Author Archives: bookwitch

From the launch pad

There are only so many simultaneous launches a witch can attend. Last night offered two; both of which I dearly wanted to go to.

Marnie Riches, Born Bad

Marnie Riches brought her new baby, crime-thriller novel Born Bad, into the world at Waterstones Deansgate (that’s Manchester, folks), and it felt like such a special event that for weeks I believed it would be the one to take me back there at long last. After all, what else would I be doing on a dark February night?

The answer to that is three things, and being exhausted and having the builders [still] in were two of them. I sensibly declined in the end, and no sooner had I done that than James Oswald declared he was also launching his new novel at exactly the same time, at Waterstones West End (that’s Edinburgh), and this did feel a lot more feasible. But in the end the same three things conspired against me and I didn’t go.

Sigh.

I trust books were launched successfully anyway, and that Written in Bones is now sailing somewhere well past Princes Street Gardens, possibly as far as the Meadows, where it might encounter the dead body I told you about yesterday. If James continues to write and continues to launch, it is my ambition in life to go along to one of these events. Perhaps the trains will even run all evening at some distant point in time.

James Oswald, Wriiten in Bones

Back to Marnie and Manchester. Born Bad is about bad people doing bad things in Manchester. It has a great cover, and I’m so happy for Marnie, whose first paper book crime novel it is. The George McKenzie books are ebooks (they ought to be in paper as well!). There was mention of booze with the invite, but as I wasn’t going to drink any, I reckon my absense won’t make a difference.

I’ll get to Manchester one day. And Edinburgh. Well, the latter could be next week.

Meanwhile I’ll polish up the broom.

Written in Bones

Someone please get Tony McLean a winter coat! With a hood. And gloves. The man’s useless and he’s forever going out on murder hunts freezing, slipping from unsuitable footwear. It’s not good for him.

James Oswald, Written in Bones

It is already time for the seventh McLean mystery, and this one is surprisingly normal, apart from the issue with the dragon. But you don’t need the supernatural when you can have one cold, and only recently unsuspended, Detective Inspector out on the streets of Edinburgh.

As is customary with James Oswald’s crime novels, you first meet the murder victim and can hear their thoughts as the end comes closer. This one is spectacular. Think ‘tree in the Meadows taking the place of your kebab skewer’ and there you have it.

McLean has the same unpleasant boss as before, plus some new and promising looking constables to help solve the latest of the many puzzling crimes he always seems to find. Emma is back, but will it last?

Between many turns in and out of hospital for almost everyone, Tony looks for the reason the corpse was skewered, and if there really was a dragon.

Maresi

Maresi, The Red Abbey Chronicles, is one of the most feminist books I’ve read. It’s perhaps not surprising, as Maria Turtschaninoff – despite the name – is a Swedish speaking Finn. I don’t think you could easily publish a book in the UK with some of the content you find in Maresi.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi

I’d heard about it before it appeared in English translation, and I’d had this irrational thought I wouldn’t read the Pushkin Press version, but go for the original instead. And then, of course, I didn’t.

The Red Abbey is a kind of nunnery, on an island, somewhere. Most of the character names and all the place names are made up ones, so it’s hard to place the abbey geographically, but I sort of imagine it in the Baltic. Contrary to so many set-ups in fiction where you have adults teaching younger ones, and it tends to be a cruel place with much punishment, as well as bad feeling between the ‘children.’

Not here. It seems to be an ideal place in what is a strange world, where the women teach the girls how to become like them; wise and strong. You hardly ever get that in books.

12-year-old Maresi is the narrator, and she tells of their island from when Jai turns up one day. Jai has escaped a bad past, and unfortunately she brings her past to the island, as they are invaded by a group of bad men. (This is all surprisingly anti-men, even though they acknowledge that some men are all right.)

You suspect the worst, but matters go in a different way from what you’d think, and the women’s strength grows and impresses.

In a way, this isn’t the kind of story I tend to go for, but once started I couldn’t leave it. Very interesting. And there are more to come.

Please enter

The other week I got so furious with everything to do with immigrants not being wanted, that I hunted out a book I’ve had lying around for about seven years and read it.

The book was Floella Benjamin’s Coming to England, which was first published twenty years ago, and tells the story of what it was like for her when she came to England in 1960 at the age of eleven.

Floella Benjamin, Coming to England

At first I was afraid it was going to turn out that Trinidad had been paradise and England was not, but their idyllic life in Trinidad turned sour when Floella’s parents had to leave four of their six children behind, as they didn’t have enough money for all at once. Life for those left behind quickly became hell, which presumably made the reality of England less bad, even if it was cold and grey and unwelcoming.

Through hard work and love they prospered and did well, and as we know, Floella has been very successful. But it wasn’t for England opening its arms and being friendly and giving things away freely, even then.

The facts of this book are more pertinent than ever. The style is rather wooden and boring, but that is outweighed by how important it is to read.


And then, I’d not had time to read the Guardian Weekend two weeks ago, so first picked it up a week late, to find Floella Benjamin the subject of their Q&A page. And the reason she was, was that the book has been republished again.

If that’s not witchy, I don’t know what is.

Little Criminals and other dark granite

When I first heard about Granite Noir, which is on this weekend (24th to 26th February), I wanted to go. I still want to go, but have come to the conclusion I will not be going to Aberdeen for the crime, however tempting. But there’s no reason why some of you can’t go.

It’s their first year, and it makes me wonder why they didn’t start Granite Noir sooner. The name is so perfect! The programme is good. At first I suspected they might offer just a few events, while they warm up, so to speak. But it’s three days filled with great crime authors and with catchy event titles.

I love the ones for children – thank you for thinking of the children! – Little Criminals. Vivian French and Shoo Rayner will be teaching children how to write, and how to draw baddies.

There are workshops for old people too, and several Nordic Noir sessions, and lots and lots of talks by our favourite Scottish criminals. Pardon, crime writers. And how could anyone resist Poisoned High Tea?

Well, I think it sounds perfect. And I believe warm weather is on the way this week, so Aberdeen will no doubt be sweltering. Maybe. If it is, cool down with Noir at the Bar.

Just weird

After watching the programme about Terry Pratchett last weekend, I told myself I really must read more of his books, as there are some I’ve not yet read. I’ve been hanging on to the idea of them as a treat. It’s time to forget about [some] new books and dip into my reserve. The last time I thought along these lines I realised there is a problem. Son has custody of most of the Discworld books, and when we moved house that custody shifted from being his room in our house, to a room in his own home.

So I reached the conclusion I need to visit some charity shops, but before doing that, I ought to check which – if any – books we had managed to hang on to. I especially wanted to read Night Watch, after it was mentioned so many times last week.

It turns out we have exactly one unread Pratchett novel. Night Watch.

As I was visiting a real live bookshop, I had a quick look at their shelves of Discworld books. Seems there are some tasteful new covers of paperback sized hardbacks. I liked them, but £13? Besides, don’t they sort of have to be the cover designs we’ve got used to? Discworld’s not the same without them.

I had been invited to another event at the same time as Debi Gliori was talking at Blackwell’s on Thursday. It was the launch of the International Science Festival, and having had to miss it last year, I’d intended to make it work this time. And then I bumped into the publicist I thought had invited me, at my event, which seemed a bit odd. She’s working on something else. (So I clearly wouldn’t have found her at the launch.)

On my way to and from Edinburgh I read James Oswald’s new crime novel (more about that later). His corpse had a background in Saughton. It could be my old age, but while I knew this was a prison, I didn’t actually know where. Two minutes later my tram took me through Saughton.

I appreciate this kind of helpful behaviour in trams.

Debi’s Night Shift

There were people already sitting in the leather sofas at Blackwell’s. And I arrived really early, too. So there was nothing for it but to sit on one of the ‘filthy’ staffroom chairs (this charming description courtesy of the shop’s Ann Landmann) at the back, but that was fine too. I like the back. And I didn’t break the chair, which at one point seemed worryingly likely. Maybe next time.

Ann Landmann with Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

I’d come to Edinburgh to see – well, hear – Debi Gliori talk to Andrew Eaton-Lewis from the Mental Health Foundation about Night Shift; her book on depression. The event had been sold out for some time, and it was the fullest I’ve seen the room. Hence the need for all the ‘uncomfortable folding chairs’ as well as the staffroom contribution.

Debi arrived with her family in tow, and was greeted by lots of people who seemed to know her. And she noted I wasn’t sitting on the sofa, as I’d promised…

Ann Landmann’s introduction was more honest than ever, and also covered the matter of blue drinks being served, the shop front being painted blue, and that it is ten months until Christmas, but that this musn’t deter anyone from buying copies of Night Shift.

Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

Debi and Andrew ended up doing their talk standing up, the better for us to hear them. The first time Debi suffered from depression was the worst, possibly because it was the unknown. These days she doesn’t always notice when it’s coming, but her family can tell. Debi feels she has wasted enough time on depression over the years, which is partly why she started on the book.

The pictures were mainly intended for herself, but part-way in she changed her mind and felt there could be a book in it. Debi is an ‘ancient hippy’ which could be why she uses dragons to illustrate the bad feelings. She made the pictures big, but is unsure why the book ended up quite as small as it did.

The book was mostly intended as a communication tool, a bit like the Point It book she used on holiday in Portugal. If you can’t say it, you can always point to a picture of what you mean. It was hard finding a publisher for the book, because it was so dark, and so far removed from fluffy bunnies.

Debi Gliori

Fellow illustrator Kate Leiper, who sat next to me, asked how Debi manages her ordinary illustration work when she’s depressed. The first time it was so bad Debi couldn’t even go in her studio for over a year, but now she finds she writes better books the more depressed she is. No Matter What is ‘a very dark book.’ But she’d rather make bad books and be happy.

Running was what saved Debi, and that first time it was running that led to her feeling able to go next door and have coffee with her neighbour, at a time when even little things like that seemed impossible.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis and Debi Gliori

While she doesn’t want to put dark images in the minds of children, Debi pointed out that children watch some pretty grim television these days. The US version of No Matter What has lost the last page in order not to upset American sensitivities. Debi occasionally checks reviews on Amazon to see what people say about death in picture books.

Asked if there was a book that made her feel very special when she read it, Debi mentioned Tove Jansson’s Comet in Moominland; the most perfect book in the world. She wants to be adopted by the Moomins, and to have access to Moomin mamma’s handbag.

From there it was straight to the signing table, where a special silver sharpie awaitened Debi and her queue of fans. I hurried over with my book, but got stuck waiting for a bit after all, chatting to someone from the book festival, who in turn introduced me to the person responsible for Granite Noir. Queues can be useful that way.

Debi Gliori

Finally, before running off to the airport, I stopped and chatted to Kate Leiper who was busy ‘being spontaneous.’ And we talked a bit more about illustrating. Seems Kate makes ‘notes’ when she comes up with good ideas for pictures, just like I do with words; before they can escape.