Monthly Archives: March 2012

Bookwitch bites #75

If I’d known about it I would have wanted to be there. Here is a short video from when some other people spoke up for libraries, with Alan Gibbons at the forefront ‘as usual.’ The others are, in no particular order, Lucy Coats, Candy Gourlay, Philip Ardagh, Gillian Cross, Fiona Dunbar, Chris Priestley, Pat Walsh and the librarian of librarians, Ferelith Hordern. And probably some others I didn’t catch enough of a glimpse of to be able to identify them.

It’s easy for us to take libraries and the whole idea of them for granted. I had no idea that when Candy grew up in the Philippines there weren’t any libraries. And the elderly gentleman in the video who talked so passionately about borrowing books to read… well, it makes me want to cry.

Charlie Brown had access to a library. Probably even Snoopy had a library, unless it was ‘no dogs allowed.’ It can be easy to lose or forget a library book, but as long as you don’t ‘spill coffee’ on a book on purpose, you might be forgiven.

Charlie Brown library cartoon

The coffee spilling was a technique I learned about at work, back in the olden days. Not very honest, and not something I have ever practised.

Finally, here is a link to a radio programme on Monday 26th March, about Scandinavian children’s books, presented by Mariella Frostrup as ‘always.’ Let’s hope it won’t be only the same old stuff, despite the description. I am particularly interested, because I was party to a request for contributions to the programme from the Scandinavian church in Liverpool. Nice that they asked, but not sure who they hoped to find there. (Having said that, I will clearly be faced with all my friends at Gustav Adolf…)


Lord's Library

I’m not entirely sure whether the – Bookwitch – jury is still out on this, or not. To e or not to e? Well, actually, I will e(book) if and when the need arises. I’d be silly not to. But I’m more or less with Blue Peter on this.

They went to great trouble to test e-readers versus good old paper. It might not have been totally serious or scientific, but I was quite impressed by the exercise of letting a tank run over the two competitors. The e-reader survived, but the paper book survived more, if you can put it that way?

Take my (no longer so) recent train trip to Glasgow. Eight hours there and back. The way to justify all that time was to take books to read. Get a lot of reading done. I usually take more than one, since I never know if I’ll end up hating one. On that basis, perhaps three books, considering the length of the journey?

A Kindle would be ideal, and would prevent the bag getting too heavy (with a laptop in there, it was already too heavy) and too fat. Umpteen books in one small packet. But what if the battery ran out? Better take one paper book. So, in reality I took the equivalent of two, anyway.

And what about the funny people you encounter on planes? I have yet to find any consistency from one crew member to another, and I need to read when sitting there waiting for take-off slots, and to take my mind off bumps. So I can’t afford someone coming along demanding my electronic gadget is put away for (here you insert whatever stupid reason such people might come up with), which could be five minutes or five hours.

So, paper book it is.

Holidays. Could take ten books with little effort. Between us, the Resident IT Consultant and I could share twenty. But unless we have an e-reader each, we can’t share.

Reviews. Yes. Publishers can club together to pay for e-readers for people on their current mailing lists (except they probably wouldn’t, or couldn’t) and then send out ebooks (and that’s the death knell to Royal Mail). Handy. Except, if the book isn’t only published as an ebook, there is no way of getting all touchy-feely with some of the lovelier aspects of books where a lot of thought has gone into the design.

Suzanne Selfors, Mad Love

Loking at my (I mean the Kindle belonging to the Resident IT Consultant, of course) grey and boring e-reader I would never get those pink twinges I experienced over Suzanne Selfors’s Mad Love.

I could never do a header photograph like my new header. There would be just the one ‘book’ and no hope of rainbows anywhere.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I gather there are skins you can buy. Sounds decadent, and not very vegetarian, but quite nice. You can even have a custom made skin. Saw a blog post by an author who tried out customised skins from her own (paper) cover designs. It looked great! And I do think that’s a nicer way to adorn an e-reader than the ever-changing pictures that pop up on the Kindle. Nice enough, but you’re not in control. And there is no colour.

I have read some ebooks now, and it’s been OK. But I find I need to remember they exist. The e-reader alone does not remind me that I have six exciting titles to read, the way six books would. That’s partly why Philip Caveney hasn’t been getting the attention his new ebook deserves. I’m not in an ebook mood.

It’s great the way you can alter the size of the font. But you never know what page you are on. (Or even how many ‘normal’ pages there are. Percentages are all very well, but if you can’t see what the 48% is 48% of…) Also, I needed to alert one author to a mistake that I was sure she would want to correct, but what page would it be at her end?


There are good and bad things for both options. But I prefer books made of paper. I even prefer the mess they make on my shelves. Which is funny, because the minimalist in me ought to be more than ready for a life with one book. Like the chap at the top of this post. I’d love to have visitors admiring my ‘selection.’

Where am I heading?

It’s a bit of a cliché, and I apologise, but I have been craving some colour co-ordinated books up on top here. I just have. I know ‘everyone’ else with a book blog also has books, and I know some have the colours, but I just couldn’t help myself, all right?

The shape of a blog header is made for a row of books, don’t you think? And no book was spared in the making of Bookwitch’s new head(er). I picked and I planned and I carried. I remembered that I don’t have all the books. Offspring look after certain categories, so I went to see what they had to offer.

And in case you thought Daughter provided Love Lessons for that lovely red colour, I’ll have you know her copy was buried so deep that I went and borrowed Son’s copy instead. Yes, I know. It’s not every witch who has a son who owns a red Jacqueline Wilson book.

I lined them all up and then I wondered what on earth I should do with the whites and the blacks, as they aren’t part of the rainbow I was aiming for. But as you can see, I thought of something. (To be perfectly honest, without the black and white ends they would all have toppled sideways.)

When I had photographed them a few times (not all of the books said ‘cheese’ at the same time…) I had to carry them all back. And whereas getting the books off the shelves is relatively easy (according to the principle that anything will come down), returning them meant lugging the stepstool out to reach the top. But because my shelves had already begun to look untidy, I suppose it was good that I had to do it again.


I will now be able to accommodate another ten books or so, after reading, and after that, I will be as desperately off as I was only the other day.

ALMA and Guus

In the end I forgot. And that was despite having written it down in three places. So when I was meant to listen to the live announcement of who would be the 2012 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner, I was enjoying a mug of Earl Grey, away from my laptop. Just think, I’d even been offered to be bussed in for the event (that is assumimg I’d been in Stockholm in the first place to be carted to Vimmerby for the big moment).

Guus Kuijer books

And once I’d seen the news, I was overcome by one big whopping xenophobic thought. I am ashamed of myself. Just because I haven’t even heard of a writer, does not mean they are no good or not deserving. I should not, must not, feel that the English-speaking world of books trumps everywhere else (apart, obviously, from Swedish books). But I did, for about ten seconds.

After all, I never once doubted the worthiness of Ryoji Arai who shared with Philip Pullman. After meeting him, even less so, and that’s despite this book of his I have which I can’t read because it’s all in Japanese.

So, I am very happy for Guus Kuijer, whose name I will practise pronouncing for the next few days. His entry on English Wikipedia is suitably, xenophobically short. But I gather that Guus has written a tremendous number of excellent books, for many many years. He has won lots of awards. And it is hardly surprising that the ALMA jury have decided he is this year’s winner. It follows much the same principles that the Nobel prize does. Pick someone no one else has heard of.

Larry Lempert ALMA 2012

Actually, having belatedly checked out the live announcement I’m grateful I wasn’t there. It even out-did the one two years ago. Maybe it’s a Vimmerby effect?

Short mad men in heels

Below you will find Josh Lacey telling you about what I did last week. It’s just that it’s not all I did. I’m ashamed to admit to having behaved like the editor from hell (because I can, you know?), which will be why the poor man started worrying about his pension. Josh’s next pizza won’t be coming from me, but I’ll put the kettle on if he calls in on his way past.

‘Last week, Bookwitch wrote very nicely about my new book, and mentioned that it made her think about Berlusconi and Sarkozy. I was delighted that she said so, because I’d been thinking about both of them while I was writing Grk and the Phoney Macaroni. I even dabbled with the idea of calling one of my characters Bunga, if not Bunga Bunga, although I’m glad I decided not to.

I did, however, keep those two men in mind while I was writing the book’s villain, the dastardly Duke of Macaroni. I stole Sarkozy’s habit of wearing high heels and gave it to the duke, another diminutive dictator. He shares Berlusconi’s preening self-confidence, as well as his impregnable empire of newspapers and TV stations. And, like both of them, the Duke of Macaroni is the type of man who lusts after power, absolute power, the power to transform landscapes and lives.

You might think that such figures plucked from the world of politics and international affairs don’t have any place in a children’s book, particularly a book aimed at eight or ten year olds rather than teens, but you’d be quite wrong. I remember worrying about world events when I was eight. I remember eavesdropping on adult conversations, watching the news and reading the front pages of newspapers, hearing about slaughters and disasters, seeing pictures of chaos and devastation, trying to sort out for myself what on earth was going on.

Adults lose their curiosity about their world, or at least dampen it. They have to. Otherwise they wouldn’t have any space in their brains to worry about pensions and mortgages and office politics and where the next meal is coming from.

But a kid who wakes up in the middle of the night isn’t going to panic about his pension. I hope he isn’t, anyway. He should be concerned with bigger questions. What is war for? Why is the world ruled by crazy small men? What does it all mean?

Grk doesn’t know the answers to any of these questions. He’s just a small dog whose stomach is never full enough.

Grk’s constant companion, a boy named Tim, doesn’t know any of the answers either, but he’d like to.

And their adventures around the planet, which have taken them from India to Australia, New York to Rio de Janeiro, tussling with crooked businessmen and power-crazed politicians, have allowed me to ask some of those enormous questions that have been bugging me since I was eight years old.’

To which I can only add that the Duchess of Macaroni’s first name happens to be Carla. Whatever happened to changing names to protect the innocent? And it’s certainly not me who is calling Carla’s hubby a dictator. This is a blog about children’s books, after all.

(I was going to ask Josh for a photo of himself, but then I thought it might be better if they don’t find out what he looks like. That will delay them ever so slightly. Give him a sporting chance and all that.)


The minute I began reading Illegal I felt right at home. It was as if I had been waiting for it.

The title makes me a little uneasy. It feels so, well, Illegal. But other than that, it is a great story. I was going to say, maybe even better than Hidden, which was Miriam’s first book in the series. But that’s time for you. I think they are both equally exciting and also equally necessary. Where Hidden was about illegal (as well as legal) immigrants, Illegal is about doing things which are against the law.

Miriam Halahmy, Illegal

Here we see more of Lindy, who was the ‘bad girl’ in Hidden, and we find that she’s not bad at all. She’s got a tough life, which makes everything seem worse. Lindy’s toddler sister has died, two of her brothers are in jail, and her unemployed parents do nothing all day, leaving Lindy and her little brother Sean to fend for themselves.

When her cousin Colin offers her good money for some ‘gardening’ work, she jumps at it. Except it’s his way of tying her into his drug dealing business, and when she realises this, it’s too late to get out.

Or would have been, had she not met mute boy, Karl, who goes to her school. Together they work on sorting things out.

This is an exciting story, which also shows teenagers like Lindy that there is always hope. Just because you are perceived as bad, doesn’t mean you are. It’s important that young people can read about how there is a way out, and that you can find friends in the most unexpected places. In the end, there was less help from Hamlet and St John Ambulance than I had come to expect, but Lindy grows from experiencing what she can do for herself, and for her family.

It was a little broken, but not forever.

I’m looking forward to Miriam’s next book.

Here’s one they made earlier

I’ve been working on educating the Resident IT Consultant. Whenever the Guardian publishes a photo of whoever they are writing about, you can be fairly certain it will be an ex-Edinburgh Book Festival photo, if the person ever appeared there. And let’s face it, most people seem to have passed through at some time or other. It’s a convenient way of collecting images. And having been on the other side (I don’t mean that other side; just the right side of the cameras) I can now recognise them instantly.

The Guardian on a Saturday also does a My Family Values regular thing, which featured Jacqueline Wilson last week. Her photo ‘hit’ me from across the room (well, it was big) and when I quizzed him, the Resident IT Consultant gave me the correct answer at once.

This time there was nothing really new, seeing as I keep up with who Jacqueline is. It was as I got to the end, where they mentioned her most recent book, that I worked out that these columns are most likely made quite some time in advance. OK, so they don’t expect people to pop two books every year, but her September book is no longer the most recent.

And then I thought about the mention of the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories in Newcastle, and the penny dropped, albeit slowly. Maybe they prepared this piece back in October, when both exhibition and book were brand new? That’s when there was extra media interest in both.

So even national newspapers ‘make things earlier’ and keep until needed, or wanted.

Jacqueline Wilson and paparazzi

As for the photo which started this post, can you see me there? On the other side? I’m not there all the time, but increasingly I have my own version of what the ‘real’ press use. And sometimes it feels as if the Witch Photo Gallery (I just made that up) actually has pictures the ‘real’ photographers never end up using. Whereas I have used this one several times. (To be fair, Colin McPherson who is getting ‘his’ book signed here, recently let me use one of his photos for free.)

I too do Blue Peter style blog posts. You never know when you’ll have a rainy day and need a magically transformed bottle of washing-up liquid. It’s not Sapphire Battersea which is the latest. It is The Worst Thing About My Sister. And if it isn’t, then this post has Blue Petered out of all control.