Category Archives: Interview

No Jo for me

There is what I consider to be a standard line at the bottom of most book press releases, which generally goes something like this: ‘For more information, review copies and interviews, please contact A Publicist.’

If it’s missing I reckon the author is too grand, too busy or possibly too dead for interviews. However, when I see that line, I take it to be mostly true.

Which is why I jumped a little on receipt of Jo Nesbø’s fifth Doctor Proctor book, which this time is about Christmas. I’ve read one Doctor Proctor, and consider that to be quite enough. And some of you might remember what my opinion of Jo is. (Based on one event and some gossip about him, like most prejudice.)

My brain went ‘no, I do not want anything to do with him. But maybe? After all, he’s really famous. Could be “interesting.” Nah, don’t be silly. Anyway, he wouldn’t be available. Except, it says so. And remember that time a few years ago when the man even set up a signing event on the Virgin train taking him from Manchester to Scotland? Clearly desperate for attention. He wouldn’t mind talking to a Bookwitch. I could do a bespoke version of my Profile questions. Maybe grill him a little on why he thinks he should write children’s books.’

That, roughly, was my thought process. So I asked. And not surprisingly, he wasn’t going to be available.

Which is fine. I just don’t feel the line should have been there.

He’s obviously not [that] desperate. In fact, as Pippi and I found at our recent Afternoon Tea, we had both read the magazine snippet where someone asked Jo if he’d notice if ten million kroner went missing from his bank account. He seemed to be shocked at the mere notion of this. Of course he wouldn’t be able to tell!

(If you follow the above link to book one, you will discover that I liked it. I have no reason to believe that Can Doctor Proctor Save Christmas? will be any worse. I just lost my enthusiasm somewhere.)

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Free day, Friday

Fat and difficult. Well, that can describe many things. It could be me. Or, in this case, it could be Dust, i.e. La Belle Sauvage. How I wish I’d had a review copy! Or gone to an airport to buy the trade paperback. If a book insists on being quite so large and quite so fat, I need it to be soft. (I’m soft. Just saying.) I am actually having to read more slowly because I can’t handle the weight or the sharp corners for any length of time. (Not talking about me here.)

But I’ll get there. Just as my second interview from August will eventually ‘get there’ too. Typing slowly. Very slowly, in fact.

Speaking of interviews, a dream interview I’d never even considered, is Keren David’s with Tom Stoppard for the Jewish Chronicle this week. It’s clearly how the professional works. Conducts good interview. Transcribes it promptly. Loved it! (That’s me.) What’s more, the man sounds like a really pleasant person.

I had a pleasant afternoon out yesterday, when a local author bought me some interesting fruity tea at the ‘coffee burghhouse’ as I like to call it. It is, of course, really the Burgh Coffeehouse, but I get so mixed up. Nice conversation about property and pyjamas, and why I can’t ever prepare my sprouts on Christmas Eve.

Done and dusted

Just the other day I suddenly realised I no longer ask my interview victims their opinion of Philip Pullman. I wonder when this happened?

Another thing that just struck me was that Son must have been reading La Belle Sauvage pretty much where he sat 18 years ago with Northern Lights, starting a whole new direction of his life with one book. That time we took the book for all of us to read on holiday. This time Son just happened to have planned a writing retreat in the same house, leaving Britain on the Day of Dust. Luckily he was able to buy the trade paperback at Gatwick, which must have saved his sanity, if not his writing time… (OK, the armchair no longer is, nor that end of the room. Well, the room is, but it has a dining table in the Northern Lights spot. But still. Close enough.)

And actually, only three of us read the book that time. Daughter didn’t read much back then. But Christmas the same year we took the audiobook to listen to in the car when driving to Scotland. It was just the right length to last the way there, and home again, with a chapter left. Only as Daughter grabbed the cassette (yes, it was that long ago) and sat down to listen to the end, did I understand that she had also been enjoying Philip Pullman reading Northern Lights. I thought she’d be too young at seven.

Philip Pullman (and ice cream) signs

Six years later when Son and I interviewed Philip in Gothenburg, I got the impression he had started writing the Book of Dust. Two years after that, in Oxford, at an event with David Fickling, we were told it’d be ready in 2009, which was another two years later. Well, we know how that went.

Philip Pullman

But, anyway, that’s how the questions about Philip Pullman began. We walked round the Gothenburg book fair, all excited about him, and Son took to asking anyone we spoke to what they thought. And as I said ten years ago (see above), all but one were nice and friendly and had positive comments to make.

The only one who stood out was Lionel Shriver, who claimed to have no idea who we were talking about. I’d like to think she just didn’t want to share any limelight with other authors, rather than she was that ignorant. I wonder if she’d still say ‘Who??’ if asked.

When Son no longer came along to my interviews, I went round asking for him. Until the time clearly came when I gave up, or forgot.

And no, I still haven’t read La Belle Sauvage. In my own time. Soon. I just have one or two other books that have to be fitted in first. But I brought a copy of it when visiting Daughter in Switzerland last week. No longer seven, she wanted to read it.

On ruining Othello

If I have to go back to school, I want Claire McFall to be my English teacher.

She is such fun, and so cheerful, and doesn’t hesitate to ruin Othello if the syllabus demands it.

Claire McFall

I have to admit that Claire proves I am wrong in preferring to interview authors whose work I know well. When I met her I had only read half of Ferryman – the book that went to China and was a huge success. And China does seem to be the way to go. Maybe the country could change the fates of more British YA, and children’s, authors.

So here, only two months late, is our conversation over cookies and juice (yes, really) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with Claire’s thoughts on China and how to get school pupils to write.

Remembering Dina

I remember the morning well, even though it’s been ten years. I was with my new laptop at the Apple shop in Manchester’s Arndale for our weekly lesson. I’d got myself up on the barstool and was opening the laptop while waiting for my Genius.

That’s when I noticed the new email in my inbox, and because I could see the beginning of it, I had to read it there and then, despite realising it wasn’t the right place to do so.

It was from Adèle Geras, breaking the news that Dina Rabinovitch had died a few hours earlier. And even though it wasn’t unexpected, it still was, and very upsetting. I’d admired Dina so long, and had willed her to live. And so had she, obviously.

After the lesson was over, I went home and blogged about Dina. It wasn’t the first time and it wasn’t the last. There was always plenty to say about this wonderful children’s books reviewer at the Guardian. Someone who interviewed like I could only dream of doing. Her ‘duel’ with Eva Ibbotson on which of them was the most ill, for instance.

Well, Dina won that one.

Less than three weeks before, I’d hoped to meet Dina for the first time. She was supposed to be doing an event, but became too unwell to go through with it. I went [to London] anyway, and had a different sort of day, instead, and Dina was interested in hearing what I’d done. I looked at the Tate Modern, and I went to the National Theatre. When I think back to that day, I see it as Dina’s gift to me, somehow.

Then there are the friends found through her blog, which I’ve written about before. Dina did so much, for so many.

And now it’s ten years since she died. I realise her little boy is no longer little. I hope her children are well, and happy.

Dina Rabinovitch

Scheisse

It’s funny how, looking back, you don’t know what is to come. Spring 2009 I didn’t know the Grants; Helen and Michael. And no, they are not a couple. Helen has her Mr Grant, and Michael isn’t actually a Grant.

I connect both of them with Germany. Helen had lived in Germany for many years, and her first book – The Vanishing of Katharina Linden – was set there, in Bad Münstereifel; not too far from Köln and Bonn.

Because that’s where Daughter and I were heading, that weekend in March 2009, and I was reading Helen’s book on the plane, and I’d just got to the bit where one of the ‘innocent’ characters says ‘Scheisse.’ It made me giggle. Childish, I know. Anyway, it was good reading a book set in Germany when I was actually in Germany. I mean, above Germany.

Köln

When Daughter and I had done what we came for, which was to attend a Roger Whittaker concert in Köln, which was great, and made greater still by being preceeded by an interview with Roger, we went to visit an online friend near Bonn. I had a suitcase full of books for her, because you have to get rid of books somehow.

One of those books was Michael Grant’s Gone, the first in the Gone series. And I only gave it away, because I had been sent two copies. My friend liked the look of it so much that she read it almost there and then. Although, being a writer herself she went on to pick the plot to pieces and had opinons on almost every aspect. But that’s fine.

So, The Vanishing and Gone – both books about disappearing – were my first meetings with Helen and Michael.

And now, I’ve read so much more by them, and seen so much more of them, that they feel like old established friends. Helen lives relatively near me, and Michael is so successful that he’s over in Britain most years, and sometimes more than once.

But it began in that plane, with a Scheisse, and a spare book.


(The witchiness does not end there. The second, literally, that I typed Roger’s name, my Messenger pinged, with a question about him from a relative.)

Alex Gray’s New Crimes – Bloody Scotland

My resolve was to try new authors. At least new to me. And then Alex Gray turned out to have a whole event featuring new crime writers, which was perfect. She herself was obviously not new. The others were. Sort of.

While I didn’t recognise the very smiley Felicia Yap, as soon as she mentioned that she had been introduced to her husband by Anton Du Beke, I knew I had read about her in the Guardian recently. She is one of these people you want to dislike, because they are both attractive and talented and can do/have done so much.

Rob Ewing, Ian Skewis, Mark Hill, Felicia Yap and Alex Gray

This must be what led Mark Hill to claim that he had also been a catwalk model, although I feel that ‘only being a journalist’ is no bad thing. Ian Skewis, on the other hand, was a ‘pissed off’ former actor, and Rob Ewing a Falkirk GP. Ordinary, but not really ordinary. All four have got a debut crime novel out, something that made Alex point out that anyone can become a crime writer.

Rob’s book – The Last of Us – is set on Barra, except he doesn’t say it’s Barra, but it is. The bit he read to us was partly about posting coconuts through a letterbox, and surprised cows. I think it was, anyway. Ian read on the Kindle from his A Murder of Crows, which he began writing in 1989, and as he mentioned finding a dead body (in real life) ten years earlier, I’m having trouble working out his age. He looks younger than that.

Mark Hill and Felicia Yap with Alex Gray

Mark Hill’s novel Two O’Clock Boy was always going to be a crime novel. No doubt about that. Finding out it was going to be published made him the happiest ever. Unless that was having a child. And Felicia read from Yesterday, about the difficulty of solving a crime when you can only remember the last 48 hours. She might have claimed she wrote it on the dance floor.

(I’m wondering if books featuring amnesia are ‘in’?)

I found it interesting that all four had strong opinions on how to write, despite not having lots of books under their belts. Maybe they have lots of unpublished ones? Mark plots on a blackboard with coloured pens. Felicia writes anywhere as she travels a lot, and her writing in Germany differs from that in Italy.

Rob does only a little plotting and planning, while Ian said that writing over so many years has had an impact on the book. That, and being OCD, and having your characters talk to you. He crowdfunded his novel, which has caused him to have 900 friends on Facebook, after having virtually none.

Rob Ewing and Ian Skewis

How do you know when your book is finished? Felicia reckons when you are tired of it. She did 14 edits on Yesterday. Rob wrote fast, and Mark a bit less so, and as we’ve mentioned, Ian took a very long time. There’s the issue of having a day job, too.

Titles are difficult. All went through several, and had help from editors and agents.

Asked whether they could see themselves writing a series about the same character for 30 years, like Ian Rankin or Val McDermid, Mark reckoned he wants to have a go, and is already on the second book [about the same character]. Felicia is writing a prequel, and here I got rather lost in the days of the week. Might be called Today, or perhaps Tomorrow?

Caro Ramsay was in the audience, and she wants Ian Skewis to read audiobooks, because his own reading was so fantastic.

Finally, Mark had a question for Rob, the GP. He wanted to know how he would go about starting a pandemic. And Rob has clearly given this some thought, as he had his reply ready and waiting, finishing with ‘that will do the job.’

Well, that’s good, I suppose…