Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

Holey jacket

You know the old joke, ‘I recognised you by your dress’, suggesting someone hasn’t updated their wardrobe contents for a while?

Well, I suspect the same can be said about my black jacket. No matter how much I think I could/should vary my outfits more, it’s generally the black jacket for Edinburgh.

Back in 2008 Meg Rosoff – somewhat erroneously – suggested I had to dress up for the Puffin summer party. I bought a jacket. No, I bought two. The one I wanted and which I wore to the Tate Modern that time, and the other one, suggested by pushy saleswoman.

Never wore my choice again.

Have worn the other jacket a lot.

Happened to give it a good look just now. It’s got a hole in the back. Probably where my bag has rested all these years. It will need mending… So it will most likely not come with me to the remaining book festival 2021. (To protect it. Not because I am vain. I’d like both it and me to have another few years in us still.)

The jacket, ten years ago, hiding behind Theresa Breslin and Karen Campbell.

Scottish by Inclination

Barbara Henderson’s book Scottish by Inclination could be described as an essential read for all other types of Scottish people, not to mention English people, and those further afield who still don’t see, or believe, that Brexit had much effect. Especially not on me, or us, or anyone perceived to be an OK sort of foreigner. Unlike ‘those others’.

Once I began reading the book I couldn’t stop. It’s just so good and so interesting and feels so real. It’s back to what I keep going on about; if you write what’s close to you, it will always be far better than anything else. And Barbara knows how to be German in Scotland, until she ‘forgot she was a foreigner’.

This is the story of Barbara’s life in Scotland, starting a little before she decided to study in Edinburgh, continuing with her departure from all she knew and loved best and her arrival at Glasgow airport thirty years ago. Just the fact that it was Glasgow then, when now it is nearly always Edinburgh. Short chapters on what it was like to be a student, on getting married, training for a job and starting work. Having babies and ending up in Inverness, where she still lives.

Every short chapter ends with a brief interview with other foreigners, from all the corners of the EU, showing why they came and what they do now, and showing that even those from some of the countries people have been suspicious of, are nice people, working hard, belonging. They are worthy of being here.

Although why immigrants should have to be so much ‘better’ than the people born in a country is beyond me.

I’m certainly not better than anyone. Just thinking about all the things Barbara did, working so very hard, having so much energy, and smiling so much, and, I believe, learning to understand what people in Glasgow say. (Only joking. A little.)

One of the EU citizens Barbara interviewed was your own witch. She even makes me sound interesting.

It’s my belief that anyone would enjoy this book. As I said, I started and couldn’t put it down. Bunkered up with sandwiches for lunch so I could read straight through the afternoon. After dinner the Resident IT Consultant took over and if you knew him, you’d know that not going for that walk he was going on but just sitting there reading and smiling, well… As an Edinburgh alumnus, albeit older, he enjoyed seeing what Barbara’s crowd got up to.

We are all foreigners, and it was a relief to see that someone else had had the same or similar problems to mine. And I appreciated the quotes from old and famous people for each chapter. It’s amazing not only how much wisdom there can be in a selection of quotes, but how apt they were for what the chapters were about.

There are photos of nearly all the EU interviewees, and what strikes me is how they look like people I’ve always known. (I’m the only one who’s turning her back on the reader.)

Yeah, did I mention I think everyone ought to read Scottish by Inclination? I really do.

We have all arrived

And we would like to stay. I think that’s really what last night’s launch for Barbara Henderson’s book Scottish by Inclination was about. She came here thirty years ago, and has now written a non-fiction book about her time in Scotland, including interviews with a number of EU citizens who also came here some time in the past, and were expecting the right to a future.

The letter from the Scottish Government, telling us we are welcome here and they want us here, helped. But it’s no guarantee. Barbara has now acquired British citizenship, just to be on the safe side. She did this on the advice of Elizabeth Wein, who felt that it’s the only reliable thing to do, if you want to be sure.

Wearing her starry EU t-shirt, Barbara was talking to Margaret Kirk (who almost struggled to get a word in edgeways…). Barbara is a very cheerful force to be reckoned with. She read to us. Her arrival at Glasgow airport, where her first task was to find Fergus, which involved her walking round the arrivals hall singing, to attract the attention of the right very tall person. Then she read her memories from June 23rd five years ago, when the result of the referendum took her completely by surprise. (Available on YouTube.)

At first Barbara had no wish to write her memoirs, when it was suggested to her, but she changed her mind. And as I usually say, no one can tell you you have got your own story wrong.

She shared her path to British citizenship, which wasn’t plain sailing. With help from an excellent lawyer and making far too many trips from Inverness to Glasgow, she’s been successful. Barbara tested us on our knowledge of ‘Life in the UK’ from the official test (which I passed with flying colours). This could be because I have also taken, and studied for, this test. Mostly it seems people (those born here) got three out of five.

There was a question as to whether as a foreigner you have to be better, prove that you can do more than the natives. It certainly seems like it. But by now Barbara has decided she doesn’t need permission from others to determine ‘how Scottish’ she is. It’s her right to say, and she is Scottish by Inclination.

And so say all of us.

This, of course, has no bearing as to which football team she was rooting for on Wednesday evening.

How I Live Now

It’s not going to win Most Beautiful Book Cover in the World, but the cover of How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff carries so much meaning to me, that its looks are just fine. More than fine.

All of it came as a surprise to me. The look of the book. The content; which turned out not to be another WWI story. The fact that it was the best book I’d read. The fact that it changed my life.

It genuinely caused ‘how I live now’.

Down #5 Memory Lane

Some of you may have been a little surprised that I’ve as yet not mentioned my fairy blog mother in my ‘memory’ pieces. The thing is that Meg Rosoff – for it is she – features in so many ways, from so many points in time.

I’ve recently been thinking of the holiday in Penzance in 2006, when Daughter and I got freezing cold on our way home via London to see Meg for the first time. The time when she talked about her new dogs, and then insisted on buying us something to eat and drink, first counting the money in her pocket. It was just over £6 and covered several items from the cafeteria. And then she drove us back to Euston, only partially engaging in some mild road rage in the middle of Euston Road.

And I remember the Aye Write in Glasgow in 2016, when she fed me again; some very nice Indian food, before limping back to her hotel, wearing new boots. That was just before we found out she was that year’s ALMA winner, which in turn meant that I stalked her round several parts of Sweden, meeting her US family who came over to the ceremony in Stockholm. (And I talked to Astrid’s daughter!) The Gothenburg book fair in September was particularly nice, with the two of us somehow bumping into each other over the couple of days I allowed myself there.

Or the book launch on the houseboat on the Thames, even before the Glasgow boot night. That’s not the sort of thing that happens all the time. Just the once, actually.

Two interviews in Meg’s house, one with decent photos and one not. A gathering in the same house for K M Peyton, one of Meg’s literary heroes.

A Puffin party at the Tate Modern, a fundraiser somewhere in Mayfair and the memorial service for Siobhan Dowd in Oxford. I’ve really got around, haven’t I? And so has Meg, obviously. Or the day when Daughter travelled to Oxford, and ran into Meg at the station, and enjoyed a little chat. This is an author who keeps track of people, and knows her ‘second favourite physicist’ in the wild. And will hug other people’s children, like when Son met her in Stockholm.

What else? Lots of Edinburgh bookfest appearances, where I particularly remember a lovely balmy evening with Elspeth Graham a few years ago. That was worth missing the good train home for.

I could go on. But you’ll be grateful that I won’t.

And we’ll say no more about the borrowed £1 twelve years ago.

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.