Category Archives: Reading

Off the Page with Cathy Cassidy

Deep down I knew. All day I stalked round the house ‘just knowing’ that whichever coffeeshop I picked for meeting Cathy Cassidy in, it would be the one that was closed. Luckily I was wrong. The place gave us half an hour before turfing us out. We drank fast and then we ran. But not before Cathy had insisted on paying. I told her it was my turn as she paid last time, and her retort to that was incredulity that anyone would remember. Remember? I even have a photo of her money.

Cathy Cassidy's fiver

So, anyway. Cathy came to Stirling on this momentous day for Scotland, feeling jealous because she is no longer eligible to vote. She was doing an event for Off the Page at the Tolbooth, and she is such a nice person that she agreed to meet up with me before it, only to be shown the door. Cathy even acknowledged that I had been right when I said her hotel was posh. (Of course I’m right about these things.) And it was conveniently close to the venue, so we only needed to climb that hill once and then back down again. (Note to Stirling Council: At 19.45 a witch needs street lights to manouvre herself safely down that hill!)

Tolbooth

Over our swift ‘coffee’ we swapped family stories, and then we climbed some more. The nice people at the Tolbooth let us sit the remaining time out in the bar, which was closed, but still nice. After some prepping in the auditorium, we went and sat in Cathy’s dressing room, where I could have had a shower had I been so inclined. (Glam!)

It was good to be able to case the joint before the event, and I found myself a suitable seat at the back. Met the helpful lady from Tuesday, who recognised me as the troublemaker, and I pointed out that I am not stalking her literary guests, even if it looks like that. (Not much, anyway.) When the guy with the lights heard there were two chocolate fairies coming, his face lit up. Tsk.

Cathy Cassidy

At half past six the first girls came in and claimed the middle seats in the front row. All the girls (I am fairly sure there were only girls) were beautifully dressed, which is something I’ve observed about Cathy’s fans before. Quite a few mums and two dads.

This event was mainly about the latest of the chocolate box girls, Sweet Honey. Cathy said she’d answer any question – within reason – except if it had to do with numbers. And there was a no teachers allowed rule, which broke, because ‘they always slip through the net.’ So any fan who wanted detailed information on daydreaming, Cathy’s favourite subject at school, was directed to her website.

Cathy Cassidy

The teacher who told the young Cathy that daydreaming wouldn’t get her anywhere was wrong. Cathy has visited most parts of the world in her role as very popular author. (So there.) She talked about her research on chocolate, and how she ‘had to’ travel to a beach in Somerset to find where her chocolate girls live. Cathy plans her books with the help of a mood board, and we saw photos of some charming young men for Honey in the new book.

Persistence pays, as the teenage Cathy found when she finally had a story published, before landing her dream job working for Jackie magazine. These days she runs the blogzine Cathy Cassidy: Dreamcatcher with the help of her fans.

Cathy Cassidy

Her favourite book as a child was Watership Down, and it taught her that reading is cool, because although she tried to hide the silly rabbit on the book’s cover, she was chatted up by the coolest boy in school, and discovered that he loved the book too…

The most fun book to write was Dizzy, her first one. These days Cathy has to get past the throwing-the-laptop-out-of-the-window moment. Earlier this week she had a mishap where she lost a week’s work when her computer crashed (not through a window, I expect), so she now has to promise to save and back-up everything a hundred times.

As for the dreaded number question, she might have written 22 books. But generally her fans know the facts better than she does. There is more and more to do, and she feels as if she’s never going to catch up with herself. But if she does, there will be an Alice in Wonderland kind of book for us next year.

Cathy Cassidy

When question time was over, Cathy’s fans formed a signing queue faster than you could say book signing. And those who weren’t in that queue, were in the other one, buying more Cathy Cassidy books.

I tried to take photos, but basically, Cathy disappeared behind the hordes of lovely girls. And that is as it should be.

Cathy Cassidy

Me, I hobbled down the hill in the dark, as I said, musing over how Cathy manages to make every event feel special. I am an old cynic who has heard much of it before, but even I felt pretty special. If I were an 11-year-old girl I would worship her. I mean, I sort of do anyway, in my ancient way. But you can always worship more.

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.

Sick reading

I’ve been feeling off-colour with my specially imported Glaswegian lurgy this week. So I’ve read more than average, because when you feel weak and achey sometimes reading is all you can do.

As I was grasping my current book – in the middle of the night – I suddenly remembered other books read while feeling under the weather. And it made me wonder why books read during times of incapacitation remain more memorable. Not better, necessarily, but I suppose illness reinforces the memory. Somehow.

(I could tell you what I read Easter 2007, for instance.)

The other thing I’ve mused about (all this thinking can’t be healthy) is why it’s so hard to find enough time to read, when it makes me feel much better. Even without the lurgy.

Kirkland Ciccone at his celebration party

The drawback this week was having to cancel going to Kirkland Ciccone’s celebration in Kilsyth. ‘Where?’ I hear you ask. Somewhere fairly near Bookwitch Towers, although even my native Resident IT Consultant wasn’t totally sure exactly where.

Kirkland Ciccone celebration party

It was (would have been) an opportunity to celebrate Kirkland winning the Catalyst Award for Conjuring the Infinite. I understand there was – almost – unlimited Monster Munch. And a red carpet. They know how to party in Kilsyth.

Kirkland Ciccone celebration party

To prove how mentally challenged I’ve been, I went as far as addressing this noble award winner as Kirkie… I’m so very sorry. It won’t happen again.

Welcome to the Family

There are more than one kind of family, as most of us who are not politicians know. And knowing isn’t always enough. You want books about your own family type. In Welcome to the Family you get so much variation that surely just about every type of family has been covered?

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, Welcome to the Family

Families can have one or more adults. Any number, really. Any combination of the sexes. There can be one child, or lots of them. As for colour, any combination is possible.

Welcome to the Family shows the child how they might have arrived with their parents. It can be anything from ordinary homemade babies, to fostering and test tube babies. There are gay parents and single parents. Mixed colour families and same colour families.

This is not a story book, but more a way of telling a child that they are normal, whatever their own reality. It shouldn’t be necessary to have books like this, but unfortunately we still have a long way to go before some kinds of family are seen as so natural that there is no need to mention them.

The usual wonderful illustrations you expect from Ros Asquith accompany Mary Hoffman’s text.

I’d happily belong to any of these families, but of course, I have my own. Both the one I was born into and the one I helped make. Both different, and both good.

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!).