Monthly Archives: June 2022

Launching the tenth anniversary Bloody Scotland

She notices things, does Lin Anderson. She’s very kind, and she came up to me to ask ‘did I want a chair?’ I did, and she gave me one. I asked how she knew, and it seems I was leaning on a stack of brown boxes. I was. I just hadn’t noticed.

So there I was, the only one sitting down. Very comfortable it was, too. My friend Helen Grant had to stand, but apparently she prefers that. She’s going to be at the tenth (?) Bloody Scotland in September. High time, if you ask me. She’s as scary as the rest of them.

Between me and the mail chimp I almost didn’t make it, but I was in a position to dash off to the Golden Lion at very short notice this morning, so I did.

You will have noticed my question mark above. I am sure they know what they are doing, but I am equally sure it’s not the tenth Bloody Scotland. One of us will be wrong.* But I was given a chair to sit on, so will not insist on being right.

After some suitable mingling, Bob kicked things off. He’s the boss. He then handed over to Citizen Kane, sorry, Councillor Kane, to talk about how much Stirling loves Bloody Scotland. Then it was back to Bob again, with more information about the sheer wonderfulness of what is to come. And there is a lot.

I was quite excited to find Sara Paretsky on the front cover of the programme, but cynical enough to realise she will Zoom in. So are some of the other grand crime writers. But most are coming here, and I already have a conundrum as to who to see and who to miss. Helen is appearing with ‘my old pal’ Stuart Neville, and new Swedish star David Lagercrantz will be on a panel with Simon Mason, David Fickling’s man in the basement.

Not going to list all the others. Look at the programme. It’s already live. And Crime at the Coo sold out instantly, so don’t even bother trying. Anyway, it’s on from 15th to 18th September, and if you are good with numbers you can see they have added a day.

As we left, Helen and I ended up behind everyone being photographed on the steps of the Golden Lion. I considered trying to look especially silly, but gave up. Having squeezed through, we then joined the throng on the pavement instead.

After which Helen bought me a baked potato across the road.

*That will be me. I’m a foreigner. There is a difference between anniversary and tenth event… Thank you again for the chair.


Escape to the River Sea

It is always very nice meeting favourite characters again. Especially those from a really good novel; people you’ve perhaps wondered about after reading their story. You want more, and if someone other than the original author has written ‘more’ then you might be quite happy with that as a solution as well.(I remember finding Ben Gunn in the library when I was a child. Never mind who wrote it. There was more!)

Here is Emma Carroll’s take on what might have happened to the characters in Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea. They really were characters you wanted to meet again.

I was pleased to see what happened to Clovis, who is now a proper adult, seeing as it’s just after WWII. He has taken in 11-year-old Rosa from Austria, along with other evacuees. The arrival of Yara, a young and quite unusual woman, eventually takes Rosa to the Amazon, following in the footsteps of Maia, all those years ago.

WWII has had an effect in Brazil as well, so it’s no longer the same. Neither are Finn and Maia, who are now also proper adults. In my opinion, perhaps too much of properness. (But then, Anne Shirley grew more sensible with age, so perhaps this is inevitable.)

What follows is an Amazonian, post-war adventure, featuring new children in recognisable surroundings. As a story it is fine, and fun, albeit lacking Eva Ibbotson’s magic.

Friends Like These

The title of Meg Rosoff’s new novel – Friends Like These – should be seen as a warning that things will be dark, and somewhat sordid. Certainly, the cockroaches are not fun. But I suspect Meg knows of what she’s writing. Unlike her heroine Beth she wasn’t 18 in the 1980s, but most of us were 18 once, and Meg will know what a hot summer in New York might have entailed. Sweat, cockroaches, drugs and sex. And friends.

Sort of friends.

Beth meets Oliver and Dan, and her new best friend Edie, when she arrives in Manhattan for an internship as a wannabe journalist. It’s about being rich or poor, Jewish or WASP; knowing your way around or learning as you go. Edie knows everything, and Beth is happy to let her lead, to have a new, really good friend.

I’m sort of Beth, and I wonder if Meg is too, but I couldn’t possibly tag along like that, agreeing to every crazy idea Edie comes up with. Beth works hard, and has to play even harder, just to keep up.

I loved most of this book. As you’d expect. Perhaps not that part in the middle where I was sure Beth would be going straight to hell. But after that I was able to see what Beth was capable of, and Edie too, and I could breathe again.

Is this a YA book? Not sure. It’s about teenagers, doing teenagery stuff. But it’s historical, too, and I wonder if the doings of the 1980s are more for us who lived through those times, than 18-year-olds today? Beth is an innocent behaving like a mini adult. And Edie, well…

It is interesting, this seeing how others live, be it the non-judgemental Beth or the manipulating Edie.


Sara Paretsky has managed to put both her late husband as well as her dog into Overboard, her latest crime novel. Those are among the lighter points in what of necessity has to be a dark book. Even Covid, which features naturally, is nowhere near as dark as the situations caused by certain human beings. If one can call them that.

Chicago continues to be an interesting backdrop to V I Warshawski’s detecting, but what was once ‘merely’ a city with much crime in it, we now see what it has become through the behaviour of so many ruthless and powerful men. In that it mirrors what goes on in many other places, but it does mean that when reading Overboard you don’t feel that everything will be all right in the end, because it just seems impossible that so much bad can be turned into good, even by someone like V I.

We meet two separate teenagers with problems, and the positive thing about their age is that we see what they are capable of achieving, and you hope Sara won’t kill her young characters. We also reconnect with others from V I’s past; both crooks and decent people, which adds depth to the story. She knows things about these people, making their relationships different from a detective simply hunting bad men. Because they are mostly men.

It’s the weaving together of strands about money and greed, immigrants fearing for their very existence, old people who are mistreated, the persecution of Jews, the criminal intent of the police, the homeless, torturers, the press, and V I’s own fears and hopes that makes Sara’s story so great.

Because even if it can’t end with everyone living happily ever after, you do get a sense of satisfaction when good and ordinary people get together to put wrongs right. Please let there be many more books like this!

Tisha and the Blossom

I too am tired of hurrying up. Just like Tisha in Tisha and the Blossom, another gorgeous picture book by Wendy Meddour, with illustrations by Daniel Egnéus.

I’d just not thought very much about mindfulness, and now I realise it’s what we should do. I mean, if we want to. It’s this being pushed to hurry up and do this, not forget to do that, or be too late for that other thing.

We need to stop and sniff the flowers, ‘waste’ some time, be with each other.

Tisha is small, but she says stop, when she needs to. And that’s what her parents need, too.

Sometimes just sitting is the best. Staring into space, or being a little silly.

Try it! I’m going to have to pop out into the garden, and try not to mind the pigeons…

The Friendship Bench

It’s just typical You get to the friendship bench and there is already someone sitting on it!

Although, as we learn in Wendy Meddour’s picture book The Friendship Bench, that’s the whole point. You need a friend? You go and sit on that bench, and see what happens.

In this case it’s Tilly who has no one to play with at her new school. And guess what? Neither has Flint. That’s him, on the bench, when Tilly turns up. They suspect the bench might be broken, until, well, until it becomes clear it’s not.

This is precisely the kind of really kind picture book many of us need today. Wendy’s words are wise, and the pictures by Daniel Egnéus are rather beautiful.

I really want a friendship bench myself, now, and the kind of kind teacher who will suggest I go and sit on it.

But at least we have the book.