Category Archives: Awards

Bookwitch bites #139

At last! The tail is gone and the tale might be with us later this year. Philip Pullman has had a haircut – unless that BBC interview yesterday was recorded years ago – and there are claims that the first part of The Book of Dust will be available on Philip’s birthday in October. Well.

Philip Pullman

It’s been ten years since Son and I were in Oxford, when Philip and David Fickling reckoned Dust would be ready in 2009. What I didn’t know is that Dust would be a trilogy. No wonder Philip’s been so long in writing it, especially as it sounds like the second part is also complete. That just leaves the ending of this equel to His Dark Materials to be written.

The Branford Boase longlist has been announced. I haven’t read a single book on the list, and to the best of my knowledge I have not been offered any of them either. Would quite like to read Patrice Lawrence’s Orangeboy, which is the only one I’ve heard of. I would probably like to read a few of the others, too. Maybe I’ll be spurred into action when the shortlist comes.

I have just been followed on Twitter by Jacqueline Wilson. Well, not her personally, as I believe Jacqueline is sensible enough not to waste time on social media, but someone doing it for her. I’m hardly ever on there, so I won’t be taking up too much of anyone’s time.

Both Philip and Jacky have been the big draw names at the Branford Boase award evenings. Celebrities, perhaps, but celebrities in the book world; not in the book world because they are celebrities.

Chris Priestley has been quoted in recent discussions on celebrity authors. It’s mainly the crazy aspect of how some very good writers still have to have a day job to feed themselves, while a lot of book sales go to those who need it less, and whose books just might not be of quite the same calibre as those by authors holding down two jobs. After all, if you are doing two jobs, it means you are pretty keen to write, and you are likely to do a better job of it.

Juno Dawson does her job pretty well as far as I understand. She writes books teenagers want to read, and she knows how teenagers feel. Juno was recently booked to talk at a school, when they decided to uninvite her at the last moment. It was deemed ‘inappropriate’, it seems. As the school back-pedalled, they said it had nothing to do with Juno being transgender. Oh no, not at all.

Most books are important and worthwhile. Hilary McKay – who claims not to mind if her books are turned into motorways – sent me this link to an article about how books are being rescued from becoming landfill. Better World Books collect unwanted books in Fife and sell them online, raising funds for literacy and libraries. Books not becoming Dust, so to speak.

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan is a most beautiful story. But then Katherine Applegate was awarded the Newbery medal for it, so that’s not at all surprising. I’d been wanting to read the book for some time, having heard much good about it. What’s strange is that it seems not to be available in the UK.

Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan

It’s a relatively short tale, told by Ivan, who is a gorilla. He lives in a mall somewhere in America, along with Stella the elephant and a few small animals, plus his good friend Bob the dog, who must be one of the best dogs in fiction.

Their owner Mack makes them perform for a dwindling public, three times a day. Ivan has been captive for 27 years, and when Stella makes him promise to make life for Ruby, the baby elephant Mack buys in the hopes business will improve, better than it has been for them, Ivan knows he has to come up with something.

If this sounds far-fetched, I have to mention that Ivan is real. Maybe he didn’t have the same thoughts Katherine makes him think in her story, but I’m sure he had something in that head of his.

All the animals have sad histories, mostly featuring dead parents and dead siblings. Julia, the cleaner’s daughter, has given Ivan a toy gorilla, which he sleeps with, because it can replace his dead twin sister, a little bit.

But the main thing is the animals have each other, and their conversations are more advanced than the humans give them credit for, maybe with the exception of Julia. And they have very good hearts, all of them. And they have courage.

Prepare to cry.

And ten years on…

Ten years go so quickly, don’t they? While the fresh-faced Bookwitch looks good for ten, that other, tired witch propping her up is certainly showing her age. I reckon she thought she’d still be 29, ten years in. Whereas it’s more like, well, at least 49.

Meg Rosoff and the ALMA award, with Alice Bah Kuhnke and Katti Hoflin

I’ve often wondered if I’d last this long. The next wondering has always been whether to give it up. You know, nice round figure (and I don’t only mean me) to end it all.

Philip Pullman

But when I voiced this thought to Ross Collins last month he seemed shocked (and I’m not fooling myself into thinking he’s been here for the duration), so I immediately retracted my threat.

Julie Bertagna, bookwitch and Neil Gaiman

Ross then said I must have ‘got’ a lot of authors in that time, so I sighed deeply and said yes. He seemed concerned that I wasn’t sounding happier, which kicked me out of my morose state of mind. Yes, I do ‘have’ lots of authors, and I love every single one, and treasure them, and this is a cause for celebration. Not sighing. But you know, when you’re 49 sighing comes easily.

John Barrowman

In the last few days I’ve been in email conversation with someone else, about books and publishing and all that kind of thing, and I realised I’ve picked up quite a bit over the years. Not just authors, I mean.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Actual knowledge, except it’s more like English grammar; I couldn’t tell you what it is. I just feel it.

So don’t ask me anything. I don’t know.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

There have been many absolutely wonderful books. And some less so. There have been really fun and interesting events, many of them in unusual places I’d not otherwise have got to visit. And those authors. Oh, those authors.

Steve Cole

Thank you.

(That’s the ‘I will go on for many more years’ thank you. Not the farewell thank you. I hope.)

Sara Paretsky

Thrill to win

All four books shortlisted for this week’s RED book award were in the ‘really good category.’ I felt the librarians who picked them did a great job; both from a point of view of this being a book award list, but also in order to entice their young charges to read and enjoy. You need something a little bit extra for that.

There was no way I could have said either which book was bound to win, or to have a favourite. I’d have been pleased with any of the shortlisted novels as the winner. And you never know with that age group how they will vote. Sometimes you are truly taken by surprise.

Cathy MacPhail’s Devil You Know is a hard-hitting story set in a hard area of Glasgow, and it is a pretty male set-up. I can see why it was popular with the young offenders, and I’d guess it did well mostly with the boys.

Whereas The Apple Tart of Hope divides its attention equally between the boy and the girl, I suspect that Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s book might appeal more to girls. It is quite romantic, Oscar is definitely not a macho boy, and there is the apple tart.

Similarly, Clare Furniss’s The Year of the Rat is undisputably about a girl. And there is the possible romance with the boy next door. Again, probably girlier than average, while being neither soft nor pink in any way.

The winner, 13 Hours by Narinder Dhami has a female main character, a carer for her handicapped mum. That too could seem to appeal more to female readers. There are no friends or colleagues or family members to even out the balance of the sexes. There are the intruders, of course. Two of each sex, and they are on the whole neither violent nor unpleasant.

Narinder was saying how she had had the young carer idea for some time, but it took her a while to work out how it could be written as a thriller, which is what she likes. And maybe that’s it; the thriller aspect means readers of both sexes enjoy the story without worrying about any female bias. Especially as Anni is both brave and resourceful.

And thinking back to the last two winners of the RED award, I’d say that Mind Blind by Lari Don was more thrillery than the other shortlisted books last year. Not having read the ones from the year before that, I’m confident that Alan Gibbons didn’t write a romance.

But I’m probably all wrong in thinking this. I was merely exercising my brain a little, trying to work out why a particular book out of four such excellent stories won.

Read, Enjoy, Debate # 11

It was chilly. And there I was, in Falkirk, red clothes, rosy cheeks and everything, and the station footbridge was being repaired. Luckily I had my folding broom with me, so managed to cross the railway lines (my apologies for any subsequent unentangling required) and arrived at fth (Falkirk Town Hall; keep up!) with barely any delay, for a day of the 11th RED book award.

Greeted Cathy MacPhail who was shortlisted for the umpteenth time (they know a good author when they see one), still basking in the glow of her birthday the day before. She introduced me to Narinder Dhami (13 Hours), and we spent some happy minutes saying gossipy stuff about [some] people. Very satisfying. A few of the students were going round interviewing the four shortlisted authors, who also included Clare Furniss (The Year of the Rat) and Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (The Apple Tart of Hope). All beautifully decked out in red, and all looking very beautiful, too. And they were nice people…

Yvonne Manning

RED captain Yvonne Manning was wearing red fairy lights. Clothes, too, but those lights really caught the eye. She welcomed each school and they were as noisy as ever. She encouraged them, it has to be said. (That woman is not a normal librarian! Whatever happened to silence?)

The schools charged straight ahead with their dramatised presentations of the books, two schools for each book. Between every little show, the same slow stagehands cleared up. They really want to look into who they employ. At times they sat down and read the paper and took selfies. If we’re not careful they’ll get used to this kind of slacking, and the audience encouraging them.

Presentation of Devil You Know on behalf of Polmont Young Offenders

As well as the eight schools who took part, they were shadowed by boys from Polmont Young Offenders (who for obvious reasons were not present, although I suspect if this had been Sweden they would have been). One of them had written a script for Cathy MacPhail’s book, Devil You Know (very appropriate), and Yvonne got seven volunteers on stage to act it out, totally unrehearsed. They would have found it easier had there been more microphones and printing of words on one side of the paper only, I reckon. But well done to everyone; actors and script-writer!

There were prizes for best reviews, before Provost Reid went off to a council budget meeting on libraries, and as we broke for coffee Yvonne introduced ‘selfie corner.’ (It was really only a cardboard frame…)

Narinder Dhami

You could tell Cathy had been before, as she managed to get coffee long before anyone else. But eventually we all sat down and chatted, and I had a really good idea for a blog post from what we talked about. (It would have been even better if I could remember what it was.)

RED coffee

Once back, Yvonne had changed into an enthusiastic red wig, with fairy lights on top. She hoped it wasn’t too much. Well, I’m sure we were too polite to say. Before the last set of book presentations, the authors got their three minutes of saying whatever they wanted. Each. Narinder told us about her breakfast that morning (sort of, anyway), Sarah has a lovely Irish accent and Clare wore fabulous red high heeled boots, while Cathy said how pleased she was that the young offenders got her book.

The stagehands grew ever more inept as the day wore on.

Provost Reid was back by then, and he whispered to me that he could smell lunch. Clare was extremly fortunate with her school, who presented her with an iced cake at the end of their presentation. (I was worried it’d turn into a pie throwing event at first.)

RED lunch

Covers 13 Hours

At lunch we said how fantastic it was to have an all-women shortlist and we discussed agoraphobia. As you do. The authors were asked to go and cast their votes on alternative book covers, before the signings. I asked the Provost what happened to his retirement from politics plans from last year, and he seems to have sacrificed himself for the greater good.

Narinder Dhami and Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Clare Furniss and Cathy MacPhail

RED award disco

Back in the hall there was disco dancing in one corner, with Yvonne and her fairy lights leading the way. Most of the students were singing at the top of their voices, and I couldn’t help wondering if they know how ancient that music is. Grease must have been at least forty years ago?

RED award disco

RED award

The authors got to sit on the sofas in readiness for question time, while more prizes were handed out; for best presentation, for best red accessories (I especially liked the feathers one girl wore in her hair), the stage hands, and for best book covers.

RED award

Questions were many and varied, on how long to write a book, is it hard to get published, inspiration, apple tarts, do they Google themselves, why read books, advice to themselves as teenagers, and favourite children’s books. Little Princess did well. Believe in yourself. Yes, some do Google. Time to write a book depends. Lots of good questions and the answers were all right too.

Librarian Anne Ngabia told us the latest news about her book collecting for libraries in Kenya (I have plenty more!), saying how good our children have it with free schools, even if it doesn’t feel like it. How in Kenya people might walk for three hours to the library, queueing up when it opens, and walking three hours back again. (I dare say this could happen here too, if libraries get scarcer.) And thanks to the army and the air force for sending the books out with the troops.

RED award

The boy with the lovely red hat got the job of opening the red envelope, to announce the RED winner. That envelope was made with very good glue. It had glued itself to the paper inside and only after a prolonged, manful struggle did red hat boy sort of manage to peer into the mangled remains of the inside and tell us that this year’s winner was Narinder Dhami!

Narinder Dhami

Narinder made a short speech, not even thanking her cat, cried a bit, and then she needed to sit down to stop her legs from shaking. But there were photographs to be taken of everyone, of her, the provost, envelope boy and the award (a photo of the famous Kelpies).

RED award, Yvonne Manning, Cathy MacPhail, Narinder Dhami, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, Clare Furniss, Provost Reid

Then we went home. Me not forgetting I came with a coat, and Cathy hunting for hers. The Provost let the students try on his red ‘coat’. And Clare had a cake to carry. It was a good day.

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day

Secrets

Who knew there were so many secrets to be kept in the children’s books world? Well, I knew, but I didn’t realise there were quite so many, nor that so many people share the secrets quite so freely. If you tell me, I will tell no one. Except possibly the Resident IT Consultant, but he is equally discreet. Besides, he won’t know what I told him, nor will he remember it five minutes later. And whom would he tell?

Maureen Lynas blogged about secrets on Slushpile a while back, and call me naïve, but I had no idea quite so many people are in on so many secrets. I trust no one (see above). Besides, apart from one spectacular time when I lost my poker face, I know how to lie so as not to suffer the mishaps Maureen mentions.

But then I began thinking about all the other secrets, like Christmas University Challenge, which is recorded in one fell swoop, well before Christmas. How do the winners avoid walking round with smug faces? How come the audience can keep the secret of which team won? (Judging by who was in the audience, it could be they have only very special people watching, like members of last year’s teams, and this year’s losers and so on.) Based on this I decided not to email Adèle Geras to ask how her team did, in case she would be unable to lie convincingly.

On New Year’s Eve we watched BBC Alba (that’s Gaelic television) celebrate the New Year. After some rude comments [from me] about how the place reminded me of Oldham Town Hall, Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant said it looked like Stirling Castle. A few camera angles later, it turned out to be Stirling Castle. You know, a short walk away from where we were. In a town where they have recently stopped celebrating New Year at the castle. One of the performers was a Daughter favourite, Julie Fowlis, and Daughter would quite have liked to know about this so she could have attended.

Except, we worked out that the audience was small enough, and clearly Gaelic speaking enough, that maybe it was by invitation only. So, as the rest of town celebrated elsewhere, upset that the castle was not for ‘all of us’ it seems others were celebrating and televising from up there. My old favourite Calum Kennedy (was not there because he’s dead) provided a contribution through his daughter Fiona Kennedy. And it was fascinating listening to the almost completely incomprehensible Gaelic, which sounded pretty much like Norwegian with lots of ‘ch’ sounds added to it. Except I didn’t understand a word. I reckon the audience might have been shipped in from Uist.

But it was nice. And ‘secret.’

We’ve also entertained ourselves with a new, used, board game called The London Game. It’s where you have to keep secret which London tube stations you wish to travel to, so that the other players don’t put too many spanners in the tube stations around you. We reckon the Hazard cards could do with being more plentiful, as each hazard comes round a little too frequently; aunts visiting, forced trips to watch a match at the Oval, and some weird kidnaps to Kensal Green.

Today sees the announcement of the 2016 Costa Book Awards. I don’t know the shortlisted children’s books well enough to have any witchy premonitions as to which one will win. But on seeing that one of Daughter’s Christmas presents is on one of the other shortlists, and the giver mentioned its topical-ness, I wonder if he could be in on a secret? I mean, I don’t know. (The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry.)

So, yes. It’s all secret. Unless it isn’t.