Monthly Archives: January 2019

A Mason move

Not being rich enough to subscribe to the Bookseller – well, maybe I am, but then I’m too economical – I am now on some sort of mailing list, which means I see all their daily news, but can only click through to them once in a blue moon. (I know, I should remove my cookies.)

But last week I was lucky enough to be able to read what they said about Simon Mason, who is leaving David Fickling Books where he has been m.d., moving to Pushkin Children’s Books to do something new and exciting. It didn’t say what.

They did mention he’s been DFB’s m.d. for six years, which I’m sure is right. But I still recall coming across him in David’s basement almost nine years ago, when Daughter and I were given the guided tour. But I suppose there’s no reason why Simon couldn’t have a subterranean existence before running the company.

Which – more Bookseller news reveals – will now be done by Tom Fickling. I’m guessing he’s DFB Junior, so to speak.

So it’s all change. And I gather Simon has a third Garvie Smith book coming this year!

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Lark

I, well, by the last page of Lark I needed to remove my glasses. They got spattered by some wet substance, most likely caused by Anthony McGowan’s writing. (I continued blubbing – not all that silently – for some time.)

We’ve reached the last of the four books about Nicky and Kenny; some of the loveliest stories about two disadvantaged Yorkshire boys as you’ll ever read. Yes, I know they are dyslexia-friendly, but that’s not why you read them. They are really very grown-up YA books. Just short. No wasted words.

I was surprised by Brock, keen to continue when Pike was published and very happy to get to Rook. With Lark I didn’t know what to expect, except something exceptional. There was a suggestion that not everyone would be alive at the end.

And now I’m crying again.

Anthony McGowan, Lark

This time Nicky and Kenny go for a walk, hoping to find a lark where their dad suggests they might see one. But they are young, and Nicky is only a boy, charged with looking after his big brother Kenny. It might be spring, but out on the moors the weather gets worse, and rain turns to snow.

There is some youthful carelessness, and it is so easy to see how similar stories you find in the press could have happened in real life. But there is also bravery, and so much love.

Barrington Stoke sent out a packet of tissues with the book, but has anyone got a really large hanky??

The Gruffalo is 20

Offspring were always too old for the Gruffalo. I’m quite relieved to discover this fact, as I tended to worry about why we didn’t read Julia Donaldson’s book. What was I missing?

I learned to recognise Axel Scheffler’s illustrations, and I fondly believed the Gruffalo wasn’t so much a monster; more an ugly, but otherwise really friendly creature.

Instead it seems there is a clever little mouse who really knows how to look after himself in many a tight corner. First he scares his neighbourhood bullies – the dangerous animals in the forest – by making up the dreadful Gruffalo. And when the Gruffalo turns out to be real, he avoids being eaten by fooling this monster, while ‘proving’ to the other animals he was telling the truth.

So, that was a surprise.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, The Gruffalo

There is now a 20th anniversary special edition, with a forest play scene and cutout animals and everything. You could have lot of fun with that. Because judging by the queues for Julia Donaldson wherever she appears, her books remain extremely popular, and the Gruffalo is very well known. Look at me, I knew it without knowing it, or even being right about the book. We all know something.

(I still think he looks adorable, and that mouse is a sneaky little thing.)

The Red Light Zone

It seems that being Head of BBC Radio Scotland – and I might have got the exact correct title wrong – is pretty much like being the Bookwitch. (You come up with ideas, and then you make them happen.)

Jeff Zycinski, The Red Light Zone

I had never heard of Jeff Zycinski. But then I don’t really listen to the radio. I sort of assumed he was Scotland’s Terry Wogan, or something, but it turns out he was more the man who came up with the idea for a programme like that and put ‘Wogan’ in front of the microphone. (Or should that be behind?) Except he did it with people and programmes in Scotland, which means no one has heard of him.

Or have they?

Anyway, now that he has left the BBC, Jeff is ‘telling it all’ in his book The Red Light Zone – which is a much less daring title than you might think. It’s not sex so much as the warning that you are on air. Good title, unless you are being sent it in a cryptic message on Facebook, making it look like Badger the Mystical Mutt had been hacked. (This is the first book I’ve reviewed, published by a fictional dog.)

Jeff’s 25 years at the BBC make for interesting reading. There is some gossip, and we meet the Princess Royal as well as Chris Evans, and I now know much more about the various BBC DGs down in London, but it is mostly ordinary stuff. The running of radio for a quarter of a century.

I liked it. In the end so much that it acted as a painkiller, and I also had to put up with the Resident IT Consultant stealing the book whenever I wasn’t looking. Occasionally when I was looking, because I’m a nice witch. He liked it too.

If you remove the radio aspect from this biography, it still works as a description of 25 years of life in Scotland. I like the sound of Jeff’s wife. And their children. But I would rather that the dog had lived…

Hear Candy here

There is a nice interview with Candy Gourlay on YouTube. If you haven’t heard her at an event for Bone Talk, you’ll find this fascinating. There is so much a reader never realises about the journey the author made to be able to write that wonderful book you’ve just enjoyed.

While it all makes sense when you hear it, I don’t think I’d ever have been able to work it out for myself. Unless I was brave enough to start writing a book, thus discovering how you need to change how you look at everything.

And I had no idea that rice paddies are noisy.

Plus a phantom Phantom

And another thing I discovered at Waterstones. Book, I mean.

After reading Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, I knew I needed to read her beloved The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. I put it on my Christmas wish list and the Resident IT Consultant sourced a copy and gave me.

Because it was an ex-library copy, he took the liberty of first reading it himself, and he seemed a little confused as to why I’d want it. Well, I didn’t know, did I? Except if it was life-changing for Lucy, then…

Anyway, I was astounded to discover this very book for sale at Waterstones on Thursday. Seemed like the same cover and everything. It was – apparently – a 50th anniversary edition. Made sense to me.

Except, when I got home and searched, I could not find such a cover, and the only 50th edition seems to be from 2011 [book first published in the US in 1961].

Did I hallucinate this Phantom?

Reading it, I can understand how the book had such an impact on Lucy, experiencing it at school where an enlightened teacher read it to the the class. It’s perfect for reading aloud. Although I wonder about the many illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Did the teacher show them every page?

I like the quote [in Bookworm] from Jules, about how he’d have used nicer paper to draw on, had he known it was going to be a classic!

And dear Lucy owns at least three copies of this book. It’s reassuring to find someone who understands about safeguarding against a lack of books at some ghastly point in the future.

Another Costa for Hilary!

I sensed that Hilary McKay was most probably going to be this year’s winner of the children’s Costa award. But I didn’t want to say so, since it’s so hard to deny things in a believable way if cornered.

“Children’s writer Hilary McKay collects the Costa Children’s Book Award for the second time for The Skylarks’ War, a story following the loves and losses of a family growing up against the backdrop of World War One which the judges called ‘as perfect a novel as you could ever want to read’.”

How right that judge is.

And Hilary was up against some good ones, so it’s never easy predicting. Or for that matter – I imagine – to judge.

Yippee for Hilary and her Skylarks!

Hilary McKay, The Skylarks' War