Monthly Archives: July 2009

Short-Ness story

While the world and possibly Patrick Ness wait for the witch to read The Ask and the Answer, she has read the short story that Patrick wrote as part of his agreement with Booktrust. It’s about what happened to Viola and her parents before The Knife of Never Letting Go begins.

I think it’s very sci-fi, and Patrick disagrees, but I’ll let him. Where The Knife is fairly down-to-earth, arriving in a spaceship is sci-fi as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t see anything negative in that.

Not surprisingly Patrick gets asked about Viola a lot, so he felt this was a good way of explaining her background. And he definitely felt it was preferable to writing about Manchee, although since he kills off Viola’s parents too, he feels he’s a bad person.

Not at all, Patrick.

You can find The New World here.


Last night I dreamed

that I sat next to Ann Pilling. My dream was set somewhere holiday-ish where the whole witch family had gathered, and there were loads of children’s authors. I ended up sitting next to someone by the name of Ann, but it took me ages to find out who she was.

I wouldn’t be telling you about my dream, if it wasn’t for what Daughter did next. She needed occupying, so being a bookwitch I suggested reading. Of course. I also suggested Michelle Magorian’s A Little Love Song, but sadly it has turned into one of these suggestions where Offspring have to say no, just to keep up tradition. So she went off to see what else there might be and came back with Vote For Baz, by none other than Ann Pilling. Witchy.

I don’t know the book myself, as it’s one of the review cast-offs from Librarian Husband of Cousin, which has been hanging around for a few years. But it was good enough to result in Daughter not doing anything else for a whole day. But she would like it known that the cover sucks.

When Son and Dodo arrived, they proudly mentioned they’d brought a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with a view to reminding themselves what it’s about. I told them they were idiots, as it’s the only Harry Potter we already have here on holiday, so a waste of a kilo of luggage allowance. They remedied this by reading a copy each, side by side. Then they went to the library for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The library had no other Harry Potters in English except The Deathly Hallows, and they even had two copies of it. So they have side-by-sided HP7 as well.

The library has been useful in other ways too. Daughter had to have some more audio books to listen to at night, so she found an Alex Rider and Philip Pullman’s The Scarecrow on CD. It’s free and you can keep them for four weeks.

Other than this, we have tidied the book collection a very little. Over the years we have carried spares and jumble sale books for those desperate days when you just have to have something else to read. But unless we are to hang on to lots of old books for any grandchildren we may have, we have quite frankly outgrown some of them. They are now sitting in the Salvation Army bag, waiting to go.

Holiday shelves

Daughter wanted to relieve the Salvation Army of a second-hand bookcase to put them in, but I felt we didn’t need more shelves. We need fewer books. I prune and re-order every now and then, and we have a passable collection by now. In fact, my former neighbour used to let herself in with the spare key and borrow books every winter. Well, I always wanted to be a librarian.

One book that is going nowhere, is I Am David, which Daughter read a few days ago, at long long last. She asked about the title, which she thought she had overheard when her brother listened to the audio book. They are the last words of the book, and just thinking about it made me want to cry a little. She finished the book and then told me she could find nothing sad…

What’s a witch to do?


I think Nicola Morgan is warning her young readers to be careful with things like Facebook and MySpace. In her book Deathwatch the heroine, Cat, goes on the fictional Phiz against her parents wishes. Don’t they all? And it could end quite badly, couldn’t it? Deathwatch is about stalking, and why it can be worth taking care about what you put on the internet for all to see.

Cat is a capable athlete, who trains a lot. Too much she thinks, and she wants to give some of it up, but her parents don’t agree. Cat doesn’t like insects very much, and her now ex-boyfriend Danny likes insects a lot. And then one day on Phiz, Cat’s computer screen fills up with the picture of a spider. And it won’t go away.

She feels herself being watched wherever she goes. But who is it? Nicola very cleverly lets the reader see the private thoughts of more than one possible culprit, and they all seem obsessed with insects. But which of them is the stalker?

Deathwatch is also about the importance of being like everyone else, whilst making you think about what’s important to you. For Cat the question is whether sport is right for her, even when it’s not what her friends do.

And it’s always worth knowing what your parents are up to.

If insects freak you out, this novel could be worth avoiding. But it will make good reading and offer food for thought for young teens. Those without arachnophobia, that is. In these parts we go both ways.

Bye, Frank

I didn’t know why Bookwitch got all those hits for Ellen McCourt early on Monday morning. Thought it might be a fluke.

Frank McCourt in Stockport

Now I know why, of course. Frank died on Sunday, and he’ll be missed by many. Offspring and I met him twice, and he was great both times. Very funny, but slightly impatient with his moderator in Gothenburg three years ago. Frank sort of took over and did her job as well, and I’m not sure she noticed. She was so flustered at sitting next to the famous Frank McCourt.

Then it was Frank and Ellen in Stockport in November 2007, with tales of crispy chicken and ticks. Very friendly and really lovely. It felt like they were personal friends instead of visiting stars.

It’s not always Daughter pays attention when I report having seen in the news that someone has died. She did this time. It’s the personal connection which makes all the difference.

Frank McCourt in Gothenburg

Here is Daughter, being pushed ahead of all those chancing autograph collectors who couldn’t even be bothered to buy a book. Little did they know that her book hadn’t been purchased there, either. But anything for queue jumping.

Frank, we’ll remember your way of spinning a funny tale around what someone was having for dinner. Crispy chicken!

Dark Angels

I wonder if there’s going to be more? Katherine Langrish’s Dark Angels could end where it does, or it could be the start of something bigger, just like her Troll trilogy. She’s good at the ‘young boy and young girl, with small domestic “creature”, and dark secret places’ kind of plot.

Dark Angels is Wales, rather than Norway, but both settings have that interesting mystical feel to them. Wolf has escaped a cruel master in the monastery where his father sent him as a small child, and Lady Agnes, or Nest, is soon to be married to someone she doesn’t know. Both want something different from life than what they’ve been given.

Then a small creature, who might be an elf, is found, and Agnes’s father thinks it/she may be the answer to his troubles. Wolf and Agnes and even the small elf have to learn who to trust, and who is the enemy.

The story is set soon after the Crusades, and Wolf is full of the romance of fighting for God. The crusaders, however, have a different view of what they had to do.

I didn’t quite understand if there really was something supernatural in Dark Angels, or not. Elves, a white lady, hobs and the devil himself, maybe. Or perhaps all of them could be explained away, somehow. Katherine’s strength is that she makes the fantasy elements seem perfectly normal. Of course you have a hob in a corner, telling you what you need to know. Don’t you?

Stop children reading, now

Well done to the powers that be, for finding another few nails to put in the coffin of how to make children readers. This new ‘pedophile’ thing, requiring children’s authors to part with £64 to register that they aren’t all a bunch of child molesters, before they visit a school, is an interesting one.

Some, like Philip Pullman, who doesn’t need to visit schools for a living, can just stop visiting. The rest will have to pay up. And if you don’t, for whatever reason, does that mean that there might just be some truth in the suggestion? It can be hard for former alcoholics to say no to a drink by explaining they are former alcoholics, but you can’t very well go round telling schools you’re not coming because you actually enjoy molesting children.

Seven years ago when I volunteered to help in the school library, I was never allowed to be alone with the children. Not because I think I was suspected of anything, but it made sense. Whether I could have had myself vetted, I don’t know. But I think vetted means that you’ve never been caught doing whatever it is; not that you’re definitely not into that kind of thing.

I met many authors at that school. And they would have been hard pushed to be alone a with a child or a group of children. What does the government think? That the author arrives in school, and is put in a classroom with the children and left? Some schools seem to think that authors can be used that way. ‘Free’ babysitting. But then you might want to worry about the school, not the poor visitor.

It was always very hard getting authors to come and visit. It will become a much rarer thing now. But it goes quite well with abolishing school libraries, doesn’t it? Soon nobody will have to do anything to do with books. Those computers schools swear by, that are taking over the LRCs, they don’t ever lead children into danger or into contact with child molesters, do they?


Craig Simpson signing

‘Are you Dogfight?’, is an unusual way of addressing someone, but it’s how the authors at the Lancashire Book Awards identified each other. By their books. And Dogfight is Craig Simpson’s book. It’s pure Heroes from Telemark crossed with Alistair MacLean. In other words, perfect for old and weird witches, not to mention young readers.

When the Resident IT Consultant joined us on holiday this week, I put him to wash the house. The outside walls, you understand. I suffered a small pang of guilt, wondering if I was being unreasonable. But when I found that he still had time to steal my Dogfight, I came to the conclusion he needs more to do, not less.

Luckily he is sufficiently scared of me to let me have my book back when I demand it, so I finished it first. We both agreed it’s a very good book. We have also worked out what the publishers need to do to encourage female readers. They should do a Harry Potter cover thing, but with one cover for boys and one more appealing to girls. In Preston the girls were expressing gratitude for having ‘had’ to read some books, because otherwise prejudice would have prevented them from boyish covers like Dogfight.

The book is set in northern Norway during World War II, shortly after the German occupation. The hero Finn and his friend Loki almost accidentally turn resistance fighters, and very capable they are, too.

There are double agents, naturally, and lots of excitement and plenty of courage. And there are planes and daring flying stunts. Skiing, as befits a Telemark scenario, and underground newsletters and people-smuggling. Even the Shetland Bus gets a mention. Good work.

I won’t to give too much of the plot away, because you will want to read this. There are more books, and I know I will want to read them. I could really have done with these books when I was fourteen.

We’re not so sure about the intercom for Mrs Andersson’s flat, and not sure about so many Swedish surnames, but we are nitpicking nerds. But don’t worry, Craig Simpssen, you’re a nice man, and I can get lost in Preston with you anytime. Sorry, Simpson.