Monthly Archives: February 2014

Formby Books

You have another six weeks to shop at Formby Books. After that, Tony Higginson will close his shop for ‘good.’ Which, is not good at all.

This is the man whose enthusiasm for books and reading, and especially for children’s books, reached me all the way over here, when he was manager at Pritchards in Formby, years ago. I always meant to visit, to see what the fuss was about. But Formby is just that little bit further than is convenient from where I am.

When Pritchards closed, Tony set up his own shop. I met him soon afterwards, except I didn’t actually know it was him. The reason we met was that Tony – unlike me – never seems to feel that anywhere is too far away. He travels tirelessly; not just for his own events, but to put in an appearance when his author pals do events elsewhere.

Tony Higginson and Philip Caveney

And tireless is what he has been, arranging events in the shop, and at larger venues when necessary. He went out of his way to invite me to his ScareFests in Waterloo, and he was there to rescue me when I was lost and locked out, ‘wasting’ his money buying me a drink in the pub.

Tony knows everybody. And everybody knows him. The man reads an incredible number of books, even allowing for him not ever sleeping. I simply don’t want to hear about all the books he’s read, because it makes me feel inadequate.

But this kind of enthusiasm isn’t enough. Not enough people come into his shop to buy books. I find that hard to understand. There are far too many shops where staff aren’t interested in you, or know very much about what you might like to read. My fear is that if a shop run by someone like Tony can’t survive, then there isn’t much hope for anyone, other than maybe the biggest.

I kept thinking I’d get the Resident IT Consultant into the car and off we’d go for the day, visiting bookshops in the Northwest. I’ve left it too late for Formby. Should have gone years ago. (Not that any purchases I could have made would have been big enough to secure the future of the shop. But still.)

Fred

I wish I’d known Fred when he first died!

Because Fred is indeed dead. And as with many obituaries you read, whether for people you knew, or people you’d never even heard of, you wish you’d known of the dead person’s excellence while there was time to fully appreciate them. (I’m very much in favour of living obituaries.)

Fred is a cat. Was a cat. And like Mog, he has died, leaving his humans very upset. But this is vintage Posy Simmonds, so you can be sure that you’re going to get something unusual, now that Fred is a dearly departed pet.

Before death Fred seems to have been a very sleepy cat. He slept on every imaginable surface, and the neighbours reminisce about his sleeping habits.

But Nick and Sophie – Fred’s human children – loved him, sleepiness and all, and now that he’s been buried underneath the buddleia, they are sad. And it’s hard to sleep. But a noise from the garden causes them to tiptoe out to investigate.

Posy Simmonds, Fred

And they find out the most astonishing facts about their beloved Fred. He was famous. All the cats from miles around have come to say goodbye. They learn a lot as they take part in a marvellous memorial service.

Meeow!

Seven, and half-baked

The text message from Son asking for the failed cake recipe reached me shortly after Daughter and I had witnessed Matt Smith miss our train in Milton Keynes. Which, it has to be said, he did with considerable skill. Mind you, he was merely Jim Taylor from Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart in those days.

We were about to see Tim Bowler’s Starseeker on the stage, and we were in Northampton, so had very limited access to any recipes at all. The job went to the Resident IT Consultant, who had to find this alien recipe book featuring half-baked cakes, and pass the relevant one on to Son, sitting in the Swedish wardrobe, waiting to show off for a picnic with Dodo.

As you can tell, I don’t know what to call this cake. But do have a slice, to help me celebrate seven years of blogging. It’s hard. Well, actually, it isn’t. It’s mostly soft and gooey. Failed. On purpose. (I am of course talking about the cake now. Not the blogging, which isn’t gooey at all.)

When I left the old country many years ago, it was still adhering to rules like cake should be spongy and rise beautifully in the oven and all that. 15 years into my foreign existence, I woke up to the fact that there is something called kladdkaka. We learned about it in church. After church. For coffee. But as it was chocolate I could never try it.

It’s all over Sweden these days (hardly surprising with runny cake) and Offspring have eaten their way through a lot of it. Years later I found myself the owner of a recipe book containing nothing but versions of kladdkaka. The author of this book rather charmingly referred back to her childhood when she had never heard of calories, so baked and ate one of these a day.

Sounds like heaven, if you ask me.

One day last week I got so annoyed over a missing ingredient for something else, that I decided to make failed cake myself, using carob instead of cocoa. (It was a bit dry, to be honest.) So despite having heard about calories, I had another go. It was so runny the Resident IT Consultant had to be polite about the result. (Perhaps I should have let it cool first?) I’m suspecting I might have to experiment and fail some more cake before I get it just right.

It’s good with whipped cream. In case you wondered. And since we are celebrating, that’s absolutely fine.

The long Carnegie

I was surprised to read that publishing the longlist for the Carnegie was a new idea. Surely I’d got that wrong, somehow?

Ah. Have checked. I know what’s new. The longlist. Before, the long list used to be all the nominated books, and then you got to the shortlist. So presumably we are skipping the very long list this time. Glad to have sorted that out.

It’s a good list. Some I have read, others I’ve not had time to get to. And yet more I have not got close enough to, to be able to consider reading. Two are from my own best of 2013 list (I’d like to think they visited and compared notes), so I’d be especially grateful if they could hand out the medal to Binny or to Brock.* If not, any good book will do. The better the better, though, if you know what I mean.

2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal longlist

As far as the picture books go, I haven’t read a single one. I don’t recognise the titles either, so have hopefully not shown a shocking lack of interest in what will turn out to be a really magnificent book.

2014 Kate Greenaway Medal longlist

*It is especially nice to find a Barrington Stoke novel on the list.

It’s not all the same to me

Why are we not the same? How come a book published in the English language in Ireland (which is practically British, anyway… 😉) needs to be published again in the UK? It seems so wasteful of resources, not to mention slow.

It must be something to do with money. Do more people make more money with a book published in English in ten different countries? I just get impatient with the waiting. And unlike television shows (although the less said about file sharing, the better) you can generally get hold of the physical book from ‘the other’ place.

Sometimes they are let loose on the same day, all over the world. But mostly not, even if it’s just a week’s difference. Harry Potter was released on the dot of whatever midnight was in every nook and cranny of the world. Because they knew if they didn’t, shops would not be able to sell many later copies, as the fans would have got their ‘cousin in London’ to buy and post the book.

Fine. If you need to have a publisher in each country, why not publish all over the world, in one fell swoop? Surely it would even out in the end? Big selling British novel makes money for publisher in London. In return an American publisher hits the jackpot with some other title they have published.

To return to the television angle for a moment. I love NCIS. First it appears gradually over the American continent on the first night’s screening. At a later point they sell the season to a UK channel I don’t have. This channel expects to make money from the commercials shown. Once they are done, one of the ordinary channels acquires the rights. They, too, want money from advertising.

Later on, I can buy the DVD box set. First comes the R1 version. Much later the R2. There will be a reason I can’t just tune in to CBS on the first night. I know. Advertisers in the US don’t reckon I’ll be buying much of what they want me to spend money on. But here’s the thing; I don’t buy much, if anything, brought to me by the UK advertisers, either. (There’s only so many sofas you can buy in one sale.)

So how does this work with books?

I recently reviewed Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. Simmone sent it to me, because she reckoned it’ll be a while before it’s available in Britain. I could have bought it from that online bookshop we all love to hate. At least, I think I could have. The .com version no longer forces me back to .co.uk, but merely suggests I might prefer it.

As for working out which publisher to approach, that is also very tricky. The names are often the same in different countries, but that doesn’t mean they publish the same books. A couple of years ago I had to do some detective work in order to find the correct Indian publisher of a book.

The author has written the book. It has been edited and given a cover. The printers have printed. So why not just spread this one book? OK, that would be as un-green as Kenyan green beans. We don’t want to transport books across the globe. So why not print the same thing, but in each country?

Covers. Yes. We don’t fall for the same style. But we could learn. We like Indian food. Why not like Indian book covers? It might make us more open minded. Just like there is a market for new retro covers for crime novels, we could covet cultural covers.

In short, I know very little. But I don’t want to wait. At the moment I’m wanting Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It exists. But it will be a long time coming my way, or so the publisher said, once I’d found out who it was (not the same as for the previous two Al Capones).

It’s one thing to wait for an author to write. We have to put up with this. But after that I will just vent my impatience, and snap.

The Grey Girl

Not having read The Blue Lady, I don’t actually know what had happened to Suzy before the point when she turns up in Eleanor Hawken’s The Grey Girl. But having said that, I don’t reckon I need to.

Suzy can see ghosts. That much is clear. It is also clear that she is heading for more ghostly encounters as she spends summer with an aunt at her mansion somewhere in the countryside.

Eleanor Hawken, The Grey Girl

This could be a ‘period’ story, were it not for the mobile phones and computers. It’s got a very nice old-fashioned feel to it, and not only because the ghostly happenings hark back to 1952. It’s simply nicely basic in its setting and plot, and this makes the whole book a much more pleasant read than your average ‘teen angsty relationship and isn’t everything awful?’ kind of book.

It’s an adventure, Blyton style, with boarding schools, orphans, aunts to go and stay with and a picture postcard perfect village and church, and haunted mansion with its own resident ghost.

I quite like the cover too, which again harks back to a Blyton-esque kind of adventure (despite Suzy’s modern clothes), complete with attic and cracked mirror and tarot cards.

Enjoyable, as long as you don’t suffer from ghost phobia.

Hanging on, and forgetting

I forget. Not quite everything, but an embarrassing amount.

When there is a new book once a year, even if it’s part of a series I really like, I need to work hard at remembering ‘how we left things.’ Usually I can pick up quickly enough, especially if there’s some coarse hint somewhere near the beginning.

Keeping up with Harry Potter was never a problem. I remembered his name and those of most of his friends and teachers. What’s more, I remembered what they’d done in the last book too.

If someone were to chat to me about when a certain thing happened in Skulduggery Pleasant, I would remember it. What I’d be less sure about is which book it was; the latest one, or one or two further back?

Maybe this is normal for my age. It’s not that I don’t obsess about the books. I do. I especially enjoyed it when, erm, you-know-him did that, thing, at that place…

And how can I forget cliff-hangers? It’s in their very nature that you mustn’t forget. Can’t forget.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency Returns

So now that I have this new-found interest in Eleanor Updale’s Montmorency, maybe it’s a good thing I am looking at reading all the books in a short period of time. That way I’ll remember what just happened.

I know this isn’t an option when you have to wait for books to be published. And whereas it can’t be the same if you come to Harry Potter now, having missed out on the media frenzy and midnight trips to bookshops, it must feel good to be able to move from the fourth book to the fifth and not have a three year wait.

To return to Eleanor and her books, I was intrigued to see that both Johnny Swanson and The Last Minute are published in paperback within weeks of each other, along with Eleanor’s own reissued Montmorency books and the new fifth book. Someone is wanting an Updale book bath.

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.