Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Fugitive

The fifth Theodore Boone is here! I have to own up to still enjoying these junior John Grisham books very much. And that cliffhanger I could see at the end of the first book, which then didn’t materialise? Well, it’s here now. And matters continue to wobble near the edge of the cliff as we leave Theodore and have to wait for the sixth and last book.

Strattenburg’s most wanted man is back. Theodore goes on a school trip to Washington, and accidentally comes across this suspected murderer on the run. Because Theo is Theo, he knows what to do to prove it’s Pete Duffy, and the point of the book is not the catching of Mr Duffy, so much as the trial he needs to face.

John Grisham, The Fugitive

Because it’s the law that Theo the miniature lawyer is passionate about, and it’s important that young readers learn how the law is – supposedly – there to take care of you and keep you safe. The town of Strattenburg is not perfect, but it does its best.

Pete Duffy is not the loveliest of men, and nor is his defense lawyer, or his ‘helpers.’ Some people will go to any lengths to escape jail, and one of the witnesses for the prosecution in particular has to stay brave and remember his duty. But will he? Can he? The case is so difficult that Theo begins to doubt his calling.

The usual interaction with Theo’s parents, Theo’s favourite judge, and some pretty nifty action from uncle Ike.

Liz Kessler on Read Me Like a Book

The fact that I had looked forward so much to reading Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book, doesn’t mean that I believe it will be all straight sailing. That’s why I nailed the lovely Liz to the spot and asked all kinds of questions on how she sees the future for this new book of hers:

Liz Kessler

So, from mermaids via fairies and a bit of time travelling and some plain invisibility, to a book on discovering you are gay… That’s quite a journey. (I know you actually began with the gay book, before moving on to more conventional mermaids.)

You’re right, I did write this book first – and it has been sitting in a drawer for over a decade! I personally don’t think of this as ‘the gay book’ though. I really hope it’s much more than that! But yes – definitely quite a journey!

Do you reckon your first fans are old enough to be ready for this complete change of genre? In fact, perhaps this older book is what you need, to hang on to readers as they outgrow the mermaids?

My first book came out in 2003, so I guess many of my early fans will now be in their late teens or even early twenties. Hopefully that means they are well within the age group for a YA book! I do hope that some of my readers will progress through my books, and that they will see the similarities and the links in terms of themes between all of my books. I don’t see this book as a complete change of genre at all. I just think it’s a book aimed at a different age group. Like almost all my books, this one deals with subjects like learning to accept others, becoming comfortable with yourself, standing up for what you believe in and being bold and honest. As to whether my readers are ‘ready’ or not – well, you’ll have to ask them that! All I know is that I very much hope they are!

Have you any fears regarding parental gatekeepers, or is Read Me Like a Book purely for readers who decide for themselves?

Up to this point, I have only received positive comments, and the book seems (up to now) to be coming out in a climate of celebration and support. Perhaps some of the gatekeepers – be they parents, librarians or teachers – might have issues with some of the content of the book. If they do, there is nothing I can do about that. To be honest though, I think that they would have to be fairly extreme in their views to be worried by this book. It isn’t setting out to be controversial in any way. It is about many issues which all teenagers can hopefully relate to, whatever their gender or sexuality. As to whether this is a book purely for readers to decide for themselves or not – it’s no different from any other YA book in that respect. I can only write the books. I can’t decide who will pick them up or what their motivation or decision-making process will be.

Are you expecting a ‘Melvin Burgess, Doing It’ type of outcry in schools?

No. Not at all. I don’t think anyone who has read both books would see any link between them. This is not a book about sex. It’s a book about first love, about the struggles of teenage years, about coming to terms with who we are.  

You seem like the kind of woman who’d encourage your fans to ask questions about all sorts of things. Has anyone ever sought advice on gay issues?

Not yet. I do encourage people to feel able to ask me questions, and if as a result of this book I am asked questions on LGBT matters, I’ll do my best to give my own honest answers and hope that they will help.

It’s been a while since you wrote Read Me Like a Book. Are there significant changes to society that affect gay teenagers, be they good or bad?

Society has changed a lot since then – and I would say that most of the changes are for the better. More famous people are ‘out’ today than fifteen years ago, so young LGBT people have more role models. The nasty, homophobic ‘Section 28’ no longer exists. We have anti-discrimination laws to give more protection to LGBT people. Attitudes are more positive. But we’re not there yet. If we were, I don’t think I would be asked whether I’m expecting an outcry for publishing this book! 😉

Why not write a completely new book? Was it hard to go into your first book and start editing it to fit 2015?

I do write completely new books all the time! (I think you’ve read most of them!) This book is important to me, and I wanted to get it out there. I’m glad that my publisher has agreed with me that the time is right to do that. There was a lot of editing to get it up to date, and up to scratch. Many things had changed in fifteen years, so I did a lot of work. In fact, I would say it probably feels like a new book now!

Is there anything you’ve worried about to do with this new book? Other than it is a new book, and you can’t know before it’s out there how it will do.

Yes of course – I worry that not everyone is as accepting and ready for the book as most people seem to be. I worry that some parents might not realise it’s a 14+ YA book and buy it for a younger child (although we’ve done everything we can to hopefully prevent this). Perhaps I worry that I will be asked to do too many interviews that make me feel like I’m having to defend a book that I don’t feel should have to be defended in this way! But my mind is mostly focused on the excitement I feel about it, not on worries.

What are you most looking forward to with Read Me Like a Book?

Getting an email from a teenager telling me that my book has helped them to feel confident about who they are and not feel alone. If I get one email like that, my job is done.

Might you write more books like this, or is it straight back to fantasy now?

I don’t think I write fantasy – I think that I write books about the real world, but quite often they have a magical element in them. I will continue to write those for the Middle Grade age group, and I am planning to continue to pursue a YA strand as well.

It seems that I am far more worried about the world than Liz is. And she’s quite right; finding out – and learning to accept – that you are gay is actually much the same thing as discovering you are half mermaid. We’re all a bit different, but also the same. I wish her book and its readers all the best.

It’s Bookbug Week!

For a moment when the email came I was under the impression I was being invited to get into bed with Debi Gliori, but on closer inspection the invitation was ‘only’ to watch school children read books with Debi. In a bed, as you do with bedtime stories. On a farm, which is less common, but why not?

FREE PIC- BookBug Week Launch 03

Sheep next to your bed is handy for when you need to count them, if nothing else. And the children look as if they had fun. I might have gone to watch, had I not been otherwise engaged on Monday morning. But Scottish Book Trust have sent some photos on, so it’s almost as if I was there. ‘Away in a manger…’

As well as photographing reading sheep, Scottish Book Trust are involved in giving books to every Scottish child. Which, as I keep saying, is an excellent idea. They have also looked into the statistics of how many parents read to their children, and at what age. 72% have read to their child before 12 months, which is pretty good. If this Bookbug gifting continues those figures are likely to improve.

Director Marc Lambert says ‘Sharing a book with your child on a regular basis, from as early an age as possible, is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to make a real difference to their future. You might feel silly reading to a tiny newborn, or even to your bump, but your baby will listen closely to the rhythm of your voice and the speech patterns, laying strong foundations for later language development. It’s never too late to get started though – at any age your child will soon realise that books equal cuddles, helping to inspire a love of reading which will last a lifetime.’

I think I was probably of the school of thought that I felt a bit silly to begin with, but your child won’t know that.

As well as the free books, there are lots of events on this week. In Scotland. If you live somewhere else, you might want to consider moving.

FREE PIC- BookBug Week Launch 05

Outcaste

This is so good. Outcaste is the impatiently – by me anyway – awaited sequel to Ellen Renner’s Tribute. I’m not sure how Ellen does it, but she certainly knows how to write a marvellous story.

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Set in a fantasy world, Zara has been forced to leave her home, a place where magic rules, and she is now a refugee along with several groups of non-magic people. Being a mage is not good, and Zara needs to work hard at hiding her natural talents.

Her father, the Archmage is wanting to catch her, after she tried to kill him. But sometimes it’s not the people with magic who are the worst. It seems some of the other peoples have traditions that are not terribly attractive either. The refugees are heading to the homeland of Aidan, the boy she has fallen in love with. And her problems won’t necessarily be over when she gets there.

Outcaste is not a book you can easily describe. It’s a book you want to read. Now. (But read Tribute first.) It has a love story to die for (not that you want anyone to die), and that in itself is rare enough these days.

I’ll be thinking of that love as I wait for another book from Ellen, be it another sequel or something else. Anything else. This is what YA should be like. And in Zara’s friend Twiss, we have a young girl character of almost Dido Twite-ish proportions. I would very much like to see more of her.

CrimeFest

I was going to waffle a wee bit about yet another CrimeFest I’m not actually at. (And half glad I’m not, because of that ‘new-ish’ intolerance to travel and crowds.) The main reason I would have wanted to be there was to hear Maj Sjöwall. But we can’t have everything.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

But you’ll be spared the waffling, because the only other comment I have to make about this Bristol weekend gathering of professional killers – who according to Stuart Neville ‘are generally friendly’ – is that they announced the shortlist for the CWA International Dagger on Friday evening. And they’ve had the good taste to include Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman, mostly famous around these parts for having been translated ‘in-house’ by Son of Bookwitch.

I’m actually reasonably proud.

And in the Short Story Dagger, the aforementioned Stuart Neville has been shortlisted for his contribution to the Oxcrimes anthology with Juror 8, which was my favourite. Well done, there too.

May both my favourites win.

Full circle

Five years on, Candy Gourlay and I were back where we started. No, not on Facebook. At Carluccio’s St Pancras. When thinking about what we might do – briefly – before I got on my northbound broomstick, I realised that we could finally have some more of the coffee ice cream we have reminisced about over the years. We both like it, and we both eat it sometimes, but never together.

I got there early, and was sitting reading, completely engrossed in Lucy Coats’s Cleo, when I realised someone was standing there, staring at me. But I suppose it’s fairly suitable to be found nose down in a book when you have a brunch date with an author.

And over my poached eggs we discussed lots of publishing stuff and books and writers. None of which I’ll tell you about. Children. Interior decorating. How to stay warm in our old age. Yes, really. Actually Candy believes she’s already too old, which doesn’t leave much hope for me. But we agreed that you need to have lived before you can write worthwhile stuff.

After the eggs, and the coffee ice cream, Candy accompanied me across the road to the other station, the one with a perennial queue for platform 9 3/4, but I said there was no reason for her to wait with me. I promised to leave town even if not escorted, and I did so by following the sudden stampede towards platform 4, once the Aberdeen train had been announced.

It’s good to have gone to London, but better still to get home again. I’m too old for all this big city life, seeing lots of people in crowds. I’ll have to set up meetings with people one at a time in future. If anyone ever wants to see me…

(The recipe for the coffee cheesecake will, possibly, turn up some time if I don’t forget.)

Coffee, beer and a book launch

You’ll have to excuse me, but I saw so many authors on Thursday that I am unable to list them all here. Not because the list would be too long, but simply because I no longer recall absolutely everyone, nor did I necessarily see or recognise them in the first place. But if you were there, tell me and I will add you to the list.

I had crawled out of bed to go and have ‘coffee’ with Marnie Riches who was also in town. She’d been doing her own book related things the night before, and was now up for grabs while on her way to CrimeFest via Paddington. We chatted and drank ‘coffee’ and then I accompanied her to her train and made sure she got on it, to join her murderously minded colleagues in Bristol. (I provided her with a secret list of who to talk to there, but I doubt she’ll obey.)

After some admin and a good rest (because having ‘coffee’ is hard work…), I packed my going to do an interview and going to a book launch bag and went off to Hampstead in the rain.

Anthony McGowan's beer

First I did a recce at my second Waterstones in two days, before walking uphill (they have some surprisingly steep hills in Hampstead) to a very old pub suggested by Anthony McGowan as a suitable venue for me to grill him on all kinds of authorly secrets. He was right; it was a good place to go, even if there was a slight but steady drip of water from the skylight above me. Before leaving for the book launch we were going to, Tony took his t-shirt off, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

He brought me along the scenic route to Waterstones, and we encountered new author Nicole Burstein in a café across the road, and she came along as well. And then everyone started the game of turning their books face out on the shelves. Nicole’s bookshop past also meant she had to tidy all the book piles on the tables, and I have to admit it’s hard to resist…

Caroline Green, Rachel Ward, Joy Court and Anthony McGowan at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Laura at the Read Me Like a Book launch

More and more authors kept arriving at the shop, and even a few ordinary people. Liz Kessler, whose launch it was – for Read Me Like a Book, arrived accompanied by her wife. Before long the upstairs at Waterstones was full of guests, and after a while it was just about too crowded to move about and take photos of people, because there was always someone else ‘in the way.’ But believe me when I say they were all there.

Read Me Like a Book launch

There were drinks, and there was the most enormous cake. And you can’t celebrate a novel like this without some speeches. Orion’s Fiona Kennedy spoke of her decision to publish Liz’s book; because she ‘didn’t want anyone else to have it.’

Read Me Like a Book launch

Liz herself talked about why she wrote Read Me Like a Book, and how things on the lgbt front have changed over the last twenty years or so. She thanked all the people in her life who had made the book possible, from her former English teacher, to her wonderful agent and her publisher, to her wife.

She read a chapter from the book, where Ashleigh stays behind to talk to her English teachers, just because she needs to.

Liz Kessler at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Finally there was a short speech from Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall. And I believe there was even a little time left for the buying and signing of books

‘Extraordinary tellers of stories’

Daniel Hahn had trouble getting his tongue round the above words, but as he said, it might have been worth the wait. It was.

The witch travelled yesterday. Remind me not to do that again. Ever. There was a major IT hitch on almost all fronts on arrival in London, but if you are reading this, then it ‘solved itself.’ You know, sort of putting petrol in your mobile phone kind of thing.

OK, so you’re at Waterstones piccalilli (I thought Anne Rooney was being funny, but it seems she just suffered predictive texting) and you’re there to hear Penelope Lively and Philip Pullman tell Daniel Hahn anything he asks. Who – apart from your good self – will be in the audience? Anne Rooney was there, and so was Celia Rees, without whom I wouldn’t have known this was even on. Thank you! And then there was the lady in the row in front of me (i.e. second from the back), Judith Kerr. That’s what I call class.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

(And before I forget, please let me mention how friendly and helpful the organisers were. They were friendly and helpful. I was trying to do really weird things with tickets and then it turned out to be dead easy, and they were pleased that my friend was Anne Rooney.)

I very nearly sat down on the chairs where Penelope and Philip went to sit before going ‘on stage’ so it was lucky I didn’t. I’ve not seen Philip for almost three years. I’d hazard a guess that he hasn’t seen his barber since then either. Very cool.

In his introduction Daniel Hahn reflected that when he grows up he will become Penelope Lively. I think this was based on the fact that all three of them either are or have been something great in the Society of Authors. And he listed their books, making a wild guess that if we wanted to buy any, then Waterstones probably had them somewhere in their shop.

Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively and Daniel Hahn

Penelope seems to be proof that home education works, since that’s what she got as a child in Egypt. She read a lot. By WWII, Arthur Ransome’s books had arrived in Cairo, and all those lakes and all that rain seemed like fantasy. Later on she was sent to boarding school, where punishment for bad behaviour was an hour’s reading in the library. Both she and Philip are of the opinion that the kind of reading you do as a child is something you’ll never get back.

Philip learned how big the world is on his many trips round the globe by boat. He read the Just So stories, Noddy and comics (they were allowed in Australia, apparently), and he read Moomin in Battersea library. He needs the rythm of words, and when he’s writing he can’t tolerate music. Penelope agreed about rythm, and often reads her writing out loud to see if it works.

Penelope Lively

Her writing career came from her obsessive reading. She writes less these days, but always writes something. Philip compared the early days when he worked as a teacher all day, and still was able to write at night. Now he manages his three pages per day, but that’s it. (And no, no one asked about the Book of Dust.)

While Penelope generally knows what is going to happen in a book, Philip writes ‘in the dark’ and is quite opposed to planning. Daniel wanted to know if they are optimists, despite last week’s [political] results, and they are. Both agreed that stories are a human necessity and always will be. Both prefer paper books, and Philip pointed out it’s so difficult to dry your Kindle if you drop it in the bath, with thousands of books on it.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

Philip reckons that the good thing about the very large publishing companies we have today, is that their sheer size means there is room for smaller publishers in the holes between them. And that’s good.

Philip Pullman

Book festivals and book groups are new concepts for authors, and Philip likened author events to a roadshow, but without the possibility of filling large arenas or selling any merchandising. Although Daniel tried to suggest we could buy some HDM hats afterwards…

A book that really affected them when they were young, was a version of Robin Hood where Robin dies, for Philip, and Nicholas Nickleby for Penelope. The reason Philip introduced daemons in HDM was to make it easier to write; it was his version of Raymond Chandler’s idea of introducing a man with a gun whenever necessary.

Diversity is obviously important; it’s what you seek in books. Both to find yourself in the book, as well as learning about others. Neither of them writes a last page or chapter to use as a goal for their writing. Penelope might have an important scene, whereas Philip writes in the order you read, and he knows when he gets to the end.

He is superstitious and prefers to write at his own table, with all his ‘lucky’ things around him, although he has written in many different places too. Except in a concert hall. Penelope can write anywhere and often has done, including in airports. She quite likes to write in the garden.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

Daniel Hahn

And on that note Daniel brought things to a close, which meant that the audience got wine and an opportunity to chat with the two Ps and to have books signed. And Daniel also had his book there (which I should have thought of!) to be bought and signed.

Before returning to my temporary home to face my IT woes, I had a nice chat with Celia Rees, thanking her for her part in this evening, and saying how this is the way we like our events.

Read Me Like a Book

You get this warm glow of happiness towards the end of Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book. It takes a while for her heroine Ashleigh to find herself. At times it looks like she won’t, or if she does, that things might be grim. But this is Liz Kessler, and you’re safe with her.

This time Liz is writing for older teens, and the reason Ashleigh has problems is that she is gay. She doesn’t know when the book starts, at the beginning of her last year at college, in the Uppper Sixth. Even though she lands the desirable boy from the party she’s gone to, she’s not happy. And it takes her a while to work out why.

Liz Kessler, Read Me Like a Book

School is not much fun either. At least not until they get a new, young English teacher, and Ashleigh falls in love. But the teacher is female, and while Ashleigh’s infatuation is good for her essay writing, we know nothing lasting can come from a teacher-pupil relationship.

At times the reader and Ashleigh are both looking round at her friends and acquaintances, wondering if any of them are gay, and might be girlfriend material. Young love is generally not easy, and when you don’t know what sex to direct your longing at, it must be far worse.

Things at home are bad, with Ashleigh’s parents close to splitting up. But even that can lead to a few silver linings. You just don’t know what’s waiting for you.

I really hope Read Me Like a Book will both entertain and help young readers, whether or not they are uncertain of their sexuality. It’s a book I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard it was being published, and I can’t believe we’ve not been ready for gay YA before.

On being lovely

It’s really tough being so lovely.

When I was a student of English at university I was informed by one of my British lecturers that you should never use the word ‘nice.’ It was an insult.

But I do use it, because I find it nice (!) and useful, and intend no bad meaning when I do. It’s like ‘interesting.’ That is also a negative word. It’s the word used by the Resident IT Consultant whenever I used to cook a meal with mustard for flavouring. (He likes mustard, as do I. I just seemed to have a knack for getting it wrong.)

But ‘lovely,’ well that’s another thing. That too is bad. Maybe. When I mention someone as the ‘lovely XX’ I mean it. The real lovely, not the insult. But it does appear to be shorthand for how to seem polite while actually meaning the opposite.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Bloggers are lovely. This is how we are addressed in countless emails from publishers’ publicity departments. ‘Hello lovely bloggers!’

Blogging itself has become an ugly word in my eyes. I used to describe myself as a blogger, but these days I will use any euphemism I can, given the particular circumstances, to describe myself in some other way. I don’t want to be herded into a group of people I have little in common with (apart from the fact that we all write blogs). Nor do I want to be despised, by anyone.

I’m a writer, or I review books, or I write for Bookwitch. I don’t blog.

There is nothing – well not much – wrong with chicklit. But it is not my religion. At all. Not long ago I was informed that I am a #banshee. No, I’m not. Not even close. If you can identify the book that it is connected with, I can only apologise, and point out that this PR effort turned me right off the book in question.

I’m not playful. I’m sure you can all agree with that. I’m an old fogey, but can still read, and hopefully provide OK-ish reviews.

Was very surprised some time ago when there was a blogging award, and how one author wrote about his introduction to the blogging world, and its enormous importance, by his publisher. They may have said the bloggers are important, but that’s possibly only as true as the fact that half of us were made into banshees. Lovely banshees, but nevertheless.

What I sense when getting those ‘hello lovely bloggers’ emails is that we are a nuisance. Too many of us, too greedy for books, but can’t be ignored – yet – and might come in handy one day. And we are all young and full of fun.

Humbug.

Even my own blogging software knows I’m a writer of few brain cells. It has had a new posting page for some time (so I suppose it’s no longer new, really), which makes posting so much easier. Apparently. I took several looks at it and couldn’t work out how to do what I wanted to do and what I had been doing for eight years, and found I could still switch back to the other kind of page. But it’s getting harder and harder to get the software to allow me to revert. When I fail to remember to use the secret route there, I am greeted by a chirpy message saying ‘beep beep boop’ which drives me bonkers. And it calls out ‘lookin good!’ as though I need the reassurance, and as if it can actually read and judge these things.

Grrr.