Category Archives: Philip Pullman

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.

Seven, and half-baked

The text message from Son asking for the failed cake recipe reached me shortly after Daughter and I had witnessed Matt Smith miss our train in Milton Keynes. Which, it has to be said, he did with considerable skill. Mind you, he was merely Jim Taylor from Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart in those days.

We were about to see Tim Bowler’s Starseeker on the stage, and we were in Northampton, so had very limited access to any recipes at all. The job went to the Resident IT Consultant, who had to find this alien recipe book featuring half-baked cakes, and pass the relevant one on to Son, sitting in the Swedish wardrobe, waiting to show off for a picnic with Dodo.

As you can tell, I don’t know what to call this cake. But do have a slice, to help me celebrate seven years of blogging. It’s hard. Well, actually, it isn’t. It’s mostly soft and gooey. Failed. On purpose. (I am of course talking about the cake now. Not the blogging, which isn’t gooey at all.)

When I left the old country many years ago, it was still adhering to rules like cake should be spongy and rise beautifully in the oven and all that. 15 years into my foreign existence, I woke up to the fact that there is something called kladdkaka. We learned about it in church. After church. For coffee. But as it was chocolate I could never try it.

It’s all over Sweden these days (hardly surprising with runny cake) and Offspring have eaten their way through a lot of it. Years later I found myself the owner of a recipe book containing nothing but versions of kladdkaka. The author of this book rather charmingly referred back to her childhood when she had never heard of calories, so baked and ate one of these a day.

Sounds like heaven, if you ask me.

One day last week I got so annoyed over a missing ingredient for something else, that I decided to make failed cake myself, using carob instead of cocoa. (It was a bit dry, to be honest.) So despite having heard about calories, I had another go. It was so runny the Resident IT Consultant had to be polite about the result. (Perhaps I should have let it cool first?) I’m suspecting I might have to experiment and fail some more cake before I get it just right.

It’s good with whipped cream. In case you wondered. And since we are celebrating, that’s absolutely fine.

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

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.

Isol and Victoria

If I rant about the lack of television coverage of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ceremony in the UK, someone is bound to tell me it was on somewhere. (Was it?) I was lucky several years running in that I went to Sweden for half term and there it was, right on time. Big celebration with royalty and everything.

Music. Speeches. Foreign award winners shivering under blankets. With so much rubbish readily available, why not broadcast a little ceremony and very little pomp, even if it is rather foreign?

Argentinian winner Isol even danced the tango. Apparently. I bet Seamus Heaney didn’t do Riverdance for the Nobel prize.

She’s short, Isol. Although that sounds both too personal as well as rude (nothing wrong with being short). What I probably mean is I had no idea Crown Princess Victoria is quite so tall. We’ve not yet had cause to meet up, so I didn’t know. Taller than the minister for culture.

Isol and Crown Princess Victoria, by Stefan Tell

You see, if I’d been able to watch, I’d not have to resort to going on about what people looked like in the official photographs.

I expect there was less shivering, and possibly no blankets this year. They appear to have moved the whole shindig indoors. It doesn’t matter about the Swedish royals. They have practised sitting out of doors – totally umbrella-less – and smiling through almost anything. But foreigners, they are a more tender species.

As well as short. I can think of several non-tall winners. Philip Pullman, on the other hand, turned out to be taller than I had expected, so he probably beat Victoria.

And I still worry about the sheer amount of money. Is it right to give that much to one individual? I’d almost decided it wasn’t, but then I thought about people winning the lottery. All they’ve done is buy a ticket. At least these winners are professional writers and artists; one of whom is chosen every year.

Perhaps it is OK. Especially for someone who tangoes.

Fickle news

David Fickling Books

In the end my agonising wait resolved itself. I heard about David Fickling’s plans to set up his own publishing company back in January. I wasn’t sure I was allowed to mention it, so thought I’d ask David. I suppose I kept back from doing that, in order to save him having to tell me to mind my own business.

Not that he would be so rude, but you know what I mean.

So the official news a week or two ago was very welcome. It was out in the open. I didn’t have to ask any awkward questions (I might still, actually). The one thing that did surprise me was to find I’d got it wrong. I’d always thought David set up on his own, and was later taken in under the Random House umbrella. But it seems this is the first time David Fickling Books will be independent.

Poor, but independent.

I’ll be very interested to see how it goes. The principles for publishing should be what DFB will try to do; working with what you believe in, at the pace you decide, and with as little glancing at ‘what sells’ as possible. Please make this a success!

David Fickling Books

I wonder if they will [be able to] hang on to their lovely home in central Oxford? The place where Daughter and I encountered Simon Mason in the cellar. Now that Simon is going to be managing director, it might be unseemly to have him stashed away below street level?

We’ll see. When the news came, I’d already had witchy thoughts about tiny houses where you couldn’t even swing a kitten, because I remember David talking about modern houses with deceptively tiny furniture. I hope that doesn’t mean he needs to shrink his publishing palace, where the MD sits in the cellar and there is a dentist on top. Always so handy.

(The Book of Dust, could come in useful. Some people would be willing to hand over good money for a copy of that. In fact, my first introduction to David Fickling came through a letter I was sent while we were all waiting for The Amber Spyglass. [Long time ago!] In it David was telling the impatient fan of how wonderful the bits Philip Pullman had been reading to him from his work in progress had been. There was something about David’s enthusiasm, and the way he shared this with the fans, that suggested he was no ordinary editor.)

Bookwitch bites #107

I was awfully tempted to suggest the Resident IT Consultant’s cousin look in the place where it was ‘meant’ to be. But it felt wrong to state the obvious, even though lost things often are precisely where they should be. It’s just that we fail to see them.

She didn’t quibble with the statement that she had borrowed his book, or that he deserved to have it returned. She just wasn’t quite sure what book it was, so offered up another tome on Faraday over dinner on Saturday night. It was the wrong one. But once she got home, she looked again, and there it was. On the shelf, in plain sight.

Oh well, it’s been found. The Resident IT Consultant will be happy again.

Speaking of happy, I was happy when Wendy Meddour sent me the link to her and super daughter Mina May’s appearance on Woman’s Hour on Thursday. I knew they were doing it, but at the time I ‘was on the train’ and couldn’t listen, and by sending me this link, Wendy saved me searching all of the – no doubt excellent – hour for their eight minutes.

I am very pro this kind of mother and daughter collaboration. The two of them did a great job, and Mina May not only draws like an adult, but she sounds older than twelve. Much older. She will go far.

PP for President! More happiness with Philip Pullman being elected President of the Society of Authors. At least as long as it doesn’t stop him from the odd spot of writing. We quite like Philip writing.

Murdo Macleod and press photographers with Philip Pullman at Charlotte Square

I’m fairly sure authors like readers to be reading, too. I have to admit to having not touched my book for a couple of days. I’m calling it a reading holiday. Doing other stuff, like ‘knowing’ where the cousin put Faraday. And I did ‘touch’ my book, actually. The Grandmother showed an interest in it, so I had to retrieve it from her side. These Scottish relatives do like to pick up other people’s books…

Old men with sticks

Patterns are odd things. When reading a totally random list of books, you discover things that go together in the most unexpected fashion. I suppose you could plan to read lots of novels featuring yetis, should you be so inclined. But it’s more fun when the yetis simply happen to you. (You end up feeling that maybe there is a reason for all those hairy creatures.)

Sorry, but this isn’t going to be about yetis.

All that’s happened here is a week featuring two grandfathers with sticks. Brave ones, and interesting sounding ones. The kind of grandfather I would have loved to have had. (I did know one grandfather, and he most definitely walked with a stick, but I don’t reckon he was adventure novel material. Although, you just never know these things, do you?)

The first one was in Far Rockaway. In order to avoid spoilers, I’ve not said as much about Victor Manno as he deserves. He reads books and is fun company for his grandchildren. He is brave. He attacks a fire truck with his stick, to save his granddaughter. He appears in her delirious thoughts/dreams as she fights for survival. He’s a real hero.

Then there’s Alex in Like Clockwork, who also has a grandfather of the more unusual sort. With a stick, which he handles in un-grandfatherly ways. He’s an odd man, but sounds like fun. Alex certainly didn’t know him as well as he had thought. Not once the robots began to…

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much more. This ‘book’ Like Clockwork, by Damien M Love, is being published in six parts for Kindle. So far I’ve read the first part, which also exists in some kind of old style newspaper format. And you know me; I am cynical enough to expect the worst of gimmicky things.

But, this is pretty good. In fact, I’d say, very exciting. A person could easily be forgiven for feeling that it would be nice if these parts could appear quicker. Like now. What’s worse is that the first part is only published in mid March, and the rest will appear weekly after that.

They had better! I want to know what this weirdo grandfather is going to do with the robots, and those men he… And whether he and Alex..?

Like Clockwork is rather like Clockwork. Philip Pullman’s Clockwork. Not so much the plot, as the feeling of general creepiness. It’s continental, and it’s got machines that seem to think. Nicely menacing.

I think it might be possible to find out more here.

And, you know, I am sure time will go faster soon.

Tried to google me an illustration to go with this. Like Clockwork didn’t appear. At all. Spooky.

Bookwitch bites #94

I am the proud owner of a signed copy of Basu ni Notte. And I didn’t even know that it was called that, because I don’t read Japanese. (I know. It looks rather like Italian.) That in itself will tell you that my reading of Basu ni Notte has not gone terribly well, either, since I don’t read Japanese, and the book is in Japanese. Picture book, but still.

Ryoji Arai, Basu ni Notte

Ryoji Arai

So I stand to benefit from the new reading guides issued by the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award people. They have just come up with twelve guides for books by ten recipients of the ALMA, one of whom is Ryoji Arai. He shared the prize with Philip Pullman in 2005. That’s when I was crazy enough to go to Gothenburg just to hear Philip speak. A side effect was meeting up with this Japanese author and illustrator.

He supposedly didn’t speak English, but he did – a little – when it came to the crunch.

No language troubles at all with Marion Lloyd. As you can tell, I’ve not ‘bitten’ anyone here for a while, which is why I am offering you old news. Or not news so much, as a link to what I thought was a very nice blog post by Susie Day about this super-editor when she retired.

I don’t know why we seldom write really lovely articles about people before they retire, or worse, die. I want to know now. Except I don’t know what I want to know, because you haven’t written about those fantastic people yet.

And speaking of fantastic and reading, I eventually enticed Daughter to read the best book of 2012. None of us have got round to much reading during the recent eating season, but once the suggestion was made, she found it hard to stop until she was done. She, too, liked Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

I have no expectation of reading hundreds of books during 2013, but a few would be nice. I need to start collecting for the next ‘best of’ award. But as Cathy Butler said in her blog post about reading speed, we are allowed to be really slow. It’s not better to be fast.

Although it would be handy.

The 19th edition

of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phase and Fable is here! Happily for me it comes recommended by Philip Pullman* and Terry Pratchett. Also by the Resident IT Consultant, who yet again has been permitted to take over. This time he has really gone to town, but a reference book like Brewer’s deserves it.

My ignorant immigrant self has never quite worked out what it’s for. Because I seem to have been adopted by an old looking version of Brewer’s, I got it out again for comparison, and I noticed it even smells old. It wasn’t until I read the review below, that I grasped it is a facsimile edition. (Doesn’t explain the smell, but…)

Anyway, this very useful book has been subjected to a harsh test, and it seems to have come out of it fairly unscathed. Funny that my very own King had something to do with it, but there you are.

“I first discovered Brewer’s Dictionary of Phase and Fable in my local library more than forty years ago and have owned a facsimile of the 1894 edition for many years. I have always regarded it as a reliable source of arcane nineteenth century facts so I was rather surprised to discover that new editions have been published every three or four years since 1959. This latest is edited by Susie Dent and published by Chambers Harrap.

A new edition implies new material and there are indeed new entries for such terms as ‘quantitative easing’, ‘Tea Party’, big society’ and ‘app’ together with new lists of Internet social networking acronyms (so there is no excuse for misunderstanding LOL) and eggcorns (phrases which enter the language as a result of linguistic errors by speakers who have misheard an original).

How do you review a reference book like this in an age when it seems as if any question can be answered instantly on the Internet? I decided to pick ten entries at random and explore how easy it was to learn about them on the Internet.

First came the Geneva Bull, a nickname given to the seventeenth century Presbyterian divine Stephen Marshall. You can find this on the Internet (mainly in 19th century works in Google Books), but it’s not in Wikipedia, or in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica from which Wikipedia derives its entry.

Next was half-blue. This is easy to find. Wikipedia provides a detailed account of the operation of the Oxbridge blues system, though you have to dig around in it to find out what a half-blue is. Most online dictionaries provide an equivalent definition.

My next selection was the hero of medieval English romance, Guy of Warwick. Brewer’s provides a succinct synopsis of the stories and legends surrounding him, mentioning the works in which they are to be found. Wikipedia provides more detail, and traces the role of the story in literary history.

Fourth was the Cabbage Garden, a nickname applied to the Australian state of Victoria. This would be hard to find from the Internet. Wikipedia has an entry for the Cabbage Garden but it refers to a burial ground in Dublin! Only when you know to look for its use in the context of Victoria can you find it using Google. Even then there is some dispute about its age as a nickname, though Partridge agrees with Brewer that it comes from the 1920s.

Sac and soc’ is a phrase used to describe rights in private jurisdiction conveyed in land transfers around the time of the Norman Conquest. You can find references to it in online dictionaries but it is only when you realise that it’s the same as ‘sake and soke’ that you find a more thorough account in Wikipedia.

My next choice came from a list of famous last words. Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish king killed at the battle of Lützen in 1632 (during the Thirty Years War) is reported to have said ‘I am sped brother. Save thyself.’ I cannot find these words anywhere else. There seems to be fairly clear consensus that Gustaf Adolphus’s last words were Gud vare mig nådelig, literally translated as ‘God be merciful’ or simply ‘My God’, which is what most Internet sources report.

Next was yellow card, as used in football. Wikipedia provides a detailed account of yellow and red cards in different sports. Most online dictionaries explain what a yellow card is but Brewer’s goes slightly further by explaining its use in relation to a subsequent red card.

The eighth entry was one of several under Two, The two-legged mare, said to be a sobriquet for the gallows. It’s fairly easy to discover this from the Internet, though some confusion arises from the fact that the gallows that stood at Tyburn (roughly on the site of the modern Marble Arch) in London until 1783 had three verticals and was called the ‘three-legged mare’. This is presumably the origin of its use as an inn sign. Partridge confirms that both nicknames were used, and dates their use from 1565.

Liberty ships came next. Brewer describes them as ‘standardised prefabricated cargo ships of about 10,000 tons, much used by the USA during the Second World War.’ Online dictionaries tend not to provide so much detail, particularly in relation to their prefabrication or their size. Wikipedia, as usual, provides much more detail.

Finally came ‘Shurely Shome Mishtake’ included in a list of phrases from Private Eye that have entered popular culture. The origin of this phrase is fairly easy to find on the Internet though Wikipedia cites it as ‘shome mishtake, shurely’ and it is difficult to establish which form has priority. Possibly both were used.

Only four of these entries can be found in my 1894 facsimile. Two-legged mare and Geneva Bull have had their language updated but are essentially unchanged. Guy of Warwick has been completely rewritten and is now much more concise and less flowery, though without its former literary references. There are no entries for half-blue or sac and soc (despite the fact that both terms must have been current in 1894). Gustaf Adolphuslast words, listed in 1894 under ‘Dying Sayings’, are ‘My God!’

This randomly chosen list of entries gives a good indication of the range of subjects covered by Brewer’s though there is no attempt at completeness: Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie Dundee and Bonnie Prince Charlie are included but not the Bonnie Earl O’ Moray; the Dashing White Sargent is included but not Strip The Willow; God Particle is included but not Higgs Boson (a cross reference would be enough).

Nevertheless the book is tremendous fun to browse in, and I think that is its main strength. It is generally very well cross referenced so, for example, ‘Geneva Bull’ is referenced from the heading for ‘Bull’ as well as ‘Geneva’. This makes it easy to find an entry and often tempts the reader to follow an intriguing cross reference.

It would make a good source of quiz questions. For example, what links James Hogg, Sir Walter Raleigh and the eighteenth century prime minister George Grenville? Their nicknames. They are, respectively, the Ettrick Shepherd, the Shepherd of the Oceans (Edmund Spencer) and the Gentle Shepherd (William Pitt).”

* As Philip says ‘before you know what’s happened, it’s time for lunch.’ I know that feeling. Except at Bookwitch Towers it was more like next week.