Category Archives: Philip Pullman

What (not) to buy in 2018?

It was the Resident IT Consultant who mentioned it first. He noted that that David Walliams seemed to be everywhere in the top 100 books sold in 2017. I wasn’t surprised, but wish I had been. I’ve not counted the DW books on the list. Daughter did, but reckoned I probably didn’t want to hear how many.

I am pleased that a children’s book came second on that list. (Also pleased that it was – considerably – outsold by Jamie Oliver.) But I really would have wanted it to be a different book. I know; it’s good that children read. Or at least that someone is buying the books, whether or not they get read.

If it was any other book, I’d also be happy for the author who was financially rewarded, along with his or her publisher.

To return to my previously mentioned lesson learned from Random House, we should be grateful these books make money, because they help publish other books that simply don’t sell in great numbers. Well, all I can say is that on the strength of the DW sales, HarperCollins should be able to support an awful lot of ‘smaller’ books. Children’s books at that.

I don’t know this, but how much of such revenue goes to happy shareholders? Instead of being re-invested in more book products. I’m aware that DW has a past of doing charitable things, even if that was a stunt requiring other people to cough up the cash. Does he support any worthy causes with the income from his books?

In the same Guardian there was an article about a businessman who has received rather a large bonus, an amount of money that it was suggested could do a lot of good if used to solve the sad state of the homeless. My guess is he won’t do this. (Although, think of how he’d be remembered for all time – in a positive way – if he did!)

So, DW and publisher: Is there any likelihood of you doing this kind of good deed? We only require so much money for our own needs.

But back to the list. I’ve not read much on it. This is usually the case, as most of the big sellers are generally adult novels I don’t have time for, or recipe books and biographies of or by people I’ve barely heard of.

This year Philip Pullman is in tenth place and I’ve read his book. Of older books there’s obviously Harry Potter, and I have at some point looked at a Where’s Wally and the Wimpy Kids books.

The usual suspects such as Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Dan Brown, are there; but interspersed with countless DW titles. Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, often the biggest contributors to children’s books on the list of bestsellers, are at the bottom end. There is Wonder, which presumably has reappeared because of the recent film.

While horrified in general, I am hoping that this willingness to buy lots of children’s books will continue. And I’m hoping for more diverse purchases, which will be made possible only when publishers don’t only push celebrity titles. I’d like for there to be more excellent children’s titles, but the truth is that there are countless terrific books already in existence. They ‘merely’ need to be sold to the buyers of books. Use some of that money on telling the world about your other writers.

I’d like to mention a few recent HarperCollins books here as examples, but I’ve not been told about many. The new Oliver Jeffers book was ‘sold’ to me. I asked about the Skulduggery Pleasant book myself when I discovered its existence. I was offered an adult crime novel on the suggestion by the author. And someone emailed me to say she was leaving the company. This is not to say there weren’t heaps and heaps of great books. Just that there was no publicity coming my way, and possibly not going to others either.

Happy New Reading in 2018!!!

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The film of the book

Why do newspapers insist on illustrating an article about a book with a still from the film?

Is it because no one thinks about basics like book covers, or is it that much sexier to have a photo of one or several actors? Are readers (of the newspaper, not the book) deemed to be so shallow that they can only be interested in something straight out of Hollywood?

The second half of 2017 offered quite a few written pieces on the much awaited Book of Dust, and invariably I found myself staring at the film still of Lyra* on Yorek’s back. OK, a small girl riding an armoured bear is striking, but so are many of the book covers of the His Dark Materials books.

With Harry Potter you even have two covers for each original Potter book, adult and child version. And with seven books, that’s a good many choices. But you are offered countless film stills when you google Harry Potter, and if you try Hermione Granger it’s pure Emma Watson.

Even the seasonal The Railway Children offers film pictures before you finally come to a few book covers.

So I suppose it makes sense that someone needing an illustration for an article does a search for whatever it is and finds an attractive photo of real people, rather than a painted or drawn book cover.

And then of course, they put the film still on the book as a new fresh cover, and the movie aspect of the book just grows and grows.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

(Book cover by Thomas Taylor)

* I take this back. The Retired Children’s Librarian sent me a cutting from Expressen (Swedish tabloid). It was a review of La Belle Sauvage. This was illustrated by high-rise buildings under attack from massive waves, straight out of the film The Day After Tomorrow…

That’s the question

How to explain the Carry On films to a young person? It didn’t go well. I’m just hoping it won’t be necessary to actually watch one in order to educate Daughter further. They are older even than those bands she thought were old and that the parents would know in the pub quiz book. (1980s pop…) As if.

On Christmas Eve morning we went out for elevenses. Or rather, Daughter drove her elderly people to somewhere nice – even if the place had run out of fruit loaf – yesterday morning, and the Resident IT Consultant discovered what it’s like to be a passenger with opinions on whether the driver has seen that other car over there, or not. You know, when you go ‘arghhhhhhh’ from the back seat. That’s never popular. (And she drove just fine.)

Back home again, whenever we had a quiet moment the quiz books came out. You learn a lot and you forget even more.

As you can’t ever have too many quizzes, we watched the Christmas University Challenge. This would have been easier had we known it was on over two hours earlier in Scotland… But what a great team Frank Cottrell Boyce was on! He wasn’t captain, but he seemed to know more than the rest. And they introduced him as a children’s author, which warmed my heart.

While we waited for Paxman & Co to turn up, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. It had been a long time. So long that Daughter was amazed that she didn’t freak out [more] in the past. It is a little scary in places, and I had not realised that the ghost of Christmas future was a dementor. Unless it’s the other way round.

As for the presents, I gave the Resident IT Consultant a nice book about railway stations which I really wanted to read. He gave me what I’d asked for, which was Philip Pullman on essay writing and an old Terry Pratchett novel. A Moomin mug and a Bookwitch mug completed the booky gifts.

There was a new mouse, too. This scares me somewhat.

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

La Belle Sauvage

Maybe Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage really is for fans only? I am a fan, so have no way of knowing what it’s like ‘on the outside.’

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

I read the book slowly, and I enjoyed every minute of it (apart from the sheer size, weight and sharp corners). Having come across a couple of negative reviews/opinions before reading, I kept them in mind, but could not agree. OK, maybe regarding one small aspect, which is that the chapter with the fairy appeared to be irrelevant. I say appeared, because it could turn out to be as important in the later books as Rowling’s polyjuice potion. I’d like to think that an author knows what they need to happen.

The pace in the story is slow, too. It’s quite comforting, and I loved being back in Lyra’s Oxford, albeit ten years earlier, just as I enjoyed the two shorter books we’ve already been given; the one with Lyra, and the Lee Scoresby one. And if that’s ‘just’ for fans, then so be it. We are many fans.

Whether this tale about 12-year-old Malcolm and 15-year-old Alice adds anything to Lyra’s life – other than saving her actual life – I have no idea. I’d like to meet them again, but if I don’t, then I’m sure the two books still to come will give me something else I will like.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s that this old, and alternate, Oxford somehow has grown more modern in the last twenty years. But it must be hard to remember the feel of that Oxford, so many years after. We have all been influenced by coffee shops everywhere, and mobile phones, and it’s impossible to see the past the way we saw it before. Philip Pullman probably can’t unsee an Oxford full of coffee shops. And we’ve not previously had cause to discuss the availability of disposable nappies in Lyra’s Oxford, so who am I to say they seem more handy than likely?

The other thing is that our world now lacks the hope we had back then. This makes the threat from Philip’s secret organisations come across as scarier than ever.

I feel no closer to understanding Dust. Maybe I will after the second, or the third, book. Or not. Some things are better for being mysterious.

(For another, totally different, and much more professional, view of La Belle Sauvage, here’s Frank Cottrell Boyce in the Guardian.)

Free day, Friday

Fat and difficult. Well, that can describe many things. It could be me. Or, in this case, it could be Dust, i.e. La Belle Sauvage. How I wish I’d had a review copy! Or gone to an airport to buy the trade paperback. If a book insists on being quite so large and quite so fat, I need it to be soft. (I’m soft. Just saying.) I am actually having to read more slowly because I can’t handle the weight or the sharp corners for any length of time. (Not talking about me here.)

But I’ll get there. Just as my second interview from August will eventually ‘get there’ too. Typing slowly. Very slowly, in fact.

Speaking of interviews, a dream interview I’d never even considered, is Keren David’s with Tom Stoppard for the Jewish Chronicle this week. It’s clearly how the professional works. Conducts good interview. Transcribes it promptly. Loved it! (That’s me.) What’s more, the man sounds like a really pleasant person.

I had a pleasant afternoon out yesterday, when a local author bought me some interesting fruity tea at the ‘coffee burghhouse’ as I like to call it. It is, of course, really the Burgh Coffeehouse, but I get so mixed up. Nice conversation about property and pyjamas, and why I can’t ever prepare my sprouts on Christmas Eve.

Done and dusted

Just the other day I suddenly realised I no longer ask my interview victims their opinion of Philip Pullman. I wonder when this happened?

Another thing that just struck me was that Son must have been reading La Belle Sauvage pretty much where he sat 18 years ago with Northern Lights, starting a whole new direction of his life with one book. That time we took the book for all of us to read on holiday. This time Son just happened to have planned a writing retreat in the same house, leaving Britain on the Day of Dust. Luckily he was able to buy the trade paperback at Gatwick, which must have saved his sanity, if not his writing time… (OK, the armchair no longer is, nor that end of the room. Well, the room is, but it has a dining table in the Northern Lights spot. But still. Close enough.)

And actually, only three of us read the book that time. Daughter didn’t read much back then. But Christmas the same year we took the audiobook to listen to in the car when driving to Scotland. It was just the right length to last the way there, and home again, with a chapter left. Only as Daughter grabbed the cassette (yes, it was that long ago) and sat down to listen to the end, did I understand that she had also been enjoying Philip Pullman reading Northern Lights. I thought she’d be too young at seven.

Philip Pullman (and ice cream) signs

Six years later when Son and I interviewed Philip in Gothenburg, I got the impression he had started writing the Book of Dust. Two years after that, in Oxford, at an event with David Fickling, we were told it’d be ready in 2009, which was another two years later. Well, we know how that went.

Philip Pullman

But, anyway, that’s how the questions about Philip Pullman began. We walked round the Gothenburg book fair, all excited about him, and Son took to asking anyone we spoke to what they thought. And as I said ten years ago (see above), all but one were nice and friendly and had positive comments to make.

The only one who stood out was Lionel Shriver, who claimed to have no idea who we were talking about. I’d like to think she just didn’t want to share any limelight with other authors, rather than she was that ignorant. I wonder if she’d still say ‘Who??’ if asked.

When Son no longer came along to my interviews, I went round asking for him. Until the time clearly came when I gave up, or forgot.

And no, I still haven’t read La Belle Sauvage. In my own time. Soon. I just have one or two other books that have to be fitted in first. But I brought a copy of it when visiting Daughter in Switzerland last week. No longer seven, she wanted to read it.