Monthly Archives: January 2013

The angels they keep coming

I sat on the dark side of the house. This was on account of head being unhappy and moaning about how sunny it was outside, and why couldn’t it have stayed grey and miserable like it has been all autumn and winter (so far)?

On account of that head, I was also not really doing anything other than existing. So, looking up from a book I was about to ditch, I caught sight of the postman standing by the front door, waving at me. It seemed he didn’t want to ring the doorbell. Couldn’t see why not. It was almost noon and the only person still asleep could do with waking up.

Sally Rippin, Angel Creek

Dragging myself to the door I was handed a fairly small jiffybag, which I opened, once I was back in my chair on the dark side. It was an angel book; Angel Creek by Sally Rippin.

Because it was the kind of day when you just sit, I continued with the sitting. 30 minutes later a FedEx van stopped outside. Thinking I’d save FedEx-man having to pling-plong, I went to open the door. But it turned out I wasn’t needed. He plopped his tiny cardboard parcel through the letter box.

I brought it over to the dark side and opened it. Out fell Angel Creek by Sally Rippin.

Sally Rippin, Angel Creek

Now, it’s not unheard of, getting two or more copies of the same book. Not usually on the same day, however. And definitely not wrapped differently and sent and delivered by different routes.

And I don’t know why the postman had to wave to me, seeing as FedEx chap was able to post the same book, but wrapped in more unwieldy cardboard through the letter box.

I’m just assuming someone really, really wanted me to have angels.

Selling the Royal Institution

No sooner had the Grandmother suggested we sell the Royal Institution, but someone is actually wanting to do that very thing.

Although, I suppose not the RI as such. The RI are the ones being forced out of their ‘home,’ the rather nice building in Albemarle Street, where Michael Faraday used to work.

I hope it’s a false alarm, and by that I mean perhaps someone will come up with the money to save it. But why do I feel like this? In most cases I would shrug my shoulders in a pragmatic kind of way, because I’m not surprised by either mismanagement or hard times. ‘These things happen.’ All the time.

But this is the Royal Institution. It’s the Faraday link.

But as I said, we were thinking of selling the very same building, albeit in the shape of a painting. Apparently it was commissioned by Faraday. And according to family lore, once it was painted, it lived under his desk for a very long time.

It was eventually framed by the Resident IT Consultant’s grandfather, and is currently hanging on our wall. At first it was on sufferance, because as pictures go I didn’t like it much. But once the idea of selling it was broached, I realised I’d got used to it.

I suspect we will keep it, because it’s not worth a lot. The story of it being close to Faraday’s knees is probably more valuable.

Royal Institution

As for the other building, I hope someone nice and rich will find they have money to spare. The problem though, is that by doing the place up, the RI have priced people like us out of going there, even if we lived close enough to consider frequenting it for talks and other events.

Bookwitch bites #95

I have rearranged my reading lists again. These days I put books into a pleasing colour order, and try and keep track of chronology by writing stuff on a piece of paper. Lately I’ve surprised myself by grabbing ‘old’ books to read. I also have a Kindle ready and raring to go, because I’ve ignored the ebooks for so long I can’t even remember how long it’s been.

It seems Eoin Colfer has an e-short coming this week. It’s lucky I came across Eoin’s own tale about this in the Guardian, since I’d not heard anything about it elsewhere. I have no idea if his is the only Doctor Who e-short, or if there are a whole bunch of them.*

This might not be the right place to admit I’ve never read one, but I haven’t. Someone close to me who has, was recently persuaded to prune a little on the shelves, so there are now not quite as many. They sound fun, but then a lot of things sound fun. Eoin’s introduction to the Doctor was very amusing. But he does have a cousin called Kevin.

Someone sent me a word manuscript of their latest crime novel, which has also gone on the Kindle. Unfortunately I am not allowed to tell anyone about it, so won’t be able to report back when I’ve read it… (Just thought you’d like to know.) There is that list from paragraph one to deal with first, though.

The Branford Boase longlist was made public this week. It’s really tricky when you like several books so much that you just dont feel it’s possible to have a preference. I suppose it will be easier once the shortlist is here? Maybe just one really good book will get through. Except that would mean the other great stories didn’t make it. Gah.

Interview tools

Something which didn’t make it this week was my interview on Monday. I’ll kill that iPod! Or perhaps just tell it off for slacking. Luckily the Resident It Consultant had bought another recorder thingy, which I’d decided to test run side by side with something old and trusted. To see if it worked. Hah.

From now on I will be known as Old Two-Recorder Witch. How can I ever go places with just one? (I’m not paranoid. Just cautious.)

*Now I have checked this, and there are 11. Apparently the old Doctor is 50 and they are celebrating.

The old weltschmerz and other fun stuff

‘Never, never, never kill a customer.’ I like a book where the bad baddie – who is still not quite as dead as you’d like – actually takes on board what others say to him.

And I like a book where 15-year-old boys in a small village near Belfast can talk about weltschmerz and get away with it. To be more precise, it was Lord Ramsay who said it, and Lord Ui Neill who puts up with him.

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to mention that Thaddeus doesn’t die in chapter one, from hunting whatever that creature he was out hunting was. He was needed to babysit the two Lords and their alien friend Wishaway, and that’s a job almost worse than being eaten by a large cat in the first chapter.

I’m glad Thaddeus got an outing in the third book in Adrian McKinty’s (I haven’t mentioned him for several days!!) Lighthouse trilogy, The Lighthouse Keepers. He had sort of hovered for long enough that the time was ripe. And travelling through wormholes is so much more amusing if you can have someone new along each time.

Have to admit I was disappointed to have the old baddie still with us, and in Northern Ireland at that. But they have to be somewhere.

There were new baddies too. The CIA. And the clairvoyants. They know for a fact that Jamie – Lord Ui Neill – will cause the end of the world, which means they need to cause the end of Jamie before he does his bit. He has to be killed.

And there is the other world, Altair, and it also has bad people. Or maybe not. They could just be enemies, which isn’t the same thing. Their world is coming to an end, too.

The Lighthouse Keepers is funny and exciting;  and just the right mix of comedy and thriller, with a suitable amount of science fiction-cum-astrophysics thrown in. It’s very Irish. There is also a hilarious description of Larne. Although I might just think so because I have never been to Larne.

Reading The Lighthouse Keepers after the end of the world on 21st December 2012 posed a little bit of a problem, and Adrian was totally wrong about Starbucks, and hopefully a wee bit wrong regarding Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan. But not necessarily very wrong, which is worrying.

While the second book in the trilogy probably was better than this one, it is so good that you really must try it. The whole trilogy could do with being re-issued, and preferably by a British or Irish publisher. To me it is much more of a European story, and I feel so many people are missing out on a terrific read.

It’s so hard to get the books these days

Yesterday I heard the tale about two children’s authors who did an event recently. The chain bookshop in the area had been aware of the books needed for the last three months. But it was so hard to get them, that in the end there were no books for sale at this particular event.

That seems such a shame, because not only do authors hope for sales on the day to help pay the bills, but I imagine they had a roomful of children who got all fired up about their books, and then were unable to buy any.

What appears to have happened is they went home and ordered them on amazon (authors can see their books shoot up in the sales ranks), so they will eventually get their books. No opportunity to get them signed, but hopefully children can rise above this signing nonsense and concentrate on the reading. And a fraction of two authors’ gas bills can now be paid.

The whole story made for animated discussion on the well known social media site where many of us hang out. I suggested taking a suitcase full of books round to events, to be safe. Some people do. Several people in the discussion had tried it, but apart from the hard work, it means the sales are not recorded on Nielsen, which makes it less good. (I think perhaps there should be a way of having author sales recorded. Don’t know how, but it would make sense.)

An indie bookseller joined in, and said indies are the solution. They are, in the places where they exist. Not all are perfect, or even good, but most are. Presumably most booksellers have not been to bookless events, because if they are there, then so are the books. So it can be hard to gauge the level of the problem.

I’ve been to a fair number of book events where no books have been available for sale, or where certain titles have been notably absent. Especially annoying if it’s the most relevant title from the author’s talk. (And it often is.)

If it really is that hard for bookshops to order in books; how come they agree to do the job? Why are they in the bookselling business? One author mentioned an event she’d done for a bookshop, where she was asked to provide the books herself. That sounds even more absurd.

Someone else told of how she had sold two books while waiting for service in a chain bookshop, which reminded me of my fellow Stopfordian blogger who works in a bookshop, but who came to a signing at another shop and ended up advising their customers and finding what they asked for. Clearly customers can sense who will know, and she did.

I’m the first person to want to prevent the death of bookshops. Any bookshop, indie or chain. But it’s not enough that customers continue to walk through their doors. They need to have what the customers want. The customers should not need to want what the shop wants them to buy. Those doors will lead people in the opposite direction too.

Crow Boy

Instead of another eraser that you don’t need, wouldn’t it be good to be able to buy something fun and useful, like a book, when you’re next in the gift shop at some tourist attraction? I know, there are guide books. But they, too, get boring after a while. Wouldn’t it be so much more fun finding a work of fiction, set in the place you are visiting?

Philip Caveney, Crow Boy

If you were to visit Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, you could have your own little personal nightmare of time travel, right back to the plague four hundred years ago. Philip Caveney has written Crow Boy, which is now selling like hot cakes to plague tourists. And after reading it, I am not surprised.

It’s very exciting. You could probably avoid ending up in the the plague ridden 1600s if you don’t wander off into areas not open to the public. Unlike Tom, who did, and who saw more of the plague than he wanted to. He followed a ghost, and suddenly there he was, right in the middle of the olden days when people dropped dead, just like that.

Tom has recently – and very unwillingly – moved to Edinburgh, and he’s on a school trip to Mary King’s Close, until he suddenly appears not to be on a school trip any more. He’s part of the 17th century, plague and all. He meets the doctor he’s just been told about by the tour guide, and before he knows it, he is working for the doctor, making house calls to people with the plague.

Or is he? Maybe he’s just dreaming? He seems to be coming and going.

As I said, very exciting, and very educational. Perhaps the language is rather too modern. The historical characters speak and think as though they were 21st century people. But it’s time travel, and who am I to say they don’t sound more up-to-date under such circumstances? It would be more boring if they spoke all old-fashioned.

And isn’t it odd – not to mention inconvenient – how fictional characters always have a mobile phone with them? One which they have omitted feeding properly. But since it wouldn’t work anyway, it shouldn’t matter.

And, as I said, many more places should consider catching the interest of an author who might write an interesting souvenir for them. This beats most things I have ever bought from the many gift shops I have frequented in my time.

I suspect I’ll need to visit Mary King’s Close now. Or maybe not. What are the odds I’ll end up travelling in time? Getting close to a bubo or two…

Riots and other black holes

Trust the two witches to pick the day with ‘snow’ to travel to London. But we got there, and we made it home too. Daughter and I each had an interview to conduct, wanting to kill two birds with one Pendolino train. Two, if you count the return journey.

And what birds we got!

We played it safe by snaring Lucy Hawking for a scientific fiction chat at the Euston Ibis. On account of her being intelligent, and likely to talk about complicated stuff to do with black holes, etc, she was Daughter’s to deal with. I relaxed and took unbelievably blurry photos.

Lucy Hawking

She brought us the new paperback of George and the Big Bang. The one where she has altered something at the end to acommodate the Higgs Boson discovery last July. Lucy apologised for having folded the corner of a page. She’d read her own book on the way to see us…

Not content with giving us a book, she pressed a copy of The New Scientist on Daughter. And once the interview was over, they settled down with more science and space talk, with Lucy looking pretty relaxed in her armchair.

When it was school home time, Lucy had to dash off to do motherly stuff, while we had an iPod to feed before our next bird.

Adrian McKinty had flown all the way from Australia via Seattle and Ireland to meet us. And the BBC, but still. We forced more tea down Adrian’s throat, which could be why he appeared to have overdosed on caffeine. Or it might have been jetlag.

We began by talking brothels, about which he seemed surprisingly knowledgeable. It was mainly a discussion about us not meeting in one, since I had come to the conclusion that the Wellcome Collection’s Café might be better after all, despite well-meaning advice on facebook. Especially as it had a Death exhibition on. (Not on a Monday, obviously.)

Adrian McKinty

Adrian talks a lot, even for an Irishman. At one point he broke off after a long monologue, wanting to be reminded what the question was. How should I remember?

My Photographer was relieved to find Adrian didn’t look like his mugshot which she’d found online. I was relieved he’d had the sense to run away when he encountered unexpected riots in Belfast at the weekend. I mean, if the M&S Foodhall is that empty, you should suspect riots round the corner. The armed police could also be a clue.

We could easily have gone on forever. Before Adrian’s publicist dragged him away, I forced Adrian to doodle in my copy of I Hear the Sirens in the Street. He did so – almost – as well as he writes books. Daughter’s gasp had more to do with how it looked upside down.

And we really do want to see that YA space adventure!


Neil Gaiman’s dog has died. I would have treated this as private, had he not blogged about it so beautifully, thereby making it public. But it makes sense. If you talk about your beloved dog when it’s fine, you need to warn us when things are no longer so fine, or we will put our foot in it.

Lurcher with broken pottery

One thing I often use to illustrate the beauty of blogging, is getting to know the dogs of so many authors. Not necessarily in person, although that has happened a lot more than I had bargained for when I set out six years ago.

But even the dogs I’ve never met, I somehow feel I know well. I’m not an animal person, but if I were I’d be a dog person. I suppose it goes with being a writer, that you can express things well, and that goes for making your dog come alive in other people’s minds.

Except, there comes the day when the dog isn’t there anymore. I have made more than one author cry when asking about their dead dog, and I never meant to! Neil Gaiman won’t be avoiding all such questions, but he will miss many of them now. Even I, who is not a regular reader of his journal, feel I’ve heard a lot about his ‘white wolf.’

Liz Kessler and Poppy working in the garden

Some put their dogs in their books, like Poppy the pirate dog, who Liz Kessler belongs to.

How can we not love them?

We’re hibernating

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip and Erin Stead, features a bear who is getting ready for the big sleep. Winter sleep. Not the forever one.

Despite being really very sleepy, Bear helps his friends to get ready for winter, one by one. And in the end Bear himself succumbs to the temptation of sleep. (I suspect this is another of those adult schemes to get young readers to fall asleep.)

And he sleeps. And then he wakes up again, and he sees his friends again, and he tells them the story he was just too tired to tell back in the autumn.

Philip C Stead and Erin E Stead, Bear Has a Story to Tell

This is such a lovely picture book, and Bear is the perfect friend, and it all works out in the end. Even if he did fall asleep on the job.

Hang on! Could this be an excuse for those embarrassing occasions when the adult reader falls asleep before the younger person who’s job it really was to close their eyes and snore? It’s been known to happen. Sometimes.

Bookwitch bites #94

I am the proud owner of a signed copy of Basu ni Notte. And I didn’t even know that it was called that, because I don’t read Japanese. (I know. It looks rather like Italian.) That in itself will tell you that my reading of Basu ni Notte has not gone terribly well, either, since I don’t read Japanese, and the book is in Japanese. Picture book, but still.

Ryoji Arai, Basu ni Notte

Ryoji Arai

So I stand to benefit from the new reading guides issued by the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award people. They have just come up with twelve guides for books by ten recipients of the ALMA, one of whom is Ryoji Arai. He shared the prize with Philip Pullman in 2005. That’s when I was crazy enough to go to Gothenburg just to hear Philip speak. A side effect was meeting up with this Japanese author and illustrator.

He supposedly didn’t speak English, but he did – a little – when it came to the crunch.

No language troubles at all with Marion Lloyd. As you can tell, I’ve not ‘bitten’ anyone here for a while, which is why I am offering you old news. Or not news so much, as a link to what I thought was a very nice blog post by Susie Day about this super-editor when she retired.

I don’t know why we seldom write really lovely articles about people before they retire, or worse, die. I want to know now. Except I don’t know what I want to know, because you haven’t written about those fantastic people yet.

And speaking of fantastic and reading, I eventually enticed Daughter to read the best book of 2012. None of us have got round to much reading during the recent eating season, but once the suggestion was made, she found it hard to stop until she was done. She, too, liked Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

I have no expectation of reading hundreds of books during 2013, but a few would be nice. I need to start collecting for the next ‘best of’ award. But as Cathy Butler said in her blog post about reading speed, we are allowed to be really slow. It’s not better to be fast.

Although it would be handy.