Category Archives: Humour

The Dragonsitter: Trick or Treat?

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons are back. This time their lovely dragonsitter has Halloween trouble. Edward needs to borrow the dragons from his uncle, because he needs to win a fancy dress competition, to win a computer because their old computer is very old and won’t live much longer.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter: Trick or Treat?

And for once Uncle Morton agrees and is ‘helpful.’ Not that the man ever is entirely helpful, as he still thinks of his yetis and stuff. But there is romance and ingenuity and plenty of mishaps, just as you have come to expect from a Dragonsitter story.

Every time I begin a new one I can’t see how Josh can milk this dragons and mishaps thing any further, and every time I am proven wrong. There is always something you can do with dragons. This time it’s mainly young Arthur, and he needs to poo. But will he?

Not Arthur. He really can keep it in.

But it’s quite amusing what happens as we wait for the poo.

(Garry Parsons really knows how to draw dragons.)

Space Team

This is Galaxy Quest as though it had been written by one of ‘my’ many crime writing Irish boys; Eoin, John, Declan. Except it wasn’t them, but their crazy cousin from across the water, Barry J Hutchison. Barry has been tinkering with some adult writing for a while, and he is under the impression that adding a J to his name will mean his littlest fans won’t accidentally find themselves in space with a ‘cannibal’ who swears a lot.

Space Team is very funny, and not too sweary, as there is some kind of translation system set up between the different species of aliens which not only translates but cleans up the worst four-letter words. Just as well, since that lone J is not going to fool anyone. Us fans can tell it’s Barry.

I had a lot of fun reading this. Galaxy Quest, Star Trek, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Take your pick. There are bits of everything in here, and you find you don’t mind too much that Earth is no more and neither are we. Cal Carver survives, and what an ambassador for humankind he is! Teaming up with a group of criminally minded aliens, it becomes his job to save the universe. Or some such thing.

Barry J Hutchison, Space Team

Setting off on a junky spaceship, the team have a task, at which they must succeed. Or die. The question is, do they have the right skills? Are we in safe hands? Actually, it doesn’t matter, since we are all dead. At least I think we are.

The lesson here is that it’s good to be cheerful and to try and do your best, for the team and for the universe. There are a lot of bad aliens out there. This is hardboiled space humour at its best.

Saga’s saga

Never underestimate the entertainment value of history, and especially not the history all around you, where you live. I hinted earlier at having read the manuscript of a children’s book, written by a friend. That sort of thing can be quite awkward, as they could turn out to have written something really appalling. But I felt safe with Ingrid (Magnusson Rading) because not only is she both interesting and intelligent, but she had already written a gorgeous coffee table book about our shared summer paradise. So I knew she could write.

And unlike the young witch who used to imagine herself writing a Famous Five type book set in Haverdal, because there were so many intriguing settings all over the place, where villains could roam and all that, Ingrid not only stopped dreaming and set to work, but she chose a much superior format; a quiet fantasy adventure set in today’s Haverdal with time travelling to the past, using much of the research she did for her other book.

Jättastuans hemlighet – as it is currently called – is about a girl called Saga, who just might be Ingrid’s as yet unborn granddaughter. Saga’s gran bears a suspicious resemblance to someone I know, as does her grandfather and the cottage where she’s come to stay for a week. Jättastuan is a sort of cave near the beach, and Saga’s gran shares a secret with her on that first day.


And before you know it, Saga has been transported to the 17th century, where life was pretty hard. Instead of your normal time travel, Saga actually becomes Ellika, a girl who lived back then, and we see the family’s struggle to survive bad winters and failing crops. Learning about history like this brings it to life and makes it relevant in a way that pure facts never do.

There is time travel in the opposite direction too, with some hilarious descriptions of life today, as observed by someone from five hundred years ago. And when the reader has loved, and suffered with, Ellika’s family, we meet some much more recent historical characters from about a hundred years ago, set in and around the quarry that covers much of the area. So that’s more people to love and identify with, and more facts that come alive.

I think any middle grade reader would love this book. I’d have liked it when I was ten. I certainly enjoyed it now. And I wouldn’t mind more of the same (I believe Ingrid has ideas for another period or two from the past). If children still learn about their local area for history at school, Jättastuans hemlighet [The Secret of Jättastuan] would be a fantastic resource for teachers. And what could be better, education and fun all in one go?

Very local children would also enjoy knowing exactly where Saga goes, as I did. It’s an added bonus, but not essential. But as has been said recently, we like to find ourselves in books, and this will firmly place Haverdal children in literature.

Lockwood – The Creeping Shadow

I begin to see the pattern now. Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood is going somewhere, rather than each individual book being an adventure on its own. And I don’t know how he’s going to do it, but I wonder if I can guess a little at what must happen. Who the bad guys are, and I don’t mean just the dead bad guys who upset the balance of normal life.

In this fourth instalment of the ghost hunting series, you sense that there might be a bigger picture, some plan as yet only hinted at. And that’s exciting.

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood - The Creeping Shadow

To start with we have a typical Lockwood beginning, with Lucy out fighting some bad and sad ghost which is being a nuisance, along with her trusted helpers. Except, it’s not as usual at all. (It reminded me of the NCIS season four opening episode, if you want to know. It did, even if you don’t, actually.)

Lucy and the others have plenty of individual ghost hunting adventures in The Creeping Shadow. More than in the past, I believe, and the reader sits there wondering if ‘this one’ will be the biggie. The one that determines how things will end. Or it could be the next one. Plenty of bad ghosts in here.

And is everyone who they seem to be?

Listening to Jonathan in Gothenburg last week, I at least learned how old – or rather, quite how young – Lucy and Lockwood & Co are. It leaves you amazed at how they manage.

There is more tension between our two main characters, with some innocent-ish innuendo. Are they? Will they?

I really, really like these books, and in The Creeping Shadow there is more depth, and I am wanting the fifth and final (?) book soon. To be proven right, obviously. That’s all…

If you’ve not started yet, do so before it’s too late. Before they get you. Ghost-touch is no joke.

(And it’s about time Lucy made it onto the cover of the book.)

‘Don’t show your ghosts too soon’

Jonathan Stroud had been in Gothenburg before. 11 years ago, he reckoned, which is true, as that’s when we met him the first time. Then he had his Bartimaeus trilogy to talk about, and now it’s Lockwood.

On Thursday morning Jonathan did a short event with his publisher, and he only had to warn her once that she must be careful with spoilers. I’m glad I was already past that bit, so it didn’t upset me. I’ve been reading the 4th Lockwood all week (and the reason I’m not done yet is not because I’m slow, but simply that there hasn’t been enough time in the week) and it has been just the right background for a bookish few days at the Gothenburg book fair.

Jonathan feels there’s a bit of Pippi Longstocking about Lockwood. And needless to say he wants to be him. (So it was interesting to hear him tell Lotta Olsson on Friday that when he tried to use Lockwood as narrator in book two, he gave up as he didn’t want Lockwood’s interior monologue.)

Everyone is impressed by his extensive research (this is fiction, folks!) into ghosts and the weapons he gives his characters in their fight against the ghosts. Poltergeists are – sort of – real, but most of the rest he obviously made up.

Mats Strandberg, Lotta Olsson and Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood began when Jonathan wrote a short introduction, featuring a boy and a girl outside a door, and he wanted to find out who they were and what they were about to do. Lockwood and Lucy and George emerged from that short opening. The reason he uses – an alternative – London as the setting for a fantasy is because it’s more realistic and exciting in a real place. He doesn’t know much, but builds things up slowly.

The agencies in the books are growing increasingly corrupt, so he made the ghost hunters young because they are more open than adults. Jonathan compared the work the young agents do on a nightly basis with our own everyday tasks that we just have to do, whether we want to or not. He feels that by implying things and being sparing with details, you have a more powerful story.

In his event with Lotta Olsson, he and scary author Mats Strandberg discussed the difference between horror and terror. It could be that horror is more for children, while terror works better for adults. Mats, who has been inspired by Harry Potter [the films…] described his new book as being a bit like The Walking Dead, set on the ferry to Finland. (Which sounds pretty terrifying, if you ask me.) And apparently in his next book Mats is even scaring himself.

Jonathan believes in suspense, which is why he doesn’t want to show his ghosts too soon. You will be more frightened by not knowing what’s coming. There’s the bump in the night, versus machine guns. Mats said that in terror it is generally the underdog who fares best. Asked by Lotta how the easy access to violent [real] videos for even quite small children will affect future writing, Mats hopes that empathy can save the world.

Freedom to Think is a campaign Jonathan is involved in, which wants to give our far too busy children some time to themselves, when they can simply sit and do nothing; dream up new ideas and maybe learn the skills to be an author or to do other creative things. Not to be ferried round by parents to ever more activities.

Lotta wondered if Lucy was meant to be the main character in Lockwood, and Jonathan felt that the fact she is flawed, brave, and has anxieties, makes her a useful and very suitable hero, and why he discovered that Lockwood was no good in that role. Finding your voice is the best thing.

Asked by someone in the audience for their favourite writers, Mats confessed to being a Stephen King fan, while Jonathan likes M R James and his ‘short and nasty’ stories.

Jonathan is currently writing the fifth and last Lockwood novel, which is nervous work. But he finds that the scary bits make the jokes better.

Sweet Pizza

This Guardian prize longlisted book is the kind of story where everything falls nicely into place as you read. I’m quite fond of that kind of development, so have to say I really loved G R Gemin’s Sweet Pizza. (I probably would enjoy the actual sweet pizza, too.)

G R Gemin, Sweet Pizza

Set in a small town (or is it a village?) in South Wales, with an Italian café at the centre of the plot, we meet teenager Joe who loves being Italian. His poor mother not so much, as she’s saddled with working in their slowly failing family eatery. Joe just wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

His Nonno is frail and becomes ill, but manages to share some of his and the family’s past with Joe, and this only confirms Joe’s wishes to make something of the café.

And then his glamorous – Italian – cousin Mimi shows up, turning everything on its head. All the males are besotted, and nothing is the same again. At least Joe makes something out of this, by studying Italian cookbooks and trying out the language, while also attempting to keep all his rivals away.

With Mimi’s help he slowly comes up with a plan for what he wants to do, for the café, for his his mum, for the village and everyone in it. It becomes a bit of a shared quest, which is good for the little community.

This is all slightly crazy, but also quite sensible and something you wish more people would do in more places. There’s a lot of quiet humour and lots of love in this book. (I do love Italians.)

And the sweet pizza doesn’t sound bad.

The Makar and the First Minister

In the end it was just me and Shappi Khorsandi’s handbag. Fantastic handbag, actually, and I felt sort of honour bound to guard it while it was sitting there all alone. Now, if you knew me, you’d realise how odd this was. It was mere minutes after I had spectacularly missed taking photographs of Shappi. Twice. Because I didn’t recognise her well enough. And now I know what her handbag looks like.

Jackie Kay and Nicola Sturgeon

This was probably due to the excitement ‘backstage’ after the photo session with Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Kay. We’d waited, the way you do. And then it happened so fast, the way it tends to with people who have security staff and lots of commitments, but not so many that a First Minister can’t interview a poet at a book festival. They were nicely colour coordinated, the two of them. And it’s a sign of popularity for a politician when she is addressed by her first name.

So I missed Shappi’s photo call, coming immediately after this. Then I missed my unobtrusive photos of Shappi as she was being given the Chris Close treatment. And then everyone left, except for the handbag.

Prior to this I had skipped a book signing with Simon Callow. I decided I already had enough pictures of him, so went and sat in the yurt reading and eating my lunch. Only minutes later he joined me on that bench. Admittedly with an interviewer, but still. You can’t escape the great and the good. Luckily for Simon I hadn’t helped myself to the grapes in the fruit bowl as had been my intention, so he was able to polish them off as he talked.

Zaffar Kunial

Previously out on the grass, I had come across poet Zaffar Kunial seemingly doing an impromptu session with a large group of people. Maybe these things just happen as fans encounter someone they admire…

Holly Sterling

Carol Ann Duffy

Gillian Clarke

Then it was back and forth for me, catching children’s illustrators in the children’s bookshop and the more grown-up poets in the signing tent. Holly Sterling had a line of eager children after her event, and staying with the Christmas theme, so did Carol Ann Duffy across the square, along with her fellow Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. After them Jackie Kay signed, without Nicola Sturgeon. And I finally caught up with Shappi!

Jackie Kay

Shappi Khorsandi

Fiona Bird

Found Fiona Bird signing her nature book mid-afternoon, and she has such an appropriate name for the kind of books she writes! I went hunting for Kathryn Evans and Michael Grant, who had both been hung along the boardwalks by Chris Close. Had to try Kathryn several times, to see if the light would improve.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

Michael Grant by Chris Close

And there were no photos, but I glimpsed Kate Leiper, and spoke to both Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.

Tried to use my afternoon sensibly, so checked out various books in the bookshops. That didn’t mean I actually did sensible thinking, looking up ‘un-known’ names or anything. If I had I wouldn’t have been so surprised later.