Monthly Archives: November 2017

Mary, Queen of Scots – Revered, reviled

The Resident IT Consultant and your witch had been wondering who on earth would come to a book event at a branch library on a Tuesday morning. Even if it was Alex Nye and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Well, let me tell you; countless elderly ladies, interested in Mary, in history and most likely quite keen on some culture to liven up their day, at a time when it’s easier to get out. St Ninian’s library was ready for business at 10.30, standing by with fresh coffee and enough room for wheelchairs and zimmer frames and the odd, self-balancing stick. Not to mention an ignorant Bookwitch. The man seated in front of the Resident IT Consultant turned round and said he was so glad he wasn’t the only man in the room…

Self-balancing stick

In other news, there was barely a copy of Alex’s book – For My Sins – available to buy, because it’s out of print, and will only be in he shops again tomorrow. Alex had a few copies, which she brought, but at least that’s success, even if it would have been nice to see a roaring trade in Mary.

I hadn’t even heard it all before. This can be a problem when going to more than one event for a book, but Alex varied what she said, so it was almost like it was brand new.

Alex Nye

She set the scene by describing the snow-covered Stirling castle (we’d had one just like it three days earlier), with Mary getting ready for the christening of her baby son James. Alex read a bit from that part of the book, finishing with Darnley’s sudden departure for Glasgow (which presumably had him ride right past the library, seeing as it’s virtually on the Glasgow Road).

Alex Nye

We heard how Alex began the book in her early twenties, in her ‘garret’ in Buccleuch Street in Edinburgh, and how it was eventually discovered by publisher Clare Cain and made into what we all agreed was an attractive book (even if it did sell too well), looking as though it had just escaped from a fire.

Alex Nye, For My Sins

And when it came to questions, the assembled ladies had more and better questions than I’ve heard at other events. They know their Scottish history, and they care about it.

Maybe have more daytime events like this?

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Spicy autism

You’ve heard of having mild autism? It’s a ‘kind’ way of describing someone as almost not autistic but nearly normal. Well, we won’t have it, so how about a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Spicy autism’ instead? Can you take it?

Monday night’s event for Book Week Scotland at Waterstones was like coming home, where I was surrounded by like-minded people, and they were clever and amusing and weird enough that they appeared normal [to me]. It was great. And we need more of this.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

The conversation between Rachael Lucas, who wrote The State of Grace about a teenage girl with Asperger Syndrome, and Catherine Simpson, whose adult novel Truestory features a boy with Asperger’s, was chaired by Catherine’s daughter Nina. I can’t think of a better combination of people to listen to on this subject.

It was Nina’s first experience of chairing, and her straightforward style and intelligence was just what was needed. When she was younger she caused Catherine much worry, mainly because neither the health service nor the education authorities were helpful or sympathetic. (I’ve been there. I know.) And there was one thing Catherine told us, which was uncannily close to what I’ve felt myself.

Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Rachael had spent a lot of time pointing out her daughter was unusual, but it still took ages for a diagnosis, for both of them. As is often the case; if one family member is diagnosed, another might be next.

With such interesting lives to discuss, I had very little need to hear [the usual] details about their books. It’s their lives we really wanted to hear about. This doesn’t mean that books about aspies are not needed, because they are. People like to find themselves in books.

‘Coming out’ as an aspie when you write a book about it, was both necessary and difficult for Rachael. Her daughter’s autism was not recognised because she didn’t line up her toys, and because Rachael helped her in trying to be normal. That in itself seems to be a sign of being on the autistic spectrum.

Catherine Simpson

Catherine needed something to do when she was stuck at home because of Nina, and eventually hit on writing, and did a course at Napier, before writing her novel which among other things features the f-word (as she discovered when starting to read to us), and growing cannabis. (It sounded much funnier when she said it. I suspect you need the book.)

Rachael decided to write about a teenage girl, partly because she had one herself, but also because everything people know about autism tends to be about boys. On the other hand, Catherine wrote about a boy, so people wouldn’t assume it was about Nina, but she regrets this now. And anyway, Nina has often been described as masculine, which is another situation I recognise. You can still love My Little Pony. And Doctor Who.

Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

One side-effect after reading Grace has been that some people have got their own diagnosis, which both writers agreed was excellent, but they also pointed out quite how hard this can be to achieve. The internet is mostly for the good, and it suits autistic people well. You can pause your life briefly when online, and take a moment or two to think about how to respond to what someone has said. (Rachael aptly called this her ‘buffering.’)

And you don’t have to smile to look friendly (Rachael’s husband asked her what she was doing, and when she said she was trying to avoid looking scary by practising smiling, he asked her to please stop). Nor do you need to worry about eye-contact online.

These two women are funny. But it seems their books have too much of a happy ending. Autistic people are only ever allowed to be ‘tragic and inspirational.’ Happy is for neurotypicals. But when you’ve had your mothering skills questioned by (possibly well-meaning) staff at your child’s school, then you are surely permitted to rebel? “Have you tried the naughty step?’

Nina Mega

Looking at how Nina turned out, I’d say Catherine did as much right as any parent. And I’m sure the same goes for Rachael’s daughter [who wasn’t present]. There were lots of questions from the audience, but in case there hadn’t been, Nina was prepared with more of her own, as any good aspie would be.

Lists’r’us.

And yes, balloons are frightening things. The Bookwitch family has at least one member who always tenses up, in case a balloon will pop unexpectedly.

Doctor Dodo and other clever women

The Resident IT Consultant and I saw a few more roundabouts than we had counted on, as we travelled to Edinburgh yesterday to celebrate Dodo’s new PhD.

If we had pushed for tickets to the graduation ceremony (but we didn’t, as we felt that they should go to Son and the Dodo family), we’d have had the pleasure of seeing Mairi Hedderwick receive her honorary doctorate alongside Dodo. It’s always nice when the famous person is so famous that one has actually heard of them, but nicer still when it’s someone quite so special as Katie Morag’s creator.

Doctor's graduation

As it was, it was just one more missed opportunity to see Mairi this week, but more importantly, it was a time to celebrate with the Dodos by stuffing ourselves with tapas. It was very civilised, and very nice, and the company was good and we were nowhere near needing those reserve sandwiches I happened to have in my bag.

And the proud Father of Dodo got to tell us his dream – he now has three children who can call themselves doctor, and he’s looking forward to the phone ringing and someone asking for Doctor L, so he can ask ‘Doctor Who?’

When we couldn’t get any fuller, or wittier, some of us went home to collapse on some sofa, and the resident IT Consultant went off to a transport meeting to consult a bit, and your witch hobbled downhill for a quick look at the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens, and then on to Waterstones for an evening on autism.

Edinburgh Christmas market

As part of Book Week Scotland, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson were there to talk with Catherine’s daughter Nina Mega, on writing novels with autistic characters, and bringing up children with Asperger Syndrome, and about being ‘a bit like that’ yourself. I felt right at home and it was one of the better events I’ve been to and I will tell you more about it when I’ve had some sleep, and maybe been to another book event or two.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Who knows?

Christmases and snow flakes

Christmas is less red, and more pale blue with white dots.

All three picture books in front of me share this colour scheme, and it’s one I like a lot. Red is shouty. This is more wintry, and cold.

Rachel Bright’s All I Want for Christmas, about little penguin who thinks mostly about the Christmas shopping, is really just a version of Mother-of-witch. All she ever wanted for Christmas, no matter how often I asked, was a good little girl. And big penguin in this book is just the same. It’s all about love.

Rachel Bright, All I Want for Christmas

David Melling’s Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas, brings us our favourite silly bear. He builds a snowman, accidentally incorporating most of his friends. And he finds a reindeer with a shiny nose. There are hugs. Lots of snow. And a sledge, just like little penguin’s.

David Melling, Merry Christmas, Hugless Douglas

In The Snowbear by Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander, two children build a snowman. And then they too go sledging. It’s very slippery, and they go very fast, and the woods are full of wolves. But with a faithful snowbear you need not worry for long, even if it is too slippery to go uphill.

Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander, The Snowbear

Doune done

It’s not a bookshop, but alongside all the tea sets and silver and old furniture, they do sell books, as I mentioned yesterday. Last week they had Harry Potter 4 and Harry Potter 5. Both first editions, and reasonably priced. £20 for HP4 and £10 for HP5.

Well, we all have those first editions, but at least no one is trying to demand a fortune.

Before leaving the Antique’s paradise, I just had to go and check on one of the most fascinating items they sell. I’ve seen it there for the last year, at least, and they still haven’t sold it.

I’m not sure they even know what it is, apart from a sort of bookcase. It’s the bespoke bookcase for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in one of its early editions.

We know this, because we have one just like it, except we also happen to have the actual encyclopaedia on the shelves in ours. And we have tried, and failed, to sell it for £100.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Here they are asking £145 for the bookcase alone. It’s down from £165, and still not selling…

Doing Doune

We went via Butcher’s Corner. This was made famous in the whole Bookwitch family when the Resident IT Consultant happened to complain about Daughter having taken a turn on ‘practically’ two wheels, back when he accompanied her on driving practice.

View from the Smiddy

Last week when Daughter was finally legally able to take her ancient mother to Butcher’s Corner – which is actually a farmshop and tearoom – we didn’t do the two-wheel thing. Instead we stopped for elevenses. It was nice being out like this, all on our own. You know, without Daddy, our regular and much appreciated family chauffeur.

Properly fed, we continued to the Antique’s place in Doune, where we could look at ‘everything’ without the Resident IT Consultant needing to ‘go for a walk.’

Hamish McHaggis

I was pleased to discover Linda Strachan lurking on a shelf, by which I mean her Hamish McHaggis was for sale, alongside much lovely bric-a-brac.

Chaos Walking

Across the aisle Daughter found a set of tied up Chaos Walking books. And as we waved at them in a friendly way, we discovered a similarly tied up trilogy of Ribblestrop close by.

Ribblestrop

This is what we like, finding friends everywhere.

Further into this massive cave of stuff, we encountered Chris Riddell sitting next to someone I won’t mention, so he had to be hidden before we photographed Fergus Crane.

Fergus Crane

I have to admit the colour co-ordination between the books was good, but limits are there to be obeyed.

I Killed Father Christmas

Children! Don’t you just love them? (Well, I suppose you do, especially if they are yours.)

In this Little Gem Anthony McGowan shows us how easy it is to get the wrong idea. How you might end up believing you have killed Father Christmas. Poor Jo-Jo overhears his parents arguing, which leads him to the belief that Father Christmas is dead and it was all his fault for wanting too many Christmas presents.

Anthony McGowan and Chris Riddell, I Killed Father Christmas

This is a sweet tale of how easy it is to misunderstand, but it is mostly about how good children really are, once the excessive Christmas lists have been dispensed with. Jo-Jo will make sure it is Christmas after all.

And then, well, wearing his mum’s red coat, Jo-Jo does his thing, and Father Christmas does his bit, and with the help of Chris Riddell’s illustrations, we have ourselves a rather nice little book about what matters.

The question is, did Father Christmas really..?