Monthly Archives: January 2009

The suicidal webserver

Winter means more need for things that make me smile. This did.

The apologetic webserver

Not necessarily very original, but the funniest page 404 I’ve read. Sorry if you’ve all seen it millions of times before.

Dido Twite

‘Never heard of her’, said Daughter as she passed my laptop, but I won’t disown her just yet. Her brother and I read our way through Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence about seven or eight years ago, and we still grin at the mention of ‘Died of Fright’. It’s one of the many names the mad butler in book six, The Cuckoo Tree, calls her.

‘Her’ being Dido Twite, who must be one of the most fascinating heroines in children’s books. How I hated her to begin with. I wanted her to die at the end of book two, Black Hearts in Battersea, and I’ve since heard that Joan Aiken intended her to. She was infuriating. I was so annoyed when she kept turning up and making demands on Simon, the lovely boy from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

When Simon arrives in London, he meets “a shrewish-looking little creature of perhaps eight or nine, with sharp eyes of a pale washed-out blue and no eyebrows or eye lashes to speak of. Her straw-coloured hair was stringy and sticky with jam and she wore a dirty satin dress two sizes too small for her.” To put it bluntly, she’s not good enough for him. Simon lodges with the Twite family, and Dido keeps popping up all the time.

Simon is kind, so he lets Dido ‘hang out’ with him, if that’s what they did in the early nineteenth century, during the reign of James III. This is a good example of how being with someone better than yourself can improve you and change your life.

Joan Aiken didn’t kill Dido off, but made her the main character in Night Birds on Nantucket, much to my dismay. Dido grew on me, though, at about the rate I managed to lay my hands on the next book. I only found one bookshop which stocked the books, where I went about once a month to buy another one.

Then it gets confusing, because The Cuckoo Tree comes next. Came next. But later on Aiken went on to write two more books, The Stolen Lake and Limbo Lodge, which are now fourth and fifth in the sequence. The Lake one is somewhat Arthurian, featuring a still not dead Queen Guinevere. The infuriating thing about Limbo Lodge is that I wanted to read more about Lord Herodsfoot in book six, but as he hadn’t been invented when that was written, I had to go without.

Dido grows up beautifully through these books, never losing sight of the canny London girl she once was, but learning a lot in her travels. She’s brave, she’s intelligent, she’s kind, she’s resourceful.

She meets up with Simon again, who has been astonishingly successful while still so young. In Dido and Pa, the ghastly Mr Twite turns up in a story reminiscent of Tiger in the Well. Lots of goings-on in London, and the wolves are coming.

In book eight, Is, we meet Dido’s little sister Is, and she is as spunky as Dido. Cold Shoulder Road, book nine, is also about Is.

The last two books were published posthumously, Midwinter Nightingale and The Witch of Clatteringshaws. In the former Dido and Simon are almost adults when they find each other after some time apart, and they have a dying king on their hands. The last book is too short, but Aiken knew she wouldn’t have time to write the whole story, so preferred to make it briefer and actually get to the end.

And now I want to re-read the whole lot. Croopus.

Why isn’t Joan Aiken more of a household name? Her books are all so good, and a feisty heroine of Dido’s calibre you don’t find every day, even if Dido was a bit of an accident. I sometimes think those are the best.

What Melvin did before

I was getting impatient for news of Melvin Burgess’ memoirs, which we talked about this time last year. Had a little look at his website, which incidentally has a new address (see blogroll). And what do you know? Melvin has hit an obstacle with the law. Read here what he says:

“Then, we had it read for libel – a fairly minor point, so we thought.  But it turns out, the book falls foul of the European Human rights Act.  This act enshrines the right to free speech, but it also includes – quite rightly – a privacy clause.  These two elements of the act have been working their way through our courts, and publishers are currently running scared. In this case, some of the things that I got up to with various boys and girls back in the sixties might not be welcomed in published form by those same boys and girls, who could be anything from carefree grannies and granddads to respectable members of the Rotary Club.”

Suspect this means I may have to wait even longer, and so do you.

Newbery Medal

There was a debate on Neil Gaiman’s website last year, as to whether Neil would be eligible for the Newbery medal. Seeing as they’ve just given it to him, I’d guess Neil was correct in his assumption that he fulfilled the criteria. Resident in the US, I believe, but no need for citizenship.

Philip Pullman was asking about this on the Rutgers’ Child Lit list yesterday, but I assume without any expectation that he would ever be Newbery medalled. Apparently Philip is a fan of The Graveyard Book, so I’m in good company.

Another debate seems to be over giving the Newbery to someone as high profile as Neil, but you can’t always seek out the obscure and penalise the successful. Even JKR was awarded the odd prize in her time.

Everything Beautiful

Not everything is beautiful, and with my recent track record for not enjoying new books, this was a very welcome change and surprise and all that. Simmone Howell’s Everything Beautiful is everything that a book should be. It’s good. Very good. I raced through it.

It’s Australian, and we don’t read enough English language books from that part of the world. Once I got used to the thought that summer is in the winter (I know, but I keep forgetting), the timings of the tale made sense. It’s a story with quite biblical undertones, finishing ‘On the seventh day’.

Riley is that unusual heroine, a fat girl who we don’t need to feel sorry for. She makes friends with wheelchair-bound Dylan, who is not an object of pity, either. It’s the stepmother syndrome again, getting sent to a religious camp, to be out of the way, and to improve. Hah.

Obviously, Riley hates it. She hates very well, but she’s also incredibly resourceful, and a good friend to those who need friendship.

The ‘Aussie-ness’ of the book is not so much scenery or language, as a sense of freedom. British books are actually very sexually censored and careful a lot of the time. This is more Melvin Burgess meets Jacqueline Wilson, if that makes sense. It gets explicit, and we have it all; sex, drugs, drink, smoking. It’s great.

This is Simmone’s second teen novel. I want more.

To read Twilight, or not?

Had hoped the film Twilight would remove any need for reading Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling series of books. Now that I’ve sat through the film, I don’t know. What do people think?


I have read the first chapter online, which looks OK, but there are four books. Long books. Am I so well past it in age that the books are wasted on me?

The film was mainly ridiculous, and I didn’t get into a romantic mood, at all. Edward was a little like Mr Rochester, but without making me fall in love.

What do the next three books do? I’ve understood there are werewolves, but to me that neither solves nor worsens the problem of Bella and Edward ‘getting together’. And if not, what’s the point?


The literary kind, not the people with badges and guns and stuff. What do they do, exactly? And how do they do it?

These may sound like weird questions, but I just don’t know. I did ask someone that a while ago, explaining that I don’t know. The reply was “If I were in a cynical mood, I might suggest that not knowing how to do the job of agent seems to be a prerequisite for the role!”, and I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for not naming my quotee.

Most authors rave about their agents, and I’ve taken them to be these wonderful mother figures, or bossy older sister types. They read your book and if it’s any good, they magically organise for a publisher to like it too. But how do they do that?

And how can you know that the agent who’s agreed to be your agent isn’t like the one in the quote? 

The other thing I wondered about some time ago, is when you need a new agent. What do you do? It’s like adopting a new mother, isn’t it? It’s not just hard to go to someone and ask “Will you be my Mummy?” (sorry, agent), but how to assess who would make a good agent for you.