Monthly Archives: November 2012

Numbers: Infinity

Admittedly, on the cover of my copy it says Döden i dina ögon – Slutet, but it is the same book by Rachel Ward. She has diligently supplied me with all three Numbers in Swedish, and I have now reached the end.

Rachel Ward, Döden i dina ögon - Slutet

That’s what the translated title means, which is a little more final than infinity. So it was my usual mantra of me thinking ‘this is a book for young readers, it surely can’t end totally badly.’ And despite its dystopian nature, there were a few characters still around on the last page.

Adam keeps seeing people’s death dates in their eyes, and he hates it. But after little Mia apparently escaped her date and switched to someone else’s, he doesn’t know what to think. Sarah still dreams true dreams, whereas Mia sees everything in colours.

They are living in a camp with other survivors after the great catastrophe two years earlier, and Adam is sick and tired of being recognised as ‘the one’ and he is also worried in case the authorities will catch up with them. Someone does turn up, and it seems it might be Mia’s ability to switch that is of most interest to them.

The authorities claim they want to use Adam’s skills to determine how not to waste resources on the wrong people, and he and Sarah have to try to avoid ending up in custody. But Sarah is pregnant again, and there is the question what talents the new baby will have…

As ever, very exciting, and not for the fainthearted.


Oh Tannenbaum

My apologies for upsetting the trains again. Last month as I was gallivanting about in Fife and places, I caused it to snow, and this time round there appears to have been floods in one or two areas. I never intended any of this. Really sorry!

Christmas tree

Anyway, there I was, carting a Christmas tree round St Andrews, getting a little tired from having my hands quite so full. The tree and I went into a bar and sat down, waiting for its rightful new adoptive mother. Eventually she arrived, and we ate pizza while watching staff lay the tables for a wet Christmas ‘dinner’ later in the evening. Seems it’s a trick they pull on new students.

It wasn’t just trees I delivered. I brought Daughter her very own copy of Code Name Verity, because she’s currently into war books, and there IS NO WAY I will let her have my copy.

For my own needs I had four books, which I calculated ought to see me through the day. Finished two and read a little poetry from the third, leaving the fourth to another day. By the time I had passed Perth for the second time I felt I needed to stay awake and alert enough not to go to Glasgow by mistake.

That’s for today, that is. Glasgow, but not as a mistake. On the right day it’s a delightful place to walk through. You walk out of Queen Street station, turn right, and when you get to the church you turn left, and then right by the Tardis, and walk until you’re at Central station.

I’ve got another book for that journey. I mean the trains before and after the walk through Glasgow. I rarely read on the walk itself. (I love the way the online ticket booking system apologises for it not being possible to reserve a seat for this part of the trip. Can’t you just see me barrelling through the city in a comfy chair, reading something good?)

A day of goats and Wellingtons and Norwegians

They saw me coming. The scaffolding was up in the McEwan Hall, although it was hard to spot with their clever hiding of the fact. Even Son’s tutor, who sat right underneath it, failed to see how perilous his position was.

The McEwan Hall scaffolding

It was time for the long awaited Masters graduation ceremony on Tuesday morning. All of us had tickets this time, and the Resident IT Consultant only missed the turning once on the way there, and we did get to see the new – and rather idle – trams as we whizzed past. Also happened to notice there are such things as Panda packages. I am guessing it’s a hotel package which somehow involves meeting the famous pandas.

Caryl Phillips

These days they hand out Honorary Doctorships to failed (i.e. never-quite-made-it) lavatory attendants. That is a Good Thing. Just think; if Caryl Phillips had not been turned down by the Princes Street public toilets, he might never have written all those things he has written, or taught in all those fancy universities, or got his Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from Edinburgh. I imagine the toilet people felt he was over-qualified. Oxford degrees can have this effect on people.

I’m glad they happened to have a writer for the Honorary thing on my day. Seems very suitable. (And he’s a very good looking man…)

Graduation 2012

OK, back to eldest Offspring. It was his day, really, and his turn to be bashed on the head with that funny hat, which by some miracle is now not orbiting Earth, but instead has a piece of velvet which has travelled in space sewn inside it. If the Vice-Chancellor’s tale is to be believed.

Susan McGregor

Nice ceremony, with the right amount of speeches – i.e. not too many – and musical interludes of a tolerable kind. And did you know you can even get an MSc in Creative Writing? Perhaps I had better look out for these students in the book world in the future.

The Vice-Chancellor

Then it was on to drinks next door, with Son boldly smuggling us all in. I was introduced to Danish tutor Bjarne Thomsen who has an interest in children’s books, and also emeritus Dr Helena Forsås-Scott, who told me about various recent events to do with Swedish/Scandinavian children’s books. We discovered we had attended the same university which, judging by her accent, didn’t surprise me.

We repaired to a nearby Italian restaurant for (what wasn’t) a Goat Wellington, and some other nice food. Once outside again, we were waiting for the Resident IT Consultant to bring the car round, when we were chatted up by a silver-shoed Norwegian man, who had no idea that the new translator he suggested would need a working knowledge of Norwegian, actually had precisely that. We giggled and fled into the car when it turned up.

To make sure we would be driving back during the busiest part of the rush hour, we allowed Son and Dodo to make us tea and coffee at their flat, although we didn’t actually have room for yesterday’s leftover cookies. We showered Son with hand-me-down books which might conceivably turn out to be of assistance with the translating. (It’s not as if I will ever look at them again.)

It’s hard work, this academic stuff. Even for the lazy by-stander.

Authors, authors everywhere

I already had two authors, plus one Son, on the go for Monday, when a third one said she wouldn’t mind meeting up. But that was not to be. The afternoon could only be stretched so much, and I was already overstretched.

First on the agenda was lunch with yet another Perthshire author. Elizabeth Wein left an incinerator meeting in Perth in order to eat a corned beef sandwich with me in Stirling, telling me all about her most marvellous book Code Name Verity, and showing me pilots’ stuff from the war and secret silk maps and everything. And I learned that Maddie lived just round the corner from me.

It’s as if it was meant.

Elizabeth Wein

We had a nice, if noisy, lunch in a traditional café (because of the war) and we talked, talked, talked. Elizabeth admitted to an interest in vintage underwear. Just so you know.

After lunch I had to hop on the train to Edinburgh, for some freshly baked cookies at Son’s and Dodo’s. The Lapsang Souchong was so smokey it set the smoke detector off. Or it might have been the cookies in the oven.

Grabbing my M&S sandwiches (sorry, I seem to talk a lot about food) I got on the 49 bus to the Royal Terrace Hotel, where Nicola Morgan was going to talk about brains.

I had been looking forward to sitting in the bar with Nicola and the other two people there, but contrary to Nicola’s modest expectations, her event sold out and I had to share her with loads of other people who also wanted to learn about the teenage brain. Pardon, the adolescent brain.

As it was, I sat at the back (Nicola had reserved me the most perfect seat in the corner, with my name on it and everything) munching goats cheese sandwiches as discreetly as possible, listening to Blame My Brain, which was so much more interesting even than I had expected. (I almost felt the Resident IT Consultant should have come too, and not just been used as a taxi service at the other end.)

Nicola Morgan

There is an explanation as to why teenagers appear to be unable to be more articulate than to say ‘uhh’ at all times. Even old Shakespeare noticed this.

I will return with more details on the prefrontal cortex front later this week. Just now I will leave you with a brief mention of the dainty little cakes Nicola had on offer afterwards. Some of us drank tea and ate cake (oops, eating again) while others bought books.

It was a nice walk back to Waverley, passing a pretty old church at the end of the cobbled street, and with a lit up path meandering up Calton Hill. If I’d known what I was doing, and if I had not had a train to catch, I might have investigated some more. As it was, this turned out to be my second foray into unknown book related territory at night in one week.

A little bit of Flanders in Scotland

After years of me bringing Offspring along to interviews, and then borrowing other people’s children for the same purpose, I have finally got to the point where the interviewee arrives with children in tow. (They were invited!) The circle is complete, and all that. And whereas I have used (my own) children’s labour to obtain photographs in the past, very little has changed. This time I borrowed the visiting Miss Grant to take pictures of Mum, aka Helen Grant.

The family involvement didn’t stop there. I might have been Offspring-free, but not only did I have the Resident IT Consultant on kitchen duty, but the Grandmother had to provide the venue. (I only asked permission after I’d set the whole thing up.)

Helen Grant

While Master Grant made the most of the Grandmotherly wifi and charged his laptop, his sister took photos and read books, as befits the true child of an author. The mothers ate cake. Obviously. Pizza. Garlic bread. I won’t tell you how many slices Helen ate. Tea and glasses of Coke were also consumed during the process of interviewing one of Scotland’s more recently imported authors.

Helen’s new book Silent Saturday won’t be out until next year, but we need to think and talk about it before then, which is why three quarters of the Grant family kindly got themselves lost while searching for the Grandmother’s abode. The fourth quarter Grant avoided this by rescuing some mountains instead.

So, Helen and I discussed Flanders and Belgium, where the book is set, and we talked languages, because that’s important in the book. We talked background and all sorts of others stuff, and you will have to wait for all this because – as I said – the book won’t be available just yet. Helen had to restrain herself from giving away too many spoilers as regards books two and three, and since not one of you (?) has even read the first one yet, I can’t say much about that either.

After this we talked about all sorts of other things while enjoying the Resident IT Consultant’s heating-up-food abilities. Picts. Flemish lessons. Lost railway lines. You know.

You’re Only Young Twice!

At last a book I am still too young for! It’s ’60 and up’ and I’m not there yet. Hah.

Quentin Blake, however, is very surprisingly 80 this year, and his book is here to celebrate that fact. Some years ago Quentin was invited to come and paint pictures on someone’s hospital walls, in the ‘elderly wing’ and now those pictures have become a book as well.

Quentin Blake, You're Only Young Twice!

I would almost want to go and live in that hospital wing, or let’s say that if and when I do need to be carted off, that’s the kind of wing I’d be after.

Every page, and one assumes, every wall, is full of happy wrinklies, doing fun things. Peeling apples, juggling fruit, sitting on tree branches. In fact, they are doing quite normal things like arm wrestling and playing football and reading books. So that looks hopeful enough, for when the time comes.

You’re Only Young Twice! is fabulous. It shows us that old people are normal people, doing what we should all do if we could; enjoying life. Best done now, if at all possible. In case some of us don’t qualify for the recommended reading age.


Chekhov, Tjechov, Tschechow, Tšehov, Chéjov or Tsjekhov? Yes, you tell me. They are obviously all the same man. I grew up with the second version and am doing my utmost to spell him in English these days. It’s not easy. I generally have to look it up every time.

And here you can see how carried away I got with Wikipedia. The other ones are German, Finnish, Spanish and Norwegian, to save you having to Wiki them as well. The interesting thing is that if we all stand around saying the name out loud, there won’t be much difference between any of them.

Same with Alexander Solzjenitsyn, Solzhenitsyn or Solschenizyn. Can you even tell which languages these are? So similar.

Despite taking it for granted – I mean, I do now. I used to think it was downright weird to have a version for every language – that we need to spell differently in order to say the same thing, I was taken aback when Laurence O’Bryan was taken aback by his Serbian crime novel cover. He’d turned into good old Lorens O’Brajan.

Lorens O'Brajan

I don’t speak Serbian, but can tell it’s a bestseller, probably features Istanbul, and it’s brutal. Funny how we freely borrow certain words and phrases, either exactly the same or very similar, while still translating proper names.

It’s a fantastic cover, though, don’t you think? I reckon I’d be happy to be O’Brajan for a cover like that. Brutal bestseler and everything. (Better than poor Vilijam Rajan.) In fact, I’m so keen to read it I am getting annoyed at my lack of linguistic skills.

Mary Hoffman apparently has a Chinese translation of her first Stravaganza book out now, but she can’t tell what her name might be, or anything else much. Luciano even has red hair. Not necessarily in the book, but on the cover. Hopefully a Chinese book means millions of sales..?

The Moomins and the Great Flood

Moominmamma is definitely me. In this new version of Tove Jansson’s first Moomin story, The Moomins and the Great Flood, both Moomintroll and Moominmamma are slimmer than ever before. It’s almost to such an extent they don’t yet look as lovable and friendly as they do in later incarnations.

But whereas the illustrations still have some developing to do, as people they are definitely themselves. I mean, as Moomins, they already are what they have always been. The book was first published in 1945, and here it is in a fresh new English translation by David McDuff.

The images of these slimmer Moomins are in black and white or in sepia, and are a far cry from the plump and colourful television cartoon creatures. But they are still the same on the inside. And it’s fascinating meeting Moomintroll and his mother and Sniff at such an early stage, before they have even found their lovely tall house, and before they know all the people they are friendly with in the later books.

Tove Jansson, The Moomins and the Great Flood

I suspect the book will appeal more to adult fans than to children. Some of the illustrations are a little scary, and a young reader could feel as intimidated at times as Moomintroll does. In fact, Moominmamma feels scared too, except she needs to put a brave and calm face on for Moomin and Sniff. And, when you look braver than you feel, you might find that you become a little braver after a while.

Moominpappa has disappeared and Moomintroll and Moominmamma have gone to look for him. There has been a great flood and lots of creatures have been displaced and are (feeling) lost.

This is the most wonderful Moomin-journey tale, and even someone as jaded as I am, found it both charming and strangely soothing. I am more than a little scared of the Great Serpent, and almost wish it hadn’t been given such a prominent position. But you can always turn the pages faster.

Preface by Tove herself, from 1991.

Wednesday – in two parts

When Ruth Eastham texted me to say she and Ally Kennen had arrived at Manchester Piccadilly, I looked carefully at the people coming up the escalator and found myself staring at Philip Caveney instead. The ladies were not far behind, but I think it was Philip’s job to identify one lone Bookwitch from the milling crowds. He did, and then left for home.

Ruth and I had been plotting for weeks to meet up, and when she told me Ally was coming along it made the deal even better as far as I was concerned. I’ve seen Ally several times without plucking up the courage to say hello, and here she was, actually wanting to meet me.

I had to do that thing I hate; admit to not having read a single book of hers. She, and her books, have scared me somewhat, but Ally assured me nothing bad happens in her books. So maybe..? Certainly, Ally the person is very nice. Believe me. She had gone along to the Oldham Brilliant Books for the fun, and to have a night’s un-interrupted sleep.

Ally Kennen

She was a bit green, however. The taxi they’d come in had not been of the steadiest sort. So Ally drank a glass of water, and watched as I had some pretty good gnocchi while Ruth showed what she’s made of by going straight for the tiramisu, the taxi ride notwithstanding.


Now, I’d obviously planned to talk about Ruth and Ally and their books, but the tables turned quite early on and they found out more about me than makes sense. Although we interrogated each other to a suitable degree, and I reckon both Ally and I want to gatecrash Ruth in Italy, where she lives.

Ally had a train to catch (we all did, but hers was the first), so she left Ruth and me to discuss Ruth’s next book. (Speaking of next books, I think Ally’s next one sounds relatively safe.) I warned Ruth about all the things she doesn’t want to put in her book, and she took notes…

Ruth Eastham with Tiramisu

We enthused about war, which we both like. In books, if not in real life. And because Ruth was going off to spend 24 hours being an ‘exciting and famous aunt’ I dispatched her to a train leaving from the furthest away platform, with a mere five minutes to spare. Hope she made it.

I had more on the agenda, so went for my own train and spent a little time resting at home.

Caryl Hart

After some tea I gathered my camera and current book and walked over to the hotel used by the authors coming to the Stockport Book Award to see if I could catch up with some of them, since Wednesday was awards night at the Plaza. Using the same list of books as Oldham, it meant that some of the winning authors were also the same.

Ed Eaves

Hence I saw Caryl Hart again, looking fabulous in her ‘partydress’ complete with crown and everything. (This year’s theme was crowns and coronets.) She was accompanied by Ed Eaves, the illustrator of How to Grow a Dinosaur, and he wore a fantastic crown that he’d made himself. It’s that artistic vein.

The other winner waiting to catch a taxi to the Plaza was Clare Chambers, author of Burning Secrets. This year there have been many winners in Oldham and Stockport who I don’t know at all. It’s good to meet new people, but above all, it’s great that more than the obvious, well known books get an audience and new readers.

Clare Chambers

As far as I know, the other winners were Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, again, with A Monster Calls, and Clive Goddard and Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I hope neither Clive nor publicist Sarah, representing Patrick and Jim, had got lost. I understand they were coming direct from Oldham. And I believe Philip Caveney – Stockport’s very own author – was also at the Plaza.

The library representative bundled ‘my’ three into a taxi, and I walked home, having narrowly avoided the Market Research event at the hotel.

Brilliant Books

It was Oldham’s first book award last night, and what a brilliant name Brilliant Books is! Queen Elizabeth Hall was teeming with beautifully dressed school children of all ages, and I must say that those authors who usually spend their days in lonely garrets scrub up really well, too.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

As for your shabby looking witch, she was given her very own escort who did some excellent looking after. His name was Snape. Keith Snape. Not Severus. But anyway. (He’s older than he looks. Apparently.) He told me about the wonderful libraries in Oldham, and he is dreadfully enthusiastic about all sorts of things.

Twenty schools have participated in reading this first year, and the children came for a glittery night out at the round tables in the beautiful ballroom. The Mayor of Oldham spoke, and then it was Dave’s turn to look after things on stage. At least I think he’s a Dave. I didn’t catch his surname. He did a great job, ably assisted by young readers.

The names of the shortlisted authors for each category were read out by readers of that age group, followed by some very nicely done recorded readings from each book, along with an opinion on why that particular book was the best. (Like because the character had orange hair.)

Caryl Hart

Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves won the Early Years award for How to Grow a Dinosaur, and Caryl was there to receive the prize. She impressed Dave by reading her acceptance speech on her smartphone…

Oldham Youth Wind Ensemble played The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, before the titles of the five shortlisted books in the Key Stage 1 group were read out, by slightly older children, who in an egalitarian attempt to split the five titles, shared the last one between them.

Caryl Hart

Julia Donaldson and David Roberts won with Jack and the Flumflum tree, and our esteemed Children’s Laureate made up for having gone on holiday instead of coming to Oldham, by sending a video message, which included singing a song with her husband. Pretty good, actually.

Not wanting to be outdone (as if they would be!) the Wind Ensemble gave us the Drunken Sailor, and then it was straight on to Key Stage 2. I am pleased that Philip Caveney won with Night on Terror Island. It’s especially nice, because it’s a local award. Philip thanked his daughter for making him a children’s author, and his soulmate, who then ended up carrying his rather lovely trophy around for him.

Philip Caveney

Clive Goddard

Clive Goddard, who didn’t win, but who was there anyway, stood up to wave, so we know what he looks like. He wrote a book with the tongue-twisting title Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I agree with Dave; I don’t think I can say that too many times.

Stanley's Stick

Ruth Eastham

Before moving on to the Key Stage 3 books, we enjoyed a performance of Stanley’s Stick by young actors from Oldham Coliseum. The winning book in this category was The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham. She gave a great speech, which partly consisted of reading us her first published poem, written when she was nine. Basically, we should be aware of our inner caterpillar. I think. We will eventually turn into butterflies.

Ally Kennen

By this time poor Dave wasn’t sure if he was even at the right stage, but he was, because it was the turn of the oldest readers (so much taller than the first ones) to announce that Patrick Ness and Jim Kay had won with A Monster Calls. Unfortunately they were running late with their homework, and had been given a detention so couldn’t be there.

Sarah from Walker Books read out a message from Patrick, who regretted that his nice suit wasn’t going to get its annual airing, and he thanked Siobhan Dowd, on whose idea the book was based. Another shortlisted author, Ally Kennen, was in the audience and we got a wave from her.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

Dave said he’s happy so many children can and do read more than 140 characters, and then everyone thanked everybody else. Andrea Ellison, whose brainchild Brilliant Books is, spoke and listed all her helpers. She waved her plastered arm around, and I wasn’t sure how much she had used it to persuade people… She finished by asking the children to parade round the room, to show off their beautiful outfits and perhaps to get some restlessness out of the way by marching round to the upbeat music.

Ruth Eastham

After which there was nothing more to do than buy books and chat to authors and give Lady Caveney advice on the Scandinavian languages and their differences. And seeing as it took me two hours to get there by public transport, I then decided I had to start working on my return journey. (Car would have been 30 minutes. Broom probably even faster.)

I feel honoured to have been present at the birth of a new award, and here’s to many more Brilliant Books!