Monthly Archives: December 2012

My 2012 Book Blog Card

I have the impression that dusty books posing with a lit candle or two is all the rage this year. So here is my personal interpretation of the new style Christmas decorating.


Christmas card

Dangerous, but attractive. (In other words, rather like me.)

The literal link

As a small extra offering for today, you can find the ramblings of a proud mother here. (They never shut up.)

The Dance of Death

Tiresome, I know. But I can, so I did.

When the witch met Petrona

The world of blogging is a rather nice place to be. You meet interesting people, like other bloggers with whom you share so much. And the really good ones make you wish you were that little bit better at it.

Maxine Clarke who blogged as Petrona was one of them. She knew a lot about crime, which turned out to my advantage that evening in 2008 when I invited myself onto her team for the crime pub quiz in Bristol. We’d never met, but she came highly recommended by Declan Burke, so I felt free to borrow the friend of a friend. (We came third, mainly thanks to Maxine and her colleague Karen of Eurocrime.)

I always had the feeling that I ought to know more about the Nordic crime scene because of my background, but it would have been impossible to beat Maxine. From what I knew of her, she had a good job, a family, and she still managed to read all the interesting crime novels and write reviews for her own as well as Karen’s blogs.

By the time I ran out of time for too much daily blog reading, I tended to use Petrona as somewhere I would go to look for information. I could generally be sure of finding anything relevant on there.

Every now and then Maxine would leave a comment on Bookwitch, either because I’d blogged on crime, or because there was something YA that she also knew about. I believe our daughters are about the same age, which is how we ended up reading the same books for that age group as well.

This is what makes it especially sad that Maxine died earlier this week; leaving someone young behind. Because for all her expertise on the Scandinavians, it was sharing YA books that I found the most fun.

Bloggers at Crime Fest copy

I stole this photo of Maxine (left) with Rhian, Karen and Declan some years ago. I’m not sure who from, but it was in a good cause.

There is a collection of blogs posts about Maxine here.

(And as an amusing aside, I have to thank Rhian for pointing me in the direction of a long ago post by Maxine, featuring Mark Harmon. If only I’d known…)

The #1 profile – Philip Caveney

He’s got a lot happening. Philip Caveney won the Oldham book award for his first cinema book – Night on Terror Island – set in Stockport. That was a few weeks ago. Shortly before this Philip had launched his latest book – Crow Boy – set in Edinburgh.

Philip Caveney

And now that he finds himself on the Bookwitch best of 2012 list with Spy Another Day, there can be no better start for the new feature on this blog than to find out some odd bits and pieces about local boy Philip. Faster and quirkier than a regular interview, this is where I let authors loose on their own.

Over to Philip Caveney:

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

My first published book, The Sins of Rachel Ellis (1977), was my third serious attempt at a novel. But before that, from my teens onwards, I had written scores of short stories, most of which will never see the light of day.

Best place for inspiration?

Train journeys can be good for ideas. There’s something about staring out of the window across empty fields that gets my mind ticking. But ideas can come to you just about anywhere…

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I have already published three teen romance novels under a female pseudonym… unfortunately, I signed a contract that prevents me from revealing the name. But the ‘lady’ even got fan letters from young female readers!

What would you never write about?

Umm… I’d write about anything if I genuinely believed I wasn’t being gratuitous.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I met my German translator at an event in Glasgow once. That was certainly unexpected. And I ended up in Portugal at a medieval festival watching a performance of Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools. I even had to get up, dressed in period clothing and talk to a huge crowd of people, none of whom could speak any English. Doesn’t come much stranger than that.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

A lot of people have suggested that I AM Max the buffalope, from the Sebastian Darke books, because of my proclivity for gloominess. But I’d probably most like to be Mr Lazarus, from the Movie Maniac books, a man who seems to live forever and can leave all his infirmities locked up in a reel of film.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Good, in that it would raise my profile and bolster my bank balance. Bad, because in all probability, they’d make a dog’s dinner of it. They generally do.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

How long it took me to ‘make all those books on the table.’ Youngsters don’t always have an accurate idea of how publishing works. They think of it as a kind of cottage industry. It’s more of a collaboration.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Loads! I can sing, play the drums and I qualified as a graphic designer.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Oh dear. I have to admit to never having read a single Famous Five book. Just wasn’t my kind of thing. As for Narnia, I liked the first two books, but thought they started to get a bit tedious after that. I gave up somewhere in the middle of The Horse and His Boy. Yes, I know. Sacrilege.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Can I have four? Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida. It would seem churlish to separate them.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

There’s a room full of Billys in our apartment, a mixture of my books and Susan’s books, just crammed in to the available space. One of these days, we’re going to put them in some kind of order (or so we keep saying). Then there’s a special red bookcase that has only books that I’ve published. When you add in translations, that’s quite a bit of acreage. Having no more room for physical tomes, we now arrange our latest purchases (very neatly) on her kindle and my iPad. It works.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Well, one of mine, obviously (we authors are shameless self-publicists) but failing that, I’d go for Ray Bradbury’s classic fantasy novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer and even after all these years, it still delivers.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing, I guess, but it has to be said that all writers should read and that without reading, I doubt that anyone would ever become a writer. I’m always appalled when I meet would-be writers who say they don’t read because they don’t want to be influenced. How arrogant is that? As writers we begin by imitating the best. Eventually we find a voice of our own. Then look out!

I’m surprised he didn’t pick Max von Sydow as his favourite Swede, but what do I know? And Philip has written romances!!! We didn’t know that.

How noble

Beware of marrying someone who stands a chance of being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics! That is, if you don’t feel like having the King of Sweden as your dinner partner at the Nobel dinner. Reverse my advice if you do. (And by the time Crown Princess Victoria is Queen, you will be dining with Prince Daniel. What they would do about a female laureate, I don’t know. The King now, I suppose, and presumably Daniel later.)

I need to mention that you can’t ever expect to win a Nobel Prize. Nor can you apply for it, and there is no queueing system. Countless books mention the happy outcome of a Nobel Prize as something the really outstanding will eventually receive. Most clever people – even in books – are never quite that outstanding.

Just thought I’d dash any hopes. Hence my suggestion of marriage. Choose well.

Nobel Dinner

There is so much happening in Sweden on Nobel Day (10th December) every year. Prize ceremonies. Dinners. Everything televised. Followed later by interviews and round table chats with the winners, who always turn out to be not only intelligent, but witty and fascinating company.

My pesky GP Cousin (after all these years, still four years my senior) seems to share my fondness for the round table chat. When we were last together in December some years ago, it’s what we sat down to watch on television, in the middle of his dinner party. That’s when he worried that the Grandmother might find this far too complicated to follow. That’s when I told him she’s a Physics graduate so no need to worry.

But, anyway. Here in exile we miss most of the fun. And then I was chatting to Swiss Lady on the phone the other day. She explained how she’d managed to get most of her Christmas baking done in the peace and quiet when GP Cousin was in Stockholm. I agreed it’s always good to ‘get rid of’ the boys every now and then.

As an afterthought she mentioned what he’d been doing. My ancient cousin had worked as a wine waiter at the Nobel dinner.

And he thinks I’m crazy for doing my bookwitching…


Phew! Adrian McKinty’s usual adult crime novels with the swearing and the sex and the violence are nothing compared to this YA novel of his. It proves what I always say; take away the adult aspects and you have to work so much harder to make a book really good.

There is little quite as frightening as the religious and rightful people of Colorado and the weird goings-on in a closed community. The Colorado set-up in Adrian’s adult Fifty Grand was nowhere as scary as Cobalt in Deviant.

14-year-old Danny moves to Cobalt with his mother and his stepfather. He is given permission to join the downright strange school in Cobalt. Students are not allowed to talk. They have to wear gloves. And among the one hundred students there are several groups that meet outside school, and they are anything but normal.

Adrian McKinty, Deviant

Someone is killing the cats of Cobalt, in an unpleasant, ritualistic way. The various groups compete to solve the mystery, while Danny’s stepfather works with the local convicts in a chain-gang. Old scientist Nikola Tesla plays a small part in what goes on, having left something to the school.

It was surprisingly easy for me to work out who was behind the killings, but I hadn’t bargained for a couple of little extras. Remember what people say about ‘the quietest waters’ and add to that a community where half the population seems insane, and where they don’t lock their doors.

I’d seen some bad (reader) reviews of this book, and Adrian has been resigned over the lack of worthwhile and positive interest in Deviant. I suspect early copies went to the wrong readers. This is a great book. Chilling (and I don’t mean the snow) and scary in a way you don’t see often enough. It doesn’t fit a pattern. Maybe that’s what those readers had a problem with? The writing is definitely up to Adrian’s usual high standards.

This is a quiet thriller, made all the more frightening because of it. The interesting twist near the end means I can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s dark, but this is no YA noir, as it has been labelled. It’s much darker than noir.


I confess I’d forgotten about them. And that we had so many.

How could I forget the wonderful Arthur books? I know I said only the other day that Arthur brings me out in a rash. But I meant that other – serious – one. Today I’m on about Arthur the Aardvark. I’d not forgotten about him at all. Just the books. Because he’s a television star. Him and little sister DW and all their friends.

It was a throwaway comment on facebook about Arthur a while back that made me realise I’m not the only intelligent (cough) adult who is a great fan of the best aardvark on children’s television. Any television. Of all aardvarks, come to think of it.

Arthur and friends

So many adults came forward to chat about species and Binky Barnes, etc, that I can only hope there are also children out there who like Arthur. He can’t be just for us oldies? Actually, Offspring – the junior version – liked him a lot. Like, even. I suspect it’s one of the few programmes from back then that we would all happily sit down and watch together and enjoy.

But as I said, there were the books. We have lots of them, I discovered, when I’d dispatched the Resident IT Consultant into the attic for something else. I think I bought so many in order to tempt Daughter into reading. We were just wanting to bridge that gap between thinking about it and actually reading.

We have sticker books and picture books and early readers. And I happen to love them as much as any child. Even today. There is a lot of wisdom in there, especially from DW (who is not something you grease stubborn locks with, although I do get confused about this). Arthur’s neighbourhood is full of interesting characters, and in the American way, it’s a mix of people from different backgrounds. Rich, poor(er), aardvarks, bunnies, colours, brains.

Great stuff! I hope I never grow too old for Arthur.

Two more bests

There are two more books I really feel deserve another mention for their general excellence. My ‘best of’ for the year is for children’s books. But 2012 had a lot of good books to offer, and some of them are for the ‘older reader.’

If I had had a best adult novel category, the award would go to Adrian McKinty for The Cold Cold Ground, which is as close to perfect as you get with a crime novel.

And I don’t often read reference books, but Books To Die For, edited by Declan Burke and John Connolly, is just that. A reference book to die for. Except we don’t want to die. We only want to read about the most fantastic crime novels, in which people might well die.

Those Irish know a thing or two about crime.

The Burkes at the Irish Book Awards

To finish off in style – it is the weekend, after all – I give you the glamorous face of Irish crime. The other one just writes books.

It’s Gillian Philip. Or is it?

I must have fallen asleep at some point, because when I woke up, there was Gillian Philip, travelling all over the place, the ‘victim’ of great success with.., yes, with what? In the end I had to bite the bullet and actually ask her. You can either be cool, or you can be informed. I wanted to be the latter more than the former. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is Erin Hunter!

Apart from writing some pretty fantastic fantasy set in Scotland, you have your writing fingers in a few other pies, don’t you? How many?

Let me see… I’ve just finished writing a teen dark fantasy series for Hothouse and Hodder, called Darke Academy – that’s under the name Gabriella Poole. The final book, Lost Spirits, came out in November. Just now I’m writing the latest Erin Hunter series, Survivors, which is about dogs surviving in a post-apocalyptic kind of world. That’s for Working Partners and Harper Collins. I’ve also written a couple of Beast Quests, also for Working Partners, as Adam Blade – that was HUGE fun because I used to read Beast Quest to my son. I get lots of Brownie points for that with the boy, though I have now been slightly overshadowed by a certain pal writing Skylanders.

Oh and I’m also trying to write another contemporary YA under my own name. That’s progressing s-l-o-w-l-y. And I’m writing the fourth and final Rebel Angels book (and thank you for the kind comment about those).

And I gather you’ve been very successful in the US with something? What, exactly?

That’s the Survivors series! Erin Hunter is pretty big in the US, so I’ve been lucky to become a part of that.

Tell us some more?

Erin Hunter’s Warriors and Seekers (about cats and bears respectively)  are really popular, and the teams at Working Partners and Harper Collins had always wanted to do a series about dogs. They wanted a different scenario to Warriors or Seekers, though, and they eventually decided on this apocalyptic storyline. There’s been some kind of huge disaster, precipitated by an earthquake, and all the humans have vanished. (Which is really important, obviously – kind of like getting rid of the parents in a children’s book.) So the dogs – wild, feral and domesticated alike – have to learn how to survive and adapt. It’s huge fun writing about all the different characters and breeds. Having my own three dogs – reliable Lab, naughty Jack Russell cross, and slightly prissy Papillon – really helps…

You even went to America on what seemed like a rather grand tour. Where did you go, and who were your audiences?

It was FABULOUS! Harper Collins arranged a five-city tour in September, which was just about the most fun I’ve ever had. It took in Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and Cincinnati, so cured two of my phobias – early mornings and flying. I had media escorts in each city, stayed in some gorgeous hotels – all a bit gobsmacking – and I made some really great new friends. There were lots of events, at schools and at some amazing bookshops, plus some interviews. And the lovely Karen Ball from WP came along for the first two cities to support me – literally at one point, since I fell on my face in Atlanta airport.

Why haven’t we heard more about this ‘back home?’

Survivors hasn’t got a UK publisher yet. *sad face*

Is all this making you rich? Or just very famous?

It’s not me that’s famous, it’s Erin! She has a lot of incarnations. I think it’s great that Harper Collins are very open about the fact that she is several people. All the fans know about that, and they’re fine with it. The fans are pretty fabulous actually – they know the characters and the histories intimately, They bring along gifts – anything from stuffed toys to pictures to character family trees. It’s genuinely touching and I keep every single one.

Do you still remember us, your old (very old, in my case) fans?

Hahaha! YES. And you can’t say you’re old because that would make me ancient.

(This Erin person might know about dogs, but she can’t do arithmetic. Just because I’m shorter than her doesn’t mean I’m younger. And please note how nimbly she sidestepped the wealth qustion.)

Thank you Erin/Gillian/Adam/Gabriella!

Gillian Philip

The Code Name Verity interview

Don’t read my interview with Elizabeth Wein!

Elizabeth Wein

I know this is an unusual way to advertise an interview, but if you haven’t read Code Name Verity – aka the best book this year – it will spoil the book for you.

You want to read CNV. You know you do. So read it and then hurry back here for a fun interview with an author who admits to knowing her book was going to be great. (Those Americans are so modest…)

I loved meeting Elizabeth last month, and my strongest feeling afterwards has been that ‘I simply must read Code Name Verity again.’ Please join me.

(Sorry the photo is a bit blurry. Elizabeth was laughing. She did that a lot. And perhaps I was shaking a little.)