Monthly Archives: February 2008

Katie Morag

I got so carried away with the idea of picture books, that I went straight on to Katie Morag and the Dancing Class, by Mairi Hedderwick.

I just love Katie Morag, and have done for years. There are some advantages with having children, after all, and reading good books to them must be one. Whereas I can’t stop myself from reading older children’s fiction for my own pleasure, I tend not to with books for much younger readers. Daughter turned up soon after I’d finished reading this one, and exclaimed “I love Katie Morag!” So, we’ve got something in common. This 15-year-old read the book twice, and then inquired where her other Katie Morag books had got to. (The witch carefully saved them from a clean out long ago.)

This time both of Katie Morag’s Grannies have decided that she’s to have dancing lessons. Katie Morag feels a little differently about it, as she should. Katie Morag has some nice avoidance techniques which have to be admired, but as usual it all ends well.

Talking of admiration, Mairi’s illustrations are utterly perfect. I’m sure all the adults reading her books wish they were there, on the Isle of Struay with Katie Morag. I can hear the sea, and I can smell it, too.

And if I need to be someone, I’ll be Grannie Island.

Lift companions

By my reckoning Jeanne Willis has shared lifts with some strange creatures in her time. That includes the bookwitch, and you don’t get much stranger than that. She tells me she remembers people from lifts particularly well, and puts them in her books. Look out for the bookwitch picture book. I’ve asked to be made really scary. (As I am.) Or maybe Jeanne was just pulling my leg?

After professing my ignorance about Jeanne’s books, I have hurriedly made improvements in that area, and first out are some picture books. It’s been a long time since I read picture books. It’s been a fairly long time since I read them to Offspring. But, it’s actually fun. It’s poetry, too.

There’s Grill Pan Eddy, a much hated mouse. He refuses to die. At least to begin with. Lovely pictures by Tony Ross, in a very Tony Ross-y kind of style. It’s happy and sad and happy.

Who’s in the Loo? Good question, and it’s one we often ask ourselves. There’s nothing quite like a queue for the toilet. I’ve learnt some new, poetic words for what you do in the loo, which will most likely come in useful one day. Pictures by Adrian Reynolds.

And last, a very romantic story, Tadpole’s Promise. It’s a love affair between a tadpole and a caterpillar, and it’s not easy for either of them. More great pictures by Tony Ross, to accompany the sad business of young love.

February half term

is now over. It’s been the first one spent in Sweden for four years.

Skallkroken, Haverdal

The fact that it happens so rarely is the reason we allow ourselves to pig out on the Shrove Tuesday buns mentioned earlier. (Like hot cross buns which appear in UK shops soon after Christmas, these “one day wonders” are available at least throughout February and March.) I reckon a bun a day is permissible for a week, seeing as the week happens less frequently than once a year.

Semlor - Shrove Tuesday buns

It being winter and cold and dark, we’ve not only had plenty of time to read, but the witch played the Shakespeare game for the first time. It’s described as The Bard Game, which is a dreadful pun, when you think of it. I understood virtually nothing, but the others did fine. It helps if you know your Shakespeare, and it helps if you understand the rules. So there’s always next time…

A favourite holiday read is the pizza takeaway menu. Swedish pizzas are THE BEST. Along with the aforementioned buns, the pizzas have to be eaten often, during a short visit. Son even pondered the viability of packing some to take home, which really would make it a takeaway.

The Resident IT Consultant happened upon a radio reading of Goodnight Mister Tom on his way to the baker’s, although not in the right language for him. But he felt it was appropriate anyway, seeing as we have been peeking at Michelle Magorian’s latest book.

In an effort to compensate the neighbours for looking after the witch’s abode, we invited them to dinner one evening. And they came bearing gifts! Without knowing of the witch’s love for tulips and the colour purple, they brought purple tulips. And a copy of the first Stieg Larsson. I think I’m destined to read that book. The giver mumbled something about doing what the grandchildren said, so the assumption has to be that “everyone” talks about Stieg’s books.

Tulips and Stieg Larsson

At the request of Daughter we revisited the little cottage in the woods where you can buy 300 varieties of sweets. Son filled his bag so full it nearly burst. It was more exciting making our way there this time, as it was getting dark, and there’s always the question whether you’ll make it out of the woods again.

In Saturday’s paper there was a supplement with this year’s book sale catalogue. I always forget this Swedish February madness, and will report back later.

I’ve mentioned the paperback section in the local supermarket before. These books are displayed with the bread, which I find an interesting idea. But why not? As you agonise over what to make your sandwiches with, you might as well pick a book to read.

Books Ankaret 2<!–

And that’s not all that’s displayed with bread in this shop. We were intrigued to find that Blitzen had dropped in as well.


House arrest; the possibility of

My excellent blogging colleague in Edinburgh, Cornflower, was writing about TBR piles the other week. That’s To Be Read, for those of you lucky enough not to be afflicted by one, or several, of these.

I have a fairly intricate system, which fails no more often than once a week, or thereabouts. I shift the books around, and some inevitably find themselves inching (centimetreing?) further and further in the wrong direction.

But then you never know when the supply will dry up. You need to hang on to most of your books, read and still-to-be-read, just in case.

In case of what? Well, from some point during my impressionable youth, I’ve always felt I needed to be prepared for the eventualities of house arrest. I’m not sure how likely this is, but being a wee bit superstitious, I feel that a generous TBR supply will at the very least ward off the house arrest likelihood. And if not – I’ll have something to read.

Eight Ball Boogie

Ouch! How hardboiled can you get? Eight Ball Boogie by Declan Burke bounced me straight across the Atlantic and back again. If there hadn’t been the odd reference to things Irish, I wouldn’t have believed it could be anything but American.

For two days now I’ve had an Irish Humphrey Bogart swanning around inside my head, double-crossing and getting double-crossed. I’m exhausted by the beatings and the gunshot wounds, to the extent that I believe I’ve been at the receiving end of them myself. And I’ve felt the cold, and I’ve panicked slightly over being late for Father Christmas.

By the way, what exactly is it that’s hardboiled in hardboiled fiction? Eggs? I’ve only just started wondering about this, and realised my ignorance.

Declan is very good with language. I’d be more concerned about him overdoing it, if I hadn’t been a regular reader of his blog, which has accustomed me to his clever and witty way of expressing more or less everything. “One eye tied behind his back”, indeed!

The plot is pure Mills & Boon, if you know what I mean. (Calm down, Declan.) It’s a case of you get what you want and expect, and it’s perfect. It’s an intricate web of drugs and politics and, as previously mentioned, lots of double-crossing. In fact, I completely lost the plot, amongst all the turns here and there.

Daughter walked past and pointed out the f-word at the bottom of page 211, as it caught her eye, but I replied that it pops up around twenty times per page, so was nothing to get excited about.

This is a great first book, which has been out a few years now. Declan’s second book, The Big O, was published last year. So, some lucky readers have both to look forward to. Go out and buy.

A Valentine, forwarded

I’ve written before about Sophie Hannah and her wonderful poems. Sophie has very kindly given me permission to put a poem from her collection Pessimism for Beginners, Carcanet £8.95, here as a special Valentine to you. It’s beautifully short, as it was originally composed as a text message. Don’t go texting this to your beloved, as though it’s your own, now, will you?


Blank spaces count as characters. It’s true.

I wasn’t sure. And then I thought of you.

Justin translated

I’ve had it suggested to me that I shouldn’t mention Meg Rosoff quite so often. By Meg. I’ve tried to be good, but right now she is supposed to be in North America on tour, and so she really won’t have a clue, will she?

Recently received a copy of Just in Case in brand new Swedish translation. It’s good, just like the translation of How I Live Now. I came to the conclusion that Meg’s style is close to the Swedish way of speaking, which could explain why it works so well.

I had one gripe with HILN. I feel a translator should know the difference between a place where you drink tea, and the place where you buy it. (I do recall the young witch being offered cream tea, somewhere in Kent I think, and saying that no, she’d like it with milk… But I wasn’t translating any books then.)

In Justin’s case I looked up my favourite piece about the man who tried to rescue a goat. Unfortunately the translated man rescued a coat, which is very true, but nowhere near as funny. I’d like to think it was a carefully considered leaving out of the goat, rather than a reading error.

And no play with words as regards the title, but that would have been a lot harder to do.

Three Wallanders is better than one?

I remember saying a while back that I already have a face for Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, and so I didn’t feel that Kenneth Branagh could really be Wallander to me. Maybe I can learn to accept change.

While on half term holiday I watched a more recent Wallander on television, and found that the man going round arguing with someone at the beginning of the film, was actually Wallander himself. New actor; new face. And I really didn’t feel this was Wallander. Perhaps I could adapt, but there’s only so many faces one man can have. To tell the truth, I didn’t feel this actor played Wallander as I understand his personality to be.

I’ll have to wait and see what Kenneth Branagh can do with him. Can Gilderoy Lockhart ever be a moody Swedish policeman?

Leave Kevin on the bus

I have heard a of mad scheme to flood London with Kevin Brooks’ Black Rabbit Summer. Puffin are working with Bookcrossings, and today they will leave 100 copies of Kevin’s book all over the place. Some will be left in a chain of shops (but I don’t advertise here), and the rest on buses and in pubs and so on.

The first person to find a book and contact Puffin will win £150 worth of books. So, it may be worth going hunting. London only, though. More information on the Spinebreakers site.

Chicago reading

My hairdresser is just off to Chicago with her family, for half term. I suspect she’s going to need all those jumpers she has packed, because it sounds as if it’s a bit chilly over there right now.

I felt she couldn’t possibly do justice to Chicago without some local literature, so I forced a copy of Sara Paretsky’s Fire Sale on her, to read on the plane. That should prepare her for anything that happens, though she already knew that South Side might not be a good destination for tourists.

For my part I asked if she could find me a map of Chicago. We always feel a little bit lost when V I Warshawski takes herself all over the place, and we would love to know how things connect.

All this will hopefully prepare us for when Sara comes to the wilds of Manchester at Easter.