Category Archives: Audio books

Hitchhiking again

I’m not too proud to republish an old post. It’s saying exactly what I wanted to say and I’m too lazy to write it again. It’s from October 2009. Doesn’t time fly?

“Who needs it? The history. The background to one of the funniest ideas in – well, in what? – literature? Broadcasting? Television? Film?

I started at the wrong end, if there is one. I read the books first. Though, come to think of it, since the radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a lot better than the books, it would have been more disappointing to go the other way. OK, maybe I did it the right way. In fact, I have a feeling I may even have watched the television series before getting to the radio. It was on just as I met the Resident IT Consultant, and I recall us watching it in the early days.

I looked on in fascination as the trilogy grew to five books. That’s British humour for you. It’s why I like my adoptive country so much. It has stuff like H2G2.

Fast forward to the unfashionable end of the last century, when I came across the radio series on audio cassette in the mobile library, and borrowed it for Son. I thought he might like it. He did. It wasn’t exactly news at the time. Nobody much – other than nerds – talked about it, so Son was educated in something vaguely historical and dated. Who cared, as long as he laughed and learnt a few new good quotes. It turned out useful, too. How his leaders at Pilots at the local church could even begin to think that children his age would be able to answer any questions on this subject in their fun quiz, is beyond me. Old-fashioned Son could, but his friends had never heard of it. Very handy, too, when it came to dressing up for World Book Day at school. We just needed to send Son to school in his dressing gown, holding a ‘book’ which said Don’t Panic.

From then on I’d say that H2G2 woke up again. More stuff on the radio, a film, and now the sixth book, written by Eoin Colfer. He is not Douglas Adams, but since we can’t have him, Eoin is a good second. I hope.

Anyway, that history. Who needs to know? I mean, who doesn’t already know about it? There was a long description/history thing in the Guardian a week ago, and I just wondered what the point was. As a fan, I do like reading about what I like, but there was something not quite right about this article. And I don’t just mean the fact that facts were wrong. Ford and Arthur did not hitch a ride with Zaphod when Earth was demolished.

The point of the new book is surely to educate a new generation of readers, and anybody old who happened to miss it the first time?”

A little light night listening

I don’t know what to think. Well, I do know that when I see Daughter loading up yet one more listen to The Hunger Games for her bedtime audiobook experience, that it really doesn’t sound cheerful. I mean, really.

She prefers audiobooks that she has previously read as a book. If she were to – god forbid! – nod off while listening, it helps to know the story. Has to be long books/series, so they last. Hence The Hunger Games. Also Anne of Green Gables. His Dark Materials. A decade or more of Harry Potter.

But she’d quite like to listen to Michael Grant’s Front Lines trilogy. It’s been read and it has been enjoyed. And it’s far better than The Hunger Games.

It appears to exist.

But it also appears not to be possible to buy or otherwise access from the UK. This seems nonsensical, as surely both the publisher and the audiobook company should want to sell their products.

You know me. I went to the source and asked Michael. Did he know why, and could he push, or something?

His response was that Daughter has excellent taste. I know that. So he can’t quite understand why there is no audiobook of Front Lines.

You see what happened there? Michael believes there is no audiobook.

And still, what are we to make of this:

Catching up on season one of His Dark Materials

That’s before season two. And no, that’s not me doing it.

As I might have mentioned, neither Daughter nor I were convinced by the first season of His Dark Materials on the BBC. As I suggested at the time, for me to continue watching after the first two episodes seemed fairly unlikely. And I didn’t, so when the time came two weeks ago to settle down with season two, the thought didn’t even cross my mind.

In fact, it was almost an afterthought that made me mention it to the Resident IT Consultant, seeing as he did sit through all of last autumn’s. He’s more open-minded, it seems. So he has by now watched the first three episodes, and is reasonably happy.

But Daughter, who decided to catch up on season one, on the minute off-chance that she’d watch the new one live, has been anything but happy. As a serial audio book listener, she knows the story inside out. And believe me, BBC, that does not make for satisfaction right now. There have been little – and not so little – screams over every wrong thing.

We both understand and accept that for film technical reasons you need to adapt, abridge, and so on. But writing a new story and changing the characters when you have a perfectly good story already?

No.

I get that this version looks good. But it could have looked good while sticking to the original story too.

I suspect that the nice people I know who actually like it, are those who have not nerded over HDM for the last two decades. Perhaps they read the books, liked them, and promptly forgot any details, and thus the BBC series comes as a new thing of beauty.

Perhaps.

Audible?

For her current commute, Daughter needs audio books. They will keep her sane and entertained during the 25 minutes on the S-Bahn and the 5 to 10 on the bus. Twice a day, five days a week. I understand that’s about the equivalent of The Hunger Games. (Not that I applaud her choice.)

Now, I have to admit here that I have not studied the finer details of having an Audible membership. Daughter has, and while she’s not thrilled with the cost, she hasn’t come up with anything better. There probably isn’t anything better, i.e. cheaper per hour.

When they were still cassette tapes I used to buy a lot. They were expensive, but I felt the benefits outweighed the cost, and there were four of us who would potentially listen, one at a time. Son wore out our copy of Kim, so bought a more hardwearing version of this Kipling story when he got older but still wanted to re-listen. As for Harry Potter, I winced when paying, but knew it was worth it.

I also frequented the mobile library when it stopped down the road, and borrowed a lot of audio cassettes, mostly for Son. That’s how I discovered children weren’t meant to read Terry Pratchett… Or Agatha Christie.

Thinking back to this time, I remembered that I must have contacted the library service at some point, about audio books for Daughter, who at that time really needed them to access literature at all. Somebody very nice provided her with a library card that allowed her free audio books, and I proceeded to request books from the mobile library, and every time they came, they would wave their latest haul at me. It was great.

Until the time we lost the nice and friendly crew and the replacement librarian got fed up with looking out for my requests, and told me so in no uncertain terms.

So that was that. Daughter learned to read for pleasure, mainly thanks to Nick Sharratt. But on her commute she prefers sound to paper. If only it wasn’t so expensive!

I recalled the event in Edinburgh in August where Sally Gardner ‘suggested to someone in the audience that if they can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.’ That’s probably similar to what I arranged for Daughter 15 to 20 years ago. I don’t know what would happen today.

Discovered from one author that the seemingly fair free exchange of a book if you don’t like it, can be abused. Readers listen to one book and then return it and read another for the same cost. Not surprisingly that money doesn’t then benefit either the author of the book or the narrator.

We looked at the audio books in the sale over Christmas, but there wasn’t much to her tastes. I went through my library and suggested really good books, that it would be worth paying for. Most of them weren’t available on audio…

Cracking the Reading Code

You can’t hear enough about getting children – or even old people – to read, especially if they have extra obstacles to deal with. Well, I can’t, anyway. And I’d already heard the background stories of Tom Palmer, Sally Gardner and Alex Wheatle, but they can do with being repeated. Often. Until everyone who wants to can read.

Sally Gardner, Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

The three guests were ably interviewed by Mairi Kidd in Tuesday’s event hosted by Barrington Stoke, where she used to work. She knows about this business of dyslexia friendly books. And so do the three; with Tom probably having written the most books for Barrington Stoke, Sally being the most dyslexic while still writing the the most wonderful stories, and Alex for knowing what his readers know.

Tom Palmer

I do like the sound of Tom’s mother, getting him to read by giving him books and articles on football. And then he went to night school where he was supposed to read Shakespeare and Chaucer! It wasn’t until a tutor introduced him to poetry about Leeds United (!), and took students out to the actual ‘Wuthering Heights’ that Tom felt he could get on with this reading.

Sally Gardner

Not sure I like the sound of Sally’s school for maladjusted children (whose fault is it if children are maladjusted?), but at 14 when she tried reading Wuthering Heights for the second time and she suddenly was ‘in the f***ing book,’ things changed for her. As Sally said, you can be good at something and it needn’t be only academic for it to matter. We need ‘diversity in the brain.’

And Alex, who did read a bit as a child, from Huckleberry Finn and Ivanhoe to sports books, finally discovered books in jail at the age of 18. His cellmate, and mentor, gave him The Black Jacobins to read, as he ‘wouldn’t have anything better to do in there.’

Alex Wheatle

Asked to read to us, Alex again chose the bit from Kerb Stain Boys about being in detention, and this time it was Sally who asked if he reads his own audio books. And after Sally had treated us to a dyslexic pirate in Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon, Alex returned the compliment. Sally does have a great voice. Last but not least, Tom read from Armistice Runner, which is close to his heart, featuring both running and fells, and it still makes me cry.

Mairi asked the three about graphic novels; if they make reading easier. Sally mentioned Shaun Tan, and the ‘most genius book ever,’ which has no words at all. Both Alex and Tom were fans of Shoot Magazine, but understandably Sally’s not. Talking about Tom’s novel Scrum, and the revelation it brought a young boy at a school; ‘Miss, I can read this!’

Sally gets angry when people say to those who have listened to an unabridged novel as an audio book, that they ‘haven’t really read it.’ This is snobbery. She suggested to someone in the audience that if they can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.

The last question of the evening was not a question but a thank you, from a teacher who uses these books in her school. And it seems that Scotland might be better in this instance, not having reading rules, which means that teachers can let the children read anything, even if it’s not from the right part of a reading scheme. (This brings back dreadful memories of Son being forced to read ‘backwards’ so as not to rock the boat of equality.)

We then gathered in the bookshop where people were so keen to continue talking about this important subject, that poor Tom was unable to sit down at the signing table for quite some time.

This is what we like.

Cymera on the small screen

I have to confess I didn’t know there was going to be live coverage from Cymera on its Facebook page. But it was a nice thing to discover when my knees refused to go out this weekend. Had I known well in advance – about the filming, not so much the knees – I could have planned to make better use of it.

Thus it was that I did that time-wasting staring at Facebook post-cup-of-tea yesterday, and arrived just as Cymera started off on James Oswald, or JD as he was for the weekend, with his Sir Benfro hat on. Not that he wore a hat. But on the very small screen on my phone, the ‘camera eye’ unfortunately sat right on top of his head, leaving only the beard and the pink jacket visible. But I know what he looks like.

(Yes, the image was better on the computer. But it buffered an awful lot.)

JD Oswald and David Bishop

But anyway, I got to see James talking to David Bishop and that’s what I had wanted to do all this time, after discovering he was going to be there, and after reading the first Sir Benfro book.

Much of what he said has been covered in my own interview from four years ago, but I was struck by how James said he now has three books a year to write. Plus being a farmer. And then someone asked what he likes to read! As though the man would have time to read.

Actually, he does, and he listed a number of books, but like me, he forgets immediately, making it hard to recommend books. And he ‘cheats’ by reading audio books when out on his farming duties. It’s mostly fantasy. Seems he doesn’t like reading crime! (So before you send him yet more crime novels for a quote; don’t. Send him fantasy instead.)

There was a somewhat abrupt end to the filmed event, but it was far better than nothing!

Below is the ‘only good’ photo Clare Cain got of the Ghost event with Claire McFall, Rachel Burge and Helen Grant chatting to Sarah Broadley. I imagine they are hearing ghostly voices there. Or something.

Claire McFall, Rachel Burge, Helen Grant and Sarah Broadley, by Clare Cain

And even more below, is another stolen photo from Sunday morning’s event where Moira McPartlin chatted to Sarah Broadley [Sarah does seem to be everywhere, doesn’t she?].

Moira McPartlin and Sarah Broadley

The Kiwis are coming!

I’ve got news for you. They were already there. Here. At Bloody Scotland. Except as with the Swedes, they had to fake it just a bit. Craig Sisterson, the chair, is from New Zealand, and so is Paul Cleave. Fiona Sussman has lived in New Zealand for thirty years, but is still from South Africa. Liam McIlvanney is Scottish, but has a New Zealand passport in his sights after ten years in the country. Denise Mina was the honorary Kiwi, based on her having visited twice.

Glad we’ve got that sorted out.

Denise mentioned ‘bleck hends’ which I understand to actually be black hands. Whatever that is. (To which I can offer the wisdom that blood is ‘rid.’) There is a perceived link between New Zealand and the Nordic countries – to which Scotland possibly belongs. They are all dark places.

Paul Cleave, Denise Mina, Liam McIlvanney, Fiona Sussman and Craig Sisterson

Paul comes from Crimechurch; sorry, Christchurch, and he claims to have an alibi for the earthquake. The quake still has much impact on people’s lives, and Paul reckons that in twenty years’ time, someone will write a crime novel about the murder of an insurance agent; so strong are the feelings on how they’ve been treated.

Fiona feels crime fiction is primarily a social commentary, and Denise added that it summarises what’s happened during the last year or two; the time it takes for a novel to be written and published.

Denise is inspired by real life, and there are some things you can’t make up, whereas Paul does not borrow anything and makes everything up, as he doesn’t want to be seen to be making money from real crimes. Denise informed him where he was wrong, and would most likely have taken Paul outside to make him see things her way, if she could have. You’re ‘doing it for the money.’

Craig mentioned that Paul was the one who’d travelled the furthest to get to Bloody Scotland, because Fiona lives further north. Scotland and New Zealand have in common that they are small countries with a larger English-speaking neighbour.

According to Paul everyone, but him, wants to live in New Zealand; this ‘dull, hygienic, social democracy…’ Fiona is still worried about being thrown out of her adoptive country for what she writes. And Liam has bad experience of criticising the country’s cheese. Apparently you mustn’t.

Paul is always bumping into people in Crimechurch, but never anywhere else. It’s small enough. He has some advice on what to do about bad reviews. This involves a lawyer, so he hasn’t read any reviews in five years. (At this point it looked like Paul and Denise needed separating, as they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on anything…)

Denise Mina, Paul Cleave, Liam McIlvanney, Fiona Sussman and Craig Sisterson

Fiona loves VW Beetles, and has had a lot of experience of them. But when she wrote about one in a book, it still passed both her own and her husband’s reading, before an editor mentioned that its engine is not in the front of the car! (Well, you can’t remember everything.)

This event also over-ran, and we finished with a semi-heated discussion on audiobooks and who is best at reading them. It seems no one. With one little exception in Fiona’s case, none of them have recognised their characters in the actor reading their books. It’s always the wrong voice. Paul, needing to be the ‘worst’ again mentioned the time he was offered a choice of eight American potential readers, all with very fake New Zealand accents.

(I’m afraid time constraints meant I wasn’t able to take any worthwhile photos of our quintet. And Denise had to run. But it was fun anyway.)

Paul Cleave, Liam McIlvanney and Fiona Sussman

A bit of ethnic cleansing?

Eleven years on, I had not returned to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, except for watching the films when they came. Daughter, on the other hand, has the audiobook on loop to fall asleep to, so between actually falling asleep occasionally, she does get a lot of reminders of all that happened in all of the Harry Potter books. Besides, she’s young and not forgetful in the way I am.

During my recent foray into Stephen Fry at bedtime territory, I also fell asleep with the help of Harry. We had book seven on this past week, and mostly the beginning of it. And I realised I’d forgotten about the ethnic cleansing aspect of the plot.

I also realised that what was going on in a world where you had to have pure magic, and how muggles couldn’t ever be the real deal, was precisely what’s filled the media in recent weeks. J K Rowling must have written Deathly Hallows 12 or 13 years ago, which just goes to show how everything comes back, and comes back far too soon, when it’s something bad.

There is obviously no question about Hermione’s status as a witch. But that doesn’t stop people from questioning her magic. What does this remind you of today? Well, I suppose it depends where you live. I’m afraid that my sleepy mind suddenly could see very little difference between our ‘beloved leader’ and Dolores Umbridge.

On Wikipedia I found the following, which is worryingly apt today:

J K Rowling on Wikipedia

Now, what does that make you think of?

Hands off

It was some years ago. Offspring and I were in a [Swedish] taxi, on the way to the station. Like ‘all’ Swedish taxi drivers, this one got a call on his mobile, which he took and he chatted for a long time. I think he was trying to agree to book a holiday. You know, important stuff.

Then came the need for him to make a note of something, and he got his notepad out. And a pen. Until then he’d had one hand on the steering wheel, which – while I didn’t feel it was good enough – I put up with. But juggling phone, pad and pen needed at least two hands, so he took the last hand off the steering wheel.

While not seeking to antagonise the man, I told him to either put one hand back to steer, or to pull up immediately until he’d sorted his holiday out. His choice. He put the phone away. I reported him to the taxi company, who were simply baffled. And of course, you tread carefully when angering someone who knows where you live.

Soon after, in another taxi, in another part of Sweden, I was pleased to find my driver looked like he’d virtually just left the farm. No mobile phone, I thought. Silly me. All Swedes have them. Had them, even then. So, at full speed down the motorway he discussed the bullocks with his caller. But he did keep one hand on the steering wheel.

This has made me a lot less keen on using taxis over there.

Anyway, all this came back to me when a friend emailed a link to say that from February 1st it is illegal to read your ebook while driving [in Sweden].

Yeah. Shame, really.

Although, it seems the law is about handling any mobile phone or similar, while driving. The ebook idea was from the book magazine which published the article in question, where they merely deduced that the new law must mean a stop to reading while you drive.

It is, however, legal to have your passenger read aloud to you.

Her Dark Weekend

‘What shall I do now?’ Daughter wailed when The Book of Dust was no more. My heartless suggestion of patience didn’t seem to be what she wanted to hear.

Rereading His Dark Materials was what she eventually came up with, except the books are all here with me. Remember, this is the family with rather a lot of copies of HDM. But she felt she ought not to add to them by buying more.

The next solution was to listen to the audiobooks – and they are especially attractive because it’s Philip Pullman himself reading them. It seemed she already had the books sitting electronically somewhere, and they could easily be moved to travel to work with her on her mobile phone. She even calculated how long each walk + bus + walk to work would take and how long it would last.

Let me tell you how long it lasted. A whole weekend, is what.

The audiobooks never made it onto any bus at all, as she listened non-stop all weekend. OK, maybe the very last chapter got to travel on Monday morning.

I heard little from her over the weekend, and now I know why. There was one text message about Lee Scoresby dying. (Sorry, if you didn’t know this.) And another soon after, when Will’s father also departed this life.

Yes, and a third, noting how different the books felt now she’s an adult. Seems all the darkness washed over the child reader, all those years ago.