Category Archives: History

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.

The Boundless

The Boundless truly is a train journey, in more ways than one. Kenneth Oppel has invented an outlandishly long train made up of 987 carriages travelling across Canada, and we follow Will as he joins the train on its first journey, back in the good old days of colonising this enormous country.

Kenneth Oppel, The Boundless

It’s not just travelling by train. That is exciting enough for us railbuffs, especially in the early days of trains. First class, where Will starts his journey, is wonderfully luxurious; a real dream come true.

But he also ends up travelling from one end of this monster train to the other. Or at least, he tries to. Almost left behind at one stop, Will has to join the ‘wrong’ end of the train, hoping to walk up its length. That is when he learns that it’s not all that easy a thing to do.

Will gets to meet all of Canada as he moves from the back of the train towards the front. He meets the people who work on the train, and those who travel, starting with those below Third class. Then there is the circus, then Third, then Second and finally First.

Except, it’s not easy in any sense (have you any idea how long it would take, even without obstacles?), and witnessing a murder and being hunted by the murderer, makes Will’s interior train journey very dangerous.

The adventure is marvellously exciting, but it is actually the social aspects that are the most fascinating. You meet the people who colonised Canada, and how badly treated they were, and how people cheated them whenever possible. Racism is rife, as is poverty and illness.

Having begun life poor, Will finds it hard to work out where he belongs, but he does know that what is happening to the immigrants is wrong. He meets a girl, of course, and his courage is tested. He thinks of himself as useless, but he has good skills and a good heart, not to mention a sasquatch tooth (and urine…) and a pencil to draw with.

The Boundless is the perfect book for those who love trains (me!) and/or adventure (me, again!).

The #11 profile – Pat Walsh

I heard only good things about Pat Walsh’s debut novel The Crowfield Curse. Her peers kept going on about it (although I have to own up to not having managed to get my hands on a copy), which is always a good sign. Now, not only is there a sequel, The Crowfield Demon, but Pat has branched out on her own and is publishing The Hob and the Deerman, which is the first in a new, short series of stand-alone books featuring Brother Walter the hob from the Crowfield Mysteries. It is set in and around Crowfield Abbey in the 16th century and is a ghost story/historical fantasy.

You can tell how far behind I am with my reading, as well as what a prolific writer Pat is. And here we are, on the blog tour for Pat’s new book. It is my pleasure to introduce you to her, with the help of my usual profile questions:

Pat Walsh

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Five complete books, and numerous bits and pieces which never made it beyond the first few chapters. I keep everything though, as it’s surprising how often things can be recycled or reworked into something new.

Best place for inspiration?

Anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant detail can turn out to be important. I went to visit the site of a small abbey in Buckinghamshire a few years ago. There was almost nothing left to see, just an overgrown fishpond and a small chapel which stood all by itself in a field. Not the most interesting of places, but it stayed with me and became Crowfield Abbey in my Crowfield Mysteries series.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I don’t but I would do, if I wrote something in a new genre. I think it’s a way of flagging up that you are doing something different from the work you are already known for, and it warns readers not to expect more of the same.

What would you never write about?

I wouldn’t write pornography, but apart from that, I would write anything, but only if it was a subject I felt I really wanted to write about for personal reasons, and not to jump on a passing bandwagon or because it might be commercially successful.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

The most unexpected place was Chicken House supremo Barry Cunningham’s dark, damp cellar in his home in Somerset, reading a passage from The Crowfield Curse to a group of German booksellers by candlelight. They were delightful but I’m not sure how many of them actually understood what was being read to them. I wasn’t the only writer there that day, just in case this sounds odder than it really was. As for the most unexpected person – on a recent research trip to Oslo, I came across a noisy and colourful demonstration and hung around to see what was going on, and along came the Dalai Lama. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see him!

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Brother Snail from the Crowfield books. He cares deeply for the natural world, is happiest when he’s pottering about in his garden and tries to treat everyone with respect, whether they are human, animal or fay. I’m not sure I manage to live up to his standards, but I try.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I have mixed feelings about this. I have a clear idea in my head of how my characters look and what their world is like, and I know they would not look the same on screen. Also, because this possibility has been raised already, I know changes would be made to the books to adapt them into a film and those changes would most likely not come from me. I’m not thrilled at the idea of someone taking my work and in some way making it into something which is no longer mine. I watched the film of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising recently and was surprised to see the Thames valley setting moved to somewhere in Eastern Europe, with its very distinctive architecture. Will Stanton seemed to have turned into an American along the way too. It wasn’t a bad film but it didn’t capture the atmosphere of the book. On the plus side, if a film adaptation was done well, then wouldn’t that be great! And I might even get a bit part as a dung-encrusted peasant!

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

A young girl of about seven asked if I had a hob of my own. I wish! I haven’t been asked anything too strange but I did hear about one fantasy writer who was asked during a school talk if she liked moles. You just have to wonder what was going through that child’s mind.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can dig up a human skeleton neatly, and have done so on a number of occasions, and I am not too bad at medieval dancing. I won first prize in a national cross stitch competition, and I won a growling toy tiger and a voucher for a Mexican meal in a phone-in quiz on a local radio station. Plenty there to fall back on if the writing dries up.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

I loved them both as a child, but if I had to choose between them, it would have to be Narnia. A world full of magic and talking animals just wins out over lashings of ginger beer and plum cake. Just.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Other than you? It would have to be Carl Larsson, the Arts and Crafts painter. His paintings are a glimpse into another world and time, and are filled with light and colour. I went to see an exhibition of his work at the V&A a few years ago and was astonished by the beauty of his paintings and sketches. He has a lightness of touch which is just enchanting. (My daughter said I should pick Alexander Skarsgård of True Blood fame and I don’t think it’s for his acting skills.)

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

By subject – children’s books, ghosts and the supernatural, Vikings, trees and woodland – that sort of thing. The thing is, I know where to find a particular book when I need to, even if the actual arrangement of the subject groups doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Something funny, like Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens or The Grunts, or anything by Liz Pichon or David Walliams.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

I don’t think you can separate the two. I couldn’t imagine not doing either. Having said that, if civilization came to an end tomorrow, or I was sent back in time, then I could do without both, and go back to doing what humankind has done for millennia – sit by the fire and tell stories.

Skeletons. The Dalai Lama. In Oslo. Where else? And can’t you just visualise Barry Cunningham’s cellar? Finally, it pains me to admit that I don’t know what a hob is, apart from the kind you cook dinner on. I should read more.

Lions and Lizes

Were I not totally unworthy, I’d love to be best friends with Lizes Laird and Wein. They are so brave and adventurous and so funny. No wonder they write fantastic books. Write about what you know. Well, these two ladies know a lot.

Elizabeth Wein spent the summer strapped to the top of a small plane (which then takes off and flies). The strapping part seemed to be due to health and safety rules. Quite. Otherwise it’d be fun to just stand there, on top of a plane up in the air. Her next book, Black Dove White Raven is about circus flying, which is why Elizabeth needed to have a go. Because she loves flying, anyway, and this was fun.

She showed us photos from Ethiopia – which was the topic for the day – and when Elizabeth Laird looked more closely at a range of mountains, it turned out she had walked across them. When she was young (which apparently made it nice and easy and nothing to write home about!). EL had also once stayed with EW’s aunt and uncle in Ethiopia, many years ago.

Because EL spent a few years in Ethiopia in the 1960s, teaching – as you do. That’s when she witnessed the homecoming of Olympic champion Abebe Bikila at the airport, where she just happened to be. The Emperor met the plane, complete with favourite lion, to honour the country’s hero. It’s the done thing.

Now everyone in Ethiopia runs. Partly to get to school, when that happens to be six miles away from home and you have no car, and partly in the hopes of making it to the Olympics. Elizabeth’s new book, The Fastest Boy in the World, is about a runner. Obviously.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s book, which is due out next year, features female pilots; one white and one black. They are part of a group of pilots trained at Tuskegee, who came to Ethiopia in 1935 to set up the Ethiopian Air Force during the second Abyssinian war. The Emperor wanted to have planes and black pilots from the US.

Both Elizabeths have written other books set in Ethiopia; EW’s A Coalition of Lions is set in the sixth century, and EL’s Prince Who Walks With Lions is about a young prince during Victoria’s reign. Liz managed to forget the title of her book momentarily, and made a joke out of it. In fact, both of them are really very amusing and they should make something of this.

They said they will now need to agree in advance who gets to write about what, so no doubt they will divide up Ethiopia between them. EW admired EL’s fictional grandparents, and EL proceeded to unwrap her real grandfather’s real WWI medals. And she didn’t just show us them, but trusted us enough to allow the medals to circulate round the room.

Elizabeth Laird

Asked about writing, EL told the audience to write from the heart. Only you will know your story. Read, write and live/do stuff (which includes being strapped to the outside of planes). EW thinks people should write about what they are passionate about, and she is sure she will have to fight EL for Haile Selassie’s lion.

The best things about Ethiopia according to EL is the weather, how beautiful the country is and the people. EW agrees about the wonderful people and told us about the clever children she met in the middle of nowhere, who were able to write in three different languages.

Books they would recommend were Holes, Journey to the River Sea, Goodnight Mister Tom, Code Name Verity (EL), Noughts & Crosses and Coram Boy. EW added the books by Hilary McKay. (No cause to disagree there.)

Elizabeth Laird writes in her study, which has got a woodstove, while Elizabeth Wein is the wandering type who writes everywhere, liking the noise in cafés and on trains. She thinks it’s important to ‘get out there’ to get the right feeling for what to write. And we were unable to end the event without a very brief description of the time EL was forced to leave Ethiopia, accused of murder…

Boring these ladies are not.

Lizday

At 9.59 there was considerable panic among Horrid Henry fans. Parents were seen running with their children across Charlotte Square, and then back again a minute or so later. It’s also known as ‘I didn’t need the toilet before but now I do.’ The event started at 10.

Liz Kessler

Francesca Simon

My first – literary – port of call was with Liz Kessler. I then had half an hour in which to take pictures of her signing, run across the square to see if I could catch Francesca Simon still at it, and then get myself to my second event with Gill Lewis. That’s when I remembered I had a book I wanted Liz to sign, and being a popular sort lady she still had a long queue and I wasn’t anywhere near the front of it. So I thrust the book at her publisher Fiona Kennedy and asked her to see to it that Daughter got an autograph. Surprisingly, Fiona seemed to know who I was.

Gill Lewis

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

After Gill’s event I had slightly longer, so had time to take pictures of her, and to dash across the square for Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart in the other signing tent. Had to remember to go back to base and get my hopefully signed book back. Then I went to meet Caroline Lawrence, whose Saturday event I had been forced to miss, but who very kindly sacrificed some of her time on me today.

Norse monster

Norse monster

Norse monster

Kate O'Hearn

We decided there was time for an ice cream – because we both carried spare food in our rucksacks, so didn’t need lunch – and we exchanged news and discussed what’s hot and what she’s working on now, and then she ran on to hear Kate O’Hearn, whose rather fantastic team of Norse monsters were a sight to behold. I caught up with them in the bookshop an hour later, where they chatted to babies (who will never forget this early literary experience) and posed and were generally rather unsusual.

Michael Rosen

Meanwhile I had found Michael Rosen signing across the square, talking to his young fans with his normal charm and performing facial acrobatics. He too had caused a late rush on the toilets, so that seems to be a hazard with young fans.

Simon Armitage

‘Backstage’ I found Carol Ann Duffy and I saw Peter Guttridge at a safe distance from sleeve-tugging. Again. While I waited for Simon Armitage to come to his photocall, Kate O’Hearn and her monsters returned, and thanks to Chris Close I got another opportunity to snap these fantastic creatures.

Kate O'Hearn

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Laird

Chris Riddell

My final event this book festival was another couple of Elizabeths; Laird and Wein. I even had a few minutes during which to take photos of Liz and Liz, as well as of Chris Riddell who was still signing away an hour after his Goth Girl talk, before I ran off to find a tram to the airport. It was high time to collect Daughter from her Californian adventure.