Tag Archives: Nicola Morgan

The long day

You can’t get into Charlotte Square before 9.30. I’d do well to remember that, and I could – and should – stay in bed for longer. But a witch can always read, so on Tuesday morning time was killed with Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier.

Thanks to Theresa’s generosity I was able to be her husband for the morning. Not as nice a one as her regular Mr B, but I did my best. And I can confirm that while I was in the authors’ events prep area, I didn’t hear anything. At all.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

Then I went along to Theresa’s school event with Mary Hooper, and afterwards in the bookshop I listened in amazement as Theresa asked a female fan (obviously in her upper teens) if she was the school librarian  – from one of the visiting schools. It was quite clear that she was a mature upper secondary school student. No. Apparently she was the head teacher. (The librarian was the greyhaired ponytailed gent next to her.)

Eating a sandwich very fast before my next event, I ended up letting four Swedes share my table. I didn’t share my Swedish-ness with them, however. I listened as they speculated on the nature of Charlotte Square. Apparently it’s a bookfair of some kind. ‘But where are the books?’ one of them asked. Quite. The book festival as a mere coffeeshop for tourists.

Ran into Keith Charters, who was clutching 60 copies of  David MacPhail’s Yeti On the Loose. Did some heavy hinting, which resulted in Keith handing over 59 copies to the bookshop. I mean, he had promised me one ages ago.

After school event no.2 I chatted a little with Linda Newbery, Tony Bradman and Paul Dowswell, getting my anthology signed by all three, each in the right places. Then went in search of Cathy MacPhail’s son David, and found him where I thought he’d be but not where Keith had said, along with his mother and a lovely baby. I’d been told he’d be a slightly taller version of his mum, which as Cathy drily pointed out wasn’t hard to achieve. I forgot to take a picture, but got my Yeti signed with an extra generous RAAAAAR! Then I admired the baby.

Wrote yesterday’s onsite blog post, before learning that Son and Dodo were coming over to entertain me, and to have coffee. It had got unexpectedly warm and sunny, and Son complained. We chatted, saw Ian Rankin arrive, noticed the longbearded gent from earlier years, and came to the conclusion that the scones which used to be of almost home made quality, were just dry and boring.

Son and Dodo went off to search for more Maisie books, and I had my Dyslexia event to go to. Glimpsed Nicola Morgan and Val McDermid (not together) and then it rained and got unexpectedly cold. I repaired to the yurt for a restorative sandwich and an even more restorative sip of cola to keep me awake, as well as find that cardigan I suddenly needed.

Arne Dahl

Anne Cassidy

Waited for Arne Dahl to turn up for his photocall, and did the best I could when he did, considering how dark and wet it was. He seemed bemused by the attention. While waiting for Arne’s event with John Harvey (whom I’d have snapped too, had I known who he was…) I walked over to the children’s bookshop and caught Anne Cassidy and Emma Haughton (who does not have long brown hair, after all) signing post-event.

Emma Haughton

And after a much longer day than someone my age should attempt, I limped along Princes Street for my late train home. Someone at Waverley told me to smile. He’s lucky I’m a peaceful sort of witch.

Bread sticks and brain sticks

Being attacked by a goose isn’t as bad as it might seem at first. It sets off your adrenaline and a few other chemicals and makes the required jump across a really high gate possible. It’s only if you then dwell on the constant possibility of further goose attacks that you might feel stressed in the wrong way. And that’s not good.

Nicola Morgan's shoes

Last night I went to the launch of Nicola Morgan’s new book, The Teenage Guide to Stress. I always forget how interesting Nicola is and how well she talks at events like these. There was absolutely no need at all for her to walk round persuading people they needed more wine before she began, but she did anyway. And there were bread sticks. Three kinds.

Nicola Morgan

The room at Blackwell’s – we really must stop seeing each other like this – was full. Nicola was wearing gorgeous shoes, and pink trousers I could have killed for, if I thought I could wear pink trousers. Even I, as a relative newcomer, knew a few people there, which is always nice. Nicola tried threatening us at the back with special treatment if we didn’t move to the front, but soon all seats were taken, so she couldn’t actually do anything about us. Me, especially.

She had stuff to offer. Free posters, rolled up, which looked just right to hit people with. Nicola introduced her brain sticks, which are USBs filled with useful material on brains, and which she has spent 1000 hours on producing. There were three tea-towels to win.

Nicola Morgan

People who say they never suffered from stress when they were young are wrong. They suffer from amnesia, which is a coping strategy. It helps you forget the bad stuff. Before, there was not a single book for teenagers on stress. Now there is one. And this is important, because teen stress is different from that suffered by adults.

It’s the constant, low level, kind of stress that won’t go away, which is so bad for you. It is constantly having to ‘perform at things you are not good at’ which makes the teen years such hell. It leaves less ‘bandwidth’ for other things. The two main bad things are exams and the internet. Teenagers don’t have the life experience we oldies have, and they tend to believe they are alone in their suffering. Adults are generally able to stop doing what they are bad at; in Nicola’s case maths and singing.

Nicola Morgan

With her book Nicola hopes to settle minds. That’s what people need. The book has three parts. The first is what stress is. The second what the stress is about. And the third how to deal with it.

She has looked into the research on whether chocolate alleviates stress and it appears it doesn’t. However Nicola feels there are more ways to look at this, and urged us to do more research. Generosity is good, which is why she offered us all some 70% dark chocolate.

Nicola Morgan

And speaking of generosity; you know what had to happen. I won a tea-towel. I already have one, so didn’t feel I needed to win, but as I stood there looking at the tickets in the envelope, I knew* that no matter which ticket I picked, it’d be the winning one. And it was. So I gave the tea-towel to the man behind me, scooped up some chocolate I can’t eat and took it home and gave to the Resident IT Consultant to see if generosity is as good as Nicola suggested.

I suppose it is.

*I’m a witch. I feel these things.

Nicola Morgan

Launching demons in Edinburgh

From the ‘dark underbelly of Crieff’ emerged two fabulous ladies to chat about The Demons of Ghent. I’m – almost – not sure who I liked best; author Helen Grant or her ‘chair’ Suzy McPhee. It’s a rare thing when two people sit in front of lots of other people and it’s both fun and interesting. (On the way back to Waverley I wondered why I felt so hungry and realised I’d forgotten about food. That’s how much I enjoyed it.)

Helen launched her new book at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh – or Thins, as the Resident IT Consultant prefers to call it – and for me who’d never been before (sorry) it made for a nice experience. I had enticed Son and Dodo to join us (Son used to work there…) so it was a family affair, with only Daughter missing, which is why the photos are not what they should be.

Demons of Ghent launch

I’ve obviously been around some authors too much when I recognise their parents even when I’ve never met them before. Their children. Their facebook friends. Nicola Morgan was there, a week early. Presumably to do a practise run before her launch next week.

The place was full, and the wine flowed. I found a most comfortable sofa to sit on. It was a bit difficult to get up from it again, but it was good while it lasted. The youngest there was 7 (and a half) weeks old. Didn’t ask how old the oldest one was.

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant with Ann Landmann

Blackwell’s events organiser made one of the best introductions I’ve heard at an event like this. Admittedly there are a few words Ann Landmann actually can’t say, but we only found out one last night. (So we’ll have to return for more…)

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant

Helen described her British rustiness, which is why she writes about Germans and Belgians. She and Suzy had some difficulty in finding spoiler safe topics, but settled for the famous altar piece, which plays such an important part in The Demons of Ghent. There was something else Suzy wanted to ask, but which met with a resounding ‘no’ after some whispered negotiations behind hands.

Helen Grant

Helen never set out to write YA books, but just wrote what she wanted to write. There is no need to ‘write down’ to younger readers, and they can always look things up on Google if necessary. Suzy described how she had needed to look up rorschach tests, and proceeded to test Helen on some inkblots she’d printed out and brought along. (See, not all people in her position would think to do such a thing.) I will await the results of the ‘dead chicken’ interpretation with interest.

Without the internet Helen reckons it’d be impossibly expensive for her to get research right. She’d need to travel to Ghent to find out how high the pavement is in the spot she needs for something to happen. And making sure Veerle eats the right kind of waffles, and not simply any old waffle. She doesn’t want it to be ‘Britain dressed up.’

She’s now eyeing up parts of Scotland for future books, and described her happiness after finding a hidden church in a churchyard, when all she’d expected were more old tomb stones.

Helen Grant

In the end there was no time for a reading and Ann craftily suggested we should (buy, and) read the book ourselves. Someone wanted Helen’s phone number to call for a private reading, but she hastily offered to put a chapter up on her blog. So I suppose that will have to tide us over while we wait for Urban Legends.

And there was time for more wine.

Stealing and borrowing

Some people put it better than others. That’s why I am borrowing someone else’s words to talk about stealing. Simply because they said it so well.

First it was Nicola Morgan who discovered that ‘pirates’ were offering her ebooks online. She has worked hard to bring them out, so wasn’t terribly pleased to find that people were that keen to avoid paying the mere £2 she’s asking for her books.

Nicola reckons ‘pirate’ sounds much nicer than ‘scummy thief’ and that it’s time we stop thinking of these book thieves as rather loveable pirates. She’s right.

Then came Joanne Harris who discovered her fans tweeting happily about how and where to best steal her books. Except if you use the word download it sounds rather better to those who do it.

She wrote a great blog post about it, and she doesn’t just mention her own – lack of – income, but that of everyone else in the book business, who will not have the money to feed their families or pay the bills.

It’s worth noting, too, that this is the way to lose the publishing business, and anything else connected with it, like libraries. Which is just as well, really, as there will be no books written, that could be published, or that might be borrowed from your local library.

For free.

In the bag

‘I’d be lynched if I went shopping with that bag’ said the Resident IT Consultant about the ‘English Apples’ shopping bag.

I suppose he’s – almost – right. Lynching seems a wee bit OTT, but maybe a more discreetly logoed bag would be better for Scottish shopping, even when the shop is Lidl, and thereby German. In actual fact, the bag of apples he brought back recently said Tafel Äpfel, which isn’t so terribly Scottish either.

So the English apple bag is skulking in the wardrobe for the time being.

Stockport Libraries Book Bag

Perhaps that’s why the Resident IT Consultant brought me this gift after his trip back to the old neighbourhood – which involved carefully studying what the new owners had put in the skip outside the former Bookwitch Towers. (The bath, since you asked.) He’d taken his last (?) books back to the library, and been persuaded to buy a bag from them in return.

The Garden of Eden bag became storage for finished-with books, before I off-loaded them onto the unsuspecting current owner of the future Bookwitch Towers. People who have three children of the right ages need to proceed with great care. I may even swap some picture books for the soon-to-be new patio outside the Grandmother’s flat. (It’s all happening here.)

Nicola Morgan, Blame My Brain

Bags. Yes. I’m using a variety of them for organising the admin in my temporary headquarters, and they are doing a good job. I have a black witch bag. Obviously. I also had cause to compliment Nicola Morgan on the sheer usefulness of her writer’s bag and her teen brain bag. I may never need a proper desk again.

Actually, I’m sure I will. But for temporary perfection this is pretty good, and no one is going to be lynched.

Bookwitch bites #118

We are mostly the same, whether we are girls or boys. By that I mean of equal value, but not necessarily quite the same, which would be impossible as well as boring.

(Girls rule!!!) And that will be why the ladies on Girls Heart Books have actually invited a few men to write for them. They’ve got that Steve Cole, for instance. He used the charms of Matt Smith/Doctor Who to get us interested. OK, and that rather lovely Spidey photo of himself. They have Tommy Donbavand, who surely inspires crazy behaviour in his young fans. I don’t see how they could have been like that before he turned up. The poor ‘orphan.’

It’s half term, and one night earlier this week Jacqueline Wilson made an appearance at a rather special sleepover for girls, reading a bedtime story from Paws and Whiskers. It was at Waterstones Piccadilly, where The Children’s Reading Fund organised for twenty girls in care to spend the night in the shop, providing them with new onesies and hot chocolate at bedtime (along with Jacky). And all I can think of is onesies and hot chocolate, and lots of girls having fun. Onesies and hot chocolate. Not the most practical of combinations, however nice…

I’d further like to recommend Nicola Morgan’s latest venture, her Brain Sane Newsletter, which you can subscribe to. You don’t need to be a teacher, or even a girl. And you know Nicola, she knows her stuff, and there’s bound to be something interesting in those newsletters. She recommends coffee or herbal tea for people to work their way through her rather long newsletter. Good value for money (it’s free, of course).

Meet the Somalis

And – this is something I’ve been meaning to mention for months – here is a link to Meet the Somalis, which is a collection of real life tales about Somalis who have left their own country and are now trying to make a life for themselves elsewhere in the world. You can download the whole thing to read. Are people the same? No. Are they equal? Not always. And you change when you live somewhere else, even if you don’t think you do.

I might have wanted to bring up two new young ‘Swedes’ but if that’s what I had in mind I was in the wrong place. And this will be multiplied whenever and wherever parents go and live somewhere different. Their children can’t be like they themselves were. And you generally only live once.

When I was younger and sillier I quite fancied myself here:

Hollywitch

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 Passionflower Massacre

Nicola Morgan kills at the drop of a hat. You have your spunky – if slightly naïve – heroine Matilda, who has just gone to pick strawberries (as a summer job; not for dessert), and she’s surrounded by old friends, and a couple of new ones. Fine, you think, she’s not alone.

And then Nicola kills. Swiftly. Just like that. And because you are already realising, well before Matilda does, that she has ended up very close to being in the grips of a cult, you don’t want her to be alone. You want her to possess more common sense. To be cautious. Or at least careful.

As if! Matilda is 18 and finally away from home. She couldn’t wait to be somewhere free and wonderful.

Gulp.

The people who run the fruit farm are so beautiful, and so charming and very friendly. (Personally I’d have felt the Jesus lookalike would be a dead giveaway, but there you go…)

Nicola Morgan, The Passion Flower Massacre

This is interspersed with the story of an old woman visiting a man in jail 25 years later. He’s a charming conman, and he’s got his sights set on this gullible woman’s wealth and loneliness.

We can work out who he must be. We aren’t sure of her, nor of what has happened. Or if she can withstand his charm offensive.

Passionflowers play a great part in all this. I knew nothing about them before, and I can’t say they have inspired me with confidence. Creepy.

Not surprisingly, this is Nicola’s favourite book. Scary, but more-ish. The reader is forever shouting the equivalent of ‘he’s behind you!’ to Matilda. And she seems to be deaf. She wants to be loved and liked. Don’t we all?

The #6 profile – Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan is very kindly publishing two of her out of print novels as a double ebook today, thus enabling me to put my famous profile questions in front of her. She’s a woman made to answer questions, you know. Here, to celebrate the publication of Sleepwalking and The Passionflower Massacre, I give you epublisher Nicola:

Nicola Morgan

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Three and several halves. And an eighth.

Best place for inspiration?

Not at my desk. Either out for a walk on my own (but not in a scary place, otherwise I start worrying who might be following me with an axe, instead of whatever idea I need to be inspired by) or ironing, cooking or any kind of housework. In other words, things where my body is occupied and I can’t go on social media or check my emails. (Though, actually, I can and do check my emails in all sorts of places, including while walking or doing housework…)

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I don’t think so. But if I had to, I would. And then I’d go to the launch party and tell everyone how absolutely amazing that “Petronella Dietrich” is.

What would you never write about?

Space. And anything else that a) bores me rigid and b) I don’t understand.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I slept in the house where Alfred Noyes used to live, at the invitation of his daughter (because I was writing The Highwayman’s Footsteps.) I sat on my bed after dark, reading The Highwayman poem while listening to a cassette of Noyes reading it, and when I opened the curtains and looked out of the window, the moon was a ghostly galleon.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Matilda in The Passionflower Massacre. But only after the massacre and before the last chapter. And also probably a year after the book ends, because she’ll take at least that long to recover, though she will.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Definitely good. Even if they changed everything, as they can, it was and is still my book and they can’t change that. They just create something new out of it, which is good. And I get paid, which, frankly, is not to be sneezed at.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

“What is your name?” and “How does someone as nice as you write such nasty books?”

Do you have any unexpected skills?

It depends what you expect! I’m damned good with an electric drill. Shelf, anyone?

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia, as long as I can alter the personalities of all the children and ignore the religious references. And add in Timmy the dog.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

You mean apart from you?! Well, perhaps Greta Garbo, because I also often vant to be alone. But perhaps Astrid Lindgren. Now, I confess I didn’t know much about her other than that she was obviously a hugely successful children’s author, but I’ve just discovered that she once incurred a 102% tax rate, so I reckon she deserves a mention. And a rebate.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

Teenage and children’s books in my study (children’s books by age of child or size of book and by visual rules; teenage books alphabetically) and others wherever shelves can be found, never alphabetically but according to where Mr M and I agree they should go, adhering to unspoken rules and our own internal logic. A selection of interesting and light fiction and non-fiction in the spare room.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

The Marvin Redpost books by Louis Sachar. And The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer. I know you asked for one book, but an unwilling reader needs lots of choice. Then he could read all the other Louis Sachar and Eoin Colfer books. When he got tired, because reading is tiring when you’re eight and unwilling, I’d read Clemency Pogue, Fairy Killer, by JT Petty, to him, followed by One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. And that would be that.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

You mean forever? I’d never be able to do the other one? Meh. Reading. I’d have to be very arrogant to think my writing would keep me more inspired than all the other books there are to read. And I’m lazy and writing is hard.

Thank you! Very interesting questions.

Yes, they were, weren’t they? And finally an intelligent person who could detect my ulterior motive regarding the Swede question! Honestly, how hard can it be? (After today no one is allowed to pick me, however. Copycats.) And I’ll have a shelf or two, thank you, Petronella.

The Edinburgh author photos

Nicola Morgan by Chris Close

At last! I have a gap for the photos from the EdBookFest I so craved. I have already inserted Nicola Morgan into Sunday’s post where she belongs, but in case you don’t feel like going back to look for her, I give you Nicola once more.

My faithful photographer actually sent me over a hundred pictures. You don’t get to see all of them. Certainly not today, but obviously not even later. I will cherrypick and serve you the best. And like a true miser I shall eke them out over an awfully long time…

She did manage to cover almost my whole witchlist, pardon me, wishlist, and the ones she missed was because it is so hard to be in two places at once. And you know, a few of these authors I didn’t recognise. They are people I haven’t met, and somehow they didn’t look quite like they do in other pictures, or the way I’d imagined them.

But I’m sure they were really them. Maybe.

Jon Mayhew

Definitely Jon Mayhew. I know him. And I know the tree. It’s ‘our’ photo tree.

Elen Caldecott

And I recognise Elen Caldecott, even though we’ve never met.

Charlie Fletcher

This picture of Charlie Fletcher surprised me. I realised I had no idea at all what he looked like. Like this, I’d say, unless some perfect stranger started signing copies of Far Rockaway.