Monthly Archives: October 2013

What a lot of co-inky-dinks

It didn’t even occur to me that Marcus Sedgwick’s new novel She Is Not Invisible should count as a disability book, but then the Resident IT Consultant heard Marcus being interviewed about blindness on the radio the other day, and immediately demanded to read it.

Marcus Sedgwick, She Is Not Invisible

I had seen somewhere that Laureth – the main character – was blind, but forgot and it takes a while before you realise. I was more taken by her younger brother Benjamin’s way of talking about coincidence. This is the seven-year-old brother Laureth begins the book by abducting, immediately feeling guilty over her actions.

My reading this book was not without its co-inky-dinks either. It’s the kind of thing that makes me happy, though. A bit like Laureth’s and Benjamin’s father, who is an author, and who is hellbent on dedicating his life to researching and writing a book about coincidence.

When it seems that her father has gone missing, and not from the place where they believed he was, and her mother shows little interest in this fact, Laureth decides to go to New York to find him. (That’s from London.) She knows she will need help to see, which is why she ‘abducts’ Benjamin and off they go.

It’s not the behaviour of your normal 16-year-old, popping to New York on a Saturday morning, just like that. But this is no normal story, and Laureth is a marvellous heroine, only upstaged by the stoic Benjamin. But then he’s got Stan, his toy raven.

She Is Not Invisible is full of co-inky-dinks. You have no way of knowing if the story will end in tears, or if you dare hope for a happy ending. An adult reader will be full of foreboding from the start, and will wonder how this can work out for the best.

There is no end to the strange things an author will do. I suppose Marcus should know…

Kind or nice, or both?

The reason I thought the people with the drinks and the canapés looked a bit too posh for me might have been because they were. I strongly suspect I gatecrashed the pre-Patrick Ness hospitality session at Manchester Town Hall on Tuesday night. (But I brought my own food and drink which, while not very posh, at least meant I wasn’t a burden on anyone.)

Patrick was appearing at the Manchester Literature Festival in his adult guise (mostly, anyway), talking about The Crane Wife with Katherine Beacon, who like all of us is a great fan. At least as long as there are no jokes about David Bowie.

The Bookshop Band

While ‘my’ lot had wine and listened to a speaker whose name I didn’t catch, the rest of the audience was being entertained by The Bookshop Band in the next room. Beautiful singing in what I would label the best of English traditional style. And what could be more appropriate than singing about books at a literature festival?

(And you know, the evening was sign interpreted, which included the singing. I’ve never seen songs like that. Sensual.)

Patrick has strong opinions on all sorts of things, including wanting us to come and sit on the front row (I wouldn’t dream of it!) and asking for the houselights to come on a bit more. He asked for this more than once, claiming he felt hot up there in the spotlight. Or was it warm? Let’s go for hot.

He’d had the inspiration for The Crane Wife since he was five, but it was while he was writing More Than This that the story insisted on being heard, and he ended up writing both books simultaneously, occasionally switching books in the middle of the day. Never again!

Patrick Ness

Patrick read a few pages from the book, with asides whenever we needed to know more. That’s where the ‘kind or nice’ conundrum comes in. He reckons you are either one or the other. And people need to know they are loved. With teenagers feelings can fill the whole room, whether good or bad. And the reason dystopias are so popular is that they are high school!

People invented religion to deal with fear of death, and comedy for fear of life. All writers are outsiders, and being an expat just adds to it. George in The Crane Wife and Seth in More Than This are both examples of this. And here the lights finally made an appearance and we could see!

Asked about Todd’s voice in The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick said it just came, and that the voice in a story ‘is what it has to be.’ Someone wanted to know why he killed the dog, and he replied that he knew it was right, and that even a hero has to go sometimes.

Patrick Ness

When he writes, Patrick has the last words ready and uses them to write towards, as well as a few scenes on the way to guide him. He doesn’t believe in wasting time on building a fictional world before starting, but relies on friends to read early drafts and ask questions to let him know what needs more description. And an empty world would be paradise!

People should read everything, classics, new stuff, and rubbish. The young Patrick devoured Stephen King’s IT, and he also read Judy Blume, whereas he felt that Enid Blyton was mainly about food. (Too right!)

Before we could go to the ‘signing corridor’ Patrick was whisked out and subjected to more photos, leaning nonchalantly against some pillar or other. (For me it was too dark, hence my use of ‘one we took earlier’ which has his approval.) The rest of us were serenaded some more by The Bookshop Band, and then it was everyone for themself in buying books and queueing up.

Patrick Ness

I had abandoned restraint this time, so brought the lot with me. When I was approached by the publicist clutching the post-its, I was most gratified that she had heard of me, despite us never having met (I know, this is getting repetitive), and Patrick informed me he certainly didn’t require a post-it for my books. Which was nice. And since he is kind, too, I’m guessing it’s possible to be both. Along with opinionated, obviously.

But he was right; adult events have far fewer people willing to admit to either writing stuff themselves, or asking questions. I did have a question, but unfortunately I forgot what it was. And most of Tuesday evening’s questions came from writers and people associated with the local book festivals…

It was a dark – yes, I know we have mentioned this already – and balmy night. It’s nice when October evenings are warm (OK, so it was warm. Patrick was hot.) Outside the Midland Hotel I almost ran into Manchester Children’s Book Festival’s Kaye and James, but it was dark and I was invisible. At the Town Hall it was dark, and they were invisible.

That’s life. And I am kind. More than nice, anyway.

You’re never too young to write a book

And then they all turned around and looked at me.

Yes, you!

(That should teach me to sit by the emergency exit.)

I had just enough time to leave the Royal Exchange on Monday and make my way to the People’s History Museum for an afternoon with Eoin Colfer. It was for schools only, so don’t fret if you feel you’ve missed it. Well, you obviously have missed it, but unlike me you are not a school. Just outside Kendals (House of Fraser) I encountered the Waterstones team bound for the same place. The boxes of books almost fell off their trolley, but righted themselves at the last moment.

At the museum a very nice helper asked me to pick a stool (adults had to rough it, as it was fully booked) and to sit at the back (like by the emergency exit), and then as I went to look at the book display I returned to find my stool almost walking away. (You’ll be pleased to hear I wrestled it back.) Left my stool again for ‘other business’ and was rewarded by meeting Eoin’s publicist Adele. (I know her. I don’t have to ask stupid questions like I did the other day.)

Eoin Colfer

In case any of the children were upset to miss an afternoon of school, Eoin mentioned that as a teacher he is legally qualified to hand out homework. He sounded very Irish when he said that.

So, WARP, the new book, is about time travel, and the reason Eoin picked this ‘original’ subject is all to do with Ireland in the 1970s. They had nothing (although Eoin had – still has – three younger brothers, and he hates younger brothers). Television offered only the bible channel and the farming channel, until a friend got BBC, which had wonderful things like Doctor Who, which they could watch through the window…

Eoin Colfer

There were more tall stories about how Eoin came to watch BBC and Doctor Who, which had to do with semi-nudity, a fierce dog and an air rifle. But anyway, this confirmed his determination to write about time travel one day.

Then he told us some rubbish about trying to scare his sons with his writing, but they have watched the Powerpuff Girls, so don’t scare easily. His eldest son is a cruel teenager who flicks his hair and no longer tells his father, who is in charge of all the money, that he loves him. Or whatever.

(For that kind of money I’d be more than willing to tell Eoin I love him.)

The younger one has a wrestler’s death move he uses on his defenseless dad, and there was a long story about the little one’s toilet habits. It sort of makes you want to go, but you can’t very well amidst all the peepee and poopoo and old Frenchmen.

Eoin Colfer

When Eoin returned to his teen disco experience, I knew I’d heard it before and recently. But where? I remembered after a while only to forget it almost immediately. (Preston.) Then remembered again.

There were more dancing memories. Someone very sweetly asked how he met his wife. At a ceilidh, at a very young age. His wife was also responsible for getting Eoin writing, because he was forever saying things like ‘he could do it better’ until she snapped and told him to do it then. Thank you, Mrs C.

His goal is to write fifty books. Current tally is 24. Eoin loves books, but has no plans to marry one. The second WARP instalment will be Hangman’s Revolution which will be published in April.

Kaye Tew for mcbf

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer

Before Eoin went over to the signing table, he signed some books standing up. They were prizes for the winners of the various categories of the Postcards from the Past competition, launched a year ago. I rather liked the one from the iceberg that did for the Titanic. I didn’t know icebergs could write postcards.

Eoin Colfer with Adele Minchin

This time I almost succeeded in being last in the signing queue, and I’d brought my adult Eoin Colfer books along, seeing as I missed him a few weeks ago. I hope none of the short ten-year-olds in the audience has even an inkling as to what they are about. But they’ll grow up one day, and then they will be allowed to read them, and they will be taller than they are now, and Eoin will be forced to hate them. (I am very short, btw.)

Eoin Colfer

Jackie’s Royal Exchange gig

She does get oot and aboot, that Jackie Kay. Although someone tried to pull the wool over her eyes by making her think she was doing a gig in front of thirty children. It was more like 500, including me. I sat next to the screamers from Whalley Range. Those girls have got good lungs.

Thirty indeed! It was the Children’s Bookshow at the Royal Exchange, and it was full to bursting. Poetry isn’t dead yet.

This was another great gig (Jackie’s choice of word…) with a nice mix of poems and questions from the audience. She started with a poem based on her (12-year-old) brother’s tricks, went on to Dracula, in whom she believed when she was eleven and visited Romania. Jackie made the audience shout Mississippi for a sad poem about a slave who was forced to sell her child, and clap hands for ‘attention.’

Jackie Kay

When she asked if anyone knew what a Sassenach is I didn’t dare raise my hand unlike last time, but once we’d had some pretty imaginative suggestions, someone seemed to know it means a non-Scottish person. Audience participation in the Sassenach poem definitely dealt with any problems a person on too little sleep might have had. (I’m not saying there actually was such a person present.)

Miaowing along with The Nine Lives of the Cat Mandu, this not-so-posh audience gave vent to lots of noise. And to finish off we got the poem about Jackie’s imaginary friend, Brendan Gallagher. He seemed nice.

The questions were everything from fairly ordinary ones, to the more unusual. Jackie was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Glasgow. Her parents adopted her brother (the one with the tricks) first, and managed to get him as a baby by having no colour preference. Jackie was bullied in primary school, and one of her heroes is Martin Luther King. She likes music, reading and cooking.

Jackie Kay

Her favourite children’s book is Anne of Green Gables, she’s not as old as the audience seemed to think (not sure they quite got her plea for age flattery…), and when he was small her son thought Poetry was a place, because she often seemed to go there. Being a poet is both lonely, when you write, and social, when you do gigs. She is happy when writing, but the editing can take a lot of time.

What with the Exchange being a theatre in the round, it pleased me that Jackie kept turning round the whole time, so there was no front or back. Just hard work taking pictures of this whirlwind.

Jackie Kay

The copies of Red, Cherry Red seemed to sell like hot cakes and the signing queue was long. Jackie said she had never signed anything to a Bookwitch before, and I should jolly well think not!

Red, Cherry Red

When I was struggling with poetry (and that’s reading it, not writing) all those years ago and getting nowhere, I could have done with Jackie Kay. Because here is a woman who writes sensible – and beautiful – poetry that even dunces can enjoy.

I’ve just read Jackie’s Red, Cherry Red and it is marvellous. Hers are poems about ordinary stuff; knitters, sad grannies, trees and herring. Very ordinary, and very special.

Jackie Kay, Red, Cherry Red

If you don’t want to read the poems yourself, the book comes with a CD where Jackie reads them for you. And that is better still. No one reads like the poet.

(In fact, the Retired Children’s Librarian gave the teen witch an LP of Nils Ferlin reading his own poetry. He was also a normal, sensible poet, and the poems did make more sense simply because it was him doing the reading. I guess the RCL was hoping to save and educate me…)

I still find it hard to read very much poetry. In my ideal world Jackie would read me one poem a day. Could this be arranged?

From winegums to whisky

I worried a bit. Who would come to hear Chris Riddell speak at Waterstones Deansgate on a Saturday morning? (Not doubting his charm; just wondering.) The answer is: many of his most fervent fans, of all ages. I had not realised Mr Riddell is another of these cult people, with a huge following. I am an idiot.

Chris Riddell

Ghost of a Mouse

So, this artistic phenomenon walked into the events room and started drawing a dead mouse (I have often wondered what happens to these works of art left behind so carelessly by people who think nothing of what they’ve just doodled…) with a Japanese brush pen (that’s his drawing implement; not drawing a mouse with a pen), as he was introduced, at this event which was primarily about Chris’s newest book Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse.

Saturday’s audience laughed early on, marking us out as a good audience. The doodled dead mouse was to be proof he’d been. Or something. Chris began by showing us his family photo album, complete with his brother wearing nappies. Their father was a vicar, and to keep Chris quiet in church every Sunday, he was given pencil and paper and he drew pictures for the elderly lady next to him. (According to his mother this lady was the same age then [he reckoned about 103] as Chris is now. 51.) She paid him in winegums.

Then it was on to Chris’s random sketch books, featuring ugly men with large noses. I didn’t know that drawing pretty princesses is a lot harder, which is why he doesn’t. His now nappy-free brother buys him really huge and beautiful sketchbooks in Cairo, which is also fairly random information about random sketches.

Chris Riddell

Now that he has discovered Tumblr, Chris puts his random sketches on there, and whenever authors whose book covers he has doodled want to buy them, he charges in whisky. (I’ll want him to do mine, if I should ever have a book. Starting a home distillery now.)

Mary Shellfish

Chris told us about Lord Byron and his gang, and everyone else who had inspired him, ending up as thinly disguised characters in Goth Girl. Then he read to us from the book, before showing us the book’s shiny purple sprayed edges and the foil endpieces, the ribbon bookmark, and the footnotes in the margin, which all children’s books must have, finishing with a small ‘film’ of the hobby horse race which gives him a ‘stupid amount of pleasure.’

Chris Riddell reading to a cross-section of his fans

Drawing for a living is a hard life. He commutes to the Edwardian coach house at the end of his garden around 11 every morning, getting started around 12, watching tax deductible Sky television all day until he commutes home again. Where he might well relax and draw a bit. So he either works all the time, or not at all. ‘It’s possibly the best job in the world.’

Proper fan boots. And socks.

Getting a wee bit carried away he told us most of the plot for the next Goth Girl book, featuring hairy hikers and bake-offs and the 39 crepes.

He is bad at replying to fan letters, but if you do get a letter back, you should expect a doodle of a cycling fish on the envelope. Chris is known as the loony at his local post office.

Some time ago someone organising a round table event in Vancouver (although the table was long and rectangular, apparently) calculated that Chris had illustrated 163 books (which caused the girl behind me some concern, because she was only up to fifty or so of them), but this figure is bound to have risen slightly by now. (I’ve been concerned for Chris. He seems to draw all the time. Just as he admitted. It can’t be healthy, surely?) He can’t even remember all the titles.

Chris Riddell signing queue

Finally came the signing, and oh, the shame of it! I had gone for restrained, so had fewer books than others, and was thereby shunted further to the front of the queue, not being entitled to be last… The diehard fans had also been restrained as regards number of books brought along, but it was a completely different ball park of restrained from mine.

Chris Riddell with fan

I refrained from asking him to Nell Gurgle my copy of Fortunately, the Milk… and since Goth Girl had already been signed, Chris simply added a bit to it.

And idiot that I am, I didn’t recognise his lovely publicist Catherine (to be fair, she didn’t recognise the grey old witch I’d turned into, either), which is dreadful, seeing as she once led me expertly from my Ealing hotel to her office, early one morning. (See, I’m such an idiot I need leading.)

As I exited Waterstones, my shame was lifted slightly by the sight of the bus that went past. Witch Way. Appropriate.

The Witch Way Bus

But I will definitely have to mend my witch’s ways and get better acquainted with more of Chris’s work. Or is it leisure? Whatever.

How I Live Now

Just think. I have never been able to review How I Live Now on Bookwitch, despite it being the book that launched this illustrious blog. It was published far too long* ago, but nine years on, the film is here and I went to see it yesterday for its first screening. Little did the cinema know it had HILN’s biggest fan in the auditorium.

How I Live Now

So what did I think? I liked it. In fact, maybe I need to go again. Hmm, that’s a thought. A good one.

What I don’t know is how it comes across to people who have not read the book (AND WHY NOT?), but I can see no reason why it shouldn’t work.

It has been abridged and simplified, which is presumably necessary even for a short book. They have done away with one brother, and the remaining two have changed places (to make the sex more acceptable).

But what is so fantastic is that not only is Saoirse Ronan just right for Daisy, but they have found a house to use that is just as it should be. In the right place, with the right country lanes and everything. Even the McEvoys’ house was right. So many rights.

How I Live Now

This is a 15 film, which is as it should be, considering how much darker it is than the novel. It is probably unavoidable that war and violence look worse on screen than on paper. And what you don’t get, and what I did miss, are Daisy’s comments on all that happens. Her voice makes the book what it is. However Saoirse is great, despite lack of running commentary. She seems to suffer from OCD rather than anorexia, but that’s fine.

How I Live Now makes a beautiful film. I’ll probably see it again. Good idea, witch.

On the way home we drove past Daisy Street. Perhaps it’s always been there, but I never noticed it before.

* I know. Old books can still be reviewed. But that feeling of pure magic when you discover a gem like HILN comes only once.

Fortunately, the Milk…

Well, I liked it. Having heard conflicting opinions on Neil Gaiman’s latest offering for children, beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell, meant I couldn’t work out if it was supposed to be good or merely a bit meh.

Fortunately, the Milk… is a tall story about an inept dad who takes an absolute age to go out for milk so his poor children don’t have to have their cereal with orange juice. (Though it beats having it with coffee.) On the other hand, the dad has a lot happen to him while he’s bringing the milk home, so maybe he couldn’t help the delay. (Except, he was wanting his tea, with milk, so should have been fairly keen to get home.)

Aliens, pirates and time-travel with a dinosaur are among the things he claims happened. His children have possibly heard tall tales before, so take it with a pinch of salt. Although, who knows?

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, Fortunately, the Milk...

Thanks to Chris Riddell’s many, detailed pictures we find that the dad is a young Neil Gaiman look-alike, which actually makes it more fun. (I don’t know why it does, but it does.)

It’s a silly plot, so I won’t try to tell you more about it. Just read the book, and make sure you look at all the pictures (which might take quite a while). Fortunately, the Milk… wouldn’t be the same without them.

Wolven

I simply had to investigate when I was told off for not knowing Di Toft. I googled and found she has written a few books about, well, the opposite of werewolves, I suppose. And now I have read Wolven, which is the first book!

It starts with a both hilarious and very sweet scene where Nat and his  mum and granddad are in the process of viewing a dog for sale. It’s not a puppy and it’s not exactly normal, but it wins Nat’s heart and the adults are sort of convinced, too.

Di Toft, Wolven

They take Woody home, and Nat soon learns that this is no ordinary dog. (We had guessed as much.) Woody is the last of the Wolven; a dog who sometimes turns into a human. Nat and Woody become friends, and that’s when the trouble starts. Some locals do not like Nat, and they soon decide they don’t care for Woody, and that he might be dangerous.

Woody is actually an escapee from a secret project, supposedly run by the government, and now the bad guys want to find him and bring him back.

This is the kind of story where the author doesn’t need to kill off the parents or portray them as stupid, making them the enemy. I love it when the adults are allowed to do unexpected things and where they end up helping the main character(s) with what’s going on. And in Wolven you get more of that than in many books. Those adults have got courage and imagination and are pretty free thinking. (Which bodes well for the next instalments.)

But I never got a proper explanation for the green grass…

And then it was time for lunch

First I need to get the pink pyjamas out of the way by mentioning them in passing, like this.

Right, that’s that done then.

For a very long time I didn’t meet Teri Terry. And then I see her twice in eight days. Which was very nice. On Tuesday she had some librarians to talk to at Waterstones Deansgate, and being a friendly sort of person she inquired as to how many willing and able lunch companions Manchester had to offer for a meal beforehand.

George Kirk, Jon Mayhew and Teri Terry

Seven, in the end, as some people were working, and some people remembered in the nick of time that they are parents and would actually need to pick up their children from school.

Marnie Riches, Jo Dearden, Nina Wadcock and Lorrie Porter

But the rest of us met up for lunch, with Jon Mayhew the lone male, surrounded by lovely women writers. And me. It was great food, and great fun. I’m so discreet, however, that apart from the pyjamas I will say no more.

Well, not much more, anyway. We talked ebooks at my end, and praised Harry Potter (yes, really), and there was some publishing gossip. And people brandished their copies of Teri’s and Jon’s books for signing. (We never forget we are fans first.) Marnie Riches who came despite being a parent-picker-upper left early. Which was a shame, but better than nothing.

Teri Terry

The day started with me boarding Teri’s Pendolino* in Stockport, so that I could gently guide her from Piccadilly towards Deansgate, and by happy circumstance interview her as well. I felt Waterstones café was a suitably bookish venue for this kind of thing. Teri bribed me with apple juice, so I will only say nice things about her. (I would have, even without juice.)

Marnie Riches

Marnie, eager to get in early to make up for parenthood, joined us there, and I saw the attraction in this and appointed her my photographer. The rumour must have spread, as Jon also turned up early, but by then the camera had been packed away. And in order to feed Marnie before she had to leave, we crossed the road to the Mexican restaurant someone had suggested.

Their cheesecake could have done with being half the size.

*That makes me feel like a cowboy who jumps from his horse to the stagecoach for a daring rescue.