Monthly Archives: August 2009


The Ask and the Answer, by Patrick Ness. It’s an odd – but very good – title, until you read the book and see why and how. It’s a cliffhanger book. After reading The Knife of Never Letting Go last year, I wanted the sequel immediately. Then after a while I wasn’t sure I wanted it at all. I could foresee more agony and waiting. The Ask and the Answer is extra cliffhangery on account of being piggy in the middle. It hangs both before and after.

The Ask and the Answer

But, you can bear it, if I can. I read a bad review of the book in the spring, which put me off, until I changed my mind again. Sorry, Patrick. Wishy-washy witches are not a pretty sight.

It’s not what you think it will be, and as far as I’m concerned that’s good. If it had been as expected, I would have liked it less. Some bad people may not be all bad. Some are, though. Not all good people are all good. This is a story that has you thinking new thoughts all the way.

This book is about war. It’s about manipulating people. Torture. Genocide. It’s really very interesting.

In the end, I think it shows that we are all pretty good and pretty bad, and you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, or if you do, it’s not the only solution. But more than anything; people can change. They really can.

And for Meg Rosoff; there is at least a horse which is quite nice. Doesn’t make up for the dog, but it is a nice horse.

Peter No-Tail

Or Pelle Svanslös, which is his original Swedish name. You most likely won’t know him.

The Grandmother does, which goes to show how frequently we must have watched the two videos when Offspring were younger. She doesn’t exactly live with us, so will only have caught Pelle on and off. What I’m getting at is that she still remembers, more than ten years on.

We exported Son to Uppsala this week. The hard old witch wasn’t even at home to see him off when he flew out a few days ago. But luckily, he didn’t fly Pelle Svanslös style class, which was travelling outside the plane.

Son is in Uppsala to study for a year, and the connection with Pelle is that he also lived in that illustrious university town. Pelle is a cat. Did I mention that? He has no tail, as the more advanced of you will have worked out. He is the main character in a series of books by Gösta Knutsson, written over half a century ago. The books may be about cats in Uppsala, but they are based on real people. As far as I can work out, there are no books available in translation, but you might be able to get hold of the videos, which are quite good. At least they entertained Offspring, and taught Grandmother the connection with Uppsala.

The Resident IT Consultant spent a few weeks working in Uppsala when Offspring were small, but the witch has only briefly travelled through once, far too many years ago. Might get to go now, though.

We have friends who once remarked as they were moving to a new town, that it was a little strange moving to a place where the only person they knew was the bishop. In Son’s case, the only person in Uppsala he has knowingly met is the archbishop, who happens to be the same person as the aforementioned bishop. So I expect he won’t be popping in to say hi.

Uppsala and Lund are sort of the Oxford and Cambridge of Sweden. When Son was two he made a new friend at the playgroup we went to. At our second meeting the witch very narrowly avoided asking the boy’s father if he was the granddad. A witchy premonition prevented this insult. I then got to have a long conversation with this elderly father, while the boys played. On hearing I’m Swedish, he asked ‘Uppsala or Lund?’ In a room full of mothers who had most likely never been to university at all, he not only assumed that I had, but took for granted it could only be one or the other. I slunk further down my chair as I whispered ‘Gothenburg’.

So, I’m hoping Son can even the score a little. But look out for ‘mean Måns’!

Some more photos for you…

if you haven’t already had enough. In fact, here are more photos even if you have.

Ian Rankin 2

Lynne Chapman and Julia Jarman 2

Gerald Scarfe 2

Linda Strachan and friends

Judith Kerr 2

Neil Gaiman

Val McDermid 2

Debi Gliori signing 2

Henning Mankell

Michael Morpurgo

Malorie Blackman 4

Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud

Anne Fine

Keith Gray 2

Rachel Ward

Michael Holroyd

Steve Cole

Jacqueline Wilson

Klas Östergren

Lucy Hawking

Henning Mankell

Theresa Breslin and Adèle Geras

Nicola Morgan

Keith Charters 2

Gillian Philip 2

Marina Lewycka 2

Philip Ardagh

Patrick Ness 2

Melvin Burgess

Elizabeth Laird 2

Bali Rai 3

Louise Rennison

And that’s it. So called ‘normal’ service will resume here really soon.

Midnight oil

This habit of sitting up half the night blogging will have to go. But right now I think I have got my photos in sufficient order to know what I’m doing, so I’ll press on.


What an experience it was to visit the Edinburgh book festival! It’s been great. I hope I will have the stamina to do it again, possibly even next year. Staying just round the corner from Charlotte Square would have been a very useful thing, but the daily walk in Stirling to the station and from Haymarket to Charlotte Square, and then back again at night, was probably good for us. Probably.

Sun over Charlotte Square


It was muddy and puddley. They had pirates on at least one occasion. There was sunshine a couple of days. Full days. Plenty of part time sun.

Pirates at Charlotte Square


They are clean living and they recycle, although I’m not sure the coffee mugs and the plastic glasses of water went into the right recycling boxes in the Press Pod at all times. There was a dead body in the pod. Or it looked like there might have been one. Not sure what went bump in the night.

The body

Photo equipment

The hole for the smoke from the fire was covered up, which was just as well since we didn’t want the coffee underneath it diluted. We had a special photographer sitting on a chair outside on most days, waiting to do ‘arty’ photos. Very impressed with his large yellow suitcase, full of ‘stuff’.

Press yurt

Prince Albert and gull

Prince Albert was kind to the birds and let them rest for a while before shaking them off. The bookshop had a cauldron – picture of – which I’m sure was in my honour.

Witch's cauldron

Never caught the amazing wellies in any photos, but Malorie Blackman’s Converses were pretty interesting. Also missed, but only just, taking the picture of the small boy who stomped forcefully in a major puddle, wearing colourful wellies and lovely Fireman Sam style waterproofs until some adult demanded he get out of the water. Pah. Adults.

Malorie Blackman and her Converses

Daughter and witch would never have got to do so much during their week at Charlotte Square had it not been for the resourcefulness of Sara Grady, who looks after children’s books/events in the festival. Sara’s skilful siphoning off of tickets was extremely helpful.

Press Pod

The Press Pod was ruled over by General Sutton, who’s only a little bit scary, and very kind, all at the same time.

General Sutton's hat

Thank you!

Over the tent tops, Charlotte Square

‘Writing novels is basically lying’

It really was Day 7 despite it being the eighth day, because the exhausted witch and her photographer took a day out. We were going to sleep all day, but didn’t quite manage it. Back to the grind, slightly recharged.

Marina Lewycka

Had hoped to shoot Marina Lewycka first thing, but she was running late, so it was her event which came first. Daughter has no interest in Ukrainian tractors, strangely enough, so it fell to your witch to hear Marina read from her third book, We Are All Made of Glue. That was after Laura Marney, who chaired, had offended most of the audience by accidentally saying she hoped all of us were born after World War II. Not judging by the amount of grey hair, they weren’t. I asked for permission to take a photo of Marina as she signed books afterwards, and she asked if she looked all right! She looked fantastic.

The official shooting of Marina came later, and unfortunately it fell to the witch to do that, too, as the photographer had gone off with Philip Ardagh.

Philip Ardagh

Philip  introduced his new Grubtown Tales, which by the looks of it required his towel again. Good thing Philip is Arthur Dent-ish in his packing. I was very, very sorry to miss the event, but splitting in two is painful. I saw Philip for the signing in the bookshop, and so did my new photographer acquaintance from the press pod, who was keen to come along when she heard who I was rushing off to see. Philip’s fans range from small boys to Queens. The Queen of Teen herself, Louise Rennison, was queueing up to get his signature. If you can call that stamp a signature?

Louise Rennison

Keith Gray

A lovely thing about the book festival is that people you don’t necessarily expect, pop up. While waiting for Mr Ardagh, I turned round and found Keith Gray at the next table, so went up to introduce myself. The man’s got taste. He reads Bookwitch. He even claimed to be pleased to see me. Very charming. And no, I don’t know the identity of the blonde who was photographed with Keith, either.

There was time for tea.

Justin Richards

Then Daughter went off to see Doctor Who. Not David Tennant, sadly, but Justin Richards, who writes Who books. But Who is Who, and can’t be missed. Not having been present myself, I can’t be sure, but she claims she even asked a question. Good grief. Something about science.

Patrick Ness

As for me, I had a sort of half agreed meeting with Patrick Ness. Don’t know why, but I have been haunting the poor boy for a long time, and I expect he wanted to get it over and done with. He had a bit more hair than I had imagined, and he is even more handsome in real life than in his photos. And due to the Who situation, I had to take Patrick’s photo, so it’s not as good as it should have been. Sorry. But we bonded a little over our Nordic-ness. (Hey, that’s wittier than I realised.) Patrick was late into Edinburgh, but seemed really cool about having virtually no time to prepare. Nothing to prepare, by the sound of it.

While hanging around, I came across Vanessa of the Children’s Bookshop. The bookshop bookshop, not the festival one. Didn’t know that she was chairing my next event, which was Elizabeth Laird. Had half hoped to see her too, but running late appeared to be a pattern just then.

On our last evening in Charlotte Square I ended up two-timing Elizabeth and Patrick. My wand had broken, so I was unable to be in two places at once. It’s a nuisance when that happens. So, I spent half an hour listening to Elizabeth tell stories, which was very nice. The children sat on the floor in front of her, as she re-told some of the traditional stories in her new book, The Ogress and the Snake. Old Somalian stories, I believe, which Elizabeth had found in Africa.

Skipped across to Patrick’s discussion with Bernard Beckett, on dystopias in YA books. Patrick has a world where nowhere is quiet, which he thinks of as similar to information overload. (I so agree!) All the texting and Facebooking would have driven him mad when he was younger, or so he thinks. Bernard, on the other hand, likes all this, so they are obviously coming from totally opposite directions. A world that has ice cream is good, according to Bernard. Patrick grew up surrounded by people who had a date for when the world would end. And he’d rather we don’t ask about the dog. So maybe he feels a little guilty…

Elizabeth Laird

With a last train to Manchester to catch, we left early, as did Theresa Breslin, who had sneaked in while waiting to go to some party. We had no party invitation, but did stop briefly to chat to Elizabeth Laird on our way out of Charlotte Square.

(The quote above is Patrick’s. And today the photos are a mix. Bad ones you can blame on moi.)


So what did Anne Fine say, really? I’m of the opinion that she spoke exactly those words that were quoted in the Times yesterday, but I didn’t feel then that she meant it quite as people are interpreting it.

Anne Fine 2

My theory is that Daughter and I weren’t the only ones who thought that an event with Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess discussing the more troubled end of YA literature would be quite interesting and potentially exciting. Someone was obviously taking more careful notes than I was, but I do recognise the quote just about word for word.

It made perfect sense to me at the time (And I’m not saying this because I’m a little scared of Anne. I am, but that’s not why I’m saying it.) and it didn’t seem contentious in the least. It’s a fact. Books were different before, from what they are now.

Someone is doing that molehill thing, because there was nothing juicier to get from the discussion on Sunday evening. Anne Fine is a former Children’s Laureate, and the kind of person the press take an interest in. I simply don’t understand why there is a debate. I would also like to know whether those who have thrown themselves into this were actually there? If they weren’t, this debate risks the same fate as when Anne reviewed Doing It in a slightly one-sided manner. That time I believed her, until someone else made me look at it from both sides.

Or maybe I’m just stupid, and didn’t notice the undercurrents the other evening.

Tea with Flora MacLachlan


That is not the first word you’d associate with the Edinburgh Festival season.

Almost too warm. That’s another unlikely description. (Meg Rosoff; it may not be NYC hot, but then we can’t all be over there.)

Nice day. No rain. Warm. Sunny.

No events either, so although we had to crawl out of bed to get to Edinburgh for the morning of Day 6, it was purely pleasure. Not that the other days weren’t pleasure, I hasten to add.

Gillian Philip, of Crossing the Line and Bad Faith fame, had an educational encounter with 96 school visitors and survived. I knew she would, because we had agreed to meet up afterwards, and I didn’t want to just mop up the remains.

First, however, we had an assignation with Nicola Morgan outside the children’s bookshop. Not too busy there on a Monday morning, but I still took Donna’s Tim’s advice and looked for interesting shoes. They were. Lime green suedy things, beautifully set off with purple shirt and green scarf. That’s my kind of dressing. Nicola being a capable sort of woman determinedly smuggled us into the authors’ yurt, so we hastily hid the red neck ribbons and exchanged them for green ones.

Nicola Morgan

Did I mention the sunshine? We sat out on the authors’ deck area and talked and gossiped for an hour. Nicola does a lot of events at the festival, and was halfway through this year’s talks. She also seems to know everyone. Bali Rai turned up briefly before his school event, and Kevin Brooks sat at the next table with Mary Byrne. We talked about Tim Bowler (did your ears burn, Tim?) while we were on the Swedish connection. And as Nicola knows everyone, she came with us to help identify Gillian Philip, as there is always a possibility that someone doesn’t quite look like their Facebook photo.

Gillian Philip

Gillian was in the bookshop, just finishing chatting to some young admirers, along with Keith Charters, who wore an author badge, but seemed to be more of an enthusiastic publishing person. We trotted back to the deck and the sunshine, for Gillian to relax and for a chat. Daughter admired her ear-rings, which apparently were purchased in a very recent panic buy. Have to say that Gillian looked stunning with matching jewellery and top. (I know it shouldn’t matter, but I enjoy matching-ness and strong colours. But it probably doesn’t make anyone’s books better.) Keith did some good business moves, handing out his card, and handing out a booklet with chapter one of a book called Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket by Hazel Allan.

Keith Charters

Paul Dowswell

At the next table we had Melvin Burgess and Paul Dowswell of Ausländer fame, and I kicked myself for not having checked out the schools programme, in order to pack a more suitable selection of books to be signed… I could get used to this part of Charlotte Square. How do I become an author for next time? Preferably one who is allowed in without having to ‘pay’ by doing a public talk.

We skulked back to the wifi in the press yurt to sort out the case of Monday’s missing photos, and let me tell you that I may have a laptop, but my lap does not have a top suited to balancing anything like that for any length of time. Did get the photos on, with minutes to spare before we had to rush down to Waverley. We had an invitation to have afternoon tea with Flora MacLachlan, aka Debi Gliori.

Debi is so wonderfully kind that she had volunteered to have the witch and her witch baby round for tea. She collected us from the train and drove us home to her beautiful garden, and then she plonked us down in the shade in a corner and brought out a groaning tea tray. I apologise to the world for the day of book-writing that has been lost through so much baking and general kindness. But fluffy scones and the most lemony cake and shortbread in a sunny garden is beyond good.

Before we left, we got to have a very early look at the artwork for a new book. I love it already. Picture books often look very attractive, but that’s nothing compared with what they’re made from.

Just a thought; am I turning into a cross between Cheshire Life and Hello magazine?

(All photos H Giles)