Category Archives: Blogs

Let’s keep them out

Or kick them out, in case they already sneaked in.

I’m afraid I can’t leave the state of the world’s affairs alone. There are days when several hours pass without me thinking about this, and there are days when they don’t.

Where to start? Last week at least the children’s books world cried out when Australian author Mem Fox was detained by US immigration officials and treated as though she was a threat to their country. There is very little I can say. I don’t know whether this was done through sheer ignorance, or knowing full well what they did and that that was the whole point.

Maybe on to Australia after that. It seems no country is better than the rest. Luckily it appears that a last minute intervention has saved the deportation of a [Bangladeshi] doctor and her autistic daughter, who it was feared might become a burden on Australia and its tax payers’ money.

While we’re in the medical world, let’s move on to Sweden, shall we? A week ago a 20-year-old pregnant woman was refused entry to the antenatal clinic in a leading Gothenburg hospital, because she looked like a muslim. She is muslim. Born in Sweden, but still. She had phoned in about a concern in her pregnancy and been told to come in. Except when they saw her staff didn’t want to open the door.

Sticking with medical issues, my thoughts went to Malala, the foreign girl from a country so many don’t want immigrants from, who was permitted to come to Britain for her life to be saved. And we all feel so good about that, and we admire her for what she’s gone on to do after recovering. She’s become a National Treasure, unless I’m mistaken?

The same goes for Nadiya Hussain, who bakes and writes books and is so popular you need to queue up to get her autograph.

On Saturday a Facebook friend of mine, author and journalist Hilary Freeman wrote an article for the Guardian about her worries for her family’s future. She has a young child and the father of the child is French. He hasn’t been here long enough to qualify for anything, nor does he earn enough money. The article is very well written, and manages to cover the concerns of many, even if our individual cases vary.

Thinking some more about authors. Two of my top three favourite books were written by immigrants. I keep those books in my ‘special’ bookcase. Had a little look to see who else is there, and counted up to eight ‘foreigners,’ including Italian Scots, before the shelf disappeared behind the armchair. But you get the picture; lots of fabulous books have a non-British background. Even when ‘we’ think it’s good old English stuff.

If I did to my bookcase what the Davis Museum in America did when they removed art by immigrants (for the best of reasons), it’d soon look pretty deserted.

And there is always something that can be done, putting people in their place. Quoting Wikipedia, Tamarind Books ‘was founded in 1987 as a small independent publisher specialising in picture books, fiction and non-fiction featuring black and Asian children and children with disabilities, with the mission of redressing the balance of diversity in children’s publishing.’ This is very worthy and I have the highest opinion of Tamarind. But now that it is also an imprint within a much larger organisation, has it become the place to stash away the slightly foreign authors? You know, ‘you will be happier next to your own kind’ sort of thought.

As for tax payers’ money, I always believed it was there for the burdens in life.

After Tomorrow, again

Quite a few books, and the reviews thereof, could do with being mentioned a second, or third time. Some of them become worryingly [even more] topical at a later stage. Gillian Cross wrote such a book; After Tomorrow, which I read four years ago. At the time it touched me deeply. Now it touches me more, and it scares me how much more realistic the situation has become in a few years.

‘By turning a situation round 180 degrees, you could find you don’t agree with yourself. If I were not an immigrant, I would most likely find it easier to cast a suspicious eye on all those foreigners flocking to Britain. Heaven on earth, and everyone made so welcome, too. What’s not to like?

Besides, the other lot aren’t quite as nice as we are.

Gillian Cross has done this. She sends her characters in After Tomorrow to France. The situation in the UK is desperate. Food is scarce and anyone caught hoarding gets rough treatment from gangs of raiders; their food taken, their homes smashed up and people injured, raped and even killed. There is a website naming the Scadgers, telling others where they live.

Matt’s family are branded scadgers, and his grandfather dies after one such attack. His mother and stepfather make belated arrangements to leave the country and escape to France before they close their borders to the British.

(When I’d got this far I felt more anxious than ever while reading ‘mere’ fiction. I began calculating what I had in my freezer. First with a view to survival eating it, and then with fear because someone would come and punish me for it. I was halfway to leaving the country myself. Where to, though? Who would have me? Yes, I know. But perhaps that would no longer be possible.)

Some of them get away, on what is virtually the last lorry convoy to leave. And on arrival they find only those with children are allowed in. People scheme and lie in order not to be sent back. They have no food to begin with. Nowhere to sleep.

Eventually there is a refugee camp set up, of the simplest kind. They are given food vouchers to shop for. Bartering becomes a new way of surviving. Matt brought his grandfather’s bike, and the lorry driver who drove them to France has grand ideas for it.

The locals hate and distrust them. Most of the refugees don’t speak French. Most don’t want to learn, either.

Now, take all these facts and change the nationalites. Even you, who are normally so fair minded, might think it sounds perfectly normal and only to be expected. But not if it’s you in that muddy field, needing antibiotics that you can’t afford. If the doctor gets there on time.

How far away are we from this kind of scenario on our doorsteps? Sometimes I think we are almost all the way to it. I hope not. And I still can’t decide whether to fill my freezer some more, or to eat most of the food.

Just in case.’

For myself I am currently not concentraing on muddy fields or the possible lack of antibiotics. But I am thinking of most of the other things.

From the launch pad

There are only so many simultaneous launches a witch can attend. Last night offered two; both of which I dearly wanted to go to.

Marnie Riches, Born Bad

Marnie Riches brought her new baby, crime-thriller novel Born Bad, into the world at Waterstones Deansgate (that’s Manchester, folks), and it felt like such a special event that for weeks I believed it would be the one to take me back there at long last. After all, what else would I be doing on a dark February night?

The answer to that is three things, and being exhausted and having the builders [still] in were two of them. I sensibly declined in the end, and no sooner had I done that than James Oswald declared he was also launching his new novel at exactly the same time, at Waterstones West End (that’s Edinburgh), and this did feel a lot more feasible. But in the end the same three things conspired against me and I didn’t go.

Sigh.

I trust books were launched successfully anyway, and that Written in Bones is now sailing somewhere well past Princes Street Gardens, possibly as far as the Meadows, where it might encounter the dead body I told you about yesterday. If James continues to write and continues to launch, it is my ambition in life to go along to one of these events. Perhaps the trains will even run all evening at some distant point in time.

James Oswald, Wriiten in Bones

Back to Marnie and Manchester. Born Bad is about bad people doing bad things in Manchester. It has a great cover, and I’m so happy for Marnie, whose first paper book crime novel it is. The George McKenzie books are ebooks (they ought to be in paper as well!). There was mention of booze with the invite, but as I wasn’t going to drink any, I reckon my absense won’t make a difference.

I’ll get to Manchester one day. And Edinburgh. Well, the latter could be next week.

Meanwhile I’ll polish up the broom.

Just weird

After watching the programme about Terry Pratchett last weekend, I told myself I really must read more of his books, as there are some I’ve not yet read. I’ve been hanging on to the idea of them as a treat. It’s time to forget about [some] new books and dip into my reserve. The last time I thought along these lines I realised there is a problem. Son has custody of most of the Discworld books, and when we moved house that custody shifted from being his room in our house, to a room in his own home.

So I reached the conclusion I need to visit some charity shops, but before doing that, I ought to check which – if any – books we had managed to hang on to. I especially wanted to read Night Watch, after it was mentioned so many times last week.

It turns out we have exactly one unread Pratchett novel. Night Watch.

As I was visiting a real live bookshop, I had a quick look at their shelves of Discworld books. Seems there are some tasteful new covers of paperback sized hardbacks. I liked them, but £13? Besides, don’t they sort of have to be the cover designs we’ve got used to? Discworld’s not the same without them.

I had been invited to another event at the same time as Debi Gliori was talking at Blackwell’s on Thursday. It was the launch of the International Science Festival, and having had to miss it last year, I’d intended to make it work this time. And then I bumped into the publicist I thought had invited me, at my event, which seemed a bit odd. She’s working on something else. (So I clearly wouldn’t have found her at the launch.)

On my way to and from Edinburgh I read James Oswald’s new crime novel (more about that later). His corpse had a background in Saughton. It could be my old age, but while I knew this was a prison, I didn’t actually know where. Two minutes later my tram took me through Saughton.

I appreciate this kind of helpful behaviour in trams.

Debi’s Night Shift

There were people already sitting in the leather sofas at Blackwell’s. And I arrived really early, too. So there was nothing for it but to sit on one of the ‘filthy’ staffroom chairs (this charming description courtesy of the shop’s Ann Landmann) at the back, but that was fine too. I like the back. And I didn’t break the chair, which at one point seemed worryingly likely. Maybe next time.

Ann Landmann with Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

I’d come to Edinburgh to see – well, hear – Debi Gliori talk to Andrew Eaton-Lewis from the Mental Health Foundation about Night Shift; her book on depression. The event had been sold out for some time, and it was the fullest I’ve seen the room. Hence the need for all the ‘uncomfortable folding chairs’ as well as the staffroom contribution.

Debi arrived with her family in tow, and was greeted by lots of people who seemed to know her. And she noted I wasn’t sitting on the sofa, as I’d promised…

Ann Landmann’s introduction was more honest than ever, and also covered the matter of blue drinks being served, the shop front being painted blue, and that it is ten months until Christmas, but that this musn’t deter anyone from buying copies of Night Shift.

Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

Debi and Andrew ended up doing their talk standing up, the better for us to hear them. The first time Debi suffered from depression was the worst, possibly because it was the unknown. These days she doesn’t always notice when it’s coming, but her family can tell. Debi feels she has wasted enough time on depression over the years, which is partly why she started on the book.

The pictures were mainly intended for herself, but part-way in she changed her mind and felt there could be a book in it. Debi is an ‘ancient hippy’ which could be why she uses dragons to illustrate the bad feelings. She made the pictures big, but is unsure why the book ended up quite as small as it did.

The book was mostly intended as a communication tool, a bit like the Point It book she used on holiday in Portugal. If you can’t say it, you can always point to a picture of what you mean. It was hard finding a publisher for the book, because it was so dark, and so far removed from fluffy bunnies.

Debi Gliori

Fellow illustrator Kate Leiper, who sat next to me, asked how Debi manages her ordinary illustration work when she’s depressed. The first time it was so bad Debi couldn’t even go in her studio for over a year, but now she finds she writes better books the more depressed she is. No Matter What is ‘a very dark book.’ But she’d rather make bad books and be happy.

Running was what saved Debi, and that first time it was running that led to her feeling able to go next door and have coffee with her neighbour, at a time when even little things like that seemed impossible.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis and Debi Gliori

While she doesn’t want to put dark images in the minds of children, Debi pointed out that children watch some pretty grim television these days. The US version of No Matter What has lost the last page in order not to upset American sensitivities. Debi occasionally checks reviews on Amazon to see what people say about death in picture books.

Asked if there was a book that made her feel very special when she read it, Debi mentioned Tove Jansson’s Comet in Moominland; the most perfect book in the world. She wants to be adopted by the Moomins, and to have access to Moomin mamma’s handbag.

From there it was straight to the signing table, where a special silver sharpie awaitened Debi and her queue of fans. I hurried over with my book, but got stuck waiting for a bit after all, chatting to someone from the book festival, who in turn introduced me to the person responsible for Granite Noir. Queues can be useful that way.

Debi Gliori

Finally, before running off to the airport, I stopped and chatted to Kate Leiper who was busy ‘being spontaneous.’ And we talked a bit more about illustrating. Seems Kate makes ‘notes’ when she comes up with good ideas for pictures, just like I do with words; before they can escape.

I love cheese

I also love books.

Today’s the day when one should talk about love. I’ve been trying to come up with ‘love’ stuff to mention.

So that’s cheese and books. I love my family.

And, I quite like Bookwitch. Yes, awfully narcissistic of me. It’s not love, though.

The other day I had cause to search through older parts of Bookwitch, looking for something. Gold possibly. And I found I enjoyed re-reading older posts. Not all of them, but some were reasonably entertaining.

So that was nice. Reassuring. Maybe it hasn’t been a complete waste of time.

I came to the conclusion I am [a bit] like Gwendolen Fairfax, who said:  ‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.’

Cough.

Well.

And I discovered a fan letter I’d completely forgotten about. Clearly I could do with regular re-readings, if only to remind myself of my destroyed life, as imagined by my fairy blogmother.

I just love fan letters❣️

Terry Pratchett – Back in Black

It was the Barbican memorial for Terry Pratchett all over again. In the BBC documentary Back in Black on Saturday we could see an almost Terry. It’s enough to see someone wearing black, with a hat like his, and if there is a beard as well, then for a heartstopping moment it is Terry Pratchett. Here it was actor Paul Kaye doing what Terry didn’t have enough time to do. He did as good a job as you could ask for, speaking in the style of Terry, while not quite being our much missed author who has gone to be with Death.

I was able to point out to the Resident IT Consultant where I had been sitting, and towards the end when Eric Idle sang with the audience at the Barbican I got to see what I had to miss last year. Thank you for that.

Terry Pratchett postcards

Much of the rest of the programme was dedicated to alternately bless the world for having produced Terry, and crying because he’s gone. I have never before witnessed the seemingly unflappable Neil Gaiman even close to tears. We heard part of their story, some of which was new to me, filmed in the actual (?) place where a very young Neil interviewed a not so well known Terry.

And speaking of being not so well known; the clip from a 1990s television round table book discussion where they had the nerve to laugh and tut at our Terry was a real eye opener. If I was that woman I’d be worried about going out in public.

Val McDermid had good things to say about Terry as a lost crime writer, and many other friends shared their Terry with us. How I can sympathise with someone with a waist like the equator!

Rhianna Pratchett spoke about her father, mainly as a father. I’m glad he had time to be a dad in the midst of writing a couple of books a year and touring and getting to know his faithful fans.

And Rob Wilkins talked about the day Terry accused him of having mislaid the s on his keyboard. That’s the kind of thing that not only makes you want to cry, but you quietly begin to worry that one day you will lose your own letter s.

You – and I – have 28 days in which to watch [again] this lovely farewell.