Monthly Archives: April 2020

Best and whackiest

It’s rather a mouthful to say or write, but Yvonne Manning who is Falkirk Council’s Principal Librarian for Children’s Services, is the winner of the 2020 Scottish Book Trust Learning Professional Award!

I know I always say this about winning librarians, because they are all so great, but I don’t believe there is one greater than Yvonne. Congratulations!!!

Finding this out now, made my day a lot better. It’s the kind of news we need when things are tough, and Yvonne is the kind of librarian we need at all times, but mostly when things are tough.

Yvonne is the one who organises the Falkirk RED book award, and she’s kept it going in the face of the ever disappearing money that has been the death of so many awards and book events. If you watch this video, you’ll discover for yourself what she’s like, and that giving up because the funding went away isn’t her style.

I’ve occasionally wanted to be Yvonne, what with her endless energy and her gorgeous, somewhat whacky, coats.

The event to celebrate her award that obviously isn’t happening right now, would have been the best. I can see myself there, having a great time. I’m sure there would have been deep fried cauliflower.


Cross about the code

Here at Bookwitch Towers we know how to have fun. Only the best enter-tainment will do. So you might ask why Daughter and I are sitting here with bad crosswords.

Codewords, really. A couple of weeks ago the Guardian Codeword caught my eye as I was idling after a meal. ‘I will have a go,’ I thought. ‘I know it’s simple stuff, or I won’t get very far, but I’ll have a go.’ Though I did show belief in my abilities by starting off doing it in biro.

It went well, and I was impressed with how they’d arranged the first couple of ‘free’ letters, making me think, just the right amount. Enough to exercise a few grey cells, but not driving me to despair. And biro was just fine, I’ll have you know.

We don’t get the Guardian every day, so there was a supply problem. Daughter reminded me that she has one of these puzzle and crossword books, where by happy coincidence the codeword pages had mostly been left for us to find now.

But oh dear how bad they were! You fill in the given two or three letters and they get you nowhere! Nowhere at all. According to Daughter they are all made by machines. I can believe it. I imagine the Guardian ones are too. But that someone has coded (see what I did there?) the machine to choose good letters. Ones that make you think just the right amount.

So you have to cheat. With the puzzle book ones, I mean.

One of us ‘does’ the codeword and the other one helps by cheating. I might decide we need to know what letter no. 2 is, for instance, and I will glance at the solutions page only long enough to see what no. 2 should be. And if that’s not enough, we might cheat with no. 19, or some other letter.

No wonder people feel cheating is all right, if a product you pay good money for requires it in order to do what you are meant to do.

Yesterday’s new Guardian word for Daughter was ululate. It was brought to her by the letters u and l. Quite educational.

The Book of Hopes

It’s always like this. I get tired and want nothing more than to stay at home for ‘quite some time.’ After a while – it could even be after ‘quite some time’ – I have had enough and I begin to want to climb the walls. Or at least to get out and go to some event, somewhere.

Well, I am ready for an event. Now. Before agoraphobia takes over.

I’ll pretend. There’s a book you can read for free. Katherine Rundell has collected lots of writing from a lot of writers, and some illustratings from illustrators. You’ll find them in The Book of Hopes, which you can get here.

There were extracts in the Guardian Review at the weekend. I was particularly taken with Catherine Johnson’s Axolotl poem:

“Care of Exotic Pets: Number 1. The Axolotl at Bedtime.
Never give your axolotl chocolatl in a botl.
Serve it in a tiny eggcup, not too cold and not too hotl.
Make him sip it very slowly, not too much, never a lotl.
After all, he’s just a sleepy, snuggly, bedtime, axolotl.”

And so it goes. More verses online!

‘All’ the big names have contributed something. Whatever you like, it could well be in here somewhere. I’m thinking what a marvellous book launch this would make, if we could all get together. See you there?


By turning as French as I can – no mean feat for a non-French speaker – I have retrieved the ability to say ‘genre.’ Which is good, because one sometimes has to say it. Out loud, and so others can hear what you’re on about. It was while I interviewed Anthony McGowan about five years ago I discovered that for the life of me I couldn’t say the blasted word.

To get round this handicap, I’ve had to avoid using it, or to spell it.

When I was young, and tremendously foreign, I learned this word. Both what it meant, and how to ‘say it in Swedish.’ It involved saying it really wrong, in a kind of pidgin Swench. I don’t know whether Swedes now know better, or still say it like that.

As to its meaning, well, it stands for sub-categories of fiction, like crime, or romance, or sci-fi. All very nice categories. And useful if you want to specify what something is about. Because that’s what I took it to mean, a useful labelling tool. Not that it might indicate anything less worthy.

But that’s what it’s come to. At least in Britain. Maybe it was always thus. Maybe the term was invented, or adopted into the English language, in order to refer to rubbish fiction, on a completely different level than Literary Fiction.

A couple of months ago the word and its meaning came at me from two totally different directions at the same time. One was a question on a Swedish book newsletter site, where someone was asking ‘What does genre mean?’ Except they did it in Swedish. And I think the question was prompted by the discovery of the more British use of the word.

The other was on social media, where someone reported a programme they’d listened to, which went roughly like this:

(I asked permission to use it.) It’s not an exact quote or anything; more an idea of how people actually think, and are not ashamed to admit to in public. But basically, anything not very good is genre.

It’s very snobbish.

I read practically only genre fiction. By which I mean several genres, like children’s, or crime. It’s really good stuff. Sometimes I read Literary Fiction. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it isn’t and that’s when I remind myself why I prefer children’s books and crime. Although, some really Literary authors have been known to lower themselves to genre-writing. Quite often something seems to go wrong when they do.

Dead Land

Sara Paretsky’s latest crime novel, Dead Land, is another triumph for V I Warshawski. This time V I gets drawn into a dangerous crime through her goddaughter Bernie. And there is a third dog. Not for keeps, but Bear does help solve the crime.

As always – and I hate how this sounds normal – it’s greed that is at the bottom of what happens. This time, greed in Chicago, but there is also a tie to Chile, with some of the action harking back to the coup against Allende. To my mind there’s not been enough written about this and it’s high time more people learn about what the US was up to back then.

Not only is V I’s current love interest brand new (from the last book), but we have a new police detective for V I to pit her investigation against. I do hope we’ll see more of Sergeant Pizzello.

Kansas isn’t always as flat as it’s made out to be, and it offers plenty of action, even for a Chicago PI. And one of these days V I will have to learn – and remember – that she’s not as young as she was, and take things more easy. But I doubt she will.

I, on the other hand, will always feel safe in her company. And Sara’s.

They all helped

You might know that Son translates for a living. Recently he was asked to make Swedish words into English ones, for an American customer with Scandi roots.

Trouble was, he couldn’t read them. Joined-up handwriting from a hundred years or more, can be hard. Especially in the other language. But he has a mother, who is older, although not that old, but old enough. She can read. I mean, I can read. He asked me.

There was lots of it! Everything from a school report to a ten page diary entry for travels round the US. We agreed on a couple of samples, so I soldiered on with lots of verses of religious songs the joiner ancestor had composed. By the time my transcribing of the handwriting had gone through the keyboards of the translator, and then his proofreader editor – who also happens to be a published author – those songs brought joy to the client’s heart.

Or so I would like to think. He was happy and wanted more.

Then came the rest of all those texts, apart from some that were farmed out to other, equally ancient readers of old handwriting. There was a really short one; just a receipt for travel tickets. But where to? And when? Once I applied myself, I could make out most of it.

Daughter helped, spurred on by the clue-solving aspect of the whole thing. She suggested she try it on her iPad, with this newfangled handwriting stuff, reckoning she could write on top of the illegible words. And she could. But not all of it. We couldn’t agree where the man had travelled to. Or from.

The receipt was emailed over to our ‘old’ minister from church, and when he’d pored over it it for a while, we had the destinations. I’d like to think that he, too, enjoyed the puzzle.

An old letter, about three cows and a horse, and what hard work it was to look after them, had our translator harking back to Hamsun. The actual transcribing was done by the witch’s friend from school, being pretty old (I mean, sprightly and agile) and experienced at deciphering ancient letters.

When all pull together, the job gets done. Though how our boss will divide up the earnings between us, I have no idea.


Loo and behold, a privy-théque!

Thank goodness for far-flung friends and authors. Especially those carrying a camera. And with a sense for the quirky, and an idea that bookwitches might need something fun to write about.

I mean, you know I like toilets. In case one needs to go. Having been brought up on [summer] privies, I don’t mind them. They still exist in Sweden, often as the beach alternative to plumbing. (Or in someone’s simpler type of summer accommodation.)

There is also the longstanding tradition of reading when on the toilet (although I frown on this, because there could be a queue), and many keep some book or magazine handy.

Now Ingrid Magnusson Rading has been for a walk near the place she can still get to, and I can’t, and she made a discovery outside the old lifeboat station. No, not the privy. We knew about that. But its new purpose, complete with a sign and everything.

It’s now a library! And a privy. Or maybe more a swapping post. There are books. The sign says to take a book home if you like it, and to leave behind one that you reckon others would benefit from reading.

And the view! No longer available for those on the throne, as the inside of the new-ish facility has been turned 90 degrees. Before, if you didn’t crave privacy, you could enjoy the view by leaving the door open. Now though you’ll have to admire away before and after, rather than during.

And let’s hope book lovers will not enter as you go about your business!

Thank dog for these books

Occasionally one needs to revise lists – or piles – of suggested books for reading. It’s all got to do with frame of mind of the intended reader.

So, apparently, I caused a sleepless night recently, because I told Daughter to read a book. What I really meant was a chapter, maybe two. But oh, no, someone read the whole book. It was One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. She’s always reliable when you want something good and heart warming.

I’d steered away from one truly excellent book, purely because when I quickly checked it out for first page appeal, the very lovely author could be found killing off the mother. So, no.

But I knew I had other dog books. There is a Morris Gleitzman which is close to the Ibbotson. Too Small to Fail, it’s called, and it’s seemingly about camels. But don’t let that worry you. And Going Home, by Cliff McNish, is sure to please anyone soppy about soppy dog books.

And I got out a couple of other ones, plus there is one that has done a disappearing act. It’s bound to be somewhere.

We’re also terribly grateful to the kind friends on social media who have acquired themselves a puppy. They post endless photos of said puppies and we can enjoy them with our own slippers intact.

Keep those puppies coming!

Author, in a dress

What do people do? During these unusual times, I mean.

Supposedly authors, who ‘always’ work from home, tend to do so in their pyjamas. I believe that some have now started actually dressing [properly] for work, from home. Even heard of someone who ironed his clothes.

And they write. At least those who feel up to writing. It can be hard to get in the mood. Or getting out of that other mood.

Will anyone still be around to publish what they write, once they have typed ‘The End’? Will there be shops from which to buy those books?

I came across the link to a video clip, where Wendy Meddour reads her new picture book, Not in that Dress, Princess! It does have a publisher, but won’t be out for a few months yet.

It’s about what princesses can do while wearing dresses.

I like it. Do you?

Did I have a little pear tree?

On our way home from our short daily stroll, Daughter and I stopped at no. 2 and I accosted the man building a fence next to the pavement. He’s new. So new he’s not moved in, but is ‘improving’ the house, which to my mind was so beautifully shabby I almost cried when it was painted before being put on the market.

Anyway, there he was, fencing, so to speak, and I felt called upon to introduce myself. We chatted a bit, and then I told him he’d better keep watering the little pear tree in its pot in the porch. It’s small – I told him – and in a pot, but bears lots of very decently sized pears. I have suffered badly with pear envy.

Then I went home, thinking I’d not object if he gave me the tree. I’d even take the gnome.

Told the Resident IT Consultant over our afternoon tea, and he started saying something like ‘I had a little pear tree…’ and muttering about the King of Spain. It sounded familiar, but I am not the native to these nursery rhymes.

Then he got up and reached behind him for a book. Trust us to have a book on nursery rhymes! The Oxford Dictionary of, no less. By the Opies, obviously. I was not surprised, but nor would I have known we had it. Certainly not where to find it.

Its index wasn’t as good as Mr Google’s, so pear tree didn’t help. After more mutterings he moved on to nut trees, and soon found it.

So the King of Spain was there. Or at least, his daughter. And there was a pear. Not on the correct tree, but still.