Abigay’s Farm

This book by Odette Elliott, who has long been a reader of Bookwitch, is relatively short, but it has everything. By this I mean it’s a nice story, in that old-fashioned sense, while also giving us a mixed race family, illness and potential disability, discussing problems facing farmers today, and how to deal with bullying. That might be all, but is definitely enough to be going on with.

Twins Abigay and Gabriel get on – I was going to say, surprisingly well – but they are twins, so this will explain their interaction with each other. Used to doing everything together, enjoying life on their grandparents’ farm, Abigay is shipped off on her own, because Gabriel is in hospital.

The farm is lovely, but there is something different about it too. The grandparents look worried and the local bully seems extra sure of himself. Abigay finally works out what it is, and she also works out how things might be solved. Back in London there are new problems for Gabriel, meaning more worrying on all fronts.

But as I said, this is a nice story, and things will work out. Eventually.

I would like to have a farm like this to visit. I suppose having grandparents would be taking wishes too far, but a favourite spot in the countryside would be lovely.

a Boy his Bear and a Bully

Be brave.

That’s not easy, I know.

In a Boy his Bear and a Bully, Katie Flannigan writes about Scott who takes his teddy to school with him. He’s not alone, as Rosie brings her unicorn to school too. But Duncan, he’s the mean one, bullying Scott every day.

And then Buttons – that’s the teddy – disappears.

I think we all know what happened. But how to sort it? Well, it’s Dress Up Day, and wearing his dinosaur suit, Scott finally knows what he has to do. It still takes courage.

I hope readers of this book will be able to be braver than I would be.

Illustrations by P J Reece.

Kevin’s cat

The laptops kept coming. That was the third one in just over a week. Clearly life in the corporate world is different from what we’ve known until now. Although, I’d have expected the equipment to be new. Or at least clean.

So there we were, with laptop number three. Number two had just been processed, so Daughter held off on its successor for a couple of days. She felt a bit ill. So did I. Or rather, it was that gunky hayfevery feel again, autumn notwithstanding.

On the third day she sat down to clean number three. At least one cat hair was found, plus much general dirt. The penny dropped. What if this ill we were feeling was a reaction to stealth cat invasion?

I suggested she ask the IT guy if the previous user of laptop number three had a cat. Immediate response saying he was called Kevin and yes he does have a cat and how did she know?

Good question, that.

At our end I forbade her hugging me while she was still wearing the catty top, before we both stripped off, had showers and wiped off the furniture. You touch a lot before you know that Kevin’s cat is in the house. Wipes not being enough, the Resident IT Consultant suggested she get some air in, for blowing those cat hairs away, just like McGee does in NCIS.

Next time we’ll know to request, no, demand, clean tech. New would be preferable, but at least CLEAN! Did Kevin’s mother teach him nothing?

Yeah, well

I can see clearly now…

I’m not sure I knew quite what ailed me. Or what I wanted.

But I lasted something like two days before my two typing fingers were itching again. Watched an online Society of Authors Afternoon Tea interview with Jacqueline Wilson, where Dawn Finch asked lots of pertinent questions and got many interesting, neither stale nor old, answers from Jacqueline. I couldn’t quite adapt to the ‘watch only, take no notes and do not write about it afterwards’ regime.

If I can do this at my own pace, with no gifted books or events tickets breathing down my neck, I might well be able to share my opinions with you regularly.

‘Oh, goody,’ I hear you say.

Yeah, well, that’s life.

I’ll work something out. I have far too many opinions wanting to get out there, for me to hold them in. What if I burst?

TTFN

I’ve been lucky. Or perhaps I should call it successful, if that’s not too big a word to use? Because I have achieved what I set out to do, fourteen and a half years ago.

I have done writing. And reading. I have travelled and I’ve met a lot of great people. I have been to fun events. Occasionally I was almost a little bit famous, in the right circles. Not too much, but still.

Giving this up is hard. So hard that I am going to take a little break first. This means there are few promises as to what will come, but I suspect I will find it impossible to stay away completely. Expect a trickle of witchy stuff for a while. Maybe.

But right now I have one or two things to do, and I need to attend to them without feeling I’ve not written today’s blog post yet.

There are some books outstanding. Some books are also outstanding. I imagine I will tell you about them. Later.

I wasn’t sure how to choose my ‘when’ moment, but after so long of no live events and no live meetings with authors, I feel Saturday’s Pitch Black Humour is a good one to finish with. After all, it featured a Finnish crime writer, a local[ish] author closely connected with Bloody Scotland, which in turn is set in my current home town, plus my favourite author from Fort William, who I’d never heard of before Bookwitch, and who now features big in our minds, here at Bookwitch Towers.

So, I’m pausing with a smile. A laugh, even.

Pitch Black Humour

Of course we wouldn’t go to see Val McDermid instead! Here were three funny crime writers, being chaired quite unexpectedly by publisher Karen Sullivan, who has form for not necessarily keeping control of proceedings like these. She did. And she didn’t.

Karen was a bit taken aback by Barry Hutchison. She had to make sure he wasn’t an old boyfriend of hers by the same name. He was there as J D Kirk, which is quite different. There was Doug Johnstone, who wore shorts. Shorts, I tell you! Barry dressed like the gentleman he is. I was proud of him. And between them was Antti Tuomainen, who is that impossible creature, a funny Finn. He writes about mushrooms, and actuaries. Very funny. He’s got the same wife as Barry. She doesn’t find him/them in the slightest bit funny. If he’s also gone out with Karen is a different question again.

By the way, I didn’t take notes. I was wanting to enjoy my evening out on the town, so just skulked quietly in my corner at the Golden Lion.

I keep forgetting what a well educated man Doug is. Despite the shorts. PhD in nuclear physics. Drummer. Plays football for the Scottish crime writers. His latest humorous books feature a funeral parlour, so he balances nicely with Barry, whose biggest laugh was with his father and sister at his mother’s funeral (which reminds me a little of Catriona McPherson in that same room a couple of years ago..), in the best of ways.

All three talked about some of the general stuff that authors get asked about when it comes to books and writing. And they answered in a humorous manner, arguing with each other as though they were long time friends. Karen was good at getting them started, if not always able to stop them. But that’s humour for you.

Asked about their favourite, humorous crime writer, Antti mentioned Chris Brookmyre. Karen pointed out Chris was sitting ‘over there.’ As Barry said, it got a bit embarrassing, as he was also going to choose Chris. At which point Doug asked if he wasn’t allowed to pick Chris as well. (Chris had obviously paid them handsomely.)

And speaking of Chris, he sat next to Mark Billingham, and I’m willing to stake my reputation on the ‘teenager’ next to them being James Oswald. It’s amazing what jeans and a t-shirt and long hair and a facemask does to one’s favourite crime writer coo farmer. In fact, lots of people [still] had Covid hair, including Bloody Scotland director Bob McDevitt. Recognised a few other people there, but had they been unmasked I’m sure I’d have ‘known’ even more.

Antti and Doug haven’t written that many books. I mean, in comparison. Barry’s 140 children’s books might have got a mention as did some of his other ‘adult’ books before the DCI Logan books, of which there are 12, with the 13th coming in December. Plus the new series starting in October. All this speedy writing is facilitated by him being unable to see a blue spot when he closes his eyes!

They were asked what books they read, that are funny. Chris Brookmyre, apparently, is funny. As was Iain Banks. Douglas Adams. Barry mentioned Terry Pratchett, who he avoided for a long time because the books were recommended to him by his mother’s friend. Quite beyond the pale. Until he picked one up and discovered what the rest of us already knew.

At this point I was struck by what I am about to do, which is to recommend one of Barry’s children’s books to a boy whose mother I know. It’s, well, I don’t know. But us older women know what’s what.

At the end I dashed out to stand first in line for the signing, cornering J D quite nicely, getting the signature and the requisite doodle, along with bits of news. And then I abandoned him for some macaroni cheese I had waiting for me.

A criminal song and dance

Isn’t it funny how we seem to be so fond of people doing something other than what they normally do, or are famous for? When my intended Bloody Scotland date with James Oswald et al last night turned out not be available online yet, I turned to the music.

Yes, the music. It’s the obvious thing for six professional killers to engage in on a crimefest weekend. I had actually considered going down to the Albert Halls to see the concert in person, but shied away because it was a bit late. And all those happy people in the audience might be, you know, a little too happy.

As Daughter commented when Val McDermid entered the stage singing, ‘is there nothing Val can’t do?’ I brought to her attention the fact that ladies of a certain age are Very Good At Everything. Cough.

It was very enjoyable. I’d also decided not to take notes, because I was just going to have fun, albeit in my own living room. Anyway, it’s not as if the six – Val, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre – were talking about their writing. They really do seem to be Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, and they’d been apart for far too long.

They sent us off on a drinking interval, the better to appreciate them in the second half.

The thing is, though, having imbibed the special Bloody Scotland non-alcoholic gin, I was nowhere drunk enough not to mind what happened next. I completely lost my pioneering spirit when part two went soundless. I’m guessing someone switched off the sound for the interval, and then didn’t flick the switch back. The online audience engaged in some frantic chat, and Daughter wondered whether she should actually drive over to the Albert Halls and alert them.

You’ll be relieved to hear that the music came back after 20 minutes, in time for Delilah. It took me until Whiskey in the Jar to thaw, however, so my thanks to Stuart for that. They went out on a high, with I’m gonna be 500 miles – which is a long enough distance for anyone – and my parting words will be that in future they allow [little] Luca to Britney on to his heart’s content. It’s what he wants.

The Primrose Railway Children

Paying hommage to an older author’s book, one that you’ve enjoyed a lot, is nearly always a good idea. Thanks to Bank Holiday television there can’t be a person in this country who hasn’t watched the film version of Edith Nesbit’s book The Railway Children. I’d like to think that this by itself would be enough for children to discover Nesbit and her many books.

However, if not, then surely the fact that Jacqueline Wilson has now written a book inspired by The Railway Children will send young readers looking for more by Edith. It’s a different story, one set in modern times, which probably suits Jacqueline’s fans better.

It took me a while to work out why it’s called The Primrose Railway Children… Jacqueline gave her fictional siblings a vintage railway, once she had discovered the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, and realised that this was how she could write her Railway Children story.

This way her fans can have a traditional Jacqueline Wilson book, but with a hint of history as well. Best of both worlds.

Illustrations by Rachael Dean.

No Man’s Land

It wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting, this dystopian story by Joanna Nadin. It’s actually quite scary, in more ways than one.

Set in a future that doesn’t feel either all that far off, or terribly unlikely, it can certainly scare us adults. Whether young readers of a similar age to the main character – Alan – who is ten, will read it as ‘merely’ a futuristic adventure, I can’t say.

Albion is a far-right country, getting ready for war with the foreigners of Europe. There are pockets of non-Albion areas, like Caledonia (good old Scotland!) and also No Man’s Land, which is where Alan and his little brother are sent by their Dad, to be safe.

They don’t want to go, and – at first – they don’t like it there. But you get used to things. Just as you will continue longing for that which you miss very much.

Alan knows he’s no hero. He just does his best.

And I will pray that our future looks nothing like this Albion place.

The Dying Day

Persis Wadia is still as awkward as she was in Vaseem Khan’s first book about this pioneering female detective in 1950s Bombay. She shoots people (villains) and she solves the crime[s] put in front of her, despite ‘just being a woman’ in this man’s world. But Persis is also a little bit inept at romance. Which of course makes it all the more fun. Will they get there in the end, or is it going to be such slow going that they never do?

This time someone has stolen a book. But not just any book; Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which was being translated by a specialist, who has also disappeared. Possibly with the book, or it could be a coincidence.

Time is of the essence, and then Persis is handed another crime to solve. This one is a supposed suicide, which quickly becomes a murder case.

As in the first book, it’s fun to see Bombay as it was, shortly after independence, and to do so not through the eyes of a man, or a white person. We learn more about Persis, her past, her friends, even her lover. And her colleagues are growing, becoming more interesting, promising more books with more depth.