Tag Archives: Hilary McKay

The long Carnegie

I was surprised to read that publishing the longlist for the Carnegie was a new idea. Surely I’d got that wrong, somehow?

Ah. Have checked. I know what’s new. The longlist. Before, the long list used to be all the nominated books, and then you got to the shortlist. So presumably we are skipping the very long list this time. Glad to have sorted that out.

It’s a good list. Some I have read, others I’ve not had time to get to. And yet more I have not got close enough to, to be able to consider reading. Two are from my own best of 2013 list (I’d like to think they visited and compared notes), so I’d be especially grateful if they could hand out the medal to Binny or to Brock.* If not, any good book will do. The better the better, though, if you know what I mean.

2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal longlist

As far as the picture books go, I haven’t read a single one. I don’t recognise the titles either, so have hopefully not shown a shocking lack of interest in what will turn out to be a really magnificent book.

2014 Kate Greenaway Medal longlist

*It is especially nice to find a Barrington Stoke novel on the list.

Numbers and meat cleavers

This is for people with a fondness for ‘interesting’ dates. And even for people who couldn’t care less. Today is the 11th day of the 12th month in the 13th year (well, you know what I mean!). But I will not now provide a list of the year’s best ten books. Or best 14.

I need to slim these lists down, but when I looked at the possible contenders for best Bookwitch book 2013, there were so many wonderful reads that it’s as hard as giving up cake and cheese and go on a diet.


Let’s continue.

I have a bunch of six books, where I can’t say that one is an overall winner. I would like to, but can’t. One thing that has made me pick these over some others, is that they provided that special glow of happiness. Scary and good is obviously good, but happy and good wins every time. (Apologies for excessive soppiness.)

I’ll list them in first name alphabetical order:

Anthony McGowan, Brock

Debi Gliori, Dragon Loves Penguin

Hilary McKay, Binny for Short

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co – The Screaming Staircase

Marcus Sedgwick, She’s Not Invisible

Sam Hepburn, Chasing the Dark

If you – or your favourite book – are not on the list, please be gentle with that meat cleaver! Let’s face it; there are lots of wonderful books out there.


Please, where can I find a needy motorway? I have stuff to get rid of, and there is landfill, and then there is landfill (to build roads, or so Hilary McKay has been saying for far too long about her own wonderful books). The latter strikes me as the much more sensible option, if there’s nothing else you can do with your unwanted books.

And when I say unwanted, I am not referring to Hilary’s work, nor am I suggesting that the unwantedness stems from the Resident IT Consultant so much. They just happen to be his books. Most of the ones from the back row on the double rows of books. They are unwanted by me. And looking at them, I am shocked ‘we’ ever wanted/bought/kept them at all.

Future motorway?

But now that he has been a very good Resident IT Consultant and cleared them out (when I say that, I mean onto the floor in the front room), they need to go a little bit further. Where to, though? The Grandmother was consulted, in case Oxfam could pass them on, but she felt they were beyond even that.

They are not allowed in the paper and cardboard recycling bin our local council has provided. As far as I have been able to find out, there is nowhere to take them. Except to the general hole in the ground for all general things that don’t fit the description of any recycling category at all.

I suspect books are something you are not meant to have very many of. Meaning you will have no problem giving them a comfortable forever home, and books are sacred and Can’t Possibly Be Got Rid Of! Hence the lack of a recycling category for them.

Now that I have had them declared unsacred, I will have to get them out of the house quickly (if only so I can use that bit of floor to pack, reorganise or dispose of other belongings), and the only way appears to stick them in the boot of the car and point it at the local tip. But that makes me feel sick.

Bra Böckers Lexikon

I am the proud owner of two sets of the same – Swedish – encyclopaedia (one here, one there…) and neither is especially useful in this age of Google. The ‘one there’ can remain for the time being. But the ‘one here’ will have to go. Presumably also into a hole in the ground. And not of the new motorway variety, either.

(Perhaps… no, probably not. You can build houses out of straw. And stuff. The ideal thing would be to build a new house out of books.)

A writers’ writer

For the aficionado Hilary McKay barely needs an introduction. Not everyone is as slow or as stupid as I was some years ago, thinking Hilary was just your ordinary girls’ books author.

She is anything but, and my ways have been truly mended. I still have a few of her, mostly junior, books to read, which makes me very happy. Because reading Hilary’s books makes me happy.

It was very kind of her to come to Bookwitch Towers to subject herself to an interview. She wants the minimum of fuss, so isn’t an obvious interview subject, really. But I was very glad she came, and that she could put up with it all.

Here she explains her philosophy of how nice people are. I’m beginning to think she might be right. (Except for her idiotic notion of how it would be better to use her books for building motorways.)

Modest and much admired

She’s going to kill me for that. Except Hilary McKay is too nice to kill anyone.

She asked for balloons by the gate. Not too much to ask for, but whereas I do have balloons, I have no gate, so it was foreign flag on the door instead. We’ve not actually been that festive since some birthday over a year ago. And Hilary brought the most beautiful flowers! (Which I got the Resident IT Consultant to find a vase for, seeing as my regular photographer-cum-putter-into-vase assistant was unavailable.)

You’ll soon be asking what I had to offer someone like Hilary, to make her journey all the way from Derbyshire worthwhile. Scones. Nothing more. Just that. Hilary even phoned to advise me of her ETA, and offered to delay if she was too early… You can see the headlines, can’t you? ‘Whitbread winner seen walking and waiting outside witch’s lair.’

Hilary McKay books

In my usual bad hostess mode I did my interview with Hilary first. She had modestly suggested there was nothing to ask her, while I knew I needed the business side out of the way, so I could fully enjoy the chatting and the gossiping (only nicely, obviously). I enjoyed it so much that I have no photos to show for the afternoon, which is probably how my visitor prefers it.

Apart from one hairy moment when Hilary was all for kidnapping me and go visit St Sioux, we were fine. I decided it wasn’t too cold to sit outside, so she suffered through tea and scones on the deck, only protesting as New Neighbour started lopping branches off his apple tree. With apples on them!

After conversations about family and gardens and double garages in Scotland, I forced some books on Hilary as she got ready to leave in her beautifully blue car (which she talks to).

I think I must make the effort with balloons next time. It’s the least I could do.

The Resident IT Consultant asked permission to eat the crumbs left over from the scones orgy. In view of his services with both flowers and tea making I said he could.

‘The more the merrier’

Perfection again. Except for my timing. Forever Rose is really a nativity story. And now it is summer. Not December.

But a Casson story is never wrong. The wrongest thing about it is that it’s the last one. What am I supposed to do now?? No more Cassons… Or could I possibly be wrong? Please tell me there’s hope.

Rose is sad. People keep disappearing, and everyone but her seems to know what she’s getting for Christmas. Even I could work it out.

Caddy is gone. Caddy’s Michael avoids Rose. Saffy is rarely at home, and Indigo is running after Sarah. Eve is ill in her shed. Daddy Casson is unhappy in London, but still in London. Even the pets have vanished, one by one. Rose has a horrible teacher. He’s not as gone as Rose and her class would like. And poor David is there. Poor David.

Hilary McKay, Forever Rose

There are drum kits and there is blood, and zoos play an important part. A baby Jesus is required, and Sarah and Saffy are forcing Rose to read. Rose just Does Not Read!

Friendship and family play the main roles, again. By the end Rose doesn’t feel quite as alone as she did at the beginning. Eve was right, ‘the more the merrier.’

As ever, it’s hard to describe what happens in a Casson family book. Very little, in a way. But it makes you smile. Or you could cry (with happiness).

I envy anyone who has not yet started on the Cassons.

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.)

Paradise House – The Zoo in the Attic

I can’t believe Hilary McKay can write so many short, ‘younger’ books that are possible for an adult to enjoy for their own entertainment! Here is another one; The Zoo in the Attic, which I think is the first in the Paradise House series.

It’s actually very nicely dated. First published in 1995, it has those really old-fashioned black and white illustrations that I would expect to see in a book by Edith Nesbit, say.

The way the house is described is also quite quaint. It made me think of Usborne’s Historical House, where you see what the house once was, and then you get to know it the way it is now, and every stage in between. So, it’s an old and large house almost in the middle of London, which is now divided into flats, in which live various young children, who go on to have little adventures. (Today their poor parents would have been priced out of that kind of home altogether.)

Hilary McKay, The Zoo in the Attic

Danny likes animals. When he can’t have a dog, he is quite happy with the goldfish he is given instead. And so he starts a zoo in the attic. Beetles, spiders, that kind of thing. Plus Oscar the goldfish.

The tenants of the whole house work together in a most un-modern way. It gave me a nice warm feeling, and I’m almost ready to move in. I expect the other five stories are equally nice. In fact, there is a first chapter from the next one, so I know that it will be good, too.

(It’s just the covers again…)

Pudding Bag School – A Strong Smell of Magic

I’ll have a Hilary McKay big sister to go, please. She really does do some nice ones.

With A Strong Smell of Magic I appear to have jumped straight into the middle of Hilary’s Pudding Bag School books. But it didn’t matter. I felt right at home, and I could almost see what must have happened with that rocket.

Hilary McKay, Pudding Bag School - A Strong Smell of Magic

This time the school and class 4b are about to have their summer fair, and it has to be good. But 4b’s magical teacher Miss Gilhoolie falls ill (I think she did it on purpose) and the class are left to their own devices to make the most money and win a prize.

There is a charmingly naughty boy, Dougal McDougal, with whom I fell instantly in love. He turns out to have a perfectly lovely older sister, his favourite of – I think – six sisters.

Anyway, I digress. Miss Gilhoolie does help 4b, and they have a most eventful, and magic, fair. I can’t spoil things and say how, but you need to be able to smell the magic.

Hilary McKay, Pudding Bag School - A Strong Smell of Magic

This is a short book, for young readers, and to be truthful, I would never have picked it from the cover (above). I hope people will, though, because it is simply wonderful, McKay style.

(Now the cover on the left here is rather nice. It’s got naughty Dougal and it’s got Miss Gilhoolie’s elk. What more could a reader want? [Yes, Hilary, it's an elk. Moose? Hmm.] My sleuthing tells me this is the original cover, replaced by the one above.)

Lulu and the duck, and the dog

Only a very skilled author could make a non-pet kind of person want to find and befriend a wild dog, and then keep it. Hatching a duck’s egg under your clothing is another almost attractive animal adventure (although I’d worry about accidentally harming the egg).

I have been reading about Lulu, one of Hilary McKay’s lovely heroines. She is only seven, and normally I wouldn’t pick a young book like these for my own entertainment. But I know I’ll be all right with Hilary.

Hilary McKay, Lulu, and the Duck in the Park

Lulu, and the Duck in the Park, and Lulu, and the Dog from the Sea are the first two in the series about Lulu and her love for animals. True to Hilary’s story telling style, we have another set of lovely parents, and Lulu’s best friend is her cousin Mellie, with whom she doesn’t seem to have any quarrels, either.

It’s very refreshing, not to mention soothing, to read about characters who don’t fight every step of the way. No tantrums needed. No tedious misunderstandings. There is enough excitement in the story itself. And humour.

I just love them. I know I won’t be adopting a stray dog, but it’s still very charming. And I don’t mind admitting I shed some tears over that duck.