Monthly Archives: June 2012

Bookwitch bites #85

Hope is spreading, or at least I hope it is. There was an excellent article in the Guardian Education this week, featuring the new professor of reading at Liverpool Hope University, Frank Cottrell Boyce. It’s such a good thing to have, don’t you think? Hope, reading, Frank. All good. And I loved the photo of Frank, which I am not stealing for here, so you will just have to click.

I could do with reading help myself, on occasion. (Not to mention writing/spelling. When looking for the link above I accidentally called Frank rank. Sorry!)

But it’s my speedreading when out and about that catches me. I saw some ‘weird bras’ in M&S recently. Wired, witch! And at Piccadilly station a stall was selling trolls. It was really tea and rolls. Just as well they didn’t also stock etceteras. Our Pendolino catering manager last week advertised drinks, sandwiches, snacks and etcetera.

As water levels are rising (Will we ever be able to mow the ‘lawn’ again? Not with a brocked lawnmower, we won’t. But the rain isn’t helping.) I am thinking of the house a few doors down from us. It’s for sale, and it offers 6 bedrooms and large garden with cellars.

At the opposite end of 6 bedrooms is the tiny flat in the IKEA magazine, where the stylist has persuaded the occupant to install eight Billys. ‘They are great for books, crockery, clothes, shoes… Åsa came up with the idea of displaying my novels in them too.’

I thought that was the whole idea. Or else someone has a novel meaning of the words displaying or novels.

Speaking of novelties, this blogging madness is spreading in a most uncontrollable fashion. There is now a Simply Maths blog, which I feel compelled to recommend. If nothing else, it has a quite reasonable interview with Professor Frank James, of Michael Faraday correspondence fame. It mentions kangaroos on Vesuvius, among other things.

A shorter, but different, interview with the same professor on the same topic (minus the kangaroos) can be found here. It would appear that this blogger had a bit of a ‘close encounters with professors week,’ since there followed the tale of getting pretty close to Brian Cox. He is quite cute. But not as cute as the lion cub.

Excuse me, I’m beginning to drool. I’ll leave you with this full morning’s worth of clickiness.

Another festival programme

I just don’t know.

That’s whether to go at all, and if I do, for how long, and for what part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Was so sure last year I would take a break this year. But reading the programme is like shopping for cake, or cheese, when hungry. It looks good.

So far I have merely had the quickest of read-throughs and made a makeshift list of the most interesting events. Three colours of ink to differentiate between children’s, adult programme and schools. I know I am no school, but they do have some really good authors for the schools. (And sometimes I wonder why they only offer these great people to schools?)

I’ll have another read and cross-out and decide who I might see somewhere else, or who I have already seen a lot of, so could give up their spot for someone I don’t know so well.

I need to point out here, that with the odd exception, I would enjoy every single event. If they were offered on their own, and I was free and rested, and didn’t have to concern myself with clashes or if I can make the last train home afterwards or any other silly practical worries.

But if I have to pick ‘only some’ then children’s authors rate the highest, and the more unusual offerings or those travelling from far away will – probably – trump the common garden variety. Although at times dandelions are lovely, and orchids just too fancy.

I have not counted men versus women, but am confident the numbers are evenly matched. (Although, a rapid glance at my own little list does suggest a slight bias towards the men. Oh dear. I’ll obviously count really carefully and make sure I choose as many of them as I do the ladies. If I choose at all.)

Having said that, I must mention that Keren David is doing her first Edinburgh event, and Elizabeth Wein – who wrote that book I really, really liked – will also be debuting. Andy Mulligan is coming from the Philippines, and Elen Caldecott from somewhere a little closer. Brighton boy Chris Riddell will be painting and drawing for the duration, so he will be tired.

Liz Kessler

Sally Gardner

In my comment to Penny Dolan on yesterday’s festival interview, I hinted at something I might mention here. And it’s that while there are lots of good names, hopefully evenly distributed between the sexes, and there are both the very well known authors everyone has heard of, as well as the new ones with perhaps just one novel published, it will be the Jacqueline Wilsons and Michael Morpurgos of this world who are going to be mentioned (most) in the official festival publicity. It is from that category of authors that the photo shoots for the press will be chosen.

That’s what I am unhappy about. I do understand that newspapers won’t flock to purchase pictures of the least know authors. They will want Jacqueline again, or Patrick Ness (should he be offered a slot with the paparazzi this year) because he is hot news.

Last year we found a nice tree trunk to use as an alternate studio. That’s for when we couldn’t walk people to the willows. Trees are good. And I am determined that non-millionaires will also get their faces on here.

When James and Kaye nearly killed Michael Rosen

Nearly. And only with hard work.

It’s one of the hazards for authors and book festival organisers alike. But Michael is coming back for more, which just goes to prove what a good festival James Draper and Kaye Tew are capable of putting together.

Kaye Tew and James Draper of the Manchester Children's Book Festival

And to think I had the temerity to interrupt their hard work to ask intrusive questions about their qualifications to do what they are doing (I never ask authors that), and if they read books. Honestly, some interviewers don’t know when to stop.

You’ll have to read the interview to find out the answers, and to discover why they do what they do.

The Manchester Children’s Book Festival will begin in exactly one week, on Thursday 28th June.

The Highwayman’s Footsteps

Nicola Morgan, The Highwayman's Footsteps

There’s something about highwaymen, isn’t there? More romantic even than pirates. Less wet, at least. Or maybe not if you’re highwaymanning it in Yorkshire. That is also wet. And cold.

Nicola Morgan knows a lot about Yorkshire and its weather and its landscape. And I’d like to know how she was able to write The Highwayman’s Footsteps making it sound so old, so period. Many authors make their characters speak ‘historic’ and often I wish they hadn’t bothered. But her Will sounds just right.

He has spent his first 14 years believing he is better than others because of his ‘high’ birth, and his sex. After running away from his wealthy family, he quickly discovers that he might have been wrong. Will encounters a highwayman who relieves him of some stolen money, after which Will ends up saving the highwayman’s life and eventually they join forces.

It’s not important, but I’d have wanted to know roughly when this was set, from the beginning. I could tie it down to the nearest two hundred years, but could never have guessed the 1762 that is mentioned towards the end of the story. Maybe it would have made no difference, but I was curious.

Nicola has apparently based her book on a poem she learned at school; The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. I don’t know it, so couldn’t recognise the facts she had borrowed. Wonder if that would have made for a different reading experience?

I hope this doesn’t make it sound as if I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. Very much so. (And there is a sequel!) Not all that much happens in the first half of the book, especially. That’s quite all right. There is something restful about the pace.

There are horses. Plenty of them. There’s politics, and it’s revealing to see how men gained political power back then. Not much has changed. The same goes for drunken women in Durham. That could have been now. Soldiers who are neither worse nor better than anyone else, or if they are bad, there is most likely a reason for it.

And there is the curious fashion of putting food on your hair to make it look good.

I’d like to know what happens next. This is not your standard type of plot, so I’d say almost anything could follow in the highwayman’s footsteps.


Or Authors & Artists for Young Adults, volume 88, as published by Gale, Cengage Learning. It’s a reference book, and as the more astute of you have worked out, there have been 87 volumes before it, and I suspect (and hope) there will be many more after it as well.

Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

No, I’ve not taken to reading and reviewing piles of reference material, but this came my way four months ago when someone wanted to use ‘my’ photos of Michael Grant. They were really my Photographer’s pictures, and after thinking about it she gave her consent and they chose the ones they liked best.

It took me a while to even work out the publishers were in the US, and once I’d established what kind of book they were producing, I asked if we could see the finished copy, which they generously said they’d send us. It’s not really the kind of book you’d go out and buy as a private individual. The edition is fairly limited and the price is high, so I’m guessing it’s mainly for libraries and similar.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

But it’s such a good idea, collecting information on people who write for Young Adults, or illustrators. The selection process seems a little random, since it’s not alphabetical, nor chronological. There is an index listing who has been in all the 88 volumes, and in which one.

It’s not your ordinary list of YA people, either. Adèle Geras sits tantalisingly near Mel Gibson and Paul Gauguin. Staying with the Gs we have Michael Grant as well as El Greco and Graham Greene. There are disproportionately more Americans, but in volume 88 we have Matt Haig, and he and Knut Hamsun and Stephen Hawking are close, index-wise.

Jane Austen is there, and so is Mrs Michael Grant, K A Applegate. Walter Dean Myers gets a lot of room in volume 88, which he also shares with Anna Godbersen and Aprilynne Pike and Kenneth Oppel. As you can see, a varied lot of writers. ‘My’ volume has just over thirty names, and I’m guessing the older volumes are similar. Some names are listed more than once.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

Michael gets six pages in this edition, and unlike some he doesn’t have either his address or his email listed. I suppose it’s up to each person how easy to find they want to be. Since this isn’t intended for the young readers, I imagine contact details are more for people who might want to book someone for events.

It’s a nice idea. You can – probably – never have too much information about what young people want to read.

Azzi In Between

There is a lot to weep over in life. Interestingly, today’s book is related to yesterday’s concert review by topic; displaced children needing a new home. You weep from both the dreadfulness of it all, and also when things go ‘well’ because it’s easy to feel sentimental. Or not so easy not to.

Azzi In Between is about a girl from an un-named country, who needs to flee her home with her parents, seeking a new home and a new country in Britain. This is a perfectly wonderful story, and a very necessary one, to show our children in the hopes that they might learn. Perhaps one day, a new generation of humans will always make refugees feel welcome. Or even better, that one day no one will have to become a refugee.

Sarah Garland, Azzi In Between

Sarah Garland has written and illustrated this story about Azzi, in a way that can’t be misunderstood. It’s easy to assume all refugees come from an awful place and that they will be so very happy in the new country. Here we see that apart from Azzi’s country being at war, she has a beautiful home, and loving, well-educated parents.

Opting to make her story a ‘comic’ means that Sarah gets the message across of what was, what happened then, and the final result, in a way you wouldn’t with a traditional novel. The sheer horror of their flight, and the dreary surroundings of where the family end up, dispenses with the need for thousands of words.

I would like for this book to become required reading in schools, where I’m sure it would do more good than certain new bibles I can think of.

The one thing that rings less true to this reader of newspaper articles, is that it is unrealistically quick for Azzi’s family to receive permission to remain in the UK. But I can see you need it for this story to work, and I hope it will prove true for many unfortunate people who come here.

(Endorsed by Amnesty International UK)

A Pope kind of moment

I recall Putney Boy’s reaction to hearing that the Pope had died. Being very Italian and impatient with it, he pointed out to the bearer of this piece of news that it was old news. Very old news. What this favourite waiter of mine had missed was that Pope John Paul I had died, and that we weren’t still talking about the death of Paul VI.

But it’s easy to miss even the biggest news on occasion.

I had one of those dead Pope moments on Thursday evening. I saw a mention on facebook that Carnegie winner Patrick Ness had made some speech about the government and books. I thought irritably that it was all very well to post this if you care about books and reading, but that it had been a year since Patrick’s speech.

Patrick Ness

By Friday morning I had cottoned on to the fact that he had only gone and been awarded the Carnegie again. And the speech was a new speech. My next piece of intelligence suggested that A Monster Calls had actually won the Kate Greenaway medal, which to my tired mind (two days on the road and very little sleep) meant that it was really Jim Kay who had got the medal.

Over mugs of tea the witch family slipped onto the subject, and I shared this Greenaway thought when Daughter said A Monster Calls had received both awards. Personally I thought it unlikely, and we only managed not to come to blows over this by some unexpected maturity we must have had in us.

Struck by a need to know, I researched the whole thing and found she was correct, and that the 2012 medals had been awarded in an unusual way, with one book sharing both.

Well deserved, as everyone has been saying. And some of us feel that it is perhaps an award shared by three people if we count Siobhan Dowd as well.

A Monster Calls

I really, really need to get on a Carnegie mailing list, if there is such a thing. Longlists and shortlists and award dates and winners must no longer slip through my keyboard in this embarrassing fashion. And to think I was actually, for once, in London on the day, too…