Category Archives: Humour

TTFN

I’ve been lucky. Or perhaps I should call it successful, if that’s not too big a word to use? Because I have achieved what I set out to do, fourteen and a half years ago.

I have done writing. And reading. I have travelled and I’ve met a lot of great people. I have been to fun events. Occasionally I was almost a little bit famous, in the right circles. Not too much, but still.

Giving this up is hard. So hard that I am going to take a little break first. This means there are few promises as to what will come, but I suspect I will find it impossible to stay away completely. Expect a trickle of witchy stuff for a while. Maybe.

But right now I have one or two things to do, and I need to attend to them without feeling I’ve not written today’s blog post yet.

There are some books outstanding. Some books are also outstanding. I imagine I will tell you about them. Later.

I wasn’t sure how to choose my ‘when’ moment, but after so long of no live events and no live meetings with authors, I feel Saturday’s Pitch Black Humour is a good one to finish with. After all, it featured a Finnish crime writer, a local[ish] author closely connected with Bloody Scotland, which in turn is set in my current home town, plus my favourite author from Fort William, who I’d never heard of before Bookwitch, and who now features big in our minds, here at Bookwitch Towers.

So, I’m pausing with a smile. A laugh, even.

Pitch Black Humour

Of course we wouldn’t go to see Val McDermid instead! Here were three funny crime writers, being chaired quite unexpectedly by publisher Karen Sullivan, who has form for not necessarily keeping control of proceedings like these. She did. And she didn’t.

Karen was a bit taken aback by Barry Hutchison. She had to make sure he wasn’t an old boyfriend of hers by the same name. He was there as J D Kirk, which is quite different. There was Doug Johnstone, who wore shorts. Shorts, I tell you! Barry dressed like the gentleman he is. I was proud of him. And between them was Antti Tuomainen, who is that impossible creature, a funny Finn. He writes about mushrooms, and actuaries. Very funny. He’s got the same wife as Barry. She doesn’t find him/them in the slightest bit funny. If he’s also gone out with Karen is a different question again.

By the way, I didn’t take notes. I was wanting to enjoy my evening out on the town, so just skulked quietly in my corner at the Golden Lion.

I keep forgetting what a well educated man Doug is. Despite the shorts. PhD in nuclear physics. Drummer. Plays football for the Scottish crime writers. His latest humorous books feature a funeral parlour, so he balances nicely with Barry, whose biggest laugh was with his father and sister at his mother’s funeral (which reminds me a little of Catriona McPherson in that same room a couple of years ago..), in the best of ways.

All three talked about some of the general stuff that authors get asked about when it comes to books and writing. And they answered in a humorous manner, arguing with each other as though they were long time friends. Karen was good at getting them started, if not always able to stop them. But that’s humour for you.

Asked about their favourite, humorous crime writer, Antti mentioned Chris Brookmyre. Karen pointed out Chris was sitting ‘over there.’ As Barry said, it got a bit embarrassing, as he was also going to choose Chris. At which point Doug asked if he wasn’t allowed to pick Chris as well. (Chris had obviously paid them handsomely.)

And speaking of Chris, he sat next to Mark Billingham, and I’m willing to stake my reputation on the ‘teenager’ next to them being James Oswald. It’s amazing what jeans and a t-shirt and long hair and a facemask does to one’s favourite crime writer coo farmer. In fact, lots of people [still] had Covid hair, including Bloody Scotland director Bob McDevitt. Recognised a few other people there, but had they been unmasked I’m sure I’d have ‘known’ even more.

Antti and Doug haven’t written that many books. I mean, in comparison. Barry’s 140 children’s books might have got a mention as did some of his other ‘adult’ books before the DCI Logan books, of which there are 12, with the 13th coming in December. Plus the new series starting in October. All this speedy writing is facilitated by him being unable to see a blue spot when he closes his eyes!

They were asked what books they read, that are funny. Chris Brookmyre, apparently, is funny. As was Iain Banks. Douglas Adams. Barry mentioned Terry Pratchett, who he avoided for a long time because the books were recommended to him by his mother’s friend. Quite beyond the pale. Until he picked one up and discovered what the rest of us already knew.

At this point I was struck by what I am about to do, which is to recommend one of Barry’s children’s books to a boy whose mother I know. It’s, well, I don’t know. But us older women know what’s what.

At the end I dashed out to stand first in line for the signing, cornering J D quite nicely, getting the signature and the requisite doodle, along with bits of news. And then I abandoned him for some macaroni cheese I had waiting for me.

Where are all the turkeys?

I get it wrong Every Single Time. I put a turkey, or two, in there, somewhere.

OK, so I’ve not yet read Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, but it is lying in wait for me. I veer between looking forward to it, because some people have loved it, and fearing I’ll regret it, because some have not. Was heartened to discover that Susanna Clarke and her husband got one for each other for Christmas. Not, I assume, because they habitually buy two of everything, but when you know that the other one would love this…

Still no turkey, despite it being Christmas for them.

Then I read the Guardian interview with Richard, and was heartened – again – when he said he’d been afraid of being seen just as a celebrity success, until people in countries where they don’t know him from television, seemed to like his first crime novel too.

So that was reasonably modest of him.

And then, the Guardian Review yesterday happened to mention that Agatha Christie’s The Tuesday Club Murders is being reissued.

No turkey there either.

No, the reason I keep wanting there to be turkeys is Craig Rice’s The Thursday Turkey Murders. Which I read half a decade ago (it’s from 1946), and it has clearly formed a beaten path through my brain, and I simply cannot separate turkeys from Thursdays. Especially when there is also a murder.

Although I note Craig Rice also wrote The Sunday Pigeon Murders… Can’t stand pigeons.

Fun with Chris and Neil

It’s a comfortable affair, hanging out with Chris Riddell and Neil Gaiman. One is in Brighton and the other in New Zealand, but that’s fine. The moderator glowed over them both, but Chris had to point out that he’s less impressive than Neil. (That’s a matter of opinion, but if it makes him happy…) They first bonded over The Graveyard Book a dozen or so years ago.

And before he knew it, Neil discovered that Chris had illustrated most of his books. (You can’t leave a man with a pencil and expect him not to use it.) When it came to Fortunately the Milk Neil was almost going to threaten Chris to make him illustrate it, but luckily he didn’t have to and there was an amicable agreement for some more pictures.

Apparently Chris is the most booked up illustrator in the world (so that doesn’t bode well for when I want him to draw for me), with the wonderful Levi Pinfold coming close behind.

When it came to their latest collaboration, Pirate Stew, Neil told Chris to ‘go wild on this’ so he did. For the book fest event Neil read us the whole book, and Chris retreated from the camera and let his hand draw pictures instead. Much more comfortable for him. Neil had only the one copy of his book, but had given it away to a 7-year-old, so was forced to read from his computer, potentially changing some words here and there.

It’s mostly pirates as babysitters, and stale donuts. Your children will probably want you to read it every night.

During lockdown Chris felt it made no difference, as he’s always in his shed working anyway. But suddenly it was no fun when everyone else did it too. He even found himself wanting to see people. (I’ll come!)

Their advice to children who want to draw or write is to start now. Chris recommends a blank book to fill with pictures, and maybe a passport wallet to tuck your words into (this is what Neil did with Pirate Stew, so he wouldn’t forget).

Or you could turn pirate and break into Chris’s shed and steal his sketchbooks. (This would be a bad thing to do.)

A Different Sort of Normal

As I discovered 14 years ago, it can be hard to know who wants to read books about autism. Those who have it, or those who don’t but want to learn? Children, or adults?

Abigail Balfe’s A Different Sort of Normal, about her own life up until her current age of 35, is for everyone, I’d say. But I feel Abigail is mostly talking to young, possibly not yet diagnosed, people.

Anyway, there is lots of advice here, and the most important is that you’re all right. The way you are. Abigail only got her diagnosis two years ago, so has spent many years simply being weird. Haven’t we all?

And let me just say this now, I can’t stand Punch and Judy. But until I read about poor Abigail’s poor mother booking a Punch and Judy show for her fourth birthday party, in order to seem normal, I hadn’t really considered why I don’t like them. Just been puzzled that others do.

Abigail is also an artist, and has illustrated every single page, so the reader can see what she was like as she grew up, and share the funny, silly little things that happened, the way they have happened to many others. There’s a lot about toilets, but it appears she and I don’t see eye to eye on the subject; just that it’s important.

This is a fun book about autism, albeit a little on the large side to hold. I’m slightly concerned that it won’t get to younger readers with autism. I don’t know who decides that someone is ‘autistic enough’ to need a book like this, or how they would find out about its existence. But if and when they do, I expect it will help a great deal.

‘Something stinky’

My two favourite translators being boys notwithstanding, I am all in favour of girls. Yesterday five of them got together in an online event for the British Centre for Literary Translation’s Summer School Event – Translating Children’s Books. It was Very Interesting.

Extremely well chaired by none other than Sarah Ardizzone, we met two pairs of small publishers and their translators, from Arabic and from Swedish, learning how the journey from original book to its English version had gone. And you need to keep in mind that US publishers might not appreciate the word poo. Regarding any other censoring in translating, Arabic is already very sanitised, so nothing to remove, according to Sawad Hussain.

Sawad had discovered an interesting sounding YA book on Twitter and eventually found her way to the author, before making contact with Neem Tree Press publisher Archna Sharma. Archna finds that not even being able to email her author, but having to go via her translator whenever she needs to make contact, makes for a different experience. As did applying for a PEN Translates grant, with Sawad’s help, and which she’d now happily do again.

Greet Pauwelijn, from Belgium, who runs her one woman publishing company Book Island, had come across a Swedish book by Sara Lundberg and gone looking for a translator from Swedish, eventually being introduced to B J Epstein. B J was ill and pregnant at the time, but immediately felt she needed to be involved with this book, The Bird Within Me, which has the most gorgeous illustrations. And you can translate with your baby in a sling.

One should not adapt down to children, either language or topic. And children can be most useful to test words on to see if you’ve got it right. Do they get bored, or do they want to read the book again? It could even be useful to pay a teenager to check that you’ve got the style right for how young people talk. Arabic can be quite stilted in books, so needs to be ‘rewritten’, but you also need to get the language of today right.

The cover for the Arabic novel had to have a new cover to work, preferably one dripping with blood. Greet, on the other hand, would never change an illustration as she feels pictures and words go together.

They chatted about how they work, how to change a crocodile into an alligator (apparently it worked better), swapping ideas for how to do things, and wondering what it will be like when the time for publicity comes, visas, travelling, even language for authors who are not confident in English. There was also a mention of readers ‘prejudging translatedness’ if brought to their attention. B J always mentions it to her children, whereas Sarah Ardizzone said something about ‘lowering the othering’ in case translations are seen as a possible deterrent.

The last question of the afternoon – and it could have gone on for a long time – was on bad language, sex and death. You can see how that would be really rather interesting. B J can get annoyed, and is a reluctant gatekeeper, but as already mentioned, there is generally nothing for Sawad to remove from an Arabic original.

Lena, the Sea and Me

As soon as I began reading Maria Parr’s Lena, the Sea and Me, I remembered what a pain in the xxx Lena was. Because I’d read about her before, in Maria’s book Waffle Hearts. But I did love that book, so perhaps she wasn’t as bad as all that? Deep down?

And as with Maria’s other book, I soon fell in love again, even with Lena. She’s a loud and opinionated 12-year-old, but with a heart of gold. And I suspect she feels a lot more uncertain about herself than her behaviour leads you to believe. She’s also a very good friend to Trille, the 12-year-old narrator of this somewhat crazy book about the people in a small village in northern Norway.

They are growing up, and they are both discovering how awkward it can be with other, new, friends, not to mention family. What’s happening with Grandpa? And Trille’s mother? And why can’t Lena have a baby brother?

There’s so much love in this book. A bit of hate, too. But it seems not everyone dislikes the same person Trille does. And what do you eat if you don’t eat your own dead animals, lovingly killed at home? It’s hard to understand.

With a long dead Grandma, adventures on/in the sea and football, not to mention romance and bravery, there is much to learn.

I’d even be willing to meet up with Lena again.

(Translated by Guy Puzey)

Skulduggery Pleasant – Dead or Alive

Huh, so this wasn’t the end, either. I’m beginning to suspect that Derek Landy can go on and on, and will go on and on. Which is fine by me. I enjoyed Dead or Alive as much as I liked the other umpteen Skulduggery Pleasant novels. They’re fun. A bit violent, yes. Unlikely. But fun.

And most of the characters are either dead or alive, sometimes both, either simultaneously or one after the other, and possibly back again.

I do like Omen Darkly. That boy has grown up to be a real asset, even if he does make mistakes a lot of the time. And like Omen, I like Valkyrie Cain and Detective Pleasant. Their relationship might have been a bit questionable to begin with, as is pointed out in Dead or Alive, but we didn’t notice it back then. Now it’s mostly old and comfortable.

And many of the characters from the older books are back, sometimes on the right side, but not necessarily. It’s just nice to see them.

I might have mentioned this before, but it’s also quite good to find that current politics can find a way into Irish magic fantasy. A turncoat is always a turncoat.

No, I have no idea what I meant there.

Next time I must remember to buy the ebook. The 600 pages always threaten to take my arm off. A little like poor Detective Pleasant.

Thinking differently

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp is the loveliest picture book by Paul Russell and Nicky Johnston. It sounded good before I had it here to read, but it’s miles better in every way now that I have read it.

Bowen doesn’t think like everyone else. Not as fast, nor about the same things. But he is intelligent, and not only does he think in his own way, but he realises that other people don’t see the same things he does, or in the same way.

What colour is the ocean? I mean really? And you can’t be expected to look at a great work of art and have an opinion in no time at all. Or not send your tortoise into space? (He didn’t, because Grandma intervened.)

But after all those experiences with teachers and other adults who don’t get him, there is one person who does. His mum. Either she’s a bit special too, or she has learned from experience how to think like Bowen. The two of them get on very well, but I’m afraid I still don’t know if dinner will make itself?

It’s a thought, though, isn’t it?

Fake News

‘I’ll send out a copy of Fake News too’, said the publisher in response to my comment that while C J Dunford’s new YA title looked quite promising, I didn’t have a lot of May left in which to read it. But she clearly knew what she was doing, guilting me into finding more reading time.

Only joking! Once Fake News was here, I could tell it was a book for which May had to be stretched a little. But it has caused me much trouble, I have to tell you. The first afternoon when it was lying on my table, to be picked up by my hands, I had to – twice – remove it from the hands of the Resident IT Consultant, who, unbidden, declared it looked really good. And as I was racing through the book, I attempted to stop for little breaks every now and then, but it was actually impossible to stop. I closed the book and opened it again within seconds.

This is an intelligently written story – which will be why a certain somebody thought it was an adult novel. Let me just say it takes much more to write quite so sensibly and entertainingly for a YA audience. Partly set in a school, and also in the bedrooms of the four children involved, it doesn’t sink to the usual levels of such tales.

Three teenagers, one 11-year-old (he’s so clever he’s been moved up a few years at school) and a dog, decide to give the world some more fake news. Just to prove it can be done and that we are gullible. They do it for several good reasons, or I wouldn’t have approved. And there are aliens.

Possibly the aliens were why things happened the way they did, but that was also a lot of fun. And can you believe teenagers are so young these days they haven’t watched ET? GCHQ might have been involved. And eco-warriors. A creepy wannabe journalist, some surprisingly decent teachers at school, and the question of whether pink and purple go together.

Fake News is so much fun. You too will want to read it, even if there is very little May left. You can have June.

See you at the launch tonight?