Category Archives: Authors

A Street Dog Named Pup

I seem to be – figuratively – surrounded by dogs these days, mostly rescue dogs. In A Street Dog Named Pup, by Gill Lewis, you meet many dogs, all of them personalities for you to like or love. Pup especially.

We meet him when he’s being removed from his boy in the middle of the night. He loves his boy and the boy loves Pup. But both are young and at the mercy of adults. It doesn’t seem to count that they were made for each other.

Pup ends up with a group of dogs in the street, and they teach him how to survive and what to look out for. But all Pup wants is to get back to his boy. The other dogs know this is unlikely, especially as they understand Pup was left on the street for a reason.

They are wise and kind dogs and Pup is lucky to have been found by them. This story isn’t quite as sweet as the Eva Ibbotson book about another dog and another boy. But you feel there must be a good ending, in some way. Except, what can an eleven-year-old boy do? Or his puppy?

I’ve learned a lot, both about dogs (I hope it’s all true), and about their humans. The story also reflects on what society today is like, what people want and what people can do. And how dogs love them anyway.

This is another heartrending story from Gill, going deeper into the relationship between humans and animals than ever before.

Each chapter is headed by a black and white drawing and I was quite captivated by the beautiful illustrations, without realising that they were by Gill herself. The cover showing Pup against a night city backdrop, is by Levi Pinfold. So there is much loveliness.

Longlisted International Booker book

We did as we were told. Or rather, we didn’t. Our SELTA host Ian Giles suggested we could ‘get a cup of tea, sit back and relax’ as we listened to – and watched – the Zoom webinar late afternoon today, with Nichola Smalley and ‘her’ Swedish author Andrzej Tichý, talking about his novel Wretchedness. (What we did was continue with our work, but accompanied by an interesting, literary conversation.)

They have talked about this before, and I have written about it here. But it was worth returning to it again, because the book has been longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2021. This doesn’t happen to lots of Swedish novels. In fact, I believe it might be a first.

I have to admit to not knowing very much about the International Booker Prize. I looked it up, and discovered it’s worth £50000 to the winning pair, i.e. half to the author and half to the translator. That’s very good, especially for the often overlooked translator.

The event was organised by SELTA and supported by the Swedish Embassy’s cultural department, which shows that they take this kind of thing seriously.

I’m a little bit biased, but I have crossed my fingers for a successful Wretchedness.

And it’s not even my past

But anyway, it’s too late. The book has sold out, and I only got mine on Monday.

Throughout lockdown, Ian Archie Beck has entertained his followers on Twitter with art. And it’s not any old art. His paintings and drawings from – mostly – around where he lives; the local streets, the back of his house, his vase, possibly even his flowers. Absolutely gorgeous!

So I thought, this could be a series of postcards to buy, maybe. Or a book. I’ll look out for it.

So, just before Easter he admitted that yes, there would be a book soon. And he’d be selling it direct and I could order one. Thank god I had the good sense to order it there and then. Because it’s already too late, as I said.

I don’t know all that much about Ian. I’ve read one of his children’s books. We’ve gone to the same parties. And with this book he has proved that art is like writing books (only harder, I imagine); it gets a lot better when you deal with what you know best.

As lockdown began, Ian’s dog Grace apparently pulled him in the opposite direction from where their usual walks would go. Ian discovered new areas of his part of Isleworth. He went home and painted what he’d seen, and what he’d been inspired to notice.

And it’s this pictorial lockdown diary he has treated us to, first on Twitter, and then as a book. All right, and also as postcards. And you can buy the original art. Or you could. It sounds like it’s mostly gone already, like the book. Which is just as well, because I couldn’t afford those prices, and my available wall area is not all that available. And the painting I loved the most wasn’t even on the price list of the art for sale…

So that’s fine.

I will sit and dream over the paintings in the book, and maybe frame one or two of the postcards, because as Daughter wryly pointed out, I might have room for those.

The paintings. Well, streets and houses and still lifes, and it all brings me back to my childhood. Which is strange, because that’s not where my childhood happened. But it’s my archetypal English town, the kind I used to dream of when younger.

And I’m clearly not alone, since Philip Pullman expressed very similar feelings on Twitter. As did most everyone else. And I think we can only keep our fingers crossed that there might be a second edition of The Light in Suburbia, and more postcards, and maybe more paintings, and why not a second book?

You know, we can’t have enough of this kind of wonderfulness.

Shirley Williams

When I read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I had no idea of her relationship to Shirley Williams, the politician. I mainly concentrated on the fact that Vera had actually travelled past the bottom of our garden, on her way to go shopping with her mother in Manchester. That was enough of a connection. Never mind that the shopping happened before our house was built.

And then I found out that Vera was the mother of Shirley Williams. And after that, one day at Charlotte Square, during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I looked around the yurt and discovered I was sitting next to Shirley Williams, being interviewed by someone.

That was exciting enough for me. A more or less direct link to the woman who wrote Testament of Youth.

And now Shirley Williams has died. But I’m grateful for that fleeting connection, which would never have been possible without you.

All Shining in the Spring

The story of a baby who died.

I have not – yet – needed this book, but I can see how necessary it could become, when you least expect it, either for yourself or for someone you know.

Siobhán Parkinson needed a book like All Shining in the Spring, when her baby died 25 years ago. But there were no such books, so Siobhàn wrote one, for her living son, Matthew, about the brother, Daniel, he was waiting for, who died.

What do you say to your small child, when the baby you’ve talked so much about, will not actually be there after all? That the baby died, or will die at birth.

This book is both quite matter of fact, as well as loving and sweet. You love little Daniel, and you feel for Matthew and his parents.

Siobhán became one of Ireland’s best known children’s authors, and was the country’s first Laureate na nÓg. And Matthew became a publisher, at Little Island Books, now re-issuing this book 25 years later, with the original illustrations by Donald Teskey.

Skulduggery Pleasant – Apocalypse Kings

This made me quite happy. It’s the World Book Day offering from Derek Landy; a short story within the world of Skulduggery Pleasant. Judging by Valkyrie Cain, it was set a few years ago. But that’s just fine. The world was a better place then. And he has dedicated the book – which I read as an ebook – to his pets, dead and alive, and among them Lorelai and Rory. Although he points out there are no pets in the story. Just as well.

We meet Adedayo, who until he was fourteen had no idea he was magic. And then he discovered a lot more than he might have bargained for. Like, he had to save the world.

But at least he also gets to meet Valkyrie and Skulduggery. Plus some fairly unsavoury characters who just want to end the world. Thanks to his soon to be dead Nigerian grandmother he has learned a few useful things, although if he spoke Yoruba it would have helped a great deal. He’d have known what she was trying to tell him, for one thing.

Apart from all this, Apocalypse Kings is a pretty standard school story, with the added characters he meets so suddenly, not to mention unwisely.

By standard, I mean that it is fun. As much fun as you can expect for 75p, or however much I paid.

Free-Range or average?

I have here two lovely picture books, and I’m trying to decide if they are ‘the same’ or the complete opposite of each other.

Free-Range Freddy by Rachel Bright, and with the brightest pictures by Izzy Evans, tells the tale of Freddy, who is anything but average. He pops out of his egg – I believe he is a chicken – all blue and rainbow coloured, and the proportions of his body are not exactly the same as everyone else’s.

But that’s just the beginning. Freddy also has ideas of what to do and when, and he is a bit noisy and generally very colourful in his behaviour. But you know what? The hens and the other animals get used to him after a while, and then they realise he’s bringing the best out in them. And everyone’s happy.

Whereas Wendy Meddour’s Howard the Average Gecko, with un-average illustrations by Carmen Saldaña, is about Howard who rather fancies himself as special; really unusual. Because he blends in with his surroundings, and he has never seen anyone else doing that.

Until his surroundings make themselves noticed when they tell Howard he’s merely average and that the world is full of creatures looking like what they are next to. That’s why he’s never seen them. But if Howard’s not special, then who will be able to like him? Howard is in crisis mode when…

So, yes, they are different. But also the same. Both are sure of themselves, and one is unique and one isn’t. Or at least, not in the way he’d imagined.

A little night reading

For some reason Daughter felt she wanted to start reading aloud in Swedish. It’s generally helpful to start light, so not the Bible, or The Times. I gave her my childhood Elsa Beskow, but that really was quite short.

After two of Barbro Lindgren’s and Eva Eriksson’s Vilda Bebin books, which were confusing because they are ‘poetry’ she moved on to Pettson and Findus by Sven Nordqvist. She has now read me all the ones we have in the original language.

That is just as well. I have enjoyed the reading, or maybe I mean the listening. But, it sends me to sleep. I know, I know. Bedtime stories are supposed to do just that, but I am old and had not intended to go to bed so soon.

Members of the Resident IT Consultant’s family are well known, or should I say notorious, for always falling asleep. You sit there being all sociable, and sooner or later one of them nods off.

That’s what I did.

I came to, and became aware that Daughter was looking at me in a horrified sort of way. Apparently I had done that nodding off, right there in my armchair.

I’m not quite ready for the reading to take place with me in bed, but I suppose it will have to come to that.

(Findus is an annoying little cat. But quite kind, not to mention intelligent, all the same.)

Launching the outlaws

I admit to raising my macaroni cheese when all the others raised perfectly civilised glasses of some kind of drink. We were at the launch of Jonathan Stroud’s new YA novel, The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne. It was on Zoom, as so many other things have been. This is both good and bad. You get to sit in comfort, you can eat macaroni cheese, and you can ‘meet’ the publicist’s son sitting on her lap. It’s nice and cosy. But the other kind of launch would have been nice too, and might have spared us the frequent pling-plongs when people rang the doorbell (although I gather this could have been turned off).

There were some spoilers, it has to be admitted. But as Daughter pointed out, most of the attendees had probably already read the book. In fact, the large number of people present were the cream of children’s books publishing. And me.

Jonathan’s editor Denise said many very kind words about both him and his book. His publicists spoke (he has at least three!) and told us about the expected proceedings, and played the book trailer. After which we got a reading. No we didn’t. First Jonathan said many kind words about Walker Books, which is where he once worked as an editor. Then he read from his book.

And after that his other editor, Grainne, took over and chatted about his writing and how he came up with the idea. It was meant to be a sort of Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer on the Thames. The main character was a middle aged man. When that didn’t work, he became a teenage girl instead, which is clearly what we needed. In fact, what was so interesting to learn was that Jonathan started somewhere on a raft on the river, with the wrong characters, and how this all sorted itself out to become what it is now. Hardly surprising that the two editors had to pinch themselves because they got to work with Jonathan.

To finish there were questions from ‘us’ and after that there were more grateful, kind words from everyone to everyone else. And the good thing about Zoom is that it’s then fairly easy, not to mention swift, to pull the plug and silence any stragglers. But I’d like to think that a good launch was had by all.

The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne

Scarlett McCain is the kind of girl who wakes up ‘beside four dead men. Four! She hadn’t realized it had been so many. No wonder she felt stiff.’

You can tell already that Scarlett can look after herself. That’s more than can be said for Albert Browne, when she unexpectedly comes across him. He smiles and is polite and talks about time-wasting stuff and is a real physical weakling. So they should get on well.

This is Jonathan Stroud’s new series, The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne. Set in a dystopian future Britain – which, between you and me, we don’t want to live in – it is somewhat steampunky in a Wild West sort of way. In other words, it’s got the best of several worlds, and with Jonathan writing the story, you are in good hands.

While Scarlett robs banks, because she needs the money, we wonder about Albert. What does he do? Except chatter too much. We wonder what they are running away from, and it is almost easier to understand where Albert is coming from, than Scarlett. But give it time. There are the people chasing them, and the people they meet while being chased. About the latter I am still wondering if we will see them again.

In this dystopian country you are not safe anywhere. Maybe in some of the Surviving Towns, unless you are a deviant of some kind. They don’t like those. But the countryside surrounding these few towns; it’s full of dangerous creatures, both ‘humans’ and outsize animals of the kind we don’t fear today, but there is clearly no knowing what might happen one day.

It’s a nice, thrilling adventure, as long as you don’t believe me when I say nice. But you’ll want to read it for the thrills and the growing working relationship between a murderous, thieving girl, and this seemingly useless boy. They could go far. Unless the otters get them first.