Category Archives: Travel

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…)

Off the Page with Teri Terry

Deep down I knew. All day I stalked round the house thinking ‘I couldn’t leave it looking like this if people were coming.’ But we were going out for drinks, not staying in, and there was no need to clean or tidy or even remove the empty Ikea boxes or the reading lamp that almost went up in smoke that afternoon. Or anything.

So obviously I asked Teri Terry and Mr Terry round for a cup of tea. As you do. Being polite people, they even praised the hall for being nice, which it might have been were in not for all the stuff. But this is Stirling and I don’t believe you can go out for cups of tea at eight pm, so Bookwitch Towers was the place to go.

Before my domestic embarrassment, we’d had a nice evening at St Ninian’s Library, were Teri’s talk was part of the Stirling book festival. I’d not heard Teri speak in public before, so looked forward to it. There were a good number of readers of the right age – i.e. not like me – and many came without adults, which was particularly encouraging, I felt. But then I know that Teri’s fans do like her.

Teri Terry

There were soft drinks and slices of swiss roll, and they switched on the coffee machine for the adults. Nice warm welcome for everyone (and I only mention it because it doesn’t always happen). They were most helpful about toilet access as well (although I have to admit that was mainly me…).

Most people seemed to have read Slated, and a few had read Fractured, but I might have been the only one who’d got to Shattered. Lucky them to have so much to look forward to. Teri read from the first two novels, free from spoilers, but felt she couldn’t do that with the third book without giving everything away.

She started off by answering the questions she most commonly gets asked, just to get her funny name and accent and all the rest out of the way. (You can find much of it in my interview with Teri from last year.) Teri reckons writers are often a bit crazy, they might move a lot and become used to being outsiders, observing others.

Teri Terry

Teri herself is very interested in nature versus nurture, which was relevant both in her former job as a lawyer, but also now when she writes fiction. She talked about the evening of 9/11 (she was in Australia), and as she did, I did a quick calculation and came to the conclusion that most of the audience had not been born then, or were very young indeed. It’s weird how fast things become history.

Her next book, Mind Games, will be published in March next year (she showed me the cover image on her laptop and it looks fantastic), and she is currently writing the next book again, with a deadline in December, to be published next autumn or spring 2016.

Asked about writing for boys, Teri said that she doesn’t see readers as boys or girls, but as people. She also doesn’t want to suggest which age her books are for, although most readers seem to be from about eleven and older.

Like many authors Teri is very interested in stationery. She has a big collection of notebooks and can’t possibly start writing a book in the ‘wrong’ notebook. She once had to spend a week shopping for the right one before she could begin. She can type really fast, but finds it easiest to start a book writing by hand, moving on to her laptop after a while.

Because it’s not healthy sitting in bed all day writing, she now tends to get dressed every day, and she goes to write in her shack in the garden. But she needs to speak to humans every now and then, so has to leave her shack occasionally.

Teri Terry

That’s when she comes to lovely events like this one, right on my doorstep. After which she ended up much more on my doorstep than we’d intended. It was nice. Very nice. In case Teri and her Mr Terry ever feel like coming back, I will clean the house, decorate it, and purchase some green tea. Possibly find the wine glasses too, just in case.

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.

Brush twice a day

I do tact so very well. (Like the foreigners I am surrounded by, I cling to my own country’s excellence. Sometimes.) Years ago I dragged Son from one British dentist to another, looking for one that would meet with my approval. (How Son didn’t end up with a dental phobia, I don’t know.) For the last dentist we saw (before I gave up and travelled across the water for treatment for all the family) I had decided in advance what I would say. It would be measured and fair and polite. But what actually fell out of my mouth were the words: ‘I am Swedish and I think Swedish dentists are the best.’

He smiled at me sweetly (he did have a lovely smile) and said that he was Scottish and he reckoned Scottish dentists were also pretty good. Offspring remained with him for several years, until they outgrew his remit.

We did dental holidays from then on. When I happened to mention the annual dental trip to Sweden to Tim Bowler once, his retort was that my dentist must be one hell of a dentist. (I was a little taken aback at his use of hell. Tim is always very proper.)

Anyway, Son eventually found a dentist in the UK that he liked. I went there once as an emergency, and he was fine (ish), but with a solid mistrust of foreign dentists (which is rich for someone who hails from outside Britain).

But most good things have to come to an end and my trusty Swedish dentist retired. And I moved. And I had another emergency, because I am old and so are my teeth. I felt so willing to try new things that I went to see Aunt Scarborough’s dentist. I liked him. He seemed very competent, for a foreigner. And with as sweet a smile as his polite fellow countryman from that other occasion.

I have actually made the jump now, for real. He has an admiration for Swedish dentists, which does him credit. He sells books, too. In the waiting room there are shelves of used bestseller paperbacks, sold in aid of a charity. It’s a clever idea. Instead of sitting there reading a magazine you couldn’t care less about, you can start on a book. (Me, I bring my own, but we have already concluded I am abnormal.) And once begun, you will want to finish, so you pay 50p and the book is yours.

Books at the dentist's

Last week as we were whiling away the time between injection and action, he asked if I had noticed his multi language wall posters. I had. He asked if I would do one in Swedish for him. It has to say something like ‘for healthy teeth, brush twice a day.’

So as the drill went to work, I lay there pondering how best to phrase it. I wanted my translation to be as good as Swedish dentistry.

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 #12 profile – Kenneth Oppel

I think I might fall in love with Kenneth Oppel. He likes trains. So do I. On the other hand, he was obviously one of those annoying child prodigies, getting published far too early. I’ll think about it.

He’s got a new book out, The Boundless. It’s about a train. And because of that Kenneth is here to tell us a few things about himself that we didn’t know before:

Kenneth Oppel

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

Well, after seeing Star Wars when I was eleven, I started a sci-fi epic called Starship (then retitled Rebellion!), and wrote several chapters in a school exercise book. Lots of laser guns and spaceships exploding. It was a complete rip off of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica and I never finished it.

After that I wrote a book over two summer holidays when I was 14 and 15, and with the help of Roald Dahl, got it published just as I was leaving school. It was a very lucky break, and a very early start as a published writer.

Best place for inspiration?

A moving train.

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

Never. Writing’s hard work. I want all the credit.

What would you never write about?

Nothing.

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

It was winter and my car slipped off the road and I was quite badly hurt. Luckily a nurse saw and came to my aid. It turned out she was my Number One fan, a lovely person, but quite insane. She was unhappy with the ending of one of my books. She kept me prisoner in her house until I rewrote the ending.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Matt Cruse.

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

Only Good. You get money; you sell books. If the movie’s well done, or gets a big release, you sell loads of the book. Even if the movie’s a stinker, it’s still a plus, because your book remains the same book, and everyone will eventually forget about the rotten movie — and maybe someday another filmmaker will do it right.

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

‘What kind of hair product do you use?’

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can play tunes on my teeth. I’m best at Jingle Bells.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia, but only for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. After that, it’s Enid Blyton all the way.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Tough one. Someone from Abba, but it seems mean to pick one randomly.

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

I used to have a Billy, and arranged things by size and colour for maximum aesthetic effect. Now I have too many books, and go alphabetically.

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

Silverwing. Because I wrote it.

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

Did a human being write this question?

In my defense I have to say I stole the question from a lovely Irishman. He is pretty human, I reckon.

Number One fans should always be treated with caution, unless they are me. I am harmless, although the hostage idea has its merits. I’ll think about it.

And if I could make a request? Pachelbel’s Canon would be lovely. Thank you.