Monthly Archives: November 2007

More Pullman mania in the Guardian

I have a blog in the Guardian today on books about Philip Pullman’s books. I’m going to write more here, and longer, but to start with there’s today’s book blog. It’s rather like buses; either I have nothing to write about, or too much. Patience at the bus stop, please.


Finding Violet Park

It’s been a morbid week so far. I’ve gone from talking brain tumours and missing teenagers to an urn with someone’s ashes. Ashes with a message. Sex may still be somewhat taboo in British YA books, but death and how you get there, is alive and well, so to speak. It isnt’ that long since the Resident IT Consultant queried whether it really was OK to kill off the main character halfway through a children’s book.

I’m not surprised Jenny Valentine won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize with her first book, Finding Violet Park. It’s not just a good story, it’s different and special.

Violet Park has been dead a long time when Lucas comes across her ashes in the office of a taxi company. With the help of his grandmother and other family members, as well as friends, Lucas finds out who Violet was and what happened to her.

It’s a journey of discovery, which also helps Lucas understand his own life, and that of his missing, or possibly dead, father. Finding Violet Park is both funny and sad. A really good read.

Authorless Henry

I’ll just complain a bit here, with no real facts to back me up. I read this some weeks ago, most likely in the Guardian, so I’m disappointed in them. Could have been somewhere else. But it’s stuck in my mind, so I’ll complain away.

Anyway, it was about sales figures for books leading up to Christmas. And it seems that some series about a boy called Henry (why are my books suddenly full of Henrys?) was doing well and passing a number of “proper” books in the bestseller lists. (How dare it?)

I think what annoyed me so was that they were passing judgement (as I am now…) on what was made out to be not quite a real book. Personally I think that even the Doctor Who books are real, although written by lots of different authors, and it’s Doctor Who that matters, not who wrote the book.

Right, I’m getting there. But Henry happens to be Horrid Henry, written by Francesca Simon, who is very real. Somehow she wasn’t worthy of being mentioned in connection with her sales. Henry is a series. So’s Harry Potter. Books are books. And Francesca is an author, who happens to be doing very well. Good for her.

And good for Henry and all his fans. There’s a nice Christmas Henry out, for anyone who’s interested.

Missing Abby

I could barely tear myself away to cook dinner, and later I couldn’t go to bed without finishing Lee Weatherly’s book Missing Abby. Having had to look Lee in the eye and admit to not having read a single book of hers (“but my daughter likes them, honestly”) the other week, I had to read something of hers without too much delay. Found to my surprise we had three of Lee’s books in the house, and had to consult Daughter on which one to read first.

The books are very delicious looking in oranges and pinks and purples. Just my kind of colours.

Where was I? Yes, Missing Abby. Very, very exciting. And for the parent in me, quite worrying too, as it’s about a missing 13-year-old girl, seen through the eyes of her former best friend. The adults in the book are as difficult to deal with as adults tend to be. In books, I mean. There are some very nice friendships going on, and almost enough stuff about game playing to win me over. Almost.

Wish I hadn’t missed seeing Lee last week at the Plaza. If only to apologise for not being able to come up with a single book title of hers when we met. There’s nothing quite as empty as my head when it’s empty.

Talking tumour

This is so tasteless; and so funny. And serious and thought-provoking and generally entertaining. It’s also another of those books I’d never even consider if I went on looks of book cover alone.

Long before I met Anthony McGowan a few weeks ago, I’d meant to read Henry Tumour, because it got glowing reviews. Then more recently Meg Rosoff praised it, and I still didn’t get to it. But Henry and his host Hector and I have just had a few fun hours together.

You have to make yourself not feel sick at the thought of the brain tumour that Henry really is. Even if he was “only” a friend of Hector’s, I still wouldn’t like him. His personality leaves a little something to be desired. Though he improves. I mean his behaviour improves.

This book is another good example of how teenage boys live, and all I can say is I’m glad I’m neither a teenager or a boy.

I kept debating with myself how the book would end. You know – good or bad? Anthony solved the problem with something else altogether.

Children’s television

Have to admit to liking the Sarah Jane Adventures. For anyone who doesn’t know Sarah Jane; she’s an ex assistant of Doctor Who, from years ago. She now has her own series on Children’s BBC.

I hardly ever watch television these days, but I do like Sarah Jane. We tape the episodes and watch both halves of each adventure together.

I’d like to be Sarah Jane, and if I ever give up the broom, I’d have a car like hers any day. Pale green and cream Figaro. And her hair. Yes, please.

More shelves, or Oxfam?

Those books I mentioned, that are flowing in. They need to go somewhere. Question is where.

We have lots of shelves for books. They already have books on them. New arrivals are on the floor, but mostly piled on top of the low-ish bookcases in the front room. Those are low, in order to leave room for paintings to hang above. We have lots of paintings, too.

Such conflicting interests as pictures and books are not good. And many of our paintings are already stacked in cupboards and against walls and next to wardrobes.

I have this cunning scheme of replacing a dresser with more bookcases. The homeless glass and china could go live in the kitchen. If we give the kitchen a make-over. Hmm.

Forgot to mention that I favour the minimalistic look, which also requires some bare bits of wall showing.

One author I talked to had got a man in to line her study walls with shelves, as he had already done for another author. But he promptly had a nervous breakdown. So, no shelves for her either, I suppose.

While considering the kitchen idea, it’ll have to be Oxfam. But with a few exceptions, the choice of what goes won’t be easy. An option could be to remove all those boring looking computer books we seem to have, which don’t belong to me. Maybe dispose of one or two a day, and he wouldn’t notice.


So many books

It feels like Christmas nearly every day. The book parcels keep coming, and it’s very nice. Thank you, publishers. We were discussing Christmas presents last night, and I said that this year I don’t think a book will be the most welcome present as far as I am concerned.

Some years ago we redesigned the way we buy Christmas presents, anyway. Now it’s strictly charity shop purchases, which does away with wish lists. You just go to an Oxfam or two and stare at what they’ve got, and surprisingly often something that would be perfect for little X pops into sight. The book about Mornington Crescent comes to mind. Or the gold angel.

And the underlying agreement is that we can take it back to Oxfam in January, should it be all wrong. We just want something to unwrap on Christmas Eve. Which is why I’m thinking of this now. It’s the 24th today, so exactly a month to the unwrapping. (And I’ve saved an awful lot of the middle pages of the Guardian to wrap the stuff in.)

We’re off to the Christmas fair at the Scandinavian church. If you’re anywhere near Liverpool, it’s on from 12-3, in Park Lane. I’ll sell you a calendar if you come.

Silver lining

Fiona Dunbar is very funny and very friendly. After I met her at Siobhan Dowd’s memorial service, she responded to my plea for information about her books by sending me her latest. And she understands perfectly how to sign a book.

Toonhead is about seeing into the future, which is also a very witchy thing. Whatever you do as parents, don’t name your son Pablo, unless you’re Spanish. The Pablo in Toonhead has artist parents with a fondness for Picasso. Twelve-year-old Pablo is more into cartoons, once he discovers them. The book’s cover is a dazzling blue and red with a Picasso-ish flavour.

Pablo can see the future, which seems quite good, until it turns out to be quite bad. He, or rather Fiona, has a nice and amusing way with words. I really enjoyed Toonhead, and I’m glad to have discovered a new (to me) author. Check out Fiona’s website – it’s great fun to read.

Only drawback is Fiona will only reply to your email if you tell her your age…


No room at the Plaza

And let me start by saying this has got nothing to do with the nice people at the Plaza.

This is where I would have told you all about last night’s glittering ceremony for the Stockport Schools’ Book Awards. Quite logical to cover something so close to home, for a change, with no tiring travel. I thought so. The organiser with the library service thought not. I hadn’t been invited. (So, invite me.)

After months and months of helpful behaviour from publishers and friendliness from authors (thank you), I should have known better than to expect anything at all from those whose pay comes from our rates. They are from the very same organisation which informed me that my (then) eleven-year-old shouldn’t read Terry Pratchett. They are working for the same local council that refused practical assistance for child on crutches to get to school.

Anyway, after I found out about the event (Daughter was invited through school), I spent ten days trying to work out who to contact about getting a ticket/invitation/whatever. You’d think they would have a website/page that can be found. (But I now know that Stockport has a Curry Chef award.)

So, knowing that Tim Bowler had been shortlisted, I asked him. He was coming, he said, but any information would be with his publisher. So, on to OUP, where I now have contacts, and they put me in touch with the right person. She in turn gave me the name of the one who then took such delight in saying no.

A book award in Stockport doesn’t sound like much, but I understand it’s good. Many excellent and well known authors are shortlisted. For Key Stage 4 (where Daughter voted) we had Tim, Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne. In another group Lee Weatherly. This is why I persevered, when I’d normally give up. But my “sparring partner” was made of stronger stuff. What I read in her replies was that I was a suspicious character trying to sneak into a children’s event. (According to Daughter one of my friends was there…)

A very last minute plea to Daughter’s headteacher got a sympathetic reply, but I was too late. At least he was nice.

I don’t know if the Stockport Express was there. They have a larger readership than I do. However, my readers are interested in books, and cover the globe, and my blog reaches parts the SE doesn’t. But who cares about spreading the word about their book awards scheme?

You’ll be pleased to hear that Tim Bowler won the KS 4 award. And from another source of information I believe that Alan Durant won in a younger category.

And you’ll be even more relieved that after this little outburst the witch will attempt to be her normal sunny self for a long time to come. Attempt to, I said.