Monthly Archives: June 2009

When hell freezes over

Hell really does freeze in Deep Fear, Debi Gliori’s last Pure Dead novel. It’s a spectacular freeze, and it may be all Damp’s doing. I’m actually a little bit worried, because other than the fact that we sort of know it is hell, it reminds me quite a lot of, well, of Britain. The organisational structure seems similar. It works, or rather does not work, in the same way.


Never mind. One can always deal with one’s worries by eating. That’s one solution I know only too well. And S’tan seems to enjoy his food.

And then there is the baby’s revenge thing. I had one of those. Babies. They erupt from every possible orifice, and don’t smell terribly lovely. It did feel pretty hellish, and I’m not very surprised that even a high ranking demon can be brought to his knees by a human baby of the erupting variety. It could well be that leaky babies are the most powerful kind of weapon humans have. S’tan will have to look out. S’tan being the head of hell.

Other than hell, we have StregaSchloss, which seems to have turned into the setting for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Things look pretty bleak for humans and mythical beasts, but with two rather magical nannies, you’ll be OK-ish in the end. Or you can ask your solicitor for help.

Damp for President!


Does blood matter?

We’re getting a little ‘Sophie McKenzie-heavy’ over here right now. But I thought I could squeeze in reading her Girl, Missing, while I was about to see her in Preston. So I did. And to my neighbour who found me at my local railway station clutching the book, who said he hoped it was a worthy read, I can say that it was. Though he was suitably impressed to hear I was about to meet the author.

I could have called this blog post Blood Ties, but I seem to recall that I just used that for a post about Sophie’s other book, which bears that title. Girl, Missing is also a romantic thriller, which deals with family ties and what’s important.

Many of us don’t realise, or don’t stop to think about, the differences or the similarities between blood relations and ‘other’ people. It’s not so much whether you are related to someone by blood that matters. It’s how you live with them, in the widest sense of the word. One parent only is fine, but so are six, should you be lucky enough to have that many. As long as they love you.

Most of us shudder when we hear about the babies who were switched at birth, and who are switched back. How can anyone face something like that? Some adopted people desperately need to meet their biological family. We all think that the alternative to what we have must be so much better.

Girl, Missing deals with Lauren, who discovers she wasn’t just adopted, but most likely abducted, as a young child. She seeks the truth, and discovers nothing is easy or simple. And you can’t go back.

Witch goes to County Hall

‘What kept you?’ said Daughter when we found each other at Preston’s very grand County Hall on Saturday morning. Well, it was Tabitha Suzuma, who sort of got mislaid for ten or fifteen minutes as we were setting off. I was busy composing a story about a lost author, when Tabitha appeared, and all was well. So, nothing to do with me. I had simply enjoyed breakfast with Adèle Geras and ‘the shortlist’. (Now, that could be the name of a rock group!) I could really get used to chatting to interesting people at breakfast. I missed the Weetabix, but one day without won’t be harmful.

Adèle Geras

We mingled. And Tabitha’s Mum had a go at Adèle with a hairbrush. It was with the best intentions, but the fluff wouldn’t go away. No harm done, as I felt everyone looked stunning, with or without fluff. Post-mingling, we filed into the Council Chamber, which is much more impressive than Chester Crown Court, and the seats were so comfortable. I’ll be a councillor in my next life. I sat on the Labour side and Daughter accidentally turned into a Conservative…

The important people were sitting in front, facing us, and they were eight children from the judging panel.  The award winner Sophie McKenzie and facilitator Adèle and three grown men sat alongside them. Lots of beautiful speeches, especially from the young people, and before long the awaited hanky moment arrived. One charming young man said how Sophie McKenzie was a ‘worthy winner, even if Sarah Wray’s The Trap is better’. How can you beat our future adults telling it as it is?

Lancashire book award judges

The judges have discovered reading, or they have discovered new ways of looking at books and reading, and they all seem to have changed – for the better, I hope – while on the job. Boys have discovered it’s possible to read books with pink covers and survive. Girls similarly found they could read a book featuring an exploding plane, and still enjoy it. One young lady pointed out that as someone who loves books and has lots of opinions on things, this was the perfect task.

Craig Simpson

Joseph Delaney

The schedule did extremely well until Sophie got up to talk about her writing. I suspect it was the live story telling about banana-eating gorillas that did for the time table, but it was fun. There were flowers for Adèle, a large check – in more ways than one – for Sophie, and masses of books for the judges. As an extra bonus local author Joseph Delaney had been called in to hand out even more books. His own, I believe. But at least there was no need for the intricate red and green light system the county councillors have to adhere to. No speech longer than five minutes!

Sophie McKenzie signing

More mingling followed, and then there was the usual book signing and some good photo opportunities. Craig Simpson is still thinking about what he’d like to look like, so we’ll have to get back to that subject. I stuck my nose into the bags the authors had been given. 

Tabitha Suzuma and fan

Sophie McKenzie and the dessert table

After so much fun the lovely Lancastrians could have been forgiven for turfing us all out, but instead there followed the most delicious lunch in the County Mess. It looked fine to me; no mess at all. Lancashire specialities like Bhajias, spring rolls and Pavlovas all tasted great. Words fail me when it comes to the Lancashire Lancashire cheese. I usually love it. This time it was way beyond my wildest dreams. I’ll be back. If you’ll have me.

I can’t go without mentioning Alison and Jean and Jake. Thank you! (I do realise there are more people who should be listed, but I just don’t know everyone’s names. You know who you are, I hope.)

(Photos H Giles)

Lancashire reads

You’ve all heard the joke about the traveller who jumps into a taxi and demands to be taken to his hotel, and is refused. The hotel turns out to be just across the road. I thought my taxi driver looked a little less keen than I’d have expected. It wasn’t quite across the road, but let’s say the meter didn’t have to tick for long. I’ll consult google maps next time I go somewhere, though Haggis-knee was quite happy to be driven.

Sophie McKenzie

First things first, so it was lunch in the company of shortlisted authors and library staff. Before much time had passed, we were given advance notice of one of the young readers, a boy who has taken part in the Lancashire Book Awards. He sounds just like my kind of person. The Lancashire awards people are very nice and friendly. There is literally room at the inn, even for bookwitches.

Craig Simpson and Sarah Wray

Not all the shortlisted authors could come, but here in Preston we’ve got Craig Simpson, who writes about things Norwegian; Sarah Wray, who sounds very Northern Irish – to me – for someone coming from England; this year’s winner, Sophie McKenzie; and Tabitha Suzuma, who’s brought her Mum.

Library tie

They don’t skimp on the festivities up here, so Friday afternoon offered a Q&A session with a hundred and thirty readers from participating schools. The award is sponsored by the University of Central Lancashire, and that’s really good to see. Keep it up! I like a librarian with good taste in ties, and they have one here. (Btw, if anyone finds a dried cherry in the lecture hall; it’s mine, but I don’t need it back. I noticed food was banned, so nibbled on the quiet. Just happened to drop one.)

Tabitha Suzuma

I have discovered an unexpected fondness for Johnny Depp among the authors gathered here. And I think that taking up writing books as an antidote to too much football at home, is a most sensible thing to do. As is considering a career as a reader. But I will have to disagree with Tabitha; I positively crave happy endings, and according to her Mum the book I have read is the happiest of the lot…

Friday evening it was time for a grand dinner. It’s a hard life, but someone has to go to events like these, and I’m glad it was me. How many authors can you fit into the back seat of a small pink car? Two, plus one mother, in this case. Plenty of hilarity over seat belts, with conversation along the lines of ‘I’ll do yours, if you do mine’ and much giggling. Almost a shame the drive was even shorter than my taxi ride.

I think I could just about get used to dining with a live string quartet in the background. Plenty of speeches, from adults (politicians, librarians, that kind of thing) and from children. The young speakers were all astoundingly accomplished, and a hanky wouldn’t have been entirely out of place. I was especially taken with Leesa from my table, who may have been very nervous, but who spoke un-scripted and exceedingly well. The mayor type chap with the fancy necklace seemed to be in agreement with the witch on this.

They are a little wrong about stuff like Lancashire being the centre of the Universe, however. Actually, no, maybe they are right. I’d love to come again, folks. (I know, I know. I was seriously under-dressed, but that can be remedied. I’ll get out the family heirlooms.)

A little disappointed that ‘facilitator’ Adèle Geras never got as far as singing, but that is a pleasure still to come, I hope.

A new ‘non-adult’ book blog

Karen at EuroCrime has started up another blog. This time she is giving in to her urge to read younger fiction, which just goes to prove that crime and children’s books go hand-in-hand. It’s what intelligent people read. May we never ‘grow up’!

Katherine Langrish has just had a long moan on ABBA on the perceived differences between children’s fiction and ‘real’ books.

And all this in the same week as GP Cousin appeared flabbergasted that the little cousin was still reading children’s books. Well, I must still be waiting to be allowed to borrow those Blytons. Can’t be more than 45 years since I asked. (Yes, I do have a long memory.)

Crime tourists

I’m really very disappointed in you. Not one person last week who could tell me why the trains from Copenhagen airport go to Ystad.

It appears that certain parts of Sweden are at the receiving end of vast numbers of criminally minded tourists. Such hordes clearly need to be directed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Hence the sign for Ystad, which is not all that far away from the airport, and maybe staff got tired of everyone asking.

Ystad is a good place for you to go on holiday. It’s as beautiful as my own part of southern Sweden, and if you go to Ystad I won’t have to put up with you where I go. But do remember it’s not Yshtad.

Funnily enough it would seem that people only start travelling after the crime in question has been filmed, so not much imagination or curiosity for somewhere from the printed page alone. Wallander has been marching round Ystad for many years, but as soon as you send Kenneth Branagh over, the rest will follow.

Now Stockholm follows suit, after the Stieg Larsson books and the first film. You can do Millennium walks between the various addresses where Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist do their stuff. I had hoped to see the film during this visit, but it’s on so late that the broom wouldn’t find its way back to bed afterwards. Let’s hope it’s still on next month.

Stockholm tourist people are even expecting visitors to be tempted to come after watching Let The Right One In. Hah.

The fact that poor Sweden has a currency that does as badly as the pound, means that British visitors can afford to come. So come. But I would like to point out that the place was worth a visit pre-Branagh. And there are a few other areas other than Ystad and Stockholm that are quite nice.

Blood Ties

I’ll make a sexist remark here. Sophie McKenzie’s Blood Ties is the kind of book I’d expect to have been written by a man. Not that women can’t write this sort of thing; but they tend not to. I’ve tried to think of a similar novel written by a female author, but am not getting anywhere. No doubt you will be able to correct me.

It’s very good, and I’m not in the slightest surprised that Sophie keeps winning awards. It’s got almost everything – action and adventure, romance, sci-fi and normal teen life – so my prediction is that Sophie may have to put up with travelling round the country to pick up prizes. Other writers may want to look into having her banned. (Only joking!)

Genetic engineering is the background to the story about Theo and Rachel. They don’t know each other, until they suddenly find themselves in the middle of genetic engineering terrorism. Their lives go from almost normal to seriously strange and full of danger and action.

The story is told in alternating chapters from Theo’s and Rachel’s points of view, so you get to see how they both see the same series of events.

I’m very pleased to find a book with a slightly fat and unpopular heroine, although in true fiction style Rachel improves herself surprisingly fast.

The only thing I found difficult to take in, is why people would be quite so terrifyingly organised against genetic engineering. Some of the attacks are reminiscent of anti-abortion groups, except these people take things a lot further. And I’m not sure why.

Blood Ties is a great, fast paced read, and probably better geared towards girl readers than some other action style fiction, while still being right for boy readers.