Monthly Archives: June 2015

A little learning never hurt anyone

Bon jour!

I have come to the realisation that I may have to learn French. After all these years.

This paltry blog post and my language musings come to you courtesy of 36 hours in Geneva and very little sleep. I was requested by Daughter to accompany her there, when she went to do a little recce, as it seems she might spend the next few years there. And reccing is better done in company.

I recced a little extra while she met with important people out near the French border. The kind of place where your mobile phone believes it is in France. I got to go and look at the nice parks where you can sit in the shade of the trees, staring out across the waters of the lake. Where you can maybe have some ice cream while doing so.

In which case it helps to know if you want that ice cream in a hmm or a hmm. By default I ended up with a cone, as it seemed clear(-ish) I didn’t want the ‘other thing.’ It’s interesting being like an immigrant again, but in a situation where you don’t speak the language.

It is of course possible to speak Swedish. You can say adjö and trottoar and toalett and you’ll be quite right. But I might want to learn to string those very useful words together, to make sentences. To make sense.

This post was brought to you by Hot in Geneva.


Jeanne Willis, butter and how to draw a cow

While we’re in a farmyard mood, I was quite pleased to find the two page advert for butter in the Guardian Weekend the other weekend. Surprised, but pleased, because it featured a large photo of Bookwitch favourite Jeanne Willis.

Jeanne Willis

It left me slightly confused at first, but I gather Jeanne has written a buttery sort of children’s book about some Friesian dairy cows, called The Tale of City Sue, which most likely isn’t going to pop up in ordinary bookshops, and I don’t actually know how or where you get hold of a copy, but I do hope it ends up in the hands of many children.

Perhaps if their parents buy the right kind of butter.

It’s been illustrated by Dermot Flynn, and he offers a short lesson on how to draw a cow. I feel even I could now draw a passable cow if I needed to.

The question I am left with is whether it’s all right to write a book for advertising purposes. I think it probably is. Just the other day I was reminded of the Weetabix atlas (simply because there is still a copy of it in Mother-of-witch’s bookcase), which was pretty good. Offspring must have been at the right atlasy stage when it was available to people who ate plenty of Weetabix. We had so many tokens to use (we saved them when there was nothing we wanted, and then used them all when there was something good to order) that we got a pile of atlases for school as well.

I think what I’m saying here is that Offspring did ‘read’ that atlas a lot, and that any book that comes to a reader and is appreciated is good, even if you do have to eat Weetabix, or butter. In our case it’s not even as though we didn’t buy books, but we felt it was a good offer.

So if I could just lay my hands on The Tale of City Sue, to read about this close-knit sisterhood of dairy cows…

Where, Oh Where, is Rosie’s Chick?

I feel like I have missed the party here, but that can’t be helped. I never read the classic picture book Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie’s Chick? is described as the long-awaited sequel, and a wait of 47 years is indeed fairly long. But here it is!

Pat’s illustrations are straight out of the end 1960s or early 1970s, and are thereby highly desirable again. It’s all yellows and browns and greens, and the book made me feel strangely nostalgic.

Pat Hutchins, Where, Oh Where, Is Rosie's Chick?

Rosie has laid an egg, but as it hatches she loses her chick. Somewhere. Where is it?

I can’t decide if it’s comical, or just sweet, the way the baby chick stumbles round the farm, part of the shell still covering its eyes. There are plenty of possible dangers, but as Rosie searches frantically, the chick seems to evade its predators, who meet somewhat unexpected obstacles. Who ever heard of fish eating apples?

It is rather funny, and in the end Rosie and her baby are reunited.

What can you say?

Daughter was browsing in Toppings in St Andrews a few weeks ago, when a young teenage girl and her mother came in. The girl looked around and noticed a copy of Celia Rees’ Witch Child, which seemed to have some significance to her. So she picked it up and handed it to her mother, presumably in the hope that she’d be allowed to buy it.

The mother looked at the cover and read the blurb on the back and looked inside the book, before telling the girl it wasn’t a book for her.

So, what should this Witch’s Daughter have done? She badly wanted to tell the mother that she had just rejected a tremendously good book, and that the girl had excellent taste, and should be allowed to read what she wanted.

But she didn’t dare interfere. Perhaps rightly so.

I’d like to think if I was that mother, I was simply making a rash decision from a quick look, and that I wasn’t involved in any serious gatekeeping regarding my child. That if another young person stood there and said they loved the book, I would change my mind and buy it.

But what if she was a strongly minded gatekeeper? Then she’d look a fool, and might feel forced to either buy the book, or to stomp out of the shop in anger.

And would this kind of advice or suggestion be better coming from a ‘recent teen’ reader, or from a trustworthy adult who is also a parent?

Bridge travel miscellany

I did the unthinkable and agreed to cross Öresund on The Bridge. As the Resident IT Consultant said on the way out, it’s what normal people would do. I decided I would be as normal as I could. The reason I felt able to do it in the end was that I remembered my eyelids. They can be used for things like covering your eyes with. So it went well, -ish. I did feel him swerving rather when overtaking, and I harboured less enthusiastic thoughts about the venture at those points.

He and Daughter asked how I am with tunnels, as there is a tunnel at the end of The Bridge. I explained that vertigo is less bad in most tunnels.

At the airport I was intrigued to hear they were trying to get the family King to contact the ‘authorities.’ I do hope they found the King in the end. It’s nice that he came along.

In my suitcase I carried some well-travelled side plates. I bought them in London back in the mid-1970s and packed them carefully in my oversized ‘handbag’ to make sure they got home safely. Security poked at them and asked what they were, but that was all. The plates then came with me when I moved to England. And then, for reasons I can no longer recall, they were driven back across the North Sea (in a car on a boat, obviously) in the last fifteen years, and forgotten about.

I was happy to encounter them in a locked cupboard (maybe to prevent escape?), and covered them in bubblewrap and took them on their fourth journey, back ‘home.’

Daughter was the last to leave Bookwitch Towers before this holiday, and was unaware of the bread in the breadbin, which is why it was still there when we returned. I am impressed by how un-mouldy it was. Four slices were a bit green, but one on its own in a bag was completely free from any growth, which makes you wonder what on earth they put in it.

Generally Bookwitch Towers smells a bit fishy. No doubt we will get used to this.

The Astounding Broccoli Boy

This is a very green book. It’s also most enjoyable, but you just can’t escape the green-ness of it. Escaping being green – all over – is impossible for the two boys in this book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. His green heroes are Rory, the smallest boy in his year at school, and Tommy-Lee, the boy in his class who has bullied him every day since they started Y7. They are both as green as broccoli, and no one can work out why.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Astounding Broccoli Boy

Rory might just have tried to kill Tommy-Lee (or Grim as he called him then) with a biscuit, but he didn’t mean to.

And here they are, in a hospital isolation unit, very green, prodded daily for blood and urine and things. And then Tommy-Lee starts to sleepwalk, on the 12th floor. Naturally, Rory follows, to see what he’s doing. He discovers that they both seem to have some super powers, and they get up to some weird stuff on their nightly escapades, including teleporting, a little.

But why did this happen, and can two such different boys ever be friends? And the penguin, and the lion and the hippo; how did they end up roaming London? What could the Killer Kittens virus have to do with being green?

We meet some interesting and unexpected people, and we witness a lot of bravery, mostly well beyond Tommy-Lee’s blood sample giving (although, it depends what you are scared of, if you are to be praised for showing courage).

As always with a story by Frank, The Astounding Broccoli Boy is a lovely and thought provoking, not to mention extremely entertaining, book. It is green, though.

(According to the afterword, there really were green children once. And Frank has really teleported. Also once.)

The Last Soldier

That collection of ‘marvels’ at the small travelling carnival visiting your small town. You know, the bearded lady and a scary creature of some sort. Maybe something else. You pay and you marvel.

Keith Gray, The Last Soldier

In Keith Gray’s latest book for Barrington Stoke we meet two brothers in a small American town in the early 1920s. It’s Joe’s 15th birthday and he has been given his father’s shoes for his present. Because it’s fairly likely his father won’t need them again, and the family is so poor that Wade covets his older brother’s second hand shoes.

Their dad went to war and didn’t come back, but they are still hoping. When the carnival arrives, they beg their poor mother for permission to go and she gives them some of her last coins. Things are bad between Joe and the local bully Caleb, as there have been fights in the past.

Wade loved the ‘Marvels’ last time, so is eager to go and look at them again. The newest exhibit is The Last Soldier; supposedly the last one killed before armistice in 1918. And from the moment he sees the soldier, things don’t go well.

This is a lovely (yes, really) tale of innocence and war and poverty. It will make you think.

The attaché case

The things a witch sees when travelling…

We went into town on the bus a couple of days ago, and miraculously they had not changed anything major at all. About the buses. Apart from the timetable.

When we got into town and the bus drove round a corner, I spied a well dressed man on the pavement. He wore what Swedes wear when they want to be fairly formal, which is shirt and jacket with jeans or slacks. He looked to be about 35, so not old. Not young, either.

On his head he wore a sort of bicycle helmet, and looking back, I can almost swear it was turquoise. And, between his lower legs was a turquoise attaché case. It moved. I.e. he rode the attaché case along the pavement.

I thought maybe this could be a common occurence here, but judging by the reaction of the young girls behind me, I’d have to say not.

When I told the Resident IT Consultant about it, he felt it was a bit like Terry Pratchett’s The Luggage. Only more turquoise.

Lost on Mars

I have never been this fond of a sunbed ever before. And I just know that either something bad will happen to Toaster, or he will be turned rogue.

The story of Lost on Mars could be straight out of Doctor Who, without the Doctor. This is not so strange, really, as Paul Magrs has written some Whovian books as well. The first in a trilogy, Lost on Mars left me feeling very scared, but determined to find out what happens next. I’m quite certain I know more than Lora, the main character, even though she’s excellent heroine material. And that makes me more scared still.

Paul Magrs, Lost on Mars

Life on Mars is harsh, and we meet third generation Lora and her family – and Toaster – as they try to survive as settlers on the Martian prairie. The setting is very American West, and mixed with the science fiction aspect of space travel it also reminded me of Chaos Walking.

When too many people have Disappeared, and Lora suspects the Martians (yes, they exist) will come for her and the others as well, she takes her family on a journey to find somewhere new and safer to live. She’s only 14, but she shoulders her duties like an adult.

The travelling is hard, and often bad, but arriving is worse. What is the City Inside? There is no way you can guess the direction this will go. I simply hope for good after the bad.

2015 in Charlotte Square

Will there be enough of me? I don’t mean mass as such (which you well know there is plenty of), but energy, and determination? I have learned to look at any new programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival with caution. None of this immediate euphoria over a fantastic line-up of authors, with no questions asked.

When the programme went public yesterday I threw myself over the pdf – and Daughter sat next to me with her own pdf programme – to see who was coming. The resident IT Consultant said it sounded like a game of Mornington Crescent, the way names were lobbed into the middle of the room.

If it was, I don’t know who won.

I already know who I won’t be seeing, as I’ve not planned to be ‘at home’ for the first four days. So, sorry to ‘beastly ‘ Guy Bass, Lari Don, Cathy Forde and Sally Gardner. I won’t go green with Frank Cottrell Boyce or imagine anything with Cathy Cassidy. No Silver Skin with Joan Lennon, and absolutely no saving the planet with Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. Or the name is Cole, Steve Cole.

I might have to cry.

Debi Gliori - Edinburgh International Book Festival

However, I should be able to see Hilary McKay in action for the first time! Debi Gliori is Illustrator in Residence this year, so can hopefully be found almost ‘at all times.’ Michael Grant is back (I think he likes us) and so is Philip Ardagh and Sarah McIntyre and Elen Caldecott.

Tim Bowler is appearing with Sam Hepburn, which is a definite yippee, and Patrick Ness should be good. Allan Burnett will talk history, and Roy Gill and Paul Magrs have their own worlds to discuss. Teenage stress with Nicola Morgan will be great. (You know what I mean.)

Joe Friedman, Oliver Jeffers and Eoin Colfer are also coming (and so far I’ve not checked who will clash with whom, thereby making my plans impossible…) Liz Kessler and Tom Palmer, Darren Shan and Derek Landy are all going to tempt me. The new children’s laureate will compete with Andy Mulligan (timewise; not in any kind of fight), and Phil Earle and Jenny Valentine bring up the rear, so to speak.

I also believe there will be a few adult authors doing talks over the 2+ weeks. But – for me – the children’s authors rule. Always.