Tag Archives: Ruth Eastham

Brilliant Books, again

And again, probably. This is looking good. Oldham libraries have hit on a successful pattern for their Brilliant Books awards ceremony.

Brilliant Books 2013

Although Ruth Eastham and Caryl Hart might want to pull out soon if they keep winning and keep getting these fantastic mosaic prizes. They’ll need to move to bigger houses before long.

As for me, I will have to stick to setting out early for events, and not try brave new ideas like not getting the train before the one I actually got. But I got there. In time. ‘My’ table was taken, but I got a good one precisely where I like to sit. At the back. I discovered later that ‘my’ table had The Worshipful the Mayor of Oldham sitting at it, so I suppose that was an opportunity missed.

This year Brilliant Books invited all shortlisted authors, and twelve of them were able to come, which is brilliant! And none of the winners knew in advance. Or so they claimed. Ruth Eastham came up and chatted to me before proceedings began, and she seemed to have no inkling she was about to carry more mosaic back to Italy. Again.

Like last year, they had invited children from the schools involved, and they helped by reading out the nominations and announcing the winners. In between that, each book was briefly dramatised and acted out by Oldham Coliseum’s Young Rep Company. Really well done!

Oldham Coliseum's Young Rep Company

It seems I no longer need to be escorted by Librarian Snape as Oldham’s defense against the dark blogs. We agreed we missed each other…

Mayor of Oldham

Super organiser Andrea Ellison introduced Chris Hill who introduced the Mayor, who spoke of his pleasure at being asked for his autograph with no competition from Bob the Builder. The Mayor in turn handed over to the host, Dave Whalley, who never gets to sign anything but expenses claims.

Roving Richard (Hall) refused to rove if he didn’t get applause, so we gave him some. He roved throughout the evening, pestering authors and children alike, making them squirm. Great stuff!

Thomas Taylor

The Early Years category winner was Thomas Taylor (and his ‘cool cat’ friend, illustrator Adrian Reynolds), for The Pets You Get. Thomas thanked absolutely everyone for his prize.

Dave lost the plot quite early, and needed Roving Richard to chat to people while he found where he was meant to be. KS1, Dave! Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton and their book The Princess and the Peas won, and they spoke about how they work together. Caryl admitted that sometimes reading can be boring (!) and Sarah told the audience to continue to ‘read and draw.’

Caroline Green and Ruth Eastham

By the time Ruth found out she had won KS2 for The Messenger Bird, Dave had worked out how to keep everything in order. Ruth said she’d been telling everyone about how brilliant it is in Oldham and that they must come.

Oldham Coliseum's Young Rep Company

We took a break from awarding mosaics and watched the Young Rep Company’s dramatised version of shortlisted book My Friend Nigel by Jo Hodgkinson.

Gina Blaxill

KS3 winner, Gina Blaxill, was 90% certain she wasn’t going to win, but Forget Me Never came out on top, which made Gina especially happy, since she had been worried about second book syndrome.

Richard roved over to table five where he asked Helen Stephens what it’s like to see your own book in bookshops. He had just noticed her How to Hide a Lion in Tesco, and since he’s not written a book himself, he wanted to know. (It’s exciting.) The young readers continued being hard to interview…

Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale won KS4, and she brought her mother along, just like when she won in Stockport four weeks ago. She might be unstoppable. Katie mentioned the weird and wonderful characters she’s met, and I rather hope she didn’t mean me.

Brilliant Books 2013

Our host complimented the children on how quietly they had gone to the toilet, and then Andrea went and made them parade around the room very noisily, while someone called Justine sang a song and all the authors stood on stage, clutching mosaics, or not.

Brilliant Books 2013

Then it was signing time and the authors went and sat in line, while children and adults shopped, or simply brought their programmes to be autographed. I walked diligently up and down the line several times to make sure I caught all of them with my camera. Don’t they look fantastic?

Rachel Bright

Caroline Green

Helen Stephens

Katie Dale

Gill Lewis

Matt Dickinson

Caryl Hart

Sarah Warburton

Will Buckingham

Thomas Taylor

And then I went and called my nine 0′clock pumpkin. It’s fascinating how the drive home can be achieved in the same amount of time I spent walking from the tram stop to the Queen Elizabeth Hall…

Bookwitch bites #116

I am really grateful to the kind people of Wexford, Ireland, for arranging somewhere I could park my broom the other night. (Not that I have actually been to Wexford, but its proximity to Eoin Colfer makes it seem like a very nice place. That, and the broom parking.)

Broom parking

So, I’m resting a little. No flying while it’s windy. Besides, you can’t trust people not to be setting off fireworks at the moment. And that is very dangerous for witches on brooms. For others, too, but I am mostly looking after me.

We can’t all be like that lovely man, Terry Pratchett, who is a wee bit more modest than he needs to be.

Terry Pratchett

And so was the poor woman in Ystad who was locked into the library. 91-year-old Dagmar sat comfortably reading something, as you do, when it was time to close and staff claim to have ‘looked’ but seem to have missed Dagmar, so set the alarm, locked up and went home for the weekend. (It was Friday the 13th.) When eventually Dagmar moved, she set off the alarm, and someone came to find her, and even let her out. And being 91 and polite, she apologised for having caused trouble…

But you already knew that Ystad is a dangerous town. Just ask Wallander. Bet he’s never been locked in a library, though.

Locked in, is something we connect with Al Capone, among other things. Gennifer Choldenko’s third Alcatraz book Al Capone Does My Homework, is already out in the US, but the rest of us have to wait a while. Sob.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Homework

And I can just sense that you like being told about books you can’t buy yet, so I’ll show you the cover of Ruth Eastham’s to-be-published third novel, Arrowhead. Like Al Capone, it will come. One day.

Ruth Eastham, Arrowhead

As I go to pick up my broom, I will leave you in the capable hands of Meg Rosoff. Although, considering what she can do to a piece of paper with a pair of scissors, I’m not so sure about those hands. If I think about it.

Wheee!!!

Launching Shine

The custard creams made all the difference. They and the Coke. Halfway through the launch party for Candy Gourlay’s new book Shine, I was overcome by an urge to liberate ‘a few’ custard creams. They were looking lonely, sitting on a table at Archway Library. That sugar rush kept me going all night, more or less.

Archway Library

I arrived just in time for The Three Hundred Word Challenge. Candy read out as many entries as there was time for, and her collected authors pitched in with their thoughts. The advice was good. The fledgling stories were even better. It’s reassuring to find that young people still want to write, and that they know how.

Teri Terry, Candy Gourlay and Jane McLoughlin

While this was going on in front of an audience so numerous they ran out of chairs, people went about their business in the library, and there was a nice mix of festival special and ordinary library behaviour. (It was the first day of the first Archway With Words Festival.) The authors couldn’t always agree on their advice, which should go a long way to proving that there is no one correct way to write. (I thought they were going to come to blows. Which would have been exciting.)

Random's Clare, Simon Mason, Philippa Dickinson and Keren David

Once it was time for the launch proper, I had a job recognising people without the customary name badges. I managed some. I was discovered in my corner by Random’s Clare, who was almost on her own doorstep for this event.

There were speeches. MDs Philippa Dickinson and Simon Mason came. David Fickling, on the other hand, did not. Replacing him, Philippa and Bella Pearson spoke, but they couldn’t quite manage David’s voice, so Candy had to help out.

Candy Gourlay with Philippa Dickinson and Bella Pearson

In her own speech, Candy told us of the long hard slog to get there. What’s three years between friends? Bella went on maternity leave, and came back. Candy said nice things about her editor Simon, even after he told her that her first attempt was no repair job.

Candy’s daughter Mia and friends sang a cappella. Absolutely lovely.

Candy Gourlay at Archway Library

Dave Cousins

We mingled. There were more authors than you could shake a stick at. (Not that I’d want to, I hasten to add.) Fiona Dunbar and I met where we always seem to meet. I met several facebook friends for real. (They exist!) Teri Terry was surrounded by young fans. Dave Cousins came.I recognised Jane McLoughlin but took ages to work out who she was. Missed Joe Friedman. Ruth Eastham was over from Italy, which was very nice. She introduced me to Sarah Mussi, whose book I just ‘happened’ to be reading, so I hauled it out for an autograph. (Very scary. The book. Not so much Sarah.)

Sarah McIntyre

The other Sarah (McIntyre) also ended up signing stuff, although not for me. Keren David said hello, and then goodbye. I chatted to Inbali Iserles and Savita Kalhan. I spoke to people I have emailed with, and to people I haven’t. Sam Hepburn.

Steve Hartley

And then Mr Gourlay went round saying it was time to go home. So we did. To the Gourley home, where the eldest junior Gourlay was looking after food and drink. There was a lot of it.

The Gourlays

They have the loveliest of gardens! Admittedly it was dark, but it was all lit up and the evening was balmy, and there was somewhere to sit. Not the trampoline for me. Spoke to DFB basement man Simon, and the kind Tilda who once bought me a sandwich. At some point I had to admit to a fondness for the Circle Line. (Yeah, well.)

The wine flowed (the recycling men were most impressed with the bottle collection the next morning) and there was cheese beginning with the letter c, and for the carnivores pork sausages on the barbecue, very ably operated by Mr G.

It was dark. As I said. So I gave up on the camera and simply enjoyed, which is why there are no scandalous shots of anyone. I think the man who hugged me before he left long past midnight might have been Cliff McNish, despite him being underwhelmed by my drinking.

Recommended crime to beautiful blonde, who was impressed with my recent meeting with Colin Bateman… When it got too cold we repaired to the inner regions. In the end most people went home, and Candy was left with a mere five houseguests. Eldest son politely gave up his bed for an old witch, and was banished to his godmother’s ‘vomiting room.’

In the morning I got up long after the six o’clock taxi guest had departed, and people had dispersed to school and jobs and things. I met my brand newest facebook friend (less than 24 hours) in her pyjamas. And then Candy made us breakfast and we gossiped about the great and the famous.

But I had a noon train to catch, so shouldered my nightie and toothbrush and walked up the hill to the tube station hidden in mist. Once I got to Euston I encountered the Poet Laureate on the escalators, going the opposite way. Bought some treats for the Resident IT Consultant to celebrate our first 31 years, and hopped on my train.

Tired library visitor

(I know how that doll feels.)

Sefton Super Reads 2013

Lady with lamp

It was time for another Sefton (‘see if you can find us this time’) Super Reads yesterday afternoon. And yes I could. Eventually. This venue, Southport Arts Centre is even larger than Crosby Civic Hall, and was thereby proportionally harder to find. But you can’t keep a good witch away. (I had a choice of Sefton on Tuesday or Carnegie today…)

Tony Higginson

You could call it Ladies’ Day, since it was the girls on the shortlist who made it to Southport. Tony from Formby Books seemed to feel that recent fatherhood (David Walliams) or living in Italy (Fabio Geda) was reason enough to stay at home. And he came up with no excuse whatsoever for J D Sharpe.

Tony and Lesley with Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

And then there was Ruth Eastham who had come here all the way from Italy. (Girls rule!) Caroline Green came from London, and Barbara Mitchelhill had done something for the first time (or so she confided to me) and had had eyes for the Manchester train only. But she was nevertheless the first one to arrive.

So, when I had finally deduced that what I wanted was the enormous building in the middle of Southport, on its impressive Lord Street, I popped in and asked for more directions. Was told that I wanted the same as ‘that lady’ so followed her, and found it was Barbara. Which is why we shared travelling information with each other, as we waited for the others.

It’s a fabulous old/new theatre and library and museum, which has been done up so recently that not all areas are 100% ready and there is a fresh paint kind of smell. The theatre we were in was great, and the charming man in charge of it serves coffee very nicely. (It seems we had a narrow escape. The people before us had been served dinner by staff from Fawlty Towers.)

Books at Sefton Super Reads

When the invited school children were given a guided tour of the place, the rest of us tagged along, admiring the chandeliers and stucco ceilings and purple armchairs.

Tony with Barbara Mitchellhill and Ruth Eastham at Sefton Super Reads

After threatening the audience with a Latin lesson and some singing, Tony introduced the three ladies, before opening the floor to Q&A. Writing a book takes anything between two months and three years. All three authors save the stuff they’ve written but have decided not to use. Just in case.

Caroline had an inspiring teacher in Year 6, after which there was a gap in writing until she was an adult. Barbara loved Enid Blyton, but after the age of twelve she found her library so stuffy that she went off reading. Meanwhile Ruth relied on reading recommendations from librarians.

Caroline Green

Character names can be difficult, especially historical ones. These days you can be called anything (Caroline made up the name Kyla for her book, only to find Teri Terry had done exactly the same) but in Shakespeare’s time there were only certain names to choose from.

Barbara had inspiration for her 16th century novel, Road to London, from The X Factor. But she herself would really like to be Anthony Horowitz.

Ruth Eastham

Ruth began by reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials ‘backwards’ but was still very impressed. And Caroline has read everything by Marcus Sedgwick and thinks he’s fantastic.

They were all a little embarrassed to admit they hadn’t read each other’s books, but at least Ruth has now put the other two on her tbr pile. And I can no longer remember why Barbara told us that she ‘likes killing people!’ but I’m sure she only kills for a good reason.

Barbara Mitchellhill

After learning all about our three ladies, it would have been a bit of an anticlimax if the winner of the Sefton Super Reads had not been one of them. But you can relax. She was there!

Before Ruth Eastham could receive her winning trophy, there were prizes for best book reviews to be awarded. The participating children had read and reviewed the shortlisted books, and there was a first and second prize for a review of each of the six books.

Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

Once the winners had received their book tokens and been photographed with the authors, it was time for Ruth’s winner’s speech (when all she wanted to do was show Caroline her trophy).

Long before the afternoon was over, the children had bought nearly all the books for sale and queued up to have them signed, and to be photographed with their favourite author. (And it has to be said, one school – very sensibly – ate a late lunch first.)

Signing at Sefton Super Reads

I had rather witchily managed to put my copy of the winning book, The Messenger Bird, in my bag before I left home, so I joined the signing queue.

Then it was time for goodbyes, with all three authors sprinting off to catch trains. Possibly even the same train. I’m hoping to see them at another award ceremony soon. And having checked out Barbara’s and Caroline’s books, I’m thinking I’d like to read them.

As for me, I called the Resident IT Consultant (who had very kindly driven me all the way to Southport) and ordered him to take me for a walk on the pier. I hadn’t come all the way to the seaside not to see where the sea ought to have been if it had any sense at all.

Southport Pier

This being Southport, there was no sea below the pier, obviously, but we had a most acceptable stroll along it anyway. Made the mistake of not buying hot donuts as we passed on the way out, meaning the mug of tea the Resident IT Consultant bought me at the end of the pier, had to go unaccompanied. But we bought some on our way back, and had them for dessert.

Very nice. Very seasidey. Apart from the distinct lack of sea.

Bookwitch bites #97

Let’s start with a stolen photo, shall we? (My thieving is getting worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it.) Here is a photo, which might have been taken by Gill Lewis, winner of the Salford award last week. It was on her Twitter, anyway. And the lady between Jamie Thomson and Josh Lacey is not Gill, but Barbara Mitchelhill, who narrowly avoided that dinner.

Jamie Thomson, Barbara Mitchelhill and Josh Lacey

Another award is Sefton Super Reads. They have announced their shortlist for the summer, and it’s pretty good. The lady above is on it, for instance. And so are some of my other favourites, and some unknowns (to me).

• Ruth Eastham, Messenger Bird
• Fabio Geda, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles
• Caroline Green, Cracks
• Barbara Mitchelhill, Road to London
• J. D. Sharpe, Oliver Twisted
• David Walliams, Ratburger

In fact, there are awards absolutely everywhere. Declan Burke could be in for an Edgar for his hard work on Books To Die For, along with John Connolly. I don’t know who or what they are up against, but if ever a book and its creators deserved an Edgar, Books To Die For must be it.

While we are in an awards kind of mood, it appears Adrian McKinty is on the shortlist for The Last Laugh for The Cold Cold Ground, which will be awarded at Crimefest later this year.

Nick Green, The Storm Bottle

Finally – in more ways than one – Nick Green’s The Storm Bottle is available to buy. That’s over three years since I reviewed it, which happened by some odd fluke (me looking into the future, kind of thing). So far it’s ‘only’ on Kindle, but if you only ever buy one Kindle book in your life (although that sounds a bit unlikely, now that I stop and think) this has to be it. The Storm Bottle! Very good book! Sad. Funny. Exciting. Does not end the way you expect it to.

Dolphins can definitely talk.

Wednesday – in two parts

When Ruth Eastham texted me to say she and Ally Kennen had arrived at Manchester Piccadilly, I looked carefully at the people coming up the escalator and found myself staring at Philip Caveney instead. The ladies were not far behind, but I think it was Philip’s job to identify one lone Bookwitch from the milling crowds. He did, and then left for home.

Ruth and I had been plotting for weeks to meet up, and when she told me Ally was coming along it made the deal even better as far as I was concerned. I’ve seen Ally several times without plucking up the courage to say hello, and here she was, actually wanting to meet me.

I had to do that thing I hate; admit to not having read a single book of hers. She, and her books, have scared me somewhat, but Ally assured me nothing bad happens in her books. So maybe..? Certainly, Ally the person is very nice. Believe me. She had gone along to the Oldham Brilliant Books for the fun, and to have a night’s un-interrupted sleep.

Ally Kennen

She was a bit green, however. The taxi they’d come in had not been of the steadiest sort. So Ally drank a glass of water, and watched as I had some pretty good gnocchi while Ruth showed what she’s made of by going straight for the tiramisu, the taxi ride notwithstanding.

Gnocchi

Now, I’d obviously planned to talk about Ruth and Ally and their books, but the tables turned quite early on and they found out more about me than makes sense. Although we interrogated each other to a suitable degree, and I reckon both Ally and I want to gatecrash Ruth in Italy, where she lives.

Ally had a train to catch (we all did, but hers was the first), so she left Ruth and me to discuss Ruth’s next book. (Speaking of next books, I think Ally’s next one sounds relatively safe.) I warned Ruth about all the things she doesn’t want to put in her book, and she took notes…

Ruth Eastham with Tiramisu

We enthused about war, which we both like. In books, if not in real life. And because Ruth was going off to spend 24 hours being an ‘exciting and famous aunt’ I dispatched her to a train leaving from the furthest away platform, with a mere five minutes to spare. Hope she made it.

I had more on the agenda, so went for my own train and spent a little time resting at home.

Caryl Hart

After some tea I gathered my camera and current book and walked over to the hotel used by the authors coming to the Stockport Book Award to see if I could catch up with some of them, since Wednesday was awards night at the Plaza. Using the same list of books as Oldham, it meant that some of the winning authors were also the same.

Ed Eaves

Hence I saw Caryl Hart again, looking fabulous in her ‘partydress’ complete with crown and everything. (This year’s theme was crowns and coronets.) She was accompanied by Ed Eaves, the illustrator of How to Grow a Dinosaur, and he wore a fantastic crown that he’d made himself. It’s that artistic vein.

The other winner waiting to catch a taxi to the Plaza was Clare Chambers, author of Burning Secrets. This year there have been many winners in Oldham and Stockport who I don’t know at all. It’s good to meet new people, but above all, it’s great that more than the obvious, well known books get an audience and new readers.

Clare Chambers

As far as I know, the other winners were Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, again, with A Monster Calls, and Clive Goddard and Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I hope neither Clive nor publicist Sarah, representing Patrick and Jim, had got lost. I understand they were coming direct from Oldham. And I believe Philip Caveney – Stockport’s very own author – was also at the Plaza.

The library representative bundled ‘my’ three into a taxi, and I walked home, having narrowly avoided the Market Research event at the hotel.

Brilliant Books

It was Oldham’s first book award last night, and what a brilliant name Brilliant Books is! Queen Elizabeth Hall was teeming with beautifully dressed school children of all ages, and I must say that those authors who usually spend their days in lonely garrets scrub up really well, too.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

As for your shabby looking witch, she was given her very own escort who did some excellent looking after. His name was Snape. Keith Snape. Not Severus. But anyway. (He’s older than he looks. Apparently.) He told me about the wonderful libraries in Oldham, and he is dreadfully enthusiastic about all sorts of things.

Twenty schools have participated in reading this first year, and the children came for a glittery night out at the round tables in the beautiful ballroom. The Mayor of Oldham spoke, and then it was Dave’s turn to look after things on stage. At least I think he’s a Dave. I didn’t catch his surname. He did a great job, ably assisted by young readers.

The names of the shortlisted authors for each category were read out by readers of that age group, followed by some very nicely done recorded readings from each book, along with an opinion on why that particular book was the best. (Like because the character had orange hair.)

Caryl Hart

Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves won the Early Years award for How to Grow a Dinosaur, and Caryl was there to receive the prize. She impressed Dave by reading her acceptance speech on her smartphone…

Oldham Youth Wind Ensemble played The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, before the titles of the five shortlisted books in the Key Stage 1 group were read out, by slightly older children, who in an egalitarian attempt to split the five titles, shared the last one between them.

Caryl Hart

Julia Donaldson and David Roberts won with Jack and the Flumflum tree, and our esteemed Children’s Laureate made up for having gone on holiday instead of coming to Oldham, by sending a video message, which included singing a song with her husband. Pretty good, actually.

Not wanting to be outdone (as if they would be!) the Wind Ensemble gave us the Drunken Sailor, and then it was straight on to Key Stage 2. I am pleased that Philip Caveney won with Night on Terror Island. It’s especially nice, because it’s a local award. Philip thanked his daughter for making him a children’s author, and his soulmate, who then ended up carrying his rather lovely trophy around for him.

Philip Caveney

Clive Goddard

Clive Goddard, who didn’t win, but who was there anyway, stood up to wave, so we know what he looks like. He wrote a book with the tongue-twisting title Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I agree with Dave; I don’t think I can say that too many times.

Stanley's Stick

Ruth Eastham

Before moving on to the Key Stage 3 books, we enjoyed a performance of Stanley’s Stick by young actors from Oldham Coliseum. The winning book in this category was The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham. She gave a great speech, which partly consisted of reading us her first published poem, written when she was nine. Basically, we should be aware of our inner caterpillar. I think. We will eventually turn into butterflies.

Ally Kennen

By this time poor Dave wasn’t sure if he was even at the right stage, but he was, because it was the turn of the oldest readers (so much taller than the first ones) to announce that Patrick Ness and Jim Kay had won with A Monster Calls. Unfortunately they were running late with their homework, and had been given a detention so couldn’t be there.

Sarah from Walker Books read out a message from Patrick, who regretted that his nice suit wasn’t going to get its annual airing, and he thanked Siobhan Dowd, on whose idea the book was based. Another shortlisted author, Ally Kennen, was in the audience and we got a wave from her.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

Dave said he’s happy so many children can and do read more than 140 characters, and then everyone thanked everybody else. Andrea Ellison, whose brainchild Brilliant Books is, spoke and listed all her helpers. She waved her plastered arm around, and I wasn’t sure how much she had used it to persuade people… She finished by asking the children to parade round the room, to show off their beautiful outfits and perhaps to get some restlessness out of the way by marching round to the upbeat music.

Ruth Eastham

After which there was nothing more to do than buy books and chat to authors and give Lady Caveney advice on the Scandinavian languages and their differences. And seeing as it took me two hours to get there by public transport, I then decided I had to start working on my return journey. (Car would have been 30 minutes. Broom probably even faster.)

I feel honoured to have been present at the birth of a new award, and here’s to many more Brilliant Books!

Books

The Memory Cage

I’ll be honest with you. Books about Alzheimer’s are not top of my list. Which is stupid, because it’s not as if the topic makes them all the same. Some will be good, others might not be. This one – The Memory Cage – by Ruth Eastham is absolutely fantastic.

Sometimes I suspect that the brownie points you hope to get by tagging a book with a certain topic could backfire. I will most likely still avoid Alzheimer’s books. I won’t expect the next one to be as fascinating and funny as Ruth’s.

Grandad is trying to kill the family, if only by being so lost that he doesn’t always know what he is doing. He’s doing it for the best. But it means that Alex’s mum and dad are about to put Grandad in a home, against his wishes.

Alex desperately wants to help the old man to remember and to help him stay at home. But Grandad has a lot of painful memories, many of them very well hidden indeed. It doesn’t help that Alex has some of his own, having been adopted from Bosnia when he was younger.

Both of them have been to war, and there are brothers everywhere. Brothers matter. Love them, fight with them, miss them. This is a family with plenty of hidden skeletons. The whole village is full of wartime skeletons, and not just in the graveyard.

There is so much love here. Hate too. But Alex realises he needs to make a scrapbook for Grandad to help him remember who he is. Who Alex is, even. And sometimes it’s not best to let sleeping dogs lie.

At this rate I will have to create my own memory scrapbook. Just to keep me going. We all have skeletons of some kind. But more than that, we have lots of good things to remember, too. And plain ordinary memories.

This is a wonderful story!

Martinmas drugs

I’d like to show you the drugs I sent with Daughter, for use this Martinmas term. (I think it’s so quaint with these terms for terms…)

2012 leisure reads

Following on from the session we had in the Scottish Parliament back in August, we fully agree with the use of books for medicinal purposes. They make you feel better. Probably much better than the stuff you get on prescription. (Even when prescriptions are free, as they are north of the border.)

Anyway, when exam nerves or essay stress take their toll, Daughter can grab one of the lovely titles you see above. (Guess which one is her own input?)

So, there are fairies and faeries, Irish and Scottish, and their cousins the angels. Nicholas Flamel, a Stockport cinema, cat people, various Victorian ladies, code breakers, resistance boys and ugly people. Keith Gray’s wonderful anthology. And the Doctor.

We think there is enough for one term. If not, I suppose she will actually have to buy a book. Shocking concept, but a feasible solution.

The photo is partly to make sure I get back what I sent out, but also to assist when I need to advise on which one to choose, according to specific needs.

How wartime Bletchley Park made Ruth fall head-over-heels in love with maths

I’m the last in line. There has been this blog tour for over a week, in aid of maths and codes and generally saving the world. I’m saying as little as I can, because I get worried when I see so many noughts. Gazillions of them. So here is a smitten Ruth Eastham telling us why she’s crazy about them.

Messenger Banner

“Four down, 158,000,000,000,000,000,996 to go.

That’s million, million, million to you and me. Quintillion for short.

No, I’m not talking about the number of drafts I had to do for my second book, The Messenger Bird (although it did seem like that at times). Writing may be hard graft, but what about having to crack vital, top secret enemy messages day after day without a let-up?

I’m talking BP, and not the service station and convenient-roadside-shopping kind. I’m talking Bletchley Park. The extraordinary Second World War code-breaking headquarters.

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve always been a bit of a geek. I play chess; I used to make up cryptic crossword clues just for fun; I was already partial to a bit of mathematics…

Maths may not be the nation’s favourite subject, and some of you may even need convincing just how wonderful it is. You may even scoff at the very idea of my being in love with it. But you simply need to be enlightened, as illustrated by a conversation recently with a former student of mine:

Inge: I hate maths!

Ruth: Why?

Inge: It’s BORING!

Ruth: But it’s maths that made Bletchley Park tick! If it wasn’t for maths, the Turing Bombe (first operational in September 1940) would never have been designed, enemy Enigma messages would never have been decoded, and the theories of programmable numbers would never have led, in December 1943, to the invention of… Inge… Inge?

So just how did Bletchley Park do it?

You’ve heard of Enigma Code, right?

An Enigma machine was a sort of typewriter, but with two keyboards. It was used by the Nazis to send messages. When a key is pressed on the lower keyboard, special rotors inside and a plugboard make a different letter light up on the upper keyboard.

Dials

The scrambled string of letters was sent by radio waves in Morse, and ‘Listening Stations’ located around Britain and abroad intercepted these secret messages and sent them straight to BP!

Problem was, with Enigma machines there were millions upon millions of different ways they could be set to when the message was sent! Quintillions in fact! Another problem was that the settings were changed at midnight every single day

Bombe

Enter BP and the ‘Turing Bombe’, which was an automatic machine that could quickly test-out all the different possible settings. Once the correct one was found, all the messages intercepted that day could be decoded, letting the Allies make crucial decisions about the movement of soldiers, ships and war planes; likely shortening the War by two years!

Yes, two whole years!

Hitler and his generals used a machine with, not three, but twelve rotors, leading to the invention of Colossus, the great-granddaddy of all computers!

So maths is not only beautiful, it was the basis for all computing as we know it. You like your laptop, don’t you? You like being able to freely surf and chat to friends? You’ve got maths to thank for that!

So need I say more about why we should all adore mathematics?

(I’ve still to convince Inge, but I’m hoping she’ll come round…)”

Never mind Inge; I have come round. Or would have, if I thought I could do it. But I believe. And I’m a great fan of Alan Turing’s.

And for those of you collecting letters for Ruth’s mystery message competition: Mystery letter number 9=I