We felt safe with the idea of Canada. We went to see the Canadian branch of the family, because we were so ‘close’, being on the right side of the Atlantic.
Cousin C and her husband ‘No. 27’ picked us up and drove for a very long time so we could see where they live (along with Cousin E; more of whom later). Who’d have thought Toronto was so large and so full of traffic? When Son first went, he made it sound like it was like driving through Småland…
Anyway, it was lovely to see their small town and their house and the rather gorgeous and exotic looking birds they have in their garden. We also drove through C-town which boasts at least one Swede. I know, because this woman once phoned Son to let him know her organisation was going to give him money. (Which is always nice.) She said she lived in a small Canadian town he wouldn’t have heard of. ‘I know C-town’ he said, ‘my cousin runs the quilting shop there, and I’ve visited.’ Small world.
And then our second visit to C’s home was curtailed by Covid. For health reasons, the cousins required us to test. The second test was only negative for me, so some bed rest followed while we checked out the country’s Covid rules. But the view over Lake Ontario was nice. Just wish Tim Hortons hadn’t ‘forgotten’ the cream cheese.
We came to Canada not only to visit the cousins, but for Daughter to see a former colleague of hers. Meeting up ‘for a cup of tea’ is much more work with an ocean in between.
Languages can be difficult, especially for non-French speakers like your Bookwitch. Montréal is a lot more French than I had imagined. Our Uber driver listed his languages as French, Spanish and Creole. He apologised profusely for not speaking better English.
But he drove us to the airport, where I was tickled to find the cannabis disposal bin.
Well, me. And a few other people, at least one of whom I know.
Personally I like my ambassadors to be present when I visit, but then they probably quite like me to be there when invited too. In the end neither the ambassador nor I made it, so I suppose we’re even. (I had a cough.)
The event was to celebrate the 40th birthday of SELTA, which took place in the ambassador’s home. You want a bit of bling on occasion. The embassy’s Kulturråd hosted the party, and the chair of SELTA was there, saying a few things. I have every faith in them, and I’m sure a great time was had by all.
Not only was it a birthday, but ‘chair Ian Giles announced the news that SELTA has been awarded Svenska Akademiens pris för introduktion av svensk kultur utomlands (the Swedish Academy’s Prize for the Introduction of Swedish Culture Abroad). This is an annual prize, established in 1992, for efforts to disseminate and promote Swedish culture outside of Sweden). The prize is worth SEK 160,000 (£12,600).’
I had bought tickets for one more event at the book festival. This year the YA Book Prize 2022 was going to be presented at an event, which I think is a really good idea. Especially now that book awards are dropping like flies, and soon there might not be much to be won.
But the tickets were bought before I knew about the kitchen worktops. And all the rest. So it was more relaxing not to travel to Edinburgh.
And I couldn’t help noticing that I didn’t actually know much about the shortlisted authors. I had read one of the books. I met one of the authors earlier this year. And I know of Dean Atta who was presenting. I had read about the winner, Adiba Jaigirdar. But it’s still as though I have lost touch with what’s happening in the YA world.
In a way that is good. It means things are moving on, and new people are appearing on the YA scene. Being a bit old, I am too stuck in the ways of ten years ago. But someone else will be up to scratch with the new names and their new titles.
And as I said, I think doing the awards at the book festival is a great idea.
She notices things, does Lin Anderson. She’s very kind, and she came up to me to ask ‘did I want a chair?’ I did, and she gave me one. I asked how she knew, and it seems I was leaning on a stack of brown boxes. I was. I just hadn’t noticed.
So there I was, the only one sitting down. Very comfortable it was, too. My friend Helen Grant had to stand, but apparently she prefers that. She’s going to be at the tenth (?) Bloody Scotland in September. High time, if you ask me. She’s as scary as the rest of them.
Between me and the mail chimp I almost didn’t make it, but I was in a position to dash off to the Golden Lion at very short notice this morning, so I did.
You will have noticed my question mark above. I am sure they know what they are doing, but I am equally sure it’s not the tenth Bloody Scotland. One of us will be wrong.* But I was given a chair to sit on, so will not insist on being right.
After some suitable mingling, Bob kicked things off. He’s the boss. He then handed over to Citizen Kane, sorry, Councillor Kane, to talk about how much Stirling loves Bloody Scotland. Then it was back to Bob again, with more information about the sheer wonderfulness of what is to come. And there is a lot.
I was quite excited to find Sara Paretsky on the front cover of the programme, but cynical enough to realise she will Zoom in. So are some of the other grand crime writers. But most are coming here, and I already have a conundrum as to who to see and who to miss. Helen is appearing with ‘my old pal’ Stuart Neville, and new Swedish star David Lagercrantz will be on a panel with Simon Mason, David Fickling’s man in the basement.
Not going to list all the others. Look at the programme. It’s already live. And Crime at the Coo sold out instantly, so don’t even bother trying. Anyway, it’s on from 15th to 18th September, and if you are good with numbers you can see they have added a day.
As we left, Helen and I ended up behind everyone being photographed on the steps of the Golden Lion. I considered trying to look especially silly, but gave up. Having squeezed through, we then joined the throng on the pavement instead.
After which Helen bought me a baked potato across the road.
*That will be me. I’m a foreigner. There is a difference between anniversary and tenth event… Thank you again for the chair.
It was the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday, and as a special treat he was commanded out of bed and reminded he was giving me a lift to the RED book award 2022. (But it was a nice drive through the countryside, and I’m sure he didn’t mind.) We even got there before the coaches bearing children, so there was no dodging about in the car park.
I can’t tell you how great it was to be out and going to an event and to almost be back to a little normality! Well, actually, I can and I’m about to.
I swanned in as the seasoned Witch I am, spying Ross MacKenzie having a coffee. So I accosted him, since we’d never met before. He took it reasonably well. Before long we were joined by Manjeet Mann, who’d come all the way from Folkestone. Unfortunately neither Melinda Salisbury or Elle McNicoll were able to be there. Coughs are unfortunate, and I suppose weddings are allowed to happen too. But it was a shame.
The front row was waiting for me, and I had the most welcome aisle seat, where I could enjoy librarian boss Yvonne Manning dancing to ABBA as she entered. As usual the children got to introduce their authors, followed by digital presentations of the shortlisted books, two schools per book. I particularly liked Bowness Academy for Melinda Salisbury, and voted for that. But the others were all good too.
No Provost for me to sit next to, however.
Ross and Manjeet introduced themselves, with Ross rather too tall for the microphone, but Manjeet compensated by being a little shorter. So that worked out fine. This encouraged Yvonne to do a rap, so she jumped up on the stage and demanded meatballs. (On reflection, I believe it was something else. You know, the background beat that goes with rap?) As Yvonne rapped what sounded like Little Red Riding Hood, a boy – let’s call him ‘Rob’ – ran up to the aforementioned microphone and meatballed steadfastly through the whole thing. Apparently it was not pre-arranged. I like the Falkirk young readers who step up so well. The rest of the audience had to stand up every time Yvonne said ‘red’. Which was often.
Coffee came next, and after a while the authors were spirited away to sign books. And a boxing glove. I chatted a bit to Yvonne, and then discovered that not only were my clothes red, as per order, but even my emergency snack was red [grapes]. Totally accidentally.
And did you know, technology is now so advanced that my phone takes better pictures than my special witch camera?? (You even get people waving. But I’ve not quite understood this yet.)
Back to the theatre Yvonne had donned her act two red wig. That’s red as in really red. There was more dancing, before Yvonne led most of the 300 children in a sort of conga line round the whole place. Ross looked baffled as he stood in the doorway. I suspect not all book awards do this. But it does wake you up if you are flagging.
More presentations followed, and then we sang Happy Birthday. Twice. None of them for the Resident IT Consultant, but it does seem to be a popular day to be born. Manjeet and Ross were invited to sit on the temporary red sofas. (They are usually blue, but always sofas.) Questions were asked and answered, with the help of what I had taken to be rolled up socks. Turns out they were mobile microphones…
Prizes for alternative book endings, book cover art and redness of dress were all handed out.
And then it was time for the actual award. And you know the irritating way they pause in Eurovision before reading out the points? Well, Yvonne beat them hands down. She had left the red envelope in her car (!) and ran off to get it, telling the young ones to come up with something to say during the wait. Before one of them told a really bad joke – or it might have been a good one – the elegant looking woman sitting next to me, who was not the Provost, jumped up to assist with this unexpected interval. She was the hander-over of the award, so this made sense.
Yvonne ran back in, gave the envelope to the young announcer who never got to tell her joke, and the RED award went to Elle McNicoll! They had one of those ‘one we made earlier’ videos, where Elle coughed her way through heartfelt thanks, and said how much she loves Falkirk.
And that was mostly it. Anne Ngabia of the African libraries and patchwork quilts had made another one, featuring all sixteen winning books from over the years. ‘Us three photographers’ took more pictures, for you, for RED and for the Falkirk Herald.
The way to the station had not changed too much during the long hiatus of live awards, so I hobbled successfully to my train home, as did Manjeet – not hobbling, and also heading for the other platform. And luckily the Resident IT Consultant had followed instructions and bought himself a birthday cake. The one I had been too busy to bake. But there was no singing. Twice in one day is quite enough.
You know how people talk about feeling old when the policemen start looking young? Or their GP? Or anyone whose business it ought to be to look ‘old.’
I was about to say ‘how about when your friends start getting MBEs and OBEs and that sort of thing?’ But I realised that this has already happened. What I actually – probably – mean is when it’s your child’s peers who achieve this. (I still haven’t quite got over the idea that Daughter’s pal from school flies commercial passenger planes.)
But as I was idly flicking through social media while waiting for 2022 to strike last night, I discovered that Daughter’s mentor from Space School – Sheila Kanani (now Pearson) – has been made an MBE for her services to educating young people about space and physics (those might not be the precise words, but you get the idea). This is a good thing. Both the teaching of STEM subjects and enticing children to take an interest in them, and for the person doing this to be formally rewarded.
Look at my own ‘child’, who was interested and who followed in Sheila’s footsteps. After seeing Sheila in action in Edinburgh a few years ago, I’d like to take similar footsteps too, because she was that much fun and made it all look easy.
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.
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.
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.
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.