Category Archives: Blogs

Marcus and the ‘maneater’ jellyfish

Marcus Sedgwick died this morning. He was far too young to go, and I understand it was unexpected. Many very good books will now not be written.

I have a small bookcase near my bed, with some of my favourite books. There is more than one by Marcus, because you just had to like them.

When I first became aware of him and his writing, I was surprised to learn that he was taking Swedish lessons. I wrote to him to ask. Because that’s the kind of thing I did. And when I looked back on our correspondence today, I discovered that occasionally he wrote to me in Swedish, completely unprompted. (Maneter are jellyfish, and to the English-speaker they sound like man-eaters. This is something Marcus incorporated into an event, or two.)

Eight years ago I interviewed him on the day of his adult book launch for A Love Like Blood. It was a fun, but slightly traumatising, event for me. Mostly because of it happening on the 16th floor, and less because of the blood. But we sort of agreed on roller coasters.

Tack Marcus, och hej då!

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Meeting Budge

I was sad to discover that Budge Wilson died last year. It felt as though this Canadian children’s author could, would, outlast us all. It’s been nearly fifteen years since we met, but I still have her address in my address book – both her summer address and the regular one – in case I might want to look her up if I ever get to Canada, and more specifically, Nova Scotia. These days of course, I live in the old Scotia.

“Meeting Budge Wilson was rather like meeting a long lost Canadian aunt, if only I had one. I met Budge at her London hotel during her whirlwind British publicity tour for her book Before Green Gables. Things at the hotel weren’t working out very well, so Jodie from Puffin had some complaining to do, before we were given somewhere to talk. Once the practicalities were sorted and a number of confused hotel employees had got their act together with pots of tea and endless bottles of water, we were fine.

Budge looked lovely in a pink top and matching pink lipstick, which is the kind of colour co-ordinating I like. When I said that she looked just as she does in her photographs, she wondered if I’d also been able to see how short she is. To start with Budge is concerned because she’s not feeling a hundred percent well, but she perks up during the interview.

The meeting-my-aunt feeling continues when Budge starts off by interviewing me, which is very sweet, and I just wish I had more important information to share. I confess that I’m worried because I know very little about Budge, but she says “it’s lovely for me”. Being so well known in Canada, and particularly so in her native Nova Scotia, she has got tired of being asked the same thing over and over again.

Still feeling guilty about the insularity of the British book scene, where we tend to know far too little of even English language books from the rest of the world, I tell her that I Googled her the previous day, and was surprised to find my own review of Before Green Gables on the first page. If Budge hadn’t made a point of telling me her age, I wouldn’t have known she’ll be 81 in May. It makes the travelling to publicise a book much more impressive, and I’m amazed at her stamina.

I ask whether she has been to Britain before, and Budge tells me of the trip the family made in the late sixties when the children were young, touring the length of the country in a dormobile during five weeks. She describes it as “a fate worse than death”, which I suspect was more because it was tiring, than that this country was particularly horrible. It was a “hard, hard trip and I remember very little”, she says with a rueful smile.

This time, having left snow behind in Canada, Budge and her husband Alan really noticed the green fields of England as their plane came in to land. “All so tidy. I’m not used to tidy countryside. Like Prince Edward Island, with the hedgerows, like a child’s drawing.” Budge had time to study the London suburbs as the traffic crawled on their way in to central London, especially the architecture and people’s homes; “the stick-together houses” made from different materials than she’s used to.

As I admit to understanding the Canadian style wooden houses, on account of them being similar to Swedish ones, Budge reminisces about a trip she once made to Finland. It “was so like Nova Scotia you wouldn’t believe it”. She feels rather guilty over placing Anne Shirley in the middle of the woods in Nova Scotia, and says if she could write the book all over again she wouldn’t. But we discuss this, as there is obviously a need for Anne to have lived somewhere very different to Prince Edward Island, which strikes Anne as paradise.

It was L M Montgomery who gave Anne’s past a day trip to the seaside, and this forced Budge to give her somewhere inland to live. She spent days driving round trying to find where to place Bolingbroke and Marysville and “up the river”. She had to settle on a fictional area after finding red soil somewhere, which meant that it wouldn’t do for Anne, who had never seen that colour soil before coming to PEI. Budge reckons Bolingbroke might have been Truro, as it fits the description given by Montgomery.

“Prince Edward Island has so many Japanese in the summer, it’s surprising the island doesn’t sink”, says Budge, adding that she feels she has “short changed my province”. I suggest that she couldn’t very well write her Green Gables prequel with an eye to the tourist industry.

I’d read somewhere that Budge had been reluctant to take on the task of writing about Anne’s early years when she was approached and offered the job. “I didn’t want to write it”, she says. “I said I’ll think about it. I thought about it for two months”. One reason was that Budge had another book on the go, a collection of poems for the Swiss Air disaster near Halifax ten years ago. Being two thirds of the way through this, she knew she couldn’t both finish it and write the Green Gables prequel. And “I was concerned L M Montgomery might not want me to do this”.

Budge was also fully aware of the strong feelings she would incur by writing the book. There are many Canadians “whose hearts beat so strongly for Anne, they’d not want me to do this”. After she had decided to do it, Budge found that when it was announced to people, there were a few who didn’t have time to “fix their faces” on hearing about it. On the whole, though, reviews have been favourable, with only “one that did tear me to shreds”.

As she approached the task, Budge found it was “a puzzle to solve, with a heroine not of my making”. Here was a girl who had suffered verbal abuse, there was physical abuse that she was seeing, drunkenness, postnatal depression, and so on. Budge had never written anything historical before, so that was another challenge. She likes to do her “research by asking human beings”.

I ask if Budge knows when Anne was born, and whereas she had thought it might be in 1876, careful counting backwards from when Anne’s son Jem joins World War I, puts her year of birth as 1866. This meant Budge had to be careful and “never mention the date”, and she had to stay vague to avoid inconsistencies. Budge considered bare light bulbs for the orphanage, but was told not to “touch electricity”, which is wise advice in more ways than one. Other problem areas are clothes and how people work, where both safety pins and assembly lines needed avoiding. For those readers who remembers Anne’s puffed sleeves, it seems that L M Montgomery got that wrong, but Budge guesses she just wanted to use them, and so she did.

As Budge talks about the process of getting started, she waves her arms about, indicating Penguin to the right and the Montgomery family and law firm on her left. She first had to provide sample chapters, as well as a long outline of what she would write.

To her astonishment, Budge loved writing Before Green Gables. “I tend to write the first draft extremely quickly”, and she wrote a chapter a day, in 71, non-consecutive, days, finishing on her 80th birthday.

Usually Budge likes to take a long time over “the lovely editing process”, sitting in her bed, with all her papers spread out, and writing by hand. This time she had a deadline to meet, so had to rush things rather more. Penguin originally wanted 300 pages and Budge’s reaction to this was that she couldn’t possibly write that much. The finished book is 465 pages, and that’s after some of the pruning Budge had to do. She tried very hard and managed to cut about 2000 words, initially. The Americans wanted her to cut another 32,000 words, but all she felt able to prune was another 4000. The scenes between Anne and Mr Thomas were some of the ones they suggested removing, but Budge stuck to her guns and kept those passages.

While writing, her “saddest moment was when Anne gave the teddy to Noah”, and she muses over the fact that as the author she could have changed this, but felt she shouldn’t. Anne couldn’t have kept the teddy when she got to the orphanage anyway. I ask how much research Budge did as regards what orphanages were like. She looked into things very carefully, and found to her astonishment that whereas Canada had laws about the humane treatment of animals, the humane treatment of children came later, in the 1900s.

We discuss the dead men in Anne’s life; Mr Thomas and Mr Hammond, as well as Matthew. I admit to a fondness for the Eggman, and Budge says how “very crucial” he is, and how she had to delay things in the plot to prevent it being possible for Anne to be adopted. In all, there were so many possible good outcomes for Anne, and it was heartbreaking that Budge needed to “keep” Anne for Matthew and Marilla.

Something that had puzzled me when reading Budge’s book, was what age it’s intended for. Somewhere I’ve seen 8+, but whereas it’s about a young girl, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s suited for that age group. And I wouldn’t say Budge’s style is difficult, but it’s not dumbed down, either. Budge herself feels it’s very much a book for all ages, but it seems that most readers are adults.

Once Budge had finished Before Green Gables, she had a lesson in saying nothing in interviews, as the publisher wanted nothing given away too early. Budge says her blood pressure shot up, until she learnt to talk without saying very much. Unlike with me, where Budge suddenly starts worrying that she’s talking too much. She gets out a copy of my review of her book and asks me about the Ipecac. She felt it had to be included in the book, but she was so uncertain about whether it was safe, and Budge was intrigued to find I had used it. That brings us on to homeopathy in general, and then I feel it is I who talk too much.

We get chatting about book covers, and Budge shows me the Canadian cover. Under the dust wrapper the Canadian edition is really very attractive, with an old style faded look. I ask how the book is selling, and in Canada it’s “selling extremely well”, and had sold out before the launch. The launch, incidentally, was held on a day with a blizzard, which caused most of her family to be late for the event, although they arrived safely in the end.

Budge gets out her bag to show me. Her daughter made it specially for this trip, and although it’s not Budge’s usual colours, she really likes it. So do I. It’s a beautiful green fabric, with BGG appliquéd in orange on one side and the name Budge on the other. The handles are plaited in orange wool, and they are of course Anne’s hair. It’s the perfect Anne bag. Budge had expected the British to be so sophisticated that they wouldn’t appreciate a hand sewn bag, but everyone has liked it.

I say that people here have less time to make things, and Budge has noticed how much “everyone is rushing”. Apparently a sure sign of a Nova Scotian is that they stand still on escalators. I wonder what that makes me?

I ask Budge to sign my copy of her book, and I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone consider so carefully what to write. When I read it, it’s an invitation to come to Nova Scotia, and that’s definitely a first. Budge has described her home province so vividly, that I don’t think she needs to be concerned that she’s not “selling it”. Their “springs are very grim” and Budge says she never makes school visits outside town in April, because it’s “ a hideous month”. She tells me to come in September to see their “magnificent fall”. I get the impression that autumn colours are better in Nova Scotia than anywhere else. And her description of the varying seascapes near her home, almost has me on the first plane to Halifax.

The next day, Good Friday, Budge and her husband Alan are going to Oxford to visit old friends. She’s brought a book to give them. Not Before Green Gables, but something else. Budge starts to tell me something to do with this, and then forgets what she was going to say. “Don’t you feel that the things you lose are always the ones you think are the most interesting?”

It’s an unkind thought, but I’m almost grateful for the migraine that cancelled Budge’s next interview, which gave us twice as long to talk. Had it not been for my train home, I may well have been there for much longer still. We find our way out, and Budge grabs the large, almost full, bottle of water, and says she’ll take it to her room. I admire someone who is sensible and thrifty.”

(This interview was first published in March 2008.)

Return to the Easy

To the best of my knowledge, this is ‘my’ only book about New Orleans. It’s a good one. This review originally appeared in March 2013.

“I enjoyed this book so much! Out of the Easy is the new book by Ruta Sepetys, published this week. In her first book Ruta proved how much she knew about being a starving Lithuanian, whereas here she is a right madam.

Is it OK to feature a brothel in a YA novel? I mean as the main thing the book is actually about. I think it is. Ruta writes awfully knowledgeably about it, too.

Set in 1950 in New Orleans, Out of the Easy feels really fresh. By that I mean it’s in no way a standard story for young readers, either in setting or in plot. The first chapter where we meet 7-year-old Josie and her hooker mother is one of the more captivating first chapters I’ve come across in a long time.

And the rest of the story, set ten years later, keeps the pace and the promise. Josie has long looked after herself, since her mother is incapable of doing so, or even caring that she doesn’t. There are no regrets at all. Instead Josie has a makeshift, but well functioning family around her, from the local madam and her driver, to the author and owner of the bookshop where Josie sleeps.

She is hoping to rise from all this and make something of herself, when she gets caught up in the murder of a rich tourist.

This is James Dean and Tennessee Williams, and we might have met the characters before. But the story is new, and it’s crying out to be turned into a film. I loved it!”

Heading to Texas,

and other places. Somewhere, some time ago, I quoted people who know about these things, on how hard it is to leave Texas. Because it’s large and it will take you ages. I just didn’t think I’d need to show much personal interest. That’s all. Proves how wrong a witch can be. Yes, really.

Below you can read what Lee Weatherly had to say about angels, back in August 2012:

“OK, it was the long way round, this getting Daughter to take an interest in Lee Weatherly’s Angel books. (It’s a Blurbs & Covers problem. She had been totally put off by both.) For someone who was a great Lee Weatherly fan some years ago, I was surprised, but luckily a book festival event with Lee herself dealt with the doubts and hesitations.

Mission accomplished.

Lee began by showing us a trailer for Angel, and by surprising Daughter by being American. And then it was straight for pictures of gorgeous guys, so we know precisely who Lee had in mind for Alex, and for Seb in book two. I do have to disagree with Willow, however. She is definitely no Amanda Seyfried for me.

The Angel books have been a long time coming (so to make things quite clear, Lee was not jumping on any Twilight bandwagons at all), having begun life fifteen years ago as something totally different. It didn’t work, and gradually Lee worked out what she needed to do, and after all this thinking she ended up with vicious, bad angels.

Lee very kindly put up with some research trips for our sake, driving from New York to New Mexico via the mesmerising Texas panhandle. She and Mr W searched New Mexico for suitable deserts and canyons, which apparently was harder than you’d think. But for the most part Lee works in her pyjamas in her home office. 2000 words per day is the norm (or perhaps the target).

She has long known about the angel stuff, but had to find out more about guns and cars, and when Alex suddenly began speaking Spanish she had to work out if he was allowed to. He was. And Lee and Mr W ‘had’ to go to Mexico.

With one exception (we have been sworn to secrecy) Lee doesn’t put real people in her books, although a lot of her can be found in many of the characters. She loves the bad guy, and has put herself in him, and enjoys writing his scenes.

There might be more half angels. All will be revealed in book three, next year. After that, she can see another trilogy coming, but only after a standalone book.

In answer to ‘why young adult books?’ Lee said that it’s what she has always liked, and it’s what she wants to write. It’s what we want her to write, too.”

Launching those Kings and Queens

I was standing on the pavement outside the National Library of Scotland yesterday, waiting for Daughter to join me, when someone prodded the back of my arm. I couldn’t work out how she could have snuck up from behind, so turned round and discovered a very yellow Kirkland Ciccone. One could almost have imagined it was Easter. But he was a pleasure to behold.

Almost eight years to the day from when we first met, at a Theresa Breslin event, here we were, for a Theresa Breslin event. She spent lockdown writing about some of Scotland’s many Kings and Queens, and the time had come to launch this gorgeous, historical picture book, with illustrations by Liza Tretyakova.

We started off watching Kirkie having tea and half a strawberry tart. (I mean Daughter and me. Not the whole audience.) Then we launched ourselves at the drinks table for some water. Although it’s hard to event and handle a wineglass at the same time. Said hello to Mr B, who was wearing his latest book creation t-shirt and looking great as ever. It had been too long.

Were informed we were too old for a goodie bag, so settled for saying hello to all the involved publisher people, who we’d not seen for years, either. And there was the wineglass of water, living a precarious life among people who might need to applaud.

As always, Theresa had attracted a large crowd. She began by reading one of the stories in Illustrated Legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens. It was about Margaret in Dunfermline, and I was grateful to learn how Queensferry, both North and South, came about. This is the thing about Theresa and her many historical tales; you learn a bit of history in a very painless way. Nice story, and history.

After some Q&A it was time for book buying and book signing. Kirkie had already had to steal away to his train home, and Daughter and I crossed the George IV Bridge in search of almost invisible pizza.

It was all fine. But my foot hurt. And I managed to hurl my spectacles all over the pavement. (It seems to be all about glasses and pavements these days…) It’s very hard to see glasses on a dark pavement. Especially without your glasses on. But it all ended well, with no treading of feet on anything.

Et tu Tim?

Read in the Guardian Saturday about Tim Dowling’s anniversary woes. Or lack thereof. Depends on how you look at things.

We are pretty much the same here. We see little point in celebrating a day when I literally had to force the Resident IT Consultant to take the whole day off work, and not just the far more efficient afternoon only.

The first anniversary I suppose we believed we had to act normal (hah), so planned a meal out. The night before was eventful in that a stranger who was ‘being chased by Mrs Thatcher’ broke our front window in an effort to draw attention to his situation. After a night talking to the police, I spent the day waiting in for the return of the glazier who had promised to be back ‘lunch time’. Asked the Resident IT Consultant for the phone number and then phoned up and was rude to someone who said he’d be more than happy to help, but he hadn’t actually been the one who’d come earlier…

We then mostly ignored the day when it came by, until I carelessly mentioned to Esperanto Girl that it was our tenth. She was horrified to learn nothing was planned or even intended and forced us to go out for dinner.

And then we lived as happily as Mr and Mrs Dowling seem to do, with me occasionally disappearing off to book events which just happened to happen on that day. Gothenburg Book Fair, or Bloody Scotland. That sort of thing.

Judging by Tim’s column about their pearl anniversary, it’s fairly close to our ruby one. Which we spent in Daughter’s soon-to-be home hoovering up sawdust and taking cardboard to the tip. It was perfect!

A report from the pavement

I spent quite a bit of my Bloody Scotland weekend trying to hunt Elly Griffiths down. This entailed looking into bars; a thing I don’t normally do. I wanted her to sign a book, but by the time I had the book, Elly was nowhere to be found.

She was one of the crime writers taking part in Vaseem and Abir’s Red Hot Night of a Million Games. It was a very silly night, but a lot of fun, and it cheered both Daughter and me up. We’ll go next year too if it’s on. Daughter’s favourite was Luca Veste singing Hit Me Baby One More Time. Again. We got to wave our lit-up mobiles in the air and everything. Elly did some good moves with her maracas. Helen Fitzgerald played a convincing corpse on the floor. There was much cheating.

And when all’s said and done, it has very little to do with crime fiction, except that these authors are fun to spend time with.

In Houses From Hell, all I wanted to do was move the furniture on the stage around. Lovely, tartan armchairs, but Helen Grant, Lesley Thomson and Stuart Neville didn’t get to interact enough, because they were not seated in a convenient semi-circle. (Please take note!) Besides that, between you and me, they are quite creepy people. No, that’s not right. They have creepy interests and they put all sorts into their books. Helen even managed to scare her own husband.

When the programme for Bloody Scotland came I wanted to go to so many events. But I know my [lack of] strength, so decided to pace myself, and opted for four, thinking I could add to them later. When the time came, however, four seemed like really quite enough.

After many years of not meeting Martin Edwards in person, there was no way I was going to miss his Cosy Makes a Comeback event. I think of him as a cosy writer. And then he started off by saying he prefers traditional; not cosy. Conveniently enough both the other participants, Jonathan Whitelaw and S J Bennett, as well as the audience, were quick to adapt and the word traditional got a lot of airing. Big audience, too, so I have to say that we are many who like cosy crime. Pardon, traditional.

Hadn’t been sure how the death of the Queen was going to influence the discussion, seeing as S J’s detective actually is the Queen. But she has many plans, and always lets fictional characters do the actual deeds, so this may well continue working. Martin’s excellence at editing [other people’s] vintage crime got a mention, with very many of us being big fans and wanting to know that there will be more from the British Library. He’d initially expected to edit two. There are now over a hundred, so that clearly exceeded expectations.

At the cosy event (sorry!) I said hello to Lizzy Siddal, who I now recognised, and was introduced to her companion Marina Sofia. This turned out to be serendipitous since Marina bore down on me outside the room for the evening event about Detective Duos. We exchanged cards, the way civilised people do, and talked. A lot. For obvious reasons we were able to talk about funny foreigners. Marina is a publisher of translated crime. When Son arrived, in his role as translator of David Lagercrantz’s book, I introduced them, and it turned out they knew about each other already, and a lot more conversation took place.

The Detective Duos event was interesting, and I was pleased to finally come across Ayo Onatade who chaired it. Must have been aware of her for ten years at least. And I had thought it was her I saw down at the Albert Halls the previous night. It obviously was.

One day I’ll have to explain to David Lagercrantz about spoilers. Like not mentioning them too much at events… I liked new-to-me author Ajay Chowdhury, who is a Bloody Scotland-made success, having won a competition to write new crime. Having decided against buying his book before the event on the grounds that it was a hardback, I hurried out afterwards to hand over my money, and still make it to be first in the signing queue.

Simon Mason talked about his two DI R Wilkinses, and if I’d not already read and loved his book, I’d have bought that too. At the end Ayo put them all on the spot, and David agonised at great length before giving up on answering. (In case you want to know what it was about, I’m afraid I can’t remember.) When asked about their personal favourite detective duos, I was very pleased that Ajay chose Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Haven’t heard those names mentioned in a long time.

I then proceeded to confuse everyone by chatting to Simon and David at more or less the same time at the signing table, about different things in two different languages. I think maybe I won’t do that again. But it was nice to reminisce a little with Simon, and good to introduce myself as the mother of you-know-who to David, who got quite carried away. And he finally got to meet his translator. So I suppose that was all good.

Afterwards Son and Dodo and the Resident IT Consultant went for a beer somewhere. Probably not where I was looking for Elly. Instead I hugged an author and talked about cows with another while I waited outside on the pavement for Daughter to pick me up. It’s quite nice this, finding yourself right next to some favourite writers on the pavement (where many of them go to smoke. But not these two!).

As you may have guessed the cow conversation was with James Oswald, which in turn started Vaseem Khan on the Scots use of the word coo. I worked out later that they might have been on their way to Crime at the Coo. Talked elephants with Vaseem. Obviously. And said what fun we’d had the previous night. Soon after the hug Daughter turned up and she tried to invite him round for chilli. Vaseem turned us down very nicely. But we can try again next year.

So, as I said, you find a lot of authors milling about both in and out of the Golden Lion. And when the ticket table remained unstaffed for rather longer than it should have, Gordon Brown came to the rescue.

A Killing in November

It’s lovely when people get on. But it’s also quite good – or fun – when they don’t. That’s what you have here, in Simon Mason’s new crime series about DI Ryan Wilkins and his close colleague DI Ray Wilkins. Ryan could possibly be described as white trailer trash (from Oxford), while wealthy Nigerian Ray graduated from Balliol (also Oxford).

A Killing in November trails in the footsteps of Simon’s Garvie Smith YA crime novels, and at first I laughed out loud at the humour of these two very different and also difficult detectives. But it’s a murder tale, so it gets darker, albeit with some very light and unusual touches throughout. I loved it.

Our two DIs have a dead woman on their hands, found at Barnabas Hall, in the Provost’s study. No one seems to know who she was. Rubbing each other up the wrong way, not to mention the people at the college, Ryan and Ray do their best, while trying [not really…] not to annoy the other one.

Highly recommended.

You can find out more about it at Bloody Scotland on Saturday 17th September when Simon Mason is here, chatting to two other crime writers – David Lagercrantz and Ajay Chowdhury – about their own respective detective pairs in Detective Duos. See you at the Golden Lion? I can almost promise you that David’s British translator, Ian Giles, will be present as well… I’ve been hearing a lot about his Dark Music. And there is Ajay’s The Cook.

Why no YA for me

I had bought tickets for one more event at the book festival. This year the YA Book Prize 2022 was going to be presented at an event, which I think is a really good idea. Especially now that book awards are dropping like flies, and soon there might not be much to be won.

But the tickets were bought before I knew about the kitchen worktops. And all the rest. So it was more relaxing not to travel to Edinburgh.

And I couldn’t help noticing that I didn’t actually know much about the shortlisted authors. I had read one of the books. I met one of the authors earlier this year. And I know of Dean Atta who was presenting. I had read about the winner, Adiba Jaigirdar. But it’s still as though I have lost touch with what’s happening in the YA world.

In a way that is good. It means things are moving on, and new people are appearing on the YA scene. Being a bit old, I am too stuck in the ways of ten years ago. But someone else will be up to scratch with the new names and their new titles.

And as I said, I think doing the awards at the book festival is a great idea.

Handy to be alive

It is. And we are so grateful that Michael Rosen came out of Covid almost as good as new. I’d forgotten quite how much of a performer he is. Not for Michael this sitting down in one of the book fest’s trendy armchairs and chat quietly to a chairperson like Daniel Hahn. No. He allowed himself to be introduced, and then it was full speed ahead with an hour of absolute comedy.

Comedy mixed with serious stuff, because nearly dying, or being from the stone age, isn’t all fun. But it’s possible to talk about it entertainingly, and in such a way that a roomful of very young children don’t get bored. Michael told us about being ‘put to sleep’ by the NHS, and how hard it was to wake up after forty days, and how his resourceful wife brought in a mobile phone and had his children chat to him and getting him talking (and now he can’t stop).

He had to relearn how to walk and talk. The first with the help of Sticky McStickstick, who assisted Michael all the way to the toilet and back. The talking by learning to sing Frère Jacques by making the somewhat rude noise that sounds a bit like farts (and he had the audience doing just that…). I couldn’t help thinking of the aerosol effect when so many people blow/sing raspberries.

Anyway, he now walks and talks. About pasta, for instance. There was much said about pasta, and Rigatoni the pasta cat. Although Michael prefers fusilli, with bolognese – with mushrooms – sticking to every little fold.

His current favourite [own] book is the as yet unpublished Gaston le dog. This led to a lot of French being bandied about, and coming on top of Frère Jacques and also Daniel’s translation thing, it was a very French sort of day.

Born in 1946, and not the stone age (he lied), Michael and his brother were very naughty boys. And noisy. This brought back the story of how their father used to deal with noise. He would put his hand to the side of his face (see Bookwitch archive photo of Michael demonstrating this in 2012) and simply utter the words ‘The Noise’.

Which coincidentally is how it sounds to people in the rest of the world when Michael says the word ‘nice’. It’s tricky. So is not breathing, which seems to have been something that happened at school, but which was alleviated by flapping the lid of your [ancient style] school desk lid, and breathing behind it. This saved several lives in Michael’s school.

Of course, it could be that he just made all this up.

And because this was about poetry, and because Michael is a poet, he told us some poems, making the audience repeat them.

His favourite pudding is blackcurrant sorbet, or cassis.

After an hour of fun it was Daniel’s thankless task to tell us it had to come to an end.