Category Archives: Authors

The Superpower Project

Exploding grannies appear to be a thing these days. Especially at the beginning of books, and I suppose it’s as well to get granny out of the way as soon as you can, plotwise and with a violent end.

Paul Bristow and Luke Newell, The Superpower Project

Paul Bristow’s first book The Superpower Project is both funny and exciting. Illustrated in comic style by Luke Newell, it looks just like the kind of book middle grade readers would be drawn to, but had I not been offered this by an adult, I’d never have looked at it twice.

And that would have been a shame, because I enjoyed it a lot, and I should know by now not to judge a book this way. The blurb is much more my kind of thing, though.

Megan and Cam suddenly discover they have superpowers. Megan can fly, and Cam can, well, turn into a hamster. This all seems to have something to do with Megan’s gran. They sort of inherit an ancient robot with amnesia, and soon after they discover that the town’s transformer-sculpture robots are out to kill them.

So why did gran explode, what did she want them to do, and what’s with all these sculptures, and their weirder than weird owner Mr Finn?

Set in Greenock, the children and their robot end up investigating old factories and an old hospital, a graveyard and the bottom of the river, among other things. They are brave and intelligent and with a nice line in humorous chat. And hamsters are obviously really useful animals.

When you think about it.

There is a promising epilogue, too, and I can only hope there might be more mayhem in Greenock before long. There are several other characters it’d be fun to see more of.

And I actually didn’t know that all schools are legally obliged to have three nice teachers.

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Somebody please give me a baby elephant! I am so in love with little Ganesha in Vaseem Khan’s crime novels about the retired inspector Chopra. I hope young elephants really do act and think like Ganesha, because if they do, the world will be better for it.

Vaseem Khan, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

In his second book about this upright citizen and private detective – a man who cannot be bribed – Vaseem aims very high indeed. The crime is the theft of the Crown Jewels, and most importantly the Koh-i-Noor. The police are incompetent and corrupt, so it is up to Chopra to work out who did it, and also to find the priceless jewel.

This was even more fun than the first book, with a new character to care about, and with a much larger role for Mrs Chopra (and her mother…) and the retired inspector even gets himself an assistant. I hope his unreliable heart will stand up to all this private detecting and rushing about, because I want a lot more.

As in the first novel, we get to see India as we – probably – didn’t know it, and the food is delicious! I mean, it really seems as if the food is very good. I wouldn’t object to a small sample included with the book.

When there was hope

What to blog about today? Yeah, well, that’s a hard one.

In the 1960s I didn’t think about politics. It was beyond my comprehension. In the 1970s I thought about it quite a lot. It was something that seemed to bring about change. The kind of change that was good for most of us.

It seemed as though things would become mostly all right, if only we waited long enough. Not everything could happen overnight. There was political music to listen to. There was political fiction to read.

Below are some of the books I read and enjoyed. I haven’t read them for over forty years, so don’t remember enough to tell you much of the actual plots. The two by Stig Malmberg were set in contemporary Sweden, and featured fairly ordinary Swedish teenagers. One is about doing your national service and how that might be right, or not.

Books by Sven Wernström and Stig Malmberg

The two novels by Sven Wernström are set in Latin America and deal with things like the Cuban revolution as experienced by ordinary teenagers there. It was thrilling to read for someone who grew up on Enid Blyton and then moved on to Agatha Christie, both of whom wrote books about characters unlike myself, during a time period that was already in the past, and which I couldn’t know.

The Retired Children’s Librarian was cautiously liberal, and didn’t really care for Malmberg, but grudgingly admitted there was merit in Wernström’s Latin American stories. I liked them all, and it didn’t matter that she didn’t always approve.

Because there was hope. Did I say? If we waited long enough, life would be fine and fair for everyone. If the ‘wrong’ party won an election, it was just their politics that was wrong. As people they were as normal and decent as the rest of us.

Until this week.

Dindy and the Elephant

There is less elephant in this book by Elizabeth Laird than the title leads you to expect. But that’s OK. What’s there is quite satisfying, and I feel as though I could almost deal with an angry elephant.

Elizabeth Laird, Dindy and the Elephant

I have to admit to a particular fondness for period fiction from India, and former British Empire countries in Africa. This one is set in India, on a tea plantation between the end of the war and just before Indian independence.

Nine-year-old Dindy and her brother Pog, who’s only six, escape from their bungalow one day when bored, despite not being allowed out. That’s when they encounter the potentially dangerous elephant.

But this is mostly about how much love ‘British’ children born and growing up in India have for their country, and how people of their parents’ generation don’t necessarily share that love. Dindy’s mother hates India and looks down on the natives, including those who work for the family.

Prejudice from both sides emerges and it’s interesting to see how they deal with a bad situation, and also what their feelings really are.

Very lovely little book. Whereas there might be no point in a sequel, I rather feel it’d be nice to see what happened next.

Thirteen at the tables

It couldn’t be helped. There were 13 for lunch. At times we stood up together, as though that would somehow safeguard our future. If we have one. I blame Helen Grant, with her sense of doom. I mean, you can’t completely control how many invitees will come, no matter how many, or few, you invite. (Hmm, I suppose inviting fewer than twelve would work…)

I’ve had these cinnamon buns hanging over me for a couple of years. Figuratively. It’d be silly to have real cinnamon buns. And then I had this bright idea; why not invite every* single person in the Scottish children’s books world all at once? And never mind the cinnamon buns.

Some people suddenly had to go to Norway or Norwich, which is more than understandable, but a surprising number said yes. I had tears in my eyes when someone I’d never met and who didn’t know me said she’d travel several hours on the train in order to come. One author required the Resident IT Consultant to guide her over the phone, just so she could escape the clutches of Denny.** Some people have day jobs. Others said they hope to come ‘next time.’ Right.

Helen Grant had been summoned to hold my hand, and also ended up making salmon lilies and bartending.

Seen from my point of view, it was a lovely lunch. The event, not necessarily the food. Much stuff was discussed, and I’m not telling you anything at all about that. Or who was here. I’m just amazed that they were so kind to a mere witch. One of them even left a tip. (Will be returned to its rightful owner if you can describe it satisfactorily.)

The tip

I have so many flowers I could start a flower stall (didn’t know the Resident IT Consultant had it in him, all this flower arranging), and mountains of chocolates and other nice edibles.

It seems if ‘you make the smörgåstårta, they will come.’

Thank you.

*To clarify, by this I mean ladies, as it’s far better to gossip single-sex.

**That’s a place. The wrong place.

The bottles

(I quite like the Spencer Tracy film Father of the Bride, where he sits among the debris of the party. The above is fairly tame in comparison.)

The #20 profile – Sally Nicholls

Today is Sally Nicholls’ birthday. I think it’s an excellent date on which to get older, and by now not even Sally is quite as young as she once was. (Happens to us all.) I felt like celebrating, and Sally was kind enough to sacrifice some of her holiday to be my #20. I just hope I haven’t prevented any writing of books, and that Sally still has plenty of time for cake. And other holiday stuff.

Here she is:

Sally Nicholls (by Sue Eves)

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

No full-length ones. I wrote Ways to Live Forever on an MA for Writing for Young People, and as part of that we had to write picture books and early readers and all sorts of things (one of which is actually going to be published next year). But Ways to Live Forever was my first novel-length book.

Best place for inspiration?

The library!

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I don’t, but I wouldn’t rule it out. If I ever got round to writing any fan fiction, I wouldn’t publish that as Sally Nicholls, for example. (But I’m not sure anyone would want to read my fan fiction. I’m usually more interested in writing about characters’ interior lives than I am their sex lives.)

What would you never write about?

Good question! I’m not sure. I don’t think I’d ever write in praise of something I personally found morally objectionable – although I might write from the point of view of a character who was morally objectionable, I hope I wouldn’t do so in a way that could be used to support their viewpoint. But in this business it’s never a good idea to say never, because sometimes a project will come along and surprise you. I used to say I couldn’t see myself writing from the point of view of a murderer, but … well … you’ve read my back list. I have at least an attempted murderer already.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I bumped into Jenny Agutter at Quaglino’s at the Costa Book Awards. That was quite unexpected.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Dreadful things happen to most of my characters, I’m afraid. I do have a couple of Edwardian adventurers in a book I’ve got coming out next year, who I suspect live rather thrilling lives – he’s a Collector of Antiquities and she’s a Lady Anthropologist, and they meet in a Peruvian jungle. But – um – then terrible things happen to them both.

My child heroes have a better time of it in that book, though. Maybe I’ll pick them.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

A film has been made of Ways to Live Forever and it was a Very Good Thing.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Where’s your bodyguard?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can play bridge. I used to be able to speak basic Japanese. And I have another which is far too rude to mention.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Pippi Longstocking. Or, if I’m not allowed fictional people, her creator, Astrid Lindgren.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I have two big sets of shelves in my home – one in my bedroom which covers an entire wall and then both alcoves in the study I share with my husband. The ones in our bedroom are arranged by ‘authors which feel like they belong together’, a scheme invented by my husband. There are loose themes – science fiction, fantasy, poetry, biography etc all go together, then when you’ve read a new book you have to work out if it’s more similar to Conan Doyle or Colin Dexter. This creates something of a problem when authors write very different books, since all books by the same author must be shelved together.

Children’s books and ‘work’ books live in the study. They are shelved much more haphazardly by the ‘which shelf do these fit on?’ principle. And then there are all the books I don’t have shelf space for …

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Where’s Wally? Reading is supposed to be fun, it’s not something you’re supposed to do against your will. And then while we were finding Wally, I could find out what he’s actually interested in and give him a book about that.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Reading.

I have to say I think Sally’s husband is clever coming up with this tricky shelving system. You could have endless moves caused by an author changing direction very slightly.

Now, where is that bodyguard?

The 2016 medals

I was witchier than I thought, yesterday morning. Chris Riddell reported being on his way to the Carnegie ceremony, and I thought to myself ‘he’s not won, has he?’ and ‘no, he’s just going because he’s the children’s laureate.’ It was early. I couldn’t remember who was on the shortlist and who not.

And then I forgot to watch the live presentation of the awards, having only thoughts for my dinner, so I had to consult social media for the results, and watched later. Never having made it to one of these events, it was fun being able to see what goes on, and to hear the winners’ speeches rather than read them.

Sarah Crossan

One won! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Sarah Crossan’s novel in verse, about conjoined twins, is one I’ve not read, and I was so expecting The Lie Tree to win, that I didn’t speculate that much, even in private. Sarah’s speech was a great one, partly in verse, and it seems she might have brought up her daughter in verse, too. Sarah ended with a few poetic lines about an MP needing to use the toilets at the library, which is something they ought to think about before closing them all down.

Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell, who did win [the Kate Greenaway medal] after all, for The Sleeper and the Spindle (with Neil Gaiman), also spoke about how crazy our dear leaders are, and how children should be allowed to read without having to be tested on it, and all that. This children’s launderette (I believe this is a private joke) praised all his co-shortlistees, pointing out how talented they are, and reminiscing about kindnesses shown him in the past, and how he doesn’t like Campari.

‘Reading gives you ideas.’

And that’s presumably what worries them.