Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

What price books?

There is much one can say about big book fairs, and much of it is good. Every year I wonder whether I perhaps ought to attend the Gothenburg one again. After three consecutive years a long time ago, I only returned the year Meg Rosoff finally made it there. I have been overtaken by Son who accompanied me in the early years, and who now is allowed to go on his own.

These days it’s not so much the cost as the time of the year and the effort involved. I’m still surprised I’m not getting any younger.

Gothenburg Book Fair

But then I learned something new about the Book Fair, which is that the organisers are putting up the fees for those who exhibit. Understandable, and proper publishers and other large companies can presumably weather the cost. But there have always been many small exhibitors, like self-published authors. I’ve long thought it’s nice that anyone can aspire to rent a table there, and maybe sell their books or at least get better known by visitors.

Someone I wouldn’t have known about were it not for about three different coincidences, is Kim Kimselius who apparently has published 57 children’s books; mostly through self-publishing. She seems to do well and apart from having loads of new books out every year, she travels and runs writing weeks and does events.

But I just read that after 20 years of attending the Book Fair, she will stop. It is too expensive for her to attend, when everything is taken into account. I believe it cost her around £6000 for the long weekend, and that is by staying with friends.

I gather that with fewer exhibitors the fair organisers have extended the free space around the ‘exhibits’ as well as starting up more areas for eating and drinking. Space is nice. (You’d know that if you’d been.) So is somewhere to sit and eat. Kim was regretting the fact that she was losing her fair ‘neighbours’ with whom she’d chat and who made it fun.

This year she opened up her own home to fans, instead.

I’m not saying this is wrong. I mean the reasons behind her new venture, rather than the new event. But it feels slightly questionable that someone who writes and sells books, and quite successfully at that, should be priced out of the Book Fair.

As for me, when I first went, I paid for my weekend passes myself. It was – almost – affordable when you took into account the 50% discount for foreigners. Three years ago I carefully asked if this had now stopped, as I could find no sign of special treatment, and was told this was the case. Again, I suppose they need to make as much money as they can, and most visitors requiring a four-day pass to all events, will probably be reimbursed by their employer.

The price had gone up considerably, so – cap in hand – I asked for a free pass, which they generously supplied. Had they not done so, I don’t think I could have justified going.

I’m not quite sure what Son does, but he has so many meetings arranged, leaving no time or energy for actually going to events. And that does bring down the cost.

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Respect

Some time ago I read a newspaper review of a book I myself had not only read and thoroughly enjoyed, but reviewed on Bookwitch.

The reviewer, whom I respect, had also liked the book, but puzzled me by describing it, using a direct untruth. It wasn’t even the borrowing from the blurb on the back thing. It was stating something about the story that was a lie.

Had the reviewer in this case not read the book, but caught an idea from something they’d seen? Or had they read and enjoyed the book, but still managed to misunderstand the context? Or plain forgotten, by the time they came to write the review?

I’m just curious.

For anyone seeing this and deciding to give the book a go because of what was claimed, it could be a disappointment, despite the book being so marvellous. Or they’d feel they were glad they were tempted, as they had now been introduced to a lovely book.

Many years ago – 15, in fact – I read a mention of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now in the Guardian. I ordered the book on the strength of me understanding it was about WWI. But that was me not reading properly; nothing to do with the Guardian. It caused me to read the first chapter of HILN several times while my head tried to make sense of the lack of WWI or the early twentieth century.

But once I’d done that, I was happy to have found the best book I’ve ever read. And all because of a misunderstanding, by me.

I’m still curious regarding this other book. Did a respected reviewer in a respected newspaper forget to read?

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.

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.