Category Archives: Authors

Bookwitch bites #142

It was nice to find myself in the company of Chris Riddell* and Judith Kerr for breakfast yesterday. Not for real, and it’s not as we were all in Hay or anything, but these two lovely people had dragged themselves into a radio studio ‘early’ on a Sunday morning to share their thoughts about Manchester and Hitler and whether to keep the truth from children.

Judit Kerr, stolen, borrowed from Chris Riddell

The downside to that, as Judith said, is that children think anyway and come up with the oddest ideas. So Hitler wasn’t actually hiding behind the hanging decoration in the toilet. But she sort of believed he might be. And Chris mentioned that his immediate reaction on hearing the Manchester news was to think of his daughter, recently graduated from University there. It’s how we function; we grab something close to ourselves.

In the Guardian Review we could read an extract from Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust. It didn’t take more than a few sentences and I was back in Lyra’s world. I already like Malcolm and his suspicious mind.

Jonathan Stroud, The Empty Grave

Another book to look forward to is Jonathan Stroud’s last Lockwood – The Empty Grave – which had a cover reveal this week. I tend to sneer a bit at reveals like this, but I found myself quite taken with it. Lovely to see George at long last. And I’d say that whereas an empty grave could be seen as a positive thing, I don’t think we should have such sweet expectations here (because where is the corpse?).

Awards are good. Especially when given to the right people for the right books. Some favourites of mine have recently managed this. Simon Mason was awarded Best Crime Novel for Young Adults at CrimeFest for Kid Got Shot. Robin Stevens got the award for Best Crime Novel for Children. I’m simply pleased that the younger books are getting attention like this.

Adrian McKinty won the Edgar for Rain Dogs, which is no minor thing, and is well deserved. He seems quite pleased, judging by this blog post. At home in Australia minding the children, Adrian sent his wife to receive the prize.

(*I’m counting on Mr Riddell’s goodwill in not minding having his sketch stolen by me, as usual.)

Not a lot of Lotta

But enough. The Retired Children’s Librarian frowned upon the books from publisher B Wahlström in general. I can’t recall what she thought about the Lotta books by Merri Vik in particular, though. Among children the books were popular, and to some extent they did what the Retired Children’s Librarian said, which is they were cheap enough that they could be pocket money books.

Merri Vik, Det är Lotta, förstås!

I believe we all bought some, and then we borrowed from each other. You couldn’t really borrow from the library, for the above reason. They were quick reads, so most of us went through a lot of Lotta books, and then there was Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys and all the rest.

Lotta was 13 to begin with, a messy and forgetful but sweet natured girl, who often ended up in trouble. And then it – obviously – ended up all right. Likeable, but samey, which is why I have no idea which ones I read or how many.

There is one I think of several times a year, however.

I think of it every time I pack a suitcase; my own, the Resident IT Consultant’s, and occasionally Daughter’s, when she’s got ‘complicated’ packing to do. It’s because Lotta once accidentally upended her sister’s already packed suitcase, and was forced to stay and repack it, despite saying she had a boy waiting for her outside. Apparently at that moment she was suddenly able to visualise her mother’s packing technique, having watched her pack for years.

So every little thing fits in beautifully, and she even folds the ironed dresses (this was a long time ago) to check that they will go in all right. And the flabber-ghasted sister realises her hopeless sibling has done a perfect job, and also that the boy was actually waiting for her all this time.

That, dear reader, is what goes through my mind every time I pack. Literary, or what?

Merri Vik, Lotta slår till

Superdad’s Day Off

Phil Earle has a son called Stanley. This Little Gem is about a boy called Stanley, who has a Superhero dad (so I can only assume Dynamo Dan is based on Phil himself…). The problem is that after a full week of Superdad deeds, dad is rather tired. Will he fall asleep in the park?

Phil Earle and Steve May, Superdad's Day Off

Stanley needs to make sure his dad gets some rest, but he also wants to have fun in the park.

So when the world needs Dynamo Dan’s services, Stanley can’t let his poor dad spring into action. And if not dad, then maybe Stanley can do it?

He can. Stanley is your man if you have a panther up a tree or your house fills up with water from a leak somewhere.

Dad gets enough rest so that when he’s really needed, he can join forces with his super son; Dynamo Dan and Super Stan.

The Harder They Fall

Bali Rai, The Harder They Fall

I’m with Bali Rai. It’s a disgrace the way people in our own country suffer hardship, with nowhere to live, or not enough food. Bali had some figures for the rise in food banks, and as he points out in the ‘about’ bit of his new book The Harder They Fall, you are not poor because you don’t work or because you are lazy. Poor people are also people, just like the rest of us.

Bali’s book for Barrington Stoke is about one such boy. Jacob and his mum need to use the local food bank, and this makes Jacob angry and he feels ashamed. This in turn means he’s unpleasant at school and often gets into trouble and is frequently expelled from the schools he has attended.

But now he meets Cal, who describes himself as a friendless geek. Someone who volunteers at the food bank, so witnesses Jacob’s shame. Along with Freya, the girl he fancies, Cal tries to befriend Jacob, but this is no easy task.

This book is about poverty, bullying, lack of trust, and about always being hungry. And it’s not your fault.

We could do with more books on how – badly – we treat our fellow human beings in this country.

Fallout

In her new novel Fallout Sara Paretsky goes home to Kansas. She lets V I do her detecting in her own old home town of Lawrence, even if she does rearrange the place a little to make it fit the plot. Sara’s father features for a second or so, and apparently she based the story on something from his work past.

Sara Paretsky, Fallout

Fallout proves the theory that writers generally do better when they write about a place they know well, so it was a good move to send V I to Kansas. I’m not sure, but I wonder if this was the most Chicago-free of all the Warshawski novels.

Anyway, they do things differently down there, and before long the whole of Lawrence knows exactly what V I has come for (to find two people who have vanished from Chicago), and they seem to keep track of her wherever she goes. They literally are.

And Fallout is precisely what the story is about, in more ways than one. As well as mentioning NCIS several times, Sara goes a bit DiNozzo with her clues, and V I makes a Faraday cage! V I’s missing pair are really only the catalyst of what’s going on in Lawrence, and the crime takes us in a rather worrying direction. It’s feels more generally political than has been the case in the past, and that’s despite the book having been written before the Presidential election.

The plot is kinder than they have been, or do I mean less violent? Not that V I is muscle before brains, but the most menacing thing is the way everyone ‘knows’ everything. It can get quite claustrophobic when you have no privacy in your detecting. Or so I imagine. I obviously wouldn’t know.

But there are also some very promising local characters, understandably different from the inhabitants of Chicago. I loved this, as long as I don’t have to go down into Doris McKinnon’s cellar.

The author effect

I mentioned that Teri Terry made a return visit to a school when she was in Scotland the other week. I had assumed it was because she’d made a really good impression and they wanted her back. Then I learned that she wrote a character for her new book, Contagion, who goes to that very school.

A few weeks earlier Lari Don talked about a chat with someone who was now an adult, but who remembered an author visit to his school when he was younger. It had made a great impression on him, and had got a non-reader started on reading, which he still did.

So, all was good. It’s such an encouraging story to hear; to discover that author visits to schools really can make a difference.

Lari then asked who the author was. But he couldn’t remember. And I’m with Lari on this one – it’s even more impressive that the visit made such an impact, but that it became immaterial who the visitor was. Maybe a big name, or perhaps someone virtually unknown. But they made a difference.

Maybe one day a Callander student will tell their children about the time his or her school ended up in a novel. And maybe it won’t matter if they remember it was written by Teri.

The Incredible Billy Wild

You just won’t go wrong with God. I mean, with a dog. Both, really.

In The Incredible Billy Wild Joanna Nadin lets her hero Billy write to God. It was to be holiday homework over Easter, and Billy really takes this to heart. He writes and he writes. Because he wants a dog and for Seamus Patterson to disappear and to be incredible.

Well, who doesn’t? Preferably a Great Dane, but if not any old dog will do. Most of us have a Seamus we’d like to get rid of, and then there is the talent show on Easter Monday, and it’d be good to be incredible.

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Billy has a [midwife] dad and two brothers, one older and one younger, but no mum. Their dad works too much. 14-year-old Johnny smokes and likes looking at his girlfriend’s boobs. Six-year-old Tommo regurgitates Google knowledge round the clock. But Billy’s just Billy and needs to be incredible.

God takes care of the dog bit pretty quickly, when a dog turns up in their garden shed, and Billy wants to keep it, and keep it a secret from dad while he works on some idea to get dad to want this dog as well.

This is incredibly lovely. The dad is lovely; just overworked and tired. Tommo is – obviously – sweet and helpful. And even Johnny is rather lovely, as cool older brothers go. And we can tell from his long monologue to God that Billy is fantastic.

The 275 page letter to God lets us share Billy’s hard work, his hopes, his new friends, and most of all, his Dog. There is a lot of love here. Billy yearns for the Woman’s Touch (so maybe they need a new mum), but Nice Nan has moved away and while Other Nan probably loves them, she is hard to get on with.

Having Dog would make a lot of difference though.

Very funny and so loveable. All of them. Especially Billy. And Dog, and…