Monthly Archives: March 2022

Last night’s dream

People’s dreams are rarely worth hearing about, second hand and jumbled as they often are. So last night I immediately came to the conclusion that you wouldn’t hear mine. Yet, here we are.

In fact, I don’t know where I was, except it was bookish, and I’d temporarily left one room to go somewhere else, when I spied Philip Pullman sitting where he had been sitting last time I saw him as well. Decided to go in and speak to him. Then decided not to, because what could I say, except maybe to hurry up with the last Book of Dust? Then decided I would walk up to him anyway and I was sure something would come to me during those ten seconds.

And when I got to his seat, he was no longer there.

(So far, so fascinating?)

Then I woke up ‘properly’ and started the day with some small screen time, aka looking at emails on my phone. There was one [forwarded] from the Society of Authors, telling me Philip had just resigned as its president.

So that’s clearly what the dream meant. He was there, and then he wasn’t. And it would have been rude for me to have chased him about Dust.

It was probably a wise decision to resign, all things considered. But wrong all the same. He shouldn’t have to. Philip wasn’t running the Society; he was ‘merely’ its figurehead. But it seems – like the Queen – that he’s not meant to have own opinions. Or at least, not to voice them.

I would like to think that his resignation will feel like freedom from being the face of writing and books. Even a presidential role must take its toll. He’s now looking forward to being allowed opinions again.

That set me thinking, because I was especially disturbed by the hounding of their president by a large group of society members, back when it all ‘went wrong’ last year. And although I ‘know’ quite a few of them, there is only one face I see when I think back to this ‘we’ll show him he’s wrong and force him out’ mentality. Sort of the ‘poster person’ for the attack on someone who believed he was entitled to say what he said (and entitled to be wrong, too).

The writers who fought to get rid of Philip, were obviously entitled to say what they thought (even if it was a bit too much playground baying for blood for my liking). But then, why wasn’t he? Those who went on the attack were doing it for the good reputation of their society. It seems that such behaviour could be excused on those grounds.

But I know that my ‘poster person’ has ruined my opinion of them for a very long time to come. And I’d have liked for the society to distance itself from this campaign, too, just as it was forced to step away from Philip after his tweets.


Perfectly Weird, Perfectly You

Or ‘A scientific guide to growing up.’ Camilla Pang is autistic, and a scientist, and she combines the two in her book of advice to young autistic persons. I’m glad Camilla found her solution to life in science, being able to make sense of this weird world we live in. I hope that her scientific advice will work for her young readers too. It seemed sensible to me, but I wonder if someone of a non-scientific bent won’t get it, and that someone ‘being’ autistic believes they can’t use her advice because they are not.

But it’s always good to read about people like yourself, to discover you are not alone, and that occasionally it’s that girl in the school playground who is wrong, and that both of you may wear the same cool shoes.

For someone like me who likes a good case history, this book is that. You read to discover what Camilla’s life was like, and her thoughts about how this thing is like that other thing, and therefore it all makes some kind of sense.

And it’s far too common for teachers to write off the ‘weird ones’, to believe that higher education is not for them. So for anyone who’s been told not to get ideas above their station, it’s useful to know Camilla got a PhD. So there.

(Illustrations by Laurène Boglio.)

The Killing Code

What a relief it was to be back with J D Kirk and his DCI Logan! Bad language and bad diet in Inverness, and some bad killings, obviously. They are gruesome, true. But he’s quite kind, with it, is J D. We don’t get to know the victims all that well, which helps, when they die a few minutes after you’ve met them. Yes, we care, but it’s not a personal loss.

You can tell I’m slow, can’t you? This is only my third J D Kirk. But it’s kind of nice to know there is a whole bunch* of them, still to be enjoyed, as and when I need them. And I think I’ve now learned that the peril that we know is coming to one or more of the regular characters, somewhere towards the end, is not going to be too bad. J D’s characters will come out of that danger, and the reader’s heartbeat can return to normal.

In The Killing Code someone goes round murdering people around town, including at the hospital, of all places. You can generally work out who – probably – did it, even when it seems somewhat farfetched, and the thrill is in reading on as Logan and his detectives bark up the wrong trees for a while, and wondering when they will see the light.

And Inverness comes across well. I’ve not been for many years, but I can tell it has changed a bit.

*I recommend the ebooks. If not, the way he’s going, you may well end up with a shelf with nothing but J D’s books on it. (Which, I suppose, is not a totally bad thing, but…)

Mayhem and muffins

It was mayhem. Daughter and I had driven to Fallin to extricate Barbara Henderson from the school there, where she’s doing literary things with the Primary 5 pupils. That’s good, obviously, but you know, we’d overlooked how impossible it is to move near any school at home time, and especially in a smallish, cramped ex-mining village.

In the end Daughter opted for not running over any children and to sit patiently in the car until most of them had left for home with their grown-ups, and I’d got out and found our visitor, and then she did clever things in that small space and got us out of there again. Barbara was surprised we’d never been to Fallin before, but as I said, there’s never been a reason to.

Once back at Bookwitch Towers, there were muffins waiting for us. It’s about the only thing I trust myself to make these days, and I’d made several ‘flavours’ – but not mushroom – in case of issues. No issues, and ‘more than one’ muffin and coffee later, and much gossip, the Resident IT Consultant drove Barbara to her train home. It seems he hadn’t startled her too much by launching into a rant about zoo pens almost before introductions were made.

It was a real tonic spending time with a real person again. At home. With chat and so much laughter that Daughter who had withdrawn needed to know why we laughed so much. Apart from the horizontal wallpaper, I’m not sure. I forget so fast. Oh yes, there might have been a mention of Jacobite bullets.

‘Shouldn’t we be ashamed of ourselves?’

Those words came from Alf Dubs; a man with experience of fleeing your country, but luckily for us, being welcomed, or at least allowed, in when he arrived in Britain all those years ago.

I don’t always enjoy Marina Hyde in the Guardian, but Wednesday’s column was one of the good ones. One of the columns that makes one feel ashamed, even when the fault is not one’s own. And her comments about photographs in colour or black and white, and the difference it makes when you look at them, set me thinking about the shoe being on the other foot.

What if ‘nice English people’ were to be stopped at a border somewhere, in desperate need of help, having to queue, and possibly not be allowed in. Because the receiving country is not being friendly. But I don’t believe that our ‘leading politicians’ are capable of seeing themselves, or anyone they care about, in such a situation.

Fiction is good at making you see things that are not necessarily real. Yet. It’s almost exactly nine years since I reviewed After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross. It’s still bone-chillingly current. And it’s five years since I felt I had to publish the review again, because of what was happening.

There are probably other novels about poor British people throwing themselves on the mercies of their European neighbours, but this is my go-to example. I’m just so sorry that it has to be.

And even if we, in this country, don’t ever have to escape to some other place, surely we could welcome [quite] a few from elsewhere? They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have to. It’s especially telling that not even these nice white, and similar to us, refugees are welcomed with open arms, after the discussions in the media about why ‘we’ like them so much better than the Syrians, say, or anyone else fleeing from a more distant country.

Fagin’s Girl

It’s World Book Day. Here, anyway. And children are yet again dressing up for it, and authors are cautiously returning to school visits.

Karen McCombie’s Fagin’s Girl is about another kind of dressing up. A long time ago, when poverty was – probably – even more common than now, the loss of a parent, and the subsequent loss of home and livelihood was serious.

Set in London in 1836 we meet two siblings who end up as orphans and have to try and survive by whatever means available to them. In this case it means turning to crime. And to do crime ‘well’, Ettie has to dress as a boy.

But back then, the solution to too much crime was to ship criminals off to the other side of the world, and that’s what happens here too. To one of them, meaning our two siblings are split up.

The last part of this book takes place in Australia in 1988, when children need to learn about what happened before; what some of their ancestors might have gone through. It’s seeing both sides, then and now, that will show today’s young readers cause and effect, and how quickly life can change.

And that has not changed.