Monthly Archives: April 2015

My St George

It’s St George’s Day. We have our very own Dragon guarding Bookwitch Towers.

He used to belong to the Grandmother’s mother, and Son liked him so much that twenty years ago Dragon came to live with us. For years he sat on the bedroom windowsill, staring out into the garden. That’s Dragon, not Son.

But with the Scottish move, Son was roomless for long enough that Dragon had to find somewhere else to live. He tried the mantelpiece for a while, but found it boring. (So do I. It’s not exactly my favourite mantelpiece. I don’t sit on it. I just stare.)

Then he tried the window towards the street, turning his back on the room and all of us. He likes it!

DSCN7060

There is a lot to look at out there. Well, actually, not that much. It’s a fairly secluded street. But there’s more action than in the former back garden. And he can give the postmen/postwoman a good stare when they walk past him every morning.

He’s a good guard-dragon. And I doubt very much that he will deign to face us again, now that he’s discovered the outside world. Such as it is.

Werewolf Parallel

Do you remember Daemon Parallel, where unspeakable things happened at [maybe] Jenners department store, and where Cameron realises his granny is not quite like other grannies? Crazy, loopy, insane. Quite old, too.

As I suspected he would, Roy Gill has written a sequel, by popular request. It’s a good thing he did. Not only was Cameron still alive at the end of the first book, but I’d say Werewolf Parallel is even better.

Roy Gill, Werewolf Parallel

With granny gone, it’s down to Cameron and his friends Morgan and Eve to carry on her work and to survive on their own, if at all possible. ‘The cake cover was shuffling along the desk…’ That sort of thing. (I’d advise caution if you ever find any cake covers you are responsible for shuffling along anything at all.)

There is a wicked astrophysicist. Shame, really. There are grey blobs, ancient gods and lots and lots of weird and wonderful things all over Edinburgh. I’ll have to study my surroundings much more carefully when I’m next at Waverley station, for instance. All those secret railway routes.

And as you can guess from the title, there are a fair number of werewolves, along with a few surprises on the wolf front.

Very enjoyable, and I wouldn’t put it past Roy to accidentally write a third Parallel novel. After all, he didn’t kill everyone off this time, either. If Edinburgh is up for it, then so are we.

Desirable

Oh how I needed this book! I know, it’s been waiting for my attention a bit longer than it should have, but I was truly grateful for Desirable once I got to it.

You know, slightly bad day and you need something reliably uplifting and fun. That’s Frank Cottrell Boyce for you. Desirable. (That’s the title…)

George is a loser, and it’s brought home to him when even his Grandad can’t quite be bothered to do much for his birthday. No one else came to the party, and Grandad left pretty swiftly, after having given George the very same item that George’s mum once gave her dad (I believe it’s called re-gifting).

Although, perhaps Grandad knew what he was doing? George’s boring life suddenly changes. He becomes desirable. Not that that is necessarily as desirable as you’d think before you reached desirablity.

Frank Cottrell Boyce and Cate James, Desirable

This story is as heartwarming and funny as you would expect from Frank, and with very ‘undesirable’ illustrations from Cate James, in a desirable sort of fashion, if you know what I mean?

Those teachers are downright weird. Just saying.

The #14 profile – Tanya Landman

It appears I just managed to tie Tanya Landman down to answering some questions right in the middle of some serious travelling. Recently back from Istanbul (who says an author’s life is not charmed?), I understand she is about to travel to Sharjah, for its Children’s Reading Festival. I’m guessing they feel about Tanya as I do after having read two of her fabulous novels, that she’s not a bad author to invite.

Here is Tanya, telling you some of her trade secrets in my latest profile:

Tanya Landman

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Ouch. Do I have to answer that one?

Really? You’ll apply thumbscrews if I don’t????

OK, OK – if I must….

One and a half. (But PLEASE don’t mention this ever again. They were dire.)

Best place for inspiration?

Asleep in bed. Seriously. I quite often wake up with new ideas or solutions to plot problems that have been bugging me.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I do. (My real name is Eunice Petunia Biggs III.)

What would you never write about?

Anything creepy. I am a complete wuss when it comes to scary supernatural things. Vampires, demons, ghosts…I can’t cope with reading it so I certainly couldn’t write it.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

The Houses of Parliament at the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge just after the last election. I got my fingers stuck together whilst trying to eat an unexpectedly gooey fondant fancy and couldn’t shake anyone by the hand. Ed Vaizey gave a speech. (I should have headbutted him when I had the chance.)

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

I love Charley (Buffalo Soldier), Siki (Apache) and Itacate (Goldsmith’s Daughter) but they have such a tough time I wouldn’t want to be any of them. Poppy Fields just KEEPS on finding dead bodies, which might get tiring. I think Katrina Picket (Waking Merlin) would be best – she gets to ride on a dragon AND save the world.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Good thing. Deffo. I’m expecting a call from Johnny Depp any day now.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

‘When your son was sick on the swirly-whirly super de-luxe leather executive chair – what colour was the vomit?’

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I have magic scritchy-scratching fingers that can make a pig faint with happiness.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia. Talking animals? Timmy just can’t compete.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

ABBA

ABBA. They count as one person, right?

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

Arrange? You what??? Mine are stacked double on shelves or standing in piles. It’s all a total muddle and I can’t ever find a thing.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Stig of the Dump. Works every time.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

I am confused. I mean if I’m writing I’m reading what I’ve written, aren’t I? Or am I supposed to write blindfolded?

I suspect that Eunice Petunia didn’t take these questions all that seriously. Which is good, as it means she was obeying my orders. Although, that tin foil was stretching things a bit, even for me. It seems that if Tanya can switch off the tin foil a little, she might have chosen Thomas Lundqvist, genius puppeteer, instead. (No, I’d never heard of him, either.)

(If anyone is up for doing profile #13, get in touch with me…)

Blindside

Blindside is a dyslexia friendly revised version of Aidan Chambers’s Cycle Smash, from almost 50 years ago. If you read it as an adult, your heart will be in your mouth as young Nate cycles off into the evening. Because you can imagine it being your child and you can tell what must be about to happen.

But if you’re a teenager, it will presumably just read like an interesting and exciting story about an athlete who likes running, and who is about to go on to great things. Were it not for the bike accident, of course.

Aidan Chambers, Blindside

Seriously injured, Nate is furious that he won’t be running again, and is not terribly grateful for actually being alive. We see him in his hospital bed, feeling sorry for himself and ready to do really stupid things. But then – and I reckon this is where the original date of the story shows through – his kindly nurse tells him what she thinks of his behaviour and sets him off on a new course.

Because there are people far worse off than Nate, and it’s time he realised this. As he does, you might want a tissue handy.

And if you are a parent, you’ll be out locking your child’s bike away.

Totte, or Thomas

Author and illustrator Gunilla Wolde died earlier this week. I realise that many of my English language readers won’t know her. On the other hand, you might. I was surprised, and delighted, to find that author Guy Bass made his parents read Thomas bakes a cake every night for two years. That’s the kind of tenacity that pays off eventually. (Or they try and have you adopted.)

Gunilla Wolde, Totte badar

As with many Swedish authors, Gunilla’s books came too late for the young Bookwitch to read at the appropriate age. But being classics, they were widely available when Offspring appeared on the scene. (I’m actually not sure, but I suspect I owned mine well before Offspring arrived. I think I just liked the look of the books.)

I tried searching for them now, so I could tell you more, but couldn’t find where I’ve stashed them. The one that has stayed in my memory the most, is when Totte – or Thomas, as he is in translation – goes to the doctor. There is something about toddlers facing injections, or putting plasters on their teddies, that makes a lasting impression on you. (Perhaps I didn’t dare show Offspring those injections, in case they thought that’s what happens when you go to the doctor’s.)

Looking for cover images you find so many, in several languages, which brings home to you quite how popular Gunilla’s books were. Are. And if you study the ‘Swedish’ images page carefully, you will find illustrations that might be too, well, too Scandinavian for readers in some countries.

So you’re probably safest with Thomas bakes a cake.

Living WWI

Having so recently re-read Rilla of Ingleside by L M Montgomery and seen the film made of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I’ve come to realise that there is a difference between all the modern war stories – however excellent they are, because they’ve been written by great authors, who have researched the war thoroughly – and these two books written by women who lived through it.

They aren’t the only ones, I’m sure, but they are the women I’ve got fresh in mind right now. One wrote a biography and the other wrote fiction, but both offer the reader what you don’t get in later, period fiction, and that is the day-to-day facts. Other books might have the Somme, which Rilla barely mentions. It’s just one of the many place names they got far too familiar with over those four years.

Even the Blythe’s Susan keeps up with the news, learning about geography in an unforeseen way, reading the paper and keeping track of what she thinks of Wilson and Kitchener and the Kaiser.

Vera Brittain lived through the war at a much closer distance, eventually being part of it. What I remember most vividly is all the travelling she did, back and forth, to the war, through the war and away from the war. Her autobiography, of necessity, contains all of WWI, in some form or other.

L M Montgomery wrote Rilla a few years after the end of the war, when presumably everything was still fresh in her mind, and she knew these places in Europe and beyond as intimately as the Blythes did. Which will be why she put all of that in her not-so-idyllic novel, and why she had to send Anne’s and Gilbert’s sons off to war, and let the girls work at home for the war effort. It’s why she couldn’t let all her characters live. Because it wasn’t like that. Lots of Canadian boys went and never returned.

That is something Vera Brittain knew from personal experience. She lost everyone.

And then, I wonder if both women wrote their books believing they had gone through hell, but come out the other end, and that a new better world would be sure to come of it?

Vera had a son, but I don’t know if he fought in WWII. I’m thinking he might have been too young. But Rilla’s children, if she had any, would surely have had to fight in the next war, as would her nephews, as well as her soup tureen baby.

I hope Susan never found out about that.

As I read Rilla this time, I needed to go back and check when the other books were written, rather than when they were set. I had to know if L M Montgomery knew that Anne would have to lose a child to the war, and I suspect she must have, when she gave Anne and Gilbert their children.

Living through a war is not the same as reading ‘highlights’ later on, and by living I mean even those who are safe and far away. It’s the hearing of each battle as it happens, rather than learning it second hand.

I’m not saying authors now shouldn’t write war novels. On the contrary, I think they must. But it’s interesting to note the difference.