Tag Archives: Philip Caveney

Down the close

Do you recall my meeting with the Plague Doctor five months ago? I was in Edinburgh, outside The Real Mary King’s Close, on my way to hear Philip Caveney frighten school children. So was the Plague Doctor; on his way to frighten school children.

Mary King's Close

In ‘real’ life the good doctor works for Mary King’s Close, and I said a few things about it. Like me not wanting to have a look round, because of the plague and also because I might not like the dark and narrow and steep passages. Naturally their publicist Caroline invited me to come and be walked round the place with her, before they open for plague business in the morning. I said yes – having been promised I could escape whenever I wanted. And then I was felled by migraine and couldn’t go. And then when I thought about it again, on the other side of moving house, I decided it’d be a bit forward of me to email and ask if I could come now.

Luckily, Caroline sensed this and emailed me to say it was high time we did this. (She did use more finesse than that in her choice of words.) I decided to face the plague there and then, so the resident IT Consultant and I got up really early one morning last week to get to MKC for nine.

(I, erm, went to the Ladies on arrival. The WC screams as you flush. Thought you might want to know. It’s a little disturbing.)

We set off down the first set of stairs and I paused a bit to see whether I wanted to freak out and panic a little, but came to the conclusion I might be all right. And I was. The hardest thing was how steep the actual close is, and you want to mind your head in places, even at my modest height.

View of Mary King's Close

It’s interesting to see how people used to live. So close together, in small rooms with low ceilings and extremely basic facilities. Cooking, sleeping, using the toilet, looking after cattle. No wonder the plague did well under such circumstances.

Usually visitors are taken round by guides, dressed as real people from those days. Caroline seemed to feel she wasn’t as good as the regular guides, but she did marvellously well. We could stop as and when we liked. MKC was home to people of all sorts. Not just the poor, but also to better-off people, some even with their own front door. (I liked the chap who was so proud of his toilet that it’s the room you see immediately from the street entrance.)

Mary King

We came upon a woman who’d just murdered her son-in-law (he had it coming). We met Mary King herself, and a couple of her neighbours. They could talk, so we found out a fair bit about them. And we saw the room with all the toys; beanie babies and Barbies and goodness knows what. It seems there was a sad ghost girl who’d lost her doll, and now she has something to play with again.

Annie's Shrine

People would hang their washing out, high above the close. And unlike when we were there, the close would be full of stalls and people shopping. We could hear them, but not see them. But the worst was seeing the people who were sick, and the Plague Doctor at work.

After our fantastic private tour, we had another look at the model of MKC in the shop, to see where we’d been. We looked at what else the shop had, including plenty of copies of Philip Caveney’s Crow Boy.

MKC also put on events, and as part of their Close Fest, which runs for a week from Halloween, there will be a sort of talk by Arran Johnston on November 6th at 19.30, A Close Encounter With Charles Edward Stuart. I think it might be in the cowshed…

Cowshed

Afterwards the Resident IT Consultant and I felt we needed elevenses, as we’d had such an early start, and we went to the St Giles Bar & Café just round the corner. We felt the name had a nice ring to it, somehow.

There will be a singing

That’s not just my continued mis-reading of the promised signing after every event. As I got off the tram on Saturday, I found myself struggling to avoid becoming part of a happy group of singers from the something or other gospel. I let them sway on ahead, but they gospelled so slowly that I ended up joining them, eventually overtaking whenever a more spacially aware singer prodded one of the others out of the way. And finally I led the procession, but I speeded up so I’d be out of there completely.

Tram? I hear you ask. Yes, I let the Resident IT Consultant drive me (us) to the Park & Ride and the tram conveyed me into Edinburgh. (It was Saturday. I wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer a repeat of the Saturday in 2012 when the train home was simply too full to join.)

I cased the joint for a while, coming to the conclusion the bookshop doesn’t stock Into A Raging Blaze. Found that the photographers’ background carpet was a more mellow green than it has been. Checked the price of cake – as you do – in case the Resident IT Consultant would need some later. And I, erm, rearranged some books in the bookshop. Although it is hard to put books face out when it is at the expense of other top books. Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Joined the proper photographers to snap Charlie Fletcher and Michelle Harrison. Not unsurprisingly they were keenest on the beautiful Michelle (who reminded me of a black haired J K Rowling). Me, I sort of stood behind the dustbins. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Being short, I’d already come to the conclusion I might have to take photographs between the legs of the others who have this unwritten shooting order I will never ever be able to join.

Michelle Harrison

After Charlie’s and Michelle’s event I repaired to the press yurt and most serendipitously came face to face with the newlyweds. I had more or less given up hope of fitting Philip and Lady Caveney into our respective schedules this week. So we had all of several minutes before Philip’s interview (for television, he claims) and I dashed on to The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, where I was unable to avoid the Resident IT Consultant. Former children’s laureate Anthony Browne was there too.

The Caveneys

I had asked permission to bring the Resident IT Consultant to the yurt, so we went there for our dinner sandwiches, and the life saving coffee. Sat opposite a woman I slowly worked out must be a Swedish journalist, and even more slowly I worked out that she the man she was interviewing was Bernardo Atxaga (whose book Shola miraculously appeared in my Swedish letterbox over the winter).

Being on translating grounds here, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Daniel Hahn, but I didn’t tug at his sleeve either, as he was intent on Bernardo. I trawled the square for some action and found I arrived just in time for the signing by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf, who write the Oksa Pollock books.

Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

Sara Paretsky

After some killing of time had taken place (it rained…) we finally got to the evening’s long awaited photocall with Sara Paretsky. She jumped straight into her star role, saying the attention she got from the photographers made her feel as though she’s important. Murdo Macleod pointed out she is important. I hung back by the dustbins again, knowing my camera would never totally overcome the fact that it was eight o’clock and a little dark, and that I couldn’t hope to achieve what Murdo and Co did. Meanwhile the Resident IT Consultant chatted to one of the photographers about why they all wear black. (I had no idea he was so into fashion!)

Sara Paretsky

We went straight to Sara’s event with Tom Rob Smith who – it turns out – is half Swedish. Naturally. Not knowing what he looked like before last night, I did miss his photocall on the green carpet. Apologies. (He looks sort of Swedish, if that helps.)

My skills for getting to near the front of the singing, I mean signing, queue had not deserted me, and I had my two minutes with Sara before too long. We agreed that facebook is the way to keep track of house moves and dogs. And stuff.

The light was far too bad for pictures, so I led the Resident IT Consultant back to the tram stop with no more singing, and from there it was a smooth trip home, without any need to get too close to any fellow passengers.

(In the small hours leading up to Saturday I had dreamed an alternate Sara Paretsky signing. She and her many (?) publicists, as well as a large group of fans, turned up outside my – old – house, to do the signing. I invited them in for soup and sandwiches. Her and the PRs, not the fans, obviously. Once inside it became my new house and that was so not good, because of its unfinished state. Also, my freezer isn’t that well stocked yet, and I was busy working out how to make the small amount of soup I had stretch between so many. But other than that, it was a fine signing.)

Incidentally

You know how it is. You decide to be a little more sociable, and what better time and place than in Edinburgh? Before getting on that train to Edinburgh on Monday, I made plans to see a few people. So I’ve got a couple of meetings arranged for later.

I knew Philip Caveney would be up here. Again. (A witch moves away from Stockport, and Stockport follows her here.) I asked if we might meet up. He’d be busy Monday, he said, but later in the week perhaps?

On Facebook I’d seen a photo from the Charlotte Square children’s bookshop, of Philip, standing next to his books. Secretly I thought the photo was a bit orange, so when I came across the same books myself, I took a picture to show how it’s done.

Philip Caveney books at EIBF

Actually, orange seems to be the way. Something to do with the light.

Oh well.

And then I found out why he was ‘busy’ that day. There’s no need to get married just to escape a meeting with the witch. Really. But it’s lovely news that Lady Caveney has made an honest man of Philip.

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.)