Monthly Archives: May 2015

Pike

Anthony McGowan had his work cut out to write another book about his two characters from Brock, that would be anywhere near as good. I adored Brock and its lovely badger, and the two brothers Kenny and Nicky. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure it was possible to return to the same world and write more.

He did it, though, and Pike is every bit as wonderful, and I’m so pleased for dyslexic readers in particular, who now have this marvellous story to look forward to as well.

Anthony McGowan, Pike

Kenny and Nicky go fishing in the nearby pond – where there is a gruesome, but funny story about a naked boy and a giant pike – and they get wet, as boys do. Nicky also thinks he’s found ‘treasure’ and plans to go back for it. Cue more stupid ideas and much more getting wet and dirty. He knows he needs to keep Kenny safe, but in the end Kenny is the smart one.

Pike features more of the local crooks, people who drop out of society for various reasons, and also shows why we need our libraries. Nice to see Anthony fitting that into his story. And there is their missing mum and what might have happened.

This is just so heart-warming and satisfying! It’s good to see someone like Nicky look out for both his difficult older brother, and their yappy, annoying dog. You love them because they are yours. Like we love Pike, because he is ours.

My Mum might be a Gorilla…

It’s easy to despair of the lack of translated books, sometimes. There’s the xenophobia, and I suppose lack of money for publishers. Maybe. But for every iffy homegrown book, there might be a tremendously good foreign book, just waiting to be translated.

Frida Nilsson, Apstjärnan

SELTA, the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, have a blog, and recently Fiona Graham, one of their members, published her sample translation of a chapter from Frida Nilsson’s Apstjärnan, under the title My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? and I have to say I love the title, and I really enjoyed reading it. Yes, I know I could read the whole book in the original, but I didn’t know about it until I read the SELTA blog.

What could beat a gorilla teaching a small girl how to drive? Ridiculous, funny, entertaining. I can’t drive. Should I get a gorilla to help?

Occasionally I email publishers and suggest foreign books they might look at. I think it’s a losing battle, but every now and then I feel strongly enough to do it anyway.

The book-launching mug

‘That doesn’t look like a book’ said the Resident IT Consultant as he brought in the post.

I looked at the square box and concluded he was right. ‘It’s a mug,’ I said. I knew this because Lucy Coats had very generously said she’d send me one of her special mugs to celebrate the publication of her new novel Cleo. And a witch can easily use a fabulous mug like this one. (Quite handy, actually. I don’t believe there is a single non-sawdusty drinking vessel in the whole house.)

Lucy Coats, Cleo & mug

Once I had negotiated all that parcel tape, however, I could see I had been both right and wrong. There was a book as well.

Very much looking forward to a read and some tea.

Cinnamon buns for Theresa

The things I do for Theresa Breslin! At the moment, as you may be aware, I’m in the process of having a new kitchen put in. By now I actually live in hope that it could be finished one day. Not this day, certainly, but some kind of day. This year.

A couple of years ago I was in touch with Theresa just before the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and she generously suggested buying me tea somewhere nearby. But then I felt too exhausted and cancelled all plans for Edinburgh, and there could be no tea.

To make up for what must have been a dreadful disappointment for Theresa, I mentioned we were about to relocate Bookwitch Towers to Scotland, and she must come and have coffee and cinnamon buns at my – new – place. ‘Soon.’

Yeah, right. It takes a while to move, and once you have moved you need to unpack. While my ‘new’ kitchen wasn’t perfect, it could have assisted me in the baking of cinnamon buns. But I had no time. And then the oven died, and there could be no baking. Instead there were hasty plans for a new kitchen a little sooner than intended.

So that’s where we are now. Almost at the point where cinnamon buns could be planned, and made. I bet Theresa’s holding her breath…

This is Not a Love Story

Now I want to move to Amsterdam, and I speak as someone who has long been slightly anti-Amsterdam, without ever having got closer to it than the airport.

Keren David, This is Not a Love Story

This romantic – while not a love story – novel by Keren David is rather nice. A bit like Amsterdam, if Keren can be trusted, and I’m sure she can, since she lived there for quite a few years and knows what she’s writing about. Add to that a lively and likeable heroine, Kitty, and the two boys she ‘quite likes.’

As well as the romance and life in Amsterdam, Keren has written the most Jewish teen novel I’ve ever come across. It’s only as you read it that you realise how unusual this is. Both Kitty and Theo are recently displaced Londoners. Kitty is ‘a bit Jewish’ while Theo’s parents are very strongly traditional and Jewish. That causes problems, while also being a bit of a safety net at the same time.

Ethan, on the other hand, is only half Jewish, and not religious at all. Not that this would have saved him in the war, though.

All three have backgrounds that they don’t speak openly about, and all of them seem to feel freer for being in Amsterdam. Kitty goes so far as to come up with a new persona for her new home city. That’s something I think we all dream of; moving somewhere new where we can be wonderfully new and different and better and exciting. As if…

For a while I wondered if the reference to Love Story was significant, but won’t say more about that here. Suffice to say that this is a slightly different story on that old theme of love and friendship. You might think you know where it is going, but you’d probably be wrong.

Meanwhile I’ll be moving to Amsterdam.

The drawbacks of being Scottish

Well, I’m not, obviously. But some people are.

There are good books being published by Scottish publishers, written by Scottish authors or authors resident in Scotland, sometimes actually about something Scottish. But not always.

It makes a great deal of sense to highlight the Scottish aspect of these books when you do PR in Scotland. We all like to buy homegrown, be it haggis from the next field or whatever. Nearby is good. Fresher. More like you. Just look at how the voting in Eurovision is done.

But that’s not to say that the Scottish author and his/her book does not travel well, or that no one outside Scotland would ever want to read a Scottish book. It’s not all tartans and heather and ‘och aye.’ Scottish authors are just as capable of writing books that will appeal to people all over the world as, say, J K Rowling. (Oh. She wrote the Harry Potter books in Scotland, you say?)

Scotland has about five million inhabitants, while the UK is more than ten times that, and as for the number of people in the rest of the world who can read books in English, that’s a wee bit larger still.

I spoke to a Scottish author recently. One who writes marvellous books, and which as far as I can tell are not particularly Scottish (any more so than a novel set in Newcastle would be deemed suitable only for the good people of that city). Anyway, this author told me of speaking to booksellers south of the border, and they were puzzled. Because they didn’t stock these books, and the reason they didn’t, was that the publicity had been such as to suggest ‘tartan books to be read in Scotland only.’ Sigh…

So, when selling at home, do point out it’s by ‘one of our own’ and when selling anywhere else, say it’s the best book ever. Maybe that the author lives in Scotland, like J K.

Ye ken?

Silver Skin

The first thing I had to do after finishing Joan Lennon’s Silver Skin, was to look up Skara Brae. Like her character Rab, I learned a bit about it at school, even though it is Scottish history. Like Rab, I listened and didn’t understand and never bothered to stop and think, or to try and learn more. Now I am wondering how I can fit in a trip to Orkney, and if I can possibly avoid being seasick.

The difference between me and Rab is that he comes from a long time in the future. Earth is crowded and no one has much space, but they do have technology. And Rab and his built-in Com decide to travel to Orkney in the past – they already sort of live on Orkney, but in a tower stack high above the ground – to 1850 to be precise.

Naturally something goes wrong, and what was meant to be two hours in 1850 becomes a very long time in Stone Age Skara Brae, with Rab’s travelling silver skin and his Com being damaged on impact, when he falls out of the sky.

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin

Now, I apologise for my historical shortcomings, but I read this book not quite sure when the Stone Age was, apart from quite a long time ago. It was only as I looked up Skara Brae that I realised it was that long ago. 4000 years, give or take. Slightly different from 1850.

Rab is injured and taken into the home of Cait, who herself is an outsider, having been rescued and brought up by Old Woman Voy. Once he has healed, all Rab can think of is returning home, but only after he has collected as much information about this odd place as possible, so he can show off.

But you know, silver skins are hard to repair, and he falls in love with Cait, and…

We learn much about how life back then could have been. It’s so very interesting, while in no way making this novel anything but a fabulous read. I raced through it; both wanting to know what everyday Skara Brae was like, and what would happen to Rab and Cait.

Many thanks to Joan for educating an ignorant witch.

Shola and the Lions

Oh to be a lion! I mean, if you are a dog, it might seem attractive to be a lion instead.

Bernardo Atxaga and Mikel Valverde, Shola and the Lions

In Bernardo Atxaga’s Shola and the Lions, with charming illustrations by Mikel Valverde, Shola – who is a dog – hears about lions, and immediately realises that that’s what he is. He has never really been a dog. It’s been a misunderstanding.

Grogó, Shola’s owner, had a visitor who left behind a book on lions, and Shola keeps checking the facts in this book. He’s right! He is a lion!

This basque story, which is part of Pushkin’s translated children’s books, is sweet and funny. Grogó doesn’t quite understand why his dog has gone a bit funny. But then Shola goes out, being a bit of a lion, and, well, it doesn’t seem a total success, exactly. Dogness can be good, too.

Better than a goldfish

New babies can, but some can better than others. When Daughter was born she arrived bearing a gift. Her brother was delighted with his new road mat, which was just what he wanted. Whereas, in this New Royal Baby book by Martha Mumford, with more of those cute illustrations by Ada Grey, it seems the New Royal Baby gives Royal Baby George a goldfish.

Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, Hooray! It's a New Royal Baby!

OK, so he did want a goldfish, but it doesn’t take long for him to discover how boring they can be, swimming around the same way over and over again.

In Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby! we witness Royal Baby George’s doubts over this brotherhood business. It’s quite possible that the New Royal Baby will dribble all over his favourite toy dinosaur. Better with no New Royal Baby at all.

But once the boring goldfish has been ignored again, Royal Baby George discovers that the New Royal Baby is actually a lot of fun.

Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, Hooray! It's a New Royal Baby!

Even for non-royal children this book might help with the transition of having someone new join the family.

A big welcome to the New Princess! (Although I do think a road mat would have been better.)

Azzi a second time

I can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I reviewed Azzi In Between. I don’t often review books a second time, and I won’t here either, as you can follow the link and see what I said then.

Sarah Garland’s book is out in paperback now, and what with the election looming and everything else that sometimes feels overwhelmingly bad, I need to mention Azzi again.

There are all these powers (-to-be, in some cases) who expect nothing good to come of immigration and refugees. Many who don’t want any strangers coming here at all. Because we are all so nice here and no one else can possibly be worthy of our paradise. Nice, apart from me, because I’m not from here.

The book about Azzi is one that has stayed with me. In my mind, as well as physically sitting on my shelf. We need to see that people need to leave the place they consider to be home. They don’t come here for what they can get, unless that is to survive.

Next week, please vote sensibly. And always, please welcome those who are scared and in danger and have nowhere else to go. If you find your imagination isn’t up to this, I suggest you read After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross. That way you too can be a refugee.