Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

Bookwitch bites #123

C J Flood has won the Branford Boase for her first novel Infinite Sky. Congratulations!

I had so wanted to be there. But in the end common sense prevailed and I didn’t travel to London. It would have been a good time for it, apart from my moving into a new house handicap. For once it wasn’t the only thing happening, and I could have combined events. Adrian McKinty’s publisher was offering beer and sausage rolls with Adrian at their office yesterday afternoon. Not even teetotal veggie witches should be able to say no to that. Except I did.

And then I discovered Adrian was appearing at Waterstones Piccadilly the night before, in the illustrious company of Barry Forshaw, Mallock and Pete Ayrton. But in a way it was lucky I wasn’t there for that event, seeing as it started a mere 30 minutes after another event in the very same bookshop, featuring *Meg Rosoff and Marcus Sedgwick. I mean, how could a witch choose?

Trying to count myself lucky I didn’t have to.

Found this interview with Terry Pratchett about his next new book, Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If he has a favourite book, it seems to be the Tiffany Aching books, because she just gets on with things. So does Terry, of course. He might have had to cancel his Discworld appearance in Manchester, but the man is still writing, and Tiffany fans are looking forward to book number five.

Despite the shocking figures on author incomes that emerged this week, many authors do like Terry and his Tiffany, and just get on with things. Despite not earning a living wage. Despite other stuff too, no doubt. Terry obviously has no money worries, but he has another concern instead; how much time, and how many more books?

There was the news last week that food bank parcels now contain children’s books. It’s wonderful that more children will have a book to call their own, but pretty dismal that they have to rely on charity for it, not to mention that anyone in Britain should need food parcels.

*So pleased someone saw the similarities between Meg’s Picture Me Gone and Marcus’s latest YA book; American road trips involving British teenagers. Both books are fabulous, and She Is Not Invisible has just come out as a paperback. I have to admit to having handed over my copy of the latter to a teenager, because I felt the need to share this wonderful journey. Not in a food parcel as such, although there was food involved. And much talk of money.

The surprise factor

How can you be sure if any subsequent book by author A is better than the first one he or she had published? It’s just about possible to say that an OK book wasn’t quite as wonderful as the first. But if it is a really fantastic novel, can I appreciate it properly?

I’m thinking here of three ladies, whose first books I adored. They are – in chronological order – Meg Rosoff, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein.*

How I Live Now had such an impact on me, that I simply do not know how and where on a scale (stupid things, anyway) I should put Meg’s other books. They are all exceptionally good. Some have been more enjoyable than others. But I had been wondering if anything could ever beat HILN.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay wasn’t just all right. It kept surprising me and I was left feeling very happy afterwards. As someone I ‘knew’ before I read her debut book, I was also relieved Candy could actually write. Shine was another fantastic book, leaving me glowing. But was it as good?

And as for Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, that was the second best thing to hit me after HILN. (Never mind that I couldn’t even remember the title of it recently. That was merely a senior moment. I’d have been able to tell you the whole plot.) So when Rose Under Fire followed CNV, could it be as marvellous?

I know authors are supposed to get better with writing more books. Many do. Some remain excellent throughout. And I suppose some never quite manage what they wrote the first time round.

But I think what I’m getting at is that the sheer surprise of coming across one of the best books you’ve ever read, is one thing, while any subsequent book by the same author will never be a surprise. You know what they can do. You expect it. You hope for the very best.

So I wonder how I’d have felt about any of the later books by Meg, Candy and Elizabeth, if I’d not read their first novels. And if I’d then got to their debut books, would they have changed anything?

When you take a person’s details (schools, etc) people sometimes write down where in the sibling group they belong. Because it matters. Perhaps the same can be said for books? What might have happened to the sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird?

*I know. I know. It wasn’t Elizabeth’s first. It was my first, so it felt like it ought to have been hers too.

Perfect for…?

If you want to add to the description of a book, you could say it’s a bit like ‘XX.’ But only if it is a bit like XX. Sometimes when I’ve written along those lines, I lie awake at night, wondering if anyone else will see it the same way, or if I have been misleading.

Or you could say it would suit someone who also likes XX or YY, whether they are genres or authors or single book titles. Because it helps in the describing, and it might genuinely assist fans of whatever it is, to try this particular book or author.

But again, it needs to have some semblance of truth in it. If you mislead and thereby disappoint, you will have undone what you set out to do.

So I have to admit to hating it when press releases claim things like that. Or when publishers actually put it on the cover of the proof copy.

Meg Rosoff

A while ago I read an early proof, the cover of which claimed it was ‘perfect for fans of Meg Rosoff and Annabel Pitcher.’ (This could help identify it to the people involved, so I hasten to add that I don’t intend to disparage this particular book. It just wasn’t what the cover claimed, but then I didn’t believe the statement in the first place. To my mind it is virtually impossible to be like Meg Rosoff.)

But to reviewers or bookseller who might not know this, it could lead to them recommending the book on those grounds. Hopefully, the reader would like this book as well. We can all like lots of different types of books.

What the statement says to me, is that it will be perfect for readers of other YA novels. But then you sort of expect that. YA readers will like YA books. No need to point it out.

It’s different if the publishers were to ask Meg or Annabel to read the book and provide a quote. Then it is ‘Meg Rosoff: “This is a great read!”‘ and it’s a recommendation, not a comparison. I would need to know what kind of books Meg likes, though, if I intend to use the information to help me decide.

Now would be a good time to tell me about all such comparisons I’ve made, which disappointed you deeply. (Sorry, no refunds.)

The never ever books

Almost exactly seven years ago – when I was a brand new little Bookwitch – I blogged about which book from a list of 100 I would never read. Today the challenge has been upped somewhat, in that I’m supposed to find 100 books I would never read. I blame the Guardian. They started it. Then Maria Nikolajeva picked up the gauntlet and in turn got Clémentine Beauvais to pick hers.

And here I am, copying them, while having no clue what I am about to claim I will never read. So that is fine. I so know what I’m doing.

Anyway, the Guardian’s idea is that what is not on your shelves is more revealing than what is. Although that relies on you giving shelf space only to what you read and like. Some of us have books to show off with, or books we hope to read one day. Some of our best books might not be there at all. We could be in love with novels borrowed from friends and libraries, and actually returned to them again. We are not all shady types who steal what we can’t get hold of by any other means. Tempting, but …

Clémentine seems to agree with me on Martin Amis, so I was more topical than I realised the other day. Between them, she and Maria disagree on John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Clémentine won’t read it and Maria loved it. Well, I have read half, and am more than satisfied not to be taking it any further.

It’s almost impossible to know for certain what you won’t ever read (again). But I do feel very strongly I won’t be going near anything by G P Taylor.

Sitting here and squirming won’t get me to even ten, let alone 100. But I really don’t like saying negative things about books and authors. OK, I have severe reservations about Lionel Shriver and Jeanette Winterson.

Am in agreement with Clémentine on not wanting to read sequels to some books, whether I enjoyed the first one or not. I also have several more than TFIOS as a half-read-but-no-further book. Disagree about The Knife of Never Letting Go, which just got better and better.

It’s a relief to see that one is allowed to have no intention of reading certain classics or the big iconic books. You know, the kind that people you admire swear by, claiming it made them who they are, and all that. On that basis I honestly still don’t expect to read Hilary Mantel, however much Meg Rosoff likes her.

I unpack books from jiffy-bags every week that I will never read. Either because I don’t want to, or because time is limited. And that’s interesting in itself, since whatever people send me, it does tend to be children’s books or crime, which are my favourites. Just think how much worse it would be if my letterbox suddenly started spitting literary novels.

No, I give up. It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t know, and when I do know, I don’t always want to put it in print.

To G P Taylor: I want my wasted week back!

The #7 profile – Anthony McGowan

We worship the same woman. But other than that, I wanted Anthony McGowan for my next author profile because he’s not only funny, but very very topical. He’s on the Carnegie longlist with the short dyslexia friendly Brock, which is tremendously good news. He – and Brock – also featured on my best 2013 list. It was Anthony’s birthday not too long ago, and he shares it with someone near and dear to me. Definitely a good sign.

And then as I was getting ready to grill him, he went off to Sri Lanka to play cricket! I gather this is an annual tour, where a team of authors travel somewhere exotic to show just how good they are at cricket. (Or is it for the tea breaks?)

Anthony McGowan

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

It’s a little complicated… The first book I wrote was called Abandon Hope – a grotesque comedy about a teenage boy who is knocked down by an ice-cream van and goes to hell. I sent it out in the usual way and received nothing but rejections, ranging from the coldly impersonal (“Dear Sir/Madam”) to the appalled (“Please never again submit anything to this agency”). However one agent did finally take me on, largely out of pity, and on condition that I write something ‘saner’ and more commercial. So I wrote a thriller called Stag Hunt. That got a deal with Hodder & Stoughton, and came out in 2004. I then rejigged Abandon Hope, renamed it Hellbent and, as I was now a published author rather than a hopeless outsider, it got snaffled up. So, the book I wrote first, came out second. And vice-versa. Before Abandon Hope/Hellbent, I’d started a few stories and written endless reams of terrible poetry. In fact my first published work was a poem about a pubic louse, that was on a poster on the number 13 bus.

Best place for inspiration?

There’s a small but perfect graveyard surrounding St John’s church in Hampstead. I walk through it most mornings. It really is the most beautiful and atmospheric place, with ancient trees and crumbling gravestones. And a comfortable bench where you can look out across London, drinking Thunderbird tramp wine at nine in the morning, weeping over your failures and humiliations.

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

I’m afraid my non-disclosure agreement prevents me from, er, disclosing that.

What would you never write about?

Although I’ve written several YA books, I’ve tended to shy away from explicit depictions of adolescent sexuality. It just doesn’t seem quite right… And yet this is clearly an important area. My way of dealing with it is to have main characters who are shy and embarrassed about sex, as I was. As I am.

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

I’ve met many interesting, bizarre, half-crazed and deluded writers at various events, parties and awards. And even more mundane, tedious, humdrum ones. Writers, it turns out, are like everyone else, in terms of being like nobody else. Mal Peet’s a genius, though, and great fun in the pub. As is Andy Stanton. And Meg Rosoff is a goddess. But for sheer strangeness, nothing quite beats the lady in Gregg’s in Motherwell, where I was staying for a book award ceremony. I went in and asked for my usual Cheese and onion slice. She clearly was having some difficulty speaking – her full set of dentures seemed to have been stuck together with chewing gum – so she slipped them out of her mouth, popped them in her pocket, and carried on serving me. Top marks for imperturbability and savoir-fair.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Most of my characters have a pretty torrid time, subjected to multiple humiliations and catastrophes. But there’s a lot of me in Connor O’Neil, the main character in Hellbent, and Hector Brunty from Henry Tumour.

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

Well, it’s happened – The Knife That Killed Me has been filmed and will come out sometime later this year. Good or bad thing? I can’t imagine how it could be anything other than good.

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

How do you titillate an ocelot?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Not really. I do a vast number of things barely adequately. I’m not bad at cricket. I have a party piece that involves juggling live babies, but it’s hard to find volunteers.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

I didn’t read either, as a kid (I was a huge Tolkien fan). As an adult I find both uninteresting. I quite like Mallory Towers, however.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

That would have to be the poet Tomas Tranströmer. Sorry…

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

Broadly by subject, then using a range of aesthetic criteria, with an element of randomness. I’m neater with my books than any other aspect of my life, but I’m still, basically, a slob.

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

Of mine? The Bare Bum Gang and the Football Face-Off. More generally, it truly pains me to say that the Wimpy Kid books are terrific for reluctant readers.

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

Reading, easily. I can imagine a life without writing – it has a certain appeal appeal, in fact. But I’d give up almost anything before I’d stop reading.

I’ll look out for some volunteer babies. It must be possible to find them somewhere. And if you’ve never read anything by Anthony, I trust that this profile will have you rushing off to the nearest library. In your pyjamas, if necessary. But not, perhaps, on the number 13 bus.

Numbers and meat cleavers

This is for people with a fondness for ‘interesting’ dates. And even for people who couldn’t care less. Today is the 11th day of the 12th month in the 13th year (well, you know what I mean!). But I will not now provide a list of the year’s best ten books. Or best 14.

I need to slim these lists down, but when I looked at the possible contenders for best Bookwitch book 2013, there were so many wonderful reads that it’s as hard as giving up cake and cheese and go on a diet.

Cough.

Let’s continue.

I have a bunch of six books, where I can’t say that one is an overall winner. I would like to, but can’t. One thing that has made me pick these over some others, is that they provided that special glow of happiness. Scary and good is obviously good, but happy and good wins every time. (Apologies for excessive soppiness.)

I’ll list them in first name alphabetical order:

Anthony McGowan, Brock

Debi Gliori, Dragon Loves Penguin

Hilary McKay, Binny for Short

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co – The Screaming Staircase

Marcus Sedgwick, She’s Not Invisible

Sam Hepburn, Chasing the Dark

If you – or your favourite book – are not on the list, please be gentle with that meat cleaver! Let’s face it; there are lots of wonderful books out there.

From road rage to eyebrows

Did I ever tell you about my ‘crush’ on Meg Rosoff? Well, anyway, I quite like her. And her books. So it was high time the Guardian Weekend did one of their profile thingies on her. Interestingly, she – or the editor – picked out her tendency to ‘inspire road rage’ for the headline. It was one of my earliest discoveries with Meg. You know, when she is on the verge of opening the car window (on the passenger side) to say something ‘interesting’ to the driver over there. And you’d rather she didn’t, because you are sitting in the passenger seat, and you’d quite like to survive a few more days.

Being in a car with your hero is obviously the thing. Addy Farmer published the shortest, but most succinct, blog post on getting close to someone she admires, after she gave Malorie Blackman a lift. I wish I could be that brief.

Liz Kessler wedding

Another blog entry I was overjoyed to read, was the one on ABBA by Liz Kessler (who only happens to be the subject of Daughter’s huge admiration). It left tears in my eyes, and I believe, in many more eyes than mine. The hard thing about children’s authors coming out must be that while children are generally not prejudiced, they depend on adults to buy their books for them. So if children’s authors are being over-cautious, it’s because of the ‘grown-ups.’

But hero worship is not limited to people like me or Daughter or Addy. Heroes ‘suffer’ from it as well. It was fascinating to read about Margaret Drabble’s admiration for Doris Lessing. Both the ease with which she got to know her, how Doris Lessing ‘used’ her, and about having lunch with Margaret’s cleaner.

And as we are moving up in the world (in this blog post, I mean), I need to share with you the glorious moment when MMU Writing School director and organiser of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, James Draper, met the Queen. James had better not have washed that hand since, as I’m hoping to shake it when I next see him.

James Draper and Queen Elizabeth II

Last but not least, we have someone else whose work I admire. If you can call it work? Someone who sadly has lost his cleaner, but who still has two ladies come and do his eyebrows. At home. Yes, it is Tim Dowling. When it comes to entertaining people by writing about everyday life, Tim is master of the kind of humour that ‘just happens.’ The trick is to know when and how to use it.

Take that, Yolanda!

Kind-hearted Keris Stainton is yet again battling against the powers of nature. Last time she mobilised fellow authors to help people in Japan after the tsunami, and now she has got together an even bigger crowd for the Philippines. Yolanda was very vicious indeed, and nowhere near as friendly as the name makes her sound.

Yet again you can bid for all sorts of book-related things. At the top end (?) if you can call it that, you could buy yourself a couple of authors. Only for a trip to the pub, but still. I’ve not even dared check how much I can’t afford to meet Anthony McGowan and Andy Stanton. Together. Phew.

There are masses of signed books on offer, or the odd old manuscript (Meg Rosoff – How I Live Now). School visits and book critique from many interesting and knowledgeable authors. Just part with your money.

I quite fancy being killed off in a book, actually. Several writers will put you in their next book, but only a few have made more firm promises of a dreadful end to your pitiful life.

But then, oh be still my beating heart; Steve Cole will dedicate his first Young Bond novel to you. I know I can’t afford that. Besides, I have already been dedicated, so to speak, and to ask for more would be greedy. Although, there are other options to have a book dedicated, so go and have a little look. Currently there are just under 300 items in the auction.

You have until Wednesday 20th November to bid. Go on! You know you’d like to feature in a book by the children’s laureate. Malorie Blackman might be too kind to kill you, but any laureate attention is good attention.

Bookwitch bites #116

I am really grateful to the kind people of Wexford, Ireland, for arranging somewhere I could park my broom the other night. (Not that I have actually been to Wexford, but its proximity to Eoin Colfer makes it seem like a very nice place. That, and the broom parking.)

Broom parking

So, I’m resting a little. No flying while it’s windy. Besides, you can’t trust people not to be setting off fireworks at the moment. And that is very dangerous for witches on brooms. For others, too, but I am mostly looking after me.

We can’t all be like that lovely man, Terry Pratchett, who is a wee bit more modest than he needs to be.

Terry Pratchett

And so was the poor woman in Ystad who was locked into the library. 91-year-old Dagmar sat comfortably reading something, as you do, when it was time to close and staff claim to have ‘looked’ but seem to have missed Dagmar, so set the alarm, locked up and went home for the weekend. (It was Friday the 13th.) When eventually Dagmar moved, she set off the alarm, and someone came to find her, and even let her out. And being 91 and polite, she apologised for having caused trouble…

But you already knew that Ystad is a dangerous town. Just ask Wallander. Bet he’s never been locked in a library, though.

Locked in, is something we connect with Al Capone, among other things. Gennifer Choldenko’s third Alcatraz book Al Capone Does My Homework, is already out in the US, but the rest of us have to wait a while. Sob.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Homework

And I can just sense that you like being told about books you can’t buy yet, so I’ll show you the cover of Ruth Eastham’s to-be-published third novel, Arrowhead. Like Al Capone, it will come. One day.

Ruth Eastham, Arrowhead

As I go to pick up my broom, I will leave you in the capable hands of Meg Rosoff. Although, considering what she can do to a piece of paper with a pair of scissors, I’m not so sure about those hands. If I think about it.

Wheee!!!

Bookwitch bites #115

Steve Cole had some great news to share this week. He will be writing four (yes!) new Young Bond novels, with the first coming next autumn. He even had to go get a nice new photograph of himself, as befits an Ian Fleming replacement.

Steve Cole

Some longlists are longer than others. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award list is longer than ever this year, with 238 names of hopefuls. 54 are there for the first time (which just goes to show people get nominated and nominated until they win…), presumably getting all excited about the possibility of winning five million kronor.

I was going to say that the Nordic countries have put forward more names than others, but I happened to notice that the UK list was longer still. See below. For the rest of the 238 you have to download the pdf yourself.

UK nominees for ALMA 2014

This week also saw the announcement of other Swedish related prizes, and I’m pleased for Alice Munro and Canada. A bit shocked to learn that only 13 women have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, however…

The other Nobel Prize that made the Bookwitch family very happy was the Physics prize to Peter Higgs. It almost feels as if we’d been awarded the prize ourselves.

Peter Higgs

Malorie Blackman has announced ‘a campaign to support fiction for young adults in the UK during her two year term in the post. A highlight of this will be the first ever YA Literature Convention, hosted at the London Film and Comic Con in July 2014. Blackman will also be working with Booktrust on a search for the rising stars in the UKYA community.’ I think that sounds terrific, and I’m looking into ways of splitting down the middle so I can go to lots of events all at once.

And finally something on a smaller scale, but who knows? ‘Anyone’ could make it to be children’s laureate or discover a boson or write James Bond books. Here is a challenge for students doing A-levels. The Connell Guides are giving £1000 for the best essay in a competition to be judged by William Boyd. Submissions in January, but they want students to start writing now. So I suggest doing just that. Write! Who knows where it might end? (In Stockholm, shaking some royal hand.)