Monthly Archives: January 2010

What the neighbour wrote

You know what it’s like when you work in publishing. Or maybe you don’t, because like me you don’t publish books. It’s like being a doctor and always being consulted on that twitch in your left little toe.

Anyway, you’re out sweeping leaves, or whatever, when you’re approached by this person in your neighbourhood who says they have written a novel and would you read it? (Remember, you’re a publisher here, not a doctor.) You sigh, smile politely and take the manuscript home to read. Because you can’t say no.

Well, at the acquisitions meeting I went to at Random last week, there was a ‘book’ with a background like that. Surprisingly for our imaginary leaf sweeper, it turned out to be not bad at all. It may actually get published. But I don’t think anyone should expect that their novel will suddenly improve simply because there lives a publishing world person just down the road.

I was allowed to read the last fifty pages of this novel, so that I would know what was being discussed. Others had read the first hundred pages, so not everyone had seen the same part of the story. But most were cautiously in favour of doing something with it. I have my own thoughts on this one, but when it’s a bestseller, please remember that I was in at the very beginning.



No matter how awful Enid Blyton may have been, I loved her books, and after finally watching the BBC film Enid, I still have no reason to disapprove of her books. Enid herself is another matter, but people don’t have to be nice to be successful or popular.

It was quite enlightening to see what End Blyton may have been like. I suspect the caveat at the beginning that this was a work of fiction, means that rather more than I’d like to think was made up. I can see the point of ‘improving’ facts a little for entertainment, however.

But Enid also had that same fault that we tend to get in ITV’s Agatha Christie adaptations, where the scriptwriters forget to consider whether people really behaved like that at a particular time. We may all be much the same deep inside, but outward behaviour has changed. School children fifty years ago didn’t behave like today’s children do, even if you dress them up to look old-fashioned.

Nor do I believe that the press were quite like that, hounding any famous person stepping out of a car. Did prewar children really write that many fan letters to Enid Blyton? It would never have occurred to me that it was possible to do, and I was a fan while Enid was still alive. Book signings with clamouring children waving books all over the place. Did they happen?

Husband number one referred to the Famous Five before the war, and later on Enid is seen writing the first FF book. The third pregnancy happened at the ‘wrong’ time too, if we’re to judge her age. In fact, did it happen? The more I think about this, the more I feel it was sensational journalism masquerading as a docu-film.

But I am glad I can’t interview Enid Blyton. Or perhaps she would have been perfectly charming?

Missing Stieg

The fascination with Stieg Larsson won’t come to an end any time soon. Through Annika Bryn‘s blog I’ve just found some more hair raising news about Stieg and the mess he inadvertently left behind, as well as some mysterious happenings on hotmail.

Someone, who presumably suffers from that very Swedish malady – envy – has decided to carve out some fame for himself by telling media that Stieg Larsson was such a poor writer that there is no way he could have written the Millennium novels. So he, who shall remain nameless, has gone on television with his lies and speculation. You’d think that media could show they are not all spineless turncoats, but that seems to be too challenging a task.

Apparently Stieg wrote some very bad news copy thirty years before writing (or not…) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which proves that someone else must have written those novels. (And perhaps ought to be entitled to the money.) Well, Stieg was twenty at the time, and there must be plenty of young men writing rubbish quality news or novels or whatever at that sort of age.

Annika Bryn, as Stieg’s friend, would like to prove that he did indeed write the three books, but was refused the right to take part in the television discussion on the subject. She must have felt which way the wind was turning some time ago, as she started looking at and editing some of the countless long emails she and Stieg exchanged in 2002 and 2003, back in November last year.

With this new theory going public she looked at them again. Or she would have, had they not disappeared from her hotmail. Annika has turned her account inside out and looked in every corner, but no emails, apart from two or three. Interesting coincidence.

She has published one long email on her blog, in which Stieg tells her how tired and stressed he’s feeling, but still goes on to discuss his ideas for the novels, the reasons for the violence, and how marvellous he thinks Lisbeth’s character is. He has lots of plans for her.

As Annika had hoped to do with her email collection, this email alone proves that the Millennium trilogy is Stieg’s work. The style of writing is just the same.

I hope the rest of the emails will surface again, and that they haven’t been cleaned out by hotmail, or hacked by someone. But you never know. If Lisbeth was here, she’d find them!



No, not the edible kind, this time. I inadvertently rearranged the calendar a little, some time in the last couple of weeks. Had I not discovered this in one of my more lucid moments, then tomorrow would have been the 1st of February.

This is nothing new here at Witch Towers. I used to keep track of Offspring’s doings, so one year I called to Son to check that he’d changed his calendar to July. No, he wouldn’t be doing that until the following day, as he had a day left in June. I pointed out that it was the 30th of June and it would be the 1st of July the next day.

No, it was going to be the 31st of June, and he could prove it. He could, actually. You’ll be pleased to hear that WH Smith were happy to reimburse the price of that calendar, even after six months of use.

I own a Joan Baez album with a track called 33rd of August, so I’m no stranger to strange dates.

None of my current calendars are wrong in that respect. I hope, because Daughter handmade them for me. But I have an even more handmade calendar, which is my plans for what to blog about for the next ten days, or thereabouts. I scribble it on the backs of Random’s press releases, as they come stapled together and when turned over make for a useful pad of A4 sheets on which to mastermind the blogging industry.

Except I was so intent on thinking ahead to February that I happened to give January 28 days while I was at it. Good thing I discovered this, as I was getting worried about not having read any of the new February books wriggling impatiently in my pile. So that’s all right. Three more reading days. I should be able to manage, well, one more book?

I touched Terry Pratchett’s hat

‘I’m going to need to interview him,’ is what I thought that day about a year ago. It was just after Terry Pratchett had received his Knighthood, when it dawned on me that he was high up on my interview wish list. Very high up.

A witch can but ask, so that’s what I did and I wasn’t laughed at. Or not so I noticed, anyway. And a mere one year and thirteen days later I achieved what I’d set out to do, so it wasn’t long at all. (I wasn’t counting. But I can access old emails to see when I did what.) Not that I’m big on patience, but it is possible to gag yourself and to tie your email fingers behind your back once in a while.

I always claim that it’s possible to do a good interview in very little time, but as you can see it would have been less confusing for Terry had we not been interrupted to be told how much longer we had. (I know when my time is up as well as the next person. Or maybe even better.) For anyone who is wondering, I’d say that Terry seems perfectly clear in his mind and as full of mischief as his fans would want him to be. On the other hand, I would guess that his answers to my – possibly weird and unexpected – questions needed some thinking about. Hence a few erms and uhmms and … in our chat.

So, for Terry’s thoughts on everything from librarians to sex, read about it here

Random covers

So from Tiffany Aching in yesterday’s post, we have Bookwitch Aching today. Her poor shoulder feels less happy every day, so it’s clear that she really should have dropped one or two extremely heavy hints in the Random offices along the lines that the next Jiffybag might sensibly contain one of those rather comfortable chairs they have. The black folding ones in the room used for the covers meeting.

I didn’t, so it didn’t.

Anyway, we have been delayed in our grand plans for blog posts by GCSE certificates evening. And the aching.

The book covers meeting was most informative. When Daughter saw it listed on my programme for last Tuesday she turned green with envy, but that’s hardly my fault. She’d have liked to see – and do, I suspect – book cover design. Except her taste in these things is fraught with all the wrong opinions. She didn’t like ‘my’ cover in smokey blue with orange lettering.

I know I tend to sit here in my kitchen and offer lots of opinions on covers, and woe the kind of cover that puts me off a book. Now I can at least try to see it from their side, too. But I do wish they wouldn’t have to design everything with the buyer from the big chain in mind.

So, matt or glossy? Has the author won any awards that could be mentioned on the cover? What to do if there are too many words in that award so that it messes up the design? Left or right?

The cover image has been chosen from a page in the picture book, but the last page would look nicer, except it then gives away how the book ends. Glitter on the cover. Costs more. Glitter on the inside. It is very pretty, but I’m thinking mother-like thoughts here and seeing the glitter transferred to my furniture. Hmm.

‘Is it a bit random having a witch on?’ Someone asked this, and I forget who and about what. But surely a witch is always an excellent solution to just about anything? And they are Random, so no problem there either.

Sometimes an author is allowed to veto a design (I’ve heard many who moan over the cover they get, as well, so not everyone has a say.). But do they know best? Or even better? And why veto things so late? (And why am I writing this with so many question marks?) Philippa Dickinson appears not to fear ‘difficult’ authors, so decides she will deal with him/her. Nicely hands-on.

I see two cover suggestions for one of ‘my’ authors. The one with the dark blue background is by far the best.

Wee and free

Wouldn’t mind a pet blue cheese. Possibly to eat, and preferably before he eats me. And far better than sliced pig, which is another word for ham. Enough to make anyone a vegetarian.

This witch has belatedly finished all three Tiffany Aching novels by Terry Pratchett. The only reason it took so long was that halfway through The Wee Free Men I lost interest in the plot. I loved the wee frees with their big hearts and kilts and bravery and stupidity, and Tiffany was fun. Then the bit with Roland felt like something else and I gave up.

I ignored A Hat Full of Sky when Son read it and enjoyed it, which was very stupid of me. I was at least as daft as Daft Wullie, and when I finally got to it a while back I beat myself soundly for having been an idiot. It’s where Tiffany goes away to learn witching and really matures with it. A bit like cheese, I suppose.

And then we have Wintersmith, with Horace the cheese, and the cold suitor Tiffany dances with by mistake. Roland gets to show how brave he is, and the Feegles are always brave, so don’t deserve any praise. Well, a little praise, maybe. These male characters aside, this is a book about women power and witch power and how far you get simply by using common sense.

It’s humorous, too, naturally. I can barely understand how Terry can continuously fit in so many tiny, funny and dry reflections on life. On almost every page there’s something I thought I’d need to make a note of for quotation purposes, but it soon becomes impossible.

Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg and Miss Tick and Miss Treason rock!

Tiffany is a queen among Terry’s characters, and hopefully we will see much more of her soon. (We should.)


Y A blogs

Time for some witching about other bloggers. Please exchange the ‘w’ for the second letter of the alphabet.

I’m not feeling lonely, but occasionally go out hunting for new colleagues. I’m hoping for inspiration. Maybe some great ideas I could steal. Somewhere to leave comments and engage in some mutual fun.

Other than the blogs I already know about, I’m not finding any of the above. I’m finding lots of blogs, but there is something fishy going on. They are all the same. They link to each other. They even have some posts that are the same, by the same ‘guest blogger’. Or someone who made her own, based on the same idea. The layout which I at first quite liked, loses its appeal when you see they are all the same. Must be someone’s template which automatically makes them like that.

Most of the bloggers are young, although adults. Spelling mistakes are OK in daily posts, I feel, but in the set bits of information down the side? Sloppy. They nearly all have rules for what kind of books they will deign to receive for review purposes. I find that rude. Yes, it makes sense for publishers not to send the wrong kind of book, but if they do, it’s their money that’s been wasted, not the blogger’s.

They supposedly have hundreds of followers, but who wants to read these on a daily basis? If you check blog stats, where available, the hundreds can’t be visiting all that often.

And after puzzling over the books they review, most of which I’ve not heard of, let alone read, I’ve come to the conclusion many of them are teen romances. Nothing wrong with that. I lived off romances myself during the early years. But how can you keep reviewing ‘boy meets girl’ over and over?

Does anyone have a lovely blog suggestion for me, please?

Monday – take one

I’m working backwards here, so need to put in the earlier part of Monday before we’re into a new week. By some unexpected miracle your witch managed to fit in an unplanned visit to the Puffin presentation early afternoon. This meant even more authors and book plans in one short day, but after travelling on the same train as Scrappy the ferret, I felt up to almost anything.

I swear (sorry) that those conference rooms have shrunk in the two years since I was last there. What did they do? Wash them?

With my usual skill I plonked myself down on just the right chair to have my coat where all the attending authors could stumble over it on their way in to speak. Or on the way out. None did, though, and it was a Puffin telephone of some sort that was eventually brought down by Jeanne Willis. Or vice versa.

Jeanne was elegant in a black top with leopard skin effect (it was, wasn’t it?) trim, and white blonde hair straight out of an early 1960s film. She has two new picture books on the way, and she had everyone but me singing a song about bottoms. Apparently ‘pythons only have them in their dreams.’ And Jeanne carried some insect cadaver round in a small metal tin. (Just thought you might want to know.)

Puffin themselves will be 70 this year and, surprise surprise, they are publishing some books to celebrate. Cheap Pocket Money Puffins at £3.99, written by some real favourites of mine, which I like the sound of. Classics, naturally. Some frightfully expensive limited edition books that will cost £100.

I’ll happily try out some of their merchandise, like the Puffiny deckchairs, so a couple of samples would be most welcome. There will be samples I hope? Or at least a mug? (Hint – we could do with five.)

Eoin Colfer appeared, but only on screen. Still lovely, and he told us Artemis will be lovely too, and that just isn’t right. Charlie Higson talked about taking your children to see zombies. I don’t think so, Charlie. Trailer for the new Percy Jackson film, coming soon. Rick Riordan has a new series coming. Two new series, in actual fact. The richer authors get, the faster they write.

Cathy Cassidy was another one not caught out by my coat. She has a new ‘chocolate box’ series starting, which sounds great. I have a feeling Cathy’s only thinking of the research, however.

Vampires. Goes without saying. Samurais. Coming faster and faster. How do authors suddenly write twice as fast as before?

Alex Scarrow and David Yelland reprised their talks from November. Alex’s Time Riders is high on the TBR pile, so we’ll have to see how that goes.

The star of the show was Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece. There is a new range of Moomins on the way, including baby board books, but where are they coming from? I believe they are writing new ones, with Sophia watching over them. What do we think of that?

There will be teen books. I’m still amazed that Sarah Dessen isn’t yet a household name in Britain. She will be! Helen Grant’s Glass Demon is coming and so is iBoy by Kevin Brooks, and I gather it’s a cross between Spiderman and The Wire. Well!

Tasty sandwiches at the end, well worth waiting for, but what do you do with over-mayonnaisey fingers when meeting authors?

I cornered Sophia Jansson before the others discovered her, and we had a discussion in Swedish about blogs and other online nonsense. She, sensibly, has no time for blogs or Facebook or Twitter. This Little My has a Tove Jansson empire to run and a lovely holiday island to spend her summers on. She told us that Moomin was first thought up by Tove’s uncle in order to scare her from having midnight snacks in his kitchen. The Moomintrolls live in the kitchen walls. Perfect for baby books then…

Coffee Candy

They couldn’t believe I’d not been to Carluccio’s before. Truth be told I’d not quite cottoned on to the fact that there is an affordable variety, and that one doesn’t have to take out a new mortgage to dine in Neal Street, which is my normal haunt. (Shoe shops, you know.) So that was nice. Candy Gourlay is a regular, it seems, who doesn’t need to read the menu in order to order. And as mentioned the other day, we had the same food, she and I. Main course sounded good when Candy suggested it, and it was.

And then Mum Clare said we just had to have pudding, so we obeyed. That’s where the coffee ice cream comes in. It’s Candy’s favourite, and I hardly ever come across it, so jumped at the chance. Luckily I hate coffee, so didn’t attempt what Candy did, which was to have a cup of coffee at the same time as the ice cream. Our Italian waitress took some time to grasp the idea, and then she proved that she hadn’t grasped at all. Something (the coffee?) arrived in a jug next to the ice cream. The waitress was not amused at being told this was wrong. Once she grasped, you understand.

So I would not recommend doing this.

It’s weird meeting someone who’s your friend on Facebook. We’ve been aware of each other for close to two years, during which Candy has not only blogged and Facebooked avidly, but designed websites, and just happened to have redesigned her own site the day before. As you do when you have nothing better to occupy yourself with on a Sunday afternoon. Very computer savvy, in other words.

In between these things Candy wrote Tall Story, her first novel which is published by David Fickling in June. I found out how and why she wrote it, and how on earth she managed to get herself a good agent and how the book ended up with David.

Last summer Candy attended an Arvon writing week, tortured by Melvin Burgess and Malorie Blackman, which apparently was great. I should think so! Though she had already written most of Tall Story by then, so the two MBs can’t claim to have done any ghost writing.

Speaking of such literary giants, we soon moved on to general gossip about famous authors and anything else we could think of. I suspect that the secret behind getting your book published is to have the right cleaner. One who thinks nothing will come of all that frantic typing in north London. You’ll just have to ‘show her.’

Hope all my other Facebook friends I have yet to meet are as nice.