Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

Books of the Year, 2020

How do you know that your favourite author will remain your favourite? And I don’t mean that they will suddenly become a really bad author, but what if you want to/need to replace them, or add to your – potentially growing – collection of favourites?

Relax. That hasn’t happened. But it was a thought that struck me some years ago. Meg Rosoff stepped up on that pedestal (?) in 2004. And about eight years later she was joined in close second place by Elizabeth Wein.

There is, of course, a difference between the author and their books. But let’s not delve too deeply into this.

What I’m really waffling about is the best of 2020. What a year.

When the time came to decide, I ‘discovered’ I had read rather fewer books this year, and many of them did not qualify, being adult or published before 2020. But before I had time to sink into depths of despair over my reading, I quickly came to the happy conclusion that there was no contest at all about the best books.

The authors of my first and second favourite novels have both had new books this year. If they were horses, they’d have arrived at the finishing line in the same split second. Although, I suppose they don’t have to be horses to do that…

So, anyway, here they are, the Bookwitch winners of 2020:

The Great Godden, by Meg Rosoff and The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein. If you haven’t read them, may I respectfully suggest you now know what to do over Christmas? It’s not as if you’ll be seeing Grandma, is it?

Bookwitch bites #149

The other day I discovered a lone book on the coffee table. That is unusual. Mostly I have a pile of three or four, that are either queueing or are emergency spares if things take a turn for the worse. But there I was, with just the one book. It’s Philip Caveney’s latest, which he’s about to launch this week. I now stand a small chance of reading the book by then. The Sins of Allie Lawrence. I’m scared already.

The Costa shortlist, by which I obviously mean the children’s Costa shortlist, turned up in the paper this past week. I’d like to think it’s because newspapers always feel this is important stuff, and not that they are keen to fill pages easily. I’ve only read one of the shortlisted books, Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden. But as I looked at the five author photos, I could count meeting three of the writers. Should I get a hobby?

I’ve got On the Cover of The Rolling Stone whirring around in my head. At the time – like in the early 1970s ? – I didn’t really know The Rolling Stone. But as Dr Hook sang so wistfully about it, I got that it was a big deal. Not sure what authors dream of, but I imagine that ending up on the cover of The Bookseller can’t be a totally bad thing to happen. Very happy for Liz Kessler whose new book, When the World Was Ours – out in January – is covering the latest Bookseller.

The books that made Meg

If the Guardian Review has to come to an end, potentially losing me one of my regular favourite pages – ‘The books that made me’ – then what more suitable way for it to [almost] end than to feature The books that made Meg Rosoff, also well known for being this witch’s fairy blogmother, and favourite author?

She’s funny and entertaining, and clearly skived off more at university than I thought.

And the Guardian managed to source a photo that isn’t one of the few standard ones. (I’d say a Swedish one, at that.) Well done.

End of Review

It’s not good news. The Guardian is about to stop publishing its Saturday Review.

It’s also not surprising. Costs everywhere, for everything, are escalating. Newspapers are not made of money any more than we are. You have to cut somewhere. It would just have been nice if the Review could stay. It means a lot not only to its readers, but to authors whose books are reviewed by them.

I understand that the other smaller parts of the Saturday paper are also disappearing, with plans for all to find some space in a new supplement. Hopefully this means that some of our most favourite bits will survive in some form or other. I know I have several that I really don’t want to lose.

Back in 2007 they published a lot of [paid for] blog posts. I know, because I was one of the paid people, having been introduced to the idea by Adèle Geras and Meg Rosoff who both wrote for the Books section. I also strayed into the film and television and music sections, because ‘I obviously knew so much about those subjects’.

It was fun. Chatting to other commenters was fun. Being able to earn the money to pay for my first laptop was rather nice. I know that the Resident IT Consultant would have been happy to pay, but for a non-earner like myself earning a bit of money was nice.

But I could tell when things went south. Most of their blogging needs were taken care of in-house. It was their version of not buying grapes every week when money gets tight. It’s just that as their purse shrank, so did ours. We’ve tried to be as supportive as we can. But it’s not enough.

Personally I am fine with there being fewer pages to the paper version of the Guardian. I like the idea of saving on paper; I don’t mean waste, but still it can be a lot of paper. The news  section could save some of its speculation on ‘what will happen’ to online pages. We will know soon enough what happens.

But I do like some of the more literary pieces on paper, and the recipes for things I won’t cook because I don’t have the latest outlandish ingredient. Some things are meant for paper. I won’t say whether I think the price could be allowed to be raised again, because I don’t know what people can afford.

Boy or girl?

It’s embarrassing. No one likes making mistakes, least of all me. But you’d think that when you read the new book by your favourite author – and in this case that would be Meg Rosoff – you’d be paying attention.

But no, I was so blissed out reading this wonderful holiday tale that I must have gone on holiday myself. Which will be why it wasn’t until I read one of the reviews on that Brazilian river site that I stopped and thought. Huh. Might the main character be a boy, and not a girl? What’s her/his name?

Yes, she could be a boy, couldn’t she? I discussed the issue with Daughter, who very quickly adopted the satisfying notion that she – the character – is a boy. The ending would make much more sense if she was, too. Besides, there is no name.

The next day on social media, where I had linked to my review, after saying how much he had enjoyed the book author Roy Gill asked what gender the main character is, pointing out she/he could be either. Or neither.

There was only one thing for me to do; ask Meg herself.

The girl is a boy. Although she had – that’s Meg – noticed that women over 50 tend to see a girl, and gay people see both options. And I’m definitely over 50.

Anyway, I blame the whole thing on it being the most perfect of stories.

The Great Godden

This is such a beautiful tale about summer holidays. I rarely feel that anyone can describe my early summers, but in Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden, I could have been there. OK, my summers were more boring, with fewer sex gods turning up and less of the undercurrents.

Or maybe not? Obviously no sex gods, but this novel brought home to me how different the slow, languid summers with nothing but sun, sea and sand appear to the young, and what it must be like for their parents. The ones who still have to cook meals and run everything, let alone as in this case, organise someone’s wedding and sew outfits. On holiday!

We have the 17-something main character and her three younger siblings and their parents, arriving at their summer bolthole, to spend all summer, engaging in their kind of nothings as usual. Tradition matters. (At first I thought I was in New England, but realised soon enough that the family live in London, and were driving to the coast, somewhere. It didn’t feel quite English; more Swedish, or maybe American.)

Anyway, this is marvellous, and I defy any reader not to want to join the family, along with the cousins next door and the lovely dog.

And then the Goddens turn up; gorgeous Kit and surly Hugo. They really stir things up, with everyone in love with Kit (who between you and me is a real piece of work) and turning their backs on Hugo.

Our arty main character observes everything, while also falling for the great Kit. Not much happens? Except, of course it does. You just barely notice.

This is wonderful! I feel as if I’ve been given permission to revisit those careless days when I enjoyed life, with no idea how the adults fared; having to get on with each other, and put meals on the table.

I had lemonade instead

It had been sitting on my desktop for weeks, that screengrab reminding me of an online event Meg Rosoff was doing for indie bookshop week, at Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall on Thursday evening. And for anyone who doesn’t already know, she’s my favourite author.

But still I drank lemonade instead.

Such is the power of lockdown, that anything out of the ordinary – like out of our house – commands immediate attention. So Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant and I toddled over to the garden of a neighbour in the next street, carrying plastic Marimekko glasses for the lemonade we’d been promised.

It was very nice. Pretty, Scottish garden, balmy evening sunshine in that typical Scottish way, and iced lemonade.

We talked about the forgotten grape in New Zealand. I’d had no idea of the seriousness of this. And waiting out bad weather on a small island in Loch Lomond. Fibre broadband and how pretty your pavement looks before and after. Not going to Nice with your school. Watching baby pigeons die. How cute the rabbits are as they eat your homegrown produce.

That kind of thing.

And when I tried this morning, just in case Meg on air was still there, somehow, I don’t believe she was.

But the lemonade was good.

In the post

Isn’t this wonderful? Two special books arriving on the same day, and so much looked forward to. I like my postman!

I also ‘quite like’ Meg Rosoff and Sara Paretsky. Meg’s new book is YA, and out this summer. Sara’s is the latest V I Warshawski, out in late April. Here’s to The Great Godden, and Dead Land!

Now, which to read first?

Aloud

Sometimes – well, quite often now, actually – I forget the most obvious things. Like reading aloud to someone else. A child, perhaps. Even a fairly mature child, although possibly not as mature as Offspring, living in a house of their own. Or if you’ve got a cough, which gets worse for exercising the vocal chords.

It was seeing what Lucy Mangan had to say in the Guardian about what to read during these testing times. She suggested reading aloud, and now I want to do that.

Cough.

She mentioned a lot of good books, too, for any kind of reading right now. Two of them I have thought of quite a bit recently, and decided against, despite them being firm favourites, and me thinking that if I have all this extra time now, it’s perfect for re-reading. Hah.

How I Live Now, which is only my favourite book ever. By Meg Rosoff. But you knew that. I just don’t know how I could cope with it, under the circumstances. Or After Tomorrow, by Gillian Cross. I mention it often, but for now I think I will pass.

You go ahead and read them!

As with the fluffy television, it’s strictly puppies and bunnies here. Maybe not the bunnies if they’re in my garden, eating all my plants. But you know what I mean.

I already mentioned Lisa Tetzner’s ship full of undesirable passengers, the other day. That’s the book I only got halfway through when reading aloud to Son. I still owe him the second half. It’s not quite two decades ago that we stopped. Maybe I can restart, over the phone?

McTavish on the Move

Meg Rosoff’s and the Peachey family’s dog McTavish is back. It’s time for a move in McTavish on the Move. (Well, I suppose the title gives it away.) I understand Meg has recent experience of moving house – and it’s been put to good use, making everything pretty realistic. Except possibly for the ease with which Ma and Pa Peachey sell and buy the houses involved in this move.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish on the Move

Pa seems to have had a personality makeover, which terrifies his family, but in the end his sunny disposition (hah) and general happiness make for a positive moving experience.

Although Betty isn’t keen, and McTavish notices. Trust him, though. He can work out what to do, and he does so with gusto. My own first days at new schools would have been vastly improved with the McTavish magic.

I believe this was the fourth – yes, it was – and last McTavish story. If it has to be goodbye, it’s a heart-warming and moving one. (Sorry.)

And one can always live in the hope that Pa’s personality reverts permanently to his more morose behaviour.