Monthly Archives: May 2012

This time he ‘failed better’

Declan Burke is under the – erroneous – impression that he only won the Last Laugh Award at the Bristol CrimeFest because his wife told him not to come home without it. Or so he claims.

Jeffrey Deaver and Declan Burke at CrimeFest

The fact is that Declan deserves to win prizes for his writing, especially if it’s for his humour. It’s not bad at all. Absolute Zero Cool is a weird book, but a funny one, and very different from most other crime novels. I think I might even have voted for AZC this time.

He’s also trying to claim that his speech was bad, because he’d only prepared one for Elmore Leonard (whose prize he’d offered to pick up, thinking he was more likely to win). But others who were lucky enough to be in Bristol on Saturday night seem to say that it was a good speech, so maybe it’s another instance of that maddening modesty.

I had been intending to blog a general moan about me not having been there. But then when this great news came, I thought it’d be more fun to cover the good aspects of CrimeFest, and never mind that I didn’t make it. Peter Rozovsky was there again, and he has a lot of interesting posts on all that went on in Bristol.

As for me, I’ll keep trying.


You can read

Two things happened almost at once. I received a bundle of books from Barrington Stoke. And Nicola Morgan pointed out that she was going to have a bit of a dyslexia day today. It seemed as if it was meant.

These books are great! I can’t praise them highly enough! I just hope they will find their way to someone who needs them. That is always the problem, isn’t it? You might not know what your problem is, nor what can be done about it. And then there are people who know and can help. The two just need to meet.

Many parents have had a dyslexia moment. I know I have. You look at your child and think, ‘could he/she be dyslexic?’ And you’re not quite sure how to find out.

As Nicola tells us here, she has a long connection with dyslexia, and has done a lot of good and useful things to help dyslexic children and their parents. But she ran out of time, and had to give most of it up. She wouldn’t have returned to it either, had it not been for Jackie Stewart, whom she sat next to at a dinner recently. (I am very jealous.)

Today she has another blog post about dyslexia, and she will spend the day tweeting about it, and wants the rest of us to help by retweeting. Nicola will point people to an online assessment toolkit, developed by Dyslexia Scotland, but free for all to use. So tell a teacher about it, and hopefully they can help a child.

And then there are those books I mentioned. Barrington Stoke have reissued some older books in a new style, which is even more user friendly (can you say that about fiction?). There are useful, but almost invisible numbers on the back, telling adults what reading age and what interest age they are intended for. All very discreet. And the dyslexia sticker on the cover peels off, leaving no embarrassing clues.

A couple of the books I have here are for younger readers, which you might expect from Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman. Easy to read younger books are less ‘unlikely’ though. What I’m really impressed with are the older books, where the plots are pretty advanced and not in the slightest childish. They are simply easy to read novels for almost anyone.

Nigel Hinton, Until Proven Guilty

There are books by Kevin Brooks and Nigel Hinton, and they definitely look the business. They are books set on the rougher side of life, and apart from their length and layout, they look just like ‘normal’ books. Because they are. Another couple of books I already had are by Chris Wooding and Sam Enthoven, and I’m not sure that I’m not too scared for these kinds of topics.

I mean, how do you fancy a mobile phone that is evil and that you can’t escape from? It might almost make you wish you couldn’t read after all… No, I don’t believe it would. Readers will love these books!

Festival heat

Luckily we caught Kaye Tew before she chopped her skirt into bits. It was a very nice, long red skirt, perfect for the redhot weather, and it deserved better than to be made into cushion covers.


At first glance the chopping appeared to have been done by James Draper, of sock fame. (He wore none yesterday, more’s the pity.) It seems well dressed young directors wear shorts and espadrilles to work these days. (And no, we wouldn’t have worn ours, even if we’d known about the relaxed dress code.)

If I’d thought more carefully, I would have realised they’d be pretty busy. Kaye and James of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival have ‘a few’ things to do before kick-off on June 28th. So I’m more than grateful that they took time off to speak to the Bookwitch about what they do for the mcbf, and why.

James Draper

Basically they do an awful lot, and they do it because Carol Ann Duffy told them to. I can believe that. Even I might be obedient in the face of the Poet Laureate. (But also because they like and believe in what they do.)

The team at MMU

Waving a mcbf programme like a fan, James took us to meet the team, busy slaving away over hot desks. Then he took us down to what sounded like ‘his beach’ for drinks. Coke in the café, is what it was. We got James’s age out of the way before Kaye joined us, and then there was no stopping them, talking at great length about their mcbf.

Kaye Tew

I will let you read the whole interview as soon as the recorder thingy has cooled down, and I have managed to remove certain words. Their description of a speadsheet was unusual to say the least.

mcbf programmes

I am – if possible – even more enthusiastic about the whole ten days of book events now, than I was before. Kaye and James kept opening the programmes they’d both brought, to show us stuff, when they weren’t fanning themselves with them. Closed them, and opened them again. Kept fiddling.

A sort of labour of love, I’d say.

Kaye described their well functioning cooperation  by saying that while she’s painting the wall in front of her, James is busy painting his wall on the opposite side of the room. They both work hard, and don’t need to worry about what the other one is doing. You’ll probably find that the festival works well because of this team spirit.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Floral farewells

After writing what I did about gifts and flowers I was remembering the flowers Mother-of-witch received every June. A teacher, she was generally also a form teacher, and as such would be given flowers at the end of the school year. Lovely flowers, which we used to enjoy for about 24 hours, as we packed to go away for the summer.

And that was that.

But at least the Swedish way is to club together and buy a gift and flowers from the whole form. It’s the British teachers staggering home with 20 bouquets and 15 boxes of chocolate and assorted other things that I feel for. What if they need to go away?

I once worked at a lovely post office in central Gothenburg. I had hated it to begin with, but over time I grew to love it, so when the day came to leave (I was transferring to a new district, of my own choice) I was sad. They gave me a ceramic bowl, which I have only managed to break very slightly. It’s still with me. Apart from the chip by the glued-back-on rim.

They, too, gave me flowers. Tulips. I was moving the next day, so didn’t think the flowers would be able to come along. I put them in a vase in the breakroom for the time being. They looked lovely.

Until they didn’t look quite so lovely. They began drooping at an alarming speed. Because of the move I was philosophical about it.

I was eating my lunch when the caretaker came in. He asked if they’d given me any flowers. I said yes, and pointed to the terminal tulips. The poor man was shocked at how they were treating me, but I pointed out why I felt it was perfectly OK. We sat companionably, staring at the dreadful tulips until the ridiculousness of the situation hit us, and we howled with laughter.

As we sat there, gasping for breath, someone else came in, saw the flowers and exploded in fury over the lack of floral quality, and said I had to complain, but we just laughed until we cried.

That was one of the best exits I have ever made from anywhere. I think of those tulips, and I cry and I laugh and I miss the people I worked with.

(And I am still pondering why you need to know all this. There is plenty more material from this particular post office.)

Bookwitch bites #82

Do you remember Nicola Morgan’s brain? The one that got caught out at Belfast airport? Now she’s doing other brain talks, and she has very kindly – sort of – included Daughter’s brain. On Nicola’s new ‘at home with Nicola on a Friday night’ blog, she mentioned a recent talk on brains. She illustrated it with a photo of Daughter’s room.

I am so ashamed.

(But I will have you know it’s not the one in this house. That at least has good bone structure. This university accommodation style of architecture makes me shudder.)

To ensure that more children have a good start in life, at least as far as books and reading are concerned, Bookstart are doing some good work. Michael Rosen and Jamie Oliver and many others are pledging to share 20 books. And there can always be more. Pledge away, if you feel like it!

I have to admit to being most impressed with the names of Jamie’s children. (I’m guessing this proves I don’t read the right magazines, or I would already have known about them.)

The ‘items’ in that photograph mentioned above have now migrated here. We can still almost walk a path between the assorted boxes and bags. I’m pleased to see my books back, and just as pleased that Daughter read many of them and enjoyed her reading.

That’s what I hope will happen to the Y7 children who get to take part in Bookbuzz, starting in September. A ‘free’ book for all, at least if schools apply to take part.

The books listed below are the ones chosen for children to pick from.

A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis
Journey to the Centre of My Brain by James Carter
Rivets: Lifters by Joe Craig
Heroes by Paul Dowswell
The Messenger Bird by Ruth Eastham
Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge
Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans
Shadow Forest by Matt Haig
The Secrets Club: Alice in the Spotlight by Chris Higgins
Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird
The World of Norm: May Contain Nuts by Jonathan Meres
Don’t Wipe Your Bum with a Hedgehog by Mitchell Symons
Spook Squad: The Beast of Hangman’s Hill by Roger Hurn
Boffin Boy and the Temples of Mars by David Orme and Peter Richardson
The Dragon Machine by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson
Call Me Gorgeous by Giles and Alexandra Milton
Hello Dudley by Sam Lloyd

I hope it works out as intended. There appears to be a book about brains, so that is promising. And, has that Giles Milton been eavesdropping? I’ve met people who in all seriousness described him as Gorgeous Giles. (I know. It should really be me.) The hedgehog bumwiping book has passed through my hands (ew), and looked pretty good, albeit in bad taste. I imagine the other Chosen Ones are similarly suitable for Y7s.


I’m not dead. Just resting from the 24 hours a certain blog host wobbled between treacle status and ‘no-I-don’t-think-we-will-bother-to-work-at-all’ status. As for myself I will think of something witty to say tomorrow, once I’ve recovered. And if I don’t, you’ll get the normal old rubbish.

Reflections of DWJ

Once I get going on a topic, there is not stopping me. I was happy to find that there is a new book featuring talks and essays by Diana Wynne Jones, all of which she chose herself during the last months of her life.

It’s a bit like when I read obituaries of people I might have heard of, but knew little about. They sound so interesting that I am furious they had to die before I found out. I’m beginning to favour living obituaries, heaping praise on someone while they are there to enjoy it.

I did know Diana was special, because everyone said so. I just procrastinated. So not only am I rather belatedly setting off on a DWJ-readathon, but I have these marvellous little pieces as well.

Because I wanted to bring Reflections to your attention, and because I want to slowly savour her reflections on the magic of writing, I haven’t yet read every single piece. I am dipping into the book, little by little. And I’ve only now realised I didn’t start where my adviser suggested, with ‘Why don’t you write real books?’

But then, I am quite happy with where I did start. And also with where I went after that.

Neil Gaiman was a fan. Obviously. Diana was very much a writer’s writer, which is why so many admired her so much. Neil has written the foreword to Reflections, while Charlie Butler – another DWJ fan – reflects on this collection. Diana wrote the preface. It’s good that she was able to.

There is a hilarious tale of when the 9-year-old Diana ended up babysitting half the village’s children. And, not too far from that topic, there is an amalgam of school visits that rings so true. (They ought to be ashamed of themselves!) Vomiting at Halloween, children playing in the woods, the mumbling of J R R Tolkien, and how to appreciate your talents all get their own ‘chapters.’

Even if you’ve never heard of Diana, this makes for first class reading.

Earwig and the Witch

This is my very first Diana Wynne Jones book, and sadly, her last. I was relieved to find it’s a nice little story, and for something so short and aimed at younger readers, it is also an intelligent, easy read.

Diana Wynne Jones, Earwig and the Witch

Earwig is chosen to move from her orphanage to live with a ‘foster mother’ who turns out to be a witch. Because Earwig isn’t an ordinary child, she isn’t scared by this turn of events, and stipulates that she is to learn from the witch.

Not surprisingly the witch goes back on her word and uses Earwig only for hard work. But I did say that Earwig is no ordinary child, so she sets about arranging her new life to suit.

The witch’s cat is rather nice, and quite useful. The ‘foster father’ however, is not nice at all, and nor are his demons. But, as I mentioned before, Earwig is no ordinary child.

I suppose I wish the witch had been nicer.

You decide!

I am fairly sure I was eight. The Retired Children’s Librarian had sent me another carefully chosen book for my birthday. But I just didn’t fancy The Count of Monte Cristo. I really really wanted The Three Musketeers. I also knew that the edition of Monte Cristo was a fairly expensive one.

So I made plans, and walked into town, one day soon after my birthday. One did things like that in those days. Another thing one did, at least in Sweden, was freely exchange books in bookshops. No need for a receipt, nor that the book had been bought from that shop. A book is a book, and can be resold if it is unread and undamaged.

I was very lucky. My unwanted Monte Cristo covered both the cheaper Three Musketeers plus an additional smaller book. Maybe Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew or some such volume.

Then I walked home again.

Was it right, though? Should I have taken the giver’s choice of book?

(I have to add here, that I obviously got round to the dashing Count later, and loved him. I just wanted my musketeers right then. And making the exchange was my only means of getting myself a musketeer.)

I was reminded of this determined eight-year-old, when an author mentioned an event she had done at a school recently. She did it for free for personal reasons, and was duly thanked with a lovely big bunch of flowers. And all she could think of was that those flowers would have paid for a pair of jeans, or something else useful.

If a school can run to flowers, they could run to a small gift voucher at M&S instead. We can’t always make the best use of flowers, whether or not we are in need of new jeans.

So who decides? Giver, or receiver? Is there a right way?

Children like writing wish lists, and we all know that mine would have had musketeers on it. Although these days children ask for increasingly expensive things, so we’ve come some way from simple books. But I often think of my elderly friend here in the Manchester Swedish group who got fed up with her grandchildren’s lists. ‘I decide what you get, and you will be grateful!’ is what she told them.

Quite right. But then they weren’t penniless adults. Nor were their parents.

Rising Phoenix

I have read a lot of comics in my time. Not for a while, though, and never actually the DFC. I did try to lay my hands on a copy, but without any luck, which is why I’m especially happy to witness its reincarnation into the Phoenix.

If it hadn’t been for the sad fact that I could never persuade Offspring to understand the charm of comics, I’d have said it’s an essential part of childhood. Maybe it’s because their childhood didn’t take place while there was a David Fickling related comic? Let’s say that’s the reason.

Phoenix launch with David and Caro Fickling and assorted other people

I’ve also read quite a few bad comics, or at least iffy ones. That is not something you can say about the Phoenix, which is quality through and through, while still being fun. I knew some of the cartoonists from the comic books David has published, so that was nice. But some of the hitherto unknowns also proved to be fun.

They let me have three copies of the Phoenix, from varying stages. And I have to say that reading an exciting story which began in issue zero (honestly, zero…) and then coming back to it twelve weeks later, only to find that it ends in the most recent issue, is a bit, well… I’d have liked to see what went on in the middle. But it wasn’t to be.

And I have now left Good Dog, Bad Dog hanging in mid-air as well.

I’ll get over it.


An elderly witch does not have the same amount of comic-reading time at her disposal as her younger self had. If she did, there would be lots of stories to read every week and puzzles to solve and weird little comments from Tabs and Chops, the editors.

There are cleverly disguised book ‘trailers’ for new books recently or soon to be published. (That’s right. Get them hooked. Make them desperate.)

I found one adoreable spelling and one spelling error. The error was mine and I wonder how they knew I’d need to be told. It has now been edited out, and most of you will be none the wiser.

If I was young I’d want the Phoenix every week. If Offspring were younger they’d get the Phoenix every week, whether or not they wanted it. Anything that starts children off reading is good. And this is good.