Tag Archives: Sally Prue

Witching it

It’s odd. Or perhaps it isn’t. The way things connect, unexpectedly. How easy it is being a witch, sometimes.

I was having Sunday breakfast, reading the Guardian Review from Saturday (someone had not provided the paper early enough the previous day). I glanced at the interview in the middle, and turned the page over as I got up to see about ‘the next course’ after my cereal.

Thought about the book by Gillian Cross I had finished the night before. Thought about the other three OUP novels from the event during the week (which I don’t -yet – have) and my thoughts strayed on to Geraldine McCaughrean.

From there I went back to 2004 when I ‘just knew’ that Meg Rosoff would win the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Knew in that witchy way I can’t explain. Then how I ‘knew’ she’d also win the Whitbread/Costa with How I Live Now. And how I had a wobble the last day in the library before the Christmas holiday and snatched up a copy of Not the End of the World. Maybe I ought to see what Meg was up against.

And there I was, reading about floods and Noah and the end of the world, as the tsunami burst forth. It was almost unbearable. After which Geraldine won the Whitbread for her wonderful, but watery, book.

Then (we are now back at breakfast, obviously) I thought about Geraldine’s new book and how that sounded so interesting. I poured the tea and sat down with the Review again, pleased to find I was actually on the page with the children’s book review. Which, naturally, was The Positively Last Performance by a certain Geraldine McCaughrean. I wanted to read the review, so I did, while hoping it wouldn’t be full of spoilers. It wasn’t. Lovely review, and I have to read that book!

Mustn’t forget Sally Prue’s blog post on The Word Den, as she set off on that OUP tour at the beginning of the week. She blogged about spaewives, taking care to mention that us in the pointy hats are the worst. I am fairly certain it was a slip of the keyboard, and that Sally meant best.

Spae is spå where I come from. Maybe it’s what I do. At least Meg Rosoff almost believed it, back then.

Organised chaos

‘You see what I’ve had to put up with!’ Tim Bowler said as his three female colleagues talked about being ‘more splayed out’ for their panel discussion at MMU on Wednesday evening. I was there to enjoy the kind of stellar line-up you can only dream of, and which ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought possible I’d ever attend.

OUP titles

I got wind of this tour organised by OUP to air these four authors’ new titles, in the place where you always find things out. On facebook, courtesy of Gillian Cross, whom I have admired for years and years. Along with Gillian and Tim we got Sally Prue and Geraldine McCaughrean, so you can understand how my excitement got the better of me.

As things turned out, it was Geraldine who received the ‘I’m a big fan’ greeting, because I’d never met her before, or heard her talk. She is funny. Very funny. (Good funny, obviously.) Tim and Sally I’ve not seen since I last saw them at that dinner in London two years ago. And poor Gillian got the ‘big fan’ attack in Birmingham even longer ago.

Gillian Cross

This time she came up and chatted to me, so I was able to tell her how my heartbeat reacted to her new book, which I began reading yesterday afternoon, in the hopes of calming down. I’ll have to report back on After Tomorrow when I know more. It’s not so much a book for soothing frazzled nerves. That much I can say now.

Claudia at MMU

The evening was organised by OUP’s Jennie (aka she-who-silences-muzak-in-bars) and MMU’s Kaye, with the ever efficient Claudia at her side. Jackie Roy was there to chair the discussion, and she is a woman armed with good questions and the most soothing voice.

Tim was complaining because he has been travelling with these lovely ladies to Dublin and Glasgow and Manchester, finishing in Bristol tonight. He’s a typical boy, talking as much as the other three taken together. Before the audience arrived he entertained us with the tale of the torn trousers, and you can just tell that Gillian didn’t want to see what you might have seen.

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

According to Gillian they have been having fun, and now that I have heard Geraldine speak, I can understand what it must have been like this week. Absolutely wonderful…

Tim Bowler

‘Dive-in man’ Tim read from chapter three of Sea of Whispers, which is about yet another girl. He likes girls. He sees a picture in his mind, and then he writes, not knowing what will happen.

Gillian tried to sell us on the idea of a new computer programme she’s been using, ‘Write or Die,’ which seems to eat your typing if you slack for too long. I suppose time-wasting will be a thing of the past, once your fledgling book ‘starts unwriting itself.’

Jackie admitted to having cheated when reading Gillian’s book. She had to look at the end before she could read it at all. (I might have to copy her…) Gillian told us how she had planned what had to happen in her story about a Britain that is collapsing, and where the English become refugees in Europe. And every single thing she thought of, proceeded to happen in real life soon after, which makes it look like she hasn’t got an original thought in her head. Which is so wrong.

Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue and Jackie Roy

Sally told us about her purple Miss Wheeler, the teacher who changed Sally’s life, and made her realise she didn’t have to be small and boring. She could do things, like learn fencing to sort out the big bad wolf. Writing is the ‘widest freedom in the universe.’ Then she read from Song Hunter which is about Neanderthal characters, and taught us how to kill a seal, but asked us not to. (I’m thinking her book might not be very vegetarian.)

Geraldine McCaughrean

Geraldine’s editor has told her a book must always end with a ‘bearable universe,’ which sounds just like Terry Pratchett’s idea about children’s books. She has an ideas box in the corner of her bedroom, although her new book Positively Last Performance didn’t come from this box. The idea was suggested to her by the Royal Theatre in Margate; that she should write about them and then let them share the proceeds of the sales. Which is an unusual approach, but it seems to have worked.

For the Q&As they continued talking about chaos. The good thing about it is that it forces them to write a book to the end, so they can find out what happens. All Tim’s books have rubbish in them (his words) somewhere in the draft process, but he now recognises this, and it’s not too worrying. He knows he will sort it out.

Research is wonderful, according to Geraldine. You do it and then the book writes itself. ‘Displacement activity’ is what Gillian calls research, while Sally tried to calm things down by mentioning the ideas box as a last resort.

They always think about the reader as they write. Tim wants the kind who reads under the blanket with a torch, but this seems to be an out-of-date kind of thing these days. Sally suggested reading should be described as dangerous (reverse psychology), while Geraldine felt it should be outlawed.

So there you have it.

Before the four got going on the pornography shelf, Kaye urged us to come into the atrium for books and photos and wine and canapes. (There were some great mushroom ones.)

Jackie Roy and Kaye Tew

People bought and they chatted and everyone seemed happy. Tim asked after every member* of the Bookwitch family, which was lovely of him. I asked him to say hello to Mrs B for me. Then I got my book signed by Gillian, and she said she hopes I will still talk to her when I’ve finished it. Which I think sounds ominous.

OUP at MMU

MMU

* Even the Resident IT Consultant. He was touched. But then he is.

Gridlock, heavy medal and stacked aubergines

You, my dear readers, are very lucky to be reading (at this very moment, in fact) the best blog in the world. Tim Bowler says so, and I don’t feel he could be mistaken. I have admired him for long enough that I’d take his word for (almost) anything. The man has taste.

So, I had eight hours in a very wet and dismal looking London yesterday. I had three events booked in, and four authors to meet up with. That was until the day before, when I saw fit to squeeze Candy Gourlay into a small gap perceived when the timetable was looked at in a slanted sideways kind of way. Candy made five. (That’s not counting waving to Jon Mayhew as our trains passed…)

Tim Bowler

I started some weeks ago by arranging to meet Tim for a very overdue interview. I mean, I’ve treated the poor man as I would a local museum. It won’t do. Then I discovered that his publishers, OUP, had a dinner thing the same evening, featuring not just Carnegie Medal winner Tim, but Sally Prue and Julie Hearn, and I invited myself and my trusted Photographer to it… I ought to be ashamed. The very patient Jennie from OUP put up with a lot and allowed us to come.

The next serendipitous thing to occur was an invitation from Andersen Press to come and meet Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead in the afternoon, nicely positioned between the other two meetings. It took care of that annoying period when you have time to kill and may be forced to drink tea and eat cake somewhere.

Rebecca Stead

In actual fact, Andersen’s lovely Clare made lovely tea and served it up with three kinds of cake, including ginger, so I’m a fan forever. We discovered that Daughter/Photographer was quite comfy in the chair belonging to Klaus Flugge, elephant cushion and everything. Did an interview with Rebecca, and talked about the previous night’s Waterstone’s prize event, where she had met Candy, and been introduced to David Fickling.

So that’s the heavy medals taken care of. I had joked with Tim about causing gridlock in central London. Just hadn’t expected the gridlock to happen, but the streets round his hotel were very much of the not-going-anywhere kind. OK, I know streets rarely move at all. I meant the traffic. You knew that.

Candy had been squeezed in before this, and had to ‘put up with’ meeting Tim and being hugged, despite being wet. I felt that having Candy around made for a more writerly chat, and she is considerably easier on the eye than yours truly. The two of them made mutually admiring noises. And if David Fickling’s ears burned it’s because he was the topic of conversation twice in one afternoon.

Candy Gourlay and Tim Bowler

At the end of the day we found ourselves in the Judges Chamber with the cream of the children’s books world and I totally refrained from making a fool of myself over Nicholas Tucker again. Super-agent (book variety) Catherine Clarke was there and it was only the second time in two hours we saw her.

Sally Prue

I finally met Sally Prue, who is as lovely as she has seemed in her emails. And Julie Hearn was equally nice to meet, and both of them agreed to pose for photos, before we sat down to the stacked aubergines. Which were very tasty, I have to say. Veggie food can be so bland, and my only problem here was the discrepancy between the amount offered on the plate and my own internal capacity. The aubergines won.

Julie Hearn with Wreckers

There were talks from all three stars, but we only heard Tim’s (and he managed to avoid his ten minutes taking longer than twelve) before we dashed off to the late northbound broomstick from Euston. The advantage of seeing Tim twice in a day was that he got to hug us four times. (I need to point out that Mrs B was present. She’s just as nice as we remembered from Northampton four years ago.) Then lovely Tim saw us off the premises.

Because this is such a marvellous blog, I am writing this in the middle of the night, when sensible people are in bed. So all you get is this flimsy account of the day’s proceedings, and there may well be more. Later. Post-sleep.

Bookwitch bites #41

Our libraries have been in the news again this week, and the speech made by Philip Pullman has viralled all over the internet. Mary Hoffman was there, and her report from the meeting in Oxford is on her blog. I know that what Philip said is mostly common sense, but the man has a nice way of phrasing common sense.

Sally Prue does not only have a new book out next week, but has started The Word Den, a blog about words. She claims to be not very techie, but expert that I am, I think it looks just fine.

Donna Moore has had a good week, and also a somewhat bad week. The good news is that she has been nominated for THE LEFTY: Best humorous mystery novel for Old Dogs. My fingers are crossed.

The iconic Richard and Judy

In a press release this week I learned that ‘iconic presenting duo Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan’ have been made into cartoon characters for the launch of their Children’s Book Club, with them working alongside Booktrust. The club is made up of three categories with six titles in each; Reading Together, Reading by Yourself and Fluent Reader, and aims to help parents choose great books which children will love.

With the power that R&J (or more precisely, whoever chooses for them) have, it would have been nice to have seen fewer ‘best sellers’ on the list, even though I agree that those picked are great books. The opportunity for more obscure – but equally suitable – books is a shame to lose.

Finally, for those of you who read Swedish I suggest you head over here to see if you can win a copy of Meg Rosoff’s What I Was when it’s called Den Jag Var.

‘The demon who walked alone’

If the blood and gore at the beginning doesn’t put you off, you’re going to love this book. Ice Maiden is Sally Prue’s prequel to her first novel Cold Tom. (That must be rather like making your firstborn a second child…)

Blood and gore. Yes, it’s not terribly vegetarian at any point, so either the blood eases off a little or I got used to it. But even as us wimps gag over the rabbit, the writing is so first class that there is no question about giving up. Or maybe I’m just terribly brave.

Sally Prue, Ice Maiden

I had no idea what to expect, and having read the blurb carelessly I found I got even less of what I expected. Which is good. This made more sense, as long as fantasy makes sense. You mix fairies – of sorts – with the run-up to WWII.

Franz has arrived in England with his parents, and we work out that they came just after Kristallnacht. But from what he says about his parents, whom he calls the Squirrel and the Wolf, we know they are no innocent, persecuted Jews. He hates his parents. That makes him lonely. That and being at the receiving end of xenophobic bullying from the local boys for being a Nazi.

It’s Franz’s lack of love and friendship which Edrin, the Ice Maiden in the woods, senses. She, and her Tribe, despise the Demons (humans) for their invisible vines that tie them together and have them behave so very irrationally. Against her instincts Edrin is drawn to Franz, and he can sense her, although she’s invisible to demons.

The story is a marvellously woven tale of nature versus civilisation, England versus Germany, cruelty versus friendship and looking after those who are weak or different. (This sounds very wet, but it’s really powerful stuff.)

Sally’s writing carries you through the book at great speed, and you wonder what will become of Edrin and Franz, and you just need to know quite how bad his parents are, and what her tribe might do, and if the local bullies will see the light.

It doesn’t sound from all this as though the book can be funny, but it is. And sad.

Edrin may be a fairy from the woods, but she’s female enough to covet the Squirrel’s shoes.

Turd shelter. Now there’s a new word for it.

And I can’t leave you without a quote about the Ice Maiden; ‘in case she strangled someone or ate someone’s kitten’. That tells you about the gore, and also that Edrin is not your average cute fairy.

The Truth Sayer

So, who believes in sheep, then? Very mystical, mythical creatures, if I’m to believe Sally Prue’s truth sayer.

This is a very funny book. I had no idea. It’s been sitting on my horizon for a year, at least. The Resident IT Consultant read it over half term. Fantasy, he muttered, as though it’s a bad thing. And it struck me as strange, because Adele Geras is always saying what a great book this is, and she doesn’t like fantasy. But it is, and she does make exceptions.

Though I have to say that the best is the outsider’s view of perfectly ordinary Essex life. Crisps and fish fingers are delicious, and grandmothers should be revered. Or not. The mental picture of tomato ketchup isn’t all that appetising. And are white lies (more grey, here) necessary?