Monthly Archives: September 2010

Particle physics

We’ve done a fair bit of exhaustion in these parts recently. People keep saying how tired they are and that they’ll be going to bed soon. The other evening Daughter was shattered and said she was off to bed really early.

So how come she turned up in my kitchen just before midnight, wanting to tell me about particle physics? I mean there’s tired, and then there’s tired. You could end up in the kitchen looking for a glass of milk, hoping it will send you to sleep when nothing else works.

You listen to your child, because you’re meant to. And as I still had some life left in me that midnight, I was up for the particle physics.

But it was long. Awfully long. You know how when you don’t actually understand very much of something, you pay a lot of attention to every single step of the explanation, in case it’s essential for grasping the final concept? So I tried to visualise every step of the way, only to come to the conclusion that my attention could have skipped some of the bits at the beginning.

As I mentioned to Daughter that she might have picked a slightly shorter route, it struck me that this is often the case when you write something. You need to know how much you can leave out. (And I’ll thank you not to suggest the whole of this blog post.) I’m fairly sure I almost got it.

Or was she thinking it’d send me to sleep?

Mercifully I have forgotten most of it again.


Play the shape game

This is actually a book which encourages you to draw in it. I should have had one when I was the right age to draw in books.

The age I was when I really did look at the shape – and size – of things. In detail. It was January 5th, 1959 and I didn’t have a toy like these newfangled ‘fit the round peg in the square hole’ ones. Didn’t matter. I had a raisin. And a nostril.

You get the picture?

There I was, sitting on the windowsill in the kitchen of Grandfather-of-witch. It was Twelfth Night and he was babysitting. All the others were out making themselves beautiful for the big dinner and dance that night. I wasn’t invited, as I was only two. And a half. Old enough to be annoyed at the lack of inclusion.

Anyway, I realised that the raisin I held in my hand was just the right size and shape for my nostril, so up and in it went. And that’s all. It wouldn’t come out and Grandfather-of-witch was not happy.

When Mother-of-witch returned from the hairdresser’s we had to go straight out for some emergency raisin-removal by some doctor or other who was still on duty on this public holiday eve. Him and his half dozen nurses who held me down. I’ve never been particularly brave.

But you can’t fault my eye for shape matching.

Play the shape game

Back to Anthony Browne, who came up with these shapes that he asked various famous people to do their own picture from. Lots of authors, as well as actors and other celebrities too numerous to tag here, have drawn and played, all in the name of charity.

I wish…

What do I wish? That is the question. That I was pink and purple? I need to become a minority.

I would hazard a guess that it was the pink and the purple in the Guardian ad which caught my eye. “Writers’ workshop for minority voices” said the ad, and straightaway I felt the calling. They are to be applauded for wanting to include more minorities in the making of the paper. But who – exactly – do they have in mind?

“If you belong to a minority group through your ethnicity, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief” they are interested. But only as defined in sections 47 and 48 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976.

I can’t help but feel that I’m a minority in many different ways. The one I’m most taken with is the gender one. I thought we were roughly fifty-fifty, so am unclear on whether I belong to the correct half. (I suspect I do.)

I googled the sections, but to no avail. There are only nine million Swedes in the world. That’s a minority. Define disability. I don’t think it covers me, but where do you draw the line? And how old do I have to be to be past it, and thereby belong with the discriminated against? Maybe over 95s are rare enough?

The sexual orientation I can guess. That’s most likely the inspiration for the pink and purple colour scheme. Religion. That’s vague. I could form my own church. Many do. Belief. Sometimes I feel I’m alone in what I believe.

OK, so that was mostly frivolous speculation, but the information doesn’t inform terribly well. If we start with women and add non-white people, gay people, those belonging to unusual religions, and anyone with some kind of physical impairment, then we aren’t talking minority any longer.

Is there a proper list somewhere? Or do you apply and hope for the best? Not that I want to apply. There was just something about the ad that appealed to me. Before I read the “small print”.

Our City

Our City

It just appeared there in the corner of my eye. Not literally, obviously. But as I meandered through the children’s bookshop at Charlotte Square, mentally ticking all the books I had read or already had waiting for me, I noticed one I didn’t know at all.

Our City is an anthology in support of the OneCity Trust, just like the adult crime anthology I read a while ago. They clearly know what they are doing, getting great authors to write short stories for free and publishing them for the good of Edinburgh’s less fortunate inhabitants.

Ever the autograph hunter I couldn’t help noticing that five of the ten authors were at the book festival, and that in itself seemed like a good start. Reader, I bought the book. The only one I bought. And it’s a good one.

Julie Bertagna, Cathy Cassidy, Alison Flett, Vivian French, John Fardell, Keith Gray, Elizabeth Laird, Jonathan Meres, Nicola Morgan and Alison Prince have all written a story that has something to do with Edinburgh. That in itself made it the best possible souvenir from the festival.

John Fardell has illustrated not just his own cartoon contribution, but the stories of all the others and also the front cover. It’s the sort of cover that had me turn the book round and round, as John has drawn a circular Edinburgh, with all the bits from the stories fitting neatly together. So you can twirl and twirl, and then you fall over.

There are historical tales, a story about witches (what else?), a sad story, an almost political story, a traditional fairy tale, and science fiction even. They are all marvellous in their own way. I liked the pied piper. I enjoyed the sad bus story. The smiling alien was good. The cruel stepfather was interesting. How to beat the school bully. Cathy Cassidy managed to incorporate her friendship bracelets into hers. And then there’s the witches. Nice ladies.

I love anthologies. Especially when they are made up of the right kind of short stories written by my kind of people. And this charitable type of effort is a wonderful idea. I was going to say we need more of them, but I suppose if you have too many the idea stops working.

But is is a good idea.

Knowing when to stop

I’m knackered. I’m so grateful I’m not ‘on the road’ right now. But I most likely would have been if lack of funds had not prevented me from booking a few more trips to do with books. So that’s good.

It’s very easy to decide to do something when that something is in the future. I just look at the programme and think how much I’d like to see X or hear Y, or simply that it’d be generally fun to be at the Z book festival. It’s like going shopping for food when you’re hungry.

Today is the last day of the Gothenburg Book Fair. Despite this year’s programme not being totally to my taste, I was very tempted by it. A good many of the Nordic murderers were there. Along with Alexander McCall Smith, on account of this year’s theme being Africa. Hence Henning Mankell, and Deon Meyer. Nadine Gordimer. Sophia Jansson, various famous singers (Swedish ones) and Eva Gabrielsson of Stieg Larsson fame. This year’s ALMA winner, Kitty Crowther. Etc.

Luckily Experience spoke to me. She said that after Edinburgh I’d be so relieved not to be going anywhere else. I’m glad she knew.

On that basis, and had I gone to Gothenburg, I knew I wouldn’t get to Bath this year either. I’ve spent several years not going to Bath. Bath, of course, is special in that it’s only children’s books and children’s authors. So it’s really where I ought to be. But then, half the authors in Bath I’ve already seen elsewhere.

I’ve not even looked at the Wigtown Book Festival. Well, truthfully, I have, but only just now. I had to quickly avert my eyes, and I told myself that finding somewhere to stay would be really hard. And travelling could present problems. Probably. I only knew it’s on, as everyone on facebook seems to be going.


And don’t get me started on Cheltenham. I so want to go. But at the same time I’m blessing every day I have at home, with nothing special happening at all. I wake up and (almost) smile at the thought that I can cook and clean and blog and not go anywhere.

I may even get to my two remaining interviews. Once I’ve found a little more of the house under all the assorted debris. One thing Experience forgot to mention was the effect of seven weeks away while the house still had someone living in it.

Bookwitch bites #25

Author-wise it was a busy Wednesday over at the local bookshop. Not only did Cathy Cassidy do her friendship thing for younger readers, but she had barely left when it was time for Adèle Geras and Sophie Hannah to do their event. In fact, she hadn’t left, as Adèle arrived too early and caught her as she was running for her train. It was admiration all round, as they are fans of each other’s books. Adèle read from Dido, and Sophie read from her latest crime novel, A Room Swept White.

Another criminally minded lady is Donna Moore, who can now add the job title Writer In Virtual Residence at the schools in the Kuspuk School District in Alaska. Donna was last there in the spring, yoyo-ing between schools, talking to the students about writing. When we saw Donna in Charlotte Square in August, she was saying how she hoped this would happen, but wasn’t sure they’d want her! Of course they want her. I think she’ll be really good for these children in the middle of ‘nowhere’.

And as I almost mentioned last week, Fiona Dunbar has a new series of books for 8-12s about a girl called Kitty Slade who develops ‘phantorama’, the ability to see ghosts. Each story contains a mystery that she solves with the aid of her phantorama. Fiona started out wanting to do a sort of Famous Five for the 21st century, but ended up with something more like Ghost Whisperer for kids. The first title is Divine Freaks and it’s out next spring.

To avoid this being an all ladies affair, I’ll round off with Alan Garner, over in Alderley Edge. It’s not far, but I don’t go very often. I mainly dream of the date loaf from the baker’s. It’s fifty years since The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was first published, and there is a new special edition, along with the paperback of The Moons of Gomrath. Alan Garner is the kind of author everyone admires tremendously. Coming to his stories as an adult, I may not have the same feelings for them as those who grew up reading Alan’s books. We used to listen to them in the car, and I have to admit to never having quite understood The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Lots of running around in tunnels under the Edge. I think.


I could see the problem facing the heroine in Revolution long before Beth herself started worrying. What I didn’t see was how Sherry Ashworth was going to end her novel, and I can’t very well tell you about that here. I would have liked things to develop in a slightly different way, if I’d had any say in the matter.

It’s good to have a vaguely political story along with the more normal love angle and teenage angst. Is it just me, or did we have more of that in the olden days? Actually, put like that, maybe we didn’t, and it really is just me.

Beth and her best friends Gem and Ollie discover that their school is to be demolished before their Y11 is up, and they set about trying to stop it happening. There is a new boy, Nate, who has a lot of ideas on what to do, and seems to be a pro at organising revolutions.

While making banners and marching, Beth falls in love with Nate. It’s easy to see he’s not quite as wonderful as she first thinks, but what is his secret?

On top of the school closure, Beth has her incompatible parents to worry about, and there’s first love and the issue of losing your virginity, and best friend problems and hooligans. Most of it rings true, although perhaps most girls of sixteen don’t face all of the problems all at the same time. Revolution should work well to support girls who may be sharing one or more of Beth’s concerns.

Sherry Ashworth

Sherry is a pro, teaching creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan, and knows what she’s talking about. I met her at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival in July, and someone sensibly suggested she might want to give me a copy of her book, and I’m glad she did. I like it when books rain from above, although the photo on the cover of Revolution is so not how I see Nate and Beth.

A great fan of her fans

Cathy Cassidy is her fans’ greatest fan. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an author speak quite so warmly of and at such great length about their fans. In fact, if I hadn’t steered the conversation in a few more directions we’d still be in that coffee shop marvelling over Cathy’s lovely fans.

'The tip'

Well, maybe we wouldn’t. Cathy had an event to attend, being the star turn. And she had just come from a school event. And the day before she’d done two (I think) massive events for hundreds of fans in her old home town of Coventry. You send Cathy to Coventry and she’s as happy as anything.

She’ll have covered thousands of fans by the time she’s done with this tour. She even had girls turn up unannounced at events, as though a few hundred extra won’t be a problem.

Problems are what Cathy and I have had in getting together, however. After not managing more than a split second of a wave in Edinburgh, we were going to meet in her hotel when she came to a venue near me. Except her plans were changed for her at the last minute, and both the hotel and the evening vanished.

Cathy Cassidy

But Cathy was determined to do this interview and managed to carve out some coffee shop time in the afternoon between events, before heading west to Liverpool. And as I mentioned at the beginning, she spent most of that time enthusing about her wonderful fans. I did manage to get some news on intelligent rabbits and friendship bracelets, too.

And then she tipped me. ; )

At least we weren’t mobbed by fans. I’d had this vision of being seen with Cathy in public, leading to hordes of the wonderful fans descending on us. In case you’re wondering, Cathy wore green boots to match her green cardigan. Very Irish pixie.


It goes without saying that grilled rat is superior to boiled. And I rather hope that Michael Grant hasn’t just made this up, but tested it. The third book in his Gone series is titled Lies, and lying is what some of the children decide to do, in the interest of everyone’s welfare. Of course.

I’ve been a little lukewarm earlier. Gone was good, but the shock that I was in for six books put me off. Hunger was scary. Now that my scare expectations had risen, I was more than ready for Lies. It’s not worse. Just more of the same, but different, because it’s a new book.


When we met, Michael promised me some new characters, and it seems they are not getting pregnant after all. I won’t say how or where these new ones turn up, but I am already very fond of Sanjit. I hope Michael isn’t going to kill him off or turn him bad. I won’t allow it.

Because that’s what he does. Good characters go bad and bad ones improve. Just as in real life, we aren’t always the same and we can change. It’s quite amazing how one or two really iffy characters have matured beyond belief.

Michael was suggesting that the explanation for the Fayz (the bubble the children have been caught inside) would come in the next book, but there is some sort of hint in Lies. Unless that’s a lie too. Had I read this before interviewing Michael, I would have asked different questions. Some would have been unnecessary, and there are other ones I’m coming up with in their place.

This series is growing, and not just on me, I hope. What seemed to be a common action novel at first, is developing and getting really quite interesting. And the humour is nicely satisfying. Now it’s me who can’t wait for the next three books. As if I wasn’t old enough to have poofed the first time.

The Michael Grant interview

He grows on you, that Michael Grant. And his books. He’s got that assured way of talking about himself and his writing, that I think of as being typically American.

Michael Grant

He’s not pretentious in the slightest, which is very refreshing. I found myself badly wanting to read the third book in Michael’s series about the children in Perdido Beach. The name of the town is a nod to Lost, which I believe Michael was inspired by, while wanting to improve on it.

I’m glad I hunted him down in Edinburgh. There had been talk of doing an interview earlier with Michael in California, but I believe all interviews are better for being face-to-face. So it was lucky Michael came over here.