Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Gates to Hell and all that

I should have known you can’t have just one book about dead bishops. Here is another one, although the bishop isn’t the main character, or anything. This is a Halloween book, so go get a copy to get you into a nice demonish mood for the day.

It can be very dangerous for the TBR pile development to go and poke around on other people’s blogs, but when Declan on Crime Always Pays put the first chapter of John Connolly’s The Gates up, I couldn’t resist. And John was extremely charming about being begged for a copy.

The Gates is a very funny book, and very exciting, too. (And what’s more, it’s short, in this age of four-inch thick books.) Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell are out trick-or-treating, slightly prematurely, when they come across something at the neighbours’ house that doesn’t look very good.

It’s not good. Earth is about to be invaded by really bad demons. (But as the more alert readers can work out, Halloween is not a good time for demons to invade anywhere.) 11-year-old Samuel and his friends and his dog have to try and save the world from this new threat. They get some assistance from a friendly demon called Nurd, and information – if not useful help – from the scientists involved with the Large Hadron Collider. Because it just happens to accidentally help the demons find a way in.

John believes in footnotes. Lots of them. They are very amusing footnotes, which is lucky, because I really don’t like the flow of my reading interrupted all the time. But I forgive him, because they are funny. And necessary.

As with far too many authors, I don’t know John’s books at all. In the case of The Gates, think Douglas Adams meets Eoin Colfer. That should do it.


Witch Baby and me after dark

Oh, Witch Baby, how lovely and normal you are! First and foremost you are a sweet little toddler. I know you just happen to be able to do magic, because you’re a witch, and you’re getting really good at it now. As with all toddlers, you are slowly learning to interact with friends and family, too. And you love that dog of yours.

So when WayWoof disappears, we can just about guess why. After all, there are puppies on the way, somehow. And you just have to find your WayWoof again.

Witch Baby

It being Halloween, you go round the neighbourhood with big sister Lily and her friend Vivaldi. Never mind that they are trussed up in sheets like mummies. Your costume is marvellous, and very convincing. All of them are. I think I like the little devil one is best.

Everyone seems to be out for Halloween, including the Chin. I think you’re proving to be a good influence on both the Chin and the Toad. Possibly even on the Nose. Love is beautiful for witches and lonely Daddies and imaginary werewolves.

This grumpy old witch thinks that everyone should read about you, Witch Baby. And your kind of puppy is the best kind.

Henry gets his comeuppance

Hmm, Perfect Peter may have been emptying the dishwasher unasked, which is rather wet, but perhaps there is more to him than that. Horrid Henry is as ‘horrid’ as ever, and uses ‘poor’ Perfect Peter for his own needs, in this almost Halloweeny Horrid Henry Wakes the Dead.

You have to give it to Henry, he does have some good and original ideas, when all his peers are somewhat useless, not to mention untalented. ‘Waking the dead’ as entertainment is not your average school show material. And not every school invites TV presenters like Sneering Simone. Wonder where Francesca got the inspiration for him?

Four more stories about our HH, with friends and family. When will Fantastic Francesca run out of alliteration on the names front?

NCIS exploding pumpkin © CBS

Hope you people aren’t getting tired of this Halloween review week, btw? More excellent spooky books here before the week is safely over. I’ll be done when Plucky Palmer’s pumpkin explodes on Saturday evening.

(Photo © CBS)

Trixie The Witch’s Cat

I would insist on a black cat with a white paw if I were to have a cat. And by the end of this adorable picture book, Trixie has come to the conclusion that being different is good.

Have you ever stopped to think about a roomful of identical black cats? Hard for a witch to find hers in a hurry. Trixie’s witch looks rather like me; what you can see of her. A witch with a bicycle bell on her broomstick is a sensible witch.

This is a lovely book, with lots of funny little details, which will provide something to look at for hours. Any book with a purple cover is good…

In ‘my’ kitchen

This book spoke to me. Wonder why that could be? Nick Sharratt has a book, all by himself, called What’s in the Witch’s Kitchen?, and it’s got that nice, slightly creepy, Halloweeny feel to it. My kitchen, on the other hand, is nothing like it. I would quite like a purple lino tiled floor, though, and the purple dresser’s nice, too.

What's in the Witch's Kitchen?

It’s a flappy book, this witch kitchen picture book, with a final pop-out. You can look in the witch’s fridge, dresser, oven, and so on, in two different ways. One is nice and normal, and the other is a little less pleasant. Someone should tell the witch about basic kitchen hygiene, and what doesn’t belong in a kitchen.

I tried to work out if there’s a pattern to which flap will yield the less lovely revelation, but lost myself hopelessly after a while. You open up and down, left and right.

And to finish someone pops out. Is it you?

Michelle Magorian in Manchester

Well, that could make me cry. Almost, anyway. Happy tears, you understand.

As the witch started negotiations with the Manchester Literature Festival people about an interview slot with Michelle Magorian, it felt like a good idea to say that Michelle might remember me from last year’s launch of Just Henry. I was told she did, but people can be polite, you know.

Tystnad, tagning Michelle Magorian

So, when we met in the Imperial War Museum’s café for our chat on Sunday afternoon, the first thing Michelle does is rummage in her bag, saying she’s got something for me. Nice, but what? I’ll tell you what. Only a lovingly signed copy of Just Henry in Swedish, which is just out. We did talk of translations last year. We did. But it was in a room full of people at a busy launch, and I was a complete stranger. What a memory!

Michelle Magorian at the Imperial War Museum North

Anyway, once we had been supplied with cups of tea, we got going with the interview. Not that Michelle felt there was anything interesting that she could tell me. The Resident IT Consultant attended, armed with a camera, since Daughter had taken herself and her camera off for half term. As a matter of fact, he didn’t do too badly at his first interview.

Michelle’s son George wandered off to look at the museum, while our twenty minutes somehow ended up being 45 (sorry, Alistair!). So we obviously must have found something to talk about.

Afterwards it was time for Michelle’s event, as the crowning glory of this year’s Literature Festival. They closed the museum, and us fans settled down in the main exhibition hall. As an author talk it rates as one of the best. Well delivered, as you’d expect from an actress, and very well chosen selection of readings from several of her books, with anecdotes in-between.

Michelle Magorian, signing

Michelle provided an interesting thread between all her stories, and the readings benefitted from a variety of accents. Good questions from the audience, with interesting answers. And I love a woman who can admit to waiting with her career, because she wants to spend time with her sons, even when they are as old as Michelle’s two. But with some luck, we’ll have a new Magorian novel some time next year. Yay!

(Photos by A Giles and D Giles)

When I ran out

Yesterday I breakfasted with my laptop. Whatever you may believe about me, I don’t usually. And it’s not because Daughter has gone to Uppsala. Normally the Resident IT Consultant would already be up, supplying the kitchen with the Saturday paper. But he slept late.

I like reading with my breakfast, at the kitchen table. As you well know, I have lots to read, but at the table I want to be hands-free, so read the paper, any magazines I have, catalogues, leaflets, pamphlets (they might be the same, for all I know), press releases for books. Anything. Because I’m so busy, I tend to build up a supply of vaguely out-of-date magazines, which means there is always something to grab.

The very last resort for the last twelve years has been my pile of the magazine Månadsjournalen; a now obsolete Swedish magazine. My Uncle subscribed to it, and gave me a very large pile of his old copies, and during the last dozen years I have diligently read my way through them. And this week I finished the last one, Månadsjournalen from December 1993. It’s got a beautiful portrait of Queen Silvia on the cover, and the article inside shows the reporter giggling with the ladies-in-waiting over the right choice of dress and make-up for the Queen. (Just imagine that happening here!)

I suppose I’ll have to go round some dentists’ waiting rooms and steal their old magazines, or it’ll be blogs and Facebook with meals in the future.


Right children! We’re doing ageism and sexism today, along with any other -isms I may have forgotten to mention. If I could, this would be where I put my foot somewhere in the vicinity of my mouth, but my legs don’t bend well.

Logarithms have long been a little hard for me to understand. Not how to use them, you know; just understanding what they are, is enough to bring me out in a rash. The Resident IT Consultant despaired from almost Day 1 over his bad choice of wife, but there you are.

So, as Daughter and I were in Scotland for the Edinburgh Book Festival, we stayed with Grandmother. On our one free day we relaxed by having Aunt Scarborough over for a cup of tea. We always love to see her. I was just a little taken aback by Grandmother’s conversation starter which went like this: ‘Scarborough, do you happen to have any logarithm tables? There was someone at Oxfam who was looking for one, and we didn’t have any, so I said I’d look at home. I don’t seem to have any left, so wondered if you do?’

Grandmother’s age is, as I’ve mentioned before, a nice round figure, and Aunt Scarborough is five years older. I don’t think of them as old, honestly! I just don’t expect logarithms to pop up among the cups of tea and the biscuits. I should be ashamed of myself. Girls can do anything, and we are all still girls on the inside. Anyway, no logarithm tables anywhere. Grandmother works in the Oxfam bookshop, and generally likes recycling things.

slide rule

That will be why she swiftly moved on to slide rules. I know what they are. Could never quite use mine, because it seemed a little complicated. Daughter, on the other hand, didn’t know. So age can be useful occasionally. Grandmother brought out her two, and offered them to Daughter. We needed to know why she had more than one, and also got an explanation as to how she had worn another one out. It’s obvious, really. Grandmother used hers in the kitchen, to adapt recipes and things. As you do. At least if you are a physics graduate with an inquiring mind and like experimenting with things.

This week is science week in Manchester. Me, I think it’s a clever guise to get children to go and look at sciencey things, in order to get hooked, and then sign up for science at university when they’re older. Daughter wants to go, and I know just the person to go with her. (And for the record, the witch got top grades for both Maths and Science at school. She just knew when to give it up. In time.)

The Meg Rosoff interview

Some of you may have cottoned on to the fact that I’m quite fond of Meg Rosoff. I like her books, obviously, but I also like her as a person – a lot. Our acquaintance began with me writing Meg as level headed a fan letter as I could manage, just prior to her winning the Guardian prize five years ago. Then I believe I went on to tell her I’m a witch, and that I knew she’d win the Costa, too.

That’s why Meg knows not to trust my predictions one hundred percent, but as you will see in the interview, she does believe in witches. Thank goodness.

When we first met, I fully intended to buy her a coffee or something, but she insisted she was buying. Meg searched her jacket pockets to see how much money she had, as she’d come out without her handbag. ‘Let’s see what we can get for £6’, she said. Afterwards she drove Daughter and me to Euston, almost getting us involved in some road rage on the way. Let’s just say that it was a novel experience for us country bumpkins.

Meg Rosoff

The reason I’ve delayed asking Meg for an interview has been that when you have an on-going, intermittent email discussion about anything you happen to think of, it’s actually quite hard to work out what to ask in a more structured meeting. So I kept putting it off, but when The Bride’s Farewell was published I felt now was a good moment. We turned out to be very incompatible for time, so in the end Meg seemed to decide she would be free when it suited me, which was very kind of her, as we were able to meet when I was in London anyway.

Very kind.

Meg’s books are dangerous. I looked through Bride while searching for questions, but found myself just sitting there reading it, again, with no thought of interview questions.

What we have in common, apart from age, is that we are both immigrants, so in the end I felt that was a good point to start our conversation. One thing I didn’t get round to, was seeing how our paths almost crossed as early as 1977-78, when we both ran around London having fun.

Oh, well.

They are starting younger

Bloggers are getting younger by the day. Unfortunately it’s not me who’s suddenly more youthful; it’s the ‘competition’ that’s picking up on the idea of blogging rather early in life. And let’s face it; the only reason I didn’t blog in the 1960s is the obvious one. I couldn’t type…

As I was saying, I have a new competitor, or maybe I shall be kind and call him a colleague. Bookreader is a reader of books, and he is only nine. But he is a good reader, and he blogs worryingly well. His blog is called The Books I Read and I suggest you have a little look. Not too long, mind, because I like to keep my customers.

Bookreader has so far only blogged about a few favourite books, but they are well selected. Unlike this witch he doesn’t mind telling it as it is. There is one that really doesn’t get many ‘out of five’. Honest.