Monthly Archives: February 2017

Let’s keep them out

Or kick them out, in case they already sneaked in.

I’m afraid I can’t leave the state of the world’s affairs alone. There are days when several hours pass without me thinking about this, and there are days when they don’t.

Where to start? Last week at least the children’s books world cried out when Australian author Mem Fox was detained by US immigration officials and treated as though she was a threat to their country. There is very little I can say. I don’t know whether this was done through sheer ignorance, or knowing full well what they did and that that was the whole point.

Maybe on to Australia after that. It seems no country is better than the rest. Luckily it appears that a last minute intervention has saved the deportation of a [Bangladeshi] doctor and her autistic daughter, who it was feared might become a burden on Australia and its tax payers’ money.

While we’re in the medical world, let’s move on to Sweden, shall we? A week ago a 20-year-old pregnant woman was refused entry to the antenatal clinic in a leading Gothenburg hospital, because she looked like a muslim. She is muslim. Born in Sweden, but still. She had phoned in about a concern in her pregnancy and been told to come in. Except when they saw her staff didn’t want to open the door.

Sticking with medical issues, my thoughts went to Malala, the foreign girl from a country so many don’t want immigrants from, who was permitted to come to Britain for her life to be saved. And we all feel so good about that, and we admire her for what she’s gone on to do after recovering. She’s become a National Treasure, unless I’m mistaken?

The same goes for Nadiya Hussain, who bakes and writes books and is so popular you need to queue up to get her autograph.

On Saturday a Facebook friend of mine, author and journalist Hilary Freeman wrote an article for the Guardian about her worries for her family’s future. She has a young child and the father of the child is French. He hasn’t been here long enough to qualify for anything, nor does he earn enough money. The article is very well written, and manages to cover the concerns of many, even if our individual cases vary.

Thinking some more about authors. Two of my top three favourite books were written by immigrants. I keep those books in my ‘special’ bookcase. Had a little look to see who else is there, and counted up to eight ‘foreigners,’ including Italian Scots, before the shelf disappeared behind the armchair. But you get the picture; lots of fabulous books have a non-British background. Even when ‘we’ think it’s good old English stuff.

If I did to my bookcase what the Davis Museum in America did when they removed art by immigrants (for the best of reasons), it’d soon look pretty deserted.

And there is always something that can be done, putting people in their place. Quoting Wikipedia, Tamarind Books ‘was founded in 1987 as a small independent publisher specialising in picture books, fiction and non-fiction featuring black and Asian children and children with disabilities, with the mission of redressing the balance of diversity in children’s publishing.’ This is very worthy and I have the highest opinion of Tamarind. But now that it is also an imprint within a much larger organisation, has it become the place to stash away the slightly foreign authors? You know, ‘you will be happier next to your own kind’ sort of thought.

As for tax payers’ money, I always believed it was there for the burdens in life.

There’s a Dragon in my Backpack!

Tom Nicoll and Sarah Horne, There's a Dragon in my Backpack!

I loved Tom Nicoll’s first book about the Mini-Dragon, who came to Eric via a Chinese takeaway meal. These things happen.

This made it hard to ignore* the second story about clever little Pan, so I didn’t. Eric has this annoying neighbour who goes to a fancy private school, and Toby always wants what Eric has. In this case the dragon.

Except he doesn’t quite understand Pan isn’t a toy dragon.

Anyway, it is Show and Tell at Toby’s school, and well, you can guess. Toby wants Pan to come so he can show off. Eric says no. And then…

Well, there’d be no story and no book if what happened didn’t happen.

Eric has some good friends – Min and Jayden – and they meet a couple more unflappable children at the Show and Tell. People who understand that you help others.

This is fun! And Sarah Horne’s illustrations are just right.

*I know I’m too old for the regular interest age for this kind of book. But I don’t care. It’s got a Mini-Dragon.

After Tomorrow, again

Quite a few books, and the reviews thereof, could do with being mentioned a second, or third time. Some of them become worryingly [even more] topical at a later stage. Gillian Cross wrote such a book; After Tomorrow, which I read four years ago. At the time it touched me deeply. Now it touches me more, and it scares me how much more realistic the situation has become in a few years.

‘By turning a situation round 180 degrees, you could find you don’t agree with yourself. If I were not an immigrant, I would most likely find it easier to cast a suspicious eye on all those foreigners flocking to Britain. Heaven on earth, and everyone made so welcome, too. What’s not to like?

Besides, the other lot aren’t quite as nice as we are.

Gillian Cross has done this. She sends her characters in After Tomorrow to France. The situation in the UK is desperate. Food is scarce and anyone caught hoarding gets rough treatment from gangs of raiders; their food taken, their homes smashed up and people injured, raped and even killed. There is a website naming the Scadgers, telling others where they live.

Matt’s family are branded scadgers, and his grandfather dies after one such attack. His mother and stepfather make belated arrangements to leave the country and escape to France before they close their borders to the British.

(When I’d got this far I felt more anxious than ever while reading ‘mere’ fiction. I began calculating what I had in my freezer. First with a view to survival eating it, and then with fear because someone would come and punish me for it. I was halfway to leaving the country myself. Where to, though? Who would have me? Yes, I know. But perhaps that would no longer be possible.)

Some of them get away, on what is virtually the last lorry convoy to leave. And on arrival they find only those with children are allowed in. People scheme and lie in order not to be sent back. They have no food to begin with. Nowhere to sleep.

Eventually there is a refugee camp set up, of the simplest kind. They are given food vouchers to shop for. Bartering becomes a new way of surviving. Matt brought his grandfather’s bike, and the lorry driver who drove them to France has grand ideas for it.

The locals hate and distrust them. Most of the refugees don’t speak French. Most don’t want to learn, either.

Now, take all these facts and change the nationalites. Even you, who are normally so fair minded, might think it sounds perfectly normal and only to be expected. But not if it’s you in that muddy field, needing antibiotics that you can’t afford. If the doctor gets there on time.

How far away are we from this kind of scenario on our doorsteps? Sometimes I think we are almost all the way to it. I hope not. And I still can’t decide whether to fill my freezer some more, or to eat most of the food.

Just in case.’

For myself I am currently not concentraing on muddy fields or the possible lack of antibiotics. But I am thinking of most of the other things.

Light reading

They’re not bad, those little e-readers. Especially if you are required to use up your suitcase weight allowance with cables. And cheese fondue pods.

Daughter touched down at Bookwitch Towers briefly, en route for the other side of the world. She’d brought her half-read copy of her brother’s translation of Into a Raging Blaze, but as we began weighing every item to go (yes, really), even that had to stay here. Instead we filled up her newly acquired Kindle with books.

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

I have got Daughter so well trained that she accepted most of my suggestions of Really Good Books. All was going well until she said she’d also quite like something cheerful. Gulp. And something girly, a bit like Cathy Hopkins’s Mates Dates series.

That’s easier said than done. I ransacked my brain for anything a bit like that. I searched my shelves for girlier books than the ones I’d listed. And I’m sorry to say but we didn’t get anywhere much.

We’d be grateful for genuinely good – and cheerful – stories featuring female characters. One is easy. Both together is less common than it ought to be. When I went through my mental list of favourite female authors, I came to the conclusion that many of their books are about male characters. And I’m fine with that, since a good book is a good book.

But Mates Dates they are not.

And to my mind, Cathy’s books are friendlier than most. The catty friends and horrible boyfriends are far too common in many book plots. I suppose that’s one way of providing action; see how many characters your characters can fall out with before all is well at the end. Or not.

From the launch pad

There are only so many simultaneous launches a witch can attend. Last night offered two; both of which I dearly wanted to go to.

Marnie Riches, Born Bad

Marnie Riches brought her new baby, crime-thriller novel Born Bad, into the world at Waterstones Deansgate (that’s Manchester, folks), and it felt like such a special event that for weeks I believed it would be the one to take me back there at long last. After all, what else would I be doing on a dark February night?

The answer to that is three things, and being exhausted and having the builders [still] in were two of them. I sensibly declined in the end, and no sooner had I done that than James Oswald declared he was also launching his new novel at exactly the same time, at Waterstones West End (that’s Edinburgh), and this did feel a lot more feasible. But in the end the same three things conspired against me and I didn’t go.

Sigh.

I trust books were launched successfully anyway, and that Written in Bones is now sailing somewhere well past Princes Street Gardens, possibly as far as the Meadows, where it might encounter the dead body I told you about yesterday. If James continues to write and continues to launch, it is my ambition in life to go along to one of these events. Perhaps the trains will even run all evening at some distant point in time.

James Oswald, Wriiten in Bones

Back to Marnie and Manchester. Born Bad is about bad people doing bad things in Manchester. It has a great cover, and I’m so happy for Marnie, whose first paper book crime novel it is. The George McKenzie books are ebooks (they ought to be in paper as well!). There was mention of booze with the invite, but as I wasn’t going to drink any, I reckon my absense won’t make a difference.

I’ll get to Manchester one day. And Edinburgh. Well, the latter could be next week.

Meanwhile I’ll polish up the broom.

Written in Bones

Someone please get Tony McLean a winter coat! With a hood. And gloves. The man’s useless and he’s forever going out on murder hunts freezing, slipping from unsuitable footwear. It’s not good for him.

James Oswald, Written in Bones

It is already time for the seventh McLean mystery, and this one is surprisingly normal, apart from the issue with the dragon. But you don’t need the supernatural when you can have one cold, and only recently unsuspended, Detective Inspector out on the streets of Edinburgh.

As is customary with James Oswald’s crime novels, you first meet the murder victim and can hear their thoughts as the end comes closer. This one is spectacular. Think ‘tree in the Meadows taking the place of your kebab skewer’ and there you have it.

McLean has the same unpleasant boss as before, plus some new and promising looking constables to help solve the latest of the many puzzling crimes he always seems to find. Emma is back, but will it last?

Between many turns in and out of hospital for almost everyone, Tony looks for the reason the corpse was skewered, and if there really was a dragon.

Maresi

Maresi, The Red Abbey Chronicles, is one of the most feminist books I’ve read. It’s perhaps not surprising, as Maria Turtschaninoff – despite the name – is a Swedish speaking Finn. I don’t think you could easily publish a book in the UK with some of the content you find in Maresi.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi

I’d heard about it before it appeared in English translation, and I’d had this irrational thought I wouldn’t read the Pushkin Press version, but go for the original instead. And then, of course, I didn’t.

The Red Abbey is a kind of nunnery, on an island, somewhere. Most of the character names and all the place names are made up ones, so it’s hard to place the abbey geographically, but I sort of imagine it in the Baltic. Contrary to so many set-ups in fiction where you have adults teaching younger ones, and it tends to be a cruel place with much punishment, as well as bad feeling between the ‘children.’

Not here. It seems to be an ideal place in what is a strange world, where the women teach the girls how to become like them; wise and strong. You hardly ever get that in books.

12-year-old Maresi is the narrator, and she tells of their island from when Jai turns up one day. Jai has escaped a bad past, and unfortunately she brings her past to the island, as they are invaded by a group of bad men. (This is all surprisingly anti-men, even though they acknowledge that some men are all right.)

You suspect the worst, but matters go in a different way from what you’d think, and the women’s strength grows and impresses.

In a way, this isn’t the kind of story I tend to go for, but once started I couldn’t leave it. Very interesting. And there are more to come.