Monthly Archives: May 2011

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.

Bookwitch bites #53

When Daughter left the house the other evening, the oldies watched Sophie Hannah’s Case Sensitive on ITV. Why they renamed it I don’t know, but back when it was ‘just’ a crime novel it had the title Point of Rescue and was quite scary. It was still scary. We liked it. We wouldn’t mind more.

Awards are dropping onto authors left, right and centre (ouch!) and I’ve given up any hope of keeping track. Keren David was in Angus (and sometimes I don’t even know where that is) this week, picking up an award. I recall seeing the town Arbroath mentioned, so maybe that’s where it happened. I can remember buying bread rolls in Arbroath once, and that didn’t go well.

The Branford Boase shortlist arrived in my inbox this week, and it’s a bad one! By that I mean it’s so good I don’t know who to keep my fingers crossed for.

I Am The Blade by J.P. Buxton

When I Was Joe by Keren David

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Unhooking The Moon by Gregory Hughes

Out Of Shadows by Jason Wallace

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh

I have read four of the six, and three of them were on my best for 2010. If that’s not good taste I don’t know what is.

Steve Cole with chonster

There are other kinds of prizes as well. Steve Cole has an Astrosaurs’ superhero competition, where you need to create your own, new astrosaurs character. I wouldn’t put it past Steve to ‘steal’ it for his books. If you win, he will come to your school. Which might be quite nice, if the teachers can put up with his behaviour.

Finally, who do you like best in the Harry Potter books? Here is your chance to vote. Except I don’t know what you win. Nothing perhaps. Just the knowledge that you are the only one who likes Filch best. And my favourite is…

Garth Nix and Terry Pratchett

Right now I could really do with Terry Pratchett’s voice recognition writing slave apparatus. I simply can’t write for more than a few minutes at a time. So that rather lengthy interview with Lars Kepler that was on the menu for today, will be delayed. It has been transcribed, translated and ‘only’ wants editing. And photos. Some finishing touches.

So, as I’m off for a few days, I will leave you with some Blue Peter style posts for the weekend. And for today you can have Terry Pratchett and Garth Nix in conversation at the Sydney Opera House.

I’ve not even had time to listen to the whole thing myself yet. Which means that if something really untoward were to happen halfway through, it’s not my fault.


A great re-writer

It was the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday, so I abandoned him for a younger man. Well, it’s not every day that John Connolly comes to a bookshop near me, is it? Though to be fair, people don’t have birthdays every day, either.

John Connolly

John’s on tour with Hell’s Bells, although his talk at Waterstone’s Deansgate was primarily a physics lesson, with some humour thrown in. I carefully arranged to bring my photographer-cum-physics student, and apart from the unfortunate ether (which apparently does not exist) she enjoyed John’s talk. And that’s high praise indeed.

Hodder’s Kerry had commiserated with me about the onslaught of children I’d have to face, but setting aside the fact that I’m used to the little creatures, the adults beat the children. Not literally, you understand. Just in numbers. We may have been old, but we sat in the nice and airy children’s department, and the air we breathed in (he told us to!) had previously been used by Elvis. Probably. Which somehow had some bearing on what Hell’s Bells is about.

John Connolly

Writers are magpies, who use the same shiny ideas over and over again (and I don’t think he meant you, Anthony). In good catholic schools you didn’t study biology, so it was physics for John, which was probably a good thing. There are lots of universes, all at the same time. In one of them you are down at the pub and in another you’re not.

When John asked for scariest Doctor Who monster it took three tries before we got to the weeping angels. I was on the verge of suggesting ‘are you my mummy’. Again.

John Connolly

He broke the sad news to the assembled children that life ends with something quite bad happening. One boy kept coming back with clever questions and John hates those who are younger and cleverer, but managed to keep his audience under control by pointing out we’d not get any freebies if we weren’t good. (That’s the drawback with these author types. Think they are boss.)

When he writes he sits down and writes and hopes for the best. He always hates his books after 20,000 words, and is now down to a mere ten drafts per novel. People ask him why he’s taken up writing for children (although as someone in the audience said, he doesn’t, really) and it’s so that he can be funny and let his imagination run riot.

John Connolly

John Connolly's hellish badges

Then he ended up in deep water, talking about little old ladies while seemingly staring at the lady whose birthday it was (see, good day for it!), but she was a born heckler and John didn’t get far.

The really good thing about printed books is that you don’t have to switch them off as the plane comes in to land. And you want books to enjoy, not to be improved by.

John could barely stop when his hour was up, so he was good value for money. Especially since it was free.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

All’s well that ends Hell

Heaven doesn’t exist. Or so Stephen Hawking claims. At the end of John Connolly’s latest novel Hell’s Bells, one of Professor Hawking’s ‘colleagues’ working on the Large Hadron Collider says that Hell doesn’t exist. So we’re all right, then. Maybe.

Hell’s Bells is the perfect title for a children’s book don’t you think? Witty, a little bit of mild swearing and a fair description of a book that takes ice cream to Hell, and back. Almost. Even the Resident IT Consultant once shouted the words Hell’s Bells while we were in the car. Offspring found this hilarious.

John-Connolly, Hell's Bells

Beware of going trick-or-treating. You just never know whose door you will knock on and what the knock-on effects are likely to be. You could, like Samuel Johnson, inadvertently open the gates to Hell. And just as we thought that had ended well in The Gates, along comes this one, where poor Samuel and Boswell the Dachshund are snatched back to Hell.

Luckily a few other people are co-snatched and together they will just have to try and defeat millions of horned and red-hot demons and worse. But with true friendship and some home-brew you can achieve anything.

This is a very moral tale. It’s anti-war and anti all kinds of other bad things. Friendship is good and so are wine gums. When faced with Hell, even vaguely inept policemen can come up trumps. And as for those dwarfs…

It’s also the most tremendously funny story. There really does seem to be something in Ireland that makes for funnier books than anywhere else. How you can be amusing while writing about such vile creatures, I don’t know. Perhaps because they remind us of our own dear leaders? The angry Mrs Abernathy and her handbag? The double crossing army leaders. They’re all there. And they have ice in hell. Did you know?

John Connolly is very intelligent and he knows about the LHC and stuff and writes knowledgeably about all sorts of sciencey things. Or was he making it up? Anyway, we should clearly be careful with the LHC thingy. You just can’t know what it will do.

And I still need to grasp this Higgs Bosun chap. Doesn’t he work on a boat?