Monthly Archives: June 2008

When the witch met Kate Ellis

The interview with Kate Ellis is up. Read all about her here.

When in Rome

Caroline Lawrence is a determined woman, and she may well be the one to get me to go to Rome or Greece. At least, if I ever have the time. Her new guide book From Ostia to Alexandria with Flavia Gemina makes for tempting reading. Despite few photos the book manages to sell Ostia and Greece and North Africa in a way most glossy travel supplements fail to do.

Caroline is bossy, too. Rather like Flavia. She sets her reader tasks to do, just like a teacher. I do think learning to say “toilet” in Italian is a useful skill. She prescribes eating ice cream. And you should always carry an apple, just in case.

I like the idea of buying a chickpea pancake, but this can only be pretend. You should sniff Vesuvius for the smell of rotten eggs. Caroline is even suggesting you take your first steps on the road to drink, with your parents’ blessing. Learn to say “no”, Greek style. Eat goat or kalamari. Say “toilet” in Greek, and find a baby’s ceramic potty.

Personally I would like to avoid watching the killing of a ram, but some might enjoy it. Smell the tanneries, or sketch a snake charmer. Use a two-feet-and-a-hole toilet. Make friends with a Libyan.

“See how many smells you can list in a day.” Quite. But it’s different. And it’s a nice touch with the extracts from Caroline’s notebooks; a new one for each trip. Worth copying as an idea, if only for your collection of toilet related words.

Just not sure about the pronunciation of HELP! in Italian. A bit American?


Mixed characters

Was I alone in thinking of the Muppet Family Christmas while watching Doctor Who last night? There’s something about mixing the characters from more than one favourite television programme. It’s like a massive family get-together, of the fun kind.

Those Daleks make me think of cheese-graters with Christmas tree lights. Their leader – if that’s who he was – reminded me of Voldemort, which probably makes the good Doctor the Harry Potter of this adventure. And it’s always embarrassing when all your lady friends suddenly meet up together.

Rat urine

I think that’s what I read yesterday, unless I’m more confused than I think I am. Emily Gravett, who has just won the Kate Greenaway medal, used the stuff for her latest book Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. And yoghurt, or something.

The young reviewers at the local bookshop, who read the book before publication, all loved it. And it’s worth remembering here that they are all rather old for this kind of book, which I think means it must be very good. I intend to find out as soon as possible, as Emily is coming here next week, and it would be a good move to be prepared.

Emily will be doing a hands on-session with 4 to 7-year-olds. I hope that doesn’t mean what I’m thinking right now, as regards the yoghurt and the rat number one.

It’s Arthur

Will I give up my subconscious avoidance of books on Arthur now? I don’t know, but congratulations to Philip Reeve on being awarded the Carnegie medal for Here Lies Arthur. Everyone says what a good book it is, and last year’s winner Meg Rosoff predicted Philip would win this time.

There is something about Arthur that stops me reading. It must be some inexplicable, early prejudice, which causes this to happen.

The only Arthurian book I have read is Joan Aiken’s The Stolen Lake. Even midway through her Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, the mention of Arthur in the blurb very nearly stopped me. So irrational.

I will work on this.

More on Sovay in the Guardian

This almost turned into age-banding again in some sort of way. The witch is airing Sovay and her brothel experience in the Guardian today, but don’t get too excited.

PP on JKR and stuff

Around here we tend to refer to Philip Pullman as PP, because it’s more convenient, and we all know who we mean. I was very pleased to see yesterday that Philip agrees with me on hyped books and other unnatural things in the publishing world. He also seems to favour J K Rowling, surprisingly enough.

I subscribe to this children’s literature email list, which is people interested in books discussing them with each other and asking for help and ideas and anything else. And anyone can email in with their thoughts. So far I’ve only jumped in twice, and that was when someone had got things wrong, and we know how I feel about people being wrong. Unless it’s me who’s wrong…

The question this time was someone who simply wanted to know how to do good characters and good plot, and Philip suggests that she just starts writing, without thinking too much about it. Then he goes on to say:

“One other thing: you don’t need to think about marketing at all. Few people
agree with me about this, but consider: what do the marketing experts say?
“We need the next Harry Potter!” No originality, you see. Marketing people
never lead – they always follow. The person you should be emulating is the
one who thought about Harry Potter in the first place. No marketing expert
would have advised her to do that. Do exactly what you want to do, and the
marketing will take care of itself.”

Now that I’ve insulted the marketing people, the very people who send me books, I had better finish for today. But I’ve said this before, and it’s worth repeating; publishers can’t decide in advance what’s going to be a popular book. It just happens. And I hate it when it’s taken for granted that a book will be a big hit because someone said so.

The P-Puffin p-party

London did what it does best on Monday night. It offered one of those balmy evenings, when it’s a pleasure to stroll along the South Bank, with the lights and the sights. The witch household had shivered under blankets as she left, but it’s a well known fact that it’s warmer in the south.

The people at Puffin felt compelled to express their love for the witch and a few others behind their successful publishing business, by throwing a party. The noise level at the Tate Modern rose a little too much, so most of my chatting happened early. And do you have any idea of how fast Nicholas Tucker can walk in a party crowd? He, and some other prey, will simply have to be caught some other time, when I will avail myself of a broomstick.

My technique for sidling up to people and start a conversation with the opening line that I haven’t yet read their book/s, needs some improvement. Worse still, was having to admit that I’d not got further on one book than I had at our last meeting, five months ago. Bad witch. Could always talk about the weather, I suppose.

If I name drop now, I’ll forget someone, or it could be that I just didn’t see or recognise some people. Kevin Brooks was there. So were Linda Chapman, Lauren Child, Linzi Glass, Charlie Higson, Graham Marks, Meg Rosoff and Ed Vere. And absolutely loads of the lovely Puffin ladies, some who weren’t ladies, and many others who do things that have to do with books.

And an EastEnder. I’m the kind of person who knows so little about soaps, that I was able to have a Coronation Street neighbour without knowing it. But I think Ross Kemp is in soaps. Which reminds me of the time I wanted to buy soap and googled Mitchell’s wool fat soap, and got EastEnders instead. Television! Bah!


Now strikes me as a good time to dip into the past, as far as my reading goes. With Celia Rees busy defending her most recent book Sovay, I hunted out the one that came before it, Pirates! from a few years ago. This is another of Celia’s historical adventures, and a wonderful story. I was reminded of it during my recent trip to Bristol, as that is where the book begins in 1722.

I think I would always love a story about pirates, but what makes this one rather special is that the pirates are female, and not just one token female, but two girls from widely differing backgrounds. This novel took me straight back to my childhood, when I devoured adventure books, and it’s got a nice whiff of Mutiny on the Bounty (another old favourite) about it.

Not appreciating Pirates of the Caribbean quite as much as Daughter, I don’t know how the stories compare, but there is a good traditional “slave owners and slaves” plot set in the West Indies, which also reminds me of older books.

This is a perfect choice for anyone who likes a good old fashioned adventure. Just writing about it has reminded me of someone who would love it.

Who’s afraid of socks?

Not me, but that’s not to say socks aren’t dangerous.

Jumpy Jack & Googily by Meg Rosoff, with illustrations by Sophie Blackall, is a new picture book. It’s so new it’s not out yet in Britain, but there’s always the internet.

Jumpy Jack & Googily

J J & G is better even than Meet Wild Boars, and as another blogger pointed out, the author information on the dustcover is almost funnier than the book itself.

Jumpy Jack is very jumpy indeed, and scared of monsters. So it’s interesting that for a best friend he has chosen a, umm, a, well, someone blue with pointy teeth. This someone is really quite kind and caring, so he couldn’t have a better friend.  J J is pretty good at being a good friend himself, too.

This book gives a new meaning to monsters under the bed.