Tag Archives: Linda Strachan

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.

Breaking the boundary

Linda Strachan ‘brought’ her arsonist and Sophie McKenzie a terrorist, and that’s just their most recent YA books. But I think that just goes to prove that younger readers don’t want fluffy bunnies more than the rest of us do.

Bloody Scotland

They were talking with Claire Squires from the University of Stirling, and one thing she wanted to know was if they consider themselves crime writers. I think in a way they don’t, even though they write about crimes, and Linda at least always has a policeman in there, somewhere.

I was glad Linda got an opportunity to explain her recent arsonist novel, Don’t Judge Me. I’d been worried it could be read as a recipe for ‘how to’ but she had actually checked with the fire brigade when she wrote it and they felt it was fine. (It’s probably like sex. Just because you put it in a book, doesn’t mean everyone will immediately go out and copy the behaviour of characters in a book.)

Split Second, which is Sophie’s brand new book, is about a terrorist, and begins with a bomb going off in a crowded place. A bomb planted by the brother of the main character. So that sounds more than exciting.

Her reasoning is to show consequences (the importance of showing, not telling), because we have all been at the stage where we think ‘oh, why did I do that?’

Both ladies read from their books, and I think anyone who hadn’t already, would want to grab a copy for themselves.

Linda Strachan and Sophie McKenzie

There are no taboo subjects. It’s what you do with them. Adults should remember their own teen years, and both Linda and Sophie do. They feel that the gatekeepers of young fiction believe – erroneously – that ‘if we tell teenagers that sex exists, they’ll want to go off and have it.’

Sophie goes no further than kisses, and does not want to put off boy readers by doing relationships in too much depth. They want them, but not too much. As for swearing, sticking to what you are allowed to say in front of your teacher seems a useful guideline.

While we are at school, both authors had only praise for school librarians, who do more than stamp dates in books or ban certain books from their libraries. They are the ones who know what book to offer each reader, and that’s how children and teens learn about what they might like. Librarians are to be appreciated.

Asked whether they’d be happy to hide their sex on book covers by going for initials, both seemed to think not. Linda has knives and stuff on her covers, which is cool enough. Sophie would rather not think she has ended up back in the 18th century, and won’t hide her ‘fluffy, feminine’ name for any reason.

This was a great start for Bloody Scotland.

A Bloody Scotland Saturday

Stirling Highland Hotel

Through the archway we went, studiously trying to remove ‘I wanna be like youuuu’ from rotating forever in our minds. My driver had a childish fondness for the archway at the Stirling Highland Hotel (one of the venues for Bloody Scotland), so was very pleased she could take me there. She unwisely confided in me that she had had the song from the Jungle Book running through her head all morning. That sort of thing is contagious, it is.

Stirling Highland Hotel

Anyway, I got my tickets, handed a few back as the good little witch I am, was given another by the kind Lisa, had a pre-event sandwich on a bench in the sunshine, watched authors coming and going, and couldn’t help noticing the twins we tend to see at every Scottish book event.

Stirling Highland Hotel

Went to hear Linda Strachan and Sophie McKenzie talk about ‘Breaking the Boundary,’ which was pretty good. Sex, arson, that kind of thing. (More of that later.) Briefly said hello while they were signing books afterwards, and then I had to run, due to this extra ticket which changed my whole afternoon.

Linda Strachan and Sophie McKenzie

It's all downhill

I hobbled downhill. With some difficulty, but you ‘always get down,’ don’t you? One way or another. Did I ever mention how steep it is around Stirling Castle? Made an assumption that Arne Dahl would still be signing at the Albert Halls after his event (which I missed), and I was right and he was, so I took more photos.

Arne Dahl

Left to go hunt for a salad or something in M&S, which I then ate sitting outside in the sunshine on another bench. Very nice. Went inside for some tea. Went outside again. Yes, I yo-yoed in that lift, up and down, up and down. It was so warm in the sun that my knees, which wore black jeans, almost self-ignited. Such a relief that the forecast for Sunday is rain and winds; ‘it was a dark and stormy Sunday…’

The Albert Halls

Went back in to buy a book. Yes, actually to buy a book. They didn’t have it. Got another instead. Chatted to Colin Bateman who’d just arrived, and apologised for not buying his first book, which they didn’t have. We worried a bit about his lost event partner, Eoin Colfer.

Then I spied Arne Dahl again, and went over to introduce myself. As you do. (We had already facebooked a little, so I wasn’t totally out of the blue.) ‘Do you fancy..?’ he said. ‘Yes, I do fancy. But I no longer have time for anything,’ I replied. So that was that. Nice while it lasted.

Colin Bateman

By then it was time for Good Craic (which I will never be able to pronounce properly!) with Colin and Eoin’s replacement James Oswald, which was great fun. (More of which later.) At the signing after the event I asked Colin if he had more of those books that came from under the table. He did. And then he did that very nice thing and said I could have a copy for free for being such a lovely witch. (Actually, that’s not how he described me, but it was very kind of him. Jolly good thing he writes crime and not romances.) Colin had read from his Dublin Express, so I knew I wanted to read it. James did some of his signing standing up, which looked polite, but uncomfortable.

James Oswald

Val McDermid

I swigged some water and then it was time for Craig Robertson to keep Val McDermid and Stuart MacBride in order in The Great, the Good and the Gory. It was most enjoyable, but not in the slightest orderly. (You know the drill by now; more about this later.) Caught them at their signing afterwards, before I elbowed my way into the room for one final Saturday sitting; the Jo Nesbø event.

Stuart MacBride

Daring to Thrill, where Jo chatted to Peter Guttridge, was planned to be the highlight of the day, and they even used the balcony for people to sit to fit them all in. After which I had a family dinner to go to, because the Hungarian Accountant was in town, so I never got the opportunity to see if I could have sneaked in to hear who won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year at the fancy dinner they had. I couldn’t quite fork out £40 to eat with these lovely, but murderous, people, but would not have been averse to the odd bit of sneaking.

Peter Guttridge and Jo Nesbø

And as I’ve said, there will be more details of the day as soon as I have recovered. See you later!

Bateman, Dublin Express

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.)

Programmes, programmes everywhere

They just keep coming. I am almost beyond even a quick browse. But I will persevere and do my utmost.

First came the Gothenburg Book Fair programme. The full one, in Swedish, which was rather a treat after years of having to get by on the abridged English language programme.

And I find I have changed. I used to look only for English language events, and then preferably children’s authors. There’s been less of them in recent years, and I’ve had so many festivals closer to home, to feed my obsession.

This time I noticed lots of talks on other, related, things. Children’s reading, libraries, stuff in general. Maybe I’m growing up? Anyway, I could see myself going again this year. There is the small matter of cost, not to mention my stamina (hopefully not my lack thereof) and the annoying fact that you have to decide all this well in advance.

But a programme with an event like ‘Dewey – could libraries in 138 countries be wrong?’ It’s tempting, isn’t it? I suspect the answer is ‘yes,’ they can be wrong. After all, 9 million Swedes can’t possibly not be right.

The next programme to pop up was Bloody Scotland. And luckily for this exhausted reader, it’s a short one. I was about to say it’s because it’s only on for three days, but Gothenburg is only four. It’s because it’s a fledgling festival, and anyway, size doesn’t matter.

I found lots of good events in it, and the funny thing is that Daughter, who was most definitely not going to mess up her fresher’s week by attending this year, called to tell me about what she can’t possibly miss. So I might not be as lonely as I had been counting on.

Although,  you can’t go wrong with the lovely Eoin Colfer. (What is so Scottish about him??) Or the very Scottish and lovely Linda Strachan. And then we have all the Swedes and other murderous ‘Nords’ who are also not terribly Scottish. Bloody, though. Lee Child. I don’t know what he counts as, but the ladies will swoon.

My mouth is watering, and I will have to be strict with myself to make sure I don’t attempt too much, again. They’re only two weeks apart, and I can tell already I will be ‘less keen’ when the time comes.

Restraint, witch. Restraint!

Don’t Judge Me

Linda Strachan, Don't Judge Me

Linda Strachan has gone from knife crime to arson with her latest book, Don’t Judge Me. It’s short, but hard-hitting. While I was reading it, I woke up one night to find someone had been making toast at three in the morning. At least, I hoped someone had. I was feeling vulnerable, and there is nothing quite like the smell of something potentially burning, to scare you.

It starts with the arsonist and continues with someone throwing their baby out of a window. It’s everybody’s nightmare.

There is a group of four teenagers who witness the fire, as well as an independent witness. The police speak to all of them, several times, in order to work out who started the fire.

Part of the questioning reminds you of Murder on the Orient Express, in that you see everybody’s story and you feel that any one of them might have done it. Either because they seem rather crooked, or because it appears no one saw them when they said they did.

Is it one of them? Is it an Orient Express situation where lots of them did it? Or is it something else entirely? Despite short chapters letting the reader see the thoughts of the various characters, you just don’t know.

As usual, the adults are rather idiotic. But maybe that’s what we really are like. These teenagers feel let down by their parents and carers. Maybe someone was looking for attention?

This is an exciting read, and a way of examining different minds. Seeing how they think. Seeing how easy it is to turn to crime, when you least expect it.

Bookwitch bites #91

She lives in London now, but from her blog post for David Fickling, you can tell that much of Candy Gourlay is still in the Philippines. And who can blame her? You will never get a new past, and Candy has left five siblings behind, one of whom she writes about in the David Fickling family themed blog trail.

What is amusing is how she felt she was second fiddle to her sister Joy, while it seems Joy felt the same way about Candy. I particularly enjoyed seeing the photo of their parents, and perhaps the blatant 1980s outfit Joy wore back then. Really OTT, like the decade itself.

As for me I have just turned down yet another book launch* invite in Scotland. I do that a lot, and not because I don’t want to go. They do seem to have a lot on up there in the wilds of kilts and heather. It’s enough to make a witch want to move.

But I’m sure if I did, then stuff would start happening in Basingstoke. Maybe it already does.

Another launch I won’t be going to in Edinburgh, is Philip Caveney’s for his latest novel Crow Boy next week. The reason I’m moaning about this one is that it’s a bit much to have fellow Stopfordians launch their books ‘up there.’ Philip had a good reason for it, though, which is that the book is set in Edinburgh. I have almost forgiven him.

But one more thing like that and I’ll start looking for a house in Scotland. Just saying.

Scotland

Maybe it’s simply a case of the grass being greener and all that, but it strikes me they are very active, those Scots writers. Perhaps it’s being a smaller (I mean less populated, of course) country. You try harder.

*Linda Strachan’s Don’t Judge Me. (Don’t tell anyone, but I believe there will be cake. Waterstones, Princes St, on November 15th at 18.30.)

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.

Blowing bubbles and buying boats

I suppose it’s good for the constitution to start as you (don’t) mean to go on, i.e. doing lots and lots, leaving us witches totally exhausted. Although Daughter says we can sleep some other time.

Andy Mulligan

We began our Saturday book festival with an interview. Andy Mulligan has returned from the Philippines and I really wanted to catch the man behind those crazy, lovely Ribblestrop books. Sitting in typical Scottish sunshine behind the yurt was good for the soul and very entertaining.

I ordered Andy not to give anything away, since I’m only part through his third Ribblestrop, and he was reasonably good about that. If I ever have to go back to school, I want him for my teacher. As for finding out more about the boat buying you will need to arm yourselves with patience.

Jacqueline Wilson

There followed a quick dash ‘backstage’ for a photo call with Jacqueline Wilson, who was back in black, looking absolutely fabulous. She has a new book out for Puffin, and her fans lined the square as they always do.

Simon and Alex Scarrow

There was no time to hear the Scarrow brothers talk, although when I think back, I find this just isn’t true. We heard plenty, because they were very noisy indeed, in their tent event. We just didn’t pay to go in, seeing how we were more intent on wolfing down Friday’s pizza, sitting outside on the grass.

Linda Strachan

We caught the brothers at their bookshop signing session, where we also noticed Linda Strachan engaged in some furtive signing. Good for her!

Post-pizza we went to hear more from the accident obsessed Andy Mulligan, who was talking ‘health and safety’ with Vanessa Robertson. He used to play with Action Man, which taught him early on that when imagination takes over, the game starts inventing itself. Just like writing books. He was a useless theatre director until Mrs Thatcher axed funds, and he ended up in India.

Basically, Andy says we want to watch the knife thrower because he might miss, not because it is guaranteed to be safe. He is beginning to run out of ways to get rid of parents (in books). More knife throwing, maybe?

Simon Callow

Since it was a day for dashing, we caught Simon Callow’s photo call, where he posed both with a mug of something, and without. He posed for a good long time, and we now have more Callow pics than we can use in a lifetime.

This time jigsawing allowed us to catch Meg Rosoff just before her event, where she talked to Eleanor Updale about God. Meg got the idea from a dyslexic atheist joke she once heard, and managed to remember, and she unwisely let her daughter name God Bob. Meg’s books  ‘might not be great, but at least the chapters are short.’

She forgot to bring her Eck, and described how she once pulled the plot out of There Is No Dog, which is the same as pulling the skeleton out of a chicken. (I rather wish she hadn’t mentioned that.) Meg admitted that her next book was relatively easy to write, but also talked about the importance of composting when you write. (I think that means you shouldn’t be too young.)

And I had no idea that when ‘proper, adult’ authors are given wine, children’s authors get orange juice…

Cathy MacPhail

Back to the bookshop we found Cathy MacPhail signing at the table next to Meg’s. Meg spent a long time talking to all her fans, which allowed us time to chat to the Parents of Dodo, who suddenly materialised in the children’s bookshop, of all places. They were going for Alexander McCall Smith, which reminded us we needed to rush off for his photo call. It was our first time, having spent every year always missing Edinburgh’s great man.

Alexander McCall Smith

Once she had avoided the orange juice hazard, and enjoyed something a bit more Scottishly grown-up, Meg got the Chris Close treatment and posed willingly, blowing bubbles and other stuff. I’m afraid we piggy-backed, because for a favourite author Meg always manages to escape the best photo situations. She also always disapproves of any photo we publish, so she’ll hate this one too. Except I hope not.

Meg Rosoff

We spied ‘Mr Updale,’ aka James Naughtie, who had been broadcasting from Edinburgh. All the ‘Puffins’ disappeared off for dinner somewhere, and so did we, but without much luck. Edinburgh is very busy in August, isn’t it?

(While internet connectivity remains a problem, we will post at funny hours. If we post at all. And, if we can’t blog, we can always tidy and clean. At least until the Parents of Dodo come and take over.)

The Bloodstone launch

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

We had a lazy – well, lazier – sort of day yesterday, mainly attending the launch of Gillian Philip’s Bloodstone at the Edinburgh Bookshop. Hadn’t been there since it was enlarged, and I have to say the shop looked good.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

People came and people mingled, and the able bartender served red and white and soft with aplomb. If anyone saw me with two glasses in my hands that’s because I had to hold the photographer’s drink. Nothing else.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Keith Charters of Strident Publishing hopped into the shop window and spoke. Not too long, and really quite well. They publish good books at Strident.

Keith Charters

Then it was Gillian’s turn, but before she hopped her shoes had to come off. (Always consider your choice of socks in these circumstances!) Gillian read from Bloodstone and a pretty good piece it was, too. The one about the bloodthirsty ‘horse’. That kind of reading is likely to make people want to buy, and even read, Bloodstone.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Gillian Philip

We mingled some more. I spoke to Vanessa about her plans for the bookshop, and I talked to one of my faithful blog readers, before attempting to get her run over on the street outside.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

And no, Seth wasn’t there.