Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Secret Seven Brain Games

Secret Seven Brain Games

This will be a really useful book as you sit listlessly in the heat, wondering what on earth you can do with your summer holidays.

Alongside Pamela Butchart’s new Secret Seven mystery, Tony Ross has been busy drawing quizzes and puzzles for fans, with Mandy Archer writing all the clever stuff you can try to figure out with the Secret Seven Brain Games.

I really like the look of this, so it’s lucky I am old, which means I am busy, which means I will not ruin this book for someone who might enjoy it. Although, I do think I’d enjoy it too.

Secret Seven Brain Games

There are all the classic brainteasers, with maps and codes, for this is Blyton territory. Crosswords, sudoku and so much more!

Someone come and take this book off me before I succumb!


Tricks and threats

I liked reading about the various tricks people use to get their children to read, especially on holiday. The Guardian Review had some tips this weekend, and it’s always interesting to see what others have done. They can be quite sneaky, parents.

Once I had told Son that the one thing I expected him to do at school – this was in Y2 – was to learn to read, I don’t believe I did much else.

As parents we are supposed to lead by doing, and I did read. The trouble is that parenting takes time away from reading for pleasure, so I could have read more.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but for the formative reading years I went to the mobile library just before it was time for our three to four weeks in Sweden every July/August. I looked carefully at what they had to offer, and picked books that might suit both me and the Resident IT Consultant and Son. Children’s books, obviously.

Gillian Cross, Tightrope

There was always a lot of possible choice. But the authors that stand out from that period are Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Gillian Cross, Celia Rees, Tim Bowler. At the time I knew very little or nothing about all of these excellent writers. It’s a good sign that by merely picking holiday books I was able to discover many leading YA authors.

Malorie Blackman, Tell Me No Lies

I’d take about eight books. Any more and I felt the suitcases would be too heavy. But that averaged out at two books per week, which seemed fine. Son didn’t read that fast back then, and the adults were supposed to do adult stuff like feed Offspring and take them to the beach. Maybe fly kites.

But I never told anyone they had to read. I think I would have said ‘these are the books we’re taking this year’ and left it at that.

The only other discussion on what to read or whether to read that I remember was when Son was 14 and we couldn’t agree on which one of us should vet Melvin Burgess’ Doing It before the other one could read it.

I still can’t recall who did the vetting. I blame Tim Bowler, who came to school and was so enthusiastic about his friend’s book.

Occasionally I feel the pressure from Son to read certain books gets the better of me. I say ‘should I?’ and he says ‘well, I liked it.’

Oi Cat!

Oh Dog..! Careful when talking things over with Cat.

The latest instalment in the Oi series by Kes Gray and Jim Field, finds Cat annoyed by the gnasty and gnibbly gnats eating his bottom. But Frog points out Cat is not allowed to kill his Gnats.

The ever helpful Dog tries to help with suggestions for where Cat’s bottom could go if not on the Gnats.

Kes Gray & Jim Field, Oi Cat!

We learn a lot of new rhymes as Cat and Dog consider the options, and as I mentioned, Dog should have steered clear of all this. Just saying.

Swedish Eyres

‘There is a Jane Eyre in translation here,’ said the Resident IT Consultant as we discussed whether it would be suitable for Swiss Lady to read. You know, after fifty shades. Because it would have to be in Swedish.

I was surprised, but waited as he went to get it from the shelf.

He returned with the news that it was in English, as I’d expected it to be. I doubt Mother-of-witch read it in the original, but there was a time as she was learning English when she bought a fair number of novels in that language, some of which she did read. Lady Chatterley, for instance.

Hmm, that’s a thought. Would D H Lawrence suit a shades fan?

Jane Eyre translated by Gun-Britt Sundström

But thinking of Jane Eyre, I have no idea what the novel is like in translation. I only ever got round to reading those classics in English, which means I was much later than my [English-speaking] peers.

I looked Jane up. I believe she was translated at least three times, most recently in the 1990s. First time was soon after the book was published. And while the English doesn’t really date much, the Swedish would. Hence the need for more than one version.

You can buy a paperback for 55 kronor online, which seems reasonable. Translation by Gun-Britt Sundström. You can also read a short sample, which strangely enough is the mid-20th century one by Ingegärd von Tell.

Jane Eyre translated by Ingegärd von Tell

Coo’d have been worse

We talked about animals the other day, the Resident IT Consultant and I. You know, spiders, possibly fierce dogs, cows. That sort of thing.

We all ‘know’ little Fido is not dangerous. Won’t bite. Until he does and everyone is surprised. Some of us don’t mind spiders. Others go berserk at the thought of them. The Resident IT Consultant mentioned how a recent cow incident on a walk in Fife had changed his opinion on how not dangerous cows are.

Those cows

I changed mine a lot earlier. After a long life of co-exisiting with cows on Swedish beaches, it took a turn for the worse in 2000, when not even being in the company of a vet [on the beach] made the sudden proximity to what really is a large animal, improve.

We returned last week from nearly three weeks away. Luckily Aunt Ochiltree had kept an eye on the incoming books, so the situation was not chaotic. There were, however, several post office cards of the ‘we missed you’ kind. The Resident IT Consultant dutifully went off to collect the parcels at the sorting office.

And it’s only now we’ve read in the weekly local newspaper that hours later, a postman was savaged by an angry cow. In the sorting office.

Narrow escape that was.


The class clown. Most of us had someone like that at school. Maybe you were him or her? Someone has to be, after all.

Or do they?

In Jo Cotterill’s new book Jelly, we meet Angelica, who is a most unusual main character. I’d say more unusual than the non-white main character so many of us want to see more of. Or the character with a physical or mental impairment. It’s easy to lose track of this, but I totally understand Jo’s friend who asked for a fat girl who is happy without losing weight.

Jo Cotterill, Jelly

So Jelly is overweight, but being fat is not what this book is about. Yes, many fictional characters have something that bothers them, and it’s what sets the wheels in motion as far as plot is concerned. Problem identified and now we will deal with it, which in this case ‘ought to be’ losing weight and ending up perfect and ‘normal.’

What I feel this wonderfully life-affirming story is about, is discovering if you’re hiding behind something, if you don’t let the good things happen to you because you don’t ‘deserve’ it, or you don’t stand up to people who don’t appreciate you.

Jelly is less to do with being fat or clowning about at school. It’s to do with showing a girl that she can be more herself than she believes, and to let her mum know that she should not put up with crappy, badly behaved boyfriends. It’s very feminist, in fact.

There is one of the sweetest love stories in this book; the one when Jelly’s mum meets Lennon. He’s everything that the last boyfriend wasn’t. And Lennon turns out to be good for both of them, seeing who they truly are. We should all have a Lennon in our lives.

The thing is, Jelly can do so much. She is funny and quick-witted, she has good friends. She can do sports, and she is brave, and then there are her secret, and as yet untapped, talents. Jelly looks out for her mum, and when it comes to it, her mum looks out for her.

This is so inspiring. And what made me happy is that at the end of the story Jelly has not shrunk to fit into the clothes at H&M. In any other book she would have.

Moving on

These days I’m on some sort of daily mailing list with The Bookseller. They try to get me to subscribe, but I run a tight wallet here. I want to make do with what they tell me for free. Besides, I don’t have time for the full magazine, because it’s far too interesting, and I’d want to read so much.

But you learn stuff, even from the brief snippets in the emails. Some weeks ago I discovered that two of the publicists I’ve known in other places, are moving to Bloomsbury. Nice for them, and I hope to see more of them there. I’m fairly sure I’ve worked with Jade Westwood in a couple of different publishers now. I like finding old names in new places. It feels more secure and trustworthy, somehow.

Bea Cross I’ve not known for as long, and I had to rediscover her a few months ago, with the help of an author, when I was hitting walls everywhere. But she couldn’t have been more helpful. It’s just that I thought she would continue to hold my hand for years to come…

Bloomsbury are lucky to have them.

Bea is replacing Emma Bradshaw, who has been a pillar of support for so long I can barely imagine Bloomsbury without her. Eleven years ago emailing them was not easy. Well, it was. Getting replies was the hard bit, and I rather uncharitably assumed it was the Harry Potter effect.

And then there was Emma, who emailed back, telling me she was new, and she was sorry, but she’d only discovered this email folder, and of course she was sending me the book and was there anything else she could do for me? For ten years she has been the one to send me books, and authors, and occasionally protecting them from me as well.

Emma was also responsible for my first fan/star experience. We went to Cheltenham and were talking to Celia Rees – for the first time! – and I mentioned I was the Bookwitch. ‘You’re Bookwitch?’ asked the publicist excitedly from Celia’s side.

So that’s how I met Emma.

The Bookseller Association have got a good deal getting her as their new head of campaigns.

My Father as an Ant & Other Stories

What a treasure to discover! Diana Hendry, who writes children’s fiction, and also poetry, gave me this collection of some of her adult short stories when we met last month. I took the relatively small volume with me on holiday, and I am so glad I did.

Diana Hendry, My Father as an Ant & Other Stories

The stories are mostly low-key observations on what people are like, with a beautiful retro feel to them and some wonderful humour. Except, I don’t believe they are retro, but were written quite some time ago, in some instances, and might refer further back to what was old when Diana wrote them. It’s like finding a time capsule!

Although presented as a mix, some of the stories are clearly about the same people, at slightly different times of their lives. Many are set on the Wirral or in Liverpool, and are so much the better for it. Several of the stories feature a young girl, through whose eyes we see the ‘drama’ develop, reporting on what she sees and hears, without necessarily understanding what is really going on.

Others are about people perhaps regretting how their lives turned out, or enjoying a dramatic change in circumstance. There is even a slightly James Bond-y sort of tale which made me laugh. The stories are about family, sibling rivalry, marriage, death, friendship.

And what made me so happy was the return to a time I didn’t actually know, but where I felt comfortable to travel. I can’t recommend this collection highly enough!

Gripped, and wanting more

We met up for waffles, the Resident IT Consultant and I, GP Cousin and Swiss Lady. One has to get the waffles when one can, and it was a warm sunny day for it. As it had been for months.

As GP Cousin inadvisably tackled the Resident IT Consultant on the England win, Swiss Lady leaned towards me and said she needed to talk about books. This was very unexpected and a really unlikely thing. She had been reading – something she rarely does – and it was so wonderful she’d reread it, and read all the books and seen the film. As had all her friends.

I should have seen it coming. Fifty Shades.

I muttered something about maybe perhaps having to disown her now, but she was so happy this went un-noticed.

And then we spent a long time over waffles and fifty shades. Not sure she even realised I’d not read the books. But I was glad she’d been reading, and that she had enjoyed it. And, erm, learned stuff.

Forty years ago, newly arrived in Sweden, she had read Sigge Stark. I read Sigge Stark as a teenager, because the books were in our bookcase, and you tend to read everything at that age. They were bestselling romantic fiction in Sweden after the war.

So, I could sense a pattern for Swiss Lady. I rashly promised to find her suggestions of what to read next, preferably something not quite fifty shades. I have a few ideas, but would welcome more. It mustn’t be War and Peace, and not Solzhenitsyn, whose books apparently also got read at some point. Although Heinrich Böll had been all right…

It’s tricky. You don’t want to turn someone off late-found reading. At the same time you sort of want to save their soul.

The Word for World is Forest

I have at long last read my first Ursula Le Guin. It was the novella The Word for World is Forest, and it was in translation, arriving as it did from a friend’s garage, where it had also been a bit unexpected.

It was all right. The sentiments are ones I obviously identify with. Don’t use violence. Don’t burst in on someone else’s world and start telling them what they must do, enslaving them in the process. First published in the early 1970s, it’s clear where this was coming from.

Ursula Le Guin, Där världen heter skog

But I didn’t enjoy it. Not really. I suspect my garage-owning friend felt much the same, but we both had a curiosity that needed satisfying. Like why had we not read Ursula’s books when we were young? And why had we not even heard of her?

The trouble is, I was under the impression this was a children’s book, due to its size and design. I stopped believing it was for children after about a page. But it still looked like a children’s book. At least this translated version did.

Basically it is about a faraway planet invaded by Earth, and where the hitherto peaceful inhabitants are forced to become cruel and violent like the invaders in order to get rid of them, which mostly involves a lot of killing.

I think I would have liked to see ideas like these executed with a bit more thought through science fiction elements.