Monthly Archives: June 2013

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.

A Winter’s Day in 1939

It’s more than that. It’s most of the war, but the story began on that winter’s day in Poland in 1939, when WWII was new and people hoped it might soon be over.

Melinda Szymanik’s book brings home the sheer pointlessness of much that happened in the war. The fighting itself is not good, but it at least has a purpose, however bad. But it’s the putting people into concentration camps or carting them across half a continent, simply because they are ‘unwanted’ and no one can think what to do with them, that really gets to me.

After American Rose’s internment in Ravensbrück in Rose Under Fire, and the interminable travels of all those Lithuanians in Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray, as they are shunted from place to place, I have read more of the same. Only now it’s Poles who are taken on a strange journey where no one wants them. They are to be kept out of the way.

The story about Adam and his family is based closely on the real experiences of Melinda’s father Leszek. First the Russians come and take thousands of Polish families through Russia because they are somehow the enemy. After enduring a couple of years of cold winters and unbearable summers doing hard, but pointless work, including seeing members of their family die; when Germany invaded Russia ‘they were transformed from being an inconvenience into something useful.’

After more politics the British take over and the Polish soldiers end up fighting for them instead. They are taken from the cold north to the warm Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and ultimately to Persia. But it’s not only war that kills the new soldiers. Illness spreads even before they have fought. More people die.

Mercifully the descriptions in A Winter’s Day are sketchy at times, and there actually is no need to go into excrutiating detail. It is grim, and it becomes quite clear what made this a world war. It wasn’t merely that many countries fought, but that people ended up fighting in the most unexpected places, where they didn’t belong, for armies other than their own.

And afterwards they are in many cases displaced forever, needing or wanting to start new lives somewhere else. That’s why Melinda is a New Zealander.

The author’s bookshelves

When I feel really confused I believe that one of Helen Grant’s bookcases is a fireplace. But apart from that I am completely normal.

(It’s because it looks a little fireplace-ish. More than mine, anyway.)

The Resident IT Consultant and I enjoyed looking through Helen’s shelves when we were waiting for her to get lunch ready the other week. (She had declined my help. I let her. That’s the kind of visitor I am.) They are shelves that anyone would enjoy browsing for unexpected – or for that matter, totally expected – books. We flitted from side to side, since there was no discernible system. Lovely.

They are nice bookcases. The furniture, I mean. Dark brown. Not too plain and not too ornamental. Just right. And one of them sits where the fireplace would be if there was one. Hence my understandable memory lapse. As befits a proper library, the room boasts leather sofas. And cats.

I am sure that Helen, or the younger Grants, own every one of the Harry Potter books. But they are so nicely spread out that you could never accuse the family of believing in alphabetical order. The HPs are not even in the same bookcase, or along the same wall!

And they have at least two copies of a book about witches and magic. Either they don’t know this, or they need both. I felt suitably appreciated, anyway. There are books by Johan Ajvide Lindqvist, or what I call horror of horrors. Someone likes outdoorsy books. They have books on food. On health. And, er, some by Helen Grant.

Some books stand in front of other books. In other words, the Grant book collection is very, very normal. I suspect they haven’t acquired books with an eye to what others will think. Which is just as well, since when they moved (I have forgotten now if it was to Germany or to Belgium) their new neighbours asked why they’d bothered dragging all those old books with them.

Yeah, I mean, you’d think people wouldn’t take things they’d already used when moving house.

Vintage books

I didn’t know the Resident IT Consultant wasted time on the more frivolous end of the Guardian Weekend. Seems he does. It’s this house business that’s getting even to his normally levelheaded mind.

He came and waved the Weekend at me one recent Saturday morning, wondering if by any chance we still had those old Penguins we found in a Swedish countryside fleamarket years ago?

Apparently you can decorate with them. The Weekend team had done up someone’s boring front room. (Although I didn’t think it was bad at all.) I suspect they started with the rug. Many of the accessories they put in the room matched the slashes of colour from the rug.

That will be why they used Penguins to decorate. The nice orange and the nice blue went perfectly with the rug. Except the books sat on a ladder on the wall. And if you need such colour coordinated vintage books to put in your home, their advice is to try eBay.

Here I am, with too many books to even dream of displaying a handful of them on an old ladder cut in two! I have to admit, it looked good. But Penguins from eBay! Honestly. They would have to be the only books in that home. You just couldn’t have a display like that and then keep ‘real’ books on real shelves elsewhere?

What if someone tried to have a conversation with you about what’s in the books, rather than what beautiful colours they come in?

Judith Kerr is 90

Judith Kerr

And I’m very glad she is. I’m grateful she was able to leave Germany 80 years ago, and that she was able to make a good life for herself in her new country. Some immigrants are now so old and established, and above all, so well loved that people forget about their foreign beginnings.

I wish that could be said for all who seek safety in this ‘paradise.’

Judith has given us Mog and, although we never got properly acquainted with it, a pink rabbit. The world is a better place for it, even before we factor in tigers who come for tea and other outlandish ideas.

A quick internet trawl for pictures of Judith – before using my own, slightly wobbly one – tells me she looks great in pink. I’m glad she had draped herself in pink the day I met her.

Lovely lady, and fantastic books for all to enjoy for years to come.

A Romantic Job

Caroline Lawrence, The Case of the Pistol-Packing Widows

Or The Case of the Pistol-Packing Widows, as Caroline Lawrence’s third P K Pinkerton Mystery is officially called. That sounds good, too, but nowhere near as satisfying as all this romance stuff.

It’s funny. P K finds kissing disgusting, and there is a fair bit of that going on in Carson City, where he/she has gone on a case. It appears to be yet another ‘romantic job,’ which is tedious for this rational detective, but it pays well. So P K leaves Ping to mind the shop in Virginia City, and goes off to see about widows and other unusual females.

I loved this adventure, where P K is almost growing up; learning about legislation, learning shorthand and coming to realise that whereas never having time to yourself can feel bad, the opposite is not necessarily better. (I know that feeling well!)

This is another great history lesson disguised as a fast-paced and funny crime western. I could barely put it down, and I suffered when P K suffered, and triumphed when he/she did. (One ‘clew’ for you; we learn which it is in this book. Is P K a boy? Or a girl?)

Those widows are really something. Is the pistol-packing one good or bad? Who is killing all those men? And can P K trust his/her old friends? As ever, P K also makes new friends, and it seems that if you know your Bible, you can always count on making decent and true new friends.

The endings of the first two mysteries were more than satisfying. The finale of this one is extremely funny and just what I would have hoped for. Not too much, and not too little. (Of – you know – what…)

Please let there be many more!

P K Pinkerton badge

Moving tales #3

Can you hound people out of their homes?

I ask, because on our recent trip north, I found my dream street. It is not the area I first had in mind when I came up with this moving idea. Nor does it offer the kind of house I first coveted. Or the views. Or even the distance to ‘the middle,’ which is that vague spot that covers the railway station and M & S.

There is only one problem with the street I have fallen for. It has no houses for sale. So, do I leaflet the houses, suggesting there are far nicer places people could move to?

I had this idea much earlier, when I came across what is now my second favoured area. Actually, this ‘area’ now consists of primarily one house. Perhaps I could haunt it? Though, haunting would go better with the newly discovered street, seeing as it’s next to a graveyard.

This means Daughter will never come and visit. Which would be a shame.

It’d be quiet, though. And sort of old, and nicely different. Aunt Scarborough’s only comment was that she finds the street rather twisty when she has to give someone a lift there in her car.

The Grandmother remarked that she knows an old lady in one of the houses…

But there can be no haunting or hounding without some effort at the current home end. We need someone to suggest to us that there are better places to live. It’s back to more getting rid of stuff.