Monthly Archives: September 2010

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.

Season of lists

Having thought it’d be last Saturday, and found it wasn’t, I naturally assumed it’d be this Saturday, so swept the decks, if not much else, in preparation. And it wasn’t. It seemed. And then, come Sunday morning, I found it was, after all.

‘It’ being the Guardian children’s fiction prize shortlist. When I wrote about those other shortlists a few days ago, I felt this one was bound to follow immediately. As things tend to do. Some years ago I asked to be put on the mailing list (see, another list) for this prize, and was told I would be. I’ve since asked every year, and somehow it’s not happened.

My Sunday morning revelation only appeared in the form of a brief column in the Review by Mal Peet musing on his role as one of the judges. It was well hidden. The column. Not Mal’s role as judge.

I google and still I don’t find them. At times I get the impression that the ‘home’ website for every award is the last one to update itself. One I mentioned earlier this week only listed the 2009 award. I had thought I’d at least get an early-ish warning on facebook, but not this week.

Don’t worry. My moan is almost done now.

So, to the list. (Here is where I have to search my own blog to see what I predicted. I have a dreadful feeling I was seriously out this time.)

OK, check done. I got two right. And here is the list:

Now, by Morris Gleitzman

Unhooking the Moon, by Gregory Hughes

The Ogre of Oglefort, by Eva Ibbotson

Ghost Hunter, by Michelle Paver

Interestingly two of the choices are ‘last book in a series’ books. I believe someone criticised that as not being a good idea. I don’t think it matters. You could sort of get the prize for ‘long-standing service’.

I have only read Now. Which is wonderful. Really want to read about the Ogre. Unhooking the Moon sounds interesting, and the only reason I’ve not read Ghost Hunter is that I never got started on Michelle Paver’s books, so feel I have an awful lot of catching up to do.

Won’t say which one, but I think I may have a favourite.


After I said what I said about science fiction earlier this week, I started thinking. It’s not true that nobody reads sci-fi, and maybe it’s even less true because we aren’t labelling books properly. If they have to be labelled.

We’ve become so keen on fantasy in recent years that it has become the label for anything not totally real. And we may have travelled to the moon and back, but in general space travel isn’t terribly real. That makes it fantasy. Maybe.

It was my use of the clever word dystopia when I reviewed WE by John Dickinson which really set me thinking. Is it only sci-fi when it involves travel through space? Because there’s Oisín McGann’s Small-Minded Giants, for example. Pretty dystopic, if you ask me. Future world (on Earth) where people live in a way totally alien to how we live here and now. And not in a nice futuristic way, either.

Oisín’s book reminds me very much of Julie Bertagna’s Exodus; of where the people fleeing their flooded islands end up. ‘Paradise’ to some maybe, but dystopia to others. Fantasy or sci-fi, or neither?

I always had this theory that the Retired Children’s Librarian dislikes fantasy because she equates it with sci-fi and she equates that with space travel, which to her mind is dreadful. Pippi Longstocking is fantasy, while not having much to do with rockets and interplanetary adventure. And she likes Pippi.

Terry Pratchett said how he fancies himself as a sci-fi writer for a bit, while he reckons his partner-to-be, Stephen Baxter, in their next book venture is a sci-fi writer who quite likes the idea of writing fantasy. It is very close.

So perhaps we need to re-label some fantasy? There’s more to sci-fi than Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. In fact, how much do the Asimov robots differ from J K Rowling’s characters?

The Resident IT Consultant added his question when we discussed this. Is Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking sci-fi? There are spaceships.

The author with her whole country behind her

It could be that Candy Gourlay’s neighbour is wrong. It could be that lots of countries are proud of their children’s authors and do everything in their power to show their support. Or it could be that her neighbour is right, and that the great interest taken by the Philippine Embassy in Tall Story goes way above the call of patriotic duty to their citizens.

Candy Gourlay

Philippine flag

I did think that although Candy’s novel is one of the best books I’ve read for a very long time and it really deserves all that praise and attention from the Ambassador, that there must be many other books by and about Filipinos. But I learned last night that the Philippines does not have the kind of children’s book publishing that we in the West take for granted, in which case all this makes perfect sense.

So H.E. Antonio M. Lagdameo is doing a wonderful job supporting both Candy and her book, and also all Filipino children who now have a great role model in Candy’s 8 foot giant. He was saying how his grandchildren could recognise themselves in their own experience going to another country to live.

Glasses and red somethings

Anyway, His Excellency invited a few people around on Friday night, for yet another celebration of Tall Story, and he even asked me, which was kind of him. I have yet to become blasé over embassy receptions, so I took myself off to London.

Richard Gourlay

Tall Story at the Philippine Embassy

Candy is a woman who shamelessly uses her fantastic family to promote her book, so they were all there. The Philippine contingency only in a video, but that video was full of singing people and cute babies, and it resulted in the whole roomful of people at the embassy bursting into song. (You’d think they were Swedish.) Mr G almost recognised me, and as introductions go you can’t beat telling a handsome teenager that you’ve slept in his bed. The eldest junior Gourlay is so well brought up that he thought his Mum was being rude in calling me a witch…

Andy Mulligan

There were lots of librarians, and other literary influencers. Random’s Corinne was there, despite a long week away doing bookish things. She’s the sort of woman who happily abandons her poor cat for yet another evening out. Corinne introduced me to Andy Mulligan, author of Trash, the other David Fickling Philippine novel of the year.

Fiona Dunbar

Fiona Dunbar was there, of course. We managed to have our usual – unplanned – meeting in the toilet regions, where I heard about her new books. Coming soon to a bookshop near you. Fiona’s and Candy’s agent Hilary Delamere was there too. Although I have to own up to having gone round this week calling her Felicity in my mind. It’ll be old age. My old age.

David Fickling

David Fickling came along, but as soon as he saw me he clapped his hand over his mouth and Mrs F moved in between us, so we were quite safe. There were also a whole lot of people I don’t know. As someone said, it’s interesting mingling in a totally new group. But hot. And crowded. I was introduced to someone with some sort of chicken website, which has nothing to do with chickens. Quite obvious.

2 x Tall Story

To finish off after the speeches and the singing and the sandwiches and drinks, Candy signed books. They had piles of both the DFB version of Tall Story and the new paperback from the Philippines. Candy signed and signed, and if I hadn’t noticed her presence later on facebook I’d have assumed she’d still be there signing. I got on the broomstick and flew home.

Bookwitch bites #24

Book launch sign

It’s lists and launch time at bookwitch towers with my bites one day early.

Last night Keren David had a launch party for her second novel, Almost True. I wasn’t present as unfortunately there’s a limit to how frequently I can do the commute to London. And I’m afraid I’m on my way there today, although not to see the Pope if I can help it.

Keren David at her Almost True book launch

Gillian Philip

Gillian Philip has been shortlisted for the Royal Mail’s Scottish Children’s Book Awards, along with Barry Hutchison, Julia Donaldson, Debi Gliori, Elizabeth Laird, Cathy MacPhail, Lucinda Hare, John Fardell and Simon Puttock. Luckily there are several categories so more than one of these lovely people can win. I hope they do. Not sure what they win if they win. Stamps?

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2010 judges have also come up with a shortlist, or rather two shortlists, because you can’t have too many lists of whatever length:

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Six and Under

Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets by Quentin Blake

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

The Nanny Goat’s Kid by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell

The Scariest Monster in the World by Lee Weatherly, illustrated by Algy Craig Hall

The Funniest Book for Children Aged Seven to Fourteen

The Clumsies Make a Mess by Sorrel Anderson, illustrated by Nicola Slater

Einstein’s Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan

The Incredible Luck of Alfie Pluck by Jamie Rix, illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood

Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

I gather Philip Ardagh, who is one of the judges, may almost have read too many funny books in the course of duty. I believe it was something like 130, which is enough to put you off even that which you like best.

Right, I have a train to catch. See you tomorrow.