Monthly Archives: September 2015

Bloody Scotland 2015

Bear with me. There will be more later, about bloody lovely authors and their bloody fantastic books, and this bloody crime festival we now have in Stirling.

My bloody sandwiches have been packed. And so, I hope, is everything else I need, to bring you the best from Bloody Scotland.

I really hope it won’t rain. I know, the events are indoors, but it brightens my soul when it’s warm and sunny, and I’ve got sort of used to that.

See you later,

Bloody Scotland

The Girl Who Broke the Rules

Marnie Riches’ ‘Girl’ really does break rules. A lot. The first novel was exceptionally good. So is this one, as long as I can manage not to dwell on the actual murders in too much detail. They are far more gruesome than those bodies blown to bits in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. Proceed with caution. And do keep in mind that George swears a lot, comes from a rough background, and is actually still only 24 years old.

She’s the most fantastic of heroines. I’d like her to be more sensible occasionally, but then she’d not be the George McKenzie we love.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Broke the Rules

In Amsterdam immigrant women are being murdered in a way I’d rather not describe here. And van den Bergen is unwell, he misses George, and he needs her to come and help solve this case. But she’s busy, and can’t get permission to travel, and she misses him too, and is troubled by her – lack of – feelings for her boyfriend.

As in the first book, aspects of George’s life in England have a bearing on the Amsterdam murders. It’s simply that she has a rich background to draw from, and it’s hard to work out what and who. If there’s a pervert out there, George will know him.

Very cliffhangery sort of cliffhanger at the end. There will be a third book. I’d rather not speculate on how Marnie will kill her victims in that one.

(Buy the ebook here.)

The Tattooed Heart

The Tattooed Heart is the second Messenger of Fear novel by Michael Grant. I hadn’t read the first one, except for the first chapter, which came as part of the press release, I think. So I sort of had an inkling what it was about.

Michael Grant, The Tattooed Heart

I wasn’t inkled enough, though, I’d say. It didn’t go in the direction I’d imagined, and from the second novel I could almost deduce what must have happened, so I didn’t feel left out. (It seems that Mara, who is the main character, did something bad, and she is being punished for this by acting as the Messenger’s assistant, when he goes round the world finding more people who have done bad stuff, and sort of help even out the score a bit.)

It’s not so much horror, as political/social, with a supernatural twist. Mara and Messenger can move back and forth in time and place, witnessing what happens, or has happened to people, like the half dead drug user they encounter one night.

I was both pleased (I suppose as seen from the victim of unfairness point of view) and horrified (the Play or Pay deal is rather off-putting) in equal measures over what Mara and Messenger do. It’s thought-provoking, and it deals well with looking at cause and effect in a way we don’t often get in fiction. I liked that. The tit for tat is more disturbing, but then so were the underground worm creatures in Gone.

Very different from Michael’s other books, but it’s good to go outside the norm. And in a way I do wish I knew exactly how Mara did the bad she did in book one. Although I might not like her if I did.

Liberty’s Fire

Lydia Syson’s Liberty’s Fire is set during a most interesting historical period. My ignorance showed itself again, but I’d like to think I’ve picked up a few facts about the French Third Republic now.

They had a lot of empires and republics in France back then, and in the history classroom I recall feeling bewildered by them all, and they were hard to keep apart when all you might read is a few paragraphs before you move on to the next Napoleon, or whatever.

Lydia Syson, Liberty's Fire

Liberty’s Fire takes place mainly in 1871 during the brief Paris Commune. Young Zéphyrine is poor and doesn’t even know how to pay for her grandmother’s funeral. She meets violinist Anatole, and they fall in love. Zéphyrine gets involved with the communards and she shows Anatole how things might be. He, in turn, educates her a little in cultural matters, and introduces her to his photographer flatmate Jules, and to Marie, who sings at the theatre.

War and revolution are the main characters in this book. The hopes people have for the commune and the hate and violence from its enemies are striking. There is much bloodshed and cruelty, but also friendships and solidarity, the latter reminding me of the early 1970s.

There is also a tender love story nestling in this book, although not the obvious one between Anatole and Zéphyrine.

This is an excellent history lesson, mixed with romance.

The stool

I have a little stool. It’s only a pine Ikea stool, which has a past as a car and a train and all sorts of things, and is now rather dirty and worn. One day I will paint it or stain it and make it look as good as new again.

Because I need it. I’m short, and many things I need in my room or around the house are a little further north than is comfortable. So to have an ex-train which is easy to carry where it is needed, is excellent.

Except, my room also has far too few surfaces on which to put the incoming books. The ordinary sized books will find themselves reshelved to some temporary place fairly quickly. After all, if I left them on the bed I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

But those picture books… They are large and heavy and when a few of them get together, they are larger and heavier still. They are also harder to put somewhere else when sleep beckons. So they go and sit on the little stool, which handily stands just there, and has the necessary surface on which to put large books.

This means I no longer have that useful tool the stool to get me closer to all those other things I need.

I wonder if two stools would be the answer?

Book’s in the post

When those lovely picture books arrive, the postman will huff and puff until he somehow gets rid of the book. Usually not through the hole in the door, which is better suited to bills and love letters.

So I think it’s a great idea to shrink the picture book a little, until it will go in the post like almost everything else.

Debi Gliori’s The Tobermory Cat has been turned into a postal book. What that means is that the formerly normal sized picture book now looks more like an over-enthusiastic greetings card. You write the address on the cover. You add a message (You’d better enjoy this book!) and stick a stamp on, and post. And it will fit the openings of both the red postbox on the corner of the street, as well as the lucky recipient’s front door or roadside letterbox.

It is a little smaller. Quite a bit smaller, in fact. But somehow you don’t notice, because the book looks just as nice as the original. It’s just as easy to read. And if you have a dozen nieces and nephews or grandchildren; just get the same number of books and post away.

Debi Gliori, The Tobermory Cat

(If someone could advise what I should do, I’d be most grateful. 1) Keep the sweet little thing. 2) Send it to some nice child somewhere.)

No Mog?

What if there had been no Mog? What if Judith Kerr’s parents hadn’t been allowed to settle in Britain?

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is perhaps not the most harrowing of refugee books, as the Kerr family at least had – some – money and were able to travel together, and Judith wasn’t sent alone on a train with hundreds of other children.

But I’m grateful for the books she’s written. As I am for Eva Ibbotson’s books, and those by many others.

There is one thought I have when I’ve got this far, though, and that is ‘what about the countless marvellous books/paintings/other kinds of work the world could have benefitted from if more people had been able to leave 1930s Germany?

Welcome?

I often say I’m the kind of immigrant that people like or want. I could be wrong. It was never easy being allowed into the UK, but it was possible, and required only a phone call to the British embassy in Stockholm, payment of a fee, a plane ticket to London, a conversation with the immigration officer at Heathrow (who was mainly interested in where the future Resident IT Consultant came from – like was he another ghastly foreigner, importing more of his foreign kind into the country?), another discussion with an unpleasant customs officer, followed much later by a day at Lunar House in Croydon with all the other hopefuls. And much much later an interview with a council employee (who rather suspected I’d be importing all my foreign relatives if she wasn’t strict with me) to get my NI number.

But I got in, and I have stayed.

And here I have read many books about the plight of people in the 1930s who fled their countries and ended up in Britain, and survived because of it. There are the books, and then there are the authors, who wouldn’t be here today were it not for someone getting permission to enter back then. Now there are people here who actually are proud of this, even though there was hostility at the time.

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is another foreigner who must have managed this move as well, since he now lives in the UK. He’s blonder than me, so was possibly more welcome.

By now it appears that Patrick has caused hundreds of thousands of pounds to be donated in aid of the refugees, whose fate we see in the news at the moment.

Just think, in 2095 there could be people who will proudly say how happy they are that Britain welcomed these scared and desperate human beings in 2015. Because it’s what good countries do.

(Here is where you can donate to Save the Children and join Derek Landy and John Green.)

The #17 profile – Ruth Eastham

I like Ruth Eastham. I like her books, too, and now she has a new one out – The Jaguar Trials – which I’ve not yet had time to read. So while you wait to hear more about that, you can see what Ruth had to say in reply to my author profile questions. She definitely wins the prize for most succinct and to the point answers!!! Very efficient.

Ruth Eastham

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

Two, including this one:

Ruth Eastham, The Good Fairy

Best place for inspiration?

Anywhere with a view of the sea.

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

Yes. No.

What would you never write about?

Never say never!

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

Mackerel fishing on a boat to Skomer Island.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Yara from The Jaguar Trials.

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

Good!

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

Did you arrive by private jet then?!

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Gecko spotting.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Author Henning Mankell.

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

By type.

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

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

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

Writing.’

I’d not be surprised if Ruth really jetted in on a private plane. More surprised about the geckos. And that very early book The Good Fairy looks quite promising…

Putting the Edinburgh 2015 bookfest to bed

Charlotte Square

It’s time to put the finishing touches to my book festival bits and pieces report. If I can even remember what I did and who I saw. If I can even find my notes (Although, I can always make things up.)

The first few days I had my photographer, until she went and left the country. It’s understandable. I’m a hard witch to go gallivanting with.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Then I was on my own, holding pen in one hand (except for when the ink ran dry) and pad in the other, and my camera in my third hand. But it worked, more or less. My first photocall I couldn’t remember who I’d come for, although I recognised Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when I saw her.

Chris Close

And I was pleased to ‘meet’ Nicola Sturgeon and see her selfie skills at first hand. I came to the conclusion that to make your event sell out like Roy Gill’s, you create a Facebook event and invite everyone, even your second cousin in New Zealand.

Nicola Sturgeon and Val McDermid

One day I travelled into Edinburgh in the company of Helen Grant, who was going to the Teen Titles event at the library. In actual fact, an awful lot of authors were going to that, and more still would have gone had they not had book festival events. Crazy Kirkland Ciccone went as some kind of Andy Warhol meets Boris Johnson in a beret. I had the opportunity of admiring Nicola Morgan’s shoes, which is a not inconsiderable experience.

DSCN7691

Saturday gave me Eoin Colfer and the ducks.

EIBF ducks

For my last day I made a list of events to go to, official photocalls I was interested in and the unofficial opportunities of catching authors signing after events I’d been to and events I’d been unable to go to. I colour coded them, and had three columns, in strict chronological order, and I still had to refer back to it again and again because I got muddled up. I needed to identify breaks long enough to eat in, and got confused because it looked like the hour I was in an event, I’d be free to have lunch, and then worked out that wasn’t the case at all.

How nice it would be to be less old.

Which brings me neatly to my discovery when I got home and checked Google images to see what Sarah Ardizzone looks like, as I saw several people at her translation event and didn’t know which one was her. She turned out to be the one I’d taken a photo of in the signing tent that day, just because she happened to be sitting there with author Marjolaine Leray, next to Liz Kessler.

Sarah Ardizzone

Marjolaine Leray

Liz Kessler

Luckily some authors spend forever signing books. This helps people like me catch up with them, when I would otherwise have missed them, in the midst of that colour coded list with not enough food breaks. Francesca Simon is one, and she was there with Steven Butler.

Francesca Simon

Steven Butler

Lauren St John

Lauren St John is another long signer, very popular with her fans, as is Tom Palmer who is clearly doing something right with his sports novels.

Tom Palmer

I had ignored the name Gordon Brown on the photocall list, assuming that since I’d seen the politician last summer, it was bound to be the crime novelist this time. But it was the former PM, and I even caught him signing after his popular event, shaking the hands of everyone in the queue.

Gordon Brown

Chris Riddell made a second appearance that day, this time with his long time writing partner Paul Stewart.

Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart

Before I ran for (OK, hobbled towards) my train home, I photographed the still very cute Christophe Galfard, physicist and former PhD student of Stephen Hawking.

Christophe Galfard