Monthly Archives: March 2020

Bloggus interruptus

Yes, well. I’m mentioning this just because it seems better than not to.

Will see if there is more time and some peace for wise or entertaining words tomorrow.

Medicinal Wein

As I keep saying, reading is good stuff. It’s medicine to the soul, and for that matter, to the body as well. We should all do it more.

But it’s easy to ‘forget.’ You stop, even briefly, and then you don’t get started again.

After Philip Pullman in October, and the flamingo book, Daughter tailed off a bit. The other week I dug out all my best books, of the ones she hadn’t yet read. Well, some of them. Most came from the privileged shelf next to my bed, where only the best books live.

And I thought that rather than hand her one book and try and push it, a selection of seven or eight might do the trick. Not sure how she chose, but I did notice she spent some time looking at them and thinking. In the end she went for Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief, the prequel to Code Name Verity.

It went the way good books often do. Faster and faster, so it didn’t last long. I was asked questions, which I tried to avoid answering. Like ‘is X a good character or a bad one?’ I mean, I can’t tell her that!

The next one was the other Elizabeth Wein book I’d had in mind, Black Dove, White Raven. That, too, speeded up as she went along.

In case Daughter needed even more Wein books, I excavated the two Barrington Stoke stories as well; the Russian one and the Polish one. After them I have only other authors to offer, as we wait with baited breath for the new novel – The Enigma Game –  coming soon (I hope) to a bookshop near you. And me.

Speculating on Liz’s new book

I frown on speculation. People can write a lot of words on stuff they know very little about, guessing as they go.

But piecing together news from more than one source, I am hoping that the new novel by Liz Kessler – Chasing the Light – that Simon & Schuster will publish next year is based on a story Liz has told several times, about her own family’s past. (Yes, you are quite right. It is a long wait.)

The Bookseller says it’s set in the 1930s, it’s about three children, and it’s got something to do with an event in ‘her own family’s history.’ I forget the exact details of the story I have heard, but if that’s what we are dealing with here, it’s a tiny coincidence; the kind that happens all the time, but which in this case saved lives. Without it we wouldn’t have had Liz, or her books.

I hope this is what it is. And I’m looking forward to it. We are now back in darker times, and need all the help we can get from that period we believed we had long ago put behind us.

Who can write what?

I’m stepping right back into the cultural appropriation hole here.

I wanted yesterday’s review of Kate Thompson’s book to be about the book. Not whether she should be allowed to write about the Aboriginal people of Australia. Which, of course, she should be.

According to Kate it was hard to find a willing publisher, as they were most likely worried about cultural appropriation. So she published the book herself.

Now, as far as I know, Kate is English, living in Ireland. Over the years she has treated us to some first rate children’s books, mostly set in Ireland, and involving the, ahem, fairies. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Or at least, not about Kate’s lack of Irish fairy-ness.

Some other favourites of mine among Kate’s books are about children switching to become animals; squirrels, rats. That kind of thing. Call me a cynic, but I doubt she’s spent all that long as a squirrel.

Kate has spent quite a lot of time in Australia in recent years, which presumably explains both why she wanted to write Provenance, and why she did it so competently. It’s not done from the point of view of an Aboriginal person. It’s about a slightly confused, but well-meaning, outsider Englishman. I can’t help but feel that this makes it all right.

Over the Bookwitch years I have read a number of Australian YA and children’s fiction. Great stuff, but primarily the ‘same’ as if those stories had been set somewhere else. By which I mean a teenager is a teenager, and their school issues are just that. Yes, there is an Australian flavour to these books, but not overwhelmingly so. They are as authentic as they need to be.

And let’s not go into the Scottish ferret-cum-human hero Hamish in Ebony McKenna’s books set in a non-existent small European country. I don’t care what Ebony’s experience of ferret-ness is; the books are great fun.

In fact, what Provenance made me think of more than anything was Nevil Shute’s Australian novels. I hasten to add that I have no idea what current pc thoughts are on Mr Shute. I enjoyed his books 40-50 years ago, and that’s good enough for me. He was also English, but I still feel he gave a good account of the country, if not necessarily its native people.

It’s that hot and dusty country I found myself in when reading Provenance. And if you’re going to feel shame over something, this is not it.

The Aboriginal art that plays such an important part of the book made me think back to what Offspring did at school. We have more than one lot of ‘Aboriginal’ art in some folder here. Maybe it was wrong of the art teacher to teach them about this. I don’t think so, but I’m sure some would.

Besides, if we are to become more knowledgeable about the Aboriginal situation, someone has to tell us. Provenance did this pretty well. Yes, seen through the yes of the outsider, but that is also a valid view.


That angry feeling you get when someone just turns up and starts helping themselves to your biscuits. You know. How dare they? Without even asking.

Kate Thompson’s new [adult] novel Provenance is set far from her usual Ireland. It’s about Elliot – an English doctor in Australia. After a long ago road trip with a friend, taking the scenic route to Alice Springs he has a fascination for the centre of the Australian continent, and he just can’t let it go.

Elliot wakes up in a hospital bed, and he has very little idea of what has happened to him. A brain injury prevents him from remembering, and the reader discovers alongside Elliot as the tale slowly unravels. A bit like Elliot himself, really.

The plot centres around Aboriginal art, plus Elliot’s fervent wish to drive really deep into the forbidden parts of the country outside Alice Springs. There are so many rules to do with what you are permitted to do, because the people there have rights. Except those rights get ignored by many white people, except for when it suits them to quote the rules back at someone like Elliot, the perennial outsider.

He wants to be liked, so much. And he wants to be a part of the local way of life, so much. At least he thinks he does. He puts up with things that he perhaps ought not to, until the day when someone eats his biscuits, without asking, out on a very big road trip.

But the big question is; what really happened?

Like Elliot, we learn quite a bit about the people there, their art, their wanting toyotas, the importance of initiating the young into the traditional ways, and how the white incomers have cheated them all the way. It’s not surprising things are not going well.

It’s much the same as the issue of taking biscuits that are not yours to take.

This is a well written, interesting story, showing a new Australia to the rest of the world. It’s a colourful minefield; worth visiting, but dangerous, nevertheless.

Desert islands

Have I been doing this for too long?

On Sunday I was minding my own business, hanging the washing, absent-mindedly catching the last bit of Desert Island Discs as listened to by my Sunday chef, the Resident IT Consultant. While I rarely listen to the radio, I do like Desert Island Discs.

I heard the ‘victim’ say he needed Alice in Wonderland as his book. Apparently all the editions in the world, but this was disallowed. Some people…

And then we moved on to his luxury. Lots of sketchbooks. The penny dropped; I was listening to Chris Riddell. Quick double check with the Resident IT Consultant, ‘oh, is it Chris?’ He nodded sheepishly. I’d like to think he felt guilty for not alerting me to this state of affairs.

But how weird it is when one man’s luxury makes him immediately identifiable.

Cancelled all over

The London Book Fair cancelled really rather late. But better late than not, maybe? Probably. Not sure, though.

Looking at it from the point of view of Son, and not some London based employee in a big publishing house, it’s hard to know what to do for the best. Obviously money already spent is lost if you don’t travel. Your own money.

But it’s also the disappointment, if you have planned the trip, looking forward to seeing people you don’t otherwise see much of, because of where you spend most days of your working life.

Yes, you can Skype. But I believe it’s the personal touch that makes book fairs so useful. It’s how you decide to work with someone, and you do it over coffee, or wine, or if in a Nordic country, over a prawn sandwich.

London based staff can spend all this week seeing other book world people, in other venues, and they are probably a lot more relaxed about the loss of the fair.

To go anyway, or not to go? That is the question.

Malorie tweets

And for those who happen to believe that the world in Noughts & Crosses is fantasy, made up and not in the slightest real or likely to be:

Malorie Blackman – mostly – flipped our world to her alternative world, so what happens to white people in the books/television series, happens to black people, right here, right now.

Also, for anyone who feels she must be OK, because she’s famous, here is an earlier tweet from Malorie about what it’s like to be her. I’d like not to believe it, but I’m afraid I do. I mean, not that I ever expect Malorie to tell lies; I’d just want our world to be rather more advanced than her tweet suggests. The many replies to that tweet, should you decide to go and have a look, show quite how many black people are not expected to do anything except clean, and serve the coffee. Not even drive the buses.

Noughts & Crosses

It was good. What am I saying? It was great. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses on BBC 1 was just as I’d have wanted it to be. It doesn’t quite follow the plot of the book, but the feel of it is right. And that’s what matters.

Sephy and Callum are perfect, as are their respective parents and siblings with all their flaws. Jude is promising as the terrible man he becomes [at least in the book]. As with the novel, even when you know that black and white people have swapped places – from our reality – you still have to work at seeing what’s going on. The brown plaster scene was illuminating in its simplicity.

I hope the next episodes will be as fantastic as the first one. It’s about time we had a really great dramatisation of one of our best YA novels.

One shot Tanya

Very pleased to announce that Tanya Landman has won the Scottish Book Trust’s Scottish Teenage Book Prize for One Shot, published by Barrington Stoke.

As you may recall, One Shot was inspired by the life of Annie Oakley, but fictionalised so that it is a story in its own right, about another young girl who’s good with a rifle.

This is what Tanya had to say: “I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be good with words, but I find it really hard to describe how utterly delighted and thrilled I am to win the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2020. One Shot is a really special book to me – it was the one that got me writing again after my husband’s death – so for teenage readers to find it special enough to vote for is incredibly moving.“

I quite liked it too…