Monthly Archives: March 2010

No and Me

This French bestseller comes aimed at both the adult and the YA markets, and it’s easy to see why. The book is written from the point of view of 13-year-old Lou, but as with Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident it’s a story on several levels, where not everything is entirely clear to the young heroine. I don’t think that Delphine de Vigan meant for No and Me to be an Aspie novel, and Lou probably isn’t on the autistic spectrum, but at the same time there is much here that will make the ASD reader feel right at home.

Lou is so intelligent she goes to school with 15-year-olds, but she doesn’t fit in. At home she has other problems with parents who don’t have time for her. There is a reason for this, but it doesn’t mean her life is any easier. She ends up doing a school project on the homeless after accidentally meeting No on the streets.

Eventually No comes to live with Lou and her parents, and things change. Lou also makes friends with the other ‘misfit’ in her form, Lucas, who is 17 and has spent years repeating classes instead of moving up. No changes the lives of these four people, and in some way they change hers too.

This is not a sunny, happy-ever-after story. I suspect it mirrors real life among the homeless pretty well, and it’s not encouraging reading. But at the same time it’s both fascinating, and partly uplifting. Readers over a certain age can probably see what Lou doesn’t, and we have to admire how fervently she tries to make No’s life better, and how she tries to incorporate her new friend/older-sister-figure into her family.

Lou could be a Jacqueline Wilson character with a French twist, plonked down in the middle of Melvin Burgess’s Junk. Just so you get the flavour of this marvellous story.



Apologies for the ever sinking levels of quality in these parts. I’ve been gripped by this really weird thought. I’m going to have some sort of blogging holiday. (She said with hope in her heart, while knowing it probably won’t work.)

I’m not going away. I just thought that if I offered enough Blue Peter style things I prepared earlier, I could spend a week reading. Stupid idea, but I’ll see how it goes.

For today I thought I’d introduce you to my book marks. A witch has to have them. It. Him. Personally I thought it was quite witty in the end, but it depends, I suppose. (For anyone who finds I’ve borrowed their banner from somewhere; please consider it a compliment.)

Book Mark

What it is, is I’m too old to stick posters on my walls. Besides, there are no walls left. And it’d be boring with the same bookmark every day.

I will call in frequently to deal with comments and email. So no skiving off on your part, please.


Not for those with a bird phobia, I’d say. Its not terribly vegetarian, either, with lots of ‘insides’ being eaten extremely fresh. And those who are dead aren’t necessarily completely dead, whether or not their insides are intact.

Mortlock, by Jon Mayhew, is nicely gruesome in that Victorian, gothic way that’s been so popular for a while. The main difference being that Jon’s debut novel is actually very enjoyable, even for an adult who may have seen this kind of scenario a few times before. Although it depends on how you feel about crows and ravens and black birds in general. I also suspect that Jon’s use of traditional songs at the beginning of each chapter may put people off those songs from now on. Makes you think.

Twins Josie and Alfie have been separated from early on, with their father disappeared, their mother dead and Josie’s beloved ‘uncle’ Cardamom dying, leaving the two of them in peril from some ‘aunts’ who turn up unexpectedly. Knife thrower Josie and undertaker’s assistant Alfie hate each other on sight, which is just as well. There’s too much of this stuff where people automatically love their kin when they finally meet.

Many years earlier, some careless young men had found the Amarant, and it’s the after-effects of finding this plant which rules everything that happens to Josie and Alfie. There is a not quite live circus company, the mysterious Lord Corvis, and who is the man who follows them around? Is Mortlock good or bad, and who is he? Is he even alive?

Perfect for lovers of graveyards.

Also perfect for witches who love a good story that comes to an end in one volume. Jon assures me there will be more, but only set in the same time and place, and not a sequel. Just what I want.

Going postal

No, not that one. Sorry. Though I do like Terry Pratchett’s little venture into the background of stamps and stuff.

I mean the day to day postal situation. Have probably mentioned my poor postman before, and the problems he has with ending up on his knees under the book load. He has an alternative. Though to be fair, that means he does not get to ring my doorbell and exchange pleasantries (with me?) while handing over tottering piles of jiffybags.

The other way is to shove all the book parcels at his pal in the little red van. He has an advantage – other than not having to physically carry the books – and that is his arrival time chez bookwitch. It’s a lot earlier. That’s good. And bad. Early post is mostly good, but on a Saturday it can be a different sort of early, like very early. Admittedly, not as early as the next door neighbour sometimes calls. They get up at seven regardless of which day of the week it is, and we don’t.

It’s not bad or weak minded or anything else dreadful to sleep in, very slightly, on a Saturday, is it? If the Resident IT Consultant is at home, Saturdays are not a problem. He will have to get out of bed for our man in the van. But yesterday he wasn’t here, and my sixth sense told me vanman would be calling, so I got up before nine. Just in case. To be fair, he was comfortably late this time, at after nine, and I was still in bed at half eight.

Anyway, for an ex-postal worker it’s quite nice to have some contact with the postal trade while it lasts. And I do prefer it to the other modes of transport, because you know where you are with the postman and his wheeled colleague. On the other hand, there is continuity in some of the other delivery people, too. A couple of them used to deliver shampoo in these parts. (Yes, I buy a lot of the stuff.) One has moved on to picking up unwanted goods, and the other delivers passports (not so many of those).

But at least they are none of them like my Brighton postman, back in the dark ages. We lived in a house fronting directly onto the pavement, and witches don’t like net curtains, despite the well meant advice from new Grandma who pointed out to the little foreigner that they exist, so could be used. Our postman used to make a lot of detours past the front room bay window, staring and waving to me, as I sat in my armchair, reading. See, I read even in those long distant days.

Bookwitch bites #2

As my arms grew longer and longer on Thursday afternoon, I found myself looking forward to meeting up with Nick Green with rather more fervour than I had anticipated. It was a case of a paperback relay across Europe, and even the Atlantic. Some of the books I’ve finished with are going to Germany, and Nick was the intermediary for this. He will store the 27 books in the cupboard where he keeps his biscuits, or so he said. And some time next week Lee will turn up from Germany and retrieve them. She reckoned she could manage 8 kg of books, but the bad news is I only made it to 6,5 kg. I’m glad it was no more, if only for the sake of my arms.

The Atlantic book selection was for Siobhan Dowd’s New York pal Helen, who very rashly agreed to take some. Once I’d disposed of both book bags I was back to more elegant travelling, with just my own bag containing toothbrush and a couple of books to read on the train.

Meeting Nick was lovely for more reasons than length of arms. We had tea at a coffee place near his day job. Or it was more that I asked him to get me tea and a piece of cake, and the nice man obeyed. He didn’t even take my money, saying tea was far cheaper than rounds in the pub.

We talked about his writing, naturally. For someone with a ‘proper’ job, as well as a young family, he writes very fast. There is the reissue of Cat Kin in May, and the very happy news is that he will actually write the third part of the trilogy now. And there is another as yet unpublished trilogy on the way, so plenty to look forward to.

The previous day there had been more Siobhan Dowd news. It seems she left a partly written novel behind, and Patrick Ness will undertake the job of finishing writing her book. Unlike Siobhan’s other books this one will be illustrated.  There was quite a bit of discussion about this fresh piece of news at the Unicorn Theatre. As a fan both of Siobhan’s and of Patrick’s I hope this will work out well. I’m not convinced about people finishing someone else’s book, but I’m willing to keep an open mind about it.

An aspie – or two – at the theatre

The witch regrets the late running of today’s blog, and any convenience this may cause to your day.

I was most of the way through my egg sandwich when David Fickling found me in the foyer of the Unicorn Theatre yesterday. (His red scarf matched my shoes, but somehow he looked more elegant.) He was pleased to see me reading. Well, I’m a bookwitch. Duh. We’re on kissing terms, but it seems as if the man spends most of his days kissing his way past all the females he encounters.

Peter and Lee Weatherly and David Fickling

The Unicorn was heaving with literary people, which wasn’t a complete coincidence, as many of us had been invited to drinks before the show. Authors, agents, Random ladies, family members and a lone witch were there to see The London Eye Mystery, Siobhan Dowd’s wonderful book about aspie Ted and his lost cousin.

Helen Graves

Fiona Dunbar

It was lovely. The play I mean. (The gathering, too, of course.) We choked up a bit and cried some, and laughed as well. Many of us admitted to having forgotten the very special voice of Ted, which when translated for the stage is at least as strong as in the novel.

We got to mingle with the actors during drinks, and both sides were equally star struck. ‘Gloria’ was very bubbly and ‘Ted’ was nothing like Ted.

Everyone very kindly tried to introduce me to David Fickling. (Hate to think how many kisses that would have amounted to.) I must have looked needy. Otherwise I had to recognise everyone all by myself. Lee Weatherly was there, and so was Fiona Dunbar who was one of the driving forces behind the evening. With her was Siobhan’s very good friend Helen from New York, who I finally got to meet. (And when I did, I thrust a whole pile of books at her.) Agent Hilary (I know that sounds like the FBI) was there for something like the third time. Siobhan’s sisters had also already seen the play.

Anthony McGowan and Tony Bradman

Not counting Facebook I talked to Tony Bradman for the first time, and Anthony McGowan came with a small person. So did Candy Gourlay, which was lucky for me, as she’d promised to let me sleep in her cupboard under the stairs. Very, very kind of her. She even offered me a cauldron. Her lovely husband Richard was also very lovely. Random ladies Lauren, Mum Clare and brand new Random Rosie were there, and RR narrowly escaped a DF kiss. I think.

Clare, Ms Bradman and Candy

As Richard took the younger generation home, Candy, Fiona and Helen allowed a non-author to join them for a meal and LOTS of gossip. No really, I’m too discreet. But since you ask there was something about Jeremy Irons. Then I was spirited backwards to north London, home of all children’s authors in the world. Almost.

After a very comfortable night’s sleep (not under the stairs, I hasten to add) I had breakfast with Candy, while comparing notes on our foreign-ness. In Random style she then marched me up the hill to the tube station, where I left for home and Candy took off for her coffee haunt, away from the internet, to write the next novel.

The London Eye Mystery

If you read this

it just means I didn’t get an opportunity to write a blog post about my Thursday evening doings. In fact, it just means that when I return to the famous kitchen table, I will sit down and provide you with a late (better that than not at all) post.

On the other hand, if you don’t read this, there is nothing to worry about, is there?

Please come back if you are reading this, though. Some time this afternoon hopefully.

Kitty Crowther wins the ALMA

Larry Lempert, ALMA jury 2010

Along with all those people in Bologna, I watched the announcement of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, waiting during the anything-but-tense 30 seconds when Larry Lempert just stood there saying nothing, because he had to wait for the big hand to reach twelve. The winner is Kitty Crowther, and I know no more about her than what was said in Vimmerby when they announced it.

‘Kitty Crowther is an illustrator and author, born in 1970, who lives and works in Belgium. The jury’s citation reads as follows:

Kitty Crowther is the master of line but also of atmosphere. She maintains the tradition of the picture book while transforming and renewing it. In her world, the door between imagination and reality is wide open. She addresses the reader gently and personally, but with profound effect. In her deeply felt empathy with people in difficulty, she shows ways in which weakness can be turned into strength. Humanism and sympathy permeate and unify her artistry.’

So rather like the Nobel prize in other words. That too often leaves the world wondering ‘who?’, except with a children’s book award maybe the world is less interested. But £5 million kronor is not to be sniffed at.

Kitty Crowther

I gather Kitty is half Swedish and half British, while she lives in Belgium. From what I could see and hear she writes in French. They had someone (in Vimmerby) giving a brief talk about Kitty and she kept waving her arm to her left, where there were pictures of Kitty’s books, except it took a while for the television camera to catch up and actually show the world this. And then the talk was cut off mid-sentence, so I assume her time was up. But it was fun to be there, if only from my kitchen table.

Will have to investigate Kitty further.

Fickling comics revisited

I well remember David Fickling’s ‘why not?’ when I admitted I hadn’t taken out a subscription to his comics. I slunk away in shame, but the truth which can be hard to admit sometimes, was that it was simply too much money for us at the time. I just hope I wasn’t the one to sink the DFC.

Now I’m happy again, because the comics are back in book form, and I’ve read Good Dog, Bad Dog by Dave Shelton, and it’s great fun! That’s hardboiled dogs (oh dear, that sounds rather like a cross between eggs and sausages) embroiled in colourful crime, comic style.

Good Dog, Bad Dog

Book 1 contains three stories, and they are beautifully drawn with colours good enough to eat, and stuffed full of clichés. Don’t take this wrong; one wants clichés in these circumstances. ‘The name’s Bergman. Kirk Bergman. But you can call me “Detective”.’ It’s police dogs (I mean canine cops) Kirk Bergman and Duncan McBoo, out solving crime. McBoo is so clumsy I haven’t yet worked out whether it’s an intentional thing, or if it’s more serendipity that the clumsiness helps solve crimes.

(I have an odd coincidence here. While I was DFC-less a couple of years ago, I was offered the chance by Candy Gourlay to read her copies, had I been in north London. As you know, I’m not exactly in north London. More north of London and then some. Now Candy is David’s next big new author, except she’s not very big. Her book is though, Tall Story. And coincidenting heavily here, I am soon on my way to both London and eventually north London, and Candy, and David. And a few others.)

Anyway, I reckon comics as books is a good thing. You can hang on to them without feeling a complete nerd for having stacks of comics lying around.

The Andy McNab interview

Whether or not the man I interviewed in Birmingham the other week was an impostor, at least it was the same impostor as turned up in G2 a few days later. I’d recognise the man behind those cucumber slices anywhere! Also gather that my way of taking photos of Andy’s sleeve must have caught on, since it seems that some television channel or other did precisely that when Andy talked to the opposition leader. Please note that he met with me first. Everybody needs a sense of priority when they have a busy week.

So, read the interview, and see what sort of man and writer this former soldier is. His interest in getting boys educated is heartening. Enticing reluctant readers to open a book is another thing to admire Andy for. I remain to be convinced of the necessity for his anonymity, but it does make for a different kind of meeting. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is nice.

Andy's nose