Category Archives: Ebook

Old books

When Mother-of-witch died, Offspring were young and needed looking after when I went off to be with her. There was a complete lack of available relatives at the time, so anyone who happened to be standing near when the Resident IT Consultant asked for assistance was roped in for after-school care. For six weeks! I can never thank them enough.

Yesterday morning Helen Grant took one look at this blog – or what tried to pass itself off as Bookwitch – and told me she would write it herself, if I’d let her. It feels particularly appropriate to accept her kind offer, since she is just about the only author who did meet the Grandmother, and about whom the Grandmother always asked questions, once they had met. And seeing as the Grandmother not only dealt in Oxfam books, but was known to have culled her own books rather enthusiastically, this post about old books fits right in:

‘Our household has finally obtained its first eReader. It’s not mine; whenever anyone asks me whether I have one, I always reply (truthfully) that since I do most of my reading in the bath, it probably isn’t a good idea. A paperback may survive an unexpected plunge into the water (as the crinkled pages of a number of my books will testify) but I don’t think an electronic gadget would cope.

I can imagine, however, that the day will come when I will cave in and buy one of these things for myself. At present we live in a family home whose walls are lined with bookshelves, but when I look into the distant future and imagine myself as an empty nester, I’d like to think I shall be travelling the world – and travelling light. When I went overlanding from London to Kathmandu in 1992, I took all six of Trollope’s Barchester novels with me; nowdays I could take along ten or a hundred times as many books in digital format. I suppose, too, that when we downsize from our family house I shall have to cull some of my books. (Writing this, I went to take a critical look at my bookshelves and could not see a single one I was prepared to part with. Hmmmm.)

There are some books, however, that I could never replace with a digital version. I have quite a few old books, the oldest dating to the eighteenth century, many more to the nineteenth. I have three children’s anthologies which appeared in the 1940s and belonged to my mother when she was a child. When I was a teenager, my mother had her own book cull and took those to the local charity shop; outraged, I marched down there and bought them back. They are still on my bookshelves. One of them includes one of the best fairy tales in existence, Melisande by E.Nesbit, in which the wicked fairy excluded from the christening wishes that the baby princess shall be bald.

Other treasures include The Silver Fairy Book, which I also remember from my childhood (I have failed to extract my parents’ copy from their clutches so I ordered my own from Abebooks), The Lady Ivie’s Trial by Sir John Fox, some beautiful Victorian translations of Homer, and an extensive collection of old editions of H.Rider Haggard’s adventure novels.

Leighton Library

All of these are old books, some of them centenarians, with yellowing pages and the dusty scent of age lingering about them. To replace them with eBooks would be a minor act of barbarism.

Because I treasure old books, I love antiquarian libraries. The corner of Scotland shared by the Bookwitch and myself is fortunate to have two: Innerpeffray Library near Crieff, and the Leighton Library in Dunblane. Both seventeenth century libraries created by local noblemen, each of these is very well worth a visit. One of the truly marvellous things about these libraries is that you are allowed to handle the books (respectfully, of course). I recently spent a happy half hour in the Leighton Library leafing through the pages of Buffon’s Natural History and marvelling at the engravings of animals. At Innerpeffray my pet book is The Treatise of Specters, which is crammed with spine tingling material, lovingly collected and printed in 1658. A visit to Innerpeffray also offers the opportunity to look at the chapel adjoining the library, which has, amongst other attractions, a leper squint – a small window allowing lepers (who were excluded from church) to watch the services from outside.

Library of Innerpeffray

There is, I think, a kind of magic in very old volumes. Bookwitchery, you might say…’

We’re all bookbugs

They invited me along to the Bookbug annual conference yesterday, at the George Hotel in Edinburgh. It was really quite nice and very enlightening in many ways. They are Scottish Book Trust, and the Bookbugs are the youngest readers. You might recall that in Scotland all babies are given a bag of books to encourage reading and help them interact with their parents.

Karyn McCluskey started off by being cheerful. They are quite cheerful here, I’ve noticed. There was the sunshine to make you smile, and and the fact that reading prevents murders (if that’s not too gruesome a thing to mention). Karyn introduced the acting Minister for Children and Young People, Fiona McLeod, who is only ‘acting’ because the ‘real’ minister has been packed off on maternity leave. It’s better to start reading early, rather than putting more people in prison later on.

Next up was Dr Kate McKay, senior medical officer, child health. She herself is a product of how going to the library as a child has led to professional success in adult life. She reckons that the use of digital books will change the pathways of the human brain. Kate is also a fan of the five Rs; reading, rhyming, routines, rewards and relationships. Chaos leads to stress, and early adversity in life causes bad health in adults.

It’s important for a baby to interact with its mother, and this is something which can’t happen if the mother is drunk or drugged. By supporting girls, they become good mothers, and this in turn is good for society. And laughing is healthy. Children laugh more with their parents, and laughing a lot makes for a longer life.

The morning session ended with Margaret Clark, senior health promotion officer in Lanarkshire. She talked about the book bags, and how if you start early you stay active for life. And if the Nordic countries can do it, so can Scotland.

Then the whole roomful of – mostly – bookish ladies fought for lunch, and plates of very sweet cakes, and I believe even the water dispenser ran dry. After which we quickly returned to the conference, because Nick Sharratt was there to talk to us about his books. Dressed in one of his signature stripey shirts [red and white], Nick charmed the socks off everyone. He claimed to be nervous because it was such a large room…

Nick Sharratt

He pointed out he doesn’t have children of his own, and that he’s never become an adult himself. There was a photo of a very young Nick on a swing, drawing. He still draws, just not on a swing. Showing us lots of illustrations from his hundreds of books, he then read a few to us. And he wore his purple wig and sunglasses, which was so 1970s.

One of the books was What’s in the Witch’s Kitchen, and that’s something I’ve often wondered myself. Nick feels we should learn to relax with picture books. They are not purely for the very young. When he started writing his own books, he began by rhyming and using very few words. Food is important in his books, as long as it’s not butterbeans.

Split page books allow for plenty of interaction between adult and child, as well as offering many combinations of crazy things. Nick showed us similar books made by child fans, and they are truly inspirational. At the end of his hour long session we had a coffee break and people queued up to have their books signed. I couldn’t help wondering which would prove to be the longest; the coffee break or the queue.

The queue won and was eventually shown the door so we could get on with the panel discussion on digital books. Chaired by Tam Baillie, the speakers were Tom Bonnick from Nosy Crow, Lydia Plowman and Andrew Manches from the University of Edinburgh, and Jim McCormick.

On the whole the panel were in favour of digital even for the very young, and according to Lydia a surprising percentage of pre-schoolers have tablets; often an older hand-me-down. She reckons not to worry about it, though, and to remember that the adult is still boss, and that the adult is a role model, so cut down on the continual staring at your own phone or other screen.

Other thoughts include how easy it is to share digital material, in a positive sense. The quality of teachers is important and so is the relationship between school and home.

I had somehow expected to hear that digital would make it easier to access reading, but the debate seemed to go in a different direction. We had a Q&A session, and for the first time during the whole day we could hear a few small squeaks from the conference’s youngest participant, a – very – young man [I’m guessing from the pale blue] who mostly enjoyed being breastfed and playing with finger puppets. Lovely baby!

Tam Baillie let us finish with a song; Three Craws. The Scots are as crazy as the Nordics they admire so much…

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die

How I have waited to be allowed to tell you about this new book from Marnie Riches! Her adult crime novel has been tugging at me behind the scenes for over a year, and what’s more, it’s so breathtakingly special that I can confidently say I remember all of it, even now.

This digital novel with the very appropriate title The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die (yes, I know what it makes you think of, and it’s not at all misleading), is Britain’s own answer to Scandi crime, a Euro crime thriller with a continental flavour. And to be honest with you, I wasn’t sure it would work. But it does.

Marnie Riches

That’s most likely due to the ‘write about what you know’ rule again. Not that I suspect Marnie of having a criminal background, but she’s got the languages, and the experience of the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the Cambridge student know-how.

Someone is going round Amsterdam blowing people up, for no apparent reason. We meet the victims just as they discover their predicament. And we meet George, an English girl, a student like many of the victims. She knows about crime, and that could make her a suspect. Or perhaps the next victim. We know someone is stalking her. Or are they?

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Wouldn't Die

George can’t leave things alone. She insists on helping Detective van den Bergen, who is surprisingly accommodating, as well as intelligent. (I like detectives with brains.)

The story has a strong European feel to it, with plenty of sex, drugs, bicycles and canals. Some iffy Germans, naturally. And then there is the English subplot. We don’t know quite what happened, nor how it might tie in with the Dutch explosions, but we sense there is more than meets the eye.

Coming fresh to Marnie’s writing, I didn’t know what to expect, or how many characters would still be alive at the end. However, the novel’s fantastic new title sort of gives a little bit away. Besides, there are two more books planned.

Trust me, you’ll want to read them.

(The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is available on April 2nd. And please give us a paper book soon.)

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

The Episode of the Black Dog

It’s not every young teenage boy who has a grandfather born in 1835. But Alex does, and he knows his grandfather might be old, but he’s cool. Practically a James Bond, even at his age. So Alex is more than happy to gallivant round Europe with the old man, again. After all, they survived their last adventure.

So, here they are, on a train across the Continent, bound for more adventures. Author Damien M Love has called this excerpt The Episode of the Black Dog, and it will eventually form part of Like Clockwork, Volume 2: The Old Man’s Back Again, which will be published some time next year. There is every reason to look forward to that. (And, you know, if you didn’t read the first one, now is a good time to remedy that woeful oversight.)

Damien M Love, The Episode of the Black Dog

Anyway, here they are, Alex and his grandfather, travelling rather like ‘The Old Man’ did with his father, back in 1849, when the black dog adventure happened. They’re in Magdeburg, and there are funny goings-on. And a dog. A black dog. Excitement in the dark of night.

Damien is offering the extract for free on Amazon over the Halloween weekend. I think that’s a good deal.

The UK version if you want to pay £0. Or US version for $0.

Firebird Radiant

History repeats itself. There is no getting round it. We don’t learn, or perhaps there was never a lot of choice. Things have to be what things have to be.

The final part of Nick Green’s Firebird trilogy is also its strongest. The build-up to where Leo – yes, still here – and the others are, left me wondering what Nick could possibly come up with that would make sense. But naturally he delivers.

Life is hard and the Firebird teenagers are mature beyond what their ages would suggest. Maybe people always rise to a challenge, if they really have to?

I would like many, many young – and older – people to read Firebird. Apart from being marvellously entertaining books, we could learn a thing or two. It’s only by looking at what we are and what we do in such a radical way, that we could possibly stand a chance of preventing the ruining of our world. The only one we have.

Not everyone from book one is still alive, although some people seem to die more than once. Firebird Radiant contains much cruelty and a lot of excitement and danger, as well as plenty of courage. And hope.

While much of the ‘adventure’ is really pretty serious, there is still humour, and romance. And I loved the tiny nod to Jack and the Beanstalk. You need something to smile about when the rest of you weeps.

And I simply must say this. The Firebird Trilogy is beyond fantastic. Nick is publishing it on his own (beautifully edited), as three ebooks, because no publisher has shown enough interest in the books. I know times are hard, but I also know quite how much ‘properly published’ rubbish I wade through every week. Just saying.

Firebird trilogy; get your copies today!

Firebird is finally available to buy! I’ve said my bit – as discreetly as possible – about parts one and two (don’t worry, part three will be reviewed later this week), and now I turn directly to the press release, which says it so much better. Or at least differently. If I hadn’t already read the books, this would sell them to me:

‘The FIREBIRD TRILOGY by Nick Green, publishing in September 2014

“Thoroughly entertaining, exciting, thought-provoking and powerfully written … The characters are many, all individual and lively – their dialogue is excellent, and witty … I loved it. Highly recommended.” (Susan Price, winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Carnegie Medal)

How do you save the world when it’s already too late? Well, don’t ask Leo Lloyd-Jones. Ask him how to steal a car, or why he got excluded from every school in Salford, but don’t come to him for help. This whole thing must be a daft mistake – and if anyone finds out, he’s done for. But Leo is about to find out why he’s here.

Project Firebird is the first book in the Firebird trilogy by Nick Green, all three volumes of which are published simultaneously this autumn. Known for the Cat Kin trilogy (published in the UK by Strident and in Germany by Ravensburger) and for The Storm Bottle (published independently to Amazon), Nick has taken a new direction with this latest series, which begins with the end of the world as we know it.

The saga’s accidental hero is Leo Lloyd-Jones, who after a daring rescue (a case of mistaken identity) finds himself part of an unlikely team: a hand-picked elite of youthful prodigies given the task of preserving civilisation, following a global catastrophe – which is just around the corner.

Sure at first that a yob like him cannot possibly belong with this bunch, Leo slowly comes to a realisation: his lawless nature could be an asset in a world in which there are no laws. Maybe, amid the ashes of the end, the misfit can become the saviour. But not even he can foresee where Project Firebird – a mission spanning hundreds of years, lifelong friendships, bitter enmity, love, heartbreak and freezing oceans – will eventually take him.

Nick: “I wanted to have a go at something big, an epic trilogy of the kind you get in fantasy fiction, but one that was firmly rooted in the real world. The Firebird trilogy is my sort of take on the traditional ‘epic quest’, except that there’s no magic as such, nothing supernatural – just real people in a situation that could theoretically happen, trying to deal with something overwhelming. As dark as it gets sometimes, it’s also a celebration of the human spirit – the ability of our species to come back from absolutely anything, and to keep hope burning no matter what else is lost.”

The volumes in the trilogy are:

PROJECT FIREBIRD, FIREBIRD DAWN, FIREBIRD RADIANT

All three will be available for Kindle from Amazon from 3rd September 2014, priced at £1.99 ($2.99) each. Subsequently they will become available on other ebook platforms.’

That’s not even £6 for all three.

Right, that’s me done. I’m off to see if I can find this launch party.

Nick Green