Category Archives: Harry Potter

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.

Best Scottish?

It came back to me, out of the blue, a few days ago. I had a Scottish Reading tag on Bookwitch. First, I had my one year Foreign Reading Challenge, which was tough enough. Not the doing, so much as the finding a new foreign published book every month for twelve months. And a different foreign every time.

Seemingly I wasn’t challenged enough, as I veered off onto a new tag, Scottish Reading. I believe I felt I should concentrate a bit more on a slightly ignored section of British books for children. But I just cannot remember what happened to it! The foreign challenge had rules; the Scottish was just supposed to happen.

Recently I have, for obvious reasons, read more Scottish again, but without tagging it or anything. My memory isn’t what it was.

The Resident IT Consultant pointed me in the direction of the the BBC’s 30 top Scottish books list the other day. It even made us argue a bit, en famille. What counts as a Scottish book? Who counts as having written one?

I had my opinion, he had his and Son turned up and said his bit. Can Harry Potter be Scottish? I think so, others are less sure. Does the author have to be Scottish, merely live in Scotland, write about Scottish topics or set their novel in Scotland?

England is full of wonderful authors who are American. But I think we tend to happily adopt these foreigners as homemade successes if they are successful. On that basis, English or American writers living in Scotland ought to qualify, whether or not they write about a wizard school that may or may not be in Scotland (never mind that the train there leaves from King’s Cross).

If a novel is set in outer space, what does that make it? If a Scottish born and bred author sets their novel in London or Cornwall, what then? In fact, it’s getting a bit Brexit. If anyone is supposed to go back to where they came from, the only true Scottish novel must be by a Scottish author, set in Scotland, featuring Scottish characters, who wouldn’t dream of stepping south of the border.

And that’s not right. Elizabeth Wein lives and writes in Scotland. Alex Nye likewise, entertaining us with what Sheriffmuir covered in snow is like. Helen Grant has so far killed the good people of Belgium from the comfort of her Scottish home. Philip Caveney has just joined the ladies here, after some frantic years commuting between Stockport and Scotland. The Scottish Book Trust have all four of these writers on their list of authors.

I have read three of the books on the BBC’s list, and watched another four on film. That’s not much at all, and the fault is all mine. I am overdue another Scottish Reading Challenge. Although it shouldn’t be a challenge at all.

To remain young forever

Or not.

First let me say how boring I often find the Guardian Review. A few short snippets don’t make up for pages and pages on things I have little interest in, or written in such a way that I find I don’t much care anyway. I know that children’s books can’t dominate a section of the newspaper that is aimed at everyone, but I do wish there could be more.

So this past weekend I was suitably – but pleasantly – shocked to find the first four pages set aside for children’s authors to muse on the question of letting child characters grow old.

OK, so it was caused by Harry Potter appearing as an adult in The Cursed Child, but that’s fine. They had an excellent selection of children’s authors, who expressed interesting and varied opinions on letting fictional characters mature, and many of them seemed to have read the Harry Potter books, instead of sniping about something they know nothing about. It was a pleasure to read.

And because they wrote their own short pieces, there was less scope for misinterpretation, which is another of my bugbears.

An adult Horrid Henry sounds perfectly horrid, and a jaded, older Alex Rider somehow lacks the necessary charm we have come to expect, so I’m glad this is not about to happen. But as with most things, people don’t have to agree, and characters aren’t all the same, so what’s right for one will be wrong for another.

New arrivals

New children’s author Horatio Clare won the Branford Boase last night for his book Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, edited by Penny Thomas, with whom he shares the award. Chris Riddell was there to do the honours. I couldn’t help thinking that this is a book I don’t know, but that’s the whole point. This prize is always for a newcomer, which is why I can’t remember anything else Horatio has done. And what a name!

Horatio Clare, Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot

You will hopefully understand my need to return to my review from last year, of Here I Am, by Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez. It’s a beautiful, wordless, picture book about a young immigrant, by someone who herself was an immigrant. We need books like this one.

Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez, Here I Am

And do you need Harry Potter? I was amused reading Blind Date in the most recent Guardian Weekend. You just never know whether the two people, new to each other, will like the other person; whether they will be polite, or honest, in the ‘review’ of their date. This time the man said about the woman, when asked if they kissed: ‘She had read only one of the Harry Potter books, which weirds me out a little, so no.’

Finally, another award to another – once – newcomer and immigrant. Judith Kerr has been given the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement award. Unlike the Branford Boase winners whom most of us have not yet read, by now surely most people have read something by Judith Kerr? Either for themselves, or with a child or a grandchild. Or they watched the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad last year.

New is good. Outsiders are good. Not kissing non-Harry Potter fans? Well…

Idiocy

I never did read The Da Vinci Code, and I’m not likely to do so now, either. Dan Brown – or his publisher? – is planning to dumb it down to YA level. What a relief! Because young readers are so stupid, they couldn’t possibly read as complicated a book as TDVC, copies of which I understand litter second hand bookshops to the extent they can’t sell them.

If Dan Brown wants to do something for the young, but I’d rather he didn’t, to be honest, couldn’t he simply write a YA novel from scratch, like all these other people who feel they should give this ‘easy’ genre a go?

Then, who to dislike the most; J K Rowling or presidential hopeful Donald Trump? I’m with the many people who fervently hope this man will not succeed. But he does have the right to speak, even when what he says is so offensive that we’d prefer for him not to.

I think J K is correct in saying that we must be bigger and fairer and allow those who say bad things to keep saying them. Banning them will not help. Trying to re-educate them would, but might prove hard. It is very tempting to be as bad as, or worse, than those we fear and dislike. Lots of people find it pretty easy to disagree with a wealthy and famous author. The Guardian photos of the two make them look like pals, almost. But that is the newspaper’s fault, not J K’s.

To finish with something much nicer and easier, here is the link to the interview with Meg Rosoff on Swedish television, first broadcast on Sunday night. It’s on several times this week, but for those of us outside Sweden, it is available to watch online. Meg is on first, for 15-20 minutes, and she is on good form as ever. I think we should have programmes like this in Britain. You know, a bit about books and not just baking and dancing.

Meg Rosoff on Babel

Personally I’d like to know how to tie a scarf like Meg’s. Once you do, you will still look good, no matter what you wear with it. (Or maybe I wouldn’t, under any circumstances.) Meg’s new glasses are divine. Quite Harry Potterish, in a good way.

How to be Shakespeare

This is such a brilliant idea! Here I have two books from the British Library, by Deborah Patterson, on how to be your own William Shakespeare. Or J K Rowling or Tolkien. Or if you want to set the bar really high, Jules Verne or Arthur Ransome.

We’re actually back in the territory of writing in books, which is so tempting, but which could also lead to some less legit scribbling in all sorts of other books than these two. But my fingers are itching, just looking at the – inviting – pages in Deborah’s two My Book of Stories books.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own Shakespearean tales

In ‘write your own Shakespearean tales,’ she introduces old Will’s plays, with quotes and pictures and All Those Lovely Designated Pages For Writing On! So read a bit about dear Hamlet and then see what you can do about beating Mr Shakespeare at his own game.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own adventures

Likewise, in ‘write your own Adventures,’ we meet some of the classics in children’s literature; Alice, Peter Pan, Dorothy, Toad, Harry Potter, the Hobbit and all those others.

And then there are word games and that kind of thing, so really, you are in for a treat, playing and writing, all in one go.

Why am I so old? I was made for these books!

Village character

Daughter should be on her way to a Harry Potter character. Or is that the Swiss village? You Google Grindelwald and you get the option of one, or the other. To be on the safe side, I went for both. I’m not enough of a nerd, either way.

It’s obvious that Grindelwald is a place name in the German-speaking world. You don’t have to know where. At this time of year it’s a fair guess that it will be snowy.

Because I am not all that Harry Potter-nerdy, I can’t say I remembered much about any character called Grindelwald either. In one ear and out the other, so to speak. Daughter thought it was amusing. That she was going there, not that I’m useless and forgetful.

But thanks to other Harry Potter fans it’s easy to find out. There is a whole wikia, where I assume you can look up anything at all, when you are as forgetful as I am. Which is good. I now know more about Gellert Grindelwald than I ever needed to, and what worries me is how many other characters I might have forgotten as they left the page.

I can’t help thinking how much fun J K must have had when naming her people. I have no book and no characters, but I have an urge to go through atlases and reference books to find outlandish sounding [Swiss] villages to name them after.