Author Archives: bookwitch

Superdad’s Day Off

Phil Earle has a son called Stanley. This Little Gem is about a boy called Stanley, who has a Superhero dad (so I can only assume Dynamo Dan is based on Phil himself…). The problem is that after a full week of Superdad deeds, dad is rather tired. Will he fall asleep in the park?

Phil Earle and Steve May, Superdad's Day Off

Stanley needs to make sure his dad gets some rest, but he also wants to have fun in the park.

So when the world needs Dynamo Dan’s services, Stanley can’t let his poor dad spring into action. And if not dad, then maybe Stanley can do it?

He can. Stanley is your man if you have a panther up a tree or your house fills up with water from a leak somewhere.

Dad gets enough rest so that when he’s really needed, he can join forces with his super son; Dynamo Dan and Super Stan.

The Harder They Fall

Bali Rai, The Harder They Fall

I’m with Bali Rai. It’s a disgrace the way people in our own country suffer hardship, with nowhere to live, or not enough food. Bali had some figures for the rise in food banks, and as he points out in the ‘about’ bit of his new book The Harder They Fall, you are not poor because you don’t work or because you are lazy. Poor people are also people, just like the rest of us.

Bali’s book for Barrington Stoke is about one such boy. Jacob and his mum need to use the local food bank, and this makes Jacob angry and he feels ashamed. This in turn means he’s unpleasant at school and often gets into trouble and is frequently expelled from the schools he has attended.

But now he meets Cal, who describes himself as a friendless geek. Someone who volunteers at the food bank, so witnesses Jacob’s shame. Along with Freya, the girl he fancies, Cal tries to befriend Jacob, but this is no easy task.

This book is about poverty, bullying, lack of trust, and about always being hungry. And it’s not your fault.

We could do with more books on how – badly – we treat our fellow human beings in this country.

Fallout

In her new novel Fallout Sara Paretsky goes home to Kansas. She lets V I do her detecting in her own old home town of Lawrence, even if she does rearrange the place a little to make it fit the plot. Sara’s father features for a second or so, and apparently she based the story on something from his work past.

Sara Paretsky, Fallout

Fallout proves the theory that writers generally do better when they write about a place they know well, so it was a good move to send V I to Kansas. I’m not sure, but I wonder if this was the most Chicago-free of all the Warshawski novels.

Anyway, they do things differently down there, and before long the whole of Lawrence knows exactly what V I has come for (to find two people who have vanished from Chicago), and they seem to keep track of her wherever she goes. They literally are.

And Fallout is precisely what the story is about, in more ways than one. As well as mentioning NCIS several times, Sara goes a bit DiNozzo with her clues, and V I makes a Faraday cage! V I’s missing pair are really only the catalyst of what’s going on in Lawrence, and the crime takes us in a rather worrying direction. It’s feels more generally political than has been the case in the past, and that’s despite the book having been written before the Presidential election.

The plot is kinder than they have been, or do I mean less violent? Not that V I is muscle before brains, but the most menacing thing is the way everyone ‘knows’ everything. It can get quite claustrophobic when you have no privacy in your detecting. Or so I imagine. I obviously wouldn’t know.

But there are also some very promising local characters, understandably different from the inhabitants of Chicago. I loved this, as long as I don’t have to go down into Doris McKinnon’s cellar.

Manchester Arena

I’m not quite sure what to write for today, so I thought I’d re-post CultureWitch’s last visit to the Manchester Arena, five years ago. We didn’t go often, but it was our arena, so we might go if there was something special on. Taking Offspring to see Roxette live was one of those occasions:

Roxette

“My, but we’re good at singing in Manchester! And by ‘we’ I don’t include myself, since I neither do voice or lyrics with any great success. But the rest of the thousands of people at the MEN last night knew their Roxette. I was both surprised and not surprised to hear this was Per Gessle’s and Marie Fredriksson’s first Manchester concert. Normally people don’t know who you mean if you mention Roxette, and they are probably less well known in the UK. But the crowd at the MEN knew the lyrics and – as I said – they sang well. Better than most audience participation I’ve come across.

Roxette

They got us in a good mood starting with Dressed For Success, Sleeping In My Car and The Big L, and let’s face it; we had already been hanging around for an hour and a half by then. Mim Grey who had the thankless task of warming us up, was perfectly adequate, but it wasn’t her we’d come to hear. Her songs were fine and she’s got a good voice, as well as the courage to chat to thousands who have little interest in the first act.

Roxette

Never having heard either Per or Marie speak English before, I was impressed. They sound good, and the Swedish-ism at the end might even have been intentional. ‘Our’ singing was encouraged by them, whether or not we knew the lyrics. But when they fell silent, the audience continued without faltering, and for some length of time. Well done, ‘us’!

Roxette

Grateful I wasn’t down on the floor, as they all stood up from the word go, and it would have involved nearly two hours of non-stop standing, and possibly dancing. Some people came to the empty bit of floor at the back and did their own dance routines by themselves.

Roxette

They promised us some new or recent material, but for the most part we got all the old songs. And to be honest; that’s what many of us came for. For a venue that doesn’t allow cameras there can’t have been more than a few hundred in constant use, looking like a friendly flotilla of little boats in the dark sea of the MEN.

Roxette

The stage lighting was very well done, with attractive colours and not too much strobing at the audience. Per and one or two of the others did a lot of jumping up and down, but that could have been boyish exuberance at work. I wondered if we too had to stand up when they burst into a rocky God Save the Queen. Had this been the good old days we’d not only have had to stand, but that would have been the – premature – end.

Marie Fredriksson

They ‘finished’ with Joyride, but the lack of houselights suggested we’d get more, and there were two more, before I suspected they’d done a ‘Roger Whittaker’ and bunked off for their hotel. But no, they had not. They were back for a final Church Of Your Heart, and they took their time over it. Good to see Marie and Per courteously leaving last, and not running either, but stopping on the way out to bow from the corner.

Roxette

Good stuff, from a neighbourhood close to my old one.”

Roxette

This is what it should be like. Fun, without fear.

The author effect

I mentioned that Teri Terry made a return visit to a school when she was in Scotland the other week. I had assumed it was because she’d made a really good impression and they wanted her back. Then I learned that she wrote a character for her new book, Contagion, who goes to that very school.

A few weeks earlier Lari Don talked about a chat with someone who was now an adult, but who remembered an author visit to his school when he was younger. It had made a great impression on him, and had got a non-reader started on reading, which he still did.

So, all was good. It’s such an encouraging story to hear; to discover that author visits to schools really can make a difference.

Lari then asked who the author was. But he couldn’t remember. And I’m with Lari on this one – it’s even more impressive that the visit made such an impact, but that it became immaterial who the visitor was. Maybe a big name, or perhaps someone virtually unknown. But they made a difference.

Maybe one day a Callander student will tell their children about the time his or her school ended up in a novel. And maybe it won’t matter if they remember it was written by Teri.

The Incredible Billy Wild

You just won’t go wrong with God. I mean, with a dog. Both, really.

In The Incredible Billy Wild Joanna Nadin lets her hero Billy write to God. It was to be holiday homework over Easter, and Billy really takes this to heart. He writes and he writes. Because he wants a dog and for Seamus Patterson to disappear and to be incredible.

Well, who doesn’t? Preferably a Great Dane, but if not any old dog will do. Most of us have a Seamus we’d like to get rid of, and then there is the talent show on Easter Monday, and it’d be good to be incredible.

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Billy has a [midwife] dad and two brothers, one older and one younger, but no mum. Their dad works too much. 14-year-old Johnny smokes and likes looking at his girlfriend’s boobs. Six-year-old Tommo regurgitates Google knowledge round the clock. But Billy’s just Billy and needs to be incredible.

God takes care of the dog bit pretty quickly, when a dog turns up in their garden shed, and Billy wants to keep it, and keep it a secret from dad while he works on some idea to get dad to want this dog as well.

This is incredibly lovely. The dad is lovely; just overworked and tired. Tommo is – obviously – sweet and helpful. And even Johnny is rather lovely, as cool older brothers go. And we can tell from his long monologue to God that Billy is fantastic.

The 275 page letter to God lets us share Billy’s hard work, his hopes, his new friends, and most of all, his Dog. There is a lot of love here. Billy yearns for the Woman’s Touch (so maybe they need a new mum), but Nice Nan has moved away and while Other Nan probably loves them, she is hard to get on with.

Having Dog would make a lot of difference though.

Very funny and so loveable. All of them. Especially Billy. And Dog, and…

Meeting Danny the Granny Slayer

Charlotte Square comes to Cumbernauld. I might have mentioned before that the Edinburgh International Book Festival have decided to branch out, and are touring five New Towns in Scotland over the next year and a half, with little pop-up festivals for a weekend, and this is the Cumbernauld weekend. The first weekend, and with a really good looking programme.

I could have wanted to do more, but limited myself to the children’s event on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist David MacPhail, Lari Don, Barry Hutchison and Jenny Colgan. Barry unfortunately couldn’t come and was replaced by Mark A Smith, but that was also fine. Not that I knew Mark, but he had a very jolly song for us.

Lari Don and Macastory

As did Macastory; two oddly dressed men from the future who sang a lot, and required hands to be clapped and shoulders shaken and other energetic stuff. The venue got changed to the pop-up Waterstones in the shopping precinct, which I thought was odd until I understood there was no ‘real’ Waterstones there. I did see the yellow buckets I’d been told about by Kirkland Ciccone, however.

The Resident IT Consultant came along to make sure I found the way, and he discussed getting lost – or not – with David MacPhail as we waited. David was first up and had some fun Vikings he told us about. I liked the polite one best, who apparently was modelled on David himself… He read a bit from one of his Thorfinn books, and then he told those brave enough to ask, what their Viking names would be. We had Danny the Granny Slayer on the front row.

David Macphail

Lari Don came next and talked about her Spellchasers trilogy (I know, I covered this a few weeks ago), and she wanted to know if any of us had the urge to be turned into an animal. One girl wanted to be a dragon, with an interesting idea for how to deal with the 45th President while in her dragon state. Long live creativity!

Lari Don

Mark A Smith followed, talking about his hero Slugboy, who seems to be some kind of anti-superhero. Unless I got that wrong. He Slugboys it out of St Andrews, which I felt was rather posh for slugs. Mark, as I said, had a song written about his hero, which we had to sing, to the tune of Glory glory halleluja, so it was terribly uplifting and all that, as well as a clever idea for audience participation.

Mark A Smith

Last but not least we had Jenny Colgan, who brought ‘her child to work’ and then proceeded to use her – fairly willing – son to hold the iPad to illustrate her Polly and the Puffin story as she read it to us. We had to do the puffin noises, so thank goodness for Macastory who didn’t seem to mind making fools of themselves.

Jenny Colgan

They also provided fun interludes, with songs and commentary, and we learned some sad facts about the future.

And that was it. The Resident IT Consultant led me safely back to the car (free parking in Cumbernauld!) with only one wrong turn. I’m hoping the authors were suitably accompanied back to somewhere they wanted to be, too. If not, there are authors to be discovered in downtown Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld New Town Hall