Category Archives: Blogs

The Royal T

Little-cousin Volvina called in at Bookwitch Towers this week. It was mainly a mistake on her part. Not that she didn’t want to be here, but her reason for travelling went a bit wrong at one stage.

She brought both Double-O and Volvinita as well, not to mention the Queen’s tea towel. The day before they’d done the guided tour on the HMY Britannia, and very satisfied they were too. But they hadn’t had the tea there, and instead bought me a tea towel, under the impression that it’s some grand thing involved in the Royal serving of tea.

HMY Britannia tea towel

When actually it’s what you dry the dishes with. More useful, if you ask me, as I rarely have elegantly served tea around here, with some uniformed chap wearing a tea towel draped over his arm, or whatever you’re supposed to do with it.

So that’s what they learned from me. They’d not been before, but thanks to online maps they could tell I’d changed my garage doors…

The more telltale proof they’d come to the right house was the oystercatcher in the window. And Gunnar Sträng, Sweden’s former (very former) chancellor of the exchequer. He’s also in a window, although not sharing with the oystercatchers.

I offered them refreshments and they were keen to have tea, seeing as they’d missed out on the Royal variety. I wasn’t sure whether they thought I’d surpass the Queen, or if their expectations had been quite low at the Britannia. In the end I didn’t even manage side plates, and we simply peeled the wrappings off the little cakes from Sainsbury’s, eating them as they came.

But that’s all right. They won’t know how low my standards have sunk.

Save that email!

Yesterday Hilary McKay said in a comment here that lovely letters from friends and fans are a problem, from the point of view of hanging on to them. Or getting rid of them, as the case may be. And I agree, apart from the fact that I have no fans. While smaller than books, letters can be harder to store. How do you file them so they can be found again?

Hilary’s books will be found on the shelf with the other M books. But a letter from someone whose name you might not remember later on? Can’t even do the alphabetical filing. (It’s pretty much like all the rubbish I have kept because it might come in handy one day. And when you accidentally come across it ten years later, you neither recall you had it, nor would have known where to look for it.)

Anyway, letters and cards are one thing, and I do hang on to some of the best and prettiest. But emails. Do you keep them?

And by keep, I don’t necessarily mean whether you let them sit in your inbox, or in a mail folder carefully labelled Hilary McKay (sorry to be using you as an example, Hilary), to be unearthed at a later point. I mean print them out and keep them as though they’re letters (which many are, in some way).

I tidied the filing cabinet some time ago. This was long overdue, and I pruned the contents much harder, being quite ruthless. I was somewhat taken aback when I came across a thick wad of authors’ emails on paper. They were from the olden days, when emails were longer and less frequent, and I was less jaded and treasured them immensely. Hence the printing out and keeping.

Well, I don’t do that anymore, I can assure you. I don’t necessarily believe that cyberspace will safeguard correspondence any more than I did then, but I’ll risk it. (Obviously I treasure every last scrap of email from real people.)

Also, I am not keeping the stash of print-outs. They have been shredded. Could have turned into bedding for the hamster, if I had one.

But I do wonder what happens to any future books about a person, where in the past letters have been one of the ways to learn about someone. Michael Faraday wrote so many letters during his lifetime that they fill six volumes of very hefty books. When a biographer comes to write about Hilary McKay, how will they find the material? I’m sure there will be lots of letters, but will any researcher know to ask me to make my inbox available? And should I do so? I mean, you never know what might turn up.

Binning the proofs?

It could be that the story wasn’t even true. I’m the kind of person who believes, or wants to believe, what reliable newspapers report. I’m fairly sure I have mentioned this snippet before, and therefore I am as guilty as anyone of spreading what might not actually be true.

But it stops me from throwing away books. Every time.

It’s the brief tale of a poor young woman somewhere in Africa. Her most treasured possession was a portion of a paperback novel. Not even a whole book. After I’d read about her I wanted to get on the first plane and hand over a suitcase full of books.

What to do with very early proofs? Whether I read them or not, assuming I do the reading nice and soon after receiving them, doesn’t matter. If I don’t feel I can keep them, I can’t pass them on either. I will always honour a publication date.

I recall the pain I felt when seeing loads of – unread and pristine – proofs chucked in the bin in a bookshop. My reaction to those books in what has to be a very wrong place, was to rescue them. But I realised I couldn’t, and shouldn’t.

Maybe proofs are always meant to be thrown away. Pulped. If I keep mine, I suppose it’s all right. Pass them on, though? The opposite of the bookshop bin was Offspring’s school library. There we entered even proofs into the library system. After all, it saved the school the cost of a book, and provided young readers with yet another tempting novel.

I don’t know what’s right. As with so many other situations, I would guess there is a legal right, and then a moral one.

And the young woman in Africa.

How to be an Alien

I know. I blogged about How to be an Alien before. I love George Mikes, and particularly that book. And I feel that maybe we need more of that kind of thing. (Mine is the 24th impression, from 1978.)

George Mikes, How to be an Alien

Except, perhaps it’s now an unsafe topic of conversation? As George points out, ‘Do not forget that it is much easier to write in English than to speak English, because you can write without a foreign accent.’ Yes. My smallish vocabulary can always be blamed on my choice of writing style; pretend I prefer plain and simple. You can’t hear me.

How times have changed. George reported being told by a very kind lady ‘you really speak a most excellent accent without the slightest English.’ Don’t we all? Now though, I wonder what any kind lady is likely to say under similar circumstances.

Where are you a foreigner? Those of us who are here, would generally like to believe that in our own countries we wouldn’t be, and that this misfortune would befall the British instead, but according to George Mikes this is not so. Or more correctly, was not so, but I’m guessing many British people are not foreign even when they go and live in Spain. George was upset when he was informed that his much ‘loved and respected’ mother was a foreigner, back in her own Hungary.

I used to believe I knew and understood everything in How to be an Alien. England was charming and amusing, and you could smile fondly over her, as you would a toddler.

When I first read the book, I had never heard of Princes Square and Leinster Square in London. The whole idea seemed preposterous. Then one day I discovered I was staying in a hotel in one of them. Or was it both?

These days I tell people I live at no. 4 and that it’s the house between nos. 3 and 5. This needs to be pointed out or casual visitors may end up on the other side of the road.

Anyway, I used to reckon all I needed to do was learn how things are done here and I’d be fine. Now I find that I am taken aback by how normal things are in – to me – hitherto unknown countries on the continent, and how much I have changed over the years.

But I do feel queueing is a fair way of doing things. And I’d like to hope that the humour in George’s book will be appreciated by most people.

Reading

Yes, that’s what us Bookwitches like.

I was idly surfing while chatting to Daughter on Skype. Needed to check an Ikea product, so eventually found myself on the home page, where a chest of drawers burst into confetti-like happiness.

Reading IKEA

Time to celebrate it said, and I thought that was most commendable. Whether they were celebrating reading, or whether you should read to celebrate was less clear.

After some time I realised I wasn’t getting this quite right. Apparently they were opening a new Ikea shop this week. In Reading. Hence the celebrating.

It’s a confusing name for a town.

Peddle? I don’t think so.

Aaand we’re peddling again. Eighteen months ago (thank goodness for the search facility – and I’ll get to that word any minute now – on Bookwitch) I moaned grumpily about the peddling of bikes in fiction. I do enjoy a good complaint. Towards other people, and not directed at me.

I have now read two novels in quick succession where the main character peddles their bike. Several times. Consistency is good. It means they firmly believe you peddle bikes. Or their editors do.

Bikes obviously are peddled, but mostly in bikeshops or on Gumtree and similar sites.

And don’t get me started on facilities. Usually I rather hope I will be offered a toilet, or more generally a nice arrangement of useful things and services.

I was reading the local paper last week, about a primary school that had closed its doors for the last time. The building was so old and decrepit the school will be demolished.

And a new facility will rise in its place!

So they get rid of a school, and build a facility. It’s hardly surprising a facility won’t be as good as a school in getting the difference between peddling and pedalling across. (Offspring pedalled at their primary school. There was an after school class in safe cycling.)

(Psst, anyone want a bike? Or two? The Resident IT Consultant is about to peddle a couple of bikes, as we can’t even swing a squirrell in our garage at the moment. Which, presumably, is why one of them visited the conservatory a few days ago. Stray cats needing to be sent packing is one thing. But I can’t abide the thought of the squirrels starting in on our food supplies, having witnessed how they dealt with the Christmas canapés last December.)

Bike

Life-changing longlists

Immediately on reading through the Guardian’s longlist for its children’s fiction prize, I felt grumpy.

Yes, as people said on social media, it’s a really good list. They would say that, of course, and you noticed that I did too. That’s with only having read two of the longlisted novels; Malorie Blackman’s and Tanya Landman’s. And they are award material.

But I liked the description of most of the other books. And I did come across one of them at Yay!YA+ in April, where I heard Martin Stewart read the first chapter of Riverkeep about three or four times. It wasn’t out yet, at that time, and whereas it was available to buy early that day, you know me; I don’t buy books. And Penguin haven’t offered it to me. If I was Martin I’d want my first book to be mentioned to people.

Perhaps some of the other books are also only just out in the shops. That was certainly the case with my life-changing book, How I Live Now, in 2004. I read about it on the longlist, and then found I couldn’t buy it just yet, so had to wait. That turned out quite well for both me and Meg Rosoff.

Brian Selznick seems to have another book out, which is promising. Then there are two authors – Alex Wheatle and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock – whom I have only heard of because they are in the Edinburgh programme this summer. The remaining two are completely unknown to me, and one of them has a book with a cover so tempting it’s all I can do to stay calm. That’s G R Gemin with Sweet Pizza, along with Zana Fraillon who’s written about refugees, which I also like the look of.

G R Gemin, Sweet Pizza

Hopefully one or two of these will find their way to me, and hopefully they will inspire me, and lead to great things for the authors. Just like in 2004. And hopefully I’m grumping now because no one has done publicity yet, and it’s all to come…