Category Archives: Blogs

From lunch to launch – Mary, Queen of Scots style

A hug from a man wearing a Mary, Queen of Scots t-shirt is exactly what a witch requires on entering Waterstones Argyle Street in Glasgow, having cut her travelling uncharacteristically close. The man was, of course, Mr B who always supports his wife’s latest book launch with a new personalised item of clothing. Last night we were there for Theresa Breslin’s new picture book, Mary, Queen of Scots, Escape From Lochleven Castle.

Theresa Breslin

I was returning a scarf left behind by Mrs B at Bookwitch Towers the day before, but judging by how many people were there, it won’t have been done on purpose so I would come and launch the book with her.

Mary, Queen of Scots cupcakes

Encountered David MacPhail eyeing up the specially baked little cupcakes. They were for the children! Found a good chair to sit in and then switched to the one that appeared next to it, thereby engineering a more comfortable chair for me, and a free seat next to me for David. Well, he couldn’t eat all those cakes standing up, could he?

People

Apparently children today don’t have an interest in Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s because they don’t know her. This new book is intended to introduce them to Mary, so that when they next encounter a sign proudly claiming that ‘Mary, Queen of Scots, slept here’ they might get a little excited. It’s a picture book – illustrations by Teresa Martinez – but much of what happened to Mary is not exactly child friendly, so Theresa carefully chose Mary’s escape from Lochleven Castle as a safe topic, with no backs being stabbed, or anything.

An early review from a very young lady pointed out that it would have been good to know why Mary was imprisoned at Lochleven…

Quite.

Theresa compared Mary’s life to that of Diana, the way she had to live her life being watched by everyone. She mentioned how all Mary’s half-siblings fought for power, and how her half-brother believed that he could seize power by telling her what to do.

Theresa Breslin

After a short reading from the book, her publishers gave Theresa flowers, and then it was time for the book signing. And it was pointed out to us that we should remember to pay for the book before leaving!

Theresa Breslin and David MacPhail

There was quite a bit of evening left, but Theresa needed it in order to sign all those books. The queue was massive. I had plenty of time to chat some more to David, and I was also introduced to Victoria Williamson. Much interesting stuff on writing and publishing was said, and when David went to get his book signed at last, I liberated the last cupcake. (I’m short, so nearly a child.) Seems no one had ‘had their tea’ yet and they were all starving.

Theresa Breslin and Mr B, with the team from Floris

I believe I’m beginning to recognise members of the ‘Breslin’ clan now, and it’s good to see all the grandchildren turning out for every new book.

Theresa Breslin

I decided to leave before they locked us in, only to discover they had locked us in, but a big bunch of keys was produced, and as I walked up Buchanan Street I joined all the other people being chucked out of Glasgow’s shops.

It was a wonderfully sunny evening, and my train ride home was beautiful. Those Ochils… I wonder if Mary saw them like that?

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Some more literary ladies who lunch

Where else would Scotland’s children’s authors want to go on a mediocre – weather wise – Wednesday in June, but to Bookwitch Towers? Admittedly, some ended up going to America or to Singapore, even Orkney, but many were kind and headed my way.

They were far too kind and generous in other ways, too. You might have thought it was my birthday. I spent the evening unpacking gifts and admiring my flowers.

Some of my guests have come every year, for which they deserve a medal. One each, obviously. Some were new and ‘had heard so much about my lunches.’ And still they came!

As in other years, it was nice and noisy. They do know how to talk. It could have been the Prosecco, I suppose. The wine cellar of Bookwitch Towers (i.e. the IKEA shelves in the garage) has for some time been well stocked with Prosecco, but this is no longer a pressing problem. If only I’d known this earlier!

And it’s odd. Yesterday morning I told myself I’d never do this again. But as I waved goodbye to my guests I started thinking ahead to next time. Could there be something wrong with me? (No need to answer that, btw.)

Lunch aftermath

Buying books?

I had some time to spare before Monday’s lunch, so called in at Waterstones West End. I don’t often go there. Mostly for events. But as it was just where I got off the bus, I felt it made sense to actually go in and actually look at the books they have.

Anyway, they have armchairs to sit in, so I reckoned I could always rest if it got too much for me.

Conveniently the categories I’m most interested in were all on the same floor. They were Children’s, Crime and Fiction. And Fantasy.

As you know, I never – well, hardly ever – buy books. This time I went in with the revolutionary thought that maybe I would. If they had what I could want, and if it felt right.

There’s a book I’ve requested several times from the publishers. It never arrives. Some books are like that. I try to console myself with the thought that it’s unlikely that it’s because they don’t like me, or because they can’t afford to send me books (considering how much else they send).

So I looked for that book, and found it, along with its successor. That tells you how long I’ve been asking. And no, they didn’t send the second book either.

Also chose an older book by an old favourite, because I wish to work my way through the as yet unread books of his.

Then I paid and got in the lift, where I remembered I had intended to look for some other book, too. Went back and searched and they had that book as well. Good for them.

I obviously can’t keep this up, but I wanted to discover what the sensation of entering a bookshop and spending money would be like. That side of things was fine.

Was a little worried when looking over the tables of children’s books they are recommending (i.e. wanting to thrust at customers first). I’d not read very many. In fact, I’d barely heard of most of them. It got better as I searched the shelves. I could see books I’d read and liked, and the more I walked round the room, I found lots of old favourites. If there had been any needy children there, I’d have pushed the lot at them.

A perfectly ordinary Monday

Or was it?

As the rest of the literary world gathered in London for the announcement of this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medalists, I made my way to Edinburgh for lunch with a literary lady. It’s always nice to get out and see new places and new people and to pretend to be a proper grown-up. So over 35 years after eating at Brown’s in Oxford, I’ve now tried the more local-to-me branch north of the border.

On the way I passed Charlotte Square. It looks so small when you see it without a book festival on top. Just grass, and trees, with a fence round it. Soon, though.

For anyone who missed it, Geraldine McCaughrean is our latest Carnegie winner – second time round, I believe – for Where the World Ends, and Sydney Smith won the Kate Greenaway medal with the book Town is By the Sea. Thank goodness it was someone as senior as Geraldine who won, because who else would have the nerve to tell publishers off for dumbing down the language in children’s books?

By the time the lunch was over and my literary lady and I made our way to two different shoe shops; one for her, one for me, Son had begun his PhD viva ordeal at the nearby university. I’d have been there if they let people in to watch, but they don’t. I will simply have to assume the boy was brilliantly clever and dazzled everyone in the room, including the not one, not two, but three supervisors. And, erm, the specially flown in expert. From Norway, I believe.

I gather Son is now Dr Son.

On the train home I continued reading one of the books one of his supervisors – Peter Graves – has translated. But more about that some other day.

Being early

Thank goodness we were out! Son’s fourth birthday – a very long time ago – fell during the week, so I decided to have his party on the Sunday before. One of the mothers when she turned up with her son, mentioned she’d got it wrong and had brought the boy along on the Saturday. He was not best impressed. What should I have done had we been in?

My friend Esperanto Girl knows a little of this. For one of my many ‘Tupperware’ parties back then, she arrived on the dot of one hour too early. Luckily for both of us, I was frantically well prepared, so I was completely ready (this never happens now) and simply asked her to come in and we sat and chatted for an hour. It was nice. She was embarrassed and felt she should go and come back, but that would have been a waste of a good hour.

Which brings me to a book I liked a lot during the last year. I wanted the review to be on publication day, and as I’d received my copy really early, that was easy to do. I know the pattern of what days of the week books come out, and the given date fitted this.

The publicist’s email just before the day gave the ‘wrong’ date. I could tell, as it was for a Saturday. So I stuck to my original plan and reviewed on the ‘correct’ date. Was a little surprised to find that the ever so keen publicist seemed to have gone on holiday, and the [debut] author didn’t react to the review. At all.

And then, about a month later, it was actually publication day. Not the day I’d been told at first, nor the one in that late email, but another date; one fitting the pattern of day of week and everything.

The author Tweeted and Facebooked and chirped. I was bemused, and ignored.

There was presumably a reason for the delay. I feel that for a book that I was emailed about quite so many times, the date should have been right, and I could have been notified of a change.

I sometimes do review early, but then there is a reason. Maybe I want to stir up some early interest. Maybe I want to go on about the book more than once. I just want to know I’m doing it, because not even with my fondness for being early, a month is a little over the top.

Losing it

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since the Resident IT Consultant sent me the link to an article about losing your first language.

It’s nothing new. I’ve slowly lost it for decades. But the other day I began writing a letter to a Swedish newspaper, and it stands to reason that I wanted it to be really good. The subject has to be good, and I believe it is. But you need to say what you want to say in a competent way.

So I kept thinking about how I’d write it in English. It would have been faster and wittier, and generally much better. As it is, the document is still resting on my desktop for me to return to and stare at and edit a little, every now and then.

The article is mostly about professional needs for an original language; less about being able to talk to cousins or old neighbours. I suppose they have to ‘love’ me anyway. But my need is primarily for private chats, rather than job related stuff, simply because I’m not looking at being professional in Sweden.

Maybe I should be.

I recall my question to a friend all those years ago, where I explained that we had a new sort of material for clothes here, called fleece. What might that be in Swedish? Fleece, apparently.

Only, was it? I suppose there could have been a change since, or maybe I encountered someone who for whatever reason misspelled it. Flis, is what I found some weeks ago.

It makes sense. A lot of borrowed English words are pronounced the same way, but acquire Swedish spelling and sometimes suffixes or other -fixes. I object to this. Except, I don’t object to those I knew and used before coming to live in Britain. So tajt is fine, if your jeans are a little tight. But sajt is so wrong, if you’re talking about a website.

Oh, never mind! Hand me that flis blanket, Your Magnificence! I need to hide the fact my jeans are too tajt.

We’ve lost that community feeling

I had honestly forgotten about it. Totally, I mean, and not just the finer details. A while ago a freak pingback on a nine-year-old post on here made me have a look to see what it was. To begin with I didn’t even recall it as I read, but slowly it came back to me.

It, and the 27 comments, from nine authors, including the then children’s laureate Michael Rosen. Usually I remember my more successful posts, even in the past. But not this one.

The funny thing is, it started as nothing more than a disappointed review of a television programme on school libraries. A programme about Michael Rosen visiting a school. I wanted a good moan, and then I was fine.

But people commented like there was no tomorrow, and then, as I said, Michael himself pitched in with a couple of very long comments. I don’t even know how he found the post. (Until that day a few weeks ago, I’d been proud that he’d joined in a discussion on a blog I’d written for the Guardian…)

By now, it’s not just the comments on blogs that we’ve lost; it’s the school libraries too. So from that point of view, the programme is obsolete, even if our opinions are still valid.

Much as I enjoy the bantering on Facebook, it is what killed blog communities. I miss those comments and the way people returned to see what had been said and then offered up more thoughts. I get the hits, and if I hadn’t disabled the like button, people would like my posts.

But most of any chatting about anything I write on here now happens on Facebook. That’s not bad, but it happens away from the actual article we’re discussing, and it’s limited to my friends, or friends of friends, if someone shares. But you can’t do what I did that day recently, which is revisit the post, and then read all the comments from the past.

I called it a freak pingback. It really was, because it wasn’t new, it was a repeat from nine years ago, and presumably happened for some technical reason in cyberspace. But revisiting the whole thing was interesting.