Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Christmas Eve Ghost

I love Shirley Hughes’ illustrations! Here she has taken her skills at drawing charming, old-fashioned pictures and matched them with memories from her own childhood in Liverpool in the 1930s, to come up with this story about Bronwen and Dylan and what happened on Christmas Eve.

The young brother and sister live with their widowed mother, who takes in washing to make ends meet. It’s a hard life, but their mother is skilled at making her children feel happy, despite all they lack. She often has to leave the children alone, and this Christmas Eve she has to go out one last time. On no account are they allowed to speak to the O’Rileys next door.

But when it seems there might be a ghost in the wash house, they need to talk to someone. And Mrs O’Riley happens to be the someone they find.

The Christmas Eve Ghost

It’s an early version of how we often mistrust those who are not like us. In this case it’s chapel versus catholics, where today it might be other religions or skin colour.

I found myself getting quite nostalgic about a place and a time I never experienced. It’s the way Shirley remembers what Liverpool was like, over 70 years ago, which makes this book so much more than a mere children’s story. It’s a piece of history, and it taught me so much more than a history book would have done. And I’m very glad I don’t have to do my washing like that.

The Christmas Eve Ghost is a beautiful and low-key tale of Christmas past.


Carolling away…

The Christmassy sounding Mrs R, one of my fans, staggered across from the Isle of Man the other day, bearing gifts. She’d brought Christmas goodies for her sister, Mrs Pendolino, and announced that she needed to offload some on us as well.

Which I let her do, as I was feeling full of seasonal goodwill and all that.


Once safely delivered of these beautiful cupcakes, and without Mrs R falling on our ice rink style road, we settled down to a book chat. We did cover exams as well, and how to get rid of husbands. And a few other things.

I’ll be at home for the next few days. (Cough.) Hint, hint…

Guaranteed Norwegian

Nordic Noir on BBC4 on Monday was a lesson in many things, but pronunciation was not one of them. The Resident IT Consultant (who fell asleep towards the end) fondly imagined that the Danish Mariella Frostrup would cope well with the Nordic names. Not even the Norwegian-born Mariella could do anything but sound British, though at least she did so in that sexy voice people go potty over.

The programme didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, so was one of those I sometimes moan about, which assumes the customer is new to the topic, and there is no need to take it further. Quite fun to tick the number of people who took part who I’d met. Poor souls.

The wise participants, like actor Krister Henriksson (Wallander) and author Maj Sjöwall, were interviewed in Swedish. It must be tempting to say yes to requests to do an interview in English. When you can. But it’s worth remembering you ‘can’ less than you think. Krister and Maj came across as intelligent, rounded people because there was nothing to stop them from saying exactly what they wanted to say.

Val McDermid

Val McDermid, likewise, sounded good, Scottish accent and all. She knows her stuff when it comes to Nordic crime. And OK, Jo Nesbø speaks good English. But it’s not as good as his Norwegian, I’d guess. It was he who mentioned some form of music (Norwegian metal?) and CDs in Latin America labelled as being ‘Guaranteed Norwegian’.

Karin Fossum sounded somewhat less bloodthirsty in English, so it might have been a blessing she didn’t speak Norwegian after all. After hearing Karin in Bristol I remember having a good look at her books, and coming to the conclusion I wasn’t up to reading them.

They rather skirted past Arnaldur Indridason and Iceland. Some nice scenery. Though speaking of scenery, I wonder whether much of any of it was of what they talked about. Ystad is always Ystad, of course. Even when it’s Yshtad.

That wasn’t the only disappointment. I can see that a non-native speaker may choose to put the stress on the first syllable only. Or the second syllable. You’re allowed to get it wrong (though I have said before that most people would try to get a French name correct, and you can always ask around if you are presenting for the BBC). But how come the stress-on-the-first-syllable words invariably got stressed on the second and vice versa? Wallander and Sahlander rhyme. Stress-on-second-syllable names. Mankell is a stress-on-first-syllable name.

Henning Mankell

With Wallander the programme went a little tabloid over the suicide of an actress. Sad but irrelevant. And Stieg Larsson was fat. Really? Maybe Stieg lived off junk food and smoked himself to death, but I wouldn’t call him fat.

His friend John-Henri Holmberg would have come across much better in Swedish. He was obviously in a position to say a lot about his friend, but could have said more. I dare say he’s saving it for the book about Stieg he’s writing with a few others.

In fact, this whole programme confirmed why we often think foreigners are idiots. They are not. And it’s time British television interviewed more people in their own language. In this case we had a bunch of interviewees who make a good living off their mother tongues. I’d have liked more considered facts, spoken by people who were comfortable with what they were saying.

But other than that, I enjoyed my hour on Nordic Noir. It confirmed why I don’t read more of it, though.

Christmas card

Wishing all my lovely readers a very Happy Christmas!

2010 Christmas card

It’s meat cleaver time


And I’ve worried so much about this that I’ve barely been able to decide whether to do it and if so, how to do it.

But I do like lists, and in a way I’ve mentally ticked books throughout the year. But should it be ten best, or five best, or just a random number of bests?

Oh, come on witch!

My best book of the year has to be Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. It just has to.

It is closely followed by Linda Sargent’s Paper Wings and by Keren David’s When I Was Joe/Almost True. Keren having had two books out this year I can’t choose between them, so they share.

They in turn are barely ahead of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes and Ellen Renner’s City of Thieves.

I have a very complex list of candidates, with circles and highlighting and things going on. So I could go on. But I feel that too long a list dilutes the effect.

I think I’ll stop here. But believe me; there are many many wonderful books. It’s been a tremendously good year for reading. Please keep those books coming!

2010 books

City of Thieves

Someone very wisely said something about second novels often being so much better than the first, and it was only just the other day, too. City of Thieves is such a book. I liked Ellen Renner’s Castle of Shadows, but have to say that with the sequel she has come a long way with her writing. Castle of Shadows had a hint of Joan Aiken about it, whereas this could almost be mistaken for an Aiken.

Where the first book concentrated on Queen Charlie, before Queenhood struck, this is the story of her faithful friend Tobias. And contrary to what I expected there is little contact between the two of them. They end up doing their bit for the nation of Quale separately. Charlie in her castle, and Tobias out in the town, where he finds himself uncomfortably close to his thieving relatives, the Petches.

So not only does Tobias have to contend with his biological father, the disgraced former prime minister, but his equally unsavoury adopted uncle Zebediah Petch gets his hands on him and trains him in the skills of thiefhood. It’s quite fascinating, really. A good little earner, and a skilfully set up company. You have to admire old Zebediah.

Between the thieves and the crooked politician and the scheming royals you get a fair bit of excitement. What will Tobias do? What can he do? His pal Charlie may be Queen, but what can she do?

Neither Zebediah nor the ex-prime minister Alistair Windlass are nice people, but they are awfully interesting. The Petch family also has some real characters who no doubt will be given an opportunity to do more.

Because, unlike Castle of Shadows, this book is not finished. You could have left things – just about – after book one. Now you’ll be panting for more, and fast.

I like very much.

Bookwitch bites #36

My first paragraph on today’s bites has nothing to do with animals at all. It’s my editor (I do like the sound of that!) Mike French on The View From Here who has started up a blog. I can only assume Mike became jealous of the fun that can be had with a blog. And he seems to have got himself a publishing contract for his first novel, The Ascent of Isaac Steward. That might be it.

Armadillo Magazine’s Christmas edition is hot off the internet this week with a few good reviews and other bookish stuff.

Sara Paretsky has been interviewed by Bark Magazine about her dogs. Both she and V I love dogs, but it seems it wasn’t always thus. Great angle, and lovely for dog owners. It would suggest all hope for me is not yet lost, although I wouldn’t hope too much if I were you. Or me.

I had my first Christmas present this week when someone sent me an early draft of a few chapters of a YA novel they are sort of working on. Absolutely marvellous, and very funny. It’s got lots of goats in it. But not only is the story not finished yet, but with publishing being what it is, I’m afraid I’ll be the only reader.

As you may know I read very carelessly, sometimes. Especially when I’m out and about. I read signs and posters and see something that’s not there. My local betting shop (no, I do not bet) had a poster about AUK millionaire guaranteed. I’m so pleased. It’s time those poor birds did well. It could be the same place that advertised ‘smoking skills’. If required.

I must take more care when reading.