Category Archives: Film

The Makar and the First Minister

In the end it was just me and Shappi Khorsandi’s handbag. Fantastic handbag, actually, and I felt sort of honour bound to guard it while it was sitting there all alone. Now, if you knew me, you’d realise how odd this was. It was mere minutes after I had spectacularly missed taking photographs of Shappi. Twice. Because I didn’t recognise her well enough. And now I know what her handbag looks like.

Jackie Kay and Nicola Sturgeon

This was probably due to the excitement ‘backstage’ after the photo session with Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Kay. We’d waited, the way you do. And then it happened so fast, the way it tends to with people who have security staff and lots of commitments, but not so many that a First Minister can’t interview a poet at a book festival. They were nicely colour coordinated, the two of them. And it’s a sign of popularity for a politician when she is addressed by her first name.

So I missed Shappi’s photo call, coming immediately after this. Then I missed my unobtrusive photos of Shappi as she was being given the Chris Close treatment. And then everyone left, except for the handbag.

Prior to this I had skipped a book signing with Simon Callow. I decided I already had enough pictures of him, so went and sat in the yurt reading and eating my lunch. Only minutes later he joined me on that bench. Admittedly with an interviewer, but still. You can’t escape the great and the good. Luckily for Simon I hadn’t helped myself to the grapes in the fruit bowl as had been my intention, so he was able to polish them off as he talked.

Zaffar Kunial

Previously out on the grass, I had come across poet Zaffar Kunial seemingly doing an impromptu session with a large group of people. Maybe these things just happen as fans encounter someone they admire…

Holly Sterling

Carol Ann Duffy

Gillian Clarke

Then it was back and forth for me, catching children’s illustrators in the children’s bookshop and the more grown-up poets in the signing tent. Holly Sterling had a line of eager children after her event, and staying with the Christmas theme, so did Carol Ann Duffy across the square, along with her fellow Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. After them Jackie Kay signed, without Nicola Sturgeon. And I finally caught up with Shappi!

Jackie Kay

Shappi Khorsandi

Fiona Bird

Found Fiona Bird signing her nature book mid-afternoon, and she has such an appropriate name for the kind of books she writes! I went hunting for Kathryn Evans and Michael Grant, who had both been hung along the boardwalks by Chris Close. Had to try Kathryn several times, to see if the light would improve.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

Michael Grant by Chris Close

And there were no photos, but I glimpsed Kate Leiper, and spoke to both Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.

Tried to use my afternoon sensibly, so checked out various books in the bookshops. That didn’t mean I actually did sensible thinking, looking up ‘un-known’ names or anything. If I had I wouldn’t have been so surprised later.

A Book at Bedtime

And a film.

And an interview.

I forgot to mention. Meg Rosoff’s Jonathan Unleashed is the BBC’s Book at Bedtime this coming week. Two weeks, I guess, as it says ten episodes. So there’s your opportunity to ‘read’ it for free.

The book is also going to be a film, according to Alexandra Pringle. I can’t find any proof of this, but she seemed like a nice woman so I’m sure she didn’t just make it up. And films with clever dogs in it are a bit of a favourite.

There is a bit about the film in Claire Armitstead’s interview with Meg in yesterday’s Guardian. Also other things we might or might not already know about Meg and her writing. Nice photo of her with a dog. I’m guessing it’s Blue.

Launching Jonathan

It’s a long way to Chelsea, even if you don’t begin your journey in Scotland. The last mile or so was the worst, but when a witch is going to a Meg Rosoff book launch, then she is. And what more interesting place to launch than on a houseboat on the Thames? I was slightly worried the boat would sink once I hopped on board, but was comforted by Anthony McGowan promising to rescue me in return for a book review. (Deal! Can’t remember if it had to be a favourable one or not.)

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Hopping. Well, not so much. It was dark, and there were gangway things over bits of water and stuff. Once on board Meg sent me down some bannister-free stairs to ‘poke around.’ (Not her boat, by the way.) Was impressed by the row of plates nonchalantly leaning against the wall. And there were books everywhere.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Jonathan Unleashed

So, Jonathan. There were piles of copies of Jonathan Unleashed (I was under strict orders to get one for Daughter), and there was food and drink. Very nice canapés. Especially the little cheese toastie ones. Some of the salmon ones slipped onto the floor, but the only one who slipped [a little] on the salmon was Meg. So that’s ‘all right.’ She was wearing unsuitable shoes, anyway.

There was a nice mixture of people. Some I knew, others I didn’t. But I was able to chat to most of the ones I do know, and I grilled ‘Miss Rosoff’ on her university experience, the way old people tend to do, and gave ‘Mr Rosoff’ a brief lesson in Scottish geography.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Spoke to Elspeth Graham, Mal Peet’s other half, who remembered meeting me before. Which was nice. Chatted briefly to Francesca Simon, and to Steven Butler, and winner of Bookwitch best book of 2015, Sally Gardner.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Met the new – to me – people at adult Bloomsbury, and their Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Pringle made a nicely brief speech, mentioning that she wrote Meg a fan letter after the publication of How I Live Now, which Meg doesn’t remember. She’d better remember me doing the same thing! Though I wasn’t able to offer a publishing deal for any future books.

Meg Rosoff

As I said goodbye, Meg recalled our ‘interesting’ car journey when we first met, almost exactly ten years ago. This time I got a taxi, and the driver only had a minor brainslip and made two wrong turns before getting it right. (I got quite excited when it looked like he might drive straight through a barrier. You know, like they do in films.)

The water had disappeared by the time I left. I don’t know if that was reassuring or not. And I apologise for the very poor quality of some of the photos. I was travelling light, so used my mobile phone, which I suspect I will never get the hang of.

See you again, Snape

What a difference three days make. On Monday when I heard that a famous 69-year-old man had died, I went ‘Oh.’ On Thursday when I heard that another famous 69-year-old man had died, equally prematurely, I went ‘Oh no!’

There is no knowing in advance how you’ll react, but yesterday’s news that Alan Rickman has died affected me much more than I would have thought likely. I felt as if I’d met him not long ago, and in a way, I had. It’s just over a week since we watched A Little Chaos, which to my mind was only truly enjoyable thanks to Alan Rickman as the tired King hiding in a garden, ‘forgetting’ he likes pears.

And it was only another couple of weeks before, that we watched Love Actually, to get in the mood for Christmas. Which we did, even though Alan’s character behaves rather stupidly. Hopefully he will learn to be more like Hugh Grant.

More recently than either of these films I paused to look at a spread of photos in (I think) the Guardian, where Alan for some obscure reason wasn’t listed, and I went over the picture credits several times to work out why he was there, and why there was no mention of him.

Galaxy Quest! How can you not adore that crazy film? As a Mr Spock fan, I just loved Alan’s Spock-type character. In fact, I feel the urge to watch it again right now. And the less well known Snow Cake, about an autistic woman, where Alan was very much the right man for the part. Marvin. I always loved Marvin.

You might ask yourselves why I am putting Alan Rickman on Bookwitch, when he was an actor and I’m sitting here listing film titles. The thing is, to me he embodied a couple of important books, more than anything else he did (and I’m no expert; having seen less of his work than many). Before his Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, I had never really thought about the man. Not being the main male character, he just slipped me by in the novel. But on the screen, he made the whole television adaptation what it was. I have already forgotten most of it, apart from his Colonel.

But for me as a witch, it’s Alan’s Snape that will stay the longest in my memory. He was the perfect Snape; a mix of bad while ‘almost’ nice. The thing is, it was only a few days ago that I chatted to Daughter about the Harry Potter actors, and how I had had this dreadful premonition that not all of them would survive the whole seven books/films. The two that flitted before my eyes at the time were Richard Harris and Maggie Smith, and we know how that went. I just didn’t think that any of ‘the young ones’ were at risk.

Alan seems to have been a nice, decent man as well as a terrific actor, and that’s always attractive. There is something good about a man with a conscience and sensible opinions; someone who will do and say what’s necessary at times. Also, I know nothing about his personal life or his family, and that’s how it should be. My condolences to them.

HDM on BBC

Not long ago I thought about His Dark Materials and how I found it hard to believe that they made a film of the first book and then abandoned the project. So much was right, and it would go to waste if not used. Lyra was perfect [in my opinion] and Nicole Kidman was a marvellous Mrs Coulter, who then got pregnant and obviously couldn’t go on with more films. And as for Lee Scoresby… Well. He was just right.

The list could go on. While the film wasn’t 100%, it was pretty close, and I’m not easily pleased when it comes to top books.

But as the years passed, it became clear that you can live without the other books made into film if you have to. And we had to.

Jericho

The good news this week is that there will be a BBC series of His Dark Materials, and I so hope they will – also – get it right and not mess about too much. (I loved Philip Pullman’s I Was a Rat on television, so hopefully someone will be able to do something similar with HDM.)

It’s just that Philip’s books aren’t merely really good books, but they have had such an impact on life at Bookwitch Towers; reading the books, listening to Philip reading the audio books, travelling to London to see the dramatised HDM at the National Theatre, travelling again to see it another time (that was Son), travelling to Dublin (Son again) to see the stage play there, involvement in the HDM fan websites (Son), new friendships for us all, and so on.

'That' bench

I’m guessing I will have to be patient, as you don’t rustle up great television just like that. But it will come. (As long as they allow for young people’s habit of getting older faster than films are made.)

It’s a Wonderful Book

Sju förtrollade kvällar is the title of Mårten Sandén’s new book. You might remember Mårten from an earlier book of his which was translated into English, published by Pushkin, or his profile on here a couple of years ago.

This one isn’t, but I have been somewhat bewitched by his Seven Bewitched Nights (dreadful translation, I know, but roughly right), and I can’t not mention it. It’s another of the far too rare perfect little children’s books you dream of. Short and relatively simple, it still catches the interest of an adult reader, and there will be things in the book that perhaps the child reader won’t see.

Mårten Sandén, Sju förtrollade kvällar

It felt surprisingly familiar in some way, and it took me a while to work out where I was (a romantic time travel film) in my mind. So, not terribly original; just very nicely executed.

The book is about 12-year-old Buster, who boxes and struggles with his homework. His dead, older brother Jack was his complete opposite. Buster suddenly gets talking to The-Girl-Who-Reads at school, and he also discovers what life is like for an older boy who is bullied, by one of Buster’s friends. And one evening Buster is given  seven old-style cinema tickets by an elderly man in town. From then on nothing is quite as it was.

I was transported right back to my childhood, in a charming way. Yes, OK, there were bad things. But this is nostalgia, as well as a story about how you live your life. And the cover is gorgeous.

(Life as an untranslated book isn’t easy. There are many good ones. But I hope this one can have a future in English too.)

Go Sell a First Draft

It’s one thing to be rescued by people you know, and another for a complete stranger to write a perfect and well timed blog post for a witch, just like that. Here is CJ Daugherty* on the book that everyone is talking about right now:

‘Let me start by saying, like so many writers, I love To Kill a Mockingbird. And I adore the film adaptation, which I consider to be one of the truly perfect book-to-film adaptations of all time.

TKAMB poster

When I was a child, I watched the film and cried during the courtroom scene. I was terrified of Boo Radley, whom I envisioned as a kind of ghost; an unknowable terror. But Scout saw through his frightening facade. Her belief in him, and her sympathy towards his plight, changed me.

I can honestly say that I am a kinder person because of To Kill a Mockingbird. I cannot think of many other books that affected me in this way.

So when I learned there was a sequel, at first I was thrilled. How exciting and marvellous that such a thing should be found! How wonderful for book lovers.

As more was revealed, though, my views began to change. What we know now is Go Set A Watchman isn’t a sequel. It’s an early draft.

We know that Harper Lee worked closely with her editor to revise that draft, rewriting the book over and over and over, across many years, polishing the rough stone down to the perfect faceted gem that is To Kill a Mockingbird.

I might still have been fine with the release of this early draft, if Lee hadn’t tried so hard for so long to keep it hidden away. If those who loved her and spoke for her – because she is, Boo Radley-like, afraid of the world; too frightened to leave her flat in New York when she was young, afraid to leave her home in Alabama when she grew older – if they hadn’t maintained until their deaths that there was no other Harper Lee book.

Sadly, elderly people are vulnerable, and there is money to be made. Unimaginable sums of money.

Obviously, there is simply no way for us to know if, in a nursing home in her nineties, Ms Lee did not just, at long last, change her own mind. Or if her mind was changed for her by younger, stronger people with Manhattan mortgages to pay.

Does that make you uncomfortable? I makes me very uncomfortable.

You see, I grew up surrounded by elderly southern women. This was the world of my childhood. I think of Harper Lee now and I see my grandmother, a fragile, white-haired southern lady trapped in the modern age, and bewildered by it. As a child, I watched her retreat from the real world to her garden in small-town Texas, where she spent her days taking care of her roses and listening to ancient sermons on a reel-to-reel tape player.

When she went to the supermarket in 1985, she still put on white cotton gloves and a straw hat and drove her enormous ancient Buick like a captain guiding a ship through rough seas. If the manager of the supermarket spoke to her kindly, as he often did, it flummoxed her utterly. She did not want to speak to modern men.

All the way home she would complain about it.

‘I do not understand why that man must always speak to me,’ she would say in tones of vexation.

Sometimes I would venture a defence of the kindly supermarket manager. ‘I thought he was nice.’

‘He was nice,’ she would explain as if this were perfectly obvious. ‘But I do not know him.’

When she was older, my grandmother would sign anything you wanted her to sign. Anything to make you stop asking and let her get back to her memories and her roses.

According to Harper Lee’s now-dead family, she was much the same. I think it is the way of southern ladies of that generation.

So I worry.

Then there is the fact that I am a writer. And as a writer, I know what first drafts look like. Any writer can talk with horror of ‘ugly first drafts’. Writing a novel is a process of evolution. We come to our stories gradually. Painfully. And when we get there, after much, much work, everything that came before seems disastrous to us.

The first draft of my book, Night School, contains vampires and witches. The final book is about Bullingdon Club style secret societies. I worked a long, long time to get to where I ended up.

I wouldn’t want anyone to sell the evidence of my journey.

So here, for all to see, allow me to make the following statement:

Someday, if I’m lucky, I will be 90 years old. If I am still a writer then, it is entirely possible that young lawyers in expensive suits and thrusting publishers with more ambition than morality will come to you and tell you that CJ Daugherty wants the first draft of Night School published.

If that day should ever come, remember what I am telling you now: It is a lie.’
C.J. Daugherty

(*Former crime reporter CJ Daugherty is the author of the international best-selling Night School series. Her books have been translated into 22 languages, and are number one bestsellers in multiple countries. She is now co-writing a new series, The Secret Fire, with French author Carina Rozenfeld. Find out more at www.cjdaugherty.com)