Monthly Archives: July 2011

A blog card

This tree looks like I feel, except I’ve not been standing out in the wind off the sea for years and years.

Seaside pine

I’m not a massive fan of pine trees generally (if it’s not December and covered in lights), but have always loved this kind of seaside pine with its long needles which look so good against a blue sky.

If you’re small you can climb on it and pretend it’s a horse…

Cough. Not that I’d want to, or anything.

The descent of a novel into black hole

You know how nice it would be to actually be published? Most of us can only dream of this happy state of affairs, but some of you know. Some of you might even have found that your book gets sold (which is sort of what one imagines happens to books), whether it’s fifteen copies to your friends and neighbours, or even 15,000 to those with a great many friends and neighbours. The latter is obviously to be preferred, but I imagine that both scenarios feel ‘normal’, once you’ve been published.

And then there is Mike French who is in the situation where you find out that amazon takes people’s orders, but can’t be bothered to order in copies of the book to send to the customers who placed the orders. Right now it seems you can buy anything on amazon, except The Ascent of Isaac Steward.

President with Mike French's The Ascent of Isaac Steward

Which is a shame after all the hard work Mike has put in, writing not just the novel itself, but a number of letters to our online giant. For those of you suffering from a phobia of giants, I can tell you there is no need to worry, because it’s a very feeble beast, unable to do anything much at all.

Not sure where this chap got his copy from. Maybe he’s a powerful man?

Here we go

Back in the days when the Resident IT Consultant was not yet the Resident IT Consultant, we once went to the pub. Well, maybe we went more than once. But there was this nice one, with good food, in a garden setting somewhere in Oxford.

We were just settling in over lunch, when one of his research colleagues turned up, accompanied by a full complement of family; Mother, Father and Sister. They joined us at our table and we chatted.

Before long Father discovered I sounded a bit odd, so asked where I was from. ‘Sweden,’ I said. To which he replied that his daughter had recently been to Norway. (Somehow people have always been to Norway.)

Trying to be polite, I then interrogated the Sister a little on her trip to Norway, because you have to at least try. She was a bit stiff, but gave the conventional answers people offer.

Then she turned to her embarrassing Father and told him not to be so stupid (and they were such a proper and well behaved family, too), because ‘she (that’s me) said she’s from Swindon!’

That explained it. I had to break it to her very gently that unfortunately Father had been right. He, on the other hand, was very happy pointing out that he might be old and hopeless, but that didn’t mean he’s always wrong.

And that’s where we are heading. To not-Swindon.

Rinsed off

I cleaned up the Solar System this week. It needed doing. I carried it to the bathroom and showered it very carefully. It’s almost as good as new.

Another lovely side effect of the witchy upheavals is that the Astronomy textbook has been found. The Resident IT Consultant had been accused of losing it. And worse, your witch had heard it insinuated that she’d given it to Oxfam. There’s many a bad thing I will do, but there are limits. Even for me.

Although the Solar System is only so big.

The Solar System

Some Potter thoughts

I wouldn’t be sitting here blogging away on a Saturday night, if it weren’t for Harry Potter. It’s fashionable to be cynical about the boy wizard, but I don’t see why we should be. If you don’t like him, or have any interest in that direction; then just leave him and his fans alone.

Harry didn’t start me off on either reading or on reading children’s books. I was already doing both. He just set something quite different in motion. I’m not the same, and neither is the rest of the book world. I’m sure lots of books I’ve enjoyed since, would not have been written without Harry.

There was one of the normal sneering articles about him in the Guardian this week. At first I thought the article writer was yet another with opinions formed after very little contact with Harry. Then it turned out she had actually read all the books, and more than once. And she had seen the films. But now she had grown out of Harry Potter.

He’s not an affliction we need to get better from.

I was trying to think back over the last twelve or thirteen years, to understand why Harry Potter has been so good. Apart from the obvious comments one can make about his immense popularity and the wealth he made for J K Rowling, I believe it’s the companionship and the friendships in the books, which make them special. That, and the moral fibre in turning your wizard’s sleeves up in order to do something for the greater good. Not just for a date with someone you fancy. Or better exam results, or a dog.

Launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

We’ve still got the orange t-shirt and vest we bought for the night of book seven. There are a lot of things we would never have done had it not been for Harry. And it’s not as if J K simply had money thrown at her by accident. She actually sat down and wrote all those books. It’s a not inconsiderable achievement, unlike the buying of a lottery ticket.

Harry Potter has given me a lot of pleasure. There will be other enjoyable books, but there will never be another Harry. It’s like first impressions. You can’t have a second shot at it.

Harry and me

Coming down in the lift, I was tempted to ask if the two dogs were also going to see the last Harry Potter film, but decided against it. (They weren’t, as it turned out, because I saw them being taken up to the next platform, presumably for travel further afield than the cinema.)

I only thought the thought because we’d travelled in on the same overcrowded train, and the guard had shown them a picture of her cat on her mobile phone. They didn’t seem terribly interested. But on my querying her actions, the guard pointed out they were people, too, and had a right to be interested in cats. (It was more the mobile that I had my doubts about.)

Daughter and I went to the first screening on Friday morning of the Harry Potter film, hoping to avoid most of the rest of people. At first we thought we’d got it totally wrong when our tiny auditorium admitted a whole class of primary school children bearing popcorn. Apparently the manager thought so too, because he soon entered and suggested we’d be more comfortable elsewhere. We were.

(I suppose the school were trying to bribe the little darlings with a film. They were almost too young for it, I’d say.)

But it’s astonishing how many seemingly normal people can manage a trip to the cinema first thing on a Friday morning. And considering how many of us had to make one toilet dash in the midst of the excitement, I’d vote for an official toilet break interval next time. We could ‘go’ en masse.

Except, I suppose there won’t be a next time. Not like this.

(If you want a ‘review’ of the film, you have to try CultureWitch.)

Mary Hoffman on David

I’m glad Mary Hoffman knew. But then she is the kind of woman who would know how she intends to write her next novel. She’s popped in today to let us know why David simply had to be written in the first person. It’s not the easiest of points-of-view to pick, but if Mary knows, she knows. And it works.

So here she is with her thoughts on being inside the head of Gabriele, that very beautiful young man whose nude body we have all ogled. More than once.

‘Why first person narrator?

With every novel I write, I know what person and what tense it’s going to be composed in – even when I know very little else about it – and I knew before I had committed a word of David to my computer that this one had to be in the voice of Gabriele. It is his story and he is telling it to us. 

It begins with the words, “My brother died last month,” which lead us directly into the ‘now’ of Gabriele. But he’s an old man himself at this point, looking back on the ‘then’ of his three and a half years in Florence when he became the best-known face in the city.

Almost all the adventures of his long life were packed into that short space of time and they were so intense that he remembers them vividly – even after sixty years. Friendship, love, lust, art and politics all came to a head in that period while he was posing and the working for his ‘brother’ Michelangelo. Some adventures he brought upon himself, others just happened to him – or appeared to.

Putting the whole of the flashback story – which is the bulk of the novel – into Gabriele’s own voice gives it a vividness that a third person narrative would have lacked. He takes us into the midst of his amorous complications, which start the minute he leaves his home village of Settignano and arrives in Florence. And he understands so little of the political situation in the city and of its recent history, that we see him learning how to handle himself well enough with all the factions that he becomes a trusted member of two of them – a double agent.

There is rivalry between artists as well as between political groupings and we see Michelangelo and Leonardo and their relationship afresh through the eyes of this younger contemporary. Gabriele is not just the cause of great art in others; he is an appreciator of all the beauty around him in that fine city at the very beginning of the sixteenth century. His own halting views about what art can do and what it is for, as expressed in his own voice are an important part of the story.

But he does not like being appraised as a work of art himself. Beautiful as he is, he is still a work of nature and bound like all works of nature to age and die. It is the representation of him that will live another six hundred years to continue to astound us. And as he grasps these facts, in his own hesitant way, he and I must use that voice to express his thoughts and hopes.’


The Great Shift

Have you heard of the great vowel shift? I was always unaccountably fond of it, back in the days of (my) education. It explained so much. Whenever I try to get my head round why someone says ‘boss’ when they actually mean that vehicle that always comes in threes and takes you to the shop and back. Bus.

There is a reason they say it. There is a pattern.

Anyway, that’s not what I intended to go on about.

I’m talking of the great room shift, chez Bookwitch. It’s partly to do with better working conditions. Hopefully. And partly better sleep. Wishful thinking.

So, dodgy arm or not, here we are lugging furniture around the house. Mostly I watch others lug. (But seriously, have you watched your nearest and dearest flipping a large wardrobe over the bannisters? Upwards, I mean. Anything will come down. The bannister rail will never be quite the same, however.)

Books will be moving across the house in a complicated pattern, and hopefully the end result will be tidy and orderly for at least a week.

Konditori Regnbågen

I am staying open for business. In June I noticed my favourite holiday café Konditori Regnbågen doing that very thing. Upgrading their premises without closing. People are fickle these days. Something closes and the customers find new favourites. Though, between you and me, Regnbågen can’t be beaten on their Zuleika cake. And losing those migraine-inducing wall tiles in the toilet was a blessing.

Their toilet. Not mine. And my painting is going well. Not done by me, obviously.

Department 19

I didn’t exactly bring Offspring up to swear on blogs, but then life offers a few surprises. I apologise for the first word my guest reviewer has used.

“Bloody is one word that can be used to describe Will Hill’s book Department 19. There certainly is no shortage of it in this book. And there is a constant supply of gory visions that I had hoped to never imagine, but ones that many will hopefully find disgustingly and excitingly entertaining.

Picking up this book whilst sitting in Waterstone’s, I wasn’t expecting much (based on the cover); weapons, knives, grenades and a skull-like helmet. But reading the teaser, ‘Department 6 is the Army. Department 13 is MI5. Department 19 is the reason you’re alive.’, and the blurb, convinced me to give the book a chance. Halfway through chapter one I was hooked. I then had to de-hook myself as I was in Waterstone’s for an event, but made a mental note to get hold of this book, by any means. And when I finally read past chapter one, I was not disappointed.

Will Hill, Department 19

Jamie is a 16 year old boy who has experienced things that no 16 year old should. His father has been labelled a traitor, and bullies make life a battle. Jamie is suddenly thrown into a world that he thought only existed in books (this is a book…) when his mother is kidnapped by the vicious psychopath Alexandru Rusmanov and the girl Larissa attempts to kill him. But he is intent on rescuing her, with the help from some unlikely allies that he encounters on the way.

Department 19 is a top secret government institution, founded by the men made famous through the novel by Bram Stoker, who himself makes an appearance. An agency to fight against the supernatural, and primarily, vampires. ‘Oh no, not another vampire book,’ I hear you cry. Don’t be disheartened, this has no romantic vampires who you want to fall in love with. Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ also turns up. Adam, the body brought to life by Frankenstein, is one of the main characters, and he’s a nice guy really!

Some things that did strike me were similarities with other things. Mostly with Torchwood. Department 19 was formed under the threat of vampires, and with the blessing of William Gladstone. Torchwood was formed after Queen Victoria had faced the supernatural. And the fact that over the last 100 years both these agencies have managed to develop some pretty awesome technologies.

Throughout the book, the chapters move between different characters and different places. Whilst this at first was a little confusing, it’s a brilliant way to keep the reader going, as there were cliffhangers after each section. But I did identify the baddie quite early on.

I particularly enjoyed the reference to RAF Fylingdales in Yorkshire. Though, since I have been there, I know Will Hill’s building doesn’t exist. And I love all the references to places in real life and the detailed way he uses them for the story.

I can see how this book would make a good film, but if it is made into a film, please don’t cast Alex Pettyfer as Jamie or Dakota Blue Richards as Larissa. They might be perfect for the parts, but trust me, we don’t want them!

I loved the small teaser for the next book, which makes me want to read it when it’s out! I had got about two thirds of the way through and realised I wouldn’t be able to sleep till I had finished it.

So, this a book I would recommend to basically anyone. It is action-packed. It has great characters and a plot that means you just have to know what’s going to happen next. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need anything else from a book. Apart from maybe a cover that doesn’t scare off potential readers.”

Review by Photowitch, because in these parts nepotism is rife. And I was threatened… And I was told it wasn’t suitable for me. So that’s anyone but me, then.

Working to rule

I will begin by quoting the very kind and caring comment made by the wonderful Dorte last week, ‘don’t go spoiling your blog readers. Remember you are the boss or they (we) will just begin to take you for granted.’ Tak, Dorte!

The alternative could be that you all go off reading some other blog. As the ever faithful Adèle Geras has said more than once, it is important to blog/publish every day. I don’t on my other blogs, and it shows. I need time off, but as one of my reasons is the almost total freeze of my right hand/fingers up to my shoulder, I can’t do a Blue Peter kind of time off. I don’t have it in me to write ‘here is one I made earlier’. That’s why the recent chat with Caroline Lawrence is going nowhere right now. I had expected it to be finished and published at least a week ago.

As the Retired Children’s Librarian said on the phone the other day, ‘can’t you use your other hand?’. My left hand sometimes does go on the mousepad for simple moves. But it takes longer and I haven’t got all day, you know.

Earlier this year I half considered a regular guest slot, but that also takes time and a lot of typing. I can probably run up a post myself in half the time it takes to invite someone else.

Any ideas?

I will continue to put something on here every day. For a while it might have to amount to no more than a token post. Referring to the heading for this post, I need a union. Except my boss is a hard woman, so it could be it would do no good.

Sjuk älg

Writing this, I just received an email telling me I need a ghost writer. True. But I look like a ghost already, and one is enough.

If you find yourself thinking that a photo or other silly note is just not good enough, may I suggest you try this, or this? And if you are Nicola Morgan I will only say that you could be writing another book, or something. Unless, you too, require a holiday/convalescence/ other poor excuse?

Achoo! (I know. Arms don’t sneeze. What do they do?)