Monthly Archives: November 2008

Picture Book on BBC4

Did anyone watch Picture Book on BBC4 over recent weeks? We recorded it and watched later, so this comment isn’t as fresh as it should be.

Very good programme, and quite informative, even if the choice of books was a little predictable. At times it seemed as if they had decided in advance who they wanted to interview, and they had to find something of theirs that actually counted as a picture book. As you know I love Philip Pullman a lot, but to count His Dark Materials as a picture book, is perhaps not strictly correct.

All the big names in children’s literature had been interviewed, and I was startled to realise how many of them I had actually met. I discovered I had even met one of the book characters mentioned, which is a little weird, having had afternoon tea with Hatty from Tom’s Midnight Garden.

It was nice to see Nicolette Jones and Nicholas Tucker, along with Davids Lloyd, Almond and Fickling, the laureates Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen. Eoin Colfer was funny as usual, and it was good to get some background on Shirley Hughes’ books from Shirley herself.

Shirley Hughes illustration

If I haven’t mentioned all, and I know I haven’t, just complain. I’m used to it.


Pullman on Larsson

Philip Pullman lists The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as one of his three recommended reads for 2008 in today’s Guardian. He says it’s ” several cuts above most thrillers I’ve read recently – intelligent, complex, with a gripping plot and deeply intriguing characters”. Well, if that doesn’t get Son to read the book this Christmas, I don’t know what will. I do expect it to happen in the original, however, which may slow down the proceedings somewhat.

The French are gripped in Larsson fever, according to the magazine Vi. They, of course, have already had all three parts translated and published. Some very eager fans are hoping for a fourth book, so maybe they haven’t grasped reality quite to the same extent. Though there is a fourth book in France, called something like The Fourth Manuscript, by Guillaume Lebeau. It’s research into Stieg’s books and background, or something like that. And the French are flocking to Stockholm to traipse round the streets featured in the trilogy.

An idea for your next holiday, perhaps?

The Butterfly Tattoo

I’m not the only one who has muttered for years that The Butterfly Tattoo is the least good book Philip Pullman has written. Not bad, but nowhere near his other books.

I take it all back. I know what my mistake was. I read His Dark Materials first. Then I read Sally Lockhart. Then I went searching for more good stuff by Philip. The setting of a recent, modern Oxford, and a non-fantasy plot made The Butterfly Tattoo look a little ordinary.

I just speed-re-read TBT to get me ready for the film premiere on Wednesday night, and it’s a very good book in its own right. Of course. It may be one of Philip’s earliest books, but it is still a Philip Pullman.

TBT is a clever mix of present time fiction, with a dash of Shakespeare thrown in, and a little bit of thriller on the side. To be honest, I don’t like sad endings, and that could be another thing I used to have against it. But at least Philip is honest enough to start by saying he will kill off a character, just as in The Ruby in the Smoke.

Hope the film does well, and I hope this will bring a new interest in the book too.

Christmas Fairy

My fairies tend to be a little larger than those Titania Woods writes about. I’m sure there exists several species of fairy. Titania’s fairies are just the right size to go on top of the Christmas tree, or as in the case of this Christmas story, inside the tree.

Twink is on her her winter holidays when she suddenly decides to play the heroine and save a tree from being chopped down in the woods. Instead she ends up coming home with the “naughty” human, who doesn’t believe in fairies.

Luckily his daughter does, so Twink has someone to help her, and before too long the human parents see the light, too. Both species learn something from the other, and the reader gets to have a little think about the damage we inflict on mother nature in the name of almost everything.

I’m just that little bit too old for this kind of fairy story, but it’s absolutely perfect for younger (and I suspect, female) readers. And it’s only because I am a crotchety old witch, that I would have enjoyed the pages of the book much more without all those decorative drawings round the edge of every single page. Sorry, Titania. It’s my minimalist tendencies coming out here. I expect the right reader will appreciate the woodland garlands.

Dirty Work

Dirty Work by Julia Bell was another of the shortlisted books for the Stockport awards last week. Like the winning book, this is not your normal cosy read. It’s about trafficking and prostitution, and it all seems very, very real.

Julia brings two fifteen-year-olds from totally different backgrounds together and puts them in a dangerous situation. Oksana is an illegal Russian immigrant, who has worked hard all her life, and is used to starvation and extreme cold. Hope is the English daughter of a millionaire, who has all the creature comforts at her finger tips, but who is still unhappy and feels ignored by her rich parents.

First you think it’s going to be all right, and that things will work out. Then you realise it looks very bad, and you can’t work out quite how this can end well. Any reader who has imagined prostitution as something glamorous, like Hope did, will soon see what it’s really like. And anyone who thinks illegal immigrants should just go back where they came from, should get some new ideas as well.

A little bit of yacht

I bought £5 worth of yacht last week. Good value, but I suspect it will be a very small minute kind of part of a yacht. That is a good thing, because I’m the seasick type, and much prefer pictures of boats, or to admire them from the shore.

You know the kind of thing. You get an email from someone who suggests you should part with some money. You delete, if you have any sense. But in this case I was so taken aback by the idea that a teenager would not only remember an old witch ten months after a brief encounter, but she had actually kept my email address!

And, it’s not every day that someone by the name of Jellyellie asks you for a fiver, to help her and her beloved James (very nice looking young man) buy a yacht, which they can live on. So, I did.

Jellyellie can usually be found on the Spinebreakers website, writing about teen books and authors. A bit like me, really. We’re colleagues, in other words. We met at the Puffin do last winter, and witches are so boring they are grateful for any conversation at all.

This is not a good time to be four fifths into buying a boat, or to be asking people for financial help, but I sort of felt that Jellyellie and James could have a little assistance from me. All you rich or bestselling writers out there, who have not yet lost your pension in the crash, might want to do the same on J&J’s website. There is something about young love and resourcefulness.

School libraries?

I see in the paper that there is a school which is closing down its library. Not surprisingly, Philip Pullman thinks that is a bad idea.

And it is, but it’s not a surprising idea, at all. I only know one (secondary) school library, but even that is struggling against the change of the times. Our local council appears to be one of the worst “paid” in the country. And with what little money it has, the council gives less per pupil to schools than many others. “Our” school, in turn, is the one in the borough that gets the least money per pupil, because ours is such a prosperous area.

I don’t know if this spiral of less money to the less deserving continues within the school, but it may well do, in which case the library doesn’t get much. During the years I volunteered there, the money came to an end long before the financial year did.

“The expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students” is what Philip reckons is important for schools. It is. But does it happen? Our school does not have a qualified librarian. It has someone who used to work in the school office doing the work of the librarian. She does it well, and I would guess she does it for less money. But being keen is not everything, and I expect that there are things she simply doesn’t know.

The shelf life of books is pretty short in our LRC. (It stopped being a library ages ago.) The books don’t get read to death. They get thrown out if not borrowed. This is just another step in the pointless waste of the library system. The classics the tax payers gave to schools for the millennium didn’t last long at all before they were gone, because who would borrow a boring old classic?

Philip Pullman is right in his concern. The question is if the kind of place he is trying to save disappeared a long time ago?

A different interview

Well, hopefully all my interviews are different. And this is a little special, because it’s not primarily about writing fiction, though Charlotte Moore does that too. What sets it apart, is that we didn’t talk all that much about Charlotte herself. We talked about her two eldest sons, George and Sam, as it’s through them that Charlotte reached a big audience in the Guardian, some years ago. It’s not just that the boys are important in themselves, but I feel it’s how Charlotte talks about her sons that shows us what she is like.

And I’m still as full of admiration as I was.

Intelligent horses

When I read about clever horses twice in less than 24 hours, I knew it’s more than a coincidence. I was looking for my “new cat” topic, and I’m sure that I’ve found it in horses.

First it was Temple Grandin, the well known autistic writer and animal expert, who writes about horses in her Animals in Translation, which I began reading the other day.

Then Meg Rosoff goes on about horses, too. And I think she’s saying pretty much the same as Temple. Horses know what they are doing, whereas we humans don’t always.

Horses are also quite big, unless you go to Shetland, where they are a very nice size. I’m not sure how high 16 hands is, but I’d like Meg to remember she isn’t still fifty (Nice try, Meg!), or even fifteen.

Before discovering brooms I went on horses several times. That was also before I discovered common sense, which is that I don’t belong on horses. The pony at Skansen (Stockholm tourist place; look it up!) that I understood to be a size six, which is what it said on my ticket, turned out to be enormous. But then I was only four years old. That’s old enough to scream my way round the whole of Skansen, with a very determined Mother-of-witch by my side. The Retired Children’s Librarian sat on a bench and laughed. She still talks about it, too.

Then there was the farm horse belonging to my friend’s uncle. The horse was called M******t; same as the Retired Children’s Librarian, so there is a connection of sorts.

The only thing is that according to Temple I’d feel a lot better if I socialise with horses.

Stockport Schools’ Book Award

I will restrain myself this year. The Stockport Schools’ Book Award event was on last night at the Plaza. I had spent some weeks trying to find out the date, again, because the council is not very active in updating its website. It has also not yet published the results, which is a shame when they go to so much trouble to organise the whole thing and get the children reading and voting.

So, I can tell you that the Key Stage 4 category was won by Tabitha Suzuma, for From Where I Stand. She is right now swanning around the local schools and chatting to her fans.

My detective work yesterday also led me to Siobhan Dowd, who won the Key Stage 2 category with The London Eye Mystery. I’m busy thinking how lovely it would have been if Siobhan could have been here too. I gather from my informant that David Fickling wrote a nice speech to be read out last night.

And that’s it. There are several more categories, but my detective skills didn’t tell me who won those. And it shouldn’t really require sleuthing in the first place. A press release next year, perhaps? (And SMBC, I am on your side really. We all want to promote good reading, so please join the 21st century.)