Category Archives: Authors

The trouble with granny

I’ve got a problem with grannies. And possibly with aunties. Fictional ones, obviously.

I mean, they’re nice enough (if that’s what they are meant to be). But they are frequently so old!

My thought was that authors have forgotten that grandparents these days are much younger than they were. Except, they’re not really, are they? They might seem younger [in real life] because us oldies are now so cool-looking and dress like almost teenagers and we have younger hair.

But the grandparents of the past had no reason for being old. Many married young, had children young, and so did their children. Hence, the fictional grandchildren’s grannies ought not to be all that wrinkly. In fact, what with people marrying later and having children later, now would be more logical for fictional grandparents to be really old.

Except, there is something about this that brings out my OCD traits. If I have a ten-year-old character and their grandfather, who is so old and so close to dying because of being old, I start counting. I count to see how old grandpa is likely to be. Often it seems as though he shouldn’t even be the wrong side of 60.

And aunts, too. Especially if they’re meant to be a bit disagreeable. But when the fictional mother might be early forties, why should her sister be all that much older? And why does she have a not age-appropriate name? If she’s 48, say, the likelihood of her having a name more commonly found in women in their seventies or older…

I wonder if it’s because the author is old, by which I mean they are not a child. So they pick a granny, or a name for the aunt based on their own grannies and aunts. If the aunt has to be quite unpleasant, she could still be so while being called Tamsin, and not Hilda. And kill the granny by means of an illness, and not just old age, if you feel they must die.

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Murder in Midsummer

This summer crime anthology seemed like such a great idea. Clever title as a Midsomer look-alike book, and if you equate midsummer with summer holidays, or even warm, sunny holidays, you are mostly there.

And it starts well, with Ruth Rendell’s Wexford on holiday with his wife. I really enjoyed the story, nicely period, but not too old, from the 1970s. Later on, Appleby and wife are also out holidaying; also enjoyably, apart from for the poor victim.

Actually, I’m being unfair here. Nearly all the stories are good fun, and make for nice period entertainment.

Murder in Midsummer

I think it was primarily the Dorothy Sayers story featuring Lord Peter Wimsey himself which disturbed me. Yes, it’s historical. And yes, I firmly believe in not tampering with language for our delicate modern eyes. It wasn’t even the use of the word dago that got to me. It was how good old Wimsey looked at life. Yes, lighthearted as ever, but he made me feel uncomfortable. Even crusty old Sherlock Holmes felt slightly fresher.

There’s a curious – intentional? – pairing between the stories, with similar settings or characters. Lions, beach deaths, closed rooms, that sort of thing.

I’m the first to say how much I love period crime, but there is something that no longer feels quite right. And it’s so reassuring when the English, even when abroad, put their superior brains to good use and solve the crimes the local police are struggling with.

Prepping

I do not run a library. I do not run a library. I do not run a …

Yeah, OK, there’s no need to write a hundred lines. I am a – reasonably – normal witch and I should only need to surround myself with a sensible number of my favourite books. But why is this so hard?

The last few times before Daughter has come to visit, I’ve had in mind that she could help me thin the books on the shelves in her room. The shelves with my books on them. It’s not happened. And this time I thought that someone who’s mid-pack, with a whole flat to move, might not appreciate coming to this house and being asked to shift even more unwanted stuff.

So I am approaching this task myself. Thought it’d be a nice touch if her room was nice and tidy. It won’t* be, but it’s a thought.

The purpose of owning books is not to be a library, or to be complete in any way. If I like Philip Pullman, say, there is no requirement for me to have every book he’s ever had published. I could own some of his books, and then part with a few if I reckon I’m unlikely to re-read them. Even Pullman-books aren’t guaranteed a second reading.

And of course I’m not a library. I hate lending books. So why do I believe I ought to be equipped in case someone is interested in borrowing one of my Pullmans? People don’t [always] return borrowed books. So if you wanted to borrow his Clockwork, you can’t. Partly because I don’t lend, as I said, and partly because someone borrowed it and ‘forgot’ to return it, so I don’t have Clockwork any longer.

On that basis I am now clearing out books that even I am surprised by. I am choosing some books I really love, because I probably won’t read them again, and I’ve discovered someone who would be just right for these books.

It’s time to let go.

Bookshelves

(The above is a historical photo, before things got out of control.)

*Partly because the bathroom is being re-done and those bottles of shampoo and  toilet cleaner had to go somewhere…

Sea Change

Sea Change by debut author Sylvia Hehir was a pleasant surprise. A YA crime novel set somewhere in Scotland, it has an interesting – if somewhat idiotic and naïve – main character. Alex loves his mother, truants a lot, makes great jam, and isn’t all that good at knowing who’s a reliable friend, and who isn’t.

There is an untrustworthy, but charming, stranger in the village, and Alex doesn’t say no nearly as much as he ought to. Before long he and his best friend Daniel are in deep trouble. And the way trouble tends to escalate, here it does so in spades, and in the end Alex can’t keep juggling all those tasks he feels are his to look after.

Love comes into it, and there are many secrets and much mistrust. And when you are 16 or 17 you don’t share with ‘responsible’ adults, and what happens happens.

This book is a real page turner, and I’m glad I read it.

Sylvia Hehir, Sea Change

(If you are in Edinburgh, there is a launch at Blackwell’s tonight at 18.30.)

Incredible Journeys

Because I am a bit of a fool I looked at Levison Wood’s book Incredible Journeys and decided it was one of those worthy, but slightly boring large, factual picture books. I.e. not for me. But I did that dutiful looking at it, nevertheless.

Good thing, too!

It actually seemed really rather nice. (Yes, thank you, Sam Brewster for the pictures.) And it was about exploring. Travelling. Learning about many people who had had visions and set about doing something.

For us old people there is less that is new, but for a reader who has not known about Edmund Hillary or Amelia Earhart or Captain Cook, this should be fun. Not to mention interesting. Actually, I’d never heard of Ibn Battuta. Have you?

It’s nicely written, and I’d like to think that there are many little future travellers and explorers who will enjoy this book. I kind of got the feeling I used to have with my beloved Junior Readers’ Digest (please don’t judge me! Or this excellent book) which I read and read until they almost fell apart. I hope children still do that, even with so much else available to them.

Levison Wood and Sam Brewster, Incredible Journeys

The hottest defence

Yes, we did make it, to the year’s hottest defence. In the midst of a continental heatwave four of us from Scotland sweated our way through the kitchen duties and the astrophysical elements of Daughter’s PhD defence, in those woods on the outskirts of Geneva. Our two guests had not imagined anything like what they found…

Observatoire de Geneve

Dr Son was unable to make it, having some prior date with Daniel Hahn. Which is understandable. Dr Dodo was off to a dark corner of the US. We did, however, have the company of Cousin Riverside and Helen Grant, without whom we would most likely have ended up as two sad puddles on the Observatory floor. I don’t have words to describe how wonderful they were.

But I will obviously do so, anyway.

Serendipitously I had last year’s dress rehearsal to guide me, and as I cleverly managed to have knee issues on the day, I mostly directed the others from my spot in the kitchen, where our multitalented linguist Helen quickly grasped the finer details of the dishwasher instructions from the Observatory’s ‘dinner lady.’

Tables were shifted and food laid out. Riverside opened wine bottles, Helen threw streamers and I blew up the balloons. The Resident IT Consultant did much running and lifting. Daughter lined up her fan – the kind that blows cold air at you – plus her large bottle of Evian and her slides, and even remembered to change out of her ‘pyjamas’ before we trooped into the Aula to hear her talk on planets and stars.

Helen's PhD defence

45 minutes later, the 45 minutes for questions from the six-strong jury grew to over an hour, followed by a half hour of deliberation. We used the time for progressing the wine and nibbles, making sure nothing melted too much.

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

And then it was back to the Aula for the verdict, which was ‘très bien’ which is just as well, as there was no need for any rash action from me. Hands were shaken, the thank you speech was delivered, and so were countless – mostly Moomin – gifts. Unicorn slippers. (I waited until Dr Daughter came upstairs to hand over my flamingo…)

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

Wine was drunk, and much water, and the nibbles were nearly all eaten. There was even some haggis, which people enjoyed. (Presumably because they didn’t understand what it was.) There was chatting.

Eventually we – by which I mean the other three – cleared things away, and then we got into the car to go to Geneva for a post-doctoral dinner at Little India. Dr Daughter guided the Resident IT Consultant past all the roadworks, and then we hopped out, leaving Helen Grant to assist him with finding a parking space!

A very nice meal was had by all who came, including five sixths of the jury and those friends who had not decamped to see the solar eclipse in Chile.

Helen's PhD defence

After all this we were suitably tired. And, er, sweaty beyond belief.

Massive thanks to Helen Grant for doing photography duty as well. And to Riverside for being so calm and well organised.

Helen's PhD defence

(You have to admire their colour coordination!)

Return to Wonderland

Return to Wonderland

Many writers have a relationship with Alice. A whole bunch of them have now written their own new stories about Wonderland and the wondrous creatures you find there. It’s Alice Day on the 4th of July, or so I’ve been told, and here’s a whole new story collection featuring your favourite characters.

In fact, I was struck by how nicely these authors played; they all seemed to have an affinity with a different character from the other authors, which seems to mean there was no fighting. They simply sat down and mused in an interesting way about the Cheshire Cat, or the Knave of Hearts, or any of the others.

To tell the truth, I only ever read the original Alice once, and don’t have a deep and meaningful relationship with any of them. I like tea parties, but prefer them to be normal. I like my head attached. And so on.

Some of these stories were great, lots of fun and interesting new takes on the old tales. I didn’t like all of them the same, but that’s understandable as the eleven authors don’t write the same way, and maybe for me some of Wonderland’s characters are more my cup of tea than others.

‘One morning, Pig woke to discover he had been turned into a real boy.’

How can you go wrong with a start like that?