Category Archives: Reference

Euro Noir

Wouldn’t it be nice to be an expert at lots of things? Except you can’t. There is a limit to how much you can delve into different areas of interest. And that’s when it’s good to have someone who does it for you.

Barry Forshaw knows a lot about crime (in the right sort of way). He is a Nordic crime specialist, but reads a wider diet than that. Here he is with his new Euro Noir, briefly outlining crime fiction and films in a number of European countries. I’m ashamed to admit I’d never considered whether there are Polish crime novels.

He wondered what I would make of the Nordic section, which is only right, since I know almost nothing about Romania or Greece when it comes to crime, or any fiction, now that I think of it. But if I did want to read something so drastically new, I now know where I would begin. With this book. And then one of the ones mentioned in here.

Barry Forshaw, Euro Noir

Barry is right to ponder how he can cover Nordic crime yet again and so briefly, but he has succeeded. There is a good selection of authors from a long time ago as well as now. And he does the same for the other Nordic countries. You might know a lot of it already, but I bet there will be something new for everyone.

And once you’ve covered the north, there is all the rest of Europe. If I were to tackle French crime I’d have to go to Fred Vargas. Barry very sensibly asked various specialists to write a page on what they like best, and my colleague Karen Meek likes Fred Vargas. That’s good enough for me.

There is a wide coverage of films, including some pretty ancient ones, and obviously the recent euro crime we’ve seen on television during the last few years. Again, you might know it all, but that doesn’t prevent this from being interesting to read.

Euro Noir is a short book, which will quickly tell you what you need to know.

Bread sticks and brain sticks

Being attacked by a goose isn’t as bad as it might seem at first. It sets off your adrenaline and a few other chemicals and makes the required jump across a really high gate possible. It’s only if you then dwell on the constant possibility of further goose attacks that you might feel stressed in the wrong way. And that’s not good.

Nicola Morgan's shoes

Last night I went to the launch of Nicola Morgan’s new book, The Teenage Guide to Stress. I always forget how interesting Nicola is and how well she talks at events like these. There was absolutely no need at all for her to walk round persuading people they needed more wine before she began, but she did anyway. And there were bread sticks. Three kinds.

Nicola Morgan

The room at Blackwell’s – we really must stop seeing each other like this – was full. Nicola was wearing gorgeous shoes, and pink trousers I could have killed for, if I thought I could wear pink trousers. Even I, as a relative newcomer, knew a few people there, which is always nice. Nicola tried threatening us at the back with special treatment if we didn’t move to the front, but soon all seats were taken, so she couldn’t actually do anything about us. Me, especially.

She had stuff to offer. Free posters, rolled up, which looked just right to hit people with. Nicola introduced her brain sticks, which are USBs filled with useful material on brains, and which she has spent 1000 hours on producing. There were three tea-towels to win.

Nicola Morgan

People who say they never suffered from stress when they were young are wrong. They suffer from amnesia, which is a coping strategy. It helps you forget the bad stuff. Before, there was not a single book for teenagers on stress. Now there is one. And this is important, because teen stress is different from that suffered by adults.

It’s the constant, low level, kind of stress that won’t go away, which is so bad for you. It is constantly having to ‘perform at things you are not good at’ which makes the teen years such hell. It leaves less ‘bandwidth’ for other things. The two main bad things are exams and the internet. Teenagers don’t have the life experience we oldies have, and they tend to believe they are alone in their suffering. Adults are generally able to stop doing what they are bad at; in Nicola’s case maths and singing.

Nicola Morgan

With her book Nicola hopes to settle minds. That’s what people need. The book has three parts. The first is what stress is. The second what the stress is about. And the third how to deal with it.

She has looked into the research on whether chocolate alleviates stress and it appears it doesn’t. However Nicola feels there are more ways to look at this, and urged us to do more research. Generosity is good, which is why she offered us all some 70% dark chocolate.

Nicola Morgan

And speaking of generosity; you know what had to happen. I won a tea-towel. I already have one, so didn’t feel I needed to win, but as I stood there looking at the tickets in the envelope, I knew* that no matter which ticket I picked, it’d be the winning one. And it was. So I gave the tea-towel to the man behind me, scooped up some chocolate I can’t eat and took it home and gave to the Resident IT Consultant to see if generosity is as good as Nicola suggested.

I suppose it is.

*I’m a witch. I feel these things.

Nicola Morgan

The Beatles

You certainly feel your age when Offspring come home from school, tasked to enquire whether their parents were alive when The Beatles were around. Does it make you very old? Or is it merely that teachers have grown disproportionately young? The one who asked this was actually very nice, and a good teacher. Nevertheless, I felt ancient. (Since when does pop music belong in history lessons?)

Because, yes, I was around, back when.

It doesn’t mean I know, or remember, every fact about The Fab Four, but I do recall the general feel of the era. Although I need to point out I was obviously very young when all this happened. Ahem. To prove it I can tell you I had to rely on Mother-of-witch to read what the newspapers wrote about the long-haired Liverpool lads.

For Christmas 1963 I was given a record player, and my first record, She Loves You. The Aunts disapproved of all this foreign stuff. After all, there were people around who sang in a language you could understand. But I sang happily along to She Loves You and all the others, without having any idea of what they, and I, were singing about.

Mick Manning and Brita Granström, The Beatles

Now my fellow countrywoman Brita Granström and her husband Mick Manning have produced a very nice illustrated reference book on The Beatles. I have learned things I didn’t know before. I have been reminded of what was so special about John, Paul, George and Ringo. And I remembered why I half ditched them in the end.

Brita’s pictures tell more of a story than words do, and together she and Mick have made a fab book about what came before The Beatles made it big 50 years ago, what happened once they did, and how it all ended. I know more now about their early lives (including getting some unexpected help with a quiz question I came across the same day I read the book), and I properly understand how the haircut came to be. I’ve even had a new and better explanation to their name.

Whether you’re the right side of 50, or just ten and wondering who The Beatles really were, this is the book for you. I happen to have a good friend who likes all things Beatles. I will not be passing my copy on to him.

Just thought I’d mention that. He can buy his own.

Fillers

Please, where can I find a needy motorway? I have stuff to get rid of, and there is landfill, and then there is landfill (to build roads, or so Hilary McKay has been saying for far too long about her own wonderful books). The latter strikes me as the much more sensible option, if there’s nothing else you can do with your unwanted books.

And when I say unwanted, I am not referring to Hilary’s work, nor am I suggesting that the unwantedness stems from the Resident IT Consultant so much. They just happen to be his books. Most of the ones from the back row on the double rows of books. They are unwanted by me. And looking at them, I am shocked ‘we’ ever wanted/bought/kept them at all.

Future motorway?

But now that he has been a very good Resident IT Consultant and cleared them out (when I say that, I mean onto the floor in the front room), they need to go a little bit further. Where to, though? The Grandmother was consulted, in case Oxfam could pass them on, but she felt they were beyond even that.

They are not allowed in the paper and cardboard recycling bin our local council has provided. As far as I have been able to find out, there is nowhere to take them. Except to the general hole in the ground for all general things that don’t fit the description of any recycling category at all.

I suspect books are something you are not meant to have very many of. Meaning you will have no problem giving them a comfortable forever home, and books are sacred and Can’t Possibly Be Got Rid Of! Hence the lack of a recycling category for them.

Now that I have had them declared unsacred, I will have to get them out of the house quickly (if only so I can use that bit of floor to pack, reorganise or dispose of other belongings), and the only way appears to stick them in the boot of the car and point it at the local tip. But that makes me feel sick.

Bra Böckers Lexikon

I am the proud owner of two sets of the same – Swedish – encyclopaedia (one here, one there…) and neither is especially useful in this age of Google. The ‘one there’ can remain for the time being. But the ‘one here’ will have to go. Presumably also into a hole in the ground. And not of the new motorway variety, either.

(Perhaps… no, probably not. You can build houses out of straw. And stuff. The ideal thing would be to build a new house out of books.)

Writing Children’s Fiction

The trouble with a book like Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers’ and Artists’ Companion,  is that it makes someone like me believe that they can write a children’s book. It is that good, and it is above all, that inspiring.

(So avoid at all costs if you don’t want to sit down and write a book just now.)

Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard provide loads of good advice for the budding author, based on how they themselves go about writing. Linda, for instance, began by wanting to be Monica Dickens. (Makes a change from all of us who thought we were Enid Blyton.)

Along with their own tried and tested methods, they have invited the cream of British children’s authors to share their thoughts on what to do. Or not to do. Many of them started off making beginner’s mistakes. Now that they have done it for you, your own path will be that much straighter.

I was pleased to learn Mal Peet made Marcus Sedgwick concerned with his flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants technique. A little more worried by Meg Rosoff decking an interviewer for saying writing looked easy. Tim Bowler was a child prodigy if he’s to be believed, and Mary Hoffman has had a lifelong love affair with her muse, Italy.

Once inspiration has you in its grips, there are workshops on every possible aspect of writing books. And because these ladies don’t seem to doubt that my (your) book will get published, there are links to useful consultancies, blogs and how to get a school visit arranged.

And how could you fail? There are so many tips, not to mention inspirational tales in Writing Children’s Fiction, that you will be absolutely fine. Anne Fine, who has written the foreword, wishes she had had access to this kind of guide when she began, instead of doing it the hard way.

I will try to refrain from embarking on a book, but will be happy to review yours when it’s done. Always assuming you have followed the advice and made it a good one. But you will.

The author’s bookshelves

When I feel really confused I believe that one of Helen Grant’s bookcases is a fireplace. But apart from that I am completely normal.

(It’s because it looks a little fireplace-ish. More than mine, anyway.)

The Resident IT Consultant and I enjoyed looking through Helen’s shelves when we were waiting for her to get lunch ready the other week. (She had declined my help. I let her. That’s the kind of visitor I am.) They are shelves that anyone would enjoy browsing for unexpected – or for that matter, totally expected – books. We flitted from side to side, since there was no discernible system. Lovely.

They are nice bookcases. The furniture, I mean. Dark brown. Not too plain and not too ornamental. Just right. And one of them sits where the fireplace would be if there was one. Hence my understandable memory lapse. As befits a proper library, the room boasts leather sofas. And cats.

I am sure that Helen, or the younger Grants, own every one of the Harry Potter books. But they are so nicely spread out that you could never accuse the family of believing in alphabetical order. The HPs are not even in the same bookcase, or along the same wall!

And they have at least two copies of a book about witches and magic. Either they don’t know this, or they need both. I felt suitably appreciated, anyway. There are books by Johan Ajvide Lindqvist, or what I call horror of horrors. Someone likes outdoorsy books. They have books on food. On health. And, er, some by Helen Grant.

Some books stand in front of other books. In other words, the Grant book collection is very, very normal. I suspect they haven’t acquired books with an eye to what others will think. Which is just as well, since when they moved (I have forgotten now if it was to Germany or to Belgium) their new neighbours asked why they’d bothered dragging all those old books with them.

Yeah, I mean, you’d think people wouldn’t take things they’d already used when moving house.

Walker Books and a witch with wet hands

As usual it was a case of waving your hands (or in this case, my hands) under the drier for absolutely forever, wipe them on your clothes, or go wet, hoping there’d be no hands to shake. You can guess which I chose, and what happened next, can’t you?

I was at the presentation of Walker Books’ and Constable & Robinson’s Autumn Highlights in Manchester on Wednesday evening, when I came face to face with Jo for the first time, and had to quickly get out of the handshaking she had in mind. This flustered me so much I forgot to mention my name. (But everyone knows me, right?) Besides, I’d already got the decrepit old woman treatment. Staff at the venue saw me negotiating the steps outside (which had NO handrail) and quickly bundled me into the lift before I caused more trouble.

Wally bag

Super-Jake was there, but I forgot to check his footwear. Representatives of our local LitFest and bookshops and that most Wondrous of blogs could also be seen. I was quite restrained prior to the talk, as I noticed there were partybags in one corner, which meant I did no stealing or anything beforehand.

Constable & Robinson went first, and I’d not realised that books on prescription, which I have heard of, is for non-fiction self-help type books, rather than patients being made to feel better after a dose of Pride and Prejudice…

They are big on halogen oven books. (Don’t ask.) They are the leaders in cosy crime. You can have books on WWII pets for Christmas. Obviously. C & R have begun offering children’s books, and they had an instructive video on how to fight zombies. (Head removal is recommended.) Gross. Shaun Ryder on UFOs. (It would have helped if I knew who Shaun Ryder is.) Joan Collins is nearly 80, in case you wanted to know. They have a book titled Going on a Bar Hunt. Droll.

This being very much a presentation for booksellers, I now know a lot more about which books are commercial, something I rarely consider in my narrow little world. There will be joke books for Christmas. And they have just begun a relationship with Brian McGilloway, who I am very interested in.

Vivian French bookmark

On to Walker Books, who are planning a picture book party. I think that means they have lots of picture books to offer. Vivian French has something new going; Stargirl Academy. Looks good. Pink. Anthony Browne is a Marmite author, which I can understand. That gorilla still scares me.

Cassandra Clare was there last year, before she grew so big that she doesn’t do this kind of talk. She has a film on the way. Nice for her.

Walker have travel guides, and there is new stuff for fans of GHMILY (Guess How Much I Love You books). Mumsnet have done a story collection. In fact, I reckon there is one thing parents want more than anything else. They want their children to fall asleep. Lots of books for that purpose.

Manatees and bears. A book about someone pecking (I’m thinking – hoping – woodpecker) all the way through.  Going on a Bear Hunt is out again. Michael Morpurgo will be 70, and four of his books are being re-issued, including one about funny old men who are famous artists.

Speaking of funny, Tommy Donbavand has a new series called Fangs. Walker are really really really really thrilled to be working with Anthony McGowan and his new book Hello Darkness. Patrick Ness wasn’t there except on video, where he did his best to sound interesting while not giving too much away about his new novel More Than This. His Chaos trilogy, meanwhile, is being revamped for old people.

My notes say ‘spider skeleton.’ I think there’s a book about things like spider skeletons. Kate DiCamillo and her dog spoke to us all the way from their Minneapolis dining room. While the dog made dog noises, Kate told us about her mother’s obsession with her 1952 vacuum cleaner and what would happen to it after she died. Kate’s new book Flora and Ulysses also features squirrels.

Anthony Horowitz has finally come to the end of his Power of Five books, so has had time to write Russian Roulette, the Alex Rider prequel he has had in mind for absolutely ages. He is quite satisfied with it.

Lizzy Bennet (I apologise for sounding so informal) wrote a diary in her pre-Darcy days, which will give us an opportunity to find out all kinds of stuff.

Finally, Walker are publishing the Little Island imprint, which is foreign fiction. I spied a Swedish title in among the covers they showed us, and think it’s high time there are more books from other countries.

Walker Books autumn books

As you can see, they had a lot to tell us. They hadn’t rehearsed, so were surprised to find it took them so long. But at the end there were canapés and more drinks and even a few authors; Steve Tasane, Sarah Webb and Katy Moran. Someone else, too. At least I think there was.

Wally bag

I grabbed my partybag and hobbled away home. There was NO handrail on the way out either…

Blame My Brain – the review

I can safely say I have never felt the urge to crawl into a supermarket trolley. And doing so with vodka, would appear to make it more crowded, so I don’t really think I will bother. While on the subject of trolleys and supermarkets, I enjoyed visualising Mr M and his wife out hunter gathering in their local Sainsbury’s. (Wine and cheese hunted down by Mr M, and porridge oats successfully gathered by the wife, as she’s been programmed to do. Or so I imagine.)

Mr M’s wife, Nicola Morgan, has written a book about brains, as humorously as ever. It’s a bit of a trademark of hers; humour and wit. And lots of it. There is a new edition out of Blame My Brain, which contrary to what I’d imagined has actually been written for the teenagers themselves. Those with the brains in question.

It explains a lot, including why I was a perfect teenager (as elaborated on here by Nicola yesterday), and why I am also such a perfect parent. It’s not easy (actually, it is) but someone has to be.

BMB is very interesting, and should be extremely helpful to those in need. Teenagers with teenage brains, and their parents who have already forgotten what it was like to have one.

There is science to base almost every fact on, and the best thing is that even if you don’t fit the stereotype, it doesn’t matter. The world has a use for all sorts of people; the perfect ones, and those temporarily a little bit odd. (I believe that’s the one with the vodka in the trolley.)

I can’t decide who will benefit the most from reading BMB. The young person who needs reassurance that they are totally normal, or the unsympathetic oldies who don’t think they are. Both probably.

And seeing as you not only get better at something by doing it – repeatedly – but you can learn to do quite a bit of it by watching someone else do it, I’d say us oldies have a duty to perform, and to do it well. That way we will be looked after by someone in our even older age. Someone looking after us as well as we do our own oldies.

Or some such theory.

(At no time when chased by a lion have I felt so depressed that I have fallen asleep. Which could be why I’ve made it this far.)

The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules

Jennifer Cook O'Toole, The Asperkids' Secret Book of Social Rules

This book struck me as such a good idea when I first encountered its author Jennifer Cook O’Toole in a Guardian article about her own family. She is an aspie, married to another aspie, and with three aspie children. So, plenty of aspie experience to build a book on.

For the most part it lives up to that promise. It is primarily for younger people, and it has lists of pitfalls to keep in mind and learn coping strategies for. There are short chapters dealing with each individual problem area, with amusing illustrations to bring the message home, and making it easier to remember.

Most of the advice is very good, and coming from someone with personal experience it rings true. It will even work for people who are no longer children, setting aside any particular school age advice. Because it is aimed at children the book has some definite dos and don’ts. I feel they are a little too prescriptive, though.

I know aspies need rules, but if the suggestion is slightly ‘wrong’ or not appropriate for an individual (since even aspies are individuals) it could be taken at face value and steer someone in the wrong direction. There were one or two rules I disagree with, and someone else might find others they would feel were not quite right. And since Jennifer is an adult telling a child reader things, we are sort of back to square one again. (My other thought is that as Jennifer is an aspie, she could have got hold of the wrong end of the stick on occasion.)

This book is also very American. It makes the advice not useful for some aspects of normal life for the rest of us. And, Jennifer is writing for the most able aspies; the ‘close to being normal’ people. Advice on using makeup will not sit well with typical aspies. Social rules must not overrule someone’s comfort to the extent they can’t function. In Britain we don’t have the kind of sales staff who can be expected to advise on someone’s complete wardrobe.

And you mustn’t be poor, or have a non-typical family surrounding you, which will rule out many on the autistic spectrum.

But, it does have some great lists! I’d like to be able to pick my own favourites from those lists, to personalise a guidebook for someone. But short of rewriting it all, or cutting the book to pieces…

The book is best for urging young people to carefully consider who they trust, and who is a real friend. Not to think negative thoughts about yourself. Above all, to say no to anything and anyone if something feels wrong. Things don’t have to feel wrong. Better friendless than surrounded by the wrong people.

Nordic Noir

Before I knew what I was doing, I was hauling a Nordic (well, Swedish) crime novel off the shelf to read. That’s how fired up I got once I started on Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir guide book.

He knows a lot about this subject. More than most. Certainly more than I do. And that made me envious and I wanted to begin my new career as a Nordic crime specialist, which is when I discovered the book I’d found was in English. So I put it away again, and I will pick something else. Later.

I will never be an expert on Nordic crime. Barry didn’t set out to be. It just happened to him. Now he has read quite a bit, and he has met most of who’s who in this genre. And in Nordic Noir he shares it with us.

This slim volume is probably more for looking things up in, than to sit down and read from cover to cover. Barry lists books from all six countries, includes interviews with authors, as well as talking about recent films and television shows. There’s not much that’s missing.

The Swedish section is the largest – naturally – and the Faroese is definitely the smallest, with the other four countries nestling in the middle. For a non-Nordic speaker Barry has steered an almost perfect route between å and ä and ö, past ø and ð. The few near misses could be due to printers, and not the author. Only the one Norwegian writer has ended up listed as a Swede, but these things happen.

And when Henning Mankell saw mice, he did so in a posh London hotel. These things happen, too.

Any fan of Nordic darkness could do worse than equip themselves with Barry’s guide. You know, you could show off a little next time you’re in the right kind of conversation.