Category Archives: Books

Farewell to Mal Peet

Football. Who’d have thought I’d like novels about football quite so much? The answer is that I obviously wouldn’t, had it not been Mal Peet who’d written them. And now Mal Peet has died, which is not only a dreadful loss for his family and friends (one of whom was thoughtful enough to let me know how things were, only a week before Mal died), but for his readers.

Mal Peet

Lots of people write very good books. Only a few manage what Mal Peet did, which is to write exceptional books. I remember the buzz on Facebook among his peers, last September when the proofs for The Murdstone Trilogy became available. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so much admiration, or read so many quotes, as I did then. And they were right. Murdstone is a marvellous take on fantasy literature, executed in a way only an expert could.

I felt then that it was really quite autobiographical in many ways, despite Mal -sort of – saying it wasn’t. And when I re-read the ending of the book just the other day, it felt even more as though he had put himself in there.

Mal Peet

Mal didn’t have hundreds of novels published. There wasn’t time for that. I don’t know if he wrote hundreds. That wouldn’t surprise me. I believe I’ve read all the published ones, and they belong to the category of books you just don’t get rid of. The Keepers. And now that I knew Murdstone was going to be Mal’s only adult novel, I simply had to go and move it from the adult section, to join its siblings on the YA shelves. It didn’t seem right to have poor Murdstone sitting there on his own, as it were.

I only met Mal a few times. First when he won the Guardian prize in 2009. And then at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2010 and 2011. I introduced myself again, but it seems he remembered me. Mal even allowed himself to be taken out to ‘the tree’ for a photography session.

Mal Peet

Thank you for everything.

(I must add the link to Meg Rosoff’s tribute to her dear friend in today’s Guardian. I will be discreet and not ask who she’d like to see dead instead.)

The Great Big Green Book

The world needs trees. And water. And children need this book, The Great Big Green Book by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith. I’d love to think that it can make a difference. The world needs people to do things that will make a difference. A positive one, obviously.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Green Book

Children are nearly always very open to new ideas, and are far more prepared than adults to change their lifestyles. They just need to be told what they can do.

Words can change a lot, but I wonder if pictures – especially ones like these by Ros – do even more. You just need to see those polar bears on their shrinking piece of ice to understand.

Children do need words, though. I was reading just the other day that a children’s dictionary had got rid of a number of nature words, in favour of more ‘in’ terminology; out with the blackberry and in with the Blackberry. It can be hard to save a world of things when you don’t have words for what needs saving.

Recycle, turn the lights off, compost, don’t flush the toilet every time and share a shower. Well, actually, I might skip that last idea. Re-use, don’t fly everywhere and put another blanket on the bed.

And remember the world almost stands and falls with the bees.

The well-travelled library bed

I spoke too soon. It could be that Son would quite like the hifi somewhere in that room. The – ahem – library-cum-guestroom-cum-firstborn’s bedroom. We’ll have to see.

The much-thrown-about bed has been slept in. It’s the one Son adopted from some people in the Wirral a few years ago, which – on arrival in Edinburgh – proved too large to go down into the tenement basement flat, and which instead was walked round half the block, taken into the tenement opposite, through and out into that ‘garden’ and chucked over the fence into Son’s garden and in.

Bed move 2

A year later it was similarly chucked uphill back over the fence when it was time to move elsewhere, but at least this had been planned and there were more chuckers.

Another year on and Son sent the bed to us to be his bed in the new bedroom. And because there was a lot of decorating and unpacking needing doing, the poor bed has been shoved back and forth, with no room to call home. Until now. For a while it thought it would always have to stand on its side in the livingroom. But then it was displaced by the Christmas tree and spent December in the hall.

To make up for all this, the witch went to Glasgow and bought it something new to wear.

Flying bed

And then, when the hifi had been pondered and the now stationary bed slept in, the Resident IT Consultant and Son crept into the Grandmother’s flat while she was out and stole her kitchen table. But not her one and only. She has a collection of them. We needed a temporary desk for the boy.

They also lifted a rather nice bookcase, which I’ve had my eye on for almost 25 years. Although that was with permission.

Almost there

Bookshelves

And here they are, the ‘final’ shelves with actual books on them. Son is coming to inspect ‘his’ room, and the question is whether he will approve. Or will he notice there is no space for his hifi? I mean, who cares? Who in their right mind would use a large machine to listen to music?

We also need to get our three-book joiner to come and secure the whole shebang to the wall. Or else we could have a repeat of that time over twenty years ago when Son reckoned these shelves looked like ladder… The crash was very loud. Luckily both Son and the shelves and the books and the floor were pretty much as before, afterwards.

The eagle-eyed blog reader might feel like pointing out that there are some gaps still. That’s because I expect to have more books to put in there. Next week. And the week after. Also, there are double rows. Any book I want to find in future will be behind.

On editors

The frequency with which I mutter things like ‘the editor should have caught that’ is increasing. From reading only for pleasure, it seems I can no longer ignore what should have been fixed before that book made it out into the world. And I rarely blame the author, now that I’ve discovered editors.

But they are only human. And sometimes young, and new to the job. Someone needs to show them the ropes. These days it appears as if rope-showing is increasingly rare in the workplace. Thank god for Anne Rooney. I’d happily have her show me any kind of rope she can think of.

This week I’ve been in full admiration mode for Anne’s blog post on what a good editor should know, and it has far less to do with catching spelling errors than treating writers like Anne so well that they will want to write another book for them. It seems writers are also human beings, and their weekends are of a similar length to those of the editor’s.

Do click through and read this. Even if you have no need for this type of advice, it is a masterpiece of writing; a kind of rope-showing that no one could possibly argue with.

It’s a shame that the piece had to be written at all, but a blessing that it’s Anne who did it, and not some vindictive shrew. Like me.

Triggers

Whenever I think of the run-up to my interview with Debi Gliori (almost six years ago!) I feel ashamed. Ashamed, because she wanted to feed Son and me, and I gave her a very long list of what not to give me. In a way it doesn’t matter. As I made clear last week, I can always not eat the chocolate dessert, but it’s easier not to in a restaurant where I won’t worry too much about anyone’s hurt feelings. But I know that if I’ve slaved over a hot stove to cook something for a visitor, and it turns out to be the one exact thing they simply can’t eat, we’d both have been happier if there’d been a list. Even a long list.

Do not feed Bookwitch

(And in the end Debi went for simple and utterly delicious and I can recommend her kitchen to anyone. Which she might not thank me for.)

But you’d think that when I cook my own dinner I’d know what to do. Or not to do. And I do, but sometimes I have my moments. On Monday I could either have put no onion in the soup, or used a little, frozen, onion. I put lots of fresh onion in instead and didn’t cook it enough, and as a result you are now not reading about James Oswald’s visit to the Stirling branch of Waterstones.

C’est la vie. Sleeping off migraines is all right, too. Apart from my date with James I have the time, so it could have been worse. Perhaps I’ll write myself a list to look at in the kitchen, before I start telling others what to do.

I’m reminded by what Asperger guru Tony Attwood told the audience at a long ago conference I attended. Some people have found they get a bit more ‘normal’ by following a fairly strict diet. Or less ‘aspie.’ Tony was having a meal out with aspie child author Luke Jackson and his mother. Luke followed this diet, so his mother asked for various things to be taken into account when ordering his food.

Tony said that after a while they became aware that Luke was behaving unexpectedly badly. They asked the waitress if any of the things they’d mentioned might have ended up in Luke’s meal anyway. It had.

‘We didn’t think you’d notice,’ she said.

Murder Most Unladylike

Who doesn’t like a good murder set in a girls’ boarding school in the 1930s? I mean, it ticks a lot of my boxes. What about you?

Robin Stevens, Murder Most Unladylike

13-year-old students Daisy and Hazel set up detective agency Wells&Wong at Deepdean school, and it’s not long before ‘luck’ strikes, when their science teacher Miss Bell is found dead. Only for a while though, as the body disappears pretty swiftly and no one knows Miss Bell is a bit more dead than the head teacher makes out she is.

Daisy is rather bossy, not to mention fearless, while Hazel, who comes from Hong Kong, is more conventional and careful. A good detective agency needs both to succeed.

And you know, it’s rather hard to check people’s alibis when you are not the police and when there is no body or even a public acknowledgement that the corpse is indeed a corpse. But Daisy ferrets out where everyone was, and they work out what the motive might have been. Would you kill for the post of deputy head?

The detecting isn’t made any easier when you are a relatively innocent young girl, who doesn’t quite understand the undercurrents between the adults. Wells&Wong do work out who did it, and it puts them in more danger than expected.

As for me, I kept thinking it was turning out a little Midsomerish. When you deduct the number of dead people and the murderer, you’re not left with a whole lot of characters for a sequel. And I hope author Robin Stevens won’t kill more teachers and students in every book. Even a fairly dim parent would surely take their child out of a school like that?