Monthly Archives: June 2013

Torn

David Massey

Admittedly, when I heard that David Massey had won the Lancashire Book of the Year with Torn, my immediate internal comment was ‘oh, so it’s that good then, is it?’ My reply, which I will share with you, is ‘yes, it is. Really, really good.’ David, who was at the Chicken House breakfast a couple of months ago, was one of the authors present who didn’t read from their book (presumably because it was published last year).

I wish he had. But luckily I helped myself to a copy anyway, and as I didn’t have time to go to Preston for the award yesterday, I read the book instead. I’m not at all surprised he won.

Set in Afghanistan in the current war, the main character is a female soldier. Ellie has just arrived and everything is new. On her first morning some male soldiers play a prank on her, and she doesn’t get on with the girl she shares her quarters with.

But this isn’t selfish moaning, and Ellie and her fellow soldiers do the work they’ve been sent there to do. They encounter some local children with weapons, and there is a mysterious girl who appears in the middle of gunfire and bombs going off.

There is fun and there is romance, but above all this is a war thriller mystery, and it is very exciting. People die. You have to be prepared for that, and it’s not only the bad guys either, because this is war.

What I found so refreshing was that it’s not an ‘issues’ kind of story. Yes, we may have doubts about the governments who sent these soldiers there in the first place, and so do these characters. But above all this is an adventure, and most of us have probably seen some film or other which helps us picture what it’s like.

Torn will win more awards, given the chance. Look out Teri Terry and Barry Hutchison!

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The Secrets of Stonehenge

Let’s face it. I didn’t pay enough attention during history lessons at school. And what I did catch, I soon forgot. I’m a disgrace.

But I think I will actually remember what I’ve learned about Stonehenge from now on. That’s because Brita Granström and Mick Manning have done again what they do so well. They find a topic and then they find out all there is to know about it, after which they make a deceptively simple non-fiction picture book about whatever it is.

This time it’s Stonehenge, which also feels rather topical, considering the summer solstice has just been. They might have banned the ‘crazy hippies’ from Stonehenge these days, but its significance has not lessened.

Brita Granström and Mick Manning, The Secrets of Stonehenge

In their book The Secrets of Stonehenge Mick and Brita show us quite how enormous those stones are (I haven’t been. I really must go and see for myself.) and how big a job it must have been to get them all there. And like many big jobs, it’s not just the thing itself that needed a lot of people. The men who put those stones there needed to be fed and watered and housed and clothed, and probably for longer than a weekend.

I suppose I’d like to know why they really went to all that trouble, all those thousands of years ago, but we can’t ask them, and they didn’t exactly leave a diary behind to explain their giant stone Lego.

But it is fascinating. And they did leave us the stones.

The EIBF 2013 programme

It’s not exactly a bad programme this year. It’s not exactly short on authors, either. I’ve probably missed a few, seeing as I have only browsed the pdf  in a hasty fashion, but even so, were it not for the fact that I actually know I am unable to cover the full two and a half weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d sign up for the complete works. Again.

I’d been thinking a weekend. Maybe a longish weekend, but no more than four days. But which longish weekend? And what about the fantastic midweek offerings?

This is going to be an easy post to write! I could simply list authors, one after the other. But that would be boring.

For the time being I will not cover the adult writers, although I noticed Salman Rushdie is coming. Roddy Doyle. And Patrick Ness is an adult this time.

So, first weekend ‘as usual’ we have Meg Rosoff, as well as her stable (yeah, right…) mates Eoin Colfer and Cathy Cassidy. Anne Fine, Tommy Donbavand, Helena Pielichaty, Linda Strachan, Andy Mulligan. Carnegie winner Sally Gardner. Obvious choice. First weekend it will be.

Meg Rosoff

On the other hand, during the week when it grows a little quieter we have Elizabeth Wein. Hmm. Debi Gliori with Tobermory Cat. Nicola Morgan. Lari Don and Vivian French. Damien M Love. Well, that would be good!

But Elen Caldecott is someone I’ve always missed. She’s there the second weekend. It will have to be the middle weekend. Charlie Fletcher, Teresa Breslin and Eleanor Updale, Jon Mayhew and Darren Shan. Need I say more? OK, Tom Palmer, Chae Strathie. Melvin Burgess. Keith Gray.

Jonathan Stroud has a new book coming, which I like the look of. And he’s there the second week. So are Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry, and Daniel Hahn is talking translation. That is interesting.

Having said that, the last, extra long weekend looks by far the best. Doesn’t it? Judit Kerr. Neil Gaiman. Our new children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman. Our own Liz Kessler, and Tim Bowler. Philip Caveney from ‘home’ and Derek Landy, whom I’ve not seen for a long time… Jo Nadin and Spideyman himself, Steve Cole.

Yes. No competition there. Except maybe all the other days.

What do the rest of you think?

(Sorry. I see I have done a list after all.)

At the Atkinson

I can’t quite let go yet. I need to show you some more of my holidays snaps. Sorry, I mean photos from my literary trip to Southport on Tuesday.

Library, The Atkinson

All I could remember from my one other visit was the long pier, with sand underneath it. Sand with no water on top. It was a disappointing seaside, as far as I was concerned.

But whereas the pier was the same as before, it came with a nice, traditional seaside town attached. Or possibly the other way round. For miles before we arrived there were those brown tourist attraction road signs, all mentioning Lord Street, as though I should have heard of it.

I should have. It was lovely. Wide and Victorian and with trees and ornaments and greenery and benches. I could have spent a long time there (but ‘unfortunately’ I had a book award to go to…), so I might have to return one day. Better prepared, for one thing.

Foyer, The Atkinson

The Atkinson is the town’s newly refurbished arts centre, and how lucky the Southportians are to have something like it. Theatre, library, museum and bakery, among other things. The bakery wasn’t open yet, so I can’t enlighten you as to exactly what it is.

The Atkinson

It’s the best of both worlds. Nicely old with lots of original features, while feeling fresh, with a mix of old and new decorations. And new toilets. So important.

Wouldn’t your mood lift if you went to the library and could enter through this elegant foyer?

Foyer, The Atkinson

And who could look at books when there is a ceiling like this?

Library ceiling - The Atkinson

Forgetting about foyers and ornamental ceilings, it is good that someone still spends money on libraries. Not just tolerated, but improved on.

Library, The Atkinson

As for the theatre, I didn’t see the main one, but The Studio where we were was pretty impressive as studios go. We have smaller ones in Manchester…

The Atkinson Studio

The medalists

There is something special about the CILIP Carnegie and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals isn’t there? Being awarded a medal sounds so very right and proper. I often imagine past winners as walking around wearing them.

From now on Levi Pinfold can impress with some metal on his chest, and I’m really pleased for him. I have not read his wonderful looking picture book Black Dog (and why not??), but I will rectify it as speedily as is physically possible. So, no meaningless waffle from me on what I don’t know, but Black Dog certainly looks like a Kate Greenaway Medalist sort of creature.

Levi Pinfold, Black Dog

And – DRUMROLL – Sally Gardner has won the Carnegie Medal for Maggot Moon! I’m particularly happy that she receives it for what I feel is her most outstanding novel, even for someone who specialises in outstanding books. Worth the wait, and all that.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

These Medals are also such decent prizes, since they actually benefit others. I hope Levi and Sally both still have a local library to which they can give their £500 worth of books.
Sally Gardner
And, in a way I don’t want to harp on about Sally’s dyslexia again, but I hope her win today will persuade those in power that they need to change how they think and act in regard to ‘hopeless’ children. I know it’s what Sally will want to talk about in her speech.

‘Sadly’ both winners will have to enjoy today’s ceremony without my ‘help’ but I should have some photos for you later…

Sefton Super Reads 2013

Lady with lamp

It was time for another Sefton (‘see if you can find us this time’) Super Reads yesterday afternoon. And yes I could. Eventually. This venue, Southport Arts Centre is even larger than Crosby Civic Hall, and was thereby proportionally harder to find. But you can’t keep a good witch away. (I had a choice of Sefton on Tuesday or Carnegie today…)

Tony Higginson

You could call it Ladies’ Day, since it was the girls on the shortlist who made it to Southport. Tony from Formby Books seemed to feel that recent fatherhood (David Walliams) or living in Italy (Fabio Geda) was reason enough to stay at home. And he came up with no excuse whatsoever for J D Sharpe.

Tony and Lesley with Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

And then there was Ruth Eastham who had come here all the way from Italy. (Girls rule!) Caroline Green came from London, and Barbara Mitchelhill had done something for the first time (or so she confided to me) and had had eyes for the Manchester train only. But she was nevertheless the first one to arrive.

So, when I had finally deduced that what I wanted was the enormous building in the middle of Southport, on its impressive Lord Street, I popped in and asked for more directions. Was told that I wanted the same as ‘that lady’ so followed her, and found it was Barbara. Which is why we shared travelling information with each other, as we waited for the others.

It’s a fabulous old/new theatre and library and museum, which has been done up so recently that not all areas are 100% ready and there is a fresh paint kind of smell. The theatre we were in was great, and the charming man in charge of it serves coffee very nicely. (It seems we had a narrow escape. The people before us had been served dinner by staff from Fawlty Towers.)

Books at Sefton Super Reads

When the invited school children were given a guided tour of the place, the rest of us tagged along, admiring the chandeliers and stucco ceilings and purple armchairs.

Tony with Barbara Mitchellhill and Ruth Eastham at Sefton Super Reads

After threatening the audience with a Latin lesson and some singing, Tony introduced the three ladies, before opening the floor to Q&A. Writing a book takes anything between two months and three years. All three authors save the stuff they’ve written but have decided not to use. Just in case.

Caroline had an inspiring teacher in Year 6, after which there was a gap in writing until she was an adult. Barbara loved Enid Blyton, but after the age of twelve she found her library so stuffy that she went off reading. Meanwhile Ruth relied on reading recommendations from librarians.

Caroline Green

Character names can be difficult, especially historical ones. These days you can be called anything (Caroline made up the name Kyla for her book, only to find Teri Terry had done exactly the same) but in Shakespeare’s time there were only certain names to choose from.

Barbara had inspiration for her 16th century novel, Road to London, from The X Factor. But she herself would really like to be Anthony Horowitz.

Ruth Eastham

Ruth began by reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials ‘backwards’ but was still very impressed. And Caroline has read everything by Marcus Sedgwick and thinks he’s fantastic.

They were all a little embarrassed to admit they hadn’t read each other’s books, but at least Ruth has now put the other two on her tbr pile. And I can no longer remember why Barbara told us that she ‘likes killing people!’ but I’m sure she only kills for a good reason.

Barbara Mitchellhill

After learning all about our three ladies, it would have been a bit of an anticlimax if the winner of the Sefton Super Reads had not been one of them. But you can relax. She was there!

Before Ruth Eastham could receive her winning trophy, there were prizes for best book reviews to be awarded. The participating children had read and reviewed the shortlisted books, and there was a first and second prize for a review of each of the six books.

Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

Once the winners had received their book tokens and been photographed with the authors, it was time for Ruth’s winner’s speech (when all she wanted to do was show Caroline her trophy).

Long before the afternoon was over, the children had bought nearly all the books for sale and queued up to have them signed, and to be photographed with their favourite author. (And it has to be said, one school – very sensibly – ate a late lunch first.)

Signing at Sefton Super Reads

I had rather witchily managed to put my copy of the winning book, The Messenger Bird, in my bag before I left home, so I joined the signing queue.

Then it was time for goodbyes, with all three authors sprinting off to catch trains. Possibly even the same train. I’m hoping to see them at another award ceremony soon. And having checked out Barbara’s and Caroline’s books, I’m thinking I’d like to read them.

As for me, I called the Resident IT Consultant (who had very kindly driven me all the way to Southport) and ordered him to take me for a walk on the pier. I hadn’t come all the way to the seaside not to see where the sea ought to have been if it had any sense at all.

Southport Pier

This being Southport, there was no sea below the pier, obviously, but we had a most acceptable stroll along it anyway. Made the mistake of not buying hot donuts as we passed on the way out, meaning the mug of tea the Resident IT Consultant bought me at the end of the pier, had to go unaccompanied. But we bought some on our way back, and had them for dessert.

Very nice. Very seasidey. Apart from the distinct lack of sea.

Tantrum pays off

Sorry for raising my voice the other week. Not too sorry, naturally, since it had the desired effect. I was just taken aback at discovering Josh Lacey had written more Dragonsitter books than the one I was reviewing.

So here I give you the original The Dragonsitter!

Reading backwards, as it were, means some things came as no surprise, but that’s OK. I like amusing little stories, although it was rather deadful that Uncle Morton’s dragon ate Edward’s sister’s rabbit Jemima. But like all (maybe I mean most, now that I think about it) young owners of pets, Emily (that’s the sister) is so enthralled by the dragon that she soon forgets…

There’s more frantic emailing when the dragon causes mayhem, but Uncle Morton doesn’t reply. The trouble with dragonsitting a troublesome dragon is that the RSPCA doesn’t believe you when you call to ask for help. Because dragons don’t exist.

Toasted postman, incredulous firemen, and barely escaping neighbourhood cats are all part of dragonsitting. And once you’ve spent a fortune on chocolate, you’re fine.

So is this book. Chocolatey fine.