Monthly Archives: September 2007

I hate this book

When I dislike something I don’t tend to write about it, because it wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do. But ususally when I dislike what I read, I’m free to give it up whenever I like. In fact, that’s why I prefer to ask for review copies of books I like the sound of, rather than have lots of books sent to me unasked. This time I’ve been asked by my local bookshop to read a book to discuss with the group of young reviewers, where for a change we are all reading the same book.

So, I’m persevering. Moaned to a writer about it yesterday, and was reassured by her comment that “nobody reads XX” and that I’m noble. I can just about make out that halo floating up there, if witches can have haloes. I’m two thirds of the way through, so not too much longer to go. Though, as I’ve said plenty of times; a shorter book will always be appreciated. I skim as much as I can decently get away with, and try not to shudder at how the book could have done with more editing.

It will be very interesting to see what the children at the bookshop will say about it. My guess is that they will be more complimentary than the old witch. I’ll let you know.

Mark Haddon on television

Well, no, it wasn’t Mark himself; it was his new written for television drama Coming Down the Mountain, which was on a couple of weeks ago.

I think I’d seen somewhere that it wasn’t going to be like The Curious Incident, but that was only true insofar that it wasn’t about Asperger’s. This time Mark had written about a Down’s Syndrome teenage boy, and with just as much skill.

We were all sitting on the edge of the sofa, wondering where this was going, but you can trust Mark to get it right. Just enough terrible confusion in the middle, before coming along with an interesting ending.

Hope you didn’t miss it?

Black Beauty for greyhounds

I’ve borrowed this title from Michael Morpurgo about his new book Born To Run. Many of his books make me cry, so I can’t judge whether this is sadder than average. It’s about a greyhound and his very different lives with three owners. It’s lovely, but a hanky wouldn’t be a bad thing to have nearby.

Michael’s granddaughter was part of the writing group last week. I was worried she would be tired of talking about her famous grandfather all the time, but she humoured me. It’s nice to know that you don’t have to be so cool when young, that you don’t read children’s books written by family.

I’m concerned that I was the only one there to react to the name of Morpurgo. I’d have thought that a former Children’s Laureate would register on the minds of more people. Please tell me children’s books aren’t unimportant!

and Miranda

We caused Miranda France some sleepless nights, but being totally professional, it didn’t show. She looked wonderful every day. Miranda had tutored for Arvon before, so we were in good hands. In fact, I’d say that both Hannah and Miranda felt like our big sisters, were it not for the fact that most of us are older than they are. Maybe it’s possible to have younger big sisters?

I knew very little about Miranda before we met. I got one of her books, and even deciding which one was difficult. The first or the second; Spain or Argentina? Both areas of interest to me, so I closed my eyes and went for Bad Times in Buenos Aires.

Very good choice, or so I thought until Miranda read from her Spanish book, Don Quixote’s Delusions. That sounds just as good. Will need to find more time somewhere so I can read that too.

Miranda must have a knack for going places and finding weird people in absurd situations to write about. And that’s not an invitation to write a novel about wannabe writers in West Yorkshire!

We had a slightly surreal conversation about me being a witch. I do like people who believe in me.

Though, having a close member of your family advertising mayonnaise in Argentina isn’t totally ordinary either. Light mayonnaise. I’m not getting paid, so won’t say what brand.


To continue the thread of my Arvon tutors, there are the ones who did all the work. Blake Morrison (the Colin Firth look-alike…) just swanned in and out, even though the swanning out took time.

Hannah Pool was one half of the hardworking team, and before the course I sort of felt I knew her. I first “knew” Hannah from the Guardian. I’ve always raced past her beauty column, on account of me having the wrong colour skin. And because I’m so not interested in beauty tips. I’m a lost cause.

And then there were the extracts from her book about the trip to Eritrea to meet her biological family. That was very, very interesting. I always meant to read the whole book too, but forgetfulness being what it is around here, I didn’t.

Luckily this course set me back on the right track. And what a book My Fathers’ Daughter is! Do read it. And note where the apostrophe is. Took me ages to notice.

Hannah provided us with excellent advice and support as regards magazine articles and such. She was even quite complimentary about the witch’s scribbles. Hope she wasn’t being nice. By the last afternoon we were practically fighting over her. So perhaps an appointments system next time?

As usual I had a mental image of Hannah before we met. I did have a photo to guide me this time, but it doesn’t do her justice. Neither does the one I took of her. And she laughs a lot.

Hannah Pool


Arvon tutors

It’s not bad this, rubbing shoulders with authors as you get your Weetabix in the kitchen every morning. This, the third, morning people look particularly bleary eyed. It was hard work getting rid of Blake Morrison last night, and it got rather late.

Blake was our special guest who came to dinner, cooked by the witch and her team of three. He then read from his books about his parents, and answered questions on writing. Blake didn’t look as I’d expected him to, but other than that he was very good. He’s got a film out soon, and the adult Blake is played by Colin Firth. He’s very embarrassed by this.

The more formal session in the barn was followed by an evening in front of the fire in the lounge, with more wine bottles than the clean living witch is used to. Interesting conversations with everyone. Mayonnaise advertising in Argentina and matchmaking at the Guardian both came up. The things you learn.

After all this Blake needed transporting by taxi, except the taxi couldn’t find us. Endless phone calls from lost taxi driver, but at least you couldn’t fault his determination. Blake was heading for Slack Top, or possibly Slack Bottom, and I hope he got there. Otherwise he and his taxi are still lost on these Yorkshire roads.

At home with Ted

Ted Hughes would look great on my broomstick. She’s sleek and black and very beautiful. Quite restful to be with, too. Though if I’d known about her before I came to Ted Hughes’ house here near Hebden Bridge, I’d have taken my cat hair pills.

Apart from Steve, the centre director, we are all female on this course. And so there are fewer goings-on than anticipated. Though there’s a lot of talk about sex, and writing, and toilet paper.

The other Ted Hughes used to live here, the male one, the Poet Laureate. Sylvia Plath is buried nearby, and there’s been a steady stream of visitors to her grave from the house this week.

Thinking of handsome writers; I get annoyed when I see yet another author photograph and it’s somebody good looking. It’s as if you can’t be a writer and not be attractive. I don’t know. The ladies here this week clock in somewhere well above average for beauty. So either it really is the beautiful people who write, or writing makes you beautiful.

I’ll write a bit more, and check the mirror later.

Books from the LRC

Who thought up the name Learning Resource Centre? I don’t know if all, or for that matter any other, schools have renamed their library the LRC. I think it’s an awful name. What was wrong with library?

The place itself is still highly recommended though, no matter what it’s called. Now that term has started Daughter and everyone else have two pages in their school diaries with lists of recommended reads. And it’s a good selection.

The librarian’s (why not rename her the LRCian?) suggestions include many of the bookwitch’s previously mentioned favourites, and also Teresa Breslin, Sally Gardner, Katherine Langrish, Mal Peet, Jonathan Stroud, Nicky Singer, Frank Cottrell, Malorie Blackman and Anne Cassidy. Plenty of other names too, but I’m refraining from listing them all.

The trick now will be to get the pupils to borrow and read the books.

New Penguin classics

Meg Rosoff has already turned into a modern classic, or whatever it is Penguin is calling their new list of Classic Penguin covers. For all us nostalgic readers it’s another temptation to buy more books. I already have two copies of How I Live Now, not counting Daughter’s copy, so I don’t entirely need a third one. But it’d look good.

Nice for Meg to be one of fourteen fiction titles, out of a total of thirty-six books. She’s in good company, although I haven’t read all that many of the other titles. There is almost the temptation to buy all of them. Almost.

Keeping the cake or eating it

This is always hard. I decided early on that September would see me first on this writing course, and later in Gothenburg at the book fair. But apart from September this year being somewhat awkwardly arranged in our house anyway, then come the extras.

I found to my dismay that the watering hole thought that Thursday would be a good date to invite Martin Bell round. So I’ll be enjoying (I hope..!) my retreat in Yorkshire while others, like Daughter and My Replacement, enjoy words of political wisdom.

Two weeks on and I’ll be tucking into some Swedish pizza (the one with Gorgonzola and piri piri), while the neighbourhood children get to meet Geraldine McCaughrean, whose name I’ve happily been getting wrong for years until this week. Daughter, as the only official child of the family, will be available to do what the witch can’t.

For those not in Yorkshire or eating pizza, Martin Bell is at Simply Books on the 13th and Geraldine McCaughrean will be coming on the 27th September. Why not go and see them?