Monthly Archives: September 2013


Reading Siege soon after two or three serious mass shootings was perhaps not the best of things to do. But it feels like it could be hard to pick a time when nothing bad is going on in the world.

Sarah Mussi, Siege

I thought the worst about reading Sarah Mussi’s book would be the school shootings that it’s about. That was until I realised that Siege is set slightly in the future. A slightly dystopian future, at that. Although, the way things are going, that kind of society is almost here already.

YOU OP 78 is a school for less worthy children. The troublemakers who are deemed to merit less of an education, and who go to schools with special measures in place to keep them under control.

It’s enough to make you claustrophobic, if you weren’t already.

16-year-old Leah is late for school, which is why she is where she is when the shootings start. When the shooters have done their worst in her classroom, she and another student, Anton, escape up into the ceilings. It appears to be her younger brother Connor’s stupid and pathetic gang, going round shooting at anyone they feel like, armed to the hilt.

So far, so ‘normal.’ Leah, and the reader, thinks that all they need to do is wait for the police to come to the rescue. That’s when you suddenly understand that in a dystopic society, there could be other possible outcomes.

It would be hard to say much more without giving away what happens, and why. Leah behaves very bravely, doing her very best to escape, and to help others who come her way. She’s a credit to… yes, to what? Because a school for losers can’t very well produce courageous citizens with initiative, can it?

I guessed a little bit wrong, but both my theory and Sarah’s actual idea are equally chilling. There are worse things than school shootings.

And I wish that so many aspects of what’s in this book didn’t feel so close to Britain today.


The Good Little Devil and other tales

Well. This is different. The Good Little Devil and other tales, by Pierre Gripari, which is part of Pushkin’s new translated children’s books, is both similar to the traditional tales we’ve ‘always’ had, as well as rather different.

I enjoyed them a lot, and I think any child my age would. It’s the kind of thing we used to read. Except different. As I said.

I would like to think that children today would also love them. But they are just that bit different from what English-speaking children are used to, and they do feel quite French, somehow.

Pierre Gripari, The Good Little Devil and other tales

The cover is quite charming, featuring the devil who is so good he becomes an angel in the end. Fun as that story is, I found most of the others better still. Many of them are set in or near a fictional (maybe) street in Paris, and have members of the same family turn up over and over again.

It’s quite nice seeing the same people like this, because it gives more depth to what they are like. As well as these reasonably normal people, we have the standard kings with beautiful daughters, and fathers with three sons. You know the drill. They are just that little bit not the same as our old stories (trying to avoid using the word different yet again).

Some stories are on the gruesome side, or plain weird. But children generally find that fairly normal. The witch was quite mean, however, and I’m not sure about people who want to marry potatoes. But apart from that…

(Translated by Sophie Lewis and illustrated by Puig Rosado)

Breaking the Spell

My first meeting with a selkie didn’t go well. I had no idea what it was. That’s why I like the fact that Lari Don starts her Breaking the Spell story collection by explaining selkies. She did the same for kelpies. And that way no one has to suffer embarrassment.

Lari Don has collected ten traditional Scottish stories and retold them her way. I think apart from one, they were all new to me. Like most fairy tales, these stories have something in common with traditional tales from all over the world, and as with most of them, it doesn’t matter how many times you hear them. They are always fresh. These Scottish ones have a lovely flavour of where they belong.

Illustration from Breaking the Spell by Cate James

I can’t quite decide which is my favourite; they are all enjoyable in their own way. Illustrated by Cate James in what I call modern retro style (bet you can understand exactly what I mean!), this book should provide hours of bedside reading.


Church of the Holy Rude

I took the day off. And so did Helen Grant. We went to look at the Church of the Holy Rude (which is not rude at all), up next to Stirling Castle. They have stained glass and carved heads and stuff, which is the kind of thing Helen likes.

Church of the Holy Rude

So on a day when she didn’t write her next book, Helen walked round the church and photographed everything, while I did what I do best; sat down and rested. We had elevenses before, and a spot of lunch after. Looking at stained glass takes a lot out of a person.

Church of the Holy Rude

They wouldn’t let Helen climb the tower. After all, she might have ‘killed’ someone up there.

Natural Causes

‘Read me!’ the book called out. ‘Read me!’ (And that’s not as weird as it might seem, since there is a supernatural element in James Oswald’s debut crime novel Natural Causes.)

I will never set foot in Edinburgh again. Except, here I am in Scotland, all ready to go to that very part in that very city where James’s detective, Inspector McLean walks, and lives. I suspect the good Inspector and Son of Bookwitch have been neighbours in Newington for the last year. But only for a few hours more!

James Oswald, Natural Causes

Offered the book as a bribe to the Resident IT Consultant when I returned home from meeting James at Bloody Scotland last week. (Was it only last week?) He read it in one sitting, and no matter how hard I tried to fit in the reading of some other books first, it wouldn’t let me. It really wouldn’t.

I’m not surprised it did well in the self-published ebook world. If you find it, you will like it. At least if you don’t read the original first chapter, which Penguin have removed in the paper book, because that is truly gruesome. And can easily be spared. (It’s at the back of the book if you’re curious. I read it with my eyes closed.)

Inspector McLean is an orphan, and his Gran is about to expire after being in a coma for a long time. But then people in her neighbourhood start dying in the most spectacular ways, and she knew them. At the same time McLean ends up with an ancient corpse on his hands, and there are a lot of burglaries which appear to be unusually well planned.

As he struggles to find the time to solve these cases, ever stranger things occur. He can’t sleep, and he doesn’t get on as well with some of his superiors as he should, and like many fictional detectives he seems to be surrounded by women.

The clues are generally rather obvious, which I found quite satisfying, because it meant I was prepared, but never knew what for. And at the end James leaves some questions unanswered, which is also good. You don’t want things to be too clear. As for the supernatural, well, who knows?

I want to meet up with Tony McLean again, and that goes for most of the other characters, too. The ones who survived, I mean.

Launching Shine

The custard creams made all the difference. They and the Coke. Halfway through the launch party for Candy Gourlay’s new book Shine, I was overcome by an urge to liberate ‘a few’ custard creams. They were looking lonely, sitting on a table at Archway Library. That sugar rush kept me going all night, more or less.

Archway Library

I arrived just in time for The Three Hundred Word Challenge. Candy read out as many entries as there was time for, and her collected authors pitched in with their thoughts. The advice was good. The fledgling stories were even better. It’s reassuring to find that young people still want to write, and that they know how.

Teri Terry, Candy Gourlay and Jane McLoughlin

While this was going on in front of an audience so numerous they ran out of chairs, people went about their business in the library, and there was a nice mix of festival special and ordinary library behaviour. (It was the first day of the first Archway With Words Festival.) The authors couldn’t always agree on their advice, which should go a long way to proving that there is no one correct way to write. (I thought they were going to come to blows. Which would have been exciting.)

Random's Clare, Simon Mason, Philippa Dickinson and Keren David

Once it was time for the launch proper, I had a job recognising people without the customary name badges. I managed some. I was discovered in my corner by Random’s Clare, who was almost on her own doorstep for this event.

There were speeches. MDs Philippa Dickinson and Simon Mason came. David Fickling, on the other hand, did not. Replacing him, Philippa and Bella Pearson spoke, but they couldn’t quite manage David’s voice, so Candy had to help out.

Candy Gourlay with Philippa Dickinson and Bella Pearson

In her own speech, Candy told us of the long hard slog to get there. What’s three years between friends? Bella went on maternity leave, and came back. Candy said nice things about her editor Simon, even after he told her that her first attempt was no repair job.

Candy’s daughter Mia and friends sang a cappella. Absolutely lovely.

Candy Gourlay at Archway Library

Dave Cousins

We mingled. There were more authors than you could shake a stick at. (Not that I’d want to, I hasten to add.) Fiona Dunbar and I met where we always seem to meet. I met several facebook friends for real. (They exist!) Teri Terry was surrounded by young fans. Dave Cousins came.I recognised Jane McLoughlin but took ages to work out who she was. Missed Joe Friedman. Ruth Eastham was over from Italy, which was very nice. She introduced me to Sarah Mussi, whose book I just ‘happened’ to be reading, so I hauled it out for an autograph. (Very scary. The book. Not so much Sarah.)

Sarah McIntyre

The other Sarah (McIntyre) also ended up signing stuff, although not for me. Keren David said hello, and then goodbye. I chatted to Inbali Iserles and Savita Kalhan. I spoke to people I have emailed with, and to people I haven’t. Sam Hepburn.

Steve Hartley

And then Mr Gourlay went round saying it was time to go home. So we did. To the Gourley home, where the eldest junior Gourlay was looking after food and drink. There was a lot of it.

The Gourlays

They have the loveliest of gardens! Admittedly it was dark, but it was all lit up and the evening was balmy, and there was somewhere to sit. Not the trampoline for me. Spoke to DFB basement man Simon, and the kind Tilda who once bought me a sandwich. At some point I had to admit to a fondness for the Circle Line. (Yeah, well.)

The wine flowed (the recycling men were most impressed with the bottle collection the next morning) and there was cheese beginning with the letter c, and for the carnivores pork sausages on the barbecue, very ably operated by Mr G.

It was dark. As I said. So I gave up on the camera and simply enjoyed, which is why there are no scandalous shots of anyone. I think the man who hugged me before he left long past midnight might have been Cliff McNish, despite him being underwhelmed by my drinking.

Recommended crime to beautiful blonde, who was impressed with my recent meeting with Colin Bateman… When it got too cold we repaired to the inner regions. In the end most people went home, and Candy was left with a mere five houseguests. Eldest son politely gave up his bed for an old witch, and was banished to his godmother’s ‘vomiting room.’

In the morning I got up long after the six o’clock taxi guest had departed, and people had dispersed to school and jobs and things. I met my brand newest facebook friend (less than 24 hours) in her pyjamas. And then Candy made us breakfast and we gossiped about the great and the famous.

But I had a noon train to catch, so shouldered my nightie and toothbrush and walked up the hill to the tube station hidden in mist. Once I got to Euston I encountered the Poet Laureate on the escalators, going the opposite way. Bought some treats for the Resident IT Consultant to celebrate our first 31 years, and hopped on my train.

Tired library visitor

(I know how that doll feels.)

Rise and Shine!

I might. Rise. And I do. Shine.

But you remember how many extra blog posts you got from me a week ago? More than your daily allowance, and then a bit.

Which means today you have to wait for ‘the real thing.’ I’ve gone to London to help Candy Gourlay launch Shine. Not quite singlehandedly, but I would have, had it been necessary. And then there were the drinks. After which there was this sleepover. So…

When normality, or what counts as such at Bookwitch Towers, returns (or when I do), I will tell you about it.

Meanwhile, you just sit there and behave like the good readers you are. And I will see you later. Alligator.

The Creeps

Or Samuel Johnson vs. the Devil, round III. (Actually, that has more of a ring to it, I think.)

John Connolly, The Creeps

Samuel Johnson must be one of the most wonderful boy heroes in fiction! I love him. I’m not alone in this, because there is a fair amount of love in this last (I wish it wasn’t) book in the trilogy by John Connolly, although it is also about one of the worst dates in history.

Mrs Abernathy is back, if only in bits and pieces. That woman certainly knows how to hold a grudge! After so much exciting stuff taking place in Hell and other far-flung settings, it almost comes as a surprise to spend most of this book in the somewhat unusual town of Biddlecombe.

I like second and third books. That’s when you know what’s what and you and the supporting characters have learned to find your way around. Even the stupid policemen have stopped being quite so idiotic, and have the good sense to know when they are up against the devil and generally supernatural things. The same goes for the – almost – loveable dwarfs.

You know where you are. Biddlecombe. You know Mrs Abernathy is bad, even in molecule form.

I’m a little concerned that the scientists sent to Biddlecombe from CERN in Switzerland are nearly more stupid than the policemen, but you can’t have everything.

It’s not only the molecular Mrs A you need to worry about. Teddybears and armed dolls are not toys. (Think Ilya Kuryakin and the dolls…) Beer can damage your health, and who cares if your best friend is a little green?

As with the first two, The Creep is a very funny book. John’s footnote style asides are most entertaining, and should go a long way to educating young readers. But along with that lovely humour you do get the serious aspects of life, love and friendship. Courage.

Love conquers all, and there were tears at the end. (Obviously not absolutely everyone can be allowed to survive.)

I need more books like these. They are what makes life worth living.


I admit it. I have hung on to more ABCs than strictly necessary. So many of them are truly lovely, in various ways. And here is another one.

As it says on the cover of ABC & DO you can ‘pull, peel, flip and spin your way through the alphabet.’ There is no storyline here, however short. This is an ABC. But it is an ABC with lots of fun moveable bits.

Lee Singh and Karen Wall, ABC & DO

How long the book will survive is another matter, but you and your small person will have fun while it lasts, as you pull and flip and all those other things.

There aren’t as many pages as there are letters in the alphabet, because Lee Singh and Karen Wall have cleverly combined some letters into the same picture, so sometimes you can have several actions on one page. The adult will – hopefully – know that you can’t go directly from L to N. There must be an M somewhere, and there is.

I know. Once your small person(s) have learned the alphabet there is little reason to keep too many ABCs. But they are fun.

The BIG-Hearted Book

Love is a wonderful thing!

Here are Babette and Bill (who in the book are girl and dog, respectively) and they love each other very much. They do everything together.

But one day Babette lags behind and eventually drops out of everything they do. And nothing Bill tries will help.

One day Bill is alone, because Babette has gone to hospital.

This is a children’s story about heart disease, so there is a happy ending. But it makes you think.

Nicholas Allan, The BIG-Hearted Book

Sold in aid of International Children’s Heart Foundation, both Nicholas Allan who wrote the story, and Helen Bower from Hodder Children’s Books have had experience of heart surgery.