Monthly Archives: April 2007

Dead detective

I’m a bit wishy washy and never know whether to think for myself or to say what others might approve of. But I did like Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant. I don’t know if it’s true that he’s been paid a seven figure sum for this book and the next two, and it seemed rude to press him on this when we met yesterday. Derek has Spielberg and Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio phoning, and he reckons he never needs to go back to the family farm to work again. This is enough to make most of us pretty envious.

I assume HarperCollins know what they’re doing and that they’ll get their money back from sales. Skulduggery Pleasant is already no.1 in Ireland, though as Eoin Colfer pointed out it doesn’t take that much to top the Irish bestseller list, being a small country.

The comparison with Eoin and his Artemis Fowl stories is easy to make. Both are Irish, both are funny, both are fantasy and crime. Though as Derek said, Skulduggery is mostly crime, apart from the small fact that his detective is dead. Skulduggery and his twelve-year-old sidekick Stephanie chase evil forces through Dublin, with plenty of action. It’s a little bit Harry Potter, but not much. What makes the book worth reading is the humour in the dialogue. Action is action to some extent, but I found the relationship between Stephanie and Skulduggery a nice one, and I look forward to meeting them again.

Although Derek admits to only getting out of bed at noon; once he has walked the dog and played video games, he writes for ten hours until early morning. And he enjoys it.

So far Derek appears to have kept a couple of feet on the ground. He also looks very normal and ordinary, so it seems as if new stars in the publishing world don’t absolutely have to be young and beautiful, or super confident public performers. Derek stammers, but this doesn’t get in the way much. He comes across well in his meeting with the group of thirty young book reviewers at Simply Books, and he does a nice line in faces to order when signing books.

In his new celebrity life Derek has been interviewed by a turkey puppet on Irish television. Maybe this stops him from missing the cauliflower and celery on the farm.


Carnegie shortlist

Six authors have been trying to keep quiet about this for some time now, but at long last the world can be told as well. The shortlist for the Carnegie medal for children’s books is Marcus Sedgwick, My Swordhand is Singing; Meg Rosoff, Just in Case; Ally Kennen, Beast; Anne Fine, The Road of Bones; Siobhan Dowd, A Swift Pure Cry; and Kevin Brooks, The Road of the Dead. So, as usual it should be difficult to decide who wins in the end, as these are some very fine authors.

The bookwitch isn’t even going to try any magic this time, but will close her eyes and wait.

And as you seemingly can’t have too many polls or lists they have also come up with a top ten of past winners. A good list, but perhaps too concentrated on more recent books.


Is the modern equivalent of boring people stiff with photos of your darling children, to blog about them? I don’t have many photos (backlog since 1998 in the album department) or see all that many people face to face. I do draw the line at whipping out the family album at the greengrocers.

When I had the children I imagined they’d mostly be useful for carrying things for me, after a few years of nappy changing. Now I’m astonished to find they make wonderful blog fillers, too. And they’re taller than their mother, so can reach things on the highest shelves.

Yesterday I hung out Son18 in the Guardian’s blog to show what a perfect, lying cheat he is, pretending to have read books he hasn’t. And getting away with it.

I was even paid the most charming compliment by one of the other bloggers for the quality of my post, that was so good it may not even be true. (You weren’t being sarcastic there, I hope..?) Thing is, with a son like mine, I don’t need to make it up. Truth is more amusing than fiction. And Philip Pullman; please tell me you’re not reading this! Son was made to read The Prisoner of Zenda immediately after our conversation.


I love the way you can abbreviate long book titles!

I hope you have all bought a copy of the above book by now. For the uninitiated the name of the book is Take Off Your Party Dress, and it was written by Dina Rabinovitch. It’s only £7.99 and all proceeds go to cancer research. So even if you don’t want to read it, you can afford to buy it.

And when you have bought it, you’ll want to read it, because it’s good. It must be very hard to write entertainingly about cancer. And to do it when you’re the patient ought to be near impossible. I’ve followed Dina’s columns in the Guardian over the last few years, however squeamish I might have felt. It makes for compelling reading and I’m so grateful Dina has had the strength to share her experiences with us.

To read more click on the link to Dina’s blog.

And buy the book. For your friends, too.

Thank you.


Kurt Vonnegut wrote books for adolescents, or at least that’s what his obituary said. So that would be why he has suited me so well, adolescence being the next thing up from being a child, which is where I normally reside. As a real adolescent I introduced my Maltese penfriend to Vonnegut, although he (the penfriend) at first seemed to doubt that a northern European girl could know about decent books. In return I got Isaac Asimov, who wasn’t half bad either.

Someone on the Guardian’s blog remarked that it got rather tedious by the time twenty or so people had quoted that famous phrase of Vonnegut’s. So I won’t do it here. It wouldn’t feel natural anyway, as I didn’t read Slaughterhouse 5 in English. But it was a nice feeling a couple of years ago to realise that I could introduce the eldest offpring to something from my past that I could be sure he would like. So I bought a copy of Slaughterhouse 5 in English at long last.

Så kan det gå.

Wilbur Smith

Confession time again. I haven’t read him. But a lot of people have. Wilbur Smith came to the watering hole today, and many fans got very excited and some travelled a long way to meet him.

Wilbur Smith shakes everyone’s hand. Twice. And for some weird reason he asks couples if they “are together”. Thing like that could lead to awful complications, if he’s not careful.

It’s quite interesting to see what a really big name is like at a book signing. He had a far more professional team of helpers than many. Very professional wife, who kept everyone in order and made sure no fan was missed. The shady looking character who flitted about the shop turned out to be Mr Macmillan himself. That sort of puts things in perspective.

A friendly milk carton

I have an umbrella stand just inside my front door. Quite a nice one, from Marks & Spencer. I keep umbrellas in it. I’ll have to rethink this state of affairs, now that I’ve read China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun.

I’d never heard of China or his books before. His name and the title of this latest book, his first for children, somehow make me think of, well, China. But it’s about London, in a Diagon Alley meets the Oxford Ring Road, Pullman style, kind of way.

I sighed when I saw the size of it, another five hundred pages plus book. (Seriously, I’d really welcome more books at two hundred pages.) I like fantasy, or so I thought. The first third of Un Lun Dun nearly made me give up, my brain whirling with all the new concepts China must have spent ages thinking up. But I persevered, as it’s an easy read, not counting all the weird creatures you might have to remember for later. All I can say is, I want a milk carton like the one in the book.

This fantasy, set in an alternate London, is really about pollution and crooked politicians. I think. And sidekicks are good, all things considered.

Un Lun Dun is about two girls, Zanna and Deeba, who accidentally end up in UnLondon, where a war is about to begin. The story is full of a bewildering number of strange, but mostly likeable characters, good and bad. It’s about growing with the task at hand, and coping with new challenges. But I wonder if China made the two girls females to be politically correct, because I don’t feel they are “real” girls. That aside, Un Lun Dun is a really good adventure that should get a lot of fans. The editing has slipped up in a couple of places, but it’s not a big deal.

China has also made the drawings throughout the book. They are very good indeed and help when trying to visualise this very different place.

Along with the milk carton, I’d quite like a book like the book in the book. If you know what I mean. But I’m much less sure of the umbrella situation.