Monthly Archives: August 2019

The difficulty of buying books

I went to Waterstones. I even went upstairs, despite me saying I wouldn’t (because of the crazy lift). I walked up. And down again.

It was a choice between spending my money on the High Street or online, so I went to the physical shop, stairs and all. I had about six or seven books on my list.

After trying not to fall over the outstretched legs of the family sitting in the armchairs upstairs, in the children’s department, I eventually found Malorie Blackman’s Crossfire. It had a ‘second book half price’ sticker, so I thought ‘Great!’ Because I was buying several books.

But there was no other book from my list.

I hobbled downstairs again and looked for the adult books on the list. Good Omens is not shelved under Pratchett, and after a bit I discovered it under Gaiman. Then I saw one with a nicer cover on one of the tables.

After which I found no more books [from my list].

I know. I could have ordered them online, to pick up in the shop. I just didn’t think I’d have to. They were all new novels by big names. To be fair, they had every single Skulduggery Pleasant book except for the new one. And that was the one I needed.

My next solution was to look for the books in the Charlotte Square festival bookshop. And three of them were available. I deemed one too expensive. It’s a hardback, which I hadn’t counted on. The other two were also hardbacks and so huge I came to the conclusion there was no way I’d walk round carrying them along with my daily burden.

All this makes online shopping quite attractive. I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet.

Let there be calm

Easier said than done. But this is a lovely calm place to be. At least if you are not a crab, this time of year.

Sheds in the harbour at Skallkroken

And I did bake that cake, a day late. Calorie defiance.

Wars versus dictatorships

I’ve been stomping round the house unable to do much of what needs doing. I can’t think, and I can’t do. Can’t write.

I do have the odd ‘neutral’ blog post sitting waiting for when it’s needed. But while something is needed today, it’s not neutral.

37 years ago I moved to a country at war, and that disturbed me. Coming from a country that had not warred with anyone for a very long time, it felt so alien and so wrong.

It was the Falkland war and it was fought a long way away, by people I didn’t know. The closest I got was the Brother-in-Law’s then girlfriend’s flatmate’s brother. He died.

It brought the whole thing closer, because it was such an abnormal thing to happen to normal, everyday people.

On consideration, however, I prefer war to dictatorship. At least today. Or maybe I don’t. Both are evil. Evil is bad.

I would have baked a cake, to have with cream, and a cup of tea. But I really don’t feel able to do anything. Not even baking an emergency cake.

How To Be an Astronaut

‘and other space jobs,’ as it says in the title of Sheila Kanani’s book about becoming an astronaut. I never wanted to be the one to go into space, but this book reminded me that I did rather fancy a job in mission control. Yes.

As illustrated non-fiction books go, this is a great one. I don’t say this because it’s about space and astronauting, but because it has been intelligently written, with just the right amount of humour, and no talking down at the young reader.

Sheila Kanani and Sol Linero, How To Be an Astronaut

Sheila did tell us a lot of these facts in her event at the book festival, so it was mostly not new to me, but it still makes for fascinating reading. And I do like Sol Linero’s pictures, which are factual and beautiful, all at the same time.

(I would have preferred no white text on dark blue background, though, but I am old and perhaps wannabe astronauts are just fine with that. They probably have to be, now that I think of it.)

There are so many jobs you can do for space, and still stay on the ground. It means you don’t have to live off dried food or send your poo into space, or use special velcro to scratch your nose if it itches.

The book also tells us that there were women – a very long time ago – who discovered about eclipses and gravity (I would say long before that Newton chap), even if there was a risk of being thought of as a witch.

This is an excellent book to put into the hands of children. And you will enjoy it too.

Too tired to haiku

You know how it is with those subject lines in your inbox? Whatever it was you started discussing, it follows you around, even when you’ve moved onto something quite different.

I emailed Theresa Breslin about something, and then back, and back again, we went. Until she declared she was ‘tired’ of me being ‘tired’ in the subject line, and she was going to write a poem. As you do.

Since I don’t go on Twitter as often as others, it was pure chance that I discovered Theresa’s Haiku.

Theresa Breslin haiku

I have absolutely no idea what it is about. Am I dead? Or is there bird poo?

But I’m impressed that I could ‘inspire’ some inbox poetry.

Where the River Runs Gold

I would have enjoyed Sita Brahmachari’s Where the River Runs Gold a lot more if I’d properly understood it. And I am unsure what happened at the end. I have two theories.

This is a dystopia featuring some of the fears we are already facing in our lives. What if the bees stop doing their job of pollinating? Twins Shifa and Themba live in Kairos City – which I assume to be loosely based on somewhere in the Middle East. When they turn eleven they have to go to a farm where they will work for – I think – five years, pollinating crops. This is supposedly the only way the world will survive.

Not everyone does this, however. Just the poor.

There is much that is beautiful here; the family’s love for each other, for plants and their hopes for the future. As with any dystopia there is also much that is ugly and dangerous and upsetting. Because it’s so wrong, so unfair.

Sita Brahmachari, Where the River Runs Gold

Arriving on the farm, they discover things are not quite as people at home had been made to believe. To save themselves they have to learn to shut up and to bide their time until the right moment to escape comes. If it ever does.

This topic is so important. I just wish I’d understood the world Shifa and Themba belong to. And I wonder how I was meant to interpret the end.

Farewell to EIBF 2019

Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

This may surprise you, but I occasionally wonder if I’m doing the right thing. In this case the ‘thing’ is children’s books and their authors. But the event honouring Judith Kerr this week, proved to me I was in the right place, and not even crime – the fictional kind – can hope to reach such heights, pleasant though it it.

George Street

There was such a perfect feeling of how good it can be, and I suspect that this is hard to achieve away from children’s books.

And chatting to Chris Close about Judith, I was pleased to find that he too had special memories of her. I was also a little surprised to discover that while he couldn’t instantly recall Daniel Hahn’s name when he walked past, he knows perfectly well what t-shirt Daniel wore in 2010. As you do.

What I was really wanting was to talk to Chris about his photo of Sheila Kanani [in Space], and I like the way he remembers virtually all the people he has shot in his spot in Yurt Gardens. Apparently most of Space this time was made up of St Abb’s Head, which I suppose is the photographer’s ‘bottle of washing up liquid’ in using whatever comes to hand.

Sheila Kanani by Chris Close

When it doesn’t rain, the new style Yurt Gardens is a good place to hang, as proven by the gang of crime writers just round the corner from my sandwich spot. There’s ducks, Chris, and the passing through of many people, who either are very famous, or carrying trays of food. All are important. (Though no ‘Kevin Costner’ this year…)

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

What’s always good in the festival’s second week are all the school children. They have come for the same thing as I have, and often getting the most exciting events combos. I even spied a few teens wearing the authorial blue lanyards the other day. Made me green with envy, that did.

It’s not only old age and feebleness that determines when I attend. Trains have a lot to do with it. They were better this year; partly to do with the new electric rolling stock (pardon me for getting nerdy), and partly because I tried to avoid the worst hours of the day. But when the doors refused to open as we got to Haymarket one day, I learned from the guard that it’s all down to computers now. I wish I didn’t know that!

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

We mentioned teeth in connection with Mog’s nightmares. I haven’t been able to ignore the fact that so many authors also have teeth. Well, I suppose most people do, but I am always struck by the wide smiles, full of perfect teeth. And not just the Americans, either. I’ll be spending this winter practising smiling in front of the mirror, but am not hopeful.

Here’s to EIBF 2020, when we will see more clearly?

Jim Al-Khalili

(Most photos by Helen Giles)