Category Archives: Humour

McTavish on the Move

Meg Rosoff’s and the Peachey family’s dog McTavish is back. It’s time for a move in McTavish on the Move. (Well, I suppose the title gives it away.) I understand Meg has recent experience of moving house – and it’s been put to good use, making everything pretty realistic. Except possibly for the ease with which Ma and Pa Peachey sell and buy the houses involved in this move.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish on the Move

Pa seems to have had a personality makeover, which terrifies his family, but in the end his sunny disposition (hah) and general happiness make for a positive moving experience.

Although Betty isn’t keen, and McTavish notices. Trust him, though. He can work out what to do, and he does so with gusto. My own first days at new schools would have been vastly improved with the McTavish magic.

I believe this was the fourth – yes, it was – and last McTavish story. If it has to be goodbye, it’s a heart-warming and moving one. (Sorry.)

And one can always live in the hope that Pa’s personality reverts permanently to his more morose behaviour.

Keeping up with Findus

Yes, it can be hard keeping up with Findus. He’s a hyper-active cat who never stops. But Hawthorn Press are doing well with their publishing of Sven Nordqvist’s Findus and Pettson in translation by Nathan Large. This latest book is original 2019 vintage and just as enjoyable as the previous ones have been.

Sven Nordqvist, Keeping up with Findus

You have to feel a little sorry for Pettson. He’s old (-ish) and wants a quiet life, but with a cat like Findus, what can you do?

Well, you can refuse to ‘hop on both feet and bounce all the way to the house.’ But after that he gives in and gamely attempts Findus’s challenges. You can guess who wins, can’t you?

This is another sweet story, and the apple tree-climbing took me straight back to my childhood summer paradise. The nostalgia almost made me cry. And I must point out that my paradise had no apple tree in it. That’s how strong the Pettson and Findus magic is.

I hope children will never grow too old or too cool for this kind of book.

Bookwitch bites #146

Bookwitch hasn’t ‘bitten’ for a long time. But better late than never.

Danny Weston has a new book out, which he launched in Edinburgh on Friday. He had to do it without me, but I gather it went well enough despite this. It’s called Inchtinn, Island of Shadows. Danny had even baked Inchtinn cakes. I bet he ate most of them himself, or possibly his friend Philip Caveney helped with the eating. (I won’t post that picture here. It is too dreadful.)

Danny Weston, Inchtinn

If it’s dreadful you’re after, you only need to look at this photo from when the witch met Vaseem Khan at Bloody Scotland last month. Vaseem looks just fine, but, well, that creature on the left… Sorry.

Vaseem Khan Twitter

That was the event when we discussed humour and how important it is, while not being taken seriously (!) by enough publishers. This is what Sarah Govett has found as well. After her dystopian trilogy a few years ago, she has tackled teen humour, much in the vein of Louise Rennison. If she’s to be believed – and I see no reason why not – teens are crying out for more funny books. India Smythe Stands Up is the book for you, fresh from Sarah’s keyboard.

Sarah Govett, India Smythe Stands Up

It’s important to keep track of children’s books. Even the Resident IT Consultant seems to feel this. I was a little surprised to find his companion in the holiday reading sofa, but who am I to say anything?

Daniel Hahn, Children's Literature

And, I knew this news was coming, but it’s still good to have it confirmed. There is another book from Meg Rosoff. It’s old YA, or some such thing. And not very long, apparently. We will have to wait until next summer, but the witch who waits for something good… (The Great Godden, since you ask.)

Meg Rosoff book news

A Shot in the Dark

How quickly time passes! Lynne Truss set her crime novel – featuring the best of Brighton’s landmarks – in 1957, making it somewhat historical and retro. But my mind boggles as I realise that I first set foot in Brighton a mere twenty years later, and moved away ten years later still. That almost makes me retro as well.

Lynne Truss, A Shot in the Dark

It’s amusing to find the streets and squares of Brighton in the names of the characters; Old Steine, Brunswick Square, and little Twitten, not forgetting Groynes, Palmeira and Adelaide.

Inspector Steine is an idiot. Sergeant Brunswick so-so, while young Constable Twitten doesn’t miss much, unless it’s social cues. What I don’t know is how long it would have taken me to know who the villain was, has Lynne not actually talked about that at her Bloody Scotland event. Was it very obvious, or just a bit obvious?

Whatever. It’s an entertaining story, poking fun at old-style crimes and old-style policemen, with a dash of Brighton Rock thrown in.

After the Bloody Scotland ‘cosy’ discussion about swearing and authenticity I couldn’t relax, but had to look for discrepancies. I always do this. There was much swearing for a ‘no-swearing’ book. And it’s never easy knowing what life was like around the time you were born. To some extent I’d say Brighton in 1977 wasn’t much different, albeit perhaps with a few more language schools.

I went to my first panto in the Theatre Royal. It was slightly more lacking in bloodshed that time.

If you are nostalgic for times gone by, this is your book.

Bad Day at the Vulture Club

‘Man cannot live on dhansak alone.’ But they certainly try, those Parsees at the Vulture Club.

Vaseem Khan, Bad day at the Vulture Club

It’s time for Chopra and his baby elephant Ganesh to solve another murder when a wealthy and respected Parsee is found dead, in the place where the dead are put to be eaten by vultures. Could it have been an accident?

As usual Chopra does his best in the face of lack of belief in this ‘murder’ and meanwhile his partner Rangwalla is investigating a collapsed building. And Poppy, Mrs Chopra, has a new cause, Poo2Loo, much to Chopra’s embarrassment.

This latest crime novel by Vaseem Khan looks at some of the richest people in Mumbai, and also how some of the poorest people live, both in regard to their homes and jobs, as well as their [lack of] toilets. We get to know more about India today, with the help of fictional crime and a good dose of humour. Singing turds, anyone?

At times Chopra seems more literal than ever, even going so far as to point out to Poppy that ‘I don’t have a husband.’ And this time his mother-in-law actually has a point, and she’s starting to grow on me. Well, I suppose she is responsible for how the lovely Poppy turned out.

The crime turns round and round several times, and both the reader and Chopra think they know who did it, and they don’t, because they didn’t. And we don’t want it to have been one of the people we like.

But more than fairness in finding a murderer, we want a better and safer life for all Indians, at the mercy of crooks everywhere. This is neither cosy nor noir, but entertainment with humour, while educating us about that which we didn’t know or had forgotten about.

A twist on the cosy

And I’m afraid we all laughed at the memory of Catriona McPherson’s grandmother’s funeral. (But I’d say we were meant to.)

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Last night at the Golden Lion was one of the very best Bloody Scotland events I’ve known, and I’ve been to some good ones. As Vaseem Khan said, it was quality over quantity, referring to the fact that he and Catriona and Lynne Truss were competing with Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon down the road. But really, who’d choose those two over these three, so ably chaired by Laura Wilson, who’s just as fun and capable as I remembered from CrimeFest eleven years ago?

Right, so it was a discussion on cosy crime with three authors and a select audience, which contained, among others, Catriona’s parents. I liked her parents and wouldn’t mind borrowing them.

But was it really cosy crime we were dealing with? No, it was more whether you can kill kittens, and about writing with humour. Which, as far as I’m concerned is the best. Well, perhaps not the kitten-killing.

Apparently all cats are psychopaths.

It was actually a fairly animal-centred discussion, ably led by Baby Ganesh, Vaseem’s little elephant. While it was his detective Chopra’s wife’s involvement with where to deposit your poo that got us onto this, it was Catriona’s question whether he never worried whether Ganesh might, well, deposit, something somewhere unsuitable as well, which took us straight to Blue Peter’s elephant poo memory. This made us laugh a lot.

(Here I have to insert an apology to Lynne. I am not at all sure I get my thats and whiches and anything else right. But that’s the way I am. I loved Eats Shoots and Leaves. I just didn’t learn anything.)

And let’s get the panda out of the way right now. Not allowed to say what Vaseem thinks about pandas. But he likes vultures. He gets mail from fans, warning him not to let anything bad happen to Ganesh. There is no great plan for his little elephant, since when he wrote the first book he didn’t expect to get published, or that there would be more books. Ganesh will obviously outlive Chopra.

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This makes dogs more suitable to your plots; they won’t live as long. But this thing with age is difficult. Apparently Catriona and her Dandy were the same age in 2002 when they started out, but now Dandy is four years younger than her.

Catriona wanted to write her period crime as though it was written back then, and the greatest praise she’s had was the comment that it was just like a novel you might encounter in a wet Norfolk cottage (and not in a good way). Or, Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym. Her problem is that the action happens in the shadow of WWI, while the reader knows what is to come.

Lynne’s novels are set in Brighton in 1957. She wanted to go back to a time when her parents were young, and while it’s easy enough to know what was in the cinema at the time, it’s harder to get people to act the way they did. Do you let them swear, or not? The criminals can’t be seen to swear, even if they would have.

And you certainly didn’t swear in the wet Norfolk cottage.

Murder on the other hand is fine. Even of kittens.

What all three authors were annoyed by is that cosy crime is seen as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and as not proper books, and you can’t be funny. This snobbery is so unfounded.

Police in Brighton were notoriously corrupt, and Lynne wanted to write about the ‘relentless idiocy’ of her stupid policemen. She quite enjoys the sexism from the 1950s, meaning the police can’t even imagine that a working class woman could be the villain. But Lynne doesn’t set out to scare people.

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This panel almost fought to chat to each other, and to ask questions, and it was all interesting and fun, and if I ever get one of those ‘who would you invite to dinner?’ opportunities, Catriona, Lynne and Vaseem will be the ones, along with Laura. And hopefully Catriona’s parents. Maybe their friends whom I eavesdropped on outside on the pavement afterwards.

Before that afterwards, there was the signing. I already had books by Vaseem and Catriona, but hurriedly bought Lynne’s book as well. It was that kind of event. Vaseem insisted on taking a selfie with me, even after looking dubiously at my [conventional] camera, realising that no selfies would be coming from that. He had a mobile to hand, and now I’m afraid the internet will explode once that goes on Twitter.

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Catriona remembered the Witch, even after so many months, after just the one review. I might have said I now need extra time in my life to be able to read all her books, but all she could offer was more books… Like the fourth in her trilogy. And she couldn’t speak to me until she’d written down the ‘just arrived’ idea for her new book title on the back of the Bloody Scotland programme.

And Lynne, well, her book on the pitfalls on grammar and punctuation has put her forever in my, erm, good books. It’s like talking to royalty. Her next book will be the impressively titled Murder by Milk Bottle.

Talking about the future, Vaseem clearly has too much time on his hands, as Chopra and Ganesh will be joined by a new series, about a female Indian detective in the 1950s.

I really will need that extra time.

Hey, Sherlock!

Reading the third Garvie Smith mystery, I again blessed Simon Mason for having written these books. They fill you with a happy glow as you enjoy both the humour and the crime mystery. As I may have said before, in real life 16-year-old Garvie would [probably] be horrendous, but in print he’s everything you want in a hero; intelligent, handsome, kind, good at maths, understands his fellow human beings and knows instinctively what they might have done and why. He’s also rude and smokes and drinks and sleeps all day. And he’s about as good at building fences as he was attending school in the run-up to his GCSEs.

Simon Mason, Hey, Sherlock!

This time we have a disappeared girl; a maths genius (or close) and someone who is also a nightmare to her mother, just like Garvie is to his. Can he find Amy, or is she already dead?

I love the way Garvie’s useless friends are so very useful when it comes to what he needs, be it knowledge about vans, or tricks for breaking into places. Or getting out of them again, in a hurry. His contacts are about as good for fact-finding as those the police have.

What I like so much is that Garvie understands human nature, in a way the adults around him don’t. And he’s kind. He really is.

As long as he can find a different job from fence building to be useless at, I would love to meet up with Garvie again.