Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Treasure House

Linda Newbery’s new book is a tribute to charity shops everywhere. She is such a ‘green’ person, that it’s hardly surprising to find The Treasure House full of ideas for upcycling. I am now wanting to upcycle my whole life. At least my wardrobe, and far more than I’m used to doing.

In fact, I came away from reading so full of ideas for clothes and behaving greenly, that I almost forgot what The Treasure House is also about. It’s actually almost a little Hollywood-ish. Not that it couldn’t happen, but I did find the behaviour of 11-year-old Nina’s parents rather strange.

Linda Newbery, The Treasure House

On the eve of Nina starting Big School, her mother disappears off with barely any notice. And when Nina finds some of her Mum’s stuff in the charity shop, she gets worried. Her Dad then sets off on a countrywide search, leaving Nina to stay with his aunts Rose and Nell, the owners of the charity shop.

That in itsef is a little odd, I find. People don’t usually own charity shops, but it seems these two older ladies needed something to do, more than owning a financially successful business, so are in effect running some sort of very attractive, private, village ‘Oxfam.’ And that’s where Nina spends a lot of her time, including encountering so many of her Mum’s things. (If this wasn’t a book for young readers, you’d expect her mother to have been bumped off…)

Big School is difficult, but Nina makes one friend, and that’s what leads to this upcycling business. While trying to work out where her Mum could have gone, and why, she and her new friend work on a clothes show and make discoveries about other people in the village.

It’s a fun story, set in lovely surroundings, and quite romantic as well as courageous in several ways.

As for me, I will need to get things down from the attic to begin with.


Customers in bookshops

I am bizarre.

Just thought I’d get that out of the way before proceeding to tell you about a book which chronicles weird things customers in bookshops say. Maybe I have said such things myself, but if I did, I don’t remember. And I didn’t mean to.

Jen (not a name that appeals to everyone) Campbell has worked in several bookshops and she had the presence of mind to take notes whenever customers talked to her. They invariably said strange things.

It’s worth keeping in mind here that the common denominator throughout this book is Jen…

Jen Campbell, Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops

Anyway, Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops is here, and it’s good for quite a few laughs. I shouldn’t quote really, as there is a risk I will simply reproduce the whole book here if I do. It’s been nicely illustrated by the Brothers McLeod. I don’t know them, but they have capably shown us the girl who wants to grow up to be a bumblebee, and other amusing bookshop situations.

It seems every bookshop Jen has worked in has a bookshop dog. Her current one lives in the middle of the shop floor and refuses to move. So I’ll just fall and make that a flat dog then. Or expired dog. I gather there is a Monty Python connection.

But I do feel for the customer who took the day off work in preparation for reading the last instalment of Twilight, only to find the shop didn’t have it. Good taste, but bad luck.

There are killer books and edible books. Maybe. But very few signed by Shakespeare. Jane Eyre wrote good books and it is a shame Anne Frank never wrote a sequel.

While I wait for better service, I will just lie down here on the shop’s sofa for a little snooze.

Bookwitch bites #78

We are all very much for equality here at Bookwitch Towers, as long as people remember I’m a little bit more equal than some. But I was really taken aback when I read the shortlist for the 2012 Queen of Teen. I somehow expected this shiny tiara institution to be a smidgen more traditional than I am.

It’s not. This year we could have a Queen James. Now, trailblazing James Dawson is up against the Cathys, Cassidy and Hopkins, longterm princess Joanna Nadin, as well as Hayley Long, Maureen Johnson, Chris Higgins, Samantha Mackintosh, Sarah Webb and S C Ransom, so might not reach his queenhood. But it’s an intriguing situation, even for an egalitarian old witch.

And because I am presently almost doing my blogging from the bathroom floor, I will leave you with the dog who does his writing on the roof.

Snoopy - the author

Today’s post could have been longer, I know. It could also have been no post at all.

All at sea

Somewhere in my murky past I was a sailor. There was blood involved, although not in the way you might think. The reason I’m bringing this up now is the cross-language working environment, as recently seen in The Bridge. As was mentioned in my paper, when it was shown in Scandinavia people also needed subtitles. Half subtitles, for when the actors spoke the ‘other’ language.

In theory you shouldn’t need them, but in reality of course you do. And I’ll let you in on a secret. The only reason those actors seem to do so well is that they are speaking lines. Someone else script-wrote their replies to what that Dane/Swede said to them and they didn’t need to understand a single thing.

Now, many of us, including the young Seawitch, do/did work with speakers of the other language, under conditions that allow no instant kind of subtitling. It’s fun. Challenging. Often incomprehensible. You get more used to it after a while.

Europafärjan III - Varberg

All together now; say ‘remoulade’ as though you really mean it. Try to sound a little more Danish, would you? We’ll be moving on to more advanced stuff any minute now. Rødgrød med fløde. That tastes far nicer than the easier to say koldskål. The latter looks very tasty, but at least in the crew mess on Europafärjan III it didn’t do much for my tastebuds.

Try being shut into a walk-in fridge with a Danish chef, and see how you like it. Sleep in a cabin with a Danish cleaner who smuggles cigarettes in her bra. We never did feel entirely certain what she said as she talked to us, the three Swedish washer-uppers. Quite likely she didn’t understand us either.

One of my tasks – other than not being sick while operating the dishwasher – was to serve the lorry drivers their lunch. This involved going to the galley and asking the Danish chef what was on the menu. You had to try and keep that in your head for long enough to be able to repeat it in the cafeteria, making it sound roughly the same as it did before. Lorry drivers were invariably Danish. Not sure why. And because they were regulars, they got special treatment.

(And yes, I did ‘promise’ to tell you about my postal work, as well. As soon as anyone can remember why I meant to tell you about it, I’ll be off. Writing.)

I forget where I picked up this particular piece of wisdom, but apparently there used to be a Danish saying along the lines of ‘do your good deed for the day, and accompany a Swede to the ferry.’ I am guessing these days you take them to the bridge and make sure they are just past the middle. All of them. Not just the upper or lower half.

George and Sam, once more

I can’t believe that I never reviewed Charlotte Moore’s book George and Sam, about her two autistic sons. It meant so much to me and I was one of the first to buy it the minute it was published, back in 2004.

Charlotte Moore, George and Sam

It has just been re-issued in paperback, and with the added and very great bonus of the columns Charlotte wrote for the Guardian for two years, before the book was published. I used to live for those columns. They were in the paper fortnightly, and I would have happily read one every week. Every day. Seeing the photo of Charlotte and knowing it was another Mind the Gap day meant so much to me.

Until then, I had no idea anyone could write so intelligently about autism, while also being amusing.

The new version of George and Sam has the same cover photo of the boys, from when they were about twelve or thirteen. They are adults now, of course, but will never live like normal adults. What’s so fantastic about Charlotte and her neurotypical youngest son Jake is the way they feel this is normal. Because to them it is.

The addition of 100 pages of Mind the Gap is like revisiting a favourite childhood place. I didn’t remember this, but the column began on my birthday, eleven years ago. And for me it was precisely the right year for it to begin.

I am of the opinion that you could easily re-read this book and the Guardian columns many, many times. It’s like coming home and feeling safe.* And I’d forgotten the introduction by Nick Hornby, who knows what it’s like to live with autism.

Charlotte Moore with George, Jake and Sam

I can’t be the only one who feels like a changed person for having read about Charlotte’s daily life with her boys. Whether or not you live with someone on the autistic spectrum, read about George and Sam and your life may improve.

*I recently had a request from a reader of this blog for a friend to be put in touch with Charlotte. I can fully sympathise with that kind of feeling. As long as we don’t all do it.

The Daemon Parallel

Finding out your grandmother is crazy is never a good thing. Especially if you are living with her because your Dad has just died, and you don’t know her very well and she then offers to resurrect her dead son. In case you’re missing him.

Poor Cameron could have done with taking note of what it says on page one of The Daemon Parallel by Roy Gill. It might have saved on what he had to go through later. Or not. You never know with loopy grannies.

Or is she? Grandma Ives listens to jazz and she uses a cafetiere, so she’s hardly your average, really ancient, cosy granny. She could be cool.

Whatever. Grandma Ives shows Cameron that he and she are not quite like others, because they can see a parallel Edinburgh, populated by daemons. And with that they start collecting what they need to revive dead Dad.

Roy Gill,The Daemon Parallel

Cameron meets a werewolf, a poor little used servant girl and a fearsome old woman by the name of Mrs Ferguson. Maybe. And I wouldn’t mind betting that was Jenners department store Roy Gill did such interesting things to.

For a werewolf/daemon fantasy with a difference, set in Edinburgh, you can’t do better. In fact, I feel the Edinburgh settings are pretty good, despite me not being an expert. Creepy place, Edinburgh. Avoid Jenners at all costs. And Arthur’s seat.

This could be a standalone novel. Or I can see how it could be the start of more deamonish happenings. (What I mean is, Cameron is still alive at the end.)

From Kashmir to the Andamans

That day, when I began pulling ‘Indian’ books from my shelves, to re-visit or to read for the first time, I was rather alarmed to find that the first book my hand encountered was Death in Kashmir by M M Kaye. I looked at it, and hoped it wouldn’t be. Then I stashed it away for the time being.

That means I’ve not even attempted to re-read, speedily or otherwise, either the Kashmir based romantic thriller, or the one called Death in the Andamans. The strange thing is I remember virtually nothing about them, so could obviously re-read as though they were new. Not so much should I want to, but if I ever have time.

I suspect that back in the olden days, I was simply less interested in this part of the world. Zanzibar was romantic and Cyprus was my favourite. Kenya was OK, and Berlin seemed a little on the grey side.

M M Kaye, Death in Kashmir

I won’t have realised that India was M M’s own country, rather than just another exotic place she had picked to write about. This time round I found the author’s notes the most enlightening, and it seems the Kashmir book was delayed considerably while she met her husband-to-be, married him, had their children and moved around a lot. It’s very romantic, that M M went from 2000 words a day, to nothing. And less romantic that she began writing again because they were poor and needed the money.

If I put them all together, I’m sure my readers have been everywhere in the world. Needless to say I ‘spoke’ to one this week who visited Kashmir while it was ‘open for business.’ Probably would have sent me a postcard, too, if we’d known each other back then.

Postcards have been thin on the ground this time. But, there is always facebook, so I have to make do with that. And perhaps the postcard is in the post.

First Chinley BookFest

Chinley BookFest

The Resident IT Consultant put his walking gear and waterproofs in the car. Unfortunately, the First Chinley BookFest turned out to be far too much fun for any walking to take place. That’s apart from our scurrying between Venue One and Venue Two, up and down the main street in the village, between the Women’s Institute were the author events were, and the community centre were people ate cake, bought books and ate more cake.

Chinley BookFest

Confession; we did not climb out of bed for the ten o’clock event with Edwina Currie. Somehow we didn’t feel the urge. However, Philip Caveney and Stephen Booth must be considered big draws for a Bookwitch, and to get the pair of them in one local BookFest on one Sunday afternoon was a real bonus.

Speaking of urges. We merely came from Stockport, all of 30 minutes away. One Stephen Booth fan came from Australia. Slight difference, there. But that’s books for you. Sometimes you go a bit crazy. It’s nice, though. If you can. (And one of these days I will learn how to take photos with smartphones. It’s not done by holding it the wrong way round, apparently.)

Chinley BookFest

What a wonderful little BookFest! Just the kind you can enjoy with not too much fuss. Chinley is a hard-to-get-to sort of village on the western end of Derbyshire not looking like, but feeling pretty much like Midsomer. Minus the murders. Although, Stephen Booth did call his talk ‘Where the bodies are buried,’ but I’m sure he only intended that in a fictional way. His books are fiction.

Chinley BookFest

We lunched with Philip and his Lady Caveney, and by that I mean we ate our sandwiches at the Women’s Institute before Philip’s talk, while they tucked into their salads. Very cosy. And his shoes were quite cool.

Philip Caveney

Philip’s photo of himself as a young man rather cancelled out those shoes, however. Long hair! Hairy face! Those were the days. He talked about his early days as a writer, inspired by Ray Bradbury, and then how his daughter Grace had caused him to become a children’s author simply in order to prevent her from reading his adult novels, which were so not suitable at her age.

He tried to cheat, of course, but Grace made him write a whole book, and after that more books happened, and they keep happening. It seems a last Sebastian Darke will be published later this year, and because you can never write too many books at any one time, Philip has recently published his first ebook, The Talent, which is a crossover type of story. (More about that at a later date.)

Philip Caveney, Spy Another Day

Coming soon is the second cinema book, Spy Another Day, from which Philip read to us. A short bit only. The bit that makes you want more. I can’t wait! And should this writing career not support him, he could take up singing. Philip sang very passably from his book. Well, from the film in the book, I suppose. He is inexplicably fond of old-fashioned cinemas with sticky carpets.

Philip Caveney

Not surprisingly, when reading for pleasure, he picks what’s recent and good, to keep up with what’s doing well, alternating between adult and children’s. I’m not sure Philip answered the question on whether he’ll write for adults again, but he did point out there’s little difference. Except children’s books have to be better.


We spent the interval at the community centre, where the Resident IT Consultant splashed out rather, buying four second hand books. I walked round looking at everything from the Charles Dickens table to the book patterned fabric. Also saw Stephen Booth unpacking his box of books, and Philip and Lady C enjoying well deserved mugs of something, before returning home to lovely Stockport.

Second hand books for sale at Chinley BookFest

Spotty mug

Entering into the spirit of things, we had mugs of tea and homemade cake. What mugs! Reminiscent of Cath Kidston, no less. And what cake! The Resident IT Consultant took the sensible executive decision to get two kinds for us to share. Someone walked round handing out programmes for the next literary event, which will be the Derbyshire Literature Festival in May.

Book cushion

To make sure of bagging seats to my liking, we went over to the WI again on the heels of Stephen Booth. I’m afraid I stalked him when he went outside again, grabbing a little chat outside the ironmongers (I think). For some reason we talked about Ms Currie, before seamlessly switching to Stephen’s brilliant Swedish success, and via the Bristol Crimefest to Reginald Hill.

After a while we realised that Stephen might need to go back in to talk to the rest of the roomful of people. The organiser introduced him by telling us how she read her first Fry and Cooper before moving to the Peak District. Maybe she was looking for somewhere to stash her dead bodies.

Stephen Booth

Stephen explained how he prefers to write about a place where he doesn’t live, in order to keep it fresh and at a distance. He’s with Sherlock Holmes in seeing more evil in the country than in the city. Apparently it is well known that the Peak District is good for getting rid of bodies, and especially so in reservoirs, but not to worry about our tap water.

He likes the contrast between the White Peak and the Dark Peak, and the edgy contrast between country and city. Fans have been known to read his books with an Ordnance Survey map to hand, but that didn’t prevent him from getting his east and his west mixed up when a character travelled ‘east’ from Snake Pass to Glossop. It was when he found that Boots in Edendale had accidentally moved between books that he started making his own map of his fictional town. (No matter what Stephen says, to me Edendale will always be Buxton.)

To avoid being sued too often Stephen uses real places, changing them ever so slightly. Not that that helps. Someone reported having heard the peacock he wrote about, and even saw the same people camping… (It’s fiction!!) But it must be wonderful to inspire such keen fans, that they will even go out and test whether a particular place has a mobile signal.

Stephen Booth

Listening to this cross between Stephen King and the Brontës is always fun and entertaining. It’s fascinating the way coincidences happen, and the way Stephen can make use of the weirdest stuff in writing his books. He even caused his agent to see decomposing bodies where there were none. (Poor woman.) Why frighten us, when we can do it ourselves?

I was all ready to return home and continue reading my Booth book number six, except I can’t, because it’s the book I allowed Son to take with him to India. (And that will be the only mention of India for today. Thank you for your patience.)

Stephen Booth, Scared to Live

I made up for this by getting the Resident IT Consultant an early birthday present in the shape of a genuine Stephen Booth paperback (number seven), signed and discounted. (I mean, it was very expensive, dear. Erm, no, I just remembered, you’re from Scotland. It was a bargain. Should have bought two.)

They sold the remaining cakes for half price. Because we hadn’t ‘eaten a thing’ all day, I bought some to have when we got home. There were divine scones and extremely drizzley lemon cake slices. But I’m afraid we ate it all before I thought of taking a photo.

Second hand books

Here’s to the next Chinley BookFest!

Revisiting two Indian tales

So far I’ve been feeling strangely apologetic whenever books set in India or about India feature a lot of British people and plotlines. But when you think about it, you can’t remove something that was once reality, however wrong it might have been. And I’m guessing it’s not just authors from other countries who like writing about what used to be.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Midnight Palace

Two novels that made a lasting impression on me are Bali Rai’s City of Ghosts and The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. From similar periods, 1919 and 1932 respectively, they are modern and ancient at the same time. Both have a super-natural element to them; something that can’t be explained but still seems quite normal.

The only thing that would define these novels as being Young Adult is that their main characters are teenagers. Both are about growing up and about coming to terms with what has happened in the past. Both are strong on friendship.

Bali Rai, City of Ghosts

There is sacrifice in both books as well. In City of Ghosts we have the Indian soldier who goes to fight in the war in Europe, and in The Midnight Palace there is the grandmother who has to give up her newborn baby grandson to someone else for him to stay safe.

I obviously don’t know if this is right, but feel there is a really strong flavour of India in these stories. One was written by a Spanish author, and the other by a British born Indian. Both strike me as genuine. Both leave me wanting more.

New Guy – to me, anyway

Ladies and gentlemen, there will be a 24 hour interval, during which you can recover from your recent Indian ordeal.

Guy Bass

‘Hello, I had barely heard of you when I was invited to come here today. Sorry. I hope you will tell me about yourself in your talk?’ This is roughly what I said to Guy Bass at MMU on Friday morning. He took it well, but I really didn’t require such a detailed account of his nappy years. I mean, there is only so much public pooing a grown witch can take in her stride. It was actually much more suited to eight or ten-year-olds.

Hang on! The MMU lecture theatre was full of children. Could it be..? Maybe Guy did it for them? I’m so relieved. He was getting rather carried away with his nappy contents.

Guy Bass with Stitch Head

This was another early taster for schools from the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. I was assured Guy would give a good performance, and he certainly did, in a Steve Cole kind of frenzied style. He performed with his whole body, standing on a chair and crawling on walls (he wants to be a superhero), pretending to cut his trousers up with scissors, and generally tried to avoid noticing how disappointing grown-up life can be for wannabe superheroes.

He’s a comics fan, and read fairly few books as a child. His favourite was Thomas Bakes a Cake. I was sitting some distance away, but I could still see this was the excellent Gunilla Wolde’s work. Good Swedish quality stuff. Guy’s parents had to read it to him every night for two years. His other old favourite was Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, on how best to poison your grandma. So, great Nordic taste there for our Guy.


Stitch Head loses it

His own first book was Dinkin Dings, which put him in touch with illustrator Pete Williamson, and they then went on to plan Guy’s idea for his latest series about Stitch Head. He actually brought Stitch Head along. It was he who hid under the sheet (not a dead body, after all) until Guy woke him. Stitch Head was introduced to a girl in the audience, but unfortunately his hand came off. Then the other hand, soon followed by both legs. Oh well, accidents happen.

Guy finished by reading a very early story of his. So early was his Nitemare Pigs in 3D that the ‘book’ was a mere cardboard book. The moral of the tale is to have cheese in your pockets. Just in case.

Pink pirate bunting

Everything went down well with the children. That includes the pink pirate bunting which Guy himself was disgusted with. I thought it was quite fetching, if you like that kind of thing.

Guy Bass books

The audience was clearly into books and reading, and bought a lot of books afterwards and queued to have them signed. One boy even inquired about the book I’d brought to read (the new Shirley Hughes, Hero on a Bicycle, out in May).

James's Socks

I was feeling sleepy, having got up early, but that was nothing compared to mcbf’s James. Grateful that he thought of me as he got dressed, however, and wore these lovely socks. So I won’t mention what the rest of him looked like after Thursday night’s poetry event. (I knew there’s a reason I’m wary of poetry.)

He even had the nerve to suggest I go and sit at the back. Wouldn’t have dreamed of it. This kind of lecture theatre – a great hit with the children, btw – requires me to sit at the front. There is method in my madness.

Guy Bass with Stitch Head and children

And now I know who Guy Bass is. Blue Peter award winner. Nice Guy. Funny. And because he brought  his friendly publisher Paul along, I have a book to read, too. One that Guy scribbled in, so now it’s ruined…