Category Archives: Books

The camping book event

Bokens Dag, Haverdals Camping

Starved of book events as I was, it took very little for Ingrid Magnusson Rading to persuade me to join her at the local camp site. Neither of us needed a ‘room’ so to speak, but she was invited as a local author, and I invited myself as the world renowned Bookwitch. It is a nice camp site, and were I not against depriving myself of many creature comforts, I wouldn’t mind holidaying there. After all, camp site owners don’t usually arrange book events, do they?

Bokens Dag, Haverdals Camping

There was a lovely large conservatory filled with tables and chairs for you to have your coffee and cinnamon bun at, in the most fashionable eclectic style. So that’s food and interior design covered. The local authors brought their books, which meant Ingrid showed off the latest printing of her gorgeous coffee table book on Haverdal.

Bokens Dag, Haverdals Camping

Cambridge based Therese Loreskär brought both her adult novels about her ‘blogging queen’ and some of her children’s books. She generously pressed a copy of her blogging book (Bloggdrottningen) into my hands, presumably feeling it suited me.

Bokens Dag, Haverdals Camping

Two more authors of children’s books, one of whom reputedly has a series of 40 books planned(!), were there, but due to some admin mix-up in my brain I have lost their names. Rest assured that they have names. Not to mention books.

Bokens Dag, Haverdals Camping

Being utterly Swedish, a ‘tree question’ event had also been prepared. This means you go for a walk, and as you find a sheet with a question on it fluttering in some tree or other, you answer it, and if you want to win, you don’t shout the answer out loud to everyone else standing around, scratching their heads regarding what Bamse ate to give him superstrength. (His granny’s special honey.)

Bokens dag, Haverdals Camping

The day ended with a visit from Ulrika Larsson, who is a third generation Halmstad bookseller. By then I had had to leave, seeing as Ingrid and I had a prior engagement with some friends from primary school that evening.

Flying royally

All roads lead to Holiday Bookwitch Towers. Maybe. I told you a couple of months ago about our unusual flight route here, but a witch can always come up with more different ways.

This week I went another unexpected way, and I did it alone. The Resident IT Consultant and I were flying to Copenhagen, yet again (but we are clearly doomed), this time via Heathrow. But with our first flight delayed, we’d miss our second. We have no idea what was going on in Denmark, but judging by the lack of seats on any plane, with any airline, the whole world was heading there.

Meanwhile, poor Daughter who hadn’t had a seat on our planes at all, went ahead with her separate travel plans, also to Copenhagen, but with another airline. She was due to arrive last, joining us driving across The Bridge. Obviously, she arrived first. Also obviously, she ended up catching a train out of Denmark.

Wanting to be around to help her kill any uninvited spiders, I eventually suggested I fly to Gothenburg. They found this a strange idea, but put me on that plane instead, where I ended up sharing the last row with a cello and its player.

The flight crew hesitated each time they made an announcement, but each time – just – remembered we were bound for Gothenburg. Except when we arrived, when they believed we were in Bergen. I heard them giggling behind me, as the two names ‘are so similar.’ They are not. They are not even in the same country.

Unable to drive over any bridges, I also caught a train, which I shared with eight airline pilots (see, even the pilots had no planes!), who – one by one – went off to the toilet to shed their uniforms. Thankfully they had jeans and stuff in those natty little black carry-on cases.

By this point the Resident IT Consultant actually had arrived in Copenhagen, because there was the small issue of a hired car to pick up to drive across The Bridge. And once the witch had been removed from the equation, there was one last seat out that day.

By bedtime we were all here, separate flights notwithstanding. The rather lovely cellist had asked if I’d change seats with her boyfriend, but having been given my favourite seat, I really didn’t want to give it up. I explained to her that I had sent my Resident IT Consultant not only on a different plane, but to a different country, and she conceded that when you’re older you might do that.

Older, hah!

Puppy Academy – Scout and the Sausage Thief

They know who the sausage thief is. Frank Furter. It’s just a case of catching him, and preferably before the village sausage festival in Little Barking has to be cancelled.

Gill Lewis, Scout and the Sausage Thief

Here, with Puppy Academy, Gill Lewis is back with clever doggy students who want nothing better than to be good working dogs. Scout, the German shepherd puppy, wants to be a police dog like her mum and dad.

As you will have worked out, this is not a real school where dogs are trained to be police dogs. This is more a world of dogs who talk, go to school and have jobs, while being pretty much the same as you and me. (Within reason.)

This is a nice little adventure, where poor Scout is working hard at being good, but having setbacks and needing to work even harder at putting things right. Catching Frank Furter is one thing, but who stole the Crunchie Munchies?

A little wolfie gift for you all

Cliff McNish is a very kind man. He has written a lovely fairy tale called The Winter Wolf, and he persuaded his friend Trish Phillips to make him some rather nice illustrations to go with it, and then his brother Michael did some, well, stuff, and here it is, for everyone to download and enjoy.

Cliff McNish, The Winter Wolf

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale about the wolf that howls every winter, scaring the other animals in the wood. They all warn their children against him, saying you can’t trust a wolf. It’s just a trick. But there is – naturally – a tiny squirrel, who wants to find out more, and who goes where he wasn’t allowed to go. He speaks to the wolf, and he wants to believe him. He makes sure he’s out of reach, and…

Cliff McNish, The Winter Wolf

Well, when I got this far I didn’t know whether to believe the best or the worst. I was interrupted twice, and nearly shouted at those who dared disturb me at such a critical moment.

According to Daughter you can’t possibly have a wolf eating a squirrel in a book for children.

You can’t?

Precious and the Zebra Necklace

I used to love sitting down with the latest novel about Mma Ramotswe. To begin with I kept up with each new book as it came, but when Bookwitch got going, a few pleasures fell by the roadside, and my crime sprees in Botswana were among them. I still drink my redbush tea, though.

Alexander McCall Smith, Precious and the Zebra Necklace

So I was happy to reacquaint myself with Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s shorter books about our favourite detective as a child. She was just as sweet then, as the woman she became.

In Precious and the Zebra Necklace, she makes a new friend at school, and when she discovers this girl has a sad mystery in her past, Precious sets out to solve it.

Like the adult ‘crimes’ this is more about human nature and simplicity and ordinary things going wrong. A bit of thinking about things, and talking to people gets you a long way.

Short and sweet.

The #13 profile – Kirkland Ciccone

Brownie points to anyone who noticed this is profile #13, following – not so – closely in the footsteps of profile #14, but a bit before #15. Not everyone is comfortable with thirteen. Quite possibly Kirkland Ciccone is not comfortable with it either, but here he is anyway. It’d be a waste of numbers not to, or so I reasoned:

Kirkland Ciccone

‘How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

I wrote two novels and sent them out to publishers, hoping they would find me all the way in Cumbernauld. They didn’t at first and that’s just as well because I wasn’t fully formed yet. I had to develop and find my style. I got so annoyed with the YA market during the rise of Twilight that I wrote Conjuring The Infinite in revenge. It taught me to never ever follow trends, and I’m far more comfortable skipping down my own garden path!

Best place for inspiration?

The library is my second house. I spend so much time in libraries, and I feel so happy and safe in them. My mother couldn’t afford a babysitter when I was a kid so she sent me to the library…and I’ve never really left it. I feel like I’m having adventures close to home in the library, and I get so much work done and a few books to read. I love coffee shops too and I can be found in many places with a kettle.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I sometimes fantasize about changing my name to something really plain and normal. But I don’t think that would work for me. I couldn’t be John Smith, amazing writer of cult YA novels. I recently told Daniela Sacerdoti that I was delighted to see her leave the country….because this country isn’t big enough for two YA authors with unpronounceable surnames!

What would you never write about?

Council Tax!

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

My mother took us all to Spain when we were kids. It was a horrible experience, being a damp holiday holocaust with a cramped caravan and my brothers and sisters. I vowed never to return to Spain. Shortly after Conjuring The Infinite was published, I ended up in Largs (North Ayrshire) for the Tidelines Book Festival. I was so excited, because it was my first big festival. But I had a really troubling sense of déjà vu all night. It rained non-stop which didn’t help but it was so troubling that I ended up phoning my mother and asking her if I had ever been to Largs before and…well…she admitted Largs was Spain! I should have known; it doesn’t take four hours to reach Spain in a van.

Doing what I do has also allowed me to meet my heroes. I started reading YA as a teenager, so I’m a fan as well as an author. I remember being at a lunch and seeing someone familiar a few chairs away. It was Julia Donaldson. I had just caught her a few days earlier on BBC Breakfast! Theresa Breslin was there too and I absolutely worshipped Whispers In The Graveyard and A Time To Reap…I still do. I asked Theresa about A Time To Reap, which has been out of publication for years. But I wanted it so badly I asked if she would ever consider getting it published again. A few days later a copy of it popped through my letter box. I did a little dance of excitement then stopped when I realised a neighbour was watching me.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Porter Minter, the protagonist of my new book North of Porter. He’s slightly downtrodden, at first, but he learns to fight back against the world. By the end of the book he’s completely self-sufficient. Besides, he has an array of handbags and one-liners which he deploys with precision against bullies and bores.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I think Conjuring The Infinite would be good for television while Endless Empress would make a good independent movie. Empress is anarchic and over the top, my big punk rock YA novel, but it’s so grisly and vicious that it would probably be cut to shreds in order to make the big screen. I’m not sure where North of Porter falls but it would probably be better for the big screen. I would love to see my books performed at the theatre, though I don’t think that would work either, because of the plot twists in each novel.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

“Is your hair real?” YES IT IS REAL!

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I’m good at improvisation. I’ve had to learn how to do that as a performer. You never know when equipment might break down.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

It has to be Narnia. It has everything in it…a group of kids trapped in another world with a genuinely terrifying villain and a magical lion. I tried to get into Narnia when I was seven, but I ended up knocking the wardrobe over!

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Greta Garbo, The Cardigans (they’re a wonderful and sadly underrated band), and Robyn.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I try to do it alphabetically but I have a separate stack which is my TO READ pile.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

The Three Investigators and The Secret of Terror Castle. I lived for The Three Investigators, and I can still read them today and find more to love. It was a juvenile mystery series about three boys named Jupiter, Pete, and Bob. They solved very weird cases and Alfred Hitchcock made cameo appearances. I wish they were still in print today. They were so easy to read and well written. A killer combo for any unwilling reader!

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

What a horrible question! I would be terrified of not being able to read, because without reading and books…I wouldn’t be who I am, and I wouldn’t be writing now. I would choose reading, but then I couldn’t give up writing. There’s nothing I want to do other than write the books I write. I love the YA genre. It can be anything. It can be everything. If I couldn’t write those stories I’d probably be deeply depressed. So I’m going to be contrary and choose both!’

Half a dozen Swedes, and I’m still not one of them? ‘Fully formed?’ You think so, John? That’ll be the eyebrows, I suppose.

Is it all because of Ladybird books?

Would I even be here if it weren’t for Ladybird books?

Years ago I blogged (rather peculiarly, it strikes me now) about Ladybird books, and how they were not part of my past, and how I almost resented this. But now it seems to me as though that one book I bought at the age of ten and could barely read, might have set me up for life. Where would I be if I hadn’t?

I have always ‘blamed’ my fascination for the UK on Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, and while it is still true that they inspired me, I now feel I must add my sensible Ladybird book. People here think back to those days, when both they and Britain were different. I actively went in search of this charming country where children walked around in those T-bar shoes and boys wore shorts and had haircuts like they did in old films.

And there was cake.

I so wanted to go and see the Ladybird exhibition in Bexhill; not just for the books, but for the De La Warr Pavilion as well. But it was all too much at the other end of the country to be realistic. The exhibition is in London now. Can I make it to London? I don’t know.

The article in the Guardian a few weeks ago made me feel many things. It was fascinating to read that someone’s real birthday party actually ended up in the book. I mean, surely that’s the complete opposite of today’s fantasy books; finding your own reality in a book. I knew I wanted to be part of it, except you can’t wish your own past away.

Perhaps I can take up collecting Ladybird books? Not terribly original as ideas go, but maybe I can fake a new past? I never did wear shoes like that. The one time I got close to it, the woman in the shoeshop pointed out I was an adult and couldn’t have them.