Mind the Gap

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

I’m an adult, so I knew where Phil Earle was going with his new book for Barrington Stoke. I’d read the same newspaper article he had when he was inspired. But it was still not obvious how he’d get the hero of his story there.

Phil has written about bleak teen lives before, but there was something that shocked me more than before in Mind the Gap. Mikey’s mother is a real piece of work and I’d happily do something to her myself.

Mikey’s father has died and he’s so lost that his best friend realises he needs to help Mikey before he loses his friend completely. But how do you find the voice of a dead man?

This is a tough story, but so much more inspiring because of it.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly

Will Duffy be riding into the sunset at the end of Adrian McKinty’s sixth novel about our – well, mine – favourite RUC detective? It’s quite obvious throughout the book that Duffy has had enough. More enough than before. You read and hope Adrian isn’t paving the way for killing Duffy, because it’d clearly be easier to kill someone tired of his current existence. But then he has a girlfriend and daughter to live for, although the relationship with Beth isn’t going well.

Adrian McKinty, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

Duffy is forced to dig his own grave, but as it comes first in the book, you hope it won’t be as final as it is made to look. Life in 1980s Northern Ireland seems harder than ever, and it’s not just the IRA or their Protestant counterparts. Duffy has always annnoyed his superiors, but never more than now.

Two attacks with bows and arrows, leaving one man dead, are mystifying the police, and as always it is hard to get witnesses to come forward, because they ‘didn’t see anything.’ Healthier that way.

I could be wrong, but the religious division felt worse than ever. And ironically some of Duffy’s strongest support comes from the Protestants around him. Although school friends are not always wrong, even at times like these.

He swears a lot, drives too fast and he drinks far too much, but Duffy is still someone you want for your friend. Just like Carrickfergus in 1988 appears to be more attractive than I suppose it was, back then. You want it to end well, even if this could be Duffy’s final mystery. You want his two fellow detectives to survive, too, and you’re even hoping for a rosy future for us all.

Hah.

And the bow and arrow thing is obvious once you know how and why.

Did I ever mention how much I love these books?

Babette laid an egg

Babette Cole

I well remember the shocked giggling at the book party. Back then, about twenty years ago, I was part of a group of mothers who hosted and attended many selling parties, and one kind was the Red House book party. That’s where my neighbour discovered Babette Cole’s Mummy Laid an Egg!

Babette Cole, Mummy Laid an Egg

She had probably been a little bit too properly brought up for the openness in Babette’s book. Hence the palpable shock, even if she giggled. Which just goes to prove how essential this very funny picture book was, and still is. Children need to be told where babies come from, if only so they can pass that knowledge on to their parents.

And now Babette has died, and there won’t be any more books to produce such gasps among the older generation.

Night Shift

As well as the blog featuring her depression Debi Gliori has written a book about it. It’s a picture book for adults, and if it wasn’t for the very difficult subject, I would say it’s a beautiful book.

Well, it is a beautiful book, of course. It’s just that it makes for difficult reading, if you stop and think that that might be you. Or if you know that it actually is you.

Debi Gliori, Night Shift

There are few words in this book. Sometimes I think we use too many words and the thing we are wanting to talk about just disappears among all those words that weren’t necessary. Debi is brief and to the point, and as you read the short sentences, you look at the accompanying illustrations. And you feel.

Those clichés people use when they are trying to be helpful are in there. I’m guessing Debi has heard them a lot. ‘Chin up. Get a grip.’ You know. What does it mean?

Throughout the book someone like Debi is being chased by dark dragons. Until that moment when something small, but significant, turns up. Something that could make a difference.

At least for the time being.

Read this if you want to know what it’s like. Read this if you know what it’s like. Share it. More people need to know what it’s like.

Feeling down

I feel sad sometimes. I’ve never really known where the boundary between sad and depressed is. It could be as with pain; one person’s ‘I can cope with it’ could easily be someone else’s ‘I can’t bear this!’ and if you are only one person, how can you compare?

I didn’t know Debi Gliori suffered from depression, or at least, not to what extent. As from this week she is writing about it on her new blog, and having read what Debi has to say, I can safely say that I am not depressed.

Sharing bad stuff is good on many counts, and I’m hoping that writing about this will in some way make Debi feel better too. But it will be useful for other sufferers, who will see they are not alone, and can compare notes on how the depression presents itself. And it ought to be informative for friends and family of those who are depressed, because not everyone can express themselves so well, or so openly.

So while pulling yourself together is all very well, let’s agree that it is awfully hard to do. Sometimes impossible, and it’s not for want of trying.

Reckless and Swedish

Those Swedes are fortunate. Cornelia Funke has such a good relationship with her Swedish publishers that she wrote a short Reckless story, exclusively for them.

This does mean that most of you won’t be able to read it, but who cares? Strömkarlens fiol, en Stockholmsnovell, is sheer magic, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Set in the Stockholm of Mirrorworld we meet a new city. Old, obviously, but new to me. I think that’s the thing. Stories set in old Sweden usually don’t have this magical feel to them. This was as though Stockholm has grown up, and become a proper fairy setting like many others, all over the world.

Jakob and Fox travel to Sweden to try and retrieve a violin. It’s not just any old violin, but a real Strömkarl violin. A Strömkarl is that man who stands in a river/waterfall, playing and mesmerising those who hear him. And now one such instrument has been stolen, and a young girl’s life depends on it being found.

Short but exciting, with plenty of charm. I could read more of this kind of thing. And nice illustrations by Cornelia.

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day