Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Book Week in Fife

I have nothing against child labour. I have made Offspring do all sorts of things for me, but mostly they have to be the long arm of Bookwitch when I find myself geographically challenged. Like with this Book Week Scotland thing I mentioned earlier.

On Thursday night I made that arm reach Fife – while I was ensconced in Oldham – by telling, I mean asking, Daughter to pop along to her local library on her way home from the cinema. Small town, so they are almost next to each other.

St Andrews library had a Scottish Crime Evening with local sheep farmer James Oswald and the rather scarier Allan Guthrie, and Daughter only missed half of it. Not liking turning up late, she was more than relieved to find that James, who is very much a gentleman, had left a ticket at the door for her to make (her) life easier.

Apparently James had read the same piece he read in Stirling in September, so I didn’t miss much. (I mean, I know what he read, rather than it is no good.)

In the Q&A there was a writer of ebooks who wanted to share with James, who himself was a writer of ebooks before being discovered. (Doing what, I don’t know.)

The idea was that with my photographer in place, I’d get photos. Allan seems to have escaped by running for it. A train, supposedly, but you never know. But here is James next to a Swedish coloured poster for books. (And she only brought her mobile, so none of the paparazza shots. She went, which is what matters.)

James Oswald

Daughter’s opinion is that next time they organise a book event in town, they should tell every department in the university, because she is sure she knows people who would have been interested.

So there you are! Posters for uni noticeboards.

Brilliant Books, again

And again, probably. This is looking good. Oldham libraries have hit on a successful pattern for their Brilliant Books awards ceremony.

Brilliant Books 2013

Although Ruth Eastham and Caryl Hart might want to pull out soon if they keep winning and keep getting these fantastic mosaic prizes. They’ll need to move to bigger houses before long.

As for me, I will have to stick to setting out early for events, and not try brave new ideas like not getting the train before the one I actually got. But I got there. In time. ‘My’ table was taken, but I got a good one precisely where I like to sit. At the back. I discovered later that ‘my’ table had The Worshipful the Mayor of Oldham sitting at it, so I suppose that was an opportunity missed.

This year Brilliant Books invited all shortlisted authors, and twelve of them were able to come, which is brilliant! And none of the winners knew in advance. Or so they claimed. Ruth Eastham came up and chatted to me before proceedings began, and she seemed to have no inkling she was about to carry more mosaic back to Italy. Again.

Like last year, they had invited children from the schools involved, and they helped by reading out the nominations and announcing the winners. In between that, each book was briefly dramatised and acted out by Oldham Coliseum’s Young Rep Company. Really well done!

Oldham Coliseum's Young Rep Company

It seems I no longer need to be escorted by Librarian Snape as Oldham’s defense against the dark blogs. We agreed we missed each other…

Mayor of Oldham

Super organiser Andrea Ellison introduced Chris Hill who introduced the Mayor, who spoke of his pleasure at being asked for his autograph with no competition from Bob the Builder. The Mayor in turn handed over to the host, Dave Whalley, who never gets to sign anything but expenses claims.

Roving Richard (Hall) refused to rove if he didn’t get applause, so we gave him some. He roved throughout the evening, pestering authors and children alike, making them squirm. Great stuff!

Thomas Taylor

The Early Years category winner was Thomas Taylor (and his ‘cool cat’ friend, illustrator Adrian Reynolds), for The Pets You Get. Thomas thanked absolutely everyone for his prize.

Dave lost the plot quite early, and needed Roving Richard to chat to people while he found where he was meant to be. KS1, Dave! Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton and their book The Princess and the Peas won, and they spoke about how they work together. Caryl admitted that sometimes reading can be boring (!) and Sarah told the audience to continue to ‘read and draw.’

Caroline Green and Ruth Eastham

By the time Ruth found out she had won KS2 for The Messenger Bird, Dave had worked out how to keep everything in order. Ruth said she’d been telling everyone about how brilliant it is in Oldham and that they must come.

Oldham Coliseum's Young Rep Company

We took a break from awarding mosaics and watched the Young Rep Company’s dramatised version of shortlisted book My Friend Nigel by Jo Hodgkinson.

Gina Blaxill

KS3 winner, Gina Blaxill, was 90% certain she wasn’t going to win, but Forget Me Never came out on top, which made Gina especially happy, since she had been worried about second book syndrome.

Richard roved over to table five where he asked Helen Stephens what it’s like to see your own book in bookshops. He had just noticed her How to Hide a Lion in Tesco, and since he’s not written a book himself, he wanted to know. (It’s exciting.) The young readers continued being hard to interview…

Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale won KS4, and she brought her mother along, just like when she won in Stockport four weeks ago. She might be unstoppable. Katie mentioned the weird and wonderful characters she’s met, and I rather hope she didn’t mean me.

Brilliant Books 2013

Our host complimented the children on how quietly they had gone to the toilet, and then Andrea went and made them parade around the room very noisily, while someone called Justine sang a song and all the authors stood on stage, clutching mosaics, or not.

Brilliant Books 2013

Then it was signing time and the authors went and sat in line, while children and adults shopped, or simply brought their programmes to be autographed. I walked diligently up and down the line several times to make sure I caught all of them with my camera. Don’t they look fantastic?

Rachel Bright

Caroline Green

Helen Stephens

Katie Dale

Gill Lewis

Matt Dickinson

Caryl Hart

Sarah Warburton

Will Buckingham

Thomas Taylor

And then I went and called my nine 0’clock pumpkin. It’s fascinating how the drive home can be achieved in the same amount of time I spent walking from the tram stop to the Queen Elizabeth Hall…

Arty

Some picture books are artier than others. And when – to be honest – some are too cute or too childish (for me), I love it when I see pages filled with pictures I simply enjoy looking at. No matter what the story is, if there is one.

Red Sledge by Lita Judge is almost wordless, apart from expressions such as Eeeeee and Fluomp. It doesn’t need words.

Lita Judge, Red Sledge

The pictures are quite Christmassy, a little bit Nordic in their snowiness, and just nice. The small child who leaves the sledge outside has no idea what the wild animals nearby get up to at night. They all want a go at taking the sledge down the steep slope.

Gadung. Alley-oop.

David Weisner’s Mr Wuffles is delicious to look at. I don’t totally know what I’m looking at, and neither does the cat, Mr Wuffles. But he’s intrigued. And who wouldn’t be, when a miniature spaceship crewed by weird, but minute, aliens turns up right next to him.

David Weisner, Mr Wuffles

Being played with by a cat can make the bravest explorer travel sick. But they are at least as determined as Mr Wuffles.

Determination plays a big part in Anthony Browne’s What If…? where young Joe is going to his first party, and he and his Mum search the street for the right address. He’s scared, and who wouldn’t be when some of the houses are full of the wrong people?

Anthony Browne, What If…?

But when Joe finds his party, it looks just right. His Mum worries, the way Mums do. But ‘it’s only a party.’ Fantastic illustrations of the kind I’d happily put on my wall (if there was room).

Three of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales have been reproduced in the volume Stories for Children, illustrated by Charles Robinson. It’s the original artwork from a hundred years ago, and it is dreamlike and beautiful.

Oscar Wilde & Charles Robinson, Stories for Children

This is the kind of book that will definitely appeal to grown-ups. I’m hoping young readers will also enjoy the illustrations, which are so different from what picture books today are like.

Emily is back

Did you read Anne of Green Gables first? And when you’d read all the Anne books and was desperate for more, did you welcome Emily? That’s what I did.

L M Montgomery’s Emily trilogy is nowhere near as well known – or talked about – as those about our favourite redhead. But they are that marvellous thing; further reading by someone whose other books made you want more.

When you’re young (if you had the sense to read these books as a child – unlike me) you won’t know as much, so finding sequels and prequels and ‘new’ series by any author is like finding hidden treasure. The older reader might have heard of the other books, so will be expecting them. Or they will be aware that more books are a distinct possibility (unless the author’s name is Harper Lee, perhaps).

(When I was very young I was delighted to find Barbara Cartland had written more books than the ones I’d come across…)

I have no way of knowing if Anne is better than Emily. I don’t believe so. I was pretty old when I found the Emily books, and was mostly past the stage when you re-read like crazy.

L M Montgomery - The Emily trilogy

But I find myself wanting to, now that there is a new edition of all three Emily books. The covers are fabulous, and I can see how my hand is reaching out to stroke them, a little. I’m hoping the covers will tempt many new readers to try them, and perhaps seduce a mother, or grandmother, into buying the books for a girl close to them. (I’m really not trying to be sexist here…)

Medium fresh chicken

At least the chicken is trying, and part of it is fresh, or it is a little bit fresh. (I know. I am being uncharitable. But I do it so well.)

‘Tastes like fresh milk’ is another one. ‘But isn’t’ is what my mind tells me.

My current proximity to estate agents is making me extra allergic to funny language. We were sent the information they wanted to publish to advertise Bookwitch Towers. We had to ‘proofread’ it. I think they wanted to know about the possible howlers on rooms and sizes and stuff. We were more aware of the poor English. I handed the whole thing to the Resident IT Consultant on account of him being far nicer than I am. He barely corrected a word.

After years of us laughing smugly at the ‘deceptively spacious’ homes for sale, agents have got more inventive. Houses are now simply ‘deceptive.’ Luckily they didn’t say that of BT, which is the kindest of houses, and would never want to deceive anyone.

The fact that the ‘how to get there’ instructions contained three left turns, where three right turns would make the venture far more successful, doesn’t matter. Some of us are never quite sure about the difference between left and right.

(And I know that somewhere in this post I am bound to have produced a real whopper of a mistake. I will proofread until my eyes bleed.)

I went to the shops the other day. Near the pedestrian crossing there was a sign, promising me Brow Bar Here. That was definitely a double-take kind of moment. I visualised some sort of railway sleeper at hip height (because that’s where the sign was) onto which you’d bend down and rest your brow. Not sure why you would, were it not for seeing the sign. I read it a few more times, while metaphorically leaning my brow on the imagined railway sleeper, but eventually the penny dropped. (I still don’t know how they do it, though. Do you lay your head down on a bar?)

My local newspaper has provided me with the final quote for the day, ‘woman who can’t stop stripping.’ I feel you’d have to stop when there are no more garments. Or maybe not.

Book Week Scotland

With my usual impeccable timing I am leaving Scotland on the day Book Week Scotland starts. Well done, Witch.

‘Nationwide celebration of reading’ and ‘seven exciting days’ are phrases I find hard to ignore. I feel I’m missing out. And I obviously am. This seems to be for every nook and cranny of Scotland; no excuse if you live in some remote spot, like Orkney. You will get books. Authors, even.

Those crazy people who run Bloody Scotland are going to tour the nation (by which I – and they – mean Scotland) in a bus they don’t have and can’t afford petrol for. (Probably means they’ll drive. A car. Or go by train. Boat, to Orkney.)

There is little point in me listing authors. I think they’re all in it together.

Same with places. Stirling will have events. St Andrews will be getting the professional killers for St Andrews Day. Which probably means I will blackmail my photographer to pop along, even if she’s kicking and screaming.

In short, I’d like to be here next week. Or do I mean there?

Now could be a good time to move.

Can we afford experts?

The big shock in the children’s books world this week was the sacking of Amanda Craig as the children’s books reviewer in the Times.

Amanda has long been a beacon in the business of children’s reading, which is hardly surprising for someone who discovered Harry Potter (in a review sort of way). She doesn’t just recommend the obvious books, but has had the taste to like unknown books by unknown authors, and her status as reviewer for the Times has made all the difference for those getting a mention in her all too tiny portion of the paper.

But the Times obviously want to save on money, and someone seems to think that ‘anyone can do it.’ After all, it’s only children’s books. Not hard, and not important.

I’m not writing this because I believe Amanda has any special rights to this job. I’m merely commenting on the way she was ‘replaced.’ Will readers trust reviews in the paper now? Will they notice? Not being a Times customer, I never read Amanda’s column, but I knew of her long before I started blogging.

As long as she has that reputation, I reckon Amanda can continue reading and reviewing children’s fiction. She might have to join the ranks of unpaid bloggers, but I’m guessing she will get the readership her reviews deserve.

Or, one of the other serious papers could snap her up. If there is one that still has funds for children’s books.