Monthly Archives: April 2017

Unsupported

A week or two ago media was full of the news of how brave and open Prince Harry had been in talking about mental health, and how bad he’d been after his mother died. It was the ‘wow, a Royal who talks about mental issues, and also about himself’ and ‘isn’t he great for opening up?’

He was, obviously. But it’s wrong to assume a member of the Royal family will automatically be stuck-up. They will get things wrong, for various reasons, just like the rest of us. But the young ones are not setting out to be above everyone else.

But the thought that struck me was that Harry was saying he’d been mourning – or perhaps not properly mourning – his mother for a very long time. He was twelve when she died. Twelve. What do you do about such a young boy who’s lost his mother?

It seems the family must have forgotten to look after this child. They have the money and connections, so could have afforded both to engage professional help, and to spare some personal time on this boy.

It wasn’t until I read John Crace in the Guardian a week later that I felt someone else was seeing what I saw. Harry’s family should have done more for him. But maybe just as they misjudged the effect Diana’s death would have on the country in general, so they didn’t grasp what you do with children who are suffering. Even Royal children.

Harry and I lost our mothers within three months of each other. As I watched him at his mother’s funeral, I knew I’d be going through the same thing fairly soon. I even borrowed one of the hymns when the time came. But whereas I felt we were both too young for this, I knew I was old enough to weather what was coming. Just. But I had no inkling that he’d not have anyone much to talk to. After all, his family is far larger than mine. Although at the time, neither his father nor his grandmother had experience of what it’s like to lose a mother. Could be an excuse, I suppose.

It all adds up

The Resident IT Consultant had to explain to the garage that next Friday Scottish school pupils sit their Maths exam. And he needs his car, so that his little group of hopefuls don’t fail, simply because the garage ordered the wrong part.

In the last few weeks he’s taken on a ridiculous amount of Maths tuition sessions, with old and new students. If it was going to go on for much longer I would not have allowed it, but felt he could cope with the pace for now. We just didn’t reckon with the car feeling unwell. Or the wrong part.

Getting a tutor for your child – or for yourself if you are a university student – is [mostly] proof that you want to do well, and that in itself is an encouraging thing. Often those who do don’t really need a tutor. They need confidence, and exam techniques. Some erroneously believe that finding the tutor will absolve them from having to do work, but they don’t tend to last long. You still need to work on your Maths, and you still need to sit the exam.

Since we live in a smallish town, several of the students live some distance away, so have to have ‘double Maths’ to make the drive there worthwhile. And to do that, the car needs to work. Being stranded in some attractive, but remote, spot isn’t ideal.

The garage could see his point, and promised the Resident IT Consultant a courtesy car in case the right part didn’t turn up the next day.

(Yes, I could lend him the broom,  but you should see the amount of paperwork he carries around.)

‘understanding doesn’t fix it’

It’s on page 158 of Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow. The quote above about how ‘understanding doesn’t fix it.’ It’s one of the most chilling phrases I’ve read. Because it’s true. Just because we might actually understand what the dreadful things in the world today are, doesn’t mean they can – or will be – fixed. And they must be.

Zana Fraillon, The Bone Sparrow

Born in an immigration detention centre, Subhi is at least 22 fence diamonds high (and around ten years old). Unlike most of the people in there with him, he’s known no different and has little idea of the world outside. He is a bit of a dreamer and a storyteller, and rather naïve, but also true and brave.

His mother and older sister are there with him, and his best friend Eli. There is one friendly guard, and Subhi has a rubber duck he talks to. The rubber duck talks back, and is occasionally rather wise.

Based on information from many such centres in Australia, this story rings true. Awful, but true.

One day Subhi makes a new friend, Jimmie, a girl living not far from the camp. Their friendship teaches both of them something new, and the reader hopes, a little. It’s a beautiful friendship, but the ugly reality has a way of interfering with most that’s good.

The Bone Sparrow is sweet and wonderful, but possibly the saddest ‘camp’ book I’ve read. Not necessarily the cruellest as regards what happens. But the worst, because I can see no hope.

We’ve come a long way from Anne Holm’s I Am David. The wrong long way.

Brunch

Helen Grant and I have probably convinced Lee Weatherly – who is a recent convert to living in Scotland – that we can’t get babysitters. We have brought our sons to meals out with Lee, which is a weird thing to do, considering everyone’s ages. Ours and theirs. But still; they are charming boys and surely anyone would love hanging out with them? (One at a time, obviously.)

Yesterday it was Son’s turn to have brunch with three older ladies. Trains were cancelled or people missed their train. Luckily I had brought a book. Son and I kept the table warm, so to speak, and sneaked in some extra chai while we waited. Luckily Dishoom gives you as much of the stuff as you want, and then some.

We ate our spicy breakfasts and gossiped books and translations and looked out onto St Andrew’s Square in the sunshine. It was very civilised.

When we were almost too full to move, we permitted Son to foot the bill and then sent him back to ‘school.’ The rest of us had shopping to do, ribbons to cut in libraries and plastic screw caps to paint. (I’ll leave you to decide who did what.)

I suspect I might have worn the wrong colour shoes.

But that’s OK.

Hostages to Fortune

I keep going on about refugees and immigrants, don’t I? But there’s just something about the situation Sadie and Kevin find themselves in. In Joan Lingard’s fifth and last book about our Belfast lovers, the pair have some bad luck, and they still seem to have to be the ones to settle for the bare minimum.

They need to move on again, and ever the optimist, Sadie keeps moving them into every nice little cottage they come across, except it’s not that easy. There is baby Brendan, who is nearly one, there is the dog, and before long, Kevin’s younger sister Clodagh turns up. And she is trouble in a way that their brother Gerald never was.

Giving up new friends again, and looking for their fortune somewhere new again, the two nevertheless stay cheerful, and do their best. Even with Clodagh they manage to be mature, most of the time, in a way that makes you forget they are still only around twenty.

But there are good people around, at least in Joan’s books, and with more hard work and new friendships it seems as if they will weather this storm as well. Kevin goes to see his mother in Tyrone, and realises that he was lucky to escape when he did, even if it is a hard life.

It’s amazing how different Northern Ireland seems, from 1970s England and Wales, but also then as compared to now. It’s almost as ‘far away’ as the places today’s newcomers have left behind.

I wonder what Kevin and Sadie are up to today?

Picture this

My Photographer – aka Daughter – was here over Easter. This meant I could take her to do the honours at Lari Don’s event, leaving me not only with free hands to take notes, but with some much better photos than I can take.

Once upon a time I had her services, if not always, then quite often. She was even prevailed upon to pop back home from school for half an hour if I had an author interview in the house. It was very handy, and I hope not too cruel.

We made our Edinburgh bookfest debut soon after her GCSEs, with a new, proper camera and everything. The press photographers might have found it strange to share turf with a teenager on her school holidays, but they could learn a thing or two from her, I reckon. Because she took pictures of authors the professionals didn’t. By that I mean mostly children’s authors, but also others of ‘lesser’ interest.

In fact, what the professionals do is wait to be offered people, a bit like when children wait for an adult to give them their tea. Whereas we ended up sticking our noses into every larder and fridge we came across, to keep the meal metaphor going.

Last week I asked if she’d seen the ad on facebook for an author event, where they had used her photo. And yes, she did see that. They’ve paid for it, so can use it for anything they like. It’s one that the author particularly liked. That one came from an official photo shoot, but there have been others that have pleased the subject enough to want to buy the rights. And that’s because we’ve been everywhere, and sooner and later you just catch the right look, especially since they don’t know they are posing.

The sales have been priced somewhere between professional fees and giving them away; enough for a schoolgirl to pay for the lens sold her by another author. When the author pays, a cheque is likely to turn up soon. When the publishers pay you tend to have to send quite a few reminders.

One author who just happened to be snapped by my Photographer in the official photo shoot area and thereby got caught by the professionals as well, was later offered to buy a series of shots by one of them. It was illuminating how much he asked for. Unfortunately for him, this author had already been permitted to use Daughter’s pictures. Besides, I suspect the money wasn’t there. Several years on, it was satisfying to find one of those photos in a press release I received last week.

The difficulty has never been finding authors to take pictures of. It’s mainly been a case of coming up with somewhere to do impromptu, more private, photo shoots of our own.

Jeanne Willis

We know who we like. And that’s not generally the latest Nobel prize laureate or Booker winner, but someone much more important. Someone who writes for children. Someone who gets them reading.

I just wish adulthood didn’t deprive me of this wonderful service. The Photographer’s, I mean. I’ll never be adult.

Lari Don – aiming higher with every book.

She’s got some lovely fans, this author who wrote her first book in Primary 2. Lari Don has aimed to improve her next book ever since (although I’m sure the P2 book wasn’t all that bad). And I suppose because she remembers her own early start, Lari is quite happy to read what anyone in her audience has written, which is really generous. She even said she’d hand out her email address [the better to receive these works of fiction].

Lari was at Blackwells on Saturday to launch her second Spellchasers book, The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away. I brought both my Photographer and the Resident IT Consultant. The latter was the first at Bookwitch Towers to read the first Spellchasers book, and he is currently ensconsed in his reading spot with the second.

Lari Don

But as I said, Lari didn’t have to rely on us oldies, as she had a lovely collection of nice girls who have read and loved her books and who had lots of opinions and questions. The perfect fan audience, in fact. She got quite a bit discussed as we waited for two o’clock, thanking the fans for choosing her over the park on such a nice day (of course they would!), finding out their favourite characters, and reminiscing about a school pupil, years ago, who was started on reading by an author’s visit to his/her school.

Lari Don

After an introduction by Ann Landmann, who reckoned we were the right kind of audience, liking the right kind of books, even more readers arrived and everyone had to squeeze in. Lari said she’d tell us about her writing process, and then she’d tell us a story, because Ann had asked her to.

She showed us her older books, including the embarrassing (to her own children) The Big Bottom Hunt. Lari likes novels the best, and after she had made the characters in the Fabled Beast Chronicles suffer enough, she started on Spellchasers. The trilogy will end with The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat, which is out this autumn.

Lari Don

Lari read us the first page of it, which is still only in manuscript form [until later this week], and she had changed the odd thing over breakfast. Book two is about shapeshifting, so Lari asked the audience how they perceived this would look as it happens. They had a lot of ideas; eggs, smoke, eagles on top of bunk beds. That kind of thing.

As Lari began telling us the promised story, about a boy with a drum in Africa, I sort of rested my eyes a little, and the Resident IT Consultant looked as if he was asleep (I’m sure he wasn’t, really), but we both rallied when Lari requested snoring sounds, as though coming from the beast in her story… There was a monster who ate the boy’s parents and then vomited them out again. You get the idea.

Lari Don

After a brief reading from the second book, we had five minutes left for Q&A. I estimate those five minutes to have lasted about 15, so that was good value. The girls had a lot of questions, but I suppose it’s to be expected from people who know that eagles need to sit on bunk beds in order to see better.

She doesn’t want to think about how many hours she uses up on writing her books. One book takes about a year, but she’s always working and hours would be too scary to contemplate, in ‘the interest of sanity.’ A brief mention of the excellence of Speyside whisky, Alan Garner and Diana Wynne Jones, and then we found out that the pre-school Lari had been quite sneaky and faked reading in bed when she was actually ‘writing’ books. Unfortunately the squiggles she wrote back then are hard to read now and she doesn’t know what the books were about.

Lari Don

Ann Landmann finally put a stop to Lari and her fans (who simply continued talking over the book signing), after admitting she’d missed half her requested story because she’d had a customer to serve… As for us oldies, we had tea to drink in the café, and felt we really couldn’t compete for Lari’s attention with such ardent fans, anyway.