Tag Archives: David Walliams

Airborne books

‘Can I look in the bookshop?’ the Resident IT Consultant asked. I was tempted to say no, but gave my permission. We were at Edinburgh airport with too much time on our hands, and after using up the full Caffe Nero card which entitled him to a free drink (naturally he chose the most expensive concoction, something topped with whipped cream), he was dying to look in The Bookshop.

I looked in there myself, and they didn’t have much. Even WH Smith had more. By some coincidence we met up there after deciding to look around on our own. Neither shop stocked Into A Raging Blaze, special airport edition or not. We had both looked.

WHS had their fiction mostly arranged by numbers, a sort of books chart. We couldn’t work out whose chart, i.e. who decided, nor how to find any given book, short of looking at all of them. ‘There’s a blog there,’ said the Resident IT Consultant suddenly. I looked. ‘Where?’ I asked. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of a blog sitting anywhere on those shelves, but felt I needed to check.

Turns out he meant that the difficulty of finding a specific book could be turned into a blog post… Duh.

I had actually walked in there thinking I just might pay for a book. But only the recent fourth James Oswald novel. It’s Scottish, so maybe they’d stock it for that reason, I thought. But, no. Once I’d turned round a few more times I discovered some books arranged in the conventional alphabetical way, and there was a James Oswald book. The wrong one. Or the right one, depending on how you look at it. Not the one I was after. But for the Oswald novice it’d be good to find the first one, seeing as you mustn’t start anywhere else.

For children it was the usual suspects; The Gruffalo, David Walliams, Horrid Henry. I believe I’ve said this before. It’s excellent to find easy to read, good, fun books. But not if you’ve already read those. Then you need something more unusual.

And Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam made it to the non-fiction.

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

Ratburger and dead bird wrap

How long is a piece of string?

You tell me. The British Airways member of staff at Heathrow who felt the need to ask a line of weary, and by then furious, passengers this, beat a retreat after asking. So perhaps she never found out the length of string.

What we wanted to know – although it wasn’t actually me who asked – was how long we’d be there for. She couldn’t very well know this, but her reply might have been more tactfully phrased.

‘Did you see how the lights in the corridor came on as we walked along?’ asked the excited Resident IT Consultant. By the time we walked this particular hotel corridor belonging to Sofitel, I was past noticing anything, least of all the illuminations.

Here is a travel moan especially for Candy Gourlay, who claims to like this kind of thing, and for Hilary McKay and her darling, darling Rose,* who – almost – kept me sane, when I had nothing to eat on our British Airways flight other than a Virgin Trains mini-portion of dried cranberries.

I could have had the Ratburger. No, my apologies. It was the dead bird, wrapped. Again.

The Ratburger* was the book by David Walliams, so delightfully read by small child in the immigration queue at midnight. It warmed a Bookwitch’s heart to witness this. Not that I’ve read the book, but any reading under traumatic circumstances is good. He (she?) ought to have been in bed.

That went for me too. My body-clock was an hour ahead and I’d gone without a meal for too many hours. If you don’t count the train-related berries. Sometimes it’s a good thing I squirrel small items away in my bag.

The fact that I had walked round Gothenburg airport staring at the cinnamon buns and bananas for sale should have told my inner witch that I’d be regretting not buying them, very, very soon. And I did.

Terminal 5′s holding area for the seriously delayed is entirely food free. I suggest they put in a vending machine if they are ‘entertaining’ quite that many irate travellers on a regular basis. It might almost repay what they have to fork out to put people up for the night.

Once we actually got to Sofitel of the corridor-lighting cheme, I had very few bad comments left to make, having run out of both steam and a reason why. But I suppose I’d like to have received advance warning that the corridor-light nerds mentioned earlier would also sneak around in the middle of the night, turning off the bathroom light if you don’t wave your arms enough. Or whatever the weary traveller is meant to do to stay all lit up and happy.

Other than that, the hotel was pretty good. Glad I wasn’t the one paying.

So, back to BA. They are usually pretty good, too. Hence me turning my back on the cinnamon bun. I was certain they’d feed me adequately. And if they ran out of everything, as they did, I had expected the usual BA good manners, and maybe even some initiative, finding me a bread roll from ‘first class’ or something. What I got were two crew members who firmly believe chicken is practically vegetarian.

And then we had me, who stupidly believed that once we got to Heathrow, having missed our onward connection – despite being misinformed by the chicken fans on board that we should leg it, and we’d be successful – I’d be sorted soon-ish, and I’d come face-to-face with some food. The queue moved one metre in the first hour. Staff left for the day as we stood there. Fellow (hah!) delayed passengers queue jumped merrily until the annoyed father of two small children told the last one to try it to go to the back where he belonged.

String-woman could have been gainfully employed doing some queue order-keeping, and not left it to the tired and worn out. Her colleagues worked hard, but why it should take staff, who presumably do this every night, quite so long for each passenger, I can’t work out. Maybe the Resident IT Consultant could offer his services to improve the software they use.

Eventually – two hours later – we emerged carrying two new boarding cards for the day after, one hotel voucher, two emergency overnight packs and two M&S vouchers to make up for the hotel not serving dinner after midnight. I say emerged. What I meant was we then joined the Border Control queue, the UK and EU light version, which lasted a mere 25 minutes. But at least the child in front had The Ratburger.

Mercifully this migraine trigger fasting failed to give me one. Must have been the train cranberries. Small, but good. We repaired to our Sofitel room, gobbled down a half past midnight M&S dinner and fell into bed for all of five hours.

Now that the queue is merely an unhappy memory, I mostly object to being kept in the dark. In the bathroom. With no warning. (Although if the free wifi had materialised, I wouldn’t exactly have objected.) Consistent and truthful information from BA would have come in handy, too.

On the final approach to Bookwitch Towers, the Resident IT Consultant walked ahead, to open the door and shove five weeks’ worth of books** out of the way. Which is why he wasn’t picked up by Little Flower’s grandparents and given a lift the last 300 metres. Little Flower’s Granny then proceeded to offer us some emergency milk at about the same time we discovered Next Door Neighbour has been mowing the grass in our absence.

So that was good. Very good. So was the fact that we survived the 25 minute taxi ride before the point where I didn’t buy a cinnamon bun. My last personal best was 30 minutes from School Friend’s house to airport. But a texting maniac who drives well past the legal speed limit can probably arrive before they left, if they really try.

* Reading is good for you. Especially when under stress. In queues. That kind of thing.

**Might tell you about this some other time. Right now all but Candy are snoring from sheer boredom. Sorry.

(But surely BA have stats on their passengers’ fondness for cheese sandwiches and make more of them? Dead bird isn’t all it’s made out to be; wrapped or not.)

Sefton Super Reads 2013

Lady with lamp

It was time for another Sefton (‘see if you can find us this time’) Super Reads yesterday afternoon. And yes I could. Eventually. This venue, Southport Arts Centre is even larger than Crosby Civic Hall, and was thereby proportionally harder to find. But you can’t keep a good witch away. (I had a choice of Sefton on Tuesday or Carnegie today…)

Tony Higginson

You could call it Ladies’ Day, since it was the girls on the shortlist who made it to Southport. Tony from Formby Books seemed to feel that recent fatherhood (David Walliams) or living in Italy (Fabio Geda) was reason enough to stay at home. And he came up with no excuse whatsoever for J D Sharpe.

Tony and Lesley with Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

And then there was Ruth Eastham who had come here all the way from Italy. (Girls rule!) Caroline Green came from London, and Barbara Mitchelhill had done something for the first time (or so she confided to me) and had had eyes for the Manchester train only. But she was nevertheless the first one to arrive.

So, when I had finally deduced that what I wanted was the enormous building in the middle of Southport, on its impressive Lord Street, I popped in and asked for more directions. Was told that I wanted the same as ‘that lady’ so followed her, and found it was Barbara. Which is why we shared travelling information with each other, as we waited for the others.

It’s a fabulous old/new theatre and library and museum, which has been done up so recently that not all areas are 100% ready and there is a fresh paint kind of smell. The theatre we were in was great, and the charming man in charge of it serves coffee very nicely. (It seems we had a narrow escape. The people before us had been served dinner by staff from Fawlty Towers.)

Books at Sefton Super Reads

When the invited school children were given a guided tour of the place, the rest of us tagged along, admiring the chandeliers and stucco ceilings and purple armchairs.

Tony with Barbara Mitchellhill and Ruth Eastham at Sefton Super Reads

After threatening the audience with a Latin lesson and some singing, Tony introduced the three ladies, before opening the floor to Q&A. Writing a book takes anything between two months and three years. All three authors save the stuff they’ve written but have decided not to use. Just in case.

Caroline had an inspiring teacher in Year 6, after which there was a gap in writing until she was an adult. Barbara loved Enid Blyton, but after the age of twelve she found her library so stuffy that she went off reading. Meanwhile Ruth relied on reading recommendations from librarians.

Caroline Green

Character names can be difficult, especially historical ones. These days you can be called anything (Caroline made up the name Kyla for her book, only to find Teri Terry had done exactly the same) but in Shakespeare’s time there were only certain names to choose from.

Barbara had inspiration for her 16th century novel, Road to London, from The X Factor. But she herself would really like to be Anthony Horowitz.

Ruth Eastham

Ruth began by reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials ‘backwards’ but was still very impressed. And Caroline has read everything by Marcus Sedgwick and thinks he’s fantastic.

They were all a little embarrassed to admit they hadn’t read each other’s books, but at least Ruth has now put the other two on her tbr pile. And I can no longer remember why Barbara told us that she ‘likes killing people!’ but I’m sure she only kills for a good reason.

Barbara Mitchellhill

After learning all about our three ladies, it would have been a bit of an anticlimax if the winner of the Sefton Super Reads had not been one of them. But you can relax. She was there!

Before Ruth Eastham could receive her winning trophy, there were prizes for best book reviews to be awarded. The participating children had read and reviewed the shortlisted books, and there was a first and second prize for a review of each of the six books.

Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

Once the winners had received their book tokens and been photographed with the authors, it was time for Ruth’s winner’s speech (when all she wanted to do was show Caroline her trophy).

Long before the afternoon was over, the children had bought nearly all the books for sale and queued up to have them signed, and to be photographed with their favourite author. (And it has to be said, one school – very sensibly – ate a late lunch first.)

Signing at Sefton Super Reads

I had rather witchily managed to put my copy of the winning book, The Messenger Bird, in my bag before I left home, so I joined the signing queue.

Then it was time for goodbyes, with all three authors sprinting off to catch trains. Possibly even the same train. I’m hoping to see them at another award ceremony soon. And having checked out Barbara’s and Caroline’s books, I’m thinking I’d like to read them.

As for me, I called the Resident IT Consultant (who had very kindly driven me all the way to Southport) and ordered him to take me for a walk on the pier. I hadn’t come all the way to the seaside not to see where the sea ought to have been if it had any sense at all.

Southport Pier

This being Southport, there was no sea below the pier, obviously, but we had a most acceptable stroll along it anyway. Made the mistake of not buying hot donuts as we passed on the way out, meaning the mug of tea the Resident IT Consultant bought me at the end of the pier, had to go unaccompanied. But we bought some on our way back, and had them for dessert.

Very nice. Very seasidey. Apart from the distinct lack of sea.

Bookwitch bites #97

Let’s start with a stolen photo, shall we? (My thieving is getting worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it.) Here is a photo, which might have been taken by Gill Lewis, winner of the Salford award last week. It was on her Twitter, anyway. And the lady between Jamie Thomson and Josh Lacey is not Gill, but Barbara Mitchelhill, who narrowly avoided that dinner.

Jamie Thomson, Barbara Mitchelhill and Josh Lacey

Another award is Sefton Super Reads. They have announced their shortlist for the summer, and it’s pretty good. The lady above is on it, for instance. And so are some of my other favourites, and some unknowns (to me).

• Ruth Eastham, Messenger Bird
• Fabio Geda, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles
• Caroline Green, Cracks
• Barbara Mitchelhill, Road to London
• J. D. Sharpe, Oliver Twisted
• David Walliams, Ratburger

In fact, there are awards absolutely everywhere. Declan Burke could be in for an Edgar for his hard work on Books To Die For, along with John Connolly. I don’t know who or what they are up against, but if ever a book and its creators deserved an Edgar, Books To Die For must be it.

While we are in an awards kind of mood, it appears Adrian McKinty is on the shortlist for The Last Laugh for The Cold Cold Ground, which will be awarded at Crimefest later this year.

Nick Green, The Storm Bottle

Finally – in more ways than one – Nick Green’s The Storm Bottle is available to buy. That’s over three years since I reviewed it, which happened by some odd fluke (me looking into the future, kind of thing). So far it’s ‘only’ on Kindle, but if you only ever buy one Kindle book in your life (although that sounds a bit unlikely, now that I stop and think) this has to be it. The Storm Bottle! Very good book! Sad. Funny. Exciting. Does not end the way you expect it to.

Dolphins can definitely talk.

At least there were some children’s books

It’s the Guardian top 100 bestselling books of 2012 I’ve got in mind. Maybe I’m wrong to feel pleased there are 23, or 24 if you count The Hobbit, children’s books in the top 100. It’s children from the Hunger Games age group down to the Julia Donaldson age level, with The Wimpy Kid and David Walliams in the middle.

There are rather a lot of Wimpy Kids and David Walliams books on that list, at the expense of more individual fiction. But if the books have been bought, they have most likely been read too, because that’s the kind of books they are. And that has to count as A Good Thing, surely?

The Hunger Games film caused hundreds of thousands of books to be bought, and if the Bookwitch Towers experience is anything to go by, they were definitely read, and very quickly, too. Not by me. The film was enough. But I recognise that fervour, awakened by a cinema visit. I saw Five On a Treasure Island before reading the books. Almost before I could read, but that didn’t stop me. And look where it got me.

War Horse stage play

Even theatre can cause book buying, as evidenced by Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. I would guess the books are bought by adults, but most likely read by children as well. Or was it ‘just’ the film effect again?

War Horse film

Whereas I am – reluctantly – conceding that it might be mainly adults who bought and read John Grisham’s latest Theodore Boone, simply because they are Grisham fans. Or possibly because they didn’t realise it’s a children’s book.

But what of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger? It comes in the top twenty children’s books in the 100 list, but has not made it into the children’s top twenty. Might that be the adult fan reading everything by their favourite author again?

The fact that Jacqueline Wilson is not in the top twenty, is an indication of how well the film industry sells books. (Did I just say that?)

Wimpy Kid film poster

What makes me happy, is that at least a couple of million readers benefitted from the top twenty titles. I hope they will also be reading other books, lower down in the sales league, and that they will continue reading. Always.

Blue about bestselling books

The list of bestselling books up for the vote on Blue Peter has left me feeling anxious. I don’t know why. I trust Blue Peter. Well, reasonably anyway. And Booktrust is a good organisation, working on worthy awards and various reading schemes.

Below is the list of the – apparently – bestselling books of the last decade. That’s 2002 to 2011, and it’s number of books sold, rather than in monetary terms. And an author can only appear once. Under 16s can vote for their favourite, so at some point we’ll have the overall winner.

Alex Rider Mission 3: Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz, Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, Horrid Henry and the Football Fiend by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, The Series of Unfortunate Events: Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket, Theodore Boone by John Grisham, and Young Bond: SilverFin ─ A James Bond Adventure by Charlie Higson.

Most of these books are really good. The question is if they are the best, and the question is whether it makes sense to have a list based on sales, which is then voted on. If we go for sales, there must be an overall winner already. Why not just announce who that is? (I can guess. So I can also guess why there needs to be a debate in the form of a vote.)

Many of these titles are obvious for anyone with any understanding of book sales versus other ways of measuring worth and popularity. The one that I am still surprised and vaguely pleased to find on here is the John Grisham. I’m glad that a book the reviewers didn’t seem to go for has sold. Unless it’s the Terry Pratchett phenomenon. Do Grisham fans buy everything – even children’s books – when it’s by their favourite author? Perhaps the sales weren’t caused by child buyers, or buyers for children?

Anyway, Theodore Boone is up against many solid favourites, so will most likely not win. I wouldn’t like to bet on who will, though.

Blue Peter

Along with the competition for book of the decade, Blue Peter announced the shortlist for The Blue Peter Book of the Year 2012:

Discover the Extreme World by Camilla de la Bedoyere, Clive Gifford, John Farndon, Steve Parker, Stewart Ross and Philip Steele

The Official Countdown to the London 2012 Games by Simon Hart

The Considine Curse by Gareth P. Jones

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

Only two of those are fiction, and I suppose it fits the Blue Peter image to include non-fiction books. I just don’t feel they are competing on a level playing field, somehow.

But don’t mind me. It was probably something I ate.

Bookwitch bites #66

Double sixes! How exciting. Let’s be mean. I mean, let me be witchy.

I know. I’m not a native English speaker. I may have been headhunted (hah!) by an agent last week, but I won’t be writing a book. The Resident IT Consultant said he thought I could, until I informed him of my limited vocabulary. After close to 30 years, it’s not as if he will have noticed yet. OK, it’s not bad. But it’s not good. My passive vocabulary is acceptable, but what I am actually able to use confidently is so much smaller.

And on those occasions when I consider saying ‘that word’ out loud (whatever the word might be), I realise I haven’t got a clue how to pronounce it. And you people do not want to know what I do to monasteries on a regular basis. I mean, I know, really. But it just slips out.

So, this morning I’ve been unable to let posturepedic out of my head. (I dare say that’s as good a place as any for it.) I saw this bed advert recently. I have seen the word posturepedic before, and made sense of it. This time I tripped and it took me ages to see what word it was. Try and say it yourselves, using the antepenult rule for where the stress goes. There’s no escape.

It wasn’t beds I set out to have a go at. Just wanted to point out how far from perfect I am before I start complaining. But could someone please tell me why, why, why intelligent and well educated people who work with words will use a phrase like ‘it was a surprise to my husband and I’??? Remove the husband (generally to be recommended) and where are you?

That old teen heart throb David Cassidy used to do a column in my beloved teen magazine, and even he got it right. He reminisced about a girl from school who used to run after her friends, calling ‘wait for I!’. Without a husband it just didn’t work, did it? And I’ve now found it in the book I’m reading, which until then was going so well. Editing? What editing?

I sit up at night, editing. I still leave the odd thing for Son or Daughter to email me about, just to make them feel superior. But I do my best.

Now, at long last, I have found something that I rate below ‘wait for I’. I just don’t know who to blame. David Walliams? Or Penguin? Or the Guardian? At some point there must have been an editor in charge. I quote. ‘…which of course made we kids love it all the more.’

Hrmph.

And that leaves me ‘sat’ here moaning about one last thing. I put my trust in Daughter’s teacher, fondly imagining she would tell her how wrong it is. She didn’t. You now get it everywhere, and the Resident IT Consultant has gone so far as to suggest I could be wrong. (He’s sufficiently scared of me not to say so absolutely…) Am I wrong?

I was beginning to think I was, when a lovely author on facebook agreed with me and even offered up a grammatical rule. (I’m useless at grammar.) Soon after there was another author, busy flogging her newly published book in the Guardian (twice in one week), using the phrase, thereby immediately absolving me from any need to show further interest.

Perhaps we are all reading from the same English work sheet Offspring brought home from Primary school. It was about tenses. Present tense looks like this, apparently: ‘I am sitting’, where it’s the sitting that is the present. I always imagined it was ‘I sit, you sit, he/she sits’ and so on.

Goodness me. It’s Saturday. This is supposedly a Bookwitch bites, and here I am, going on and on. Sorry. It must have been the 66 that bewitched me.

I’ll just proofread this now. It’s a mere blog, but…

(This makes it 666 words.)

Bookwitch bites #24

Book launch sign

It’s lists and launch time at bookwitch towers with my bites one day early.

Last night Keren David had a launch party for her second novel, Almost True. I wasn’t present as unfortunately there’s a limit to how frequently I can do the commute to London. And I’m afraid I’m on my way there today, although not to see the Pope if I can help it.

Keren David at her Almost True book launch

Gillian Philip

Gillian Philip has been shortlisted for the Royal Mail’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards, along with Barry Hutchison, Julia Donaldson, Debi Gliori, Elizabeth Laird, Cathy MacPhail, Lucinda Hare, John Fardell and Simon Puttock. Luckily there are several categories so more than one of these lovely people can win. I hope they do. Not sure what they win if they win. Stamps?

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2010 judges have also come up with a shortlist, or rather two shortlists, because you can’t have too many lists of whatever length:

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Six and Under

Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets by Quentin Blake

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

The Nanny Goat’s Kid by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell

The Scariest Monster in the World by Lee Weatherly, illustrated by Algy Craig Hall

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Seven to Fourteen

The Clumsies Make a Mess by Sorrel Anderson, illustrated by Nicola Slater

Einstein’s Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan

The Incredible Luck of Alfie Pluck by Jamie Rix, illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood

Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

I gather Philip Ardagh, who is one of the judges, may almost have read too many funny books in the course of duty. I believe it was something like 130, which is enough to put you off even that which you like best.

Right, I have a train to catch. See you tomorrow.