Category Archives: Humour

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

Advertisements

One Last Second Chance

A bit rough round the edges, but I enjoyed it. At the event with William McIntyre last month, my ears started flapping when I sensed I could hear something about a [self-published] children’s book he’d written. I had to email him to ask more.

He replied it’s the kind of book he’d have liked when he was young. I feel it’s the kind of book I like even when I’m not, but would have, back then, if he could have time-travelled so it existed in the stone age, as well.

William McIntyre, One Last Second Chance

One Last Second Chance is about Walter, a conman who taught me more about cons than I ever knew I needed to know. There is Gordon –  a young boy – whose mother is dying, and for whom Gordon wants to find a cure. And there is his new, violent, neighbour, a student called Marie.

Unlikely though this trio seems, they set out to find this cure. Or hang onto it, in case it’s already theirs. But there are worse crooks than Walter; crooks who all seem to be after them.

This madcap adventure would be really fun as a film, but I would love for the two nurses  to have their roles reversed. (Honestly, such a cliché this way round!)

I really don’t want to give too much away. It’d ruin the book for you. Whereas you kind of expect Gordon’s mother to be saved, you can’t really work out how this might happen. If it does. There are some fun characters and plenty of crazy ideas. And it’s all quite Scottish. All it needs is a haggis.

Hang on, there was a haggis.

Dead Stock

First Aid is always a useful skill. Although many of the corpses in Rachel Ward’s Dead Stock are beyond help. I suppose corpses generally are…

I was going to say that unlike most crime novels, Dead Stock doesn’t have any dead humans, but that’d be incorrect. There is one dead body, but you don’t notice it so much. The bad smell comes from other dead creatures. Look away now if you don’t enjoy dead cats.

Rachel Ward, Dead Stock

Ant and Bea are back. It’s only just past New Year, with its hangovers and disappointments. As Costsave gets ready to go in the New Year, however, the missing and/or the dead cats start making themselves noticed. But Bea is ready to solve the mystery, and Ant supposes he will help, then…

It’s always good to meet characters you know, and by now we know where we are with Bea and her mum, Ant with his family, plus the whole Costsave family, for better or for worse. And it’s not only cats, but dogs, in this whodunnit. Bea is run ragged with all the sleuthing and the caring for animals.

She has her old flame, the sleazy policeman to deal with too, as well as the new and very promising part-timer at Costsave.

The question is who is doing those things to the cats? And what does it have to do with all the rest that’s happening in Kingsleigh?

Bea is definitely the one to have on your side. She’s small, but brave. And when not brave, she still does what needs doing. (Except possibly sending her police-man properly packing.)

As usual, it’s not always the ones you think did it, who did it. But for a book about dead cats, it gets really quite exciting.

What Manor of Murder?

At Monday’s event there was a hinted suggestion that maybe you can’t have crime for children. I didn’t exclaim ‘what rot!’ but they were wrong. You can, and you do, have crime novels for young readers. As with other books, some adult themes will have been missed out, but dead bodies are not necessarily one of them. Children can cope just fine.

I didn’t mention that I was reading a young crime book at that very moment, or that the young detectives actually had a fight with the policeman about being allowed to draw the chalk line round the body. I have to add here that Christopher William Hill’s Bleakley Brothers mystery, What Manor of Murder? is perhaps a little unrealistic. It’s set in the 1930s (I think) and quite posh in a modern, fake sort of way.

Christopher William Hill, What Manor of Murder?

Twins Eustace and Horatio Bleakley are on their way to spend Michaelmas with their aunt and uncle at Bleakley Manor, in the company of a Poor Unfortunate, aka an orphan by the name of Master Oliver Davenport, and their cousin Loveday. Before long there are two corpses that have to be accommodated – quite literally – and the mystery of their demise needs to be solved. Who can they trust?

Very few tears are shed over the dead people, who weren’t terribly popular anyway. This is probably rather unlikely, even in these wealthy circumstances. And the boys speak a somewhat exaggerated English, the way writers nowadays [might] believe posh people once spoke. But it’s quite fun.

(I just hope the boys grew up into decent men, because if not, I’ve just gone off the whole trend of this kind of thing. It’s only charming up to a point.)

Reaching their destinations

Rachel Ward’s back where I first met her, in Edinburgh, nearly ten years on. She has left behind her ‘hideously dark’ YA novels, and is enjoying cosy, humorous crime for adults. Rachel was doing an event at Blackwell’s last night, but first she met up for coffee with your witch, after a walk in Princes’ Street Gardens in the morning darkness, visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, and going to Waterstones for [leftover] wine with Ceris from Sandstone Press, ferrying two boxes of the stuff on the bus to the other bookshop in town. That’s dedication.

The event –  Examining the Crime Scene: Three Crime Writers in Conversation – was with fellow Sandstone Press authors Lesley Kelly and William McIntyre, and I can’t tell you how good it is to ‘meet’ two authors I didn’t know at all and discovering they are fun and interesting and that I might not be totally opposed to reading their books.

Lesley Kelly, William McIntyre, Ceris Jones and Rachel Ward

I will have to get used to events no longer run by Ann Landmann, who has left, but I dare say that will be possible. I was introduced to her replacement. I immediately forgot his name. Completely my fault. It’s my age. But I do have to say he had arranged things very nicely. Differently, but almost, well, better… Except for ‘my’ sofa, which I surreptitiously shoved a little.

Helen Grant arrived in the nick of time, having struggled with the travelling-to-Blackwell’s-for-an-event-and-trains-running-late problem. Chair Ceris allowed her authors to cheat, by showing them her questions in advance… And I didn’t get the memo, but it seems that white spots on navy or black is the way to dress. The size of the audience worried our host, because why were we all out on a Monday night, being so interested in crime?

William McIntyre

William, who seems to kill people in Linlithgow – which I find an admirable thing – believes that you should commit the crime before speaking to a lawyer. He borrows freely from his day job in the legal business and puts it all in his books, which are either nine, or four, depending on whether you count his self-published novels. It saves on research. And he says he only uses already publicly known facts.

Lesley Kelly

Lesley has a policeman father, but she wished she’d spoken before William, as she’s ‘not as interesting’. She used to be a stand-up comedian, and finds the two-year wait for laughs when writing a book rather long. You never know what readers want, but in her next book she kills a lot of civil servants.

Rachel Ward

And then we have Rachel, who based her detectives on ‘a life of food shopping.’ This is a fine thing, and you can listen to and observe people in the supermarket. Everyone shops for food. The humour in her dialogue wasn’t intentional, but when she sent her husband a chapter at a time to read, she liked hearing him laugh.

None of the three authors write about sex. Well, Rachel does, a little. There was a question as to whether you have to be a bit drunk when writing about sex.

Asked whether they plot in advance, William described how you need only know some, because as long as you can see into the near distance if you are driving in fog, you will be able to reach your destination. A little at a time, and that works for writing as well. Rachel has realised that ‘plot is quite important’ and Lesley plots because she doesn’t want to get lost.

Then there was some discussion about Tom Cruise, and I’ve forgotten how many of them want him in the film of their book. Potentially all three.

And then we got to the end. Helen and I both went up to ‘Mr Ward’ and chatted. I reckon Rachel will want to lock him up, but it was nice to meet him at last.

Spoke briefly to a book fan from Chile, as well as more formally meeting blogger Kelly, who apparently reads Bookwitch. Hello!!

Realised that Sandstone Press, and Ceris, are not from Perth. They are in Dingwall, and that is a very long way north. Very very.

Chatted some more with William and urged him to really let go in Linlithgow, without telling him the whole story. Tried to be professional, handing out business cards to him and Lesley. Just hope they’re not going to turn up outside my door..!

Then I grabbed Helen Grant, and carefully avoiding Fleshmarket Close, we walked to the station where we got our train home, and one of us almost told the guard he was too loud.

(Photos by Helen Grant)

Maskerade

It was the witches who decided for me. I knew I was going to choose a Terry Pratchett novel to buy, but which one? Several looked promising, but Granny Weatherwax at the opera sounded especially tempting.

Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

Maskerade is actually a crime novel, I discovered. This made it even more fun, and I was already needing the light Pratchett touch. It improved my week considerably.

Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg travel to the big city for some culture. Well, actually, they go there to see if they can persuade young witch Agnes Nitt, aka Perdita, to join them so they can be three witches together. Three is so much more fun. But Perdita wants to sing opera and might need quite a bit of persuading.

And then people start dropping dead, all over the opera. Even more than the normal operatic death toll, I mean.

You forget – well, I do, anyway – how good Terry was at observing everything in life and making pertinent comments about the ridiculousness of it all. Or is it easier to comment on life at the opera?

The main outcome for me was that I need another dose of Pratchett magic soon. Things went well for Granny and Nanny, but then you’d expect that. They are not the kind of witches who would permit things to not go well. I haven’t yet decided which of them is the cleverest. Most cunning. Whatever.

Findus and the Christmas Tomte

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomte

Will he come, or not? That is the question. In this much longer than usual tale about Findus and his Pettson, it isn’t so much whether the Christmas (here known as Yule) Tomte exists, but whether he will come to visit Findus.

Findus very much wants to meet the Yule Tomte, but Pettson has not had much experience of him, for obvious reasons. But he’s a kind cantankerous old man who loves his occasionally annoying beyond words cat Findus and he wants him to be happy.

The problem – of course – is that he knows that the Tomte doesn’t really exist. And that is my problem too. Will this story work on British children who know for a fact that Father Christmas is real? There is little room for doubt.

This book comes with an explanatory page about what Christmas in Sweden is like; describing the Tomte, who is much smaller than Father Christmas, and who comes to your door, asking if you’ve been good. But the doubt is out there. And if it’s OK to doubt the Yule Tomte, can we be sure about Father Christmas?

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomtest-2

It’s a conundrum. And conundrum is precisely what poor Pettson suffers from. He needs to organise a live talking Tomte for Findus to meet on Christmas Eve. (I’d have asked the neighbour.)

Anyway, this lovely old man sets about building an automated Tomte, and as we all know who have tried making presents in secret in front of the recipients, this is not easy.

But there is some kind of magic out there, don’t you think? Who was that in the woods? And the gifts that turned up?

We can guess at what will happen. We can’t have Pettson fail, nor little Findus disappointed.

It’s sweet. And everyone is happy, if not exactly sure of what happened there…

(Sven Nordqvist has drawn many interesting inventions and little machines. Plenty to study for anyone with a keen eye. And then there are the tiny creatures that only Findus can see.
The translation by Nathan Large is very good.)

Sven Nordqvist, Findus and the Christmas Tomte