Monthly Archives: April 2020

The Enchanted April

April 2020 might not feel all that enchanted, but it still seemed appropriate to read Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April right now, seeing as it was available. It features the beauty of Italy in April, but I have to say that my part of Scotland has managed to look enchanting in its own way.

Having known nothing about the author, except recognising her name, I discovered this novel in the Guardian Review a while ago, and felt the recommendation was strong enough that I would actually order the book. And read it.

Set in 1922, four women – strangers to each other – take up the offer to spend April in a castle in Italy after seeing an ad in The Times. We meet them as the first two, Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, slowly come to the realisation that by sharing the let, and allowing themselves to use their nest eggs, this could be a dream come true. They advertise for two more women to share the cost.

So it’s a sort of strangers in an airbnb.

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot leave behind Mr Wilkins and Mr Arbuthnot in lowly Hampstead, whereas the elderly Mrs Fisher is a widow and the young and gorgeous Lady Caroline just wants to be left alone. (Too many admirers.)

Lotty (Mrs Wilkins) and Rose (Mrs Arbuthnot) enjoy the freedom of not having to always put their husbands first. Mrs Fisher is a bit bossy, and Lady Caroline, aka Scrap, complains all the time but does it so nicely that everyone is charmed.

It’s clear that Lotty is somewhat of a witch, in that she ‘sees’ things. And her seeings do have a tendency to come true, however annoying Mrs Fisher finds her.

The castle truly is enchanted, or how else do you explain the changes in the four women? And the effect it ends up having on several other people. It’s not only the quiet, beige, Lotty who flourishes. There is magic for everyone.

It’s not quite what I had expected, but such fun and so lovely. We could all do with enchantment and wisteria, whether in Italy in April, or by some other means. Even if it’s not going to happen this year.

Remembering?

A book arrived. I fully expected to put it aside as an unsolicited adult novel, but did look at it first.

Neither the author’s name nor the title was meaningful, but somewhere, deep down in the murky depths of the Bookwitch mind, something stirred. I recognised this. But how, or why?

Ever so slowly, a memory half emerged. This was the second book in a YA series, and I knew I read [some of] the first one. It ‘all’ came back to me. Sort of.

Looking up the author, I found the title of book number one, then searched on Bookwitch to see what – if – I had written. Not a thing. I vaguely recalled giving a book up after reading rather a lot of it. Maybe half or two thirds. But still gave up because I could see no point in continuing. And it seemed I hadn’t even blogged briefly – and anonymously – about it, which I often do. If only to get something out of the time spent reading.

At the same time I was surprised I had forgotten so much, so easily. It’s more recent, I suppose. Because I still remember books from over ten years ago; books I hated but had to read anyway. Perhaps a strong dislike helps the grey cells hanging on to older facts.

The funny thing is, this recent arrival looked quite promising. But there must have been a reason for stopping last time.

The #27 profile – David Long

‘Handsome and informative.’ So says a quote on David Long’s website, and who am I to disagree? Anyway, a man who can write so well about Apollo 13 is obviously a man worth knowing more about. Right? So here he is, spilling the beans on Swedes and other secrets:

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

None, although I ghosted half a dozen for other people before one came out with my name on it. These were not celebrities but interesting, successful men and women who had an interesting story to tell, but lacked the time or temperament to sit down and write it themselves.

Best place for inspiration?

To be honest it can strike anywhere (but I once had a great idea for a title when I was in the bath).

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

See above. I also spent 25 years as a journalist, when I think about 5% of my pieces were written under one of several pen names.

What would you never write about?

I wouldn’t rule out anything, although I find all sports incredibly boring.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I’ve shaken hands with two of the twelve men who walked on the Moon, which is one of the reasons I wrote Survival in Space.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

N/A.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

A bit of both, but I have written a script – and won an award for it – so clearly I’d like it to happen

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

“Were there any rabbits in the war?” (during a reading at Edinburgh Festival).

Do you have any unexpected skills?

My handwriting is even worse than my father’s was, and he was a doctor. Does that count?

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Easy. Famous Five.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Carl Linnaeus, the botanist-zoologist who worked so hard to make the world understandable.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

Alphabetically! I’m not a barbarian.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kästner

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing, but that would be a really, really tough choice.

David sounds like a sensible man. Definitely not a barbarian. But I would have liked to know more about the rabbits.

Survival in Space – The Apollo 13 Mission

I’d not realised quite how old I am. Or stopped to consider how young Barrington Stokes publicist Kirstin is. But there is nothing like a 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission to bring these facts home. To her, it’s a historical – and interesting – tale. To me, it’s something I lived through, found fascinating, wrote an essay about at school, and nerded like crazy about.

For me there was nothing boring about the third trip to the Moon, unlike – it seems – many people who felt we’d done the Moon now, so what was special about it? I didn’t even realise this was an optional setting; you just had to be interested in such an interesting thing.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 Barrington Stoke are publishing David Long’s Survival in Space – The Apollo 13 Mission, with lots of excellent illustrations by Stefano Tambellini. It is such a great thing to have a book like this in dyslexia friendly format, and it’s so attractive.

David starts by giving the reader a brief history of how man has always wanted to get off the ground, leading up to the lunar expeditions, starting with Apollo 11, and moving on to Apollo 13. And let me tell you this, his summary of what happened is much better than my essay, and it tells you exactly what you want to know. It’s almost as if he had been there.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there was a mishap – on April 13th, even, in some parts of the world – and the astronauts had to do heroic things, hoping to return safely to Earth.

Read the book!

Watch the film. I will. Again.

But as I said, read the book.

I mean, if anyone had made this up, as a script for a film, it would all have seemed a bit unreal, wouldn’t it?

Cancelled witch

So this year the Easter witch gathering has been cancelled.

Boxed

Could I clingfilm them? The books. I know, it’s single-use plastic and all that. But needs must, maybe.

People are supposed to need books to read. Now more than ever. (Don’t look at me. I’m finding it harder.) Shopping for them is tricky, and libraries are obviously out.

And I can’t take my surplus to Oxfam.

So I thought of a box of books outside Bookwitch Towers. A sort of help-yourself-to-a-book box. Would people want to? And would they worry about how clean the books are? I could describe them as quarantined books, which they are by now.

But what if people were to rummage? That’s where the clingfilm comes in. Rip it off when you get home and the book underneath is fresh. Can’t leaf through the books that way, though. But maybe the blurb on the back is enough?

I don’t know. I am still thinking about it.

Three ten-year-olds

I have been reminded of some books that were first published ten years ago. 2010 was an interesting year for books and witches. There seemed to be a whole host of new authors, sort of clamouring for my attention. And that always scares me.

But early 2010 was a good year. (Maybe later in 2010 was good too. I’ll deal with that some other time.)

First I read Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story, even though it didn’t come out until May or thereabouts. But I read an early copy and I loved it. And it wasn’t a one-off, as Candy has continued to supply some lovely novels for, well, for everyone, I should say.

Second I read Keren David’s When I Was Joe, which I’d not been sure about, what with knife crime and that kind of thing. But even then, it was a fabulous story. The kind where you look forward to all the next books coming from that keyboard.

And sandwiched between these two authors was Jon Mayhew and his Mortlock. Just the title was enough to send the right vibes, and there are graves and ravens aplenty. Jon has also gone on to write lots more books. So many, in fact, that I can’t keep up. But that’s all right. I think.

This is precisely what I like in this business. New people turn up, and turn out to be as good as those who were already there. And so it grows.

Happy tenth birthday to all three books and their creators!

Turning an ebook into pasta

From Good Friday you can buy a new ebook by Claire McFall, Making Turquoise, a post-industrial retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

For the next three months all proceeds will go towards food banks supported by The Trussell Trust. By buying the right kind of pasta one book will pay for more than one pack.

Go on, it’s cheap enough! You can order it now, and like an Easter egg, it will pop up on your Kindle on Friday. Or so I hope anyway. You know what I am like with ebook buying…

(Thinking about it, I doubt that very many Easter eggs will be popping in any e-readers at all. It’s not the way of eggs.)

I’m guessing it will be a good, if short, read. There is a warning that it contains ‘strong language and elements of drug taking, teenage pregnancy, abortion and abuse.’ But you’re fine with that.

You’ll never catch up

I appreciate being able to go first.

And I completely trust the Gruffalo.

Prime reading

It took me a while to work out why the Barrington Stoke edition of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was so thick. OK, around 250 pages isn’t much, except when it comes to dyslexia friendly books we have come to expect half of that. While I’d noticed there wasn’t another author credited with having ‘rewritten/adapted’ the novel, it wasn’t until I began to read that I saw the word ‘unabridged.’

And, well, I approve even more of that. If a novel isn’t too long, or made up of too many difficult words, then it could, and should, be made available in a format that means more people are able to read it.

I still think of my former decorator and his delight in being able to ‘read a whole book.’ While he might not be prime Jean Brodie material, I can see that many other dyslexic adults will be.

So there we have it. If you print it differently, using the right kind of paper, the right kind of colour of paper and print and a typeface that is designed to be easier to read, a book becomes accessible to – perhaps – almost all. Maybe there aren’t the funds to do this with all of literature, but we could have a go to make more friendly books, couldn’t we?

Especially with such gorgeous covers.