Monthly Archives: May 2008


Daughter and the witch are off on a trek to Lund today to hear Sonya Hartnett in conversation with one of the ALMA judges. It’ll be interesting to see the judge’s hair, as each year she changes it dramatically, and since I recognise people from their hair, that’s always awkward. Intelligent guess; she’ll be the one talking to Sonya.

It’s Daughter’s first visit to this venerable University town, and we need to check out its shoe shops and pizza restaurants.

This business of “good” universities reminds me of the time at Son’s playgroup, when his new pal’s father inquired whether I’d been at Uppsala or Lund! This is like asking “Oxford or Cambridge?”, and the witch sank lower in her chair and whispered “Gothenburg”. But then, I had very nearly asked this retired professor if he was his son’s grandfather. A witchy feeling prevented me from uttering the words at the last moment.


ALMA ceremony 2008

But for a technical hitch, you’d have had this yesterday when it was fresh. It’s staler today, but still safe to consume. And even though Abba couldn’t make it, the ALMA award ceremony at Skansen in Stockholm on Wednesday was still good.

Crown Princess Victoria was there as usual, sitting next to Sonya Hartnett and the Minister for Culture. The weather was good and I didn’t see much use of the blankets provided. But then, Sonya is young and Victoria is a hardened veteran, as well as young.

The teenagers in the audience were there to scream when the various entertainers appeared. There was dancing, singing, drug free rap, plus a group of former shrubs (don’t ask).

They should really rehearse how to deal with the too large framed certificate and the flowers which Victoria hands the winner each year. The logistics are awful. You have to shake the royal hand, but what to do with the winnings? This time the nearby government minister was put to good use. According to tradition, the chat between Victoria and Sonya was private and we don’t know what was said. Will have to ask.

Winning was “weird and great” said Sonya, and her thank you speech was pretty good, and those weeks of practicing Swedish in the park with the dog paid off.

When pressed, Sonya said her favourite childhood book was Charlotte’s Web, and poor Victoria had to mumble something about liking Astrid Lindgren, again. She praised Emil this time, and he’s as good a role model for a future monarch as any.

Abba may have been unavailable, but Benny sent an autographed something (photo?, CD?) for Sonya. And then everyone sniffed the flowers they were handed, all to the tune of Pippi Longstocking.

Creature of the Night

Can you have gritty realism and fairies at the same time? Probably, as this is what Kate Thompson has done in her new book Creature of the Night. It’s certainly different and it’s much darker than Kate’s other novels.

From the fiddle playing farmers of her recent books, this is unemployment, young unmarried mothers, juvenile delinquents; plonked down in the Irish countryside. There’s a disappeared Swede (with a Danish name…), a fairy with a fondness for Battenberg cake, an old rumour of a murdered child and a marvellously forgiving and down-to-earth local family.

There’s a lot of hope in this story, but it doesn’t materialise quite in the fairy story way that you’d like it to. For every step forward, Bobby and his family take several steps backwards, into their Dublin world of debts, drugs, car theft and violence. Irish fictional crime seems to be big these days, and it’s interesting to see it move into children’s books.

I liked this book, but considering how much I usually love epilogues, this one would have been better off without one, if only because it messes with the time scale of things. And I’d have liked my own imagination to go to work on the last couple of paragraphs.

How Agatha lost her memory

Did anyone else see the latest episode of Doctor Who? It was fun to see how many Agatha Christie book titles the script writers could fit into the one episode. And I must say that the explanation for Agatha Christie’s supposed memory loss when she disappeared in 1926 is one of the best. It explains it all.

This episode paid homage to Christie and period whodunnits and bodies in libraries and the whole caboodle. But it wouldn’t have been so good for those who run when they see a wasp, so I’m glad Doctor Who doesn’t rank highly with my wasp phobic friend S.

Ghost house

This is almost like holidaying in a ghost story. The house we’re in is very noisy, in the wrong way. When you’re with other people you don’t notice. When you’re alone you start looking over your shoulder. And the house is only 35 years old.

I have a desk in a wardrobe here. It was all that was left when we’d allocated the bedrooms for sleeping in. So, I was sitting peacefully in my wardrobe just now, waiting for Daughter to get out of bed, when I heard her walking down the corridor. But she walked awfully silently, so when I wasn’t assaulted with a hug I decided I’d only imagined it. Then I heard unmistakeable bathroom sounds, and deduced she had simply been very quiet. Except she didn’t come out again, and on investigating, the bedroom door was still firmly shut.

All who have stayed here alone have found these spooky sounds very unsettling. A couple of years ago Daughter was left alone in the house for the first time, while the three of us went out to buy paint. This took longer than expected, so whilst in the middle of talking to someone in the shop, I had to throw my ringing phone to Son to answer. “Yes, we have all heard those sounds”, I heard him explain patiently to his sister. The Retired Children’s Librarian and Aunt K are amongst those who have suffered. But you get used to it.

My hands are shaking, but that’s because I have just taken the lawnmower for its ten minutes of slaughtering knee high grass. Then its battery dies, and you have to wait until tomorrow. High grass on a very slopey slope is no laughing matter, unless you fall down with the mower on top, which might look funny to any onlooker. This is behind the house, as the front of house grass gets cut by BMW-man. I let his ancient, pale green BMW sit in my garage, and in return he cuts the grass. I have no idea why, as he does all the work, and the BMW just sits there. I didn’t even know him when the BMW deal was arranged, although Mother-of-witch borrowed a pram for Son from the family, many years ago. So, maybe I have to get used to the idea of helpful neighbours.

We went into town yesterday (I’m sorry if this sounds like very long and boring postcard) and it’s got that small town feeling, and we saw the watch repair man and the dentist, and narrowly missed running into the optician. Waved to BMW-man and wife. The dentist plays tennis with BMW-man, of course. And the watch repair man spent an hour showing Daughter cogwheels and things from the insides of clocks, including a clockwork from 1750 that belongs to the Carl von Linné family. Perhaps I should send him a copy of the Philip Pullman book?


Will attempt to get back to more bookish subjects tomorrow.


I was about to say something about boys and comics, when my sense of political correctness caught me in time. Daughter likes comics, and the witch used to read several regularly in her youth. The other two family members don’t seem to understand them at all, so the boy/girl thing is totally wrong, in fact.

Having been allowed to catch a glimpse of the DFC as David Fickling waved his folder around back in March, I have since struggled like mad to get any information at all. David did say I was welcome to call round and we’d talk about it, but I somehow didn’t see myself going all the way to Oxford even for David.

So it was nice to see that the Guardian Weekend had an exclusive preview of the DFC, with a short introduction by Philip Pullman. Philip is the other boy I had in mind, and it seems he’s been heavily involved with the comic, and has his own story, The Adventures of John Blake, which will appear monthly.


The preview left me feeling that maybe I must wield my credit card and start a subscription after all. This is the difficult thing with a comic, rather than a book. The book I can ask for a proof of, but one copy of the comic won’t be much help, and I can’t see them giving away an open-ended subscription.

And to Philip I will say that he needs to get on with Dust, and not fool around too much with comics.

Guardian longlist 2008

Luckily Daughter insisted we buy the Guardian yesterday as we boarded our plane, which means I can now let you know the longlist for the Guardian children’s fiction prize, rather than having to concentrate on Daughter’s artistic rearranging of sickbag into flower, while bored on the flight. I think it may have been her way of sorting out Mother’s Day, which is only my second one this year.

Anthony McGowan, The Knife That Killed Me

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cosmic

Jenny Downham, Before I Die

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Rhiannon Lassiter, Bad Blood

Siobhan Dowd, Bog Child

Tanya Landman, The Goldsmith’s Daughter

Good list, but unfortunately one where I have yet again failed to read enough of the books to know what’s what. I’ll go home and catch up as best I can. It’s definitely a list of knives and death, which when you think about it is not very “child friendly”. As for my famous predictions, I can only see one outcome, and that’s for Bog Child to win. The shortlist will feature books 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Sickbag Flower

News from Meg

Meg Rosoff is getting a lot faster at producing news on her website. She moaned recently that people had been complaining. I hope she wasn’t referring to me. But I would like to think that she is learning from my example and will be more blogger-like in future. (No pressure, Meg. We just like to hear from you. And love your writing.) I haven’t tested the response thingy she had on there, but with a bit of luck it will be almost as good as the comments here. And as Meg still needs advice on what to call the next book, you’ll have to let her know what you think. It’s that, or go and see her in Hay.

I know which I’d prefer, but I’m off on my travels this week.

Child detectives

Child detectives aren’t uncommon, but I think when the future witch was handed Home Sweet Homicide at the tender age of twelve or so, she wasn’t used to reading about them in adult books. This crime novel by Craig Rice was a   hand-me -down from the Retired Children’s Librarian (not retired then, of course) who had come for her annual holiday. When I think of this book I can still see how we sat outside our cottage on the side where the sun shone in the evenings, so it makes for a good piece of nostalgia.

I think I was also surprised to find that an adult book could be funny. Who’d expect adults to have a sense of humour? Now I know, because I’m so very witty myself, but at that point it was a nice transition from Blyton to Christie & Co.

The story is about three children with a crime writer mother who is busy writing, and they are left to their own devices. Luckily a neighbour is murdered and they spend their time solving the murder. It’s a lovely piece of Americana from the 1940s.

I’m having to write this from memory, as I have no idea where the book is. Actually I do, and I’m too lazy to shift everything in front of it. But after all these years it’s still quite clear in my mind, which goes to prove how important it was. I went on to read a few more of Craig Rice’s books, but in those days I think it was hard to find all that many, particularly in translation.

I checked it out on Google, but found a long and almost tedious review of the book, where someone had gone to a lot of trouble dissecting both the book and the author, to the extent that he ruined something which I think he had actually liked. That’s why I’m not saying much here at all, except “read it if you can”.

More Stieg

The witch household now numbers three Stieg Larssons, and I don’t mean the three parts of the trilogy. The Resident IT Consultant’s birthday the other day caused some panic, as we had more or less forgotten minor things like presents. I asked my friend S, whose birthday it was recently, what she had been given. Money.

Well, even to me, it seemed somewhat pointless to give the man back the money he had earned in the first place. So, we turned to the safe but difficult area of books, and got him The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in English. I’m guessing it wasn’t an altogether stupid choice as he threw himself over the book and started reading.

And I wanted to make a comment here about the translation, which at a quick glance looked pretty good. Last night the R IT C had a good laugh, however, when he came across a dodgy translation. It was the kind of mistake you make translating into a foreign language, not into your own. So, I can’t explain away the “cloister”. Reminds me of the “sugar cake” in a Mankell novel, but that translator can almost be forgiven for not having any kitchen skills. For those of you who are wondering, it would be better with monastery and sponge cake. Possibly Madeira cake.