Category Archives: Adele Geras

My teacher, Mrs Christie

When Sophie Hannah was talking at Bloody Scotland about growing up with Agatha Christie, it was like hearing myself speak. Or it would have been if I could sound as intelligent and articulate as Sophie. And I wished I’d known this ‘sister’ back when I was twelve, except at the time her mother Adèle Geras was barely out of university herself, so Sophie and I were never destined to be the same age at the same time.

Also, we wouldn’t have had a language in common. It was more our behaviour and reading patterns that seem to have coincided. I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to school with children who read Agatha Christie at twelve. If I had I might not have felt like a freak.

And if there was a likeminded child at school, I’m reasonably certain they didn’t read Agatha in English. (This peculiar habit of reading in a foreign language really only took off with Harry Potter.) Mrs Christie was my English mentor/teacher. If not for her, I wouldn’t have tried. And I suppose I wouldn’t have attempted it if first I’d had to go to the library to check out their foreign langauges section. It helped that Mother-of-witch had a few Christies in the original; leftovers of her own attempts at educational improvement. So I could test drive them to see if it would work, and it did. Reasonably.

Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit

I was going to ask the rhetorical question of whether I’d be blogging right now, were it not for Agatha Christie. But my question has to go deeper than that. Not to be blogging wouldn’t be the end of the world (I mean, if I’d not started, I’d not know what I was missing). But would I have come to Britain to live? There would in all likelihood not have been a Resident IT Consultant. Or Offspring.

Perhaps Agatha wasn’t so much my English teacher, as my life designer. Not that she knew, but still.

It’s extraordinary what an early exposure to niblicks will do to a little girl.

Sophie Hannah on Poirot

Sunday morning at Bloody Scotland just had to mean Sophie Hannah on writing the new Poirot. As Alex Gray who talked to Sophie said, it’s the kind of thing that will make you very excited. There had been a lot of serendipity involved in her getting the job, which involved Sophie’s crazy maverick of an agent (a man with hints of Sophie’s mother, Adèle Geras), a HarperCollins editor, Agatha Christie Ltd, and the fact that Sophie already had an idea for a plot that she simply couldn’t make fit into her own novels.

A life-long Agatha Christie fan, Sophie knew the books very well (and hearing her talk about them made me want to rush home and start re-reading), and like Poirot she is rather OCD (in her case about the tassels on her Persian rug). She reckons that David Suchet is Poirot, but she didn’t write with him in mind. There is a strong film interest in her book, The Monogram Mysteries, but as she pointed out, David Suchet has said he won’t do more Poirot.

Sophie Hannah

The novel is set in 1929 in the gap between The Mystery of the Blue Train and Peril at End House. Poirot has gone on holiday, to temporary lodgings opposite his own flat (which seems to have been inspired by Sophie’s father, Norman Geras), in order to be free from people seeking his help. The story is told from the point of view of a young detective called Catchpool, to avoid Sophie having to try and imitate Agatha’s style of writing. Catchpool is there to offset Poirot, to be bright, but obtuse.

One of the many coincidences in her being given the task of writing the book was that long before this she had booked a family holiday staying at Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway. Another odd thing was that the week they were there, the filming of Dead Man’s Folly took place on the property. Sophie worked every evening, and by the time the holiday was over, she had the whole novel in her head. She is ‘very serious about crime fiction’ which is the best kind of fiction.

She accidentally invented a new way of writing while jotting down her ten page plan, when it became 100 pages with every detail of the book. Sophie found that this meant she could forget worrying about plotting while also trying to write nicely, as the job had already been done. (She has since written her latest novel in this way as well.)

Before Sophie was allowed to go public with the news about her book, she discovered on Twitter that feelings go very deep when it comes to people taking over writing somebody else’s work, and she was shocked but not worried. She sat down and thought about it and came to the conclusion it wasn’t morally wrong, and that real fans would want to read a new book, and others were free to not read it. Most of her Twitter followers have since come round, with the help of tea and scones, except for Troy in Minnesota.

There was no reason to list what had to be in the book; she knew instinctively what it needed. She’d be happy to write another Poirot, but does not feel she should be the one to write about Miss Marple – a shrewd old bat – but this would be better done by someone else, like Lee Child…

Her Christie favourites keep changing, but Murder on the Orient Express remains on top, along with Sleeping Murder, and more recently Lord Edgware Dies (it’s got the best murderer in it) and After the Funeral (best motive) and Appointment With Death (psychological tyrant).

People who say Agatha was not a terribly great writer are wrong. There’s a reason Agatha Christie sold more books than anyone else, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare. The books can be read by a 12-year-old ill in bed, or a middle aged professor. They are the perfect blend of simple and complex; funny but filled with darkness, suffering and torment. Sophie reckons that people who say the books are no good ‘might just be a bit stupid.’

Sophie Hannah

The last question of the morning came from ‘Troy  in Minnesota,’ or so he claimed. Probably here for his tea and scones. Sophie said she likes rules, whether for poetry, crime or Agatha Christie. And her own next book has a bit of Golden Age Mystery in it, now that her appetite for such things has been awakened.

Alex Gray spoke for all of us when she said that we would happily have stayed another hour. At least. I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t get out of bed early enough to hear Sophie talk Christie.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

Close Your Pretty Eyes

It pays to be careful when you hear people talking of stuff you know nothing about. In this instance I was listening to Cliff McNish ‘interrogating’ Sally Nicholls on her latest book. Which he must have read. Which in itself is nice. That authors read each other’s books, I mean. Not having read Close Your Pretty Eyes I was half wanting to shut my ears for fear of spoilers, and half wanting to hear what they said.

But, anyway. What I came away ‘knowing’ was that this was – probably – a troubled teenager, fostered, who hates people, and who kills a baby and then buries it in the garden.

Well, that didn’t make me happy. I know Sally writes the best of books, but I’m no big fan of troubled teens, and certainly not keen on the murdering of babies, even at the best of times. But I did want to read the book, seeing as it was Sally’s. And, thank god, it wasn’t like that at all. Well, a bit. But mostly not.

Sally Nicholls, Close Your Pretty Eyes

I can whole-heartedly recommend this wonderful story about Olivia in her 16th home. (She’s only 11, btw.) Olivia’s is the other side of Tracy Beaker; the bleak, realistic life of a young child, failed by most of the adults around her. Not all, but because she’s so sure she’s an unloveable witch, Olivia can’t see the good that some of the adults are trying to do.

Some things go right in her life, but most don’t. Her younger siblings have been adopted, but ‘no one’ wants her, and when you get to 11, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone ever will. But home no.16 isn’t so bad, if it weren’t for the wicked ghost that makes her scared and wants her to kill babies. Or so she thinks. Olivia hears crying babies that no one else hears. It’s a haunted house, this home no.16.

What can she do?

All the wrong things, naturally. Does that ruin her chances for future happiness?

I suggest you read Close Your Pretty Eyes. It’s not a book you can describe without saying exactly what happens. There is burying of babies. No getting away from that. But this is a book full of hope. Keep that in mind.

(I understand – hopefully correctly – that the title is from a creepy lullaby found by Adèle Geras. She’d be my go-to woman for that kind of thing, too.)

Paws and Whiskers

Who knew Philip Pullman has had dogs? Yeah, I suppose you all did, except me. He doesn’t strike me as a pet person, somehow. But he has had dogs. Three, of which two were very stupid, according to the doting Philip.

I learned all this in Paws and Whiskers, which is an anthology about cats and dogs, chosen by none other than Jacqueline Wilson. She wrote about her own cats, and they sounded so lovely I was halfway to Battersea and its Dogs & Cats* Home before I remembered I don’t want a pet.

Being my normal cynical self, I was intending to glance at this anthology, before handing it to someone who might appreciate it. Seems that person is me. I have only sampled the odd thing here and there – so far – but I can see that P&W will have to join my shelf of collections, where I can dip in and out of stories as and when I need something nice. (Will have to see about getting the shelf made longer.)

Jacqueline Wilson, Paws and Whiskers

Jacqueline has written a new story herself, and there is also her old Werepuppy. Apart from Philip Pullman, you can read about Malorie Blackman’s fondness for German shepherds, even when they are cowards. The usual suspects like Michael Morpurgo and Enid Blyton are there, as is Sharon Creech with her lovely Dog. Adèle Geras has written about a cat I didn’t know she once had, including a poem about her beloved pet, who was never left alone when they went on holiday. They took turns…

Patrick Ness is there with his much missed Manchee, along with countless expected and unexpected authors who have had pets, or who have written about them. Some pieces are excerpts from books, and other stories have been specially written for P&W.

The really good thing with this kind of selection of writing is that if you love Jacqueline (and who doesn’t?) you will discover new writers and their work, simply because if it’s good enough for your hero, it will be good enough for you.

Illustrations – as nearly always – by Nick Sharratt.

*Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the home.

The Green Behind the Glass

It wasn’t lost, exactly. Nor forgotten. But it was lucky I decided to sort through The Books Behind the Door the other day. Because that’s where I discovered The Green Behind the Glass by Adèle Geras. I’d like to think that its purpose in hiding there was to give me more pleasure when I found it again.

This brief volume of eight short stories about love is a true period piece. Published in 1982, the stories are typical of what fiction for teens was like back then, and I have to say (am I showing my age?) I miss that kind of story every now and then. And Adèle is very good with short stories. She’s good with love.

Adèle Geras, The Green Behind the Glass

It’s not all straigtforward love, either. Some of the stories end badly; others end unexpectedly, perhaps leaving the character(s) with a new kind of life to look ahead to. Not happy ever after. But hope.

The first story is about – possibly – unrequited love in WWI. Plus the fact that war was rather bad for other reasons. Then there’s the girl who helps a friend to write love letters, falling in love with the recipient of them. Paris when you’re young and poor, but can sing in the streets to earn some money. Paris = love. For some.

In one story the teenage girl and her mother both fall in love with the same, useless, man. Falling in love with the wrong person is a common problem, and there is more unrequited love in Monday.

Then we have the sixth former in the 1950s, at boarding school away from his home in Borneo (very nicely done, but then Adèle knows what she’s writing about), who meets a kind of Mrs Robinson. Or the young girl who leads such a  sheltered life that it’s a miracle there can be any love story at all.

Finally, the young unmarried couple who find they are pregnant, which was less acceptable thirty years ago.

This whole book was like a gift from the past. Which – literally – it was. Thank you Adèle! I shall try and keep better control of The Books Behind the Door in future.

Goodbye Norm

Norm Geras died yesterday morning. He’d been ill for some time, and earlier this year when I asked Adèle how he was, her reply wasn’t the one I’d hoped for. So I knew what to expect, but you still feel sad when it happens.

He was such a widely respected man, and I was extremely flattered when asked to contribute to his Normblog profile early on in my blogging career. That someone like Norm would consider me ‘grown-up’ enough to contribute felt astounding.

I didn’t read his blog every day, but as his facebook friend I caught most of his daily comments about ‘everything.’ When I acquired a new fb friend some years ago, the thing that really impressed her was that I was friends with Norman Geras!

The first thing I ever heard about Norm was about his room, filled with books on cricket. He had a lot, though I understand he actually parted with some of his collection before he and Adèle moved from Manchester three years ago. I admire him for that, now that I am facing a cull in my collection of not-cricket books.

Norm and Adèle Geras with grapes and strawberries

We met when Daughter and I came to their house to interview Adèle four years ago. Not wanting to eat with us girls – or perhaps not being allowed to – his salad was brought to his office, but he came down for cake and strawberries later.

Norm kept blogging and generally staying in touch with the online world until last week. I kept checking, always hoping he’d be there.

(People have been collecting tributes and links on this new blog.)

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

Innerpeffray Library

Innerpeffray Library

You know when people share their favouritest place with you, and you’re afraid you’ll hate it and that it will cause problems between you and all that? Helen Grant has been going on and on about Innerpeffray Library – almost in the middle of nowhere in Perthshire – for so long, that I thought she might, just possibly, be deluded.

Innerpeffray Library - graveyard

Innerpeffray Library

Dear reader, she’s actually right. Innerpeffray is the place to go (especially if it doesn’t rain) for the library experience with a difference. (Pardon me if I sound like an advertisement.) It’s a beautiful old building, next to an old chapel – with graveyard – in the loveliest of settings; green fields with sheep in, a grassy ‘drive’ covered in tiny daisies, lovely plants along the path there, future nettle soup on the side, and a warm welcome when you arrive.

Innerpeffray Library

The librarian is called Lara, and I have rarely had such a fantastic guide anywhere. She talked history with the Resident IT Consultant and Helen, while I listened to these well educated, knowledgeable people, pretending I was too. For any little topic that came up, she found the book to illustrate it. (It’s almost as if Lara reads the books they have in there.)

Innerpeffray Library

She found me a Swedish book. They have two, but the other proved elusive when searched for. There was a book on witchcraft, which I gather is the vilest of crimes, trumping everything else. Hmm. This year’s exhibition is on crime, since that’s what we mere mortals like.

Innerpeffray Library

Lara climbs on the exceedingly tall ladder as though she was born to it. Apparently you have to go on a ladder-climbing course before you can work there. (Very relieved to hear that volunteers aren’t allowed to. So I could volunteer…)

Lara at Innerpeffray Library

They do events. Helen Grant did something spooky there recently, and has vowed to return for Halloween (which sounds great; if a little scary). Alexander McCall Smith is appearing at Innerpeffray to play very bad music. In fact, this coming weekend is full of fun sounding things to do. At one point Lara had to go off to see to some champagne. Later there was smoked salmon business needing her attention.

Innerpeffray Library

And even though it is now in a deserted corner of Perthshire’s lovely fields, when I asked that most commonly asked question ‘why is it here?’ I learned that when it started, it was a very busy part of the world, what with the river below, and all sorts of things.

Innerpeffray Library

People came to borrow books, and you can see the register of borrowers, which includes servants, and I found ‘a serf’ as well. This freedom with the books remains today. Unlike other museum type places where you can touch nothing; here you are allowed to. (Only not if your fingers are covered in clotted cream.) In the end I was frightened I’d tear one of the pages, so hardly dared to leaf through the witchcraft tome.

Helen Grant at Innerpeffray Library

So, I can totally identify with Helen who comes here a lot. She suffered over the winter when they were closed, and could hardly wait to pop over when the library winter came to an end.

Innerpeffray Library

And you know, somewhere that has a purple panelled toilet, as well as a chapel where you can get married, beats a lot of places you might visit. If you can find it. You go down that road, and then you take that almost invisible turning, and later on you go left, follow the winding road and at some point you turn down some other road, at the end of which you will find you’ve arrived.

Unless you approach from some other direction.

Innerpeffray Library

Only politeness made us leave when it was Lara’s lunch break. That, and the fact that we too needed lunch. We went back to Schloss Grant and shared bread and cheese and salad, with fresh strawberries (which were very nice), and after that we actually ate some Battenbergs too. We talked books and publishing. The cats were woken so they could say hello.

Helen told me something I mustn’t repeat, which I won’t, because not only am I nice (so so) but I have forgotten what it was. She gave me her new collection of short stories, which I hope won’t scare me too much (I’ll get back to you on that) and then she showed us the door. Very politely.

I would recommend this outing to anyone. Unfortunately, not all of you can do the last part, but Lara and the library are waiting for you. Perhaps get married there, and provide them with some essential, financial support!

Innerpeffray Library

(My apologies for the numerous photos. It’s the kind of place where you just can’t not take pictures. Besides, Adèle Geras has demanded them. I’d recommend going now. It’s sunny, and nature is at its prettiest.)

Troublesome cats and other airborne coincidences

I own two books bearing the title Cat’s Cradle. One is Nick Green’s soon to be published final Cat Kin book. The other is by Julia Golding, in her Cat Royal series. No, I lie. I believe I also have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle somewhere.

I don’t mind. If there are only seven original plots, it stands to reason there are only so many book titles as well. Obviously more than seven, but anyway. I doubt Nick or Julia are about to sue each other.

Nicola Morgan has told us about her first novel, Mondays Are Red, which features synesthesia, and its main character Luke. It was published almost simultaneously with Tim Bowler’s Starseeker. Same topic. Same character name. They didn’t sue, either. But when both proceeded to write novels with the fabulous title Apocalypse, one of them changed it. Great minds think alike.

Adèle Geras wrote an adult novel with a similar plot to one by Marika Cobbold. I asked if she knew Marika’s book. She didn’t. It was another of those ‘it must be something in the air or the water’ coincidences. Happens all the time. It’s not plagiarism. Zeitgeist, maybe? (We have to keep in mind the number of plots available in this life.)

When I read Lee Weatherly’s Angel I half thought that she might have been after ‘the next Twilight’ by going for angels instead of vampires. But Lee had the idea 15 years ago, before the world was gripped by vampire fever, and well before all the other angel books we now see in bookshops.

Some writers do jump on bandwagons, because it’s what publishers want. The next wizard, another vampire. And now it’s dystopias. Julie Bertagna barely got the OK for Exodus, because back then dystopias weren’t in. Now they are. And not all of them could possibly have got the idea from reading someone else’s book first.

It takes time to make a book. From author’s idea to bookshop is usually a lengthy process. People don’t plagiarise on a whim. Coincidences happen. Recently I mused about the number of wolves I had reviewed in a short time. There are also several books out now with the name Grimm somewhere in the title.

Coincidence.

What I am working towards here, is a troublesome cat. He is causing considerable concern for Debi Gliori. She has a picture book soon out, featuring a cat in Tobermory. The title will be Tobermory Cat. At least it will be if someone in Tobermory stops being unpleasant about it. Debi, who is one of the kindest and most fairminded people I know, has been accused of all manner of things by the ‘owner’ of the name. Not the owner of the cat, mind you.

The links to this public argument can be found on Wikipedia, so I might as well add them here. Link 1. Link 2Link 3 with a reply from publisher Hugh Andrew of Birlinn. TC even has its own facebook page, but I don’t recommend a trip there if you value your blood pressure levels.

I am really, really against bullying.

Apart from the books and coincidences above, I am reminded of another touristy cat at the opposite end of the country, in another picture book; The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. I imagine that book has not exactly damaged the tourist business for Mousehole. I also imagine this was the idea for Tobermory. The new book could have been called something else. And then the tourists could go there instead.

Co-operation is a good word here. Not that I’d want to co-operate with TC’s ‘owner’ if I had a choice, but before this argument began, just think of the effect they could have had together, for Tobermory.

Could there be more than one Bookwitch? Unfortunately, yes. There are. There were some before I went public, and more have popped up over the five years you and I have known each other. But the point about it is that I sat down and thought long and hard about what to call this blog, and once I’d arrived at the answer, I went online and found I wouldn’t be alone. But I am a Bookwitch, so couldn’t – wouldn’t – have picked another name.

I can co-exist.

Will leave you with one more cat. In fact, I give you a book idea for free. Here is the Linköping Lynx. At this point I must point out I’ve not checked* if there are any other LLs out there.

Linköping Lynx

The more the merrier? Surely one of the seven plots must fit? It’s my firm belief that Lynxes are the next big thing. Remember that some time in 2014 or 2015.

*Oops.