Monthly Archives: January 2011

Finally, there is a dog

Meg Rosoff is pleased. Her 2011 book There Is No Dog has not only got a cover, but one that Meg actively likes. So do I, and many others commenting over on her blog seem to, as well.

Not because, I hasten to add, I’ve disliked any of the others covers. But this puts a smile on my face. It’ll be the sheer doggy-ness of it.

Meg Rosoff - There Is No Dog

Orion he is not, that dog in the sky. He makes me think of someone. Could it be

Lurcher with broken pottery

this one? (I have to apologise, because I’ve omitted to note if this is Blue or Juno. Sorry, Dog!)

Anyway, who can resist the night sky? And who wouldn’t love to see a doggy shape, like the one above, above (as it were).

I’m hazy about the exact publication date, but Meg says on her website that it’s in the Spring. And she has an extract for you to read! How I have waited for this book! And how I have wanted it to be called that. There was a time when the title was under threat. How can you not love There Is No Dog?

As usual I can’t wait. As usual I may have to.

Authors in the kitchen

The 2011 author calendar has landed. I know. It’s late. I put my order in late. The calendar maker was busy. After which the calendar maker made, and I was too busy to proofread. There were two 27th of Februarys. No 28th. That’s been fixed.

Then there was the printing of. Ran out of time. Then ran out of legs. Eventually stashed laptop in bag on back and dragged myself upstairs towards printer. And printed. And guillotined. Even worked out a way for authors not to have their heads stapled.

No, I mean hole punched. It always used to look so uncomfortable with the little hole at the top of their heads. And heads are useful things for authors to have.

2011 calendar

This year’s crop is exclusively from the Edinburgh festival, so if you weren’t there you’re not in. If you’ve been in before, you are less likely to be in this time. And in the end it was down to best photos, and then the calendar maker was allowed final say.

At the moment I have Lucy Christopher smiling away. She will be followed by Marcus Sedgwick, after whom come Francesca Simon, Stuart Neville, Eleanor Updale, Sally Gardner, Keith Gray, Debi Gliori, Philip Ardagh, Jacqueline Wilson, Theresa Breslin, Michelle Lovric and Sophia Jansson.

Yes. That is 13 names. Two share. And Ardagh has been before, but since my pet name for him is Calendar Boy, I suppose it’s OK. Fully dressed. Always.

And all the heads intact.

It’s not easy having a kitchen wall 13 cm wide. In fact, that is anything but wide. 13 cm narrow, is what it is.

Young Daisy’s book

If we follow the path from yesterday, then this book would be dreadfully boring. Luckily someone saw fit to publish nine-year-old Daisy Ashford’s book without correcting it. Hence the title The Young Visiters.

It’s not new. It was first published in 1919, so most of you have presumably read it. I read it a long time ago, after coming across something about it in the paper. My edition has illustrations by the lovely Posy Simmonds, so is especially nice.

To follow my train of thought, The Young Visiters must be exactly as its author wanted it to be. The spelling is all over the place. Sentence structure is grand, but not necessarily correct. Daisy has used fancy words, occasionally correctly. And her grasp of life is that of a child.

You could quote the whole book if you want funny quotes, but I’m quite happy with ‘he sat down and eat the egg which Ethel had so kindly laid for him’. Ethel is not a chicken. She is, however, ‘very pale owing to the drains in this house’, which is a shame. But she has ‘red ruuge’ to put on her pale face. So that’s all right.

They have ‘plesant compartments’ in London. And ‘Procurio passed out and Mr Salteena finnished his kidneys’. The mind boggles. Especially as the happy couple return from their six-week honeymoon with a ‘son and hair a nice fat baby’, and pretty soon they had ‘six more children four boys and three girls and some of them were twins.’


Or they could have edited it just to be safe.

Will they even be published?

So the Nielsen list tells us which of all published books sold the most. And those books not on the list – which will be nearly all books – have generally also been published. So even if their authors aren’t quite as wealthy as people fondly expect, and even if they have two other day jobs and live off pasta and potatoes, they have a theoretical chance of making the top one hundred list. One day.

Then there are the books that are books just as much as their commercially processed cousins. Contrary to popular belief, these books don’t have to be bad or unworthy of publication. Considering how much editing is done to a book once it gets to a publishing house, it’s amazing how good a read some authors can produce on their own.

I have read a number of books like these. There’s everything from ‘properly published but paid for’, to Word documents that arrive by email.

When I was mulling over a recent read and telling myself – and the author – how much I liked it and how it didn’t seem to suffer at all from the lack of input from an editor, I was struck by a completely new (to me) thought.

Maybe it’s because there was no outside ‘meddling’? The author’s story came to me exactly as s/he intended it. No removal of a subplot here, or ditching of a character there.

Once I’d had this thought I kept thinking of other similar books, and came to the conclusion that the very best of DIY authors might end up with a better ‘product’ this way. The downside is that it will not sell well, simply because it’s not published the traditional way.

There will be no agent who wants to change something before the manuscript even gets to the editor. No editor who insists on a change so that the publicity and sales people will be happy. And let’s not forget the Waterstone’s buyer’s personal likes and dislikes. There are many dangers to a manuscript on the way to its end reader.

In many (most, probably) cases all that meddling is good and necessary. But I happen to believe that much of what I’ve seen and loved could well have benefitted from its lonely homebirth.

A recent case makes me want to shout ‘don’t let the agent persuade you to drop that stuff at the beginning!’, because I happen to think it makes the story both better and more sensible. And maybe s/he thinks so too, but the lure of a contract and actually making money from the book can’t be ignored.

The question I’m mulling over now is how far people should agree to drastic editing?

In the above case I don’t think the proposed changes will make the customer in the bookshop any more or less likely to buy. But by leaving something out, that customer might not get the 100% reading experience, the way the ‘baby’ was intended.

Those which sold

‘But do they sell?’ asked the Retired Children’s Librarian in a puzzled sort of way while we chatted on the phone recently. I had thought she’d be interested to hear about Annika Bryn’s contribution to the proposed book about Stieg Larsson. She’s always had an interest in crime, and her heart ought to swell with pride over the Swedish trilogy doing so well across the world.

At first I got confused, thinking she wondered about the sales-worthyness of books about famous people. The penny dropped when I realised she didn’t feel that Stieg’s achievement had been all that great. I assured her he had done quite well in sales. ‘Have you read them?’ was her next question, clearly having forgotten we’d been over this ground before.

This conversation took place when I was virtually sitting there holding the fresh 2010 Nielsen sales figures in my hand, where Stieg’s book was number one. And number two. And number three. But you can only manage that much convincing on the phone so I gave up.

I don’t begrudge anyone on that list their success. (Oh, all right, one or two of them.) I just wish you could find more quality on there. Or is that of necessity an oxymoron?

After the successful crime writer, I only checked the list for children’s books. Stephenie Meyer, naturally. Then The Gruffalo, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I Shall Wear Midnight (yay!), Gruffalo’s Child, more Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson (film tie-in), Thomas the Tank Engine, Magic Ballerina, more Wimpy Kid, and the Beano Annual.

No doubt I’ve missed one  or two.

Surprised to find no Jacqueline Wilson or Francesca Simon.

It’ll be a while before the above books become motorways around the country. I was interested to see Hilary’s (McKay) comment yesterday that she doesn’t mind her own books being turned into roads. Maybe it’s good that we don’t all lose our heads and take in more strays?

Let’s steal them back

Reading in the paper about the library under threat that was emptied by its users cheered me up considerably. It’s a similar approach to the one taken by Andromeda Klein in the book by the same name, by Frank Portman, when she hopes to rescue all her favourite – albeit rather weird – books from being thrown out from the library for not being borrowed enough.

This is civil disobedience at its best. You don’t have to march or shout, and the police are not likely to attack you as you leave the library with your legal allowance of books. You’re just borrowing them. Keeping them safe.

It’s probably the same feeling I had when I spent so many 10 pences on deleted books from Offspring’s school library. I wanted to prevent them being binned, at least as much as I welcomed some cheap reads for myself. I know you have to prune belongings. You can’t keep getting new books in and find space for them if you don’t prune. But, this school library shifted books out in double quick time, when it would have been better use of resources not to buy some of them in the first place, or to have ‘got rid of’ them in a more suitable way than chucking them into a container in the school car park.

So I saved what I could. An encyclopaedia that Son carried home one volume at a time because it was so heavy, we kept while it was useful for school needs, and then managed to pass onto someone on Freecycle. I had thought it’d be far too difficult in this age of Wikipedia, so it felt doubly good that it had somewhere other than the tip to go to.

We weren’t so lucky with the government’s Millennium gift of a set of classics for every school library. They departed with no further ado before anyone much had even had long enough to ignore them. That was a well intentioned gift, but possibly not a marvellous one. Schools don’t do enough on classics to make anyone want to borrow them, and neither teachers nor parents are likely to enthuse a 14-year-old into Dickens, or ‘worse’.

Someone blogged recently about pulping books. She had run a small publishing company which had been bought out by someone bigger. But what to do with stock? It appears you can’t even give it away. My heart hurt reading this, but that’s probably nothing compared to what she must have felt.

And an author was asking on facebook recently what to do with all her foreign editions. You can give books away, but it costs money. And in many authors’ homes that’s not something they have spare. Put wonderful books in the recycling bin? Or landfill if the local authority hasn’t seen the light yet.

It’s irrational, but I want to save the lot. And you all know I don’t have the room to do that. But I could most likely manage ten library books if they needed a temporary refuge.

Bookwitch bites #39

Who’d have thought there could be so many book awards? I can’t begin to keep track of them, but happened to notice Leeds this week. Partly because it has a shortlist that reads like Who’s Who in children’s literature. Well, it should, really. I’m grateful I’m not a young reader in Leeds. It’ll be nice for them to read their way through these books, but voting is going to be hard. To mention just one author per category we have ‘them all’ from Elen Caldecott to Chris Priestley to LA Weatherly. I had a brief look at last year’s award ceremony and it looks nice and properly posh. On the 24th May this year.


Roundabout that time, or slightly later, we should finally come face-to-face with Aurora, Julie Bertagna’s final book in her trilogy. We have waited and waited, but I gather it’s not Julie’s ‘fault’. A pregnancy epidemic broke out among editors, and what can you do? Babies are sweet. I’ll wait, albeit not patiently. I believe they are revamping all three books with new covers to match the one on the right.

Bad things have happened to my blog diary. Someone is not keeping it up-to-date. Could be the same someone who took a tumble outside her back door on Thursday and bumped a little bit of everything on whatever it was. And that bad old knee will never be the same again. I just know it.

Sara Paretsky

Time is a funny thing. That tale of Julie’s trilogy suggests it moves like treacle, but when I saw an ‘ad’ on Sara Paretsky’s blog for the drama she takes part in every year, I thought ‘we surely can’t be there again already?’, so it seems I am as irrational as most of you think.

Post-bump the irritable old thing (me, not Sara) sat down with some comfort reading. It didn’t take more than a few pages of Sara’s Tunnel Vision before VI Warshawski also took a tumble down some stairs.

On having two hearts

‘Are you home?’ asks Pippi chirpily when I phone her. It’s such a hard question to answer properly. I mean, I normally am home. Just not necessarily the home she had in mind. She means Sweden when she asks that, but strictly speaking I’m ‘home’ in both places. ‘Home is where the heart is’, but then I have two hearts.

UK passport

‘Go back to where you came from’ said the neighbourhood children to Son during one particularly uncharming period of his playing-out-in-the-street time. I couldn’t very well have my small boy walk all the way to the hospital on his own, even if it’s only a couple of kilometres away. Besides, what would he do once he got there? ‘Hello, will you have me back, please?’ The other children also meant Sweden when they said that.

I’m not black (well, at the moment I feel black and blue, but that’s more aches than visible bruises), so people can’t look at me and wonder ‘where I really come from’. But it seems that for anyone with a skin colour slightly darker than white you will be asked that every now and then.

I come from a country with a surprising number of Koreans, in looks and genetic background, if not terribly Korean. They have been adopted (and I’m not suggesting that adopted people don’t have a hankering for the country of their birth) and many speak only Swedish, plus whatever languages were taught at school.

So it’s with them in mind that I know it’s a good idea to avoid asking ‘where are you really from?’ Take Bali Rai. He comes from Leicester. I think. Whether he was born in the UK or not I haven’t the faintest. To me he seems British, which is what comes of growing up somewhere.

And I know for a fact that Candy Gourlay was born, grew up and was educated in the Philippines. Now she lives a sort of British life, just like I do. She can take her family to visit the Philippines, but they will never ‘come from’ there.

Someone asked me in the street if I was local. I didn’t know what they were asking. Did they perhaps want my whole history? Turned out they wanted to know if I was worth asking directions to where they wanted to go. Would have been faster to ask did I know the way to X.

Son came home from university for Christmas. Two days later he went home for a long weekend (i.e. shopping expedition to Sweden), and in early January he went home again. This time to his university abode. So many homes.

Swedish passport

But what really set me thinking about this now, was his email the other day, saying that his tutorial that morning had been OK, actually. Except the tutor had called him an immigrant. And I need to know ‘immigrant where?’, because to my mind he isn’t, in either place. Whereas the tutor certainly is, at the present moment, but seems oblivious to this dreadful state of affairs.

So, is he home? Or home? Whatever. He has not immigrated/emigrated to or from any place. I did that.

Oh, just had a thought. Was the tutor calling him a Sassenach? Would the tutor even know about them?

MCBF 2012 has launched

Prof. John Brooks with unknown and Carol Ann Duffy

Although it will be eighteen months until it arrives. Some of us gathered at MMU last night to watch the Poet Laureate pull a curtain cord to unveil the very beautiful banner for next year’s children’s book festival in Manchester. I’m not one for banners generally, but I do like this one by Dai Owen.

The photo shows Carol Ann Duffy (for it was she) discussing the merits of different ways of pulling curtain cord with the MMU Vice-Chancellor Professor John Brooks.

There was wine and tea and mingling, and when I tired of that I went to the side and sat down in one of the exceedingly deep, blue armchairs next to the blue (post-your-coursework-here) bins, only to find everyone following me there. It seemed the speeches and curtain-cord-pulling was over that way. It explains why there were these enormous green curtains on the green wall, a problem which had occupied my thoughts a little.

James Draper, Prof. John Brooks and Kaye Tew

Professor Brooks came straight from a meeting with the government, which he hopes won’t be here for much longer. He’s tired of all the money disappearing off, including funding for the Mcbf. (To the small child who wondered why all the adults applauded: One day you will understand.)

Like the banner, the 2012 Mcbf will be bigger, bolder and better. Yes! The banner will be a fixture in the Geoffrey Manton building, as will the festival at MMU. After John Brooks’s speech the assembled women, men and children (but mostly women) repaired to lecture theatre three where James Draper and Kaye Tew of MMU/Mcbf told us what they hope to do. It’s going to be good, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival had better look out. The 2010 festival was ‘just’ a small pilot event. (But lovely, as warm-ups go.)

They will cooperate with the Manchester Literature Festival and the Manchester International Festival. There will be a reading relay in connection with the Olympics, the Manchester Art Gallery have an Oliver Jeffers art exhibition planned and the War Museum will be doing wartime children’s books.

As for me I can barely wait for the Flash Mob event outside the Town Hall…

Manchester Children's Books Festival Banner

After the plans and serious stuff, Carol Ann and her best friend John Sampson did their combined poetry and music show. John played more instruments than you can shake a stick at, pretended to be Mozart, incited the audience to shouting, and played the cornetto (or similar…).

Carol Ann read The Princess’s Blankets, interspersed with some of her other poems. I’m not a poem sort of witch, but there is something about having a poet reading her poems aloud. And then she went and stopped, telling us to buy the book if we want to know how it ends.

She must have been taking lessons from Frank McCourt.

Now I’ll never know if the poor Princess will stay cold forever, or if she will find true love, or anything.

Poet Laureates! Pah!

; )

The Long Weekend

‘This gripping and hypnotic thriller will have you reading late into the night…’

They can say that again. Phew. And Savita Kalhan herself sent me a note saying ‘be brave’. I’m now known as a big scaredy-witch.

Well, it’s half past midnight right now. I had to finish the blasted book, didn’t I? And what a book! An incredibly smooth and fast read, however terrifying it might have been. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Or possibly a child’s worst nightmare.

I bet Savita was standing outside a school at some point, witnessing children pile into cars every afternoon, and then toying with the idea of ‘what if they got into the wrong car?’. And of course you might well, if you have a new friend and neither of you know what the other’s parent looks like. And 11-year-olds are prone to obedience towards adults, even if not in the classroom, so if someone urges you to jump in the car and be quick, you might just jump.

Don’t. That’s all I can say. Sam and Lloyd in The Long Weekend jumped, and had a nightmare weekend. It takes them a while to work out that they shouldn’t have got into a car with a stranger. (But then we do that to our children, don’t we? We let them go home with a child to a house with an adult we don’t necessarily know.)

Savita isn’t terribly explicit about what happens to one of them in the house the stranger takes them to. Not sure which is worst; knowing what went on or not knowing. One of them has to take charge and try to get them out of this dangerous situation. But what can he do?

It’s certainly not Alex Rider stuff, and so much better for it. These are ordinary boys. In real life they would have died. This being fiction you have to trust that the author won’t kill them off. But can they ever feel normal again? It’s not as if you can experience something and then go back to square one.

You don’t forget.