Author Archives: bookwitch

Losing it

You repeat something so often that you come to know it as a fact, whereas it could of course turn out merely to be a myth.

My old professor Alvar Ellegård reputedly lost his PhD thesis (on the uses of the word do) down the ‘sopnedkast’ and had to re-write the whole thing.

I’m not sure whether us students were told this as an amusing fact, or if it was intended as a warning never to tidy our flats. And maybe he never did throw his thesis away. But it’s what I remember him by. That, and a textbook I actually hung on to for a surprisingly long time.

Sopnedkast is a rubbish chute. It’s what we had in the semi-olden days for getting rid of rubbish. And PhD theses, obviously. Keys were also pretty good to chuck down this hole-in-the-wall, as not infrequently you’d need the aforementioned keys both to re-enter your flat, or to gain access to the rubbish room with the bins, where the keys had ended up. (I never did this.)

What with recycling and sorting your rubbish properly, the chutes are long gone. Well, not gone gone; just firmly shut. People simply have to carry their well-separated items down all those stairs.

These days there is always the delete button. (For theses. Not so much for milk cartons and newspapers.)

The Roman Quests – The Archers of Isca

It is reassuring that I am not yet too old for Caroline Lawrence’s books. Occasionally I wonder if I will be, seeing as I’ve been reading her Roman mysteries for well over a dozen years. But I am still a child at heart.

Caroline Lawrence, The Roman Quests - The Archers of Isca

The second of four books set in Britain in AD 95, we follow the eldest boy, Fronto, as he sets off to be a soldier. It’s what he always wanted, albeit perhaps not quite like this. In Rome he could have been an officer, while now he must begin at the bottom. But for a boy who likes rules and knowing what’s happening and what he should do about it, army life is perfect.

Meanwhile, his two younger siblings continue as they were, living with the local people. At least, until Fronto’s little sister Ursula is kidnapped.

As with all Caroline’s books, this story educates as it entertains. I have learned more about life in Roman Britain through these books than I ever did from more historical texts. What’s more, I suspect I might remember facts for longer as well.

There are Druids and Romans, we learn about Roman baths and Boudica’s famous battle, and we find out how people lived; what they ate and how they worked and prayed.

And we are getting closer to knowing what happened to Miriam’s twin boys.

The White Fox

I know, and you know, that Jackie Morris makes gorgeous picture books. She can paint real and imaginary animals in a way to make most adults actively CRAVE the art in her books. But I must admit to liking her new book for Barrington Stoke much, much more.

The White Fox is – obviously – about a fox and Jackie captures the arctic fox that finds itself in Seattle absolutely perfectly. What made me even happier were the industrial cityscape illustrations, which is the kind of thing I go for, and I adore the way they appear in this book. If there is to be any tearing out and hanging on walls, this is it.

Jackie Morris, The White Fox

The story is simply wonderful. It’s about a young boy called Sol, who lives in Seattle with his father, but he is not happy. He hears about, and then finds, the fox down in the docks, and the two feel as though they belong together. Sol dreams of going back to Alaska, to meet his grandparents after many years apart.

And in the way of stories, especially those about children and animals, something magical happens. It’s also quite ordinary, in a way, but so beautiful. Considering this is a Barrington Stoke Conkers book, aimed at those who don’t read so easily, it becomes even more poignant. Small and perfectly shaped, with purple silk bookmark and everything.

(I hardly ever mention the word stocking filler, but The White Fox is definitely one of those.)

Ponytail or Dust at 70?

Philip Pullman is 70 today. Wishing him a Very Happy Birthday!!!

Philip Pullman

I wasn’t sure what photo to choose; a less recent one with less hair, or the one from last year with the ponytail? I haven’t seen Philip since then, so don’t know if the tail is still there. He supposedly wasn’t going to cut his hair until The Book of Dust is finished. It could be a long wait, and an even longer tail. When all we want is the tale.

Hope it won’t be long now.

Space Team

This is Galaxy Quest as though it had been written by one of ‘my’ many crime writing Irish boys; Eoin, John, Declan. Except it wasn’t them, but their crazy cousin from across the water, Barry J Hutchison. Barry has been tinkering with some adult writing for a while, and he is under the impression that adding a J to his name will mean his littlest fans won’t accidentally find themselves in space with a ‘cannibal’ who swears a lot.

Space Team is very funny, and not too sweary, as there is some kind of translation system set up between the different species of aliens which not only translates but cleans up the worst four-letter words. Just as well, since that lone J is not going to fool anyone. Us fans can tell it’s Barry.

I had a lot of fun reading this. Galaxy Quest, Star Trek, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Take your pick. There are bits of everything in here, and you find you don’t mind too much that Earth is no more and neither are we. Cal Carver survives, and what an ambassador for humankind he is! Teaming up with a group of criminally minded aliens, it becomes his job to save the universe. Or some such thing.

Barry J Hutchison, Space Team

Setting off on a junky spaceship, the team have a task, at which they must succeed. Or die. The question is, do they have the right skills? Are we in safe hands? Actually, it doesn’t matter, since we are all dead. At least I think we are.

The lesson here is that it’s good to be cheerful and to try and do your best, for the team and for the universe. There are a lot of bad aliens out there. This is hardboiled space humour at its best.

A wee week

It’s enough to make me wish I still travelled to St Andrews regularly. I know I can still go, but the other end of Fife is just that wee bit too far, even for me. At least when I feel all travelled out and all that.

Wee Book Fest

Toppings, the bookshop that opened a branch in St Andrews a couple of years ago, have taken up the book festival baton, after the closing of the theatre. And that is very nice of them, and good for the town. There are a few children in St Andrews. It’s not all Royal Princes and students.

So, this week is their Wee Book Fest, which I believe means it’s for the wee ones, not that it’s all that wee. They have a programme for the whole week, which is ambitious for a smallish town. And most of the programme looks good, and some of it so tempting that I almost got the train time table out to see if maybe perhaps I could go after all.

Wee Book Fest

But then I told myself not be silly and that I can see most of these authors somewhere closer and more convenient some other time. Probably.

It does look good, though, doesn’t it?

A good year

1956. It was a good year. Lots of us amounted to quite a lot of things; Bookwitching, downhill skiing, wrestling, Wimbledon wins, Astrid Lindgren Memorial Awards. That sort of thing.

So, Happy 60th Birthday to you, Meg!!!

Meg Rosoff

And that email with Nobel Prize in the subject line is bound to turn up…