Author Archives: bookwitch

Learning to write?

To be honest, I have always wondered if you can really go to classes to learn how to write a book. A real book, that someone would want to publish, and others would want to read. Somehow the snob in me says that if you’re any good, then you just sit down and write and out comes a masterpiece. Rather like concert pianists, who sat down in front of a piano and…

Hang on. They didn’t. They quite possibly had a piano teacher. Maybe struggled a little even, before greatness struck.

So while I did initially wonder if taking a year out to learn how to write a children’s book at some university or other, was actually time well spent, I have come to the conclusion that it is. Far too many authors, whose books I have enjoyed, have done those courses, for it to be a fluke. Perhaps they would have done well regardless, but I’m sure the classes helped.

‘MA Creative Writing-speak’ was a new concept to me when it appeared in Julie Myerson’s review of debut author Sharlene Teo’s novel in the Guardian. She didn’t like it much, I think. And she seemingly doesn’t care for authors who have taken writing classes. Except, I understand that she teaches writing. For the Guardian.

Most of us learned to write at school, and not necessarily from a teacher who was terribly good at it. But we did learn, and some have gone on to be quite marvellous at it. I’ll repeat what I used to preach at Offspring; any way that we learn something is a good way.

But on the whole I’d rather that my surgeon went to medical school before she does anything to me. None of this feeling inspired and deciding to have a go to see what it’s like.

Or you could just be famous. That usually helps with the writing skills.

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Schools for Charlotte Square

It’s short and sweet, the schools programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. ‘Making books more affordable’ is a good motto, I feel. May it be successful and reach the children who need it the most.

I know I shouldn’t read the programme and plan, but I can read it and think. Some of the authors on the schools list will be doing ‘normal’ events too. And there is always the perfecting my school appearance. One of these days it will work.

Last year someone I’d just met talked very enthusiastically about Jason Reynolds, whom I’d never heard of. Well, this American is coming over, for an event with Chris Priestley who has illustrated his book. That should be pretty special.

Clémentine Beauvais is someone else I’ve not seen before, and she will be appearing with Sarah Crossan, which will be good. James Mayhew I have always managed to miss, so I could perhaps undo that, and Melvin Burgess, whom I’ve seen a lot, is coming back after a break of a few years. Or did I merely miss him?

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimifard

Ehsan Abdollahi will return, which pleases me, and he’s appearing with Eloise Greenfield. I’ve not seen Beverley Naidoo for years, and I don’t know her events partner Marjan Vafaeian at all, which I hope can be remedied.

I will quickly tiptoe past the ‘star attraction’ on the Thursday morning, to mention that the last day will be special as always, with people like Theresa Breslin and Philip Ardagh and lots of other fun.

As you can tell, many school children will have some great events to look forward to. I’m always in awe of the school groups who get up before dawn cracks, to travel across Scotland to come to one of the events. Hopefully it will be a memory for life, and be the beginning of a bookish future for some.

Quite moving

Today the Resident IT Consultant and his witch will rest. It’s not as well-earned a rest as I’d hoped for, because we were pretty useless ‘helping’ Son and Dodo move yesterday. I had visualised myself being tremendously helpful, but despite failing at that, I still managed to get quite tired.

I had hoped that there would be no bed-related problems, such as having to throw it across the fence from the neighbouring garden. Instead of any tossing, there was nothing. It wouldn’t even go up the stairs.

So the Resident IT Consultant and Dodo went off to that Swedish shop for an emergency bed, while I unpacked the kitchen boxes and Son stashed the contents in all the new cupboards where no one will find anything from now on.

The book boxes are another kettle of fish. The books came. The Billys stayed behind.

Charged

But at least there were removal men doing the lifting and carrying. The above photo illustrates how the world has changed; no tea needed to keep them going, but a hasty iPhone feeding with borrowed charger is what you do in this day and age.

Sea view

When my tired knees made it up to the top floor, I could see for myself that they have indeed a sea view from the bedroom window. Well, a Forth view, which is just as good. (I walked up. I didn’t crawl on my knees, or anything.)

They fed us well. The vegan wrap for lunch was really good, as was the South Indian dinner delivered to the new door, and polished off with chai in Moomin mugs.

Moomin mug

And then we had to find a new way home, in the almost dark. It’ll take a bit of getting used to.

The Hippo at the End of the Hall

What a lovely book this turned out to be! Helen Cooper’s The Hippo at the End of the Hall, was one of the books Linda Sargent ‘sourced’ for my own reading pleasure, rather than duty (it’s really not so bad…), and it certainly was pleasure.

It’s apparently Helen’s first novel, but she has an illustrious past as a Kate Greenaway medalist, which shows in the drawings that adorn every chapter in this Hippo story.

Helen Cooper, The Hippo at the End of the Hall

Set mostly in an old-fashioned, small museum where you will find exhibits such as stuffed animals, so old that they are worn out and a bit dusty, this is a sweet and fast-paced mystery featuring young Ben who lives with his mother, in almost poverty after his father died some years before. Ben receives an invitation to the Gee Museum with the milk one morning. (Whereas it had really been delivered by the bees. The invite, not the milk.)

Helen Cooper, The Hippo at the End of the Hall

When he gets there, he finds that not all the long dead exhibits are totally dead, and that the museum is in danger and it is up to Ben to save it.

This is a true children’s story with a pair of deliciously ghastly baddies, lots of fine – if dead – animals, an elderly museum owner, and Ben’s mum, who is real heroine material. And, erm, a witch.

Can’t say more than that. Read the book and let some pleasure into your life. It worked for me.

More George, and more Duffy

Great news on the crime front!

Today sees the publication of the fifth George McKenzie novel by Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Got Revenge. It’s ‘only’ the ebook today, but don’t despair. On May 3rd we get the whole collected George on paper for the first time! I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to that. Except I just did. Sort of.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Got Revenge

I imagine Marnie is equally pleased to see her first crime babies in actual print, after her Born Bad series which came last year.

I will get back to you when I’ve read about George’s revenge.

And on the Irish front, it seems we are to be rewarded with three more Duffy novels from Adrian McKinty. I had suspected the worst, but it would appear that Duffy didn’t sail into a permanent sunset after all. In fact, with news of three books, I will dare hope, and expect, that Sean Duffy lives through at least two and a half of them.

Adrian McKinty

So, plenty more Irish history for Duffy to solve crimes in, and no one could be happier than I am. Not sure how long a wait there will be, but it will be worth it.

Good news too for the Resident IT Consultant who has belatedly begun reading all six books. Don’t know what took him so long!

The Great Big Book of Friends

How I love these Great Big Books of… with words by Mary Hoffman and those loveable illustrations by Ros Asquith! Here is their latest one, The Great Big Book of Friends.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Friends

Friends are so important, but unlike family, or bodies, say, you might feel you don’t have any. But don’t worry, Mary explains that you probably do, anyway. And if you don’t, that’s OK, too.

You can be friends with your grandma. Or with the cat. You can have an imaginary friend, or a special blanket, or book. Or you can have friends all over the world; maybe lots that you’ve never met. Yet.

Here is advice on how to get a friend, and on keeping your friend. They point out that even when you’re really old, like your parents, you can stay friends with someone you’ve known all your life. Maybe because your parents were friends.

There are so many possibilities.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Friends

Both the words and the pictures in this book are so encouraging. They make you feel normal when maybe you believe you are the odd one out, who will never be like everyone else.

Go on, chat up the human being over there! Could be the best thing you ever did. And maybe they like frogs as much as you do.

I do hope there will be more Great Big Books.

Another Brooklyn

Astrid Lindgren laureate Jacqueline Woodson’s most recent novel, Another Brooklyn, is a short adult novel, which would almost work as YA if you wanted it to. It reminded me of Raspberries on the Yangtze by Karen Wallace, which I felt was more of a children’s book for adults.

Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn is poetic, with beautiful language. Almost too much so. It’s about four young girls growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1970s, as told from the point of view of one of them. I recognise the period, but obviously not the setting.

In a way, though, I reckon us outsiders have seen these streets in films and feel we know them anyway. All four girls have some sort of issue, like being motherless, having too strict a family, being the child of a teen mother. But they love each other and live very much in each other’s pockets for a number of years, until age and development takes them away again.

We see how they go from quite young, to mid-teens, experimenting with boys, with the expected results. It’s an interesting period, both in the world and in their lives.