Monthly Archives: October 2020

The Ghost of Gosswater

These ghosts really belong to New Year and after, but would be just fine for Halloween as well. After all, heroines who go poking round graveyards on lonely islands in spooky lakes…

Anyway, it’s late December 1899. Lady Agatha’s father, the earl of Gosswater has just died, and Agatha – aged 12 – is about to be turned out of Gosswater Hall, her childhood home.

Her really very ghastly cousin Clarence kicks her out, sending her away to go and live with her father – her real father – in a humble cottage nearby. There is no explanation, as all the people she has known are sent away.

Agatha, or Aggie as she becomes, keeps seeing ghosts, and some people see a ghost when they look at her, too. As winter sets in around Gosswater, Aggie knows she needs to solve the puzzle of her existence. Hence the poking around graves.

Several unpleasant characters come her way, but so do a number of nice ones. After her new father is sent away, Aggie searches for the truth, with snow and ice forming a treacherous landscape for her to traipse through.

I found this a very relaxing read. Lucy Strange has a good way with characters, and the setting is cold, but attractive. Besides, ghosts can turn out to be better people than ghastly cousins.


Was happiness wasted on him?

We ‘went’ to Kirkland Ciccone’s book launch this evening. By which I mean we attended the online launch, happening on Facebook, and which Daughter cast to the television, for us to sit in comfort and enjoy.

Well, after some ‘casting around’ for the actual event, we found it, but immediately discarded it, since it was clearly a mistake, what with mad fuzzy lines in colour and then there was some maniac who muttered curses, and fairly loudly too.

Turned out it was the real thing. Very psychedelic, it was. But once our dear host had been messaged to mute his sound, we could actually make out what was being said in his interview with Gillian Hunt at Cumbernauld Library. Well, some of it… And the rest was taken care of by some of the most inspired subtitles I’ve come across in my life. ‘Hommage’ turned into ‘a mash.’ And why not? Kirkie mentioned that he would usually launch his books at Waterstones in Argyle Street, which became ‘our street.’ That too.

He read the haircut episode from the book.

Did I mention the new book? It’s for adults. Hah. It’s called Happiness Is Wasted On Me.

And then he was at home again, Kirkie. He wasn’t sure we could hear or see him, when we could actually do both. Sort of. He kept breaking up, and laughing so much that we decided he’d overdosed on IrnBru. But he was very Kirkie.

He has a playlist that goes with the book, somehow. Daughter warned me never to try listening to it. (As if I would.)

Kirkie is very popular. The event was well attended and we all love him. But next time I’ll insist he takes Daughter’s advice on the technical stuff.

Zooming in on Linda Bondestam

This evening the Anglo-Swedish Society hosted Linda Bondestam on Zoom, all the way from Finland. Hers is the kind of name I know really well, except when I start thinking about it and I realise I know nothing.

Linda is a Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator of, mostly, children’s books. She has more recently taken to writing a couple as well. When telling us about one of those books, which was about death, Linda described how she’d had to decide which character to kill, to bring the message home to the young reader, but deciding that killing the main character might be too harsh.

In the beginning there were political pushchairs. Or something like that. Ulf Stark, whom she admired greatly, asked her to illustrate a piece he’d written, and it seems to have taken off and started some trend to do with armed tank style pushchairs in Eastern Europe.

The Anglo-Swedish chair person suggested she could be the next Tove Jansson, and possibly also Maurice Sendak. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek Linda agreed.

There was a short clip of Ulf Stark reading his own words, and later on Linda read some of her words, translated into English.

Linda’s pictures are wonderfully quirky and colourful, and to prove that good art goes anywhere, she also puts it on fabric, showing us shirts and stuff made from her designs. (Contact Linda if you want anything like that. The website is not here yet.) I said to Daughter that maybe she could order a duvet cover, and no sooner had I mentioned it when someone on Zoom suggested sheets…

One very young viewer was so inspired that she/he produced some of their own art while watching, which we all got to admire. Such is the power of the internet.

And Linda keeps winning awards.

Space Explorers

This book – 25 Extraordinary Stories of Space Exploration and Adventure – by Libby Jackson, and with the most gorgeous illustrations by Léonard Dupond, is the perfect Christmas present for your young person who is into space or who might want to become a space fan.

While it possibly doesn’t contain anything new, it is nevertheless an attractive compilation of what has happened in space up until now, starting with those first, short trips into near space and then on to the Moon programme and finishing with the International Space Station.

I would have loved it as a child, and I imagine there are plenty of children to love it now. Libby Jackson tells ‘the story’ interestingly, and as I said, the illustrations are enough for a book in themselves.

With a bit of luck, there might be more space adventures to come, both for the astronauts who go out there, but also for the many scientists on the ground. Mars next?

Very inspiring!


Once I had worked out what St Augustine did after he had made Christians of the English (Archbishop of Canterbury), and established whether Queen Elizabeth I had been a raving Catholic (she wasn’t), it all went quite quickly.

If you feel I have read far too little [fiction] this last month, I have to agree with you. I really have. Read too little. Most of my unravaged-by-Covid reading efforts have been spent on the book that teaches heathens how to be good and proper British style people, and while it is quite easy, in a way, it is also unbelievably tiresome and preachy.

It is very touching the things someone has felt us foreigners need/want to know about this lovely country. And you know what? The places we come from have similar facts we think are lovely and important and want to press on our own unsuspecting immigrants. What’s more, some of our facts are the same. Which means we are probably just as good as each other.

This afternoon I sat the Life in the UK test. It was easy. At least mine was. I know when Easter falls, and what a Beefeater is, and I was very relieved when the question about the small claims was about England and Wales, as the book had the ‘wrong’ figure for Scotland.

What wasn’t fun was the preparation, or the travelling at a time when only essential travelling is meant to happen. What was by far the worst, however, was witnessing the humiliation of a young muslim woman in front of the rest of us. For decades I have been saying how one of the things I like about the UK is how lovely its people are. The book actually says very much the same thing. But today’s experience was not an example of this.

Perhaps I’ll feel better about it tomorrow. If not I can always write to my MP.

Gifted and inspired

I began in the middle, as I often do when there is no apparent reason to read an article in the newspaper, or in this case, in the New Statesman.

But it looked so interesting that I read a little more, near where I’d started. And after some faffing around reading a paragraph here and a paragraph there, I turned to the beginning and read the whole thing. It was an article about John Carey, whom I’d never heard of before, written by Leo Robson, who was also unknown to me.

I don’t know what I was more enchanted by, learning about John Carey, or simply the finding of such a great article when I was least expecting it.

This is what I’ve discovered about my birthday present of a magazine subscription for the Resident IT Consultant. It’s providing me with lots to read too. Admittedly, I am a week behind most of the time, but most of the time that does not matter. Good reading remains good reading even weeks afterwards. (I’ve recently started on the Atlantic – the magazine, not the ocean – and am finding it really excellent too. But that has to come by way of Son, se we are really behind there.)

Fairer than buying someone a box of chocolates and then eating most of them yourself, because in this instance we can both ‘eat’ the chocolates, so to speak. And it’s been decades since I worried about using the Resident IT Consultant’s own money to pay for his presents…

2021 ALMA hopefuls

The nominations for next year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award have ‘arrived’. Many are the same as in previous years, some are probably new. The list is long.

I was most pleased with recognising the Palestinian name, seeing as Palestine isn’t as big as it perhaps should be in the Bookwitch mind. Sonia Nimr. I have even heard her talk live!

There are some worthy names from, say, Sweden and Norway, but in most cases I feel these authors need a few more years to be ready. For the burden, if nothing else. Maybe excepting Jakob Wegelius. And then there is Maria Turtschaninoff from Finland.

I am mostly interested in the English language writers I read a lot by, and the contrast between those who have been around for a long time, and those who are really quite new, is interesting.

Beverley Naidoo comes under South Africa, and from Ireland we have Siobhán Parkinson and Sheena Wilkinson.

The UK contingent have Quentin Blake and Shirley Hughes on the one hand, and Juno Dawson and Katherine Rundell on the opposite hand, with Theresa Breslin and Aidan Chambers somewhere in the middle. As well as many others, I hasten to add.

Among US authors are Elizabeth Acevedo, Kate DiCamillo and Laurie Halse Anderson, to mention a few.

So, may the best unknown win?

An Engineer Like Me

I’m the first person to be in favour of more science for girls.

So this new picture book about a young girl asking her gran a lot of questions about science, is just right. Zara does seem to notice absolutely everything, but then, her gran has answers for all of it as well. She’s a useful gran to have.

They go for an outing, and they come past all sorts of things that need questions asked and answered. Personally I’m not sure I trust the ideas behind loop-the-loops, but I have no intention of looping anything anymore.

And I have always been fascinated by Hedy Lamarr, who despite being a beautiful actress could do serious and useful science. It just goes to show how prejudiced I am. I shouldn’t be more impressed by her than, say, by gran.

Gran has all the answers, because she is, of course, an engineer.

Old books

‘It’s going to turn into a blog post, isn’t it?’ said Daughter.

I should think so. We went antiques shopping after the dentist. Or rather, we didn’t shop at all, merely looked. We might return there once we’ve made our minds up, after sleeping on a few things we saw.

It was good. It almost felt like pre-Covid days. Although the fact that I coveted an awful lot of things, including china figurines – and I am a Scandinavian minimalist – could have been a sign of me being not quite right in the head. The Christopher Robin with Poo and Piglet was really quite sweet…

Ahem, where was I?

So, anywhere that sells old stuff will doubtless sell old books. Some of them possibly even intended for people to read. (There was a bundle of three modern paperbacks, with two of the three authors being people I really don’t care for.)

And some not. For reading, that is. They are now flogging boxes of books for people to decorate with, to give the place that look of belonging to actual readers, people who own lots of lovingly read books. I know this happens, the adorning a room with books never read [by you]. But I’d rather people thought of this idea themselves and then popped into their nearest Oxfam to find some decorating materials. Leather bound books to support a candlestick or two. Whatever.

I bent down to look at the spines, in case there were any titles that required liberating. I know that classic Penguin covers are attractive, but you could at least read them first?

Save the library?

This is something I wasn’t expecting. When you have a nice old library building, funded by Andrew Carnegie over a hundred years ago, you don’t expect to have the library moving into the former shop premises of Argos.

If I understand it right, old Argos isn’t big enough. Yes, it would bring the library ‘to the people’, or it would if there are enough people left visiting the shopping precinct in Stockport. It’s been on its way down for some time.

Yes, I know some people are worried about going into libraries, because they are not used to them, and the building might feel too grand for the likes of an ordinary person. The thing is, when I lived in Stockport, the library was what I encountered first, on arriving into town. It’s right there when you get off the train. Or the bus outside McDonald’s.

The arguments for the move, at least for the position of old Library versus Argos, are not entirely unsound. But I’m thinking here of when my other old library, the one in Halmstad, was replaced with a new, more modern building some years ago. I was really against it. But the fact is, the new library building is far better.

Yes, my childhood memories are somewhere else, but that building still remains, used for other things now. The new one is bigger and more luxurious. Because it was built to be a library, and to be larger, to accommodate everything that was needed.

It doesn’t sound as if the Stockport plans would do that. Smaller and not purpose built sounds worse, to my mind.

I did sign the [Stockport] petition. I feel there should be more thought going into this. Yes, maybe the old building can be kept and used for something truly great, although I would have believed more in that ten years ago. But the message is that library users don’t need or deserve much. A former shop will do.

What Mr Carnegie would think I’m not sure. But we generally like our gifts to be appreciated.