Monthly Archives: May 2013

Innerpeffray Library

Innerpeffray Library

You know when people share their favouritest place with you, and you’re afraid you’ll hate it and that it will cause problems between you and all that? Helen Grant has been going on and on about Innerpeffray Library – almost in the middle of nowhere in Perthshire – for so long, that I thought she might, just possibly, be deluded.

Innerpeffray Library - graveyard

Innerpeffray Library

Dear reader, she’s actually right. Innerpeffray is the place to go (especially if it doesn’t rain) for the library experience with a difference. (Pardon me if I sound like an advertisement.) It’s a beautiful old building, next to an old chapel – with graveyard – in the loveliest of settings; green fields with sheep in, a grassy ‘drive’ covered in tiny daisies, lovely plants along the path there, future nettle soup on the side, and a warm welcome when you arrive.

Innerpeffray Library

The librarian is called Lara, and I have rarely had such a fantastic guide anywhere. She talked history with the Resident IT Consultant and Helen, while I listened to these well educated, knowledgeable people, pretending I was too. For any little topic that came up, she found the book to illustrate it. (It’s almost as if Lara reads the books they have in there.)

Innerpeffray Library

She found me a Swedish book. They have two, but the other proved elusive when searched for. There was a book on witchcraft, which I gather is the vilest of crimes, trumping everything else. Hmm. This year’s exhibition is on crime, since that’s what we mere mortals like.

Innerpeffray Library

Lara climbs on the exceedingly tall ladder as though she was born to it. Apparently you have to go on a ladder-climbing course before you can work there. (Very relieved to hear that volunteers aren’t allowed to. So I could volunteer…)

Lara at Innerpeffray Library

They do events. Helen Grant did something spooky there recently, and has vowed to return for Halloween (which sounds great; if a little scary). Alexander McCall Smith is appearing at Innerpeffray to play very bad music. In fact, this coming weekend is full of fun sounding things to do. At one point Lara had to go off to see to some champagne. Later there was smoked salmon business needing her attention.

Innerpeffray Library

And even though it is now in a deserted corner of Perthshire’s lovely fields, when I asked that most commonly asked question ‘why is it here?’ I learned that when it started, it was a very busy part of the world, what with the river below, and all sorts of things.

Innerpeffray Library

People came to borrow books, and you can see the register of borrowers, which includes servants, and I found ‘a serf’ as well. This freedom with the books remains today. Unlike other museum type places where you can touch nothing; here you are allowed to. (Only not if your fingers are covered in clotted cream.) In the end I was frightened I’d tear one of the pages, so hardly dared to leaf through the witchcraft tome.

Helen Grant at Innerpeffray Library

So, I can totally identify with Helen who comes here a lot. She suffered over the winter when they were closed, and could hardly wait to pop over when the library winter came to an end.

Innerpeffray Library

And you know, somewhere that has a purple panelled toilet, as well as a chapel where you can get married, beats a lot of places you might visit. If you can find it. You go down that road, and then you take that almost invisible turning, and later on you go left, follow the winding road and at some point you turn down some other road, at the end of which you will find you’ve arrived.

Unless you approach from some other direction.

Innerpeffray Library

Only politeness made us leave when it was Lara’s lunch break. That, and the fact that we too needed lunch. We went back to Schloss Grant and shared bread and cheese and salad, with fresh strawberries (which were very nice), and after that we actually ate some Battenbergs too. We talked books and publishing. The cats were woken so they could say hello.

Helen told me something I mustn’t repeat, which I won’t, because not only am I nice (so so) but I have forgotten what it was. She gave me her new collection of short stories, which I hope won’t scare me too much (I’ll get back to you on that) and then she showed us the door. Very politely.

I would recommend this outing to anyone. Unfortunately, not all of you can do the last part, but Lara and the library are waiting for you. Perhaps get married there, and provide them with some essential, financial support!

Innerpeffray Library

(My apologies for the numerous photos. It’s the kind of place where you just can’t not take pictures. Besides, Adèle Geras has demanded them. I’d recommend going now. It’s sunny, and nature is at its prettiest.)

More Eoin noir

It could be that Eoin Colfer’s Screwed is a better crime novel (strictly adults only!) even than his Plugged was. Or it could be that I have got used to the sweet creator of Artemis Fowl using such foul language and generally writing noir crime novels. Funny. But dark, and bloody.

Then there is second book syndrome. It could be that. Somehow I’m happier when I know my characters and their friends and foes. So, I enjoyed Screwed very much.

Dan McEvoy is that typical noir hero; rough and capable, while still lovely and intelligent (well, so so…) and caring. I was surprised to find him hankering after the crazy woman upstairs. Or maybe I wasn’t.

Eoin Colfer, Screwed

In one short day, which starts so well, a lot of very bad things happen to Dan. But he gives as good as he gets, so some people will live – if they’re lucky – to regret messing with him.

He meets his grandmother in what must be one of the book’s funniest moments. It made me wonder if I’d forgotten something about Dan’s personal background, or if we simply weren’t told last time round.

I have great hopes for the female cop, who is shaping up nicely. But then Dan is surrounded by women, be they the law or family, mad neighbours or pretty waitresses. Or the porn stars and film crew.

Basically, everyone would like to kill our hero. The crooks, the police, more crooks, the beautiful Swede, the Irish (probably). Having a crazy ‘best friend’ seems to be standard noir issue, and isn’t that internet a wonderful thing? Twitter, especially.

I want more of this. (But it’s not exactly for the eyes of the Resident IT Consultant.)

Look Back, and grow your own sweetcorn

Thank goodness for grandparents! They have a thing or two to tell you.

Christopher’s Grannie tells him stories the way they did in Dominica when she was a little girl. Here she introduces him to the mysterious Ti Bolom. Who or what is he? Did the young Grannie imagine Ti Bolom, or is he real? Or perhaps she made him up?

Christopher isn’t sure. But it’s certainly a very exciting story, hearing how his Grannie tried not to be scared, when she brought food for Ma Constance, and how Ti Bolom was so very close

Look Back! is a lovely story by Trish Cooke, with fantastic ‘Amazing Grace’ style illustrations by Caroline Binch. You feel as though you were there. And you could almost see Ti Bolom.

Maybe.

Trish Cooke and Caroline Binch, Look Back!

Then we have Dominic in the mega-colourful Dominic Grows Sweetcorn by Mandy Ross and Alison Bartlett. His Grandad reminisces about the food he was used to in Jamaica. It was so much better!

He has retired and decides to grow food again, and asks Dominic to help him with his sweetcorn. They might not be able to grow coffee in Britain, or limes or mangoes, but sweetcorn should be possible.

Mandy Ross and Alison Bartlett, Dominic Grows Sweetcorn

They dig and they sow. And they talk. Dominic learns about what they grew in Jamaica, and how they traded with each other. And as the sweetcorn grows, we learn how Grandad met Grandma Dora, who was a very pretty girl.

Dominic finds out what it was like when his grandparents came to England. The cold. The hard work. How they had planned to return, but never did.

This is 20th century history with a personal twist. And you can trade food in the UK, too. You can even make the sweetcorn fritters, because the recipe comes with the book.

Isol and Victoria

If I rant about the lack of television coverage of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ceremony in the UK, someone is bound to tell me it was on somewhere. (Was it?) I was lucky several years running in that I went to Sweden for half term and there it was, right on time. Big celebration with royalty and everything.

Music. Speeches. Foreign award winners shivering under blankets. With so much rubbish readily available, why not broadcast a little ceremony and very little pomp, even if it is rather foreign?

Argentinian winner Isol even danced the tango. Apparently. I bet Seamus Heaney didn’t do Riverdance for the Nobel prize.

She’s short, Isol. Although that sounds both too personal as well as rude (nothing wrong with being short). What I probably mean is I had no idea Crown Princess Victoria is quite so tall. We’ve not yet had cause to meet up, so I didn’t know. Taller than the minister for culture.

Isol and Crown Princess Victoria, by Stefan Tell

You see, if I’d been able to watch, I’d not have to resort to going on about what people looked like in the official photographs.

I expect there was less shivering, and possibly no blankets this year. They appear to have moved the whole shindig indoors. It doesn’t matter about the Swedish royals. They have practised sitting out of doors – totally umbrella-less – and smiling through almost anything. But foreigners, they are a more tender species.

As well as short. I can think of several non-tall winners. Philip Pullman, on the other hand, turned out to be taller than I had expected, so he probably beat Victoria.

And I still worry about the sheer amount of money. Is it right to give that much to one individual? I’d almost decided it wasn’t, but then I thought about people winning the lottery. All they’ve done is buy a ticket. At least these winners are professional writers and artists; one of whom is chosen every year.

Perhaps it is OK. Especially for someone who tangoes.

The Guardian 2013 longlist

Might this list change lives, I wonder?

At first I thought there’s not much you can say about a longlist, even though I usually do when the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize lists are published. I toyed with the idea of saying nothing, but then I remembered that fateful list nine years ago. Nine years!

This older reader saw a book called How I Live Now mentioned and just knew she had to read it. (She’s a witch. That’s probably how she knew this.) The book wasn’t even out yet, so had to be ordered and waited for. Not only was it the best book she’d read, but it changed her life.

So perhaps one of the books on this year’s list will have that effect on someone, somewhere?

Of the eight, I have read three and a half. All would be worthy winners. The half, too. I can only assume the remaining four are pretty good as well. They could all be life-changers, and not necessarily for the authors.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

David Almond, Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and Rebecca Stead have already done well. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t go on and do even more well. Katherine Rundell, William Sutcliffe and Lydia Syson are new to me, but so was Meg Rosoff that time. She turned out all right, didn’t she?

I hope someone finds the reading passion of their life in amongst these books.

And then there’s the competition for critics aged 17 and under to write a review of  one of the books. In the nine years since my moment of discovery I have been acquainted with two such young winners. I hope winning changed something for them too.

You just never know what will be waiting round the corner. It could be a literary longlist.

(I seem to recall people expect me to predict. OK, the shortlist – because that’s all the predicting you get at this point – will be Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and William Sutcliffe. And I’ve used Sally’s book cover here because Maggot Moon is truly extraordinary, and since the other books are pretty marvellous, that tells you how good it is. The 2004 winner agrees with me.)

Of milk and goats

These two picture books are filled with love. And by that I don’t only mean that Ali, Alu, Fati, Faruk, Halima, Talita and Zamp’s father has three wives. I rather imagine that could cause some discussion when you read to your young child. Or not. Children are sensible creatures.

Al Haji Amadu also has seven children (which you know, if you counted) and a number of animals (this is a great book for counting), the worst of which are the five goggle-eyed goats.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, The Goggle-Eyed Goats

The Goggle-Eyed Goats – as the book is called – is set somewhere near Timbuktu, and it is so colourful you almost need sunglasses. I imagine reality in the Timbuktu neighbourhood is equally full of colours, and must be a sight to behold.

Anyway, these goats are trouble, and eventually they have to be taken to the market to be sold. Or do they?

You can love troublesome goats, you know. Just try.

The second picture book by Stephen Davies and illustrator Christopher Corr is Don’t Spill the Milk! and it is equally loving. A smaller family, with little Penda being allowed to take her mother’s role and walk to where her father is looking after the sheep.

She has to balance a bowl of milk on her head all the way there. And it is such a long way for one girl and one bowl. But she can do it. All the way to…

Oh dear. (It was the mango’s fault!)

Penda’s dad is a nice dad, and he’s not angry. He shows her how much he loves her. Then they eat the mango.

Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr, Don't Spill the Milk

There couldn’t be more colour in these books if you tried. They are fantastic, both in looks and in simple but loving content. As long as your child doesn’t start balancing their Weetabix – with milk – on their head.

Put out to grass

I wish.

That I was here.

Grass

Oh well, I suppose there is grass at this end, too…