Monthly Archives: May 2019

Don’t forget Cymera

I trust you will remember to attend Cymera next weekend? I mean, you already have your tickets, or at least a hitlist for events not to be missed, and your bag is packed and all that?

Good. I’ll be generous. Your hitlist needn’t be the same as mine. It’s not technically possible to see it all, unless you are Hermione Granger, so choice needs to enter into things. There are some events where I’ve really had to decide who’s more important to me.

And then the question is whether I’ll get up early enough on the Saturday to see Philip Caveney, who will now be without his partner in crime, Dawn Finch. (Of course I will. Just teasing.)

The other question is whether you can outlast me. Let me be the first to tell you that yes, you can. However keen I am, I will flag at some point.

But you know, there are so many people I like, like Helen Grant – wearing her YA mantle, but talking about her adult Ghost – and Moira McPartlin, Claire McFall, James Oswald, and yes, Philip Caveney. Robot Chickens. As well as these excellent people, there will be another 70 mostly unknowns [to me] so you won’t have to worry about any inconvenient quiet moments.

Get your tickets here. Now, before they sell out. Which would be a good thing, but not for you.

Sleeping Beauty?

I had been saving this, but it seems the time has come. Do you know your Sleeping Beauties from your Cinderellas, or more pertinently, from your own obscure and weird little passed-down-the-generations tale? Have you even heard of Simon & Garfunkel?

Apparently you can’t use Sleeping Beauty as a reference in academic circles. It’s not politically correct, for one. And secondly, most people across the world will never have heard of her. They’d be at a disadvantage. Whether because it is truly believed that Sleeping Beauty is a rather limited fairy tale, only found in, say, Hollywood, or because most of the rest of the world’s academics are both foreign and ignorant, I don’t know.

The Guardian article about the prohibition on mentioning Sleeping Beauty was interesting in itself. But then, as the Resident IT Consultant said, what happens to the Goldilocks Zone? This term appears to be used by scientists all over the world, and I’d hazard a guess they know what is meant. (They could always Google it, if not.) They’re astrophysicists, so not all that stupid or badly educated either.

I don’t believe the pc brigade have hit on Goldilocks yet. And please don’t let me be the one who leads them to her!

But it’s rather satisfying having the rightness of porridge define planets in other solar systems, don’t you think?

Lampie and the Children of the Sea

This is such a marvellous story! One of those far too rare, perfect children’s books. And as often is the case these days, it has come from abroad. I understand that Annet Schaap is a well known illustrator in the Netherlands, and Lampie and the Children of the Sea is her debut as a writer.

Lampie lives with her dad in the lighthouse where he is the keeper, and she increasingly has to do his work for him, until the night everything goes wrong. As punishment, Lampie is sent to work in the Admiral’s Black House, across the water from her lighthouse home, where rumour has it there is a monster.

When she gets there, she is not expected, nor wanted. It’s a bad time, apparently. And there does seem to be a monster.

Annet Schaap, Lampie and the Children of the Sea

It’s hard to describe what happens, without giving too much away. But there are huge dogs, a backward boy, a circus and lots of pirates. And the ending doesn’t go in the direction I thought it might, and is all the better for it.

Let me just say that I recommend you read this book, and that you give it to every child over the age of eight, or so.

(Beautifully translated by Laura Watkinson, and many thanks to Pushkin for finding and publishing books like this one.)

Crazier by the day

We might as well give up.

I ought to say I’m grateful to my friend who sent me the link to this article (which you really must read) in The Spectator, but considering how awful its subject matter is, am I really grateful? It’s an interesting read; I’ll say that much. But it seems YA literature is in as much of a pickle as world politics. (I hope things will get better, but probably not before it’s got a lot worse.)

Do you remember what I had to say about sensitivity readers a while back? It’s OK, I had no recollection of it myself until I went digging for those occasions when I am in agreement with Lionel Shriver. (Seems I’ve agreed at least twice.)

Apparently you have to be politically correct in fantasy writing, as much as you do in ‘normal’ fiction. If not, you’ll be accused of cultural appropriation. And much as I’d like authors – new and old – to have a spine, I suspect that’s a lot easier to say than to practise.

As for those publishers who withdraw or apologise for causing offence, they really should have more spine. Or at the very least, they could think three times as much before accepting a work for publication, if all that will happen is that braying idiots on Twitter will cause them to take far too many steps backwards.

Some years ago I was visited here by someone looking out for Native Americans. She had many unpleasant things to say about authors who dare write about them without being one of them. I gather she isn’t one herself.

Where to draw the line? Lionel felt that memoirs would be all that was left, but who’s to say that won’t cause offence as well?

I discussed this with the Resident IT Consultant, who brought up Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series. It turned out we had different ideas about where it might be set. If the books are set somewhere vaguely real, that is. But she writes about both black and white characters. So far, as I understand it, people have been pleased that they are about black characters, and written by someone black, too. I don’t think I’ve come across the idea that there should be no white characters in the book. I have no objection to any of the white people in the story.

But what do I know?

Angie Thomas, who has been praised for writing amazing YA books, with mostly black characters, does have white people in her stories as well. You sort of have to, don’t you? I have no experience of life in Mississippi, either as black or white. I have no objection to Angie’s white characters. She mentioned at her event in March that one of the girls was based on a ‘friend’ at school. I can believe that. Not all whites are like her, but some probably are.

The book I reviewed yesterday, Dreamwalker, is fantasy, and features dragons and humans. James Oswald is human. So the question is did he describe the dragons correctly? Does he even have the right to write about dragons?

In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina we have mixed characters; half human, half dragon. Who, here, has the moral right to be offended for what Rachel did to one of them?

What many authors say to the common question – how do you know about xxx? – is to mention research, and ‘it’s fiction; I make it up.’

I don’t know where this will end, but I am ashamed of the YA bloggers, etc, who feel they have the right to ruin the lives of so many people by being so bloody rude. And insensitive. And other words I could list here but won’t.

Dreamwalker

There’s nothing like a little push to get going. So after years of intending to read James Oswald’s Sir Benfro series, I have finally begun. And while I had originally assumed that if a crime writer also wrote a fantasy series, then it would be YA, and then discovering that it wasn’t and feeling foolish about it, I do feel that Dreamwalker would fit right into the YA world.

So there.

This is another novel that was first self-published by James. I don’t know how many changes were made when Penguin bought it, but I am impressed by the quality of yet another, long and excellent novel, written and edited without a ‘proper’ publisher. I’m not surprised the books were popular.

JD Oswald, Dreamwalker

Sir Benfro is a young dragon, and his future co-hero Errol, is a lost human prince and heir. The two meet very briefly at birth, but then they spend their early years apart, while leading really quite similar lives. Both belong to tight-knit communities, and both are brought up by single mothers who work as healers and who are wise in how they deal with their boys.

Sometimes, no, nearly the whole time, it’s hard to tell the boys apart. It’s easy to see that when they finally get together, it could be really special. Although I don’t know this, as I’ve only read the first of the five Sir Benfro books.

It’s not obvious how this is going to go, but I have much hope for the remaining books. And they will have to be taken very slowly…

Judith Kerr

With the death of Judith Kerr on Wednesday, we have lost another star in the children’s books world. When the great ones like Judith reach such a high age, I always want to wrap them in cotton wool, to protect them and make them last longer, while being very grateful they have made it this far.

But by all accounts Judith didn’t need the cotton wool, continuing to live life as she always had, getting about on her own. I first saw her in Edinburgh ten years ago, and found her seemingly frail, but most entertaining. Then when I discovered I was sitting behind her in the audience at Waterstones Piccadilly five years ago, I was astounded to realise that she was just like anybody else, going to events she wanted to go to and mixing with people.

Judith was one of the ‘older greats’ that I would have loved to meet and maybe interview, but somehow I never felt quite grown-up enough.

I hoped she would go on for much longer, but 95 is a respectable age. Especially if you’re not ill or needing looking after.

I very much hope her end was like that of Mog, and that they are together in some magical place.

Affordable?

We went to a new-to-us charity shop this week, Daughter and I. It’s on the outskirts of our holiday town, and I only knew where, because it’s across the road from the designer furniture shop.

I had filed it away as being cheaper premises and easier parking. That was until I looked at who was buying. Apart from a few people looking for trendy second-hand bargains, the customers were immigrants. Recent immigrants, most likely, carefully examining the shoes to see if there was anything they liked, that fit and was reasonably priced [to them].

This made me think again, and I realised that these outskirts next to the motorway are just across a busy road from the town’s ‘ghetto.’ I don’t like calling it that, as the standards of the flats will be good Swedish 1960s, but you can’t get away from the fact that it’s where you expect the latest arrivals from other parts of the world to live.

As Daughter looked at furniture I did a quick recce to see what the shop’s layout was like, and I noticed a man, maybe in his thirties, obviously foreign, looking at necklaces over on the far wall.

I took in the exercise bikes, and the wine glasses and varying vintage furniture. They had lots of books, including a whole set of – seemingly unread – Denise Mina in translation, and a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke in the original.

While we looked at most of what the shop had to offer, the man continued studying the different necklaces. He was still there as we paid and left.

Unlike shoes, I’m fairly certain he didn’t need a necklace. It probably wasn’t for him. I’m guessing he wanted to buy someone a gift, and this was the prettiest and cheapest non-essential item he could manage. I was touched by the care he took in selecting his gift, and I hope he found something pretty and that she likes it.