Category Archives: Harry Potter

Bookwitch bites #138

If I was in Manchester this Saturday, I could celebrate Harry Potter turning twenty. But I’m not, so I can’t. It’s slightly premature, but that’s all right. If all his birthday parties happened at the same time, we couldn’t go to all of them. It’s the lovely people of Manchester Children’s Book Festival (oh, how I miss them) who are Pottering this weekend.

Strangely, I had been thinking of Andy McNab recently, and here he is popping up in the Guardian, no less. Andy has opinions on how children learn to read, or in his own case and that of many others, how they don’t learn. Yesterday saw the 2017 batch of Quick Reads launched, and as always the books look fabulous, and I’d like to pop out and get all of them. I hope many of them will reach a large number of readers who need books like these. We obviously ought to have many, many more Quick Reads, and not only once a year.

In times like these it almost feels as if we need to look for news that isn’t too bad, as opposed to actively good or wonderful. These are also times when far too many people turn out to have misplaced their spines at some point, now that we could do with a few more good strong backbones.

Malorie Blackman is doing the right thing in saying she won’t be visiting the US in the near future. Hopefully this is one of many actions that will be instrumental in changing what must be changed.

Barry Hutchison is someone who acts instead of talking. You will remember Tommy Donbavand who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and whose livelihood of writing books and making school visits was threatened by his illness. He was optimistic that he’d be able to write while getting treatment, but found he was far too unwell and exhausted to do much. So not only did his good friend Barry alert the rest of us that help was needed, occasionally writing Tommy’s cancer blog, but he actually stepped in and wrote Tommy’s books for him.

Tony Higginson, David Gatward, Barry Hutchison, Tommy Donbavand, Jon Mayhew, Philip Caveney and Joseph Delaney at Scarefest 3 - photo by Sean Steele

Deadlines have to be met, and while I’m sure Barry might have had the odd deadline of his own (there is a steady stream of books from Barry), he wanted to help Tommy, and knowing quite a lot about what Tommy had planned and what his books are like, he wrote a book and a half for his friend.

That’s friendship! If I ever need a friend to rummage in my sock drawer I suppose I shall have to ask someone else, because Barry is a very busy man.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This was absolute bliss. Whereas it is generally ‘quite nice’ to revisit a film and its characters, the concept of J K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them beats most that I have seen. Even though I obviously read the book [by Newt Scamander] however many years ago it was published, almost as an afterthought, the new film is such a tremendous bonus!

It’s something you didn’t see coming, separate but still belonging to Harry Potter’s world, and it couldn’t have been better. I never thought of Newt Scamander as anything but an obscure historical character, with an interest in animals. The film about Newt shows how wrong I was, and how Rowling’s magic just carries on and on.

As someone said the other day, it’s rather a relief to have a film like this with almost no children in it. It meant we could see Muggles and Wizards in the New York of 1926 as it might have appeared in just about any film; it was all about adults going about their business, which in Newt’s case was rescuing creatures at risk, and trying to teach other magic people that the beasts have a place in the world too.

Kowalski, the wannabe baker Muggle, was a Rupert Grint kind of man. Quite ordinary but also quite brave and someone who adapted well to the seemingly crazy world of magic. The two main female characters, sisters Tina and Queenie, were just as intelligent, kind and beautiful as you needed them to be. And Eddie Redmayne’s Newt was mysterious and enthusiastic and kind, with a nice sense of humour towards his ‘walking stick insects’ and dragons and all the other creatures.

The bad guy was so charmingly bad that you almost believed he might be all right. And the remaining characters made for a rich background.

Isn’t it wonderful how you can have a spin-off like this from a ‘mere’ children’s publishing sensation? Something so good and fun and mature, which wasn’t born from the usual film mould?

I don’t often float away from cinemas, especially not in the middle of the night. But I did this time. And I felt happy.

Why not me?

The lists are gathering all over the internet. I am gathering a few books myself for my 2016 list, which is fairly imminent. Some people I admire, who are very knowledgeable about children’s books, are moaning and asking if this ‘list is any good?’ because they haven’t heard of a single book on it, or at least not read them.

And I’m rather like that myself. Not the moaning, obviously. I never moan. Except when I do, like now.

On most of those lists I have managed to find one I’ve read, and liked, and occasionally another I’ve heard of or even received but not read. My own gathering list already has too many books on it, even when I stick to my rules, children’s books published this year, which automatically disqualifies great adult crime and some really excellent books that were last year’s. But you have to have boundaries.

So I’m not short of wonderful books. I’m merely pondering why so many of the ones on other lists have not passed over my threshold. Or, it seems, a number of other thresholds either.

It is well nigh impossible to request books you don’t know exist, or I would do. And by the time enough people have enthused about them somewhere, there is less scope to jump on the bandwaggon. If they were by authors I know and have read before, the chances of hearing about their new books is greater. Except, even those writers who first became published during the Bookwitch era, and are considered – by me – to be established authors, seem to find it difficult to have their new books bought by publishers.

And at the same time there are countless debut authors. It makes me wonder if publishers actively go for new rather than established, because the established ones have failed to write the next Harry Potter, so the debut writers are seen as more likely to do a JKR? OK, so she was a beginner, but surely a new Potter success could come from anyone? Clearly not on quite the same unlikely scale, but still big.

Is a hitherto unpublished writer more likely to strike gold than the author who has had four really good novels published, but who is now not having any luck with their latest offering? Surely it must be possible to have plodded along for ten years before hitting on just the right thing at the right time?

Unless the only money publishers are looking for will be coming from celebrity books, ghost written or not?

Whatever.

Nine and three quarters

I passed through King’s Cross again last week. It doesn’t happen often, but I am slowly getting used to the place. I am especially getting used to it not being Euston. When I first began travelling south on the East Coast trains it was hard to unthink my mind from arriving off a West Coast train. I’d even planned my route to the nearest cash machine, when I realised I was in the ‘wrong’ station.

It’s quite nice there, though. Much fancier than it used to be in my InterRail days. Although, because of that, it feels less charmingly English. But that’s just me being difficult. And the IRA bomb dealt with the charm.

This time I even stopped for long enough to read the sign above the escalator near platform 9 3/4 to discover that it is actually the convenient way to the tube. Should you have arrived off the Hogwarts Express and wish to cross London in the conventional way.

Last week the queue for platform 9 3/4 was far longer than those for the more normal trains. It seems people will happily queue for this. Judging by the amount of Swedish flying all around me, it must have been half term in some part of Sweden.

I’ve not actually investigated what it is you do once you’re at the head of the queue. I think you merely borrow a scarf, which someone then holds on to for you, and someone else takes a photo as you attempt to ram the brick wall. And your parents or friends may also take a photo. I think. One which presumably is rather cheaper than the official one.

I’ve never seen the cost mentioned, but I’m sure there is a price to pay. There always is.

It could, of course, be worth it.

Likewise, I’ve not gone into the Harry Potter shop next to it. Strikes me like a very risky thing to do. (I well recall visiting the Harrods toy department just before Christmas 2001. We exited the proud owners of a lovely Hermione Granger, but she also came at a cost.)

All right, maybe some more last photos then

Nearly twenty years after J K Rowling was here with her first book, it has been illustrated by Jim Kay, and become much, much larger.

J K Rowling and Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

From Potter to poetry with Zaffar Kunial and the Scottish Makar. And festival director Nick Barley.

Zaffar Kunial, Jackie Kay and Nick Barley

And Pufflings, as in Lynne Rickards’ Skye the Puffling, with Jon Mitchell.

Lynne Rickards and Jon Mitchell, Skye the Puffling

Sticking with my letter P theme, here is Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies, busy entertaining fans in the children’s bookshop.

Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies

Slightly scarier stuff in Zom-B Goddess, but Darren Shan is as polite as they come.

Darren Shan, Zom-B Goddess

And before I leave you with another image of my favourite lights in trees, I offer you two people who always make my book festival a pleasanter place; local agent Lindsey Fraser in conversation with Mr B.

Lindsey Fraser and Mr B

Charlotte Square

(In order to find our first encounter with Mr B, I went down Memory Lane, which is about seven years away, and I was astounded to see how many authors were around then. We were only there for a week, but had authors practically coming out of our ears.)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I was filled with a nice warm glow reading the new Harry Potter stage play, enjoying myself a lot and just letting myself feel good about returning to a place I used to love.

And I think that’s OK. Others can have other views, and we’d all be right, in our own way. I believe we had been told there’d be no more Harry, but I see no reason why a person can’t change their mind. Also, this is not the same as another novel; it is merely revisiting people and places we know from before.

I am generally a sucker for finding out ‘what happened after’ and this is a good example. Not everything in the lives of Harry and his friends is perfect, but we see what they’re up to now, and how relationships have continued and developed, and we meet the next generation.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Young Albus Severus Potter is a complicated boy, but he is his own person. He’s not a copy of his dad. And he shows us that you can find friends in the most unexpected quarters.

It’d be interesting to see how this works out on the stage, but I have no idea if I’ll be up to sitting for so many hours, should I get hold of tickets at some point in the far future. I might hold out for the film.

And I’m guessing we can’t have more after this. That really would be taking it too far. Or would it?

(And another thing; this teaches millions of fans that you can read drama. That there are other kinds of texts apart from novels.)

Monday, Mounties, Metaphrog and the Makar

On my walk from Haymarket to Charlotte Square on Monday I was overtaken by a Mountie. This doesn’t happen often, and as this one was a fake, it might not even count. But still. That’s Edinburgh in August. Thank you kindly.

Just before the entrance to the book festival, I came across our new Makar, Jackie Kay, being photographed by a fan. On my way to a reception in the Party Pavilion, I first stopped by the signing tent to see who I could find. I had missed Philippa Gregory, but caught Dominic Hinde with his last fan. He’s written a book about Sweden, which I’ve not read, but is why I sort of knew he’d be there.

Dominic Hinde

Got to the party just as it was beginning, finding Debi Gliori in the queue by the door and had the nerve to ask her why she’d been invited… (For a good reason, I may add.) She was debating the impossibilty of removing more garments in the somewhat unexpected heat. It’s hard when you are down to your last cover.

Janet Smyth

We were there to eat scones and dainty sandwiches, and to hear about the book festival’s new-ish venture outside Charlotte Square and August, Book-ed. Janet Smyth introduced the speakers, who told us what had been happening, or was about to happen, in their home areas, primarily half a dozen new towns, including Irvine, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld. It seems that having the EIBF behind you means any venture stands a much better chance of success, so I believe we can look forward to many more little festivals here and there.

A wealthy Bookwitch would have offered to sponsor something on the spot, but in this case she merely had another piece of rather nice cake. Met a crime colleague, who was able to tell me what I did last August, which is something I increasingly need help with. To make the most of my invited status, I sat outside on the decking for a while, enjoying the sunshine.

Charlotte Square

It was going to be an afternoon of bookshop signing photos, and I hurried over to catch Nicola Davies and Petr Horáček (for a while I lost Petr’s lovely accents, which was worrying, but they have now been found again), who had so many young fans I didn’t stop to talk.

Nicola Davies

Petr Horacek

The really great thing about Charlotte Square is that someone built it near a good shoeshop, making it possible to pop out for new shoes whenever a gap presents itself. I found such a gap on Monday.

Richard Byrne

Back for Richard Byrne, who seems to be a very nice man, with a whole lot of lovely little fans. And then I crossed the square for Jackie Kay and Zaffar Kunial, checked out the sandwich situation, and went and had a chat with Sarah from Walker Books.

Zaffar Kunial

Jackie Kay

Refreshed from my brief rest, I braved the world of Harry Potter. Jim Kay, who is illustrating the books about the famous wizard, had a sold out event, which then filled the children’s bookshop. Although I couldn’t help noticing that those first in line were really quite old. I chatted to Jim’s chair, Daniel Hahn, who is so relaxed about travelling that he’d only just got off the train.

Jim Kay

After a little sit-down in the reading corner I was ready for Ross MacKenzie and Robin Jarvis. The latter had brought a skull. And with all three signings happening side by side, there was quite a crush. On the left side of the queue I encountered Ann Landmann, who told me she was feeling stupid. When she’d told me why, I also felt stupid, so it must have been an Ann thing. (We should have brought our copies of A Monster Calls. And we didn’t.)

Ross MacKenzie

Skull

My sandwich required eating, and I repaired to the yurt, before going zombie-hunting. Darren Shan was signing his Zom-B Goddess (and I can’t tell you how relieved I am I haven’t really started on his – undoubtedly excellent – books). His hair was extremely neatly combed. I liked the way Darren allowed time for chatting with his fans, initiating a discussion if they seemed shy. I can’t see how he’d have time to do it with all of them, but maybe he feels that those who’d waited to be first in line deserved a bit of extra attention.

Darren Shan

Over in the children’s bookshop I found Metaphrog still signing, and was pleased to see they look nice and normal. The name has always worried me a little…

Metaphrog

And then all I had left to do was get ready for Jo Cotterill and Kathryn Evans, which you’ve already read about. Listening to others in the queue, I got the impression, as with Michael Grant on Saturday, that many people buy tickets on the day for an event that sounds reasonably suitable, but might be with an author they’d not heard of before. I like that. It’s good to know you can discover a new favourite out of the blue.