Category Archives: Awards

Goodbye Cathy

Cathy MacPhail has died. She had been ill for several years, and I often thought of her, but felt I mustn’t keep asking her family for news.

We met over ten years ago, in a [Stockport] hotel bar. The first thing Cathy did was demand I take her necklace off, so I gave it my best shot, but I must be quite a bad necklace-taker-offer. Luckily Rachel Ward arrived soon after, so I introduced them to each other, and then Rachel had a rather more successful go at removing her new friend’s necklace. (The necklace in the photo below is not that necklace. It’s the one Cathy replaced it with for the awards ceremony. Very glam.)

From then on I came across Cathy in various places, and mostly in her native Scotland. Always cheerful, always supportive of people. And always very much admired by everyone. Children liked her books. Adults, authors, liked her books. I think I especially admired the way this selfmade woman had achieved so much, and I used to enjoy thinking of her in her waterside home in Greenock, watching the large cruise ships cruise by.

When I came up with my crazy idea of inviting my dear children’s authors to lunch at Bookwitch Towers, she was the first to volunteer. Admittedly, she was about the last to arrive, because she got a wee bit lost between Greenock and Stirling. In the end I sent the Resident IT Consultant out with my mobile phone, to try and find Cathy before she turned her nice big car round to go home again.

She even returned the next year, and I do admire (there’s that word again) the way she’d get into her car and drive to all sorts of places just because people wanted to see her.

We’d meet at the RED book awards, where she’d be accompanied by one of her daughters.

The last time I saw Cathy was at the Glasgow launch of Theresa Breslin’s book about Rasputin, almost four years ago. There was a group of us who sat down where we were not supposed to sit, to have a nice gossip about the kinds of things a person needs to gossip about.

It was after another book launch, in Edinburgh, that Kirkland Ciccone asked me about Cathy’s health. He’d heard rumours about her being ill, but didn’t feel he had the right to start asking questions. I made enquiries. Sadly he was right; Cathy was ill. We kept hoping for the best, and hopefully the best is what Cathy’s family got over the last few years.

Small in the City

He is so small. Well, I suppose the title gives that away; Small in the City, the Kate Greenaway Medal-winning picture book by Sydney Smith.

The illustrations are gorgeous, snowy, cold, mysterious. We see a small person travelling through the city, in the snow, but we’re not quite sure why. The words are encouraging someone, maybe the boy himself, maybe someone else. Someone he’s looking for, telling them not to be scared.

It’s – probably – a North American city, and the snow definitely feels like something you ‘only’ get on the other side of the Atlantic. And the boy is dressed up warmly against the cold. You can barely see him. He looks so small.

This would be good to read with a child. You could discuss what or who the boy is looking for, and why. There is a lot going on in the pictures, although it quietens down towards the end.

Overseas medal winners

This year’s Carnegie Medal has gone to Jason Reynolds; someone I only heard about four years ago, from a fervent admirer. I have since seen Jason at an event, and I reckon he’s OK. His winning book, Look Both Ways, sounds interesting, so I know what I have to do…

The Kate Greenaway Medal winner is Canadian Sydney Smith with Small in the City, where one ‘small’ illustration has me in raptures, and I definitely know what I have to do.

And I could be wrong, not having read either book, but they seem to have something in common. Besides medals, I mean.

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.

The 2021 ALMA winner

Not only had I never heard of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner Jean-Claude Mourlevat, but the people I know who generally know so much more than I do, hadn’t either. So, all in all, a worthy Swedish-picked winner.

‘Jean-Claude Mourlevat is one of France’s leading children and young adult authors. Since his publishing debut in 1997, he has written more than 30 books which have been translated into nearly 20 languages. With a particular love for fairy tale, fable and fantasy, he draws on literary traditions to create worlds that resemble no other. He writes for young children, teens and adults alike.

Citation of the Jury:
“Jean-Claude Mourlevat is a brilliant renewer of fairy tale traditions, open to both hardship and beauty. Time and space are suspended in his fictional worlds, and eternal themes of love and longing, vulnerability and war are portrayed in precise and dreamlike prose. Mourlevat’s ever-surprising work pins the fabric of ancient epic onto a contemporary reality.”‘

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Among his books is this one, which I personally like the look of. In fact, both Jean-Claude and his hedgehog Jefferson look very nice.

The 2021 shortlists

It’s shortlist time. Here are the Kate Greenaway Medal hopefuls:

And the Carnegie Medal shortlisted books:

There are eight in each category, so it will still be a difficult choice to make. I’ve only read one, but can already tell that I would have wanted to have read many more than that.

Kazuo Ishiguro – wanting to go electric and get booed, just like Dylan

He’s got his grey world of hitchhikers, possibly stuck off the M5, on a roundabout in Cumbria. But there is no plot. Yet.

I suspect that geographically the above doesn’t make any sense, but who cares? This is Kazuo Ishiguro who made up his own Japan as a child, based on what his mother told him, the comics his grandparents sent, and sheer speculation. It had little bearing on the real place, which he left at the age of five.

This makes a lot of sense to someone who knows what it’s like to belong in two places where you don’t necessarily belong. He was 20 when he realised this Japan perhaps didn’t exist, and by leaving it alone, it has faded away. It gave him a sense of liberation when by his third novel there was no Japan in it.

Tuesday evening’s Guardian event with Kazuo talking to Alex Clark, and with thousands of us listening in, was the first in a virtual book tour to launch Klara and the Sun, his new book. He promised to give us all the best stuff.

Although, there wasn’t as much about the new novel, about AI friends for lonely teenagers, as you might expect. There was so much else to talk about. Kazuo’s daughter Naomi had prevented him from making this a children’s book, saying they’d be traumatised. It is now a much more optimistic novel for adults…

Kazuo likes testing new genres, a bit like we might try some new food. He also reckons he could easily move the plots of his books into other settings, should he be legally required to do so.

Alex Clark called him bonkers, then apologised, but Kazuo said ‘bonkers is good’ and ‘I am not a professional writer, but quite limited in what I do’. He meant he can only write what he can write. And with a Nobel prize behind him, that writing isn’t all that bad.

The organisers had planted famous people, like Bernardine Evaristo, to ask particularly good questions. His pal David Mitchell wondered about the frequent mentions of Worcestershire, which appear to be some kind of cameos, coming from a hotel stay in Minneapolis.

Emma Thompson wanted to know whether films of books can reach the depths the books do, and it seems that if she writes the script, they can. She sported pandemic hair, and had also had time to paint her walls the same colour as her jumper. Kazuo did point out, though, that an actor only ever has to learn to be one character in a book, whereas the author needs to know everything.

Kazuo always knows the endings of his books; he knows where he has to land. ‘You can say a huge amount by what you don’t say’.

He refused to commit to an opinion of how the pandemic might influence his writing. It is too early and too many people have died. It would feel wrong to escape into his world, ‘where my work sits in the word’. He has many great worlds with no story, and great titles without a story to go with it. The worlds and settings in his head wait for ‘the play’ to come.

You will not be surprised to learn that the event overran. But that’s what you get from an author who dares to presume he knows about butlers, giving his readers an ultra-English novel, even mishandling the port. Foreigners, eh?

The Carnegie longlist

It’s longlist time.

This is the Carnegie one:

And here is the Kate Greenaway list:

I’m pleased with both. I believe I have only read four and a half of them, but I am still pleased. I’ll leave them here for four weeks and then we’ll have a peep at the shortlists.

So this is Christmas

The card.

It’s been a string-light kind of year. And the elk said he’d been ignored for too long. So there is that. The books are a Christmas-Winter combo. Hoping to read some more seasonal murder stories.

And some thoughts. There were three best books last year. One went on to win the Carnegie. I have good taste. One has been shortlisted for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2021. And one is here on the pile, to remind you that Sally Gardner’s book is the perfect Christmas read. With a bit of luck it won’t be too late to get your hands on a copy.

Wishing you a Safe Christmas and a Better 2021.

and also

If there were to be more books for 2020 mentioned, these two would be the ones:

Michael Rosen, The Missing, and Tom Palmer, After the War. They both made me cry.

Michael’s book is definitely not fiction, though, as it’s about his search to find out what happened to a couple of his father’s uncles in WWII. It is the most touching of tales.

And Tom, well, maybe his book is fiction, but being based on the real stories of children rescued after WWII and brought to Britain, his book reads more like non-fiction as well.

As you can see, they have the war in common, as does Elizabeth Wein’s The Enigma Game. So that’s three out of four. The war really does continue to have much influence over what we read.