Category Archives: Blogs

Easter lilies

Daffodils

I know. They aren’t Easter lilies. I imagine there is no such thing. It’s a literal translation of the Swedish påsklilja. And there you might also find they flower round Easter. In England they are usually long gone by then.

Besides, my green fingers have never really stretched to daffodils. I plant them, and one or two feeble ones turn up one year, never to be seen again.

 

Now, before and much earlier

At the same time as I read Tanya Landman’s Buffalo Soldier, which briefly featured the men who built the railways across America, I was facebook stalking Son and Dodo on their travels across America on possibly the very same rails. Or maybe newer versions of what was being built 150 years ago. It felt like one of those odd coincidences.

Amtrak

Besides, modern people don’t usually cross that vast continent down at ground level, taking days travelling at speeds of 40 mph.

Crossing America

After Reading Buffalo Soldier, the one unread book which I suddenly felt I must read was Laurie Halse Anderson’s Forge. It was the ‘black soldier in American history’ theme, although I had actually forgotten that Laurie’s characters lived a hundred years before Tanya’s.

They too were slaves, and the war is America versus England, instead of North versus South. I did find the war in Buffalo Soldier very harsh, but it is nothing compared with the war to free ‘the country of the free’ from European rule. The conditions were atrocious.

The place names have only ever been names to me. Yes, maybe someone fought a battle there, but it’s history. Now I can put so much misery to the small gains made with such great sacrifice by all the soldiers involved, whether English or American, free or slave.

Son and Dodo are back home, and they turned up yesterday, telling us all about the trip and giving us a picture show on two laptops simultaneously. And they’d visited Concord, one of those places where much blood flowed and people suffered. Because it’s what you do as a tourist.

Without Forge, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

Boston

It’s strange how the realities between the three centuries have changed. Freedom fight in the 18th century. Civil war in the 19th. Leisurely travel, accompanied by digital cameras, laptops and facebook in the early 21st century. I wonder what Tanya’s and Laurie’s characters would have thought if they’d had an inkling of what was to come?

Perfect for…?

If you want to add to the description of a book, you could say it’s a bit like ‘XX.’ But only if it is a bit like XX. Sometimes when I’ve written along those lines, I lie awake at night, wondering if anyone else will see it the same way, or if I have been misleading.

Or you could say it would suit someone who also likes XX or YY, whether they are genres or authors or single book titles. Because it helps in the describing, and it might genuinely assist fans of whatever it is, to try this particular book or author.

But again, it needs to have some semblance of truth in it. If you mislead and thereby disappoint, you will have undone what you set out to do.

So I have to admit to hating it when press releases claim things like that. Or when publishers actually put it on the cover of the proof copy.

Meg Rosoff

A while ago I read an early proof, the cover of which claimed it was ‘perfect for fans of Meg Rosoff and Annabel Pitcher.’ (This could help identify it to the people involved, so I hasten to add that I don’t intend to disparage this particular book. It just wasn’t what the cover claimed, but then I didn’t believe the statement in the first place. To my mind it is virtually impossible to be like Meg Rosoff.)

But to reviewers or bookseller who might not know this, it could lead to them recommending the book on those grounds. Hopefully, the reader would like this book as well. We can all like lots of different types of books.

What the statement says to me, is that it will be perfect for readers of other YA novels. But then you sort of expect that. YA readers will like YA books. No need to point it out.

It’s different if the publishers were to ask Meg or Annabel to read the book and provide a quote. Then it is ‘Meg Rosoff: “This is a great read!”‘ and it’s a recommendation, not a comparison. I would need to know what kind of books Meg likes, though, if I intend to use the information to help me decide.

Now would be a good time to tell me about all such comparisons I’ve made, which disappointed you deeply. (Sorry, no refunds.)

Mrs G’s book

I promise. I will not keep going on about the G family and how they influenced me. Not for all that much longer, anyway. But an influence is an influence and cannot be ignored.

It’ll get sadder now. Many years after my year of lodging with them, I was shocked to to be told that Mrs G was terminally ill. And that she’d not been wanting to tell me, because it was precisely the same illness that Mother-of-witch died of five years before. And she knew that, and I bet she knew that she was at least as much of a mother figure as she was friend. To lose two mothers to the same illness could be seen as carelessness.

Towards the end you go a bit crazy. I know I did. Mrs G clearly sensed it, and knew what to do.

A couple of days later a parcel arrived for me. It was a book. One of hers. Not one that I particularly wanted, but one of hers and so very well chosen. It was old and worn. It was Swedish Embroidery, by Eivor Fisher.

Eivor Fisher, Swedish Embroidery

I had been surrounded by embroidery for most of my life, and with it being mainly mid-20th century in style, it was precisely what I’d been surrounded by. Mother-of-witch and all her friends embroidered such things. In short, a little boring. For me.

But to Mrs G it was obviously fresh and exciting, being part of a much earlier craze for things Scandi (same as Sarah Lund’s jumpers) that young people well versed in arty ways liked back then.

What really made her gift special, however, was the card that accompanied the book, explaining why and what. Before they were married, Mr G had to attend classes in the evening for his architect course, which he didn’t care for. I suppose he’d rather have gone out with his girlfriend.

His girlfriend was so nice (well, we already knew) that she enrolled in embroidery classes at the same Art College, so that they could go for drinks afterwards. I find that very romantic.

So, there was the reason for the book. She wanted to leave a little bit of herself for me to keep. It’s amazing how knowing the background to something can change how you look at it.

This was precisely the book I needed. I won’t be embroidering anything from it, the way Mrs G hoped. But I don’t need to.

It’s missing a bedroom upstairs

Did I tell you about our tiny kitchen? We thought it was all right – apart from the cobwebs, the dust and the food stains – in its own modest way. However, all our prospective buyers looked at it and wanted it to be bigger. But you just don’t get farmhouse kitchens where the children can do their homework and get in your way, as you swig wine while making dinner, in Mancunian suburbia. For that price. Besides, if you did, the estate agent would have mentioned it.

As for ourselves, we obviously make perfect house viewers. We have read the description of what we are about to see, and if the kitchen looks a bit small, we are too polite to ask why it isn’t bigger. A person can adapt, can’t they?

One agent said about the house he showed us that other viewers complained that it’s ‘missing a bedroom’ upstairs. As if a bedroom could just up and leave. Again, if the description mentions two bedrooms upstairs, I’d say you’d be unlikely to find three.

Besides, after reading about houses online, I rebuild. So far I have rebuilt, extended or otherwise changed half  the properties for sale in Stirling. In my mind. It’s very easy and it’s fun. There’s not even all that much dust once you’re done.

Cough. Ouch. Didn’t see that lintel there.

We are now halfway along in the famous Bookwitch relocation saga. We used the services of Snape, Defense Against the Dark Estate Agents…

Marcus Sedgwick on horror and sheds

The Marcus Sedgwick interview is ready for your entertainment today. I wish you could hear Marcus, as well as just read. He laughs a lot and he talks ‘just right’ by which I mean that he is interesting on whatever stupid question someone like me might ask, and he spends time on them, but not too long.

Lagom, as we say in Sweden.

He is someone who has been on my interview radar for years, and it’s mainly coincidence that it was his new adult novel, A Love Like Blood, that caused us to meet and talk (I ‘blame’ the very helpful Kerry at Hodder), which is why I used up some of our ‘adult’ time on talking about his – slightly – younger books as well.

Marcus Sedgwick

And his shed. (It’s not necessary to buy a house that has a good shed. You can actually build a nice shed once you’ve found the house of your dreams.)

Marcus claims not to be obsessed by horror, but he is a man who scares me a lot, through his books. They are the kind of books you read hiding behind the sofa.

The 2014 programme – Manchester Children’s Book Festival

James Draper

Would you trust this man to run your book festival? Well, you should. James Draper – with his dodgy taste in socks – and Kaye Tew are responsible (yes, really) for the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and there is no other festival I love in quite the same way. It is professional, while also managing to be friendly, fun and very crazy.

(While they now have their own teams working for them, and they claim there’s less need and opportunity to see each other all the time, I believed James when he said ‘I see more of that woman than I do the inside of my own eyelids!’)

James Draper and Kaye Tew

The extremely hot off the presses 2014 programme is proof that Kaye and James know what they are doing and are growing with the task (no, not in that way), but I hope they never grow away from the childish pleasure they seem to take in working together. Carol Ann Duffy was wise to give them the job in 2010. She might still have to be mother and stop anything too OTT, but other than that you can definitely hand your festival over to these two.

I’d been told the new programme would be ready by the end of Monday. And I suppose it was. James worked through the night until 9 a.m. on the Tuesday, but that really counts as end of Monday in my book. Then he slept for an hour to make it Tuesday, when he and Kaye had invited me round for an early peek at what they have to offer this summer.

James Draper and Kaye Tew

While James – understandably – got some coffee, Kaye started talking me through the programme. It went well, although if I’d brought reading glasses I’d have been able to see more. There is a lot there, and they have old favourites coming back and new discoveries joining us for the first time.

This year they start their reading relay before the festival with an event in early June with Curtis Jobling, who is launching the whole thing, before spending a month going into schools passing the baton on. I reckon if anyone can do that, it’s Curtis. The month, not passing the baton. That’s easy.

Multi-cultural Manchester launches on the 26th of June with Sufiya Ahmed returning to talk about human rights issues with teenagers.

Olive tree MMU

On the Family Fun Day (28th June) Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve will judge a seawig parade (no, I don’t know what that is, either), they expect you to make sea monkeys (instructions on Sarah’s website), and there will be countless other fun things to do. It’s an all day thing, intended to tire you out.

Sunday 29th offers entertainment at various venues belonging to the festival sponsors; Royal Exchange Theatre, National Football Museum, Waterstones and Ordsall Hall.

On the Monday Guy Bass is back, and newbie Kate Pankhurst is bringing her detective Mariella Mystery. (I think I was told that Kate is getting married before her event and then going off on honeymoon immediately after. That’s dedication, that is.)

Justin Somper will buckle some swash on Tuesday 1st July, and the Poet Laureate is handing out poetry competition prizes, while on the Wednesday Andrew Cope (whom I missed last time) will talk about being brilliant, as well as doing an event featuring his Spy Dogs and Spy Pups. And as if that’s not enough cause for celebration, that Steve Cole is back again. It will be all about me, as he is going to talk about stinking aliens and a secret agent mummy.

Farmyard Footie and Toddler Tales on Thursday 3rd July, ending with a great evening offering both Liz Kessler and Ali Sparkes. (How to choose? Or how to get really fast between two venues?) David Almond will make his mcbf debut on Friday night, which is cause for considerable excitement.

And on the Saturday, oh the Saturday, there is lots. Various things early on, followed by vintage afternoon tea (whatever that means) at the Midland Hotel in the company of Cathy Cassidy! After which you will have to run like crazy back to MMU where they will have made the atrium into a theatre for a performance of Private Peaceful: The Concert, with Michael Morpurgo, who is mcbf patron, and acappella trio Cope, Boyes & Simpson.

If you thought that was it, then I have to break it to you that Darren Shan will be doing zombie stuff in the basement on the Saturday evening. Darkness and a high body-count has been guaranteed.

Willy Wonka – the real one – is on at Cornerhouse on Sunday, followed by a brussel sprout ice cream workshop, or some such thing. Meanwhile, Tom Palmer will be in two places at the same time (I was promised this until they decided he’d be in two places one after the other), talking about the famous football match in WWI. There will also be a Twitter football final.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is the Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson festival finale, with afternoon tea and a quiz at the MacDonald Townhouse Hotel. (And it had better be at least as chaotic as the one in 2010 where James’s mother was disqualified, and I probably should have been.)

You should be able to book tickets from today, and doing it today might be a good idea. Just in case it sells out. Which would be good (for them), but also a shame (for you).

For some obscure, but very kind, reason they have put my name on the last page. 14 rows beneath Carol Ann Duffy, but only two away from Michael Morpurgo. And I didn’t even give them any money.

MMU

All I want now is a complimentary hotel room for the duration. And a sofa from the atrium area to take home.

 

The end is nigh(er)

It’s beginning to look like we might move house soon. Except by saying this I will have jinxed it completely. And I mean move out. No moving in. One thing at a time.

One recent evening I sat down and thought about our belongings. I felt I couldn’t sleep before I’d carefully considered how much we still have and how to bring the volume of it all down, and where did I go wrong in the first place?

So I was pleased to find I could offload one larger item to a friendly local author. (They can be so useful.) Marnie Riches – for it was she – came round to inspect said item, before inviting the Resident IT Consultant and me to lunch at Dead Beryl’s (you won’t have heard of her), and it was very nice.

Spring had properly sprung and it was warm and sunny and generally nice. It’s good to have food put in front of you, and pleasant to find other people have the kind of books on their shelves that you like and feel are comfortably familiar. The junior Riches were capable of asking ‘may they leave the table’ in Swedish, which I feel is a lovely party trick.

Most of you won’t know Marnie well. Yet. She has a crime novel looking for a publisher, and I’ll have to eat my broom if it doesn’t do well.

Some of you will get to know her better once Sarah Beeny has helped make her house bigger. (I knew there’d be a drawback to Marnie taking that item off my hands!) I can’t wait to see the results. Mainly of the house, but a little bit the television programme.

And then I’ll need a house myself. I wonder if there are television programmes that might help..?

16 floors

On arrival in London yesterday, we had to repair to a nearby hotel’s facilities to make an emergency medical dressing repair (plasters and acetone do not make good partners, but at least no one fainted). Once done we made it on time – if only just – to Hodder & Stoughton’s 16th floor offices, with no visible blood whatsoever. The lovely receptionist even made sure I didn’t have to go up in the glass elevator by ordering me a proper old-fashioned lift.

When we got there, I made sure I sat with my newly dressed back to the windows, which according to my Photographer offered great views. (She went in the glass elevator, no doubt to show off.)

The blood aspect was unexpectedly apt, as we were there to interview Marcus Sedgwick about his new ‘bloody’ novel – A Love Like Blood. There was a slight misunderstanding as to his arrival on floor 16, which meant we had a nice long chat in the lobby, with me carefully not asking him about ‘the other stuff’ and instead discussing the high points of Gothenburg and hair raising theme park rides (neither of which I like very much).

Marcus Sedgwick

We got to meet publicist Kerry’s lovely dog, which I’d only seen photos of before. I think we’d get on; plodding walking pace and a fondness for hanging out in kitchens. (Dog, not Kerry.) We diligently interviewed, and then Marcus had to rush off to finalise things to do with his book launch, while we walked to another kitchen (the Scandinavian Kitchen, for a late Lent bun).

After that we whiled away our remaining spare time in Trafalgar Square, looking at tourists, pigeons and an enormous blue rooster, before walking over to Goldsboro Books for the book launch. Thanks to Kerry’s sun dance, it didn’t rain at all. That’s what I call service.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

I believe there was champagne, or some such drink, judging by popping corks, but we stayed nice and sober (I am obviously not suggesting anyone else was drunk), and chatted to people, including Thomas Taylor, who does not like blood, much. I have to admit to advising him not to read Marcus’s book.

Children’s author Linda Chapman was there. And Cliff McNish and I really must stop meeting like this. That’s twice in eight days. He’s got a nice new book out about nice dogs, with no creepyness or blood.

And then my Photographer and I sneaked out before we suffered social overload, and sort of limped home in a tired kind of way.

Crime Always Pays

(Swish. Swish. Please don’t disturb! The witch is dusting, and that’s a very rare sight.)

So, what I’ve got here is an old review, and I find it mostly still works, which is why I will offer it up for inspection again. Many of you weren’t here back in 2008, so to you it will seem almost brand new.

It’s  complicated. Back then, Declan Burke had yet to see Crime Always Pays published. It’s the sequel to The Big O, and I read it in manuscript (the Resident IT Consultant printed it out on his office printer for me), and I loved it. Back then, it was titled The Blue Orange (which personally I still prefer).

Now, though, it is finally being published properly! It’s a real book. Not the US edition which was cancelled in the end, nor the Kindle version published to compensate. A Real Book! And I think you should read it. (After The Big O, obviously.) Below is my slightly edited, and very ancient, review.

Declan Burke, Crime Always Pays

“The Blue Orange, as he calls it, is a continuation of The Big O, with all the same characters, except those who may have died in the first book. Plus a couple of new ones. The Big O was very funny, if rather full of four-letter words, and had endearingly inept, mostly minor, crooks.

In The Blue Orange (Crime Always Pays) we meet them again, and this time I found myself quite fond of even the less charming ones. It’s a mad-cap race across the Continent, with everyone ending up in Greece, where Declan has totally taken over his favourite holiday island, which I understand was quite nice before this.

As is to be expected, there are so many double-crossings that the witch developed a squint trying to cope. The best thing is simply to sit back and enjoy, while laughing quite a lot. The story is crying out to be made into a film, and I know which part I can play.

And as Mother-of-witch so rightly said, crime is not nice. But this kind of crime is as nice, and as funny, as it gets. The worst baddies are killed or have lots of blood removed in interesting ways, and maybe the rest lived happily ever after. I’m hoping for more.”

It’s today! Get shopping!