Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Carpet People

Must remember it’s not called Carpet World. But it’s awfully hard, when it is a carpet world.

I had never read Terry Pratchett’s Carpet People before, although it’s been around a good few years. Now his first novel is back again, with original illustrations by Terry himself. It’s a funny thing, this reading a story written by a 17-year-old and ‘improved’ on by a 43-year-old, and now published when he’s a sort of 60+. That’s recycling for you!

From The Carpet People

It will not come as a surprise if I say that it’s a very funny book. I was suspicious to begin with, but could not find anything bad to base further suspicions on. Shame. So, it’s really very funny.

I did have some problems to sort out. I could visualise the carpet on which the people live. But for the life of me I couldn’t work out how the colours of the carpet kept changing. The minimalist carpet-hater in me saw only a monochrome carpet. The penny dropped when I suddenly imagined a patterned carpet. That’s how the colours changed! Sorry for being an idiot through half the book.

Terry says the size of the city of Ware is like . this. That is smaller than I had imagined, but it might work. And I’m still unsure what the Fray is. Footsteps?

Anyway, great story about various groups of people who don’t get on or like each other or trust anyone who’s different from them. Normal in other words. Some of them are quite big, and others are very small. But they all fit into a city the size of . which is amazing, and my mind struggles to get a grasp on size. But let’s not be size-ist.

The adventure isn’t what matters most, although the walk to find peace and the wars with other people is interesting enough. ‘ Brocando looked tired. “Well, we haven’t got many dungeons,” he said. “So perhaps if you can avoid capturing any alive that would help.” “You mustn’t kill an enemy who has thrown down his weapons,” said Bane. “Can’t you? We live and learn. I always thought that was the best time,” said Brocando.’

There are many truths like that, and it’s a wonder that not more people have discovered them before Terry Pratchett did. He’s a man to my liking.

Neither Snibril nor Brocando looked the same in Terry’s drawings as they did in my mind. Could he possibly have been mistaken? Or is it me?


A Trick of the Dark

Bridget Collins’ second book reminded me a little of Tim Bowler. Or rather, of his books. It’s got a modern setting, with something inexplicable happening. Some teenage angst and the supernatural.

A Trick of the Dark

I know you can’t really explain the supernatural, but I wouldn’t have minded understanding A Trick of the Dark a little better. I was left with questions. Had the story ended differently I would have been prepared to read a more ordinary meaning into what happened.

It’s almost purely about teen brother and sister Zach and Annis, and after a while I found myself longing for more characters. Their inadequate parents are there to begin with, but even for fictional purposes I found them wanting. There are a few very minor characters at first, who then just disappear. There is a neighbour/friend at the end, and by then I was desperate for people, so he was most welcome.

This is a dysfunctional family, but mainly on a superficial level. Something odd happens to Zach, witnessed by Annis. The rest of the plot is about what follows this event, and we never really understand it. At least, I didn’t. Both teenagers fall out with the parents big time, as they struggle to grasp what’s going on.

The struggle to grasp uses up an unnecessary middle third of the book. I felt that with so much detail, surely something useful would come of it. Bridget’s first novel, The Traitor Game, was exceptionally good, with some interesting and likeable characters, and quite a lot of action on several levels. That’s why this sudden change in A Trick of the Dark really puzzled me.

Zach looks very promising initially, but his ranting throughout made me lose patience with him. Annis is desperate to please her older brother, although that’s almost impossible. And as for the parents, they are barely normal, even for fiction. So I’m left hanging.

The Magician’s Elephant

I didn’t know Kate DiCamillo’s work at all, but as a Newbery medalist she came highly recommended. I can’t remember what it was about The Magician’s Elephant that had made me want to read it, but when I got to page one I almost turned away. Reading a lot of ‘ordinary’ contemporary children’s fiction makes a person less used to fables, and it’s odd when you think about it, because a lot of our reading in the ‘olden days’ was like this. Maybe I thought I’d grown up and wouldn’t need fables.

Well, I do. Luckily I didn’t stop, and actually gobbled up this book in no time at all. It’s beautiful!

Elephants obviously don’t fall from the sky, with or without the help from a magician, but this one here did. And it’s quite believable. Young Peter wants to find his lost sister, and a fortune teller says the elephant will help him. This being before the elephant fell, Peter thinks it unlikely, but is too polite to say so.

The setting feels like a historical Europe, and the names of the characters suggest a multicultural background. This makes the story fit in with almost everyone. Nothing is quite real, but it’s not unreal either.

Lovely illustrations by Yoko Tanaka, showing us what it might have looked like when the elephant came crashing down. It’s sweet and old-fashioned, and it has a happy ending. You will cry a little, and you will feel good about life.

Didsbury Arts Festival

At this rate I’ll start my own festival soon. How does The Bookwitch Festival strike you?

Adèle Geras at RazmaReads

Just joking. I think. You never know with me. Didsbury has its own festival, and it began on Saturday morning. For the witch family it was the Adèle Geras event that got us out of bed. It’s good that the festival organisers recognise the people living in or near Didsbury, and who better to do a book event for children than our Adèle?

It was a children’s writing workshop at RazmaReads, the newish children’s bookshop at one end of ‘downtown’ Didsbury. We were partly tempted by the idea of having some nice elevenses, while hanging out with interesting people. Ended up sharing our little table with a charming toddler who arrived in the most fantastic pushchair I’ve ever seen, and who proceeded not to eat her lovely pink fairy cake. But it looked good, and if truth be told; Daughter had one too.

Adèle actually began by buying some books. Then, as child after child arrived she learnt their names and told them a little about herself, and read short passages from Lizzie’s Wish and Candle in the Dark telling her audience about Lizzie’s walnut tree and Clara’s little Dutch doll. The task she wanted the children to do was to consider what they’d pick if they suddenly had to leave their homes and only could take a few things. And why. (No laptops allowed.)

Young writers at work at RazmaReads

As the children got going with their thinking and writing, Adèle went round to talk to them individually, giving help and advice in a suitably grown up way. Meanwhile witch and Daughter squeezed up in the minute sofa in the shop window, next to the display of Adèle’s books and half a dozen typewriters.

Window display for Didsbury Arts Festival

RazmaReads, Didsbury

Lots of people in the shop, with parents sitting on the floor while their children learnt to write novels. Younger non-participants browsed confidently among the books, and I’d say some of them were old hands at this book-shopping, young though they were. There is a rather wonderful pirates’ ship in the middle of the floor, flying the Jolly Roger, and RazmaReads makes a good meeting place. I’d go all the time if I lived closer, and had a suitably aged child. Maybe I could borrow one?

Kindle CAP

Not being a Kindle owner, nor intending to become one, I have absolutely no idea how one buys Kindle books and gets them into that little contraption gadget thing. It’s probably quite easy.

Declan Burke

Last year I blogged about Declan Burke’s The Blue Orange, well before it was going to be published. Now two things have happened. Declan has gone and changed the title to Crime Always Pays (coincidentally the same as his crime blog, so he is not very imaginative, really). And to disprove the title, the publisher decided there’s no money in publishing really good crime novels, so ran away and left him in the lurch. Cowards!

Being a crafty type, Declan has looked into every other way of getting CAP to the world of crime readers, and has settled on Kindle. If you’re an up-to-date kind of reader who has indeed got a Kindle, now is the time to grab hold of Crime Always Pays. It’s simply a very amusing and mad crime novel, which any crime fan should enjoy.

Apart from the slight Kindle technical hitch, like if you haven’t got one, you may need to get hold of Declan’s novel The Big O first, seeing as CAP is the sequel. A select few of you can do that here.

(I’m afraid I stole the photo somewhere. Sorry!)


Norman Geras

Norm of Normblog has a regular feature called Writer’s Choice, where he invites authors to contribute an essay on a book they like, or which has been important to them for some reason. Now that he’s been at it for five years, he felt he needed to tidy up by compiling a comprehensive list of them all. So this is an index of the 225 posts. I haven’t counted them, so we’ll have to take Norm’s word for it.

I realised as I looked at the list that it suits me perfectly, because this way I can find a book or author I’m interested in, and then easily click on to the post itself. You can tell Austen is popular, and that in itself is fun, as you can get many ‘takes’ on the same novel.

Go click and enjoy!

(Photo by Adèle Geras)

Bottled book fairs

You won’t be very surprised to find that the witch household saves its water bottles, I trust. These days only the best ones, but we still have far too many. They want to be sturdy and the right size (depends how thirsty we are), and preferably look nice or special in some way.

literary bottles

The Gothenburg book fair which begins today – no, I’m not there – gives away a new bottle bearing each year’s special design, along with a book bag and bits and pieces. Please tell me I’m not the only one to carry the bottle home afterwards, giving it a proper ‘sports cap’, and using and reusing it!

It’s quite nice to look at a bottle and remember what I was doing when I found it. I wasn’t very thirsty last year in Cheltenham when we waited for Eoin Colfer in the green room. But when I realised how good the bottles in their fridge looked, I got a lot thirstier, so helped myself to one. Just wish Daughter hadn’t absentmindedly started unsticking the label. It’s what we want the bottles for, young lady!

Svenska Mässan

Along with the book bags that all self-respecting book events now offer, it’d be good to find a unique bottle everywhere. Edinburgh was good in that it had taps where you could refill your bottle, so the next logical step would be to supply the bottle itself.

I hope the Gothenburg fair can manage without me. I’ll pretend I’m running along the upstairs corridors to avoid the crush downstairs. I’ll try not to think of the queues for the toilets. I’ll think of the stripey sofas instead. And I’ll think of how nice it is to run into people I know.

Marmite is truly horrid

We have a cellar full of Marmite. Luckily it’s fully contained in those nice jars that Marmite comes in. It’s only unlucky, because we don’t really need to buy any more Marmite for the foreseeable future.

I don’t like Marmite. Neither does Horrid Henry, which rather surprised me. Silly of me, as I’ve already mentioned what a sensible boy he is. Why should he fall for that ridiculous notion that Marmite really is much nicer than its smell would lead you to believe? That’s for his silly brother to do. Perfect Peter does like that foul-smelling, dark brown substance.

By now the people at Marmite and at Orion will be up in arms, and probably Philip Ardagh, too, although he has nothing to do with Henry. But I will admit that Marmite and Orion have come up with a good idea. You buy Marmite – if you must – and then you can download a total of five free Horrid Henry audiobooks. If you buy five jars, that is, which sounds a little OTT.

Horrid Henry's annual

There has been no end to Horrid Henry in these parts. As if the story collection I mentioned the other day wasn’t enough, Marmite-hater Henry has an annual, too. Naturally.

Horrid Henry’s Annual 2010, illustrated by Tony Ross as usual, has a lot in it. I’d say that any Henry fan would enjoy the tricks, jokes, quizzes and whatnot. Even an old witch feels all twitchy when eyeing the wordsearches and the things to make.

V I is back

V.I. is back

This great t-shirt has been specially thought up by Sara Paretsky to mark the return of V I Warshawski. V I has been away for a while, and rumour has it she went to Italy. Today sees the publication of Hardball, although only in America. UK readers have to wait until February, I think.

Hardball t-shirt

As a special treat for particularly bothersome bloggers, Sara sent out a few t-shirts a couple of weeks ago, which was really kind of her. You’d think that having books to write, book tours to go on and video recorders to set to record NCIS as it starts this evening, would be more than enough.

It’s not just her books we love.

Nominations for the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The ALMA people have a long longlist of 168 nominations for next year’s award, and I won’t write them all down here. I had a little look for individual authors that you may know and be interested in:

David Almond, Quentin Blake, Aidan Chambers, Morris Gleitzman, Margaret Mahy, Michael Morpurgo, Walter Dean Myers, Axel Scheffler, Kate Thompson, Tomi Ungerer, Jacqueline Wilson and Diana Wynne Jones.

There are absolutely masses of Scandinavian writers, as well as others from countries we rarely pay attention to in the English speaking world. And then there are the organisations. Boring as it may seem to vote for a group that brings books and reading to many children, I wonder whether that is what they should do after all.

The above writers are all good and worthy, and as Sonya Hartnett found last year, five million kronor will do a lot for a person. But the good the money will do through an organisation is very different.

I also wonder why these particular authors are on the list. Presumably because they have someone who campaigns for them and who are allowed to nominate. I need to find out who does get to nominate. I can see myself nominating, you know.