Author Archives: bookwitch

Hugs all over

Hugs, love, and cuddles to all.

Today’s three picture books are adorable, each in their own way. Hugless Douglas is almost sensible. You can have a star for a pet. Sort of. And I’m sure you can really cuddle a crocodile, especially between shapeshifters.

Diana Hendry’s You Can’t Cuddle a Crocodile, about the boy with a sister who is always something else, be it a monkey or a bear or the uncuddleable crocodile, keeps the reader on his or her toes. But we can all pretend, can’t we? If it is pretend. Those parents do look a bit funny.

Diana Hendry and Ed Eaves, You Can't Cuddle a Crocodile

Whatever the situation is, the animals are nicely drawn by Ed Eaves.

In Corrinne Averiss’s My Pet Star, the tiny protagonist discovers a star one evening. It has fallen and hurt itself, but is picked up, cuddled and nursed back to health. The star is a lovely pet, apart from not being around in the daytime to eat ice creams in the park. The two grow close until the day comes when the little star needs to go where stars go.

Corrinne Averiss and Rosalind Beardshaw, My Pet Star

Sweet illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw. I could want my own pet star.

Hugless Douglas is attacked by a bird’s nest, when it falls out of its tree, with eggs in and everything. Doing some egg-sitting while mummy bird gets a new nest together, he finds he needs advice and help. But that’s what bunnies are for. You can cuddle eggs warm, and when you do, well…

David Melling, Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds

David Melling’s Hugless Douglas and the Baby Birds seemed even more adorable than the usual Douglas. But at least he didn’t sit on the eggs!

All three books make you want babies and toddlers to read to.

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Cymera – meet the boss

If you haven’t already met Ann Landmann at some event, you’re in for a treat at her Cymera weekend. And today, as a bonus, I have asked Ann a few questions from which you can find out, roughly, how to start your own litfest. That is, if you have even a fraction of Ann’s energy.

How do you even come up with the idea of starting your own book festival?

I love book festivals, big and small, and living in Edinburgh obviously means I have one of the best on my doorstep. Over the years I have noticed that SFFH authors don’t feature in book festival programmes as much, and while I know there are lots of conventions, a lot of them are down South.

The easy solution to bringing authors that I love to Scotland was starting my own book festival. So, armed with festival experience, events organiser experience, an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management and a lot of enthusiasm, I found some equally crazy people and here we are.

Was it obvious what category books and authors you wanted?

Yes. Cymera is dedicated to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and we pretty much stuck to those categories. As to authors, we’ve been super lucky – the support from publishers has been great, and we actually got almost every author we asked for. I suspect the lure of Edinburgh, Scotland, played into this too!

According to the press release you have 81 authors. Have you read all of them?

I have read a lot of them, but not all (yet). There’s still time though …

How do you go about finding a venue?

From the beginning it was clear that we wanted to create the buzz you get when everything is in one venue, like at a convention. We also needed a bar, it had to be accessible and have lots and lots of space.

For my old job as Events Manager for a local bookshop I’ve always stayed on top of what venue in Edinburgh does what, and I knew the Pleasance just had a refurbishment making it more accessible. EUSA, who run the Pleasance, have been great to work with, and hopefully the space is as perfect as I am envisioning it.

Has it been hard to get volunteers? Who is volunteering?

We’ve had a fantastic response for our call for volunteers for the weekend! We have people from all sorts of backgrounds, from students to people that have volunteered at festivals before.

Are you actually looking forward to the Cymera weekend, or just to it being over?

I can’t wait! I hope we’ll get that buzz going, that everyone has a great time, makes new friends, discovers new writers – all those things that make a successful festival!

Dare I ask; once it’s over, will you do it again?

We fully intend Cymera to become an annual event that people look forward to every year. There’s definitely plenty of authors out there to fill an annual programme, and we have lots and lots of ideas of what we else we can do. 2019 is the year we are trying things out, and we are hoping for lots and lots of feedback that we can build the 2020 festival on.

I like the convention idea! Now all I need is a bed under the stairs.

See you there! (At Pleasance, not under the stairs.)

Never-ending

Not long ago I mentioned choosing books to take on trips. How I want to ‘know’ that they won’t be duds, and how I need at least one spare, just in case. I usually look really carefully at books that seem OK from the press release, and more so if I’m going to pick them for my travels. But I must have slipped up a little.

This book was on my to-be-read shelf, but it seems I didn’t examine either press release or book as carefully as I should have. My fault. But at least we didn’t go away together.

Not until I received another email from the publisher did I smell rat. I went back to the original email. Yes, I suppose there was a hint. And then I got the book out and had that little look I’d obviously not had before.

THEY HAVE ONLY GONE AND CUT OUT THE LAST CHAPTER(S)! I’d say with scissors.

The clue was that anyone who felt they needed to know more could contact the publicist for information about the ending. Just as well I wasn’t making this discovery on a plane or an exotic beach, with no end in sight.

To my mind, this mutilation of a book is So Very Wrong.

Any good vibes I might have harboured would have disappeared when finding this end-less end. No information sent over later would remove that feeling.

It’s not exactly a new Harry Potter. And had it been, then an embargo until publication day would have sufficed. It’s a debut, and I fail to see why a ruined paperback would thrill the reviewers. There is only one place for it to go, and that is the [landfill] bin.

The book

A new laureate

At first I was a little disappointed that Imtiaz Dharker declined becoming our next poet laureate. I half felt I knew her – after a meeting over a signing table! – so that would have been good. Another woman, and one from an outsider kind of background. But I can see why she felt she couldn’t accept.

Carol Ann Duffy has over the years become a very familiar figure, through our shared Manchester connection, MMU and the Edinburgh Book Festival.

But Simon Armitage is the next best thing. At least he will be when I can manage to remember his name and not call him Richard. We have a ‘connection’ to Simon as well. Daughter really liked his poetry at school, so I bought tickets for us to see him at the Manchester Literature Festival one year. We got as far as our home station, by which I mean the platform opposite the former Bookwitch Towers. There we decided not to go after all, so turned round and trotted home again.

[According to the Guardian] it seems that Simon comes from a witty family. His parents burst into tears when they heard the news about him being the new poet laureate. ‘I got a text from my dad later saying “We’ve stopped crying now. — If your grandad had been alive today, this would have killed him”.’

Malamander

I wonder. Is there such a thing as seaside steampunk? And if so, is Thomas Taylor’s Malamander it? I loved this book, and kept wanting to put a period to it. Feels old, but can’t be; is old-fashioned in style (as in 12-year-olds should be at school and not working in hotels) so would have to be a parallel universe.

Though none of this matters. It’s simply a story and it is good. Set in a not-Hastings called Eerie-on-Sea, it is so very sea-ish. I immediately wanted to go there and stay in a big, old and probably draughty hotel, right there, on the seafront in some British seaside town of yesteryear. It’s awfully atmospheric, even without the malamander, which is a kind of large fish monster with really sharp teeth.

Also, it doesn’t exist, does it? It’s in your imagination.

Thomas Taylor, Malamander

Young Herbie Lemon works in the Grand Nautilus Hotel as a Lost-and-Founder, which means he looks after everything left behind in the hotel. Or he did until the night a girl jumps in through his window needing to hide.

The two of them have a number of interesting as well as potentially dangerous adventures as they roam Eerie, looking for Violet’s parents. Or the malamander? Or trying to avoid who [what?] was chasing Violet.

Eerie-on-Sea is cold and wet, populated by some real characters. Who is good? And who is bad? Is the malamander coming for them? What about his egg?

This is a story that is just the right amount of menacing and comforting. Monster teeth, or hot chocolate.

McTavish Takes the Biscuit

Oh McTavish, how wise you are! And how I love you!

We all need a McTavish in our lives, but especially the Peachey family. True, their dog has sorted them out pretty good by now, but then it would seem that there is no stopping Pa Peachey when he gets a silly idea.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish Takes the Biscuit

Meg Rosoff’s fictional dog is really exceptionally wise. Actually, now that I think of them, they all are.

So, anyway, Pa Peachey wants to win the town’s bake-off competiton, despite him not being any good at baking. What could be more exciting than a ginger biscuit version of the Palace of Versailles?

The healthy food McTavish taught his humans to eat is no more, as Pa bakes and serves up his failures to dog and people. But according to Ma Peachey one should support people’s dreams. Even if it’s going to end in disaster.

What can McTavish do?

Well, anything, really. Sit back and enjoy another Peachey family story.

The Titanic Detective Agency

We should at least be safe from sequels. The fact that Lindsay Littleson’s crime novel is set on the Titanic sort of rules that out. The days are limited as it is, with three child passengers on this famous ship finding mysteries and setting out to solve them, unaware that time is even shorter than the official expected arrival in America.

Lindsay Littleson, The Titanic Detective Agency

As one of the few people on earth who have not seen the film, it was interesting to learn about travelling on the Titanic; the different passenger classes, for instance. And interestingly, Lindsay didn’t make up her characters. They are real passengers (and the fact that they were, does in no way guarantee that they survive), and this makes everything more realistic.

Like Johan from Knäred. I was gratified to find someone who could have been practically a neighbour, on the Titanic. Johan was poor, so travelled in third class, on his way to join his father and older sister, having left his mother and younger siblings behind in southern Sweden. He speaks no foreign languages, but still manages to befriend Bertha from Aberdeen and her young friend Madge.

It’s not the mysteries that matter; it’s the Titanic and the lives described. You meet people and even though you know what will happen, you have no way of knowing who will die and who survives, or what will become of the survivors, for that matter.

Learning about a catastrophe in this way brings home the awfulness of both the voyage, but also of how people lived and why they travelled and what they were hoping for, or fearing, in America.