Category Archives: Humour

Coming of Age

Waiting for the two double-Cs to appear in the Bosco Theatre, I studied those cracks in the floor again. It’s not just the poor stiletto heel that needs protecting. You could chuck pens down there, even the whole notepad. Or why not your mobile phone? I mean, I know why not the phone, but it’d slip so easily. I held on to my pen and pad and put everything else away.

I was sure there’d be plenty of people, because Cat Clarke has lots of fans, meaning that even though Christoffer Carlsson might have begun the evening a relatively unknown foreigner, he’d win fans during the event. So, lots of teen girls and a few older girls like myself. And two grown men, one of whom was fellow author Jared Thomas.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

When the CCs and their chair Ann Landmann arrived, walking down those steps to sit underneath the glittering disco ball, I noticed that Christoffer carried a Fjällräven rucksack, blue with leather straps. Naturally.

Ann urged us to come closer, to get ready for the audience participation, saying the trapeze would be lowered later, and that perhaps they’d better lock the door so we couldn’t escape. Not a soul, apart from Jared, moved…

She also said there’d be a signing afterwards, in the signing Portakabin, the ‘white kind of box’ near the theatre. I’m glad she said it. I’d hate to be complaining about its, erm, lack of space.

Having forgotten the title of the event, Ann referred to Death & Murder, two of her favourite subjects, pointing out that Swedish Christoffer has a ‘real degree’ – to which Cat added, a PhD – in criminology. ‘A terrible over-achiever.’ And Cat is ‘not quite homegrown,’ having been born in Zambia, but Ann doesn’t think she has ‘a strange accent.’

So that Ann could shut up for ten minutes, she handed over to her guests, asking them to read. Cat said her book Girlhood is set in a boarding school (she loves them!), and she read from chapter five, about some sort of initiation of a new girl which, to be honest, is why I don’t want to go to boarding school. But I can see that it’s better to be wearing the Trump mask, as you don’t have to look at it.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer told us about Halmstad, asking if anyone has heard of Roxette, and described the darkness of Småland, where October is the Coldest Month is set. He read the first chapter where we meet Vega. Both books feature darkness, rain and cold, so not much difference between Scotland and Sweden.

An obsession with Mallory Towers made Cat set this book in a boarding school, and needing a mix of the best and the worst in life, she gave her heroine a dead twin. Christoffer hears voices, by which he meant he talks to his characters. He has to write fast to get it down on paper, and many ideas don’t work. Unlike other Swedish authors who set their books in Stockholm or Gothenburg, or even ‘mid-level cities’ such as Örebro, he chose the countryside close to where he grew up. He wanted to write about violence against women.

This wasn’t planned as a YA book, but he realised he was writing for himself at 17. And that way you can have a smaller book; one that fits in a pocket and can be read on the bus.

Cat feels it’s fun to explore teenage feelings, and said the new girl is a bit weird. She had an idea to begin with, but it changed, and she feels Girlhood is more honest than her other books. But she never did pretend to be a prospective parent at a boarding school, to find out more, and left this to a documentary about Gordonstoun.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer wrote his book during the summer, in Halmstad, where he now feels like an outsider, belonging neither there nor in Stockholm where he lives. A bit like Vega. His dad who never usually reads, has in fact read October is the Coldest Month, while his mum hasn’t, although this keen reader always reads all his books, at the expense of everything else. The title refers to the TS Eliot poem about April being the cruellest month. He set the story in October, because he needed Vega not to be going to school.

As for Cat, she had lots of titles for Girlhood, including one she might use for some other book. Regarding characters’ names, she has to like them, and they must type easily. Such as Harper in Girlhood, which unlike George is easy on the keyboard. She does find though that good names are running out. Even bad characters have to have good names.

I found that Christoffer used the word ‘sucks’ a lot. He needs to learn to be ‘crap at’ things in Britain. Anyway, he gets up early, to write from five am, until maybe eleven. He can edit anytime, but not write. Cat writes in chunks of 25 minutes, acording to the Pomodoro Technique, although she might be taking rather longer breaks than prescribed. She too has to write before noon. This book took her ten years to write, which is too long, for someone who is not famous.

Describing writing like go-karting, Christoffer swore enough that he had to stop and apologise, even if his replacement word was only marginally more sanitised… The pitfalls of a second language. He feels one difference between YA and adult novels is that the sentences can be shorter. He’s a middle class man living in Stockholm, writing about a working class teenager in the countryside, and the book needs to be accessible to everyone, including non-readers.

The last, and really excellent, question from the audience was on hating what you write. Cat said this is normal. You should write, even if it is crap. ‘Crap can be moulded.’

And on that note we piled out and over to the Portakabin.

Day 5

If you thought day four was short, then day five was – blissfully – shorter still. I went for one reason only.

Started my evening by quickly eating my sandwiches, because it’s finding a time and place for eating that has been the hardest. I sat on the press pew and stared at the rubber ducks for a few minutes.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

And then I took one turn round Charlotte Square, to see if there was anything new I’d not seen before. Any new crazy photographs by Chris Close, for instance. There weren’t, so I offer you some I found earlier and kept back, in case I needed them.

Juno Dawson by Chris Close

Walked over to George Street and the Bosco Theatre again, and was really pleased to find that the event was being chaired by Bookwitch favourite Ann Landmann. She had the double Cs to deal with. I’m sure someone knows I use initials when taking notes, and thought it’d be a hoot to have CC and CC talk to each other. (That’s Cat Clarke and Christoffer Carlsson.)

Signing queue

There was no way I was going to miss this, seeing as Christoffer and I come from the same place, and he has such a lovely surname. So I queued up behind all the fans afterwards, for my books to be signed and to chat. And having ‘missed’ my first train, I had 15 minutes to spare on Christoffer. Enough to have some water near the yurt, and find out why he’s ditched the accent. Apparently his Stockholm students couldn’t understand what he was saying in lectures.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

It was meant to rain, but it didn’t. How could it? I was there. In fact, I’d say that my walk back to Waverley around nine o’clock was the balmiest evening I’ve had so far, with no rain, and a comfortable temperature, and the lights and the [not too many] people. The kind of evening when you want to sit out, over drinks, and chat to someone.

Hang on, I did. OK, I didn’t have any water, but I had a companion, and we chatted. It was pleasant and warm. The poet laureate sat at the next table. There were [other] nice people around. Ticks a lot of boxes, that does.

Little White Lies

Much to Offspring’s disgust and shame I am [was] the only person in the country who had no idea who Reginald D Hunter is. On that basis I had decided to approach his event with Tanya Landman completely cold and unresearched. I understood he’s famous, and on getting out my copy of Tanya’s Passing for White the night before, I discovered she had dedicated the book to him.

I believe breaths had been held as to whether Reginald was going to arrive on time, but he did. In a wheelchair, and I’m only saying this because I don’t know if that is permanent. I’m guessing not.

Anyway, there we all were at this sold out event called Little White Lies, which as the chair Daniel Hahn said is a ‘subject disappointingly relevant’ just now. You keep hoping it won’t be, but ‘this problem doesn’t go away.’ Telling Tanya that she’s white – she agreed – he asked why we were there. She told us the background to writing Buffalo Soldier a few years ago. She asked herself what she was doing, as a white, British, middleclass woman, writing from the point of view of a black, recently freed slave in 19th century America.

Tanya Landman

She felt she had no right, but had to write this. No one had to want to publish the book, or to read it, or to like it. (They did, though, and we did.) She based her character’s voice on Reginald’s, and now feels she simply can’t do readings from her books, because it doesn’t sound right. Tanya ‘stalked’ him on Twitter for long enough, saying that appearing with him like this was her fantasy Edinburgh event.

Asked what he thinks of white people writing about black people, Reginald replied that if it weren’t for certain white authors, then some stories would never be told, and compared it with how black music survives because white people fill the clubs, wanting to hear this kind of music. Authenticity matters; and he wouldn’t want a story seen through white eyes, but ‘we all bring some cultural bias.’ According to Reg’s dad, good food or good music is always good.

You need to think yourself into someone’s head, which you can do with a book. Films are generally less authentic; often whitewashed. Reg joked about a white version of the Martin Luther King story.

If you are used to privilege, then equality could seem like discrimination, and other people are seen as bad because they take something away from us. We are all the same; human. Intellectualism is a true interest, and the stories have chosen Tanya to tell them. The middle classes are dangerous because they are in the middle, close enough to both lower and upper classes.

Tanya Landman

Reginald said he never learned much black history at school, but got most of it from his family. Blacks are still not truly free, and the main difference from slavery is that now you have to get your own food. Unlike WWII (there were comparisons between Robert E Lee and Hitler), the Civil War never really ended. The blacks didn’t win.

For Tanya Reg is the perfect person to read her books aloud, but Daniel forced her to read a bit first, which is fine bcause we are ‘used to hearing authors read’ from their books. And then Reg read in the voice she loved so much from Songs of the South on BBC, when he told us he had mostly worried about snakes and mosquitoes…

At this point Daniel was told to get on with questions from the audience, because it was rather ‘toasty’ in the tent, and Reg had had someone faint on him the day before. He considered black remakes of white roles, but felt that there was only a limited amount of undercover work a black James Bond would be able to do.

A question for Tanya was how current affairs influence her writing. It’s her way of looking at history. There was a question on why having black Shakespearean actors works, but it’s so much harder to see black actors playing other than black characters. And there was much joking about how several of the Americans in the audience had also managed to escape the US.

Tanya Landman

The question, of course, is whether Reginald can answer for all black Americans. Maybe what he thinks is OK – or not – is merely his opinion. He used the n-word a couple of times, which felt refreshing, but I understand it offends a lot.

But it does sound as if Tanya can continue writing from non-white points of view. Some readers will always be offended, but these stories must out.

On purple vomit and other horrors

He has moved on from weeing in the kitchen sink. This time Barry Hutchison was all about vomit, which occasionally was purple, and little white lies.

Introduced by Sarah Wright, who knew ‘nothing’ about Barry, because his website had been hacked, we still learned a great deal in this appropriately named Mischief and Mishaps event. I too came cold to this, knowing nothing about Barry’s new hero Beaky Malone. Seems it doesn’t matter, because all his best characters are really Barry. It explains a lot, although I do feel he should keep quiet about liking Beaky’s dad, on account that it’s himself.

Charlotte Square’s Corner theatre was packed with young readers, all keen to learn about Barry/Beaky/all-the-others. They were nice children, who showed concern in case Barry were to write any more scripts for the screen, as he has a history of making film companies go bankrupt.

Barry Hutchison

Beaky tells the truth. Always. Things like ‘I did a little wee.’ Honesty isn’t always the best policy, as Barry found when he was fired for pondering ‘what would happen if a monkey came through the door carrying a big gun’ when in a business meeting.

He is big on vomiting. But even Barry now feels you should take care when attempting to throw a sickie. Sometimes it is actually better simply to go to school [and not do what Barry did]. Not only did young Barry vomit a lot, but these days he’s an embarrassment to his children. He lies to Mrs Hutchison when he says writing is hard work, when in reality he sits staring into space for seven out of eight hours.

Barry Hutchison

Actually, whereas Barry solemnly promised he didn’t lie to us, I suspect he did. There is no way he could write all those books in the eighth hour alone. Even if he does write about himself, and even if he never does research, because he doesn’t like it. Why find out, when you can write about zombies instead?

And how did that pair of shoes, standing by the side of the motorway, get there? They could do with having a book written about them.

Giant

I am short, and getting shorter. In secondary school I had a classmate who was smaller than me, but I never gave this a thought, until I bumped into him five years later, when he was extremely tall. How he felt I’ve no idea.

I might have found out in Kate Scott’s book Giant. When you’re young, it’s not much fun being different; whether you’re smaller, or taller, than the other children.

Kate Scott, Giant

Anzo (the name means giant) has a noisy and fun-loving family who are all very tall. He is frequently mistaken for Y1, when he is actually Y6. A midget aged eleven. Anzo gets teased [bullied] and generally overlooked. His family probably love him, but never seem to notice what he says or does.

Luckily for our hero, he has a rather good friend at school. Elise knows how to make him grow (maybe not) and is supportive (bossy) when he needs it. Anzo goes from being cast as the seven dwarfs in the school play, to being able to pretend to be adult, rather like the character in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Cosmic.

This is a wonderful and humorous story about not fitting in, and eventually discovering that what matters is knowing what you want to do. And that’s not necessarily to do with stature.

You will love Anzo.

Kermie?

What a difference a day makes.

On Thursday I felt slightly annoyed with Steve Whitmire, when I read that he was retiring as Kermit the Frog’s puppeteer after 27 years. I remember at the time that I was astounded by how someone else could take over after Jim Henson. I mean that they could sound pretty much the same; not that someone else needed to do the job.

But I thought that it might be tiring to do voices every day, year after year. And that Steve had something else he wanted to do. It’s a ‘free’ country, after all.

And on Friday I learned that he’s been fired, and that he’d very much like to remain as Kermit.

I know, it can be hard to know who’s right and who’s being economical with the truth, but a man who has kept quiet about his fate for nine months, and who refrained from screaming and shouting in his blog post about what had happened, strikes me as the likeliest injured party.

After all, it can’t be easy going up against Disney.

As the Guardian points out, Steve is the only one many fans know as Kermit. I’m old enough to have been there when it was Jim Henson, but I too have watched a lot of Steve’s Kermit.

I expect his successor will do a good job, as it’s unlikely they would pick someone who was rubbish at it, and they can’t really kill Kermit off. But still. I’d have liked to see and hear Steve reach retirement as our beloved frog. Then I’d be happy about him being replaced.

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

I just love Ganesha, the baby elephant detective in Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra novels! And I rather admire Poppy, aka Mrs Chopra. (I may have mentioned this before. Like every time I review Vaseem’s books.) I reckon Poppy is finding herself, going from loving wife of a police inspector to someone who… Well, maybe better not give it away, but there were one or two scenes in this, the third outing for Chopra and his elephant, that made me laugh out loud. Poppy knows her mind, but she still can’t prevent her personality from getting the better of her.

This crime adventure is set within the Bollywood business, but it is also pure Bollywood in itself. It is colourful and crazy, while also showing the reader the serious side to life in India; how some people have very few rights and lead dreadful lives.

Vaseem Khan, The Strange Didappearance of a Bollywood Star

Chopra’s sidekick Rangwalla has his own mystery to solve and he definitely discovers a few things about himself that he’s not proud over. But people can change.

So on the one side we have a kidnapped Bollywood hero and on the other we meet the Mumbai eunuchs. Chopra’s decent behaviour gets him into trouble, and were it not for those around him who love him; Ganesha, his adoptive boy Irfan, Poppy, his staff and his friends, things wouldn’t have ended so well.

Forgive me if I keep going on about how much I love these books. There is a charm and a decency, coupled with humour and a good crime plot and a fantastic setting. It leaves me wanting to learn more, but first I want some of chef Lucknowwallah’s food. And I’d like an elephant best friend.