Monthly Archives: December 2018

Whoever had, has been given more

Until some years ago I admit I often felt grumpy when seeing among the books most sold during the year, the names of Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson. I recognised their greatness and that being ‘names’ and very popular, it made sense that adults bought lots of their books for little readers.

I just wanted there to be a few more children’s authors on the lists. Usually there was someone, but not many.

But at least they were there, alongside Jacky and Julia.

Now I feel grumpy beyond belief when having a quick look at the 2018 list of the 100 bestselling books of the year.

Yes, I am glad that children’s books make up a third of that top list. Although I have to take the Guardian’s word for that, since I was unable to identify all 33. And that’s so wrong. As the Bookwitch, even if I haven’t read them, I ought to know who’s who.

A third of the third – i.e. 11 of the bestselling titles – belong to the well known comedian David Walliams. This is wrong in so many ways. Jeff Kinney is there, but I can allow that. Three Harry Potters, thank goodness, one Julia Donaldson, one Kes Gray. Also one Michael Bond and Wonder by R J Palacio, both of which will be movie-related.

And some more celebrity-penned books, not all of which I actually recognise, despite people’s fame.

It seems both wrong, and unkind, to leave 2018 in a bit of an angry mood, but this is not right. Children deserve better. The world is full of really good books. I hope many of them found their way into children’s hands anyway, despite the big names hogging everyone’s attention.

Sir Philip

And a knighthood for Philip Pullman!

Philip Pullman

Goodbye, Amos Oz

Amos Oz has died.

He was an inspiration, and I’m glad I got close enough to him to take this photo. That was over ten years ago, but I remember the moment well. It involved a bit of planning, some sprinting and sharp-ish elbows.

Amos Oz

Below are two of my blog posts about Amos. And – naturally – I know someone (Adèle Geras) who almost knew him.

https://bookwitch.wordpress.com/2007/09/28/amos-oz/

https://bookwitch.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/oz-for-august/

How to rewrite books, and other Christmas television

Due to, erm, technical difficulties when trying to access Christmas University Challenge, we were faced with something unpleasant on live television last night. Several times, due to several technical hitches, before Jeremy Paxman was able to tease some more of his volunteer ‘celebrities.’ As he said, some of them really weren’t very good at this.

The unpleasant live snippets happened around a quarter to eight on Boxing Day on BBC One. Without thinking very much about it, I registered I was seeing something I really would not choose to watch. At any time. Then it suddenly dawned on me what I was seeing; the 2018 Christmas David Walliams children’s book dramatisation. In a way I was glad, because it explained why I found it so unpalatable.

On social media I read people’s comments on the new ABC Murders, with the new Poirot. They really didn’t seem to like it. It wasn’t merely a case of the BBC rewriting an Agatha Christie, but a dislike for an un-Poirot-like Poirot, and getting the retro bits wrong, and the cosy murders were too noir. Or so I believe, anyway. I might not bother, but will stick with Paxman.

We watched Carols from King’s on Christmas Eve, followed by the reindeer in Norway, which struck me as a thoroughly Nordic kind of entertainment. Slow. Cold and white. But sort of fascinating. The reindeer herders had to stop traffic on the E6 for them to cross the road. Luckily it’s not as busy in northern Norway as it is in our bit of Sweden, or even near Rome, when the E6 went to Rome. (I’m not sure why and when it stopped. The E6. To Rome.)

When we arrived at Son’s and Dodo’s on Christmas Day, we discovered the elder Dodos were watching Carols from King’s. That was swiftly followed by the full Reindeer walking through Norway, again. They crossed the E6 again. Again, it was quite restful as entertainment goes. And much pleasanter than the DW misogyny the following day.

On a Cold Winter’s Night

It’s that time of year, again, when proud dad Declan Burke shares his daughter Lily’s Christmas short story with the rest of the world.

Those of you with really good memories, will recall what I wrote about Lily last December. If not, you just follow the link, and the link there-in, and so forth. It’s good to feel good right now, about how we might have new authors to be excited about some time in the future.

This year’s story is called On a Cold Winter’s Night, and Lily very kindly sent it to me to read:

‘Kate sank down into the squashy armchair in the living room, having just had dinner. She had eaten in silence, staring into space. This is what she did most days, since May the 4th, 1998, when Paddy had his terrible accident. Kate shivered. She went to…’ (continued on Crime Always Pays)

Lily is ten. I’m guessing her parents will force her to finish her education before she gets to write novels full time, but I am hopeful.

Wishing you a ‘God fortsättning!’ as we say in Sweden.

Happy Christmas

BW Towers in snow

Wishing all my readers a lovely few days, and I’ll see you the other side of the turkeys and hams and whatever else you like. And hoping we’ll all enjoy some kind of Christmas book flood, even if not on an Icelandic scale.

A bike for Christmas

One of the things I treasure the most about my Bookwitching, is getting to know people in the children’s books world. It’s not just meeting authors, but occasionally learning about, and even meeting, their families. Finding out about those other aspects that are not to do with books or writing.

Sharing good news, but also hearing about the sad news. We’re of an age where parents die, and sometimes a spouse. And then there is that worst of all, when someone’s child dies.

Because he has made it public almost from the day it happened, I hope I may share what Alan Gibbons has shared about his son Joe, who died in September. He seems to have been someone who knew how to live, and was popular with friends and workmates. And not surprisingly, the Gibbons family got everyone together for some fundraising activities in Joe’s memory.

It appears that at some point in his life, Joe met a boy who was very distraught because it was bring your bike to school day, and his family couldn’t afford a bike. Joe gave him his.

And with the money raised now, there will be many more bikes for Christmas for children in Liverpool.

Makes you cry, doesn’t it?

Satisfaction

There are different schools of thought for how to do Christmas. To do what you grew up with. Or to do anything but.

I try to relive my childhood Christmases as much as is possible, considering I am surrounded by people who didn’t share my experiences – so haven’t got a clue. And it doesn’t snow as much as it did.

Thank goodness for that.

But what strikes me when I think about this harking back to the past, is that for a generation who now wants so much from life, that what I had then can be remembered as so attractive that I feel the need to copy what we had.

We weren’t wealthy at all. Presents were fairly limited by today’s standards. Space must have been an issue when we all got together. And I’m guessing the cooking of all that food and the adults ‘having to’ get on with each other wasn’t as seamless as it appeared to us little ones.

But I was very happy with my lot. A bit frightened that time I ran to answer the door and the real Father Christmas was standing there, but he brought gifts, so I could be persuaded not to be scared after a while.

I think that’s all I wanted for Offspring too. Not an expensively magical time. Just some of our own magic.

This and that

Churros £6. Thanks, but I don’t think so.

Daughter and I did the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens yesterday. We did it remarkably quickly, despite me hobbling slowly. There is only so much tat – even if good-looking tat – that a witch needs to buy, and for me that goal was reached years ago. Besides, it drizzled a bit, and it was too early for the pretty lights.

We were there because Daughter wanted a British style German style Christmas market, if you know what I mean? Freshly arrived from the Continent – where they supposedly have the ‘real’ thing – we discovered we only wanted some churros. I wonder how many people pay the £6? And if it is because they didn’t realise until it was too late, or because they didn’t want to disappoint little Jake/Olivia?

I had crawled out of bed early enough to be taken to the station before the Resident IT Consultant had to be at the dentist’s, so I could go and visit Son and inspect the latest changes to his home. I said hello to the old Encyclopaedia Britannica, which has now been adopted by Dodo and Son. Looking good with Christmas lights and tinsel. The Encyclopaedia, I mean. Son wore his normal t-shirt, and Dodo was in New York, presumably wearing something suitable and not tinsel.

Also admired the Grandparents’ former sofa and armchair, now residing with their new owners and having new cushions.

And I was fed coffee and a pistachio bun, and we talked about who might be behind the secret pseudonym of a book soon to be published in Sweden, when the secret apparently will be revealed. I suppose it’s as though J K Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith, all the time intending to make the big announcement when the book was released. Except on a smaller, Swedish scale.

I left Son to translate some more, going to find Daughter, whose plane had landed, having lunch at our second choice of restaurant, before that churro moment. And as it seemed to be a day for early trains, we caught an earlier one and went home.

Mare’s War

What do you know about black American women in WWII? Probably as much as I did, and that wasn’t a lot. Award-winning Mare’s War, by Tanita S Davis, is about the women of the 6888th, the only Women’s Army Corps sent to Europe.

Mare arrived aged almost 17 – you had to be 20 to join up – from her small home town in Alabama, where being coloured was to be a second class citizen. She needed to escape her mother’s abusive boyfriend, and the WAC seemed like a different planet.

Tanita S Davis, Mare's War

Much of the military training and the friendships formed, brought me straight back to Michael Grant’s Front Lines, but unlike his trilogy, these women were not armed and ‘all’ they did was deal with a serious backlog of military post, letters and parcels needed to lift morale among those fighting.

Telling her story to her two teenage granddaughters during a long drive across America, one hot summer, Mare shocks and surprises the girls with how it was, in what seems to be not all that long ago.

This is a fantastic book, which will entertain and educate at the same time. You might know more than Tali and Octavia do, and you might not find Mare as embarrassing as they do [at first], but you will love seeing what it was like for these pioneering women, and what they’ve become.

While seemingly a story about WWII, it is mostly about how far black women in America have come, even if it isn’t anywhere near far enough. At least Mare lived to see her granddaughters taking for granted a life she could never have imagined, and which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for her flight away from the farm where she grew up.

Read this and be inspired.