Ordeal by teacher

I grew up surrounded by teachers. Yes, I know, most of you have had quite a few of them in your early lives. I had a few more, what with being the child of one and therefore getting to enjoy many more teachers as friends of the house, so to speak. And that didn’t stop when I left school, for obvious reasons.

I have liked them as much as you like people in general. No better but no odder than the rest of us.

So I was at first surprised by the Resident IT Consultant’s feelings about teachers, but I have become aware how right he is. One of the main characters in this old blog post of mine is a former teacher. And that’s probably half the trouble. Some teachers aren’t nice in the first place. Others forget that they are no longer teachers, with the ‘right’ to tell anyone and everyone off at all times. Those that remain teachers lose track of who they can reasonably treat like naughty children.

And no, that does not include me.

Which brings me to Nicola Morgan, who is excellent in so many ways. She is an author, who does school events. What’s more, she has done extensive research into other areas and written books about her findings, and now she travels the country giving talks on this. She’s good. She has made interesting discoveries and she presents them really well. Anyone would be lucky to hear Nicola speak.

But do those teachers behave? No they don’t. Well, quite a few do, of course, and she has met many good hosts during her travels. But recently she had one or two bad trips, where [head] teachers forgot she is a professional, invited by them and paid by them, and she shouldn’t be treated like a child, whose every move has to be controlled. Or that you drive off leaving her standing alone in the dark outside a school at the end of a long day, with her hoping a taxi will turn up.

Nicola is surprisingly polite still, but decided to put some of her experiences into a blog post on her website. I suspect she’s still holding back a little, but urge you to read what life at school is like, even for invited adults.

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Is last best?

I’d been all set to muse a bit about third books in trilogies, when Helen Grant mentioned another [potentially bad] aspect of writing trilogies, at her Thursday launch.

When asked about the likelihood of a sequel for Ghost, and the question then sliding quickly on to trilogies, Helen pointed out that one awkward thing about them is that for the author who carefully plots books one, two and three, there is much that needs to be written after the first book. But if that doesn’t sell well, the publisher might decide against the next two books.

And then where will you be, a third into a story and no end in sight?

It is, of course, what initially happened to Nick Green’s The Cat Kin. He self published the second and third books, before the whole trilogy was picked up by Strident.

But as Helen said, while she was lucky with her Forbidden Spaces trilogy and it did get published, there was perhaps rather too scant attention from the publisher towards the end.

So, there is every reason to stick to standalone novels. There is always the possibility of sequels by public demand.

Anyway, what I was really getting to here, is the seeming lack of interest from publishers when book three is about to be born. Increasingly, I hear nothing about the ends of trilogies, and there are no review copies available.

I always feel a bit guilty at this point. Am I merely seen as looking for a free book for my own reading pleasure?

Probably.

While I can see there might be less of a need for a big fanfare or a highly publicised launch for the end of a trilogy, a few review copies won’t cost much, compared with other kinds of advertising. Maybe not send out unsolicited book threes, but send to anyone who inquires?

Because I feel third books have often been the best. It’s as if the whole trilogy has been moving towards this point. Not that it’s only a book much the same as the first two and what’s the fuss?

Helen’s Urban Legends was riveting. Especially page 38! And the third books in Michael Grant’s Front Lines and Lee Weatherly’s alternate WWII series were masterpieces of great YA writing. Maybe publishers assume that the fans liked the first ones, so they will discover a way to the end, without reviews or mentions of the books.

These days I find myself looking at sequels to books I’ve never heard of, or the last in a series of books where the publisher has dutifully sent out both proofs and finished copies, when I’ve not shown interest in any of them.

(And, I don’t actually know this, but did J K Rowling get a contract for all seven Harry Potter books? From the start, I mean. Also, there didn’t seem to be any lulls in the publicity when we got to books five, six or even seven. We should have been tired of them by then, surely?)

Ghost has launched

‘Are you turning left?’ I asked, as my kind driver for the evening, Moira Mcpartlin, indicated. In the end we went right. And it went right, all the way to Perth, where Moira parked the car twice. I’d not had my walk for the day, so that was good. We even asked a policeman where we were. Or at least, where we were going.

Clare Cain, Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

To Helen Grant’s launch for Ghost, in case you have been left wondering. Our host at Waterstones ran between unlocking the shops’s front door, to unstacking chairs, serving drinks and selling books. We provided advice as to whether we thought the banner for Ghost was likely to topple and hit the Helens as they talked.

Because you can’t have too many Helens. Last night it was Helen Lewis-McPhee who grilled Helen Grant on her ‘often dark and shadowy mind.’ After an intro-duction from publisher Clare Cain, Helen Grant read from her book, choosing the windowsill chapter early on, to avoid too many spoilers.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Ghost has been the worst book to write, taking first one year, and then another year to rewrite when Helen’s agent said she should. (Personally I have some strong words to say about that. But this is not the place.) As she put it when asked by someone in the audience, some of the changes were good, others merely made it different. And she’s now ready to write something really cheesy, for a change.

I’m not sure this ‘rather dark’ author does cheesy. Helen believes in ghosts in as much that she expects to run into some old, but dead, friends in the street one day.

She starts and ends her days by going on social media, but between that Helen feels it’s important to experience the day happening, maybe by visiting one of the many falling-down houses she enjoys so much, or other ruins. Helen often takes her son when exploring, whereas her husband is unable to ‘sneak around enough.’ She likes being alone out there, too, being quiet.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Asked what she’s working on now, Helen said it’s several different things as she can’t make her mind up. And she ‘cannot say anything briefly.’

Another question was about a sequel to Ghost. Probably not, but she admitted that certain things must happen after the ending to the current book, so…

Helen Grant, Ghost

After all this people mingled and bought books and drank wine and were cultural. (I find Perth a little more grown-up than Stirling. Maybe I ought to go more often.)

Ghost launch Perth

When my copy of the book had been signed, my driver walked us back to the car and drove us safely all the way home, and only once suggested I might be interested in taking up singing.

Odd friends

You can be odd in different ways. You can be simply odd. Or you are odd because there’s only one of you (and I think this is so unfair; you don’t always have to be a pair).

Or you could be a [toy] lion called Rory, who always waits for a bed time story from his friend, the little girl.

Jeanne Willis and Holly Clifton-Brown, Tell Me a Story, Rory

We have a lovely small lion in Jeanne Willis’s Tell Me a Story, Rory, with illustrations by Holly Clifton-Brown. Rory has a large mane for such a tiny lion, and he lives for his little girl’s stories. Until the day she goes away. Little girls eventually stop being little.

There’s nothing else for it. Rory has to tell himself a story.

As for Simon Sock in Sue Hendra’s and Paul Linnet’s story by the same name, with rather stripey pictures by Nick East, he finds out he is odd. That’s why he never gets chosen from the sock drawer. You have to be one of a pair. (Much like in life!)

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet and Nick East, Simon Sock

Simon starts looking for a mate, but there’s something not quite right about them. Until he does find his very own mate, Simone, who’d been missing under the chest of drawers. But she wants to watch television, so it’s not a happy ending for them.

Until… Betty the Banana offers to come out and play. You can be odd, but still not odd.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We’ve recently celebrated the centenary of [some] British women winning the right to vote. It wasn’t for everyone, but it was a start.

Sally Nicholls has written a suffragette novel – Things a Bright Girl Can Do – and as we meet her three main female characters, well-off Evelyn, educated but threadbare May and working class Nell, many of us know that very soon there will be a war, and this won’t be exclusively about the rights for women to vote.

Sally Nicholls, Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We learn a lot about the suffragette movement – and I was reminded of why I always liked Sylvia Pankhurst the best – as our three girls go about campaigning for votes for women in their own different ways. What I particularly liked was that they have sympathetic people close to them; Evelyn’s young man, Teddy, May’s single mother, and Nell’s [literally] very poor parents.

And it’s not just votes for women. May and her mother are Quakers, and both Nell and May like girls best, discovering that they aren’t alone in this. Then there is the lovely Teddy, and the threat of the looming war.

After a quick march through protests and fasting in jail, war breaks out, and it’s much tougher than the way it’s usually described in fiction. Yes, young men go off to be slaughtered, but life in England is really hard, especially for people like Nell and her family, who have no money and little food, and someone is always unwell. Trying to remain a true Quaker is not easy, either, at a time when everyone seems to give up their principles for their country.

The novel is written in the same light style as Sally’s other books, and it works, despite the difficult topics of suffrage, war, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In fact, I feel it works better for having this sweetness about it, as the reality of the war years hits home.

You come to love these characters, and you discover that death isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen.

A pile of ideas

It’s about an inch thick, with a rubber band keeping all the bits of paper under control. They are occasionally cuttings from magazines or newspapers, but mostly my own homemade ‘note paper’ cut from the backs of A4 sheets; old letters or press releases. You get eight if you cut it one way, or nine if you cut it the other way.

They are my ideas for blog posts. Sometimes I sprout so many ideas, so quickly, that I have to write them down to keep for later, and then I stuff them in with all the others, and when I’m desperate for something to write, I search through the bunch of notes.

I’ve only just realised that some of these notes have been with me A Very Long Time. Some are almost as old as Bookwitch. The blog, not the witch. I can tell from the handwriting that some of them were written absolutely ages ago. My writing has changed, mainly because I mostly type, and have half forgotten how to use a pen.

Ideas

At times I find a real gold nugget in there. (Don’t be silly. Not gold gold. Just a good idea.) But mostly there’s a reason they have been rubber-banded in for over ten years, and that’s because the idea is terrible, and I’ve clearly not been desperate enough to use it. Every now and then I go through it and throw away ideas that will never amount to anything. Or the words are so incomprehensible I have no idea what I had in mind.

(The illustrated ideas above can be explained as follows: Photo of Jo Nadin. Prize for Chae Strathie. And it needs to be pointed out that when Hillary Clinton and Mary Beard first met each other, it was in the presence of Daughter. Sort of. And that I’ve not yet managed to do anything with it.)

Ghost

Several things happened while I was reading Helen Grant’s new novel, Ghost.

I had an early e-version of this Gothic thriller, and I’d been describing to Helen how well it worked reading on the iPad. As I restarted, it sort of began scrolling the pages on its own. As I looked, I saw first a name, and soon after, a place. Both were familiar to me from what I’d been reading so far. ‘Damn,’ I thought. I didn’t want that to happen, and I didn’t want an accidental, electronic, spoiler.

But as I arrived at the end of Ghost, none of those things had appeared in the text, although something closely related to both had in fact happened. And as I got to the last line, there was a ghost of a flicker in my mind, reminding me of some other story. Except I can’t now think what, or even if. It was just rather ghost-like.

Helen Grant, Ghost

This is a beautifully written book. Not that I’d expect anything else from Helen Grant. It was hard to put down, and I did so as seldom as I could get away with. I wanted to bask in this quirky tale about the teenage Augusta – Ghost for short – who’d spent all her 17 years living with her grandmother, in secret, in a rambling but derelict house in Perthshire.

It’s a happy life, but frustrating and lonely, until the day Ghost’s grandmother goes shopping and never returns. And then 19-year-old Tom turns up. Both teenagers are equally shocked by the other, and together they have to try and make sense of Ghost’s strange existence.

Her quiet life in the Scottish countryside continues, while the reader waits for the bombshell that must surely come. What will it be, and when?

You’ll be surprised. At least I think you will be, if you have no unravelling pdf on your hands. Or, could it be that all copies of Ghost will have some kind of ghost inside? Not necessarily the same for all, but you know, some other-worldly hint.

Helen Grant is masterly at quietly worrying her readers.

I will – probably – be OK soon. I’m just not used to psychological thrillers.