Tag Archives: J K Rowling

Stop it!

I’m not terribly keen on Martin Amis. I am fairly sure I’ve not read any of his books. So I’m basing my lacking keen-ness on what I know about his person. I could object to his fame. Or to the fact that he probably earns a sizeable amount of money from writing.

The one thing that would never have ocurred to me to do, is suggest he should stop writing books. I don’t think he should. It’s what he does, and according to some people he is pretty good at it.

I liked some of his father’s books, so I accept that Martin most likely has some talent in that direction. He writes. People read and like and pay for the pleasure. That’s fine.

But if your name is J K Rowling and Harry Potter made you more money than most of us can begin to imagine (and I speak as someone used to handling lots of money; just not my own), then it appears it is OK to suggest she should give up writing, and leave her window of opportunity to a few other needy authors.

Why should she? I like the fact that she clearly enjoys writing so much that she does it even when she doesn’t have to, in order to feed and clothe her children. Especially now, when she must have discovered that she will get lots of flak if she publishes another book.

Unless it’s something as unimportant as a children’s book. (These are my words, but the sentiment in the Huffington Post the other day seemed to be that children’s books are not proper books, and that even J K has Lynn Shepherd’s permission to write more. Generous. What if she were to earn an even bigger slice of the author income cake?)

I’ve not read Hilary Mantel’s books either. I have nothing against Hilary, who I’m sure is nice. But I probably won’t choose to read her books while there is so much else I would like to prioritise. She wins prizes. A lot. And while it would be lovely for other writers to win as well, I don’t feel we can suggest that no one should award Hilary any more prizes, in case it upsets her peers. Or that she stops writing in order to prevent literary judges from praising her work.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

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?

But Mummy read that!

What will today’s young readers want to force their – as yet unborn – children to read? Or if they are really understanding parents (rather like me!) simply sigh over and decide that maybe XXX is a bit old-fashioned and since there are so many lovely new books, they will just let Little Darling read those instead.

With it being Roald Dahl day later this week, I was thinking about an article I read, which said that it’s mainly the parents who favour Dahl’s books now. Because they were the books they themselves read as children. (With me it was the other way round. I read Dahl to keep abreast of what Son and his peers liked.)

So what didn’t I force Offspring to read? Primarily the ‘real’ classics. The books that were pretty ancient even in my time, like The Three Musketeers and Ivanhoe, or Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I could almost forgive them for having no interest at all in those books.

But more ‘contemporary’ books like Pippi Longstocking were required reading. Or so I thought. Reading which we got round by watching the films and the television series. And then I discovered that Pippi was a bit of a bully, and nowhere near as funny as I remembered her to be.

Perhaps that’s how Roald Dahl’s books appear to children now? I can recall how appalled I was, seeing George’s Marvellous Medicine on stage. It really brought home the awfulness of those books. To this day I can’t bear Willy Wonka.

It won’t be long until a whole Harry Potter generation start to forcefeed their children wizards and witches and wands. Those readers are already beginning to pop up as authors (it’s probably quicker to write a book than to give birth to a new reader), having been inspired by Harry and Co.

If you don’t read Dahl now, you are very likely enjoying Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid or Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum. How long until they are the parents’ choice? Thirty years, maybe.

I get the impression that Enid Blyton still works, even without any arm twisting. I expected Daughter to like the Nancy Drew books and bought two with lovely period covers, and they are still sitting on a shelf in pristine condition.

The thing is, Mother-of-witch never suggested books to me. I read all of hers. There weren’t many, and I didn’t own a lot myself, so anything that was available got attention. Hers were mainly what girls had in the 1930s, so neither terribly classic or incredibly modern. They were just books.

Jules Verne, Till jordens medelpunkt

Perhaps if my childhood books had been in a language they could read, Offspring would have foraged and found something to enjoy.

Yeah, that’s probably it. Wrong language. Not wrong books.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

I’m with Val McDermid on this one; Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling ‘reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place.’ I’d have enjoyed this crime novel even without knowing who Robert really is. I’m no detective, but I’d have said he is a she, not a Londoner, and someone who knows what it’s like to be famous and being chased by the paparazzi.

Could be anyone.

The surprisingly likeable detective, Cormoran Strike, has a lot in common with the murder victim Lula Landry. So much so, that on occasion I found it hard to keep their respective weird families apart.

Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo's Calling

Lula is a rich and beautiful model who fell to her death from her balcony. Suicide was assumed until her brother John asks Strike to investigate. That’s a good thing, as our detective has a lot of debts and virtually no income. And only the one client. He does have a temp, however. Which is a luxury he can’t afford, so when the latest one, Robin, turns up, he needs to lose her as quickly as possible.

But you know how it is. As Strike trawls the seedy hangouts of the rich, Robin proves her worth in gold. What’s more, she enjoys the work (which she always secretly wanted to do) and her fiancé disapproves strongly. So it’s all good.

Apart from the frequent effing which we tended not to get in the good old days, The Cuckoo’s Calling is mostly back to traditional crime solving, and it is all the better for it. Limited cast, and set in a limited part of London, and really excellent. I worked out a rough idea of who must have done it, but was too lazy to finalise my analysis. (So I was right in my own small way.)

Well, it would have spoiled the reading, I say.

Here’s to Robert Galbraith’s next book. His detective grows on you, and he didn’t totally get rid of his quick-thinking temp.

Does it matter who wrote it?

No. If it’s good it’s good. And that’s why I have some difficulty understanding the snide remarks about Robert Galbraith’s crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling. Once Robert turned out to be J K Rowling, it was somehow different. I fail to see why.

I have to admit to being very pleased – because it meant there was another book of hers to read – and because maybe, just maybe, Ian Rankin had not been naughty and lied when he said she was writing a crime novel. I liked The Casual Vacancy, but I had so been looking forward to a crime novel, as promised by Mr Rankin.

Will also have to admit to how much I was looking forward to seeing if The Cuckoo’s Calling would be waiting for me when I returned home the other day. It was. And it was the first book I picked up to read. I was actually a little surprised that they were willing to send out review copies, since I’m sure my review will have no effect whatsoever on sales figures.

‘And what is it like?’ I – don’t – hear you ask. Well, I like it. I won’t claim that I would have noticed it was related to Harry Potter without being told. But I like it. The detective is interesting. His sidekick is excellent. The writer’s knowledge about how the rich live is as if she knows from personal experience.

Once I know who did it, I’ll be back. Meanwhile I enjoy thinking of the good the money from the sales will do the charity who stands to benefit. That surely must be a good thing.

Bookwitch bites #111

Stephen Booth returns to Reading Matters in Chapel-en-le-Frith tomorrow, at 10.30. I’m guessing to sign books in general (mainly his own) and to promote his new Cooper & Fry novel Already Dead. According to Stephen himself, he is not, and never has been, J K Rowling. (I can see these jokes going on for some time.)

Although, to me it’s not so much of a joke that people yet again mind so awfully about J K, that they find it hard to accept that she still writes books, gets them published, and sells some copies on the strength of the young wizard. And some of us just happen to believe she might be worth reading anyway. We can’t simply magic Harry Potter away. He exists. We like him. Some of us will like what comes after Harry because of what it is, and not because it’s got her name on the books. Or not her name, as the case may be.

Another big name, Terry Pratchett, will soon have a new book out, and I can’t help but think he had our family in mind. It’s about trains, and it will be published on somebody’s birthday. Raising Steam arrives on October 24th (unless there are leaves on the track, I suppose). While you wait, there is some kind of iPad map of Ankh-Morpork to be had at half price until the end of the month.

Since I seem interested in making you spend money, let me introduce the Nicola Morgan online shop! Yes, a dream come true for Nicola, where she can play shopkeeper to her heart’s content. So far it’s bags and books, but I’ve been led to understand there could be even more exciting stuff available later. Keep checking in, and keep Nicola in shoes and baked beans.

Letterbox

Meanwhile, I’ve received yet another book in my temporary jiffy receptacle. I’m guessing the postperson doesn’t know how lucky he/she is not to be carting them hither every day or every week. Let’s just hope the senders know when to stop.

The book I’m reading now

I have to share this with you. Even though you can’t share it. Yet. Even the Resident IT Consultant is having to delay reading, unable to join in. And I bet it’s killing him!

This is a very, very exciting read. You know how publishers have kept finding the next Harry Potter/J K Rowling? Or the person to step into the shoes of Stieg Larsson. And they fail, because it’s a terribly hard thing to do.

Well, I think I have encountered someone who could possibly do a Stieg Larsson (unless you have to be dead to manage it). Not the same. But the same kind of urgency in reading. Similar sort of eye for detail. More thriller than crime. But very, very moreish.

En rasande eld by Andreas Norman was published in Sweden this spring, and it has had pretty favourable reviews. It’s about the EU in Brussels, and MI6 are being very naughty indeed. Written by a diplomat, who knows what he’s talking about. The prose is nothing special, but you don’t need that. What you need is the next page. The next chapter.

I do know it is going to be translated (p8) into English. When is another matter. The title is Into a Raging Blaze. It will be worth waiting for.

Screen Shot 2013-07Andreas Norman, Into a Raging Blaze

Andreas Norman, Into a Raging Blaze

The author’s bookshelves

When I feel really confused I believe that one of Helen Grant’s bookcases is a fireplace. But apart from that I am completely normal.

(It’s because it looks a little fireplace-ish. More than mine, anyway.)

The Resident IT Consultant and I enjoyed looking through Helen’s shelves when we were waiting for her to get lunch ready the other week. (She had declined my help. I let her. That’s the kind of visitor I am.) They are shelves that anyone would enjoy browsing for unexpected – or for that matter, totally expected – books. We flitted from side to side, since there was no discernible system. Lovely.

They are nice bookcases. The furniture, I mean. Dark brown. Not too plain and not too ornamental. Just right. And one of them sits where the fireplace would be if there was one. Hence my understandable memory lapse. As befits a proper library, the room boasts leather sofas. And cats.

I am sure that Helen, or the younger Grants, own every one of the Harry Potter books. But they are so nicely spread out that you could never accuse the family of believing in alphabetical order. The HPs are not even in the same bookcase, or along the same wall!

And they have at least two copies of a book about witches and magic. Either they don’t know this, or they need both. I felt suitably appreciated, anyway. There are books by Johan Ajvide Lindqvist, or what I call horror of horrors. Someone likes outdoorsy books. They have books on food. On health. And, er, some by Helen Grant.

Some books stand in front of other books. In other words, the Grant book collection is very, very normal. I suspect they haven’t acquired books with an eye to what others will think. Which is just as well, since when they moved (I have forgotten now if it was to Germany or to Belgium) their new neighbours asked why they’d bothered dragging all those old books with them.

Yeah, I mean, you’d think people wouldn’t take things they’d already used when moving house.

Meeting Fletcher Moss

I suppose it’s safer this way. Instead of Poison Boy author Fletcher Moss coming to Bookwitch Towers for coffee, he has opted to meet us on neutral ground. Sensible man. You never know when someone will next want to poison you. Not giving away his real name, is another thing. Fletcher is assistant head at a local school, and wants to ‘keep it secret.’ I’m not sure this is possible, or even necessary. Pupils ought to love having a real live author for their English teacher. Someone who knows their stuff.

(For any Mancunian who has already thought that the name Fletcher Moss sounds familiar – but odd – it’s because he’s taken the name of a park in Didsbury. The park in turn, was named after Alderman Fletcher Moss, and the new Fletcher says he wants to pay homage to the old one.)

Fletcher Moss

However, the neutral ground idea backfires when it turns out that the Waterstones coffee machine is broken. As for choosing his name, Fletcher has worked out this could have been a mistake, too. His books will have to sit next to Michael Morpurgo’s… You should always think ahead.

(That’s what I did the night before, putting the book where I’d remember to take it with me in the morning. In the morning it wasn’t there. After giving the matter some thought, I worked out the Resident IT Consultant must have ‘borrowed’ it. He had. I borrowed it back.)

As the photographer and I stand in the café searching for a brand new author-cum-teacher poison expert, Fletcher – at least we think it’s him – appears, pushing an empty pushchair, and asks if we are who he’s meeting. We say we think so, and he goes off to find drinks that aren’t coffee. The pushchair belongs to young Miss Moss who has wandered off to discover new picture books with Mrs Moss while we talk with Dad. (I gather The Worst Princess found favour.)

While the photographer stirs the tea, Fletcher thanks me for my review of The Poison Boy, and I say how relieved I was to find I liked it, having worried about what I’d do if I hated the book. And then I ask about everything there is to do with winning competitions and turning into an author, and all the work that comes with it.

Fletcher Moss

For one thing, Chicken House have had Fletcher change a lot about the book. They loved the end, but felt it was in the wrong place. (It now comes about a third into the story.) He had too many characters. It was a case of simplify, simplify. The politics had to go. Fletcher couldn’t help wondering how he won the competition, with so much editing being necessary. But he says the first chapter was always the first chapter. And he found he had been rather too fond of the word ‘caked.’ At one point it was absolutely everywhere.

Although, after ending his book with a cliffhanger, Fletcher has had second thoughts about whether there will be a sequel. He’s got ‘one or two ideas that [he's] quite excited about’ and he does like Eyesdown as a character. There could be a book about him.

Fletcher is very happy with the support he’s had from his publisher, and is more than a little impressed to have spoken after Melvin Burgess at a recent Chicken House launch. Fletcher once organised a school trip to Preston to hear Melvin talk, and here they were, as equals…

Combining the ‘assistant heading’ and teaching with writing and editing a book sounds like gruelling work, and he says ‘you need to be so disciplined.’ Fletcher wrote the book by doing 1500 words every Sunday for a year. He goes to a writing group one evening a week. In between he thinks about what he will write when he next sits down at his computer. He reckons he’s a 65,000 word book kind of writer.

At the end of our chat I ask Fletcher to sign my copy of The Poison Boy. He looks a little embarrassed and explains he’ll need to practise on something first, just so he knows what he’s doing. I offer my note pad and after a bit of scribbling; ‘I’ve got it nailed!’ (On the off-chance that Barry Cunningham has indeed found the successor to J K Rowling, I will hang on to the piece of paper. Might pay for a new kitchen one day.)

‘I want the book to be a success’ he says, before we take him down to the children’s books department and stand him where he belongs. Next to Morpurgo.

Fletcher Moss