Monthly Archives: October 2017

On ruining Othello

If I have to go back to school, I want Claire McFall to be my English teacher.

She is such fun, and so cheerful, and doesn’t hesitate to ruin Othello if the syllabus demands it.

Claire McFall

I have to admit that Claire proves I am wrong in preferring to interview authors whose work I know well. When I met her I had only read half of Ferryman – the book that went to China and was a huge success. And China does seem to be the way to go. Maybe the country could change the fates of more British YA, and children’s, authors.

So here, only two months late, is our conversation over cookies and juice (yes, really) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with Claire’s thoughts on China and how to get school pupils to write.


Remembering Dina

I remember the morning well, even though it’s been ten years. I was with my new laptop at the Apple shop in Manchester’s Arndale for our weekly lesson. I’d got myself up on the barstool and was opening the laptop while waiting for my Genius.

That’s when I noticed the new email in my inbox, and because I could see the beginning of it, I had to read it there and then, despite realising it wasn’t the right place to do so.

It was from Adèle Geras, breaking the news that Dina Rabinovitch had died a few hours earlier. And even though it wasn’t unexpected, it still was, and very upsetting. I’d admired Dina so long, and had willed her to live. And so had she, obviously.

After the lesson was over, I went home and blogged about Dina. It wasn’t the first time and it wasn’t the last. There was always plenty to say about this wonderful children’s books reviewer at the Guardian. Someone who interviewed like I could only dream of doing. Her ‘duel’ with Eva Ibbotson on which of them was the most ill, for instance.

Well, Dina won that one.

Less than three weeks before, I’d hoped to meet Dina for the first time. She was supposed to be doing an event, but became too unwell to go through with it. I went [to London] anyway, and had a different sort of day, instead, and Dina was interested in hearing what I’d done. I looked at the Tate Modern, and I went to the National Theatre. When I think back to that day, I see it as Dina’s gift to me, somehow.

Then there are the friends found through her blog, which I’ve written about before. Dina did so much, for so many.

And now it’s ten years since she died. I realise her little boy is no longer little. I hope her children are well, and happy.

Dina Rabinovitch

Aarhus 39


I’m absolutely green with envy.

This is the Aarhus 39 weekend (if that’s what it is when it begins on a Thursday), and I’m not there. Meg Rosoff is swanning around in the company of Eoin Colfer and Chris Riddell, two ex-children’s laureates. Two of my favourites. They, in turn, are swanning around in the company of Meg, favourite everything.

I don’t see how it can get much worse. For me, that is. They and Aarhus are probably having a great time. They are probably swanning around with Daniel Hahn, assuming he’s in a position to swan with anyone.

This Astrid Lindgren nominated whirlwind has gathered at least two more ALMA nominees – Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson – as well as most of the other 37 Aarhus 39ers. That’s them in the jolly photo below.

Aarhus 39

No doubt they are mostly swanning too.

And the lucky citizens of Aarhus will have been going round to all these book events, most of which appear to have been free.

I hope this means that it might become a habit, and that maybe next year I can swan somewhere. Unless all the laureates are worn out by then.


By now you all speak ‘Hygge’ don’t you? Sometimes used correctly, sometimes not. But you know about the Danish hygge. I was quite pleased when it appeared in the media, because finally, after all these years, the Resident IT Consultant understood what he’d had to put up with for so long. It made sense. I mean, I made sense.

That’s all in the past, however. Now it’s about lagom, which is a very lagom kind of word. Not too much, not too little. Just right. Goldilocks, really.

The most recent copy of the church newsletter from the Swedish church in London contained an interview with two Swedes who, separately from each other, had both written books about Lagom. The interviewer joked and said she felt that was lagom. Maybe.

When the Resident IT Consultant returned from the library the other week, he was also bearing a Lagom book. Not one of the ones I’d read about. Seems there is no end to how lagom you can be with books about lagom.

Lola A Åkerström, Lagom

This third one, by Lola A Åkerström, contains very attractive photographs. Not sure they are terribly lagom in any sense, but never mind.

And I’m not sure that lagom is a topic suitable to be written about by non-Swedes. The other two were, whereas Lola has arrived in Sweden from Nigeria via the US and Oxford.

Nothing wrong with that, but as the Resident IT Consultant remarked, he felt that some of her comments about life in Sweden would also be true of many other European countries. And if you come from outside that area, you might not know.

A book on lagom might be more lagom if coming from a Swede. But the photos are certainly attractive to look at, and definitely more than lagom.

Speaking out

As you may have suspected, some of my blog posts are written in advance, for various reasons. After I’d written the ‘less nice one’ a week or so ago, I woke up the following morning and thought, ‘what have I done? I must take it down, or amend it!’

But as I had breakfast I found myself mulling over the latest Hollywood scandal, and muttering things like ‘Meryl Streep ought to have said something much earlier.’ And I thought about my gut instinct that this sort of thing can only be dealt with if people gang up and act together, a little bit 9 to 5, if you like. And humour is always good. I recalled the aspie non-fiction book I often hark back to in my mind, where the devoted mother helped her bullied young aspie son get revenge on his bully, by carefully orchestrating a script, which used humour to deflate his opponent.

After which thought, I returned to my long ago shame that I didn’t stand up for Son, who was the main victim in this business I mentioned. The Resident IT Consultant was in it too, but he can look after himself. Well, so can Son, but he’s my child and as his mother it was my duty to do what I didn’t do right then. Because I believed people could behave like adults.

So here I am, having taken nothing down, instead adding to it.

Because I could have, should have, been Meryl Streep. In a manner of speaking.

You have probably worked out I’m talking about the book world. And some of the stars of that world were bullied by the people I mentioned. Some to an extent they felt really quite unwell. But ‘the show must go on.’ People have a living to make.

It wasn’t only the stars that suffered. It was people working in related roles to do with what the book business does. The things I found out, when they’d ascertained I wasn’t with the other side! Someone soldiered on with her job, because she had to. Another said quite tartly that yes, she had had dealings with X and knew how to handle him/her. Yet another person, someone I’d felt was very collected and cool and no pushover, had asked to be moved somewhere else.

Then there are those who have been less affected, while noticing what things were like. The kind who sighs or smiles and says ‘well, you know what Great Aunt Gertrude is like…’

It’s easy to say that I’m reading the wrong thing into these types of comments, which is why I was heartened to personally meet a star who had never met these people and didn’t know about my own problems. In a separate discussion, geographically far removed from it all, apparently the gathered stars had ended up talking about this business. And they have a nickname for X; one that is both simple and oh, so apt.

We are all Meryl Streep.


Brilliant, but darker than Andy Mulligan’s other books, Dog is a heartwarming tale about a dog and his boy. Unlike some others, this one goes slightly more wrong when things go wrong, so I was fascinated to discover in the acknowledgements that Dog ’emerged after a more sombre novel had withered and died.’ I wonder what our usually so light and amusing Andy has been up to?

Andy Mulligan, Dog

Dog is the last of the litter, not claimed by anyone, on account of him looking so weird. Which is why he only finds his boy when he’s actually given away for free. Money is a problem in Tom’s broken family, and when more things break, that means the problem gets worse. They can’t afford the mishaps that go with a puppy. A happy puppy, now that he’s found his Tom, but still rather accident-prone and someone who thinks after the deed.

This book deals with bullying; both Tom’s at school, and to some extent Dog’s (he’s called Spider…) at the hands of a spider, and a cat. It’s lucky that all the animals can talk to each other. Or maybe not. Spider believes the best of nearly every animal he meets. Who even knew fleas could be this lovely?

Finding this kind of love should be an encouragement to many readers – and their dogs – that life can improve. Both Tom and Spider make mistakes, as do the adults around them, but most problems can be sorted. Maybe not McKinley’s, though. That was rather a nightmare. As was the moth’s treatment by the spider (not the dog Spider!). It’s life. Or more appropriately, death.


It’s funny how, looking back, you don’t know what is to come. Spring 2009 I didn’t know the Grants; Helen and Michael. And no, they are not a couple. Helen has her Mr Grant, and Michael isn’t actually a Grant.

I connect both of them with Germany. Helen had lived in Germany for many years, and her first book – The Vanishing of Katharina Linden – was set there, in Bad Münstereifel; not too far from Köln and Bonn.

Because that’s where Daughter and I were heading, that weekend in March 2009, and I was reading Helen’s book on the plane, and I’d just got to the bit where one of the ‘innocent’ characters says ‘Scheisse.’ It made me giggle. Childish, I know. Anyway, it was good reading a book set in Germany when I was actually in Germany. I mean, above Germany.


When Daughter and I had done what we came for, which was to attend a Roger Whittaker concert in Köln, which was great, and made greater still by being preceeded by an interview with Roger, we went to visit an online friend near Bonn. I had a suitcase full of books for her, because you have to get rid of books somehow.

One of those books was Michael Grant’s Gone, the first in the Gone series. And I only gave it away, because I had been sent two copies. My friend liked the look of it so much that she read it almost there and then. Although, being a writer herself she went on to pick the plot to pieces and had opinons on almost every aspect. But that’s fine.

So, The Vanishing and Gone – both books about disappearing – were my first meetings with Helen and Michael.

And now, I’ve read so much more by them, and seen so much more of them, that they feel like old established friends. Helen lives relatively near me, and Michael is so successful that he’s over in Britain most years, and sometimes more than once.

But it began in that plane, with a Scheisse, and a spare book.

(The witchiness does not end there. The second, literally, that I typed Roger’s name, my Messenger pinged, with a question about him from a relative.)

Carnegie Story Trail

The Resident IT Consultant likes leaflets. He brings home many of them, and I’m not always grateful.

But, as he said, he thought I’d be interested in who was involved with this one he’d found. I was.

Carnegie Story Trail

So I am now going to ‘review’ what I’ve not read, because reading it would entail me travelling to a wood somewhere well north of Inverness. And I’m not too keen on woods. But you might be!

And when you arrive at Ledmore & Migdale Carnegie story trail, you are supposed to go geocaching to find the story that I can’t tell you too much about. Sorry.

I have tried getting my head round geocaching in general, and I read the instructions for this trail in particular, but I can’t say I get it. I was never too good at orienteering at school either, so that could be the reason.

But anyway, you go round this trail, looking for these spots, and then you search for the hidden story parts; the story written by Theresa Breslin and illustrated by Kate Leiper. And I’m guessing when you’ve found them all, they join up and make for a great reading experience. Which would be nice. Less nice if you missed the chapter by the root end of fallen tree.

In fact, especially that one, as it’s the last chapter. (I know this because apparently there are hints you can follow.)

This will be good for you. First the walk. Then the satisfaction of discovering all the chapters. Finally reading the story. It was written by the best and illustrated by the best.

What are you waiting for?

I’m not coming with you…

Carnegie Story Trail

Hiding in full view

Sometimes I do stuff which is not all that nice. Often it’s done hurriedly, and later I might wish I hadn’t. Once I had it forced on me. And that’s the one time I don’t regret.

I used to have this irrational belief that adults can and will behave like adults. That the politics from the school playground stayed there and didn’t enter any grown-up dealings. But as I watched the new employees of a small business I was slightly connected with, come, and go, followed by childish but unpleasant gossip behind their backs, I was a bit shocked. However, I assumed that what was said was mostly true, because I couldn’t see the point of them lying.

Until one day I realised that I was next. I wasn’t employed by the business, nor was I paid. I had believed this would safeguard me from being ‘fired.’ And I wasn’t, because I simply walked away.

But I could see that it was likely similar gossip would be used about me, and potentially to people I liked and who I would prefer if they continued liking me to the same extent they’d done in the past. And belatedly I understood that what had been said about all those other people had not been true, but more a way for the business owners to justify the departure of yet another member of staff.

What to do? Well, I blogged about it. No, not about that as such, but about what had gone before. It wasn’t nice, but it was done with names changed, and only to get in there first, in case anyone ever asked. Because blog posts are dated, and I’d read enough crime stories to see the value of that. And if it wasn’t needed, then no one would be any the wiser.

It deeply offended the business owners. I was actually quite touched that they continued reading Bookwitch after what had been said between us. The thing is, I didn’t want to upset them, even though they upset me at the time. It was merely intended as a safeguard.

In the years since, I have talked to others who knew them, and I believe I know where I stand with most of them. Some continue being friendly with the business, and I don’t mind that. Others have been able to share openly how they themselves felt ‘at their hands.’

The funny thing is, I am really, really good at bearing grudges. I could grudge for Scotland. But in this case I don’t. On the other hand, when I see they are looking to recruit new staff, I don’t suggest anyone has a go. I don’t wish that experience on anybody.

If the playground could have been left where it belonged, I reckon we would all have benefitted from continued collaboration. Because when it was good, it was good. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really, really wasn’t.

What price books?

It’s odd. I could have sworn Waterstones were offering La Belle Sauvage for £10 earlier in the week. I felt that if I ended up having to buy my own copy, that was an OK price.

But when the Resident IT Consultant was dispatched to go bookshopping on Thursday afternoon, he found otherwise. First, he checked the Stirling Waterstones web page and saw the price was £12.99. We agreed this was still all right.

And when he got there, the price was £15.

As a good Scot he haggled. He told them about the £12.99 quoted, and said if they sold it at that price he’d buy two copies. After phoning higher powers for permission, they gave in.

If I’d known I’d need to pay, I’d have ordered early and bought at £10.

But at least we didn’t go for Blackwells Oxford on eBay, who were [are?] selling the book at a ‘reasonable’ £34.62. That’s with free postage. For a book with a cover price of £20, I am having trouble working out what’s going on.