Monthly Archives: August 2013

Love in Venice

‘Jo-Jo was a donkey. His father had been a donkey before him, and his mother as well. Jo-Jo had to be a donkey whether he liked it or not.’

Here is a new picture book version of Michael Morpurgo’s Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey. Helen Stephens has illustrated, and however charming the story about the loveable Jo-Jo is, I feel a book set in Venice needs pictures.

Michael Morpurgo and Helen Stephens, Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey

We see poor Jo-Jo walking with his heavy load of melons, and how unkind his owner is. Then one day his owner finds out that he can charge more for his melons in St Mark’s Square, so that’s where they go. There Jo-Jo meets the Doge’s daughter, and he finally experiences kindness.

The path to happiness isn’t straightforward, but as in most stories you have a happy ending at last. And that’s because Jo-Jo is a brave hero, and the Doge’s daughter is a lovely girl.

(And I knew those statues could talk!)


The witch is not for turning

Looks like this post could very slightly be brought to you by the letter R. And if you’re wondering what happened to Q, that would have been yesterday…

There were some rowan berries outside the house, lying in wait for me. Doesn’t rowan ward off witches? I’m just hoping it wasn’t deliberate.

While slouching in my reading chair, I noticed something red streaking down the trunk of one of the pine trees. It moved like a squirrel, but was the colour of a fox. Foxes don’t march down treetrunks upside down. It was a squirrel. Two, actually. Red ones, and much cuter than the rat-like creatures we see at the regular Bookwitch Towers. Daughter got quite excited by the sheer redness of them.

This late in August entertainment is limited. (Squirrels…) While the sun was out we went to ‘Stinky’ for some tea and to stare at the rocks. We caught the bus. It was fine.

We sampled this year’s first – and presumably last – tea at Göstas. We sat under the new roof, half inside, half outside, enjoying our repast. Then it was photos of rocks. It’s nice without all the people. Might have seen the owners of your future duvet swimming around.

Getting the bus back was a different affair. Buses here are usually not (very) late. This one was, and I blamed it on the school run. But as we got on, we couldn’t help noticing various parts of the bus strewn around the interior. Parts that are more commonly found on the outside of buses.

As it was the same bus we’d travelled out on, we concluded the driver must have had an accident while we frolicked on the beach.

It was one of the odd buses, that go in a different direction just before our stop. Which is OK. We just walk home from there instead.

But you guessed correctly. It didn’t. It went the usual route. Except I suspect the poor driver heard his onboard auto-guide mentioning the next stop would be the school. And there was no school where he was heading. The driver asked us if he’d made a mistake.

We said he had. He asked if we could help him reverse the bus. (Honestly! I can’t even drive a car.) It was his first day on this route. So we stood guard while he reversed (have I mentioned that Swedish buses are very large?), and then he was on his way, by now a mere 25 minutes late.

What a day, though! Late. Wrong route. And half the rear of his vehicle missing…

Even more Edinburgh author photos

I’ll finish as I started, with a photo of a photo. This time it’s Patrick Ness posing for Chris Close with a duck on his head. Ear. I’d say Patrick’s reluctance to be photographed is waning. Just a little.

Patrick Ness by Chris Close

Simon Mayo usually hides on the radio, but here he is in his role as new children’s author.

Simon Mayo

Ali Sparkes is one of several Alis who always confuse me when I try and sort out who is who. The fault lies entirely with me. This is the one and only Ali Sparkes.

Ali Sparkes

At the end of the evening Jeremy Dyson, whom I don’t know at all, but who makes me think of vacuum cleaners, did an event with Melvin Burgess in his adult guise. (At least, that was before Melvin posed for Murdo Mcleod. Third pic.)

Jeremy Dyson

Melvin Burgess

Paper napkins, Polaris and piri-piri

There’s a strong smell of piri-piri in the house. Everywhere, but mostly in the kitchen and in my wardrobe. Daughter and I flew with a pair of surprisingly empty suitcases this time. (She had to leave so much behind last month that we need enough space to pack the stuff on this our second attempt.)

But you have to fill a half empty suitcase with something to stop it rattling. I brought a new pillow; large and lightweight. A packet of PG Tips. Other kinds of tea. Paracetamol. (Have you any idea of the price of paracetamol in Sweden???) Dried herbs. And the piri-piri. I will be wearing that fragrance for some time. It’s sort of overpowering. And the kitchen hasn’t quite recovered from the onslaught of the pong, either.

The plane did that very unusual thing (unlike last month’s mega-moan…). It left before its departure time. It arrived well before its arrival time, too. This meant we had plenty of time to catch the first possible train, and we also had time to join the smokers outside to eat our packed lunch. It’s not that we wanted the company of smokers (it was Denmark, so there were a few of them around), but the station at Copenhagen airport has very few seats to offer the weary traveller who has been sitting on a plane for hours. So we went outside and sat in the sunshine, watching cars driving into the underground car park, and breathing in the smoke.

On the train we sat in the pick-your-nose-here zone again.

Once we arrived I went where I almost always go, to Pressbyrån for some milk. They had no milk. Not feeling up to any other shopping we continued ‘home’ milkless.

In our absence the place had played host to our lovely, former Liverpool präst and his family. (That’s the same word as priest, apart from not meaning a Catholic one. I never know what to call him.) I found to my surprise that my paper napkin collection, as well as the pile of used plastic bags had disappeared. (Presumably they went with the recycling.) Oh well. I’ve already started a new collection, although it will be a while until I have quite as many as I did previously.

The pile of books on the piano, however, had not gone, despite me urging my visitors to help themselves. The post yielded a package from Pushkin, which was a bit of a surprise. A book called The Good Little Devil. So that’s more books. And there were two new (I mean old) påslakan (that’s duvet covers) lying around. So, I lost some paper napkins, but gained a pair of duvet covers…

Ever the paparazza, the Photographer engaged us in some post-midnight star picture taking, of the Polaris kind. I found the saucepan hovering right above the roof. While we were pootling around in the dark, the band played on. (Tuesday night is dance night; across the wood.) The power of popular music.

This blog post was brought to you by the letter P.

BZRK Reloaded

As I got to the end of Michael Grant’s BZRK Reloaded, I read the quotes from reviews of the first BZRK, and found that some Bookwitch reckoned she’d ‘never feel safe again.’

I can say that again! It’s scary stuff, this, and you don’t really want to stop and think too hard about what it really means, or what might happen in real life. Because I am sure something like this will and can happen, sooner or later. (I’d prefer later, if ‘not at all’ isn’t an option.)

Michael Grant, BZRK Reloaded

Reloaded continues where we left the BZRK team. Or what’s left of the team, anyway. Keats and Plath are safe, and as Vincent is still a raving maniac after what was done to him, Nijinsky is leader of the group.

There is much for the team to do. The evil Armstrong twins are still at it, angrier than ever. Burnofsky has crazy ideas, and the ability to make them happen. Bug Man controls the POTUS (President of the United States).

Meanwhile in northern Finland, a Swedish spy enters the story, and the Royal Navy are not far behind. Send in the marines, that kind of thing. There is a whole world wide web (no, not that one) of evil doings and attempts at undoing them.

A new type of more advanced biots joins the war, and there are developments in the nanobots department as well. You don’t – or at least I don’t – want to read the ‘down in the meat’ bits in too much detail. Wimpy oldies can peer sideways to see what goes on, which is more than enough. The goings-on are gruesome to say the least.

It takes skill to write this sort of thing, making it look simple and effortless. I am full of admiration for Michael’s writing and plotting. I don’t want to look inside his mind, but I love reading his books. This is top notch entertainment for teens, building as it does on the kind of computer games us oldies know very little about. I get a migraine thinking of Bug Man marching his nanobots round people’s heads, and that’s without him being inside mine.

At least I think he’s not.

Some more Edinburgh author photos

As promised – threatened – here are more authors from that one, lone day in Charlotte Square.

First out is Frances Hardinge, who is the kind of person who gets away with dressing dramatically. In fact, she’s wearing the kind of outfit a witch might try if she thought it would work.

Frances Hardinge

And with Frances was China Miéville who looks very… very… Do I mean dashing?

China Miéville

I have actually met Emily Gravett, though I doubt she remembers. I love her books.

Emily Gravett

I promised you a second Jon Mayhew pic, and even without our magic photo tree he’s looking happy enough. Could be all the colours.

Jon Mayhew

Will Hill is only last because he was, event wise. I gather the photographer even had a book that got signed. All those authors, and just the one book…

Will Hill

Going places

Sarah Garland might have been a regular at Lake Street. That’s where we took Offspring up to three times a week when they were fairly small. I suppose all playschools look similar, but Sarah’s picture board book really took me back.

Then I happened to notice that Going to Playschool, and Going Swimming, were first published in 1990, which explains the authentic ‘period’ feel. Because I felt as if that was my swimming with babies and toddlers experience, too.

These books are absolutely lovely. They should do very well for the really young person who might be about to go and do one of these things. Maybe you can’t read and/or explain in advance, but I imagine that the books would allow you to revisit a place with a child, and that they’d recognise it.

They feature a mother with a baby and a slightly older sibling. The older one knows what she’s doing. It’s the baby you want to watch.

Sarah Garland, Going Swimming

He (I think it’s a he) most certainly does not want to swim. And then he does. And then he doesn’t want to not swim and refuses to leave.

At playschool he does what the older children do, except differently. Very nice detail in the pictures here.

And what’s going on with that rabbit?

Looking For JJ – 10 years on

I can’t believe it’s been ten years since Anne Cassidy’s Looking For JJ was first published! (Perhaps I didn’t read it when it was brand new? Actually, I probably did. It’s when I started in the school library and suddenly had access to loads of books.)

Anne Cassidy, Looking For JJ

All this time I’ve remembered p47. It’s where – or more accurately when – I felt like stopping because it was so heart-rendingly difficult to read I didn’t think I had it in me. But I carried on. Now I suspect it wasn’t exactly p47, because I have had a peek at it. Or have they rearranged the pages a little in the new edition?

I found both aspects of the story hard to deal with. The murder of the girl was awful. And the discovery of the murderer’s new identity made for bleak reading.

And now it’s back.

In February next year there will be a sequel, Finding Jennifer Jones. The prospect scares me, but at the same time I feel maybe I must read it. What makes it more intriguing is that the reissued Looking For JJ is published by Scholastic, while the sequel will be coming from Hot Key Books. Cooperation over something both see as important, I imagine.

To prove that the Ann(e)s think alike, here is a link to what Anne herself has to say over on ABBA. More stuff I didn’t know. And strange that we managed it on the same day.

Writing Children’s Fiction

The trouble with a book like Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers’ and Artists’ Companion,  is that it makes someone like me believe that they can write a children’s book. It is that good, and it is above all, that inspiring.

(So avoid at all costs if you don’t want to sit down and write a book just now.)

Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard provide loads of good advice for the budding author, based on how they themselves go about writing. Linda, for instance, began by wanting to be Monica Dickens. (Makes a change from all of us who thought we were Enid Blyton.)

Along with their own tried and tested methods, they have invited the cream of British children’s authors to share their thoughts on what to do. Or not to do. Many of them started off making beginner’s mistakes. Now that they have done it for you, your own path will be that much straighter.

I was pleased to learn Mal Peet made Marcus Sedgwick concerned with his flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants technique. A little more worried by Meg Rosoff decking an interviewer for saying writing looked easy. Tim Bowler was a child prodigy if he’s to be believed, and Mary Hoffman has had a lifelong love affair with her muse, Italy.

Once inspiration has you in its grips, there are workshops on every possible aspect of writing books. And because these ladies don’t seem to doubt that my (your) book will get published, there are links to useful consultancies, blogs and how to get a school visit arranged.

And how could you fail? There are so many tips, not to mention inspirational tales in Writing Children’s Fiction, that you will be absolutely fine. Anne Fine, who has written the foreword, wishes she had had access to this kind of guide when she began, instead of doing it the hard way.

I will try to refrain from embarking on a book, but will be happy to review yours when it’s done. Always assuming you have followed the advice and made it a good one. But you will.

The Eye of Neptune

With his Monster Odyssey The Eye of Neptune, Jon Mayhew has written a Jules Verne prequel. I wish I had thought of that, back in my most fervent Verne-reading years. Although I’m not sure I could have come up with the downright gruesome sea creatures that literally fill this book.

Jon Mayhew, The Eye of Neptune

Prince Dakkar has been living with the mysterious Count Oginski for four years, learning ‘useful’ things for when it is time to return to his own country and take over as ruler. But when Oginski is kidnapped, Dakkar saves himself by escaping in the strange submersible that his mentor has built.

And from then on this is a rollicking adventure featuring the dreadful sea creatures and the pirates and other humans who live in and on the sea. Britain and America are at war, and Dakkar needs to avoid being caught as a spy when he ends up in America. That’s not a problem for long, as Dakkar gets more ‘caught up with’ the enormous and dangerous creatures that seem to have something to do with C.

C wants to rule the world. And he is mad. Or maybe not?

This is the perfect adventure for those readers who fancy themselves as someone who could save the world. Dakkar is the archetypical adventurer; brave, reckless, clever and exotic. You want to be him, or to be his friend.

I believe there’s more books coming, so it would seem the world has not been totally saved yet. Excellent news!