Monthly Archives: April 2013

Blame My Brain – the review

I can safely say I have never felt the urge to crawl into a supermarket trolley. And doing so with vodka, would appear to make it more crowded, so I don’t really think I will bother. While on the subject of trolleys and supermarkets, I enjoyed visualising Mr M and his wife out hunter gathering in their local Sainsbury’s. (Wine and cheese hunted down by Mr M, and porridge oats successfully gathered by the wife, as she’s been programmed to do. Or so I imagine.)

Mr M’s wife, Nicola Morgan, has written a book about brains, as humorously as ever. It’s a bit of a trademark of hers; humour and wit. And lots of it. There is a new edition out of Blame My Brain, which contrary to what I’d imagined has actually been written for the teenagers themselves. Those with the brains in question.

It explains a lot, including why I was a perfect teenager (as elaborated on here by Nicola yesterday), and why I am also such a perfect parent. It’s not easy (actually, it is) but someone has to be.

BMB is very interesting, and should be extremely helpful to those in need. Teenagers with teenage brains, and their parents who have already forgotten what it was like to have one.

There is science to base almost every fact on, and the best thing is that even if you don’t fit the stereotype, it doesn’t matter. The world has a use for all sorts of people; the perfect ones, and those temporarily a little bit odd. (I believe that’s the one with the vodka in the trolley.)

I can’t decide who will benefit the most from reading BMB. The young person who needs reassurance that they are totally normal, or the unsympathetic oldies who don’t think they are. Both probably.

And seeing as you not only get better at something by doing it – repeatedly – but you can learn to do quite a bit of it by watching someone else do it, I’d say us oldies have a duty to perform, and to do it well. That way we will be looked after by someone in our even older age. Someone looking after us as well as we do our own oldies.

Or some such theory.

(At no time when chased by a lion have I felt so depressed that I have fallen asleep. Which could be why I’ve made it this far.)


Guest blogger Nicola Morgan on the perfect Bookwitch

In which I delve inside a witch’s psyche and answer the important question “Why was Bookwitch such a perfect teenager?”

I’ll come to Bookwitch in a minute. Oh yes, I will.

It’s very important never to forget that all teenagers are different. They get a terribly negative press, but many are not emotionally volatile, risk-taking, sleep-crazed creatures; some are extremely focused on achievement and others are just calm and outwardly unaffected by the turmoil in their brains, quietly moving towards sedate adulthood as though their mortgages and slippers were waiting.

Teenagers differ from each other because of a combination of genes, experience, environment, health and personality; but they also share a range of biological and psychological changes that must take place to turn them into independent adults. As a group they are special and share significant similarities.

Now to Bookwitch. *rubs hands*

Bookwitch claims to have been a “perfect teenager”, by which I assume she means that she caused Mother-of-witch no grief and has no memories of being emotional, risk-taking, rebellious etc.

Here are some possible reasons – and, of course, what I’m really saying is not what I think about Bookwitch and her paragonosity, but the reasons why any individual teenager might give her or his parents such an easy ride:

  • Bookwitch may have had less to fight or rebel against, fewer triggers for anger. She had no siblings to argue with or be jealous of and describes Mother-of-witch as being liberal. Being either liberal or authoritarian don’t necessarily make sufficient difference but the combination of liberal parent plus adolescent with no inherent need to kick is a potentially easy one.
  • Bookwitch may have a sanguine personality. A placid child is more likely to be a placid teenager and adult.
  • Bookwitch may have had any number of subconscious reasons for being undemanding. Leaving Bookwitch aside, things that could influence teenagers not to succumb to the storms of adolescence include: a difficult external situation (such as war), the serious illness or difficulty of a close relative or friend, economic or other social reasons for the need to conform and mature quickly rather than rebel. None of those would guarantee smooth adolescence, but combined with certain personality traits could affect behaviour either positively or negatively.
  • Bookwitch may have been lucky that the changes in her brain happened in ways that did not cause the turmoil that many teenagers face. All brains are likely to change differently, at different speeds, and it’s logical to suppose that this might have different outcomes.
  • Bookwitch may have amnesia. I would not dare suggest this if she were anywhere near me and actually I’m sure it’s not true. However, it’s fair to say that many adults do forget what they felt like and even what they did as teenagers.
  • Bookwitch may have had lots of emotional turmoil but have been able to internalise and control it and not cause Mother-of-witch or her teachers any grief. Since she has no stories of rebellion to rehearse over dinner tables, she has forgotten much if not everything she felt. In other words, amnesia…
  • Bookwitch’s personal narrative may include the statement, “I am a calm and measured individual who behaves decorously and maturely; emotional volatility is not my style.” This personal narrative, when filtered through confirmation bias theory, could lead Bookwitch to remember herself as a calm and measured teenager, which may also be true, but is at least theoretically filtered by memory and memory is not perfect. Amnes…

So, you’ve not exactly seen Bookwitch on the psychiatrist’s couch but you’ve seen some reasons why some teenagers can go through the same range of brain upheavals and yet not conform to the norms or stereotypes.

I’m endlessly fascinated by this stuff and I’m so pleased that Blame my Brain has a sparkly new edition to bring it bang up to date. Thank you for letting me invade your blog!

Bookwitch, can I draw your readers’ attention to my ongoing competition? There are books and things to be won and brainy questions to be answered!

Nicola Morgan, Blame My Brain

Bookwitch bites #107

I was awfully tempted to suggest the Resident IT Consultant’s cousin look in the place where it was ‘meant’ to be. But it felt wrong to state the obvious, even though lost things often are precisely where they should be. It’s just that we fail to see them.

She didn’t quibble with the statement that she had borrowed his book, or that he deserved to have it returned. She just wasn’t quite sure what book it was, so offered up another tome on Faraday over dinner on Saturday night. It was the wrong one. But once she got home, she looked again, and there it was. On the shelf, in plain sight.

Oh well, it’s been found. The Resident IT Consultant will be happy again.

Speaking of happy, I was happy when Wendy Meddour sent me the link to her and super daughter Mina May’s appearance on Woman’s Hour on Thursday. I knew they were doing it, but at the time I ‘was on the train’ and couldn’t listen, and by sending me this link, Wendy saved me searching all of the – no doubt excellent – hour for their eight minutes.

I am very pro this kind of mother and daughter collaboration. The two of them did a great job, and Mina May not only draws like an adult, but she sounds older than twelve. Much older. She will go far.

PP for President! More happiness with Philip Pullman being elected President of the Society of Authors. At least as long as it doesn’t stop him from the odd spot of writing. We quite like Philip writing.

Murdo Macleod and press photographers with Philip Pullman at Charlotte Square

I’m fairly sure authors like readers to be reading, too. I have to admit to having not touched my book for a couple of days. I’m calling it a reading holiday. Doing other stuff, like ‘knowing’ where the cousin put Faraday. And I did ‘touch’ my book, actually. The Grandmother showed an interest in it, so I had to retrieve it from her side. These Scottish relatives do like to pick up other people’s books…

Och, aye

More like ‘oh, no,’ actually.

Seeing as your Bookwitch has left the country again (that’s England), it might be appropriate to look at what awaits the hopeful immigrant north of the border.

Theoretically, at least, us foreigners seem to know a lot more about all kinds of things than the natives do. But there are limits. (Surely you can’t deep fry a …?)

I recently took a small sample of the – possibly – future Scottish citizen test, and well… It didn’t go that well.

Do you think they will allow me in with 11 out of 16?

(The odd thing is that I can now see 17 questions, but I am very sure I got 11 out of 16.)

As long as no one kisses me.

Convince me!

It was a kind of emperor’s new clothes moment. I wondered why I hadn’t looked at it this way before.

I read a review by someone of someone else’s book, neither of which are important here. What the reviewer said was that the two main characters in this novel surprised each other by what they said, and what they did. But they didn’t surprise him as a reader. And he felt he wanted to be surprised.

It’s back to the ‘show, not tell.’ Probably hard to do (I am sure I would struggle), but necessary.

I fell out with someone over a book they’d written. I liked it a lot. But I didn’t like it until I was about ten percent into the book, when it changed in an instant. And the reason was that the author described everything in too much boring detail, forgetting to make a story of the ‘introduction.’

One of the reasons my comments weren’t welcomed was that I admitted to not liking the main character in this first tenth of the story. The author pointed out they liked the main character a lot. I could tell. The description of this woman was such that you were meant to see how lovely she was. But I never saw that she was wonderful. I was told she was.

And that’s the difference.

Luckily – or sadly – she was murdered at this point, and I could get on with the story. Because I didn’t actually care she was dead. Not one bit. She never came alive for me. Not even in death.

The Hit

Life affirming. That’s what The Hit is. And trying to kill yourself. You hear about this; how it’s only when you’re about to die that the importance of life hits you.

Melvin Burgess, The Hit

At first the concept of this new book by Melvin Burgess put me off. Like many of Melvin’s topics tend to do, before you get stuck into the book.

The Hit is set in a future Manchester, at a time when our ‘bad things’ have got much much worse. Only the very rich have proper lives. Or so it seems. If you are ordinary you work hard at staying alive. But then this new pill turns up. If you take it you will die, exactly one week later. But during that week you will feel things so much more, so much better, that for many it seems the way to go.

17-year-old Adam is poor, and his  girlfriend Lizzie is rich. They talk about this new drug, and discuss what they’d do if they took it. Because – of course – they will not take it. Except, things have a way of happening, and before long they have lost control of what they do.

Adam has the typical list of a dying teenager; sex, more sex, violence, money, fast cars. That kind of thing. And into this personal problem of whether you live or die, come the street riots, where people are showing the government just how unhappy they are about the state of affairs. And, there are the crooks who produce the drug that kills.

I am too old and sensible to be able to identify with Lizzie and Adam, but I can see how young readers would. The fact that life is much like it is today, but worse, and the fact that they play out this final scenario in the familiar streets of Manchester, makes it so much more real.

It’s not scary, so much as you despair because Adam is such a fool. But that’s a teen thing. I guessed how it must end, but you just can’t be sure. Exciting, and satisfying.

Melvin Burgess knows his teenagers better than most. Perhaps he still is one, deep down.

The Maleficent Seven

Authors have been known to get it wrong on occasion. ‘Little’ things like which characters their readers really, really like. Luckily Derek Landy seems to understand – and possibly shares – our fascination with Tanith Low. So he wrote a whole extra book about her, while we wait for Skulduggery number eight.

And I for one am quite satisfied. We now know a lot more about Tanith and what made her the way she is (that’s before the Remnant took up residence in her). She’s a violent murderer, but she’s a nice one. I think.

Derek Landy, Tanith Low in the Maleficent Seven

In The Maleficent Seven Tanith collects a group of other bad types to steal some particularly deadly weapons, before a similar group of slightly more ‘good guys’ steal them. Each group wants them so the other group can’t do whatever they believe the others will do with the weapons.

The plot is a little complicated (for me) but there are satisfyingly many fights, and no one fights fair. Tanith wears a selection of alluring outfits, while some of her colleagues smell. Not all of them like killing, but death is unavoidable.

The dialogue is its usual fun and witty self, with plenty of puns, just the way we like it. And there’s romance. Lots of it!

We’ve met a few of these characters before, but I suspect Derek picked more low key people and new characters to keep this tale separate from the Skulduggery books. Presumably you could read the next one without having first read about Tanith’s maleficent seven, but why would you want to? You’re a fan. You’ll want to read this.

More authors should consider bonus books about their most loveable creations.

Moving tales #1

Whether or not I end up with a pink bathroom suite remains to be seen. But I simply cannot not blog about moving, or even the horrible stuff that happens before it.

26 years ago we did it with a book. Obviously. I was a fledgling bookwitch even back then. It went quite well, on the whole, so this time round I’m expecting the worst. I bought a new edition of that life-saving book on moving, but I am not hopeful.

We are pruning. Bookwitch Towers isn’t even on the market yet, but it is bursting at the seams – rather like its mistress – and something has to be done. So we flit from one corner to another, flinging stuff in an outwardly direction. Freegle is good for some things. There are now rescued greyhounds no longer shivering thanks to our old duvets. (The Resident IT Consultant had to google the greyhounds, to see if they were rescued, or rescuing. You know, St Bernhard style, except with accompanying duvet.)

The woman who took the electric barbecue blessed me, while the one who took our holey jeans made sure the Resident IT Consultant wasn’t off to the cinema to see something she wouldn’t approve of. He didn’t know. But she did approve in the end (which will be because I was the one who picked the film).

I started pulling at the books in a listless and unplanned manner, which is why I gave up again and went to write this instead.

But as I was saying, I will need to supplement my meagre book-blogging with moving tales. You’ll be crying in the aisles.


The Great Big Book of Feelings

I almost approached this book out of a sense of duty. You know how some books appear to be so ‘worthy’?  I thought that The Great Big Book of Feelings might be one of those. It’s not.

Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Feelings

Instead Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith have come up with something really beautiful. Put simply, it’s a book that describes feelings, and as such I reckon would work quite well for aspie children (perhaps even older people) who need to learn what faces look like for different emotions.

But that’s not why I think it’s so great. It seems so full of life, somehow. (Except for the page about bereavement, which actually had me in tears within seconds. That’s how powerful the combination of Ros’s illustrations and Mary’s words is.)

Right, I will turn the page over and leave the ‘biggest rain cloud ever.’

It’s almost strange that you can get away with a book that just lists feelings, but it seems as if Mary has found every feeling you’d want, and Ros has drawn the loveliest pictures. I know that she always does, but still feel I must point it out.

(Have to admit that the Swedish proverb had me stumped. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention that day.)

And I have never been scared of knees. Thought you’d want to know…

Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Feelings

Like Clockwork – the bitter end

Nah, only joking. It’s sweet and sunny all the way through. No, it’s not. (Damien M Love knows how to keep his fans on their toes.)

Alex and the adventure his grandfather set in motion by running off to Paris, continues in the cold and the snow, and mostly in the dark. I lost touch with how many days and nights they had to fight robots and other machinery, but I believe it was only something like three days. It just felt like more, as the reader shivers along with Alex in the Continental pre-Christmas weather. And then you shiver a little more when those creatures are after you. I mean, after Alex.

The grandfather is charming, but quite a slippery sort of customer, when you stop and think about it. You don’t always think when sliding off some roof or other, or those little robot things have a go at you, but the man always changes the subject!

You – and Alex – want to know who The Tall Man is. Why does Alex feel as though he knows more than he can remember? And those funny ‘feelings’ he gets. What exactly are they?

This is an exciting dash through several countries, in classic thriller chase mode with plenty of fight scenes. Nothing terribly deep anywhere, and until they also become too clichéd, I’ll take robots over vampires/zombies/etc any day. Good old-fashioned entertainment. (Although at some point I did wonder if Damien’s rather rubbish at maths, but I realised there was method in the confusion.)


You can buy it here. Parts one to six. Great stuff. Although it is cheating if you buy them all at once, with no waiting and no suffering for a week as Alex hangs on yet another cliff. But go on. You may, just this once.