Tag Archives: Bali Rai

Soul Mates and an Old Dog

That’s not the title of a book, btw. I was simply thinking how great it is that I have two Barrington Stoke books here; one for girls and one for boys. I know, I shouldn’t be quite so categorical, but in this instance it does seem to me that Lee Weatherly’s Soul Mates is pretty satisfyingly girly, while Bali Rai has written an inspirational story for teenage boys in Old Dog New Tricks. What’s more, it covers the ‘immigrant’ angle too, even though Harvey is no immigrant. He just happens to look like one.

Bali Rai, Old Dog New Tricks

Harvey and his family are sikhs, and when they move into the house next door to old Mick, they soon find out how unpleasant their new neighbour can be. But they are friendly and persistent people, so try really hard to make contact with the lonely old man.

The story provides a good mix of ordinary life for people in Britain, whether sikh or white or black. As Harvey says, if Mick were to close his eyes, he wouldn’t be able to hear that Harvey is a foreigner. Because he isn’t.

I learned something new, too, that if I’m hungry or lonely, I can pop round to my nearest gurdwara for food and company. That sounds most civilised, and I hope Bali hasn’t set an avalanche rolling by introducing this sikh tradition in his book.

L A Weatherly, Soul Mates

Lee’s Soul Mates is about precisely that. Two teenagers who for years have dreamed about each other, despite never having met. They just know the other is their soul mate.

And when Iris and Nate do meet, they realise they have come face to face with their dream person. But not just their soul mate, unfortunately. Their dreams have also had a certain scary aspect to them, and they immediately feel this evil danger closing in on them.

They have to work out who or what it is, and whether they and their love can survive this threat. As I said, very nicely girly and romantic.

Barrington Stoke are on the right track, commissioning stories like these. Everybody deserves to read good stuff.

Barrington Stoke is 15!

Reading is easy to take for granted. Even though there was a time when I couldn’t read, and even though I remember that my first ‘real’ book (Famous Five) took me a week at age seven, you soon unlearn what went before. So I read. I used to read very fast (at least I thought I did), and now I’m rather slower again, but I read.

And you know that delicious feeling you get when you discover that the book you’re starting on is one of those really special ones, that will – almost – change your life? I suppose I must have felt like that, all those years ago. Realising that my Treasure Island experience could just go on and on.

Rather stupidly, I hadn’t thought too much about what it might be like to be dyslexic and not read, and then to find something like the Barrington Stoke books and find that you can. You are actually reading! Or to be the parent of such a child. Hopefully it is a child. To become an adult and still have nothing you can read seems too sad.

Browsing the booklet about the books Barrington Stoke are planning to publish to celebrate their 15 years of making readers out of people, made even me excited. There is something so satisfying in finding that top authors are writing Barrington Stoke books. If I could, I’d read them all. As it is, I have read two of the January titles, which are both quite mature and quite scary and strangely both about dead people and consequences.

 Andy Stanton, Meg Rosoff, Pete Johnson, Lee Weatherly, Philip Ardagh, Catherine Johnson, Bali Rai, Karen McCombie, Geraldine McCaughrean, Nigel Hinton and Kaye Umansky

Keith Gray has written You Killed Me! which is a marvellous story. Imagine waking up and finding a man at the end of your bed. A man with a hole in his head, accusing you of killing him, and demanding you put things right.

Shivers by Bali Rai features the teen ‘geek’ who suddenly finds he has the hottest girl around for his girlfriend. But she is somewhat unusual, and soon his life turns around, and not for the better. I thought at first the girl might be a vampire, but she’s not…

I’d like for these two books to start someone’s shivers, either when they discover reading for the first time, or as two more great reads following many earlier ones.

(For the ‘normal’ reader the only thing wrong with them is they don’t last long enough. Although I suppose that means it’s easier to read more of them.)

Bookwitch bites #93

Luckily I didn’t run into either of these two chaps as I haunted Edinburgh this week. Twice. That’s twice I didn’t see them. In fact, I forgot to even think about Philip Caveney and whoever that is behind him. ‘He’s behind you!’ Lucky, seeing as I was running around all alone in the dark.

Philip Caveney with Plague Doctor on The Close

Lucky too, that I had not yet come across Chris Priestley’s A Creepy Christmas, the story he has written for 247 tales. That is another thing you don’t want to have on your mind as you’re out alone, in the dark or otherwise. Good to see that the 247 tales are still going strong.

Pleased to hear that Bali Rai won one of the categories at the Sheffield Book Awards this week; his quick read The Gun. Obviously, other books won too, and even more were commended. Read all about it here.

Have been alerted that Sophie Hannah – who seems to be successful at just about everything these days – has been shortlisted for the Nibbies. The event is on Tuesday next week. Lots of other authors are also on the various shortlists, and pirates would appear to be in as far as children’s book titles are concerned. (It was hard to find the lists, however. Something wrong with google? Can’t be me, can it?)

But I did find it a little tricky to discover the Costa shortlist, as well. (So definitely not me, then.) Sally Gardner, Diana Hendry, Hayley Long and Dave Shelton are this year’s hopefuls. I’ve read two.

Barry Hutchison, The Book of Doom

And speaking of awards, I was very happy to hear that Barry Hutchison got married last week. He had proposed in a fairly public sort of way, by putting it in one of his books. Glad it paid off, and that he has now been made an honest man of. More good Hutchison news is the arrival of the cover for The Book of Doom. Would quite like for the rest of the book to get here, too. Fast.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, The Bone Trail

Fast is what another book would have managed, had I not been so busy running around a darkened Edinburgh. (See top.) A very early incarnation of The Bone Trail, the last in the Wyrmeweald trilogy by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell has been made available to me. I happened to mention I wasn’t feeling especially patient.

Arrived home to find DHL had missed me. (Miss you too.) I arranged for redelivery on Monday. Except they turned up yesterday. As I squeezed the package (to find out what it might be, the way you do) it felt like a rucksack. Couldn’t see why Random House would send me one of those.

I will now stick a plain sheet of A4 to the back of The Bone Trail to prevent me accidentally looking at what seems to be the last page of the book. A witch likes some element of surprise.

How can they not know about the war?

Occasionally I feel the need to apologise, quietly, for my fondness for war novels. It doesn’t always feel right. It’s like crime novels. It ought to be wrong to enjoy something that’s based on someone dying. In war lots of people not only die, but millions more are miserable. How can you enjoy that?

But you need some sort of conflict in a story, and what can be better than war? You don’t even need to blame an individual. We know who or what caused the war, and then the characters can get on with what they have to do.

I’m on this topic again, after the shock of hearing Peter Englund talking about the background to his WWI book; that his history students at Uppsala didn’t know that the war had happened. I felt a bit like, if they didn’t learn about it during history lessons, then surely they must have come across war fiction at some point?

But apparently not.

So I shouldn’t feel bad about war novels. They not only entertain, but can potentially give history lessons where history lessons are needed. In actual fact, I feel I learn more about many school subjects by reading fiction, rather than school books, or listening to teachers droning on and on.

Linda Newbery is someone who has written many WWI novels, and I might not still remember all the fictional details (I am a terrible forgetter), but they still provide me with a good feel for the war as such. The same goes for Theresa Breslin and Marcus Sedgwick. In fact, when my forgetfulness works full time, I find some of the plots blend into one, and that is pehaps because they are all pretty true, and they all share the same basic settings.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

Leaving fiction behind, there is the marvellous Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. That, too, is similar to the novels mentioned above. Presumably because it is about the same period and similar activities.

There is Michael Morpurgo’s tale about the football match played at Christmas between the British and the Germans (based on something real?). I have come across it many times, and would guess many children or former children also have.

I wonder if there is a difference between neutral Sweden and countries which took part in the war? (This in turn makes me think of Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts, featuring the destiny of all the Indians who fought in Europe in the Great War.) Now that no one has a living great grandfather who fought in WWI, it must still be well known. Newspapers write about it often. I imagine families still talk about those who died. And for that matter, those who came back.

Recently I had cause to look at the family tree again (British side), and was reminded of the Resident IT Consultant’s great uncles. He had many of them, but two he never met, because they died within days of each other in July 1916. I keep thinking of how their mother must have felt.

Revisiting two Indian tales

So far I’ve been feeling strangely apologetic whenever books set in India or about India feature a lot of British people and plotlines. But when you think about it, you can’t remove something that was once reality, however wrong it might have been. And I’m guessing it’s not just authors from other countries who like writing about what used to be.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Midnight Palace

Two novels that made a lasting impression on me are Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts and The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. From similar periods, 1919 and 1932 respectively, they are modern and ancient at the same time. Both have a super-natural element to them; something that can’t be explained but still seems quite normal.

The only thing that would define these novels as being Young Adult is that their main characters are teenagers. Both are about growing up and about coming to terms with what has happened in the past. Both are strong on friendship.

Bali Rai, City of Ghosts

There is sacrifice in both books as well. In City of Ghosts we have the Indian soldier who goes to fight in the war in Europe, and in The Midnight Palace there is the grandmother who has to give up her newborn baby grandson to someone else for him to stay safe.

I obviously don’t know if this is right, but feel there is a really strong flavour of India in these stories. One was written by a Spanish author, and the other by a British born Indian. Both strike me as genuine. Both leave me wanting more.

Bookwitch bites #69

TheSpark

Time to do things!  ‘Faber and Faber has launched THE SPARK, a place for 13 – 16 year olds who have an interest in creativity and reading. During 2012 THE SPARK, hosted on Facebook, will invite young people to take part in some exciting projects around acting, film-making, writing and music, each linked to and inspired by a Faber Young Adult title.’

Now, you know me. I’m not much of a joiner of things, but I suspect that if Facebook had been invented in the dark ages of the 1970s, I might have found myself wanting to try some of what they are/will be doing on this Spark page.

For people too old to spark there is The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award 2013 to go for instead. Write ‘a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.’ There is a prize of £1500, plus the option of being published.

So that’s 15,000 to 35,000 words by the 31st December 2012. Start writing, or dust off that old ms in your drawer!

If you have your eye on a very special prize, however, I can recommend the Booktrust short story competition. 500 words on the riots in 2011, and you could win a day in the company of Bali Rai. I’m tempted to pretend I’m aged 13 to 17 just for that.

Ellie Daines, Lolly Luck

An ‘ethnic’ book for fans of Jacqueline Wilson or Cathy Cassidy (I’m just quoting here…) is Lolly Luck by Ellie Daines. I was blogging about minorities last week, and it is so wrong that ‘black’ books for children should have to be considered ‘minority’ or ‘ethnic’. You wouldn’t say that about characters from Yorkshire. (Or would you?) But on the basis that young black readers might well want to read about children with darker than the British average skin, I’m glad that Lolly Luck is here.

Let there be plenty more like her.

I have heard a rumour that there is a Blue Peter book programme on Thursday next week. I’m advising you now, just so you remember to tune in, because I might very well forget as the week careers ahead in the way weeks do.

And I feel some careering coming on.

Writing for children

I can’t believe it’s almost five years since my Arvon course. It was one of those things I very much wanted to do, but felt I couldn’t use up funds while there was no money coming in. But I felt it so very strongly that in the end I signed up anyway, when there was just the one place left at Lumb Bank.

Arvon, Lumb Bank

Of course, I didn’t do writing for children. Mine was a sort of non-fiction, general course, which suited me just fine. I see that in this year’s programme they have something for people wanting to get started on blogs and other online writing.

In 2007 I think they offered one, possibly two, weeks for hopeful children’s writers. This year I was impressed to see they do four, and that’s before I discovered it’s actually six weeks. Three of writing for children, two for young adults and one for young people. That’s a lot. It must be due to popular demand, and why wouldn’t people want to come and spend a week in the company of real children’s authors tutoring a group of likeminded budding writers?

I heard about Arvon when Caroline Lawrence reported on having just taught at one of their centres. And I believe she had previously done one of their courses herself. That seems to be the way it is. Lots of current authors have been, and many are now taking up tutoring as the next step.

Just look at who you could rub shoulders with in a kitchen in some beautiful countryside setting; Julia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick, with Mary Hoffman as the midweek special. Or there’s Malachy Doyle and Polly Dunbar, with guest star Anthony Browne. It’s not everywhere you get to hobnob with Children’s Laureates, ex- or otherwise. The two MBs, Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess, with Aussie special Simmone Howell. Now that one would be really interesting!

You could have Joan Lennon and Paul Magrs, with yet another Laureate, Julia Donaldson. Martyn Bedford with Celia Rees, and Bali Rai doing the star turn. And finally Gillian Cross and Steve Voake, with guest dramatist Christopher William Hill.

If laureates are your thing, there is always the hope of a week with Carol Ann Duffy, but then you really have to be good. At poetry, I mean. That one is decided on the quality of your poems. Which is not going to be me.

Plus any other kind of writing. All with people who know their stuff. It isn’t cheap, but there are schemes for financial assistance. No internet, and you have to cook your own dinner in groups, so better hope for budding writers who can peel potatoes.

Ms M at Lumb Bank

(We had our own laureate connection – on wall, above – during my week. That’s as well as the house having belonged to a former Poet Laureate.)

Killing Honour

In the end Bali Rai’s new novel Killing Honour wasn’t quite what I’d expected. It’s more a male crime thriller story than a look at ‘honour killings’ as I understand them.

Looking at the problem from a male angle is good, and I like the fact that this is very much a young man’s book. We need more of them. Sat is a 15-year-old Sikh living with his family in Leicester, and his sister Jas has been married off to local businessman Taz. Sat’s family are well off, and Taz is very wealthy.

Whereas it’s good to see Indians portrayed as rich instead of as poor immigrants, I feel it’s the money which is behind all that happens, and less so the Sikh ‘honour’. OK, it’s the honour thing that prevents Sat’s parents and brother from taking sensible measures when Jas supposedly runs off with another man, but it feels less as if her actual fate is connected with the honour idea. (Bali, correct me if I’m wrong!)

Taz and his brother are crooks. Really unpleasant crooks at that. And I’m of the opinion that it’s as crooked business people, rather than as affronted Sikhs, that they do what they do to Jas, and also why they prevent Sat’s family from looking into her disappearance. It is their thuggish behaviour which makes for the thriller aspect of this novel, rather than any social realism.

Sat is a thoroughly modern teenager, and he is the only one to kick up a stink over Jas. But he’s only fifteen and there is only so much he can do. Taz is a scary man.

So Killing Honour is more a boy’s adventure with a Sikh background. Which is fine, although not what I’d imagined. We need more ‘immigrant’ community fiction, and Bali knows his Leicester and he knows about Sikhs. I’d be very interested in more.

On having two hearts

‘Are you home?’ asks Pippi chirpily when I phone her. It’s such a hard question to answer properly. I mean, I normally am home. Just not necessarily the home she had in mind. She means Sweden when she asks that, but strictly speaking I’m ‘home’ in both places. ‘Home is where the heart is’, but then I have two hearts.

UK passport

‘Go back to where you came from’ said the neighbourhood children to Son during one particularly uncharming period of his playing-out-in-the-street time. I couldn’t very well have my small boy walk all the way to the hospital on his own, even if it’s only a couple of kilometres away. Besides, what would he do once he got there? ‘Hello, will you have me back, please?’ The other children also meant Sweden when they said that.

I’m not black (well, at the moment I feel black and blue, but that’s more aches than visible bruises), so people can’t look at me and wonder ‘where I really come from’. But it seems that for anyone with a skin colour slightly darker than white you will be asked that every now and then.

I come from a country with a surprising number of Koreans, in looks and genetic background, if not terribly Korean. They have been adopted (and I’m not suggesting that adopted people don’t have a hankering for the country of their birth) and many speak only Swedish, plus whatever languages were taught at school.

So it’s with them in mind that I know it’s a good idea to avoid asking ‘where are you really from?’ Take Bali Rai. He comes from Leicester. I think. Whether he was born in the UK or not I haven’t the faintest. To me he seems British, which is what comes of growing up somewhere.

And I know for a fact that Candy Gourlay was born, grew up and was educated in the Philippines. Now she lives a sort of British life, just like I do. She can take her family to visit the Philippines, but they will never ‘come from’ there.

Someone asked me in the street if I was local. I didn’t know what they were asking. Did they perhaps want my whole history? Turned out they wanted to know if I was worth asking directions to where they wanted to go. Would have been faster to ask did I know the way to X.

Son came home from university for Christmas. Two days later he went home for a long weekend (i.e. shopping expedition to Sweden), and in early January he went home again. This time to his university abode. So many homes.

Swedish passport

But what really set me thinking about this now, was his email the other day, saying that his tutorial that morning had been OK, actually. Except the tutor had called him an immigrant. And I need to know ‘immigrant where?’, because to my mind he isn’t, in either place. Whereas the tutor certainly is, at the present moment, but seems oblivious to this dreadful state of affairs.

So, is he home? Or home? Whatever. He has not immigrated/emigrated to or from any place. I did that.

Oh, just had a thought. Was the tutor calling him a Sassenach? Would the tutor even know about them?

Dare I recommend a book?

Well. Do I?

Some discussion broke out the other day after my review of Losing It. I was halfway to sending an email to a young reader of my acquaintance, suggesting he/she read Losing It, when I came to my senses and thought I might have to ask permission from the parents first. And my next thought was that they’d think ‘there goes that tiresome woman again’. So I didn’t.

Steve Augarde left comments saying he thought recommendations were fine, but even he felt he’d prefer it to come to him rather than directly at any child of his. I brought the subject up with some visitors to our house yesterday. They also felt recommendations were OK, but they too would like any ‘sexy’ recommendation to come via them.

So we’re back to my old complaint about school libraries where they are afraid of parents turning to the press if any child comes home with a dubious book.

I could position myself in a bookshop near the shelf that hopefully houses Losing It and point it out to prospective readers. How long until they kick me out? I know it can work a treat with ‘ordinary topic’ novels, but probably not with sex. And as I said the other day, there is really very little of it in Losing It.

When I read Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden a few weeks ago, I was struck by how sensitively, but graphically, she wrote about the taboo lovemaking. It made me compare it with William Nicholson’s Rich and Mad, which the press have written about a lot more. Presumably because that lovemaking is OK, where incest isn’t.

I’m doing a lot of remembering all of a sudden, wondering why old people believe that young readers will copy any behaviour they read about in a book. Someone I knew had a son aged fourteen at the time Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now was published, and she felt that if her son was allowed to read HILN, he would automatically assume that sex between young cousins is perfectly all right, and go ahead and do it. Why would he? Reading such a marvellous novel won’t instantly change your intelligent child into someone with no sense at all.

Let’s face it. Do young readers even want old people to recommend books with a potentially sexy content? We’re embarrassing.

And did Son clear reading Doing It by Melvin Burgess with me? He felt a strong need to vet it. You can’t let a mother read just anything, can you?