Monthly Archives: March 2009

We want Tony!

Cathy Hopkins has a new Dates, Mates book out soon, and one of the WBD books lets keen fans have a brief preview of The Secret Story. Let me tell you, it’s not enough. I want more. Now.

Dates, Mates readers get the story of Lucy and Tony, re-told in the shape of alternate chapters from each of them. The WBD taster is just that. Tastes great, but it’s a smaller portion than we want. 

It’s a slightly weird feeling, reading a story we’ve already read, but with Tony’s side of the affair as well. According to Cathy, Tony is her most popular boy, and although the witch is no big fan of over-beautiful boys, he’s so lovely I’m seriously hoping she’ll let me have his address. That’s what the fans ask for, apparently.

Of all the girls, I also happen to want to be Lucy.

World Book Day books

Dare I admit to somewhat dubious behaviour on my part? Early last week when I read somewhere about the WBD tokens, which would be handed out to all school children, I swore a bit, because Daughter didn’t get hers the last couple of years. Not a big deal, but annoying. Who knows how many other children haven’t had theirs?

Then the girl comes home with six tokens. End of swearing, I promise. It seems she first got her token. Then when the rest of the tokens weren’t wanted by the ungrateful non-readers in her form, the form teacher gave her all the rest, too.

We went to town, literally and figuratively, on Saturday, dividing up our shopping between two bookshops, to lessen the imagined burden. Since this year’s WBD books come as two-in-one, we ended up with 11 titles. The uneven number is because Julia Donaldson had a mini picture book all by herself, with illustrations by David Roberts.

The Tyrannosaurus Drip Song even comes with music, so I’ll get my pianist to try it out later. It’s about a baby duckbill dinosaur who is born in a T Rex nest, and is bullied by the big dinosaurs. But he’s no wimp…

If memory serves I think it’s possibly the first time there has been a picture book among the WBD offerings, which is good, because not all school children are big readers.

I’ll get back to the other books later.

I don’t fake it, I forget

According to my trusted paper (!) lots of us fake it. We pretend to have read a book when we haven’t. Do you?

I don’t think I do. I forget. You know these lists that keep popping up, where you have to say how many you’ve read. To be honest, I often can’t be sure. But I do believe that if  I mistakenly lie, when I can’t remember, it will even out when I lie in the other direction. Also because I can’t remember.

I generally feel it makes a better tale to say how I read one page of Ulysses before giving up, rather than pretending. Sometimes I intended to read a book. Perhaps I never got round to it. But then I sit down to read a book, only to discover I already did.

And as for marching up to writers and saying ‘Hi! I haven’t read any of your books!’, that has almost become routine.

When my list ticking leaves me looking as though I’ve not read very much at all, you have to take into account that I have all those strange Swedish books from my past instead. And maybe you lied about having read every single Dickens anyway.

Francesca’s salty fudge

I have a feeling I’ve pondered the similarities between me and Francesca Simon before. I’ve found some more, but the differences are still greater. The Guardian has not yet asked me for my favourite easy recipe, which is good, since I’m not sure what that’d be. And I’ve not sold millions of books. Possibly because I haven’t written any.

Reading about Francesca’s fish recipe I see that she too has vegetarian offspring who doesn’t like vegetables. I wonder why people have difficulties understanding this concept? Children often hate vegetables. Just because they don’t eat meat doesn’t change the major truth about children and their greens. I have one of each; one who eats greens and one who doesn’t, much. I was once lectured by the manageress at a holiday walking centre about what my child would eat. She told me the veggie child would eat vegetables, because ‘it’s what they do’. I said that ‘no, the child would not’. Funnily enough that didn’t make me popular, despite me bringing our own food, even when we had paid to eat theirs.

Before you worry about Francesca’s fudge, I understand it was a mistake, rather like Son’s sugarless muffins. We have all made something along those lines. Her recipe in the Guardian is for fish with Worcestershire sauce, which sounds quite tasty, and comes just after my little discussion on difficult-to-say English names and words. Wooster.

I’m not good at frying fish. Should I try it?

The appointments book

It’s a smallish world. I was one third into my morning walk, when Mrs Pendolino waved from a nearby drive. Not hers, I might add. I had already spent a couple of days forgetting that I needed to text her to change my next hair appointment, so it was a serendipitous meeting.

As soon as I mentioned my predicament, Mrs Pendolino whipped out her appointments book, and we changed Wednesday to Tuesday, just like that, standing in somebody else’s drive. And as I continued on the remaining two thirds of the walk I blessed the sunshine for making it ‘not a bad hair day’. I mean, how can you hold your head up, running into your hairdresser in ‘mid-cycle’ so to speak, when you’re in charge of the stuff on top, if it happens to look appalling?


Where to start? Adrian McKinty has a competition on his blog to win a copy of his new book, Fifty Grand. I believe it’s crime, and has something to do with Hemingway and Cuba. I think. Declan Burke, who can possibly be trusted, says it’s good. I know I won’t win, so am very relaxed about it.

The ‘lottery’ takes the form of guesses (drinking, what else?) in Adrian’s blog comments, and by now the general conversation has gone off in many new directions. Firemen, clothed or otherwise, and football. It took me a while to work out it’s football, because they were going on about Reading, which at first I took to be what you do with books. Whether they can play better than Man United remains to be decided.

But you’d expect Reading on an author’s blog to be the book reading Reading. Mother-of-witch and I went there once, in the year of football, 1966. We crossed a very stormy North Sea on the Kronprinsesse Ingrid (and she’d been Queen for a good many years by then, so that tells you how old the boat was), and by the time we saw the yellow water of Harwich Parkeston Quay (which we could both pronounce properly) we felt rather green. 

Kronprinsesse Ingrid

The witch had her first ever taste of English cuisine at Liverpool Street station, and the cheese and tomato sandwich was almost the nicest she’d ever eaten, so I’m wondering what went wrong. Anyway, taxi to Paddington, where we boarded a train of the old-fashioned kind, compartments and no corridor. Really quaint to young witches brought up on the Famous Five.

‘Is this the train to Reading?’ (the book kind of reading, you understand, pronounced reeding), asked the brave Mother-of-witch, whereupon the whole compartment of kindly English people burst out that yes it was, but it’s Reading (redding).

So not only could we pronounce Harwich, but we could also manage Reading after that. And in a way it was my route to reading, since I’m now waffling daily on the subject in my new language. I’d been learning it for a year at that point, and the North Sea crossing was my reward. Between you and me, I think Mother-of-witch quite fancied the trip, too. Not the being seasick, but the rest.

We weren’t heading for Reading, naturally, but continued to Henley. Like me, Mother-of-witch didn’t believe in simple trips when you can do complicated ones. We had never heard of Henley. The witch swam in the Thames and bought a Man From UNCLE gun in Woolworths. And started a lifelong fondness for Italian waiters, each and every one of whom had to exclaim with concern over the nasty bump on my forehead, which I acquired on the Kronprinsesse Ingrid in the choppy yellow waters. These days you’d sue.

Writing 24/7

Hmm. I wonder if I dare mention this here and now? It (allegedly) won’t go live until 2.47 this afternoon (and that’s 14.47 to sensible people with a 24 hour clock), so there is no way for me to check that the website is actually there at all, until then.

But it’s World Book Day, even if we are the only ones in the world celebrating today, so it belongs on today’s blog. Bloomsbury have a new writing ‘thing’ for young writers aged between eight and sixteen. Each month they can write a story no longer than 247 words on a certain topic, which will appear on the site, with a sample story written by a professional. Elen Caldecott is the first one out. Today, I hope.

Short is difficult. Much harder than long, where you just waffle to your heart’s content. I’m hoping they get lots of good little stories. It’s a shame I’m just a wee bit on the old side.


The case of the disappearing Pullman roar

This has already appeared on countless blogs, so I’m neither original nor providing breaking news. I’m hoping this link to what Philip Pullman wrote in the Times online the other day, is still working. If it’s not, call in on Julie Bertagna, who has another link to someone else. I believe that Philip published this, and then it was immediately taken off again, for whatever reason.

Bloggers everywhere searched for it and it was found (how?) and posted on their blogs.

More people should speak out.

TGWTDT film is here

Or not. Read what little we know about the film of Stieg Larsson’s first novel over on Culture. At least the film is done, even if it’s not exactly here with us, in our cinemas. But we can be impatient together. And there is a little bit on the Crime Scraps blog. Other than that I recommend and ‘Män som hatar kvinnor’ for your search.

Actors and Stieg larsson


This is what I like; war fiction set in Germany, looking at the war from the other side.

Piotr from Poland becomes Peter when he is orphaned and found to be ‘volksdeutscher’, i.e. a proper German. Nice, blond, tall, blue eyed, intelligent. So, first the Germans, accidentally, kill his parents, and then they take him to Berlin to be adopted by a German family. This particular family is Professor Kaltenbach’s, and his line of work is racial purity. Chilling stuff.

At first Peter adapts well and seems to be the perfect Hitlerjugend they want him to be, but then he begins to use his brain and to think for himself. That in itself is not a very safe thing, and to be in Berlin during the war isn’t safe either. He makes new friends, and ends up doing very unsafe things. And friends aren’t always what they seem.

Peter’s new ‘sisters’ are all involved in knitting socks for the soldiers and collecting money for the war effort. The Kaltenbach family find they have been deceived when bombs start falling on Berlin, and it seems that bad things might happen to good Germans, too.

There are some Swedish language issues in the book, bordering on the ridiculous, and I wonder what research Paul did on hair dyes in the 1940s? Suspect none. But this is a great story, and it actually comes to an end, unlike so many books that have endless sequels. Having said that, in a way it would be interesting to see more of what went on in Berlin, and in particular how the Kaltenbach girls did.