Monthly Archives: May 2011

Wildfire at Midnight

I can only assume I put the memory of Wildfire at Midnight away for safe keeping at the point where I took up holidaying in walking centres, especially those in Scotland. Now they are just a memory, too, so I’d feel almost ready to go back to that hotel on Skye where Gianetta went to avoid the Coronation in 1953. With a bit of luck I’d come across her handsome ex-husband, and with even more luck he would be neither ancient nor dead.

Mary Stewart, Wildfire at Midnight

More luck still and I’d look like the lovely Gianetta, who’s a fashion model. But then there are the murders that start to occur all over the majestic landscape. Blaven is bleak but beautiful, and more and more bodies end up there. Could it be the ex? Or any of the other men? And why?

When I let the Resident IT Consultant read Wildfire at Midnight, because it is set in the Scottish hills, he was disappointed there was so much romance. Walks and murders would have been enough for him. (I’m not letting him read any of the others. Pigs. Pearls.) But he did comment on how the guests all socialised in the hotel. They talked and walked. And considerably more.

Sort of reminds me of those latter day walking centres. Minus the murders.

I doubt I’d have travelled all the way to Skye had it not been for this novel. The weather was the same, but I couldn’t afford the type of hotel where the guests murder each other.

It’s very romantic. And that’s good. This is another one where I can remember quotes after all those years. I learned a few things, the oddest of them being Gianetta’s mother saying ‘there are the pips’. Puzzled me for years, that did. Kept visualising oranges, somehow.

And before you all write in to say the cover doesn’t fit the story, I’ll just say that it’s purple, which is nice, but you are quite right. It doesn’t. Gianetta did not look like that, because only an idiot would climb the Cuillins wearing a coat and a pert little hat.


Poetry and death; the Norwegian way

Kva tåler så lite at det knuser om du seier namnet på det?

Quite. I’m not even a hundred percent sure I will be able to tell you what it means. But I think that something like What Is So Brittle That It Breaks If You Say It Out Loud? will do. This short novel – novella, really – by Bjørn Sortland is my Norwegian offering for my foreign reading challenge.

Kva tåler så lite at det knuser om du seier namnet på det?

I had read about it on the blog Tonårsboken, where they really, really loved it, and then when I was asking for suggestions it popped up again. Now, Norwegians are different. You look Bjørn up on the internet and you get not just his books and stuff, but his address and phone number as well. (Just don’t all call him today, OK?) So I asked how I could get hold of his book, and luckily he didn’t tell me to buy it, but sorted me out with a contact.

What I didn’t know was that I’d let myself in for reading the ‘other’ kind of Norwegian, called nynorsk. But you get used to it after a bit. What is actually funny – well, I think so – is that this language which is supposed to be so very Norwegian that it doesn’t use the standard international words that you find in most western languages, now has modern imports like google and showoff and even utrendy (untrendy). And ‘whatever’.

As I said, it’s very short. It’s almost a poem, with very little text on each page, and it reads beautifully.

19-year-old Markus meets a bald girl at a party and falls instantly in love. He’s not used to wooing girls, and Ingrid strikes him as older than him. She is. She is also dying. After a few false starts they get together. Sort of. Markus is scared of talking about her cancer, while desperately wanting Ingrid to say she loves him.

Because this is so short and tender, there is little point in saying much more about the plot. Whether it’s typically Norwegian I can’t say. It feels Nordic, to me. The characters are more independent than their British or American counterparts. And perhaps more naïve and innocent.

You’ll want to cry at the end.

Luckily I turned back to page one at that point, and was able to laugh as Markus tries to avoid speaking to someone at the party. “I need to powder my nose’ he says, as he leaves.

Our leaders and their shelves

We’re just never satisfied.

A few weeks ago Ed Miliband was interviewed and photographed in front of his bookcase, and all of a sudden everyone was analysing what was on his shelves. And what wasn’t. And how.

He had not put his books in alphabetical order. So? Just because you and I have OCD, doesn’t mean Ed does. There were gaps in between the books in places. I would hazard a guess that those books might be out being used. His book collection contained a variety of different types of books. Strange, that.

And just maybe Ed has more than the one bookcase visible in the photo?

At least he reads. No. I mean, at least he owns books, and it looks like he reads some of them.

Then, this week we had the Camerons and their shelves. Mrs Cameron and Mrs Obama posed in front of a bookcase filled with mainly DVDs, plus a bottom shelf laden with coffee table books.

Again, maybe they actually have more than the one set of shelves, just like the Milibands might do. If not, they aren’t exactly readers. But there is a shelf with what must be their personal choice of entertainment. It’s in the room where they entertained Michelle Obama. They could have done what so many do, and put their DVDs somewhere else.

I hope they read. But if they don’t, at least they went to IKEA for their shelves like the rest of us.

Almost as folksy as seeing that man with the white hair and black eyebrows behind me in the queue to security at Edinburgh airport last week. He didn’t look happy, but I’m glad even the Darlings of success have to submit to the stupid rules along with the rest of us.

Bookwitch bites #54

So many awards, so many winners. So hard to keep up. But please keep writing and keep winning! It’s what we like.

Keren David has just won the Lancashire Book of the Year for When I Was Joe. Yippee!

Chris Priestley - sort of

Earlier this week the Leeds Book Awards took place. I realised something was up when so many authors appeared to be travelling to Leeds, all on the same day. First I got confused because many of them seemed to be winners, but they do several categories in Leeds. Hence lots of winners. David Gatward won one, Lee Weatherly won another and Jon Mayhew won a third. The runners-up were awarded what looked like huge diamonds, so all did very well. Candy Gourlay was there, and so was Helen Grant, Laura Summers and Teresa Flavin. And Chris Priestley, who is nowhere near as horrible looking as we had been led to believe. Phew.

Another kind of winner, although not of an award this time, is Mal Peet and his marvellous piece about Martin Amis and the brain damage. Thank god for people like Mal. I feel the need for a little quote here: ‘And when, as I do (I can’t help myself) I read the adult books shortlisted for the big prestigious prizes I find myself thinking “Really? This is ‘ground-breaking?” My editor would never let me get away with toss like this.’ That will be why Mal has won one or two things himself.

Football scene, Celtic fans

And because Mal likes football, I’ll leave you with some ‘winning’ football pictures from the world premiere this week of Divided City by Theresa Breslin. Those who were there said it was phenomenal and fantastic and amazing. I’m willing to believe them.

Football scene, Rangers fans

Lars Kepler and the Ahndorils

The Lars Kepler interview is finally here! Don’t let it be said that an inability to type will stop me for long.

Lars Kepler

Not that I was ever a typist, but RSI will fell the keenest witch. Thanks to Son who has done his utmost to be useful, and time has helped.

So here is what Lars Kepler had to say for himself on writing good crime, plotting and watching a great many films.

Cream and other goo

Narrow escape, or what? On our travels last weekend we brought some Marmite. As luck would have it we didn’t go to Denmark, so were perfectly safe from the new Danish ban on Marmite.

You have to admire those Danes! Who’d have thought of banning something so superficially innocent? It clearly isn’t, though, and personally I have banned it from my diet. Not having much success in preventing it entering the house, though, and I suppose I have to let the Resident IT Consultant continue eating what he was brought up on. Or do I? The Oxford Professor cousin has the fondest memories of visiting as a child and marvelling over the vast Marmite tubs his IT Consultant cousin had daily access to.

(As for me, I’m not so much xenophobic, as careful around migraine triggers, and surely that’s what the Danes are also concerned with?)

We flew Germanwings with our Marmite and home again. On the return trip we decided to splash out on a hot drink each, so when the trolley came round the witch asked for ‘two teas, please’.

‘Black?’ said trolley-woman.

Now, dear reader, what would you have said at this point in the conversation?

I said ‘with milk, please.’ Except it turned out that the choice was between black tea and green tea.

And anyone but me would have seen the end result coming from miles away. Once the green tea had been dismissed, the ‘milk, please’ plea delivered cream tea. That’s cream tea as in cream in the tea, not on top of a non-existent freshly made scone with jam.

They wanted €2.50 – each – for ruining our teas.


Here is our Marmite-loving host’s lovely dog, Gypsy. She’s an English-speaking dog, so I’m certain that should she have offered us tea it would have come with milk. She is larger than 25 paperbacks, which is why she is still in Germany and not here at Bookwitch Towers.

The Kissing Game

I thought I’d never get round to reading anything by Aidan Chambers. And now I have!

Having previously looked at a couple of his longer novels and come to the conclusion they were not for me, I wanted to find something I could read and enjoy. Aidan’s new short story collection The Kissing Game is a nice little volume of stories ranging from the very short to one longish one.

Unlike me, the Resident IT Consultant has read other books by Aidan, so he grabbed it pretty quickly when it arrived. And then someone else was asking if she could read it, so I found myself hurrying to to get to it before it was too late. Packed it to read on the train to Scotland last week and it was a perfect read for a journey. Not too big and not too complicated.

To be honest, I found some of the very short pieces slightly on the short side for me. Flash fiction I think it’s called. And the title story was, well, maybe I shouldn’t say anything here. It stands apart from most of the other stories.

My favourite was probably the first one about the girl who’s always been taken for granted, and who was finally going to do something about it. I thought I could see where it was going, and then it changed direction.

Actually, I also really liked the one which was a letter about PE lessons at school, and the one about planning permission for ‘alternate’ living. To finish, Aidan has included a story written by the 17-year-old Aidan Chambers, which is quite an interesting thing for an established writer to do.

Madam, Will You Talk?

We can just about start our own sisterhood, I reckon. It’s been such a relief to find that I’m neither alone in adoring Mary Stewart, nor in considering Madam, Will You Talk? as my very favouritest of her novels.

It was her first, and I’m sort of wondering it might have been my first, too. Charity makes for exactly the kind of heroine I would want to be, and as for her Wolf of Orange hero… Well. What can one say? He’s just perfect.

Mary Stewart, Madam, Will You Talk?

The way Charity drives a car… Wow. And she can disable cars to avoid being followed. (I don’t even drive.) There is a boy who has everything you’d look for in a boy, and he has a dog, which has just about everything you’d look for in a dog.

Art crime and kidnapping and romance in Provence. Car chases. Handsome hero (might have mentioned him once or twice already) and good looking villain, as well. Attractive touristy scenery.

And the education a person gets reading Madam, Will You Talk? is second to none. There’s Gilbert White and Byron and Shelley, not to mention quotes and just generally things which I had never heard of before (at the time).

Charity is comfortably off in that way we’d all like to be, and has a tragic past of the kind we’d rather not share. She has a great friend, and they have a way with words that I’d ‘kill’ for. After all these years I still remember the conversation about underwear (rich widows have nice underwear), and I can dredge up several quotes from varied bits of the story, and I’m the type of witch who just never quotes, having a memory like a sieve.

And still, here it all is. And I never made it to Provence.

There was no dog

To do it, or not to do it? Review early, when you can? Every time I’ve been persuaded to wait I find I’m getting in last of all, because everyone else have jumped the gun. Not that it matters, and not that I know if it’s bad to review months before a book is in the shops.

But it’s not as if we haven’t already heard about Meg Rosoff’s There Is No Dog, which luckily was allowed to be called so despite early threats that ‘you can’t have a title like that’. Seems we could.

If you do what I often do and look at the first page or chapter to decide whether to buy or read a book, let me save you the job. You most likely won’t want to. (Please remember I’m Meg’s fan number one.) Luckily this – ironic? – chapter is barely two pages long, after which you can get down to business as usual, with Meg’s real voice coming through within seconds. I suppose the chapter is there to start things off. To explain, somehow. (And if by chance you love the first chapter, you might not like the rest of the book. Just saying.)

This novel about 19-year-old Bob, who is also God, is really a collection of little love stories. I don’t mean God’s infatuation with and sexual feelings towards the beautiful Lucy. That’s what you expect of sex-crazy teenagers.

Actually, I’ve decided not to do an early review after all. I was told as soon as the proof arrived that Meg has made more changes. I gather time will speed up, among other things. Perhaps I should wait, and read it again.

The Resident IT Consultant read it, all the while muttering things like ‘blasphemy’ and ‘won’t be allowed in the US’. Perhaps he’s right? Bob isn’t the loveliest of Gods, but he’s not bad. Let me re-phrase that. He’s not a good God, but quite tolerable as a teenager. If you happen to be his mother.

It was all her fault anyway.

And after years of hearing ‘there is no dog’ I was still surprised to find that there really wasn’t. I sort of miss it, almost.

Thanks, Dina

The Retired Children’s Librarian laughed with glee when I told her of our plans. That’s Son and me. We’re in Germany this weekend, and I’m trusting my baby boy to sprechen for me, as he ought to be less rusty than I am. At the height of his studies he also had got to be a lot better than the old witch.

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

Where was I? Oh yes, Germany. We are here for Roger Whittaker, as all you dear friends will have guessed. The best singer in the world is doing another last tour, and in case it is, here we are. And Son is not too cool for Roger. Or me.

So, Germany, where we are staying with someone I found on the internet. I do everything I tell others not to do. Roger is singing in Köln, and Bonn is close enough, so we have come laden with books for another book lover. I met L Lee Lowe over on Dina Rabinovitch’s blog. In those days Lee had another blog, but you can’t keep a good writer down, so she has moved on to somewhere she can publish her stuff (like real novels) online.

And isn’t that what’s so fantastic about the internet? It is very bad, or can be. But you can also meet like minded people who unfortunately don’t live next door to you or work in the same office or have children in the same school as yours.

It is now far too long since Dina died in 2007, but what an amazing thing she left behind! Neither Lee nor I met her in the flesh, but from that online presence something has grown. I found someone I could send my child to for a language booster, someone who actively seemed to want to entertain the Resident IT Consultant when he was in Germany on business, someone who introduced me to Nick Green and his marvellous books, and someone who will take some of my surplus off my hands. And still offer hospitality to a mad witch and her Son.


I’m forever grateful to Dina.