Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

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.)

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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.

McTavish Goes Wild

McTavish is back. Do you remember this clever little dog? Meg Rosoff introduced us to McTavish the rescue dog this time last year. He sorted his adopted family, the Peacheys, out in their time of need. So OK, maybe he was ‘rescued’ from a dogs’ home, but he’s more rescuer than rescued.

Meg Rosoff, McTavish Goes Wild

It’s holiday time in this Conkers book from Barrington Stoke, and every Peachey has their own idea of how to spend the holiday. But Betty says they should go camping, and Ma Peachey agrees.

They have a surprisingly good time, when they don’t have a rather dismal time (it rains). But there’s no getting away from their personality differences, and Pa Peachey really is a little silly. Yes, you don’t know for certain about piranhas, but surely he could relax a little?

When things begin to look iffy, McTavish has an idea, and he rescues the holiday.

What they do for reading

As I mentioned at the time, it wasn’t until I saw Meg Rosoff limping, walking back to her hotel, after an event in Glasgow two years ago, new boots causing her discomfort, that I really stopped to think about what it is they do, all these authors who travel to meet their fans.

You know, travelling and not sleeping in your own bed is one thing (or would that count as two things?), but to have hurty feet as well? It’s just heartrending.

This week it was World Book Day. It was also snowy. That’s not a good combination, as we had authors travelling the country for WBD events. Or not. Lots of events were cancelled. Partly due to the snow and travelling difficulties. Partly because of schools closing. (I bet that didn’t go down well with the thousands of parents who have had to come up with WBD fancy dress for their children, only to find the schools were closed on the day.)

And the authors who were already ‘out there’ when the snow hit. Could they get home? Some did. Mostly with difficulty, being delayed, cold, hungry, travelling on crowded trains.

Some didn’t. What do you do when stranded in a town, and there is no room at the inn? Everyone else got there first. Possibly because they weren’t performing in a school, so had an opportunity to book that last room.

Just as heartrending as Meg’s new boots, was the fact that I noticed one author asking around on social media if any of his/her friends happened to live in this town and had a spare bed. The case I saw had a happy ending, with someone offering a bed pretty swiftly.

But it’s sad, isn’t it? You come to talk about your books at a school, and then you are stranded. (In this case I believe it didn’t end the next day, because there were still no trains home.)

Thank you all!

Aarhus 39

Sigh.

I’m absolutely green with envy.

This is the Aarhus 39 weekend (if that’s what it is when it begins on a Thursday), and I’m not there. Meg Rosoff is swanning around in the company of Eoin Colfer and Chris Riddell, two ex-children’s laureates. Two of my favourites. They, in turn, are swanning around in the company of Meg, favourite everything.

I don’t see how it can get much worse. For me, that is. They and Aarhus are probably having a great time. They are probably swanning around with Daniel Hahn, assuming he’s in a position to swan with anyone.

This Astrid Lindgren nominated whirlwind has gathered at least two more ALMA nominees – Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson – as well as most of the other 37 Aarhus 39ers. That’s them in the jolly photo below.

Aarhus 39

No doubt they are mostly swanning too.

And the lucky citizens of Aarhus will have been going round to all these book events, most of which appear to have been free.

I hope this means that it might become a habit, and that maybe next year I can swan somewhere. Unless all the laureates are worn out by then.