Despite some minor technical issues over photographs, Candy Gourlay’s second launch of Wild Song, online with Nikki Gamble last night, was probably the best ‘zoomy’ event I’ve attended. So, well done! A good event for a good book.
And those photos. Well, they helped. I’m never a great fan of too many pictures like that, but these really opened my eyes to what went on around the last turn of the century, and how they inspired the birth of Wild Song. I’m glad they did. And it seems many of us in the audience were relieved that Candy’s relatively slow writing process – over 15 years – moved the book from being about the birth of hot dogs, to introducing us to an intelligent young Igorot heroine in the Philippines, and her subsequent trip to St Louis.
Sometimes you just want to take things more seriously.
I learned a lot about growing up in the Philippines, both at the time Luki did, and also how it was for Candy.
The fairly large audience chatted in the chat box, and enjoyed finding out more about this book, which I guess many had not had an opportunity to read yet, as it was only published on Thursday. But the thing is, after this chat Candy had with Nikki, everyone wanted to read it.
Having been somewhat sorry not to be able to go to the physical launch in London earlier in the week, it was good to see a short video from that event. It confirmed my long ago impression that Filipino people sing as much as us Swedes. As Candy said, considering what her book was about, it was only right to fill the London launch with local Igorot people, singing and dancing.
This long awaited sequel to Candy Gourlay’s Bone Talk, has her characters leave the Philippines and travel to the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis. They are a few years older, but still the same young people they were. Luki is still as feisty and independent minded, and she certainly does not want to be married off, even to her best friend Samkad.
Now that the Americans have penetrated deeper into the Philippines, they come up with more ideas of what they might do to the natives, who have a perfectly good system of their own that they live by. But the thing here is that Truman Hunt, the US doctor, manages to persuade these young people to voluntarily leave their country and come with him to the Fair, where he intends to ‘exhibit’ these human beings, alongside people from other parts of the world. Whereas they believe they are going to meet the President, because he wants to see them, especially.
The cynical and knowing reader understands that all will not be well. What I liked was that Luki, despite being ‘innocent’, is also capable of working out that things are not what they were led to believe. She is strong, and she stands by what she believes in.
In a way you can’t blame the visitors to the Fair for their beliefs about these savages who eat dogs. They have been told lies, because why else would they come and gawk at other human beings like this? And there are always people hoping to take advantage of others. But there are also some very strong characters who stand up for what is right, for others who need their help.
This story feels particularly right today, when so many people think they are better than others, often because of their skin colour or their perceived lack of sophistication.
Wild Song shows there can still be hope. And in the midst of what is done to these Filipino visitors, I loved the humour of Luki’s reaction when she discovers Samkad boarding the ship in Manila. She’s no ordinary teenager.
Not to be alphabetist or anything, but I think I find the letters of the early alphabet more useful. I could have gone on forever about B and D. (I hear you, and I won’t.) I shall march swiftly towards the end.
There was Marshmallow the cat. Very white and very fluffy. He was the boss of another second cousin, somewhere in Toronto. I lost my bearings, so have no idea where.
Quesadillas kept us going. Rather like my first ever meal in England in 1966, a cheese and tomato sandwich at Liverpool Street, the best quesadilla was the one in the middle of the night – GMT – on arrival in San Antonio, when I sat as far away from the window as possible on the 18th floor. Would have been even better had we had a bottle opener (which someone assured me we’d not need), in which case there would have been Mexican cola too. Could it be that the strain of travelling makes the first meal better, or were these in fact tastier than the rest?
Was intrigued to discover that Montréal’s airport code is YUL. Sounds so Christmassy. And they had the three letters plastered over some lovely, snowy posters. Snowy scenery, not posters. I mean, posters of. You know what I mean.
Which brings us to the letter Z. Zips. Our first zip came in the elevator at the New Orleans Hilton, when a fellow passenger, on discovering were were alone for the last bit, asked us to zip her up. She’d dressed beautifully for a Halloween night on the town, but travelling alone she hadn’t managed the last inch at the back. I held her hair while Daughter zipped.
Miss Martha, on the other hand, was our attendant on the Amtrak train from New Orleans to New York. All 36 hours of it. Apparently this paragon sleeps when she gets home each week. She likes it better than the chicken farm she used to run. Anyway, she’s that archetypal motherly person who looks after you, working out what to feed vegetarians when Amtrak’s sole veggie dish is not on board. Not to mention when just outside D.C. the train ‘banged’ and juddered to a rather sudden stop, leaving us standing for an hour, before stopping again. They had tried to repair the broken ‘thingy’ between the cars with duct tape. The second time they went with Miss Martha’s zip ties. She never travels without them. They held, all the way to D.C. itself where proper engineers stood by to offer something longer lasting.
That got us to New York, where the car drivers zip in and out of the traffic all the time. I don’t know how they do it, but it seems to work, and no one appears to suffer zip rage or anything.
Forgot to mention the Alamo on day one. It’s in San Antonio. But you knew that. You probably also know what it is. Quite nice, actually.
To the best of my knowledge, this is ‘my’ only book about New Orleans. It’s a good one. This review originally appeared in March 2013.
“I enjoyed this book so much! Out of the Easy is the new book by Ruta Sepetys, published this week. In her first book Ruta proved how much she knew about being a starving Lithuanian, whereas here she is a right madam.
Is it OK to feature a brothel in a YA novel? I mean as the main thing the book is actually about. I think it is. Ruta writes awfully knowledgeably about it, too.
Set in 1950 in New Orleans, Out of the Easy feels really fresh. By that I mean it’s in no way a standard story for young readers, either in setting or in plot. The first chapter where we meet 7-year-old Josie and her hooker mother is one of the more captivating first chapters I’ve come across in a long time.
And the rest of the story, set ten years later, keeps the pace and the promise. Josie has long looked after herself, since her mother is incapable of doing so, or even caring that she doesn’t. There are no regrets at all. Instead Josie has a makeshift, but well functioning family around her, from the local madam and her driver, to the author and owner of the bookshop where Josie sleeps.
She is hoping to rise from all this and make something of herself, when she gets caught up in the murder of a rich tourist.
This is James Dean and Tennessee Williams, and we might have met the characters before. But the story is new, and it’s crying out to be turned into a film. I loved it!”
I was standing on the pavement outside the National Library of Scotland yesterday, waiting for Daughter to join me, when someone prodded the back of my arm. I couldn’t work out how she could have snuck up from behind, so turned round and discovered a very yellow Kirkland Ciccone. One could almost have imagined it was Easter. But he was a pleasure to behold.
Almost eight years to the day from when we first met, at a Theresa Breslin event, here we were, for a Theresa Breslin event. She spent lockdown writing about some of Scotland’s many Kings and Queens, and the time had come to launch this gorgeous, historical picture book, with illustrations by Liza Tretyakova.
We started off watching Kirkie having tea and half a strawberry tart. (I mean Daughter and me. Not the whole audience.) Then we launched ourselves at the drinks table for some water. Although it’s hard to event and handle a wineglass at the same time. Said hello to Mr B, who was wearing his latest book creation t-shirt and looking great as ever. It had been too long.
Were informed we were too old for a goodie bag, so settled for saying hello to all the involved publisher people, who we’d not seen for years, either. And there was the wineglass of water, living a precarious life among people who might need to applaud.
As always, Theresa had attracted a large crowd. She began by reading one of the stories in Illustrated Legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens. It was about Margaret in Dunfermline, and I was grateful to learn how Queensferry, both North and South, came about. This is the thing about Theresa and her many historical tales; you learn a bit of history in a very painless way. Nice story, and history.
After some Q&A it was time for book buying and book signing. Kirkie had already had to steal away to his train home, and Daughter and I crossed the George IV Bridge in search of almost invisible pizza.
It was all fine. But my foot hurt. And I managed to hurl my spectacles all over the pavement. (It seems to be all about glasses and pavements these days…) It’s very hard to see glasses on a dark pavement. Especially without your glasses on. But it all ended well, with no treading of feet on anything.
Sally Jones and The Chief travel to Glasgow! Here is Jakob Wegelius’s new story about our favourite ape and her beloved chief, and it’s a good one. Glasgow offers up all manner of horrendous characters, and one or two good ones. And, I hadn’t thought this through before, but for the purposes of the story Sally Jones needs to be left alone and like so many parent figures in fiction, The Chief has to be temporarily removed.
They are both honourable creatures and that’s why they travelled to Scotland. While renovating their old ship, the Hudson Queen, they came upon something valuable, which they are determined to return to its rightful owner. If only they could find her.
The low lifes of Glasgow quickly send The Chief off on bad business, holding our dear ape hostage. But Sally Jones is no ordinary victim, so she manages to move ahead, towards some sort of solution. Old Glasgow is an interesting place, and so are the crooks you find there (although their names could in some cases have been a little more Scottish).
I won’t tell you more though. You will want to read and discover for yourselves how some decent people are not decent at all, and how some bad ones are not all rotten. But which ones?
It’s the tulip bulbs I’ve never forgotten. Even as a child, learning that Audrey Hepburn had to eat tulip bulbs to survive during the war, it seemed both fantastic – in a bad way – and hard to believe. Just as I couldn’t really get my head round what Audrey was doing in the Netherlands.
If you read Tom Palmer’s new book Resist, you will find out, and it will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Unlike many novels about the resistance in the war, in whatever country the story might be set, this one is a little more – dare I say it? – ordinary. Because it is based so much on what actually happened to Audrey and her family, rather than what an author has simply made up.
You meet Audrey – called Edda here, for her own safety – in her home village of Velp, near Arnhem, as she is setting out on helping the local resistance. It’s the kind of thing you need to keep secret, because the less anyone else knows, the safer you all are. Edda’s family have had bad things happen to them, and lying low is the way forward.
Covering the last two years of WWII, we learn much about ordinary Dutch people. Except, they are not ordinary; they are brave, albeit often in a quiet, life-saving way. I learned more about Arnhem, which to me was ‘just’ a place name connected with the war, in a bad way. And the tulips.
The same age as Anne Frank, we have to be grateful Audrey survived, if only just. It’s hard to believe that starvation can be so much more of a threat than being hit by bombs, say. And people fleeing their old homes has become much more of a current thing than we could ever have thought, until recently.
This is the latest of many thoughtful books from Tom Palmer about WWII and its effects. Its brevity adds to its seriousness. And the cover art from Tom Clohosy Cole is stunning.
We have almost forgotten about polio, haven’t we? These days we fear other illnesses, even if we are still given protection against polio; both the baby and its parents. In Elizabeth Laird’s new book about Charity Brown, her heroine has been held captive by polio. This is soon after WWII. But thinking back on what happens in this semi-autobiographical novel, I reckon it’s religion that holds Charity back more.
Her deeply religious family are poor, and when she returns home after a long spell in hospital, it is to a very cold house. For her father it is more important to seek new members for their little church, than to earn money to keep his wife and four children comfortable. They are always warned what not to do, and Charity remembers it all, and heeds it even when she’d rather not.
And then, all of a sudden, they have inherited a large house, and the parents intend to use it to do good [to others].
Their new life is puzzling, but ultimately both interesting and promising. Charity makes a friend. Maybe. Religion so easily gets in the way of everything. Her older siblings want new things in life. Visitors from other countries turn up, and it’s not always the ones you trust who deserve that trust. War enemies are also people.
This is a heart-warming and lovely story. Not your standard postwar tale, but a new look on what might have been.
It is always very nice meeting favourite characters again. Especially those from a really good novel; people you’ve perhaps wondered about after reading their story. You want more, and if someone other than the original author has written ‘more’ then you might be quite happy with that as a solution as well.(I remember finding Ben Gunn in the library when I was a child. Never mind who wrote it. There was more!)
Here is Emma Carroll’s take on what might have happened to the characters in Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea. They really were characters you wanted to meet again.
I was pleased to see what happened to Clovis, who is now a proper adult, seeing as it’s just after WWII. He has taken in 11-year-old Rosa from Austria, along with other evacuees. The arrival of Yara, a young and quite unusual woman, eventually takes Rosa to the Amazon, following in the footsteps of Maia, all those years ago.
WWII has had an effect in Brazil as well, so it’s no longer the same. Neither are Finn and Maia, who are now also proper adults. In my opinion, perhaps too much of properness. (But then, Anne Shirley grew more sensible with age, so perhaps this is inevitable.)
What follows is an Amazonian, post-war adventure, featuring new children in recognisable surroundings. As a story it is fine, and fun, albeit lacking Eva Ibbotson’s magic.
It’s Jacobite blog tour time! Here’s Barbara Henderson with some Outlanderish thoughts:
‘The Americans are back’, my husband remarked drily on his return from Inverness High Street, ten minutes away from our home. Don’t get the wrong impression – this was no disapproving comment. It was dry humour, tinged with relief. He might as well have said ‘Things are finally getting back to normal’. The devastating effect of the pandemic on international tourism in our area had been acutely felt, particularly as a certain franchise had previously supercharged the tourist economy in these parts. A book, film and fandom feat like no other (perhaps Harry Potter aside).
Can you hear it? The distant and mournful version of the Skye Boat Song, now a major theme tune? I am (of course!) talking about Outlander, Diana Gabaldon’s epic time travel romance which features the Highlands during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.
Why do some things catch on while others do not? I often find myself bemused by what hits the popularity jackpot. But speaking as an interested observer rather than an Outlander superfan, I can absolutely see the appeal here: standing stones and ancient cairns, a doomed cause, heroism and healing – it’s a compelling mix. As the phenomenon grew, the Highlands changed all around me. Tourist gift shops began to replace their usual stock with Outlander merchandise. Busloads and busloads of Outlander themed tours arrived at key locations like Culloden Battlefield. Fans found each other, both online and in person. Gaelic-learning became fashionable again, and consultant herbalists and craftspeople were hired for the television series. From time to time, adverts for extras would appear in the local papers. I recently attended a creative industries conference. Half a day was given over to figuring it out: How can we as artists and writers and heritage professionals tap into the Outlander Effect? It’s the million-dollar question! That way profit lies.
As a children’s writer, I was well aware of Gabaldon’s books and the huge success of the television series. However, I thought all this had very little to do with me. When I was lucky enough to be published for the first time with my Highland Clearances novel Fir for Luck, I realised: It had everything to do with me.
Let me introduce you to the InverOutlanders, a local Outlander fan organisation. Full of likeable ladies, I have grown very fond of the group. They have been wonderfully supportive of me and of other writers, too. After all, they have already read every word that Gabaldon has written – and they are interested in more Scottish history of that time period. Fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t seem to matter. It certainly didn’t seem to matter that mine was a children’s book – Scottish history, a time of peril – tell us no more, we’re in!
I began to see them at some of my events. When my own Jacobite novel was ready to submit to publishers, I didn’t have to explain to the publishing world what this Jacobite rebellion was. They already knew. I began to pitch the novel as ‘Outlander for kids’ which was a convenient shortcut to what the book was about.
When The Reluctant Rebel was published on 18th May, the InverOutlanders were first to the microphone, shouting to their 14.6k followers about my book. I can never thank them enough.
I don’t know if I’ll ever meet Diana Gabaldon in real life. But if I do, I am determined to thank her for creating millions of readers who are now interested in Scottish history, culture and heritage. She didn’t mean to, but in some small way, the author of the mighty Outlander series has put my books on the map too.
Should you really have to prove you are alive? Actually, stupid question. I do this once a year to qualify for my pension. But otherwise? There will probably always be magazines who like to write and print sensational untruths about … Continue reading →