Author Archives: bookwitch

I Killed Father Christmas

Children! Don’t you just love them? (Well, I suppose you do, especially if they are yours.)

In this Little Gem Anthony McGowan shows us how easy it is to get the wrong idea. How you might end up believing you have killed Father Christmas. Poor Jo-Jo overhears his parents arguing, which leads him to the belief that Father Christmas is dead and it was all his fault for wanting too many Christmas presents.

Anthony McGowan and Chris Riddell, I Killed Father Christmas

This is a sweet tale of how easy it is to misunderstand, but it is mostly about how good children really are, once the excessive Christmas lists have been dispensed with. Jo-Jo will make sure it is Christmas after all.

And then, well, wearing his mum’s red coat, Jo-Jo does his thing, and Father Christmas does his bit, and with the help of Chris Riddell’s illustrations, we have ourselves a rather nice little book about what matters.

The question is, did Father Christmas really..?

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Sky Dancer

What is it about Gill Lewis that she can make me read and love books about wildlife? I know that children and animals are a great combination, but I tread with caution if it gets too wildlifey. Unless it’s Gill who’s written the story.

Gill Lewis, Sky Dancer

With Sky Dancer, I didn’t know how she’d pull off a satisfactory ending. It just felt a bit hopeless. Set in the north of England on a famous grouse moor, it is the rich landowner against his lowly gamekeeper on one side and the angry villagers on another.

Joe’s dad was gamekeeper, until he did something stupid and went to jail and then he died there. The whole family is suffering, and Joe’s older brother Ryan seems to be a clone of their dad, and the two boys don’t get on. Joe is friendly with the landowner’s daughter – Araminta [Minty] – and also the new girl next door, Ella, even if she strikes Joe as a bit feeble.

When a hen harrier is discovered on the moors, Joe doesn’t know what to do. Their livelihood depends on the birds going, but he doesn’t like killing wildlife, and besides, it’s illegal.

The story is lovely, as you watch the three children doing their best regarding both the future of the birds and their own. But what really makes this special is learning about the cause and effect of what happens on moors such as this, and what changes could happen and what they might entail.

Very inspiring. And just the right amount of exciting.

No Jo for me

There is what I consider to be a standard line at the bottom of most book press releases, which generally goes something like this: ‘For more information, review copies and interviews, please contact A Publicist.’

If it’s missing I reckon the author is too grand, too busy or possibly too dead for interviews. However, when I see that line, I take it to be mostly true.

Which is why I jumped a little on receipt of Jo Nesbø’s fifth Doctor Proctor book, which this time is about Christmas. I’ve read one Doctor Proctor, and consider that to be quite enough. And some of you might remember what my opinion of Jo is. (Based on one event and some gossip about him, like most prejudice.)

My brain went ‘no, I do not want anything to do with him. But maybe? After all, he’s really famous. Could be “interesting.” Nah, don’t be silly. Anyway, he wouldn’t be available. Except, it says so. And remember that time a few years ago when the man even set up a signing event on the Virgin train taking him from Manchester to Scotland? Clearly desperate for attention. He wouldn’t mind talking to a Bookwitch. I could do a bespoke version of my Profile questions. Maybe grill him a little on why he thinks he should write children’s books.’

That, roughly, was my thought process. So I asked. And not surprisingly, he wasn’t going to be available.

Which is fine. I just don’t feel the line should have been there.

He’s obviously not [that] desperate. In fact, as Pippi and I found at our recent Afternoon Tea, we had both read the magazine snippet where someone asked Jo if he’d notice if ten million kroner went missing from his bank account. He seemed to be shocked at the mere notion of this. Of course he wouldn’t be able to tell!

(If you follow the above link to book one, you will discover that I liked it. I have no reason to believe that Can Doctor Proctor Save Christmas? will be any worse. I just lost my enthusiasm somewhere.)

Book Week Scotland 2017

Starting on Monday, 27th November, is this year’s Book Week Scotland. And there is much you can do.

But don’t delay. There is no point in me suggesting you catch James Oswald in Auchterarder, because he’s already sold out. And because I have now more or less decided what I will and won’t do, I have stopped looking at the ticket booking facility, so won’t know what else might be too late.

Crawford Logan, aka Paul Temple, will do an event in what seems to be an undertaker’s ‘service room.’ But I don’t see why not. After all, he was last seen by the Bookwitch family doing a reading at the Grandmother’s funeral. He knows what to do.

Mairi Hedderwick is appearing all over the place, while still not doing so at a venue or at a time that suits me…

A place and time that is surprisingly good for me is Rachael Lucas talking about Asperger’s at Waterstones on Monday night. And more locally, I have Alex Nye coming to my nearest library (not that I’ve measured), and Alexandra Sokoloff will be talking at Stirling University.

Lin Anderson will be in Alloa, and Badger (the lovely dog) is coming to Cumbernauld.

And I could go on. But I won’t, because if I mention all the people I would like to see but can’t, because they are booked to speak in Shetland or (almost as bad) Orkney, I will get upset. But if you happen to be close to my far flung places, then off you go to a lovely event or two. Julie Bertagna, for instance. Or Debi Gliori.

La Belle Sauvage

Maybe Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage really is for fans only? I am a fan, so have no way of knowing what it’s like ‘on the outside.’

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

I read the book slowly, and I enjoyed every minute of it (apart from the sheer size, weight and sharp corners). Having come across a couple of negative reviews/opinions before reading, I kept them in mind, but could not agree. OK, maybe regarding one small aspect, which is that the chapter with the fairy appeared to be irrelevant. I say appeared, because it could turn out to be as important in the later books as Rowling’s polyjuice potion. I’d like to think that an author knows what they need to happen.

The pace in the story is slow, too. It’s quite comforting, and I loved being back in Lyra’s Oxford, albeit ten years earlier, just as I enjoyed the two shorter books we’ve already been given; the one with Lyra, and the Lee Scoresby one. And if that’s ‘just’ for fans, then so be it. We are many fans.

Whether this tale about 12-year-old Malcolm and 15-year-old Alice adds anything to Lyra’s life – other than saving her actual life – I have no idea. I’d like to meet them again, but if I don’t, then I’m sure the two books still to come will give me something else I will like.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s that this old, and alternate, Oxford somehow has grown more modern in the last twenty years. But it must be hard to remember the feel of that Oxford, so many years after. We have all been influenced by coffee shops everywhere, and mobile phones, and it’s impossible to see the past the way we saw it before. Philip Pullman probably can’t unsee an Oxford full of coffee shops. And we’ve not previously had cause to discuss the availability of disposable nappies in Lyra’s Oxford, so who am I to say they seem more handy than likely?

The other thing is that our world now lacks the hope we had back then. This makes the threat from Philip’s secret organisations come across as scarier than ever.

I feel no closer to understanding Dust. Maybe I will after the second, or the third, book. Or not. Some things are better for being mysterious.

(For another, totally different, and much more professional, view of La Belle Sauvage, here’s Frank Cottrell Boyce in the Guardian.)

Paddington Bond… Bear

It’s not every author who gets to have a memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral. But I think we can agree that Michael Bond deserved that, can’t we?

I wasn’t invited, but seem to know a few people who were. And I gather there was a – limited – opportunity to obtain a free ticket online, for those in the know. I hope everyone who attended had a good time.

Hugh Bonneville aka the Earl of Grantham aka Mr Brown of Paddington fame, was there, along with his two fictional Brown children.

The Bookwitch family went to see the second Paddington film in the cinema, the evening before. We had a great time, and the rare chance to actually dislike Hugh Grant. That doesn’t happen often.

I loved the scene were the prisoners shared pudding recipes, but suspect that really young viewers might not get the humour about the pannacotta recipe. So, something in there for all.

And isn’t it marvellous how a children’s book can spawn a couple of lovely films for all ages to enjoy?

Help yourself, why don’t you?

It’s really simple. You have a Christmas ad to make. You look around at books aimed at young children and find something suitably sweet. You contact the author/illustrator and ask them to work with you in return for money.*

I’ve heard there is a fair amount of it available for the people who think up and subsequently make Christmas ads. I feel it’d be a nice Christmas touch to pay the author for their work.

It’s not quite so nice to steal someone’s creation and pass it on as your own, by saying that monsters under beds are so commonplace that no one, not even a former children’s laureate, can claim it’s actually theirs.

And when found out, it’d look a lot better if you admitted to making a mistake and offered a belated payment for the stuff you took.

Or, you could not. A bit like John Lewis and the monster under the bed, ‘inspired’ by Chris Riddell’s Mr Underbed.

If the Christmas ad was intended to spread goodwill and all those other things, I’d say it failed this year. If John Lewis wanted us to think nice thoughts about them, they also failed.

I’ll go and watch Mog’s Christmas again. That was a nice one. Judith Kerr was credited for her work. I suspect she might even have been paid for it.

*I’d be happy to make suggestions.