Water Born

Water Born is the sequel to Rachel Ward’s The Drowning, and when I read it, at first I thought I’d gone mad. Were her characters really called Clarke and Sarita?

Rachel Ward, Water Born

No, they were not. You’ll find out why as you read on. Water Born is about their daughter Nic, who loves swimming. That also didn’t feel right for Carl and Neisha, considering what happened in The Drowning. But it, too, has an explanation.

Like the first book, this is pretty scary stuff. It’s obviously fantasy (it is, isn’t it?), so you can’t use logic to work out what is happening to Nic and all those teenage girls who are drowning. Or why things are strange whenever Nic swims.

As always with Rachel, this is so compelling you feel you must continue reading. Clarke is older and wiser now, but still as temperamental. At least when he gets scared. And if he‘s scared, what about the poor reader?

Set in 2030, society appears to be the same as it is today, so it’s really our current values we see in the reactions from the people around Nic when things turn bad. Her parents are OK, apart from their water hang-ups, and she has one very resourceful friend when the world turns on the family.

Read with caution if you aren’t very comfortable with water. Or even if you are. You never know.

Down the close

Do you recall my meeting with the Plague Doctor five months ago? I was in Edinburgh, outside The Real Mary King’s Close, on my way to hear Philip Caveney frighten school children. So was the Plague Doctor; on his way to frighten school children.

Mary King's Close

In ‘real’ life the good doctor works for Mary King’s Close, and I said a few things about it. Like me not wanting to have a look round, because of the plague and also because I might not like the dark and narrow and steep passages. Naturally their publicist Caroline invited me to come and be walked round the place with her, before they open for plague business in the morning. I said yes – having been promised I could escape whenever I wanted. And then I was felled by migraine and couldn’t go. And then when I thought about it again, on the other side of moving house, I decided it’d be a bit forward of me to email and ask if I could come now.

Luckily, Caroline sensed this and emailed me to say it was high time we did this. (She did use more finesse than that in her choice of words.) I decided to face the plague there and then, so the resident IT Consultant and I got up really early one morning last week to get to MKC for nine.

(I, erm, went to the Ladies on arrival. The WC screams as you flush. Thought you might want to know. It’s a little disturbing.)

We set off down the first set of stairs and I paused a bit to see whether I wanted to freak out and panic a little, but came to the conclusion I might be all right. And I was. The hardest thing was how steep the actual close is, and you want to mind your head in places, even at my modest height.

View of Mary King's Close

It’s interesting to see how people used to live. So close together, in small rooms with low ceilings and extremely basic facilities. Cooking, sleeping, using the toilet, looking after cattle. No wonder the plague did well under such circumstances.

Usually visitors are taken round by guides, dressed as real people from those days. Caroline seemed to feel she wasn’t as good as the regular guides, but she did marvellously well. We could stop as and when we liked. MKC was home to people of all sorts. Not just the poor, but also to better-off people, some even with their own front door. (I liked the chap who was so proud of his toilet that it’s the room you see immediately from the street entrance.)

Mary King

We came upon a woman who’d just murdered her son-in-law (he had it coming). We met Mary King herself, and a couple of her neighbours. They could talk, so we found out a fair bit about them. And we saw the room with all the toys; beanie babies and Barbies and goodness knows what. It seems there was a sad ghost girl who’d lost her doll, and now she has something to play with again.

Annie's Shrine

People would hang their washing out, high above the close. And unlike when we were there, the close would be full of stalls and people shopping. We could hear them, but not see them. But the worst was seeing the people who were sick, and the Plague Doctor at work.

After our fantastic private tour, we had another look at the model of MKC in the shop, to see where we’d been. We looked at what else the shop had, including plenty of copies of Philip Caveney’s Crow Boy.

MKC also put on events, and as part of their Close Fest, which runs for a week from Halloween, there will be a sort of talk by Arran Johnston on November 6th at 19.30, A Close Encounter With Charles Edward Stuart. I think it might be in the cowshed…

Cowshed

Afterwards the Resident IT Consultant and I felt we needed elevenses, as we’d had such an early start, and we went to the St Giles Bar & Café just round the corner. We felt the name had a nice ring to it, somehow.

A few words from the ambassador

The last week in November will yet again be Book Week Scotland. I was going to say a few things about it, but have found out that the week has its own ambassadors, and here is one of them to tell you about the grand launch last Wednesday, and about her love for libraries. Over to Helen Grant:

Helen Grant

“When I heard that the launch event for Book Week Scotland 2014 was going to be at a boxing gym in Edinburgh, I naively assumed that the boxing gym had a conference room and the launch would be in that (I’m not sure why I had this mad thought; I don’t suppose boxers pause from boxing each other to have management meetings). But no! It was far more interesting than that! I arrived at the gym to find that the boxing ring was full of Scottish book characters, all vying for the ‘favourite’ spot! In fact, Peter Pan was slugging it out with Sherlock Holmes at that very moment. Many well-loved characters were there, ranging from Badger to Harry Potter and Hit Girl.

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH

After a particularly dynamic photo call, we sat down and listened to Sophie Moxon of the Scottish Book Trust talk about Book Week Scotland’s 2014 programme, followed by Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, who demonstrated support at the highest level! Amongst this year’s highlights are plans to give books to every P1 child in Scotland and to distribute 150,000 free copies of Scotland’s Stories of Home, a collection of short stories and poems written by Scottish people. Plus there is the chance to settle the question of who is the most popular Scottish book character by voting at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/vote-for-your-favourite-character-from-a-scottish-book. I’m still trying to make my mind up. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, but I can’t decide between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde!

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH

Then it was the turn of the Author Ambassadors to take the stage. The theme of this year’s Book Week Scotland is love, so we had each written a love letter to our favourite library. Paul Cuddihy kicked off with an appreciative epistle to Bishopbriggs library, with which he evidently had a very long term relationship in spite of the rival lures of the local pub!

I felt rather abashed when I got up after him, and had to confess that due to having moved around a lot, I am a bit of a library philanderer, with a hoard of expired library cards that I keep as carefully as old love letters. However I did promise to change my fickle ways, and settle down with the one, for which role I nominated Strathearn Community Library in Crieff.

My relationship with the library shows that a community library is more than just a collection of books. If you have lived all over the place as I have, it is difficult to feel at home anywhere, but the day I found my husband’s birth announcement in an ancient and yellowing copy of the Crieff Herald in the library’s local history section, was the day that I felt we had come home.

Shari Low’s love letter to Renfrew library was touching and hilarious, especially when she described some of the scurrilous books by Jackie Collins and the like that she had relished in former years.

I’m thrilled to be one of the 2014 Author Ambassadors. Our role is to spread the word about Book Week Scotland and trumpet out the love for libraries and reading. Books have been such a big part of my life. I can remember which ones I was reading during some of the most exciting adventures I have ever had, and the ones that cheered me up and kept me going during the worst times.

Here is one of the most important things I had to say to Strathearn Community Library in my love letter:

‘The thing I love most about you is not the modern stuff. It’s the local history section, over in the back corner. Because I’m new to this part of the world, I don’t have a past here. I’m finding out about my new home, just as I would ask a new friend all about their life before we met. You have so much to tell me! Folk stories, curious little snippets of history, amazing ancedotes of past lives.

One of my favourites is the tale of John Steedman, the timorous minister of Auchterarder during the Jacobite rising of 1715, who was too afraid to preach while the Rebel Army were in the neighbourhood. William Reid, the minister of Dunning, who was made of sterner stuff, swapped with him, and for several weeks gave the sermon at Auchterarder armed with a loaded pistol!

I love that story. It makes eighteenth century Perthshire sound like the Wild West! I found that tale in a very old book. Thank you for keeping books like that safe, so that history stays alive, and we can read about more than just the big national events.’

Libraries are a treasure trove, and I’d love to encourage people to use them and get the most out of them.”

There will be many events, and I’ll let you know as and when I have any news or firsthand tales to tell. Or I suppose I’ll have to keep feeding ‘my’ ambassador plenty of chocolate. (Although I’m sure that Mr Grant isn’t old enough to have had his birth announced in an ‘ancient’ copy of the Crieff Herald, in the library’s local history department… I mean, where would that leave me?)

Bookwitch bites #128

Listing. Not me personally, or at least, not very much. I’ve had some sleep now. But there are lists. Everywhere.

And I will start with me. It seems I am on the Cision Top 10 UK Children’s Literature Blogs. Which is nice. (I’m sure they are mistaken, but I will not insist on a recount.) I’m in excellent company, and I shall bask in the glory for a day or two.

Various lists appear every now and then, listing (well, obviously) really good books. There was the UKLA list a couple of weeks ago, and I was relieved to see I’d actually read a respectable number of the books on there.

Then we had the 100 best children’s books in the Sunday Times, and I can’t tell you much at all about them. Plenty of people on fb were enthusing, but most ran out of steam before they’d copied all 100 book titles for us who are on the wrong side of the Times paywall. I do know Helen Grant and Keith Gray were on it, which I’m pleased about. The pleasure I’d get from knowing how many of the 100 I’ve read and liked, will have to wait. Possibly forever.

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award list was made public this week, and I’m definitely not going to publish the names of all 197 candidates. Good luck to them!

It’s been an awardy kind of week, hasn’t it? The Nobel prize almost passed me by completely, as I was so busy I barely even registered it was that time of year again. The 2014 prize went to Patrick Modiano, as I’m sure you know. (Has anyone here read him?) I was intrigued to see that Philip Roth should have got it instead. (Surely there must be more writers out there who ‘should’ have won?)

On the popularity front I’m sure Malala getting the Nobel peace prize is good news to – almost – everyone. Let’s hope it will make a difference, somehow.

Alfie in the Garden

The best thing – for me – about little bunny Alfie’s adventure in the garden was not the exotic animals he found. (I suspect that was mainly his imagination at work.)

Debi Gliori, Alfie in the Garden

As almost always with Debi Gliori’s books, it’s the mother-child relationship that is so beautiful. Her latest picture book, Alfie in the Garden, is no exception. Little Alfie comes out to help his mum in the garden. He has a watering can, and he knows how to use it.

He goes exploring, and he is a lion. He finds an elephant. He befriends and plays with a host of big but mostly smaller animals.

Until he is very tired and then he goes to find his mum, and she knows exactly what Alfie needs.

Opal Plumstead

Opal Plumstead is a true sister of many of Jacqueline Wilson’s other heroines. She’s artistic and likes to read, she’s intelligent – if a little immature – and she’s outspoken. And she has a problem, like all her ‘sisters.’

Opal’s Oxford educated father ends up in jail, and her time at school comes to an end, despite the fact that she is only 14. This is 1913, and 14-year-olds could be called upon to be the family’s breadwinner. Opal doesn’t have a very good relationship with her mother, or her flirty older sister Cassie, but still she goes out to do factory work.

Jacqueline Wilson, Opal Plumstead

If you leave out the bleak last 18 pages, this is a typical Jacqueline Wilson novel for slightly older readers. It is a tale filled with personal triumphs and failures, and it also gives the reader a history lesson in what life was like one hundred years ago, with the suffragette movement and the start of WWI. It’s not boring or old-fashioned, though. Opal talks like her modern counterparts, which makes the story easier to access. It’s almost as though we time-travelled to the pre-war period.

She has to battle not only with what the neighbours will say (and they do) or how her mother and sister perceive her, but she loses her one and only friend, and she finds it hard to get on with her new workmates at the factory. But Opal has her artistic talents and she is full of ideas. Not always realistic, but still.

Cassie falls in love with a married, wealthy man, and Opal is very concerned. Then she herself meets an older boy, who is rich, and thereby out of her league.

And there’s the war.

Celebrating Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book

DSCN6431

Right, I’m vertical again. Have had four hours of sleep, so this will be absolutely fine. It seems I wasn’t even the most far flung guest at last night’s Opal Plumstead bash at the Ritz. Dundee beats me very slightly. The really good thing about long train trips is the reading a witch can get done. By Darlington I had been scared witless by Rachel Ward, and I continued with Danny Weston, who continued to scare me with more water based ghostly shenanigans.

Must have sat next to either an author or an editor, because I could tell that a novel was being edited on my right, all the way to King’s Cross. Which has altered beyond all recognition since I was last there. (To begin with, I had to adjust my expectations from thinking I was at Euston.) I saw the Harry Potter trolley and the long queue of people wanting to catch the train to Hogwarts.

Royal Institution

After a very brief look at clothes for librarians, I detoured to Green Park for a sit on a bench, before walking to the Royal Institution for a look around the Faraday Museum. I’ve never managed to be in the right part of London at the right time. I disgraced myself with the Elements Song down in the basement, before a nice pot of tea. Actually, it was only Twinings, so whereas my rest was nice, the tea was Twinings…

Ritz chandelier

And at last it was time for the Ritz! I spoke to probably four doormen and similar, before getting my flower arrangements right and finding the Music Room. (Where else would you be told to turn left by the flower arrangement?)

Jacqueline Wilson was celebrating her 100th (book, not birthday!) in the company of 100 guests (no, I didn’t count), so what was I doing there, you ask. I have no idea. Clutching a glass of water, and eating rather a lot of rather tasty canapés. (Made a bit of a mess with the egg one.) Trying to rub shoulders with interesting people. The lovely Naomi made sure I spoke to Jacky early on, and I realised I ought to have brought a present, when my co-guest handed over a cute dog portrait.

DSCN6411

That wasn’t the only gift. There was a striking handmade Opal Plumstead stocking, of the Christmas variety. And like at all children’s parties, there was a party bag (purple) for the guests at the end of the evening, containing a signed book and some Opal Plumstead sweets.

Opal Plumstead bag

There were speeches. Annie Eaton had a paper to read from, to get it right. And she read out a letter fron Nick Sharratt, who couldn’t be there. He loves working with Jacky, but no, they are still not married, and no, he can’t ask her to put every child he meets into one of her books.

Jacqueline Wilson

Jacky also had a paper, because – as she said – there had been champagne. Lovely speech, which was followed by two young men singing a song (from Hetty Feather the play, I believe) which listed every single JW book title, or so it seemed. The cast from Hetty Feather were all there, and I even met ‘Jem,’ aka actor Matt Costain. He wore a name badge which claimed he was in actual fact Jacqueline Wilson, but I didn’t believe that for a moment.

I’d worried in case book no. 100 would be deemed a nice even number to stop at. But book 101 is already in the bag, and book 102 is in the process of being written. Fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. (Although my shelves have pointed out they don’t see how they will cope.)

DSCN6424

It was one of those events where an increasingly forgetful witch sees familiar faces and has to think hard who they belong to. So, there was one JW book character; driver Bob. Jacky’s daughter was there, as was Simon Mayo. Lots of publishing people, Jacky’s first agent, Julia Eccleshare, Anne Marley, Caro Fickling, Philippa Dickinson…

'Hetty Feather'

And many thanks to ‘Dear Trish’ who pointed out I’m not a Tom, Dick or Harry. One can’t always be sure.