Author Archives: bookwitch

The Ruth Rendell Award

I first met Tom Palmer eight years ago, at Media City in Salford, where he arranged games of rugby in his book event for the Manchester Literature Festival. I have to admit I only went because it was one of fairly few children’s books events on offer. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I didn’t join in with the ball playing. (It was on the fifth floor..!)

Tom Palmer

A year later he was back, and so was I. This time it was football in Manchester Town Hall.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Tom writes sporty books featuring both team sports and running. Things he likes. Things that many boys like, and because of that they read his books. This is the man who didn’t read as a boy, unless maybe it had to do with sport. Tom knows what it is not to read.

Many of us well meaning book experts don’t actually understand enough about this. Which is why I’m so terribly pleased, and not in the least surprised, that Tom has been awarded the Ruth Rendell Award for his outstanding contribution to raising literacy levels in the UK. I didn’t know there was such an award, and it couldn’t have been given to anyone more deserving.

I haven’t read quite all Tom’s books, but I have read more than my share of these energetic tales, and they are all extremely good. I intend to keep reading them, and to keep telling others to do the same.

Last week when the Resident IT Consultant and I discussed abridged and adapted classics for children, and I listed examples of books that the little Bookwitch had enjoyed, he said ‘but they all sound like books for girls.’ And he was right. I pointed out that what we need for boys are books like Tom’s.

The next day I learned of his award. Very well deserved!

Letters from Tove

I’d like to think that even people who don’t know anything about Tove Jansson would enjoy reading her letters. As the publicist for the English translation of Letters from Tove said, one can enjoy dipping in, reading a bit here and a bit there. You sort of eavesdrop on Tove’s life, which looks to have been both long and full of events.

Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove

The translation by Sarah Death is so spot on, that if I didn’t know whose letters I was reading, I could easily believe they were from a young, arty English girl. At least, were it not for the people Tove writes about, and the recipients of the letters.

For the most part I don’t know who they are. Some are obvious, others might be names I vaguely have heard of, being Swedish. But many correspondents are just that, someone Tove knew and exchanged letters with. The Resident IT Consultant felt he didn’t know enough, but I suspect that’s because he believed that a Swedish speaker would automatically know all about Tove’s people.

Well, we don’t, and the book is more exciting for it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone Tove’s age would have spent time in prewar Paris, mixing with other arty people. But somehow I’d not thought about this. And I know the grass is often greener, but I am always struck by how interesting life in the past seems.

And then there is the more normal life at home, which is surprisingly normal, even for non-arty me, so much younger than Tove. It’s as if there is something timeless and Nordic about certain aspects of how we live.

I think this will be interesting to read, whether or not you are a Moomin fan. And perfect to keep near you for dipping into. There are many years of numerous and long letters to discover.

(Starting today as Book of the week on BBC Radio 4.)

Launching When We Get To the Island

When he discovered he was wanted to drive me to Alex Nye’s book launch last night, the Resident IT Consultant spent the afternoon reading her book, When We Get To the Island. And as he said, it’s very Thirty-Nine Steps and a bit James Bond and quite exciting.

Alex Nye

It was a successful evening. The librarians kept carrying in more chairs, and then some more, and offering tea because it was such a wet and stormy night, as well as the wine and crisps. They have a nice library in Dunblane. And enough chairs, eventually…

Kirkland Ciccone and Clare Cain

Alex started by telling us a bit about the background to the book, the refugees being smuggled into the country, and the state of being a ‘looked after’ child in foster care. She read an excerpt from the last bit of the train journey, only partially insulting the Duke of Sutherland. (Not much at all, really.)

Talking about the petrochemical industry near ‘Grangefield’ her dog worriedly joined in. I had thought the ‘carrot topping’ business in the story somewhat farfetched, but it seems Alex has experience of this herself, including the dangers of trying to cut semi-frozen carrots with a sharp knife.

Alex Nye

She had had some difficulty seeing a happy ending to a book about trafficking and fostering, which both the Resident IT Consultant and the Nye dog loudly agreed with. Here Alex’s publisher Clare pointed out that it’s an exciting adventure book, and the dog on my right reckoned she was right. (She is.)

Nye dog

Before we were allowed to mingle again Alex read another short piece about her characters in a flooded tunnel and then she stopped right there, leaving a library full of people on a cliffhanger! They’d need to buy the book after that.

Clare Cain was selling books in a corner, but rejected the dollar bills offered by Alex’s sister who was visiting. It’s hard to remember what money goes where…

Clare Cain

And then we gossiped a bit with Kirkland Ciccone before braving the storm to go home again.

Vikings in Wexford

I’m a bit late to this, but found Eoin Colfer’s column for the Guardian on where he’s from (Wexford) such fun that I just have to force the link on you.

And I didn’t know about this, despite two interviews and countless encounters and conversations. Just goes to show you need to know to ask the right questions.

Also just goes to show how almost anything can set the imagination rolling, be it the Viking [Bookwitch] village underneath Wexford, or Philip Ardagh’s beard (for which there is no explanation and I will assume Eoin was merely being polite…).

Suffice to say, Eoin’s Dad sounds like a great father, and I’m very pleased to discover that there is in fact a requirement for all Irish writers to write a fairy book. It’s only right.

I also understand the issues between the Lower Elements and the humans far far better now. Bring on The Fowl Twins!

Emma

‘Awesomely Austen.’ ‘Witty words by Katy Birchall.’ Those are book cover quotes to make my heart sink a little. Surely you can sell a shorter, rewritten version of one of Jane Austen’s novels more seriously?

Despite approving of Daughter’s long ago short Brontës, I wasn’t sure. I asked the Resident IT Consultant. Together we arrived at the conclusion that it’s fine. Anything that gets younger readers read a classic is fine.

So here you have Katy Birchall’s Austen Emma in 210 pages, with ‘delightful doodles’ by Églantine Ceulemans. It’s a pretty volume, and I’d say it covers what you need from Emma, when you’re eight or ten. After all, it’s a book about adults. It needs to be made more accessible.

I just hope the reader doesn’t then go on to consider themselves as having read Jane Austen. I hope that one day he or she will discover, much to their delight, that there is a longer version of Emma.

Along with this Emma, there is a new Pride and Prejudice and a Persuasion, by Katherine Woodfine and Narinder Dhami respectively, with the remaining three novels to follow.

Awesomely Austen

Adventing on

As I was egging Daughter on to tackle her double Advent task of reading two books every day, instead of merely opening chocolatey windows, it dawned on me that I wanted to do that too.

I gave her Cornelia Funke’s Hinter verzauberten Fenstern for her birthday, with the notion that it’d give a her some starter German reading practice, which she might succumb to because it’s the run-up to Christmas, and she likes that. Besides, there’s already the Jostein Gaarder she tends to read every year. At least when I/we/she haven’t lost the book… We now own several copies of The Christmas Mystery.

But what I really had a yearning for was neither of these two excellent Advent books. It was Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice. I looked at the book I was reading. Then I got out the Pilcher, and it wasn’t long before I was lost in the sad beginnings of Winter Solstice.

What remains to be discovered is whether I will be able to slow down. Once the introductions have been made, you can read this novel more or less ‘in time’ with your own December. But not if you want to do it in one sitting. Well, maybe two, considering it’s nearly 700 pages.

I’ll let you know. (But I already feel better for having rebelled, and for being back in Rosamunde’s wintry Scotland.)

The Snow Queen

I appear to have come to a Hans Christian Andersen spot. It’s a nice place to be, now that December gets a move on, and it’s Advent. It doesn’t all have to be Andersen, however. Even though The Snow Queen originally is his, this version is by Geraldine McCaughrean.

But however great they both are, and you know they are, what really truly makes this book are the illustrations by Laura Barrett. The are simply fabulous, and I’d be quite happy to ‘read’ only her pictures, with no words at all. Done in silhouette in black and white with some pale blue, this is the most beautiful volume.

Geraldine McCaughrean and Laura Barrett, The Snow Queen

The story is the same it always was, about two young friends torn apart when the Snow Queen whisks the boy away to her palace. And then the girl searches everywhere for her soulmate, never giving up until she finds him.

It’s all very satisfying, at least if you don’t have to endure the cold, and it’s nicely romantic, and just as a fairy tale should be.