Category Archives: Books

Feminist Fantasy

By the end of her event on feminist fantasy with Deirdre Sullivan, whose most recent book is Perfectly Preventable Deaths – or PPD for short – we ‘all’ wanted to marry Maria Turtschaninoff’s husband. Apparently she felt ‘Mr T’ needed to be in one of her books, and he’s the really rather lovely man in Maresi, Red Mantle.

Maria Turtschaninoff

And while I’m wishing, I’ll have Deirdre’s dress (and the right shape to wear it).

Deirdre Sullivan

This event, chaired by Philippa Cochrane, introduced two authors who believe in women in fantasy, and for them to be powerful and successful without resorting to swords and magic. It’s the kind of thing we need more of.

I was cheered by Maria’s answer to the question whether they ever feel they are not good enough. Maria apologised and said she didn’t understand the question, as would be the way for someone who not only writes about feminists, but who lives like one. She has always wanted to be an author, but realised at an early age that it was best to keep this secret. Her cover was ballerina or deep sea diver.

Deirdre didn’t know one could aspire to become an author. To her it was like wishing to be a unicorn, or an orange, or a mermaid. She now loves writing, being able to build something that is her own. And if she doesn’t quite hear everything her husband says to her when she builds her worlds, that doesn’t matter.

Maria Turtschaninoff and Deirdre Sullivan

Both authors have recently written dramas for the theatre. Maria said that her play for the theatre in Vaasa was her first, and last. It sounded as if Deirdre’s experience was similar, and she would not write a play again, or at least for a very long time.

It was clear that the audience was very keen to hear what these two had to say, and they wanted to read their books. And after the loss of the signing table in the bookshop had been resolved, a good time was had by all. Especially Maria’s Polish fan who had come all the way here, and who’s responsible for people in Poland reading Maria’s books. It’s the kind of thing that warms the heart.

As Deirdre said, we must respect people’s voices, give them space, and we have to remember we are all human beings.

Maria Turtschaninoff and Deirdre Sullivan

(Photos by Helen Giles)

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It’s the worst she’s known

Malorie Blackman apologised for sounding a bit Darth Vaderish (sore throat), but the audience in the full New York Times Main Theatre didn’t mind. We’d come to hear about Malorie’s new book Crossfire, the fifth book in her Noughts & Crosses trilogy. Or the second book in the second trilogy, whichever you prefer.

The title above refers to how Malorie sees life in Britain today. Not being black, I’ve only been able to guess at how the last three years have played out, and it’s dreadful to have it confirmed. In the YA world she’s a star, while outside it she’s black. Or, as readers have said about her Noughts & Crosses books, ‘it’s about Ireland, isn’t it?’ Or Israel. Or anywhere else where you have two opposing groups of people.

Malorie Blackman

Malorie was in Charlotte Square talking to Lindsey Fraser about her dark, but necessary, books that first arrived in 2001. And here we are – needing them more than ever – eighteen years later.

As Lindsey pointed out, you have to think when you read her books. Books written by someone who as a girl couldn’t afford books, so went to the library where she tried to make her weekly selection last the whole week. She at first found Jane Eyre a bit dry, but it’s long since one of her favourite books.

Discussing reading age, Malorie feels the Noughts & Crosses series is a little unsuitable for ten-year-olds, but some young readers just skip the ‘kissy bits,’ which proves that self-censoring works just fine.

Malorie Blackman

We will soon be able to watch a six-part series on television, and we were the first to be shown a video clip from it. Stormzy has been involved, somehow, because he’s a big Noughts & Crosses fan, just as Malorie is a big Stormzy fan.

There will be one more book, Endgame, the sixth of the trilogy, and then she ‘must stop.’ Malorie doesn’t want to write a prequel, but admits to having considered it. She reckons Jude is ‘a bit of a git,’ but he was fun to write. She wants her readers to understand why he did what he did, while not sympathising with what he ends up doing.

Having been prevented from going to university by her careers teacher, Malorie now feels that the woman actually did her a favour, teaching her not to give up when the rejection letters kept coming.

Malorie Blackman

And much as I and the rest of the audience would have wanted a literary university experience for young Malorie, we are grateful for the books. And for being a role model and for giving young, black readers a sense of belonging.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

A wet day in Charlotte Square

As first days in Charlotte Square go, Sunday was probably the wettest we’d known it in our ten years of book-festing. Although I gather Photographer and I missed a much more exciting first 24 hours by not being there on the Saturday…

The rain meant we skulked indoors most of the time, which in turn meant that authors were mostly viewed from afar, through the doorway of the yurt, as they dashed to avoid a soaking. The rubber ducks looked happy, but they might have been the only ones.

Photo calls, when they happened, took place under a little plastic roof, keeping the authors dry. Not so much the photographers.

Malorie Blackman

And so much has changed! And you know how I feel about change. I’ll get used to it, I suppose.

The two bookshops are now one big shop, with a very large café area in the middle. This didn’t prevent people from having coffee at the two signing tables, however, which was a little awkward when you have a couple of authors and their fans, standing there not knowing what to do.

The toilets. Yes, you want to know about them, don’t you? They have one for Gents, one for Ladies, and one for Everyone. Plus the usual baby changing and accessible ones.

Even my favourite theatre, the Corner Theatre, had changed. It’s now arranged the same way as all the others… A witch likes a back row near a door. But otherwise it was fine!

Ben Okri

The large signing tent was – I believe – mostly as it was last year, when it had changed. Here is Ben Okri at the end of what seemed like a rather long signing session.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Witches and legends

We talked mostly about toilets. Sometimes you need to cheer yourself up when you’ve strayed too close to the state of things today, as Daughter and I found when we had coffee with Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper after their Stirling Tinkerbell event on Friday.

Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin at Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell had invited them to do a signing of An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends. We were quite gratified to find a queue out in the street when we arrived. (Not surprising, I suppose, as we discovered the sign outside promised singing by the two ladies…)

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper at Tinkerbell

The deluge of rain had stopped, so we sat on a stone wall outside in the [pedestrian] street, next to the parked police van, studying the fans and waiting for room to enter the shop ourselves.

Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin at Tinkerbell

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper

We went in to chat for a bit, and Daughter might just have had a slight accident, buying something lovely-looking. Then all of us trooped outside and sat on the stone walls again, while Theresa read her Stirling-based story, with Kate as the crazy man who thought he could fly. Thankfully she only jumped off the wall in the street, not the side of Stirling Castle.

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper

Kate Leiper

Daughter and I went off to secure and warm up some seats at the Burgh Coffee House before the ladies arrived, each carrying a gift bag full of shop goodies. Where will they keep their new dragons?

Then it was all toilets and laughter.  There were tales about a librarian, and about Terry Pratchett, even a disposable Starbucks mugs, ‘fuel’ in other countries, and so on.

And then I might have suggested they perhaps had trains to catch. They did. I obviously wasn’t trying to get rid of them, but they had further to go than we did.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Letting Go

Is this my first Cat Clarke? I think it might be. Her short novel Letting Go, for Barrington Stoke, is quite a masterpiece.

Cat Clarke, Letting Go

It’s a story about Agnes and her ex-girlfriend Ellie and Ellie’s new boyfriend Steve. As will be obvious, this is painful, at least for Agnes. But a promise is a promise and here the three of them are, on their way up a mountain, where the weather is about to change for the worse.

None of them are happy and they fight.

And then things get really bad.

I loved the way the reader is allowed to get close to the characters and see what and who they are. As with most of us, they are both bad and good, but none of that matters because this soon turns into an emergency for which they are ill equipped.

It’s quite a grown-up story about three young people.

Princesses, Duchesses, Authors

I can’t say I have all that much against Princesses writing children’s books. Yes, I know I probably ought to rail against this the same way I do comedians. But it’s not the same situation.

Well, I suppose it could be. If DW was approached by his publisher and asked to write a book for them, then they would be.

Most people seem to believe that the Duchess of Sussex will have decided she was jolly well going to write a book, like everyone else. Can’t be too hard. I suspect someone came to her and suggested it, or asked her to, because they know it is quite likely such a book will make them money.

Maybe the Duchess was too polite to say no, or she genuinely believed it’d be a good thing. Royals do so much for so many organisations, so what is one more?

And Sweden’s Princess Madeleine, Duchess of Hälsingland and Gästrikland, and mother of three small children, has now joined her distant relations in writing a children’s book. With help, I hasten to add. I imagine it was a similar situation for her. I don’t reckon Royals have so much time on their hands that they feel they desperately need another hobby.

People will buy the books. Or not. And the books will be enjoyed. Or not. Doesn’t matter.

I’d like to think that some of the profits will go to where it will do some good. I don’t believe that either of these women have taken a slot for a new book away from someone better suited to the job. Things are not right in the world, but there is no need to blame the Princesses.

And I’d like for the press and the general public to remember that the Duchess of Sussex is no longer Ms Markle. It’s not nice to bully her in that way.

What price books?

There is much one can say about big book fairs, and much of it is good. Every year I wonder whether I perhaps ought to attend the Gothenburg one again. After three consecutive years a long time ago, I only returned the year Meg Rosoff finally made it there. I have been overtaken by Son who accompanied me in the early years, and who now is allowed to go on his own.

These days it’s not so much the cost as the time of the year and the effort involved. I’m still surprised I’m not getting any younger.

Gothenburg Book Fair

But then I learned something new about the Book Fair, which is that the organisers are putting up the fees for those who exhibit. Understandable, and proper publishers and other large companies can presumably weather the cost. But there have always been many small exhibitors, like self-published authors. I’ve long thought it’s nice that anyone can aspire to rent a table there, and maybe sell their books or at least get better known by visitors.

Someone I wouldn’t have known about were it not for about three different coincidences, is Kim Kimselius who apparently has published 57 children’s books; mostly through self-publishing. She seems to do well and apart from having loads of new books out every year, she travels and runs writing weeks and does events.

But I just read that after 20 years of attending the Book Fair, she will stop. It is too expensive for her to attend, when everything is taken into account. I believe it cost her around £6000 for the long weekend, and that is by staying with friends.

I gather that with fewer exhibitors the fair organisers have extended the free space around the ‘exhibits’ as well as starting up more areas for eating and drinking. Space is nice. (You’d know that if you’d been.) So is somewhere to sit and eat. Kim was regretting the fact that she was losing her fair ‘neighbours’ with whom she’d chat and who made it fun.

This year she opened up her own home to fans, instead.

I’m not saying this is wrong. I mean the reasons behind her new venture, rather than the new event. But it feels slightly questionable that someone who writes and sells books, and quite successfully at that, should be priced out of the Book Fair.

As for me, when I first went, I paid for my weekend passes myself. It was – almost – affordable when you took into account the 50% discount for foreigners. Three years ago I carefully asked if this had now stopped, as I could find no sign of special treatment, and was told this was the case. Again, I suppose they need to make as much money as they can, and most visitors requiring a four-day pass to all events, will probably be reimbursed by their employer.

The price had gone up considerably, so – cap in hand – I asked for a free pass, which they generously supplied. Had they not done so, I don’t think I could have justified going.

I’m not quite sure what Son does, but he has so many meetings arranged, leaving no time or energy for actually going to events. And that does bring down the cost.