Category Archives: Blogs

The 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival Programme

I have kept my diary clear. Not knowing what to expect from this year’s online EdBookFest, I felt it was my duty to be prepared, for everything and anything. And there is certainly a lot going on during the usual period at the end of August. 140 online events is very good.

One big difference I am sensing, is that the online aspect means they have perhaps been able to put together a different kind of programme from what we are used to. Now any author from anywhere in the world can take part with few considerations as to travel arrangements, visas and the general cost of going places. So for some that must mean they are able to participate in something that might otherwise not have been possible.

There are not as many children’s and YA events as I’d have liked, but I can see that this is a group of readers who would be less likely to hang out in cyber space for this sort of thing. It’s different if you can actually be there. But I look forward to what there is.

Trying to understand how their promised signings with selected authors will work, but no doubt that will become clearer. Not sure I have the courage to go for an actual chat with an author, so will leave that to the diehard fans of those who will be doing this.

The other kind of chat that is often so nice is when you strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, and in order for that not to be the Resident IT Consultant [in my case] they are organising chatrooms before events. (I’m more used to standing in line in the bookshops, encouraging young readers that they really want to get that book by A Author, at the same time as their accompanying adult is feeling disinclined to let them…)

There was a photo session with Nick Barley, in the actual Charlotte Square this morning. My Photographer was invited, but understandably she didn’t crawl out of bed to be in Edinburgh that early, needing to avoid train travel, and suspecting that parking a car conveniently close was going to be impossible.

So here is a shot of Nick Barley we ‘prepared’ earlier; doing what he seems so good at, which is hanging out with famous people.

An evening with Sara Paretsky

An event! At last, an event! A real one, even if not in ‘real life’ or even in the right time zone. Sara Paretsky launched her new anthology Love & Other Crimes on Wednesday night, for fans in the US. For me it was the middle of the night, so I tuned in on Facebook on Thursday, once sleeping was over.

Sara was at home, sitting in her late husband Courtenay’s study with her dog Chiara by her side. There was whisky – I ate a boiled egg – and Sara panned the webcam so we could see more of the room. Lovely dark green walls. And we could hear her; always a worry in case you sit there talking away to the world in complete silence. She kindly gave us permission to leave if we got bored, because she’d not be able to see us go.

But who’d want to do that? We were comfortable, and we were being enter-tained. Sara promised to sign our books, if we bought them from Women & Children First; the bookshop she was doing the launch event with. That rules me out, but at least I have my copy.

She read from Miss Bianca, a story partially inspired by her father, and when Sara stopped halfway through, she was urged to go on a bit longer.

Questions ‘from the audience’ had been emailed in in advance and she picked some  of them. Someone asked about V I’s first time as an investigator, and Sara mused about why V I had ever married her ex-husband. She also wishes V I would be able to hack into anything she needs to know online, but she can’t. (This isn’t NCIS.) As to what V I looks like, she doesn’t see her.

Right now writing is hard and Sara has written the same 60 pages six times, as a way to seem busy while not getting anywhere. She’s hoping to travel to Poland some time, to discover more about V I’s roots. And she tried revisiting the family in Bleeding Kansas, as well as making up a new character for a new series, but she didn’t get far with her.

Sara reminisced about Richard Feynman and his reputed juggling of the dinner plates to help him see things and work things out. (Sounds like a great idea…)

Wanting us to stay safe and sane, and to stay in touch, Sara said goodbye after an hour. When ‘all this’ is finally over, she’d like to travel for six months, seeing and hugging all her friends. And there might be drinks.

Strawberry post

Other years I would have gone on holiday, and I would have tried to get away with giving you short daily posts about something trivial, while pretending it’s both literary and interesting.

But like so many people, I am at home, and I still manage to be trivial. It’s not hard at all.

Yesterday’s post – by which I mean mail, not what I write – was brought by a less distanced postman. He handed me the pile of books and bills almost in his usual way.

One of the treasures he delivered seemed to be implying it would contain strawberries. My powers of deduction told me it was the book promised me by my favourite ex-strawberry farmer, Kathryn Evans, who last week said she’d send me her new book, Beauty Sleep. She might have called me her favourite witch.

I imagine she’s just got the one.

I will save the book to read on my holidays. At least I will, if they happen some time soon. (The strawberry was my own. It won’t be joining me on holiday because I’ve eaten it.)

The size of it

Forget about Belgium. Or Wales. This is all about me.

Earlier this year we were looking at new cars; new to us, I mean. Except for a long time one couldn’t look at anything, but Daughter did research. But the Resident IT Consultant could see one big problem she’d not thought about. ‘We need a car to fit Mummy’, he said.

And yes, that would be a serious problem. Not many cars out there bigger than me… What he meant was that I am fussy, and I care about car seats that are comfortable to sit in. Never mind the 0 to 60 in some smallish number of seconds. Not too high, nor too low. Not leaning back too much, nor too terribly upright. Enough knee room for my short legs. Just right.

Goldilocksy.

The other day as I spoke to Son on the phone, about us taking the plunge – in the car that fits me – to go and visit them for the first time in six months, I mentioned the potted palm. Did they by any chance want it? I had run out of places that were big enough while still dark enough.

After enquiring about its size, and being told it was as tall as I am (so not very), I could hear him shouting to Dodo ‘do we want a palm the size of my mother?’

It seems they did. Apart from height, it’s a slender little thing. Nothing at all like the size of me. It even fit into the car, at the same time as me!

So there you go. Feel free to use me as a yardstick. Speaking of which, I got my inch measuring thing out recently, only to discover it was centimetres only.

Chai with Chae

In the end I was forced to read more train magazines than I wanted. I mean, I like train magazines. I hang on to them for times of need. Just like the last few months. I subscribe to three monthly magazines, and one bi-monthly. They usually last me fine, by which I mean that when I sit down – alone – at the kitchen table with some tea, or whatever, I can find one to read. My arms are a bit short, so I rarely read magazines in armchairs or sofas.

I realised that there was an unexpected shortage of magazines coming through. They – the senders – tried to blame it on the ‘pandemic’. But funnily enough, when they resent on my request, the magazines got through just fine, in the usual time scale. And the missing ‘pandemic’ copies have yet to turn up, so that magazine black hole is clearly quite big and very holey.

So there I was, fingering the pile of reserve train magazines, when I rediscovered two copies of Living. It seems to be a free magazine, which means there are lots of ads. But it looked more readable than many free magazines do, so I’d hung on to them, just in case.

After enjoying some local articles, by which I probably mean Scottish ones, I happened upon the ‘greetings from the editor’ corner. I didn’t have to read his name. The photo was enough to tell me I was in the able hands of Chae Strathie, children’s author.

There is no reason why he shouldn’t be editing a magazine. None at all. I was simply pleasantly surprised. He even wrote a nice article about the boat Fingal, in Leith.

Now I’m back with my usual magazines, because one day they did what buses do, and four turned up all together, from the black hole, or wherever. And I’m keeping the last Living for my next emergency.

Hello!

Despite Daughter telling me in no uncertain terms that this cactus is too dry, I beg to differ. And I’ve kept it going five years since its former owner died. A cactus like this should have droopy ‘branches’.

Which is why the recent appearance of a cheeky little growth at the top of one branch leaf has come as a bit of a surprise. None of my other droopy cacti have done this. Grown a waving hand, I mean.

Hello there! 👋🏻

(Could be the neighbouring Buddha who’s encouraged it beyond my expectations.)

Junior crime winners

This was the year I thought I’d… Well, a lot of things. One of them was return to Bristol for the CrimeFest.

Hopefully there will be a CrimeFest in 2021 instead, with or without me.

What there was in 2020 was the various CrimeFest awards. One can always vote, wherever one is. Although I have to say I’d have voted more fully had I been furnished with more [crime] books to read. I love crime. Especially for children, because it can be good without being too gruesome.

This year’s winners for the two children’s categories were:

I have actually read Thomas Taylor’s Malamander. Voted for it, too. Whereas I have to admit to not even having known that Kathryn Evans’s Beauty Sleep is a crime novel. I wish I had, but no one sent me the book and I was too tired to chase.

So, more young crime, please?

but I would love a talking horse!

I read Sunday’s Observer’s New Review with rising levels of panic and and a feeling that I really didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to anything. There were films recommended. Television programmes. All the kinds of things that reviewers review, in fact. Books, even.

They didn’t leave me cold, as they might once. I just didn’t want to read or watch or listen to any of that. It sort of confirmed that while this ghastly situation continues – and it does; we are not out of it yet – it is preventing me from doing most of the things I’d normally be doing.

Until I came to the page about Kit de Waal, whom I saw – heard – in Edinburgh (was it last year? No, it was two years ago) and liked very much. She said good stuff. But towards the end she says ‘as soon as you introduce a talking horse … I’m just not interested.’

I mean, that’s fine. Kit doesn’t need to like talking horses. In fact, what she wants in books are things that can happen in real life. That’s totally fine.

But I can’t help feeling that a talking horse would cheer me up.

New normal?

The postman’s back is beginning to hurt again. His relatively lighter load of recent months has normalised back to more books for the witch. So it really does seem as if it was the publicists being furloughed that curtailed the sending of books. I wasn’t sure if publishers would be quick to change, and then not change back.

But no, where my review shelf actually developed gaps, this has now been rectified. That’s not to say I am ready to read [all] the books arriving, because I have changed. If it’s forever, or merely temporary, I have no idea.

However, in a crazy world, the thumps through the letterbox have reminded me of the old life. Except, the postman hardly ever rings once, let alone twice. He has found that if he tries he can force nearly all the books through the slot in the door.

He is right to limit contact with his customers. Yesterday the neighbour called at Bookwitch Towers, and as we chatted on the doorstep, suitably distanced, the postman arrived, looking worried at the sight of two of us who would have to be dealt with in person.

As I said, I’m not sure how normal I am, but this kind of normal is encouraging.

End of Review

It’s not good news. The Guardian is about to stop publishing its Saturday Review.

It’s also not surprising. Costs everywhere, for everything, are escalating. Newspapers are not made of money any more than we are. You have to cut somewhere. It would just have been nice if the Review could stay. It means a lot not only to its readers, but to authors whose books are reviewed by them.

I understand that the other smaller parts of the Saturday paper are also disappearing, with plans for all to find some space in a new supplement. Hopefully this means that some of our most favourite bits will survive in some form or other. I know I have several that I really don’t want to lose.

Back in 2007 they published a lot of [paid for] blog posts. I know, because I was one of the paid people, having been introduced to the idea by Adèle Geras and Meg Rosoff who both wrote for the Books section. I also strayed into the film and television and music sections, because ‘I obviously knew so much about those subjects’.

It was fun. Chatting to other commenters was fun. Being able to earn the money to pay for my first laptop was rather nice. I know that the Resident IT Consultant would have been happy to pay, but for a non-earner like myself earning a bit of money was nice.

But I could tell when things went south. Most of their blogging needs were taken care of in-house. It was their version of not buying grapes every week when money gets tight. It’s just that as their purse shrank, so did ours. We’ve tried to be as supportive as we can. But it’s not enough.

Personally I am fine with there being fewer pages to the paper version of the Guardian. I like the idea of saving on paper; I don’t mean waste, but still it can be a lot of paper. The news  section could save some of its speculation on ‘what will happen’ to online pages. We will know soon enough what happens.

But I do like some of the more literary pieces on paper, and the recipes for things I won’t cook because I don’t have the latest outlandish ingredient. Some things are meant for paper. I won’t say whether I think the price could be allowed to be raised again, because I don’t know what people can afford.