Monthly Archives: November 2018

Scott’s been. And gone. With the bin.

I must start by saying I have a generally favourable opinion of DPD. Rob and John and David and all the others have delivered many parcels with great success.

But… yesterday as 13.46 drew near, I went to track Scott and his van, and his two deliveries before me. A puzzle, that, but still. At 13.47 or thereabouts he drove past my study window – which for clarity’s sake is the address he was aiming for. Tracking system said he had one delivery before me, across the road. He didn’t stop, and it did seem unlikely.

Around 13.50 the tracking system had Scott outside no. 4 of the next street, which has a very similar name to ours. Another minute or so, and the email pinged to say DPD were sorry to have missed me. Not as sorry as I was, seeing the photo Scott took of the house where I wasn’t in. I’m usually not in in houses where I don’t live.

Your witch even ran out to see if van and man could be prevented from leaving the wrong house, but they’d bin and gone.

Noticed DPD have chat, so decided to chat – scream, really – at them:

Explained what had happened. They explained that outside the allotted time they can’t redeliver. I explained again. They ‘were really sorry they were unable to help through this channel.’

Then they welcomed me back to chat (!) and asked if I still needed help with my parcel. I said I wanted a response to what I’d told them. ‘Can you try asking it a different way?’

I replied that since they are a machine, I didn’t believe this would have an effect. ‘Although I am not human, I am well trained and am able to help.’

‘Send the van back here then, before it’s too late.’

‘I’m sorry I don’t understand that. Could you re-phrase the question or choose one of the options below please?’

I was uncharitable enough to end chat at this point. They wanted feedback. I gave them one star.

And I’d so looked forward to welcoming the new bin to the Bookwitch household.

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Cumbernauld’s Coolest Son

I wonder who came up with that heading?

It’s Book Week Scotland next week, and there are events at some venue near you. There’s bound to be. Assuming you’re in Scotland, naturally.

Book Week Scotland, Kirkland Ciccone

Good authors will be traipsing all over the country to appear ‘everywhere’ from Glasgow to Kirkwall. Many of the events are free. Such as the one featuring the cool Cumbernauld chap, aka Kirkland Ciccone. He will be appearing in Grangemouth, of all places. For free. (It’d have to be… 😉)

On Thursday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and author Maggie O’Farrell will be in conversation at Stirling Castle. I’m afraid this is sold out, but you can join the event online. The First Minister and Maggie O’Farrell will discuss what being a feminist means to them, and how their reading lives have shaped their identities.

And according to Scottish Book Trust, super-author Joanne Harris will visit McLaren High School in Callander on Monday 19th November, at 16.30. Free, ticketed, event.

There is lots more happening. I found a few things I liked the look of, at a reasonable distance from Bookwitch Towers. Unfortunately they are in the evenings and in a week when the Resident IT Consultant is spreading numeracy throughout Central Scotland. So I will simply sit back and pretend I’m there, and don’t anyone feel sorry for me! I won’t allow it.

What Manor of Murder?

At Monday’s event there was a hinted suggestion that maybe you can’t have crime for children. I didn’t exclaim ‘what rot!’ but they were wrong. You can, and you do, have crime novels for young readers. As with other books, some adult themes will have been missed out, but dead bodies are not necessarily one of them. Children can cope just fine.

I didn’t mention that I was reading a young crime book at that very moment, or that the young detectives actually had a fight with the policeman about being allowed to draw the chalk line round the body. I have to add here that Christopher William Hill’s Bleakley Brothers mystery, What Manor of Murder? is perhaps a little unrealistic. It’s set in the 1930s (I think) and quite posh in a modern, fake sort of way.

Christopher William Hill, What Manor of Murder?

Twins Eustace and Horatio Bleakley are on their way to spend Michaelmas with their aunt and uncle at Bleakley Manor, in the company of a Poor Unfortunate, aka an orphan by the name of Master Oliver Davenport, and their cousin Loveday. Before long there are two corpses that have to be accommodated – quite literally – and the mystery of their demise needs to be solved. Who can they trust?

Very few tears are shed over the dead people, who weren’t terribly popular anyway. This is probably rather unlikely, even in these wealthy circumstances. And the boys speak a somewhat exaggerated English, the way writers nowadays [might] believe posh people once spoke. But it’s quite fun.

(I just hope the boys grew up into decent men, because if not, I’ve just gone off the whole trend of this kind of thing. It’s only charming up to a point.)

Reaching their destinations

Rachel Ward’s back where I first met her, in Edinburgh, nearly ten years on. She has left behind her ‘hideously dark’ YA novels, and is enjoying cosy, humorous crime for adults. Rachel was doing an event at Blackwell’s last night, but first she met up for coffee with your witch, after a walk in Princes’ Street Gardens in the morning darkness, visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, and going to Waterstones for [leftover] wine with Ceris from Sandstone Press, ferrying two boxes of the stuff on the bus to the other bookshop in town. That’s dedication.

The event –  Examining the Crime Scene: Three Crime Writers in Conversation – was with fellow Sandstone Press authors Lesley Kelly and William McIntyre, and I can’t tell you how good it is to ‘meet’ two authors I didn’t know at all and discovering they are fun and interesting and that I might not be totally opposed to reading their books.

Lesley Kelly, William McIntyre, Ceris Jones and Rachel Ward

I will have to get used to events no longer run by Ann Landmann, who has left, but I dare say that will be possible. I was introduced to her replacement. I immediately forgot his name. Completely my fault. It’s my age. But I do have to say he had arranged things very nicely. Differently, but almost, well, better… Except for ‘my’ sofa, which I surreptitiously shoved a little.

Helen Grant arrived in the nick of time, having struggled with the travelling-to-Blackwell’s-for-an-event-and-trains-running-late problem. Chair Ceris allowed her authors to cheat, by showing them her questions in advance… And I didn’t get the memo, but it seems that white spots on navy or black is the way to dress. The size of the audience worried our host, because why were we all out on a Monday night, being so interested in crime?

William McIntyre

William, who seems to kill people in Linlithgow – which I find an admirable thing – believes that you should commit the crime before speaking to a lawyer. He borrows freely from his day job in the legal business and puts it all in his books, which are either nine, or four, depending on whether you count his self-published novels. It saves on research. And he says he only uses already publicly known facts.

Lesley Kelly

Lesley has a policeman father, but she wished she’d spoken before William, as she’s ‘not as interesting’. She used to be a stand-up comedian, and finds the two-year wait for laughs when writing a book rather long. You never know what readers want, but in her next book she kills a lot of civil servants.

Rachel Ward

And then we have Rachel, who based her detectives on ‘a life of food shopping.’ This is a fine thing, and you can listen to and observe people in the supermarket. Everyone shops for food. The humour in her dialogue wasn’t intentional, but when she sent her husband a chapter at a time to read, she liked hearing him laugh.

None of the three authors write about sex. Well, Rachel does, a little. There was a question as to whether you have to be a bit drunk when writing about sex.

Asked whether they plot in advance, William described how you need only know some, because as long as you can see into the near distance if you are driving in fog, you will be able to reach your destination. A little at a time, and that works for writing as well. Rachel has realised that ‘plot is quite important’ and Lesley plots because she doesn’t want to get lost.

Then there was some discussion about Tom Cruise, and I’ve forgotten how many of them want him in the film of their book. Potentially all three.

And then we got to the end. Helen and I both went up to ‘Mr Ward’ and chatted. I reckon Rachel will want to lock him up, but it was nice to meet him at last.

Spoke briefly to a book fan from Chile, as well as more formally meeting blogger Kelly, who apparently reads Bookwitch. Hello!!

Realised that Sandstone Press, and Ceris, are not from Perth. They are in Dingwall, and that is a very long way north. Very very.

Chatted some more with William and urged him to really let go in Linlithgow, without telling him the whole story. Tried to be professional, handing out business cards to him and Lesley. Just hope they’re not going to turn up outside my door..!

Then I grabbed Helen Grant, and carefully avoiding Fleshmarket Close, we walked to the station where we got our train home, and one of us almost told the guard he was too loud.

(Photos by Helen Grant)

Is War Over?

David Almond’s new, short, book War Is Over is mainly about young John, who in 1918 keeps being told that he is at war. He – rightly – feels he is too young to be at war, as are German children. Whatever the adults say.

This story is mostly about the perception of Germans, and about the ‘cowards’ who earned themselves white feathers, like John’s friend Dorothy’s uncle, who hides in the woods, because he has dared suggest Germans are also people.

John is a lovely boy, and I hope he grew up to do something about this hatred of foreigners.

David Almond and David Litchfield, War Is Over

The book is richly illustrated by David Litchfield, and you’d want to read the book if only to look at and enjoy his illustrations. They are pure art, and so beautiful.


And then, thinking about how Germans apparently are not human beings like the British, I caught some of the Remembrance Sunday ceremony on television yesterday. I watched as afterwards, the President* of Germany led members of the British Royal family away from the Cenotaph.

My mind almost boggled. Here we had been remembering two wars against Germany, and here was the President of that former enemy country, not only present, but important enough that he went before the Royals. I almost had time for the thought ‘isn’t it great how far we have all come for this to be seen as the norm?’

And then I remembered what the politicians are busy doing right now.

(*His name is Frank-Walter Steinmeier, if you didn’t know. I didn’t either.)

White Feather

It is the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years on. I can’t think of a better way to mark it than with White Feather by mother and son Catherine and David MacPhail.

Catherine & David MacPhail, White Feather

Ostensibly about a coward soldier in WWI, we discover early on that Charlie, who was shot as a deserter, is believed by his mother and younger brother Tony to be nothing of the kind. And the awful thing is that neighbours even handed Tony a white feather, on behalf of his dead brother.

Tony sets out to discover what might have happened to Charlie, and to clear his name. This is a short, dyslexia friendly, story, but it packs a lot into those few pages.

And today we can think back to Charlie’s terrible fate, and that of many other unfortunate soldiers, and we know they were all brave, whether or not they ran away from the fighting. How could anyone thrive on the horrors of this war? Today we know that it didn’t stop other wars from happening.

Let’s remember all who suffered through this time, one hundred years ago. They did it for us. What have we done for them?

Kristallnacht – 80 years on

It has been 80 years since Kristallnacht, and ordinarily I’d feel relieved it is now well in the past, and not a recent memory. But somehow life has moved in a direction that makes another such event feel not in the slightest unlikely. In fact, depending on where you draw the boundaries, it’s already happening. It’s just that some of us would like to feel that it won’t take place anywhere near us.

And then there is the other important K, the Kindertransport, which started almost immediately after Kristallnacht, so that’s another 80th anniversary, and another thing we’d prefer if there was no need for it to happen again.

Both events caused some good books to be written; books I’ve ‘enjoyed’ because of their historical aspects, and because the good that happened after something so bad, was a cause for some celebration. This works for both fact-based books and pure fiction, inspired by these events.

And still bad stuff keeps happening, and we keep getting books based on what goes on in the world. The books are usually excellent, but I would so love for them not to be possible to have been written. Just think. What if these people had not been hunted out of their homes, losing their lives, or having to send their children to a strange country? Whatever great things they ended up doing here, they could have done in their own countries.

Something I read in the paper the other day made me aware that the last couple of years will by now be featuring in fiction, or are about to turn up in novels some time soon. And once I’d had that thought, I felt that I don’t want to read those books. So far everything I’ve read has been removed from me in time or place.

I’m not ready to read about my own daily fears. Maybe I never will.

Kristallnacht was bad, but I believed it could stay in the past. Because we know better now. Don’t we?

(Read this Wikipedia page on the Kindertransport. Then try to envisage the same thing being agreed – in Westminster – now.)