Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

McTavish Takes the Biscuit

Oh McTavish, how wise you are! And how I love you!

We all need a McTavish in our lives, but especially the Peachey family. True, their dog has sorted them out pretty good by now, but then it would seem that there is no stopping Pa Peachey when he gets a silly idea.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish Takes the Biscuit

Meg Rosoff’s fictional dog is really exceptionally wise. Actually, now that I think of them, they all are.

So, anyway, Pa Peachey wants to win the town’s bake-off competiton, despite him not being any good at baking. What could be more exciting than a ginger biscuit version of the Palace of Versailles?

The healthy food McTavish taught his humans to eat is no more, as Pa bakes and serves up his failures to dog and people. But according to Ma Peachey one should support people’s dreams. Even if it’s going to end in disaster.

What can McTavish do?

Well, anything, really. Sit back and enjoy another Peachey family story.

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They come in waves, don’t they?

‘What if I say Beverley Naidoo?’ I asked.

I had been talking YA authors with someone; someone who had only started reading YA not very long ago. And I wasn’t thinking, so mentioned Celia Rees and was met by a blank stare. It’s understandable. If you are recommended books to try right now, it will be the most talked about books and authors, plus some olden goldies like Philip Pullman and David Almond. Names ‘everyone’ has heard of.

Whereas when I began reading current YA novels 20 or 25 years ago, there was no Meg Rosoff or Keren David or Angie Thomas. At the time Celia Rees and Beverley Naidoo were the reigning queens to me, along with Gillian Cross and Anne Cassidy. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman and Linda Newbery. Anne Fine. Malorie Blackman.

No matter how many I list here, I will forget someone really important. Most of them still write and publish, but perhaps not as frequently as before.

There’s the group of authors who appeared when Bookwitch [the blog] was in her infancy, with 2010 being a particularly fruitful year. Candy Gourlay and Keren David, followed by Teri Terry and Kathryn Evans. Again, I will have left someone out.

And now, those ladies have many books under their belts, and there is a new wave of YA authors. I mentioned Angie Thomas, because she’s brand new, both in the book world, and to me. She’s also American, which seems to be where things are happening now.

When I reviewed Celia’s latest novel, I compared it to Truth or Dare, and her reaction to that was that I’m probably the only person who’s been around long enough to have read both it, and the new book. This struck me as silly, as surely everyone would have read Truth or Dare. Wouldn’t they? Well, they haven’t, and it’s not lack of dedication, or anything. Most YA readers don’t last a couple of decades. Real, young people, grow up, and move on to other stuff. And if you’re already ‘old’ and catching up, you can’t read everything.

But when I first met Beverley Naidoo, I almost curtsied.

The Key to Flambards

I have a confession to make; I have only read the first K M Peyton book about Flambards. And I only read it after meeting Kathy at Meg Rosoff’s house seven years ago. That’s when I learned that everyone adores her. This is understandable. And [female] people my age have read ‘all’ the books and adore them. Also understandable.

I got a bit confused by Christina, back then, and in the end I didn’t pursue the remaining three Flambards books. She was a heroine, albeit not your typical leading lady.

Linda Newbery, The Key to Flambards

Now we have The Key to Flambards, a new sequel by Linda Newbery, another big Peyton fan. She asked Kathy’s permission to use her house and her characters, and she has placed them in the here and now. So 14-year-old Grace [Russell] is Christina’s great great granddaughter, and she and her mother Polly come to Flambards for the summer, for the first time.

The two of them have had a hard time with Grace’s parents divorcing and Grace experiencing a life-changing accident. And here they are, at a Flambards where not much has changed, with relatives they didn’t know, all over the place.

Luckily Linda has provided a family tree, which helps, and as a less devoted Flambards reader, I am not entirely sure where Kathy’s characters end and where Linda’s begin. I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter and I was better off not worrying too much about it, apart from a little Wikipedia research…

The story is exactly as I’ve come to expect from Linda and I really enjoyed it. Grace has a lot in common with Christina, and there are modern versions of Mark and Will.

The future of Flambards is uncertain and the people who work and live there have to try and save the place. Grace and her mother come to love it, and make new friends. Grace learns to ride.

I saw a review that suggested the teenagers in this book are old-fashioned. Maybe they are, but we need them as well as the fashionably edgy ones. The old Flambards fans will expect something similar to before, and besides, Linda covers ‘everything’ in her book; disability, divorce, unemployment, the war in Afghanistan, the exploitation of the countryside, abuse and violence, same sex relationships. It’s just that it happens in a romantic, countryside setting.

Highly recommended, whether you know the old Flambards or not. If you don’t, you might want to have a look at it afterwards.

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.)

On being a witch

I was asked about being a witch recently. The how and the why. Luckily I found this explanation in Terry Pratchett’s Maskerade soon after, and it describes my situation so well: ‘Sometimes she knew things that were going to happen, although always in a sufficiently confused way that the knowledge was totally useless until afterwards.’

That’s me. I just didn’t know how to put it.

I see things and I know they will mean something, sooner or later. They will usually be meaningful when combined with one or several more such observations. I tend to know that ‘it’ will be part of something, which I suppose is why I remember it. Just not what.

It’s been like this for many many years. 1962 might just have been the first time.

So witchhood did not happen as Daughter fondly remembers from the time Son’s friend Polite Boy called me a witch. That was an accident. I was telling the group of boys wanting to play – in the mud, would you believe – for longer. It was Son’s 15th birthday party and I felt the neighbours had been enjoying the screams for long enough, and put my foot down. (Not in the mud. Obviously.)

‘I’m a witch,’ I said, by way of explanation for my unpopular decision. Polite Boy had already been very polite, in order to achieve more mud time, and uttered the words ‘I quite agree’ in the belief that he was agreeing with something far more suitable. But since I said it first, there was not a problem. There was also no more mud.

Soon after this I wrote my first fan letter to Meg Rosoff, and felt compelled to explain why I knew she’d win the Guardian prize. She took it well, and seemed to have an understanding of ‘minor’ witches.

After this, I clearly couldn’t be anything but a Bookwitch when I went public with my skills. And while seeing book awards in advance is fun, many of the other things I see are not.

Sky falling

Discovered someone was sitting in ‘my’ seat in the Corner theatre for the event with Sophie Cameron and Sally Gardner. But I can be flexible, if I really have to.

Sally and Sophie’s books are both about people falling out of the sky. Sally was looking for what it is that makes us human; what we have that aliens don’t. It’s love. Sophie, on the other hand, had been inspired by the falling angels in an old deodorant commercial.

Sally kicked off by reading from My Side of the Diamond, and I was reminded again of what a great voice she has.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

From there the discussion went on to Sally’s dyslexia, and then back to how she came to start writing in the first place. It was the bailiffs. And you can’t argue with that. If you need money, you need to find a way to earn some. Sally’s first book came about with ease, as did the way it was accepted for publication. (Something to do with a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with a hole in it…) But after the first time, it’s not been quite such smooth sailing.

Asked if she prefers a certain age group, Sally said no, and that she has now written an adult book. Although she does feel that younger readers are more intelligent than adults.

Then it was the turn of Dick King-Smith fan Sophie to read from her debut novel Out of the Blue, which is set in Edinburgh, during the festival. Originally set elsewhere, Sophie changed this when she returned to work in Edinburgh and realised that there aren’t a lot of books set there. Her second, standalone novel, also has an Edinburgh setting. And somewhere in all this there might have been talking dolphins.

Both books have a black main character, and this led to some discussion as to whether white authors are allowed to write about black people, which Sally finds worrying. Also, there are not enough translated books, and after March next year she reckons other countries will not want ‘our’ books.

Chair Lucy Popescu had an author mother, who always put her in her books, so she wondered if Sally and Sophie have done that. Sally said her children would have killed her if she had.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

It’s important to bring boys up to read books by and about women, and Sally mentioned her favourite heroine, Daisy in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. In some cases it seems that statistics on who reads might be incorrect, as boys don’t want to say they do. Sally had a story about a school where pupils were not allowed to read on their phones. One boy was caught doing so, but was nearly forgiven when the teacher discovered he was reading Dickens. But the boy insisted on the punishment of being expelled, rather than have his reading habits made public. He enjoyed books, but wanted to stay cool by reading on his mobile like everyone else.

So, books can be a very private thing for many.

Asked about fan fiction, Sophie said she’d written some. It’s good practice, and you get feedback on your writing. Sally used to tell herself stories [before she could read] and tried to see if she could make herself cry. She sees all her stories as films in her head, and until recently believed that this happened to everyone. When writing I, Coriander, she listened to the story as though it was radio.

Sophie is happiest writing in cafés, while Sally has adopted a rescue dog who insists on sitting on its favourite chair, forcing her to stay and write in the same room.

And apart from a drunk giraffe and a Rupert Bear with tits, that was pretty much it.

We’ve lost that community feeling

I had honestly forgotten about it. Totally, I mean, and not just the finer details. A while ago a freak pingback on a nine-year-old post on here made me have a look to see what it was. To begin with I didn’t even recall it as I read, but slowly it came back to me.

It, and the 27 comments, from nine authors, including the then children’s laureate Michael Rosen. Usually I remember my more successful posts, even in the past. But not this one.

The funny thing is, it started as nothing more than a disappointed review of a television programme on school libraries. A programme about Michael Rosen visiting a school. I wanted a good moan, and then I was fine.

But people commented like there was no tomorrow, and then, as I said, Michael himself pitched in with a couple of very long comments. I don’t even know how he found the post. (Until that day a few weeks ago, I’d been proud that he’d joined in a discussion on a blog I’d written for the Guardian…)

By now, it’s not just the comments on blogs that we’ve lost; it’s the school libraries too. So from that point of view, the programme is obsolete, even if our opinions are still valid.

Much as I enjoy the bantering on Facebook, it is what killed blog communities. I miss those comments and the way people returned to see what had been said and then offered up more thoughts. I get the hits, and if I hadn’t disabled the like button, people would like my posts.

But most of any chatting about anything I write on here now happens on Facebook. That’s not bad, but it happens away from the actual article we’re discussing, and it’s limited to my friends, or friends of friends, if someone shares. But you can’t do what I did that day recently, which is revisit the post, and then read all the comments from the past.

I called it a freak pingback. It really was, because it wasn’t new, it was a repeat from nine years ago, and presumably happened for some technical reason in cyberspace. But revisiting the whole thing was interesting.