Monthly Archives: November 2017

No Jo for me

There is what I consider to be a standard line at the bottom of most book press releases, which generally goes something like this: ‘For more information, review copies and interviews, please contact A Publicist.’

If it’s missing I reckon the author is too grand, too busy or possibly too dead for interviews. However, when I see that line, I take it to be mostly true.

Which is why I jumped a little on receipt of Jo Nesbø’s fifth Doctor Proctor book, which this time is about Christmas. I’ve read one Doctor Proctor, and consider that to be quite enough. And some of you might remember what my opinion of Jo is. (Based on one event and some gossip about him, like most prejudice.)

My brain went ‘no, I do not want anything to do with him. But maybe? After all, he’s really famous. Could be “interesting.” Nah, don’t be silly. Anyway, he wouldn’t be available. Except, it says so. And remember that time a few years ago when the man even set up a signing event on the Virgin train taking him from Manchester to Scotland? Clearly desperate for attention. He wouldn’t mind talking to a Bookwitch. I could do a bespoke version of my Profile questions. Maybe grill him a little on why he thinks he should write children’s books.’

That, roughly, was my thought process. So I asked. And not surprisingly, he wasn’t going to be available.

Which is fine. I just don’t feel the line should have been there.

He’s obviously not [that] desperate. In fact, as Pippi and I found at our recent Afternoon Tea, we had both read the magazine snippet where someone asked Jo if he’d notice if ten million kroner went missing from his bank account. He seemed to be shocked at the mere notion of this. Of course he wouldn’t be able to tell!

(If you follow the above link to book one, you will discover that I liked it. I have no reason to believe that Can Doctor Proctor Save Christmas? will be any worse. I just lost my enthusiasm somewhere.)


Book Week Scotland 2017

Starting on Monday, 27th November, is this year’s Book Week Scotland. And there is much you can do.

But don’t delay. There is no point in me suggesting you catch James Oswald in Auchterarder, because he’s already sold out. And because I have now more or less decided what I will and won’t do, I have stopped looking at the ticket booking facility, so won’t know what else might be too late.

Crawford Logan, aka Paul Temple, will do an event in what seems to be an undertaker’s ‘service room.’ But I don’t see why not. After all, he was last seen by the Bookwitch family doing a reading at the Grandmother’s funeral. He knows what to do.

Mairi Hedderwick is appearing all over the place, while still not doing so at a venue or at a time that suits me…

A place and time that is surprisingly good for me is Rachael Lucas talking about Asperger’s at Waterstones on Monday night. And more locally, I have Alex Nye coming to my nearest library (not that I’ve measured), and Alexandra Sokoloff will be talking at Stirling University.

Lin Anderson will be in Alloa, and Badger (the lovely dog) is coming to Cumbernauld.

And I could go on. But I won’t, because if I mention all the people I would like to see but can’t, because they are booked to speak in Shetland or (almost as bad) Orkney, I will get upset. But if you happen to be close to my far flung places, then off you go to a lovely event or two. Julie Bertagna, for instance. Or Debi Gliori.

La Belle Sauvage

Maybe Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage really is for fans only? I am a fan, so have no way of knowing what it’s like ‘on the outside.’

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

I read the book slowly, and I enjoyed every minute of it (apart from the sheer size, weight and sharp corners). Having come across a couple of negative reviews/opinions before reading, I kept them in mind, but could not agree. OK, maybe regarding one small aspect, which is that the chapter with the fairy appeared to be irrelevant. I say appeared, because it could turn out to be as important in the later books as Rowling’s polyjuice potion. I’d like to think that an author knows what they need to happen.

The pace in the story is slow, too. It’s quite comforting, and I loved being back in Lyra’s Oxford, albeit ten years earlier, just as I enjoyed the two shorter books we’ve already been given; the one with Lyra, and the Lee Scoresby one. And if that’s ‘just’ for fans, then so be it. We are many fans.

Whether this tale about 12-year-old Malcolm and 15-year-old Alice adds anything to Lyra’s life – other than saving her actual life – I have no idea. I’d like to meet them again, but if I don’t, then I’m sure the two books still to come will give me something else I will like.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s that this old, and alternate, Oxford somehow has grown more modern in the last twenty years. But it must be hard to remember the feel of that Oxford, so many years after. We have all been influenced by coffee shops everywhere, and mobile phones, and it’s impossible to see the past the way we saw it before. Philip Pullman probably can’t unsee an Oxford full of coffee shops. And we’ve not previously had cause to discuss the availability of disposable nappies in Lyra’s Oxford, so who am I to say they seem more handy than likely?

The other thing is that our world now lacks the hope we had back then. This makes the threat from Philip’s secret organisations come across as scarier than ever.

I feel no closer to understanding Dust. Maybe I will after the second, or the third, book. Or not. Some things are better for being mysterious.

(For another, totally different, and much more professional, view of La Belle Sauvage, here’s Frank Cottrell Boyce in the Guardian.)

Paddington Bond… Bear

It’s not every author who gets to have a memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral. But I think we can agree that Michael Bond deserved that, can’t we?

I wasn’t invited, but seem to know a few people who were. And I gather there was a – limited – opportunity to obtain a free ticket online, for those in the know. I hope everyone who attended had a good time.

Hugh Bonneville aka the Earl of Grantham aka Mr Brown of Paddington fame, was there, along with his two fictional Brown children.

The Bookwitch family went to see the second Paddington film in the cinema, the evening before. We had a great time, and the rare chance to actually dislike Hugh Grant. That doesn’t happen often.

I loved the scene were the prisoners shared pudding recipes, but suspect that really young viewers might not get the humour about the pannacotta recipe. So, something in there for all.

And isn’t it marvellous how a children’s book can spawn a couple of lovely films for all ages to enjoy?

Help yourself, why don’t you?

It’s really simple. You have a Christmas ad to make. You look around at books aimed at young children and find something suitably sweet. You contact the author/illustrator and ask them to work with you in return for money.*

I’ve heard there is a fair amount of it available for the people who think up and subsequently make Christmas ads. I feel it’d be a nice Christmas touch to pay the author for their work.

It’s not quite so nice to steal someone’s creation and pass it on as your own, by saying that monsters under beds are so commonplace that no one, not even a former children’s laureate, can claim it’s actually theirs.

And when found out, it’d look a lot better if you admitted to making a mistake and offered a belated payment for the stuff you took.

Or, you could not. A bit like John Lewis and the monster under the bed, ‘inspired’ by Chris Riddell’s Mr Underbed.

If the Christmas ad was intended to spread goodwill and all those other things, I’d say it failed this year. If John Lewis wanted us to think nice thoughts about them, they also failed.

I’ll go and watch Mog’s Christmas again. That was a nice one. Judith Kerr was credited for her work. I suspect she might even have been paid for it.

*I’d be happy to make suggestions.


Soon after I met the future Resident IT Consultant, we were in a bookshop in a railway station. Can’t remember which station, but can still see the bookshop where he discovered a bargain coffee table book about trains. At £5 it really was, but I was still shocked to find he was actually going to buy it.

The World's Great Railway Journeys

Nearly a decade later Son was about three years old, and he loved trains. (Makes you wonder where he got that idea from.) He used to drag our large books off the shelves behind the sofa, and most of all he used to ‘read’ this bargain train book. We owned many train books, but this one had the best pictures for looking at. A couple of years of this, and he had more or less killed the book with all his reading. The spine sort of fell off, and that was pretty much it.

But what a lot of pleasure he had from that £5 book!

He’s a bit older now, but still likes his trains.

Do you remember Master Happy? He’s a current three-year-old and he’s got a new brother called Kopernikus, and he’s a little less happy at times. New babies are a pain.

It so happened that Son walked past Master Happy in his grandmother’s garden a while back (and that’s more of a coincidence than it might appear), and was invited in to play. And when he discovered their shared fondness for trains, well, let’s just say that it’s awfully handy that a modern young man can always carry around a photo album full of train pictures in his jeans pocket. I wasn’t there, but I can imagine the scene of the two, perusing one train more interesting than the last one.

The World's Great Railway Journeys

The Resident IT Consultant went out to see if he could bag another bargain train book, but it would seem they are not as fashionable as they were. So he got down on all fours and searched his own collection for something childfriendly, and while the book he eventually dusted off isn’t a patch on that other one, it’s got a few good trains in it.

I hope Master Happy reads it to pieces before Kopernikus gets his mitts on the book.

The World's Great Railway Journeys

In the passenger seat

There were a lot fewer cars in 1967!

I have just completed my third ‘job’ as passenger to new driver. Third generation new driver, too.

Fifty years ago, the – very young – witchlet sat next to Mother-of-witch as she attempted to get up to speed on driving. She’d had a license for 16 years when she realised circumstances required a car, and driving. So there I was, doing my supporting role from the back seat (too young to sit in the front), and to this day I remember the exact spot on the road where Mother-of-witch attempted to turn the car round and stalled spectacularly. Even with the 1967 level of cars, queues soon built up both left and right. Eventually, gritting her teeth, she stomped out of the car and asked the nearest [male] driver if he’d mind moving her car out of the way…

Those were the days.

Later on, your witch found herself in Shetland with the Resident IT Consultant, who was driving a hire car on holiday, and it was pretty much his first real go at driving. That particular u-turn ended in a ditch. We got a tractor to pull us out…

And, that brings me to today. Well, this week. With her only driving experience being the dark roads up in the Chilean Andes, in a left-hand drive car, Daughter’s been ‘home’ for a few days and wanted to drive more ‘normally,’ to see if she could. So there I was, in the passenger seat with another new driver. The car hire company only had a rather large seven-seater automatic, so that’s what she got.

But at least with an automatic, you don’t stall. And unless I missed it, we had no need for any strange men to rescue us out of anything.