Category Archives: History

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

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Slaves for the Isabella

For entering a series by reading book five, I did quite well, I thought. In a way, time travel is time travel, and you can guess at things. At the same time, there were facts I didn’t know or understand, like why Joe wants to see Lucy so much.

Author Julia Edwards offered me the fifth and newest instalment of her educational, historical series The Scar Gatherer to read. If I understand it correctly, we have Joe, who travels in time with the aid of a St Christopher pendant. It – sometimes – takes him to somewhere in the past, and then he leaves it there, so that Lucy can call him back, in case he is returned to his own time. Until the last time, when he really does leave.

The thing about Joe’s time travels is that he meets the same people every time. They are different in the past and they are living in different pasts, but Lucy is Lucy and her parents are her parents. They don’t remember Joe, but he remembers them. The other characters are also recurring characters, but they play different roles each time. Except that Tobias is always a really unpleasant older boy.

This time the pendant takes Joe to Bristol during the slave trade era in the early 1790s, after the abolishment of slavery. The fact that Britain agreed not to trade in slaves, meant only that they didn’t trade new slaves. Lucy’s family are wealthy [this time] and depend on slaves and sugar plantations. Joe pops ‘ back home’ once or twice, and has the opportunity of learning more historical facts, which he then takes with him as he sees Lucy again.

Primarily, this is a way for middle grade readers to have fun as they learn about history. I learned a few new things myself, and that’s really the point about time travel.

I’m guessing that Joe travels in chronological order, as he’s been further into the past before, and I imagine he will meet Lucy again in a less distant past next time.

They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

Starting young

If I’d stopped to think about it, I suppose I’d half expect the child of an author [whose work] I like to turn into a competent writer as well.

One day. Just not yet.

I may have mentioned this before. One of my very first contacts among fellow blog people was Declan Burke. This author and compiler of Irish crime – on his blog Crime Always Pays – has introduced me to countless lovely people, writers and non-writers. (Thank you, Siobhan Dowd!)

Back in 2007 I believe he’d just got married. I mention this because the next year he became a father. So that’s nine years ago.

Last year Declan’s daughter Lily wrote me an email to thank me for the Christmas e-cards I have sent them over the years (she’s been keeping count…), which was lovely of her.

And this year she has written something else, which I recommend you read. I won’t borrow, so you have to pop over to her dad’s blog to read it. It seems Lily is a Jacqueline Wilson fan. Well, who isn’t? And it seems there’s been a competition to write a historical letter, where the winner would appear in Jacqueline’s next book. So Lily obviously wrote a letter.

No, she didn’t win. I imagine there will have been ‘a few’ entries to such a competition. But ever the proud father, Declan put her letter on Crime Always Pays, and that’s where you can read it.

I’m having two thoughts here; 1) Jacqueline Wilson really inspires her fans, 2) we have to stop thinking that young children are too young. I would never have expected a nine-year-old to write quite what Lily wrote. But if she can think such grown-up thoughts, then surely there are more girls like her?

In fact, the really great thing about Jacqueline’s books is that even the ‘older’ stories are quite simply written, which means that her younger fans can access the teen books, and they like them, and understand them. And they go forth and write their own.

Lily gives me hope.

Mary, Queen of Scots – Revered, reviled

The Resident IT Consultant and your witch had been wondering who on earth would come to a book event at a branch library on a Tuesday morning. Even if it was Alex Nye and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Well, let me tell you; countless elderly ladies, interested in Mary, in history and most likely quite keen on some culture to liven up their day, at a time when it’s easier to get out. St Ninian’s library was ready for business at 10.30, standing by with fresh coffee and enough room for wheelchairs and zimmer frames and the odd, self-balancing stick. Not to mention an ignorant Bookwitch. The man seated in front of the Resident IT Consultant turned round and said he was so glad he wasn’t the only man in the room…

Self-balancing stick

In other news, there was barely a copy of Alex’s book – For My Sins – available to buy, because it’s out of print, and will only be in he shops again tomorrow. Alex had a few copies, which she brought, but at least that’s success, even if it would have been nice to see a roaring trade in Mary.

I hadn’t even heard it all before. This can be a problem when going to more than one event for a book, but Alex varied what she said, so it was almost like it was brand new.

Alex Nye

She set the scene by describing the snow-covered Stirling castle (we’d had one just like it three days earlier), with Mary getting ready for the christening of her baby son James. Alex read a bit from that part of the book, finishing with Darnley’s sudden departure for Glasgow (which presumably had him ride right past the library, seeing as it’s virtually on the Glasgow Road).

Alex Nye

We heard how Alex began the book in her early twenties, in her ‘garret’ in Buccleuch Street in Edinburgh, and how it was eventually discovered by publisher Clare Cain and made into what we all agreed was an attractive book (even if it did sell too well), looking as though it had just escaped from a fire.

Alex Nye, For My Sins

And when it came to questions, the assembled ladies had more and better questions than I’ve heard at other events. They know their Scottish history, and they care about it.

Maybe have more daytime events like this?

Doctor Dodo and other clever women

The Resident IT Consultant and I saw a few more roundabouts than we had counted on, as we travelled to Edinburgh yesterday to celebrate Dodo’s new PhD.

If we had pushed for tickets to the graduation ceremony (but we didn’t, as we felt that they should go to Son and the Dodo family), we’d have had the pleasure of seeing Mairi Hedderwick receive her honorary doctorate alongside Dodo. It’s always nice when the famous person is so famous that one has actually heard of them, but nicer still when it’s someone quite so special as Katie Morag’s creator.

Doctor's graduation

As it was, it was just one more missed opportunity to see Mairi this week, but more importantly, it was a time to celebrate with the Dodos by stuffing ourselves with tapas. It was very civilised, and very nice, and the company was good and we were nowhere near needing those reserve sandwiches I happened to have in my bag.

And the proud Father of Dodo got to tell us his dream – he now has three children who can call themselves doctor, and he’s looking forward to the phone ringing and someone asking for Doctor L, so he can ask ‘Doctor Who?’

When we couldn’t get any fuller, or wittier, some of us went home to collapse on some sofa, and the resident IT Consultant went off to a transport meeting to consult a bit, and your witch hobbled downhill for a quick look at the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens, and then on to Waterstones for an evening on autism.

Edinburgh Christmas market

As part of Book Week Scotland, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson were there to talk with Catherine’s daughter Nina Mega, on writing novels with autistic characters, and bringing up children with Asperger Syndrome, and about being ‘a bit like that’ yourself. I felt right at home and it was one of the better events I’ve been to and I will tell you more about it when I’ve had some sleep, and maybe been to another book event or two.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Who knows?

In the passenger seat

There were a lot fewer cars in 1967!

I have just completed my third ‘job’ as passenger to new driver. Third generation new driver, too.

Fifty years ago, the – very young – witchlet sat next to Mother-of-witch as she attempted to get up to speed on driving. She’d had a license for 16 years when she realised circumstances required a car, and driving. So there I was, doing my supporting role from the back seat (too young to sit in the front), and to this day I remember the exact spot on the road where Mother-of-witch attempted to turn the car round and stalled spectacularly. Even with the 1967 level of cars, queues soon built up both left and right. Eventually, gritting her teeth, she stomped out of the car and asked the nearest [male] driver if he’d mind moving her car out of the way…

Those were the days.

Later on, your witch found herself in Shetland with the Resident IT Consultant, who was driving a hire car on holiday, and it was pretty much his first real go at driving. That particular u-turn ended in a ditch. We got a tractor to pull us out…

And, that brings me to today. Well, this week. With her only driving experience being the dark roads up in the Chilean Andes, in a left-hand drive car, Daughter’s been ‘home’ for a few days and wanted to drive more ‘normally,’ to see if she could. So there I was, in the passenger seat with another new driver. The car hire company only had a rather large seven-seater automatic, so that’s what she got.

But at least with an automatic, you don’t stall. And unless I missed it, we had no need for any strange men to rescue us out of anything.