Category Archives: Humour

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?

The Swallows’ Flight

I need to offer up even more and bigger thanks to Hilary McKay and her writing. It seemed impossible that there could be a book as great as, or greater than, The Skylarks’ War, but with The Swallows’ Flight I would say Hilary has done the impossible.

Thank you from the bottom of my tear-drenched hankie.

This time it’s about the children born between the two wars, whose turn it is to fight when WWII begins. Although, as with Skylarks, we learn most of what we need to know in the twenty years before. The war is ‘skirted past’ reasonably briefly. Unlike its predecessor, Swallows features not only a group of children in England, but we are introduced to two German boys and their families in Berlin.

And it works. We get to know Hans and Erik as human beings, and we see the changes to life in Germany alongside the boys. We find out what they want to do with their lives until developments mean they end up doing totally different things; in this case the boys become pilots in the Luftwaffe.

At ‘home’ we meet the generation after Clarry, Peter and Rupert from Skylarks. Peter and Vanessa have six children, and Clarry is godmother both to her niece Kate and to her best friend Violet’s daughter Ruby. We all need a Clarry godmother!

While we wait for the war that lumbers towards the families, we mostly learn about normal stuff like sibling rivalry, being bullied at school or being unwell and almost forgotten about by others. It is all this that forms the characters of these children, soon to be adults. Even Clarry’s and Peter’s rather unsatisfactory father has a role to play. There are cats, including a very random one, and there is a – smelly – dog.

There is much over the years to be sad about, but also many small and humorous incidents. I won’t spoil your reading.

My tears were partly over the inevitable deaths, but more for all those moments that simply make you cry. They rather bunch up towards the end of the story. There is much humanity here, and Hilary’s touch is lighter than ever.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I badly need my towel. Coming face-to-face with two mice in such a short time can take it out of a witch. One [dead] mouse the day I finished reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the next one – highly alive – on the eve publication day, which is today.

To celebrate the fact that it’s been 42 years since Douglas Adams iconic guide was first published, it’s been reissued, filled to the brim with illustrations by Chris Riddell. Except I have to admit to having been so taken with reading this book again, that I barely had time to look at the pictures of Zaphod and Marvin and the rest.

This is surely testament to the book’s charm; that rereading it after decades it’s almost as if it was new, except that I remember most of the witty quotes as though it was yesterday. Basically, dear reader, this book is as much fun as it ever was. Possibly more.

I’m hoping that 42 years on there will be countless new readers discovering this story about hitching lifts through space. For me, it’s almost impossible to decide whether I like Arthur Dent or Marvin the most. It used to be Marvin, but Arthur is so very, well, British. ‘Why, do you think it’s the sort of thing you’re likely to say?’

And I’m almost getting the Ford Prefect name thing now. It was a completely meaningless joke four decades ago. As it was to Ford Prefect himself.

Hitchhiking again

I’m not too proud to republish an old post. It’s saying exactly what I wanted to say and I’m too lazy to write it again. It’s from October 2009. Doesn’t time fly?

“Who needs it? The history. The background to one of the funniest ideas in – well, in what? – literature? Broadcasting? Television? Film?

I started at the wrong end, if there is one. I read the books first. Though, come to think of it, since the radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a lot better than the books, it would have been more disappointing to go the other way. OK, maybe I did it the right way. In fact, I have a feeling I may even have watched the television series before getting to the radio. It was on just as I met the Resident IT Consultant, and I recall us watching it in the early days.

I looked on in fascination as the trilogy grew to five books. That’s British humour for you. It’s why I like my adoptive country so much. It has stuff like H2G2.

Fast forward to the unfashionable end of the last century, when I came across the radio series on audio cassette in the mobile library, and borrowed it for Son. I thought he might like it. He did. It wasn’t exactly news at the time. Nobody much – other than nerds – talked about it, so Son was educated in something vaguely historical and dated. Who cared, as long as he laughed and learnt a few new good quotes. It turned out useful, too. How his leaders at Pilots at the local church could even begin to think that children his age would be able to answer any questions on this subject in their fun quiz, is beyond me. Old-fashioned Son could, but his friends had never heard of it. Very handy, too, when it came to dressing up for World Book Day at school. We just needed to send Son to school in his dressing gown, holding a ‘book’ which said Don’t Panic.

From then on I’d say that H2G2 woke up again. More stuff on the radio, a film, and now the sixth book, written by Eoin Colfer. He is not Douglas Adams, but since we can’t have him, Eoin is a good second. I hope.

Anyway, that history. Who needs to know? I mean, who doesn’t already know about it? There was a long description/history thing in the Guardian a week ago, and I just wondered what the point was. As a fan, I do like reading about what I like, but there was something not quite right about this article. And I don’t just mean the fact that facts were wrong. Ford and Arthur did not hitch a ride with Zaphod when Earth was demolished.

The point of the new book is surely to educate a new generation of readers, and anybody old who happened to miss it the first time?”

Skulduggery Pleasant – Apocalypse Kings

This made me quite happy. It’s the World Book Day offering from Derek Landy; a short story within the world of Skulduggery Pleasant. Judging by Valkyrie Cain, it was set a few years ago. But that’s just fine. The world was a better place then. And he has dedicated the book – which I read as an ebook – to his pets, dead and alive, and among them Lorelai and Rory. Although he points out there are no pets in the story. Just as well.

We meet Adedayo, who until he was fourteen had no idea he was magic. And then he discovered a lot more than he might have bargained for. Like, he had to save the world.

But at least he also gets to meet Valkyrie and Skulduggery. Plus some fairly unsavoury characters who just want to end the world. Thanks to his soon to be dead Nigerian grandmother he has learned a few useful things, although if he spoke Yoruba it would have helped a great deal. He’d have known what she was trying to tell him, for one thing.

Apart from all this, Apocalypse Kings is a pretty standard school story, with the added characters he meets so suddenly, not to mention unwisely.

By standard, I mean that it is fun. As much fun as you can expect for 75p, or however much I paid.