Tag Archives: Cliff McNish

Going Home

Animals can be as difficult to place as children. In his book Going Home, Cliff McNish introduces us to a group of hard-to-rehome dogs, some of which have spent years at the Happy Paws Rescue Centre.

Cliff McNish, Going Home

As I keep saying, I’m not a pet sort of witch, but these dogs are lovely. They have intelligent conversations with each other and the main character Ralph, has some very mature thoughts on all kinds of things to offer. (For a dog. Actually, not only for a dog.) I didn’t know dogs could be like this, but there is no reason why not.

We learn why Ralph and his best friends Bessie, Mitch, Fred and Thor are at the centre, and why people consider them No-Hopers. Not the staff in their kennel, however. They are fiercely loyal and loving towards these dogs. Even the resident cat is actually not too bad once you get to know her.

People are all different, and so are dogs. They each need someone who is just right, and there has to be someone out there for all five dogs. Surely?

It’s heart-breaking the way the dogs try their best whenever people come to look at them. But their labels are there for a reason. Not all dogs are good in the same way.

This is such a lovely story, and there is scope for much sniffling along the way, and mega tears at the end. But I just knew it had to be all right, somehow. Like Vicky, who is in charge of kennel five, I wanted to take them all home with me. I mean, these dogs can even read. What’s not to love?

Close Your Pretty Eyes

It pays to be careful when you hear people talking of stuff you know nothing about. In this instance I was listening to Cliff McNish ‘interrogating’ Sally Nicholls on her latest book. Which he must have read. Which in itself is nice. That authors read each other’s books, I mean. Not having read Close Your Pretty Eyes I was half wanting to shut my ears for fear of spoilers, and half wanting to hear what they said.

But, anyway. What I came away ‘knowing’ was that this was – probably – a troubled teenager, fostered, who hates people, and who kills a baby and then buries it in the garden.

Well, that didn’t make me happy. I know Sally writes the best of books, but I’m no big fan of troubled teens, and certainly not keen on the murdering of babies, even at the best of times. But I did want to read the book, seeing as it was Sally’s. And, thank god, it wasn’t like that at all. Well, a bit. But mostly not.

Sally Nicholls, Close Your Pretty Eyes

I can whole-heartedly recommend this wonderful story about Olivia in her 16th home. (She’s only 11, btw.) Olivia’s is the other side of Tracy Beaker; the bleak, realistic life of a young child, failed by most of the adults around her. Not all, but because she’s so sure she’s an unloveable witch, Olivia can’t see the good that some of the adults are trying to do.

Some things go right in her life, but most don’t. Her younger siblings have been adopted, but ‘no one’ wants her, and when you get to 11, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone ever will. But home no.16 isn’t so bad, if it weren’t for the wicked ghost that makes her scared and wants her to kill babies. Or so she thinks. Olivia hears crying babies that no one else hears. It’s a haunted house, this home no.16.

What can she do?

All the wrong things, naturally. Does that ruin her chances for future happiness?

I suggest you read Close Your Pretty Eyes. It’s not a book you can describe without saying exactly what happens. There is burying of babies. No getting away from that. But this is a book full of hope. Keep that in mind.

(I understand – hopefully correctly – that the title is from a creepy lullaby found by Adèle Geras. She’d be my go-to woman for that kind of thing, too.)

16 floors

On arrival in London yesterday, we had to repair to a nearby hotel’s facilities to make an emergency medical dressing repair (plasters and acetone do not make good partners, but at least no one fainted). Once done we made it on time – if only just – to Hodder & Stoughton’s 16th floor offices, with no visible blood whatsoever. The lovely receptionist even made sure I didn’t have to go up in the glass elevator by ordering me a proper old-fashioned lift.

When we got there, I made sure I sat with my newly dressed back to the windows, which according to my Photographer offered great views. (She went in the glass elevator, no doubt to show off.)

The blood aspect was unexpectedly apt, as we were there to interview Marcus Sedgwick about his new ‘bloody’ novel – A Love Like Blood. There was a slight misunderstanding as to his arrival on floor 16, which meant we had a nice long chat in the lobby, with me carefully not asking him about ‘the other stuff’ and instead discussing the high points of Gothenburg and hair raising theme park rides (neither of which I like very much).

Marcus Sedgwick

We got to meet publicist Kerry’s lovely dog, which I’d only seen photos of before. I think we’d get on; plodding walking pace and a fondness for hanging out in kitchens. (Dog, not Kerry.) We diligently interviewed, and then Marcus had to rush off to finalise things to do with his book launch, while we walked to another kitchen (the Scandinavian Kitchen, for a late Lent bun).

After that we whiled away our remaining spare time in Trafalgar Square, looking at tourists, pigeons and an enormous blue rooster, before walking over to Goldsboro Books for the book launch. Thanks to Kerry’s sun dance, it didn’t rain at all. That’s what I call service.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

I believe there was champagne, or some such drink, judging by popping corks, but we stayed nice and sober (I am obviously not suggesting anyone else was drunk), and chatted to people, including Thomas Taylor, who does not like blood, much. I have to admit to advising him not to read Marcus’s book.

Children’s author Linda Chapman was there. And Cliff McNish and I really must stop meeting like this. That’s twice in eight days. He’s got a nice new book out about nice dogs, with no creepyness or blood.

And then my Photographer and I sneaked out before we suffered social overload, and sort of limped home in a tired kind of way.

They came for dinner

I started leaning on them a week ago. At various points most of them could either come or not come and it kept changing until the last minute, and I moved venue two days before, but finally they were here.

Dinner table

On Thursday evening it was time for my annual tradition (three times is tradition, yes?) of asking the shortlisted authors coming to the Salford Children’s Book Award to meet for dinner on the night before the ceremony. Not all of them managed to come up with a convincing enough excuse for not joining me – and Daughter – so three authors and one very cool aunt actually made it to Carluccio’s at Piccadilly.

Gill Lewis

Sally Nicholls

Gill Lewis arrived nice and early, and we decided to string out the dining experience by having starters we strictly speaking didn’t need. Olives, crispy pasta. That sort of thing. Sally Nicholls, accompanied by her Cool Aunt, got there at the end of our main course, and Cliff McNish wasn’t too far behind.

This year the award is a Top Ten kind of arrangement, so the authors had all won their year, and this morning they have to fight it out between them (including Michael Morpurgo who even has to fight himself), to see who is the overall winner of the last ten years. (Daughter pointed out it was like The Hunger Games, except they’d had dinner, and hopefully they will all be alive at the end.)

We talked about being a vet, about big animals and small animals and disobedient dog sled dogs. There was some general writing world gossip, and just as it got really exciting I was asked to sign the official secrets act, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything. Deadlines. Editors. Killing the wrong character. Who’s been buried in the garden. Mmmphh… (OK, I will be quiet now.)

Cliff McNish

Cliff had questions on everything, including why I arranged the dinner. (Stupid question. I want to hang out with the cool kids. Obviously.) Sally waved her minestrone about and talked, making the table shake. Cool Aunt makes puppets (films and television), and she has a brand new grandchild, as well as the sense to bring photos of the baby. Adorable!

At some point the latecomers caught up with the menu, and Cool Aunt was seen finishing the large and rather green olives which were still around. Just before we were chucked out, we managed to work out how much money we needed to find, before going in search of taxis to Salford Quays and last trains for Cool Aunt and Daughter and me.

It was lucky no one was hoping for an early night, except MC Alan Gibbons who had flown in from Hong Kong in the small hours, and who came to the belated conclusion he actually needed some sleep. Which is why he didn’t join us.

The other hopefuls this morning are Paul Adam, Georgia Byng, Angie Sage and the sisters of Siobhan Dowd. Robert Muchamore and Michael Morpurgo won’t be there, but might still win. I’ll update this when I know.

(Michael Morpurgo won with Shadow.)

Launching Shine

The custard creams made all the difference. They and the Coke. Halfway through the launch party for Candy Gourlay’s new book Shine, I was overcome by an urge to liberate ‘a few’ custard creams. They were looking lonely, sitting on a table at Archway Library. That sugar rush kept me going all night, more or less.

Archway Library

I arrived just in time for The Three Hundred Word Challenge. Candy read out as many entries as there was time for, and her collected authors pitched in with their thoughts. The advice was good. The fledgling stories were even better. It’s reassuring to find that young people still want to write, and that they know how.

Teri Terry, Candy Gourlay and Jane McLoughlin

While this was going on in front of an audience so numerous they ran out of chairs, people went about their business in the library, and there was a nice mix of festival special and ordinary library behaviour. (It was the first day of the first Archway With Words Festival.) The authors couldn’t always agree on their advice, which should go a long way to proving that there is no one correct way to write. (I thought they were going to come to blows. Which would have been exciting.)

Random's Clare, Simon Mason, Philippa Dickinson and Keren David

Once it was time for the launch proper, I had a job recognising people without the customary name badges. I managed some. I was discovered in my corner by Random’s Clare, who was almost on her own doorstep for this event.

There were speeches. MDs Philippa Dickinson and Simon Mason came. David Fickling, on the other hand, did not. Replacing him, Philippa and Bella Pearson spoke, but they couldn’t quite manage David’s voice, so Candy had to help out.

Candy Gourlay with Philippa Dickinson and Bella Pearson

In her own speech, Candy told us of the long hard slog to get there. What’s three years between friends? Bella went on maternity leave, and came back. Candy said nice things about her editor Simon, even after he told her that her first attempt was no repair job.

Candy’s daughter Mia and friends sang a cappella. Absolutely lovely.

Candy Gourlay at Archway Library

Dave Cousins

We mingled. There were more authors than you could shake a stick at. (Not that I’d want to, I hasten to add.) Fiona Dunbar and I met where we always seem to meet. I met several facebook friends for real. (They exist!) Teri Terry was surrounded by young fans. Dave Cousins came.I recognised Jane McLoughlin but took ages to work out who she was. Missed Joe Friedman. Ruth Eastham was over from Italy, which was very nice. She introduced me to Sarah Mussi, whose book I just ‘happened’ to be reading, so I hauled it out for an autograph. (Very scary. The book. Not so much Sarah.)

Sarah McIntyre

The other Sarah (McIntyre) also ended up signing stuff, although not for me. Keren David said hello, and then goodbye. I chatted to Inbali Iserles and Savita Kalhan. I spoke to people I have emailed with, and to people I haven’t. Sam Hepburn.

Steve Hartley

And then Mr Gourlay went round saying it was time to go home. So we did. To the Gourley home, where the eldest junior Gourlay was looking after food and drink. There was a lot of it.

The Gourlays

They have the loveliest of gardens! Admittedly it was dark, but it was all lit up and the evening was balmy, and there was somewhere to sit. Not the trampoline for me. Spoke to DFB basement man Simon, and the kind Tilda who once bought me a sandwich. At some point I had to admit to a fondness for the Circle Line. (Yeah, well.)

The wine flowed (the recycling men were most impressed with the bottle collection the next morning) and there was cheese beginning with the letter c, and for the carnivores pork sausages on the barbecue, very ably operated by Mr G.

It was dark. As I said. So I gave up on the camera and simply enjoyed, which is why there are no scandalous shots of anyone. I think the man who hugged me before he left long past midnight might have been Cliff McNish, despite him being underwhelmed by my drinking.

Recommended crime to beautiful blonde, who was impressed with my recent meeting with Colin Bateman… When it got too cold we repaired to the inner regions. In the end most people went home, and Candy was left with a mere five houseguests. Eldest son politely gave up his bed for an old witch, and was banished to his godmother’s ‘vomiting room.’

In the morning I got up long after the six o’clock taxi guest had departed, and people had dispersed to school and jobs and things. I met my brand newest facebook friend (less than 24 hours) in her pyjamas. And then Candy made us breakfast and we gossiped about the great and the famous.

But I had a noon train to catch, so shouldered my nightie and toothbrush and walked up the hill to the tube station hidden in mist. Once I got to Euston I encountered the Poet Laureate on the escalators, going the opposite way. Bought some treats for the Resident IT Consultant to celebrate our first 31 years, and hopped on my train.

Tired library visitor

(I know how that doll feels.)

Higher Ground

Higher Ground

I have mentioned Higher Ground briefly in the past. Anuj Goyal had the bright idea to collect stories written by children’s authors about the 2004 tsunami, for the children who suffered in the tsunami. As it says on the cover, ‘stories inspired by the courage and hope of children who survived.’

Most of the stories are set elsewhere than India, because other countries were much harder hit. Not that details matter, but there are two southern India stories and a couple set in the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands. It doesn’t matter where they are set, because you will cry over all of them. Either because it is very dreadful and sad, or occasionally because something beautiful and wonderful happens. I don’t have a favourite, but keep remembering The Christmas Angel by Cliff McNish.

Apart from the obvious fact of bringing people’s attention to the tsunami children’s realities, it’s good to be able to read more about children in countries we tend to know less about. People go to Thailand, but what do they really know about their holiday hosts?

It’s worth being aware that these stories are based on real tales from the tsunami. They aren’t just something the authors made up. I hope Tim Bowler won’t mind my saying this, but I sort of understood from a comment he made back then, that writing his story made him cry. So, what hope does the reader have?

There aren’t many copies for sale these days, and probably none for the charitable causes it was conceived in aid of. But if you simply want to read about this disaster which now seems very far away, it is possible to get hold of a copy.