Monthly Archives: June 2010

Raisin’ the standard

Is there anyone out there who reads Agatha Raisin by MC Beaton? If so, why?

I own half a dozen of her Hamish MacBeth novels, and I enjoyed every single one. As far as I recall, they were light and amusing reads, a little tongue-in-cheek, but in just the right way. The television series was also great fun, if somewhat messed about with.

Then I stopped reading them, because other books turned up, and when I saw the Agatha Raisin series I felt no need to read it, but assumed it was similar in style. There Goes the Bride came my way recently, and it looked fun and the title is witty, so I took it with me on holiday, looking forward to reading an Agatha Raisin at last.

Lasted half a chapter, but made myself finish chapter one, just to make sure. Leafed through the remaining book to see if it looked the same throughout. Then got out a couple of Hamishes to see if they still looked as readable as they once were. They did.

So I may have become less tolerant of vaguely bad books, but am no snob. But it has to be a good bad book, if you know what I mean? With There Goes the Bride I couldn’t understand if the badness was intentional. I somehow doubt it.

Obviously I started on the series a long way in, and some confusion is to be expected. I feel the language should at least be level with a Mills & Boon. What happened? I see on Wikipedia that MC Beaton writes a fair number of books per year, but not so many as to make skimping like this essential.

Did I miss something? Maybe dear Agatha is the coolest of cool, poking fun at all sorts of genres in a very subtle way which is totally beyond me.

I once came across a really dreadful, but successful, romance writer, whose name I have mercifully forgotten. She wrote a chapter in a how-to book on romance writing, saying how getting her books published had nothing to do with already being a ‘name’. To prove it she sent one book in anonymously, and it was refused. She then sent it in under her own name and it was received with the normal fanfares. Somehow she felt this proved her point.

I’m still trying to understand how it could. Now I’m wondering if Agatha Raisin is another case of something continuing under its own momentum.

Or, I just missed the point. Again.

The things they send

I’ve been seeing spots. I’m a very intolerant person, and I adore complaining about, well, what shall I call it? Printing and design, maybe? So, the spots. They are all over the front of the Bok & Bibliotek (Gothenburg book fair) 2010 programme. Makes me vaguely sick and giddy, so I have to hastily avert my lovely brown eyes when I get close, and whip open the brochure to avoid seeing the spots.

And then it’s David Fickling, again. Now he’s taken to sending me rubbish, and I don’t mean that the books are getting worse. Better, if anything. Monday morning’s post brought this however:

David Fickling packaging

David Fickling packaging

Andy Mulligan, Trash

Andy Mulligan, Trash

I am a fan of recycling, so that’s what I’ll do with David’s Trash. Or more accurately I suppose it’s Andy Mulligan’s Trash, since it’s his new book. It’s not out yet, but it seems DFB want to set the scene with trashy post. And since I had until now only had the manuscript in the last photo, the red proof is an improvement that will make for a better reading experience. (Won’t need such long arms.) Though if I take David’s word for it I’ll be dead. I quote ‘you will hold your breath until the end’, and that sounds like it ought to come with a health warning.

I wonder if they spend ages thinking up new ways of catching people’s attention with design and packaging of review copies? At least this way they also got rid of some of their shredded paper, seeing as they enclosed a colourful selection of paper strips. The brown bag is bound to be an ex-lunch bag of David’s. He strikes me as a sandwich-in-a-brown-bag kind of publisher.

And since it does say on the bag that I should pass the book on once I’ve read it, I won’t be consumed with guilt if I do. It’s a perennial problem with proofs and even ‘real’ copies of books. If I’ve got two copies, which happens, or if I really don’t want the book, I pass them on. Two of them were birthday presents just the other day.

Along with spots, I really have a problem with black-and-white when it’s the wrong way around. Recently many of the book press releases I get sent are in white print on a black background. Let me tell you that the book may be excellent, and I may even read it, but I certainly won’t read the press release.

So it rather defeats the purpose.

The ‘trashy’ route to attention is fun and may cost slightly more than white words on black, but the design aspect of it doesn’t prevent me from getting the message. White on black is akin to having forgotten the wheelchair ramp. And you may not need a wheelchair (or black print on pale paper) just yet, which is why you haven’t thought about it. Just you wait.

Murphy’s Law

Molly Murphy has red hair, so it goes without saying that she will have killed a man in her Irish village, necessitating an unplanned trip to America, where she immediately witnesses another murder, causing Molly having to clear her name and that of someone else.

The year is 1901, and she ends up looking after two Irish children on the journey. She quarrels with the murdered man. Before he was murdered, naturally. Entering the US under a false name, it’s not the most sensible thing for her to fall in love with the detective from the New York police department. Nor was it wise to almost get a job as a prostitute, or to go looking for the murderer on her own.

Maybe Molly is more a girl of the second half of the 20th century, than the first half, but it doesn’t matter. Reading about the young New York is quite interesting, especially as seen from the point of view of an Irish newcomer. Today’s city is being built. There is corruption everywhere. But there is a system to it.

I knew I’d like this book.

I was so taken by the way Rhys Bowen moderated her panel at the 2008 CrimeFest in Bristol, that I knew I had to read something of hers. All her books looked good, so choosing wasn’t easy. Murphy’s Law comes first in the series about Molly who escapes Ireland as a fugitive from justice. Not that it was justice for Irish people in those days. It sort of explains the Irish community in America, though. And the corruption.

Notes from the Teenage Underground

I’m reading Simmone Howell backwards. That is, first I read the second book, and now I’ve progressed to her first teen novel, Notes from the Teenage Underground. Last time I think I compared Simmone’s book to a blend of Melvin Burgess and Jacqueline Wilson. The Underground story is more Melvin with some Cathy Hopkins gone bad. Not a bad Cathy, rather a less happy group of friends than her mates.

I still can’t get my head round how different they are in Australia. Apart from walking upside-down. There are definitely words I don’t know, and I don’t mean g’day. And I was about to say that they allow more daring behaviour in their YA novels, but since Notes from the Teenage Underground is published in the UK, it has clearly passed any censorship necessary for tender Britons.

Gem – named after Germaine Greer – feels she is becoming an outsider. Her pals Mira and Lo seem to be doing more stuff without her. Or maybe she’s imagining things? It’s their last year at school and it’s almost Christmas, very hot, and they are sitting their final exams. (I said it’s upside-down.)

They want to do something different and special to mark this, so plan some underground action. Gem is into films in a big way, so she decides to make a film. The others almost ignore her, and have their own ideas. Gem also feels the need to lose her virginity to catch up with the other two, and settles on her spotty colleague at her part time job in the video shop.

With an unconventional single mum with a hippyish background and a dad who went off to the wilds of Tasmania to be alone, she has other issues than friends and sex on her mind, too.

The plot doesn’t develop quite as you might expect, which is good, as too many books just show different routes to a conventional end. And all the film references should appeal to arty teenagers. I’m almost thinking I will have to investigate some of the films which I don’t know.

Bookwitch bites #14

That David Fickling has set up in competition with me. There is now a DFB blog, or so I’m told. I’m reminded of an old Swedish saying that says something like shoemakers should stick to making shoes. With my current amnesia I can’t recall if there is an English equivalent. ; )

Terry Pratchett has a big prize to offer in a sort of book writing competition. ‘Anywhere but here, anywhen but now‘ is quite a mouthful for anything, but that’s what it’s called. Details for how to submit can be found here. £20,000 strikes me as very attractive, but I suspect it will still not make a novelist of me. Oh, well.

Melvin Burgess is playing. Something. He’s worked with the BBC to make an interactive drama and computer game thingy. The Well can be played here. It’s got Doctor Who’s lovely Amy in it. I think.

More stuff to look at in some videos of Bloomsbury’s authors talking about their books. Here are some links to Lucy Jago, Celia Rees, Jon Mayhew and Ian Beck, but not necessarily in that order:

Candy Gourlay launched her Tall Story this week. From the photos I’ve seen from the launch, she looked like she’s always done this sort of thing.

I’m off to try and reorganise my TBR pile again. One book that won’t be part of it, is one I was offered, and felt duty bound to accept, by someone who emailed me out of the blue. When I did so, I had an immediate reply to thank me for my interest, but they had someone else who wanted it. Quite.

Terry 'two hats' Pratchett

A final link here to watch Terry Pratchett pick eggs out of his hat. It’s for Terry’s Discworld football cup. Though between you and me I suspect the eggs may have been pingpong balls. And there are chickens. Quite what happens with the balls and the chickens I’m not sure. I believe you have to vote for something. Go on, vote!

Shall we meet in Charlotte Square?

The programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival is finally here. I’d waited so impatiently and for so long, and then in the end I got my dates muddled and thought it was today. Turns out it was yesterday, which meant that all that time last night when I’d intended to be doing other things, I was mentally moving between tents in Charlotte Square. In the sunshine, obviously. The sun always shines.

And speaking of him, I’d quite like for Son to get off his Erasmus year bottom and go and find a flat for me to stay in when the time comes. (I mean, please can we come and stay with you, dear? We’ll be as good as it’s possible for us to be.)

Are times hard? Yes, I know they are. More of a rhetorical question. I wasn’t counting in the main programme, but I felt a distinct shortage of author events in the children’s programme. There are many ‘generic’ events. I don’t know how things are financed, but if the publishers pay for their protégés to attend, I can understand if authors are thinner on the square. Or for that matter, if the festival finances every move authors make, then saving on the children’s events is one solution.

Last year we had to make hard decisions on who to miss when people clashed. I don’t think that will be a problem this time.

In fact, it wasn’t until I read through the schools’ programme as well that I found enough authors to satisfy my needs. Can I manage to look like a school, and sneak in? I shouldn’t highlight anyone here, but I’ll just say a small hurrah for Simmone Howell who’s coming all the way from Australia.

I’ll have to sit down properly and do my logistics now. Unlike last year they have been open about press tickets for children’s events. Then I was dismayed to find that hardly any of them were available, so had to do some negotiating on the side. Basically, if you’re not Francesca Simon, you’ll not have the reporters flocking to your ‘thing’.

But I’ll flock as best as I can.

A ‘short novel for fluent readers’

So that ought to cover me, then. I suspected I’d never get round to reading Jamila Gavin’s Danger by Moonlight, when recently I hit on my books-by-the-front-door arrangement for short and small books.

Danger by Moonlight

This story about jewel thieves and Eastern Princes fooled me into thinking it was for much younger readers. It looks like a very simple, young child’s book, whereas it’s really quite complex, using difficult words and being quite dark in concept. It’s just rather short at 106 pages, and not very full pages, either.

I knew I could trust Jamila to have written an exciting story, but even so, I was surprised to find that having got only halfway on what was a short train journey, I simply had to finish it at home.

Danger by Moonlight is set in the 17th century, and features a young boy from Venice who travels to Afghanistan to try and free his kidnapped father. He encounters danger everywhere, and contrary to what you’d expect in a seemingly easy read for a small child it doesn’t all go smoothly, or end happily ever after. There is a bit of Kipling’s Kim about it and some Thousand and One Nights, too.

It’s the kind of book I’d like to read aloud, had I only been equipped with a suitable child.