Tag Archives: Geraldine McCaughrean

At last!

I’m doing it! I’m actually, finally reading it! ‘It’ being An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories from 1986, edited by Dennis Pepper.

Dennis Pepper, An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories

Having bought the book well used from the school library ‘some’ years back, I always meant to read it over the immediate Christmas period. The one about ten years ago… The book emerged every December and waited hopefully by my side and then it retreated after yet another busy busy Christmas, where I got round to reading one book instead of the half dozen I’d fondly imagined I’d be relaxing with.

There are about 30 short stories, written by everybody from Dickens to Geraldine McCaughrean. (You have to remember the collection is 27 years old. Some authors hadn’t even been invented back then.)

I understand some stories were commissioned, while others have been chosen for their Christmassy theme from classics and elsewhere. Some authors I’d never heard of, while the story by Jacqueline Wilson is like no JW story you’ve ever read.

Jesus is there, from the school nativity to actual Bethlehem, but mostly you get a tremendous amount of carol singing, with a few ghosts and the odd vampire. More vicars and snowy landscapes than you can shake a stick at, so really very traditional. It’s nice. The stories are mostly no more than five pages each, so they make for quick nostalgic dips in between whatever else you need to do at this time of year.

I was especially happy to get re-acquainted with David Henry Wilson’s Jeremy James, who Son and I used to like a lot. Among the other names that I do know are Jan Mark, Sue Townsend, James Riordan, Laurie Lee and Robert Swindells. But as with so many anthologies you don’t need to know the writers. You simply discover new-old authors as you read along.

In a way it’s quite good I waited, because I’m enjoying myself. I’ve still got a few stories to go, but I’ve also got a few more days until I ‘must’ read a ‘mellandags’ book. I shall explain that one later.

Witching it

It’s odd. Or perhaps it isn’t. The way things connect, unexpectedly. How easy it is being a witch, sometimes.

I was having Sunday breakfast, reading the Guardian Review from Saturday (someone had not provided the paper early enough the previous day). I glanced at the interview in the middle, and turned the page over as I got up to see about ‘the next course’ after my cereal.

Thought about the book by Gillian Cross I had finished the night before. Thought about the other three OUP novels from the event during the week (which I don’t -yet – have) and my thoughts strayed on to Geraldine McCaughrean.

From there I went back to 2004 when I ‘just knew’ that Meg Rosoff would win the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Knew in that witchy way I can’t explain. Then how I ‘knew’ she’d also win the Whitbread/Costa with How I Live Now. And how I had a wobble the last day in the library before the Christmas holiday and snatched up a copy of Not the End of the World. Maybe I ought to see what Meg was up against.

And there I was, reading about floods and Noah and the end of the world, as the tsunami burst forth. It was almost unbearable. After which Geraldine won the Whitbread for her wonderful, but watery, book.

Then (we are now back at breakfast, obviously) I thought about Geraldine’s new book and how that sounded so interesting. I poured the tea and sat down with the Review again, pleased to find I was actually on the page with the children’s book review. Which, naturally, was The Positively Last Performance by a certain Geraldine McCaughrean. I wanted to read the review, so I did, while hoping it wouldn’t be full of spoilers. It wasn’t. Lovely review, and I have to read that book!

Mustn’t forget Sally Prue’s blog post on The Word Den, as she set off on that OUP tour at the beginning of the week. She blogged about spaewives, taking care to mention that us in the pointy hats are the worst. I am fairly certain it was a slip of the keyboard, and that Sally meant best.

Spae is spå where I come from. Maybe it’s what I do. At least Meg Rosoff almost believed it, back then.

Organised chaos

‘You see what I’ve had to put up with!’ Tim Bowler said as his three female colleagues talked about being ‘more splayed out’ for their panel discussion at MMU on Wednesday evening. I was there to enjoy the kind of stellar line-up you can only dream of, and which ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought possible I’d ever attend.

OUP titles

I got wind of this tour organised by OUP to air these four authors’ new titles, in the place where you always find things out. On facebook, courtesy of Gillian Cross, whom I have admired for years and years. Along with Gillian and Tim we got Sally Prue and Geraldine McCaughrean, so you can understand how my excitement got the better of me.

As things turned out, it was Geraldine who received the ‘I’m a big fan’ greeting, because I’d never met her before, or heard her talk. She is funny. Very funny. (Good funny, obviously.) Tim and Sally I’ve not seen since I last saw them at that dinner in London two years ago. And poor Gillian got the ‘big fan’ attack in Birmingham even longer ago.

Gillian Cross

This time she came up and chatted to me, so I was able to tell her how my heartbeat reacted to her new book, which I began reading yesterday afternoon, in the hopes of calming down. I’ll have to report back on After Tomorrow when I know more. It’s not so much a book for soothing frazzled nerves. That much I can say now.

Claudia at MMU

The evening was organised by OUP’s Jennie (aka she-who-silences-muzak-in-bars) and MMU’s Kaye, with the ever efficient Claudia at her side. Jackie Roy was there to chair the discussion, and she is a woman armed with good questions and the most soothing voice.

Tim was complaining because he has been travelling with these lovely ladies to Dublin and Glasgow and Manchester, finishing in Bristol tonight. He’s a typical boy, talking as much as the other three taken together. Before the audience arrived he entertained us with the tale of the torn trousers, and you can just tell that Gillian didn’t want to see what you might have seen.

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

According to Gillian they have been having fun, and now that I have heard Geraldine speak, I can understand what it must have been like this week. Absolutely wonderful…

Tim Bowler

‘Dive-in man’ Tim read from chapter three of Sea of Whispers, which is about yet another girl. He likes girls. He sees a picture in his mind, and then he writes, not knowing what will happen.

Gillian tried to sell us on the idea of a new computer programme she’s been using, ‘Write or Die,’ which seems to eat your typing if you slack for too long. I suppose time-wasting will be a thing of the past, once your fledgling book ‘starts unwriting itself.’

Jackie admitted to having cheated when reading Gillian’s book. She had to look at the end before she could read it at all. (I might have to copy her…) Gillian told us how she had planned what had to happen in her story about a Britain that is collapsing, and where the English become refugees in Europe. And every single thing she thought of, proceeded to happen in real life soon after, which makes it look like she hasn’t got an original thought in her head. Which is so wrong.

Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue and Jackie Roy

Sally told us about her purple Miss Wheeler, the teacher who changed Sally’s life, and made her realise she didn’t have to be small and boring. She could do things, like learn fencing to sort out the big bad wolf. Writing is the ‘widest freedom in the universe.’ Then she read from Song Hunter which is about Neanderthal characters, and taught us how to kill a seal, but asked us not to. (I’m thinking her book might not be very vegetarian.)

Geraldine McCaughrean

Geraldine’s editor has told her a book must always end with a ‘bearable universe,’ which sounds just like Terry Pratchett’s idea about children’s books. She has an ideas box in the corner of her bedroom, although her new book Positively Last Performance didn’t come from this box. The idea was suggested to her by the Royal Theatre in Margate; that she should write about them and then let them share the proceeds of the sales. Which is an unusual approach, but it seems to have worked.

For the Q&As they continued talking about chaos. The good thing about it is that it forces them to write a book to the end, so they can find out what happens. All Tim’s books have rubbish in them (his words) somewhere in the draft process, but he now recognises this, and it’s not too worrying. He knows he will sort it out.

Research is wonderful, according to Geraldine. You do it and then the book writes itself. ‘Displacement activity’ is what Gillian calls research, while Sally tried to calm things down by mentioning the ideas box as a last resort.

They always think about the reader as they write. Tim wants the kind who reads under the blanket with a torch, but this seems to be an out-of-date kind of thing these days. Sally suggested reading should be described as dangerous (reverse psychology), while Geraldine felt it should be outlawed.

So there you have it.

Before the four got going on the pornography shelf, Kaye urged us to come into the atrium for books and photos and wine and canapes. (There were some great mushroom ones.)

Jackie Roy and Kaye Tew

People bought and they chatted and everyone seemed happy. Tim asked after every member* of the Bookwitch family, which was lovely of him. I asked him to say hello to Mrs B for me. Then I got my book signed by Gillian, and she said she hopes I will still talk to her when I’ve finished it. Which I think sounds ominous.

OUP at MMU

MMU

* Even the Resident IT Consultant. He was touched. But then he is.

So you want to know who wins?

Readers! Honestly. They think they can just write in and ask me to do things. And they are quite right. They can and they do and I might well. Lets’ see.

The Carnegie shortlist took me by more of a surprise than ever before. Had actually tried to predict when it would come. Got that wrong, so was taken aback on Friday when Facebook was awash with congratulations. But I’d like to point out that you might be on the shortlist, but it doesn’t exactly mean you’ll win. Does it?

Carnegie’s server seemed to collapse on Friday (it was April 1st, which is such a bad date, for anything), so I couldn’t even satisfy my curiosity until a lot later.

So, let’s have the list:

Theresa Breslin, Prisoner of the Inquisition

Geraldine McCaughrean, The Death Defying Pepper Roux

Patrick Ness, Monsters of Men

Meg Rosoff, The Bride’s Farewell

Marcus Sedgwick, White Crow

Jason Wallace, Out of Shadows

Good list. But then there is an equally good list of people and books which didn’t make it. Let’s not dwell on that. I have read five of the six, and the one I haven’t is Geraldine’s Pepper novel, which I’m sure is as worryingly perfect as her other books have been.

Well, even though you know I would like all six books to win, you also know I want Meg to win. And she stands a very good chance. But with that Patrick Ness around, the vibes tell me he will wipe the floor. Again. Preferably chez Bookwitch, because we badly need it.

OK then, Adèle? I have spoken. And you weren’t the only one. My inbox literally popped with requests.

Why Pingu can be hard to read

This isn’t a good place to be if you need cheering up today…

We liked Pingu on television as much as the next family with young children. We had some Pingu books, too. But there is one, the title of which I’ve forgotten, which I always found almost impossible to read. It’s the one where Pingu and his friend go walking and fall down a crevasse. They have to slowly work their way out again, and show a lot of bravery. And as it’s a book for toddlers, they don’t slip to their deaths.

Today it’s fifteen years since a friend of mine and her husband had a very similar experience, the difference being that their falls were fatal. They were climbing in the Canadian Rockies, and when I say climbing; think ice axe and all other gadgets on the most advanced slopes and ‘paths’. I’ve kept the cuttings from all the major papers, where they made the front pages, but find I still can’t read about it.

I just felt that Eva and Luke and their unborn baby needed to be mentioned again, somehow. It feels strange to think how soon the years pass.

And I continue to find climbing and ice adventures hard to read. Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness was a borderline case.

Do others have similar reactions to seemingly ordinary topics?

From Christmas to Costa

Three years ago as the tsunami news spread, I was reading a suitable (or perhaps unsuitable) book. With only days to go before the Whitbread announcement, I’d had this urge to read Geraldine McCaughrean’s Not the End of the World. I am currently, and I know, very belatedly, reading Elizabeth Laird’s Crusade.

We’ll see on Thursday.

Have just watched the programme about J K Rowling on television. The Observer thought it a wasted effort, or some such thing, so I was prepared to hate and sneer. No need. I thought it was a very good portrait of J K.

With minutes to go, it’s rather late to suggest you all watch The Shadow in the North, but I’m sure you’re all intending to anyway.