provide them with some essential, financial support!

Innerpeffray Library

(My apologies for the numerous photos. It’s the kind of place where you just can’t not take pictures. Besides, Adèle Geras has demanded them. I’d recommend going now. It’s sunny, and nature is at its prettiest.)

Troublesome cats and other airborne coincidences

I own two books bearing the title Cat’s Cradle. One is Nick Green’s soon to be published final Cat Kin book. The other is by Julia Golding, in her Cat Royal series. No, I lie. I believe I also have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle somewhere.

I don’t mind. If there are only seven original plots, it stands to reason there are only so many book titles as well. Obviously more than seven, but anyway. I doubt Nick or Julia are about to sue each other.

Nicola Morgan has told us about her first novel, Mondays Are Red, which features synesthesia, and its main character Luke. It was published almost simultaneously with Tim Bowler’s Starseeker. Same topic. Same character name. They didn’t sue, either. But when both proceeded to write novels with the fabulous title Apocalypse, one of them changed it. Great minds think alike.

Adèle Geras wrote an adult novel with a similar plot to one by Marika Cobbold. I asked if she knew Marika’s book. She didn’t. It was another of those ‘it must be something in the air or the water’ coincidences. Happens all the time. It’s not plagiarism. Zeitgeist, maybe? (We have to keep in mind the number of plots available in this life.)

When I read Lee Weatherly’s Angel I half thought that she might have been after ‘the next Twilight’ by going for angels instead of vampires. But Lee had the idea 15 years ago, before the world was gripped by vampire fever, and well before all the other angel books we now see in bookshops.

Some writers do jump on bandwagons, because it’s what publishers want. The next wizard, another vampire. And now it’s dystopias. Julie Bertagna barely got the OK for Exodus, because back then dystopias weren’t in. Now they are. And not all of them could possibly have got the idea from reading someone else’s book first.

It takes time to make a book. From author’s idea to bookshop is usually a lengthy process. People don’t plagiarise on a whim. Coincidences happen. Recently I mused about the number of wolves I had reviewed in a short time. There are also several books out now with the name Grimm somewhere in the title.

Coincidence.

What I am working towards here, is a troublesome cat. He is causing considerable concern for Debi Gliori. She has a picture book soon out, featuring a cat in Tobermory. The title will be Tobermory Cat. At least it will be if someone in Tobermory stops being unpleasant about it. Debi, who is one of the kindest and most fairminded people I know, has been accused of all manner of things by the ‘owner’ of the name. Not the owner of the cat, mind you.

The links to this public argument can be found on Wikipedia, so I might as well add them here. Link 1. Link 2Link 3 with a reply from publisher Hugh Andrew of Birlinn. TC even has its own facebook page, but I don’t recommend a trip there if you value your blood pressure levels.

I am really, really against bullying.

Apart from the books and coincidences above, I am reminded of another touristy cat at the opposite end of the country, in another picture book; The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. I imagine that book has not exactly damaged the tourist business for Mousehole. I also imagine this was the idea for Tobermory. The new book could have been called something else. And then the tourists could go there instead.

Co-operation is a good word here. Not that I’d want to co-operate with TC’s ‘owner’ if I had a choice, but before this argument began, just think of the effect they could have had together, for Tobermory.

Could there be more than one Bookwitch? Unfortunately, yes. There are. There were some before I went public, and more have popped up over the five years you and I have known each other. But the point about it is that I sat down and thought long and hard about what to call this blog, and once I’d arrived at the answer, I went online and found I wouldn’t be alone. But I am a Bookwitch, so couldn’t – wouldn’t – have picked another name.

I can co-exist.

Will leave you with one more cat. In fact, I give you a book idea for free. Here is the Linköping Lynx. At this point I must point out I’ve not checked* if there are any other LLs out there.

Linköping Lynx

The more the merrier? Surely one of the seven plots must fit? It’s my firm belief that Lynxes are the next big thing. Remember that some time in 2014 or 2015.

*Oops.

Adèle, Mary and Philip

Adèle Geras looked as if she is used to sitting in fancy hotel lounges, drinking tea and chatting to people. In fact, I could imagine her sitting there writing her books, Agatha Christie style.

As it was, all Adèle got on Wednesday afternoon was us. We tried to look elegant enough to fit in at the Midland Hotel. Adèle ordered tea (I proceeded to drop half of my large biscuit on the floor. Naturally.) and I was allowed to admire her new picture book, which will be out in September. Lots of lovely bunnies.

Mary Hoffman

After a suitable amount of gossip (and an embarrassing moment when I couldn’t recall a single book I might recommend) we took our leave to head off for pizzas and Roxette, leaving Adèle with the bill for the tea…

We were meant to meet her and Mary Hoffman at their mcbf school event on Thursday afternoon, but the school had other ideas. It is understandable. Being persistent types, however, we suggested we could wave the two ladies off as they went to catch their trains home. One to one university town and one to the other.

Adèle Geras

You can work out what happened. All four of us ran around the station like headless chickens, trying to find the others. Actually, Mary sensibly stayed put, clutching some beautiful roses, and was eventually discovered and then pestered to sign her brand new City of Swords. It was the only copy she saw in action, despite it being publication day.

I gather the day’s school events had gone well. Mary and Adèle interviewed each other on how they write historical novels. Perhaps Adèle tempted fate the day before by suggesting we’d seen it already, so no need for us to attend.

Once Mary was safely on her train after five action-packed minutes in our company, we managed to find Adèle and her bunch of roses, and went to wait for her train, and then she sat down in the wrong part… Oh well.

Since you can’t catch too many trains, we put ourselves on yet another one in order to go and see the man below. More about him some time during Friday.

Philip Pullman

AAYA 88

Or Authors & Artists for Young Adults, volume 88, as published by Gale, Cengage Learning. It’s a reference book, and as the more astute of you have worked out, there have been 87 volumes before it, and I suspect (and hope) there will be many more after it as well.

Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

No, I’ve not taken to reading and reviewing piles of reference material, but this came my way four months ago when someone wanted to use ‘my’ photos of Michael Grant. They were really my Photographer’s pictures, and after thinking about it she gave her consent and they chose the ones they liked best.

It took me a while to even work out the publishers were in the US, and once I’d established what kind of book they were producing, I asked if we could see the finished copy, which they generously said they’d send us. It’s not really the kind of book you’d go out and buy as a private individual. The edition is fairly limited and the price is high, so I’m guessing it’s mainly for libraries and similar.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

But it’s such a good idea, collecting information on people who write for Young Adults, or illustrators. The selection process seems a little random, since it’s not alphabetical, nor chronological. There is an index listing who has been in all the 88 volumes, and in which one.

It’s not your ordinary list of YA people, either. Adèle Geras sits tantalisingly near Mel Gibson and Paul Gauguin. Staying with the Gs we have Michael Grant as well as El Greco and Graham Greene. There are disproportionately more Americans, but in volume 88 we have Matt Haig, and he and Knut Hamsun and Stephen Hawking are close, index-wise.

Jane Austen is there, and so is Mrs Michael Grant, K A Applegate. Walter Dean Myers gets a lot of room in volume 88, which he also shares with Anna Godbersen and Aprilynne Pike and Kenneth Oppel. As you can see, a varied lot of writers. ‘My’ volume has just over thirty names, and I’m guessing the older volumes are similar. Some names are listed more than once.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

Michael gets six pages in this edition, and unlike some he doesn’t have either his address or his email listed. I suppose it’s up to each person how easy to find they want to be. Since this isn’t intended for the young readers, I imagine contact details are more for people who might want to book someone for events.

It’s a nice idea. You can – probably – never have too much information about what young people want to read.

Covered

I am obviously wrong. But I still have an opinion. It is mine, and it is not my intention to insult people. In the end a book is a book, and it’s the contents that really matter. Not the cover. If I don’t like the cover, it is the artist’s work I am complaining about. Not the author’s. Unless they are one and the same.

And whereas I’m mainly thinking of what might put me off buying or reading a book, the same could be said for the prospective reader whose taste in covers is the opposite to mine.

Until just the other week I was so certain of how right I am. Then Adèle Geras went and informed me that I was wrong about the new covers of Ann Turnbull’s Quaker books. (I thought the old ones were better.)

My main hang-ups are the covers featuring a girl’s face. I’m not anti-girl, or even anti-face, but if they don’t look like they’d be my friend at school – and they usually don’t – then I feel alienated. (I know. I’m no longer at school. But you never lose that sense of insecurity.) But if the face appeals to countless of young readers, then that’s good.

Celia Rees, Witch Child

The book which demonstrates this best is Witch Child by Celia Rees, which is a marvellous novel. I have always hated the cover. I understand it’s reckoned to be a perfect success. But it’s actually a book where I’d want to cover the book in brown paper. (And wouldn’t that lead to misunderstandings on the train!)

It’s the historical teen novel that I feel suffers the most from these girl-faced covers. The girls are modern girls, looking nothing like the period of the story within or even like the heroine. On the other hand, if she looks like a potential friend, you’ll want to read the book, won’t you?

More Bloody Horowitz

When I got Anthony Horowitz’s More Bloody Horowitz I thought it had a fantastic cover. So did the Resident IT Consultant, who as you will recall liked the book enough to want read it anew. But when I asked Daughter if it would make her read the book, she said it would do the opposite. And she’s a fan of Anthony’s.

Fem söker en skatt

Then there are the nostalgics. I used to love (still do) the Swedish cover of Five on a Treasure Island as it was in the early 1960s. I’d have wanted that book even had I not seen and loved the film first. I like the old British cover too.

You have the new-old nostalgic covers that can sell almost anything. At least to us old ones. Maybe today’s young readers only want modern pictures to describe their books, whatever they are about.

I like the new Harry Potter covers, despite having ‘grown up’ (yeah, right) on the original ones. Whereas my faithful commenter Cynical didn’t. Perhaps it was too early to redesign them?

How about the covers that look good enough to eat? Or to stroke or just generally slaver over? Those covers can never be wrong as far as looks are concerned. They might just be covering a story that you don’t like, of course. But at least the book looks lovely.

Perfect to caress and perfect to read, describe Debi Gliori’s Pure Dead series.

Velvet by Debi Gliori

For the most part, the covers don’t really matter, as long as they don’t prevent you from buying an extremely good book.

One of my childhood favourites, which I can no longer recall either the title of or its author, came with no cover. And no end. Ouch. It was ‘inherited’ from Eldest Cousin, who had presumably cut it out of a magazine, published in bits every week, to be collected in a Dickensian fashion. (No, she’s not that old.) Hence the lack of cover. And possibly also hence the lack of an end, whether she never got it, or it was lost. Still, it was a very good book. You could sort of imagine the end.

And as I finish this post I will endeavour to remind myself that I am not young. These books are not made for me, however much I like them, and make me forget myself. So my opinions are irrelevant. (I just wanted to share.)

Small world

‘It’s a shame Adèle Geras moved away from Manchester,’ sighed Mrs Moomin. We had lunch together yesterday, despite it being Friday the 13th. I’m always a bit startled when conversations go in unexpected directions, and I forget that Mrs Moomin knew Adèle for ages, living near her. Considering my limited social life, I’m surprised I have managed to know two people who separately know Adèle.

Mrs Moomin and I were at a Swedish lunch, doing our best to avoid being 13 at the table, and managed something like 14 1/2. Borås Girl hosted, and we all brought some food. (To tell the truth, I didn’t do well. I ran out of time, so offered the bare minimum pilfered from my freezer.) These ladies are seriously good at cooking and baking. There was even Swede salad.

OK, if I can just tear my thoughts away from the cheesecake, I’ll get to Borås Girl’s Swedish speaking Estonian friend, Mrs Linguist, whom she met at her German class. I’ve been passing Swedish DVDs for BG to lend her friend, and felt I ‘knew’ her slightly, so it was good to chat when we met. As civilised people we swapped business cards, and that’s when she worked out we had already been in contact with each other.

I am very forgetful, but recalled sending a perfect stranger some pages from an Astrid Lindgren book a few years ago. (No, I didn’t tear them out. I copied.) Mrs Linguist was the perfect stranger, introduced by Professor Linguistics who reckoned I was the likeliest person she knew who would own a copy of the Bullerby book. Very astute.

So that was nice. More coincidences.

Mrs Linguist was accompanied by Baby Linguist (who, quite frankly, was not too keen on all those cackling women), and her visiting Estonian Mother. None of us could muster up any Estonian, but Mrs Moomin spoke to her in Finnish. And that’s something I didn’t know. That many Estonians understand Finnish, because for years that was their escape from ‘Russian only’ television.

The rest of the ladies concentrated on passing round a couple of battered Swedish crime paperbacks by Mari Jungstedt, and a Swedish DVD, before going gaga over Brian Cox, because he’s so cute… (He wasn’t there, btw. We happened to slip onto the subject of Astrophysics, after which there was no stopping them.)

We were temporarily saved by the aforementioned cheesecake. I’m going to need the recipe.