Category Archives: Books

Not here you don’t

‘Would you like a different ending with that?’ Or how about a new first chapter?

Book publishing is hardly the same as ordering chips with your meal, instead of the boiled new potatoes. And still, publishers will insist on things being done their way. Sometimes that’s probably wise, because they have the experience. On the other hand, the author has the book in his or her head.

I remember Fletcher Moss being bemused by Chicken House telling him that his competition winning – first – novel had to be turned round quite drastically, to be publishable.

And now Cornelia Funke has been told the Americans need a different beginning to her new book, already published in Germany. Americans are a bit more cautious about what’s acceptable or not. But the book is already out there, and it’s not as if they were forced to buy Cornelia’s book.

So she’s self-publishing, which feels the last thing you’d expect someone like Cornelia having to do. But she’s lucky, because it seems she was handed back the rights to the entire series (the ‘problem’ is with the third book), thus enabling her to do this. Many authors struggle for years getting the rights back to their books, even when the publisher wants nothing more to do with it. Perhaps because she’s Cornelia Funke and not some minor, unknown writer?

Cornelia Funke

I think I have heard of novels where there are differences in other languages. But I trust only minor ones. I’m thinking of the discussion I had with my First Best Friend in our teens. Strangely enough we both liked the same band, and the same track too. Except we argued about what album the track was on. We were both right, of course. I’d bought my LP in London, and she hers in Sweden. The LPs were different. But I’d rather not have the same argument over how a novel ends; did they live happily ever after? Or not?


Liquidator is a rather unpleasant drink. Or rather, it is a drink that makes you want more and more, and that’s what’s unpleasant. In the first place it’s not good for you, and in the second place, forced dependency is bad. But we know about products like these, or at least we suspect they exist. But the nice, [extra]ordinary children in Andy Mulligan’s novel Liquidator want to believe the drink tastes so good because it is good. Or not bad. Not that they are being tricked into drinking bottle after bottle of something harmful.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Liquidator is the kind of book that makes you happy to be alive. Not because of the crooks who make and sell the drink, but because Andy has – yet again – written a story about children who are so resourceful, so brave and determined, that you sort of glow quietly as you read. He has a knack of shaping characters who are kind, and who aren’t always sniping at each other, or any of the other traits so commonly used to carry a plot forward.

I didn’t read Liquidator in one sitting. It deserved it, but things got in the way, and I minded dreadfully because I needed to read this book.

The teenagers in Liquidator are about to go off and do their work experience; some of them doing precisely the kind of job they wanted to, others doing the exact opposite. Vicky ends up making sandwiches for the company responsible for Liquidator, and that’s where she accidentally discovers that not everything is all right.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Her friends are all over the place, doing work experience as a dog walker, cleaning sewers, doing surgery (yes, really), singing with a famous pop star, flower arranging, manning the phones at a 999 call centre, journalism and so on. Varied stuff, but as you read on, you realise these children will all be needed, and so will their respective ‘skills’ or workplaces. What always gets me with Andy’s children is their resourcefulness and the fact that they simply tackle what’s coming and get on with it, all the time being friendly to classmates they might not ordinarily choose to be friends with. War time spirit, perhaps.

The people who made Liquidator are not nice. Not nice at all. They will stop at nothing. Luckily the teenagers won’t stop either. And equally luckily, they are assisted by a small number of unusual adults, who also won’t stop for anything. Sometimes literally. You know that helpless feeling you get when stuck in a motorway jam, not moving an inch? Well here’s inspiration for you!

This is a true feelgood thriller, made possible by real teenagers (I believe Andy borrows characters from life), a serious crime, and solidarity. There’s not enough of that out there. The solidarity, I mean.

Book Week Scotland Launch

Or Bookwitch Scotland, as I prefer to think of it. I mean, what’s the difference? Just a couple of letters and Book Week Scotland could be all mine. I’m sure the nice people at Scottish Book Trust wouldn’t mind [too much].

Could have sworn I saw poet Simon Armitage at Waverley station as I arrived, although if it’s a case of providing an alibi, then I will not swear at all. Book Week Scotland was launched so conveniently close to Waverley, that in order to get my daily walk I actually had to walk to the station at the home end.

Book Week Scotland starts on the 23rd of November, and I’d say it will be well worth the wait. The list of who’s on offer made even this tired and slightly jaded witch feel much less tired, setting her thinking of all the nice events that she could go to.

Where, it has to be said, she’d have to do a better job than at Tuesday’s launch, standing at the back, not quite managing to photograph the speakers, and then not quite managing to jot down the names of everyone or remembering to take the sheets provided home. That sort of thing.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

I recognised a number of people, chatted to Helen Grant, and photographer Chris Scott of multicoloured hair fame. Keith Gray was there to speak, which he did with his normal flair. Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, was also there, also doing a nice speech, proving that some politicians do read. She loves Narnia, but didn’t get that encyclopedia at the age of five that she asked for.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

There were partybags and there was bunting. There was food, including some very tasty ‘green goo on toast.’ It wasn’t me who dropped it, but I could almost have licked it off the floor…

Author Anne Donovan spoke about her very normal request for Wilfred Owen’s poetry at the age of 15, Alice in Wonderland, and her early fascination with Wuthering Heights.

Keith Gray

Former reluctant reader Keith Gray mentioned H P Lovecraft and how school can make you think books are to be studied, not enjoyed. He thanked his school librarian, who changed his life, and pointed out that a teacher only knows a child for a year or two, but the librarian is there for the duration of school. And ‘books are for life, not just for homework.’

Hej då, Henning

By now you probably all know that Henning Mankell died this morning. His death is in the news everywhere, which just goes to show how far crime will get you. Even when you’re a foreigner, as Henning undoubtedly was to most of you.

I never did get that interview, apart from my impromptu four-minute one in the children’s bookshop in Charlotte Square; the place where he wasn’t guarded at all, unlike for his adult events. But we did speak very briefly, several times, including that first meeting when Son startled him by wanting a book signed that Henning didn’t recognise as his. It was his, though, and after some discussion it got sorted out.

Even then, Henning was a grand person, while on Swedish soil; walking round with a bit of an entourage. But that’s how Swedes do their worshipping. His star status in the English speaking world came a little later.

I knew he was ill, and ever the pessimist I expected the worst. But as recently as last week I felt a moment of optimism. I have a Facebook friend, whom I barely know, despite having ‘known’ him for decades (he’s GP Cousin’s very good friend). He’s rich, and he’s a rather radical leftie, and he does unusual things with his time and money. His latest venture is some museum for another well known Swedish radical, which is opening next month. And the encouraging news was that Henning was to do the honours. So I thought, ‘Oh, he’s well enough to do that then?’

Today’s sad news took my radical millionnaire by surprise too, as he was due to have lunch with Henning a few hours ago. Which I suppose was a good sign in itself; that he’d felt able to make such plans.

As for me, I’m glad we met a few times, and I’m even glad I cried at his event in Gothenburg eight years ago. He was a good man who did lots of good to lots of people, and that’s not counting entertaining us with Wallander.

Henning Mankell(I prefer this photo from some years ago, to the one my local Swedish newspaper used, where you can clearly see how unwell he was.)

The Henning Mankell mini-interview

Girl on a Plane

Not long into Girl on a Plane I felt really nervous and wondered why I was reading about a plane hijacking. It was so very realistic. Then I wondered what time of year it was (senior moment) and decided that it was after the summer holidays and I’d not be flying anywhere anytime soon. No, I thought, I’m flying tomorrow. No, the day after tomorrow. Oops. So my timing was bad for reading this tremendously exciting book.

Miriam Moss, Girl on a Plane

Miriam Moss knows her stuff, because she was a passenger on one of those planes in September 1970 which were hijacked and flown to a desert airstrip in Jordan. She was only 15, just like her character Anna, who was flying back to boarding school in England.

Her BOAC plane was the fourth plane in a few days to be hijacked by the PFLP, and the hijackers demanded that Leila Khaled be freed by Prime Minister Ted Heath after she was jailed for an earlier incident.

If the names BOAC and Leila Khaled bring back memories, you will probably enjoy the period feel of this novel. I’m virtually the same age as Miriam/Anna so remember most of this surprisingly well. What I appreciate is that Miriam has got it right, which isn’t always the case with ‘history.’ She knows what clothes a girl would have worn, she remembers the food people ate, what flying was like, how much people smoked and how acceptable it was.

This book made me feel as though I was there. I’m glad I wasn’t, but am grateful Miriam is ready to share, because it’s a new part of recent history, most likely completely unknown to the intended readers of this book. It’s also surprisingly low key, considering we’re talking terrorism, and it’s all the better for it.

For those of us who were around in 1970 it’s not the ‘what will happen?’ that is of interest. We already know. It’s ‘what was it like?’ which is almost impossible to imagine for anyone not actually there. Even the invited press failed to grasp what it was like, despite looking at it.

Maybe don’t read this just before* getting on a plane, but do read Girl on a Plane. It’s a great thriller, as well as a trip down memory lane.

Miriam Moss

*I noted with amusement that it was one of the recommended books in the airport bookshop… And as you will have realised, I wasn’t hijacked. This time.

Recreating a 1960s newsroom

I’m old enough to have worked at a desk with a spike, on which to save your work as proof until no longer needed, although mine was only ever about money. Here Peter Bartram (whose novel Headline Murder the Resident IT Consultant reviewed here yesterday) tells us about those smokey, crazy days in the 1960s, when they could make newspapers despite having no mobile phones or anything.

When I decided to set my Crampton of the Chronicle crime mysteries in the 1960s, I had to travel back in time to recreate the atmosphere of a newspaper’s newsroom of that era.

I first walked into a newsroom as a young reporter in 1966. Newspapers were very different in those days. No computers. No mobile phones. No digital cameras.

The new technology has been essential to keep newspapers alive. But it seems to have made newsrooms less exciting places. I love those old Hollywood newspaper movies – such as The Front Page – where newsrooms pulsate with a kind of chaotic energy.

I wanted to emulate that in Headline Murder, where Colin Crampton works in the Evening Chronicle’s newsroom as the paper’s crime correspondent. So I needed to cast my mind back to those far-off days when I was a reporter.

What were the sights and sounds like? Well, first thing I remember is how 14 of us – all reporters – were crowded into a room sitting at desks grouped mostly in fours. We pounded away at old sit-up-and-beg typewriters. As deadlines approached and everyone was typing together it sounded like a volley of machine guns firing.

We typed on sets on paper, called folios, interleaved with carbon paper, never more than a paragraph or two on each folio – so that if the sub-editors wanted to change the order of the copy they could easily re-order the folios. (No on-screen cut-and-paste in those days.)

On each of our desks there was a big black telephone and a spike on which we’d impale carbons of old stories we’d written. (No Cloud back-ups!). We worked in an atmosphere of constant noise – telephones ringing, shouted conversations, the rattle of typewriters. (Elsewhere silence may be golden, but on a newspaper, it means there’s no news!)

There were a couple of telephone booths at the side of the room into which we retreated if we needed to make a call to a special contact we didn’t want colleagues to overhear. The room was lit by harsh fluorescent lights but most of the time they were shrouded in a fug created by cigarette smoke.

Research is important for writers – and there are many ways to do it. Yet the best research often comes from personal experience. Although not all memories are reliable. Did I really hear the editor cry: ‘Hold the front page’?

Headline Murder

Oh, Brighton, how we miss you! (I suppose we could go back for a visit…) The Resident IT Consultant swiftly read his way through this somewhat nostalgic crime novel by Peter Bartram, set in our former home town. And here he is, review at the ready:

Set in 1960s Brighton, this first crime novel features Brighton Evening Chronicle crime reporter Colin Crampton. It is high summer and Colin is desperate for a decent crime story. But nothing happens: a bicycle stolen from a house in Maldon Road, a minor motor accident at Fiveways – nobody hurt – and a dog lost in Stanmer Park (a King Charles spaniel). Then the owner of a miniature golf course on the seafront goes missing. The owner is linked to an unsolved murder twenty years earlier and Colin senses he may have a story.

Peter Bartram, Headline Murder

Assisted by his Australian girlfriend and the staff of the newspaper’s clippings department, who have to be encouraged with regular deliveries of cream cakes, Colin uncovers a tale of shady developments, municipal bribery and police corruption which ultimately uncovers a double murderer and leads to an exciting cross-Channel chase.

The story is told in the first person, by Colin, in a brisk style that is a little reminiscent of Chandler. It was fun remembering and recognising the locations in which the action was set.