Category Archives: Awards

Of dung beetles and other creatures

I miss those dung beetles. And the dinners.

When I got in touch with Gill Lewis a few weeks ago, after having reviewed her most recent book, Gill said she’d just re-read my post about the dung beetles. And because I had reminisced about the Salford book award dinners shortly before it, I re-read the post as well. Had forgotten them, but never the man who suggested writing a novel about dung beetles; Jamie Thomson. Crazy, but lovely, man.

And that was the point; the reason I had been thinking about the dinners and missing the diners. Despite me wondering if I’d gone mad each time I set off to meet another batch of half unknown – to me – authors for dinner, after having emailed them out of the blue to suggest we meet up.

Those dinners were successful, perhaps because we were a bunch of ‘strangers’ getting together. We weren’t strangers afterwards. Strange, maybe. (Remember the dung beetles!) So in hindsight I’m really very grateful to the Salford book award organisers, for having no evening plans for their visiting authors.

It was one of the things I wanted to take with me when I moved. But around here most visiting authors are well looked after and don’t need a witch to make overtures and suggest meals out. Shame, really…

You can thank me when that bestseller about dung beetles appears.

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The Carnegie/Kate Greenaway nominations

Some I’ve read. Others I would have wanted to read.

I haven’t counted how many books were nominated for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, but a quick search through the two lists suggests I have read maybe thirty of the books in total. Which is not much.

The wonderful news is that Barrington Stoke have ten books on those lists, and I have read nine of them. I was never sent the tenth one, so have a slight excuse there. It’s so good to see both that dyslexia-friendly books aren’t overlooked when it comes to list-making, and also that there are so many competitively great books written for those who find reading challenging.

Carnegie Barrington Stoke nominated books

As for the books I’ve not read, a few have arrived here at Bookwitch Towers, but most haven’t. And based on what I wrote about the other day, I now feel quite disinclined to request any of them.

But it’s good to know I’ve had the opportunity to read so many potential prize-winners from Barrington Stoke. I should know. One – The White Fox – was on my best of 2016 list.

Noble about a worthy Briton

I think the nicest thing about Kazuo Ishiguro being awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for literature is that everyone’s being so nice about it. None of this ‘who?’ or ‘really?’ but just a quiet acceptance.

Not having read anything by Ishiguro I’m not in a position to comment on his worthiness. He seems to be popular, but not too popular, except from the point of view that those asked to comment in the Guardian last week all had good things to say.

What’s more, it’s so ‘nice’ that he’s British. I’m at least as British, apart from the fact I don’t have the passport to go with it. Otherwise, Kazuo and I are both foreigners, really. But people like to claim successes as their own whenever they can.

Whether there are too many English language authors being successful with awards is another matter. You can’t avoid the fact that their work will be easier to access, and that identifying with what they write about is also easier. I like books where I feel at home. I see no reason why awarding committees shouldn’t also feel that way, even if they are not aware of it.

And I don’t believe awards should go to someone because of the colour of their skin, or for belonging to any category under-represented in the awards competition. (Reminds me of The Good Wife, where one character greets another with the words ‘You must be the woman! I’m the black.’)

So few will win any kind of jackpot that this will always be unfair in some sense.

Arra

You were promised a book most of you can’t read, so here it is.

I have continued reading my way through Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. And while I get why her Red Abbey Chronicles were translated into English, I can’t see why her other work hasn’t been too. Consider this an invitation.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Arra

The world that you might have met in Maresi and Naondel is a world Maria uses in her other books as well, rather like our own world. This means that one book is set in one country and one period, while another can be somewhere completely different, but still in the fantasy world Maria made up, and perhaps set earlier or later than the other stories.

Arra is set furthest back in time, and feels very much like many real world settings; the poverty suffered in a far from everywhere small village, somewhere a bit like Finland. Maybe. I can’t place it in time, but they use horses and carts, and candles, and old-fashioned weapons.

The reader meets Arra when she’s born, and you soon discover that her parents really didn’t want her. But for some reason they don’t kill her. She grows up neglected and alone among her many older siblings. Arra is mute, because no one talks to her and she’s considered stupid.

Not our heroine! Arra has plenty to think about in her head, and she has many unusual talents, which unfortunately also bring her trouble. After much deprivation in her first years, Arra ends up in the capital, living with her sister and her family, where she is used as a slave and still treated as a burden and an idiot.

Now, this will sound very fairy tale, but Arra meets and falls in love with the country’s prince Surando. He also experiences difficulties in his life, and more so when he is forced to go out to war, and when things get really bad, Arra goes to search for him, to rescue him.

I know, that too sounds quite unbelievable, but it’s not.

This is a beautiful and stirring tale, with much cruelty, but also beauty and love. I wish you could all read it!

Bloody Scotland – the torchlit beginning

Here they come. Those are the torchlights coming from the Top of the Town.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Bloody Scotland has started, and this year they certainly did it in style, with Friday night’s grand opening in the Great Hall at Stirling Castle. It was [justifiably] expensive, so I didn’t go, but not wanting [you] to miss out, the Resident IT Consultant and I went to stand halfway up the street leading to the Castle Esplanade, just in time for the torchlight procession to begin the walk down.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

There was a piped band playing Scotland the Brave, and then came the authors, of whom I’m sure you can see Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Denise Mina. You can, can’t you?

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Denise Mina had just been awarded the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year up in the Great Hall.

There were a lot of torches. And the torchlight bearers just kept coming. And coming. There are many crime fans in the world, and for those who didn’t fit into the sold-out hall, there were torches to be had outside, which might explain the numbers of people.

The Resident IT Consultant wondered where the First Aiders were, more or less as they actually walked past us.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

And do you see that car going the wrong way down the one way street? Admittedly a police car, but still.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

Further down the Old Town they turned right and walked past the library, and then came to pretty much a complete stop. The procession was heading for the Albert Halls, where Ian Rankin was doing his first night sold-out event, and where everyone had to deal with their torches.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

That was a lot of torches to extinguish, and then presumably to put somewhere. When we passed the Albert Halls again on our way home, all was dark and orderly, with just a queue for Rankin.

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

When the Resident IT Consultant came and offered me some Northern Lights, I declined, because I felt there is only so much light entertainment a witch can manage if she’s to sleep as well.

The Murderer’s Ape

You will want to read this award-winning book. At least I hope you will. I can’t believe I didn’t know [more] about The Murderer’s Ape by Swede Jakob Wegelius, before it was translated into English, by none other than Peter Graves. Or that I hadn’t even heard of the first book about the gorilla by the name of Sally Jones. Also award-winning.

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer's Ape

I believe that in the first novel about Sally Jones (no, you can’t just call her Sally) the reader meets the baby gorilla, and finds out how Sally Jones got her name, and how she learned to do all those human things she’s so good at, apart from talking. Sally Jones does not speak, but thankfully she can type, and that’s how we know about the dreadful time when her best friend Henry Koskela is jailed for murder, and what Sally Jones did to free him.

Like many of the best characters in fiction, Sally Jones is both a loyal and loving friend, as well as extremely skilled at many things. Until the murder Sally Jones and Koskela – the Chief – had run a cargo boat, and she’s an experienced engineer. When the Chief ends up in jail, Sally Jones has to use all her skills, and learn many new ones, to help him.

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer's Ape

She also makes new friends; really lovely friends, although never quite as special as the Chief. And it goes without saying that there are many new enemies for Sally Jones. Powerful people want to stop her from helping Koskela, and for someone who doesn’t speak, it’s not always easy to ‘speak out.’

This beautifully illustrated book (drawings by Jakob Wegelius himself), set some time in the first half of the 20th century, mainly in Portugal and in India, has the feel of a classic film. It’s a wonderful adventure with a genuine pre-WWII feel to it; a time when anything was possible, and there was both good and evil, and unimaginable wealth, but also possibilities for going places if you worked hard and were good at what you did.

It does take a little while to get used to Sally Jones being a gorilla, but only about as long as it takes those who become her dearest friends to understand what a gem she is. And if you want to get rid of your useless boyfriend, Sally Jones is your, well, gorilla.

This is nearly 600 pages of exciting, nail-biting, romantic adventure. Besides, you can’t beat a bit of good engine grease.

Generosity

Translator Daniel Hahn had two pieces of good news to share yesterday. First he won the International Dublin Literary Award with author José Eduardo Agualusa for the book A General Theory of Oblivion. They share the €100,000 award, which is very generous as literary prizes go. Even Daniel’s 25% is a lot of money.

And then Daniel decided to give some of it away again. He’s using half his money to fund a new First Translation Award for the Society of Authors, with an annual £2000 given to a first literary translation, to be shared by the translator and the editor.

But the generosity of people does not end there. Many of our favourite illustrators have donated art to an auction starting tomorrow, in aid of stranded refugees in Greece, via the Three Peas charity. I’ve had a little look, and there are many, many beautiful illustrations that would look great on anybody’s wall. Go on, you have about ten days to bid!

Not surprisingly the dreadful tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower in London has caused many authors to join in to help raise money for the British Red Cross to help residents affected by the fire. Authors for Grenfell Tower can be found here.

As always, there are many interesting and diverse items and services on offer. I quite fancy naming a character in Philip Pullman’s 2nd Book of Dust. I’m guessing that could fetch a lot of money. Or I could go book shopping with Lucy Mangan.