Monthly Archives: February 2018

Ghost has been launched

‘Are you turning left?’ I asked, as my kind driver for the evening, Moira Mcpartlin, indicated. In the end we went right. And it went right, all the way to Perth, where Moira parked the car twice. I’d not had my walk for the day, so that was good. We even asked a policeman where we were. Or at least, where we were going.

Clare Cain, Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

To Helen Grant’s launch for Ghost, in case you have been left wondering. Our host at Waterstones ran between unlocking the shops’s front door, to unstacking chairs, serving drinks and selling books. We provided advice as to whether we thought the banner for Ghost was likely to topple and hit the Helens as they talked.

Because you can’t have too many Helens. Last night it was Helen Lewis-McPhee who grilled Helen Grant on her ‘often dark and shadowy mind.’ After an intro-duction from publisher Clare Cain, Helen Grant read from her book, choosing the windowsill chapter early on, to avoid too many spoilers.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Ghost has been the worst book to write, taking first one year, and then another year to rewrite when Helen’s agent said she should. (Personally I have some strong words to say about that. But this is not the place.) As she put it when asked by someone in the audience, some of the changes were good, others merely made it different. And she’s now ready to write something really cheesy, for a change.

I’m not sure this ‘rather dark’ author does cheesy. Helen believes in ghosts in as much that she expects to run into some old, but dead, friends in the street one day.

She starts and ends her days by going on social media, but between that Helen feels it’s important to experience the day happening, maybe by visiting one of the many falling-down houses she enjoys so much, or other ruins. Helen often takes her son when exploring, whereas her husband is unable to ‘sneak around enough.’ She likes being alone out there, too, being quiet.

Helen Lewis-McPhee and Helen Grant

Asked what she’s working on now, Helen said it’s several different things as she can’t make her mind up. And she ‘cannot say anything briefly.’

Another question was about a sequel to Ghost. Probably not, but she admitted that certain things must happen after the ending to the current book, so…

Helen Grant, Ghost

After all this people mingled and bought books and drank wine and were cultural. (I find Perth a little more grown-up than Stirling. Maybe I ought to go more often.)

Ghost launch Perth

When my copy of the book had been signed, my driver walked us back to the car and drove us safely all the way home, and only once suggested I might be interested in taking up singing.

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Odd friends

You can be odd in different ways. You can be simply odd. Or you are odd because there’s only one of you (and I think this is so unfair; you don’t always have to be a pair).

Or you could be a [toy] lion called Rory, who always waits for a bed time story from his friend, the little girl.

Jeanne Willis and Holly Clifton-Brown, Tell Me a Story, Rory

We have a lovely small lion in Jeanne Willis’s Tell Me a Story, Rory, with illustrations by Holly Clifton-Brown. Rory has a large mane for such a tiny lion, and he lives for his little girl’s stories. Until the day she goes away. Little girls eventually stop being little.

There’s nothing else for it. Rory has to tell himself a story.

As for Simon Sock in Sue Hendra’s and Paul Linnet’s story by the same name, with rather stripey pictures by Nick East, he finds out he is odd. That’s why he never gets chosen from the sock drawer. You have to be one of a pair. (Much like in life!)

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet and Nick East, Simon Sock

Simon starts looking for a mate, but there’s something not quite right about them. Until he does find his very own mate, Simone, who’d been missing under the chest of drawers. But she wants to watch television, so it’s not a happy ending for them.

Until… Betty the Banana offers to come out and play. You can be odd, but still not odd.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We’ve recently celebrated the centenary of [some] British women winning the right to vote. It wasn’t for everyone, but it was a start.

Sally Nicholls has written a suffragette novel – Things a Bright Girl Can Do – and as we meet her three main female characters, well-off Evelyn, educated but threadbare May and working class Nell, many of us know that very soon there will be a war, and this won’t be exclusively about the rights for women to vote.

Sally Nicholls, Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We learn a lot about the suffragette movement – and I was reminded of why I always liked Sylvia Pankhurst the best – as our three girls go about campaigning for votes for women in their own different ways. What I particularly liked was that they have sympathetic people close to them; Evelyn’s young man, Teddy, May’s single mother, and Nell’s [literally] very poor parents.

And it’s not just votes for women. May and her mother are Quakers, and both Nell and May like girls best, discovering that they aren’t alone in this. Then there is the lovely Teddy, and the threat of the looming war.

After a quick march through protests and fasting in jail, war breaks out, and it’s much tougher than the way it’s usually described in fiction. Yes, young men go off to be slaughtered, but life in England is really hard, especially for people like Nell and her family, who have no money and little food, and someone is always unwell. Trying to remain a true Quaker is not easy, either, at a time when everyone seems to give up their principles for their country.

The novel is written in the same light style as Sally’s other books, and it works, despite the difficult topics of suffrage, war, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In fact, I feel it works better for having this sweetness about it, as the reality of the war years hits home.

You come to love these characters, and you discover that death isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen.

A pile of ideas

It’s about an inch thick, with a rubber band keeping all the bits of paper under control. They are occasionally cuttings from magazines or newspapers, but mostly my own homemade ‘note paper’ cut from the backs of A4 sheets; old letters or press releases. You get eight if you cut it one way, or nine if you cut it the other way.

They are my ideas for blog posts. Sometimes I sprout so many ideas, so quickly, that I have to write them down to keep for later, and then I stuff them in with all the others, and when I’m desperate for something to write, I search through the bunch of notes.

I’ve only just realised that some of these notes have been with me A Very Long Time. Some are almost as old as Bookwitch. The blog, not the witch. I can tell from the handwriting that some of them were written absolutely ages ago. My writing has changed, mainly because I mostly type, and have half forgotten how to use a pen.

Ideas

At times I find a real gold nugget in there. (Don’t be silly. Not gold gold. Just a good idea.) But mostly there’s a reason they have been rubber-banded in for over ten years, and that’s because the idea is terrible, and I’ve clearly not been desperate enough to use it. Every now and then I go through it and throw away ideas that will never amount to anything. Or the words are so incomprehensible I have no idea what I had in mind.

(The illustrated ideas above can be explained as follows: Photo of Jo Nadin. Prize for Chae Strathie. And it needs to be pointed out that when Hillary Clinton and Mary Beard first met each other, it was in the presence of Daughter. Sort of. And that I’ve not yet managed to do anything with it.)

Ghost

Several things happened while I was reading Helen Grant’s new novel, Ghost.

I had an early e-version of this Gothic thriller, and I’d been describing to Helen how well it worked reading on the iPad. As I restarted, it sort of began scrolling the pages on its own. As I looked, I saw first a name, and soon after, a place. Both were familiar to me from what I’d been reading so far. ‘Damn,’ I thought. I didn’t want that to happen, and I didn’t want an accidental, electronic, spoiler.

But as I arrived at the end of Ghost, none of those things had appeared in the text, although something closely related to both had in fact happened. And as I got to the last line, there was a ghost of a flicker in my mind, reminding me of some other story. Except I can’t now think what, or even if. It was just rather ghost-like.

Helen Grant, Ghost

This is a beautifully written book. Not that I’d expect anything else from Helen Grant. It was hard to put down, and I did so as seldom as I could get away with. I wanted to bask in this quirky tale about the teenage Augusta – Ghost for short – who’d spent all her 17 years living with her grandmother, in secret, in a rambling but derelict house in Perthshire.

It’s a happy life, but frustrating and lonely, until the day Ghost’s grandmother goes shopping and never returns. And then 19-year-old Tom turns up. Both teenagers are equally shocked by the other, and together they have to try and make sense of Ghost’s strange existence.

Her quiet life in the Scottish countryside continues, while the reader waits for the bombshell that must surely come. What will it be, and when?

You’ll be surprised. At least I think you will be, if you have no unravelling pdf on your hands. Or, could it be that all copies of Ghost will have some kind of ghost inside? Not necessarily the same for all, but you know, some other-worldly hint.

Helen Grant is masterly at quietly worrying her readers.

I will – probably – be OK soon. I’m just not used to psychological thrillers.

Read in Geneva

I have trained her well. If Daughter sees something she feels could make a blog post, I might discover she has emailed me some photos that I can use. In this instance it’s the Geneva bookshop she happened to walk past a couple of weeks ago.

Booked in Geneva

Having time on her hands, she entered, and found they had a largish section of books in English. These are the teen books, so I’m guessing that were we to add adult books and picture books, there would be a great deal more of them.

It would be unfair to compare this kind of offering with the equivalent French section in Waterstones. I mean, I don’t even know if they have a French section. But books in English are easier to supply anywhere in the world, as they can be bought and read by many more people than are native English speakers.

I’d still say this is a good selection of books, for those who can afford them. I understand they were quite expensive. Whether this was with domestic UK book prices in mind, or what Swiss residents can afford on their higher salaries, I’m not sure.

Booked in Geneva

It’s good to see this kind of thing. Even if the shelves do seem to be bending over backwards.

The lollipop man

Following on from Sita Brahmachari’s book about the lollipop man the other day, I was interested to find this link to an article about another road crossings helper; one who has been banned* from high-fiving the children he helps to cross.

I’m of an age where I’ve not really been in a position to enjoy the services of a lollipop person. Except, in the last few years in Stockport, when I devised a new regular route for my daily walks, I remember coming up against all the traffic one afternoon, and wondering how I was going to get across.

That was until I spied a high visibility coat further along and realised I had arrived just as the local lollipop man was warming up for his afternoon shift. I stalked up to him, looked hopeful, and was immediately ushered across. I repeated this on many occasions.

Anyway, this article I mentioned. It had a photo of a lollipop man standing in front of a dilapidated red brick wall. I found it interesting, as that wall made me think of the one on the road I mentioned above. I thought that it’s funny how all brick walls look the same.

Lollipop man

And then I read the article. It was my brick wall. Possibly my lollipop man too, but I can’t claim to recognise him.

I clearly know my brick wall.

*The ban has now been lifted.