Monthly Archives: December 2007

The Shadow in the North

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I really enjoyed last night’s The Shadow in the North on BBC. It was as perfectly adapted as I imagine it’s possible to do, given the length of the film allowed. I felt it was all there, and no glaringly obvious things missing. And all the actors were perfect, which I hardly ever find with book dramatisations.

My blog in the Guardian’s TV section today says pretty much the same thing, but do have a look anyway.


From Christmas to Costa

Three years ago as the tsunami news spread, I was reading a suitable (or perhaps unsuitable) book. With only days to go before the Whitbread announcement, I’d had this urge to read Geraldine McCaughrean’s Not the End of the World. I am currently, and I know, very belatedly, reading Elizabeth Laird’s Crusade.

We’ll see on Thursday.

Have just watched the programme about J K Rowling on television. The Observer thought it a wasted effort, or some such thing, so I was prepared to hate and sneer. No need. I thought it was a very good portrait of J K.

With minutes to go, it’s rather late to suggest you all watch The Shadow in the North, but I’m sure you’re all intending to anyway.


Rather than comment on the comments about hardbacks, I’ll follow up on Adele’s and Peter’s thoughts.

Adele first – I suppose Alex Rider fans are so desperate that they will buy the hardback, and Anthony gets richer still. (Saw his house in a house magazine a while back, and very nice it is too.) From a green point of view I feel paperbacks are better, and they allow for more books on my shelves, because they are smaller.

However, when School Friend’s Daughter E came to live with us one autumn some years ago, she was shocked that so many of the new books here were paperback only. E thought it looked cheap and not very proper, and that was coming from a 19-year-old, whom I’d expect to want to live simply and cheaply.

The story of me and Artemis Fowl – No, Peter, Artemis came as hardback first. I’d kept seeing the ads for Artemis long before the book arrived and thought to myself I’d never buy anything that sounded that stupid. And certainly not in hardback, as I am (was) an economical sort of person. But Christmas came; the witch was standing in a bookshop, and before she knew what was happening, Artemis in hardback came home for Christmas.

And the next Christmas it was more a case of Artemis having turned into a Christmas tradition, and the hardback looked rather nice, after all. After the first Artemis I wasn’t even sure I liked him (which apparently is exactly the reaction Eoin had hoped for) so I can’t account for my reasoning here. And here we are with a very nicely matching shelf, full of hardback Eoin Colfer books. I’ve probably paid for his house conversion, or whatever he’s been up to, too.

I think Picador’s idea of paperbacks is excellent. The only books that need to be hardback are those were the book would collapse if not firm. Cleopatra’s jewels, for instance.


I knew I was missing something when I overheard two female members of staff at Offspring’s school discussing the then latest Alex Rider book. I knew young readers devoured the books, as I had one at home myself. One who had almost exploded when his friend got to the library copy of the new book first. But the idea that grown women would also be so keen, had me carry home a copy to see. That first one only lasted the evening, and after that I read them all. If it’s good enough for the Geography teacher…

Snakehead is number seven for Alex Rider, and it’s not a disappointment. I wish Anthony Horowitz had avoided the Sirius Black character, but never mind originality. It’s the action that counts.

Daughter got to the book first. She is the biggest Alex Rider fan right now. Then I settled in my armchair with the book, only to have to leave it later for household type chores. I came back to find someone in my chair. Very Goldilocks. Moved him on. Sat down. Very empty feeling. The book was gone too. “Give me back my book!” Sheepish look. This happened several times. I think grown men should know better.

So, quite good. Gets the pulse going.

One complaint, though. It’s now out in hardback first. I think this is cheeky, and wrong. Alex Rider used to come out in paperback, at an OK sort of price. Neither its readership nor the type of story it is, makes it a hardback kind of book. They may say it’s the price of a CD, but you listen to a CD more than once. And my neat (autistic?) trait says it looks bad in the bookcase. First six paperbacks, and then a hardback. Uneven.

Cultural misunderstandings

Did I ever tell you about my pen friends? I’ll skip the story about the two hundred letters from Japan, because that one always sends the Resident IT Consultant to sleep. But as a teenager I had lots of other friends all over the world, if only briefly for most of them. It’s a case of finding someone who speaks the same language as you do, and I don’t mean English.

I won’t forget the Burmese young man in Australia, who inquired as Christmas approached, whether in Sweden we had snow the whole year round, just like they do in England. The first part I’d heard before and I don’t mind people’s lack of knowledge. It was the snowy England that got to me. But I suppose he’d been looking at too many idyllic Christmas cards.

As a newcomer to England I believed the natives might find my traditions interesting, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that they didn’t. I’m sorry for any boredom caused before this enlightened state was reached. There’s an awful lot I don’t know about what others do, either. I didn’t know about displaying the Christmas cards as they arrive. In Sweden you just bung them in a pile somewhere. And most years I get to Easter Sunday and then I get the hot cross buns out, only to be informed they are two days overdue.

What this rambling account of my misspent past is trying to do, is to say that a book or two on traditions in different places is not a bad thing. I’ve just been looking through Festivals Together, A guide to multi-cultural celebration. It deals with traditions in several different religions for various times of the year. There are explanations, stories, recipes and much more. (I’ve always been intrigued to find that our Indian food favourites are Diwali specials.) Haven’t seen anything about snow covering England, but understanding that I’m a monkey to the Chinese is very useful. The witch family consists of three monkeys and a snake.

Another book Martin at Hawthorn Press sent me is Gail Johnson’s African and Caribbean Celebrations , which as the title suggests deals with one cultural background, so can cover more detail. It, too, has recipes, stories and lots of information on a great many things. Benjamin Zephaniah seems to be a fan of the book.

These two books should be good both for school use and for individuals who need to widen their horizons a bit. I once went to evening classes with a retired teacher, who mused a lot about what counts as English culture. She felt it was Shakespeare and stuff like that. I felt it was more the question of whether or not you take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Many countries feel Hamlet is theirs, too, if only in translation. The business of making a fool of yourself in people’s houses is a much more individual cultural issue.

From The Girl’s Own Paper

I’ll call it temporary thickness, but it took me a while to work out that Philip Ardagh’s The Not-So-Very-Nice Goings-On at Victoria Lodge, Without Illustrations by the author, is a story. At first glance I’d taken it to be Philip’s re-written comments to each individual picture, only. The pictures being borrowed from The Girl’s Own Paper from the 1890s.

But, it’s actually a story of mystery and intrigue, albeit a short one. It’s sixty pages, with only a brief comment on each page to go with Philip’s chosen illustrations.

It’s a funny story, too. I’d particularly like to know what the satellite dish strapped to the heroine’s back really is. It looks like a satellite dish.

I would guess this isn’t a children’s book. Though you can never be sure with Philip Ardagh. Daughter giggled her way through it quite happily.

Playing games

Bored? Try a board game. There is a new one out to coincide with The Golden Compass film, naturally. We tried it last night and it seems to work. Can’t claim to have understood it all after so little time, but I think even I could get more of a hang of it after a few more test runs.

It’s called The Board Game of The Golden Compass, not surprisingly, and is made by Sophisticated Games. What I liked most was the total absence of dice. I don’t know why all games have to have them. Here we had an arrow to twirl round the alethiometer. There are many things to keep in the air at one time, but once you work out what is most advantageous to do, it should be possible to plot to win. As usual the Resident IT Consultant won, so we’ll ban him from further playing.

Our Christmas presents, unwrapped

My Christmas present and I have been banished from the living room. The others got out a dvd to watch, and I just wasn’t allowed to remain with the book I was reading snippets from; A Slip of the Pen, The Writers’ Book of Blunders. I managed to read one or two quick quotes out loud before I dissolved into such uncontrollable laughter that I was kicked out. Just one quote. “She picked up a snapshot of a dear friend who had recently died on her bedroom mantelpiece.”

Otherwise the most used book present has been Daughter’s Games For Parties, which has a lovely 1950s feel to it. There’s no date anywhere, so we’re just guessing. The games are slightly out of date and somewhat unsuited to people of today, but we’ve already had a good hour or so playing some of the games. London tube stations haven’t changed much, but London shops have. Still fun to discover what you can guess.

Some of you may be surprised to hear what a lovely gift can be made from what’s on your right as you read this. Someone very resourcefully came up with a present based on my categories, which I feel takes some doing. You know who you are, so a big THANK YOU.

The good thing about having presents on Christmas Eve is that on Christmas day we can sleep in. Only a stocking to deal with, which can be done at any time. Then no fixed engagements until dinner in the evening.

Advent completed

Well, I managed it after all. The Advent reading is complete, and I didn’t need to cheat once.

The Christmas Mystery was well worth reading and a very Decemberish read. I have learnt a lot from the travelling through Europe and through time. I nearly feel as if I, too, stepped through the opening to the stable to see the crying baby within.

So “God Jul” everyone.

Noughts & Crosses on the stage

I had hoped to mention this earlier, but better late than never. The RSC are putting Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses on the stage this winter. It’s already on in Stratford, and will remain for a month or so longer. It will then go on a short tour. See if it’s anywhere near you, because this sounds very good.

On 26th January Malorie will appear for a talk before the matinee, which should also be interesting. I can’t see how I will fit this in, but would really like to. There is a warning the play isn’t suitable for young children, and I suppose neither are the books. (When School Friend’s daughter E came to stay with us we fed her a diet of Noughts & Crosses, because she likes books to be really miserable. Malorie’s books suited E perfectly.)

So, if panto isn’t for you – try Stratford instead. The combination of Malorie and the RSC sounds unbeatable.