Monthly Archives: July 2011

Life: An Exploded Diagram

This novel barely scrapes by as Young Adult. I was about to say something really stupid here, like Mal Peet has written a book which is so intelligent that it isn’t mphfhmp…. (Leave me alone! I’m trying to review a book here.)

OK then, it is a really intelligent story and that proves it’s a YA novel, and only what we expect from a writer like Mal. It’s so grown up that it really is a book for younger readers. How’s that?

Life: An Exploded Diagram is about sex and bombs, whilst also managing to be a concise description of life during the twentieth century. Strawberries. Horses. Religion. Art. Politics.

I’m so impressed by how Mal has woven the bits from all over the century into a story this way. He begins by letting Ruth give birth to his narrator Clem back in 1945. Mal then goes back in time, giving the reader some perspective on what kind of life Clem was born into. Then he goes forward quite a long way, only to return to the middle of the last century for most of the book.

Most of the story (I believe) is about the teenage Clem meeting Frankie and falling in love. It’s one long hunt for an opportunity to have sex, which was no easy feat back then. It’s sort of a Cuba crisis Lady Chatterley.

I’m old enough to remember, well not the Cuba crisis as such, because I was too much of an idiot for that, but its aftermath of admiration for J F Kennedy. Mal has either done a tremendous amount of research into what Kennedy and his aides talked about, or else he has made it all up very beautifully indeed. I had no idea about Kennedy’s bowels, for instance.

The story is set in the Norfolk countryside, where Mal grew up. It feels as if he knows everything there is to know about the landscape and its people and their language. It’s fascinating!

You can’t really begin to describe this book (yes, I know I already have). You just need to read it. I hope lots of young readers will want to find out about sex in 1962.

The second day

Here we are again. How did you get on yesterday? Did you have to queue for the toilets? No, I didn’t, either. Nor did I wear Lucy Coats’s pyjamas all day. (Not even part of the day, I’ll have you know.)

What did I do? I watched Mary Hoffman and Anne Rooney drink coffee. (It’s the personal touch that makes festivals such fun.) I watched Lucy Coats reading to three dogs.

And Sam Mills was interviewed by Tyger Drew (whoever he might be), and then she interviewed him back. I’m unsure of what Sam said to make Tyger want to poke his eye out, but there you are.

Tyger Drew and Sam Mills, ABBA festival

I entered competitions to win things. I never do, but then I seem to own most of the books on offer, so I’m best to let others, more needy than myself, win.

And here’s today’s programme for the ABBA online blog festival.

ABBA festival Sunday

I’ve got all my books ready to be signed today. It has to work!

And at least they aren’t starting too frightfully early. I might make it down to the kitchen for 10.30.

ABBA festival!

First they steal my idea, and then they put it into action on a day when I can’t even enjoy it. Pah.

It’s ABBA. No, not the pickled fish and not even those people who used to sing. I’m talking about the Awfully Big Blog Adventure and the festival they are running this weekend.

Yes, I know. It’s ridiculous. How can you possibly have an online book festival? Can I take pictures of my authors? Can I have my books signed? Are there even any tickets left to all these events, and how do they expect me to get around from one event to the next without a break in-between?

PhotobucketI’m busy today. Very busy. I can’t just sit there and commune with my beloved authors through a computer screen all day long. But I want to. I’ll have to make a timetable of sorts, to see if I can fit in my bestest people that way. Maybe eat with them? (Hey, do you object to crumbs and slurps?)

Just look at that programme!

ABBA festival Saturday

It sort of makes a witch want to skive off for the day. How are they going to pull it off, technically? (My idea was for a normal live kind of in person sort of festival…)

Oh well, see you tomorrow.

Dead Man’s Cove

Lauren St John, Dead Man's Cove

I wanted to read this modern day ‘Famous Five’ as soon as I received my copy, but things got in the way as usual. Didn’t feel I could come face-to-face with Lauren St John last week without reading her book, so started it on the train to London.

Good thing, as I was able to ask her a few questions I’d come up with. Set in St Ives, I wondered what she’d made up about the town and what is real. I’ve spent all of one day there, so can’t lay claim to much knowledge, but it’s enough to visualise what it will be like for Laura, the heroine.

Laura is an orphan who has lived all her eleven years in children’s homes, and like Tracy Beaker she has tried living with foster parents, too, without much success. Then – somehow – a real uncle is discovered and she goes to live with him in Cornwall.

Uncle Calvin isn’t your typical uncle, but he suits Laura quite well as he lets her have a lot of what she has never had before. Freedom. He has a housekeeper straight out of Rebecca, but although she is horrible she cooks like a dream. Laura isn’t quite sure what her uncle works with or where he goes all the time, and neither does the housekeeper.

Being used to starting a new school often, Laura finds that aspect of her new life OK, but she longs for a friend. She thinks she has found one in Tariq, the boy in the grocer’s shop. Or has she? There is a definite mystery surrounding both Tariq and his ‘parents’, Mr and Mrs Mukhtar, who are an unpleasant couple.

You can work out quite quickly that there will be things happening at Dead Man’s Cove, and that somehow the housekeeper and the Mukhtars will be involved. The mystery to me is why this shopkeeping pair and Tariq are described as speaking Hindi to each other, but perhaps I missed something.

It’s not the Famous Five. It’s more Two and a Dog, but that’s good enough. Laura’s Skye is a very lovely dog, and Tariq is not quite what he seems at first. Rather like Uncle Calvin. It remains to be seen how they will all develop. The second book is set in the Caribbean, so I’ve no idea whether this is the end of Cornwall and the series will turn out to be more of a roving affair.

It’s good to have new mysteries of the old, traditional kind. And there’s something special about Cornwall. (Although the Caribbean might not be a totally awful place either.)

Dame in a nebula outfit

The weirdest thing was running into Andy Mulligan at Euston. Not that he knows me, but there he was. Probably going towards ‘Up North’ like Formby (for tomorrow’s event), whereas we (trusted photographer and witch) were heading for Branford Boase, which is an award and it’s in London. (There is a point to that which you will not get.) And then there was Jodi Picoult in the tube station, but she was merely a poster, if a life size one.

Walker Books employee

I’d have got lost at Vauxhall tube station. I have been before. Once. Thankfully Daughter, who has never been, put us on the right path. So we were not lost after all.

Sarah McIntyre and Candy Gourlay, Branford Boase

So, there they all were, the shortlisted authors, apart from Gregory Hughes (I deduced he was not the winner). Candy Gourlay seemed to have brought Sarah McIntyre along, which was wise, and one of the men in the Fickling basement was present. That’s Simon Mason of Moon Pie fame. So we had met before, which the clever-clogs Daughter remembered and I didn’t. You can’t memorise all men kept in basements everywhere.

Keren David, Branford Boase

Keren David was surrounded by admirers at all times so was hard to get close to. But her shoes were marvellous. And her glasses. (Sorry, is this a book blog?)

J P Buxton, Branford Boase

Had no idea what Jason Wallace looks like, but the photographer identified him with her eagle eye. There was something about her wanting his shirt for her bedroom…

J P Buxton was someone I didn’t know at all, but he turned out to be the tall guy with the impressive hair.

Pat Walsh, Branford Boase 2011

And Pat Walsh had a crutch with her that I very nearly stole. Being kind, I only held it for her during the photocall. Pat was what you have to call the experts’ favourite, so I am very interested in her book (which is another one published by someone I’m not managing to establish a – professional – relationship with).

Clare S

Klaus Flugge

David Lloyd

John McLay

Lots of other lovely book world types, including Andersen’s Clare, Nicky with the impressive memory, Philippa Dickinson, former winner Frances Hardinge and many more. Klaus Flugge, whose chair Goldilocks sat in. Super agent Hilary Delamere, Julia Eccleshare, Walker Books’ David Lloyd. And I have finally met and been introduced properly to John McLay of the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature.

And then there was Jacqueline Wilson (Dame, OBE, etc, etc) in a starry outfit that Daughter will have when Jacky is finished with it. Please.

Jason Wallace and Charlie Sheppard, Branford Boase winners 2011

Henrietta Branford winners 2011 with Jacqueline Wilson

Jason was not the only winner last night. There was a whole bunch of talented children who had won the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition. One girl was so keen to come that she’d travelled on the coach from Scotland since five that morning and going back overnight. Maybe the future of writing is safe, after all?

Anne Marley and Jacqueline Wilson

Julia Eccleshare

In her speech, Branford Boase organiser Anne Marley slipped in a Freudian Wife of Never Letting Go for Patrick Ness, son of the Walker house, which made us laugh. David Lloyd pointed out what a fun – and easy – job editing books is. Julia Eccleshare spoke about the history of the Branford Boase Award.

And then it should have been last year’s winner Lucy Christopher, but she was off on some very important business elsewhere, so had written a lovely speech to be delivered by Damien Kelleher who was one of the judges. The Branford Boase is awarded not only to authors like Jason, but to editors like Charlie Sheppard. What Lucy had to say about editors is that authors need them ‘like crazy people need therapists’. She can talk. According to Charlie, editors occasionally spend time polishing turds. I fully expect Out of Shadows not to have been anywhere near turd status.

Although, Jason did mention ‘gutted fish at feeding time’. Andersen Press is the nicest bunch of people. (I had noticed.) Jason also muttered something incomprehensible regarding cats, empty bottles and loneliness. And most importantly, he talked about Zimbabwe, where his novel is set. Things are still not good and people are still suffering. Let’s hope books like Jason’s will make a difference.

Branford Boase winning books

Anne Marley warned us off stealing the display of former winners’ books. Apparently Philip Ardagh tried it last year. (Could be why he wasn’t there?) The good thing about neither Candy nor Keren winning was – as they said – that now they don’t have to kill each other. Competing against friends is never fun.

Branford Boase 2011, authors and editors

As usual Paul Carter was taking photographs, and he is not above sharing the task with others. Which is why I brought my own picture person. As they do in real life sometimes, the photographers ended up taking pictures of each other.

We were chatting to Jacqueline Wilson just before leaving, when Candy sneaked up, wanting to be photographed with a star. One of these days she’ll realise that no sneaking is necessary. She too, is a star.

Jacqueline Wilson and Candy Gourlay

Branford Boase 2011

Jason Wallace won the Branford Boase award last night.

Jason Wallace

And his novel Out of Shadows was very ably edited by Charlie Sheppard. I feel she looks reasonably happy about this.

Charlie Sheppard

And now I’m going to bed, having been all over the country on my travels home and you will get more from me later today. While-u-wait, don’t do anything I would do.


The House Doctor will see you now

Bookwitch Towers is in upheaval. Don’t know where that is, but it’s messy. Did I mention that a few weeks ago Son had the nerve to return to his roots, bearing all his worldly goods? He did, and very lovely it is to have him here. The goods, I’m not so sure.

We’ve had plans for some domestic changes for most of the year. What we haven’t had is time, or at least not time all together, and major changes don’t happen so easily when you are working on your own. Now that summer is here, the idea was that all sorts of things would just happen.

They probably will. Sooner or later. But it could be that I will have to be less attentive to my dear fans. I am reading. I am writing. Just not so much. The other day I heaved  a large coffee table book out of my bookcase, for Daughter to peruse. It was my very first gift from the Resident IT Consultant, and a very good one at that. I’m still astounded by his awareness of what a witch-in-waiting would like.

It was The House Book by Terence Conran, and I don’t know how many times I used to go through it for ideas or just entertainment. Now, it looks pretty dated. It’s from 1974 and my edition was printed in 1981, and you can tell. It’s very 1970s. Daughter pointed to a picture of some large sofa-contraption-thingy and asked what it was. I didn’t know, but suggested it looked like it’d be good for fairly immoral behaviour. (We don’t have one of those.)

The other ‘book’ in use at the moment is the catalogue from that Swedish furniture shop you may have heard of. We went there on Monday, and came home, eventually, with some new stuff for Daughter, who of course, is about to leave home. My timing has never been great.

So now all we want is inspiration, the strength to carry furniture around and the time in which to do all that is necessary. And perhaps pray for no more complete about-turns on style. That was a very narrow escape from orange/terracotta we had there… Carl Larsson, here we come!

Fallen Grace

Mary Hooper enjoys death and coffins and the like. At least, that’s how it seems. And Mary admitted to a fascination for graveyards the other week at Sefton Super Reads.

Her book Fallen Grace has been sitting on the top level of books to be read for a year. Or more. The Sefton event just spurred me on that little bit. Fallen Grace was never in danger of being relegated, as sometimes happens to books. But strangely enough, despite me having had a firm idea of what it was about all this time, once I started reading it turned out to be quite a different story.

Grace and her sister Lily have been orphaned a long time, and they live on their own, managing to survive, but only just. Set in London in 1861, life is grim for poor people. At the beginning of the book Grace is trying to bury her dead newborn baby as decently as possible. That means putting the dead baby in the coffin of someone well-off, to avoid a pauper’s burial.

Things go badly for the girls, and then slightly better, until at last life is so bad they don’t know what to do, and Grace takes them to seek work with the undertaker she met when her baby died. This provides food for them to eat, but ultimately leads to even more problems.

It’s an exciting read and and an educational one as well. You learn a lot about life 150 years ago. There is just the right mix of adventure, romance and skulduggery. I feel perhaps that the way everything ties together is a little too much of a coincidence. But then again, why not?

This was my second read in a limited period of time on the subject of ‘mourning emporiums’, so I suppose it really is the case that several writers can suddenly be struck by the same inspiration. Wasting vast sums of money on funerals strikes me as outrageous, and hiring someone to look sad for you seems particularly strange. But it’s what people did.

And it’s always fun meeting Queen Victoria. I tend to forget how young poor Albert was when he died. And how long his Queen had on her own.


Mary Hoffman, David

The heading feels a little on the personal side for me, but as it’s the title of Mary Hoffman’s latest historical novel, it can’t be helped. Anyway, the Resident IT Consultant got to the story about his namesake before me, in that annoying way he has. A short way into the novel he wondered if it’s an adult book, and was taken aback to find that it’s not. Not that adults can’t read it and enjoy it, of course.

It was the sex, I expect. By page eight Gabriele (aka David) has had two close encounters, and he goes on to charm both men and women in Florence. It’s the way with handsome young men. People only see the beautiful exterior and go potty.

Sex aside, David is an education. I marvel at the understanding Mary has for the politics of Florence and Italy five hundred years ago. My mind reeled trying to keep up with all the Guiseppes and Giulios  and who was a Cardinal and who might be Pope one day.

Then there were all the other Gs, Gianbattista, Giuliano, Giovan, Gismondo, and so on.

Mary and David

Gabriele is a young man who is too good-looking for his own good. He’s the milk brother of Michelangelo, and Mary has spun the whole book around this possible model for the most famous of statues. It’s fascinating to learn of how it might have happened, and how it was for pretty young men at the time, posing for artists, and being wooed by everyone they meet.

What I would never have guessed is the politics that went on behind all that famous art that we now take for granted. Mary even throws in the Mona Lisa for good measure. I’m also very relieved to find that Michelangelo treated large slabs of Carrara marble the way I do bits of fabric and knitting wool. I go out and buy it and then somehow never get around to making anything with it. And twelve slabs of stone is a lot harder to ignore if you’ve got them lying around.

Despite so much of this tale being about Gabriele’s inability to stay out of women’s beds, I almost feel there wasn’t enough of his private life story in the novel. The art was fun and the politics educational, but we could have had ‘more sex’.


We’re having the weekend ‘off’. Sort of. So you will not get a real blog post out of me, because I’ve not behaved in a terribly bookwitchy way.

Once I staggered out of bed after Friday’s graduation excesses I did, however, have a very good literary Saturday. As I mentioned a few weeks ago Helen Grant moved to Scotland in June, and I’m afraid I took advantage of her weakened state by suggesting we might meet up now that I was temporarily in the same country.

Helen was sufficiently taken aback by this and didn’t even claim a prior appointment with her hairdresser to get out of it. So she and her lovely children Blackwolf and Shardspirit along with the energetic Mr G obeyed my witchy summons and made it to Corrieri’s for pizza, pasta and proper Italian ice cream.

It was very nice. I brought Daughter along and even the Resident IT Consultant got an airing, seeing as it was his hometown. The place was quietening down as we arrived, but we soon put a stop to that, and soon we could barely hear ourselves chat. So I’m unable to report too many indiscretions, I’m afraid.

The Grant pets (no, they didn’t come) have taken well to their new home, and once Helen has finished murdering her way around Flanders, she will consider killing off some of Perthshire. I’m looking forward to that.

Both Shardspirit and Blackwolf brought books to read (I suspect they sensed I might be boring, and how right they were) which I thoroughly approve of. Daughter had nothing better to do than fiddle with her mobile. The lovely Helen gave me a devil rubber duck, which I will treasure always. Unless that cheeky Daughter steals it off me.

After a nice meal the Grants dropped us off so dangerously close to Oxfam that the Resident IT Consultant went there and ‘had an accident’. Bookaholics! Honestly!