Monthly Archives: July 2020

New normal?

The postman’s back is beginning to hurt again. His relatively lighter load of recent months has normalised back to more books for the witch. So it really does seem as if it was the publicists being furloughed that curtailed the sending of books. I wasn’t sure if publishers would be quick to change, and then not change back.

But no, where my review shelf actually developed gaps, this has now been rectified. That’s not to say I am ready to read [all] the books arriving, because I have changed. If it’s forever, or merely temporary, I have no idea.

However, in a crazy world, the thumps through the letterbox have reminded me of the old life. Except, the postman hardly ever rings once, let alone twice. He has found that if he tries he can force nearly all the books through the slot in the door.

He is right to limit contact with his customers. Yesterday the neighbour called at Bookwitch Towers, and as we chatted on the doorstep, suitably distanced, the postman arrived, looking worried at the sight of two of us who would have to be dealt with in person.

As I said, I’m not sure how normal I am, but this kind of normal is encouraging.

End of Review

It’s not good news. The Guardian is about to stop publishing its Saturday Review.

It’s also not surprising. Costs everywhere, for everything, are escalating. Newspapers are not made of money any more than we are. You have to cut somewhere. It would just have been nice if the Review could stay. It means a lot not only to its readers, but to authors whose books are reviewed by them.

I understand that the other smaller parts of the Saturday paper are also disappearing, with plans for all to find some space in a new supplement. Hopefully this means that some of our most favourite bits will survive in some form or other. I know I have several that I really don’t want to lose.

Back in 2007 they published a lot of [paid for] blog posts. I know, because I was one of the paid people, having been introduced to the idea by Adèle Geras and Meg Rosoff who both wrote for the Books section. I also strayed into the film and television and music sections, because ‘I obviously knew so much about those subjects’.

It was fun. Chatting to other commenters was fun. Being able to earn the money to pay for my first laptop was rather nice. I know that the Resident IT Consultant would have been happy to pay, but for a non-earner like myself earning a bit of money was nice.

But I could tell when things went south. Most of their blogging needs were taken care of in-house. It was their version of not buying grapes every week when money gets tight. It’s just that as their purse shrank, so did ours. We’ve tried to be as supportive as we can. But it’s not enough.

Personally I am fine with there being fewer pages to the paper version of the Guardian. I like the idea of saving on paper; I don’t mean waste, but still it can be a lot of paper. The news  section could save some of its speculation on ‘what will happen’ to online pages. We will know soon enough what happens.

But I do like some of the more literary pieces on paper, and the recipes for things I won’t cook because I don’t have the latest outlandish ingredient. Some things are meant for paper. I won’t say whether I think the price could be allowed to be raised again, because I don’t know what people can afford.

Behave, or else

Getting rid of people who don’t behave, who are not pc enough, has become quite a thing.

It was probably not hard to cut ties with David Starkey. But I am always amazed that famous people don’t have the sense to shut up in public.

YA author Gillian Philip was sacked for siding with J K Rowling. I believe it was her role as Erin Hunter which mattered. You mustn’t do bad things to ruin a literary product. (A little like the public school boys who were expelled for being ‘naughty’ in their spare time, while wearing the school uniform.)

As for J K herself, I might have read somewhere that staff at her publishers were to be excused from having to promote her books.

But when it comes to David Walliams it appears that no one is going to get rid of him, or refuse to publicise his books, let alone tell him to clean up the words in his children’s books. With other authors they do something called editing. That would be suitable to do here as well. Wishing that they won’t take his next book, or the ones after that, is obviously too much to hope for.

Boy or girl?

It’s embarrassing. No one likes making mistakes, least of all me. But you’d think that when you read the new book by your favourite author – and in this case that would be Meg Rosoff – you’d be paying attention.

But no, I was so blissed out reading this wonderful holiday tale that I must have gone on holiday myself. Which will be why it wasn’t until I read one of the reviews on that Brazilian river site that I stopped and thought. Huh. Might the main character be a boy, and not a girl? What’s her/his name?

Yes, she could be a boy, couldn’t she? I discussed the issue with Daughter, who very quickly adopted the satisfying notion that she – the character – is a boy. The ending would make much more sense if she was, too. Besides, there is no name.

The next day on social media, where I had linked to my review, after saying how much he had enjoyed the book author Roy Gill asked what gender the main character is, pointing out she/he could be either. Or neither.

There was only one thing for me to do; ask Meg herself.

The girl is a boy. Although she had – that’s Meg – noticed that women over 50 tend to see a girl, and gay people see both options. And I’m definitely over 50.

Anyway, I blame the whole thing on it being the most perfect of stories.

How did those Norwegians get here?

I just had to link to this article about translations from Norwegian.

Well, I suppose I didn’t ‘have to’ have to, but when finding a description of four Norwegian authors like this one, I sort of felt I had to: ‘I’ve mentioned a grand literary master, a literary smut peddler, a philosophical weirdo and an ex-footballer turned crime writer’. Nice turn of phrase, right?

Do most people wonder how literature from other languages turn up here, in English? Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s by magic. Maybe some countries feel it’s worth their while helping literature along by throwing money at it?

You’ll find out, if you read the article. I thought it was quite good, even if I am biased. Daughter felt it was very long. It is.

But it’s not as if you have anything else to do right now, is it?

Skulduggery Pleasant – Seasons of War

I don’t think we’re done. 😮

With Skulduggery Pleasant, I mean. Seasons of War is the, let me see, thirteenth book, not counting the one without Detective Pleasant. But I am not com-plaining. I’m really not. I like this world with all the double-crossings and the magic and the hastily cut off limbs and the humour and all the rest.

Valkyrie Cain makes friends with the oddest people, as well as unfriends with some you’d not expect. Along with Tanith Low we have a formidable pair of women heroes, in many cases fighting better than the rest.

Omen Darkly is proving himself, and I have hight hopes of him. Even if he didn’t in the end do that thing, you know, which I had been expecting.

I’ve remarked before on how confusing, not to mention convenient, it can be when dead people stop being dead, and when they become your enemies instead of your friends. In Seasons of War we see a lot of the other world, where they also have a copy of every person, and they’re not necessarily the same, like dead, or friend, or foe.

So a lot gets sorted out in this thirteenth book, but some doesn’t. And there is new stuff that will need sorting.

It’s fun. And interesting.

The Great Godden

This is such a beautiful tale about summer holidays. I rarely feel that anyone can describe my early summers, but in Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden, I could have been there. OK, my summers were more boring, with fewer sex gods turning up and less of the undercurrents.

Or maybe not? Obviously no sex gods, but this novel brought home to me how different the slow, languid summers with nothing but sun, sea and sand appear to the young, and what it must be like for their parents. The ones who still have to cook meals and run everything, let alone as in this case, organise someone’s wedding and sew outfits. On holiday!

We have the 17-something main character and her three younger siblings and their parents, arriving at their summer bolthole, to spend all summer, engaging in their kind of nothings as usual. Tradition matters. (At first I thought I was in New England, but realised soon enough that the family live in London, and were driving to the coast, somewhere. It didn’t feel quite English; more Swedish, or maybe American.)

Anyway, this is marvellous, and I defy any reader not to want to join the family, along with the cousins next door and the lovely dog.

And then the Goddens turn up; gorgeous Kit and surly Hugo. They really stir things up, with everyone in love with Kit (who between you and me is a real piece of work) and turning their backs on Hugo.

Our arty main character observes everything, while also falling for the great Kit. Not much happens? Except, of course it does. You just barely notice.

This is wonderful! I feel as if I’ve been given permission to revisit those careless days when I enjoyed life, with no idea how the adults fared; having to get on with each other, and put meals on the table.

Round Scotland in books

Scottish children’s fiction has been on my mind these last few days. It’s not that it isn’t ‘always’ but I had an idea I had to think about. And there are so many books!

Barbara Henderson must have had too much time on her hands as she sat down to convert fifty tweets into a blog post, listing fifty children’s books set in places all over Scotland.

This is such an interesting list. I know some of the books, know of some of the other books, and have never heard of far too many of them. I could very easily use this compilation as a shopping/library list.

And you, why don’t you give A Tour Around Scotland in 50 Children’s Books a go? While you, and I, wait to be able to travel.

All you need are books.

We have their backs

We did a shoe exchange today. After staring at the two unwanted shoeboxes – with shoes in them – for over three months, the shop they came from opened again. We were slightly aghast at the long queue outside, and wondered if people really were that desperate for outdoor clothing, but it turned out they were all after plants from Dobbies next door.

So we donned our bankrobber masks and went in, brandishing the unwanted shoes, and asking if they would let the Resident IT Consultant in to buy replacements for his by now rather holey walking shoes. They did, and in no time at all he had new ones.

This was quite exciting for me, as it was only my second shop in four months. Although the one earlier in the week which netted slices of fruitloaf was more fun.

Anyway, what I am getting to, however slowly, is bookshops. I saw this photo somewhere a while back, and promptly stole it for use here. It clearly shows how we have all looked at the wrong side of books for decades. This is perfect for handsfree browsing.

The Short Knife

How hard are you willing to work for a carrot?

You couldn’t accuse the characters in Elen Caldecott’s The Short Knife of being lazy. This surprisingly topical historical novel is quite a thing. And by surprising I mean that Elen couldn’t possibly have foreseen the slavery business making the front pages as the publication date for her book grew near.

These slaves are white, and British, and their owners are also white, and more Saxon than British, but everyone has a bad side, whatever their nationality. In AD 454 the Romans have left Britain, and the Saxons have made the move to take over.

Mai and her sister Haf and their dad are poor, but live peacefully (in or near Wales), when their lives are interrupted, and ruined, by a few Saxon men. Much hardship and sadness follow, and the girls can’t be sure what will happen to them.

The story is told from two time perspectives; mostly from autumn AD 454 when the Saxons come, slowly leading up to the second one, where someone is giving birth at the same time as something vague but horrific has happened. So the reader both knows, and does not know.

You see both nationalities with all their faults, and some good sides. Having more than a measly carrot to eat is one of the good things about what might otherwise be considered pretty bad.

You feel you know what is happening, when Elen suddenly switches the truth of what we are seeing. And then again.

This is good writing, and a truly good story.