Category Archives: Jacqueline Wilson

Transcribing

So, mid-interview when the person who has agreed to answer your questions says ‘hang on while I Google this, as I am no expert on what you just asked’… Should they politely offer something off the cuff that can later attract foul language on Twitter? So they can be accused of all kinds of shortcomings?

One thing I’ve learned after being the one who asks the questions, is to see more clearly when reading someone else’s interview how what was said might have happened. Often the person who has been interviewed is made to look as though they launched into a monologue on whatever it is, when in actual fact they were asked – or pressed – for their opinion, when it could be something they either don’t want to talk about or don’t know enough about.

Jacqueline Wilson

I have no idea what Jacqueline Wilson knows about transgender issues, but I’d guess it’s average, or above. She’s an intelligent woman, interested in life, and she is extremely polite, and kind and caring. That’s presumably why she talked about transgender children in her interview with the Telegraph (according to The Bookseller). An interview most likely arranged because she has a new book (Dancing the Charleston) out, and not about this topic. Or she’d have read up beforehand.

I’m the first to admit I only know an average amount about transgender issues, and I stay away from unpleasant spats on Twitter if I can. It’s only from hearsay that I know how badly John Boyne was treated recently.

Short of clamping your lips shut – and that would sort of defeat the purpose of an interview – there is no easy way to avoid being misinterpreted when the ‘chat’ is in print. (I’m obviously naïve for emailing my transcribed interview to discover if I’ve got anything dreadfully wrong.)

Having no wish to name Jacqueline’s attackers, I can only say that none of us have to be experts outside our own area, nor should anyone righteously tweet that they have worked for years on this subject, so they know best. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But others don’t therefore have an obligation to have done the same.

It would be better if these people continued working hard on whatever important thing they feel so strongly about, and then stand back to consider whether others must be accused of ignorance. And if you need to bring it up, perhaps don’t swear?

In the children’s books world there are countless lovely and kind people. Jacqueline Wilson is one of the kindest and politest. (I also suspect she has the ‘right’ opinions about the things that matter in life. But I’ve not felt I could ask her. Her reaction to Ann Widdecombe’s comments on siblings with different fathers, was to write Diamond Girls, about siblings with different fathers.)

(Photo by Helen Giles)

Whoever had, has been given more

Until some years ago I admit I often felt grumpy when seeing among the books most sold during the year, the names of Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson. I recognised their greatness and that being ‘names’ and very popular, it made sense that adults bought lots of their books for little readers.

I just wanted there to be a few more children’s authors on the lists. Usually there was someone, but not many.

But at least they were there, alongside Jacky and Julia.

Now I feel grumpy beyond belief when having a quick look at the 2018 list of the 100 bestselling books of the year.

Yes, I am glad that children’s books make up a third of that top list. Although I have to take the Guardian’s word for that, since I was unable to identify all 33. And that’s so wrong. As the Bookwitch, even if I haven’t read them, I ought to know who’s who.

A third of the third – i.e. 11 of the bestselling titles – belong to the well known comedian David Walliams. This is wrong in so many ways. Jeff Kinney is there, but I can allow that. Three Harry Potters, thank goodness, one Julia Donaldson, one Kes Gray. Also one Michael Bond and Wonder by R J Palacio, both of which will be movie-related.

And some more celebrity-penned books, not all of which I actually recognise, despite people’s fame.

It seems both wrong, and unkind, to leave 2018 in a bit of an angry mood, but this is not right. Children deserve better. The world is full of really good books. I hope many of them found their way into children’s hands anyway, despite the big names hogging everyone’s attention.

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

A Scottish Jamboree for books and reading

It’s not every birthday a couple of former children’s laureates come my way. In fact, I’d have to say yesterday was a first. To celebrate twenty years of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tours, they and Scottish Book Trust gathered a few of the many authors and illustrators they have carted round Scotland for two decades, entertaining school children and making a difference.

Chris Riddell, Cressida Cowell, Jacqueline Wilson, Pamela Butchart, Lorenzo and Robin Etherington

2000 children descended on the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow for a couple of hours of fun with some of the best. As they began to arrive, the invited authors came out onto the front steps, in the famous Scottish sunshine, to pose for the gathered photographers, and where would you be without the fun and crazy Etherington Brothers?

The former laureates were Jacqueline Wilson and Chris Riddell, and they were joined by dragon trainer Cressida Cowell and Scottish star Pamela Butchart. In front, complaining they’d never get up from their semi-kneeling positions, were Scottish Friendly’s Calum Bennie and Scottish Book Trust’s Marc Lambert.

Scottish Friendly bag

I was pleased to see two of my favourite publicists, Naomi and Rebecca, and a brief conversation about exams took place. Time goes so fast! I was also trying to pass a message on a piece of paper to Pamela Butchart, without her thinking I was a crazy, random Witch. Luckily she had a handbag-holder person with her.

Now, it takes time to seat 2000 children, even when they are so well behaved and the operation going really smoothly. To keep them happy once they’d got in Chris Riddell sat on stage doodling away, using his instant machine thing that displays the drawings on a large screen. There was applause whenever they approved of Chris’s work, and none more so than when he went a little political towards the end, with the 45th President seemingly having problems with gas while playing golf, and our PM and her shoes stuffed upside down in a dustbin.

Chris Riddell

After an introduction from host Sian Bevan, Chris told the children not to draw on the walls at home – like he did, aged three – and how his mother cut his discarded pieces of paper into ever smaller pieces. ‘Get a sketchbook! he told us. He suggested his new book Doodle-a-Day, explained how his hairy daughter turned into the Ottoline books, and read a beautiful piece by Katherine Rundell on libraries.

When it was Jacqueline Wilson’s turn she told us about being small and lonely in Dundee many years ago, and how her years ‘in the linen cupboard’ were some of the best. There were midnight feasts, apparently. Tracy Beaker narrowly avoided being Tracy Facecloth, which is just as well, now that there will be a new Tracy Beaker book. Jacqueline’s historical writing got a mention, as did the ‘new’ Tay Rail Bridge, and her recent book about WWII evacuees.

Jacqueline Wilson

At this point I discovered I was hungry. I’d been so interested in what was being said that I’d forgotten to eat. And speaking of needs, I thought the stealthy trailing out to the toilets and back in again was well orchestrated. As done by the children, I mean.

Cressida Cowell seems to have come up with her dragons from the shape of the hill on the Scottish desert island her father always took his family to every summer. Besides, they had no television. She wanted the children to understand that the ability to write books does not come from how good your handwriting is, but it’s your ideas that matter. So despite having bad handwriting, Cressida’s books are turning into ever more films.

Cressida Cowell

Dundee teacher-turned-author Pamela Butchart makes up everything. She briefly showed us all her books, which are mostly about schools. She even got the headteachers who were present to bark like dogs. Pamela introduced us to a ‘real alien’ who turned out to be a normal human baby. Hers. Apparently she ‘sometimes speaks too much’ and she finished by inviting a member of the audience up on stage to investigate making fiction with the help of magic crisps. Salt and vinegar.

Pamela Butchart

To finish we had the Etherington Brothers, Lorenzo and Robin. They caused much loudness to happen. It’s all about stuff. Something is. Having the ‘wrong prop’ is important, whether it’s ‘never take a tomato to the beach,’ or having a sock parachute. It’s about having choice, and choosing the wrong thing. And then they turned round, posing for the camera, with the whole audience behind them, waving to the children who were watching this online at school.

Lorenzo and Robin Etherington

All six special guests returned to the stage to wave, before – presumably – being revived with food and drink prior to facing 2000 signatures. Again, this was very well organised, and everyone took turns and it was never too crowded. Or at least I think it wasn’t, since I left while they were peacefully signing away.

I hope they are not still there now.

Stories for empathy and a better world

I had been looking forward to the event with Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai on Saturday. I’d never met Miriam before, but she was everything I had expected, and Bali was Bali as usual. Empathy is important and it promised to be an interesting discussion.

Bali Rai and Miriam Halahmy

We were all asked for examples of empathic children’s books that had made a difference to us. I can see the point of asking the audience, but it split my attention a bit too much. Miriam is a big fan of Morris Gleitzman and talked about his Blabbermouth, and Bali suggested Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow. President Obama’s talk about the ’empathy deficit’ was mentioned.

Miriam read from The Emergency Zoo, and explained how she loses herself in the book when she writes. She is her characters.

Bali then read from The Harder They Fall, apologising for some ‘rude’ words. When he started writing about a female character, it took him some time to understand that girls are ‘just’ people. He talked about how many poor teenagers never even consider going to university. Sometimes because they are the main carer for someone in their family, and they can’t contemplate getting into debt.

On getting started Miriam reckoned the most important thing she did as a child was to read. After that it was being a teacher, doing a writing course, and reading and meeting people like Morris Gleitzman and Jacqueline Wilson. The best thing about writing is losing yourself in the writing.

Roald Dahl was a hero of Bali’s, and he liked reading about Vikings and volcanoes. Later on Sue Townsend played a big part influencing him. Bali described his hard-working colleague Alan Gibbons, who travels and writes and campaigns tirelessly for good causes. The best thing about being a writer seems to be ‘vomiting [words] on a page.’

Can you understand the world if you read escapism? Miriam believes in a real place and a real boy or girl. Bali feels that in The Lord of the Rings the whole world is escapism, and he listed Andy Stanton for sheer bounciness, had nothing [positive] to say about David Walliams, and it seems the archetypal white man comedian comes from Stockport. He praised the way Jacqueline Wilson writes about hard work and ordinary children. And there’s Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness.

Someone in the audience had problems seeing how fantasy could be empathic, but discovered Miriam and Bali disagreed. To make children understand empathy we don’t need it on the curriculum, and there is no right age. According to Miriam you can’t suddenly ‘do empathy today,’ but you need to embed it more deeply. For Bali it’s economical politics in this dog eat dog world. And you should be allowed to have fun at school, because how else do you get to write about fish zombies?

As with letting school-children have enough time for fun, I’d have liked more time for the two authors at Saturday’s event.

Miranda McKearney, Anna Bassi, Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai

Oh Tracy Beaker

Who’d have thought Tracy Beaker would return?

Not me. Although when I think about it, I do realise it makes sense. Authors can and do revisit old characters. In this case for Jacqueline Wilson it does mean she needs to work round Tracy’s age.

Because it’s been a while. It’s easier to forget the passage of time when it’s someone outside your immediate family, even if Tracy almost, nearly, is family. I am aware that Daughter has got – a lot – older, so obviously Tracy has too. She was always a little older, anyway.

Jacqueline deals with the 27 years by making Tracy the adult, which sort of feels an unlikely thing, but why not? Tracy has a daughter of her own now, Jess.

And you know, when you get that far, it does make a lot of sense. Mothers and daughters can read together. I had just about come to the conclusion that I am unable to keep up with Jacqueline’s two new books a year, but this news has made me rethink. I need to meet Jess. But more than that, I have to see how Tracy is.

What (not) to buy in 2018?

It was the Resident IT Consultant who mentioned it first. He noted that that David Walliams seemed to be everywhere in the top 100 books sold in 2017. I wasn’t surprised, but wish I had been. I’ve not counted the DW books on the list. Daughter did, but reckoned I probably didn’t want to hear how many.

I am pleased that a children’s book came second on that list. (Also pleased that it was – considerably – outsold by Jamie Oliver.) But I really would have wanted it to be a different book. I know; it’s good that children read. Or at least that someone is buying the books, whether or not they get read.

If it was any other book, I’d also be happy for the author who was financially rewarded, along with his or her publisher.

To return to my previously mentioned lesson learned from Random House, we should be grateful these books make money, because they help publish other books that simply don’t sell in great numbers. Well, all I can say is that on the strength of the DW sales, HarperCollins should be able to support an awful lot of ‘smaller’ books. Children’s books at that.

I don’t know this, but how much of such revenue goes to happy shareholders? Instead of being re-invested in more book products. I’m aware that DW has a past of doing charitable things, even if that was a stunt requiring other people to cough up the cash. Does he support any worthy causes with the income from his books?

In the same Guardian there was an article about a businessman who has received rather a large bonus, an amount of money that it was suggested could do a lot of good if used to solve the sad state of the homeless. My guess is he won’t do this. (Although, think of how he’d be remembered for all time – in a positive way – if he did!)

So, DW and publisher: Is there any likelihood of you doing this kind of good deed? We only require so much money for our own needs.

But back to the list. I’ve not read much on it. This is usually the case, as most of the big sellers are generally adult novels I don’t have time for, or recipe books and biographies of or by people I’ve barely heard of.

This year Philip Pullman is in tenth place and I’ve read his book. Of older books there’s obviously Harry Potter, and I have at some point looked at a Where’s Wally and the Wimpy Kids books.

The usual suspects such as Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Dan Brown, are there; but interspersed with countless DW titles. Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, often the biggest contributors to children’s books on the list of bestsellers, are at the bottom end. There is Wonder, which presumably has reappeared because of the recent film.

While horrified in general, I am hoping that this willingness to buy lots of children’s books will continue. And I’m hoping for more diverse purchases, which will be made possible only when publishers don’t only push celebrity titles. I’d like for there to be more excellent children’s titles, but the truth is that there are countless terrific books already in existence. They ‘merely’ need to be sold to the buyers of books. Use some of that money on telling the world about your other writers.

I’d like to mention a few recent HarperCollins books here as examples, but I’ve not been told about many. The new Oliver Jeffers book was ‘sold’ to me. I asked about the Skulduggery Pleasant book myself when I discovered its existence. I was offered an adult crime novel on the suggestion by the author. And someone emailed me to say she was leaving the company. This is not to say there weren’t heaps and heaps of great books. Just that there was no publicity coming my way, and possibly not going to others either.

Happy New Reading in 2018!!!