Monthly Archives: April 2012

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.

Quite.

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!

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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.

Who?

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…

The Wheel of Surya

This turned out to be another serendipitously delayed read. Why I never read Jamila Gavin’s The Wheel of Surya before, I don’t know. Maybe because each time I looked at it, I was reminded it’s the first of three, and I didn’t have the other two. Now I say, that’s easy to remedy. Just buy them. (It’s my birthday in the not too distant future. Cough.)

It’s a book about independence; both that of the main characters, but also India’s. And it’s a journey book.

Jamila Gavin, The Wheel of Surya

First we see how hard life was for the youngest daughter-in-law in a Punjabi village in the 1930s. Married off at 13, Jhoti is the lowest of the low in her husband’s family. She is bullied by her sister-in-law and by her mother-in-law, and her very young husband Govind is away most of the time.

Her two children Marvinder and Jaspal are the same age as the children of the local, English, teacher. Life is relatively good for them, until first Govind leaves for England and a promising career, and war breaks out, followed by a more personal tragedy. Then there is unrest as the country moves closer to freedom, and in 1947 the two children end up alone, fleeing for their lives.

Their goal is to do what Jhoti had planned, which was to travel to England and find Govind. It is not a spoiler to mention that of course they make it to England, eventually. This war damaged country is far from the glorious place they had been expecting, however, and nothing is as they had hoped.

Jamila herself experienced a similar move, so has plenty of material to base her story on. It’s enlightening to see postwar London through the eyes of these beautiful Sikh children, who felt so rich when they were at home in India, despite being so poor.

Because this is a trilogy, there is more to the story than what’s in The Wheel of Surya, and the reader is left with many questions. But because this is Jamila Gavin, at her Coram Boy best, you will want to read on. And I have to admit to peeking at the blurbs for the other books.

Higher Ground

Higher Ground

I have mentioned Higher Ground briefly in the past. Anuj Goyal had the bright idea to collect stories written by children’s authors about the 2004 tsunami, for the children who suffered in the tsunami. As it says on the cover, ‘stories inspired by the courage and hope of children who survived.’

Most of the stories are set elsewhere than India, because other countries were much harder hit. Not that details matter, but there are two southern India stories and a couple set in the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands. It doesn’t matter where they are set, because you will cry over all of them. Either because it is very dreadful and sad, or occasionally because something beautiful and wonderful happens. I don’t have a favourite, but keep remembering The Christmas Angel by Cliff McNish.

Apart from the obvious fact of bringing people’s attention to the tsunami children’s realities, it’s good to be able to read more about children in countries we tend to know less about. People go to Thailand, but what do they really know about their holiday hosts?

It’s worth being aware that these stories are based on real tales from the tsunami. They aren’t just something the authors made up. I hope Tim Bowler won’t mind my saying this, but I sort of understood from a comment he made back then, that writing his story made him cry. So, what hope does the reader have?

There aren’t many copies for sale these days, and probably none for the charitable causes it was conceived in aid of. But if you simply want to read about this disaster which now seems very far away, it is possible to get hold of a copy.

Talking Cranes

There was another wedding at some later point. Actually, there were two Indian family weddings within one week of each other. Both in America and we didn’t go because we couldn’t afford to. Have regretted it ever since. If they wouldn’t mind doing it again, I’d do … well, something.

The nice thing about it was the addition of Cousin Kerala, and at another wedding (we sacrificed them hard and fast during a short period in time) I almost married off both Offsprings (although Daughter had yet to be born) to the offspring of those weddings. The Indian relatives were most impressed with this Swede who didn’t flinch at the idea of arranged marriages. (It’s probably easier if you are the arranger rather than the arrangee.)

20 years later

Anyway, where was I? A better question would be, where am I heading?

Immigration. Or as seen from the other side, emigration. Whichever it is, it’s not necessarily easy. That will be why Cousin Kerala and friends have started up a website for South Asian women. It’s called Talking Cranes and is a curious mix of news items, recipes and advice.

It’s a good idea, now that it’s not just the British who are out collecting for their empire, but we all move about a lot and lose what’s familiar. We need something else to replace home. Here is Cousin Kerala, talking about Talking Cranes.

Two decades after our lack of wedding attendance, they did do a sort of repeat, closer to (our) home, with everyone else doing the travelling. And what could be more Indian than an English barn dance?

The barn dance

TFP

It’s good to see that The Far Pavilions is alive and well enough to merit being called TFP by its fans. I’ve also found a fantastic website about the book, which I will only let you visit if you promise you are not writing an essay on M M Kaye’s novel and are intending to cheat. I’m so impressed that someone is keen enough to do all that extra work and then to put it on the internet.

Also really impressed that so many readers were not put off the 950 pages and actually bought and read the book. I know the power of television and film, but I gather people read TFP before it as well. As you know – because I told you the other day – I read it after, but never watched the mini-series.

The Far Pavilions

What surprises me is that the story isn’t coming back to me all that much, despite reacquainting myself with the book and reading up on it. I do remember enjoying it, nearly 30 years ago, but I wonder if it was a little heavy on the history for me. Reading it with an atlas to hand would make a lot of difference.

The story begins in the 1850s when Ash is born, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in India. He’s British, but ends up being brought up by an Indian woman, learning to speak lots of the local languages. Circumstances then send him to school in England, which he hates, until he can return home. Ash falls in love with a bullied Indian princess, and the rest of TFP deals with their love and their enemies and the general unrest in the country, finishing up in Kabul…

I must have missed the 2005 London musical based on TFP, and not being an avid radio listener I had no idea it was on Radio Four a year ago. That would have been nice. There is  apparently a new film being made, which sounds like it’s a cooperation with Bollywood. I would love to see it, and it’s a good idea to make more of an Indian film of such an Indian story.

In fact, the Resident IT Consultant and I were discussing how history is taught in schools. I decided I remembered more from fiction and films than from twelve years of history at school. Perhaps that’s where they go wrong? Give children books, and the occasional film instead. When I get that eighth day in my week I will read some more.