Tag Archives: Philip Caveney

Seventeen Coffins

Another outing for time traveller Tom Afflick. You’d have thought he’d have the sense to stay away from Edinburgh after his close brush with the bubonic plague in 1645. But oh no, here he is again, visiting the National Museum of Scotland, where he has a funny turn near the tiny coffins found on Arthur’s Seat almost two hundred years ago.

Philip Caveney, Seventeen Coffins

Philip Caveney saw them, too, and he wanted to write about them, to explain how the coffins came to be there on the hill, and who made them, and what they were. And there is no better way than through time travel, when you can go round in circles. If this hadn’t happened, then neither would… etc, etc.

Sometimes it can be hard to unravel what ties up with what. And Tom travels back and forth between his own time and the time relevant to his current adventure, in this case 1828.

When stranded in the past like that, Tom needs somewhere to stay. What he also could do with is better judgement than to pick the company of a pair of well known and very dodgy characters.

He also needs friends, which he is more successful with. Daft Jamie is a very interesting young man, who I would have liked to see more of. And there’s another nice girl for Tom. One girl in every century?

Like in Crow Boy, the characters behave the way modern people do, and they certainly don’t talk like historical characters. While it removes some of the period feel, it probably helps young readers to identify with the – by now – dead people Tom meets. At least the food he eats is nicely and historically rotten. And he stinks, due to a lack of daily showers.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating; it is much more fun to learn, not to mention easier to remember, history like this. Put real incidents and people into a fictional story, and before you know it, you could be a history buff.

As for Virgin Pendolinos taking you from Manchester to Edinburgh… well, this is a work of fiction, after all. Philip is allowed to make things up.

‘We’re getting a bit rowdy, folks’

So, there I was, in the back seat of Fledgling’s Clare’s very comfortable Kia, on the way to Philip Caveney’s book launch, when the Plague Doctor jumped in and sat next to me. He had a stick. (In fairness I have to mention he didn’t use it.) It’s just that by then I’d sort of forgotten he was meant to be there.

I have to say I timed it well. A mere four days into the Scottish Bookwitchery and there was a book launch to go to. A bit weird that it was for another Stopfordian, crossing the border for some adulation. (I reckon Philip will have to join me here soon. Scotland is his kind of place.) When I heard he was having a launch for Seventeen Coffins, I really wanted to go, so a big thank you to Fledgling Press and the Holy Rood High School’s marvellous librarian, who let me.

And when Clare emailed to offer a lift, as she ‘was going to pick up a Plague Doctor on the way,’ I felt it was an opportunity not to be missed. It’s not the kind of phrase you come across very often. As for meeting Plague Doctors, I suppose I’d hoped we’d seen the last of him, what with how things went in Crow Boy, but that certainly turned out to be wrong.

So, there we were. And when we arrived at Holy Rood, at the foot of Arthur’s Seat (well, almost) where the action in Seventeen Coffins begins, we were taken into the school’s library, which must have the most breath-taking view of all school libraries, not to mention a very cool librarian (I want her skirt!), where we all fell over each other admiring their very own Tardis. I mean, how cool is that?

Clare and I had colour co-ordinated to match the school’s colours. We were both purple. The hall – with purple seats – filled up with 200 pupils, who heard their librarian tell them Philip’s book is so good, it made her forget the previous day’s dreadful football results.

The author, who has eaten rabbit pie in the name of research, told us about the background to his book, which was a visit to the National Museum of Scotland, where he saw the eight tiny coffins which survived being thrown around by some children in 1836, when they found them hidden on Arthur’s Seat. Philip decided he needed to come up with an explanation as to how the coffins ended up there in the first place. (Sorry, you’ll have to read the book.)

Philip Caveney and Plague Doctor

Time travel was the solution. And research is not boring. Philip has made use of real people from back then, so some of his characters are infamous murderers, whom you would have heard of if you paid attention to your Scottish history. And speaking of the devil, he happened to mention the Plague Doctor from Crow Boy, when that very man popped out from behind the curtain, brandishing his stick, and diagnosing a pupil as suffering from the bubonic plague. (He went off to warm up the ovens – for the red hot pokers…)

Reading from Seventeen Coffins, when Mancunian hero Tom meets Edinburgh real boy Daft Jamie, Philip told his audience that he has hidden three copies of the book somewhere on Arthur’s Seat. Get out there and look!

He also launched a competition for the best explanation for the coffins; who put them there, and why? The best three will win a copy of the book. And for the Q&A there were two more books on offer; one for the first question (great way to get an audience going!) and one for the best question.

There were so many hands in the air, and so many questions, also in the air, that Philip had to point out ‘we’re getting a bit rowdy, folks.’ I reckon that’s just how he likes them. You want a book launch to be lively.

Philip Caveney at Holy Rood High School

We left him with a queue of fans in the library, and let the Kia take us back to where you need to watch out for the Plague Doctor. (Between you and me, I find the idea of Mary King’s Close and its plague-ish past almost beyond what I can bear. Which will be why it’s doing so well, and people are booking ahead to come and be scared. Why don’t you go too? And then read the book, if you come out of there again.)

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.)

Space Blasters

You have to love Philip Caveney’s cinema books! Here we are again, all ready to pop into the latest ‘Star Wars’ film. Or not.

Philip Caveney, Space Blasters

Kip, whose Dad runs this Stockport cinema with a difference, has decided once and for all that he will not go into any more films, however much Mr Lazarus tries to tempt him. And Mr Lazarus, the 120-year-old projectionist, respects his wishes. Things went wrong last time. And the time before that.

Dad is happy, because his cinema is finally doing well. He has no idea why, though, which could be the reason he is stupid enough to talk to the press. So, Stephanie from the Evening Post works out all is not as it seems. Kip has to try and deflect her interest in Mr Lazarus and his putting-people-into-films machine.

Unfortunately that doesn’t go well. Unfortunately, Mr Lazarus has a younger brother, who at a mere 117 is a little boisterous. Unfortunately, Kip ends up having to sort out what goes wrong between these two old men, leaving his girlfriend Beth holding the fort.

Meanwhile Stephanie’s curiosity leads to an unexpected meeting with Zeke Stardancer, while Emperor Zarkan also has various unexpected things happen to him.

Thank goodness for bratty little sisters! Kip’s, not Zarkan’s. And Dad can work out how his projectionist managed to grow a beard in a few hours. Or maybe not.

It’s a slice of fish, really.

(I believe this is the last cinema book by Philip. That’s good, insofar that it’s often best to leave a party when you’re having the most fun.)

The Talent

I don’t watch talent programmes. Can’t stand them. I’m also becoming wary of too many dystopias, so an ebook that combines the two wasn’t going to be at the top of my shopping list. But since it’s that very busy bee Philip Caveney who wrote The Talent, I decided to give it a go. Published a year ago, you can see how long I’ve taken getting started, but I had my reasons.*

Set in Manchester some time in the not too distant future (a parent character recalls going to the kind of concert we have today), people are hungry and poor and live in crowded conditions, sharing flats with strangers. Tobacco and alcohol are illegal, and corruption is rife. Joining the Army is almost the only guaranteed job, but a very bad one. Police brutality is a daily possibility.

Josh plays the guitar, and caterwauls his own songs on the roof of his block of flats. His grandfather believes in him, and now that Josh is old enough, he will try for The Talent, the television programme the whole population follow avidly. If you win, you have a future.

If Josh didn’t get in, there would be no story, so it’s no spoiler to say he ends up taking part. I won’t say too much about what happens, but Philip has added all those things we already worry about, or can see are happening, and this makes his future vision a very realistic one. I can see all this coming, rotten tomatoes and everything.

Not quite totalitarian, but close. Many of the characters are stereotypes, but I believe that’s what makes this effective. We already know these people. We see them on the news and in the talent shows today.

The plot has several interesting angles apart from the competition itself. Is it rigged? Will they fall in love? Is Josh’s MIA father dead? What to do about Holly’s father? Can society even survive?

There are some surprises, and some fun solutions to the problems. Mostly it’s simply an exciting story about musical talent and honest behaviour.

And it’s not only the dystopian future that Philip has portrayed accurately (as we see things today). One of the characters says that he ‘could eat a horse.’ I wonder how he knew?


*Somehow I had mixed in some of the ingredients from the Hunger Games with this book. To put it bluntly, I was under the impression that anyone who didn’t sing well enough was likely to be shot. Or something like that. Not tempting. Sorry to be such an idiot. (And now that I have done all the silliness for you, you can just get on with the reading.)

Crow Boy

Instead of another eraser that you don’t need, wouldn’t it be good to be able to buy something fun and useful, like a book, when you’re next in the gift shop at some tourist attraction? I know, there are guide books. But they, too, get boring after a while. Wouldn’t it be so much more fun finding a work of fiction, set in the place you are visiting?

Philip Caveney, Crow Boy

If you were to visit Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, you could have your own little personal nightmare of time travel, right back to the plague four hundred years ago. Philip Caveney has written Crow Boy, which is now selling like hot cakes to plague tourists. And after reading it, I am not surprised.

It’s very exciting. You could probably avoid ending up in the the plague ridden 1600s if you don’t wander off into areas not open to the public. Unlike Tom, who did, and who saw more of the plague than he wanted to. He followed a ghost, and suddenly there he was, right in the middle of the olden days when people dropped dead, just like that.

Tom has recently – and very unwillingly – moved to Edinburgh, and he’s on a school trip to Mary King’s Close, until he suddenly appears not to be on a school trip any more. He’s part of the 17th century, plague and all. He meets the doctor he’s just been told about by the tour guide, and before he knows it, he is working for the doctor, making house calls to people with the plague.

Or is he? Maybe he’s just dreaming? He seems to be coming and going.

As I said, very exciting, and very educational. Perhaps the language is rather too modern. The historical characters speak and think as though they were 21st century people. But it’s time travel, and who am I to say they don’t sound more up-to-date under such circumstances? It would be more boring if they spoke all old-fashioned.

And isn’t it odd – not to mention inconvenient – how fictional characters always have a mobile phone with them? One which they have omitted feeding properly. But since it wouldn’t work anyway, it shouldn’t matter.

And, as I said, many more places should consider catching the interest of an author who might write an interesting souvenir for them. This beats most things I have ever bought from the many gift shops I have frequented in my time.

I suspect I’ll need to visit Mary King’s Close now. Or maybe not. What are the odds I’ll end up travelling in time? Getting close to a bubo or two…

The #1 profile – Philip Caveney

He’s got a lot happening. Philip Caveney won the Oldham book award for his first cinema book – Night on Terror Island – set in Stockport. That was a few weeks ago. Shortly before this Philip had launched his latest book – Crow Boy – set in Edinburgh.

Philip Caveney

And now that he finds himself on the Bookwitch best of 2012 list with Spy Another Day, there can be no better start for the new feature on this blog than to find out some odd bits and pieces about local boy Philip. Faster and quirkier than a regular interview, this is where I let authors loose on their own.

Over to Philip Caveney:

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

My first published book, The Sins of Rachel Ellis (1977), was my third serious attempt at a novel. But before that, from my teens onwards, I had written scores of short stories, most of which will never see the light of day.

Best place for inspiration?

Train journeys can be good for ideas. There’s something about staring out of the window across empty fields that gets my mind ticking. But ideas can come to you just about anywhere…

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

I have already published three teen romance novels under a female pseudonym… unfortunately, I signed a contract that prevents me from revealing the name. But the ‘lady’ even got fan letters from young female readers!

What would you never write about?

Umm… I’d write about anything if I genuinely believed I wasn’t being gratuitous.

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

I met my German translator at an event in Glasgow once. That was certainly unexpected. And I ended up in Portugal at a medieval festival watching a performance of Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools. I even had to get up, dressed in period clothing and talk to a huge crowd of people, none of whom could speak any English. Doesn’t come much stranger than that.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

A lot of people have suggested that I AM Max the buffalope, from the Sebastian Darke books, because of my proclivity for gloominess. But I’d probably most like to be Mr Lazarus, from the Movie Maniac books, a man who seems to live forever and can leave all his infirmities locked up in a reel of film.

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

Good, in that it would raise my profile and bolster my bank balance. Bad, because in all probability, they’d make a dog’s dinner of it. They generally do.

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

How long it took me to ‘make all those books on the table.’ Youngsters don’t always have an accurate idea of how publishing works. They think of it as a kind of cottage industry. It’s more of a collaboration.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Loads! I can sing, play the drums and I qualified as a graphic designer.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Oh dear. I have to admit to never having read a single Famous Five book. Just wasn’t my kind of thing. As for Narnia, I liked the first two books, but thought they started to get a bit tedious after that. I gave up somewhere in the middle of The Horse and His Boy. Yes, I know. Sacrilege.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Can I have four? Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida. It would seem churlish to separate them.

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

There’s a room full of Billys in our apartment, a mixture of my books and Susan’s books, just crammed in to the available space. One of these days, we’re going to put them in some kind of order (or so we keep saying). Then there’s a special red bookcase that has only books that I’ve published. When you add in translations, that’s quite a bit of acreage. Having no more room for physical tomes, we now arrange our latest purchases (very neatly) on her kindle and my iPad. It works.

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

Well, one of mine, obviously (we authors are shameless self-publicists) but failing that, I’d go for Ray Bradbury’s classic fantasy novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer and even after all these years, it still delivers.

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

Writing, I guess, but it has to be said that all writers should read and that without reading, I doubt that anyone would ever become a writer. I’m always appalled when I meet would-be writers who say they don’t read because they don’t want to be influenced. How arrogant is that? As writers we begin by imitating the best. Eventually we find a voice of our own. Then look out!

I’m surprised he didn’t pick Max von Sydow as his favourite Swede, but what do I know? And Philip has written romances!!! We didn’t know that.

2012′s best twelve

For the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 (I love this kind of thing!) I give you my list of the very best books. All twelve of them. (I know, there are really 13, but two for the price of one, sort of thing. Yes?)

All the books I have reviewed have been good, and it’s hard to pick the best. Except for the bestest of the best, because that one stood out by several miles, even back in January. And once we’ve got the twelves out of our system, next year I will have to go for a more restrained list. Always assuming people continue writing great books. Please do.

As always, I only include books published during the year. And here, the VERY BEST is:

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Swiftly followed by some alphabetically listed and very marvellous runners-up:

Philip Caveney, Spy Another Day

Joshua Doder, Grk and the Phoney Macaroni

Daniel Finn, Call Down Thunder

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

Nick Green, Cat’s Cradle

Barry Hutchison, The Thirteenth Horseman

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe, and The Black Cat Detectives

Gillian Philip, Wolfsbane

Terry Pratchett, Dodger

Celia Rees, This Is Not Forgiveness

Teri Terry, Slated

That’s it, dear readers. It was a good year, both generally, but also specifically for producing Code Name Verity, one of the best ever.

Christmas in the Northwest

Melvin Burgess ate some of my bread. Again. But that’s OK. There was lots of it. Although I did admit that if this was my last week, I would spend it eating. Someone at our table said he would run. (Someone has their priorities wrong.)

Nine of us met up for some Armenian food in Manchester last night, and it was a modest start, but I think we’re on to something here. Us northerners can’t always be travelling to London, so will have to look for fun closer to home. Marnie Riches was tired of not having Christmas parties to go to, so got a few people together to remedy this. And then I tagged on, as their very own Rita Skeeter.

Someone did mention the words ‘top secret’ but I am afraid I wasn’t paying enough attention to be able to tell you any more. In fact, I was so concerned it would be boring, I had brought a book to read. It wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Almost didn’t find the place, as I had forgotten to factor in that Albert Square would be overflowing with continental gemütlichkeit this time of year. I almost overdid the ‘don’t get there too early’ by being second last to arrive, which jarred my Swedish sensitivities. As previously mentioned, Melvin Burgess was there and so was Lady Melvin. Jon Mayhew arrived after me, and my fellow Stopfordian Philip Caveney was just before me. I didn’t know Steve Hartley before, but he seemed really nice, apart from being unable to read a menu.

Enjoyed meeting someone I’ve previously seen on facebook, and also chatting to Lorrie Porter who was one of the panelists from the talk at MMU in the summer. I knew I recognised her, but it took some minutes to work out from where.

Melvin Burgess

I learned that occasionally a manuscript will return from an editor with more typos than when it left. And we could all be a little autistic, but some are definitely more autistic than others.

At some point everyone got their cameras out, and it was actually quite hard to take any pictures that didn’t feature the person opposite you with a camera in front of their face.

This was more a private than a public gathering, so I won’t tell you who had a go with the toothpicks, or who could have got away with leaving without paying. Most of us had pudding, but only in the name of research. We were wanting to find out the difference between the two almost identical sounding desserts, which could only be done by ordering and sampling. Both were nice, but mine was the best.

It was a relief to be doing this sitting down. In London you nearly always stand the whole time. Admittedly, we didn’t see anything of the velvet trousers belonging to one famous author, the subject of which used up so much of people’s imagination on facebook earlier this week. But then, I’m not convinced they did either.

Bookwitch bites #93

Luckily I didn’t run into either of these two chaps as I haunted Edinburgh this week. Twice. That’s twice I didn’t see them. In fact, I forgot to even think about Philip Caveney and whoever that is behind him. ‘He’s behind you!’ Lucky, seeing as I was running around all alone in the dark.

Philip Caveney with Plague Doctor on The Close

Lucky too, that I had not yet come across Chris Priestley’s A Creepy Christmas, the story he has written for 247 tales. That is another thing you don’t want to have on your mind as you’re out alone, in the dark or otherwise. Good to see that the 247 tales are still going strong.

Pleased to hear that Bali Rai won one of the categories at the Sheffield Book Awards this week; his quick read The Gun. Obviously, other books won too, and even more were commended. Read all about it here.

Have been alerted that Sophie Hannah – who seems to be successful at just about everything these days – has been shortlisted for the Nibbies. The event is on Tuesday next week. Lots of other authors are also on the various shortlists, and pirates would appear to be in as far as children’s book titles are concerned. (It was hard to find the lists, however. Something wrong with google? Can’t be me, can it?)

But I did find it a little tricky to discover the Costa shortlist, as well. (So definitely not me, then.) Sally Gardner, Diana Hendry, Hayley Long and Dave Shelton are this year’s hopefuls. I’ve read two.

Barry Hutchison, The Book of Doom

And speaking of awards, I was very happy to hear that Barry Hutchison got married last week. He had proposed in a fairly public sort of way, by putting it in one of his books. Glad it paid off, and that he has now been made an honest man of. More good Hutchison news is the arrival of the cover for The Book of Doom. Would quite like for the rest of the book to get here, too. Fast.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, The Bone Trail

Fast is what another book would have managed, had I not been so busy running around a darkened Edinburgh. (See top.) A very early incarnation of The Bone Trail, the last in the Wyrmeweald trilogy by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell has been made available to me. I happened to mention I wasn’t feeling especially patient.

Arrived home to find DHL had missed me. (Miss you too.) I arranged for redelivery on Monday. Except they turned up yesterday. As I squeezed the package (to find out what it might be, the way you do) it felt like a rucksack. Couldn’t see why Random House would send me one of those.

I will now stick a plain sheet of A4 to the back of The Bone Trail to prevent me accidentally looking at what seems to be the last page of the book. A witch likes some element of surprise.