Category Archives: Blogs

And it’s not even my past

But anyway, it’s too late. The book has sold out, and I only got mine on Monday.

Throughout lockdown, Ian Archie Beck has entertained his followers on Twitter with art. And it’s not any old art. His paintings and drawings from – mostly – around where he lives; the local streets, the back of his house, his vase, possibly even his flowers. Absolutely gorgeous!

So I thought, this could be a series of postcards to buy, maybe. Or a book. I’ll look out for it.

So, just before Easter he admitted that yes, there would be a book soon. And he’d be selling it direct and I could order one. Thank god I had the good sense to order it there and then. Because it’s already too late, as I said.

I don’t know all that much about Ian. I’ve read one of his children’s books. We’ve gone to the same parties. And with this book he has proved that art is like writing books (only harder, I imagine); it gets a lot better when you deal with what you know best.

As lockdown began, Ian’s dog Grace apparently pulled him in the opposite direction from where their usual walks would go. Ian discovered new areas of his part of Isleworth. He went home and painted what he’d seen, and what he’d been inspired to notice.

And it’s this pictorial lockdown diary he has treated us to, first on Twitter, and then as a book. All right, and also as postcards. And you can buy the original art. Or you could. It sounds like it’s mostly gone already, like the book. Which is just as well, because I couldn’t afford those prices, and my available wall area is not all that available. And the painting I loved the most wasn’t even on the price list of the art for sale…

So that’s fine.

I will sit and dream over the paintings in the book, and maybe frame one or two of the postcards, because as Daughter wryly pointed out, I might have room for those.

The paintings. Well, streets and houses and still lifes, and it all brings me back to my childhood. Which is strange, because that’s not where my childhood happened. But it’s my archetypal English town, the kind I used to dream of when younger.

And I’m clearly not alone, since Philip Pullman expressed very similar feelings on Twitter. As did most everyone else. And I think we can only keep our fingers crossed that there might be a second edition of The Light in Suburbia, and more postcards, and maybe more paintings, and why not a second book?

You know, we can’t have enough of this kind of wonderfulness.

Shirley Williams

When I read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I had no idea of her relationship to Shirley Williams, the politician. I mainly concentrated on the fact that Vera had actually travelled past the bottom of our garden, on her way to go shopping with her mother in Manchester. That was enough of a connection. Never mind that the shopping happened before our house was built.

And then I found out that Vera was the mother of Shirley Williams. And after that, one day at Charlotte Square, during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I looked around the yurt and discovered I was sitting next to Shirley Williams, being interviewed by someone.

That was exciting enough for me. A more or less direct link to the woman who wrote Testament of Youth.

And now Shirley Williams has died. But I’m grateful for that fleeting connection, which would never have been possible without you.

The fictional prince

Fiction is quite marvellous, sometimes. It can help you see more clearly.

Like most other people I have watched all four seasons of The Crown. I understand that it is fiction. That does not mean that it can’t help in understanding what has taken place in real life, to real people.

It’s with that in mind that I think back on the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, who died today. I’d say that until a few years ago, I didn’t think of him in an especially favourable light. Pretty much like all the people today who have moaned about all the fuss, just because an elderly white man died.

Before the fiction that is The Crown, I’d have agreed. Now, though, I feel I can guess at what it was like for Prince Philip. And some of it probably wasn’t much fun, even if he was rich and entitled.

So I think what I am saying is that the scriptwriters might not have written his life accurately. Almost certainly not, actually. But they have planted a vision in my mind; I can see how things might have been. And it is that Prince I feel a small sense of loss for.

He’s been there all my life. In fact, he came to Stockholm when I was born. That has always been much appreciated by me, if only as family lore, about how my Aunt Motta’s navy blue dress coloured her underwear blue in the heavy rain, as she stood waiting to see her Prince Philip. I know the Queen was there, too, but it’s Prince Philip and the underwear we think of.

The white stuff

I read in a food magazine about how there is too much choice of yoghurt in supermarkets. About how it’s almost as hard to choose your white breakfast stuff as it is lightbulbs.

I had to smile, because we frequently come home with the wrong yoghurt, despite being very aware people. They trick you with their words and their packaging.

And don’t get me started on lightbulbs! The Bookwitch family has a rather awkward relationship where lightbulbs are concerned, and the less said about this the better.

When we last had a lightbulb issue – in the kitchen, since you didn’t ask – I was reminded of Favourite Aunt, and her kitchen lightbulb. This will have been in 1994. Never let it be said my memory is bad. I was visiting, and the ceiling bulb had ‘gone’ and it needed dealing with. One issue was how to reach it, high up in the air. The other was how did the shade thing turn, which I wanted to know before climbing up.

Well, she didn’t know, she said. She’d never changed the bulb before. I looked at her and said, ‘are you telling me that you’ve had this same bulb for thirty years?’ ‘It’s only been twenty-nine’ she replied, quick as a flash.

To this day I don’t know if she was being serious or not. She could be very funny. But she had also lived in the flat twenty-nine years, and definitely not thirty as I had hinted at.

Let’s just say there was no change of lightbulb that day either.

A little night reading

For some reason Daughter felt she wanted to start reading aloud in Swedish. It’s generally helpful to start light, so not the Bible, or The Times. I gave her my childhood Elsa Beskow, but that really was quite short.

After two of Barbro Lindgren’s and Eva Eriksson’s Vilda Bebin books, which were confusing because they are ‘poetry’ she moved on to Pettson and Findus by Sven Nordqvist. She has now read me all the ones we have in the original language.

That is just as well. I have enjoyed the reading, or maybe I mean the listening. But, it sends me to sleep. I know, I know. Bedtime stories are supposed to do just that, but I am old and had not intended to go to bed so soon.

Members of the Resident IT Consultant’s family are well known, or should I say notorious, for always falling asleep. You sit there being all sociable, and sooner or later one of them nods off.

That’s what I did.

I came to, and became aware that Daughter was looking at me in a horrified sort of way. Apparently I had done that nodding off, right there in my armchair.

I’m not quite ready for the reading to take place with me in bed, but I suppose it will have to come to that.

(Findus is an annoying little cat. But quite kind, not to mention intelligent, all the same.)

Launching the outlaws

I admit to raising my macaroni cheese when all the others raised perfectly civilised glasses of some kind of drink. We were at the launch of Jonathan Stroud’s new YA novel, The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne. It was on Zoom, as so many other things have been. This is both good and bad. You get to sit in comfort, you can eat macaroni cheese, and you can ‘meet’ the publicist’s son sitting on her lap. It’s nice and cosy. But the other kind of launch would have been nice too, and might have spared us the frequent pling-plongs when people rang the doorbell (although I gather this could have been turned off).

There were some spoilers, it has to be admitted. But as Daughter pointed out, most of the attendees had probably already read the book. In fact, the large number of people present were the cream of children’s books publishing. And me.

Jonathan’s editor Denise said many very kind words about both him and his book. His publicists spoke (he has at least three!) and told us about the expected proceedings, and played the book trailer. After which we got a reading. No we didn’t. First Jonathan said many kind words about Walker Books, which is where he once worked as an editor. Then he read from his book.

And after that his other editor, Grainne, took over and chatted about his writing and how he came up with the idea. It was meant to be a sort of Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer on the Thames. The main character was a middle aged man. When that didn’t work, he became a teenage girl instead, which is clearly what we needed. In fact, what was so interesting to learn was that Jonathan started somewhere on a raft on the river, with the wrong characters, and how this all sorted itself out to become what it is now. Hardly surprising that the two editors had to pinch themselves because they got to work with Jonathan.

To finish there were questions from ‘us’ and after that there were more grateful, kind words from everyone to everyone else. And the good thing about Zoom is that it’s then fairly easy, not to mention swift, to pull the plug and silence any stragglers. But I’d like to think that a good launch was had by all.

Down #3 Memory Lane

The Chicken House breakfast seems quite appropriate for Easter week, doesn’t it?

I had almost forgotten about it, but eight years ago I went to a book event a mere twenty minutes [train ride] away from Bookwitch Towers and was home again well before lunch. That’s what I call efficient use of time.

It’s one of the things I do miss now. The being able to go to events that are conveniently near, but which are still ‘big enough’ to feature lots of authors and lots of other booky people. And food. And free books.

The view is from the breakfast venue, which the more eagle-eyed of you might recognise as the Manchester Oxford Road station forecourt. Perhaps not the most attractive of places, but oh so useful. And as I said, just off the train. And Bookwitch Towers just off the train at the other end, especially had I been able to leap across the fence at the bottom of my garden (which is something I never did!).

It was good of Chicken House to make the trek north to see how the other half lives. Some people don’t know that there is life outside London – or Bath, in this instance – but there is.

Now, can I interest anyone in a Central Scotland something? Fried Mars bars with IrnBru, perhaps. Once we’re back to ’normal’, obviously.

Dr Noir meets Kirkie

Kirkland Ciccone is a lucky man. All through his conversation with Dr Noir – aka Jacky Collins – on Friday evening, he sat facing my wall of books, which is something he likes. All those Agatha Christies! I know he could ‘see’ them, because we were watching his YouTube chat on our television, and that sits opposite the wall of books.

This was another event featuring his book Happiness is Wasted on Me, which had delighted Dr Noir, although she clearly needed to learn more about Cumbernauld. There is a risk that come the end of Covid restrictions, she will hotfoot it over there. Unless the powers that be, have dynamited the place by then.

We admired Kirkie’s outfit, his banana shirt, a furry yellow cape thing, and topped with an orange hat. It matched the stringlights behind him.

Is is his book really a crime novel? There is a murder, but I’m not sure it is. Really. Fairly sure it won’t make his fans hunt out Agatha Christie afterwards.

Cumbernauld is ugly, but Kirkie thinks that’s all right. He can still love it. He sort of suggested he’s not Walter in the story. He can say that, but…

There were questions. One, from Daughter, was whether that was IrnBru he was swigging from his very tall mug. He claimed it was Earl Grey. Twinings. Honestly! I will have to send Kirkie some real Earl Grey.

He talked about his mother, the flat roofs of the houses in Cumbernauld, about the library and how hard it can be to find, about his brother’s criminal exploits, steak pie at New Year, and liking Stirling’s Thistle Centre. Well, someone has to, I suppose.

Towards the end they moved on to Kirkie’s Desert Island Discs, which he clearly hadn’t prepared for, so there was much – weird – music being mentioned. Also, 1990s style magazine covers, which were behind the design of the book cover. (This is so much not my time!)

And, you know, they want you to buy the book. I think I want you to do that too.

Afterwards I had some proper Earl Grey and a Gingernut, and thought of Cumbernauld. As you do.

The early bird

I got up earlier than usual this morning.

Before you get excited about this, let me assure you it wasn’t that early. Just earlier. For Covid-times. The main problem with getting up late, is that the mornings disappear awfully fast.

But I had a flashback as I contemplated my ‘early’ breakfast and the possibilities this extra hour offered. I used to do this once before.

Get up early. Earlier than I had to, I mean. We’re not counting going to school – although as you will find, I did that – or travelling dreadfully early or having to deal with babies who have a poor understanding of parents wanting to sleep a little bit longer. Ot even letting the builders in.

When I was around 15, I got up earlier and earlier in the mornings, on school days, and not to shower – although I did that – or pack the schoolbag or anything.

I got up to read.

When my evenings grew too short for me to read a few chapters more, I solved this dire state of things by reading before going to school. At first I added maybe a quarter of an hour to my usual morning proceedings. But gradually this got longer and longer. In the end I believe it was an extra hour, which meant getting out of bed at 5.30. Swedish schools start early. I also read in the corridors outside each classroom as I waited to be let in, managing perhaps another five minutes before each lesson. And, erm, reading before the film started in cinemas…

This will be why I managed to get through a fair few books back then.

The somewhat ridiculous situation ended when we moved, and I went to school in the company of Mother-of-Witch in the car, and it suddenly seemed preposterous that I’d crawl out of bed that much earlier.

Since then I’ve been mostly normal. For me. Although I still take a book to the cinema. Used to. In case the film’s no good.

Down #2 Memory Lane

It looks quite domestic, doesn’t it? Except for the lurid red upholstery.

But there’s me, the tea tray, the three heads in front of the gold mirror. And Terry Pratchett.

2010 was a double Terry Pratchett interview year. By request. The first time by me. The second time by Terry.

It was, just nice. That’s what I’m looking for just now. A nice past. Something I’d put in my photo album, if I did stuff like that. In fact, that’s an idea! I never considered mixing Bookwitching photographs with private life photos.

I had brought Son along, in case there was coffee to be poured. There was. I always knew he’d turn out to be useful one day.