Monthly Archives: March 2011

They hear voices

That’s what they do. And then they write books.

There was talk of body fluids and worse. Ruta Sepetys, who’s just had her first book, about starving people in Siberia, published, described her style of writing as ‘projectile vomiting’ and later told of her editor advising her to ‘watch her gratuitous defecation’.

Although Morris Gleitzman said that if necessary ‘let there be defecation’.

Morris Gleitzman, Grace; Anna Perera, The Glass Collector; Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

The witch went to London yesterday for a panel discussion at Puffin HQ between Morris Gleitzman, Anna Perera and Ruta Sepetys, and kept in beautiful order by Claire Armitstead of the Guardian. I knew I liked her!

Before the panel Puffin invited some great book bloggers to a private meeting with the three authors, so there was the old witch in the company of five bloggers all of an age to be my Offspring. Luckily for them they are not.

And before that, I found myself standing in reception at Penguin, saying I was there to see Jayde Lynch. ‘And me’ whispered Anna Perera at my side. She and Ruta had got there before me and Morris arrived soon after, and they were all there because they’d been told they had to see me.

That’s what I like!

Morris Gleitzman

Anna and I agreed that Morris is much taller in real life than he looks in his photos. I had imagined someone short. Maybe I just thought Morris had to be the same size as his pal Eoin Colfer?

The Tardis Room

Jayde came for us and I was taken to the Tardis Room, which wasn’t as big inside as it might have been. But nice enough anyway. I decided on pot luck and they sent Anna in first for our ten minutes (who said I’m greedy?). Next came Morris, who could have talked for much longer than his ten minutes, followed by Ruta. As if by agreement none of them sat down in the same place as the others. I’d like to think of them waiting – NCIS style – to be interrogated and exchanging information on how horrible I’d been and what I wanted to know.

Anna Perera

Down to the 6th floor for the blogger gathering. I’ve only come across Jenny of Wondrous Reads previously, but had checked the others out before I came. She was there for Morris. Mostly, anyway. As luck would have it, he came and sat down next to her, so that was good.

The others were Sarah Gibson from Feeling Fictional and Carly Bennett of Writing from the Tub. Dwayne Halim – who is a girl – from Girls Without a Bookshelf, and last but not least Rhys of Thirst for Fiction. All very young, as I said. Lots of discussion with the authors, and a lack of agreement on e-readers.

I’m having second thoughts about Twitter now, as it seems Rhys was responsible for some successful tweeting on behalf of Ruta’s book. Morris can’t possibly tweet, as he is unable to write less than 30,000 words on anything.

The authors interviewed each other on writing technique, and Morris firmly believes in the ‘ late in and early out of scenes’ way of not dwelling too long on anything and becoming boring. And he plans meticulously. This is where Ruta’s projectile vomiting comes in.

Ruta Sepetys

People helped themselves to the books on the table, stuffing them into their choice of colour Puffin bags. I picked an orange one this time. And then on to the tenth floor, with ‘the best view in London.’ Ruta and I chatted on the way, and she was easily impressed by me actually having met Meg Rosoff. She’s got good taste.

Surprisingly I found Candy Gourlay during pre-panel drinks. Wrong publishing house, but she sneaked in to see Morris. They all love Morris. Hmm. The usual faces were there (along with their bodies, naturally). I took my life in my hands when stepping out onto the balcony thing in order to take photos of the Thames. I did it for you.

The Thames

Candy sat as close to Morris as possible, while I hid by the door in my usual fashion. And I apologise to my neighbour for my snacking. It was dinner time. Adele Minchin introduced everyone, and she made me think. She pointed out that children’s books are for children. I tend to forget they aren’t just for me.

Anna, Ruta and Morris introduced their books, and after some discussion about toilet topics, etc, it was question time. Nicholas Tucker in the audience kicked off with the comment that he felt there could be a need for counselling services after such hard punching topics. People disagreed for the most part, and maybe it is that we get softer with age. Children can be quite hard at times.

Minister Gove was mentioned, and we all felt that the three books we were there to talk about should be on his infamous list. Then we went one step better and decided the list should be much longer, if there is to be a list, which is silly in itself.

One hour can last a long time, but unfortunately last night the hour was the fast kind, so we found ourselves eating pizza slices and falafel before we knew where we were. The real fans queued up to have their books signed, with Candy getting in very early, thanks to her front row seat.


Keren calls

For a while I suspected Keren David of having walked off with the lid to my biscuit tin. But it was just the usual thing with me putting it somewhere unusual and then neither remembering nor seeing terribly well. Biscuits now have a roof over their little heads again. As she left, Keren pointed out that she hadn’t succumbed to even one biscuit.

You will have worked out by now that Keren called round yesterday. It was third time lucky for us, with her two earlier Manchester trips being far too full for anything extra on the side.

Keren David

Keren came to do an event at Reddish Vale College, because that’s where one of her most fervent fans is a student, and he had badgered his teacher to invite Keren. As you do. Teacher gave in. As you sometimes do. So Keren came and she talked and was most likely a success. (She couldn’t very well say so herself.)

Neighbourhood Witch

Braving Stockport taxis in the school run period, Keren came over to Bookwitch Towers. Bearing gifts. A signed proof of Lia which is due in August, and the perfect fridge magnet which I’m so proud to have sitting next to my red elk. Though Keren threatened to change so much of her book that I will probably have to read it twice. Shouldn’t be allowed. The changing.

En route for the Wirral, Keren decided she could stay longer than she had first thought, so we had all the time in the world to chat. Did an interview over the toasted teacakes, leaving my poor guest to pour her own tea. One day I will be a good hostess. Or maybe not.

The photographer arrived mid-tea and started shooting. We now have a surfeit of hands. Photographer says she likes hands. And once I’d switched off the recording, we got down to saying ‘honest’ things about books and whatever. Luckily I have forgotten every word of that already.

When Keren really, really had to leave, I walked her to the station. All two minutes of it. The distance is only matched by the lack of an open ticket office, which is exotic for a Londoner. We aim to please. Some of the time.

How noir can you get?

Luckily they began with Eoin Colfer’s story in the Dublin Noir collection. It was somewhat of a shock finding my kind and funny Eoin being all adult, and a little noir. But that’s what Dublin Noir is about. Dark crime. Irish crime. His story is a far cry from Artemis Fowl. On the other hand, the man’s an adult. He’s allowed.

That’s as far as I read when I first bought the book a few years ago. So I had to re-read Eoin’s story in order to get into the whole thing properly. And it’s quite humorous, in actual fact. Better if you don’t go into it expecting Artemis to lurk round the corner.

Ken Bruen came next, and I have not read any of his novels, but I have been told to do so. The man is god, apparently. I was a little taken aback by Ken’s story, but by the time I’d read some of the others I began to appreciate it properly.

Dublin Noir

Some of the Dublin Noir stories are pretty noir, and I’d like to think they have little to do with Dublin or the Irish, or I’d never ever contemplate visiting. I suppose you can ‘noir’ almost any place or topic. A lot of swearing. Of course. An awful lot of unpleasant deaths. Not that death is ever pleasant, but violent and sordid and uncalled for killings are not nice, let’s say.

Halfway through I almost wanted to rest and come back later, but I was lucky and got in some slightly less noir and gory reads. So yes, its not a bad book. Quietly good, really. But black.

With hindsight you realise it feels a little weird. Published in 2006 it expects Dublin to be prospering and on the way up, whereas now that the bubble has burst things are noirer than they were.

I have to admit to preferring the lighter stories. The ones with blood flowing in rivers all over the place are too OTT for me. But it’s a good way to read many of the names I’d previously only heard of. Still not sure Ken Bruen is god. Good, yes.


Morris Gleitzman is bound to be in danger of being sent to the hot place downstairs for writing Grace. I’m concerned for his safety. His lovely new (for the UK) book Grace deals with religious fanatics, and this is never a safe topic.

This is a book about fathers. Grace has a lovely father. Her mum also has a father, albeit not quite so wonderful. There is an outsider father (i.e. not-the-right-religion kind) and then there is the father from upstairs, who is made lovelier than ever by young Grace, who must surely be a little miracle in herself.

Small religious sects are on the agenda in the book Grace, except the girl Grace doesn’t know this, because she has only ever lived within her small and exclusive group. They are the only Christians (just over 11,000 of them) who will go to heaven. At least they are not beset by doubts. I’ll say that for them.

Grace’s 4-year-old brothers Mark and Luke often play at smiting each other. Their mum is the daughter of a church elder and the sister of another. Her husband tries his very best, but whereas that makes him a tremendously good dad, he’s a failure in the eyes of the church.

Grace is the loveliest of girls, and the fact that she often misunderstands things is made up for by the fact that she thinks some really sensible thoughts as well. And she has little chats with God. I expect God loves her very much, but he might not be the one that Grace’s grandfather knows.

‘And lo, before I could work out a way of solving our family’s tribulations, things came to pass that made the problem even worse.’

Jonah and Daniel both have parts in the plot, when Grace tries her best to make everything the same as it was, before bad stuff happened. She truly loves everyone, except maybe Mr Gosper, but even for him she thinks nicer thoughts than he deserves. As her eyes open she learns that not everyone is as good and as loving as she had supposed.

So it came to pass that Grace learns outsiders are not all bad. And you can survive eating ice cream without microwaving it first.


The Mitchell Library

Mitchell Library

It’s not the norm that I do a blog post simply about the venue of a literary event, but I’ll do that today. Keep meaning to do one about my own library, but seeing as I seem to travel to far-flung libraries before the one closer to home, I will stick to what I’ve seen on my travels.

Mitchell Library

Needless to say I’d never heard of the Mitchell until a few weeks ago. I started researching where on earth I could find an event on Sara Paretsky’s British tour that would suit me. Clicked on the Glasgow event and found that the venue had nothing on, which wasn’t quite the expected result. Went back to Hodder’s Kerry who sorted me out. Or the Mitchell, perhaps.

Sara Paretsky poster for Aye Write!

And had I realised Sara was there as part of the Aye Write! festival, I’d have sorted myself out sooner. Once I mentioned it to the Resident IT Consultant I was informed that it was the place in Scotland if you needed somewhere good. Not that the man’s ever been, you understand, but his Scottish upbringing taught him that much.

The Mitchell is nice, and I’m not used to uniformed doormen when entering a library. This one was very polite, even when I said something eloquent and well mannered like ‘Café? Where?’ and showed me the way.

Mitchell Library

I only needed the café because I was due to meet Julie Bertagna there. Far be it for me to run to a café first thing when I go somewhere… Beautiful corridor with marble in every possible place and maybe even in the impossible places. Chequered black and white floor. Classy.

Then on to the new building behind the old domed one, with masses of space and books and people. Down to the café, which is nice and big and next to a very big number of computers. Lots of users in both areas. Plenty of seating. Warm.

OK, so then the fire alarm went and out onto the street we all went. But these things happen. I did wonder what they would do about all those coffees going cold, but on re-entry it was new coffees for everyone. I almost felt like asking for one, too. As it happens, Julie bought me my tea. And a piece of cake.

Mitchell Library café

We debated where Sara’s event would take place. My money was on the large room near the doorman, and Julie thought it was the theatre by the café. Obviously I was right, but it goes to show how big the place is. You can have a debate like that.

And then as we sat in the large old room we wondered what it had been like in the olden days. As if by magic, Julie found the answer on another blog the following night, so I can show you.

Mitchell Library

All in all, very nice. I might try Aye Write! some other year, too. Or just come for tea.

(With thanks to Steve Feasey for finding the photos first.)

Bookwitch bites #48

I so want to go to the Oxford Literary Festival. And that does sound pathetic. I know. I found this really good selection of events that would suit me perfectly, on Sunday 3rd April. And do you know, the trains aren’t running that morning. This is Britain, after all. Thwarted by a train! Or lack thereof. When I started looking, the fare was even quite reasonable. But you don’t buy a ticket in order not to get somewhere. Candy Gourlay, Michelle Magorian and Meg Rosoff… How can I not want to go? Christ Church College frowned on people sitting on their quad wall last year. I suppose that sneaking in the night before and sleeping on the very same wall wouldn’t go down any better.


Some people are off to Bologna next week. That’s another place I’ve not tried. Not sure it’s suitable for the likes of me, but whenever people say they are getting ready to go I feel a pang. It honestly doesn’t hurt much at all. I’d rather do Oxford.

Henning Mankell

Antibes now, that’s something else. I’m not sure that’s where my guest blogger Declan went to interview Henning Mankell. It’s probably just the Guardian who sent their interviewer there for their Mankell interview. The current glut of Mankell interviews suggests a new book. It’s the end for poor Wallander, in some way or other.

And please note that we have our own Mankell photo from the same session as the Guardian’s. I’ve learned to recognise that green backdrop now.

After this week’s travelling I have an excellent quote from Julie Bertagna. It really should go on the cover of my book, but I haven’t written one yet and it seems like a long wait expecting that to happen. Julie was reading Bookwitch, as any self-respecting author ought to, and found she couldn’t ‘get off the site’. She suspects an entrapment spell.

No comment.

Where Angels don’t fear the bread

I keep thinking of Angel Slices. Sorry about that.

And now that the time has come to prune ‘a little’ around my reading chair – again – I’m thinking even more about those Mr Kipling pink and sugary monstrosities. I still have a small corner where I can put my mug of tea down, so in theory I could have something sweet with it.

But I’m not here to talk about eating. Or not much. Actually I am, but only in connection with books. There are a few ‘Angel Slices’ in the jiffy bags bringing books in. There are also homemade scones, cheap and nasty biscuits, some M&S bakery type items and occasionally something so exquisite it could have been baked by Regnbågen or Börjes in my holiday neck of the woods.

In case anyone wonders why their review copies don’t come squashed in with teatime treats, I have to tell you I am only comparing the quality of reading material with how good these cakes taste.

Angel Slices

When I discovered Angel Slices (the culinary kind) a couple of years ago, I was very very surprised. I wouldn’t have dreamed of buying a packet. Ever. Pink. Icing. Multicoloured sponge. Garish. Clearly a sugar treat for small children. Not for people like me, who have eaten at Regnbågen. Someone who likes the best kind of homemade scones dripping with butter, rather than their dry cousins wrapped in cellophane, masquerading as the real deal.

But when I desperately needed something sweet one day, I remembered that Son and the Resident IT Consultant had, for some very obscure reason, bought Angel Slices. I ate one. Probably ate another one after that. They were lovely! Who’d have thought?

So it might be pink and look cheap, but don’t (always) judge the cake by its looks. Mostly it works but, as I have just ‘proved’, not always. It’s the same with books. There are a number of Angel Slice-looking books crossing my threshold. Some read like Party Rings taste, or worse. Others are even more wonderful than Angel Slices.

This train of thought made me consider other types of books. Obviously homemade rye bread books, preferably sourdough, are ‘fantastic’ and will always be suggested by book snobs. The Regnbågen style novel is rare, but wonderful when you find it. The homemade scone book also comes highly recommended. The thing about these books is that you can easily tell what category they belong in.

There are lots of books you know you’ll enjoy, because they are the Mars bars of literature. Not good for you, but providing your teeth survive, they give pleasure for the moment. You might not want to mention publicly that you’ve read them, or how many, or quite how frequently.

Whereas with mainstream M&S baking you know it’s perfectly OK to bring it up in polite conversation. It’s good, but six months later you won’t necessarily remember the details.

I’m about to rearrange my overflowing cake plate. It’s tiered by now. Some will become duck food and some I can put in the freezer. Not literally, on account of future plum jam and that other abomination, white sliced bread.

Where am I going with this? Not sure. I’ll put the kettle on and think some more. Unless it was the thinking that baked me into this corner in the first place.


To be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed. You’d like to think that the first time will be special, but it wasn’t. Friends, I have just read my first Judy Blume. Forever, because that’s what the then Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen told me to read. At least, I think he did. I asked where I should start and he said ‘definitely with Ralph. Buy a second-hand copy of Forever and the book will fall open at the Ralph page’. I did. And it didn’t. And it won’t after I’m done with the book, either.

I don’t exactly hang out with Michael, but he joined in when I blogged about sex in ‘children’s books’ on the Guardian books blog some years ago. He commented that ‘the first time I read Forever — I couldn’t figure out why there was a little bloke in the room called Ralph, who the couple (boy and a girl) seemed quite excited about. I was 46.’

So at the back of my mind I’ve had this idea to read Judy Blume ever since, as I was so remiss as to totally miss her in my younger days. And I expected more. Not sure more of what, but a bit more.

Forever is my March contribution to the Bookwitch Foreign Reading Challenge, on two counts. First, it is American, and that is foreign. Second, it’s so old (1975) that it counts as foreign ground in that respect, too. Not old enough to be an old classic. But definitely nothing like the books we get now.

It’s so very American. So very middle class, with such bland main characters and such very nice and educated parents. An understanding grandmother, even. No lack of money. No worries about looks or school results. There is just this preoccupation of whether or not to ‘do it’ when Katherine meets Michael. It’s love at first sight, and the love will last forever.

My copy did not fall open at ‘that’ page, so can’t have been appreciated enough. Not like Lady Chatterley, although Ralph does have a distant relative in the D H Lawrence novel.

Bland. Even the attempt to spice things up with (someone else’s) teen pregnancy and a failed suicide somehow fails to deliver. But at the time when Forever was published I’m sure the advice on how not to get pregnant was worthwhile. At least if you were American and middle class.

Boring. The grandmother was OK, and the failed suicide was about the most interesting young character, closely followed by the pregnant teenager.

Today’s teenagers would do better to read Cathy Hopkins, on whether or not to have sex, and they’d get more on friendship, too. Not to mention humour and some action a reader might actually enjoy.

My first time might be my last. But it’s over and done with.

The Ann(e)s have it

When I first came up with the possibly brilliant idea of inviting guest bloggers on here, I knew there had to be some logic to the whole thing. Obviously, people have to be intelligent and witty. But there also had to be a reason they had been invited, other than that I wanted to skive off for the day, getting lazy in my old age.

Declan Burke

My guests need to belong, somehow. I clearly had to start with the blog-mother herself, Meg Rosoff, which I did last month. As my second guest I just had to have Declan Burke, who was the first person ever to link to Bookwitch. A complete stranger, but such a very serendipitous find, when it comes to cyberspace friendship and daily giggles when visiting Crime Always Pays. I like to think that it was Siobhan Dowd who introduced us.

So, I just had to have Declan. But I knew March wasn’t the best of months for him, with far too many birthdays to bake cakes for and dolls to wrap up. But the lovely man has delivered his guest post, and what an appropriate post it is:

“The first time I went to Sweden, for a friend’s wedding, I was caught unawares by the practice of taking one’s shoes off when you enter someone’s house. This is largely because, culturally speaking, I’m something of a plank; it never occurred to me that the Swedes, like the Irish, might not be blissfully ignorant of the consequences of tracking the filth and grime of the outside world across their beautiful hardwood floors. I panicked, of course, not being able to remember in the moment if the socks I’d put on that morning had holes in them (I wasn’t married then). Would anyone notice? How could they not? Would I have to go barefoot and ask for the vegetarian option, and hope they thought I was a hippy?

Happily, as a surreptitious examination revealed, the socks had no holes, and the awful prospect of the vegetarian option receded, as nightmares eventually do.

But here’s the thing. When someone invites you into their home – or onto their blog, as Ms Witch in her infinite generosity has done – there’s always some variation on the holey socks issue to worry about. How best to be a good guest? The Book Witch concentrates on young adult fiction; I’m a crime writer, who runs a blog that features (a) Irish crime writing and (b) shameless self-promotion, and not always in that order.

So Ms Witch’s invitation threw me into a tizzy. Should I write about contemporary young adult fiction, about which I know even less than domestic Swedish customs? Should I try to find a young adult crime novel, and write about that? Should I just panic, and rush outside into the metaphorical snow in my holey socks?

Of course, very few crime fiction readers started out reading crime fiction. We’re all, with cultural variations, weaned on nursery rhymes and fairy tales and work our way up through the intoxicating tales of ‘Peter and Jane Have a Picnic’ equivalents, eventually graduating to the ‘classics’, in my case Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, and the heavily abridged versions of Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer, etc. I developed a passion for Richmal Compton’s ‘Just William’ stories, and the boarding school japes of Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings and his sidekick Darbyshire. Actually, boarding schools were a staple of my early reading – Malory Towers and St. Clare’s also featured heavily, although it’s probably not politically correct for a grown man to say such things these days.

When you’re a child, though, reading is much more of an adventure than as an adult. You read without prejudice or preference, without fear; you’ll read anything you can understand. It matters not a whit as to how well (or otherwise) a book is written; all you care about is the story, and finding out what happens next.

Anyway, at some point in my reading development – I can’t remember my exact age, but I probably wasn’t much older than the hero – I read Anne Holm’s I Am David (aka North to Freedom). It was, I suppose, my first ‘serious’ book. I didn’t know at the time that the camp David escapes from at the beginning of the story is a concentration camp; the cultural signifier of his name being David, and of his escaping from such a camp, was lost on me; it would be some years yet, happily enough, before I learned the word ‘holocaust’.

It didn’t matter. Anne Holm couldn’t have changed my life more profoundly had she dropped a depth charge down my throat.

For one, the idea that someone my own age could find himself in such desperate danger was completely alien to me. Despite all the bad-tempered smugglers the Famous Five encountered, Enid Blyton’s pages never crackled with the same tension. The abridged version of Treasure Island doesn’t exactly amplify the dread and terror Long John Silver inspires in Jim Hawkins.

Here was David, my own age, who was in grievous danger of being killed – killed! – if he made one wrong move, and simply for being who and what he was. The notion was virtually incomprehensible, and all the more terrifying for existing in the shadowy borders of what I understood the world to be.

There was something else that was new too. Holm’s oblique way of telling the story, which is seen through David’s eyes, and thus filtered through his limited understanding of the new cultures he experienced, was a revelation. It also hugely enhanced the tension; at any moment, you felt, a heavy hand might land on David’s shoulder.

On top of all that, there was the mind-boggling nature of David’s epic journey, from Bulgaria to Greece, onwards to Italy and Switzerland. At that point in my life I’d yet to ride on a train, yet here was this chap, more or less my own age, traversing the continent, jumping aboard ship as a stowaway, hiking over the snowy Alps. Resourceful wasn’t the word for it.

Purists might sneer at the callow David’s very resourcefulness; they can point to some blatant deus ex machina moments, particularly when David spots a picture of his mother during his sojourn in Switzerland, and learns that his host knows his mother.

I’ll give you one guess as to how much I knew about deus ex machina at that age, and how much I cared. All I cared about was that David – my David, by then – would reach safety and find his mother.

I can’t say that I Am David was the point at which something deep in my subconscious switched on, the ultimate consequence of which was that I eventually wrote and published a novel of my own. These things are mercurial, nebulous; a combination of nature and nurture, of a house well-stocked with books, of the right teacher at the right time, of a fragile ego that requires, perversely enough, the approval of strangers.

I can’t even say that the epic quest of I Am David is the kind of bedrock tale on which I build my own stories these days. All I know is that when I think back to my earliest reading, I Am David stands out above everything else like one of those Alpine peaks where David almost freezes to death, the moment when I realised that books weren’t just stories that played out like movies inside your head, but had the power to churn your stomach and scar your heart too.

I Am David, by Anne Holm. Had she called it We Are David she might have been even closer to the truth.


Declan Burke is the author of Eightball Boogie, The Big O and Crime Always Pays. He is the editor of the forthcoming collection Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century (Liberties Press). He is currently wearing socks with no holes (other than the ones built into the basic sock design).”

Beats Watership Down any day, doesn’t it? (That’s what Declan first said he might blog about. I’ve never known him to say one thing and then actually do exactly that. Tangents. Nice things. Going off on, and so forth.) Wonder if he even knows this is a Danish book? Halfway to being Swedish and all that.

And an early Happy Birthday to Princess Lily for Saturday. May there be unlimited dolls and new shoes for you!

Sara Paretsky in Glasgow

Willow Tea Rooms

I looked forward(s) and left and Hope Streeted it up to Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, just as per my email instructions from Julie Bertagna. Before getting even that far, I had crawled out of bed at an insufferably early hour, muttering to myself ‘why do I get these stupid ideas?’ and I had enjoyed an upside-down film on the train, where well-groomed American actresses drank coffee from upside-down cups and I was most impressed with the little dog running up (or down?) some stairs without falling off.

Mitchell Library

Sorry, getting sidetracked there. Anyway, I had decided that the best place to catch up with Sara Paretsky this time would be to hotfoot it north to the home of the Ned (non-educated delinquent). That’s why Julie very kindly offered to meet up, so she could protect me (she’s smaller than I am…), and generally believing that I’m useless at navigating (I’ll have you know the broom comes with satnav), she sent me careful instructions on how to get to the Mitchell Library, and it’s doomed roof. Sorry, domed.


This is where the Resident IT Consultant started talking about the motorway and how I just had to know it was there. Can’t miss it. Well, I have always thought of it as ‘a big road’. It still is. And it is a motorway but not up in the air. Here is the proof. It’s down below. So is the rather sizeable hole in the pavement. The Mitchell is nice, though.

Mitchell Library

I had several minutes in this lovely building before the fire alarm went off. (Maybe it wasn’t that Norwegian’s fault back in October? Maybe it’s me?) All out. So rather than meet in its café, Julie and I rendez-voused outside in the street, followed by super-fast tea once we were back in, before sitting down to hear Sara Paretsky and Denise Mina talk about Sara’s new book, Body Work. Sara looked wonderful, and as Julie pointed out, Sara ‘can do the scarf thing’.

Sara Paretsky and Denise Mina at the Mitchell Library

They sat in those kind of armchairs that look as if their hind legs have been sawn off. Very fashionable. Sara thought Denise’s introduction was so nice it made her speechless, but said she wouldn’t be ‘speechless for long’. And then she read from her book, a very good excerpt, where the bad guy slips on V I’s vomit. As you do.

Sara Paretsky reading from Body Work

Denise moderated as beautifully as ever and she asked just the right questions. We now know just how well Sara is acquainted with President Obama (there’s nothing like using the same supermarket for food shopping). And I believe my prayers have been answered, because from now on Sara’s characters will not age. They are old enough, and they need to be allowed to get on with what they do best.

V I is Sara in as much that she is Sara’s voice, but takes risks where Sara is too shy. On a recent visit to her old family home in Kansas Sara came face to face with the fact that her old cellar harboured not just the spiders she always avoided, but it’s also home to snakes. Currently the tally is 42 snakes.

Sara Paretsky

I’m glad the first question from the audience dealt with V I’s clothes. There’s nothing like getting your priorities right. Sara is about to insert her grandfather and his sewing skills into her next novel, so we’re looking forward to that. I think we also expected Sara to be suitably peaceful in her outlook on life, but she’s ‘always wanting to deck people’.

Sara has tried writing about new people and places, but finds she can’t leave V I and friends, and she can only write when she cares about something. She won’t ‘write by numbers’, because in that case she might as well go back to selling computers to insurance agents. Sara likes her characters because of their flaws, not despite those flaws. There is a difference.

Her New Year’s resolution was to stop trying to be perfect, because ‘it really does slow you down.’ One of her displacement activities before sitting down to write is making the perfect cappuccino, which involves throwing out all the not so good ones. At least this means the poor coffee farmer will earn more money. And chocolate solves any other problem.

Sara Paretsky and Denise Mina at the Mitchell Library

There’s a question on the ever longer acknowledgements in the books, and I have to say here that I feel I need a mention next time. It’s only the first-time writer who gets away with just ‘thanking their mother for having given birth to them’.

A guide dog in the audience caused Sara to feel homesick, because she misses her own dog so much. This is something she always mentions. It’s a shame Callie can’t come on tours.

Sara Paretsky

When the hour with Sara and Denise was up, Denise sprinted away in her Glasgow goth pixie outfit, in a hurry to get to the next point of call for the day, while Sara sat down to sign books in the magnificent corridor. And that’s where I found Hodder’s Jack, Sara’s minder ‘up north’.

Hodder's Jack

Prior to the day I’d been having problems telling my Hodder men apart, but now I can truthfully say I’ve never met Jack before. For such a non-stop talker he was surprisingly shy about photographs. Hence the hiding in the window with the light behind him. Between you and me, I think he liked Julie. And they discussed where she should take me to feed afterwards. Though he did say I was welcome to tag along to Peebles with Sara and him. That’s after Sara got her allotted nine minutes of Glasgow museums. Mean man.

Or was it a joke?

Jack and Sara went off, and Julie accompanied the only partially hobbling witch to an Italian restaurant within spitting distance of my train. Very handy. Would that count as lunch, between three and six? I’m not sure. It was good. Very Italian. Marble-y. Wood panelling. Gorgonzola. Unlike the place that has Italian lessons in the toilets, this one just caused someone to get lost. And it wasn’t me. Just saying.

I wasn’t even allowed to catch my train by myself. Do I look incompetent, or something?

If you’re wondering why after all those other photos, there is not a single one of Julie, don’t blame me.  I’ll get her. One day.

If Julie’s next book is delayed, it’s nothing to do with me. Julie offered to waste her day on me. And all that publishing gossip we covered? You won’t find it mentioned here. I think the Gorgonzola sealed my lips, somehow.