Tag Archives: Josh Lacey

The Dragonsitter’s Island

I love Nessie. So I was rather perturbed to find that in this latest Dragonsitter book by Josh Lacey, the Loch Ness Monster (because it is she) is the bad guy.

Someone is eating the sheep, and we know it’s not Ziggy. Or baby Arthur. So I suppose it has to be Nessie (or Josh simply got it wrong). Perhaps this is Nessie’s evil twin/cousin, or something.

Josh Lacey, The Dragonsitter's Island

That detail aside, this is as much fun as all the other Dragonsitter books. This time Edward and his family have gone to Uncle Morton’s home, on a Scottish island, to mind the dragons while he’s off ‘somewhere’ again. That man is not to be trusted. He always drops off the radar when he is most needed.

There is romance in the air, which bodes well for the future. And it gets pretty exciting when Ziggy and Nessie have it out, and Mr McDougall realises he could maybe possibly perhaps have been wrong about the sheep-eater.

And as much fun as Josh’s story is, half the fun comes from Garry Parsons’ magical illustrations. Eddie and Ziggy are their illustrations. See those armbands?

Goth wins Costa

Chris Riddell, Goth Girl

Congratulations to Chris Riddell for winning the Costa children’s book award with Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse. Both Ada and the poor little mouse deserve this. And so does my favourite political cartoonist author.

(I have to admit I suspected Chris would win when I saw that Josh Lacey had reviewed the book for the Guardian on Saturday.)

Winning such an award is no less than you would expect for a book that has ‘shiny purple sprayed edges … foil endpieces, … ribbon bookmark, … footnotes in the margin.’ It is not just a pretty book. It’s an intelligent one, as well. It is a book that makes for a good read whatever your age. And in times of need you can always stroke the sheer purpleness of it.

Chris Riddell

It would be very nice indeed if Chris could go on and win the ‘full Costa’ on 28th January. More power to children’s books!

The Dragonsitter’s Castle

I’m trying to work out how easy it really would be to write the kind of humour you get in a book like the third dragonsitter story by Josh Lacey. I read it and think, ‘I could do that.’ But I suspect that’s wrong. What I should be saying is ‘I wish I could write like that.’ Because I do. Wish.

Josh Lacey, The Dragonsitter's Castle

Deceptively simple, is what it is. And funny. Even when you’ve read the first two dragonsitter books and know what to expect, it is fun. I’d like to be an eight-year-old boy, getting to read this kind of thing and realising what a wonderful world you find in books. (No, I wouldn’t actually. Never eight again. And probably not a boy, either.)

Loveable, if capricious, dragons are always nice. I like Ziggy. She’s a sensible girl. For a dragon.

And we finally find out about Edward’s dad. And Wales. And there are canapés.

It’s a nicely seasonal book, so save it for the Christmas holidays. Parties. Fireworks. You know.

(That picture of baby Arthur sleeping on a hot water bottle is so sweet! I think I might love Garry Parsons.)

‘The insurance man said he’d never heard that one before.’

Tantrum pays off

Sorry for raising my voice the other week. Not too sorry, naturally, since it had the desired effect. I was just taken aback at discovering Josh Lacey had written more Dragonsitter books than the one I was reviewing.

So here I give you the original The Dragonsitter!

Reading backwards, as it were, means some things came as no surprise, but that’s OK. I like amusing little stories, although it was rather deadful that Uncle Morton’s dragon ate Edward’s sister’s rabbit Jemima. But like all (maybe I mean most, now that I think about it) young owners of pets, Emily (that’s the sister) is so enthralled by the dragon that she soon forgets…

There’s more frantic emailing when the dragon causes mayhem, but Uncle Morton doesn’t reply. The trouble with dragonsitting a troublesome dragon is that the RSPCA doesn’t believe you when you call to ask for help. Because dragons don’t exist.

Toasted postman, incredulous firemen, and barely escaping neighbourhood cats are all part of dragonsitting. And once you’ve spent a fortune on chocolate, you’re fine.

So is this book. Chocolatey fine.

The Dragonsitter Takes Off

Despite my non-pet leanings we once pet-sat a goldfish for some neighbours. The father (of the girl owner, not of the goldfish) indicated ‘discreetly’ that he would not be heartbroken if the goldfish snuffed it during their fortnight away. I had imagined a goldfish would be about as perfect for looking after as you could get. Enjoying that glowing feeling of doing someone a small service, while little fishy swam around in its bowl. Trouble is, that’s what it did. Swam. Opened and closed its little mouth, leaving me thinking it was desperately trying to tell me something, and failing. It was a relief to hand him (her?) back.

So I can totally see what it must have been like for little Edward Smith-Pickle minding his Uncle’s dragon, in Josh Lacey’s new book. He has to send email after email with bad tidings. The main problem being that Uncle Morton has gone to a retreat and is almost internet-less.

Josh Lacey, The Dragonsitter Takes Off

First Ziggy goes missing. Then Ziggy is found in the linen cupboard. It also appears that Ziggy might not be a male. So you can probably work out what Ziggy was doing in the linen cupboard.

Yes, there is soon the pitter-patter of little dragon feet. And soon there is also the earthquake of visiting, cast-out dragon Dad.

Edward’s Mum bonds surprisingly well with her dragon counterpart. Old films and chocolates are always good, even when you’re sitting in your post-dragon visit wreck of a house.

OK, so I know this is a short book for young readers. But I loved it. Was slightly miffed to find out there had been another book before this one, which I HAVE MISSED.

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.

Dung beetles in Salford Quays

When the Resident IT Consultant heard that I’d asked another man out to dinner, I had to placate him by lending him a copy of Grk and the Phoney Macaroni. That’s because the man was none other than Josh Lacey, who is also Joshua Doder,* who writes about the adorable Grk.

I then added to my dinner guests by trawling through the shortlist for the Salford Children’s Book Award, and apart from those who were ill or otherwise indisposed, or who claimed to be telling 2000 people in Derry what to do, I found Dirk Lloyd (aka the Dark Lord, aka Jamie Thomson) and Gill Lewis, who both courageously sacrificed themselves to dinner with the witch. (I suppose it beats a dry sandwich alone in a hotel.)

Dining – and wining – authors is almost better than going to awards ceremonies. (Think Disney’s Snow White and a certain witch.)

Speaking of hotels; they shouldn’t be allowed to name and build them in such a way that authors don’t know where they are staying. We almost led someone astray after the meal.

I found Josh and the Dark Lord in the bar at the Lowry last night, where I had gone to warm up, and they for a glass of something. Before long I forced them to go out and search for Gill, who had abandonend the end of a very good book to dine with us.

We talked about a lot of things. The Dark Lord talked the most, and he is very keen on games. And similar stuff. He knows about smörgåsbord, and there was a rather unfortunate conversation about eating elk.

Some people go to awards nights away to sleep, when sleep is hard to come by at home. (On that basis, maybe there should be even more events away for the sleep deprived.) Gill, who is a vet, writes about animals, and the Dark Lord got busy thinking one up for her next book (which, if it mentions too much gamesy stuff is all his fault) to top ospreys, dolphins and bears. It seems dung beetles are the answer.

There was some speculation as to who will win today’s award. Most of our money is on Frank Cottrell Boyce, but I’m sure we could be wrong. It might be one of the dinner guests. Or Barbara Mitchelhill, David Logan or Lissa Evans. Who knows?

I gather Alan Gibbons is doing the talking again this year, so I wish I could be/have been there. But as usual, I’m happy for the children of Salford who have read and voted and hopefully generally enjoyed this year’s award work.

And my fellow diners might never have the same kind of bank balance as JKR, but they are great company, and only ever so slightly slow at ordering food. At least one of us was starving, and another very sleepy. Actually, that makes two of us.

There was some speculation on the feasibility of a Jacqueline Wilson sci-fi novel, and why not? The odds are better than for me getting the hang of modern mobile phonery. I tried texting my guests. I tried answering my phone. I’m pretty useless at it all.

Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner that I don’t distinguish between more and longer. I meant longer. I never knowingly insult children’s authors.

Thank you, Gill, Josh and Jamie.

PS Gill Lewis and her Sky Hawk won!!!

* I am sorry to have to tell you (well, not that sorry, actually) that Joshua Doder is now dead. Kaput, as Josh Lacey put it. He is taking over his alter ego, and from now on Grk will belong to him.

The Sultan’s Tigers

Uncle Harvey is not the kind of man you want your young son to spend too much time with. He’s a crook or a conman, quite charming, but totally untrustworthy. Since Tom has already travelled to the other side of the world with his uncle once, in an un-planned kind of way, it is really not advisable to let him stay with Harvey in the cottage belonging to his dead grandfather.

Alone. And Grandpa might have been murdered. So what were Tom’s parents thinking? They should have known Tom was likely to end up in India with Harvey. The Trelawneys have always been a bit dodgy, although it skips a generation every now and then, which is why Tom’s parents are boringly against Harvey. Whereas dead Grandpa was quite a guy.

Josh Lacey, The Sultan's Tigers

Harvey goes off to India, with Tom in tow, with the idea of finding the Sultan’s eighth tiger and becoming filthy rich in the process. Never mind the fact that Grandpa’s murderer is most likely following them everywhere.

This story didn’t go quite where I expected it. India, yes. But differently. If I’d stopped and thought, I’d have realised the obvious story was never possible, if young readers aren’t to be led off the straight and narrow. A bit like Tom, who isn’t all that far behind Uncle Harvey in law-abidingness. Lack of.

This book by Josh Lacey is fun and slightly shocking in its naughtiness. Harvey is no role model for anyone, although I suppose he has a good heart, deep down. Nice picture of modern India (and old India, too, for that matter) and how people live.

Maybe Tom will learn from this. Or maybe not.

Short mad men in heels

Below you will find Josh Lacey telling you about what I did last week. It’s just that it’s not all I did. I’m ashamed to admit to having behaved like the editor from hell (because I can, you know?), which will be why the poor man started worrying about his pension. Josh’s next pizza won’t be coming from me, but I’ll put the kettle on if he calls in on his way past.

‘Last week, Bookwitch wrote very nicely about my new book, and mentioned that it made her think about Berlusconi and Sarkozy. I was delighted that she said so, because I’d been thinking about both of them while I was writing Grk and the Phoney Macaroni. I even dabbled with the idea of calling one of my characters Bunga, if not Bunga Bunga, although I’m glad I decided not to.

I did, however, keep those two men in mind while I was writing the book’s villain, the dastardly Duke of Macaroni. I stole Sarkozy’s habit of wearing high heels and gave it to the duke, another diminutive dictator. He shares Berlusconi’s preening self-confidence, as well as his impregnable empire of newspapers and TV stations. And, like both of them, the Duke of Macaroni is the type of man who lusts after power, absolute power, the power to transform landscapes and lives.

You might think that such figures plucked from the world of politics and international affairs don’t have any place in a children’s book, particularly a book aimed at eight or ten year olds rather than teens, but you’d be quite wrong. I remember worrying about world events when I was eight. I remember eavesdropping on adult conversations, watching the news and reading the front pages of newspapers, hearing about slaughters and disasters, seeing pictures of chaos and devastation, trying to sort out for myself what on earth was going on.

Adults lose their curiosity about their world, or at least dampen it. They have to. Otherwise they wouldn’t have any space in their brains to worry about pensions and mortgages and office politics and where the next meal is coming from.

But a kid who wakes up in the middle of the night isn’t going to panic about his pension. I hope he isn’t, anyway. He should be concerned with bigger questions. What is war for? Why is the world ruled by crazy small men? What does it all mean?

Grk doesn’t know the answers to any of these questions. He’s just a small dog whose stomach is never full enough.

Grk’s constant companion, a boy named Tim, doesn’t know any of the answers either, but he’d like to.

And their adventures around the planet, which have taken them from India to Australia, New York to Rio de Janeiro, tussling with crooked businessmen and power-crazed politicians, have allowed me to ask some of those enormous questions that have been bugging me since I was eight years old.’

To which I can only add that the Duchess of Macaroni’s first name happens to be Carla. Whatever happened to changing names to protect the innocent? And it’s certainly not me who is calling Carla’s hubby a dictator. This is a blog about children’s books, after all.

(I was going to ask Josh for a photo of himself, but then I thought it might be better if they don’t find out what he looks like. That will delay them ever so slightly. Give him a sporting chance and all that.)

The second day

Here we are again. How did you get on yesterday? Did you have to queue for the toilets? No, I didn’t, either. Nor did I wear Lucy Coats’s pyjamas all day. (Not even part of the day, I’ll have you know.)

What did I do? I watched Mary Hoffman and Anne Rooney drink coffee. (It’s the personal touch that makes festivals such fun.) I watched Lucy Coats reading to three dogs.

And Sam Mills was interviewed by Tyger Drew (whoever he might be), and then she interviewed him back. I’m unsure of what Sam said to make Tyger want to poke his eye out, but there you are.

Tyger Drew and Sam Mills, ABBA festival

I entered competitions to win things. I never do, but then I seem to own most of the books on offer, so I’m best to let others, more needy than myself, win.

And here’s today’s programme for the ABBA online blog festival.

ABBA festival Sunday

I’ve got all my books ready to be signed today. It has to work!

And at least they aren’t starting too frightfully early. I might make it down to the kitchen for 10.30.