Monthly Archives: April 2016

Well, what a surprise!

What surprises me is that people are surprised. The Resident IT Consultant discovered an online Guardian article about foreign students at the University of Stirling. He found it interesting, and was only marginally disgusted by its accompanying photo, of a red London bus on Westminster Bridge in London. I thought that was the kind of rookie mistake made by foreigners, not Guardian editors.

So students come over here expecting it to be pretty much like it was at home. And it is, if you’re European. Sort of. It will be almost the same, unlike how it is for those from much further afield. But it will still be different. I believe that even somewhere small like Malta has ‘regional’ differences, and Sweden obviously has them, as does the UK. You can generally go somewhere in your own country where they eat funny food and speak in a way that forces you to ask again.

But then the natives that these students lived and studied with were also a bit odd, not grasping that a foreigner won’t know everything; that in their country they might not have (oh horror of horrors!) mince pies. The foreigner might politely decline eating them for years, believing the pies to be meaty (well, they were, originally). So you could explain a few things. And you, the visitor, could ask a few more questions.

I do agree with this article’s findings on [Stirling] public transport. It is very hard to find out about tickets and routes and all the rest.

As for what you wear when you go out, and whether that night out starts or ends at three am, is another matter. Ask. Adapt. Or avoid. By all means, be disappointed by the lack of your favourite food in the new place, if you must.

Having a favourite Blue Peter presenter is something else, however, covered in this article on not being quite the same as others. The half this, half something else. I have two of those myself, and whereas Offspring fit in best in Britain, they are not as ‘normal’ as those who are completely home made. Nor do they fit 100% in the other place.

I can talk Blue Peter reasonably well. Not only did I watch with Offspring for years, but as a student I benefitted from living with the G family, who had a Blue Peter aged child. I never quite got it, but it was a lot easier than Doctor Who.

Basically, though, we are all strange.

Go somewhere else, and see how your normality evaporates. Only a few weeks ago, a mortified Daughter quickly opted to order the Easter Bonnet at the local café, rather than have me continue my interrogation of the waitress as to what it actually was. (She did ask me to ask..!) That was no digestive biscuit, and that was definitely no teacake.

Oh, there is another kind of teacake???

How was I supposed to know?

I love you, Barrington Stoke

Did I mention my feelings for Barrington Stoke before? Can’t be said often enough.

I have got to the stage where I could happily read nothing but Barrington Stoke books. Well, almost. There are a few people whose ‘ordinary’ books I do want to read, as well, but if fate intervened and I was told I could only read Barrington Stoke, I’d not exactly be suffering.

Why are they so good? My current theory is that it’s because Barrington Stoke commission books from authors; be they long established, or more recent. None of this sitting in the garret for the authors, writing, hoping to be published, fearing they might not be.

Already published authors are rejected far too often these days. Even very good ones. And here I mean good authors, and good books. Perhaps because they don’t happen to fit the very latest image of what a publisher is trying to do. Never mind that readers are waiting for the next book from those whose work they have enjoyed previously.

And maybe because small is beautiful? There have been slightly more ‘normal’ length novels coming my way recently, by which I mean 200-250 pages. I rejoice every time. Longer is not better.

Barrington Stoke certainly know how to publish a marvellous story in 85 pages or thereabouts, without making you feel as if you’re being sold short. As the books are both brief and – for me – easy to read, I have more time for more stories by more authors. It’s a win-win situation.

A couple of weeks ago I began reading a 500p adult crime novel, which I’d looked forward to. It was intended as a treat. I gave up on it after a few chapters. Yes, maybe it would have got more interesting, but I couldn’t help feeling that it ought to have started interestingly, if it had such intentions. Besides, I had loads more books to choose from, and the next in line was a Barrington Stoke, and it delivered 100% satisfaction.

So that was proper long adult novel 0 – children’s short dyslexia friendly book 1. This happens a lot. 💜

The Calling

I enjoyed this book enormously. Philip Caveney’s new novel The Calling is an exciting and hilarious caper across Edinburgh, Philip’s new home city, and Manchester, his soon-to-be former home.

Philip Caveney, The Calling

It’s not often that I can recognise a pub from a short description of its exterior, but I had no trouble identifying the green tiled building that the main character Ed vaguely remembers, which is about the only thing he does recall. He seems to be suffering from amnesia, so has no idea who he is or how he ended up in Edinburgh, with no train ticket and no money. And life’s not made any easier when Ed finds himself awake at night, the only human in a city full of statues who have come to life for 24 hours.

The statues name the 13-year-old Ed, after Edinburgh, and the majority of them want to chop his head off to make sure he stays quiet.

This is fascinating stuff, and after meeting the characters who usually stand so silently all over Edinburgh, I’d quite like to walk round the city and say hello. (This could be a touristy sort of book, seducing young readers into wanting to look at the sights, whilst teaching them history.)

Anyway, some of the more sympathetic statues reckon Ed needs help and who better to assist than Sherlock Holmes? Sherlock is a crafty old – well, actually, fairly recent – statue, who’s got plenty of tricks up his deerstalker, and he and Ed start unravelling the mystery of the Softie who stayed awake.

At the risk of offending old Sir William, pardon, Walter Scott, I’d not heard of Peveril of the Peak as anything other than a Manchester pub. But we live and learn. With the help of James Clerk Maxwell, and a small terrier called Bobby, Ed and Sherlock engage in some sleuthing as well as a spot of portal hopping.

It’s a surprisingly likely story in the end. Except possibly for what goes on in Chorlton, but that’s Chorlton for you. You need to be more circumspect.

Elementary, my dears.

(Fledgling Press are onto something good here, I reckon. This is Philip’s fourth Edinburgh-based book, and I can see how attractive an idea this is, for local readers, as well as for visitors. And the Scotland-Manchester combo is one I find suits me.)

Caledonian calendar coincidence

In the hope that we as a family will at least sometimes know what the others are doing or planning, we have a shared online calendar. I was reluctant to begin using it, but am slowly getting better.

Putting Daughter’s recent flight times in, it appeared that she’d be flying out at almost the same time as her brother and Dodo, until I saw that the airports weren’t the same. Anyway, airborne simultaneously.

Then I went to put my own dates in for this week, and discovered that on the date next to my entry for the Caledonian sleeper back to Scotland, was Son’s (and Dodo’s) sleeper back to Scotland. Very narrow escape! Just think what it would have been like for them to discover that the old witch was available to cramp their style.

As I burrowed down for a second short sleep after breakfast (my train was running late) I pondered the softness of the mattress, and wondered how I could have forgotten this.

Now that we are all back, I have an explanation as to why my night was better than expected. Seems they have new mattresses, and new pillows (2 per bed), and they are actually comfy. Might even try this again.

As for the calendar, I found the Resident IT Consultant had beaten me to it. Wednesday morning we have ‘arch’ at ten o’clock. Not what I’d have said, but it works.

London Book Fair

I made my London Book Fair debut this week. You already know why I was in London, and I happened to have an afternoon that needed filling with something, and it seemed silly not to test the waters at Kensington Olympia now, rather than travel to London specially for it, without knowing whether it’d be for me, or not.

Because that’s what I’d been told; that it’s not for the likes of me. Didn’t matter how many nice and supportive people said the opposite, when it was one person’s comment that stayed in my mind. Because I believe it was said on the basis that bloggers are wee little things who like reading books and reviewing them. Nothing about the bigger picture, or meeting up with book people in general.

In the end I didn’t see many people I knew at all. Partly because I’d not planned ahead – which I will do next time – either as regards arranging to meet, or to check what talk will be on where and when.

Mary Hoffman at London Book Fair

As I arrived I could hear a voice that sounded like it belonged to Mary Hoffman, and it did. And there she was, at Author HQ, talking to an audience about Author Collectives. I saw her briefly afterwards, lovely red hair and – I swear, purple lipstick – as she and husband Stephen Barber ran for something or other, hands full.

I wandered round the Children’s Publishing area upstairs, and with hindsight I understand it wasn’t merely full of people and companies I know, because it was mainly children’s publishers only, not the ones who do everything. So I saw Usborne’s sweet little ‘house,’ and I saw Andersen, with an active Klaus Flugge chatting to someone in the corner.

Andersen Press at London Book Fair

The next event at Author HQ was hopeful authors pitching their books to agents, which I only stayed briefly for. Eavesdropped a bit on another talk on non-author based books, which had a big and attentive audience, which is why I stayed on the sidelines.

Author pitch at London Book Fair

What I wish I could have caught, but was too late for, were events with Daniel Hahn, something else on children’s publishing until 2020, and the star turn of the day, Judith Kerr in conversation with Nicolette Jones. (I did run into Nicolette at the Barbican in the evening, so found out it had been good, that Judith had trended on Twitter – and that she had had to ask what this meant – and that she had refused the wheelchair laid on by her publishers on account of her recent hip operation, but Judith preferred to walk next to the wheelchair…)

FCB tea

I understand that by the third afternoon the LBF would be quieter, and it was certainly nothing like it is in Gothenburg, say, where you can’t move for people. I was offered the opportunity of winning a Kindle or an iPad, and for some reason I declined this… Maybe I could have won?

Had a cup of tea from what I will now think of as Frank Cottrell Boyce’s little moneyspinner; the FCB Artisan Espresso Bar. (It’s probably got nothing at all to do with Frank.)

Walking foot at London Book Fair

I happen to know that a reasonable number of people I know were there on Thursday. It’s just that I didn’t know where. Or when. As I said, I could have found out, had I not left it until the last moment to decide to go. I witnessed a girl carrying her head in her hand, and there was a padded foot walking about with its minder. Which was nice.

Kensington Olympia

The glass topped building of Olympia is beautiful, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it empty one day, the better to appreciate it. I walked up a purple staircase, and decided it was so tall that I’d get the lift down… There were men pushing those big trolleys around that you see in films, where they hide the corpses. Here I suspect it was mainly rubbish, and not lots of dead bodies.

Speaking of which, I glanced at some of the LBF publications lying around and learned that there is a new Albert Campion being published, not written by Margery Allingham. And I don’t know what I think of that…

Teary about Terry

When Terry Pratchett discussed his inevitably upcoming memorial with his assistant Rob Wilkins, the one thing he wished for was to be there. He was, in as much as we all had him in our hearts last night. We talked about him. And there were a number of heartstoppingly bearded men in black, wearing hats in the bar outside the Barbican theatre. But those fans have always been there. It’s just that on the other occasions, so has Terry.

Terry Pratchett memorial ticket

Why I was included on the guest list for this outstandingly special memorial, I don’t know. But there I was. And as we were warned not to take photos or have our mobiles on, or we might end up a bit dead, I didn’t, and we didn’t, and it was mostly too dark to see to write notes, so I’ll make up a few things now instead. There was a choir. There was a display of all of Terry’s books travelling through a time glass.

Terry Pratchett: From birth to death, a writer

Lord Vetinari kicked off – after the death threats – by thanking Terry from all his characters for putting them in his books before they ended up in someone else’s books.

After a long-wished-for opportunity to utter the words ‘do not let me detain you’ to Vetinari,  Rob was there to speak for the family, introducing others, including Terry’s daughter Rhianna. There were people from Terry’s past (whom I might have known if I knew more). There was a coven of Terry’s three editors; Philippa Dickinson, Anne Hoppe and Jennifer Brehl. Only once did Philippa fear she’d gone too far in suggesting a change in one of the books, but whereas Terry wouldn’t go so far as to say she had been right, he could see some merit in what she said.

Dried Frog Pills

Larry Finlay, MD of Transworld, told about the reports Terry used to send after every author tour; what the bookshops had been like, and the hotels. You could get a four and a half star rating (frozen peas provided for his aching signing hand), but never five. And the ‘first’ hotel of the country was so bad he could well believe it was. Old floorboards, and so on.

And then there was Steeleye Span. You could hear the collective held breath of the audience as we deduced we were about to be treated to some top notch music from Terry’s favourite band.

You can’t send just anyone in after such a music display, and they didn’t. We got Neil Gaiman, who had flown in specially for his old friend, reading his foreword to A Slip of the Keyboard, including the tale of their long trek through San Francisco when they really should have been on live radio. He was also able to spill the beans on a Manchester bookshop that did get a minus star in Terry’s ratings. (It’s when the staff lock themselves in and won’t come out until the customers have gone away.)

Terry Pratchett postcards

Rob told us about the four documentaries about Terry Pratchett. The three we may have already seen; on Alzheimer’s, about the Orangutans, and about choosing to die. Currently there is work on the fourth, and I suspect some of yesterday will end up in there.

By then we’d been there for well over two hours, and Sir Tony Robinson chose to come on stage and mention bladder control. He admired us for it, as well he should.  He had the opportunity to prove again how perfect he is for reading Terry’s words out loud. This time he chose a letter Terry had written. (In fact, Terry left behind a number of letters to friends and family, written one day in October 2014 when Rob was out of the office.)

Terry Pratchett memorial brooch

Another thing Terry had arranged was for some special jewellery for special friends; the less visible people who helped make everything possible, his agent, his editor, his illustrator, his banker and so on. The ones who Terry turned to in order to find out the necessary force needed to pull the head off a troll, for instance. They are the Venerable Order of the Honeybees, and their rewards were presented in a newly made version of The Luggage.

More singing from Steeleye Span, and special thanks to Maddy Prior, who came and sang to Terry at home shortly before he died.

Terry Pratchett memorial tissues

As you can tell, this was very much not a dry eye kind of evening. Luckily there was in the ‘partybag’ left on everyone’s seat a packet of tissues. I put mine away, and then wondered what the protocol was for nicking my neighbour’s pack which he hung onto for the whole evening. But there are always sleeves that can be put to good use.

Rob was aware that the clock was ticking, but he still talked us through what the future has in store. There will be no more Discworld books, but there will be books on all sorts of things, including a biography by Rob. Films are also in the pipeline, for The Wee Free Men, Mort, and Good Omens (with screenplay by Neil Gaiman, despite his agreement with Terry that they’d always work together).

And lots more.

Gallivanting

I’m not at home. I might be on my way there. I certainly hope so.

It’s been another of those London in 24 hours (that’s from my door at home back to my door at home) shenanigans. (I believe I said ‘never again’ a couple of months ago, but I do find that at my age memory isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. So to speak.)

With a bit of luck I’ll be able to fill you in on all this later.

Terry Pratchett - Snuff launch

Car Wash Wish

Isn’t this just a fantastic book title? It makes me want to go round muttering those three words to myself, trying to avoid twisting my tongue with the wash wish thing.

Sita Brahmachari has written another great book for Barrington Stoke, and this time it’s a nicely timed autism story, for National Autism Awareness Month.

Sita Brahmachari, Car Wash Wish

14-year-old Hudson is an aspie, and his dad is one as well, which is why Hudson now lives with his mum and stepdad and his unborn half-sibling, currently going by the name of Zygote. Hudson likes the letter Z. A lot.

To make matters worse, his dad’s dad has died and there is a funeral to go to, to dress for. His mum always felt that her late father-in-law, who had Alzheimer’s, took up all her husband’s attention, which is why they split up.

Hudson just wants to understand the world, and to be with his dad, as well as with his mum, and Zygote, with whom he chats by himself in order to introduce their family.

There is a car wash in his dad’s past, and the importance of this becomes evident as you read the book. That’s the car wash wish.

Lovely.

Gym’ll fix this?

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what exactly a ‘healthy living centre’ might be. Turns out they meant a gym would replace the library at the  Carnegie Library in London. A gym, pardon, a healthy living centre, with a neighbourhood library service.

Sounds fishy to me. I mean, gyms are all well and good, except I ran kicking and screaming away from the one I had a little look at earlier this year. And contrary to what I’d have thought before, it wasn’t the exercise equipment as a possible instrument of torture that didn’t agree with me, but the sheer noise and crush of half-naked people.

I fail to see how you can combine this with a library, even if you abandon the old-fashioned idea of a silent temple for books and reading. I do get that the council needs to save money, and I have no easy solution to what we are facing as far as local services in general are concerned.

Maybe it’s the next thing after wine bars in former banks?

It’s very heartening to know that so many people were able and willing to step in and occupy the Carnegie Library for ten days. Occasionally I wonder if the spirit of 1968 is long gone and whether people would rather go to the gym than read, but clearly not.

Neighbourhood library service means the books stay for as long as they survive, I suppose, with some enthusiastic volunteers taking the place of trained staff, while trying to avoid the nearest cross trainer. And I don’t mean an angry exerciser.

I don’t know how this is going to end. I really don’t, and I don’t just mean the Carnegie, but all libraries. As a child I walked to the library and later I cycled in with my books. That way I had the exercise, and the library had the books, the way it was intended.

Thinking about what libraries can do, I was reminded of the inspiring one in Philip Pullman’s Shadow of the North, where working men could educate themselves.

I expect that’s what they are afraid of. Those politicians we’d be better off without. Wonder how many libraries we could have for the money ‘resting’ in Panamá? It’s not doing much anyway, is it?

Raymie Nightingale

Every last little bit of detail mentioned in Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale is put to good use before this sweet and funny book comes to an end. Based on previous books I knew it was going to be good, but was unsure how Kate would manage it [the sweet and funny ending] this time. No need for concern, as she knows how to write a book.

Kate DiCamillo, Raymie Nightingale

Set in the 1960s in Florida, ten-year-old Raymie has just lost her father, to a dental hygienist. She has worked out that by learning to twirl a baton she can get him back, which is why we find her having a rather failed baton-twirling lesson in chapter one.

What she does achieve in this lesson, is finding two new friends, both of whom also have needs that require dealing with. Together they set about breaking into a nursing home and rescuing a dead cat. Not at the same time, obviously.

This is very, very special, and I marvel at the mind of anyone who can come up with these ideas. The story benefits from having adult characters who don’t need to be killed off, as they are nicely quirky individuals with strong opinions of their own, fitting in well with the plot.