Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

Missing

For those of you who have said you wish you were there/here/in Edinburgh, you are no longer alone. Neither am I.

I ran out of time for necessary ‘chores’ on Tuesday, and very – and I mean very very – reluctantly had to decide there was no way I could travel to hear Meg Rosoff talk about Jonathan and the dogs on Tuesday evening. Finding seven spare hours can be tricky at the best of times.

Meg Rosoff - EIBF

Missing any attractive event is hard, and to decide not to see your favourite author is not to be taken lightly. On the other hand, hysterically trying to finish what needs finishing is not fun either.

But, looking on the bright side, Meg will now not have to receive a second-hand kiss from Tony McGowan.

Beck

Beck is a beautiful story, with a sad but beautiful background. Written mostly by Mal Peet, but finished by his dear friend Meg Rosoff after Mal’s far too early death in 2015, it is a collaboration between two of the best writers for Young Adults. I’ve heard of other writers who agree with a colleague and friend that if the worst should happen, the friend will finish their book for them. We don’t want this to happen, but if it does, it’s far better for a ‘chosen one’ to take over.

Set primarily in the 1920s, Beck is the result of a brief encounter between a poor Liverpool woman and a black sailor. Mal kills off his whole family in a sentence or two, and then our orphan is truly on his own, before he is shipped off to Canada at 14. Received there by the Catholic Brothers, the modern reader can’t help wondering if they will be good Brothers or wicked ones.

Mal Peet, and Meg Rosoff, Beck

Eventually most of the orphans are sent on to work on farms, and it’s not exactly Green Gables. Beck ends up in one place after another; not all bad, but he definitely doesn’t have an easy life.

I was wondering if I’d be able to tell where the join is, but reading part four you can tell a woman has taken over the story. It’s not necessarily easier for Beck, but it’s hard in a different way. A softer hard, so to speak.

This is a wonderful story about a young man battling adversity, and it offers a window on a Canada of almost a hundred years ago. It’s not the Depression, as it says in the blurb, but you can’t help thinking about what will happen to the people you have come to love, when the Depression does arrive.

It’s not easy deciding whether an interrupted book should be continued by another writer, but I often think of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, and how I wondered what was meant to happen, and whether I should make up my own [happy] ending, or not. And if I’d get it right.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to read all of Beck.

On being a traveler

I own a book by Meg Rosoff that most of you might not have heard of. It took a bit of effort obtaining a copy, but I am nothing if not determined.

It’s her London Guide from 1998, co-written with Caren Acker, and I actually do wish I’d come across it back then. Not that I particularly needed a guide to London, but it would have been fun to read something not quite like every other guide book.

Meg Rosoff and Caren Acker, London Guide

I bought it to complete my Meg collection, because it was intriguing, and because I could. And the book is fun, written in much the same style as her other books.

Primarily aimed at Americans, it has at least been written by someone who knows London like a native. I have an especial dislike of guides written by people who don’t know how little they know. Meg gives advice on how to find toilets, and what to call them. Very useful.

For good and cheap eating Meg suggests the Diwana Bhel Poori near Euston, and this pleased me a lot when I first read this guide. I like finding other people who like the same places I do. And I suppose the other side of the coin is that if they recommend somewhere else I don’t know, chances are I’ll like that as well.

By now some things in London have changed beyond all recognition, so I wouldn’t suggest using the guide as an actual giude, but more for fun and as an – almost – historical document.

Although, perhaps I could work my way round town and see how I do?

Life-changing longlists

Immediately on reading through the Guardian’s longlist for its children’s fiction prize, I felt grumpy.

Yes, as people said on social media, it’s a really good list. They would say that, of course, and you noticed that I did too. That’s with only having read two of the longlisted novels; Malorie Blackman’s and Tanya Landman’s. And they are award material.

But I liked the description of most of the other books. And I did come across one of them at Yay!YA+ in April, where I heard Martin Stewart read the first chapter of Riverkeep about three or four times. It wasn’t out yet, at that time, and whereas it was available to buy early that day, you know me; I don’t buy books. And Penguin haven’t offered it to me. If I was Martin I’d want my first book to be mentioned to people.

Perhaps some of the other books are also only just out in the shops. That was certainly the case with my life-changing book, How I Live Now, in 2004. I read about it on the longlist, and then found I couldn’t buy it just yet, so had to wait. That turned out quite well for both me and Meg Rosoff.

Brian Selznick seems to have another book out, which is promising. Then there are two authors – Alex Wheatle and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock – whom I have only heard of because they are in the Edinburgh programme this summer. The remaining two are completely unknown to me, and one of them has a book with a cover so tempting it’s all I can do to stay calm. That’s G R Gemin with Sweet Pizza, along with Zana Fraillon who’s written about refugees, which I also like the look of.

G R Gemin, Sweet Pizza

Hopefully one or two of these will find their way to me, and hopefully they will inspire me, and lead to great things for the authors. Just like in 2004. And hopefully I’m grumping now because no one has done publicity yet, and it’s all to come…

Meg in Vi

The most you can hope for in the Swedish press is Jacqueline Wilson. And that’s pushing it. By comparison the British press has articles about and photos of ‘my’ book people ‘all the time.’ So I’m used to encountering familiar faces every now and then.

Meg Rosoff in Vi magazine

And I know there were quite a few articles and interviews with Meg Rosoff in the Swedish newspapers around the ALMA announcement and the prize ceremony. But to find my favourite author number one in my monthly magazine Vi was a bit of a shock. Happy shock, naturally.

It wasn’t exactly a fullblown interview; but more of an invitation for Meg to list three things, in their regular ‘three-thing listing’ feature. And they described her as a terraced house girl, which is a new way of saying… well, I don’t know what they were saying, actually.

Meg Rosoff in Vi magazine

But she likes Catch 22, and Waiting for Godot. And London. Those are Meg’s three things, while in the photo she is brandishing a Sex Pistols mug. They made her grow up. I’m guessing the books, and perhaps London. Not so much the Sex Pistols.

Except, I thought the whole idea was that Meg’s not grown up. She’s our Pippi Longstocking figure, forever young.

Late to the party

She’s by no means ancient, but the Retired Children’s Librarian isn’t as young as she was. So it was much appreciated that she popped round for a couple of days, even if she was late for the party. On purpose.

Plane at Halmstad airport

Flying in from Stockholm to our local, rather small, airport, she wisely refrained from staying with us and went to a hotel in town. We had an Indian dinner, followed by ‘Indian’ coffee, which apparently wasn’t very good. This is a woman who only drinks water and coffee (many years ago when she really wanted to try muesli, she agonised over what liquid to have it with, and opted for coffee…)

I’d hoped to lure her into the – to her – new library, on the way from dinner to bed, but she declared it ugly and said no. I gather she is still in touch with her old boss who keeps her updated on who [from the library] has died in the last year, which is a helpful service to have.

Don Quijote at Särdals Kvarn

We had elevenses at the windmill, and she instantly recognised Don Quijote in the car park. ‘What’s he doing here?’ she asked. I suggested she stop and think about what the good Don usually does, and the penny dropped. (In fairness, my penny took years to drop.)

Went home and I was given my birthday present. We decided this was all right, as she’d not had the official invitation that said presents weren’t allowed. It was a book. Obviously. A new biography of Astrid Lindgren, by Dane Jens Andersen, and it looks very promising indeed.

Jens Andersen, Denna dagen ett liv

Then we fed her leftovers, and she read [my friend] Ingrid Magnusson Rading’s book on the local area, and was most impressed. She enquired about when I last spoke to Meg Rosoff, so I had to own up to having seen her only last week, and went on to show her Bookwitch’s thoughts of it all. The Retired Children’s Librarian is not into computers, so never reads what I write.

I offered her one of our copies of Meg’s I begynnelsen var Bob, but she replied ‘God forbid, no!’ which I suppose was appropriate.

And then she was returned to her hotel. On her request, I hasten to add. She also requested the scenic route via various seasidey places, the best café for coffee and cake, and her old block of flats. Also had a look at where the very young Bookwitch used to live, in the very olden days. A bit overgrown, rather like the witch herself.

On doing the impossible

The good thing about the Edinburgh International Book Festival is how impossible it is. The many famous and wonderful authors it will be impossible to see there, simply because they have so many such people coming.

The 2016 programme was unveiled yesterday and I have scanned it for the best and most interesting events. Of which there are a lot. So to begin with I will plan not to see quite a few tremendously big names in the book business, since even at a distance I can tell I can’t possibly get them on to my wishlist. Then comes that list, and then comes the more realistic list, and finally comes the actual list I will actually be able to do.

Maybe.

Best of all would be to have no opinion, but to go along one day, or two, and pick something off that day’s menu, where tickets are still available. That would be excellent.

I can’t do that.

There is a follow-on from last year’s YA debate with Daniel Hahn, and Anthony McGowan and Elizabeth Wein among others. Chris Riddell will deliver the Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, making it unmissable, and Michael Grant is back in town with his WWII alternate history.

Meg Rosoff will be talking about Jonathan Unleashed, and Francesca Simon is ‘doing away with’ Horrid Henry! Cornelia Funke and Vivian French have things to say about dyslexia, Nick Sharratt will talk nonsense (poetry), and Theresa Breslin and Debi Gliori and Lari Don and all those other lovely Scottish authors are coming.

Debut writer Kathy Evans is talking to Jo Cotterill, and Lucy Coats has some more Myths up her sleeve. And so does Kate Leiper, I believe.

Jackie Kay is doing stuff, and many of our finest crime writers are coming along to kill and thrill, and there are Swedes and other Nordic authors; some expected, others more unexpected. Quite a number of children’s authors are doing adult events, which I think is a good idea. Politicians will be there, talking about all sorts of things.

I know I’ve already mentioned Daniel Hahn, but as usual he will be doing so much that he should try and get a rest in now. Just in case. Hadley Freeman is coming, which makes me quite excited. Lemn Sissay.

Who have I forgotten? You see, it’s impossible. There are so many!