Tag Archives: Celia Rees

Bookwitch bites #100

For my 100th bite I am donning my gossip magazine disguise, and we are going royal. Admittedly, the combination of authors and royals in the news has been somewhat unfortunate this week.

But all is rosy chez BWB! Earlier this week Nicola Morgan casually dropped the bombshell that she was agonising over what to wear for a dinner at The Palace. She’s in Edinburgh, so that would be Holyrood. I’m not sinking low enough to deal with the garment situation, because I’m all excited knowing someone who dined with the Princess Royal!

‘It was a dinner to spread the word about a charity she’s Patron of, Opportunity International, and I was very impressed indeed by how she spoke about it so intelligently and passionately,’ Nicola said afterwards. It seems everything went well, forks and other implements behaved themselves, Nicola was suitably covered and Hilary Mantel was only mentioned ‘very quietly.’ Ms Morgan ‘found the whole thing really interesting and it was amazing being inside the palace.’

So now you know. The rest of us can only dream.

Further good news is that Celia Rees has won the Coventry Book Awards 14+ category for This Is Not Forgiveness. Well done!

More good news for Michael Grant fans. The last Gone book – Light – will be here in just over a month. So will Michael himself, and Dublin fans will be delighted to hear he is actually coming to Ireland this time. Hang on for more details.

Finally, a big WELL DONE to all of you who bought/downloaded The Storm Bottle last week. Nick has reported back that it was a resounding success, with sales both sides of the Atlantic taking his book to seventh and sixth place respectively, and a lovely fourth place in the free children’s action and adventure category.

The Storm Bottle sales

So you see, pulling together does help!

2012’s best twelve

For the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 (I love this kind of thing!) I give you my list of the very best books. All twelve of them. (I know, there are really 13, but two for the price of one, sort of thing. Yes?)

All the books I have reviewed have been good, and it’s hard to pick the best. Except for the bestest of the best, because that one stood out by several miles, even back in January. And once we’ve got the twelves out of our system, next year I will have to go for a more restrained list. Always assuming people continue writing great books. Please do.

As always, I only include books published during the year. And here, the VERY BEST is:

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Swiftly followed by some alphabetically listed and very marvellous runners-up:

Philip Caveney, Spy Another Day

Joshua Doder, Grk and the Phoney Macaroni

Daniel Finn, Call Down Thunder

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

Nick Green, Cat’s Cradle

Barry Hutchison, The Thirteenth Horseman

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe, and The Black Cat Detectives

Gillian Philip, Wolfsbane

Terry Pratchett, Dodger

Celia Rees, This Is Not Forgiveness

Teri Terry, Slated

That’s it, dear readers. It was a good year, both generally, but also specifically for producing Code Name Verity, one of the best ever.

Putting EIBF 2012 to bed

Edinburgh International Book Festival

At least here. They have a few more days to go in Charlotte Square, but I shall bore you with some photos. Or infuriate you, because it will make your page too slow to load.

We aim to please.

Reader at edbookfest

This is what it should be all about. Reading. On the spot.

Jenny Colgan

Jenny Colgan, who so very kindly helped out a Doctor Who fan in distress. Here is a link to what her event was like, courtesy of HG2G. (No, not the hitchhiker…)

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, Bloodhoney

Another thing the edbookfest is about. Books.

Interview room in Charlotte Square

And the ‘interrogation gazebo’ where interviews can take place.

Chris Riddell in Charlotte Square

Stumbling across illustrators illustrating al fresco.

Celia Rees and Sally Gardner

Or being told off for profile photos. Sorry…

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The famous water in Charlotte Square, where it hides underneath the walkways and jumps up to get you.

Michael Grant

Californian authors can’t be too careful, and might as well adopt the local custom of carrying a brolly.

Hopes of a Nation at Edinburgh International Book Festival

The competition Hopes of a Nation in the bookshop.

Mirror in Charlotte Square

I have absolutely no idea why this photo was taken.

Light in Charlotte Square

Tree light.

Chris Close at work

Sitting down on the job.

Gordon Brown

And the MP for Kirkcaldy dropped in. We nearly dropped. But we are almost rested again, and as good as new.

(That was a lie, intended to make you feel better.)

When characters refuse to die

Nicola Morgan

Chaired by the Crabbitest of them all, Edinburgh’s own Nicola Morgan, there was no way we were going to miss Sally Gardner and Celia Rees, who weren’t bad either.

Only joking. You don’t get much better than these two, who have long been on my top reading list. Both have written a number of historical novels over the last few years, only to go more modern with their latest books. Celia totally up-to-date with her soldier home from Afghanistan, and Sally visiting WWII.

I know this was Monday, but we have had a backlog at the temporary Bookwitch Towers offices. This is very much last, but not least. For a Monday morning, there were lots of people there. I like it when people come to book events all week long.

Sally Gardner

Nicola divided the event up into halves, with Sally – who claims not to be good at plotting – going first. She told us about people who refuse to die, and new people who turn up uninvited. She writes a chapter at a time, finishing one, before going on, joining them up like a necklace.

Sally’s first attempts at fiction featured ‘bunny rabbits doing amazing things’ a very long time ago. Working in the theatre helped her to see, and she now thinks it’s wonderful to actually be paid to make up stories.

She read one of my own personal favourite chapters in The Double Shadow, where Amaryllis gets dead drunk. Apologising to Celia for keeping her waiting, Sally added the first, very short, chapter from her new book, Maggot Moon, which will be out at the end of August. It really was short, too.

Chair Nicola remarked about Celia that they have a lot in common, but said they’d compare notes later, in private.

Celia said she used to write contemporary novels in the 1990s, when she had a teenage daughter at home to check facts with. She wrote This Is Not Forgiveness to see if she still could, despite her daughter’s ‘betrayal’ of growing up and moving away. (I’d say she still can.)

Celia Rees

Unusually, Celia begins at the end. It’s also what she read to us, and despite knowing the book, it still sent shivers down my back. We need to realise we are living (tomorrow’s) history today. We don’t see it, but we are. Celia didn’t start last year’s riots, but writing while they took place, she needed to edit and change what went into her novel. It was great, and she enjoyed it.

The film Jules et Jim was the inspiration for the book, and Caro, the main female character decided herself what she was going to be like. Unconventional, interested in radical politics. It was impossible not to have each of the three main characters tell the story from their own point of view.

Celia doesn’t write every day. Sometimes she stops for a while, to think. And when stuck, she likes to go for walks, and she has memories from several books along her usual route; sort of a who did what where.

Sally takes her dog for walks in the churchyard. The dog is her excuse to stop every now and then to peer at gravestones for characters’ names, and to talk to herself. The phone can be a help, too. But if the dog’s not keen she takes a bath instead. Nicola says she irons, while Celia pointed out she does not iron.

Modern plots are easier, according to Celia. And Sally reckons she takes two years to do historical research for a book. So clearly, writing about now saves time. On the other hand, if you want dysfunctional, what can be better than the French Revolution?

And I am not leaving you with the story about Rupert Bear. (I think people got rather drunk…)

Close encounters of several kinds

Barry Hutchison

Her condition for crawling out of bed early on Monday morning, was that Barry Hutchison should buy Daughter a Coke. Just to keep going. As it happened, Barry needed to keep going as well, so that was two Cokes plus a water for the witch, for our interview at the hotel across the road, first thing. Barry and I have been trying to synchronise our diaries for months, and success finally arrived in the shape of the book festival.

We interviewed and laughed and had fun, even on fairly little sleep. I’m so excited I will have to go and read some of Barry’s Fiendish books now.

With another eleven hours of our festival day to go, we ventured over to Charlotte Square for the morning’s event with Sally Gardner and Celia Rees, chaired by Nicola Morgan.

Towards the end of their fascinating talk, Daughter crept out for one of her most important photocalls. The one with Frank Close, who had been joined by none other than Peter Higgs of Boson fame. The two physicists cavorted and posed as though they were really actors. Well done!

Frank Close and Peter Higgs

Meanwhile your witch was on camera duty in the bookshop, doing her utmost best to do justice to Sally and Celia. Luckily the real photographer popped up to repair most of my mistakes. The ladies had so many fans queueing that I didn’t even get the chance to chat. I left an incoherent message with Nicola and ran for the sold out talk on Particle Physics (which in turn meant I had to leave Barry Hutchison and his 13 horsemen to their fate…)

It was great. And in case you feel that isn’t enough information about this year’s big happening, rest assured I will follow up with detailed events reports.

The Particle Physics queue

We did double camera duty for the queue at the signing afterwards. The queue was as busy as you’d expect for Particle Physics signings. Daughter put her fan hat on and got close to Peter Higgs, who kindly signed his colleague’s book.

Peter Higgs and Frank Close and fan

Meanwhile I turned 180 degrees and caught Andy Stanton who was signing on the opposite side. Still. He had been there two hours earlier, signing, with enormous queue across the square. Andy was singing and joking and chatting as though he wasn’t even tired. (And the ladies in the Ladies were gushing about how wonderful he had been… Just so you know.)

Andy Stanton

Not being able to catch Celia still, we departed for lunch. She phoned while we were reviving ourselves, and we agreed that her Edinburgh visit was just too short for that elusive interview. We will manage it one day. Third time lucky, perhaps.

Sally Gardner

Back to Charlotte Square to catch Sally before her event with Barry (which I also had to miss), to take some much needed proper photos. Her outfit for the day, of which you can’t see much here, unfortunately, was as great as ever.

Chris Riddell

Daughter wandered off and encountered Chris Riddell drawing in the middle of the square, having drawn a large circle of people around him. And then we went to join the unusually large crowd of photographers in ‘the studio,’ where we stood around for a long while, waiting, and me staring at the FBI type by the gate. But eventually the festival’s director popped along to greet Gordon Brown as he was ushered in. He disappeared after stopping for a split second for photos, after which we hung around for another half hour until the former PM returned and gave us a couple of minutes for proper photos. He was there to give the NLS Donald Dewar Lecture, and his queue was a long one.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Trying to grab some internet, we headed back to the hotel, which we left rather quickly when the fire alarm went. So that was more or less goodbye to the internet again. Michael Palin cavorted outside the yurt, and then for the paparazzi. Daughter went to hear Michael talk, along with a few hundred others. Apparently he was GOOD!

Michael Palin

In amongst eating more cold pizza (yes, we do have a large supply of this ancient cheese topped bread) I managed to take some photos of Sjón and Jess Richards. Everybody is talking about this Icelandic author, but I know almost nothing about Sjón.


I was afraid I’d have to do the honours (photographic variety) for Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, but was saved by prompt arrival of the real photographer. Neil had previously been posing for Chris Close. Lying down. That won’t have done much – good – to his clothes. Black as usual. Black with grime afterwards, I imagine. Edinburgh started Monday with rain, leaving the ground in a eugh state.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

I popped along to Neil’s and Chris’s event, which was even better than you’d expect from such a pairing. We were lucky to have Neil at all, since he had to depart for home straight afterwards, due to a family crisis. Chris signed for the two of them. Sort of.

Chris Riddell

If I paid myself overtime I’d have been rich after a Monday like this Monday. But I don’t, so I’m not. But it was good. Apart from the internet.


I am obviously wrong. But I still have an opinion. It is mine, and it is not my intention to insult people. In the end a book is a book, and it’s the contents that really matter. Not the cover. If I don’t like the cover, it is the artist’s work I am complaining about. Not the author’s. Unless they are one and the same.

And whereas I’m mainly thinking of what might put me off buying or reading a book, the same could be said for the prospective reader whose taste in covers is the opposite to mine.

Until just the other week I was so certain of how right I am. Then Adèle Geras went and informed me that I was wrong about the new covers of Ann Turnbull’s Quaker books. (I thought the old ones were better.)

My main hang-ups are the covers featuring a girl’s face. I’m not anti-girl, or even anti-face, but if they don’t look like they’d be my friend at school – and they usually don’t – then I feel alienated. (I know. I’m no longer at school. But you never lose that sense of insecurity.) But if the face appeals to countless of young readers, then that’s good.

Celia Rees, Witch Child

The book which demonstrates this best is Witch Child by Celia Rees, which is a marvellous novel. I have always hated the cover. I understand it’s reckoned to be a perfect success. But it’s actually a book where I’d want to cover the book in brown paper. (And wouldn’t that lead to misunderstandings on the train!)

It’s the historical teen novel that I feel suffers the most from these girl-faced covers. The girls are modern girls, looking nothing like the period of the story within or even like the heroine. On the other hand, if she looks like a potential friend, you’ll want to read the book, won’t you?

More Bloody Horowitz

When I got Anthony Horowitz’s More Bloody Horowitz I thought it had a fantastic cover. So did the Resident IT Consultant, who as you will recall liked the book enough to want read it anew. But when I asked Daughter if it would make her read the book, she said it would do the opposite. And she’s a fan of Anthony’s.

Fem söker en skatt

Then there are the nostalgics. I used to love (still do) the Swedish cover of Five on a Treasure Island as it was in the early 1960s. I’d have wanted that book even had I not seen and loved the film first. I like the old British cover too.

You have the new-old nostalgic covers that can sell almost anything. At least to us old ones. Maybe today’s young readers only want modern pictures to describe their books, whatever they are about.

I like the new Harry Potter covers, despite having ‘grown up’ (yeah, right) on the original ones. Whereas my faithful commenter Cynical didn’t. Perhaps it was too early to redesign them?

How about the covers that look good enough to eat? Or to stroke or just generally slaver over? Those covers can never be wrong as far as looks are concerned. They might just be covering a story that you don’t like, of course. But at least the book looks lovely.

Perfect to caress and perfect to read, describe Debi Gliori’s Pure Dead series.

Velvet by Debi Gliori

For the most part, the covers don’t really matter, as long as they don’t prevent you from buying an extremely good book.

One of my childhood favourites, which I can no longer recall either the title of or its author, came with no cover. And no end. Ouch. It was ‘inherited’ from Eldest Cousin, who had presumably cut it out of a magazine, published in bits every week, to be collected in a Dickensian fashion. (No, she’s not that old.) Hence the lack of cover. And possibly also hence the lack of an end, whether she never got it, or it was lost. Still, it was a very good book. You could sort of imagine the end.

And as I finish this post I will endeavour to remind myself that I am not young. These books are not made for me, however much I like them, and make me forget myself. So my opinions are irrelevant. (I just wanted to share.)

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.)

This Is Not Forgiveness

The old scary Celia Rees is back. I’m not saying Celia is old, nor very scary in herself; simply that she’s back where she used to be, scaring me before the historical novels took over. And I’m going to say this with the very best of intentions, but This Is Not Forgiveness could have been written by a man.

What I’m saying is that if I didn’t know, I’d think the author was male. That’s neither good nor bad, just interesting. It shows how Celia has burrowed down into the male psyche, and made everything work. That’s what top notch authors do.

They also make people miss their stations. I rarely do, but found to my horror that I had arrived and needed to get off the train, but was in the middle of TINF. It was a case of quickly gathering up book and everything else and jump.

I’m incredibly impressed with the research Celia must have done. Not only is she inside the heads of her characters, but she knows a lot about weapons and tactics, war injuries and politics. For us oldies there is an unexpected return to the Baader Meinhof group, as well as to the kind of thinking that went on back then.

Celia Rees, This Is Not Forgiveness

TINF is so much more than merely a book about an injured hero from Afghanistan, or about a group of young people one long, hot summer. The reason I mentioned sex was that two of the three main characters are male, and the story is very much seen from their point of view, along with a most atypical female character.

Caro is rich and beautiful, but otherwise not at all what you’d expect. Not popular with girls but desired by boys (and men), highly intelligent and with an unusual interest in politics. Jamie and Rob are brothers and they both want Caro. Jamie is still at school and a lovely teenager, while Rob came back injured from the war and finds adapting to civilian life hard.

It’s what happens between the three of them that has such catastrophic consequences. You know from the start that bad things are coming, because Jamie is at home, ‘talking’ to an urn which contains Rob’s ashes. You can almost guess what will happen, but not how or exactly why and when.

That’s what keeps you reading, at the cost of missed railway stations.

Leeward? Windward? Who cares?

Not Celia Rees, anyway. She’s made of stronger stuff, and we’re only slightly scared of her. Celia’s event with Nicola Morgan was full of not worrying about anachronisms, and how you can become a historical novelist despite being rubbish at history at school. (That’s Nicola. Celia did history at uni.)

They know that you must occasionally include Johnny Depp types in your books, and performing operations without anaesthetics might be required. Nicola has been known to stroke old newspapers for period ‘feel’, while Celia told of the decline of ‘lunch with the editor’. These days you meet up for coffee.

Both are into cross-dressing (for their characters, and only for practical purposes), and they keep track of wars and things in order not to ruin timelines in their books. Nicola is too impatient for research, while Celia starts writing and finds out what she must find out. And just as you’d not explain McDonalds in a modern novel, you mustn’t explain too much in historical writing either, since the characters will already know.

Linda Strachan, Nicola Morgan and Celia Rees

After the signing after the event, we were treated to tea in the author’s yurt, where we stood around sharing deep thoughts on blogging. Also got to see the cover of Celia’s new book, out early next year. Very different!

Kurdo Baksi kept running around in the background, so post-tea we went out to see if we could run him down. We succeeded just as he was about to take a big lick at an ice cream, but he was happy to pose for a photo, and the ice cream only started to drip a very little.

Kurdo Baksi

Generally it was a day for dragons and ducks, which are much bigger than last year. But then so is the mud. Much bigger. With jaunty little hats. The ducks, that is.

We actually arrived in time to partake of press brekkies, with the most wonderful herby, cheesy scones, and croissants and other pastries. I blame the Guardian. They clearly have needs for proper feeds. Also worked out that the old bit of the yurt is larger than before. The better to accommodate the pastry filled press, I suppose.

Ran into Egmont’s Vicki and Bloomsbury’s Flora, which is a most appropriate name! After the bookshop and before the tea (mentioned about four paragraphs ago), Celia and Nicola, along with Linda Strachan agreed to a private photocall by the willows. They’re a good-looking bunch of authors, whether shot singly or grouply.

Neil Gaiman: 'My God, is that the Bookwitch!'

Nick Sharratt

Did I mention that it’s warm and sunny? It is. Two lovely days we’ve had. After all, we’re in Scotland. Neil Gaiman did an extra event, after which he needed a drink before signing. Understandable when the man has a queue all over Charlotte Square and back. And did you know he can shrug out of his jacket and place it on the back of the chair, and sign? We caught Nick Sharratt again, doing his resident illustrator bit with little children in the bookshop. Bet they didn’t understand quite what a great deal they got. While still in the shop we saw Patrick Ness again, alongside Moira Young.

Patrick Ness and Moira Young

And I might just have to take a break here and get some sleep… Back soon.

ABBA festival!

First they steal my idea, and then they put it into action on a day when I can’t even enjoy it. Pah.

It’s ABBA. No, not the pickled fish and not even those people who used to sing. I’m talking about the Awfully Big Blog Adventure and the festival they are running this weekend.

Yes, I know. It’s ridiculous. How can you possibly have an online book festival? Can I take pictures of my authors? Can I have my books signed? Are there even any tickets left to all these events, and how do they expect me to get around from one event to the next without a break in-between?

PhotobucketI’m busy today. Very busy. I can’t just sit there and commune with my beloved authors through a computer screen all day long. But I want to. I’ll have to make a timetable of sorts, to see if I can fit in my bestest people that way. Maybe eat with them? (Hey, do you object to crumbs and slurps?)

Just look at that programme!

ABBA festival Saturday

It sort of makes a witch want to skive off for the day. How are they going to pull it off, technically? (My idea was for a normal live kind of in person sort of festival…)

Oh well, see you tomorrow.