Monthly Archives: September 2011


We went past it twice a day during the Edinburgh Book Festival. We go past it whenever we travel between Edinburgh and Stirling. I’m about to get pretty close to it today.

Some time recently someone in the family wondered if perhaps it was time soon for me to get off the train and have a look. I replied that as a matter of principle I didn’t think I ever would. Or at least not yet.

I don’t feel ready.

Back in the infancy of InterRailing the witch-to-be InterRailed every year, starting the first time it was possible to do so. The second year, when she was 17, the turn came to Britain and especially Scotland. I had never been to Scotland. I was a little disappointed not to find tall mountains as soon as the train crossed the border near Berwick. (I had been misinformed. Not all of Scotland was built like the Alps. Just as Sweden doesn’t have snow all year round. Actually.)

Linlithgow Palace

But School Friend and I liked Edinburgh. The youth hostel was great, and so comfortable and such good value that we decided to base ourselves there, and just use the InterRail pass to make day trips. A poster we saw at Waverley station showed the Palace in Linlithgow. It looked nice. We decided to day trip to this conveniently placed town, just west of Edinburgh.

We got on a train. It was soon time to get off again, so we got up to get off. Except, we didn’t get off, because we couldn’t. This was back in 1973 and the British Rail (oh, the nostalgia in writing that!) rolling stock used had doors at each end of the coaches. Doors with no door handles. The instructions on the door said that to open it we had to press and pull down (the window, it seemed).

No amount of pressing and pulling got us anywhere. (These days passengers are always getting off at Linlithgow. Just our luck that we were all alone.) I lie. We got somewhere. The train started up with us still on it, and we went to the next station which in those days was Falkirk.

We managed to get off there. Looked at the area surrounding the station and came to the conclusion it wasn’t up to much, and quickly crossed to the other platform and went back to Edinburgh, where we sat on the grass in Princes Street Gardens for the rest of the day.

I have still not been to Linlithgow. I know how to get off trains these days, but somehow it feels as if I’d be letting the side down by getting out and looking at the Palace. It’s bound not to be very interesting. Isn’t it?

(This rather boring blog post was brought to you by the witch meeting up with one of her readers – Che – at the launch for Bloodstone in August. After I tried to kill her by having her run across a busy road to catch up with us getting into the taxi she was to share, Che was travelling to Linlithgow. Well, I suppose someone has to.)


Generations of girls

The Bookwitch Upheaval continues. In recent days I’ve been getting all my books from the dusty rows where so many of them have been sitting for far too long, and I am actually putting them in order on actual shelves. Though I do believe that I will run out of shelves before I run out of books. Even putting some doubles in a back row behind the front row. Obviously.

One thing that happens under circumstances like these is that you re-discover books. Not that I forget them or forget that I have them, but they slip from my mind.

I carried all the Ns the other day. I recall Linda Newbery saying how before she was published she had looked in bookshops and felt that there was a space next to Edith Nesbit where Linda’s books could sit. Well, that was true until Patrick Ness came along. He is now piggy in the middle, surrounded by two great ladies.

So, I happened upon this trilogy of Linda’s, that I read quite a few years ago now. They are The Shouting Wind, The Cliff Path and A Fear of Heights.

When I began reading them, I expected the generations to take in both world wars plus something more modern. I was wrong. It starts with WWII and continues with something closer to my generation and finishes with ‘today’. Grandmother, daughter and granddaughter.

The thing is, that at the time I was so taken with Linda’s WWI novels, that I wanted them to go on. And in a way they did, as the grandmother in this trilogy has a connection to Linda’s book Some Other War, set in WWI. So from that point of view I got even more than I thought.

There is something irrationally satisfying about encountering characters again, seeing what’s become of them, and so on. And an honest author lets his/her characters have real lives, which means it’s not always been a bed of roses since the book before. So the reader can be disappointed to hear that someone died rather early, or that the romance/marriage didn’t last. Or the child quarrelled and left home and they stopped speaking. It’s real.

Linda is good at this. Her characters always feel as if I might know them in real life. And this generational series thing could actually be taken a lot further. Start early enough, and it’d be possible to take in a fair bit of recent-ish history.

It’s books like these that will tell future generations what the 20th century was like. You don’t get that from wand-wielding wizards. The trilogy doesn’t seem to be available to buy, and Linda’s website doesn’t list the books either. But if you find them, try them. And definitely start with the Vera Brittain inspired Some Other War. (If only because you’ve found the idea of nursing wounded soldiers quite charming, by watching too much Downton Abbey.)

The Geology interview

Do you have time to read 6000 words on Geology? (No is not the correct answer to this question, btw.) You can divide them up over several coffee breaks, if necessary.

Ted Nield

They are good words, although there are a lot of them. I sat in on this interview and found it fascinating from beginning to end. As some of you will vaguely recall, Daughter got so carried away with this interviewing lark of mine, that she decided to have a go herself.

Very sensibly she picked someone in a subject she knows a bit about, and here he is – ‘Geology’s answer to Brian Cox’ – Dr Ted Nield.

I was most impressed, because he knows about films, too. Unless he’s one of these people who can instantly talk knowledgeably about almost anything. (I’m related to someone like that.)

I had been concerned that coming up with questions would be a problem. The only problem here is that I don’t always know what they are about. But I can nod and pretend with the best of you. Chicxulub, anyone?

Ted Nield

(And the upside of her work on this is that Daughter now recognises interviewing as work. Not all fun. Though it is fun.)

Book Power 100

I had so hoped to be on it. Or would have, if I’d known it was being done. ‘It’ being the oddly named Guardian list of the most powerful people in the book world. The top one hundred names, except they have cheated by having pairs of names for some entries, making it 100+.

Unlike other commentators I am not horrified by having J K Rowling at no. two. I see no reason why she shouldn’t be. It’s quite interesting to see how they have picked people I know quite well, and also people I’ve never heard of.

First I went on the website showing the lucky one hundred as un-named photos, and came to the conclusion I recognised about twenty of them. Furnished with names I ‘recognised’ a lot more. I have spoken to six, and met another two.

And I finally know who that chap with the wild beard is. Not Ardagh. The other one. (Have already forgotten his name…)

The thing is, I have talked to people who know many of these important ones. Or who have met them, or heard some juicy gossip about them. And somehow, when that is the case, it’s harder to take them seriously. There is one author in particular, highly thought of by many, who sank considerably in my estimation on hearing a personal account of their behaviour.

But then, they can behave as they wish. It’s their books that matter. I do find that the best books are written by decent human beings. At least in the children’s books world. And they haven’t been forgotten here.

Good to see so many women on there, and interesting that so many CEOs are female. Two Swedes, albeit one dead, which didn’t go down well with some. (Bet he’d have preferred not to be dead, too.) And it’s odd, what I know. I couldn’t have put a name to Nick Barley. But seeing his photo I could have told you he is the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as he is a visible kind of leader, who is always out and about in Charlotte Square.

Books 100

And it turns out that I am indeed on the list. I made it as no.100, which is a round and pleasing figure. Rather like myself.


It’s gross.

But I still enjoy it. Michael Grant’s Gone series does as yet not feature any vampires, and there isn’t all that much mooning over the opposite sex, and the parents have been got rid of in the initial poof. What at first seemed to be a bit of an action man story has gone way beyond that. We’re talking politics and religion and good and evil.

With slime. And worse. It’s so gross and disgusting that I’ve stopped taking it all in. I don’t want to imagine quite what the latest creatures really look like. Once you get eaten by worms when picking cabbages, you don’t want details. Not if you’re someone who would have poofed if in Perdido Beach. (I know. I’d be dead if eaten while in the cabbage field.)

Halfway through Plague I began wondering how many main characters you can kill off and still have enough book left. Especially with another two books to go until the end.

Plague is an evocative kind of title, and it makes you think how awful it’s going to be. And it is. The plague is really dreadful. But it’s still not the worst thing in the book.

I’m not much of a Sam or Caine fan. I mean, I obviously like Sam better than his ghastly brother Caine. But it’s among the other characters you find real people. I adore Sanjit. We have admired Edilio, and some of the others are interesting too. But Sanjit is both funny and brave and intelligent.

Michael, don’t you dare kill Sanjit!!

Slime and other creatures

What’s not to like? Everything Steve Cole touches turns to slime, or ends up in a farmyard somewhere or in deepest space. Little boys love him. I don’t want to be sexist, but it really is little boys. And they need someone like Steve, and they need his books. They might provide the difference between becoming a reader for life, or not.

The ‘or not’ isn’t a good option, so here’s to slime and the CIA!

I have long given up any expectations to read all Steve’s books. I have – in fact – given up all hope of even keeping track of what he publishes. There’s too many books. It’s not as if he starts a new series of books and stops writing an old series about something else. He just goes on. And on.

Steve Cole, Astrosaurs

Before meeting Steve in Edinburgh, I caught up with some of what he’s been writing. I last left at the beginning of the CIA, Cows in Action. It looks like he’s written about half a dozen of them by now. Correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t need books like Cows in Action, but they are quite fun to read. Time travelling cows and evil bulls and corny titles. You simply must like. The Moo-my’s Curse. The Pirate Moo-tiny. I mean, can’t you just see Steve sitting there coming up with one title worse than the last one?

I never got round to reading Astrosaurs before, and to tell the truth, I hadn’t realised they are different from Astrosaurs Academy. Which I suppose can best be described as a school for dinosaurs. They become Astrosaurs if they make it through. I enjoyed meeting the young cadet Teggs Stegosaur and his pals, and seeing how clever and brave they could be when finding not everyone is totally above board. It’s mad, but that’s what we like. It’s space. It’s dinosaurs. Everything good all at once.

That brings us neatly to the slime. Or not so neat, perhaps. It is slime, after all. I struggled with perspective on this one. I think everything and everybody is so incredibly minute that you can’t even begin to work out how small a hero can be and still be a hero.

As for names, don’t you just love Plog and Furp? It’s sort of ecological, with the action taking place in rubbish. But you still have good monsters and bad monsters, and bad monsters need to be got rid of. So you have some super-monsters who rescue the world from the bad guys. And what more wonderful situation than to find yourself side by side with your heroes, fighting bad monsters and ending up one of the gang?

Even if your feet smell.

I might not be talking directly to prospective slime readers here, since I happen to know that most of you aren’t boys under the age of ten. But maybe next time you need to buy a book for someone like that? I gather there is a real risk the recipient could end up worshipping at the Cole altar.

You could do worse.

That’s setting aside the absolutely must-have collector’s cards at the front of every book. Even my dormant collector’s fingers start twitching at the sight of them. No, I don’t need pictures of slimy space cows. Really.

(And Steve, I expect some gratitude for not publishing that photo of the eyebrows again.)

Bookwitch bites #60

Today bookwitch bites brings you the letter B. (Well, a witch needs something to hold a blog post together.)

Billy is getting fatter. Deeper, rather. And that’s good. Deep is good, yes? That’s Billy as in those bookcases you all have somewhere, into which you stash your books. Except now you don’t. The latest fad is to have no books, but to put ornaments in Billy instead. That’s why he’s got so deep. (I prefer fat.)

One day I might tell you about me and my Billy, back in 1977. That didn’t go too well.

Bzrk. Sorry. It was certainly not my idea. I’m currently reading Michael Grant’s fourth book in the Gone series. It’s creepy enough. I’m feeling constantly uneasy. But as Michael was telling me last year, he has something new and weird coming. The weird bit of it is here now. That’s BZRK.

It is transmedia. It is something adults aren’t supposed to get, and I’m obliging by not getting it. I think it is creepyness online and ‘games’ and stuff. It will lead up to a real book some time in the winter. I gather one can do both, or either.

Bloody Scotland. It’s what it’s called; the Scottish crime festival that was launched last week and that will happen for real next September. I can’t wait. I wish I’d known about the launch, which took place in Stirling and featured lots of big names, with that Rankin chap in the lead. Lin Anderson was also in on it, along with countless others. All of whom I missed.

Sob. I’m packing my bags to be ready for next year.

Boo! Here is a sample video to scare you. It’s part of a competition and you can make your own (Can you really? I couldn’t.) and you might win unimaginably wonderful stuff like iPads and iTunes vouchers and even an invite to a special secret event. This is all to celebrate the (I presume equally bloody) paperback of Department 19 by Will Hill.

Book. I believe I am allowed to tempt you with winning a signed copy of this book. To tell me why you deserve to win, please use the contact form at the top of this page (NOT the comments…). Shall we say by the 3rd October?

Bye for now.

Kill All Enemies

The title of Melvin Burgess’s latest novel isn’t exactly designed to reassure the middle-aged or elderly. But we have already agreed – more than once – that those aren’t the people he writes for. When you get past the title you have a wonderful novel about teenagers in need of a life.

Personally I’m really not keen on the subject of truanting trouble makers. But Melvin knows how to make his doubting readers see that we are all the same. The truanters may look and act horribly, but there is probably a reason for that.

I thought I was up for another book in the vein of Nicholas Dane or Junk, but compared to those Kill All Enemies is sweetness itself. There is horrific abuse of fourteen-year-olds, but the whole point is to see what they can do about themselves, with a helping hand from adults outside the family and mostly outside school.

Maybe Melvin paints too bleak a picture of teachers and parents. But I know for a fact that far too many schools let their pupils down in a variety of ways.

Kill All Enemies is about Billie, who for years took care of her younger siblings, only to be left out when her family finally pulled themselves together again. She is very angry, with her foster parents and with school and nearly everyone else. But there is a social worker at the ‘school’ she gets sent to to be sorted out, who cares and who works hard with her.

Rob acts like a bully, but in reality it’s he who is bullied by his stepfather. He hides the truth so his mother won’t realise, and he protects his brother, too. All he needs is to feel safe, with the three of them away from the bully. And he wants to be a drummer.

Finally there is Chris who goes to a private school, but who can’t be bothered to do homework. Ever. When his path crosses with Rob’s things start to happen. Chris has a reason for not doing homework. We just need to find out why, and what he might do instead.

The three characters are apparently real, although Melvin has fictionalised what happens to them. This is a great read, and far more uplifting than you’d think.

Fair memories

The Gothenburg Book Fair starts today. And no, I’m not there. I did consider it, and at one point recently I thought maybe I could combine it with going to the dentist. Your ultimate ‘buy one, get one free.’ But I dare say books and dentistry aren’t ideal bogof partners.

Gothenburg Book Fair

I’m very fond of the Gothenburg fair. It’s not quite where bookwitch was born, but seeds were certainly sown. At the start, it felt like I’d be going every year. When I’d been going for three years it definitely seemed like I’d be returning faithfully every September.

But then other things happened. It wasn’t always an ideal time to travel, and when lots of other book festival type events closer to home became more and more important, I actually had to choose. Shame, but we can’t always have everything. In fact, I’m too decrepit to cope with doing everything.

There are always interesting people invited. But for it to work for me, it now needs to be people whose work I know, and who I’ve not already seen somewhere in the UK.

Nice furniture

They are probably better than most at offering Nobel prize winners. And there is something about the way you accidentally come across some very famous people. The comfort and design of some of the hidden away seating areas beats Edinburgh any day. No mud. No rain. But interminably long and uncomfortable queues for the toilets, which Charlotte Square seems to cope with surprisingly well.

Frank McCourt

You’re allowed to pop in and out of author talks, as and when you like. The auditoriums are very comfortable. But the tickets are expensive unless you buy a pass for the duration. It’s still pricey, but you get a lot for your money.

If you don’t want to do that, you get a lot of short, informal talks ‘down on the market floor,’ absolutely free. In fact, one of my favourite Swedish blogs is supplying its teen bloggers to chat to Cornelia Funke at one of the stalls this year.

They haven’t yet invited Meg Rosoff, and I really think they should. I’ve told them often enough.

Fan with Jacqueline Wilson

But Amos Oz, Desmond Tutu, Sara Paretsky and Philip Pullman aren’t bad names to be getting on with. And although we initially went for Mr Pullman, I think one of the valuable things for Son was meeting half the people he knew in Sweden at the fair. We went with School Friend and needed somewhere to sit down for lunch. It was very crowded, so I sent Son ahead to scout for seats.

He came back saying he’d run into Pippi and her companion, and they were saving their seats for us until we got there. So School Friend and Pippi finally met, courtesy of books. And there was Librarian Husband of Cousin popping up all over the place. The Cousin herself popped as well. And eldest Cousin-Offspring. And the artist who makes our favourite calendars.

I know. You’re not impressed. It’s just that we have spent years chasing round to meet up with people on our ‘holidays’, and here they were being served up just like that, ‘all’ at once.

And now we have facebook (what’s left of it) and I am friends with people I saw at the fair, and the ones in Sweden are busy getting ready to jump in and enjoy the books for the next four days. And I’m a little jealous.

That’s all.


It’s good.

We all want to inherit a great old house in Cornwall, or possibly in Scotland. It’s such a romantic idea, and the extremities of the country somehow always appear more charming, even when it rains most of the time.

Paradise is my first Joanna Nadin book. It’s not at all what I expected. As I said, it is good. It’s not that I didn’t expect that. Just different. Paradise is more of a Rosamunde Pilcher for teens in the noughties, if that makes sense. I felt right at home from the start, and I could almost be Billie who inherits her grandmother’s house, only to find there are an awful lot of secrets that come with the house and the small Cornish town it’s in.

She never knew her father, and she moves from London with her Mum and her younger half-brother Finn. They have no money, and soon the house begins to affect her Mum in unexpected ways.

Chapters come from all sorts of points of view, so we see what has happened in the past and what is happening now. We see the thoughts and memories of Billie and her Mum, as well as the dead grandmother’s and a few other people’s. This means the reader can piece together what must have happened, while it takes the main characters quite a bit longer to know the whole truth.

It can be bleak in Cornwall in March. Cold. The gas bills mount up and the seaside doesn’t have its summer charms. But Billie still feels she belongs, especially after she meets Danny. He is as charming and perfect for her as Billie’s real Dad was for her Mum.

And what did the older generation get up to? Really?

This is a wonderful story. Even in the cold.