Tag Archives: Theresa Breslin

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

Not the EIBF – for me

I was so sure I’d be able to fit in a little EdBookFest this year as well. On top of everything else, I mean. But I’m not.

I have enthused about the programme. I have gone through it in detail. I finally picked my dates, allowing me four days in the middle. Yes! It was the mid-weekenders who would have won. Until common sense kicked in and I told myself very sternly that something had to give, and it would be really useful if it wasn’t me.

So, that’s one book festival less for me, and maybe for you, if you were counting on me doing it on your behalf. I spent the other evening undoing what I’d so far arranged to do, hoping that not too many people would be overjoyed by the witch-free aspect.

So that’s no tea with Theresa Breslin and Julia Jarman. Big sob. No meeting with Badger the lovely dog in person. No Jon Mayhew, or Elen Caldecott (finally, as it was to be…) or Charlie Fletcher. Similar fate for Prentice & Weil (who I hope are not solicitors, despite their names), Melvin Burgess and Keith Gray. There will be no Keiths at all for me.

I was going to hear all about Jonathan Stroud’s new book, and even get close to Arne Dahl.

The list could go on. I have it here, right next to me, colour coded and with indecipherable comments, that once meant something.

I would have had to miss Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry. Again. But these ladies at least have something exciting going. You can win their books, if you go here.

As for me, I’m looking ahead to the next thing, thinking if I plan properly – and early – I will not have to cancel more events. But things always look very doable when looked at in advance.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

For all others – and the crouching tigers – Edinburgh International Book Festival starts today. Mind the mud. And the puddles.

And have fun!

Bookwitch bites #112

‘One of the best writers in Texas’ died this week. I didn’t know John Graves, either as an author or as a person. But as I mentioned here a while back, in this crazy online world, I sort of know his daughter Helen. I had no idea her father was a writer, nor that he was well enough known to merit an obituary in the New York Times. He sounds like a lovely and very interesting man. John would have been 93 on Tuesday. This may sound simple, but I appreciate it when people share their friends and families with the rest of us. It’s good to know about people.

Someone who got shared a little too much for Michael Rosen’s liking, was little George, whose birth was registered this week. He – Michael, that is – wrote a poem about being told what he likes. Much as I enjoyed baby George for his parents’ sake, I have to agree with our former children’s laureate. There is much I really do not need to know. And I don’t necessarily feel the same way about it as you do.

Mind by Michael Rosen

To get back to online friendships, I found someone’s opinions so off-putting this week that I nearly de-friended them over it. It’s rather like Michael’s poem; I know that others disagree with me and try to allow for it, but am amazed that some of them seem to have no concept that I might see things differently from them.

Someone who is always wise, with – mostly – sensible thoughts on a variety of topics is Norman Geras. His blog was ten years old a week ago today. I don’t share his fondness for cricket, but that just makes things more interesting. Not less.

And you know other people telling you about their holidays? Can be boring, but not when it’s done like this. Theresa Breslin blogged about her long suffering husband, who has finally had a holiday where doing research for Theresa’s next book didn’t come first. In fact, might not have happened at all. (I don’t read The History Girls every day. I should. They are always interesting.)

I will leave you with a great cartoon of another children’s laureate. Here is Malorie Blackman as seen by the very talented – and slightly crazy – Sarah McIntyre. When I grow up, I want to be able to draw like Sarah.

Malorie Blackman by Sarah McIntyre

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.)

Lots of new books

And some old ones, too. You can never re-issue certain books too many times.

It’s understandable that the publishing world would pick a day like today to publish lots of books. 6th of June has a lovely ring to it. It’s sort of made for books, I’d say.

Originally I was going to review something today, just because it had a 6/6 publishing date. But then I discovered it’d be almost impossible to choose which one. (And I sort of ran out of time, too. I kept working on the May books for longer than I should have. They were good, too. Don’t misunderstand me. But June beats everything.) So I’ll let you have a June book tomorrow. And later.

Terry Pratchett’s publishers have really gone to town today. I’d like to think they had me in mind. But maybe not. Anyway; Terry’s Johnny trilogy is out again, and it is such a fantastic set of stories. I think I sometimes say stupid things such as I like Johnny and the Bomb best, but then I remember that I don’t necessarily, because they are all great, so I won’t say that. At all.

And, Maurice and the rodents are also back, and you just can’t not read it, if you haven’t already.

Theresa Breslin’s Queen Mary book is out in paperback, and Sam Hepburn’s Chasing the Dark is also available now. Andy Mulligan has a new book today (thank you!) and so does Elen Caldecott.

Kate Maryon and Margo Lanagan, likewise. Nicholas Allan. Sean Stockdale, Alexandra Strick and Ros Asquith.

So perhaps it becomes clear why I don’t read all of the books, however excellent and marvellous they are, or seem to be. I will read some, and some I will put in my ‘house arrest’ box. They will be most welcome when the time comes.

Actually, I will leave you today with an almost review. Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart have a new picture book, Just Imagine. It has many very lovely pictures. Naturally. The kind you could sit for hours finding new details in. It has words, too, including the word ‘bewitching.’ Despite that, and despite the fact that there is a witch in the book, I don’t think they have covered just what I’d want; the time to read all the books I would like to read.

Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart, Just Imagine

Just Imagine shows the reader a lot of different scenarios for what or who they could be. Since the book-reading-time thing isn’t on offer, I’ll go for ‘parent-frightening’ which actually sounds quite fun.

Grrrr! (Although that is only if you don’t go out and read one of the books I’ve mentioned. One of the very special 6th June books.)

Margo Lanagan, Yellow Cake

(Or I could scare you with Yellow Cake by Margo Lanagan. It’s a great title. I’m just a little scared of Margo, whose writing is not exactly run of the mill.

The other titles I’ve not mentioned yet are Theresa Breslin – Spy for the Queen of Scots, Kate Maryon – Invisible Girl, Nicholas Allan – The Royal Nappy, Stockdale, Strick and Asquith – Max the Champion, Elen Caldecott – The Great Ice-Cream Heist, Andy Mulligan – The Boy with 2 Heads, Terry Pratchett – The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.)

Remember

I couldn’t help noticing that Thomas Keneally has a new book out about WWI, about two sisters who are nurses. It’d be easy to think that this is a bit of a cliché, because so many WWI novels feature nurses. But that’s what you have to have, if you’re going to put your female characters in Europe during the war.

Theresa Breslin, Remembrance

I’d already dug out some of my WWI nurse books, because it’s time to remember that they exist. It’s not a topic I’d expect to find in new books right now, but it’s not as if these are all that ancient.

Linda Newbery, Some Other War

My first one was Linda Newbery’s Some Other War, which I bought as it was re-issued about ten years ago, although first published in the early 1990s. Linda came to Offsprings’ school, just before Remembrance Sunday, so very timely. She introduced me to Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, also about a nurse.

Linda has two more books about the same characters; The Kind Ghosts, which starts during the war and ends after it. The third book is The Wearing of the Green, set in Ireland. After this I always get confused, because I tend to think her Shouting Wind trilogy is set in WWI. It isn’t. It’s one war later, about a descendant of the two main characters in Some Other War. So that’s two sets of trilogies about the same family, over many years.

The second nurse story is Theresa Breslin’s Remembrance, which Linda strongly recommended. Similar plot, in a way, with girls going off to war as nurses, and with a love story somewhere, as well as being about the village left behind. Realistic, and enjoyable, if you can say that about so much suffering.

Marcus Sedgwick, The Foreshadowing

My third nurse is only pretending. Marcus Sedgwick’s The Foreshadowing has a female character who is too young to go to war, and she’s not a trained nurse. She has ‘only’ dabbled a bit at nursing at home, before she runs off to Europe, hoping to save her brother’s life. She can ‘see’ things, and she has seen her brother’s death in her mind. With one brother already dead, she’s desperate not to lose her other brother as well.

So, there are similarities, but only because the war was fought in a limited geographical area, and the nursing of soldiers won’t vary much. We are now a long way away in time, but through these books it’s possible to feel something of what it was like.

We have no soldiers left to talk about it, but we mustn’t forget.

The 2013 Carnegie longlists

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals

When the Carnegie longlists were made public on Monday, I was too busy with reviews to blog about them. Besides, I thought it would be good to let everything sink in a little.

It was quite nice to see that the Daniel Finn book I was reviewing right when I received the notification of the longlists had made it on. If not – I mean if I hadn’t read it just then – it would have been yet another book I’d neither read nor heard of.

I’ve been counting. Not an easy task because the longlists are long; I think 68 for the Carnegie Medal and 64 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Then I counted some more, to see if I’d read a reasonable number of them or not. I must admit it’s more towards the ‘or not’ end. 21 and 6 respectively, of which one features on both the lists.

It’s too early to have witchy feels. But I reckon that An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales by Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin would be a pretty worthy winner.

When I reviewed Code Name Verity at the beginning of the year, I did say it was one of the best books ever, so I would obviously have no objection to Elizabeth Wein winning the medal. Several more of the 21 will make it on to my 2012 favourites list. They are all fantastic books. More of the longlist lie waiting in a fairly orderly fashion. Some will get my attention, and others won’t, despite their certain excellence.

Others, I have heard of. And many I’ve not. The question is why not, because they are hardly the Mills & Boon equivalents that I give a wide berth these days.

Taken together, the longlisted books are about as many as I have the capacity to read and review in a year. Seeing as I have read many others that haven’t made it on to the lists, despite being quality books, as well as recent enough, means the world is full of good reads.

See you for the shortlists in March!

Getting to know Mary a bit better

I admit it. I never got the hang of Mary Queen of Scots. Not only was she not the only Mary to be queening away, but I got confused over relations with Elizabeth, as well. And perhaps so did she, judging by Theresa Breslin’s Spy For the Queen of Scots.

Whenever I heard the names of Bothwell or John Knox or even Darnley, I knew I recognised them. Could not have said quite what they did or who they were (surely Mary married one of them?), but all that has changed. Theresa has made people of the names from the history books, and I trust they will now remain with me, and I will always know who they were.

Theresa Breslin, Spy For the Queen of Scots

Not very nice, if looked at from Mary’s point of view. Hard to say if you’d look at them differently if you were Elizabeth, or someone.

I’m still hazy about some of the geography, but could easily picture Mary and her good (if fictional) friend Jenny at Holyrood or Stirling Castle.

The book starts and ends with Mary’s execution, which is a wise decision, since not all readers would know it would end in tears. The story starts in France just before Mary married the Dauphin, eventually becoming Queen of France. There is a poisoner about, and Jenny tries to protect her Queen and best friend.

Sir Duncan Alexander keeps popping up, and Jenny falls in love with him, but she’s never sure whose side he is on. After Mary is widowed they escape to Scotland, where there are even worse wasps’ nests of intrigue than in France. People change allegiance and kill each other at the drop of a hat.

Mary marries again. More than once. Jenny casts longing glances at Sir Duncan, and he at her, but theirs is a slow and uncertain love affair.

I reckon Spy For the Queen of Scots would do very well as a history book in schools. Perhaps with maps and a few other things to back up all the facts, and it should leave most pupils with a good understanding of what happened in the really distant olden days.

It’s interesting how excited you can get reading about imprisonment and escapes and feuds and conspiracies, and the odd poisoning, when you actually know how it must end. And Mary seems quite likeable. I even got the hang of her son James of the two different numbers. I mean I knew already, but now I also understand.

Kelpies and other beasts

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper, An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

It’s not all Grimm. Or Asbjørnsen and Moe. Now we have Theresa Breslin’s An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, fantastically illustrated by Kate Leiper.

You don’t actually need Theresa’s stories to enjoy this book. And you know me, so you know I’m not saying anything bad about either Theresa or her stories. It’s simply that the pictures by Kate Leiper are really something. Theresa thinks so too, which is why I dare suggest her stories aren’t everything.

When I saw Theresa back in August we stood around, just staring at the beautiful kelpie in this book. I’m so glad this picture of the kelpie exists, because it helps me imagine Seth MacGregor’s ‘horse’ so much better.

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper, An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

In a way, these are the same stories we have heard many times before, only now wearing Scottish clothes. But that’s the whole point about folk tales. They get told, by folk, over and over again. They change a bit. Or they don’t.

Sometimes it depends what you heard first, what you will remember, and perhaps re-tell. Because that is what you do; you tell the stories. It’s less about reading and more about sharing tall tales. You know, the one about the clever boy who worked out what to do in a bad situation. The poor woman who wanted a baby. The man who really loved his dog, who loved him in return.

This time it’s Theresa Breslin’s turn to re-tell stories she heard as a child, or learned about in some other way.

It is all very, very Scottish. (And if you are not, there is a handy glossary for Sassenachs.)

How can they not know about the war?

Occasionally I feel the need to apologise, quietly, for my fondness for war novels. It doesn’t always feel right. It’s like crime novels. It ought to be wrong to enjoy something that’s based on someone dying. In war lots of people not only die, but millions more are miserable. How can you enjoy that?

But you need some sort of conflict in a story, and what can be better than war? You don’t even need to blame an individual. We know who or what caused the war, and then the characters can get on with what they have to do.

I’m on this topic again, after the shock of hearing Peter Englund talking about the background to his WWI book; that his history students at Uppsala didn’t know that the war had happened. I felt a bit like, if they didn’t learn about it during history lessons, then surely they must have come across war fiction at some point?

But apparently not.

So I shouldn’t feel bad about war novels. They not only entertain, but can potentially give history lessons where history lessons are needed. In actual fact, I feel I learn more about many school subjects by reading fiction, rather than school books, or listening to teachers droning on and on.

Linda Newbery is someone who has written many WWI novels, and I might not still remember all the fictional details (I am a terrible forgetter), but they still provide me with a good feel for the war as such. The same goes for Theresa Breslin and Marcus Sedgwick. In fact, when my forgetfulness works full time, I find some of the plots blend into one, and that is pehaps because they are all pretty true, and they all share the same basic settings.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

Leaving fiction behind, there is the marvellous Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. That, too, is similar to the novels mentioned above. Presumably because it is about the same period and similar activities.

There is Michael Morpurgo’s tale about the football match played at Christmas between the British and the Germans (based on something real?). I have come across it many times, and would guess many children or former children also have.

I wonder if there is a difference between neutral Sweden and countries which took part in the war? (This in turn makes me think of Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts, featuring the destiny of all the Indians who fought in Europe in the Great War.) Now that no one has a living great grandfather who fought in WWI, it must still be well known. Newspapers write about it often. I imagine families still talk about those who died. And for that matter, those who came back.

Recently I had cause to look at the family tree again (British side), and was reminded of the Resident IT Consultant’s great uncles. He had many of them, but two he never met, because they died within days of each other in July 1916. I keep thinking of how their mother must have felt.