Category Archives: History

Bookwitch bites #127

You know books? There is money in them. Sometimes, at least, and not only for author and publisher, although I’d wager Michael Morpurgo has made a reasonable sum from War Horse the book. Possibly more from the play and the film.

Michael Morpurgo at the Lowry

War Horse the play has just finished its second run at the Lowry, hopefully pleasing the 200,000 people who came to see it. But what’s more, it hasn’t merely earned money for Michael or the theatre. It has been estimated that Greater Manchester is better off by £15 million. And it’s pretty good that books can have such an effect.

For the last performance in Salford they had a Devon farmer as a Devon farmer extra.

Not a farmer, nor a twinkly old elf, is how Neil Gaiman doesn’t describe his friend Terry Pratchett in the Guardian this week. Terry is driven by rage, Neil claims, and I can sort of see where he’s coming from with that. I reckon Terry got pretty annoyed to hear me say that my local library service banned him from the under 16s. (Correction, it was their representative who did. Not the whole service. But still.) And any person with any decency would be furious about what’s wrong in this world. And luckily we have the non-twinkly Terry to write wonderful books about it.

Someone who scares me much more is Kevin Brooks. I know. He seems non-scary, but his books deal with people in circumstances I find hard to cope with. Kevin has just written a book for Barrington Stoke, to be published in January 2015, and it might be short, and it might be an easy read. But it’s also not an easy read, in that it deals with the hard reality for young, male, teenagers. A typical Brooks, in other words.

Barrington Stoke make books accessible to readers who would otherwise not read. Daniel Hahn was on the radio this week, talking for 13 and a half (his own description) minutes on the importance of translated books. They make books accessible to people who would otherwise not be able to read French or Finnish, or any other ‘outlandish’ language.

Daniel has also worked hard on the new Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, to be published in March 2015. I’m looking forward to that, and hopefully this new companion will pave the way for a few more readers, too.

Whereas authors playing football will achieve exactly what? OK, let’s not be negative or anti-sports here. I did actually want to go and see the football match between English crime writers and their Scottish counterparts. It was part of Bloody Scotland last weekend, but unfortunately the match clashed with an event, and being lazy, I chose to sit down in-doors instead of standing on the side of a rectangle of grass watching grown men kick a ball around.

The winning Bloody Scotland football team - 2014

I understand the Scottish team won. Ian Rankin is looking triumphant, and I can see Craig Robertson, Christopher Brookmyre and Michael J Malone, plus some more people I don’t recognise in shorts.

The two Marys travel back in time

The two Marys, Hoffman and Hooper, have unravelled some more history for me in their new books for Barrington Stoke. Mary Hoffman writes about the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in 1571, and Mary Hooper visits plague-ridden London in 1665.

Both historical events are ones I ‘know’ of, especially the plague. But that doesn’t mean I know all that much, so I’m grateful for some fiction to help me learn.

Mary Hoffman, Angel of Venice

Angel of Venice features Luca who dreams of running off to war. But he’s in love, so can’t quite make his mind up, until it’s forcibly made up for him. And war is not at all as you tend to imagine, but hell on earth and he soon wishes he hadn’t gone.

Lovely romance and history lesson all in one. The Ottoman Empire is no longer as hazy to me as it was, and Venice with Mary is always good.

Mary Hooper, Ring of Roses

Ring of Roses is pretty scary. You imagine that ‘your’ character will be all right because it’s fiction and you can’t kill off the main character, can you?

Abby has come to London to look after a rich woman’s baby, and she stays well while the rest of London succumbs to the illness. Mary describes graphically what happens to the people in houses where someone dies of the plague and it’s not good.

Very realistic, and very informative.

The Marys do this so well, and I’m pleased they have written these dyslexia friendly books. They are much needed.

The Case of the Bogus Detective

Imagine the joy of finding that the trilogy you liked so much didn’t, in fact, end with the third book. There is a fourth! The last one, from what I’ve heard, but very nice all the same. (And I don’t think we should rule out more from the way things were left…)

Caroline Lawrence, The Case of the Bogus Detective

Caroline Lawrence’s very likeable aspie detective PK Pinkerton is back, in The Case of the Bogus Detective. We now know what sex Pinky is, but that only adds to the fun. PK’s long lost dad, the famous Pinkerton detective turns up, and together they set out to solve the robberies on stage coaches carrying valuables. Pinkerton Sr wants PK to dress as a girl, and goes so far as to teach Pinky how to act like one, how to walk, and so on. He doesn’t appear to have much dress sense however, which is so like a man.

Jace seems to have let PK down and the relationship with Ping sours somewhat, and Mark Twain, as he now calls himself, sets off for San Francisco. Pinky isn’t far behind, on the trail of the stage coach robbers.

So this time we have a true western adventure on a stage coach, followed by more adventures in San Francisco. We’ve heard so much about the city, and now PK can see what it’s like, as well as solve a mystery. Things are tied up most satisfactorily.

I have loved these westerns with a difference, and would happily read more. And I’ll have my own Sioux outfit now, thank you. I’ve always wanted one.

The Sun Is God

The end of Adrian McKinty’s The Sun Is God is unlike most crime novels. I won’t say how, but it’s hardly surprising that an unusual crime story ends in a somewhat unorthodox way.

Adrian McKinty, The Sun Is God

It wasn’t at all as I had imagined, even when I did visualise something the complete opposite of Adrian’s Northern Irish crime. Set in German Neu Guinea in 1906 it is very different, but at the same time quite normal, while also rather insane. I hope that describes it?

Will Prior is a most Duffy-like character, and you will feel right at home with him. I found it harder to feel at home in this South Pacific German setting from before WWI, because it’s unlike anything I’ve come across. Much rougher than other exotic crime novels, and probably much truer for it.

There is an island near Herbertshöhe where Will lives, where a group of – frankly lunatic – German nudists have settled. They live off coconuts and bananas, and they act pretty bananas too. One of them has died in mysterious circumstances and Will’s past as a military policeman means the Germans ask him to go and investigate.

Adrian has mixed a few fictional characters like Will, with the crazy Cocovores and with real people from Herbertshöhe, and written a story based on deaths that actually occurred in real life.

Full of nudity, this is a story that I can’t see being made into a film (as the movie-minded Resident IT Consultant reluctantly decided once he’d got some way through the book). But it’s different; I’ll grant you that. And the end is, well, thrilling.

(Today they’d all die of skin cancer…)

WARP – The Hangman’s Revolution

I almost, or very nearly, thought the unthinkable. Like, ‘I know Eoin Colfer’s latest WARP novel will be good, but perhaps I don’t need to read it. There are many other books to read.’ Ouch! (My knuckles really hurt. But I was asking for it.)

What I am saying, sister, is this: Eoin writes great books. They don’t deteriorate for being so many. A sequel is still an Eoin Colfer novel. Thinking that there is no need to read, is a very stupid idea to have. But it’s nothing that a good rap over the knuckles won’t cure. Sister.

And of course, time travel is a useful subject to pick. Time travel messes with the system, and you will never be quite the same again. And since yesterday’s future is no longer today’s future, you can – in theory – write as many books as you want. There will be something a little different in each reality. But preserve us from the horrible possibility that there will be no Harry Potter. That would be too much.

Eoin Colfer, WARP - The Hangman's Revolution

So, where was I? Good question. I could barely remember where we left off. Riley was in his own Victorian times, I believe, and FBI Agent Chevie returned to her own present London. We thought. So we did.

But it was only another London. A nightmarish other London. So it was.

‘scuse me. Eoin does Irish so well. (I know. There is a reason for that.) So he does.

(Sorry, I really must stop.)

So, Chevie’s life isn’t going so well. It’s about to end pretty soon. Or is it? Depends which life, perhaps. She is reunited with Riley. So she is. (Oops.)

Victorian London is full of modern-day men, and now a few modern-day women, too. Sister. Queen Victoria is at risk. The man who runs Chevie’s most recent life has plans for the future. Chevie and Riley must put a stop to them, if only to safeguard Harry Potter’s existence-to-be. Enemies become allies and vice versa. There is an astounding romance, and Missus Figary’s son does well. Some other people don’t. On the whole that’s good.

So it is.

And that goes for The Hangman’s Revolution, too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that humorous Irish children’s adventures that are lightweight are, well, lightweight. If they have anything to do with Eoin Colfer they will be must-reads. I hope I’m never again afflicted by such treacherous thoughts. So I do.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

Bookwitch bites #126

If you didn’t read Hilary McKay’s Binny for Short when it came out last year (and why didn’t you?), I can tell you it has just been issued in paperback, and it is still as good. The singing ought to bring out the goosepimples on any but the hardest of my readers.

Cathy Cassidy

In the exciting run-up to whether or not Scotland will drift off into the North Sea next week, I have two book festivals on home ground to look forward to. First it’s Stirling Book Festival Off The Page. It has all sorts of events in libraries and schools and theatres. For fans of children’s lit there is the dystopian Teri Terry, the amusing Chae Strathie, sweet Cathy Cassidy, illustrator Kate Leiper, and the magical Linda Chapman.

Off The Page runs seamlessly into Bloody Scotland, where much murderous stuff will happen. They are even putting forensics into Stirling Castle, to find out who killed the Earl of Douglas back in the 1400s. Good luck to them.

And if you too want to be able to write like the authors who are coming here to talk about their books, then you could do worse than to have a go at the Connell Guides essay prize. If you are lucky, Philip Pullman might read what you wrote. You do need to be of an age to attend sixth form, but we are all young at heart here. You can submit from September 15th until January 15th.

Good luck!

And read Binny.