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.