Category Archives: Awards

Full circle

I received a phone hug last night. This is a technically complicated feat, but it can be done. I sent Son to (a former) prison. Actually no, he went of his own accord. Långholmen is rather nice these days, when you’re not inside for all the wrong reasons. Daughter and I spent a few days there ten years ago, and now it was Son’s turn (I believe it was some kind of conference). And since he was going to be in the actual Stockholm at the actual same time as Meg Rosoff, I instructed him to go to her public event at Kulturhuset yesterday.

Meg Rosoff and Maria Lassén Seger

Son elbowed the competition out of the way and managed to get close enough to the ALMA winner to receive a hug, which was to be passed on to me. Which he did over the phone. I’ll accept that.

The programme for this year’s Gothenburg Book Fair arrived yesterday as well, and lo and behold, they have invited Meg to come. (I just hope she is still upright by the time September comes round.) I consider this all my doing. First I badgered anyone I could for years about how they must have her. And then, as I reported a couple of months ago, I gave up. Decided it would never happen, and it was better to face facts. This is always a good technique, I find. Makes things happen much faster. (Should have thought of it sooner.)

I think I may have to go. Even if Bookwitch Towers is being rebuilt, or something, I must be able to abandon ship for a long weekend. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with builders in the house?

Anyway, the circle. We went eleven years ago, Son and I, as complete rookies. That was when his favourite won. Now mine has won. It’s only fair. He can come, if he wants. And like eleven years ago, Jonathan Stroud will be there. Plus a selection of archbishops and other famous people, such as our favourite French phycisist, Christophe Galfard.

Yay!!!

Idiocy

I never did read The Da Vinci Code, and I’m not likely to do so now, either. Dan Brown – or his publisher? – is planning to dumb it down to YA level. What a relief! Because young readers are so stupid, they couldn’t possibly read as complicated a book as TDVC, copies of which I understand litter second hand bookshops to the extent they can’t sell them.

If Dan Brown wants to do something for the young, but I’d rather he didn’t, to be honest, couldn’t he simply write a YA novel from scratch, like all these other people who feel they should give this ‘easy’ genre a go?

Then, who to dislike the most; J K Rowling or presidential hopeful Donald Trump? I’m with the many people who fervently hope this man will not succeed. But he does have the right to speak, even when what he says is so offensive that we’d prefer for him not to.

I think J K is correct in saying that we must be bigger and fairer and allow those who say bad things to keep saying them. Banning them will not help. Trying to re-educate them would, but might prove hard. It is very tempting to be as bad as, or worse, than those we fear and dislike. Lots of people find it pretty easy to disagree with a wealthy and famous author. The Guardian photos of the two make them look like pals, almost. But that is the newspaper’s fault, not J K’s.

To finish with something much nicer and easier, here is the link to the interview with Meg Rosoff on Swedish television, first broadcast on Sunday night. It’s on several times this week, but for those of us outside Sweden, it is available to watch online. Meg is on first, for 15-20 minutes, and she is on good form as ever. I think we should have programmes like this in Britain. You know, a bit about books and not just baking and dancing.

Meg Rosoff on Babel

Personally I’d like to know how to tie a scarf like Meg’s. Once you do, you will still look good, no matter what you wear with it. (Or maybe I wouldn’t, under any circumstances.) Meg’s new glasses are divine. Quite Harry Potterish, in a good way.

The Lie Tree

Women can. That’s the message in Frances Hardinge’s award winning The Lie Tree. Being female does not mean being feeble, even 150 years ago. I really, really enjoyed this book, and can only say I should have read it a long time ago. I’m not in the slightest surprised it won the Costa, despite it being a ‘mere children’s book.’ This is fully grown fiction.

14-year-old Faith wants to be a scientist like her father, but back in the days when Darwin was an ugly word, it was seen as laughable that a female of any age could or should be doing anything but wait to be married, and then bear children.

Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree

The family move to a small island where the locals are suspicious of them. When her father is found dead, Faith vows to work out how he died. This is early crime fiction with a scientific angle, and Faith is young and a little naïve, but quite capable nevertheless.

Her mother tries to deal with matters in a totally different way, and Faith hates her for this. She just wants to clear her father’s name. And to be a scientist; to be allowed to be intelligent.

When she is patronised by the local doctor, also the coroner, ‘Faith wondered whether it would benefit the doctor’s investigation if he experienced a cliff fall first-hand.’ This made me laugh out loud.

Wonderful period crime novel with a twist.

And remember that women most difinitely can.

And it all comes back

As I was saying, the filing cabinet got the once over this weekend. You find an awful lot of rubbish, and wonder what it’s still doing there, and then you find memories and some quite nice bits of the past.

Philip Pullman

I must have looked more closely than on previous prunes, as I encountered virtually ‘unknown’ stuff, like the photos from the Gothenburg Book Fair 2005. Not as paper copies, but on a disc. ‘Can I just put it in the laptop to access the photos?’ I asked the Resident IT Consultant (I’m not used to photos on discs). ‘You can if you have a disc drive,’ he replied, and I do, so I did. I was puzzled by this antiquated way of storing photos until I remembered we didn’t actually own a functioning camera at the time, so had to borrow School Friend’s (interviewing Philip Pullman, and not even having a camera…), which is why we had to carry the photos home in this manner.

Gothenburg Book Fair

As I was very non-techy at the time, I left it to Son. This means he gave me a few photos to use, and I never saw the rest. Hence the relative new-ness of ten-year-old photos. Here they all were! In my filing cabinet, filed under ‘Authors.’

Philip Pullman

I’ve used the one of Philip Pullman and the ice cream many times. I know he likes coordinating his socks and shirts [or is it shoe laces?], but to coordinate your shirt and suit with the ice cream flavours? Takes a great mind.

Philip Pullman with ALMA judges

Ryoji Arai

Philip did a small platform chat with the ALMA jury, along with his co-winner Ryoji Arai. As it was our first time we didn’t know about these smaller pop-up events that are free, which is why we splashed out for the full seminar ticket. Glad we did, as it meant we saw other events we’d otherwise have missed.

There were pictures of authors whose events I’d almost forgotten, because I didn’t actually blog at the time, so had nowhere to put events memories. There were also pictures of authors who I simply couldn’t identify any longer. I’ll assume they weren’t all that great. Or I wasn’t terribly great at taking notes.

School Friend and Son

I’ve hesitated before about revisiting old Book Fairs, but after more than ten years, it seems almost like archaeology, so is all right. It’s only the last one in 2007 that I put on Bookwitch, so there is much I’ve not shared with you.

Yet.

2016 ALMA for Meg Rosoff!!!

Meg Rosoff

Yes! Meg Rosoff has been awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2016! At last, the best prize, for the best author!

The witchy premonitions had been there for weeks, except I wasn’t heeding them. I had sort of given up on the ALMA, and was only half-heartedly intending to watch the announcement live on the ALMA website. I didn’t forget it though, and I had planned to blog about it today, come what may.

Meg Rosoff won. Did I tell you?

And then the live countdown was less live than I wanted it to be. It merged my time in the UK with that of Europe, promising me the news one hour after it had been announced. I grumpily remembered that this happened last year as well. Not impressed.

Meg won!!!

I began googling other possible sites where I could get the news. Found nothing. A few minutes after noon the ALMA website had a photo of Meg up, while still counting down for the next hour…

Meg Rosoff - ALMA

But it made me a little excited so I googled anew and found a Swedish radio station to listen to, and was in time to hear Meg’s Swedish publisher sound rather happy and then there was an interview with Julia Eccleshare.

Have I mentioned yet that my favourite author has won the ALMA?

I had – also grumpily – decided that if they were going to be this awkward then I wasn’t even going to bother blogging about the award.

But when it turned out they’d had the good taste to pick Meg I just happened to change my mind again. As you can tell.

At this rate I might not even complain. Actually, of course I will. At least mention it. Maybe.

But those premonitions? I hear you ask. Yes. When we had dinner a couple of weeks ago Meg and I returned to the topic of the Gothenburg Book Fair, and I said things. Possibly hastily.

Because now Meg has been awarded the Astrid Lindgren prize! Had you heard?

Over the weekend I was clearing out my filing cabinet and found all sorts of stuff, which immediately sent me back not just to Gothenburg and Philip Pullman (2005!), but Lund and Sonya Hartnett, and a variety of other old memories, all tied up with Gothenburg and the ALMA and everything.

An ALMA for Meg Rosoff!!!!!

Er, yes, you may have worked out I’m a little excited. But honestly, if Son could have his favourite win eleven years ago, it’s not too much to ask that I have a go as well, is it?

Could I be happier if I’d won it myself? Probably not. It’d be tough spending all that money.

Meg Rosoff

The shortlists

Kate Greenaway 2016 shortlist

Are there too many lists? With something like a month between the Carnegie and Greenaway longlists and shortlists, it’s hard to keep up. Before them came the nominations lists.

Maybe not. I recall reading my first Tim Bowler, and taking the Carnegie medal on the front cover of River Boy as a guarantee I wouldn’t be wasting my time. It’s not just award winners who get a mention on their book covers. Many simply say nominated/shortlisted/etc for X award. It’s telling you this isn’t just any old book.

Perhaps this is the reasoning behind having three lists for the Carnegie Greenaway hopefuls. More book covers that could potentially be embellished with something awards related. Three lists are more than two.

The 2016 shortlists, which were announced last night, are still quite long. Eight books on each, of which I have read a total of four. 25%. It’s not for want of trying, but some books never materialise.

Carnegie 2016 shortlist

Greenaway 2016 shortlist

I’m sure the books on the lists are more than worthy, though I mourn some of the ones that didn’t survive the culls. Several of my best 2015 books were on the longlist.

It’s an honour to win, but I gather it also means a lot of hard work during the year until someone else wins and takes over the touring. Last year’s Carnegie medalist Tanya Landman seems to have been on the road, talking to young readers, virtually all the time since last summer.

When Philip met Danny

It’s all my fault. I wanted to ask Danny Weston a few questions on his winning the Scottish Children’s Book Award last week. But then I had this – I thought – brilliant idea. So I asked Philip Caveney if he’d have a go and do the interview. I might get better questions that way.

I’m so sorry.

“The brief was very straightforward. ‘Get an interview with Danny Weston,’ she said. ‘Go to his house and get him to talk.’ It sounded easy enough.

But it wasn’t as simple as I might have imagined. For a start, it wasn’t to be at his apartment in Tollcross; that would have been too easy. No, it was to be recorded at his ancestral home in the Highlands, a big rambling Victorian construction out in the sticks and the only way to get there was to hire a pony and trap at the local station. There followed a long, slow ride across the moors and the aged driver, a grey bearded fellow with a wizened face, clearly wasn’t in the mood to make polite conservation.

‘Do you know Mr Weston?’ I asked him and he gave me a long, withering look.

‘Aye, I know him,’ he said darkly, and spoke no more.

When we finally arrived at the house, I asked the driver if he’d wait for me but he simply shook his head and set off back in the direction from which we had come, whipping up the horses into a near gallop. Charming, I thought. The ancient front door of the house was ajar. I pushed it open and stepped into the hallway. There were no lights on within and the place smelled of decay and neglect. I shouted Weston’s name and my voice seemed to echo throughout the house but there was no reply.

I was obliged to wander disconsolately from room to room until I finally found him sitting in what looked like a library, surrounded by shelves of mouldering books. ‘What kept you?’ he snarled and indicated a vacant seat in front of him. There was no offer of refreshment after my long journey so I settled myself down, thinking what a poor host this man was. Perhaps everything I’d heard about him was true.

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I switched on my voice recorder. ‘You must be pleased,’ I ventured. ‘After winning the Scottish Book Award and everything.’

‘Delirious,’ he said, but his expression remained grave.

‘But it must be nice, surely? After all, this is your first attempt at a novel…’

There was no reaction to that, so I decided to dispense with the niceties and asked him a few questions about his childhood. I was amazed to discover that the two of us had rather a lot in common – both of us had fathers in the Royal Air Force, we had spent much of our childhoods in boarding schools and both of us acquired the overpowering urge to write in our teens. Astonishingly, we were inspired by the very same book, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. ‘I’m not always banging on about it like you, though,’ he muttered ungraciously. I let that one go.

‘So what attracts you to such dark stories?’ I asked.

He looked annoyed at the question. ‘Your stories aren’t exactly Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,’ he growled.

Fair point, I admitted, but… a vengeful ghost haunting two young evacuees on Romney Marsh? And the new book, Mr Sparks… a twisted ventriloquist’s dummy who outlives his operators? Where do these strange ideas come from?

He gave me a scornful look as though he thought I should have known better than to ask that question.

‘Is there anything new in the pipeline?’ I asked. I was floundering here.

‘There will be a new story along in September,’ he said. ‘The Haunting of Jessop Rise…’

‘See, right there,’ I interrupted him. ‘That’s clearly not going to be a laugh riot.’

‘Young readers love to be scared,’ he assured me. ‘And little wonder! What are the very first stories we give them? Little Red Riding Hood… Hansel and Gretel… These are horror stories and they are of course, thrilled by them, as soon as they’re old enough to understand words.’ He gestured to a shelf of books to his left. ‘It’s not as though you’re unfamiliar with the idea yourself, after all.’

I was astonished to see a whole row of my old titles residing there. ‘What about your Edinburgh trilogy?’ he asked me. ‘As I said before, your books are not all sweetness and light are they? In Crow Boy you deal with the bubonic plague. And Seventeen Coffins features the serial killers, Burke and Hare.’

I was frankly astonished. ‘I had no idea you were familiar with my work,’ I said.

‘My dear fellow, you are one of my biggest influences,’ he assured me. ‘After all, we have so much in common.’

‘Some of my books are lighter in tone,’ I protested. ‘The new book, The Calling, for instance, that’s about all the statues in Edinburgh, coming to life for one night a year. It’s quite funny in places…’

‘… and also features a brutal kidnapping,’ he interrupted. He raised his eyebrows. ‘The publishers sent me a proof copy,’ he added by way of explanation. Then his expression changed to one of annoyance. ‘Isn’t this supposed to be about me?’ he snapped.

‘Oh, er… yes. So… Jessop Rise. Tell me a bit about that.’

‘It features all my favourite things,’ he said, looking animated for the first time. ‘Ghosts. Children terrorized by things that go bump in the night. An ancient supernatural being. Oh yes, and a really cruel villain.’ He smirked. ‘There’s one scene where…’ He leaned closer and whispered something into my ear. I blanched. I’ve been writing for something like 40 years but that…. that was going too far.

He grinned at me, his face ghoulish in the already fading light. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked me. ‘Have I offended you? Are you shocked?’

‘Not at all,’ I said but I was beginning to feel distinctly nervous. I was uncomfortably aware that it was already getting late and I had no transport arranged. I glanced at my watch.’ ‘I er…. really should be getting back,’ I murmured. ‘I was wondering if you had a phone number for the coachman at the station.’

He smiled grimly, shook his head. ‘There are no phones in this house,’ he said. ‘And even if there were, the old man wouldn’t come all the way out here this late in the day. Not after what happened last time.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to walk back. Unless of course, you’d like to stay in the guest room for the night? The sheets haven’t been changed in several years and there’s been an invasion of slugs, but if you’d prefer to…’

‘No thanks,’ I said, a little too quickly. ‘I’ll walk. I… could do with the exercise.’

‘As you wish.’ He picked up an oil lamp from the table and handed it to me. ‘You’ll need this,’ he said. ‘To light your way. But a word of warning. Whatever you do, stay on the track. And make sure you keep your gaze fixed on the way ahead…’

It took me hours to get back to the station, by which time it was dark and the moon was up. The place was absolutely deserted. Sitting alone in the ancient waiting room by the light of the failing oil lamp, I wondered if I had got enough from Weston to actually write up the interview. I took out my recorder to listen back to what was on there.

There was nothing. Not a single word – only a deep rasping chuckle. And then, without any warning, the lamp went out.”