Author Archives: bookwitch

Romantically educated

If you don’t know it, it doesn’t exist. Or so it seems. I was intrigued to read a travel article in the Guardian about the islands along the North Carolina coastline, where its author Douglas Rogers had not been aware that this state has lovely beaches. That it’s not just Cape Cod or Florida that matter on the east coast.

I’ve never been, so in a way I’m clearly more ignorant than he was. But, I had one thing going for me; I used to read – far too many – romantic novels. And I mean the Mills & Boon/Harlequin type. The American ones I found to be not only fresher than the UK old style romances, but really most educational too. No, not in that way.

Geography, lifestyle, idioms, food. That sort of thing. Even if a romantic novel is likely to idealise life and love, I assume that what people eat, and the region in which they live, will still be relatively authentic.

So, I knew, and liked, islands like Hatteras and Ocracoke a long time ago. I felt I’d like to visit, if it weren’t for the fact that to begin with it’s the other side of the Atlantic, and then NC is some way away, and the islands even more so. The description the Outer Banks, makes me feel agoraphobic just thinking about the journey there.

I’m most likely not going, but I do reckon they sound just my kind of place. I can’t remember a thing about any of the actual romances set there, but the islands themselves remain strongly in my memory. Which just goes to prove that reading broadens the mind, [almost] whatever the book it is.

Going to Mars

Am I the only one to think of Douglas Adams when reading about the people who made it on to the list of travellers to Mars? I didn’t even know you could apply (not that I would have done so), let alone did I imagine people would sign up for it, seeing as it’s not exactly NASA.

Is it insanity? Or are they so grounded in reality that they realise it will never happen, so they might as well cause a stir? Does it sound good in interviews and on CVs? I ask, because Daughter was flabbergasted to find that someone she met in an interview round was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. And reading about them, the ratio of astrophysicists does seem remarkably high.

If I interviewed someone like that, would I think it showed admirable ambition, or would I feel that I mustn’t waste a position on someone that crazy who would get themselves killed in ten years’ time? Or, at least, not come back.

Then I discovered that Sheldon Cooper had applied. Not that that is a recommendation or a sign of mature thinking, but still.

Back to Douglas Adams, though, and the crashlanded batch of hairdressers and telephone sanitisers who had ‘gone ahead.’ Is this not the same thing? Almost.

Is it like running?

Overwhelmed as I am by all the new and excellent books I see, I can’t help wondering how they happen. Are written. Get published.

Is it like running faster? I’ve never understood how come people run faster with each generation. Once there was a fuss when someone could run a mile in under four minutes. I suppose there must be a limit to how fast a human being can run a mile? But then Stone Age runners might have thought so too, and their limit was probably far from four minutes. If they knew about minutes.

So do authors today write better books because they know they have to to stand a chance of getting published, or do they write good books because evolution makes it happen? (I’m on very shaky ground here, as you can tell.)

Although, unlike the runners who can’t arrive before they’ve started, I suppose writers could – in theory – write better and better books. Cleverer use of words and better sentences about really exciting new people in new style plots. (Unless schools prevent any sensible written language from evolving.)

Anyway, they say there are only so many plots. And I despair a bit about the state of editing. If I can see it, it must be bad. So I suppose it’s back to the running. And as I was reminded when I looked it up, there is a difference between the normally competent runner, and the really successful athlete.

Or could it be the Björn Borg factor? Sweden was over-run by especially good young tennis players in the years after Björn’s Wimbledon triumphs. Players wanted to be the new Borg, and there were plenty of people able to help train them.

Or were the tennis results simply contagious? Like J K Rowling started us on wizards and Stephenie Meyer gave us romantic vampires. I think tennis-wise that things calmed down after a while. Will books?

Stars Shall Be Bright

Catherine MacPhail, Stars Shall Be Bright

In memory of the lost children of Maryhill, who died in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster exactly one hundred years ago today. We don’t know their names or what they were doing on a train full of soldiers going off to war.

Catherine MacPhail has a theory, which she shares with us in this Barrington Stoke story, Stars Shall Be Bright. She reckons they were siblings James, Belle and William, who set off to find their dad who was a soldier.

Their mum has just died and to avoid being taken into a home, James decides to take his brother and sister on a trek to find their dad, lying in order to get away from a ‘well meaning’ neighbour.

They hide on a stationary train, which soon fills up with over 500 soldiers, travelling from Larbert to Liverpool, on their way to Gallipoli. Near Gretna Green the train was involved in a three train crash, with 225 soldiers dead, 246 injured, and 65 walking wounded.

And then there were the bodies of three children.

Lovely (yes really) story, but awfully sad.

The Fugitive

The fifth Theodore Boone is here! I have to own up to still enjoying these junior John Grisham books very much. And that cliffhanger I could see at the end of the first book, which then didn’t materialise? Well, it’s here now. And matters continue to wobble near the edge of the cliff as we leave Theodore and have to wait for the sixth and last book.

Strattenburg’s most wanted man is back. Theodore goes on a school trip to Washington, and accidentally comes across this suspected murderer on the run. Because Theo is Theo, he knows what to do to prove it’s Pete Duffy, and the point of the book is not the catching of Mr Duffy, so much as the trial he needs to face.

John Grisham, The Fugitive

Because it’s the law that Theo the miniature lawyer is passionate about, and it’s important that young readers learn how the law is – supposedly – there to take care of you and keep you safe. The town of Strattenburg is not perfect, but it does its best.

Pete Duffy is not the loveliest of men, and nor is his defense lawyer, or his ‘helpers.’ Some people will go to any lengths to escape jail, and one of the witnesses for the prosecution in particular has to stay brave and remember his duty. But will he? Can he? The case is so difficult that Theo begins to doubt his calling.

The usual interaction with Theo’s parents, Theo’s favourite judge, and some pretty nifty action from uncle Ike.

Liz Kessler on Read Me Like a Book

The fact that I had looked forward so much to reading Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book, doesn’t mean that I believe it will be all straight sailing. That’s why I nailed the lovely Liz to the spot and asked all kinds of questions on how she sees the future for this new book of hers:

Liz Kessler

So, from mermaids via fairies and a bit of time travelling and some plain invisibility, to a book on discovering you are gay… That’s quite a journey. (I know you actually began with the gay book, before moving on to more conventional mermaids.)

You’re right, I did write this book first – and it has been sitting in a drawer for over a decade! I personally don’t think of this as ‘the gay book’ though. I really hope it’s much more than that! But yes – definitely quite a journey!

Do you reckon your first fans are old enough to be ready for this complete change of genre? In fact, perhaps this older book is what you need, to hang on to readers as they outgrow the mermaids?

My first book came out in 2003, so I guess many of my early fans will now be in their late teens or even early twenties. Hopefully that means they are well within the age group for a YA book! I do hope that some of my readers will progress through my books, and that they will see the similarities and the links in terms of themes between all of my books. I don’t see this book as a complete change of genre at all. I just think it’s a book aimed at a different age group. Like almost all my books, this one deals with subjects like learning to accept others, becoming comfortable with yourself, standing up for what you believe in and being bold and honest. As to whether my readers are ‘ready’ or not – well, you’ll have to ask them that! All I know is that I very much hope they are!

Have you any fears regarding parental gatekeepers, or is Read Me Like a Book purely for readers who decide for themselves?

Up to this point, I have only received positive comments, and the book seems (up to now) to be coming out in a climate of celebration and support. Perhaps some of the gatekeepers – be they parents, librarians or teachers – might have issues with some of the content of the book. If they do, there is nothing I can do about that. To be honest though, I think that they would have to be fairly extreme in their views to be worried by this book. It isn’t setting out to be controversial in any way. It is about many issues which all teenagers can hopefully relate to, whatever their gender or sexuality. As to whether this is a book purely for readers to decide for themselves or not – it’s no different from any other YA book in that respect. I can only write the books. I can’t decide who will pick them up or what their motivation or decision-making process will be.

Are you expecting a ‘Melvin Burgess, Doing It’ type of outcry in schools?

No. Not at all. I don’t think anyone who has read both books would see any link between them. This is not a book about sex. It’s a book about first love, about the struggles of teenage years, about coming to terms with who we are.  

You seem like the kind of woman who’d encourage your fans to ask questions about all sorts of things. Has anyone ever sought advice on gay issues?

Not yet. I do encourage people to feel able to ask me questions, and if as a result of this book I am asked questions on LGBT matters, I’ll do my best to give my own honest answers and hope that they will help.

It’s been a while since you wrote Read Me Like a Book. Are there significant changes to society that affect gay teenagers, be they good or bad?

Society has changed a lot since then – and I would say that most of the changes are for the better. More famous people are ‘out’ today than fifteen years ago, so young LGBT people have more role models. The nasty, homophobic ‘Section 28’ no longer exists. We have anti-discrimination laws to give more protection to LGBT people. Attitudes are more positive. But we’re not there yet. If we were, I don’t think I would be asked whether I’m expecting an outcry for publishing this book! 😉

Why not write a completely new book? Was it hard to go into your first book and start editing it to fit 2015?

I do write completely new books all the time! (I think you’ve read most of them!) This book is important to me, and I wanted to get it out there. I’m glad that my publisher has agreed with me that the time is right to do that. There was a lot of editing to get it up to date, and up to scratch. Many things had changed in fifteen years, so I did a lot of work. In fact, I would say it probably feels like a new book now!

Is there anything you’ve worried about to do with this new book? Other than it is a new book, and you can’t know before it’s out there how it will do.

Yes of course – I worry that not everyone is as accepting and ready for the book as most people seem to be. I worry that some parents might not realise it’s a 14+ YA book and buy it for a younger child (although we’ve done everything we can to hopefully prevent this). Perhaps I worry that I will be asked to do too many interviews that make me feel like I’m having to defend a book that I don’t feel should have to be defended in this way! But my mind is mostly focused on the excitement I feel about it, not on worries.

What are you most looking forward to with Read Me Like a Book?

Getting an email from a teenager telling me that my book has helped them to feel confident about who they are and not feel alone. If I get one email like that, my job is done.

Might you write more books like this, or is it straight back to fantasy now?

I don’t think I write fantasy – I think that I write books about the real world, but quite often they have a magical element in them. I will continue to write those for the Middle Grade age group, and I am planning to continue to pursue a YA strand as well.

It seems that I am far more worried about the world than Liz is. And she’s quite right; finding out – and learning to accept – that you are gay is actually much the same thing as discovering you are half mermaid. We’re all a bit different, but also the same. I wish her book and its readers all the best.

It’s Bookbug Week!

For a moment when the email came I was under the impression I was being invited to get into bed with Debi Gliori, but on closer inspection the invitation was ‘only’ to watch school children read books with Debi. In a bed, as you do with bedtime stories. On a farm, which is less common, but why not?

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Sheep next to your bed is handy for when you need to count them, if nothing else. And the children look as if they had fun. I might have gone to watch, had I not been otherwise engaged on Monday morning. But Scottish Book Trust have sent some photos on, so it’s almost as if I was there. ‘Away in a manger…’

As well as photographing reading sheep, Scottish Book Trust are involved in giving books to every Scottish child. Which, as I keep saying, is an excellent idea. They have also looked into the statistics of how many parents read to their children, and at what age. 72% have read to their child before 12 months, which is pretty good. If this Bookbug gifting continues those figures are likely to improve.

Director Marc Lambert says ‘Sharing a book with your child on a regular basis, from as early an age as possible, is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to make a real difference to their future. You might feel silly reading to a tiny newborn, or even to your bump, but your baby will listen closely to the rhythm of your voice and the speech patterns, laying strong foundations for later language development. It’s never too late to get started though – at any age your child will soon realise that books equal cuddles, helping to inspire a love of reading which will last a lifetime.’

I think I was probably of the school of thought that I felt a bit silly to begin with, but your child won’t know that.

As well as the free books, there are lots of events on this week. In Scotland. If you live somewhere else, you might want to consider moving.

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