Monthly Archives: October 2012

Do pseudonyms have feelings?

Do they? Well, why wouldn’t they? They are most likely human beings like the rest of us, only using a name that isn’t the one they were born to. We know two names for a lot of writers, like Sam Clemens and Mark Twain. Sometimes a pseudonym is not a secret even at the time of writing, and sometimes ‘the truth’ becomes known later.

Some authors use different names for different ‘products.’ In fact, the book I am currently reading is by a pseudonym. I have difficulty remembering this name, because I once met the author under his real name, and that’s what he used to email me.

Michael Grant decided to use a pseudonym for his children’s books, because he had already done things under his real name, that he felt didn’t go well with young readers. But it’s no state secret that he is Michael Reynolds. (If he is. Maybe that one is another fake…)

Would you expect all pseudonyms to be kept off longlists and shortlists for book awards? Probably not. In fact, having someone you don’t know who they might be on your prize shortlist, could be quite exciting. What if he/she wins? Would they come to the ceremony?

They might. But it’s hard to come if you haven’t been invited. And you weren’t invited because you’re a pseudonym (and they practically don’t exist). It wasn’t that the organisers couldn’t find a way to contact you. (I presume publishers might have an inkling.) They just didn’t try.

It would have been possible, though. Because you only found out you’d been shortlisted when a young fan emailed you about it. Now, how did the fan manage that then? Even pseudonyms have websites and stuff, and ‘contact me’ forms, like ‘real’ people do.

So, it’s just like the birthday party when everyone in your class has been invited, except you. If you’re a novel-writing pseudonym you are most likely an adult and you could contact the organisers and inquire about the when and the where as regards the prize ceremony. Except they don’t have any contact details anywhere. (Not entirely true. I know they are on facebook. But not everyone is.)

I wasn’t able to go to the event either, but the one thing that would have made me really keen to go would have been to meet this pseudonym in the flesh.

The story could have ended there, but by strange coincidence this pseudonym knows someone I know, and discussed it with them. (Let’s call them X and Y.) Funnily enough, Y had also once missed out on this book award, even without being a psedonym. So as well as commiserating with X, Y contacted me, and I in turn emailed X to discuss this further.

X had contemplated travelling to the town where the prize was awarded, to hang out near the venue to see what might happen, but decided against it, sensing it would only hurt to stand outside, wishing you were in there with the others.

I’d say pseudonyms have feelings. And whereas I still don’t know X’s real name, I know X was willing to stand up in public and admit to being X. If only because of the fans who were looking forward to meeting the person who wrote the book they liked so much.

That’s a lot of disappointment for the sake of one measly misunderstanding over a name. Or two names.


Lobbying for Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Not all of us who would have wanted to, could make it to London on Monday for the mass lobby to save school libraries. Luckily, quite a few people did. Authors, librarians, readers.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

I didn’t even get the t-shirt.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Looks like they had fun, too.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Some people clearly didn’t take it seriously, at all…

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

I’m hoping it doesn’t say ‘The Best Ardagh’ on this sign.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Thanks to Candy Gourlay for the photos.

Mary Hoffman’s blog.

Lady Catherine’s Necklace

I can’t say I was ever desperate to know what became of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Good riddance, might more appropriately describe my feelings. She was needed to get Darcy to see sense (or was that Elizabeth Bennet?) and then she could do as she liked. I never felt sorry for her daughter Anne, who didn’t need or deserve Darcy.

Joan Aiken, Lady Catherine's Necklace

But, now that I have read Joan Aiken’s sequel, Lady Catherine’s Necklace, I am much more interested in what happened. Sadly, Mr Bennet has died. That means Mr Collins needs to go away to sort things out with his inheritance. Lady Catherine is not keen to be without him, whereas Mrs Collins doesn’t mind in the least…

Life at Rosings Park becomes more interesting with the arrival of a brother and sister who have had an accident nearby, and who impress Lady Catherine so much that she invites them to stay.

It’s a quiet sort of story, although at times it becomes fairly dramatic. We meet various people in and near Rosings, and we see much more of Anne. There was a reason for her lack of character in Pride and Prejudice. She is now engaged to Colonel Fitzwilliam, who in turn loves someone else.

There is a hilarious adventure awaiting Lady Catherine, and she almost redeems herself. Anne develops plenty of character, and there are two gay lovers, as well as dead and lost offspring.

Lady Catherine’s Necklace is a book for young readers, and I’d like to think that those who don’t know Pride and Prejudice at all, or who have only seen the film or television series, will want to pick up the Jane Austen novel after reading this one. And for anyone who found P & P too difficult to read, it will be a pleasant little story to start with.

Darcy and Elizabeth are only mentioned in passing, and the same goes for Jane and her Bingham. But it’s nice to feel they are almost part of the story. To me, Joan Aiken seems to have captured just the right style, making this book feel almost like the real thing.

Angel Fire

Lee Weatherly’s Angel Fire continues exactly where Angel left off. (In order to avoid spoilers I can’t say exactly where.) Willow and Alex are still on the road, and the angels are still trying to stop them. In a way this is a dystopia, because we are looking at a society led by angels, even though everything else is perfectly normal.

The action moves from the US to Mexico, which is why Willow senses she needs to go there. She dreams that she meets a(nother) gorgeous young man, with whom she has a lot in common. For me this will always be the book with two desirable love interests, because we already know Alex is irresistible, and now Willow has Seb as well.

Who will end up the lucky guy? She can’t have them both, can she? Maybe one of them has to die? Or turn out to be bad? I know which one I prefer. Alex needs  to start up an Angel Killer group in Mexico, since it appears the angels are concentrating their next big move on Mexico City.

There is less action in this book. Angel was a strong mix of action and romance, whereas here there is a lot of romantic anguish in the middle, between the drama that happened in Angel and the threat that is about to happen in Mexico. If you love romance, this will be perfect (and I’m guessing the ‘love stuff’ is still superior to that famous vampire romance we hear about so much), while there might be too little action for the more thriller-minded reader.

I’d have liked more car mechanics. And there is the inevitable decision Willow has to make about which boy she really loves, when she loves both Alex and Seb.

This is another page turner – all 700 of them – from Lee Weatherly. Although I have to protest her vision of Willow. She is no Amanda Seyfried. I’m still working on who she really is and will let you, and Lee, know when I’ve decided.

Keith Charters’ action sandwich

He’s the kind of man who will regale you with stories about his appendix. In this case Keith Charters boasted an exploding appendix, and perhaps that is why he was chosen as the first author on the first morning of the first St Andrews Literature Live.

Byre Theatre

Byre Theatre

Yes, St Andrews now has its own litfest. It’s at the Byre Theatre today (and yesterday, obviously). And for a little litfest, it’s got a good selection of quite famous names, so I do hope it will be a success. Keith’s event certainly was, since most of his audience were the type who actively enjoy exploding appendices.

Keith Charters

Keith Charters

Keith’s exploding good-for-nothing appendix somehow turned into Lee’s appendix. Lee is the main character in Keith’s books, of which there are four, with the fifth being written, and there is no telling how many there will be before Keith might want to stop.

Perhaps because it was an inaugural sort of literary morning (beautiful sunshine!) there was a photo session where the assembled children shouted ‘green gorillas’ which I take to be a peculiar St Andrews tradition. The event was sold out, but when the witch turned up and requested a small corner in which to huddle, theatre staff were most helpful. Thank you!

Keith Charters at the Byre Theatre

If I have one complaint about this father-of-two-sets-of-twins, it’s that he didn’t stand still for long enough to be photographed. (But I have told him off, so no doubt there will be a change…)

It sounds like Keith worked in finance (I’m trying not to mention bankers and stockbrokers) some time after being born and attending university. During this time Keith wrote in his spare time (hah!) as a hobby, until some child of his demanded books suitable for children.

Keith Charters , Lee and the Consulmutants

I know Keith avoided mentioning poo, but there was barfing and puking and weeing into ‘milk bottles.’ Presumably this counted as the ‘funny disgusting’ option the children chose.

His action sandwich is not two pieces of bread with a broken Action Man in the middle; it is action, followed by setting the scene, followed by yet more action. Keith writes the blurb first, and then comes the sandwich, and finally you have to look back. And there’s your book. An important piece of equipment for an author is long and soft, and you lie on it while waiting for inspiration. You can close your eyes, but try not to snore.

Byre Theatre

I’m afraid when Keith was asked how many mistakes he’s made, I snorted in a most un-witch-like way, leaving one young man to turn around and stare… Keith writes fast and goes back to correct mistakes later. One book got written in 13 days, one took six weeks, one three months and one much longer than that.

To end the event, Keith had two copies of his books for the audience to win. The secret is to have the right birthday. Or possibly to lie. One potential winner was so upset at having won, that he burst into tears.

Keith Charters

The usual signing session ended the morning, and it looked as if the children didn’t want to leave. But once they did, I had a little chat with Keith, until he was carried off for soup and stuff. I had an assignation with a baked potato, so that was fine.

(And Keith, the David Bowie eyes are too late! I have read two new books this year, featuring those eyes.)

Byre Theatre

Rally round, readers

Please spread some love and good vibes in the direction of Debi Gliori. It seems my post from ten days ago was far too mild. If you want the whole story, then Debi’s own blog post is required reading.

You might have noticed that I am doing a Scottish-themed midweek on Bookwitch, but I would rather not that Debi should feel she has to defend herself like this. Actually, she’s not defending. She’s telling her version of how Tobermory Cat came about.

Debi Gliori, T Cat

It should be enough that TC lives dangerously (see above). Writers and illustrators are entitled to work quietly in their sheds, making books that help children sleep. (Rather like the train poster, how railway staff should be allowed to go to work without expecting to be beaten up or threatened.)

How can someone who runs a business in Tobermory – an ‘adult’ – bully a decent woman like Debi? The fact that TC’s fb-‘owner’ is behaving threateningly is one thing. For him to have a band of badly informed online followers joining him in his threats is just unspeakably dreadful.

If you are a facebook user, please like Debis’ TC page.

Coat wins the Guardian children’s fiction prize

Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Ardagh

You know what? It’s the middle of the night, and I’ve celebrated a birthday (not my own) and watched trains vanish into thin air (might have been the infamous Fife haar), so I have simply returned to my temporary base and I am not above stealing photos from Philip Ardagh. If he minds, I will deal with him later.

Because this is not about the tallish man with the beard, but about his pal on the left, Frank Cottrell Boyce, who won the Guardian children’s fiction prize on Wednesday evening. Very well deserved win, for a fantastic book (The Unforgotten Coat) by a marvellous author. (And he’s not short. He was just misguided enough to stand next to Ardagh. Even I would look short under such circumstances.)

Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Un-Forgotten Coat

It would have been great to have been in London, but I wasn’t. I sent my stand-in with the beard. He likes to hang out with successful people. Come to think of it, so do I.

Frank, meanwhile, has joined a long line of really very great writers who have won the Guardian prize. As he said about the award: ‘It would be amazing to win this award with any book I’d written but it is a special joy to win it with The Unforgotten Coat, which started life not as a published book at all, but as a gift. Walker gave away thousands of copies in Liverpool – on buses, at ferry terminals, through schools, prisons and hospitals – to help promote the mighty Reader Organisation. We even had the book launch on a train.’

And speaking of trains, I do wonder what happened to my disappearing one?

Getting to know Mary a bit better

I admit it. I never got the hang of Mary Queen of Scots. Not only was she not the only Mary to be queening away, but I got confused over relations with Elizabeth, as well. And perhaps so did she, judging by Theresa Breslin’s Spy For the Queen of Scots.

Whenever I heard the names of Bothwell or John Knox or even Darnley, I knew I recognised them. Could not have said quite what they did or who they were (surely Mary married one of them?), but all that has changed. Theresa has made people of the names from the history books, and I trust they will now remain with me, and I will always know who they were.

Theresa Breslin, Spy For the Queen of Scots

Not very nice, if looked at from Mary’s point of view. Hard to say if you’d look at them differently if you were Elizabeth, or someone.

I’m still hazy about some of the geography, but could easily picture Mary and her good (if fictional) friend Jenny at Holyrood or Stirling Castle.

The book starts and ends with Mary’s execution, which is a wise decision, since not all readers would know it would end in tears. The story starts in France just before Mary married the Dauphin, eventually becoming Queen of France. There is a poisoner about, and Jenny tries to protect her Queen and best friend.

Sir Duncan Alexander keeps popping up, and Jenny falls in love with him, but she’s never sure whose side he is on. After Mary is widowed they escape to Scotland, where there are even worse wasps’ nests of intrigue than in France. People change allegiance and kill each other at the drop of a hat.

Mary marries again. More than once. Jenny casts longing glances at Sir Duncan, and he at her, but theirs is a slow and uncertain love affair.

I reckon Spy For the Queen of Scots would do very well as a history book in schools. Perhaps with maps and a few other things to back up all the facts, and it should leave most pupils with a good understanding of what happened in the really distant olden days.

It’s interesting how excited you can get reading about imprisonment and escapes and feuds and conspiracies, and the odd poisoning, when you actually know how it must end. And Mary seems quite likeable. I even got the hang of her son James of the two different numbers. I mean I knew already, but now I also understand.

Old ladies

Isn’t it odd how you find you are far more prejudiced than you always thought you were? Annoying to discover, but also more common than we think.

Back in the olden days, when train travel and train tickets weren’t quite what they are now, the Resident IT Consultant had an annual season ticket for his daily commute. One bonus of this was a free day return for two, anywhere in the country. And rather than going somewhere nice a couple of hours away, he needed to get better value. He worked out it was possible to travel from Brighton to Edinburgh and back in one day.

So we did.

One of the things we did in Edinburgh was to look round the Georgian House, which proved far more fascinating than many grander mansions. The room steward in the kitchen was an elderly woman. The kind you like, but immediately write off as an elderly woman.

It was only as she reminisced about some event a year or two earlier, that I heard her say she had graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1924. Being young and stupid my immediate thought was ‘wow, she’s been to university?’ My next thought was, ‘well, why ever not?’ The Resident IT Consultant fared better, being related to an early lady doctor, whereas I come from simpler stock. If you were old enough to go to university in 1920, you wouldn’t have, if you follow my drift?

Spitfire Women

This came back to me as I caught part of an interview on the news recently, when they talked to a female Spitfire pilot, of which there were quite a few during WWII. Of necessity she’d need to be as old now as my Georgian steward was then. It’s just that you don’t think about this as being possible.

Yes, as I found when reading what is still the best book of 2012 – Code Name Verity – there were female pilots in the war. But in the war they were young… Now they’d be little old ladies.

I am deeply ashamed of my thoughts. I am on the way to becoming a little old lady myself.  At least I hope I am. It would beat the alternative, as they say. It’d be nice to think that when the not-too-far-off time comes I could have something to dazzle young ones with, but I doubt it.

Unless that day trip to Scotland counts.

Footie in the Town Hall, and other crazy stuff

OK, so the ball was only foam, but my heart was in my throat during the penalty shoot-out in the Banqueting Room. Wonder what those old gents adorning the walls thought of it? (I’m guessing: ‘Finally something fun to watch!’) The children enjoying some impromptu football after Tom Palmer’s event certainly seemed to think so.

Footie at Manchester Town Hall

It was the Manchester Literature Festival Family Reading Day yesterday, and everything happened at the Town Hall. Very successful format for children’s books, I thought. Nice and central, refined (apart from the inflatable goal Tom brought), and well laid out with one room as the market hall with tables, and space for making Viking longships out of wrapping paper, and the Banqueting Room for the events.

Craft table

Well worth getting up early for, even on a Sunday. But maybe – just maybe – I have attended too many of these if I recognise people’s piercings before the rest of them?

Manchester Children's Book Festival table

First out was Juliet Clare Bell (call her Clare) with her Kite Princess story. Clare made little girls balance books on their heads for better deportment, learning to glide. After which they blew bubbles. Ideas for books are like bubbles. Write them down before they pop. Clare also read Don’t Panic Annika (great name, that), and she talked about toys who brush their teeth. Of course they do…

Juliet Clare Bell blows bubbles

I chatted to Clare afterwards, but forgot to compliment her on her princess-style floaty dress. Would you believe it was her first visit to Manchester? Good thing the city was on its best behaviour, almost meriting that sundress. Not a single fire alarm, thankfully.

Juliet Clare Bell

Clare’s into reading for boys. Getting them to do it. Someone who knows how, is Tom Palmer, who was on later in the day. As with last year’s rugby event, this was great and absolutely perfect for boys. They read, you know. Football magazines and footballer’s biographies and such like. If it’s about sport, they know the answer, which was handy for the quiz Tom did with them.

Penalty shoot-out

And then they put MLF boss Cathy in goal and started the penalty shoot-out. She’s good. So were they. As is Tom when he talks to children. He is less condescending than most adults tend to be. He has a Russian billionnaire who murders football players in his new book series. And he travels to gather new ideas, because he likes writing about other countries, and getting it right. (Tom, about that Norwegian cathedral?)

Tom Palmer

No billionnaire himself, Tom was open with the children and told them how much he gets paid, and that he can’t support his family on what he makes on writing.

White Witch with The Servant

Earlier in the day we had a group of actors tell us about Narnia. The White Witch was there in all her splendour, but she’s not a terribly nice person, is she? Three actors and a wolfhund (might not have been real, actually) covered both the Witch and the Wardrobe, with help from audience volunteers. Not much of a Lion, however. Very popular, with a full room, and people sitting on the floor.

Alex Winters

The day’s highlight for most of the children, and their parents, was Dinnertime Stories with Cerrie Burnell and Alex Winters. And before you ask ‘who?’ I will say CBeebies. These television presenters read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and two more stories. Famous people and well known books are a winning concept.

Cerrie Burnell - The Wheels on the Bus

We sang The Wheels on the Bus, and discussed how many of us had arrived by camel. Or submarine. And we ran out of time.

So did Sita Brahmachari, who came to talk about her new book Jasmine Skies, but talked a lot about her award-winning first book Artichoke Hearts, as well. Due to some technical hitch (I can so identify with that) she borrowed Clare’s laptop for a while, before Clare had to rush home to Birmingham. But by then we had seen all the lovely family photos of Sita’s inspirational family.

I’m not quite sure how she did it, but before we knew where we were, her hour suddenly came to an end. Sita had some good volunteer strategies, and she read from both books, and then she spent a very long time folding and unfolding a sari. Interesting. Diaries and doodles have a lot to answer for. So does wearing orange. It could have been a trick. Or not.

Sita Brahmachari

Sita is off to Calcutta, to the bookshop where her late father used to sit and study, before he became a doctor. It’s rather nice to think of a bookshop allowing itself to be used as a library.

And then, I have to admit it; I went home. The day was not yet over, but the Bookwitch was very over. And five events out of seven is almost acceptable. I’m sure the Viking event with V Campbell was great. Especially for those who had built their own longships earlier in the day. (I wonder if the V stands for Viking?) The final event was Stanley’s Stick, an Oldham Coliseum Theatre production.


I am of the opinion that the MLF have got it just right. If they could just sell some energy for old ones, it’d be even better.