Tag Archives: Julie Bertagna

Bookwitch bites #119

There are things happening in Scotland. Just saying.

They give books away, for one thing. The Scottish Book Trust are giving books to children, again. Five different categories, from baby to Primary 1. Three books each. I think that’s really good, and while I know I didn’t need it for Offspring, it would still have been nice.

More on the Scottish front, Malorie Blackman is coming for a four city tour; Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I would love to catch up at one of these events, but it is a busy week at Bookwitch Towers.

Julie Bertagna has written a graphic novel, which is about time, since they were a major topic the day we first met, as she discussed cool stuff with Neil Gaiman. It’s called John Muir Earth – Planet, Universe, and because I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read it, I’ll say it’s a sort of green book. You can download it here, because – this is Scotland, again – they are giving it away to school children.

To prove this isn’t just about Scotland, here is the Branford Boase shortlist, which – as with all my recent reading – I have not got enough personal knowledge of to say very much about. Except that I wish them well, and let the best author win.

Winter Damage by Natasha Carthew, edited by Rebecca McNally
Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood, edited by Venetia Gosling
Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones edited by Mara Bergman
Red Ink by Julie Mayhew, edited by Emily Thomas
Alex the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Montgomery Ross, edited by Rebecca Lee & Susila Baybars
The Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss, edited by Imogen Cooper and Barry Cunningham
Geek Girl by Holly Smale, edited by Lizzie Clifford

Murderous mug

You know, authors can do just about anything. The other day I carelessly mentioned that this mug doesn’t worry me. It would almost be an honour to be killed off in a book. Wouldn’t it? It’s fiction. You’d live afterwards. (You would, wouldn’t you?)

And I annoy better than most.

As I said, authors can do a lot of things. I have to admit to certain maternal pride over this:

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

(I actually believe this is a book about me. I do wash regularly, but the alien-ness can’t be disputed.) It’s clearly a book to be dedicated to offspring, and I admire the lovely Steve Cole for his triple dedication, in one fell swoop.

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

 

So I don’t think Aliens Stink. They are the best.

 

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.

Not the EIBF – for me

I was so sure I’d be able to fit in a little EdBookFest this year as well. On top of everything else, I mean. But I’m not.

I have enthused about the programme. I have gone through it in detail. I finally picked my dates, allowing me four days in the middle. Yes! It was the mid-weekenders who would have won. Until common sense kicked in and I told myself very sternly that something had to give, and it would be really useful if it wasn’t me.

So, that’s one book festival less for me, and maybe for you, if you were counting on me doing it on your behalf. I spent the other evening undoing what I’d so far arranged to do, hoping that not too many people would be overjoyed by the witch-free aspect.

So that’s no tea with Theresa Breslin and Julia Jarman. Big sob. No meeting with Badger the lovely dog in person. No Jon Mayhew, or Elen Caldecott (finally, as it was to be…) or Charlie Fletcher. Similar fate for Prentice & Weil (who I hope are not solicitors, despite their names), Melvin Burgess and Keith Gray. There will be no Keiths at all for me.

I was going to hear all about Jonathan Stroud’s new book, and even get close to Arne Dahl.

The list could go on. I have it here, right next to me, colour coded and with indecipherable comments, that once meant something.

I would have had to miss Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry. Again. But these ladies at least have something exciting going. You can win their books, if you go here.

As for me, I’m looking ahead to the next thing, thinking if I plan properly – and early – I will not have to cancel more events. But things always look very doable when looked at in advance.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

For all others – and the crouching tigers – Edinburgh International Book Festival starts today. Mind the mud. And the puddles.

And have fun!

The EIBF 2013 programme

It’s not exactly a bad programme this year. It’s not exactly short on authors, either. I’ve probably missed a few, seeing as I have only browsed the pdf  in a hasty fashion, but even so, were it not for the fact that I actually know I am unable to cover the full two and a half weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d sign up for the complete works. Again.

I’d been thinking a weekend. Maybe a longish weekend, but no more than four days. But which longish weekend? And what about the fantastic midweek offerings?

This is going to be an easy post to write! I could simply list authors, one after the other. But that would be boring.

For the time being I will not cover the adult writers, although I noticed Salman Rushdie is coming. Roddy Doyle. And Patrick Ness is an adult this time.

So, first weekend ‘as usual’ we have Meg Rosoff, as well as her stable (yeah, right…) mates Eoin Colfer and Cathy Cassidy. Anne Fine, Tommy Donbavand, Helena Pielichaty, Linda Strachan, Andy Mulligan. Carnegie winner Sally Gardner. Obvious choice. First weekend it will be.

Meg Rosoff

On the other hand, during the week when it grows a little quieter we have Elizabeth Wein. Hmm. Debi Gliori with Tobermory Cat. Nicola Morgan. Lari Don and Vivian French. Damien M Love. Well, that would be good!

But Elen Caldecott is someone I’ve always missed. She’s there the second weekend. It will have to be the middle weekend. Charlie Fletcher, Teresa Breslin and Eleanor Updale, Jon Mayhew and Darren Shan. Need I say more? OK, Tom Palmer, Chae Strathie. Melvin Burgess. Keith Gray.

Jonathan Stroud has a new book coming, which I like the look of. And he’s there the second week. So are Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry, and Daniel Hahn is talking translation. That is interesting.

Having said that, the last, extra long weekend looks by far the best. Doesn’t it? Judit Kerr. Neil Gaiman. Our new children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman. Our own Liz Kessler, and Tim Bowler. Philip Caveney from ‘home’ and Derek Landy, whom I’ve not seen for a long time… Jo Nadin and Spideyman himself, Steve Cole.

Yes. No competition there. Except maybe all the other days.

What do the rest of you think?

(Sorry. I see I have done a list after all.)

Troublesome cats and other airborne coincidences

I own two books bearing the title Cat’s Cradle. One is Nick Green’s soon to be published final Cat Kin book. The other is by Julia Golding, in her Cat Royal series. No, I lie. I believe I also have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle somewhere.

I don’t mind. If there are only seven original plots, it stands to reason there are only so many book titles as well. Obviously more than seven, but anyway. I doubt Nick or Julia are about to sue each other.

Nicola Morgan has told us about her first novel, Mondays Are Red, which features synesthesia, and its main character Luke. It was published almost simultaneously with Tim Bowler’s Starseeker. Same topic. Same character name. They didn’t sue, either. But when both proceeded to write novels with the fabulous title Apocalypse, one of them changed it. Great minds think alike.

Adèle Geras wrote an adult novel with a similar plot to one by Marika Cobbold. I asked if she knew Marika’s book. She didn’t. It was another of those ‘it must be something in the air or the water’ coincidences. Happens all the time. It’s not plagiarism. Zeitgeist, maybe? (We have to keep in mind the number of plots available in this life.)

When I read Lee Weatherly’s Angel I half thought that she might have been after ‘the next Twilight’ by going for angels instead of vampires. But Lee had the idea 15 years ago, before the world was gripped by vampire fever, and well before all the other angel books we now see in bookshops.

Some writers do jump on bandwagons, because it’s what publishers want. The next wizard, another vampire. And now it’s dystopias. Julie Bertagna barely got the OK for Exodus, because back then dystopias weren’t in. Now they are. And not all of them could possibly have got the idea from reading someone else’s book first.

It takes time to make a book. From author’s idea to bookshop is usually a lengthy process. People don’t plagiarise on a whim. Coincidences happen. Recently I mused about the number of wolves I had reviewed in a short time. There are also several books out now with the name Grimm somewhere in the title.

Coincidence.

What I am working towards here, is a troublesome cat. He is causing considerable concern for Debi Gliori. She has a picture book soon out, featuring a cat in Tobermory. The title will be Tobermory Cat. At least it will be if someone in Tobermory stops being unpleasant about it. Debi, who is one of the kindest and most fairminded people I know, has been accused of all manner of things by the ‘owner’ of the name. Not the owner of the cat, mind you.

The links to this public argument can be found on Wikipedia, so I might as well add them here. Link 1. Link 2Link 3 with a reply from publisher Hugh Andrew of Birlinn. TC even has its own facebook page, but I don’t recommend a trip there if you value your blood pressure levels.

I am really, really against bullying.

Apart from the books and coincidences above, I am reminded of another touristy cat at the opposite end of the country, in another picture book; The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. I imagine that book has not exactly damaged the tourist business for Mousehole. I also imagine this was the idea for Tobermory. The new book could have been called something else. And then the tourists could go there instead.

Co-operation is a good word here. Not that I’d want to co-operate with TC’s ‘owner’ if I had a choice, but before this argument began, just think of the effect they could have had together, for Tobermory.

Could there be more than one Bookwitch? Unfortunately, yes. There are. There were some before I went public, and more have popped up over the five years you and I have known each other. But the point about it is that I sat down and thought long and hard about what to call this blog, and once I’d arrived at the answer, I went online and found I wouldn’t be alone. But I am a Bookwitch, so couldn’t – wouldn’t – have picked another name.

I can co-exist.

Will leave you with one more cat. In fact, I give you a book idea for free. Here is the Linköping Lynx. At this point I must point out I’ve not checked* if there are any other LLs out there.

Linköping Lynx

The more the merrier? Surely one of the seven plots must fit? It’s my firm belief that Lynxes are the next big thing. Remember that some time in 2014 or 2015.

*Oops.

The Spark Gap

Now might a suitable time for another Scottish book, with me barely returned from that lovely country. I’m feeling sad, because it’s the last of the books Julie Bertagna gave me last year, and what shall I read now?

The Spark Gap is the book Julie wrote for her school pupils, because there were so few Scottish books back then:

‘The setting was a big tower block that was right beside my school. I literally looked out my classroom window and there were these huge tower blocks. I was trying to get the children to read and write more. Couldn’t find anything that they wanted to read …  and I got them to tell me what kind of books they thought they’d want to read. They were saying “about people like us and places like ours.” I was very attached to them, they were scallywags, but some of them had really, really difficult lives – very loveable the lot of them. I wanted to take them all home for the weekend.’

Kerrie lives with her gran, because her mum isn’t quite as responsible as she should be. And then her gran dies, and Kerrie finds her mum is still as difficult as she remembered, and her mum’s boyfriend is no better than the ones she used to have.

Julie Bertagna, The Spark Gap

So she starts living rough, in the company of two other teenagers. At first it’s easy to think that this won’t last, but crazy as it seems, Kerrie really does go through with it. There is a lack of food, it’s cold, and she needs to stay hidden.

And then something happens to force the three of them away from Glasgow, and it’s a good change for one, but not for the others. And, I’m not sure how to understand this, but two of them stumble into some historical ghost-like scene, which I take to be both a catalyst for what happens afterwards, but also to teach Scottish readers about Scottish history.

It worked on me. It dealt with something I’ve often heard of, but never quite understood. I can imagine it would be like that for many young readers, as well. Exciting, and empowering. And ultimately leading to the ‘solution’ to Kerrie’s problems.

It’s rather nice.

And I like the fact that someone can put so much action into less than 200 pages.

A day of politics

I’m afraid we swapped allegiance by going to the Scottish Parliament on Saturday morning, instead of to our intended event in Charlotte Square. (It was sold out, anyway, so we weren’t missed.) Theresa Breslin was talking in Parliament about The Importance of Reading to Children and to Society, along with a few others, and had invited us along.

So down to Holyrood we went, subjecting ourselves to airport style security to be allowed in. Found Mr B in the foyer, and he wished he’d stayed in bed an hour longer. I think we all did, but this was a good cause. As we lined up to go in, Daughter asked me who the people behind us were. She could recognise their voices. I turned round to look (why didn’t she do it herself?) in order to tell her she was hallucinating and why would she know anyone in Edinburgh?

The voices turned out to belong to Linda Strachan and Julie Bertagna, so she was right and I am an idiot. Sigh.

There is a convenient bus between Parliament and Charlotte Square, and we got back fairly painlessly for an afternoon with Lee Weatherly on the subject of Angels. After her signing, and before she rushed off home, Lee posed for photos for us.

Lee Weatherly

We had intended to go ‘home’ after Lee’s event, but when we found that both Steve Cole and Joanna Nadin were taking part in the Amnesty International reading, we went and got tickets and joined them.

Afterwards it struck me that it’d be a good thing to take some photos of Jo (Steve very wisely disappeared…), so we walked over to the yurt area. It turned out to be covered with photographers taking pictures of Seamus Heaney, and there was simply no room for us.

Joanna Nadin

My bright solution was to invite Jo round the back, as it would be empty. Which it was, and we got started. The famous Irish poet must have been quick though, because soon the full set of paparazzi were upon us, and more specifically, on Jo. They wanted in as well. (They do have a soft spot for a pretty woman.) So through no fault of her own, Jo turned this way and that way, and posed like crazy.

Once the mayhem we’d caused was over, we hotfooted it out of there. If I’m lucky, Jo will even remain on speaking terms with me.

Becoming a little retrospective about mcbf 2012

At the safe distance of nearly a week, I feel almost ready to re-visit mcbf. How about the rest of you? I guess that even James Draper might have finished sleeping by now.

MMU

There are things I didn’t do, apart from author events I just had no stamina to attend. I didn’t make it to Cornerhouse for a screening of The Witches. And it would have been so very suitable too. (Swedish witch, and all that.)

I still have the war books exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North in mind, and will do until it ends.

James had a hard eleven days of it. At one point I thought he would have to finish the festival wearing espadrilles, when his pointy shoes gave up the ghost. And was it tired eyes that caused the spectacles to emerge one day?

Kaye did all right, wearing some lovely outfits and still seeming to feel up to starting to plan mcbf 2014.

There were others who did a wonderful job as well. Claudia travelled all over Manchester, and Kevin smiled in the face of exhaustion whenever I met him. Duncan was elegant in his suit until the bitter end, and Iris continued with her bright spottiness. Anyone else I’ve omitted mentioning will just have to forgive a confused old festival-witch.

I’ll leave you with some more photos, chosen with no plan or reason whatsoever.

Holden Gallery

MCBF audience

Jackie Kay

Liz Kessler

Steve Cole

Cathy Cassidy

Jacqueline Wilson and fan

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Josh Degenhardt and Julie Bertagna

Michael Rosen

John Sampson

Carol Ann Duffy

The future is bleak

You need to be very afraid. The future looks bad, but the good news is that there will still be writers to inspire, and scare, us.

Julie Bertagna

Two or three of you might recall there was a short story competition launched during the Manchester LitFest in October last year? Julie Bertagna came and talked about her futuristic writing and the idea was that Manchester’s young hopeful writers would come up with stories featuring their city in the future.

Saci Lloyd

On Friday at the Museum of Science and Industry we saw the results of the competition, and it was impressive. Julie was back to meet the winner, and she and Saci Lloyd and Jane Rogers talked about their own writing, and read excerpts from their books to an audience of participating teenagers from various schools.

Julie felt the day was prophetic, with all the rain and floods everywhere. Her Exodus trilogy is all about flooding, and here we were, practically washing away. She had even travelled to Manchester a day early to make sure she’d arrive in time, while leaving behind a flooded kitchen at home. But we are the children of survivors (or we wouldn’t be here at all), so it’s good. She even managed to fit in Higgs Boson into her talk.

Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers had a scary story about humanity being wiped out, and I believe it’s set in Tameside, so is uncomfortably close to home. Saci Lloyd likes laughter, and feels her books are ‘quite nice stories.’

After the readings, there was a short panel discussion on science fiction. Julie feels that outdated science is all right (cf Mary Shelley), and knows of scientists who have been inspired in their work by fiction. Saci is worried that the young today have lost too much, and have little to look forward to.

Jane Rogers, Helen Clare, Saci Lloyd and Julie Bertagna

It has to take time to write books. Jane said she needs four years for a book, and her last one took five. Turning off the internet is useful. Saci is simply very jealous of Suzanne Collins and the Hunger Games.

Then it was time for the 31 shortlisted teenagers to have their names read out, and the two runners-up were given signed copies of Julie’s and Saci’s and Jane’s books. There is an anthology printed, containing all 31 stories from the shortlist.

Kaye Tew and Cathy Bolton with short story winner Josh

The overall winner was Josh Degenhardt, with When the Rain Falls They Talk of Manchester, which is a story about a very dry Manchester. Julie read it to us, and if there are more teen writers like Josh we needn’t worry about the future of fiction. His story was exceptionally good, albeit scary and frightening. And I always knew the Hilton building would fall down one day.

The Opposite of Chocolate

I seem to be destined to have a new favourite Julie Bertagna book each time I read something by her. Let me tell you about my most recent favourite.

There are many ways to write a novel about an unwanted teenage pregnancy. Julie Bertagna’s is by far the best I’ve come across. In The Opposite of Chocolate she writes about this topic in an unusual and mature manner, and yet so lightly that you barely see how she does it.

Although Sapphire is only 14 (which in itself is daring; ‘allowing’ someone so young to have a sex life, without preaching), the book mentions babies and pregnancies and abortion and parenthood and relationships as though the readers are all adults.

Julie Bertagna, The Opposite of Chocolate

They will be one day, and may well encounter Sapphire’s problem before they are. This novel will help them. Julie doesn’t say that one way is the right way. She manages to cover all the aspects of what a pregnant 14-year-old could find themselves facing. She looks at all the solutions, analysing what’s good and bad about each of them.

Sapphire’s parents have opposing ideas of how to solve their daughter’s predicament, and her sister has yet another. Everyone, from the family priest to the GP and the media have ideas, and no one remembers to listen to Sapphire herself.

At the same time, their suburb suffers arsonist attacks every night, and eventually the two meet, and lives change.

This is a short book, but Julie fits in descriptions of the lives of so many people that I felt several of them could do with books of their own, almost. All are different, and all have their own needs and problems. The Catholic church have their policy, and the GP has his. Even Sapphire’s seemingly perfect girl gang friend, who steals her boyfriend, has a ‘background.’ And not all old people are useless, and most of them were young once.

This is truly wonderful!