Monthly Archives: March 2010

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


Is it bad to compare a writer’s work with someone else’s? All I want to say is that anyone who loves Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries, must surely love Zizou Corder’s Halo. I know it’s mainly the subject matter that makes me say this. Ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and one or more adventurous children and lots of real history stuffed into the plot. But it has the same happy feel to it, and it’s romantic.

Halo came at just the right time for me. If you recall my thoughts on the Greek myths the other week, then Halo is another excellent way for me to learn, or re-learn Greek history. I’m fairly sure I remember elements of the history in this book from school lessons. But lessons so frequently make little sense at the time, and then you forget even what little you may have grasped. Or is that just me?

As I was almost finishing the book I came across Josh Lacey’s review in the Guardian, and wondered whether it would contain a spoiler. I didn’t, so I was OK for not waiting. He seemed to have enjoyed Halo, although he mentions flaws. And that made me think (very unusual) and I came to the conclusion that sometimes an adult reviewer judges a children’s book as though it was intended primarily for adult readers. Because I don’t think I can agree with Josh.

Halo is a baby girl who is washed ashore in a storm, and who is then brought up by a community of centaurs (forget Foaly for the moment, lovely though he is), only to be stolen away later by humans. She is enslaved several times, and she sees Sparta and Athens, and there is a memorable chat with a certain oracle in Delphi. (I never knew it was like that!)

Our heroine has a lovely centaur brother that anyone would be proud of, and she falls in love. It’s very romantic. She makes friends, and she becomes proficient in skills from archery to medicine. Halo keeps searching for her birth family, too, and I just wondered how the oracle could be anything but someone who simply made things up.

Towards the end there is one situation where I would have preferred for there to be two characters, instead of how Zizou deals with it. But that’s just me. It’s romantic. And funny. As well as educational and purely enjoyable.

Would still like to know how a mother and her teenage daughter can agree for long enough to write a book together.

Hamish McHaggis

It’ll be my northern vowels. I couldn’t possibly read this book aloud. Hamish McHaggis and The Clan Gathering is crying out to be read aloud, in a lovely Scottish accent. I would guess that its author Linda Strachan doesn’t see a problem with that. She’s got the accent.

Ever since I met Linda in the Edinburgh Book Festival bookshop last August I’ve been aware of her Hamish books, but just never took the plunge until now. I love the name Hamish! Somehow it’s more Scottish than almost any other name, and I’d have named Son Hamish if I’d thought I could get away with it.

Hamish McHaggis and the Clan Gathering

There are lots of Hamish books, but this one is nice, with its feeling of family togetherness, although I’m not sure how so many McHaggises ended up all over the world. I do like gatherings, and I’d say some of ours have been at least as outlandish as this one, except we stop at picnics and don’t do Highland Games. And we have less tartan about, but tartan is very nice. Especially purple.

I can see that the Scottish Tourist Board would like this Hamish story, seeing as it’s a whirlwind mini grand tour of the sights of Scotland.

Hamish is a sweet little thing, and he’s very kind to his friends. I just wish they wouldn’t go round saying ‘dinna fash yersel’. How is a witch to cope? Not even her Scottish born and bred IT Consultant can manage a Scottish accent. Welsh Hamish anyone? Luckily we don’t have small Offspring anymore. They can read this book silently by themselves. And I snuck in some Scottish second names for them, just not Hamish. Especially not for Daughter who is a R L Stevenson character.

I’ll stop blethering right here. Och aye.

Bookwitch bites

No she doesn’t. Or not very much.

This is bites, as in small somethings.

You may be blissfully unaware of this, but one of my most asked questions in the comments section is ‘When will there be auditions for Valkyrie Cain?’ Two years after the Derek Landy interview I came to the conclusion that we really need to find out, so I asked him. He took an age to reply. Maybe he’s writing a book. For anyone who missed what Derek had to say, I’ll paste it here for all to see: ” The answer to this question is, um, no…! Nothing fresh to report! No developments, no greenlight, no auditions! It’s an ongoing process… a LONG, ongoing process…!”

Another piece of news this week is that Anthony McGowan has a website, all of his own making. Or so he says. Not that he has it, I mean. That he made it. I think it looks very nice, and it’s got lots of pages with lots of information. Go and enjoy.

Websites can offer other things, too. Naomi Alderman has devised some sort of interactive reading-cum-computer game site called The Winter House. It looks very good, but I have to admit to having struggled a little with it. It’s not the website, it’s me. I’m old. In computer interactive areas I’m practically pre-historic. But that’s OK, because this site is intended to help ‘young people identify with the short story form. The story, which plays on the website like an animated film and includes game-like interactive elements, is nonetheless a single narrative with a third-person narrator – the central character Millie – whose father has been murdered. The Winter House hopes to encourage young adults to read stories online, how to make them interesting and visual, so that being on a computer is an encouragement to reading.’

And as the week draws to a close, I have to return to Monday’s meeting with Caroline Lawrence. She has let me see the first page of the Western Mysteries, and let me tell you this: It looks good. I could see myself wanting to read the second page some time soon, as a matter of fact. I suspect this will turn out to be quite an enjoyable series. Yeehah!

Wading in again

Maybe I should just stay away and keep quiet about things I know too little about? The papers still write about Stieg Larsson and they repeat the by now well known facts about him and the dispute over money. And with the first film finally on general release in Britain, we get the next wave of much the same stuff. There was a blog in the Guardian written by someone who had read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but not seen the film, which makes her a bit of a non-expert. But if it’s not feminist enough, then I dare say it isn’t.

Otherwise sane people seek the moral high ground and declare they won’t see the film. Why? If it’s not very good (in their opinion, once they’ve seen it), then it’s surely no worse than many other crap films we all manage to see in our lifetime? It’s an 18, so perhaps that vouches for it being unsuitable? I would have taken Daughter along, had it not been rated 18. By that I mean it’s not legal for her to watch it, not that I didn’t want her to see the film.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to rant. At least not about the film. A couple of months ago I was a little taken aback at finding a character from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest being interviewed in the Vi magazine. Kurdo Baksi leads a busy life these days, serving the memory of his dear friend Stieg Larsson. He’s most likely a charming man and genuinely fond of Stieg. But I always smell a rat when someone describes themselves in pretty much those terms.

On the other hand, I trust Vi to a great extent, and why would they write so positively about him if he’s not kosher? This paragon of a friend spends 75% of his time on Stieg’s memory, meeting journalists by the dozen every week. He travels to Spain and France where Stieg Larsson is huge. And he has naturally written a book about his pal. He sort of says nice things about Eva Gabrielsson.

Sort of. She doesn’t about him, in the interview in the Observer a few weeks ago. Eva has also written a book, and it’s one I wouldn’t mind actually reading. I suspect it would be good to finally read something from her point of view, something which hasn’t been edited by others. The Observer interview is fairly pro-Eva, but it does chew over the same facts again.

It’s reading about Eva and Stieg and their ‘normal’ existence (unless you count the death threats) before the Millennium books and Stieg’s death, which has reminded me of what Swedes can be like, and what many of my friends were like back in the olden days. It gives me hope at a time when it’s easy to despair and wonder what the world is coming to. And unlike me who may have had the political views, these two actually lived according to them.

I suspect that’s what British journalists just won’t get.