Monthly Archives: April 2019

Cymera

Today I give you a ‘mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.’ Or you could just accept a new, great sounding, Edinburgh based, book festival.

Cymera

Cymera, as it is called, is Ann Landmann’s new baby. As if she didn’t have enough to do anyway, she is doing that thing many of us think might be ‘nice’ but seems like too much work so we don’t, which is set up our very own litfest.

Cymera is Scotland’s Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing, and it is taking place in Edinburgh the weekend of 7th to 9th June. Lots of people I sort of know, are taking part, as are countless more that I don’t really know, because I haven’t specialised in all that much horror, and have only recently returned to science fiction, and there is a lot of fantasy in this world.

I haven’t counted, but somewhere I saw the words eighty authors mentioned, and that sounds like a lot. A quick look at the programme tells me I will have to make actual choices, unless I work out how to be at several events at the same time.

And the food..! That sounds good too. And there will be books to buy, and workshops have been planned, and there will be a quiz, and an open mic session. If you know where Blackwells is, then Cymera is a short way east of this lovely bookshop, so it should be easy to get to.

I have to admit to having tweaked my holiday dates so I don’t need to miss anything. Will I see you there?

Total Recall

Total Recall is one of my Sara Paretsky gold nuggets; picked up second hand and kept until such a time as I needed more Warshawski to read. This last week was it, and I was struck by how Sara introduced her story with a mention of Oxford (just as I was leaving that place) and the Resident IT Consultant’s old college.

Sara Paretsky, Total Recall

The book is almost twenty years old, and deals with two things. First the crime, which is insurance crime in Chicago, and I couldn’t help noticing how it pre-dates the things we are so concerned with today. You can put a few bad guys in prison, if they survive their brush with V I, but they don’t run either the local police department, or the country. People’s lives are in jeopardy, and their money, but there is less of the wholesale fear for your existence that we see today. And mobile phones were not what they are now.

So I enjoyed the crime, if one can say that. It seems that lightning can strike in the same place twice.

The second topic of the book, which underlies all that happens, has to do with Lotty Herschel’s past in Vienna and her time in London after being evacuated. Anything that goes back to the Holocaust is harrowing, but in some way I see Lotty’s current suffering as being more that of anyone looking back to a point in their childhood and youth. It’s the child’s fears, and the lack of control you had as a young person when things happen.

Partly told in Lotty’s own words, we learn many new facts about her and Max, and others previously mentioned in these books. (This makes me wonder how it works when an author starts writing. Sara couldn’t have known everything about the characters she put in the first story. And as the author makes new facts, and then more new facts, it’s fascinating how it all fits in, and makes that person more of who she or he is.)

There are many wise words and sentiments about loss and death and guilt and all those bad things we sometimes believe in. I hope Sara can remember them for herself, but then we are always our own worst enemy, as proven by Lotty in this book.

Transcribing

So, mid-interview when the person who has agreed to answer your questions says ‘hang on while I Google this, as I am no expert on what you just asked’… Should they politely offer something off the cuff that can later attract foul language on Twitter? So they can be accused of all kinds of shortcomings?

One thing I’ve learned after being the one who asks the questions, is to see more clearly when reading someone else’s interview how what was said might have happened. Often the person who has been interviewed is made to look as though they launched into a monologue on whatever it is, when in actual fact they were asked – or pressed – for their opinion, when it could be something they either don’t want to talk about or don’t know enough about.

Jacqueline Wilson

I have no idea what Jacqueline Wilson knows about transgender issues, but I’d guess it’s average, or above. She’s an intelligent woman, interested in life, and she is extremely polite, and kind and caring. That’s presumably why she talked about transgender children in her interview with the Telegraph (according to The Bookseller). An interview most likely arranged because she has a new book (Dancing the Charleston) out, and not about this topic. Or she’d have read up beforehand.

I’m the first to admit I only know an average amount about transgender issues, and I stay away from unpleasant spats on Twitter if I can. It’s only from hearsay that I know how badly John Boyne was treated recently.

Short of clamping your lips shut – and that would sort of defeat the purpose of an interview – there is no easy way to avoid being misinterpreted when the ‘chat’ is in print. (I’m obviously naïve for emailing my transcribed interview to discover if I’ve got anything dreadfully wrong.)

Having no wish to name Jacqueline’s attackers, I can only say that none of us have to be experts outside our own area, nor should anyone righteously tweet that they have worked for years on this subject, so they know best. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But others don’t therefore have an obligation to have done the same.

It would be better if these people continued working hard on whatever important thing they feel so strongly about, and then stand back to consider whether others must be accused of ignorance. And if you need to bring it up, perhaps don’t swear?

In the children’s books world there are countless lovely and kind people. Jacqueline Wilson is one of the kindest and politest. (I also suspect she has the ‘right’ opinions about the things that matter in life. But I’ve not felt I could ask her. Her reaction to Ann Widdecombe’s comments on siblings with different fathers, was to write Diamond Girls, about siblings with different fathers.)

(Photo by Helen Giles)

Astronomers in Action

Astronomers in Action – another science book by Anne Rooney – has brought the action much closer to home than what I’ve found in general astronomy books. I kept recognising concepts and words that have surrounded me for the last eight years, and I still found it fascinating. I hope the book will inspire many young people, either to read more books like this one, or to take things a step further and study astronomy.

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

The thing about writers like Anne is that they are good at explaining complicated stuff in a way that makes the reader understand. She is no astronomer, so perhaps that is why I suddenly ‘got’ the difference between Kepler and K2. Both have been mentioned almost daily in the Bookwitch household, but I was never entirely certain exactly what was what. (Sorry!) Or possibly I merely forgot.

This short, picture book-length volume shows us the people who work with astronomy. There are several ‘From the Field:’ pieces, telling us what normal people get up to when they work in this kind of area. There is the chap who turned up in Big Bang Theory, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who I gather is famous. And there is, well, Daughter, who has chased exoplanets for some years now.

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

And others. Let’s just say I felt right at home with these people, their computers and their telescopes. I’d like to think that this good feeling will reach many readers. It’d be good for budding scientists, curious to discover more. They, too, might find an unknown planet rattling around in space one day. (The temporary working name for the ‘Bookwitch planet’ was Helen’s World. It has now been given a boring long-digit name instead. Now that it’s real.)

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

You will know why I wanted to read Astronomers in Action, but I was surprised by quite how much fun it turned out to be. Short enough to be an easy read, and interesting enough to capture your attention.

The nines, ten years later

By the third evening I wanted to be home, alone. But instead I sat down on the suitcase-unpacking surface in the hotel room and stared into space. It sort of worked.

Ten years on from this event, we were back in Oxford. And isn’t it amazing how similar we all are? OK, the people from Bangalore have bougainvillea in their garden. I do not, but wish I did. And it sounds like the Indian ID [card] system is far superior to the Swedish one.

It was also very English – and in this instance I don’t mean British – with college gardens, afternoon tea and chats about Roedean. The trees blossomed by the side of the streets and it was all I could do to not move to Oxford there and then.

Because it was ten years since the last celebration, our hosts – yet again – offered us a Ceilidh, although it was more English dancing than Scottish, and everyone made fools of themselves, except for me and Aunt Scarborough (because we sat it out). Only one guest needed to join in via Skype, from the top of some volcano, the other side of the world.

The 2019 Ceilidh

It was, as many of you will know, unseasonably warm. This was due mostly to the fact that I had brought my padded jacket, the same one I’ve worn all winter. I know that such a hot Easter is a bad sign, but it was actually quite nice, except for those who turned over-pink in the process.

But oh, the luxury of sitting outside like that, and the balmy evenings!

The day before, the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter accompanied me to, lightly, grill Linda Sargent and Mr ‘Sargent’ over Easter Sunday lunch. Well, roof terrace type of places are likely to do that. We had such a good time and sat for so long, that we had to be asked to leave as they were closing. But not before we had moved tables to achieve more shade.

Also discovered a place that serves enormous Kransekager, so I will just have to return. Or move to Oxford.

If all this sounds nice, let me tell you how nice it is to be home. Alone.

Home Ground

Home Ground is a short, but necessary, story. Alan Gibbons has written this for Barrington Stoke, and like most of his books it is very much a book for boys.

Alan Gibbons and Chris Chalik, Home Ground

It’s got football at its heart, and would appeal to all football fans out there. And the other thing that matters is friendship. Fairness. Understanding that not everyone is the same, but that we are equal in our own way, and that we all matter.

Even refugees. Some of the boys in this story don’t like outsiders, or change. Not even if it helps their team win. Or at least, not come last.

So here is a story that shows the reader why people are the way they are, and how it can be good for everyone to include newcomers, who might look and speak different. But they’re all football players.

Alan has included short pieces on refugees, what they are, and why. He mentions what might have happened to them before they came here, and what their lives can be like. This could seem too obvious, but for the target readers in this case – boys between eight and twelve – it may well be necessary. There is also some information on famous, refugee, footballers.

I hope this book will both entertain and inform, and change.

(Illustrations by Chris Chalik)

Mapping the Universe

You like art, don’t you? And you like space too? Then you’ll like this book by Anne Rooney.

Yes, it’s Anne again. She can do books on so many subjects, and subjects in so many ways. This is astronomy again, looking at countless old images – art – showing us space.

Anne Rooney, Mapping the Universe

You could easily just look at these pictures, treating them like so much art. You probably already have, in many cases.

In Mapping the Universe Anne tells us a bit about the old men of science. You know, old Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler. Yes, I’m afraid it is mainly men.

This fairly large book is full of old space art. It’s the kind of thing you can look at again and again. Cosmos for the coffee table.