Monthly Archives: November 2011

Mondays are Red

I have read my first ebook! I am so proud of myself. Also reasonably proud of Nicola Morgan who has laboured and not only written Mondays are Red, but prepared her firstborn novel for its return as an ebook. She has updated it a little, which was something I wondered about as I read, thinking that this didn’t feel like something from ten years ago.

It’s very good.

And that was quite a relief, because I’m never sure of this business of revisiting the past. It’s also quite lucky I didn’t read it back then, what with me loving Tim Bowler’s Starseeker, which featured that other 14-year-old Luke, who was also seemingly a wee bit crazy, when in actual fact it’s ‘only’ synaesthesia.

Nicola’s Luke has meningitis, and when he wakes up after not dying he’s different. He smells and feels things, and then he discovers a strange man called Dreeg inside his head.

Most of the book is like a dream. We know Luke is seeing things that aren’t real – as well as this new sense of colour – but as with dreams you’re never sure what’s what. He wants to recover enough to run a race. He also hates his sister. He falls out with his best friend Tom. And all because of Dreeg.

There is a man who abducts young girls, and there is a severe risk of forest fires, because it’s the hottest summer on record. Luke takes up writing poetry. He falls in love, but is the girl real?

All this comes together in a dreamlike kind of way, and Luke needs to see what he can do about Dreeg who is beginning to alarm him. Except, Dreeg is Luke and Luke is Dreeg.

It’s almost impossible to describe. Read it instead. Now that it’s an ebook it doesn’t require a trip to a physical bookshop. And it’s a bit cheaper… Do it. If you’re a dinosaur, then this is a good place to start the e-adventure.

Another piece of luck was that the Kindle didn’t die of battery starvation until a few minutes after The End. The Resident IT Consultant’s still searching for the cable as I write this…


When what’s-her-name met Damien

I’m not really here today. But you’re in good hands, so don’t panic. Nicola Morgan will look after you, seeing as she’s stopped off on her etour (Which is not the same as detour. I think.) to tell you, and me, about her new-old ebook, Mondays are Red.

‘It shouldn’t happen to an author but if you write for young people, it will. Usually during a school event. There was the librarian who, escorting me towards the hall where 120 pupils were waiting, said shakily, “Don’t worry if they behave really badly. Even the toughest teachers find this year-group impossible.” And the time a boy was carried kicking and struggling from the class by two burly teachers. The times when people have fainted. (I blame Fleshmarket for that.) The time when, during Q&A, after I’d talked for 45 minutes and was now waiting for questions of inspired percipience, a boy asked, “What’s your name?”

There was the time when a girl said, “I love your books.” “Oh, lovely – which is your favourite?” I asked, to be met by a blank stare, so I tried to help her out: “Maybe Wasted? Or Mondays are Red?” With a look of extreme witheringness, something I really should perfect myself, she said, “No, not your books. Your boots!” Of course. Mind you, I’m with her on the boots.

But my peak low happened in a library near Edinburgh, where I was launching a reading club for upper primary pupils. It was several years after Mondays are Red had come out and that was not the book I was talking about. In fact, it’s not really “for” that age group, a point I hope you will remember in a moment. Many biscuits with toxic levels of sugar and much brightly-coloured juice with many additives had been consumed by this time. I’d like you to consider that as another mitigating circumstance, for I do believe that Damien – which was not his name, oddly – was merely the victim of a nutritionally-induced personality change when I was chatting to some other pupils and was delighted to overhear him saying to the librarian, “Did she write Mondays are Red?”

“Yes, Damien.”

“I’ve read that, Miss.”

“Really? What did you think?”

“Pure shite.”

Luckily, most readers are not Damien and I still get more positive emails about Mondays are Red than any other book, which is kind of lucky because it’s BACK! Damien, RUN – it’s coming after you!

Yes, Mondays are Red is now in glorious ebook form for all ebook readers, smartphones and computers, enhanced by extra material, such as information about synaesthesia and creative writing examples by pupils. But probably not Damien.’

Nicola Morgan, Mondays Are Red

‘Mondays are Red was Nicola Morgan’s debut novel, published in 2002, a month before Tim Bowler’s Starseeker. Both books feature a 14-year-old boy called Luke with synaesthesia. In Mondays are Red, Luke wakes from a coma to discover that his world has changed. His dramatic form of synaesthesia brings absolute power – power which brings temptation and corruption. There’s always a price and someone will have to pay.’

And that girl was so wise. Nicola has great taste in boots. Damien, hmm, not so sure… But someone has to meet the Damiens of this world, and who better than our Ms Morgan?

The Sally Gardner interview

I went about this interview with Sally Gardner in a funny sort of way. There is no need to go into detail here, but I appear to have amused Orion’s Nina with my general scattiness. And you all know how very organised I am. Deep down.

Sally Gardner

As I might have mentioned, where some people have Christmas lists, I have an interview list. Luckily it has a fair few ticks on it by now. Sally was on it and I had vaguely thought that her new book The Double Shadow could well be a good reason to get moving.

Since my own travel ban had almost begun, it was very fortunate that Sally decided to publish her book (or maybe Orion did that?) on a day when I was in her neck of woods anyway. Just wish it hadn’t rained. Those showers forecast turned into torrential rain and it was very much a drowned witch who made her way into some decent bar to meet an elegant – and dry – Sally.

I came badly prepared as well, but fortunately Sally rescued me by having so many sensible thoughts on so many things that matter. It was a real pleasure talking to her.


It was seeing the film that had me even less enthusiastic about reading Inkheart than before. Not that I found the film bad. It was great. I suspected the book would be all right, but felt less urgency simply because of that film. So my copy of the book went from pile to box to back of shelves. I wonder what Mo would say about that? He might be just a character, but one with strong opinions on books.

Before the film I also had totally the wrong idea of what the book was about, which goes to prove that blurbs can mislead. The real plot is much more attractive than the one I was ‘avoiding.’

It would still sit on an obscure shelf, were it not for the fact that I needed another foreign book for my challenge. I’d run out, more or less. But it is German, and I’d not done Germany yet. It was actually in my possession, so despite its 550 pages I began.

I minded dreadfully for the first hundred pages. It was too much like the film. I knew it all. But then, it stopped being a chore and became something nice. Very nice. I found myself wanting to sit there in my armchair and not stop. It’s like smooth chocolate. (The book, not the chair.) Nice. Comfortable. Just right. (That goes for both book and chair.)

Being the last person in the world to read Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, I don’t need to tell you what it’s about. I find it quite natural that you can read characters out of books by reading aloud. Even that you can also have a real person pop into a book and disappear. What I found strange was that everyone could talk to each other. What language were they communicating in? I assume Mo and Meggie are German. Aunt Elinor must be Italian-ish. And the baddies are definitely Italian, and so is their author Fenoglio.

The book isn’t even too long. Or too short. It’s just right. And for a book with two sequels, it ends so that you don’t have to read on. I’ll probably want to, though. Won’t I?

It’s infuriating when it turns out that Cornelia’s fans have been right all these years. She’s a marvellous writer. What’s more, Inkheart has been translated masterfully by Anthea Bell. It’s so smooth (chocolate again, I’m afraid), it’s as if it had not been translated at all.


This is neither the time nor the place for tales about my pen friends. The Resident IT Consultant always falls asleep when I start, if nothing else. But I will mention my Best Pen Friend, because he is relevant. Ish. BPF came from Naxxar, which is such a fantastic place name. I’ve never been, but someone else who comes from Naxxar is Saviour Pirotta.

Malta – and I presume Naxxar – is small. Saviour’s new book is anything but. Even if it wasn’t about giants it’d count as a large book.

Saviour has collected traditional stories featuring giants and re-tells them in The Giant Book of Giants. At first I thought there were some new ones (to me), but I recognised more of them than expected. It could be I’m simply forgetful when it comes to titles, or perhaps I’ve not known what to call them, but have heard or read the stories somewhere.

Not all giants are bad. In fact, thinking of Jack and those beans I’m not sure it’s only the giant who is bad. He eats children, but Jack steals from giants. Apart from Beanstalk-boy we have Coyote Tricks the Giant, Momotaro the Peach Boy, Finn and the Buggane, The Curious Giantess, and Sinbad’s Third Voyage.

Saviour Pirotta, The Giant Book of Giants

Giants are people too, whether they are good or bad or somewhere in between. This book would be great to read to your young ones, and is suitably off-puttingly illustrated by Mark Robertson.

And as a special treat, there is something even bigger for fans of giants. Your very own giant! In a pocket there is a fold-out giant, to beat all other fold-out creatures. I would think he’s going to be bigger than many readers. Not exactly cute, but he wears a kilt, which has to count in his favour. Not tremendously Maltese, but then these tales are world classics.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The cover is purple. That alone is enough to make me grab for the reissued The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. It’s got a menacing looking wolf as well. That’s what you get when you have channel tunnels that will let anything through from foreign lands. So not a good idea. Joan Aiken was well before her time with that tunnel.

Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a wonderful book, even if it’s not my favourite in the by now pretty long saga of Willoughby Chase stories. But it sets the scene nicely, and it introduces one of my favourite characters. That’s what’s so fun, actually. We meet two young girls in this one, Bonnie and Sylvia, and then they don’t turn up again in the other books. Except very briefly, a lot later.

We do meet the villain, Miss Slighcarp, and she turns up far too much. She’s probably one of the most long lived and evil women in children’s literature. The wolves are nothing compared to her. But they are scary.

I always think this is quite a Christmassy story. Could it be the snow, or am I just a bit mad?

But it’s a nice mix of cruelty and slavery and courage and friendship and a happy ending. And as I said, it leads on to more wonderful books, and to the marvellous Dido Twite. I’ve tried to find out if Cape are planning to bring out all the books, or if this is a one-off. Still don’t know.

I do hope they are all being reissued. I have very fond memories of finding the books the first time round, going into a particular branch of the large chain store and finding the next book. It worked every time, while many other shops didn’t stock them at all. And Son was as keen as I was. That will be why he has them in his bookcase.

Are they in yours?

Midweek mörder – some light relief

All this blogging about murderous Vikings has got to me. I need to be frivolous, even if only for six minutes. And the tricky thing with basing a blog post on a video clip is what happens when it disappears. Not much. But hopefully it will not be until next week.

What is it with you English speakers and the murderous umlaut? There is such a thing as too many.

Besides, this video featuring Barnaby, Wallander, Sarah Lund and Lisbeth Salander should really have the Muppets’ Swedish chef in there as well. He’s the one who actually talks like that.

The rest of us are just very violent and efficient.

Viking Longship

Mick Manning and Brita Granström, Viking Longship

This book isn’t so much Norse gods as plain ordinary Vikings, and very well researched they are too. Should be, with a modern Viking at the helm of the illustrations of Viking Longship. Brita Granström, whom I met at the Jacqueline Wilson launch at Seven Stories in October, and her husband Mick Manning have written about ordinary Vikings.

I’ve read other stories about Vikings, but it’s harder than you think to visualise things without pictures, so Brita’s illustrations really do make a difference. This story features Grim and his family and other people around them, as well as a longship, which can be ‘carried’ across land if necessary. If you ever need to do that, this book has useful instructions.

The Vikings weren’t terribly nice, I’m sorry to say. I’d like them to be, but they attack others and they steal and enslave. There is information on warrior training, which might explain how they became so good at being so bad.

Grim and his lot invade England and settle near Jorvik. It’s interesting to see how women and children make camp near where the men fight, and then we see how they build more permanent homes. Lots of domestic detail, from doing the ironing (?) to a recipe for Birka bread.

And then it’s Yule (as it almost is here and now, too)

But nothing lasts forever, so the Saxons come and do equally bad things to the Vikings, and it all ends with a Viking funeral.

Excellent book for anyone who wants to know how and what and why. It looks easy, but I suspect there was a lot of work involved in making this book.

The Silver Sword

Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword had slipped through my reading fingers until now. We do have a copy of it somewhere, but it was yet another of the ones I never quite managed to fit in. And that of course left me not knowing what sort of a book it is, and I imagined something rather different. I thought it was more recent, if nothing else.

What clinched the deal for me was that it’s another of Cape’s reissued classics with a beautiful cover. It also qualifies as a Journey Book, although you are sort of assured of a certain success at the beginning, so you are less on tenterhooks than you might have been.

Ian Serraillier, The Silver Sword

At first I found the style a little clunky, and almost thought it could be a first book, seeing as how I felt Ian Serraillier improved as the book progressed. But I appear to have been wrong about that. Having had it on my radar for this long, I also expected something different from the blurb than what I actually got.

But the story of the three siblings in Warsaw whose parents are arrested and put in concentration camps at the beginning of WWII, and who then have to look after themselves is both touching and exciting. The war is strangely short, because we only get glimpses of their lives over several years.

Also the boy Jan who is mentioned in the blurb, only joins them towards the end, so that was another surprising element. And the journey to freedom – in this case Switzerland – begins after the war.

In a way that is the most interesting part. We have countless books about children in wartorn Europe, but much less so from the period just after war ended. It’s easy to think all difficulties will be over, but here quite a few hurdles are thrown at the children. You’re aware of how many sacrifices were made by so many people everywhere.

The end reminded me a bit of Lisa Tetzner’s series of books about the same period, if only in spirit. And I wonder if that kind of feeling only existed soon after the war. Now we are all too jaded, because we’ve seen what happened later.

Oh my gods

As they keep saying in The Sleeping Army. They have more than one, because Francesca Simon bravely did away with Christianity and gave us modern Britain with Norse gods.

She has filled her new – longer – book with Joanne Harris’s characters. Or so it seemed to her. Francesca and Joanne were on Radio 4 this week (or was it the week before?), talking about their respective Norse gods stories, and how weird it was that the ‘other one’ had used ‘her’ characters. And I’m quite grateful for that, because ‘Norse’ witch that I am, I have always had the most tremendous difficulty keeping track of who’s who and who did what. Must be that I didn’t apply myself properly at school.

So, having my recent read of Runemarks to assist me, I felt almost at home with the Sleeping Army. Or the part of it that woke up again, and their gods. They were in a dreadful state, those gods, when Freya arrived in Asgard. And she wouldn’t have, had she not had a Horrid Henry moment and blown Heimdall’s Horn in the British Museum. You just don’t do that. That woke them up. Them being siblings Alfi and Roskva and the berserker Snot. Plus Sleipnir the horse with the surplus legs.

When you’re a modern 21st century London girl, you’re not always ready to save the old gods. Especially when you’ve suddenly been transported out of your comfort zone of pizza and stuff. But true to her name Freya rises to the occasion and does great things.

I’m glad I had met the Harris gods first. They are nicer looking and smell better. This way I could adapt to quite how awful Francesca’s gods and giants and trolls were. The question is which version is the right one?

Snot of the lovely name turns out to be quite a good friend to have, despite his violent berserking tendencies. (I believe that when she came to Manchester recently Francesca said his name is actually pronounced Snote, but she couldn’t resist him being Snot. I suspect he’s neither, actually, being a bit Norse, but who cares?)

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

I’m looking forward to the next story about Freya. I was pretty sure Francesca had said there’d be more, but I checked just to be certain. So Tony Bradman who wrote in the Guardian might get his wish, and there could be more about Freya’s parents next time. I want more Snot.