Category Archives: Books

Delivered

Holiday post

This pile won’t beat its competitors in the big I-have-been-away-pile race. Happily some people receive even more books than I do. Good luck to them with their reading. I know I won’t get through all of mine.

And I refuse to speculate on how recent developments will affect the book trade. I’ve almost forgotten the changes after October 2008.

When there was hope

What to blog about today? Yeah, well, that’s a hard one.

In the 1960s I didn’t think about politics. It was beyond my comprehension. In the 1970s I thought about it quite a lot. It was something that seemed to bring about change. The kind of change that was good for most of us.

It seemed as though things would become mostly all right, if only we waited long enough. Not everything could happen overnight. There was political music to listen to. There was political fiction to read.

Below are some of the books I read and enjoyed. I haven’t read them for over forty years, so don’t remember enough to tell you much of the actual plots. The two by Stig Malmberg were set in contemporary Sweden, and featured fairly ordinary Swedish teenagers. One is about doing your national service and how that might be right, or not.

Books by Sven Wernström and Stig Malmberg

The two novels by Sven Wernström are set in Latin America and deal with things like the Cuban revolution as experienced by ordinary teenagers there. It was thrilling to read for someone who grew up on Enid Blyton and then moved on to Agatha Christie, both of whom wrote books about characters unlike myself, during a time period that was already in the past, and which I couldn’t know.

The Retired Children’s Librarian was cautiously liberal, and didn’t really care for Malmberg, but grudgingly admitted there was merit in Wernström’s Latin American stories. I liked them all, and it didn’t matter that she didn’t always approve.

Because there was hope. Did I say? If we waited long enough, life would be fine and fair for everyone. If the ‘wrong’ party won an election, it was just their politics that was wrong. As people they were as normal and decent as the rest of us.

Until this week.

Dindy and the Elephant

There is less elephant in this book by Elizabeth Laird than the title leads you to expect. But that’s OK. What’s there is quite satisfying, and I feel as though I could almost deal with an angry elephant.

Elizabeth Laird, Dindy and the Elephant

I have to admit to a particular fondness for period fiction from India, and former British Empire countries in Africa. This one is set in India, on a tea plantation between the end of the war and just before Indian independence.

Nine-year-old Dindy and her brother Pog, who’s only six, escape from their bungalow one day when bored, despite not being allowed out. That’s when they encounter the potentially dangerous elephant.

But this is mostly about how much love ‘British’ children born and growing up in India have for their country, and how people of their parents’ generation don’t necessarily share that love. Dindy’s mother hates India and looks down on the natives, including those who work for the family.

Prejudice from both sides emerges and it’s interesting to see how they deal with a bad situation, and also what their feelings really are.

Very lovely little book. Whereas there might be no point in a sequel, I rather feel it’d be nice to see what happened next.

The #20 profile – Sally Nicholls

Today is Sally Nicholls’ birthday. I think it’s an excellent date on which to get older, and by now not even Sally is quite as young as she once was. (Happens to us all.) I felt like celebrating, and Sally was kind enough to sacrifice some of her holiday to be my #20. I just hope I haven’t prevented any writing of books, and that Sally still has plenty of time for cake. And other holiday stuff.

Here she is:

Sally Nicholls (by Sue Eves)

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

No full-length ones. I wrote Ways to Live Forever on an MA for Writing for Young People, and as part of that we had to write picture books and early readers and all sorts of things (one of which is actually going to be published next year). But Ways to Live Forever was my first novel-length book.

Best place for inspiration?

The library!

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

I don’t, but I wouldn’t rule it out. If I ever got round to writing any fan fiction, I wouldn’t publish that as Sally Nicholls, for example. (But I’m not sure anyone would want to read my fan fiction. I’m usually more interested in writing about characters’ interior lives than I am their sex lives.)

What would you never write about?

Good question! I’m not sure. I don’t think I’d ever write in praise of something I personally found morally objectionable – although I might write from the point of view of a character who was morally objectionable, I hope I wouldn’t do so in a way that could be used to support their viewpoint. But in this business it’s never a good idea to say never, because sometimes a project will come along and surprise you. I used to say I couldn’t see myself writing from the point of view of a murderer, but … well … you’ve read my back list. I have at least an attempted murderer already.

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

I bumped into Jenny Agutter at Quaglino’s at the Costa Book Awards. That was quite unexpected.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Dreadful things happen to most of my characters, I’m afraid. I do have a couple of Edwardian adventurers in a book I’ve got coming out next year, who I suspect live rather thrilling lives – he’s a Collector of Antiquities and she’s a Lady Anthropologist, and they meet in a Peruvian jungle. But – um – then terrible things happen to them both.

My child heroes have a better time of it in that book, though. Maybe I’ll pick them.

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

A film has been made of Ways to Live Forever and it was a Very Good Thing.

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

Where’s your bodyguard?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can play bridge. I used to be able to speak basic Japanese. And I have another which is far too rude to mention.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Pippi Longstocking. Or, if I’m not allowed fictional people, her creator, Astrid Lindgren.

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

I have two big sets of shelves in my home – one in my bedroom which covers an entire wall and then both alcoves in the study I share with my husband. The ones in our bedroom are arranged by ‘authors which feel like they belong together’, a scheme invented by my husband. There are loose themes – science fiction, fantasy, poetry, biography etc all go together, then when you’ve read a new book you have to work out if it’s more similar to Conan Doyle or Colin Dexter. This creates something of a problem when authors write very different books, since all books by the same author must be shelved together.

Children’s books and ‘work’ books live in the study. They are shelved much more haphazardly by the ‘which shelf do these fit on?’ principle. And then there are all the books I don’t have shelf space for …

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

Where’s Wally? Reading is supposed to be fun, it’s not something you’re supposed to do against your will. And then while we were finding Wally, I could find out what he’s actually interested in and give him a book about that.

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

Reading.

I have to say I think Sally’s husband is clever coming up with this tricky shelving system. You could have endless moves caused by an author changing direction very slightly.

Now, where is that bodyguard?

The 2016 medals

I was witchier than I thought, yesterday morning. Chris Riddell reported being on his way to the Carnegie ceremony, and I thought to myself ‘he’s not won, has he?’ and ‘no, he’s just going because he’s the children’s laureate.’ It was early. I couldn’t remember who was on the shortlist and who not.

And then I forgot to watch the live presentation of the awards, having only thoughts for my dinner, so I had to consult social media for the results, and watched later. Never having made it to one of these events, it was fun being able to see what goes on, and to hear the winners’ speeches rather than read them.

Sarah Crossan

One won! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Sarah Crossan’s novel in verse, about conjoined twins, is one I’ve not read, and I was so expecting The Lie Tree to win, that I didn’t speculate that much, even in private. Sarah’s speech was a great one, partly in verse, and it seems she might have brought up her daughter in verse, too. Sarah ended with a few poetic lines about an MP needing to use the toilets at the library, which is something they ought to think about before closing them all down.

Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell, who did win [the Kate Greenaway medal] after all, for The Sleeper and the Spindle (with Neil Gaiman), also spoke about how crazy our dear leaders are, and how children should be allowed to read without having to be tested on it, and all that. This children’s launderette (I believe this is a private joke) praised all his co-shortlistees, pointing out how talented they are, and reminiscing about kindnesses shown him in the past, and how he doesn’t like Campari.

‘Reading gives you ideas.’

And that’s presumably what worries them.

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

MCBF – ‘a festival to grow up with’

It’s almost that time again. The Manchester Children’s Book Festival launched yesterday. Without me, but a launch is still a launch, and they have Carol Ann Duffy.

I like the way they describe their programme, suggesting that if you’re a little bit older than you were six years ago when they began – oh so beautifully! – you might have grown from younger books to some of the older, YA books and their authors. I really like that idea; that you grow up with a festival.

James Draper and Kaye Tew

And it goes without saying that once grown up you can still never be too old. After all, just look at the festival directors. Do Kaye Tew and James Draper strike you as old? No, I thought not.

I fear this may be another festival where I miss Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve. I have seen them, but they feel like my forever missing act. I don’t even know if I’m going this year. I’ll wait and see if I’m suddenly afflicted by energy, next week, or the week after.

The other side of Jacqueline Wilson, MCBF 2012

They have a lovely patron in Curtis Jobling (I’d like to think I made the introductions, but that could well be fake memory syndrome), so I don’t see how they can go wrong. And I love the fact that on their home page there is a photo of Jacqueline Wilson from a few years ago, with Daughter shooting away in the mid-background, and a virtually invisible witch next to her. We’ll never go away!

There’s a poetry competition, with judges of the highest calibre. If I wrote poetry I’d love the opportunity of being read by the poet laureate, and her Welsh counter-part, Gillian Clarke.

So, for two weekends MCBF takes over various venues across Manchester, including the library and Waterstones, where on the last day you can check out local boy Danny Weston with Sally Green [she’s not a boy].

That sounds good, doesn’t it?