Monthly Archives: June 2007

Totally Brilliant

is the title of Cathy Hopkins’ Truth, Dare, Kiss, Promise omnibus just out. It covers the first three books, set in Cornwall (aka Cathy Hopkins country to the bookwitch family) and features Cat, Becca, Lia, Mac and Squidge.

And having caught glimpses of Cathy in various copies of Publishing News recently, I have to say I’d walk straight past her if we met. This business of thinking up excuses not to go to the gym is clearly a clever cover-up for the fact that Cathy has been a very good girl. She looks younger, slimmer and blonder than ever.

So I just wouldn’t have recognised her.


More high school fiction

I know, I know. I shouldn’t have written what I did about lack of American fiction. It’s all over my house now.

When I was young, Joyce Carol Oates was a poet. And I don’t do poetry much. But here’s this young adult book written by her, called Sexy. Of all things. I’ve investigated her a little, and it seems she writes a lot of a lot of things, including teen fiction.

Sexy is about a good looking sixteen-year-old boy and his (possibly) gay teacher. Again a very clichéd subject, but still quite enjoyable. It’s not a new book. I think it’s been out for a couple of years or so.

At this rate I’ll soon know all there is to know about American high schools. Maybe.

Adventures in the book trade

As his friends make their way home from a Friday or Saturday night out, Son gets on his bike (not in the political sense, I think) at 3.40 a.m. and cycles the six miles to work. His part time job at the weekend is selling books for the big bookshop chain at our local airport.

They open at 4.30 in the morning. By then Son will have gone through security like everyone else, which can include taking his shoes off to be X-rayed. And no drinks, just as for passengers. Drinks have to be bought at airport prices.

If the air conditioning in the shop worked it wouldn’t be so hot, but it doesn’t. One of the passengers passing through (who only happened to be an airport director) was so enraged by this that he took advantage of his position (apparently not allowed) to threaten Son. Good work, as it’s clearly Son’s fault that it’s hot, and all sixth formers are quite capable of repairing air conditioning systems. Especially when alone on duty with a queue of shoppers.

Company policy appears to be that staff mustn’t recommend books. They favour not displaying the books in the best way. (Son sold more books than ever, the morning he arrived to find water damaged books from a dripping ceiling, and simply piled them on the floor as a first measure.) And whenever the till doesn’t cope with plastic card chips, staff are supposed to not sell the customers their books.

It’s an interesting and different concept, isn’t it? (Almost like the Swedish state owned off license shops that have a duty to dissuade customers from buying their goods. The idea really appeals to me…)

Anyway, Son sometimes sabotages these rules by giving advice, even occasionally recommending a book (you didn’t read that here!) or displaying books in such a way that they catch the customer’s eye.

I believe customers in so called travel shops are particularly good ones, as they buy more than those in the high street. Perhaps the extra revenue could cover a new, working, till and even pay for an air conditioning engineer? And if there’s any money left over, consider free drinks for staff.

The very lovely Philip Ardagh

When we met yesterday I had a lot of fun with Philip Ardagh. So it’s not just reading his books. He is a particularly nice man. And funny.

Philip seemed surprisingly intrigued by this idiot who started reading Eddie Dickens at the wrong end, and who is then blundering about the books in a totally haphazard order. The current one I’m on has a large amount of snow in it, and it felt quite un-British. Turns out Philip wrote Terrible Times in Stockholm, which makes much more sense. Swedish snow. That’s more like it.

Philip’s way with children is fantastic and is only equalled by his way with adults. I lead a very boring life, and it was a long time since I grinned so much in one day. I’ve never had any deeper thoughts on second hand underwear or stuffed stoats, but I can see how relevant they are. And funny.

Philip delivered the, to my mind, best Philip Pullman quote/observation for Son’s benefit to date. Interesting that both the Philips are Moomin fans. They can come and watch our original language videos any time. Though, I do wonder how Philip P could make out a Moomin tie, any tie, behind all that beard?

He is seriously cool, too, having a past travelling on trains in Sussex with Keane, who only spoke to him because he has written a book with Paul McCartney.

Philip Ardagh

Philip has other books, apart from the two Eddie Dickens trilogies, which incidentally sold like hot cakes yesterday. There’s a funny one where somebody dies on page one. Just what parents want for their young.

And Philip writes his own amusing comments on Victorian magazine pictures. One of his other favourites is the Japanese translation of his book on hieroglyphics. I don’t read as many fact books as I perhaps should, but Philip’s ones look so tempting. And one of them even has a Pullman quote on the back. Unfortunately the publishers had put it on the wrong book.


Philip Pullman covets Philip Ardagh’s Moomin tie. The bookwitch understands PP gazed longingly at PA’s tie when they met.

The two Philips are both big Moomin fans. Well, PP is big, but PA is bigger still. And he does own the tie.

The bookwitch as hostage

You know how it is. You go to the bookshop, and then you realise that the person you came with is going to be hours. And you’re stuck. As this was in my friendly bookshop I searched their office for something to read (the shelves in the shop seemed too obvious) and found four bookproofs, three of which looked excellent. I needed to decide which one to start reading, so in order to eliminate the fourth book I began with that.

You know, cover with pink sixties style flowers, blurb all about an American high school beauty queen. A few hours later I surfaced for some soup to keep me going, but I’d stopped wanting to eliminate Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. Later on I actually had to go home and feed Offspring, so didn’t get to finish book until that evening.

To put it simply; it was really good. Subject matter, very clichéd. The rest, absolutely perfect. Sarah Dessen manages to write about well off beautiful girls, anorexia, rape, high school, modelling, music, and still be interesting. There was never that moment of thinking “oh, here’s a boring bit again”. Sarah’s language is very simple, but is used to describe a complex story. There’s nothing difficult here, so the book should be accessible to less confident readers, while not being too easy for others.

I was tempted not to return the book to the shop, but luckily Puffin sent me my own copy the next day, so I was able to return it with a smile. I believe this may be a sort of re-launch in Britain for Sarah Dessen. Puffin aren’t saying anything about her previous books, at least some of which are already available here, so seem to be treating her as a “new author”.

Just Listen is out on 5th July, so that leaves you a couple of weeks before Harry Potter.

Holiday reads

I can tell from the Guardian Review that summer is here. Wouldn’t know it from the weather. It’s time to discuss holiday reading matter.

It’s all very well having the likes of Martin Amis list five books, and probably very long ones at that, to carry them through their holiday. What I want to know is, if you could only take one book this summer, which one would you choose?

I am re-organising my holiday dates, so I expect to have finished Harry Potter when it comes to going away. So looking at my current most urgent pile, I’d probably pick Mary Hoffman’s City of Flowers. It’s long(ish) and has had a long wait.

But I hope you understand that my suitcase will be full of books. Interesting exercise, though. And so difficult I’m relieved it was only an exercise.

Boys’ stuff

I have found the solution to what boys want to read. Chris Ryan. Now, don’t sniff, I’m serious. I have just witnessed three hundred boys of all ages queue up to buy Chris’s books and to talk to him.

Chris came to sign books at the watering hole, before giving a talk to the “Lads and Dads” at Daughter’s school. They loved every minute of it, and most of them went home with at least one book.

I have read Flash Flood, and I must admit to liking it. He knows what he writes about when it comes to helicopter rescues and other macho things. (Less reliable on train rolling stock, so not nerdy enough.) Anthony Horowitz may write better stories, but Chris knows his stuff best.

It’s not great literature, but it’s not at all bad. And if it gets them reading… I’m fairly immune to sales tricks, but when I read the first chapter of another series at the end of the book, I was all set to start on that next. Except I don’t have the time.

Daughter is slightly jealous, but she got to meet Andy McNab a while ago, so I reckon I was entitled to meet Chris Ryan. And it was my Parker pen that signed the books. Chris was only defeated by the pen situation, and by the fire brigade setting fire to a chip pan in the school car park. The SAS training didn’t cover this.

More Carnegie news

I’m sure you all know this by now, but not only did Meg Rosoff win the Carnegie medal yesterday; the all time Carnegie award went to Philip Pullman. The bookwitch household is happy.

Philip Pullman (and ice cream) signs

Please note the matching clothes and ice cream colours.

Meg wins

Meg Rosoff won the Carnegie award today. I know I predicted a different outcome, but what I was really trying to do was some sort of reverse witchcraft. I really, really didn’t think the judges would have so much sense, so I should apologise to them. But they obviously do recognise a wonderful book by a wonderful author when they see it.

If there is anyone out there who hasn’t yet read Meg’s book, it’s high time, you know. Just In Case. You can never have too many neurotic and funny teenagers with imaginary dogs and wise little brothers and loyal friends. And the goat, well…

I’ll get back to this subject soon, but just needed to spread the news. Just in case.

I’m so pleased I feel as if I won the award myself.

Meg Rosoff