Monthly Archives: January 2017

Please send Hugs

I felt a bit embarrassed as I emailed people regarding Hugs. I emailed Chris Riddell himself, mentioning I would quite like Hugs. I emailed his publicist, also with Hugs in the subject line. I’m not really used to asking for Hugs.

But Hugs I got, and they are so lovely, so huggy. You’ll love them.

Chris Riddell, 100 Hugs

Chris doodles all the time, and I’m guessing he also doodles hugs, almost without thinking, as he goes about his business. And he does some very huggy hugs. You feel loved just looking at them.

So now 100 hugs have been gathered in his new boook 100 Hugs. (I haven’t actually counted them. I’ll take their word for it.) There are hugs for everyone, whether you are a crocodile or a witch, a princess or a bear. Some look huggier than others. Personally I like the big fat hugs the best, and I would probably avoid the croc. Just to be on the safe side. Though I’m not saying crocodiles don’t love each other too.

There are hardly any words. Just a few here and there. It’s the Hugs that matter.

And, this was quite a surprise. The book is tiny. I’d somehow imagined standard picture book size, but this is a companion to my Diary of a Provincial Lady; beautifully done with ribbon bookmark and everything.

100 Hugs couldn’t have come at a better time. We need them. Lots of them.

Squeeze…

Tilt

Mary Hoffman’s new book for Barrington Stoke is about the leaning tower of Pisa. You’d sort of guess that from the title, maybe.

Mary Hoffman, Tilt

I now know an awful lot more about the tower than I did before. In fact, I have never really known much, and I’ve not been to see it. But it is iconic, and you feel you own the image, knowing it so well from photographs.

While teaching the reader about the tower, Mary provides a truly inspiring story about a young girl in Pisa, who wants what was unthinkable back in the 13th century. Netta’s father is a sculptor and stone-carver and it is his task to work out what to do to stop the tower from leaning so much, and to prevent things from getting worse.

Netta finds this fascinating and wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps. But she’s a girl.

This is great stuff. The background to why the tower leans is really interesting, and Netta is the perfect role model for generations of girls to come. You can have it all. Not that girls should have to want to wash and cook, of course.

It’s made up, but I feel it could have happened exactly like this.

Asterix

Asterix, A Whole World to Colour In. This colouring-in craze seems to continue. I have in my hand – hands, actually, as it’s a large book – an Asterix colouring book.

Even for someone not used to reading Asterix, it is pretty tempting. A whole, enormous, volume in black and white to put my own choice of colours into! I’m wondering how they made it? Did someone sit there pulling all the colour out of the pages?

It says where each picture is from and when. Mostly older stuff, which could indicate they might make more books. I don’t know.

And I wonder who this is for? Children? I suspect adults.

Anyway, it’s out this week, so if you’re feeling colourful..?

Asterix

Thrill to win

All four books shortlisted for this week’s RED book award were in the ‘really good category.’ I felt the librarians who picked them did a great job; both from a point of view of this being a book award list, but also in order to entice their young charges to read and enjoy. You need something a little bit extra for that.

There was no way I could have said either which book was bound to win, or to have a favourite. I’d have been pleased with any of the shortlisted novels as the winner. And you never know with that age group how they will vote. Sometimes you are truly taken by surprise.

Cathy MacPhail’s Devil You Know is a hard-hitting story set in a hard area of Glasgow, and it is a pretty male set-up. I can see why it was popular with the young offenders, and I’d guess it did well mostly with the boys.

Whereas The Apple Tart of Hope divides its attention equally between the boy and the girl, I suspect that Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s book might appeal more to girls. It is quite romantic, Oscar is definitely not a macho boy, and there is the apple tart.

Similarly, Clare Furniss’s The Year of the Rat is undisputably about a girl. And there is the possible romance with the boy next door. Again, probably girlier than average, while being neither soft nor pink in any way.

The winner, 13 Hours by Narinder Dhami has a female main character, a carer for her handicapped mum. That too could seem to appeal more to female readers. There are no friends or colleagues or family members to even out the balance of the sexes. There are the intruders, of course. Two of each sex, and they are on the whole neither violent nor unpleasant.

Narinder was saying how she had had the young carer idea for some time, but it took her a while to work out how it could be written as a thriller, which is what she likes. And maybe that’s it; the thriller aspect means readers of both sexes enjoy the story without worrying about any female bias. Especially as Anni is both brave and resourceful.

And thinking back to the last two winners of the RED award, I’d say that Mind Blind by Lari Don was more thrillery than the other shortlisted books last year. Not having read the ones from the year before that, I’m confident that Alan Gibbons didn’t write a romance.

But I’m probably all wrong in thinking this. I was merely exercising my brain a little, trying to work out why a particular book out of four such excellent stories won.

Read, Enjoy, Debate # 11

It was chilly. And there I was, in Falkirk, red clothes, rosy cheeks and everything, and the station footbridge was being repaired. Luckily I had my folding broom with me, so managed to cross the railway lines (my apologies for any subsequent unentangling required) and arrived at fth (Falkirk Town Hall; keep up!) with barely any delay, for a day of the 11th RED book award.

Greeted Cathy MacPhail who was shortlisted for the umpteenth time (they know a good author when they see one), still basking in the glow of her birthday the day before. She introduced me to Narinder Dhami (13 Hours), and we spent some happy minutes saying gossipy stuff about [some] people. Very satisfying. A few of the students were going round interviewing the four shortlisted authors, who also included Clare Furniss (The Year of the Rat) and Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (The Apple Tart of Hope). All beautifully decked out in red, and all looking very beautiful, too. And they were nice people…

Yvonne Manning

RED captain Yvonne Manning was wearing red fairy lights. Clothes, too, but those lights really caught the eye. She welcomed each school and they were as noisy as ever. She encouraged them, it has to be said. (That woman is not a normal librarian! Whatever happened to silence?)

The schools charged straight ahead with their dramatised presentations of the books, two schools for each book. Between every little show, the same slow stagehands cleared up. They really want to look into who they employ. At times they sat down and read the paper and took selfies. If we’re not careful they’ll get used to this kind of slacking, and the audience encouraging them.

Presentation of Devil You Know on behalf of Polmont Young Offenders

As well as the eight schools who took part, they were shadowed by boys from Polmont Young Offenders (who for obvious reasons were not present, although I suspect if this had been Sweden they would have been). One of them had written a script for Cathy MacPhail’s book, Devil You Know (very appropriate), and Yvonne got seven volunteers on stage to act it out, totally unrehearsed. They would have found it easier had there been more microphones and printing of words on one side of the paper only, I reckon. But well done to everyone; actors and script-writer!

There were prizes for best reviews, before Provost Reid went off to a council budget meeting on libraries, and as we broke for coffee Yvonne introduced ‘selfie corner.’ (It was really only a cardboard frame…)

Narinder Dhami

You could tell Cathy had been before, as she managed to get coffee long before anyone else. But eventually we all sat down and chatted, and I had a really good idea for a blog post from what we talked about. (It would have been even better if I could remember what it was.)

RED coffee

Once back, Yvonne had changed into an enthusiastic red wig, with fairy lights on top. She hoped it wasn’t too much. Well, I’m sure we were too polite to say. Before the last set of book presentations, the authors got their three minutes of saying whatever they wanted. Each. Narinder told us about her breakfast that morning (sort of, anyway), Sarah has a lovely Irish accent and Clare wore fabulous red high heeled boots, while Cathy said how pleased she was that the young offenders got her book.

The stagehands grew ever more inept as the day wore on.

Provost Reid was back by then, and he whispered to me that he could smell lunch. Clare was extremly fortunate with her school, who presented her with an iced cake at the end of their presentation. (I was worried it’d turn into a pie throwing event at first.)

RED lunch

Covers 13 Hours

At lunch we said how fantastic it was to have an all-women shortlist and we discussed agoraphobia. As you do. The authors were asked to go and cast their votes on alternative book covers, before the signings. I asked the Provost what happened to his retirement from politics plans from last year, and he seems to have sacrificed himself for the greater good.

Narinder Dhami and Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Clare Furniss and Cathy MacPhail

RED award disco

Back in the hall there was disco dancing in one corner, with Yvonne and her fairy lights leading the way. Most of the students were singing at the top of their voices, and I couldn’t help wondering if they know how ancient that music is. Grease must have been at least forty years ago?

RED award disco

RED award

The authors got to sit on the sofas in readiness for question time, while more prizes were handed out; for best presentation, for best red accessories (I especially liked the feathers one girl wore in her hair), the stage hands, and for best book covers.

RED award

Questions were many and varied, on how long to write a book, is it hard to get published, inspiration, apple tarts, do they Google themselves, why read books, advice to themselves as teenagers, and favourite children’s books. Little Princess did well. Believe in yourself. Yes, some do Google. Time to write a book depends. Lots of good questions and the answers were all right too.

Librarian Anne Ngabia told us the latest news about her book collecting for libraries in Kenya (I have plenty more!), saying how good our children have it with free schools, even if it doesn’t feel like it. How in Kenya people might walk for three hours to the library, queueing up when it opens, and walking three hours back again. (I dare say this could happen here too, if libraries get scarcer.) And thanks to the army and the air force for sending the books out with the troops.

RED award

The boy with the lovely red hat got the job of opening the red envelope, to announce the RED winner. That envelope was made with very good glue. It had glued itself to the paper inside and only after a prolonged, manful struggle did red hat boy sort of manage to peer into the mangled remains of the inside and tell us that this year’s winner was Narinder Dhami!

Narinder Dhami

Narinder made a short speech, not even thanking her cat, cried a bit, and then she needed to sit down to stop her legs from shaking. But there were photographs to be taken of everyone, of her, the provost, envelope boy and the award (a photo of the famous Kelpies).

RED award, Yvonne Manning, Cathy MacPhail, Narinder Dhami, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, Clare Furniss, Provost Reid

Then we went home. Me not forgetting I came with a coat, and Cathy hunting for hers. The Provost let the students try on his red ‘coat’. And Clare had a cake to carry. It was a good day.

The Apple Tart of Hope

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, The Apple Tart of Hope

We’ve all known people like Paloma. Was she not in your form at school? She was certainly in mine. OK, perhaps the Paloma in Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s The Apple Tart of Hope is somewhat ghastlier than average, but you know the type; perfect in every way, except she isn’t and she’s out to ruin your life.

And life was pretty good for Oscar and his best friend Meg. Until Meg had to move to New Zealand, temporarily, and Paloma moved into her house.

Oscar appears to have a special knack for being nice to people, and none more so than to Meg. Whenever he felt someone needed love and attention, he’d bake an apple tart. Yeah I know, not typical for 14-year-old boys, but Oscar’s not typical in the least. That’s why Meg loves him.

Then he disappears and is believed drowned. Suicide. Meg hastens back from the other side of the world, convinced Oscar is not dead. But there was a Day of Prayer for him at church, and Paloma ‘was his best friend,’ and nothing seems right. Meg and Oscar’s younger brother Stevie start searching for him.

This is a wonderful and gripping tale about young love and friendship and how easy it is for things to go wrong. Even when there is apple tart.

I’d wanted to read Sarah’s first novel but ran out of time, so I’m grateful I got to meet Oscar instead. He and I sat up half the night.

The New Road

It’s Burns Night, and while we do not yet have any Haggis in the house, we do have a Resident IT Consultant, who not only has plans to walk the length of the country (Scotland), but has taken to reading Scottish books. More Scottish books than before, I mean. Here he is:

“On my return to Scotland after nearly forty years in England I decided it was time to seek out some of the Scottish classics that I was vaguely aware of but had never had the time to read. At school I read Kidnapped and The Thirty Nine Steps (thanks to an English teacher who knew how to pick books that would appeal to twelve-year-old boys). Some time in my twenties, thirties or forties I read Sunset Song, Waverley and quite a bit more Buchan but otherwise my reading of what I regard as classics (books written before, say, 1950) was restricted to English, American and European writers.

Neil Munro, The New Road

I decided to start with Neil Munro’s The New Road. I had always been aware of Neil Munro as the author of the Para Handy tales but knew nothing of his other books. Munro was born in Inveraray in 1863 but spent most of his adult life working as a writer and journalist in west central Scotland. He became editor of the Glasgow Evening News in 1918 and died in 1930. The New Road was published in 1914, was his last novel and is widely regarded as his best.

Set in 1733, the novel has much in common with Kidnapped. It has a young protagonist, Aeneas Macmaster, who, like David Balfour, has his naïve view of the world transformed by an adventurous journey through the Highlands. He is accompanied by an older, more experienced companion, Ninian Campbell.

Though Ninian is a Campbell only for the sake of expediency; his father was one of the proscribed Macgregors of Balquhidder. There’s a stronger romantic element than in Kidnapped, and it’s better developed than the romance in Stevenson’s sequel to Kidnapped, Catriona.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The characters are very well developed and the plot cunningly built through a series of twists and turns that only come to fruiting in the last few pages. If you’ve enjoyed reading Kidnapped try the New Road.”

There. That sounds so good I’m almost tempted to have a go myself.