Category Archives: Harry Potter

Twenty years of Harry

Would I be where I am today if it weren’t for Harry Potter? Would you?

Reading the Guardian article about the fans who grew up with Harry, they were all very clued up, not to mention wearing great Pottery outfits. Offspring had to make do with what we could cobble together from our own clothes and a striped tie – in the wrong colours – bought from the neighbourhood charity shop. But that worked just as well as anything else. Daughter was Hermione twice in quick succession. And I always imagined Son would be the perfect Harry in the film. I’m so glad now he didn’t become rich and famous!

From having to bribe Son to read the first book, to standing outside bookshops in the middle of the night, or being part of an event at the local stately mansion hired for book seven, in charge of what turned out to be quite hard quizzes and things. Daughter’s shock when Stephen Fry couldn’t keep up, and she actually had to actually read the fifth book because she couldn’t wait for the audio book.

It became a way of life, almost. And people still refer to most things Harry Potter and expect the rest of the world to keep up and know what they mean.

And to think I was dreadfully disappointed when I realised that the book I’d bought after reading a very positive review, turned out to be about wizards! I almost sat down and cried. I had been under the impression I’d bought a nice old-fashioned boarding school crime novel for children…

And to think I might not have read it had the Resident IT Consultant not bitten the bullet and gone first. The man didn’t even have the decency to tell me he thought it was ‘all right, I suppose.’ He simply put it down and reached for book two, which I’d already bought by then. My reasoning went that if he did that, maybe it would be worth my while having a second go.

It was.

The easy read

Another thing I discovered at the library (see yesterday), was their section of beginners’ fiction in English.

Well, that’s what they called it. I noticed the thin books in English by, among others, Bali Rai and Kevin Brooks on the shelves on the end of one of the sections.

I didn’t recognise these books, so went closer, and realised that they were older Barrington Stoke titles. And yes, as such they are easier to read. Shorter and in a simpler language, and thereby ideal for the novice reader of English. We should have had books like that when I was at school! We got Somerset Maugham instead.

Have no idea how popular they will be, now that impatient young readers tackle Harry Potter in the original, because they can’t wait. And I get the impression that having started, many young teens go on to read a lot more in English, because they’ve realised it’s possible. That they can.

But for those who can’t, these dyslexia friendly books are just the thing.

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.)