Monthly Archives: May 2017

Manchester Arena

I’m not quite sure what to write for today, so I thought I’d re-post CultureWitch’s last visit to the Manchester Arena, five years ago. We didn’t go often, but it was our arena, so we might go if there was something special on. Taking Offspring to see Roxette live was one of those occasions:

Roxette

“My, but we’re good at singing in Manchester! And by ‘we’ I don’t include myself, since I neither do voice or lyrics with any great success. But the rest of the thousands of people at the MEN last night knew their Roxette. I was both surprised and not surprised to hear this was Per Gessle’s and Marie Fredriksson’s first Manchester concert. Normally people don’t know who you mean if you mention Roxette, and they are probably less well known in the UK. But the crowd at the MEN knew the lyrics and – as I said – they sang well. Better than most audience participation I’ve come across.

Roxette

They got us in a good mood starting with Dressed For Success, Sleeping In My Car and The Big L, and let’s face it; we had already been hanging around for an hour and a half by then. Mim Grey who had the thankless task of warming us up, was perfectly adequate, but it wasn’t her we’d come to hear. Her songs were fine and she’s got a good voice, as well as the courage to chat to thousands who have little interest in the first act.

Roxette

Never having heard either Per or Marie speak English before, I was impressed. They sound good, and the Swedish-ism at the end might even have been intentional. ‘Our’ singing was encouraged by them, whether or not we knew the lyrics. But when they fell silent, the audience continued without faltering, and for some length of time. Well done, ‘us’!

Roxette

Grateful I wasn’t down on the floor, as they all stood up from the word go, and it would have involved nearly two hours of non-stop standing, and possibly dancing. Some people came to the empty bit of floor at the back and did their own dance routines by themselves.

Roxette

They promised us some new or recent material, but for the most part we got all the old songs. And to be honest; that’s what many of us came for. For a venue that doesn’t allow cameras there can’t have been more than a few hundred in constant use, looking like a friendly flotilla of little boats in the dark sea of the MEN.

Roxette

The stage lighting was very well done, with attractive colours and not too much strobing at the audience. Per and one or two of the others did a lot of jumping up and down, but that could have been boyish exuberance at work. I wondered if we too had to stand up when they burst into a rocky God Save the Queen. Had this been the good old days we’d not only have had to stand, but that would have been the – premature – end.

Marie Fredriksson

They ‘finished’ with Joyride, but the lack of houselights suggested we’d get more, and there were two more, before I suspected they’d done a ‘Roger Whittaker’ and bunked off for their hotel. But no, they had not. They were back for a final Church Of Your Heart, and they took their time over it. Good to see Marie and Per courteously leaving last, and not running either, but stopping on the way out to bow from the corner.

Roxette

Good stuff, from a neighbourhood close to my old one.”

Roxette

This is what it should be like. Fun, without fear.

Advertisements

The author effect

I mentioned that Teri Terry made a return visit to a school when she was in Scotland the other week. I had assumed it was because she’d made a really good impression and they wanted her back. Then I learned that she wrote a character for her new book, Contagion, who goes to that very school.

A few weeks earlier Lari Don talked about a chat with someone who was now an adult, but who remembered an author visit to his school when he was younger. It had made a great impression on him, and had got a non-reader started on reading, which he still did.

So, all was good. It’s such an encouraging story to hear; to discover that author visits to schools really can make a difference.

Lari then asked who the author was. But he couldn’t remember. And I’m with Lari on this one – it’s even more impressive that the visit made such an impact, but that it became immaterial who the visitor was. Maybe a big name, or perhaps someone virtually unknown. But they made a difference.

Maybe one day a Callander student will tell their children about the time his or her school ended up in a novel. And maybe it won’t matter if they remember it was written by Teri.

The Incredible Billy Wild

You just won’t go wrong with God. I mean, with a dog. Both, really.

In The Incredible Billy Wild Joanna Nadin lets her hero Billy write to God. It was to be holiday homework over Easter, and Billy really takes this to heart. He writes and he writes. Because he wants a dog and for Seamus Patterson to disappear and to be incredible.

Well, who doesn’t? Preferably a Great Dane, but if not any old dog will do. Most of us have a Seamus we’d like to get rid of, and then there is the talent show on Easter Monday, and it’d be good to be incredible.

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Billy has a [midwife] dad and two brothers, one older and one younger, but no mum. Their dad works too much. 14-year-old Johnny smokes and likes looking at his girlfriend’s boobs. Six-year-old Tommo regurgitates Google knowledge round the clock. But Billy’s just Billy and needs to be incredible.

God takes care of the dog bit pretty quickly, when a dog turns up in their garden shed, and Billy wants to keep it, and keep it a secret from dad while he works on some idea to get dad to want this dog as well.

This is incredibly lovely. The dad is lovely; just overworked and tired. Tommo is – obviously – sweet and helpful. And even Johnny is rather lovely, as cool older brothers go. And we can tell from his long monologue to God that Billy is fantastic.

The 275 page letter to God lets us share Billy’s hard work, his hopes, his new friends, and most of all, his Dog. There is a lot of love here. Billy yearns for the Woman’s Touch (so maybe they need a new mum), but Nice Nan has moved away and while Other Nan probably loves them, she is hard to get on with.

Having Dog would make a lot of difference though.

Very funny and so loveable. All of them. Especially Billy. And Dog, and…

Meeting Danny the Granny Slayer

Charlotte Square comes to Cumbernauld. I might have mentioned before that the Edinburgh International Book Festival have decided to branch out, and are touring five New Towns in Scotland over the next year and a half, with little pop-up festivals for a weekend, and this is the Cumbernauld weekend. The first weekend, and with a really good looking programme.

I could have wanted to do more, but limited myself to the children’s event on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist David MacPhail, Lari Don, Barry Hutchison and Jenny Colgan. Barry unfortunately couldn’t come and was replaced by Mark A Smith, but that was also fine. Not that I knew Mark, but he had a very jolly song for us.

Lari Don and Macastory

As did Macastory; two oddly dressed men from the future who sang a lot, and required hands to be clapped and shoulders shaken and other energetic stuff. The venue got changed to the pop-up Waterstones in the shopping precinct, which I thought was odd until I understood there was no ‘real’ Waterstones there. I did see the yellow buckets I’d been told about by Kirkland Ciccone, however.

The Resident IT Consultant came along to make sure I found the way, and he discussed getting lost – or not – with David MacPhail as we waited. David was first up and had some fun Vikings he told us about. I liked the polite one best, who apparently was modelled on David himself… He read a bit from one of his Thorfinn books, and then he told those brave enough to ask, what their Viking names would be. We had Danny the Granny Slayer on the front row.

David Macphail

Lari Don came next and talked about her Spellchasers trilogy (I know, I covered this a few weeks ago), and she wanted to know if any of us had the urge to be turned into an animal. One girl wanted to be a dragon, with an interesting idea for how to deal with the 45th President while in her dragon state. Long live creativity!

Lari Don

Mark A Smith followed, talking about his hero Slugboy, who seems to be some kind of anti-superhero. Unless I got that wrong. He Slugboys it out of St Andrews, which I felt was rather posh for slugs. Mark, as I said, had a song written about his hero, which we had to sing, to the tune of Glory glory halleluja, so it was terribly uplifting and all that, as well as a clever idea for audience participation.

Mark A Smith

Last but not least we had Jenny Colgan, who brought ‘her child to work’ and then proceeded to use her – fairly willing – son to hold the iPad to illustrate her Polly and the Puffin story as she read it to us. We had to do the puffin noises, so thank goodness for Macastory who didn’t seem to mind making fools of themselves.

Jenny Colgan

They also provided fun interludes, with songs and commentary, and we learned some sad facts about the future.

And that was it. The Resident IT Consultant led me safely back to the car (free parking in Cumbernauld!) with only one wrong turn. I’m hoping the authors were suitably accompanied back to somewhere they wanted to be, too. If not, there are authors to be discovered in downtown Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld New Town Hall

Not CrimeFesting at all

I had to agree with the facebook friend who pointed out yesterday that she wasn’t at all jealous of those of her ‘criminal’ friends who are currently in Bristol, enjoying the 10th CrimeFest. She obviously didn’t mean it. We’d both like to be there. Maybe not kill to be there, but severe jealousy is a painful thing.

One of my American colleagues is there, again, and has been ever since he first sat on ‘my’ chair the year after I went. Which is now nine years ago, and I’d not have believed it could – would – be that long. (That’s [not] me on the left. As you can see.)

Dinner Friday Night

And the funny thing is, the less time I have to read adult crime novels, the more I feel like a fraud for even wanting to be there. ‘I won’t know anyone,’ I tell myself. But looked at realistically, I must know many more people than I did in 2008. I suppose I just threw myself right into things then, with my youthful energy, and now I sit here in my dotage, doubting my criminal credentials.

It’s so long ago that I even used the word Ceefax in a blog post the same month! I know because I went back and looked, to remind myself of Bristol. I have promised myself countless times to really try to go back ‘next year.’ I suppose the best thing would be if I could book right now, long before I know what I will or won’t be doing in May 2018.

In 2008 I made the rash decision to go, when discovering that my Irish colleague Declan Burke was going. Just like that. Have I become responsible? No, actually, I haven’t. I just caught a glimpse of the dates for Bouchercon, and almost saw myself in Toronto in October.

This will not do! Bloody Scotland is a short walk away. Much more convenient.

Launching The Pearl Thief

Elizabeth Wein was clutching a bunch of flowers when I found her just inside the doors of the Perth Museum last night. (I hadn’t thought to get her anything…) She introduced me to a fellow American, whose name I immediately forgot. Sorry.

I said hello to Elizabeth’s publicist Lizz, and it is so nice to find that London-based people occasionally venture this far north. I mean, Perth is practically the North Pole. I stepped outside again to fortify myself with a sandwich, where Alex Nye found me. She had also braved the travel situation, but had to drive (trains stopped at her station going north but not south, which is no way to get home), unlike me who had the luxury of the London train. Very nicely timed.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

After bagging a seat on the back row, I was greeted by ‘Mr Wein’ who was doing his utmost not to pass on his cold. And five minutes past the starting time the museum’s lecture theatre was just about full.

Elizabeth was joined by Jess Smith, another local author with a traveller background, who’d been an early reader of The Pearl Thief. They were kept in order by Gavin Lindsay of the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust. We were treated to the first chapter in Elizabeth’s book, and she apologised for not being able to read with a Scottish accent. (That’s OK.) Then Jess read a long poem called Scotia’s Bairns, accompanied by a slideshow of old travellers, showing how they lived. She described it as a fading culture, that has to be grabbed before it disappears.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth made her heroine Julie posh, so she could be educated and well-read in the 1930s. The reason the travellers are in the story is due to her PhD in folklore, having been introduced to them by her professor, and Jess was there to see to it that she described them properly. ‘Casting’ a pair of traveller siblings balanced Julie and her brother Jamie. Jess said she ‘lived’ in the story, but both she and the editors demanded more action. And apparently the villain was the wrong one.

Jess Smith

Jess spoke of writing her first book, about her life growing up in the travelling community, explaining how she could deal with the bullies. She just learned to run fast. She hopes that young people will read her books, and she spoke fondly of her mother. Both writers agreed there is a lot of freedom in fiction.

Gavin Lindsay, Jess Smith and Elizabeth Wein

‘A homecoming’ is how Elizabeth described The Pearl Thief. It’s the first book set where she lives. Lara, the librarian from Innerpeffray Library, was in the audience, and I wasn’t the only one to have visualised her as the librarian in the book. Asked when Elizabeth knew she wanted the library in her story, she said she’d always known it was a part of it.

The reason Elizabeth wanted to return to writing about Julie was that her voice is so easy, although in this book she needed to adapt because Julie is younger. And the back story had to be expanded, as Elizabeth only had a name for one of Julie’s five brothers. She doesn’t know whether it’s best to read The Pearl Thief before or after Code Name Verity, but said that the experience would be different, whichever of the books came second.

Jess had a cousin in the audience who’s read all her books and loves them, and Jess suggested she would like Elizabeth’s book as well, and that she’s not getting paid to say so.

Logboat

Before finishing Gavin Lindsay mentioned the museum’s archeology programme for 2017, which includes the logboat that features in The Pearl Thief. And as long as we didn’t bring drinks in, we were allowed to have a look at the boat, which was much larger than I had imagined. It was surrounded by notices not to touch, and I was overcome by this dreadful urge to disobey, but didn’t…

Elizabeth Wein and Jess Smith

People bought books, had books signed, had more to eat and drink, and chatted. I explained my conundrum to Elizabeth that I didn’t know which of my copies of The Pearl Thief I would like to have signed, so in the end I’d brought both. Yes, I know it’s greedy, but this is the prequel to the second best book in the world. A bit of greed is fine.

I helped myself to one of the free maps of Perth, having got there totally mapless (someone had left the printer without toner), and set off on the walk back to the station. Halfway there I was asked to rescue my new American friend, who felt a bit lost. I could do this, but I’m warning you; don’t ask if you actually want to catch your train. She had so much spare time that we talked about books and reading and she very nearly didn’t make it and had to run. Which was entirely my fault.

But it is good to meet other book fans.

After this I discovered that one route to my platform involved getting the lift up to a glass-fenced bridge over the station. Aarrgghhh.

Reader, I did it!

And the evening also solved a little problem I’d had. So it’s all good.

Perth Museum

Finding home

It certainly takes the glamour out of being a refugee. Kate Milner’s picture book My name is not Refugee, tells the story of a mother who prepares her young child for leaving.

Kate Milner, My Name is not Refugee

She takes him through the various steps of what will have to happen; leaving your things, and your cat, behind. Living without running water, surrounded by rubbish. Being alone, or being with too many people close up. Eating strange food and sleeping in strange places.

And maybe finding somewhere in the end where you can be safe. Some place where you will eventually learn to understand the language, and maybe make new friends. Another cat.

In The Road Home by Katie Cotton, and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby, we meet a young hare and his parent. They are also trying to get home, and the way home takes them through beautiful and strange landscapes, past many other animals, friendly and not so friendly.

It’s different from the human trek, but maybe not so different after all. We want the same thing in the end.

‘For safety is a precious place, a place to call our own. This road is hard, this road is long, this road that leads us home.’

Two beautiful books.

Katie Cotton and Sarah Jacoby, The Road Home