Category Archives: Humour

The Adventures of Alfie Onion

I loved this! My first (yeah, sorry about that) Vivian French book. Not my last.

Vivian French, Alfie Onion

Alfie Onion is an adorable boy with a somewhat misguided but romantic mother, and a lazy slightly older brother, Magnifico Onion, the seventh son of a seventh son. He is supposed to make his mother proud.

Unfortunately he likes his food too much and is too scared to make a truly good hero. (And we all know who’s the hero in this book.)

It’s a case of going to find the princess and to kiss her and become tremendously rich. And happy. Magnifico can’t go on his own, so Alfie has to go with him. There are ogres. And trolls, and a talking horse and a couple of mice and some magpies, and Alfie’s loyal dog.

Even when you know who has to kiss whom, this is fun and exciting. Great stuff. And how to get round the seventh son nonsense.

Cute and funny illustrations by Marta Kissi.

Findus goes Fishing

No sooner has Sven Nordqvist got his 70th birthday out of the way, but he has a new book out in English.

Sven Nordqvist, Findus goes Fishing

Findus goes Fishing is darker than many other Findus books. Pettson is depressed. He sits and stares into space and he sighs and he gets angry with Findus (who – it has to be said – is behaving like a rather hyper toddler).

Finally Findus realises this is not something he can sort of jumpstart with some fooling around. He suggests going fishing. Pettson doesn’t want to fish.

In the end it takes some trickery from Findus before Pettson gives in. And what do you know? Just getting out makes him feel better. Fishing makes him feel better still. He almost smiles at the end. (And this is Pettson. He doesn’t do smiling.)

Sven Nordqvist, Findus goes Fishing

This just shows you two things; Findus is a very kind cat (deep down), and getting out of the house cheers you up.

Sometimes I wonder if these books are for children at all. It is quiet humour and lessons in living for us old ones. And it is art. That landscape they walk through to go fishing is stark and dark (and I really don’t like it…), but it is so true. A person could study the details for hours.

Sven Nordqvist, Findus goes Fishing

Get it for yourself! Never mind the little ones.

Sven Nordqvist is 70 today

And so is ‘his’ King. But never mind that little coincidence.

Do you remember Sven Nordqvist? Creator of Pettson and Findus, the cranky old man with the cunning – but kind – cat. I’m a bit surprised he is that old, to be honest, but like many Swedes he has aged well.

I like Pettson. And, all right, I like Findus, too. And Sven has a past in my old home town, so I feel sort of at home with him as well, and that crankiness is something I can sympathise with.

His famous characters first appeared 33 years ago, well before I required any picture books with lots of words for any Offspring, and had we not been given a copy by someone who knew what we were missing, we might never have been introduced. After all, who does not like pancake cake? (And when I make it, if I do, I don’t have to deal with hens and other complications first.)

Sven Nordqvist, photo by Leif R Jansson, for TT

Somewhat surprisingly he lives in a flat in the middle of Stockholm. You’d think he’d be hiding out in the wilderness, behind those clucking hens and other creatures.

And it seems that while Sven likes praise as much as the next illustrator of opinionated cats, he gets so much of it from people like me (that’s old and keen bookish females), that it no longer registers. He prefers to hear it from young readers.

According to an article in Hallandsposten the other day, these days Sven mainly works on what pleases him; drawing for himself.

I suppose today he could always pop over to the Palace with some freshly made pancakes.

Stirling goings-on

The Bookbug Week‘s flagship event will this year take place only a mile or so away from Bookwitch Towers. Scottish Book Trust’s annual book week for young readers runs from May 16th for a week, kicking off at Bannockburn with a day of, I think, poetry and stuff.

Bookbug

The rest of the programme happens all over Scotland, and the theme this year is international. Songs and rhymes from around the world.

This tallies with what you find in the programme for Stirling’s own Off the Page where, surprisingly, they offer both a German Bookbug session, as well as a bilingual event or two.

You can also do colouring in and design your own coat of arms, along with attending a teddy bear’s picnic. At the other end of the age scale (or so I imagine) is a vintage reminiscence tea party, which sounds really very nice. Except I hope I am not old enough for that sort of thing yet.

Somewhere there are dragons.

In schools (they have all the luck!) you might find Chae Strathie, Janis Mackay, Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye, Ross MacKenzie and Mairi Hedderwick.

But despair not, Mairi Hedderwick is also doing a public event. Maybe even two. This ten-day long festival starts on May 6th, and other public children’s events offer Lari Don and Nick Sharratt.

Helen MacKinven, whom I met at Yay!YA+ last week is also doing an event. As are several of the big names in Scottish crime, such as Lin Anderson, Helen Fitzgerald, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay.

There are many more events and many more authors. And much upset on my part because I will not be going to any of these… The more attractive the event, the less convenient the date (for me).

Another Hamlet

Something, I forget what, made me remember the other Hamlet. I think of him every now and then, and I blogged about him once before:

‘Swedes have long admired the British for their wit. The English department at Gothenburg employed several such witty Englishmen to dazzle the Swedish students with their Englishness. They were usually called David something-or-other.

The short Hamlet was written by David Wright while he was still at school, if I remember correctly. He provided us students with copies of his admirably brief play, which was very funny, primarily because everything had to happen with such speed. I may still have it somewhere.’

I read through it again, and maybe it’s not the work of a genius. With added maturity I can see it’s more schoolboy wit, but still. It’s English schoolboy wit rather than Swedish. Not saying they are better. Just different.

The grown David Wright was amusing and entertaining too. I’d happily have gone to his lessons just for the fun of it.

At that time one of our set books was Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. For someone as witty as Tom Stoppard (I must have been collecting them at the time!), I seem to recall that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern struck me as more boring than expected. Perhaps it’s just me. I might have a Hamlet block somewhere.

2016 Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

I swear I didn’t enter Cumbernauld Theatre yesterday morning, uttering the words ‘do you know who I am?’ I merely wondered if they needed to know who I am. You know, similar question.

(I suppose I should be grateful I arrived at all. The Resident IT Consultant was to give me a lift. What he’d omitted to consider was the amount of diesel a pumpkin likes to have in order to go all the way to Cumbernauld. It did. It even got him to the nearest petrol station after, so he could drive home.)

It’s interesting how the meaning of the term YA keeps slipping and sliding. Yesterday I suspected that what it meant was that the books were by young adults, and not just for them. In my mind I categorised the authors present as the teenagers, the debutantes (I know), the old hands (those with three published books) and the grand ‘old’ lady (sorry..!). Kirkland Ciccone had done his best to find authors I’d never heard of before.

Scotia Books at Yay!YA

And when Googling Kelpies Prize winner Alex McCall it is well nigh impossible to find anything that doesn’t suggest he’s an older man who has a lady detective in Botswana, but no, it’s not that one. The other Alex (Nye) also has a prestigious award under her belt, the Royal Mail Award. And organiser Kirkland won the Catalyst prize. Elizabeth Wein has won a number of awards, including the very valuable Bookwitch second best book ever.

Code Name Verity

I’m glad that’s the novel Elizabeth chose to talk about in her session in the bar. Not just because it’s such a favourite, but because I’d not heard her in an event about Code Name Verity before. She read a bit, down in her ‘cave,’ and then she showed the children her silk map, and mentioned that one author who inspires her is Hilary McKay. (Such a wise choice!)

Elizabeth Wein

If you’re wondering why the others have not won prizes, it’s because Victoria Gemmell and Martin Stewart have only just got their first books out (Martin’s not actually officially out, even), and Estelle Maskame is only 18. Not that that should stop anyone.

Estelle Maskame

Estelle was in one of the other bars, where she read the first chapter of what I will probably always call DIMLY, when it should be DIMILY, Did I Mention I Love You? She’s one of these online wonders with millions of hits who has gone on to be published ‘properly.’ Estelle began writing her first book (it’s a trilogy) when she was 13… It’s apparently very popular, and I can sort of see that I’d have liked it when I was 14. And as for becoming a role model for pupils barely younger than herself, I can see how that works.

Martin Stewart

In the third bar was Martin Stewart, more or less stuffed in a fireplace, who also read from his book, Riverkeep. It’s based on the Glasgow Humane Society, which seems to be about fishing people out of the river Clyde; either dead or alive. Martin is a former teacher, who gave up teaching when he was offered a book contract on the basis of a short story he’d written.

Kirkland Ciccone

That was my afternoon in three bars. The morning was spent in the theatre itself where Kirkland introduced Alex Nye, before ‘exiting’ – by that I mean standing just behind the rows of seats – and allowing himself to be interviewed very loudly, drowning out poor Alex and making the audience laugh.

Alex did much the same talk as she did in Dunblane in November, and I think it’s a good one, which works well for a secondary school audience. This time her spooky sound effects worked fine and added a certain something to her ghostly readings. I especially like her 007 and M photograph from Glencoe.

Alex Nye

This ‘failed’ waitress who still hasn’t got the red sports car she craves, got lots of good questions from the children, so now we know she writes accompanied by Kate Bush, and that she admires Marcus Sedgwick (that rather explains the spookiness). Her next book about Mary Queen of Scots will be out in July.

Then Kirkland himself took over and basically did half an hour of stand-up comedy, that no author in their right mind would want to appear after. Luckily there was no one else after the exploding houses of Cumbernauld or Kirkie’s older brother the Tesco robber. He did mention Meg & Mog and Winnie the Pooh, but only to follow with Stephen King and some seriously bad book covers.

He wore his leopard jacket again, and teamed it with failed black hair. Apparently he had been aiming for blue.

Kirkland Ciccone, Victoria Gemmell, Alex McCall, Elizabeth Wein, Martin Stewart

Lunch was nice, with lots of things I’d have liked to eat but couldn’t. Luckily the others made up for this, and Alex Nye did some heroic work on the macaroons. Victoria Gemmell had handbag trouble and spent quite some time jamming an enormous pair of scissors into the zip. I’m not sure if that helped. Kirkie said she ought to give me a copy of her book, but unfortunately Follow Me sold so well that it was decided she shouldn’t. (I gave Victoria my card.)

If you are thinking I’ve not reported on either her or Alex ‘not-Botswana’ McCall, you are correct. Kirkie stashed them down in the changing rooms, and whereas they both returned reassuringly unchanged, I vowed last year not to go down there again. (And after hearing one of the ushers telling me and Alex Nye about their resident ghosts, I feel less inclined still. Alex, on the other hand, looked ready to come back to investigate.)

Alex McCall

I had a little look at not-Botswana Alex’s award winning book Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, as I’d understood it to be for much younger readers, but if that is the case, I have to consider myself younger. It looked quite promising. And I’d have loved to hear Alex speak. He still looked as young as he is (that makes sense, doesn’t it?), but seemed nice. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Kirkland Ciccone

There was a sort of book signing at the end. Some of the small venues overran, and some schools had had to leave to get back on time, but there was still a throng of fans in the queue. I decided I was in the way, so escaped into the car park where I was recognised as ‘the witch from last year’ before my newly fed transport arrived for the second time in one day.

Elizabeth Wein

The Calling

I enjoyed this book enormously. Philip Caveney’s new novel The Calling is an exciting and hilarious caper across Edinburgh, Philip’s new home city, and Manchester, his soon-to-be former home.

Philip Caveney, The Calling

It’s not often that I can recognise a pub from a short description of its exterior, but I had no trouble identifying the green tiled building that the main character Ed vaguely remembers, which is about the only thing he does recall. He seems to be suffering from amnesia, so has no idea who he is or how he ended up in Edinburgh, with no train ticket and no money. And life’s not made any easier when Ed finds himself awake at night, the only human in a city full of statues who have come to life for 24 hours.

The statues name the 13-year-old Ed, after Edinburgh, and the majority of them want to chop his head off to make sure he stays quiet.

This is fascinating stuff, and after meeting the characters who usually stand so silently all over Edinburgh, I’d quite like to walk round the city and say hello. (This could be a touristy sort of book, seducing young readers into wanting to look at the sights, whilst teaching them history.)

Anyway, some of the more sympathetic statues reckon Ed needs help and who better to assist than Sherlock Holmes? Sherlock is a crafty old – well, actually, fairly recent – statue, who’s got plenty of tricks up his deerstalker, and he and Ed start unravelling the mystery of the Softie who stayed awake.

At the risk of offending old Sir William, pardon, Walter Scott, I’d not heard of Peveril of the Peak as anything other than a Manchester pub. But we live and learn. With the help of James Clerk Maxwell, and a small terrier called Bobby, Ed and Sherlock engage in some sleuthing as well as a spot of portal hopping.

It’s a surprisingly likely story in the end. Except possibly for what goes on in Chorlton, but that’s Chorlton for you. You need to be more circumspect.

Elementary, my dears.

(Fledgling Press are onto something good here, I reckon. This is Philip’s fourth Edinburgh-based book, and I can see how attractive an idea this is, for local readers, as well as for visitors. And the Scotland-Manchester combo is one I find suits me.)