Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ten Stations

There’s less to count these days, but I still do it. Whenever I leave a train, or a bus, and especially planes and airport lounges and the like. I count the bags and the people I brought with me. Luckily we only had the one suitcase the time Offspring and I had to jump off a train into a field in the dark in southern Sweden, and Son was big enough to look after it, while I hauled Daughter.

We had a few more items to count, the year the Resident IT Consultant took it upon himself to be in hospital at the wrong end of Sweden, when it was time to leave the country. After sympathising for a couple of days the ghastly witch decided to leave without him, which meant rather more luggage than intended. ‘I’ll pick you up at the airport said neighbour PS’, but I don’t think he had contemplated quite how to move me and Offspring and ten bags/cases through the barricaded-off bit where only taxis could go.

On the cover of WBD book Ten Stations by Jenny Valentine, it says ‘Remember to take all your family when leaving the train…’ Obviously they don’t, or there wouldn’t be a story to tell. It’s a great tale, about losing Grandad and little brother on a ten station tube journey.

Great Bear tube map

It’s Lucas from Finding Violet Park, and his sister, who do the losing. Ironic, when you consider the pains he took to look after the urn with Violet’s ashes in the first book. Not only is it good to re-visit former book characters, but it’s an enlightening story on family ties.

Loved their alternate tube map by Simon Patterson, travelling between Peter Fonda and Arthur Schopenhauer (Camden Town to South Kensington).


I have noticed that other book bloggers photograph the new books that plop through their letterboxes and post the photos on their blogs. However good they look, I’ve never had the urge, much. But there is always a first time, and I’ll blame this on that instinct to browse forever in stationery shops, drooling over notebooks and other wonderful must-haves.

When I enthused ‘a little’ about Debi Gliori’s velvet book covers recently, the lovely Lauren from Random stepped in, and sent me two velvet wonders. I thought the purple one I already owned was nicer than anything else, but just look at that blue and turquoise!

Velvet by Debi Gliori

I had barely caught my breath when, lo and behold, the red and green and black (are you thinking chocolate, now?) velvet arrived, courtesy of Debi herself. I haven’t photographed the signed pages, because if you could see how great they look you’d just be so jealous.

Will be carrying the books around as accessories to match my clothes in future.

I expect the stories inside the covers will be quite good, too.

Old style magic

‘The badger sent me’, says Linnet’s friend Petroc by way of explanation, when he turns up unexpectedly in the middle of Lucy Coats’s book Hootcat Hill. I just can’t resist a line like that.

Linnet discovers to her surprise that she is the Maiden Guardian, and that her village Wyrmesbury is about to be devoured by a previously dormant monster, unless she steps in and does courageous stuff with magic she didn’t even know she possessed.

So far in life Linnet has had few friends, apart from Petroc, and she is bullied at school. Her parents don’t pay as much attention to her as she’d like, and they hardly notice when she has her first lessons in magic, staying out late at night.

This is a lovely book, which reminded me a little of Jonathan Stroud’s Buried Fire. It also made me think of Alan Garner. It has a timeless feel to it, which is welcome, when so many books are defined by the point in time when they were written. Hootcat Hill could have been written longer ago than last year when it was first published, and I hope that means its appeal will last a long time.

Lucy has borrowed freely from ‘existing’ myths and our own world, while setting her story in another world, and changing facts and names ever so slightly. It’s modern and seemingly normal, while also being totally new and different. And it’s nice with a heroine who giggles and makes inappropriate jokes while trying to impress the creatures she meets en route on her rescue mission.

Have to wonder how Lucy could base her character Gilla on me, though?


I was ready to moan the other day about the second coming of GCSEs, but had no time, as I was busy with someone’s GCSEs. I was also far too ready to ridicule the Guardian for their front page headline about the poor parents who don’t make it into the school of their choice. It’s the children who go to school. The parents only push for the ‘right one’.

But as I was saying, that might have been premature, since I’m now hard at work for someone’s exams. German is no easier 35 years after I left school, but I will still look over homework and indicate if I’m happy or not.

And now, a few days later, I have been doing Art. Or rather, I’ve been finding flowers (it is March) for the Art exam. That’s not cheating, I promise. But it’s work. We are allergic to flowers of most kinds, so have a basement full of fakes. They come out in a vaguely seasonal order each year, except for today when they came out all at once to be photographed.

While that took place I searched through iPhoto for flower pictures, and a surprising number of them come with world famous authors attached. I’m sure that doesn’t matter. In the exam you may well find a purple author, or similar. Purple prose. No, maybe not.

Pictures. Flowers. Art.

Tired parent. But at least I did get into the school of Offspring’s choice. No, they did.

Sisterhood Award

About time, too. I’ve been given my first award! Though I have to admit that I was unable to even spell the word award correctly just now, so maybe I need more time to learn. It’s the very kind Lucy Coats who has done the awarding. And the equally lovely Fiona Dunbar, who is only a little afraid of me. So, you wait for two years and then two awards (admittedly identical ones) arrive all at once.


There are many great sisters out there, blogging away. Fiona and Lucy are two of those and they also listed a good many that I like in their awards lists. So, I won’t list them back, or this gets really silly. And with one exception, I won’t list the same as them. The exception is allowed because I had thought of her for my list before Fiona came and ‘ruined’ it.

Across the big ocean to the west, to Laurie Frost, who has the very good taste to like Philip Pullman very much. First she wrote a book about His Dark Materials. Then she blogged about those who copied her book. Now she is raking in readers while unearthing a scandal about pre-paid college education in Alabama, and obviously meeting a great need. Dig on, Laurie!

North to Chicago and Sara Paretsky, who also has the good taste to like Philip Pullman. And she likes NCIS. As many of you will know, Sara writes extremely good books about private eye VI Warshawski, who is a prime example of Sisterhood. I feel a little guilty about having bullied Sara into blogging, but only a little.

Slightly east, now, to Monica Edinger in New York. Another Pullman fan, and a lady who likes what I like, which is always a good starting point. Monica strikes me as so much better organised than I am, and she may blog about similar topics, but generally from another angle.

North again, to the wilds of Canada, and Sara O’Leary, who is very wise and blogs about things I’d never even thought of. Sara writes picture books (can you say that?) and blogs about picture books and is very knowledgeable. She also likes some of my other favourite men. (Sorry, but for a sisterhood thing I seem to mention them a tad too often. I know.) It was Philip Ardagh who brought us ‘together’ and Eoin Colfer is involved, too, somehow.

Another American, now, but one who has moved across that ocean in the other direction. L.Lee Löwe, of the many Ls, blogs as Lowebrow (which I find a very witty name…) somewhere near the Rhine, after a long time in Africa. We met through Dina Rabinovitch’s blog, so there is a lot of sistering going on here. LLL (couldn’t resist) is very determined and has strong opinions on things.

A Paretsky fan from the city of my birth is Annika Bryn. She doesn’t blog in English, but I don’t see why that should be a problem. Annika writes crime, and blogs about Stockholm and her hair and other interesting topics.

Southwest to Jutland to meet Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, who is also into crime in a big way. Dorte does an amazing job, blogging in Danish and English simultaneously to make herself understood by all. She reads a lot, has interesting opinions on books, and her English is excellent. This on its own would be enough for me, because it’s rarer than you think. We also seem to have other things in common, and have yet to fall out over some silly Swedish/Danish issue.

Brooming over to Scotland for two ladies with Italian connections. Julie Bertagna‘s blog only has one thing wrong with it. I wish Julie could blog more often. But it’s quite possible that life and novel writing and other stuff gets in the way. And that’s OK, Julie.

Debi Gliori appears to be another witch, and you can never have too many of them. She is funny, too. What’s more, she has written books that the Resident IT Consultant actually remembers long after he read them. Could be the Scottish connection. Or that Debi may be a witch.

My last, but definitely not least, choice is Mary Hoffman. Mary is the one who had already been picked by Fiona. There is an Italian flavour to Mary’s blog, too, of course. What I like the most is simply to be kept up-to-date on what Mary does, while trying not to feel inadequate because I do less and know only a fraction of what Mary knows. Someone who has read all of Scott’s novels is a force to be reckoned with.

The task now for all you lucky winners is to:

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate at least 10 favourite blogs of your own.
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
5. Link to this post to the person from whom you received your award.
That’s about all. And as you have nothing very pressing to do… Oh, you do? Oh, well, do what you can.

Blueberry Girl

Neil Gaiman’s latest picture book isn’t really for children. It’s about children. It’s about having a baby, and what you wish for the baby’s future. Neil wrote it for a friend, who was pregnant with a daughter, and then things developed and the private ‘poem’ turned into another book, with illustrations by Charles Vess.

The pictures are nicely sweet and romantic in a modern Elsa Beskow kind of way. The thoughts on what a parent would want for their unborn child are inspiring, and this would be perfect for any expectant adults.

Fairy godsisters

Be careful what you wish for.

Liz Kessler has been big in our lives. Her Emily Windsnap books came about five or six years ago, and we got them all, and Liz was one of the very brightest stars on Daughter’s authors’ sky. She also had the good fortune to meet Liz many times at our local bookshop, and what was nice was that she could talk to and relate to Liz in a way she didn’t with most people. In one of our many meetings Liz also ended up giving me a signed copy of Emily Windsnap in Japanese. The things that happen…

Anyway, Daughter got older, so that may be why I wasn’t paying attention to when Liz started dabbling with fairies instead of mermaids. The idea of a fairy godmother is quite a nice one, but I wonder if a fairy godsister actually sounds more fun. That’s what Philippa gets in Philippa Fisher’s Fairy Godsister. Her godsister Daisy turns up with three Wish Vouchers in a sparkling envelope.

And that’s where the care should come in. It’s so easy to want life to be different, but most of us don’t get the overnight change of life. Consider your trusted witch here. I’m a useless parent, but to Offspring I’m their useless parent. And that really popular girl at school? She will turn out to be awfully boring and awful.

I’d ask for money. Or would I?

This is a fun book for girls the right age (around ten, I’d say), with both action and something to think about. For me this book was less about being Philippa, and more about my right as a mother to wear whatever ghastly t-shirt I want. But it’s the same thing.

Red Nose Day 09

 Jacqueline Wilson and Tracy Beaker for Comic Relief

You wait forever (well, six months, generally) for a Jacqueline Wilson book, and then two come along at almost the same time. There is a new Tracy Beaker specially written for Red Nose Day, with £2 of the £2.50 price going to Comic Relief.

I didn’t read it immediately we’d bought it, because I was thinking Red Nose Day, but it’s all about Valentine’s Day, so I’m not sure if I left it too late. Tracy Beaker’s Thumping Heart feels a little incongruous as Tracy isn’t exactly your first romantic role model. But she’ll do.

In fact, Tracy isn’t my first Jacqueline Wilson favourite. As I was saying to Sally Nicholls on Thursday, when she called some of the other JW girls a bit wet, I am a bit wet, too, so that’s possibly why I find Tracy’s antics a little OTT.

Here Tracy receives a Valentine’s present from Peter, and things escalate from then on. She can say and do hurtful things, but her heart is OK, deep inside. The story begins with the postman on the 14th February, and ends with a brush with Basil Brush a week later. Basil is another non-favourite of mine, and his jokes haven’t improved for appearing in a Comic Relief book.

The Tracy Beaker fan in our house gives her full approval to the book, and that’s what counts.

(Photo borrowed from Red Nose Day on Flickr)

When the witch met Sally Nicholls

Sally Nicholls could probably persuade me to read almost anything. I’ve rarely seen anyone so enthusiastic about particular books and authors.We met up for lunch in Manchester on Thursday, as Sally happened to be in town for the Manchester Book Awards. As I don’t expect to be able to make it to London for the launch of her new book, Season of Secrets, it was really quite convenient that Sally was travelling north.

I found her sitting exactly where I’d suggested, on a seat at Piccadilly station, clutching a framed picture of the winning alternative cover for Ways To Live Forever, hoping that it would identify her as the one I was looking for. It did. Also the fact that she looks just like her photo on the website. Darker hair than I had imagined, but then you know me and my silly ideas of authors and their hair. I’ll make anyone blonde in my mind, if I feel the need to. Sally’s is beautifully dark brown.

Sally Nicholls

We needed somewhere to have lunch, and from my shortlist Sally picked Café Pop, which is always a cool place to be seen. And then we talked and talked until it was time to put Sally on the train back to London. And I realise there are lots of books I must read, and some of them I will attempt. I promise. Sally waves her arms quite a lot when enthusing over the best books. But then she’s still on her Young Person’s Railcard, so she’s got the energy.

Sally didn’t win the Manchester Book Award. Sophie MacKenzie did. But she was happy to be shortlisted, and with the event on the Wednesday, which sounds like it included a lot of reader participation, with lots of competitions and stuff, like the alternative book covers. Before we met that morning Sally had visited two schools to talk to the children.

The Resident IT Consultant was pleased to hear I’d been talking to an Arthur Ransome fan. I gather Sally managed to have fairly Ransome-esque holidays when she grew up, which sounds very, very nice. Living in central London (although not actually on Waterloo Bridge, where she belongs in my mind), Sally wants to leave London and go and live somewhere with proper countryside. And since her first book has done really well, she can at least afford to do that, if she gets round to it.  Ways To Live Forever has been sold to 17 countries, which is pretty good.

Between us we sorted out English GCSEs, and if I could only remember them, I know exactly what books Sally read for her A-levels. The Importance of Being Earnest and some more … We covered the problems of buying Christmas presents, and I got to admire the very lovely rubber stamp she’s been given to use when signing books. My book is in the post, I believe, so I couldn’t get it signed. Maybe I’ll have to make that book launch after all. (Sally is the first author I’ve come across to offer her floor to sleep on. I think she may even have offered someone else’s floor. I hope they’ve been informed.)

I’m looking forward to reading Season of Secrets once it turns up. One copy has already got lost, and I’m thinking maybe that’s what the thieves who stole the postman’s load the other week, were after.

Book number three is being written, but I didn’t ask what it’s about. Never sure if writers want to discuss unfinished books, so better avoided. And by the way, that’s not how Sally was dressed yesterday, and it’s not the seat at Piccadilly. But I do like the colour of her dress.

My Secret Diary

That’s Jacqueline Wilson’s diary, before you get too excited. I’ve never been able to sustain a diary for long. Neither did Jacqueline, from what she says, but she wrote a lot at the start of each year, and much more than I ever did. Now I wish I had, because even the diaries of a bestselling author like Jacqueline Wilson were a little immature. And that’s the whole point, except you don’t realise until it’s too late.

My Secret Diary is primarily about the year Jacqueline was 14, and what a beautiful slice of recent modern history it is! In a strange way it reminds me of my own childhood, even if this book is set ten years earlier and in another country. The similarities are greater than the differences.

I would expect all her fans to love this teen memoir, as it’s about someone they love very much, but I would hope this book will be read by many others, too, and by adults who couldn’t care less about Tracy Beaker or any of Jacqueline’s other characters. I almost suggested the Resident IT Consultant should read it, but maybe, just maybe, it’s too girlie. For any female reader of almost any age, this is first class nostalgia.

Hopeless parents, good friends and bad friends, stupid teachers, books and films, and boys. It’s all here. In a way, people never change. We can all recognise ourselves and our friends and family in My Secret Diary. It’s the period of England around 1960 which comes to life here. It’s not a fictional England, nor is it the well-to-do classes. It’s normal life.

Jacqueline Wilson

The photos from the family album add a lot to the book. It makes the reader feel they are there talking to someone in person and looking through their photo album and having people and places pointed out to them. And looking at herself from the vantage point of 2009, I hope Jacqueline can see what a pretty girl she was. We all think we were nothing special, but in every picture I see a smiling young girl, wearing interesting, authentically ‘retro’ clothes.

I could have gone on reading this forever. I know I wanted a sequel after Jacky Daydream, which left Jacqueline at the age of 11, and now I have, but I still want more. Please, can we read more about Jacqueline Aitken?