Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Worst Witch

I have a weakness for talking animals, especially the intelligent kind. There is an irresistible tortoise in Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch to the Rescue. And a capable toad, who’s not bad, as toads go.

It must be eight years since I last read the Worst Witch books, when Daughter was the right age for them. I think I made it a Worst Witch year, giving everyone a book or audio book for their birthday.

Strange as it seems, I believe even the Resident IT Consultant read the Witch stories, as he was able to make relevant comparisons with Harry Potter. I’m sure Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches was an inspiration for Hogwarts.

I’m glad I came upon the latest Mildred Hubble book right now, as I’m feeling particularly witchy. The pumpkin is ready and so are the treats. I just have a conference to go to before the neighbourhood witches can come calling.


Dina Rabinovitch

I was very sad to hear that Dina died during the night. Many of us have had our fingers crossed for so long, willing Dina to feel stronger, for longer. But I think we all knew that she had already been extremely strong and had fought her breast cancer very heroically.

At a time when it would be more than understandable if Dina had just concentrated on her treatment and on her family, she found the strength to fundraise, write her blog and generally be very nice to people.

Dina’s blog has been a great meeting point for many of us, and it’s been fun to discuss more frivolous stuff like crocs, furlined or plain, and that wonderful hat Dina posted a picture of last week.

I knew long before I began reading her blog that I admired Dina, and now I admire her even more. We will all miss her in our own ways.

Please buy her book Take Off Your Party Dress. And please ask Marks & Spencer why they are not stocking it as promised.

Picture Artemis

I didn’t quite picture him like this, but that’s not a big deal. Artemis Fowl can now be taken in the form of cartoon as well as “proper” book. Eoin Colfer has collaborated with Andrew Donkin, making his first Artemis Fowl story into a comic. Or to use the new term – graphic novel. It’s called Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel. Though I always think graphic means something else altogether.

But this is really good. I’m always suspicious of new things, as you can never be too careful. In my mind Artemis and Holly and Butler, and particularly Root, look different. But Foaly is pretty much as I imagined. It’s like films, though, when the actor doesn’t look as the character should. You can still like the film, despite the casting people getting it “wrong”.

As a tool for getting non-readers to read I can think of nothing better than a graphic novel like this one. And seeing as Eoin was in on this, it must be as he wants it. I hope he and Andrew will give the other Artemis books the same make-over. I don’t believe you can have too much Artemis Fowl. Ever.

Holly Short


Artemis Fowl



With my interest in crime I can’t help thinking of alibis, and how things change. New technology both helps, and makes things harder. I’m fairly well behaved (legally, at least) and shouldn’t really worry about proving my whereabouts to anyone.

But ever since discovering that Meg Rosoff is based in Carlisle on the Guardian books blog, I’ve had an unhealthy interest in checking where people are. Especially if I know that they are elsewhere. I found to my surprise that I was in Sweden on Friday. You’d think I would have noticed.

Carlisle must be a good place for authors, as that’s where Michael Rosen comments from on the Guardian blog, as well. Then I thought it had something to do with names. Meg and Michael have similarities in their names. But then I noticed that Meg managed to post from London and thought she was sorted, until she bounced back to Carlisle.

The Resident IT Consultant has officially posted from London, when he is at work in the North West. Could look like absenteeism. This week I was in Stirling, but posted from Edinburgh, which is close enough.

While in southern Sweden I have been registered as writing from Stockholm, so I thought they couldn’t fine tune it any closer than the capital of the relevant country. Until the other day when I found I was in Solna, which is pretty specific. It’s like saying Wandsworth instead of London, if you see what I mean.

I was on the train, as people say when they talk on their mobile phones. Just south of York. Not in Solna. Not in Sweden. I think I’ve read about someone else who’s also been picked up by a Swedish satellite. In my case it’s at least vaguely logical, but I do worry about my alibi.

War Horse at the National Theatre

If you want to know how far it is between Stirling and London’s King’s Cross, I can tell you it’s the right distance to read Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, twice. I know this, because it’s what Daughter and I did, en route for the National Theatre and its stage production of War Horse.

It’s weird how things come full circle sometimes. Before the play Michael did a platform performance, talking about War Horse the book. This involved not winning the Whitbread and being comforted by Ted Hughes. Ted Hughes used to own the house where I went on my course last month, where I met Michael’s granddaughter. It was she who talked so enthusiastically about the horse puppets used by the National Theatre, that I reversed an earlier decision not to go and see it.

I think Morpurgo books ought to come with a built-in hanky. I could have used one between Newcastle and York yesterday. I’m tempted to agree with Mrs Morpurgo, that War Horse is Michael’s best book. And if not, it’s right up there at the top. (My) Daughter liked it too, but didn’t cry. She saved her tears for the theatre, which left the witch dry-eyed. So we clearly react differently.

Michael’s platform was one of the best author events I’ve seen. The man’s a natural, and he pitched his story so perfectly you almost wouldn’t notice what he was doing. Daughter relaxed instantly, after the mad dash across London, and the search for food. The Q & A session went so well Michael almost forgot to finish.

We’d worried about not having enough time between platform and play for the book signing. Luck, and years of practice, put us almost at the front of the very long queue. It made up for having had to gobble our pizza slices double quick, when it turned out the NT’s café opened rather late, and then the pizza stuck to the oven tray and wouldn’t budge.

War Horse is a fantastic production. Never mind the plot; you could go for the horse puppets alone. I’ve never seen anything like it. Michael had talked to both Philip Pullman and Jamila Gavin about the experience of having your book turned into a play by the National Theatre. All three of them seem to think books are in safe hands there. So do I, and I’d like to know what can possibly come after War Horse.


There was Richard & Judy’s Best Kids Books on television, and it was much as you would expect. A selection of good(ish) books and many eager young readers, who had plenty of opinions on what they were given to read. I made notes, but there’s no need to use them.

After R & J Channel 4 broadcast something called Last Chance Kids. This was an altogether much more interesting programme, despite R & J offering me both Jacqueline Wilson and Philip Pullman. The last chance kids looked much the same as the former reader panels, but of course they can’t read. 20% of Year Six children can’t read, and in the featured school it was more like 25%. Luckily for them, their head teacher decided to change this state of things.

It’s not surprising some children don’t learn to read, when their parents left school illiterate. Thanks to enthusiastic staff and a new reading technique, they finished the school year with all children able to read at least a short sentence. Not much, but the smiles on their faces were really something.

I don’t believe these children could even imagine the pleasure they’d be able to get from books like the ones on the R & J show. I just hope they learn enough to have the opportunity some day to try a proper book like that. One boy had even started dreaming of going to university, to make his Mum proud. I expect she was anyway.

Benjamin Zephaniah had visited the school, and inspired some of the children to recite poetry. For the first time ever the school entered the borough’s poetry recital competition, and one of the participants was a recent non-reader. They won (this was television, after all), but that’s almost beside the point. The skills learnt, and enjoyed, are much more important.

I’ll soon need to keep a large stack of hankies by the television.

The birthday present

Daughter was fifteen yesterday. One of her presents was a television script, from the first episode of one of her favourite American series. I hadn’t intended for her to read it. That may sound stupid, but I looked at it more as a fun thing to have. But before falling asleep she came and informed me that she had finished the script.

I did think it could be useful from an analysis point of view, as it’s something that tends to cause her problems. Knowing the episode inside-out as she does, I knew she’d be able to see where the script’s intentions differ from what they actually filmed. I also felt it might give her a more realistic idea of what scripts have in them, besides the obvious dialogue. So, an educational toy, almost.

I’m getting too cynical. Daughter was far more pleased with the gift than I’d anticipated. Thank you ebay.



See Tim

Found this link on Tim Bowler’s website and thought it’d be worth sharing. For those of you who don’t get to meet Tim on a school visit, here’s the next best thing. This is what he’s like.

Winning reviews

The young reviewers groups at Simply Books have some serious talent. I’ve been surprised by how mature some of them sound in discussions. I was never like that at their age.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen proof of how good they are. One boy brought in the story of his prize from Puffin. I’m not quite sure what the competition was, but Charlie’s review of one of his favourite books won him and a friend a survival weekend, along with other Puffin winners. You know how you sometimes cringe when precocious children write things down? Well, Charlie’s tale was nothing like that, and I’m so impressed both by his winning and the way he described it.

And if that’s not enough, Joe brought in a letter from the Guardian saying he was one of their winners for his review of one of the longlisted books for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Some of those get published in the Guardian and I’ve long been green with envy over how good they are. Joe’s prize was attending the awards ceremony in London, a book token and the longlisted books for his school.

I’d like to think the reviewers’ club has had this effect on the children attending. And I do hope some of the talent will rub off on me. And the luck.

The Weasley twins and the wolf

Did I mention how much I like Fred and George Weasley? I think I might have. Well, the other week as the witch, in one of her other incarnations, stuffed envelopes for the Hallé, she became aware that they were coming this way. James and Oliver Phelps, that is.

So blaming it squarely on Daughter’s very impending birthday, we took a friend each and went to see them. It was a family concert, and there were a disconcerting number of fairies and Harry Potters. And a Scooby Doo.

It was very Potterish, with Harry’s music to start with, and Fred and George narrating Peter and the Wolf at the end. They were good.

We argued on the way home over who’s the most good looking of them.