Category Archives: Cathy Hopkins

How To Survive Summer Camp

Not only have I lost Millions (the Frank Cottrell Boyce kind, as mentioned the other week), but I can’t find my sense of humour. Which is a real nuisance, as I was going to do a fabulous blog about it. Oh, well. Some other year, perhaps.

Michelle Lovric did a nice blog post on humour on ABBA a few days ago, and I fancied doing something very similar. I have a good collection of funny somethings. Somewhere.

You’ll be wondering what all this has to do with summer camp, and the answer is that I’m in more of a muddle than usual because we’re just getting ready to go off on our summer holidays. It may not be a camp, but the witch who runs the place is not nice, and she has no sense of humour. Having just lost it. As I was saying.

So, 25 years on Jacqueline Wilson’s How To Survive Summer Camp is being republished. Unlike other similar occasions this really means that a new audience can be reached, since the target reader wasn’t born in 1985, and there is a possibility, however slight, that the parents of the new reader knows the book from childhood. Almost.

I read it a long time ago, and remembered it as less Jacqueline Wilson-y than it actually is. We still have a typical JW heroine who finds herself in a new and unwanted situation, and who has to get used to it and sort things out. Stella sorts quite nicely in the end, and summer camp isn’t as bad as she expected.

An added bonus are the activity pages at the back of the book. Tips, recipes, wordsearches, crosswords and things to make. The child who takes this on holiday is well catered for.

As for me and the witchlings, I will not have time to do all that I need to before leaving. I’m still short of a complete outbreak of hysterics, but it can’t be ruled out. I have the Cathy Hopkins interview to finish baking, and I had various chores which there is now no longer time for. And I just know there will be some discovery (and not of Millions) that will come as a nasty surprise.

Excuse me. I just have to go and do my Kermit impersonation and scream a little. Will feel better soon.


In the lap of luxury

The good news is I’m not too old yet for Cathy Hopkins, although I may have stopped feeling like a 14-year-old. Cathy is back writing about this age group, because it’s just right; not too old and not too young.

Million Dollar Mates (I voted for another title on Cathy’s facebook page, but this one is OK) is Cathy’s new series about a girl who moves in with the mega rich. It’s not just another fluffy story about the wonders of wealth, or fame, however, but it looks at what matters.

Motherless Jess and her brother Charlie move in with their Dad, who’s just got a new job as manager of a luxury apartment complex in Knightsbridge. First Jess doesn’t want to move, and then she changes her mind. Then she changes her mind again, because what at first seems ideal turns out to be not so nice after all.

They are surrounded by rich people, while being nothing more than the children of staff, and very low in the pecking order. Having moved they are also some distance away from old friends and from their grandmother.

I did wonder if I’d find this a little too insubstantial, but as usual Cathy mixes ordinary teen life with some humour and with social observations, and in the end it’s not about rich and poor, but more about what to wear to a party and will the fanciable boy notice her?

Cathy still manages to fit in little snippets of sensible advice to teens in the plot. So along with the glamorous film star family from Hollywood, and the rich Russians who have yet to turn up, the readers get support for dealing with grief as well as how to make up when you fall out with your best friend. As usual there are gorgeous clothes and more of Cathy’s favourite oriental style decorating.

In fact, I used to feel I’d have to complain to her about putting ideas into girls’ minds, and now I actually have. I suppose the next step is to go out and get some fuchsia paint. And something orange.


Getting through the gates

Did you ever stop to consider this business of getting through gates? Particularly in both directions. The witch was excited enough about finally getting round to doing that interview with Cathy Hopkins, and then there was the excitement over the posh hotel Cathy was staying in, in deepest footballer-Cheshire. So exclusive is the place that there is no public entrance or car park into which to arrive by car and where you can be dropped off.

There were gates. The closed variety. The kind you can’t see through. So we were dropped off onto the puny pavement outside and crept up to the gatepost which had some intercom contraption. Luckily the photographer’s young eyes could discern the button to press, so I pressed. At the same time Cathy noticed us through her window and waved. The gates opened in that spooky way they do in films. Slightly creaky.

The gates

We walked through and walked up to the magically opening front door where Cathy was waiting in bare feet, looking like the lady of the manor. The whole operation made it seem like she had the complete house at her disposal.

So we did the interview, in those sleek and perfect surroundings. Having been forward enough to talk about bathrooms in advance, we were then invited up to have a peep at Cathy’s. Though we didn’t shove her in the bath for a photo, but draped her across the bed instead. Much more Cathy Hopkins!

Cathy Hopkins

Then it was time to worry about how to magic the gates open from the inside to escape again. Cathy fiddled with a few switches that may have been gate control thingies, or that could simply have been dimmer switches for the lighting. Who knows. The gates opened eventually and we made our escape. As we stood outside again a taxi drove in, and some motorist who happened to be passing stopped his car and asked what this place was. I think it was the taxi and the gates and the ‘paparazzi’ hanging outside that got him curious.

We magicked up our getaway car while waiting in the company of a young neighbourhood cat balancing on the fence.

Well, it was different.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Notes from the Teenage Underground

I’m reading Simmone Howell backwards. That is, first I read the second book, and now I’ve progressed to her first teen novel, Notes from the Teenage Underground. Last time I think I compared Simmone’s book to a blend of Melvin Burgess and Jacqueline Wilson. The Underground story is more Melvin with some Cathy Hopkins gone bad. Not a bad Cathy, rather a less happy group of friends than her mates.

I still can’t get my head round how different they are in Australia. Apart from walking upside-down. There are definitely words I don’t know, and I don’t mean g’day. And I was about to say that they allow more daring behaviour in their YA novels, but since Notes from the Teenage Underground is published in the UK, it has clearly passed any censorship necessary for tender Britons.

Gem – named after Germaine Greer – feels she is becoming an outsider. Her pals Mira and Lo seem to be doing more stuff without her. Or maybe she’s imagining things? It’s their last year at school and it’s almost Christmas, very hot, and they are sitting their final exams. (I said it’s upside-down.)

They want to do something different and special to mark this, so plan some underground action. Gem is into films in a big way, so she decides to make a film. The others almost ignore her, and have their own ideas. Gem also feels the need to lose her virginity to catch up with the other two, and settles on her spotty colleague at her part time job in the video shop.

With an unconventional single mum with a hippyish background and a dad who went off to the wilds of Tasmania to be alone, she has other issues than friends and sex on her mind, too.

The plot doesn’t develop quite as you might expect, which is good, as too many books just show different routes to a conventional end. And all the film references should appeal to arty teenagers. I’m almost thinking I will have to investigate some of the films which I don’t know.

Bookwitch bites #8

As I was saying – I do hope you remember – a little revamping of websites can be good for the soul. Today is actually the first time I’ve said that, but I touched on the revamp idea before. Cathy Hopkins has a new look. Not Cathy, but her website, obviously. It’s a sign of how long I’ve had Cathy’s site bookmarked, that she is number three on my list (I haven’t done much sorting of anything).

And I keep going on about people’s launch parties. Felt so bad about saying no to Anthony McGowan’s party, but it seems to have been a waste of good concern. He got so many coming to the bookshop where the party for Einstein’s Underpants was held on Thursday, that they had to turn people away. (That could have been me!) Or it could be a publicity stunt, maybe? At least Tony managed to get there himself, after being marooned with ash problems ‘far away from home’ for some time.

News about the Booktrust Teenage Prize: “This year’s judging panel will be chaired by popular children’s and young adult author Tony Bradman and includes journalist and author Barbara Ellen, author and reviewer Mary Hoffman, Chartered Librarian Barbara Band and 2009 Booktrust Teenage Prize young judge Claudia Freemantle.”

From Booktrust to an old bird; Puffin is 70, and has a specially designated website to make the most of old age. I’m not sure exactly when the big day is, but the website turned up on my horizon this week.

Speaking of birthdays, former children’s laureate Michael Rosen was 64 yesterday.

Since it’s Saturday, I’m glad that Terry Pratchett and I can sit down together for our weekly Doctor Who. Not in the same room, alas, but a shared interest is always good. Terry made it known this week that he thinks they make it too easy for themselves these days, but he still watches every time. And personally I never encounter any problems with the windows when I transport hospitals through space. It’s always the aliens that annoy. Not the broken windows.

City of Ships

I’m in despair. I clearly went wrong somewhere with Daughter. Why isn’t she reading Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza series? It’s got everything she wants in a book, with the possible exception of David Tennant. (Mary, perhaps you could fix that?) Mary’s teenagers in today’s London could be cousins to Cathy Hopkins’s Mates Dates girls. And boys. Her boys are seriously fanciable. Definitely cousins of Tony’s.

The historical setting could be from Theresa Breslin’s historical and romantic books. Or from Mary’s own standalone novels. And then you take the people and the settings and throw a little Alex Rider adventuring into the whole thing. In City of Ships, add a tablespoon of Johnny Depp.

What’s not to like?

Every time a new Stravaganza enters the house, the Resident IT Consultant is there, nosing around like a puppy just waking up to some intriguing smell. And then he’s off reading. This is the man who can be quite scathing about reading which isn’t serious enough, so although Stravaganza falls into my category of settling down with lots of comfort foods, with dessert, it has a lot of merit.

I suppose we all want to be one of those teenagers in Barnsbury. The one who thought they were nothing special, who wakes up somewhere very strange one morning, and discovers they are very special indeed. A whole new life in Talia, four hundred years ago, and with an important role to play in Talia’s history.

In City of Ships, which is Mary’s fifth, it’s Isabel who carves out a new life, away from her leading twin brother Charlie. Double trouble. Isabel wakes up in Classe, the Ravenna of Talia, and she meets the very handsome pirate Andrea.

Mary has also come up with some new travel arrangements for the stravagantes, which means they no longer need to ‘buy’ return journeys, but can make single trips to almost anywhere. And they may not have mobile phones in Talia, but those canny old men have come up with Talia’s answer to Skype.

Fabrizio is up to no good, and war on two fronts is on the cards. Thanks to Isabel and a two-timing spy, things work out in the end. Mostly. Some people have to die, but it wasn’t my primary suspect which was good. And I do like the fact that old enemies can reform and become good guys. We’ll soon be one big, happy family.

If we could only tie up a few loose ends in London?

The Secret Story

At last. I’ve got my hands on the Cathy Hopkins book I wrote about during the World Book Day period. Well, this very minute I have my hands on the keyboard, but you know what I mean. The Secret Story is the story second time round for Tony and Lucy from Mates, Dates, and the WBD sampler left me wanting it all. Now.

Finally I’ve had the background to the white roses Tony got for Lucy. I know why he felt guilty. And jealous.

They are a nice couple, those two. It’s young love, which is on, then off, and on and off a few more times. But I think we know what might happen in the end. Unless it’s just the witch and her stupid fondness for happy ever after.

And Cathy, I’m expecting that visit from Tony you promised. He can chat to Daughter, because I seriously doubt he’d want to talk to me.

We want Tony!

Cathy Hopkins has a new Dates, Mates book out soon, and one of the WBD books lets keen fans have a brief preview of The Secret Story. Let me tell you, it’s not enough. I want more. Now.

Dates, Mates readers get the story of Lucy and Tony, re-told in the shape of alternate chapters from each of them. The WBD taster is just that. Tastes great, but it’s a smaller portion than we want. 

It’s a slightly weird feeling, reading a story we’ve already read, but with Tony’s side of the affair as well. According to Cathy, Tony is her most popular boy, and although the witch is no big fan of over-beautiful boys, he’s so lovely I’m seriously hoping she’ll let me have his address. That’s what the fans ask for, apparently.

Of all the girls, I also happen to want to be Lucy.

M is for Magic

It’s easy to forget the magic in short stories. I have a feeling they used to be more common years ago, or else it’s just me thinking I used to read a lot of story collections when I was a child. Cathy Hopkins was saying only last week that she finds short stories harder to write than full length novels.

Neil Gaiman is a master of short stories. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a collection quite as much as M is for Magic. They’re not all brand new stories, but I almost think that makes them better. The first one from 1984, The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds, is a wonderful take on hardboiled crime, with nursery rhyme characters. The last story is an extract from Neil’s new book, which is out soon, and it will tempt you to read The Graveyard Book, too.

And just like the small books I was going on about the other day, a collection like this is another way of reading good fiction in smaller doses.

Is there more coming? Please?

Rennison rules

I kept thinking it was Tuesday. And of course by the time I got home it was. Three hours at Watford tends to have that effect on train travel. But I was back in time to send Daughter to school.

Arrival of the two Cathys

If you are like me and don’t know Godalming, I can tell you it’s very pretty, and so wealthy (I imagine) that the shops mainly sells things you don’t need. The Book People “live” in Godalming, and they were the ones behind the Queen of Teen award, which ended with a coronation and a great pink party in a marquee on the lawn. I was promised peacocks, but didn’t see them. Flamingos would have suited the pink theme better.

Sarra Manning

I have never seen three pink limousines all at once before. Plus a white one. The authors were driven round with a fan each in the limos, before being decanted onto the red carpet (why not pink?) by the marquee, in front of eager photographers. In the case of Sarra Manning and Grace Dent the drive lasted for hours, but at least they got to know their fans very, very well. Jacqueline Wilson said her neighbours got something to look at when her pink limo came to pick her up. Not an everyday occurrence, then. Someone, I forget who, said she was willing to pay not to go in a limo again. Ah well.

Grace Dent

The marquee was a little pink. The carpet inside was totally pink, and so uneven that we didn’t need pink champagne to stumble every now and then. The food was pink, and very lovely. Even the portaloos were posh, if not exactly pink. It could have been a wedding, except there weren’t enough men there. It was all organised by Susie from the Book People, and she can do a party for me anytime.

Grace's shoes

The invited girls queued to chat to the authors, who signed books and leaflets like mad. The tables were groaning under free books, and once the fans cottoned on to this, they disappeared very fast. The books. Not the fans. There were also party bags at the end, filled with even more goodies and books. If that doesn’t encourage reading, I don’t know what will.

Jacqueline Wilson tells stories

As this was a crowning of a queen, there were tiaras. And those bands that royals wear on posh occasions. Pink, naturally. The chosen girl for each author was invited onto the stage to put a tiara on the head of her favourite, and they all made a brief speech about why they like them so much. I was very impressed with how well the girls spoke. It must be the quality of the writers that produces such great fans.

Karen McCombie

I have not read all of them. I dipped into a few books on the way, and quite enjoyed Meg Cabot’s Princess Mia. Meg, by the way, was the only one not there, as she had some books to sign in South Africa. Had a brief look at Karen McCombie’s book, which I just happened to find on a shelf at home. As for Louise Rennison, she got to sign the strangest book of the day for me. She had to ask, but it was Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging in Swedish. I saw fit to use it for language lessons a few years ago. I remember the kissing lesson. Trying not to muscle in too much on the younger fans, I also added a few names to my quest for signatures in my anthology collections. Their stories, not mine. So, doing well on that front.

Joanna Nadin

We all agreed that to have real, live authors makes a difference between today’s readers and the Enid Blyton generation. All the writers present felt honoured to share the pink chairs with their sister authors. Karen wanted her eight-year-old self to see her now, which would have been interesting if possible. Karen, as she is now, is very pretty, and the Scottish accent is a real bonus. Joanna Nadin’s fan was particularly wonderful, and she alone could tempt me to read Joanna’s books.

Lisa Clark

Lisa Clark’s hair is fantastic. It might not influence her writing, but looks great. Jacqueline Wilson was tanned from a recent holiday, and looked very well. And, she wore pink, a dreamy muted kind of pink. Cathy Cassidy had left her favourite green clothes, and was also pink for the day. Cathy Hopkins said she didn’t have anything pink, but the scarf did the trick, and Cathy looks so fantastic these days. Must be an author thing. We didn’t see so much of Sarra and Grace, as they arrived very late, after their enforced limo ride round most of Britain (I’m making it up), but check out Grace’s shoes! Louise is a born entertainer, and was really funny. Fiona Dunbar

Sophie MacKenzie

Two more authors in the shape of Fiona Dunbar and Sophie MacKenzie, who were ladies with a mission. They were the ones who had the envelope with the name of the soon-to-be Queen of Teen. It was nearly the Oscars, and as some of you may have gathered, the new Queen is Louise Rennison. She gave up her tiara for the much grander crown, and then had to learn to walk around without it falling off. The throne really suited her, and she was pretty good at cutting the ceremonial cake, as well.

Louise Rennison

With all the books gone, the cakes eaten and photos taken, we all trooped off home. Or tried to. Godalming was harder to leave than you’d think. The witch forced herself on a very kind librarian from York with two girls, and shared a taxi. The taxi driver was friendly, but I can’t say the same for his controller. They’re weird in Surrey. Some of them, I mean. The traffic jam had to be seen to be believed, and according to the driver he had never seen it before. Must have been us, then.

Lovely day, whether it was Monday or Tuesday, or both.