Monthly Archives: September 2008

Rennison rules

I kept thinking it was Tuesday. And of course by the time I got home it was. Three hours at Watford tends to have that effect on train travel. But I was back in time to send Daughter to school.

Arrival of the two Cathys

If you are like me and don’t know Godalming, I can tell you it’s very pretty, and so wealthy (I imagine) that the shops mainly sell things you don’t need. The Book People “live” in Godalming, and they were the ones behind the Queen of Teen award, which ended with a coronation and a great pink party in a marquee on the lawn. I was promised peacocks, but didn’t see them. Flamingos would have suited the pink theme better.

Sarra Manning

I have never seen three pink limousines all at once before. Plus a white one. The authors were driven round with a fan each in the limos, before being decanted onto the red carpet (why not pink?) by the marquee, in front of eager photographers. In the case of Sarra Manning and Grace Dent the drive lasted for hours, but at least they got to know their fans very, very well. Jacqueline Wilson said her neighbours got something to look at when her pink limo came to pick her up. Not an everyday occurrence, then. Someone, I forget who, said she was willing to pay not to go in a limo again. Ah well.

Grace Dent

The marquee was a little pink. The carpet inside was totally pink, and so uneven that we didn’t need pink champagne to stumble every now and then. The food was pink, and very lovely. Even the portaloos were posh, if not exactly pink. It could have been a wedding, except there weren’t enough men there. It was all organised by Susie from the Book People, and she can do a party for me anytime.

Grace's shoes

The invited girls queued to chat to the authors, who signed books and leaflets like mad. The tables were groaning under free books, and once the fans cottoned on to this, they disappeared very fast. The books. Not the fans. There were also party bags at the end, filled with even more goodies and books. If that doesn’t encourage reading, I don’t know what will.

Jacqueline Wilson tells stories

As this was a crowning of a queen, there were tiaras. And those bands that royals wear on posh occasions. Pink, naturally. The chosen girl for each author was invited onto the stage to put a tiara on the head of her favourite, and they all made a brief speech about why they like them so much. I was very impressed with how well the girls spoke. It must be the quality of the writers that produces such great fans.

Karen McCombie

I have not read all of them. I dipped into a few books on the way, and quite enjoyed Meg Cabot’s Princess Mia. Meg, by the way, was the only one not there, as she had some books to sign in South Africa. Had a brief look at Karen McCombie’s book, which I just happened to find on a shelf at home. As for Louise Rennison, she got to sign the strangest book of the day for me. She had to ask, but it was Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging in Swedish. I saw fit to use it for language lessons a few years ago. I remember the kissing lesson. Trying not to muscle in too much on the younger fans, I also added a few names to my quest for signatures in my anthology collections. Their stories, not mine. So, doing well on that front.

Joanna Nadin

We all agreed that to have real, live authors makes a difference between today’s readers and the Enid Blyton generation. All the writers present felt honoured to share the pink chairs with their sister authors. Karen wanted her eight-year-old self to see her now, which would have been interesting if possible. Karen, as she is now, is very pretty, and the Scottish accent is a real bonus. Joanna Nadin’s fan was particularly wonderful, and she alone could tempt me to read Joanna’s books.

Lisa Clark

Lisa Clark’s hair is fantastic. It might not influence her writing, but looks great. Jacqueline Wilson was tanned from a recent holiday, and looked very well. And, she wore pink, a dreamy muted kind of pink. Cathy Cassidy had left her favourite green clothes, and was also pink for the day. Cathy Hopkins said she didn’t have anything pink, but the scarf did the trick, and Cathy looks so fantastic these days. Must be an author thing. We didn’t see so much of Sarra and Grace, as they arrived very late, after their enforced limo ride round most of Britain (I’m making it up), but check out Grace’s shoes! Louise is a born entertainer, and was really funny. Fiona Dunbar

Sophie MacKenzie

Two more authors in the shape of Fiona Dunbar and Sophie MacKenzie, who were ladies with a mission. They were the ones who had the envelope with the name of the soon-to-be Queen of Teen. It was nearly the Oscars, and as some of you may have gathered, the new Queen is Louise Rennison. She gave up her tiara for the much grander crown, and then had to learn to walk around without it falling off. The throne really suited her, and she was pretty good at cutting the ceremonial cake, as well.

Louise Rennison

With all the books gone, the cakes eaten and photos taken, we all trooped off home. Or tried to. Godalming was harder to leave than you’d think. The witch forced herself on a very kind librarian from York with two girls, and shared a taxi. The taxi driver was friendly, but I can’t say the same for his controller. They’re weird in Surrey. Some of them, I mean. The traffic jam had to be seen to be believed, and according to the driver he had never seen it before. Must have been us, then.

Lovely day, whether it was Monday or Tuesday, or both.


Sarah Jane is back

Sarah Jane Adventures

I hoped Sarah Jane would return to our televisions, but the last episode of Doctor Who made me wonder if they were all being got rid of. But of course they weren’t. You can’t kill all the fat calves or golden geese or what have you. Things sorted themselves out quite nicely, so I assume that this afternoon we’ll find Sarah Jane and Luke and any child helpers running around in that delicious green Figaro, pointing that pen thing at aliens as usual. And it appears Mr Smith has been forgiven, but can he be trusted?

Starts 16.35 on BBC1.

Derek the Sheep

Derek is not a cute sheep. But then you may already know this, if you are a Beano reader, which I’m not.

Derek the Sheep

He’s a crafty sort of sheep, who eats a lot of grass. This is a collection of stories about Derek, by Gary Northfield, presumably previously published in the Beano. What do I know? He’s quite fun. Probably a distant relation of Hälge’s, if elks and sheep can be related. I would guess that in comics they can be.

Queen of Teen

A number of very popular writers have been holding their collective breaths for some time now, and crossing fingers and things, in the hope that she will be the one to become Queen of Teen at the end of September. They have each egged their fans on to vote for them, so we’ll have to see who’s been more persuasive than her colleagues. If I’ve got this right, I believe that a group of fans who nominated their favourite author, will be invited to come and meet her, and hopefully see her crowned.

Will it be Jacqueline Wilson or Meg Cabot? Maybe one of the Cathys; Cassidy or Hopkins? Louise Rennison or Karen McCombie perhaps? Or pink lady Lisa Clark, or Grace Dent, Sarra Manning or Joanna Nadin?

I haven’t voted, I must admit. I want to remain as neutral as possible, though I understand Daughter had a go.

Norwegian humour

Apologies for not being very original, but I really need a reason to laugh right now. I found this on Julie Bertagna’s blog, and she had found it on the Fidra blog, who in turn had it off Steve Augarde. Chain letter effect, or something.

Also, Swedes believe that Norwegians have no sense of humour, and that is patently not true.

For the linguistically daring of you there is a version on YouTube without subtitles.

Knife wins

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Congratulations to Patrick Ness, who last night won the Guardian children’s fiction prize with The Knife of Never Letting Go. I’m not surprised, because I’ve heard nothing but enthusiastic comments about it, which typically is the only shortlisted book I haven’t yet got to. But a witch has to run late on occasion. I know I was also slightly wrong in my predictions, but it happens. Rarely, but anyway.

Young reviewers and the Guardian prize

While I wait for the result of the Guardian children’s fiction prize tonight, I’ll just mention my reviewers at the local bookshop. Back in June I told them about the competition to review the longlisted books, and was really pleased when all of them walked off clutching a copy of the competition information. It may have helped that I mentioned that someone in last year’s group had won, which either goes to show how easy it is to win, or how very good the Bramhall lot are. None of them won this year, but one of the girls got a mention and had her review on Jenny Downham’s Before I Die quoted from in Tuesday’s Education Guardian. They are very capable readers, and it’s good to see how keen they are.

PS on 26th September – I should obviously not trust the Guardian. At least not the paper version, because that’s what fooled me into saying that “my” Sophia wasn’t a winner. When Daughter said that the school website listed her as having won, I checked again, and the online Guardian does list her. So, well done! That’s two winners in two years.

If I’d been there on Wednesday night, I would have found out. I wasn’t there because the information reached me too late. Us out-of-towners need a day or two to book train tickets to make it vaguely affordable. And I want to know when it might end, so that I know I’ll make the last train home. Most of the world revolves around London, I know, but not quite all of it.

End of moans for today…

Strangled Silence

Well, at least it has flying saucers. Oisín McGann’s new novel Strangled Silence is one of the most menacing looking books I’ve seen for a while. It’s all black, even around the edges, which makes you think you’re not looking at a book at all.

Strangled Silence

The flying saucers help lighten the atmosphere somewhat, which is good, as otherwise this would be a much scarier story. It happens here and now, in a normal London, post Iraq war, with a new war in fictional (I hope) Sinnostan. And it’s not the terrorists who are the most frightening. What is the Government up to?

This thriller is just that little bit too real and too likely. And that’s including the flying saucers. Conspiracy everywhere, a bit of brainwashing every now and then, subtle violence, and not so subtle violence. And who wants to travel on the tube from now on?

Amina is a work experience journalist and Ivor was wounded in Sinnostan. Chi is a computer nerd and Amina’s brother Tariq has problems at school. They all get caught up one way or another with the seemingly crazy and inexplicable things that are happening. As it’s fiction, the reader feels that surely they will be all right in the end? But will they? This feels very real, and very scary.

I Am David

It took about two minutes for the tears to get going. We’re back with my journey books, and to me this is the ultimate journey book. I Am David by Anne Holm is a triple-hanky-at-the-end story, and it works on me every time.

First published in Danish in 1963, it’s unusual for having become so popular in English, as translations never seem to do so well. On the other hand, the book is all about the beauty of languages, and if it doesn’t sell you on the idea of learning a few more, then I don’t know what will.

Back to the crying. I only needed to reacquaint myself with the book a little, so leafed through it very quickly. But it didn’t help; I still felt soppy and sad. I remember listening to the audio book while doing the ironing years ago, and feeling exactly the same then.

Published as it was after years of the cold war, it’s hardly surprising that it starts in some unnamed country in southern Europe, on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. The young boy David has grown up in a kind of concentration camp, when one night the opportunity to escape turns up.

He journeys, often on foot, through Greece and across to Italy, and then the length of Italy towards Switzerland, Germany, all the time with Denmark as his goal. He is helped by his somewhat unlikely command of languages, his good manners and by being a generally really lovely person. But setting all that aside, it’s still a remarkable journey. He makes some enemies, but mostly he meets good people who help him towards his goal.

I don’t know how it works for young readers today; whether they can relate to old, but recent history like this. It’s too wonderful a book for it not to be put in front of new readers.

The Big O, take 2

Here we are again, one year on from my first little review of The Big O by Declan Burke. This very funny crime novel, with less killings than you’d expect, is now out in the US. Lucky Americans! Declan has found a publisher for this second novel through all the sheer hard work he put in with the Irish version of              The Big O, sharing publishing costs with Hagshead Press, and starting up the witch’s favourite blog in order to sell himself and his book.

The Big O American cover, Declan Burke

For someone who writes so well, and so intelligently, Declan is very modest, and often seems to believe he is no good at all. But you wouldn’t have crime writing colleagues and bloggers all over the place praising rubbish, would you? No. This is good stuff, and I really like the American cover design, as well.

As I mentioned last year, Declan does use bad language an awful lot, but it fits in well with the hardboiled Irish Noir style. The rest of the time you couldn’t wish for a more well behaved, and funny, Irishman. He’s the only one I know who calls me ma’am, and that has a nice, old-fashioned cowboy/wild west feel to it. One of these days I’ll adopt him as the younger brother I never had.

Should I tell you more about The Big O? No. I think you should read it instead. And afterwards you will only have another year to wait for the sequel, which is better still. I won’t mention its title, as the dear boy seems undecided between two equally good ones.

Personally I just want to read another Declan Burke novel, and soon. I do realise that new fatherhood takes time, and if Princess Lily is only half as adorable as my Offspring, I can see Declan’s dilemma. But there’s no lack of talent, and us fans are not deluded, or even bribed. (Apart from my cardboard diamond necklace, that is.)

Bloggers at Crime Fest copy

(Declan with friendly bloggers in Bristol. Photo taken by Norman Price, and stolen by me.)