Monthly Archives: February 2012

The new Rowling

We are all somewhat jealous of J K Rowling’s fame and fortune. But is that any reason to become spiteful?

When the news came about the book she’s been writing, it was as if of necessity it has to be bad. Harry Potter wasn’t bad. Not high literature, but still well written and a most enjoyable read. There is no reason why the new book should be bad, or embarrassing.

After all if you have all that money and the time to write and willing publishers; would you ruin your reputation by offering us a poor novel? It’s not as if Harry was just one or two books. J K kept it up all the way to the seventh book, under pressure, with journalists sneering almost as often as they praised.

So we know that she can. And there is no way she could offer the world another Harry. It will have to be different. Maybe even so different that it needs to be an adult book. I don’t know. That’s the one thing that leaves me thinking lots of fans will be disappointed.

I know the early fans are grown-ups by now, but there will be young readers who are going to have to wait. It depends on how adult an adult novel it is. You can always ‘read down’ but not necessarily ‘read up.’

But I’m looking forward to it. And surely it will be good for bookshops? The first post-HP is destined to sell.


‘And so did I’

Barry Hutchison, The 13th Horseman

That could be a quote on the cover, when they reprint Barry Hutchison’s The 13th Horseman. It shouldn’t take long, I reckon. They’ve got that Neil Gaiman saying that he ‘really liked it,’ which is why I felt I could pipe up with my piece. While I’m still talking about covers, this one would make the unsuspecting buyer think they were getting something Terry Pratchett-ish. And they’d be quite right.

This is my first Barry Hutchison book and I’m praying it won’t be my last. In fact, if someone could just magic me the next Afterworlds book this very moment I’d be most grateful. (Hint?)

So, as you will have gathered, I quite liked it. Loved it. You know. But I wanted to be restrained over the whole thing.

The end of the world is coming and the Four Horsemen are missing a Death, so they adopt Drake Finn. Having gone through a number of Deaths over the years, he is their tenth. While waiting for the end they play children’s games in Drake’s shed. Except they don’t have a shed, according to his mum.

He’s at a new school, and being the new kid is always hard, but luckily not as hard as this. He’s got a horrible teacher to deal with, three bullies and Mel, who is a very promising girl. I’ll want to see more of her. She’s a credit to her sex. (Speaking of which, how old is Drake? There is kissing. Probably still very young.)

The Apocalypse isn’t as far away as all that, and before long the Four Horsemen have work to do. Can Drake do his bit? Well, I obviously can’t tell you that. But if you are reading this, then the world didn’t end. Yet.

This is an incredibly funny book, and I do like my humour. For all their faults I found myself liking all the Horsemen, although best of all Pest. Even Famine grows on you a little. Excuse the pun.

My copy of the book came with a bookmark that’s almost as amusing as the book itself. Apparently they have put in a mistake on purpose. (Of course they have.) It’s not quite as they say however, but I worked it out. And there is one word too many. But that’s all right.

It’s a very nearly perfect book.

‘I can’t wait to hear myself speak’

I must have told you about..? It seems not.

Last week the translating Son had a short piece on Strindberg, written by Inga-Stina Ewbank, to translate in the wrong direction. It would appear that translating from your native language also has its merits. (You know of course that I would like to call it Son’s mother tongue, but that’s where we get complicated. So I won’t.) What made it all the more odd as far as direction is concerned is that the piece was written in English by a Swede about a Swede.

I had grumbled the week before that if I am to proof read stuff, it would help to see the original, so this time he emailed it to me. He has had so many outlandish texts to work from that it was a pleasure to see one that was a pleasure to read.

Being one of those people who love to repeat themselves (well, I don’t love it, but I have tendencies in that direction, and I’m working hard to give it up), I have developed this way of asking ‘I must have told you this loads of times already?’ and that’s what I did when I emailed Son back.

When Professor Ewbank came ‘home’ to Gothenburg to give a talk at the English department in 1978, we students of average mediocrity were excited by the idea of ‘one of our own’ having made it to Professor of English in London. A specialist on the Brontës, even. It was her glowing introduction which caused Inga-Stina to look forward to hearing herself speak.

It wasn’t until this week, however, that I found out that she only learned English at the age of 19. And her name, it’s just so Swedish!

It’s Sunday

Time for a break.

I was going to use this photo for something last night, and couldn’t. And then I thought it’d be a waste having ‘found’ it if I didn’t use it. So let’s pretend it’s warm and sunny and we are on holiday.

Varbergs fästning

Having spent a lot of Saturday doing some most unwitchlike things, I deserve a day off. Almost a day off.

And if I don’t, well it’s too late now.

Can’t you just feel that sun on your bare shoulders?

Bookwitch bites #71

If I’d told you about this earlier, you’d just have forgotten, so it shouldn’t matter that you only have until midnight tomorrow, 26th February, to win a copy of Adrian McKinty’s The Cold Cold Ground. It is a truly great crime novel, so go for it!

Moving across the water (the name of which escapes me right now) to Scotland, Nicola Morgan and her book Wasted won the older category in the Scottish Children’s Book Awards on Thursday. See, it might take a while to start winning, but once you do, it goes on and on. I hope. I mean, I know. Because I’m a witch.

The younger age categories were won by Ross MacKenzie with Zac and the Dream Pirates, and Dear Vampa by Ross Collins. Well done Rosses!

Lots and lots of children’s authors descended on London this week, for some fancy do on the South Bank to mark the start of the Imagine Children’s Festival. They had to dress up, which I’m sure came as a shock to some, used as they are to working in their pyjamas all day long. I have discovered that some female authors have legs, after seeing photos of them wearing their LBDs.

I think the whole thing sounds absolutely great. Except, it reminds me of birthday parties and school, when someone invites 75% of the children in their class. If smaller numbers, it is understandable that not all can be invited. If such large numbers, you need to ask all. OK, it’s impossible to identify ‘all’ children’s authors in the land. But still…

Kronprinsessan, Prins Daniel och Prinsessan på väg hem till Haga slott från Karolinska sjukhuset. Foto:

I mentioned the Queen of Sweden being discovered at the Olympic Games in Munich forty years ago. The discovery. Not the mention. That was this week. Little did I know (I’m in exile, after all) that the next day a new little Princess would be born, but let me offer a big welcome to the future reader of children’s books! Princess Estelle Silvia Ewa Mary, Duchess of Östergötland.

I expect her mode of transport will improve as she grows older. And did you know they are on facebook? The Swedish Royal family? That’s how I know that today you can (should you be in Stockholm) attend a children’s half term holiday hunt round the Royal Palace. Let them play!

With Friends

Having found that the two Ann Turnbull novels about Friends Will and Susanna are to be followed by a third, completing a trilogy, I felt the need to go back to the first two. They are the kinds of books you don’t forget. You might not remember the details, but the story stays with you.

What makes No Shame, No Fear and Forged in the Fire stand out so is the beautiful love story. But also the background to what today might be seen as a ‘mild form’ of religion, but which in the 17th century was an abomination which the authorities needed to stamp out.

That people as peaceful and normal as Quakers are should be seen as a threat, is something we need to remember today, when there are plenty of other goups of people which some of us fear enough to want to persecute. It’s as with many other things; if you exchange a word or a name for another, you suddenly see quite how wrong and unnecessary any such behaviour is. Hopefully, one day we’ll all have blended in.

No Shame, No Fear introduces us to Will and Susanna and their love for each other. Set in the Shropshire countryside, and in a small town in 1662, Susanna’s family are Friends, whereas Will’s father is a wealthy authority figure who opposes the illegal Friends. And when Will finds himself drawn to them it leads to their estrangement.

This is another story featuring strong women in history. Susanna goes to work for Mary, a professional woman and Friend, where she learns to read and write, and eventually to work in Mary’s printer’s workshop. Meanwhile, Friends are being thrown in jail for their beliefs, and Will and Susanna work together to make sure the children left behind are safe. And all this time Will’s father tries to extricate his son from what he sees as the arms of a calculating whore.

Three years later in Forged in the Fire Will is living and working in London, expecting Susanna to join him as soon as she is free from her apprenticeship with Mary. And that’s when the plague breaks out. When Susanna hears nothing for a long time, she sets off to London to find Will.

Things are not easy for them to begin with, and once they settle it’s time for the fire of London. The accounts of both the plague and of the fire are scary. It’s easy to shrug them off as awful things that happened a long time ago, but when your Friends are involved it feels different.

I can see the story’s hook, now that I know there is a third book on the way. Will’s and Susanna’s friends moved to America a few years earlier, and it’s what people did when they were persecuted for their faith or couldn’t make a living where they were. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Ann Turnbull, No Shame, No Fear

Ann Turnbull, Forged in the Fire

(A brief thought on book covers. The new trilogy will have new and matching covers. The two original covers were based on ‘real’ art, making them feel part of the story. The new ones look like all new book covers do. Are we scared of old things?)

Catalogue woes

When I received my first book catalogues from publishers I was childishly pleased. And I still am. Sometimes. I was talking to a book world friend a few weeks ago about a recently received annual catalogue, and remarking that for all the books it listed, I was only interested in one.

In a way that was good, because it eases the burden of how to find the time to read. But what upset me was the large number of romances. That’s the only word to describe what they are. My foreign youthful equivalents of Mills & Boon have now been replaced by books with dark covers depicting vampires and dystopias and the like.

One such book I can show an interest in. Several even, if they don’t all come at once. Except they do. The catalogue I have in mind had pages and pages of them, and when you see all the covers side by side, the similarities are more striking than when you see them on their own. Being a bit gaga I peer at every new book and wonder whether I’ve already seen it. But most likely it was just one of its mates, looking almost the same.

The books are OK. I’m sure I’d enjoy reading a few if I had nothing else to read. But like the Mills & Boons they are not really review material. Or at least, I don’t think so. I’d never have dreamt of reviewing a romance back when I consumed them, nor would I have looked for someone else’s review of them. You buy or borrow, read and discard.

But luckily there are other catalogues. Some are excellent and contain not only the new books soon to come, but list all the old books still available. And when they are good ones it makes you go a bit crazy, until you realise you can’t order half the back catalogue. You just don’t have the time.

And then there are the ones that list books to appear over the next few months. Like the Walker Books Seasonal Catalogue which just arrived. The cover is nice. It’s from the May lead title, and looks like something I’ll want to read. A war time Shirley Hughes novel. On past lots of picture books. Then comes a new Sonya Hartnett. At least I think it is. The blurb sounds a little like another one, but I’m sure it’s new.

After which I get to the first and second books in Ann Turnbull’s ‘epic Friends trilogy.’ Whoa! It is a trilogy? I didn’t know. If so, where is number three? Hang on, perhaps the first two are there to herald the arrival of the third?

More picture books, and then what might be the end of Helena Pielichaty’s Girls FC football books. Old Horowitz.

Yes! It is a trilogy! And I haven’t missed a thing, because here comes the ‘long-awaited conclusion’ of Ann’s Friends trilogy, Seeking Eden. Not now, obviously. In the summer. But at least I hadn’t lost my mind.

More novels, more picture books (if that is possible) and some Baker Street Boys, of which there are many. Anthony Read has been busy. I can almost cope with this. There are books I like the look of, ones I love the look of and some which look fine but that I will not have time for.

And then there are lists and catalogues from all the other publishers… As well as the non-existent lists from others. Detective work can be such fun.

The Story of the Olympics

When The Story of the Olympics arrived at the end of the summer I did not feel ready for it. Not that I objected to Richard Brassey’s book, but the dratted Olympics felt like a very long way away. They still do, but it could be that with my head so deep in the sand I am missing a few things.

My heart fell when I heard London had ‘bagged’ the games, back in 2005. I remember the day unusually well, but won’t bore you with it. And I appear to be in a minority of one, feeling not the slightest inclination to buy a ticket for anything at all. Which leaves more for the rest of you.

Richard Brassey, The Story of the Olympics

But Richard’s picture history of the Olympic games is quite fun. I was especially taken with the nude athletes. And due to some miscalculation on my part I thought they’d been competing in their undressed state until a few hundred years ago. Must remember the difference between BC and AD.

I imagine this book would be good way for those who can barely remember the last time, let alone 1964, to learn about it all. A bit of history, a few amusing snippets of silly mistakes, plus many of the memorable moments from the past, is all served up in an easy to digest form.

In 1968 I was too young to fully grasp what Tommie Smith and John Carlos were doing, but I remember 1972 reasonably well. Not just for the awful things that happened, but it’s when my country found its future Queen. (That’s not in the book.)

Let’s hope that if there are future Olympics books that only nice things will be added to what’s in this one.

Launching mcbf, again

You can never launch a good thing too many times. You might recall I ‘helped’ launch the Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2012 back in January last year. It was very nice. That’s presumably why they did it again.

Yesterday’s launch at New Charter Academy in Tameside (Ashton-under-Lyne) was properly executed, despite this being the week of throat infections and other kinds of bad throats. The member of staff at NCA who was to lead us to the auditorium had to whisper, hence the few followers. Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy fared only a little better, but was assisted by microphone and water.

John Brooks, Carol Ann Duffy, NCA staff member, Kaye Tew and James Draper

But we did it, and that’s the main thing. With the help of my chauffeur, aka the Resident IT Consultant, I made it to this far flung outpost of Greater Manchester, and it was my very first academy visit. It was nice. No sooner had I braved the cold winds of the car park and made it inside when I was shanghaied into a – mercifully brief – interview with Radio Tameside (I conduct the interviews here, thank you very much!), as well as been begged for a contribution to the mcbf blog.

Carol Ann Duffy with students at New Charter Academy

I was introduced to MMU Vice Chancellor John Brooks, who might be the one who said that well behaved parents could be permitted to accompany their children to the mcbf in the summer. (If not, someone else said it. It’s all a blur at the moment.) Nearly everyone spoke at some point or other. A few specially invited NCA students asked Carol Ann Duffy some extremely good questions. Kaye Tew enthused about their schools programme and James Draper (wearing truly cool socks) introduced the second half of the launch.

John Sampson's instruments

John Brooks, John Sampson and Mozart

Which was Carol Ann Duffy and her best friend John Sampson, doing a similar show to the one I saw last year. But you simply can’t have too much of The Princess Blankets (the end of which I had already *forgotten…) read by Carol Ann and with John playing a lot of different flute-y instruments, including something looking like a walking stick. (The Resident IT Consultant nodded approval for every outlandish and ancient music contraption brought out.)

Noisy audience participation (by this time the audience had grown with the arrival of pupils from nearby primary schools) complemented a successful show. It included much worthy learning, but also a sign bearing the words ‘Bloody Hell.’ And I don’t think that was an accident… Mozart was there, not to mention his older colleague Johann Sebastian Baah, the famous sheep.

Flowers for Carol Ann Duffy

I could go on. And on. But to save you having to switch off your computer, I’ll leave you with the link to the brand new and freshly produced mcbf programme. It contains many witchy favourites. Some only in school events, however. I will work on my witch-to-school transformation for daytime use.

(And I’m sorry, but my photos are as rubbish as last week’s were. I suffered a ‘technical hitch’ which has now – belatedly – been rectified. Suffice it to say I am an idiot. Sorry.)

(*As for my concerns about early dementia, I have looked at last year’s launch blog. It seems Carol Ann never read us the end. Hardly surprising I couldn’t remember it.)

Just One Cornetto…

When the Bookwitch met the Barrowmans

I emailed my questions to the Photographer, to act as my second-in-command, in case my Pendolino got stuck in a snow drift somewhere in the Lake District. You can’t be too careful. Her immediate reaction was ‘you can’t ask questions like that!’ and to please make sure I made it all the way, just so she wouldn’t have to.

Carole and John Barrowman

Well, I did. And John and Carole Barrowman are so funny and polite but chaotic that there is no way anyone could stick to a stupid list of questions anyway. My intended first one (the dustbin question) looked like it wouldn’t make it, when their general craziness caused it to pop up early on, because it sort of belonged. And that’s the thing, you have to wait and see what people are like.

These two didn’t even assume I’d read their book. Presumably because far too many other interviewers hadn’t. You probably don’t when you’re on television.

Anyway, John and Carole are loud and boisterous, while still remembering the good manners their parents must have instilled in them. I have never had less of a problem hearing a recorded interview, because John speaks LOUD and CLEAR as though he’s used to being on stage. They talk at the same time. And where most interviewees talk at a speed of just over 100 wpm, the Barrowmans managed around 200wpm…

Perhaps because there were two of them?

Here it is.