Category Archives: Humour

A Chase in Time

I say! I loved this new book by Sally Nicholls from the moment I started to read it. By the time I got to the end, I loved it even more. (Even if that end came a little quicker than it absolutely needed to. You know.)

It’s time travel through a mirror, which might, or might not, have a witchy past. I’d like to think it does.

Sally Nicholls, A Chase in Time

Alex and Ruby Pilgrim fall through this bewitched mirror into 1912, right into the middle of a romantic wedding between two Pilgrim ancestors, and a mystery in the shape of a lost valuable antique. It’s a little bit Albert Campion for children, if that’s not being too bold.

Golly.

Between the beginning and the end we meet a ghastly valet by the name of Giles. He is quite dreadful, and not a little sneaky. As Ruby says, he might escape off to Sweden if you take your eyes off him.

(Gosh. I’m exceedingly pleased with Giles.)

Filled with humour and so exciting that you just don’t want the book to end. But I do like the words on the back that promises more books in this ‘fast-paced time-slip adventure series.’

The illustrations by Brett Helquist are just right, adding to the sense of perfection.

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More handsome sitting down

Those were Michael Morpurgo’s words, but we would have loved him whatever he did. He decided he was most comfortable sitting down. His [event]chair, Alex Nye, grew so comfortable that she re-titled Michael’s book which he’d come to talk about, making it In the Mouth of the Lion, until Michael mildly said ‘I thought it was the Wolf..?’

You don’t get much past Michael Morpurgo. He must be a dream to ‘chair’ because he knows quite well what he’s going to be doing and he will go ahead and do it, no matter what. Never mind that he ‘mocked’ his illustrator for his Frenchness; you could tell there was much respect between the two of them, and he told us we must buy Barroux’s In the Line of Fire.

Michael Morpurgo, Alex Nye and Barroux

He began by reading to us, sitting down and being handsome, the first two chapters from In the Mouth of the Wolf. ‘They’re quite short. Don’t worry, it won’t be too boring.’ It wasn’t. And even those early chapters were enough to make us want to cry.

While Michael read, Barroux illustrated, showing us the views from [Michael’s uncle] Francis’s bedroom windows, saying he’s not a good illustrator. He prefers a bad drawing with a lot of emotion in it. Barroux also showed us his three different cover ideas for the book, explaining that it’s the publisher’s choice; not his.

When it was time for questions, the first was about Kensuke’s Kingdom. Michael was a little startled by this, but gave a long, considered answer, and then asked for the remaining questions to be about his new book. Because what authors need is to sell books, so they can have new socks, and J K Rowling has many many cupboards full of socks.

Barroux ‘hates fairies and unicorns’ because he can’t draw them, and he’s only recently learned to do dolphins. As Michael answered a question on freedom for his characters – who, of course, are not characters, but were real people – Barroux stealthily began to draw a dolphin. When discovered in the act, he was told that the whole entente cordiale was just then in danger.

Michael pointed out to his audience that in WWII, and for centuries before that, Britain was never occupied, while Europe was. In fact, not since William the Conqueror a thousand years ago… And we know where he came from.

Barroux

Asked about his passion for books, Michael said he’s more passionate about the reading of books. You should catch fire when reading, to reach those who never read. Currently he is working on several things; translating Le Petit Prince, putting words to The Snowman, and writing a new version of Gulliver’s Travels with Michael Foreman illustrating. He’s portraying Gulliver as a recent refugee, washing up somewhere new.

By then we’d overrun by at least five minutes, but Michael said he was going to sing for Barroux. There is a film being made of Waiting for Anya, and in it there is a song Michael likes very much. He sings it in the bath.

And ignoring his suggestion that we think of him in the bath – or not – or that he pretended the theatre’s doors would have to be locked to prevent us escaping, Michael stood up, still handsome, and he sang to us, and to Barroux.

It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful event, and to our book festival.

The Moomins of Moominvalley

Philip Ardagh

As we entered the Corner theatre at Sunday lunchtime, there was a creature sitting quietly in the corner (where else?) of the room. It was Philip Ardagh, pretending he wasn’t already there. Quite eerie.

Once Jane Sandell had introduced ‘the best’ author, big in Germany (I’ll say!), Philip asked us a question. I’m afraid I have forgotten which one, but we all raised our hands, and he commented on our ‘fine variety of armpits.’

The World of Moominvalley

It seems there is more to Tove Jansson and the Moomins than the mugs.

The young Philip liked going to the library. He also liked book tokens. In the library he discovered his first Moomin book, which was Comet in Moominland. (Snap.) Before long his collection of Moomin books had grown, later supplemented with some ‘nice to have, stolen property’ in the shape of a few early hardbacks, so battered and unwanted the library didn’t want to keep them.

(We had better mention that Philip obviously didn’t mean any of these admissions to criminal behaviour.)

Getting on to business, he showed us his own new book about the Moomins – The World of Moominvalley – with pages and pages of facts about every last little creature in Moominland. He’s done a lot of research, although he did also have the help of an assistant. And he’s been hanging out with Sophia Jansson…

The World of Moominvalley

Philip is Sniff. (At least he didn’t say Little My!) There was some pondering on how – when you are not wearing clothes – you can have a pocket watch. Also, what’s the difference between a Snork and a Moomin? (Snorks can change colour.) The Moomins have a different kind of ancestor to you and me; as their ancestors are still alive, coming out to live in their house when the rest of them hibernate.

Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote a couple of chapters for this book, as he’s a Moomin fan, too. Apparently, he is also married to Little My. In Philip’s words, Frank ‘is an extraordinary man, and so is his wife…’

The audience was quite a knowledgeable one, meeting Philip’s standards regarding all things Moomin. There was one hairy moment discussing ‘girly pink’ but it was almost OK.

Another author in the yurt had informed Philip that ‘you’re exhausting.’ Something to do with his Sheldon-like fascination for certain things, maybe?

I hardly snoozed at all. At one point the Photographer prodded me to make sure I was awake. And I was. Really. (It was the early start. Nothing to do with the Moomins. Or Philip Ardagh.)

Philip Ardagh

‘I’ve been sensational,’ he told us, when it was time to go.

(Photos Helen Giles)

Freedom to Read, Freedom to Write

Some events simply want to go on for longer. Or, failing that, to come back and continue. The SCBWI discussion on freedom to read and to write, with Lari Don, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein, was one such event. There was so much to talk about, and with three women with lots to say, an hour was not enough.

But that’s my only complaint! Very ably chaired by Elizabeth Frattaroli and Justin Davies, we all enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Despite feeling I know these three authors well, I had not stopped to consider what very different reading backgrounds they have, growing up in three countries well apart from each other.

Candy Gourlay

Candy grew up in Manila where she did have access to a school library, but there were no public libraries at all in the Philippines. She began alphabetically, but got stuck on B for Blyton, fascinated by the different world discovered in those books. But she never found any brown children in them, and deduced that maybe Filipinos weren’t allowed in books. There was one, The Five Chinese Brothers, which as an adult she has discovered to be very racist.

Elizabeth Wein

American Elizabeth spent her childhood in Jamaica, and therefore did have access to books about children of all colours. Her father recommended what to read, and she felt she had a good selection of books. Her favourite is A Little Princess, and her dream was to live in a cold climate. (I would say that Scotland is a dream come true.)

Lari Don

Lari was ‘not exotic’ at all, she said, growing up in Dufftown. And while her family and relatives lived in houses full of books, there were no Scottish books. She read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Narnia. Her favourite was Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones. There weren’t YA books in those days, and most of the books Lari read were about boys. Not about girls, and not set in Scotland.

Candy described coming to Britain, with all its wonderful libraries. And now they are being closed!! There were no publishers in the Philippines back then, but today there is a vibrant publishing scene. And there are some libraries. Her own problem is with rights, as US publishing rights include the Philippines, which makes the books too expensive. She has to negotiate a deal to make her own books affordable in her own country.

Reading from her new book, Bone Talk, Candy did so on her mobile phone. (She apologised.) After listening to her read the wild boar incident, I want to listen to Candy reading the whole book. It became something completely different when she read it.

Lari likes mixing different cultural ideas in her writing, but she’s now wary of cultural appropriation, and no longer feels sure she’s allowed to write about culture belonging to others, and definitely feels you can’t touch Maori or Aboriginal stories. You have to be sensitive.

Elizabeth spoke about the freedom she felt writing for Barrington Stoke. It’s not harder. You just write short, like a novella, and then there is the editing, which helps make these dyslexia friendly books easy to read. So for instance, in Firebird, they chose another spelling of Tsar – Czar – because the first one is easily confused with star. And even if you’re not dyslexic, short is always good.

For freedom to read, Lari suggested letting children choose what to read, or even not to read. It’s interesting to see how all three authors had so many thoughts and ideas on all this that they – almost – fought to speak.

When it was Elizabeth’s turn to read she chose three, very short pieces. First there was freedom in Code Name Verity, then some lines from her favourite Ursula le Guin, and finally the freedom on what to do with your hair and make-up in Firebird.

As for their own freedom, now that they are successful authors, there is a lot less of it. Elizabeth believes in discipline, being interested in what you write and to start small. Candy uses a forest app on her phone, where during 20 minutes a tree grows, and she is unable to access the phone for anything else. So she writes. And she doesn’t do homework for fans who write to her.

Lari loses herself in her own world. She then read to us the first bit from her Spellcheckers series, where Molly becomes a rabbit. Lari feels the best thing about being an author is to meet her characters. Elizabeth enjoys meeting readers and other writers, while Candy finds no one has heard of her…

There was barely time for questions from the audience, but they were all able to ask lots of questions during the book signing afterwards. It took time, but everyone left satisfied, and before the next event was ready to move in.

The bookfest should ask these authors back to continue where they left off.

Elizabeth Wein, Candy Gourlay and Lari Don

(Photos Helen Giles)

Intergalactic House Guests

Well, that was nice. Me and a Spiegeltent full of the right age Frank Cottrell Boyce fans, and they had read his books. They also own ‘more than one lightsaber’ between them.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank was very happy. Not only had someone just said he’s ‘quite tall’ – which was a first – but he had literally finished writing his latest book that morning. This meant he wasn’t ready to talk about it, but he did read us the first page and I’m already sold.

Instead he talked about Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, and I’m so glad he did. I want that book! Which is about to become a film from Dreamworks, with Frank writing the script. So he reckons he will have some influence over the result.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

First he told us about the Soviet space dogs, which is a bit of a coincidence as I’ve just been reading about them. He tried to fool us about poor Laika, saying she met aliens in space, but it’s kinder that way.

Reading my notes right now, I suspect this tale will be almost as tall as Frank’s was. Basically, this is about an alien, who ends up somewhere near Dumfries, where the only one not to see a cute dog – possibly wearing a kilt? – is a young boy. That’s where the lightsabers come in.

The dog/alien repairs the toy one until it becomes so real that it ‘could be really dangerous.’ ‘Smell that burning hair!’ he says as the children’s birthday party grows wilder.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

It seems that there is a decluttering scheme for making new space for new planets, and someone needs to make a case for Earth not being got rid of.

My notes now go to chicken, Haribo, and something about meat pies and Aigburth. I apologise. After this we moved on to Cosmic, the idea for which might have happened near Tesco in Formby. It had been lovely meeting Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon, and children sometimes have the most astounding growth spurts.

Frank has never had a pet. He said that his favourite child, and his favourite book, both know that they are. (Except he obviously doesn’t have favourites.) He’s from Liverpool, and he went to some lengths to avoid saying how old he is. The Empire Fights Back might be his favourite Star Wars film, unless that’s the wrong answer. He possibly likes Luke Skywalker the best. Or not.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Everyone should read a lot. Not only author hopefuls, but butchers and American presidents. Everyone.

As our farewell treat he read some more from Sputnik, about putting Hadrian’s wall back together again. Reverse dynamite. That kind of thing.

(Almost 59.)

My day 2 of the 2018 EIBF

Thank goodness for favourite publicists! They have a way of making a witch feel better. Just before leaving Charlotte Square on Tuesday afternoon I went to Lindsey Davis’s signing, and no slight intended for this amusing and successful crime writer, but I popped by to say hello to Kerry Hood. We chatted, she asked after Offspring – all these many years later! – and we sort of competed on who was the oldest and most confused of us.

We both won.

After discovering I had a problem with my book on the train to Edinburgh (it was too short. The book. Not the train), my day started with a woman on the bus who was not prepared for what you do on buses, which is pay, and to have your purse standing by to do it with. That cost me the photocall with Frank Cottrell Boyce. Oh well. I got to see him at his event.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Ate my Three-Men-in-a-Boat cheese sandwich watching Chris Close photograph a fairly reluctant author. And then it rained. I also discovered I had pockets, having spent the morning mourning the loss of them.

Louis de Bernières

After Frank’s event I battled the bad light in his signing tent, toing and froing between him and Louis de Bernières, while also trying not to miss Lindsey’s photocall. In the end I did that thing which works when waiting for the gasman, except instead of going to the bathroom, I popped back in to see Frank and also opened the door for a young man carrying 16 pints of milk, and there she was. Works – almost – every time!

Lindsey Davis

Bumped into Sally Gardner and we had a chat, and then I went over to the children’s bookshop to see if I could corner Alison Murray who was supposed to be there. While I waited I snapped Sibéal Pounder signing books, and chatted to Ann Landmann who had chaired her event, which sounded as if it had been great fun. I then proceeded to show my writer’s credentials to Ann by talking about the light across the square as having been badder. Worser. Or it was simply brighter where we were…

Sibéal Pounder

Alison Murray

Then it was time for Sally Gardner’s event with Sophie Cameron, where I encountered L J MacWhirter again. Instead of brandishing a prawn sandwich at her, we talked about hen parties and fangirl moments. Charlotte Square is good for the latter.

Sophie Cameron

Back out to photograph Sally’s gorgeous new hair in the bookshop. It’s a sort of cerise. Her hair, I mean.

Sally Gardner

That’s me back at the beginning, telling Kerry about Offspring and her saying I shouldn’t keep them waiting.

So I didn’t. Even if Son had mentioned I’d be better not arriving too early…

Guess who came for tea?

Guest no. 2

The advantage with having only two guests for Earl Grey and raspberry cake is that it leaves so many more people to ‘mention’ in conversation.

Although it appears that some people consider [fresh] raspberries far too healthy. (Not when accompanied by sugar and butter in vast quantities they aren’t.)

I wore my green spotted top, calculating that any excess in pattern would be out-done by what turned out to be a banana shirt. So I was right. Especially if you factor in the outsize – and I mean outsize – glasses. Banana-shirt’s companion for the afternoon was wearing a lovely, and normal, outfit.

Guest no. 1

The Resident IT Consultant found us so interesting that he hung around for quite some time, learning all manner of unsuitable things, and sharing some himself.

We talked about old dogs, learning to drive, cursed schools, Indian restaurants in Glasgow, unspeakable stuff in school science in the ‘olden’ days, stalking, coding, getting lost, Jamie Oliver. That sort of thing.

And, gosh, but I forgot all the rest. At my age it’s so easily done.

They stayed for a long time, and I have to say I liked that. It gave us so much time for exchanging facts. Next time I will bake potato chip cake, or something equally unhealthy. (Only joking. It will be broccoli.) And I might lock the door.

My guests also made a contribution to Swedish politics without batting an eyelid. Much appreciated.

But, oh my head! It’s so full of stuff that I can’t ever share.