A Bookwitch interview

Only it’s the other way round. This time I have been interviewed, by the Swedish Book Review, in their autumn edition which is mainly about children’s and YA authors.

They have translated short pieces by several authors, and they have interviewed publisher and translator Julia Marshall. And me.

Swedish Book Review

The authors are Per Gustavsson, Annelis Johansson, Cilla Nauman, Frida Nilsson and Malte Persson. All good, honest Swedish names, and no, I don’t know much about these writers, either. But then they are not part of my area of expertise, and perhaps I don’t really belong in this illustrious company.

But there I am anyway.

It was fun to be included, although now I can see how hard it is to be on the other side, coming up with answers to what might not be the questions you’d imagined someone would ask.

Swedish Book Review

Swedish Book Review

Lockwood – The Hollow Boy

All of Chelsea is covered in ghosts, and Lockwood & Co have not been invited to help fight them. All the other agencies are there.

You and I know how unfair that is, and so do Lockwood and his two assistants. They have to persevere with some of the more minor ghostly problems in London, and you and I know how good they are with stuff like that. They only disobey Lockwood’s orders occasionally, risking their lives and making mistakes that could cost people their lives. But on the whole they do well.

Jonathan Stroud, The Hollow Boy

Lucy is particularly keen to try her special abilities to solve the ghosts’ problems, and Lockwood would rather she didn’t. She is getting on better with her dreadful green pal in the jar she carries around, and he in turn has some helpful suggestions for how she could get rid of… Well, I won’t tell you who, but let’s just say Lucy and the boys don’t agree on something of great importance.

Brave and talented though Lucy and Lockwood are, I’m not sure where they would be without George. He is often quiet and always hungry, but generally researches their cases thoroughly, discovering what others have missed or not even bothered to look up in the first place. I have to admit to seeing him in a new light in this third book about our psychic investigators.

Old enemies surface, as do new ghosts, and that person I was referring to above. Chelsea needs saving, and then there is the mystery of Lockwood’s sister.

This is another jolly, thrilling and amusing instalment in the Lockwood saga. I have to admit to panicking towards the end, when it looked like George’s cake-eating was about to take a beating. But I’ve been reassured there are many more ghosts coming my way.


Our GP has an online system for requests for repeat prescriptions. It could be better, and in fact, it was better before they ‘improved’ it a few months ago.

The medicine is already listed online, so you only need to tick a box. Before, you could also scroll down a list of all the local pharmacies (there aren’t that many) and tick the one where you wanted to pick up your medicine.

The improved way is you simply write it in the box. Simple, as long as you can remember what it’s called. Even the Resident IT Consultant, whose job it is to go and get it, can barely remember.

So each time we have to look it up. (I know I have made a note somewhere to remind me, but I can’t remember where it is.) What I do know is that I want to call it Gilderoy & Lockhart. I suppose it’s sort of literary.

That’s not their name, however. It’s a little bit the same, though, and both versions have an ampersand. Which the online ordering system can’t support…

This is Scotland

These two picture books – Tig and Tag, and The Little House by the Sea – are Scotland personified. Benedict Blathwayt has caught both the Scottish countryside and the seaside perfectly. As an older reader I don’t need the stories, although they are sweet and funny; I just crave the illustrations of this wishful-thinking style Scotland.

Benedict Blathwayt, Tig and Tag

Tig and Tag are two somewhat naughty sheep who prefer to live in comfort with the humans, and not with the other sheep. They cause problems wherever they go, but occasionally they can be good too. Like when they chase the dog that chased the other sheep. Or silly, like the time they ran away from home to avoid having their coats sheared.

In The Little House by the Sea we meet a decrepit and abandoned house. Well, not really abandoned, as the ruins give shelter to much wildlife. Until the day Finn the fisherman turns up and gives the old place a makeover, and then comes to live in the house he’s made. What will happen to all those who used to live there?

Benedict Blathwayt, The Little House by the Sea

You can find a solution to everything. And the books are very lovely.

Not here you don’t

‘Would you like a different ending with that?’ Or how about a new first chapter?

Book publishing is hardly the same as ordering chips with your meal, instead of the boiled new potatoes. And still, publishers will insist on things being done their way. Sometimes that’s probably wise, because they have the experience. On the other hand, the author has the book in his or her head.

I remember Fletcher Moss being bemused by Chicken House telling him that his competition winning – first – novel had to be turned round quite drastically, to be publishable.

And now Cornelia Funke has been told the Americans need a different beginning to her new book, already published in Germany. Americans are a bit more cautious about what’s acceptable or not. But the book is already out there, and it’s not as if they were forced to buy Cornelia’s book.

So she’s self-publishing, which feels the last thing you’d expect someone like Cornelia having to do. But she’s lucky, because it seems she was handed back the rights to the entire series (the ‘problem’ is with the third book), thus enabling her to do this. Many authors struggle for years getting the rights back to their books, even when the publisher wants nothing more to do with it. Perhaps because she’s Cornelia Funke and not some minor, unknown writer?

Cornelia Funke

I think I have heard of novels where there are differences in other languages. But I trust only minor ones. I’m thinking of the discussion I had with my First Best Friend in our teens. Strangely enough we both liked the same band, and the same track too. Except we argued about what album the track was on. We were both right, of course. I’d bought my LP in London, and she hers in Sweden. The LPs were different. But I’d rather not have the same argument over how a novel ends; did they live happily ever after? Or not?


Liquidator is a rather unpleasant drink. Or rather, it is a drink that makes you want more and more, and that’s what’s unpleasant. In the first place it’s not good for you, and in the second place, forced dependency is bad. But we know about products like these, or at least we suspect they exist. But the nice, [extra]ordinary children in Andy Mulligan’s novel Liquidator want to believe the drink tastes so good because it is good. Or not bad. Not that they are being tricked into drinking bottle after bottle of something harmful.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Liquidator is the kind of book that makes you happy to be alive. Not because of the crooks who make and sell the drink, but because Andy has – yet again – written a story about children who are so resourceful, so brave and determined, that you sort of glow quietly as you read. He has a knack of shaping characters who are kind, and who aren’t always sniping at each other, or any of the other traits so commonly used to carry a plot forward.

I didn’t read Liquidator in one sitting. It deserved it, but things got in the way, and I minded dreadfully because I needed to read this book.

The teenagers in Liquidator are about to go off and do their work experience; some of them doing precisely the kind of job they wanted to, others doing the exact opposite. Vicky ends up making sandwiches for the company responsible for Liquidator, and that’s where she accidentally discovers that not everything is all right.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Her friends are all over the place, doing work experience as a dog walker, cleaning sewers, doing surgery (yes, really), singing with a famous pop star, flower arranging, manning the phones at a 999 call centre, journalism and so on. Varied stuff, but as you read on, you realise these children will all be needed, and so will their respective ‘skills’ or workplaces. What always gets me with Andy’s children is their resourcefulness and the fact that they simply tackle what’s coming and get on with it, all the time being friendly to classmates they might not ordinarily choose to be friends with. War time spirit, perhaps.

The people who made Liquidator are not nice. Not nice at all. They will stop at nothing. Luckily the teenagers won’t stop either. And equally luckily, they are assisted by a small number of unusual adults, who also won’t stop for anything. Sometimes literally. You know that helpless feeling you get when stuck in a motorway jam, not moving an inch? Well here’s inspiration for you!

This is a true feelgood thriller, made possible by real teenagers (I believe Andy borrows characters from life), a serious crime, and solidarity. There’s not enough of that out there. The solidarity, I mean.

Book Week Scotland Launch

Or Bookwitch Scotland, as I prefer to think of it. I mean, what’s the difference? Just a couple of letters and Book Week Scotland could be all mine. I’m sure the nice people at Scottish Book Trust wouldn’t mind [too much].

Could have sworn I saw poet Simon Armitage at Waverley station as I arrived, although if it’s a case of providing an alibi, then I will not swear at all. Book Week Scotland was launched so conveniently close to Waverley, that in order to get my daily walk I actually had to walk to the station at the home end.

Book Week Scotland starts on the 23rd of November, and I’d say it will be well worth the wait. The list of who’s on offer made even this tired and slightly jaded witch feel much less tired, setting her thinking of all the nice events that she could go to.

Where, it has to be said, she’d have to do a better job than at Tuesday’s launch, standing at the back, not quite managing to photograph the speakers, and then not quite managing to jot down the names of everyone or remembering to take the sheets provided home. That sort of thing.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

I recognised a number of people, chatted to Helen Grant, and photographer Chris Scott of multicoloured hair fame. Keith Gray was there to speak, which he did with his normal flair. Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, was also there, also doing a nice speech, proving that some politicians do read. She loves Narnia, but didn’t get that encyclopedia at the age of five that she asked for.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

There were partybags and there was bunting. There was food, including some very tasty ‘green goo on toast.’ It wasn’t me who dropped it, but I could almost have licked it off the floor…

Author Anne Donovan spoke about her very normal request for Wilfred Owen’s poetry at the age of 15, Alice in Wonderland, and her early fascination with Wuthering Heights.

Keith Gray

Former reluctant reader Keith Gray mentioned H P Lovecraft and how school can make you think books are to be studied, not enjoyed. He thanked his school librarian, who changed his life, and pointed out that a teacher only knows a child for a year or two, but the librarian is there for the duration of school. And ‘books are for life, not just for homework.’