Monthly Archives: March 2021

The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne

Scarlett McCain is the kind of girl who wakes up ‘beside four dead men. Four! She hadn’t realized it had been so many. No wonder she felt stiff.’

You can tell already that Scarlett can look after herself. That’s more than can be said for Albert Browne, when she unexpectedly comes across him. He smiles and is polite and talks about time-wasting stuff and is a real physical weakling. So they should get on well.

This is Jonathan Stroud’s new series, The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne. Set in a dystopian future Britain – which, between you and me, we don’t want to live in – it is somewhat steampunky in a Wild West sort of way. In other words, it’s got the best of several worlds, and with Jonathan writing the story, you are in good hands.

While Scarlett robs banks, because she needs the money, we wonder about Albert. What does he do? Except chatter too much. We wonder what they are running away from, and it is almost easier to understand where Albert is coming from, than Scarlett. But give it time. There are the people chasing them, and the people they meet while being chased. About the latter I am still wondering if we will see them again.

In this dystopian country you are not safe anywhere. Maybe in some of the Surviving Towns, unless you are a deviant of some kind. They don’t like those. But the countryside surrounding these few towns; it’s full of dangerous creatures, both ‘humans’ and outsize animals of the kind we don’t fear today, but there is clearly no knowing what might happen one day.

It’s a nice, thrilling adventure, as long as you don’t believe me when I say nice. But you’ll want to read it for the thrills and the growing working relationship between a murderous, thieving girl, and this seemingly useless boy. They could go far. Unless the otters get them first.


The 2021 ALMA winner

Not only had I never heard of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Jean-Claude Mourlevat, but the people I know who generally know so much more than I do, hadn’t either. So, all in all, a worthy Swedish-picked winner.

‘Jean-Claude Mourlevat is one of France’s leading children and young adult authors. Since his publishing debut in 1997, he has written more than 30 books which have been translated into nearly 20 languages. With a particular love for fairy tale, fable and fantasy, he draws on literary traditions to create worlds that resemble no other. He writes for young children, teens and adults alike.

Citation of the Jury:
“Jean-Claude Mourlevat is a brilliant renewer of fairy tale traditions, open to both hardship and beauty. Time and space are suspended in his fictional worlds, and eternal themes of love and longing, vulnerability and war are portrayed in precise and dreamlike prose. Mourlevat’s ever-surprising work pins the fabric of ancient epic onto a contemporary reality.”‘

Ce document a été créé et certifié chez IGS-CP, Charente (16)

Among his books is this one, which I personally like the look of. In fact, both Jean-Claude and his hedgehog Jefferson look very nice.

Down #3 Memory Lane

The Chicken House breakfast seems quite appropriate for Easter week, doesn’t it?

I had almost forgotten about it, but eight years ago I went to a book event a mere twenty minutes [train ride] away from Bookwitch Towers and was home again well before lunch. That’s what I call efficient use of time.

It’s one of the things I do miss now. The being able to go to events that are conveniently near, but which are still ‘big enough’ to feature lots of authors and lots of other booky people. And food. And free books.

The view is from the breakfast venue, which the more eagle-eyed of you might recognise as the Manchester Oxford Road station forecourt. Perhaps not the most attractive of places, but oh so useful. And as I said, just off the train. And Bookwitch Towers just off the train at the other end, especially had I been able to leap across the fence at the bottom of my garden (which is something I never did!).

It was good of Chicken House to make the trek north to see how the other half lives. Some people don’t know that there is life outside London – or Bath, in this instance – but there is.

Now, can I interest anyone in a Central Scotland something? Fried Mars bars with IrnBru, perhaps. Once we’re back to ’normal’, obviously.

Dr Noir meets Kirkie

Kirkland Ciccone is a lucky man. All through his conversation with Dr Noir – aka Jacky Collins – on Friday evening, he sat facing my wall of books, which is something he likes. All those Agatha Christies! I know he could ‘see’ them, because we were watching his YouTube chat on our television, and that sits opposite the wall of books.

This was another event featuring his book Happiness is Wasted on Me, which had delighted Dr Noir, although she clearly needed to learn more about Cumbernauld. There is a risk that come the end of Covid restrictions, she will hotfoot it over there. Unless the powers that be, have dynamited the place by then.

We admired Kirkie’s outfit, his banana shirt, a furry yellow cape thing, and topped with an orange hat. It matched the stringlights behind him.

Is is his book really a crime novel? There is a murder, but I’m not sure it is. Really. Fairly sure it won’t make his fans hunt out Agatha Christie afterwards.

Cumbernauld is ugly, but Kirkie thinks that’s all right. He can still love it. He sort of suggested he’s not Walter in the story. He can say that, but…

There were questions. One, from Daughter, was whether that was IrnBru he was swigging from his very tall mug. He claimed it was Earl Grey. Twinings. Honestly! I will have to send Kirkie some real Earl Grey.

He talked about his mother, the flat roofs of the houses in Cumbernauld, about the library and how hard it can be to find, about his brother’s criminal exploits, steak pie at New Year, and liking Stirling’s Thistle Centre. Well, someone has to, I suppose.

Towards the end they moved on to Kirkie’s Desert Island Discs, which he clearly hadn’t prepared for, so there was much – weird – music being mentioned. Also, 1990s style magazine covers, which were behind the design of the book cover. (This is so much not my time!)

And, you know, they want you to buy the book. I think I want you to do that too.

Afterwards I had some proper Earl Grey and a Gingernut, and thought of Cumbernauld. As you do.

Triple skulduggery

I’d really been feeling much more positive in the last few weeks. Yes, it’s fun to write. To read books. And then when you think it’s safe to step into the water, on an ordinary Thursday morning, they trip you up.

The first water has to do with that large river in South America. I was wanting to buy the new Skulduggery Pleasant, out next week. Since the last time when I was unwillingly, and unwittingly, subscribed to their prime offers, I have been very vigilant. But still, I fell in. Knowing how to, I immediately pulled myself out [cancelled] again. But that was at least two minutes out of my morning.

After that, my thought was to do just what I am doing now; moaning away about rivers and the like.

But in their infinite wisdom my blogging platform has – seemingly – taken away my old-fashioned classic editor option and I am currently writing to you from, well, I don’t know where I am, but I am not enjoying it.

So that’s two large, successful companies sticking their legs out to catch me, all in one morning.

I still ordered my copy of Skulduggery Pleasant, whereas the less pleasant skulduggeries continue to bother me. Primarily by flickering an editing box in front of my eyes every time I stop to think. If that’s not a migraine trigger, I don’t know what is. Well, I do, Marmite, chocolate, msg. And the editing box.

Just as well I wasn’t going to add a picture.


Nick Green’s new ebook Sparrowfall is quite something. Nick reckons it’s adult fiction, whereas I feel it’d be fine for younger readers as well. Some serious topics are covered, but children and teenagers today are exposed to these kinds of things.

(And now that I’ve read the book, the cover makes a lot of sense.)

This is science fiction, and it takes you to a harsh and completely unknown landscape. While in its other half you find a perfectly ordinary setting as well.

Let’s start with the ‘normal’ story, which is about 12-year-old Eleanor, recently adopted and loving living with her new parents. She also loves the must-read fantasy novel Myriad, and acting. So when she gets a part in the new film of Myriad it feels as if life is perfect.

Myriad is set in a strange world, with strange people and strange goings-on. We don’t see all that much of it, as it’s primarily the film set which matters here.

And then there is the world of Captain Luke S Zeit, which is beyond anything I could imagine. My mind simply boggled as I tried to envisage where Luke is and where he goes. Even what he is. What is quite clear however, are his feelings. He comes across Becca, a refugee from some unknown corner of his world and she changes his life.

It’s not the world of Myriad, though. I suppose that would have been too easy. But if it’s not, how are the parts of this story connected? It took me unusually long to discover, and even when I had, I needed to unsee what I’d found. And I still couldn’t work out how this was all going to work out.

And what of the man sleeping rough in London?

This is refreshingly beautiful, and Nick’s science fiction world is truly different.

The real mystery of course is why Sparrowfall isn’t out there as a big-selling actual book printed on paper, and not just as an ebook. The advantage here is that it will only set you back £2.95, so there is no need for procrastination. Buy it today! And tell your friends.

The early bird

I got up earlier than usual this morning.

Before you get excited about this, let me assure you it wasn’t that early. Just earlier. For Covid-times. The main problem with getting up late, is that the mornings disappear awfully fast.

But I had a flashback as I contemplated my ‘early’ breakfast and the possibilities this extra hour offered. I used to do this once before.

Get up early. Earlier than I had to, I mean. We’re not counting going to school – although as you will find, I did that – or travelling dreadfully early or having to deal with babies who have a poor understanding of parents wanting to sleep a little bit longer. Ot even letting the builders in.

When I was around 15, I got up earlier and earlier in the mornings, on school days, and not to shower – although I did that – or pack the schoolbag or anything.

I got up to read.

When my evenings grew too short for me to read a few chapters more, I solved this dire state of things by reading before going to school. At first I added maybe a quarter of an hour to my usual morning proceedings. But gradually this got longer and longer. In the end I believe it was an extra hour, which meant getting out of bed at 5.30. Swedish schools start early. I also read in the corridors outside each classroom as I waited to be let in, managing perhaps another five minutes before each lesson. And, erm, reading before the film started in cinemas…

This will be why I managed to get through a fair few books back then.

The somewhat ridiculous situation ended when we moved, and I went to school in the company of Mother-of-Witch in the car, and it suddenly seemed preposterous that I’d crawl out of bed that much earlier.

Since then I’ve been mostly normal. For me. Although I still take a book to the cinema. Used to. In case the film’s no good.

Down #2 Memory Lane

It looks quite domestic, doesn’t it? Except for the lurid red upholstery.

But there’s me, the tea tray, the three heads in front of the gold mirror. And Terry Pratchett.

2010 was a double Terry Pratchett interview year. By request. The first time by me. The second time by Terry.

It was, just nice. That’s what I’m looking for just now. A nice past. Something I’d put in my photo album, if I did stuff like that. In fact, that’s an idea! I never considered mixing Bookwitching photographs with private life photos.

I had brought Son along, in case there was coffee to be poured. There was. I always knew he’d turn out to be useful one day.

The Last Garden

We’ve been gardening. By that I mean that I sit comfortably in my rattan chair and keep the Resident IT Consultant appraised of what I think he should do to the garden. It’s quite nice, especially now that the weather has been warm enough and dry enough, and we’ve been longing to be out there, in the fresh air and sunshine.

This picture book by Rachel Ip and illustrated by Anneli Bray is about a garden in a country about to be overrun by a war. I wasn’t eager to read it, feeling I knew what it would be like.

Except it wasn’t.

Zara has a garden in the city in this country, where before the war there were green things growing everywhere. When things get bad, people still come to Zara’s garden, where they can feel good about what’s there, and the flowers and the fruit help make others feel better too.

In the end it becomes too dangerous to stay in the city, and Zara even has to close her garden. It looks like everything is broken or ruined and the plants dead.

But when the war is over, people return, and slowly, over time, the garden heals and so do the people and the city. A beautiful message and beautiful pictures.

The 2021 shortlists

It’s shortlist time. Here are the Kate Greenaway Medal hopefuls:

And the Carnegie Medal shortlisted books:

There are eight in each category, so it will still be a difficult choice to make. I’ve only read one, but can already tell that I would have wanted to have read many more than that.