Category Archives: Cathy Hopkins

Sweet sixteen

A year ago Bookwitch ruminated on what sells and what she reads and why.

Today I’m – because we are the same, Bookwitch and I – thinking about the effect Bookwitching has had not just on me but on the young and innocent, like Daughter. We have both put sixteen behind us – but only just. Obviously. Today it’s Bookwitch’s turn to hum ‘She was only sixteen…’

As you may have gathered, Daughter has recently moved and has some vintage shelves to arrange with books. And, it seems, a polar bear. Also two bookmarks, one of which I was intrigued to find personally dedicated and signed by Michelle Magorian.

This is the effect I mean. Somehow a lot of young literature has happened to Offspring. The vintage shelves I mentioned seem to contain mostly books by people I ‘know’ and who Daughter has met through being dragged on bring-your-child-to-work days.

There are an inordinate number of Cathy Hopkins books, and that’s as it should be. Likewise Caroline Lawrence and Liz Kessler and Jacqueline Wilson. Although the latter has had to be pruned down to more manageable numbers of books.

I won’t list them all, but basically, the story of Bookwitch can be seen on these shelves. There won’t be so many new ones, as the e-reader has taken over. This is just as well, because however lovely the vintageness from the local auction-hunter, a flat has only so much space.

Apologies for the tile samples. There is a kitchen splashback to deal with. And I would like it to be known that that book by Vaseem Khan has been ‘borrowed’ from a kind parent.


Light reading

They’re not bad, those little e-readers. Especially if you are required to use up your suitcase weight allowance with cables. And cheese fondue pods.

Daughter touched down at Bookwitch Towers briefly, en route for the other side of the world. She’d brought her half-read copy of her brother’s translation of Into a Raging Blaze, but as we began weighing every item to go (yes, really), even that had to stay here. Instead we filled up her newly acquired Kindle with books.

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

I have got Daughter so well trained that she accepted most of my suggestions of Really Good Books. All was going well until she said she’d also quite like something cheerful. Gulp. And something girly, a bit like Cathy Hopkins’s Mates Dates series.

That’s easier said than done. I ransacked my brain for anything a bit like that. I searched my shelves for girlier books than the ones I’d listed. And I’m sorry to say but we didn’t get anywhere much.

We’d be grateful for genuinely good – and cheerful – stories featuring female characters. One is easy. Both together is less common than it ought to be. When I went through my mental list of favourite female authors, I came to the conclusion that many of their books are about male characters. And I’m fine with that, since a good book is a good book.

But Mates Dates they are not.

And to my mind, Cathy’s books are friendlier than most. The catty friends and horrible boyfriends are far too common in many book plots. I suppose that’s one way of providing action; see how many characters your characters can fall out with before all is well at the end. Or not.


Please not the Cathy Hopkins books! Are we not finished with those? Are we not – both me and Daughter – over the age of 20? Are Cathy’s books not really quite fun?

Yes, they are. They are – almost entirely – staying. Three years on from The Move Clearances we are pruning here and there. Offspring’s sudden room switching (yes, no, neither live here any more) caused books to be looked at again. I thought maybe we could gain the half metre that Cathy’s books take up on the shelf.

But as you may have gathered, that didn’t go well. Although it depends on your point of view. Nearly all the Cathy Hopkins books will remain with us, minus the quiz books, etc.

Same with Caroline Lawrence. You can’t send the Roman Mysteries packing. Or Theresa Breslin. Definitely not Mary Hoffman. Oh no, those ladies are all just going walkabout in the house to rest elsewhere.

Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are semi-intact, with the very best still here. (I’m reminded of Son’s stash of toy cars. Age is no barrier to what you simply must keep. In fairness he recently parted with his third and fourth copies of His Dark Materials, sparing only two of each.)

But Doctor Who is leaving. Mostly. Even signed ones. (Yes, that was Daughter’s book you found in the charity shop. Lucky you.)

The Universe will make some other person happy, while the napkin folding guide stays. And she rather thought Helen Grant would want one of her cast-offs.

The other ‘great’ idea she had was to incorporate hers with mine, which only means taking every single book out and re-alphabetising the lot again; first and second rows on each shelf. I suggested her books might be in peril, come my next major pruning, but apparently her books can be post-it-ed.

Hah, as if I can be trusted!

Moving tales #2 – the books

The books. Some will simply have to go. About half would be good.

So, one question: Does it make more sense to hang on to old books already read and thoroughly enjoyed, or those not yet read at all? I’m beginning to think that some used ones ought to go, and some new ones should stay, in the hopes they will come into favour at some point. But not too many.

Some books have moved around with me before. A lot. I used to be of the opinion that if I’d liked something, I’d hang on to it. Part of the family and all that. Now that this looks like an impossible ambition, I suspect I can chuck out quite a few books. I look at them and ask myself if I’m at all likely to re-read, even were I not so blessed with new incoming books on a daily basis.

More often than you’d think, the answer is no. And for every 19 books successfully Oxfammed, there is bound to be a 20th I will regret. But there are libraries and secondhand bookshops, and even firsthand bookshops, whence mistakes might be rectified.


Libraries. I must have imagined I actually am a library in the past. Thoughts like ‘that could be handy to have if …’ have confused me. I have hung on to books because I am a snob. It would look impressive – or at least marginally good – to have certain books on my shelves.

And, it’s so useful to have a nice selection if visitors want to read while staying with us. Pah! I don’t like lending books, and we don’t exactly run a hotel here. The only people impressed by our books have been Son’s reception teacher and our former GP. The Grandmother sometimes finds something she will read (which she then takes home with her to finish).

I have been known to feel that if I adore a writer, I must keep all of his or her books, when a few of the best will do. Now that I own a lot of signed books I have felt I can’t part with any of those. But I’ll just have to. (The embarrassing fact is that anything signed to Bookwitch will be rather obvious. Please don’t hate me.)

I can’t get rid of books written by the very nice people I am now reasonably acquainted with. But I will have to. You are still absolutely lovely people. So are your books. Lovely, I mean, not that they are people.

Several copies of the ‘same’ book makes little sense. So does keeping [all of] Offspring’s books. Unless they at least spring clean a little, so we don’t keep every single one. Son could prune his multiple copies of Terry Pratchett and Eoin Colfer. Daughter could decide she won’t bl**dy re-read Cathy Hopkins, again. Actually, no, perhaps she couldn’t.

Some of my fiction is quite easy to decide on. But what about Shakespeare? One collected works is enough, which means the other can go. But the plays we also have separately? What will we want to return to at some point? Which Tom Stoppard play do I like best? Shaw? Do we need two Swedish hymn books?*

*This backfired a little. When the Resident IT Consultant was reminded of Shaw, for instance, he promptly sat down and read one of the plays. He told me off for wanting to deprive him of the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Oh, dear. He claimed the Zen motorbike book was his, and not mine to chuck out. And so it went.

But some books went.

Martinmas drugs

I’d like to show you the drugs I sent with Daughter, for use this Martinmas term. (I think it’s so quaint with these terms for terms…)

2012 leisure reads

Following on from the session we had in the Scottish Parliament back in August, we fully agree with the use of books for medicinal purposes. They make you feel better. Probably much better than the stuff you get on prescription. (Even when prescriptions are free, as they are north of the border.)

Anyway, when exam nerves or essay stress take their toll, Daughter can grab one of the lovely titles you see above. (Guess which one is her own input?)

So, there are fairies and faeries, Irish and Scottish, and their cousins the angels. Nicholas Flamel, a Stockport cinema, cat people, various Victorian ladies, code breakers, resistance boys and ugly people. Keith Gray’s wonderful anthology. And the Doctor.

We think there is enough for one term. If not, I suppose she will actually have to buy a book. Shocking concept, but a feasible solution.

The photo is partly to make sure I get back what I sent out, but also to assist when I need to advise on which one to choose, according to specific needs.

Love at Second Sight

Cathy Hopkins is regressing. But not to worry, it’s simply that in her new book Love at Second Sight, Cathy lets her heroine Jo go back in time. Not time travel; she’s finding a previous life. It sort of fits in with what Cathy often does, the herbs and the tarot cards; that kind of thing.

Cathy Hopkins, Love at Second Sight

This is just one step further. Who knows if it’s possible? Jo gets help to look into her (or does it count as someone else’s?) past, when the subject comes up at her hypnotherapist’s.

The reason there is a subject at all, is because Jo and her friends went to see a fortune teller. (It’s probably a Hampstead thing.) And she learned she had lived and loved before, and if she would only look, Jo can find her old love in her current life.

Yes, it does sound rather unlikely. But who knows?

She has no boyfriend, and it’s a bit boring, because her two best friends do, and she’s the odd one out. But all of a sudden Jo has three boys around her, and she wants to find out if one of them is her Howard from a hundred years ago.

Is it popular Finn? Or comfortable Owen? Or mysterious Ben? Or none of them?

The three girls do a lot of historical research around North London, tramping round churches and cemeteries. And whether they find Howard or not, they learn what life might have been like if they’d lived a century earlier. It wasn’t all good. Not all bad, either.

This is another feelgood Cathy Hopkins story, where you get more than one stab at living and loving. Cathy does do some great boys! But also stinkers. A bit like real life, in any century.

Books for medicinal purposes

Her suitcase was suspiciously heavy, now that I stop and think about it. It was only as she was safely back at university that Daughter admitted to having taken ‘a few’ Cathy Hopkins books with her, to relax. And it’s OK. It’s healthy to read to feel calmer in a mad world. My only thought about Cathy Hopkins is that the books are very fast to read, and for weight in books carried, you get less read-time.

When checking the gaps, it would appear that the first six Mates Dates have gone, as well as the first four of Truth Dare Kiss Promise. Oh well. It clearly wasn’t just the physics course book that weighed the case down.

In general, I’m glad Daughter has at long last found her way back to reading for fun. I don’t think the giving up was her fault. Nor mine, even though I do push rather. I think it’s education. There have been three to four years of far too much pressure to succeed and learn to get exam grades, for very much fun reading to take place. She’s not the only one I’ve come across who has had to cast fiction aside for everything else.

The books we picked at the beginning of the academic year, were books I expected to return here, mostly unread. I think one book got read in the first term. (Liz Kessler, so you can see how she picks old-time, safe favourites.) My thinking was that if we pick the first book of a sequence, we can have her begging for mercy once she’s hooked, desperate for the next one. Daughter’s thinking was to pick books by friends.

She is now desperate for those second novels, I’m glad to say. With only a few weeks left of the year, I am travelling north with some second books, as well as the third in a trilogy. Can’t have her fail the exams because she’s unable to relax with Julie Bertagna’s Aurora or see how Keren David’s Joe is getting on, or Nick Green’s Pashki students.

I feel that a couple of questions on quantum mechanics deserve some knife crime or dystopic adventure as a reward. Some Pashki moves for exercise and perhaps a bit of light French revolution courtesy of Sally Gardner before bed.

Because the thing is, even studying diligently, you can fill those gaps of five or ten minutes when you would ordinarily be panicking, because ‘you are so going to fail at everything,’ with fiction. The gaps are there. You just need to have your ‘medicine’ to hand, and you need to realise that reading is medicine and will aid the exams, rather than get in the way.

The original book selection

Bookwitch bites #78

We are all very much for equality here at Bookwitch Towers, as long as people remember I’m a little bit more equal than some. But I was really taken aback when I read the shortlist for the 2012 Queen of Teen. I somehow expected this shiny tiara institution to be a smidgen more traditional than I am.

It’s not. This year we could have a Queen James. Now, trailblazing James Dawson is up against the Cathys, Cassidy and Hopkins, longterm princess Joanna Nadin, as well as Hayley Long, Maureen Johnson, Chris Higgins, Samantha Mackintosh, Sarah Webb and S C Ransom, so might not reach his queenhood. But it’s an intriguing situation, even for an egalitarian old witch.

And because I am presently almost doing my blogging from the bathroom floor, I will leave you with the dog who does his writing on the roof.

Snoopy - the author

Today’s post could have been longer, I know. It could also have been no post at all.

Young and hot, or perhaps not

Mary Hoffman went on a book tour to America last week, leaving us – her blog readers – with some exciting men to think about. I bet she did that on purpose.

She writes about some very attractive young men in her own books, and I trust Mary has done a lot of research to make our reading experience the best ever. But I am too old for her boys. I simply cannot lust after a teenager. Even setting propriety aside I find I can’t. I need older men.

Like the ones I was too young for when I was a teenager. Except in those days there wasn’t much in the way of teen books, so a girl had to lust after grown older men, or not lust at all. Lord Peter Wimsey is one such example mentioned by Mary. (And don’t tell anyone, but I did like him.)

That’s life. Nothing is ever right.

So, in those days I liked the Scarlet Pimpernel (even without Leslie Howard), and I adored Steven Howard in MM Kaye’s Death in Cyprus and Richard Byron in Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk. Various Alistair MacLean heroes, and Carl Zlinter from Nevil Shute’s The Far Country. (Go on, ridicule me!)

If there were any boys, I have forgotten them, which means they can’t have been all that special.

More recently I have liked Margery Allingham’s Campion, Mr Knightley, and Robert Stephens’s voice as Aragorn in the radio version of Lord of the Rings. There aren’t all that many attractive men in modern children’s or YA books, but there is Lupin. And from an old classic we have Daddy Longlegs.

If I absolutely have to find young men in current fiction they won’t be vampires. Not even faeries (sorry, Seth McGregor). I liked Wes in Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, and Sanchez in Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan is quite a boy. And now that I think about it, the Cathys (Cassidy and Hopkins) do lovely young ones.

Abby and Ducky

Men on the screen, however, have got easier with age. The ten-year-old me knew it was wrong to be in love with Ilya Kuryakin, 23 years my senior. But he was so cute! And this being a lasting kind of passion, it was David McCallum who got me started on NCIS. He is still very good looking for a man approaching 80. And it was at NCIS I found Very Special Agent Gibbs, a man of the right age. At last. I reckon he is a modern Mr Knightley.


So, for me it is No Thanks to ‘hot young men.’ I need them to be grey these days.

(Link here to an older post about pretty boys. I seem to have grown out of them.)


To be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed. You’d like to think that the first time will be special, but it wasn’t. Friends, I have just read my first Judy Blume. Forever, because that’s what the then Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen told me to read. At least, I think he did. I asked where I should start and he said ‘definitely with Ralph. Buy a second-hand copy of Forever and the book will fall open at the Ralph page’. I did. And it didn’t. And it won’t after I’m done with the book, either.

I don’t exactly hang out with Michael, but he joined in when I blogged about sex in ‘children’s books’ on the Guardian books blog some years ago. He commented that ‘the first time I read Forever — I couldn’t figure out why there was a little bloke in the room called Ralph, who the couple (boy and a girl) seemed quite excited about. I was 46.’

So at the back of my mind I’ve had this idea to read Judy Blume ever since, as I was so remiss as to totally miss her in my younger days. And I expected more. Not sure more of what, but a bit more.

Forever is my March contribution to the Bookwitch Foreign Reading Challenge, on two counts. First, it is American, and that is foreign. Second, it’s so old (1975) that it counts as foreign ground in that respect, too. Not old enough to be an old classic. But definitely nothing like the books we get now.

It’s so very American. So very middle class, with such bland main characters and such very nice and educated parents. An understanding grandmother, even. No lack of money. No worries about looks or school results. There is just this preoccupation of whether or not to ‘do it’ when Katherine meets Michael. It’s love at first sight, and the love will last forever.

My copy did not fall open at ‘that’ page, so can’t have been appreciated enough. Not like Lady Chatterley, although Ralph does have a distant relative in the D H Lawrence novel.

Bland. Even the attempt to spice things up with (someone else’s) teen pregnancy and a failed suicide somehow fails to deliver. But at the time when Forever was published I’m sure the advice on how not to get pregnant was worthwhile. At least if you were American and middle class.

Boring. The grandmother was OK, and the failed suicide was about the most interesting young character, closely followed by the pregnant teenager.

Today’s teenagers would do better to read Cathy Hopkins, on whether or not to have sex, and they’d get more on friendship, too. Not to mention humour and some action a reader might actually enjoy.

My first time might be my last. But it’s over and done with.