Category Archives: Philip Pullman

Where are the girls?

Well, mostly not in yesterday’s book, Kid Got Shot. It’s a pretty male book, and apart from Garvie’s mum and his teachers, the female part is played by the gorgeous Polish girl everyone – including Garvie – falls for.

As I believe I tried to suggest when telling you about Mother-of-witch last month, I was brought up in such a way that I never felt women were worth less or that you have to constantly count the sexes and make sure they are balanced.

Am I weird? No, don’t answer that!

I happily read about musketeers and anybody else offered in the books I came across. Thinking back, I wonder if I found it hard to identify with girls in books when they were not the kind of girl I was, and then I felt that if I’m not going to be like them, I might as well read about male characters. In the end it didn’t matter as long as it was a great story.

But I recognise that not all girl readers have such belief in themselves, and they do need to see more female characters in books. In its article Balancing the bookshelves, the Guardian wrote about the need for more girls. It is not wrong, but I didn’t absolutely agree either.

When I think of the ‘new age’ of reading that to my mind began with Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, I don’t think of the sexes or any balancing. Yes, Lyra is a girl and a strong one, too. But her daemon is a boy. Harry is a boy who hangs out with best friends Hermione and Ron, making up that traditional fictional trio of two boys and one girl. The Famous Five are two of each, if you don’t count Timmy the dog, and you forget about George being George.

I’ve not really stopped to check whether there are more boy characters because more men write books. When it comes to children’s or YA I believe, without having counted, that there are more female authors. And many of them write about boys. I see no reason why they shouldn’t.

Looking at my three favourite books, we have [primarily] one girl, two girls, and then a boy. All three authors are women. But while Meg Rosoff has Daisy in How I Live Now, she has also written some wonderful male main characters. I don’t feel that is wrong. In fact, I assume the stories demanded it. Can male writers manage good female characters? Yes, they can. Look at Marcus Sedgwick’s girls! I’m guessing his books needed females.

I think it’s too easy to get worked up about the sex of a character. What we need is a society where all are equally valued, albeit not all identical. But obviously, if reading about a particular person in a book turns into a life-changing experience for a young reader, then I’m all for it.

Bookwitch bites #139

At last! The tail is gone and the tale might be with us later this year. Philip Pullman has had a haircut – unless that BBC interview yesterday was recorded years ago – and there are claims that the first part of The Book of Dust will be available on Philip’s birthday in October. Well.

Philip Pullman

It’s been ten years since Son and I were in Oxford, when Philip and David Fickling reckoned Dust would be ready in 2009. What I didn’t know is that Dust would be a trilogy. No wonder Philip’s been so long in writing it, especially as it sounds like the second part is also complete. That just leaves the ending of this equel to His Dark Materials to be written.

The Branford Boase longlist has been announced. I haven’t read a single book on the list, and to the best of my knowledge I have not been offered any of them either. Would quite like to read Patrice Lawrence’s Orangeboy, which is the only one I’ve heard of. I would probably like to read a few of the others, too. Maybe I’ll be spurred into action when the shortlist comes.

I have just been followed on Twitter by Jacqueline Wilson. Well, not her personally, as I believe Jacqueline is sensible enough not to waste time on social media, but someone doing it for her. I’m hardly ever on there, so I won’t be taking up too much of anyone’s time.

Both Philip and Jacky have been the big draw names at the Branford Boase award evenings. Celebrities, perhaps, but celebrities in the book world; not in the book world because they are celebrities.

Chris Priestley has been quoted in recent discussions on celebrity authors. It’s mainly the crazy aspect of how some very good writers still have to have a day job to feed themselves, while a lot of book sales go to those who need it less, and whose books just might not be of quite the same calibre as those by authors holding down two jobs. After all, if you are doing two jobs, it means you are pretty keen to write, and you are likely to do a better job of it.

Juno Dawson does her job pretty well as far as I understand. She writes books teenagers want to read, and she knows how teenagers feel. Juno was recently booked to talk at a school, when they decided to uninvite her at the last moment. It was deemed ‘inappropriate’, it seems. As the school back-pedalled, they said it had nothing to do with Juno being transgender. Oh no, not at all.

Most books are important and worthwhile. Hilary McKay – who claims not to mind if her books are turned into motorways – sent me this link to an article about how books are being rescued from becoming landfill. Better World Books collect unwanted books in Fife and sell them online, raising funds for literacy and libraries. Books not becoming Dust, so to speak.

And ten years on…

Ten years go so quickly, don’t they? While the fresh-faced Bookwitch looks good for ten, that other, tired witch propping her up is certainly showing her age. I reckon she thought she’d still be 29, ten years in. Whereas it’s more like, well, at least 49.

Meg Rosoff and the ALMA award, with Alice Bah Kuhnke and Katti Hoflin

I’ve often wondered if I’d last this long. The next wondering has always been whether to give it up. You know, nice round figure (and I don’t only mean me) to end it all.

Philip Pullman

But when I voiced this thought to Ross Collins last month he seemed shocked (and I’m not fooling myself into thinking he’s been here for the duration), so I immediately retracted my threat.

Julie Bertagna, bookwitch and Neil Gaiman

Ross then said I must have ‘got’ a lot of authors in that time, so I sighed deeply and said yes. He seemed concerned that I wasn’t sounding happier, which kicked me out of my morose state of mind. Yes, I do ‘have’ lots of authors, and I love every single one, and treasure them, and this is a cause for celebration. Not sighing. But you know, when you’re 49 sighing comes easily.

John Barrowman

In the last few days I’ve been in email conversation with someone else, about books and publishing and all that kind of thing, and I realised I’ve picked up quite a bit over the years. Not just authors, I mean.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Actual knowledge, except it’s more like English grammar; I couldn’t tell you what it is. I just feel it.

So don’t ask me anything. I don’t know.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

There have been many absolutely wonderful books. And some less so. There have been really fun and interesting events, many of them in unusual places I’d not otherwise have got to visit. And those authors. Oh, those authors.

Steve Cole

Thank you.

(That’s the ‘I will go on for many more years’ thank you. Not the farewell thank you. I hope.)

Sara Paretsky

Ponytail or Dust at 70?

Philip Pullman is 70 today. Wishing him a Very Happy Birthday!!!

Philip Pullman

I wasn’t sure what photo to choose; a less recent one with less hair, or the one from last year with the ponytail? I haven’t seen Philip since then, so don’t know if the tail is still there. He supposedly wasn’t going to cut his hair until The Book of Dust is finished. It could be a long wait, and an even longer tail. When all we want is the tale.

Hope it won’t be long now.

The graphic Northern Lights

I must admit I didn’t expect to be enthralled by Northern Lights, The Graphic Novel, volume two (what happened to volume one?), by Philip Pullman. Also by Stéphane Melchior and Clément Oubrerie, who have adapted and illustrated, respectively. And finally Philip Pullman again, and Annie Eaton, who have translated it back from the French.

I did like it. Happily I know the story well, so starting on volume two was no disaster. The graphics are great, especially scenery such as the north where Lyra meets Iorek, and the hauntingly beautiful but scary setting of Bolvangar. It is quite illuminating being able to see the characters with their daemons. It sort of brings home the closeness in a way the book didn’t, nor the film.

Northern Lights, the graphic novel, volume two

Otherwise it is rather like a film adaptation of a book in that the book is so long and you have to cut and edit to make sense in a smaller format. To some extent it suffers, as all such adaptations do, but it also gains something, and I guess that a graphic novel like this will make His Dark Materials more accessible to less confident readers. As in films, I was surprised by how the characters look, as this is different from how they are in my mind.

But yes, here we meet Lyra and the others as they arrive in Trollesund, and we stay with them until they fly off in Lee Scoresby’s balloon. The harrowing scene showing poor little Tim with his fish replacement for his lost daemon is still as upsetting. Lyra’s spirits are there for all to see, and we are more aware of how angry and scary Iorek was when Lyra first encountered him.

Knowing little about the background to this graphic novel, I assume Stéphane and Clément are fans, like so many others, and that this is why they have begun such a mammoth task. That’s the kind of spirit I approve of!

Nooooo..!

Please not the Cathy Hopkins books! Are we not finished with those? Are we not – both me and Daughter – over the age of 20? Are Cathy’s books not really quite fun?

Yes, they are. They are – almost entirely – staying. Three years on from The Move Clearances we are pruning here and there. Offspring’s sudden room switching (yes, no, neither live here any more) caused books to be looked at again. I thought maybe we could gain the half metre that Cathy’s books take up on the shelf.

But as you may have gathered, that didn’t go well. Although it depends on your point of view. Nearly all the Cathy Hopkins books will remain with us, minus the quiz books, etc.

Same with Caroline Lawrence. You can’t send the Roman Mysteries packing. Or Theresa Breslin. Definitely not Mary Hoffman. Oh no, those ladies are all just going walkabout in the house to rest elsewhere.

Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are semi-intact, with the very best still here. (I’m reminded of Son’s stash of toy cars. Age is no barrier to what you simply must keep. In fairness he recently parted with his third and fourth copies of His Dark Materials, sparing only two of each.)

But Doctor Who is leaving. Mostly. Even signed ones. (Yes, that was Daughter’s book you found in the charity shop. Lucky you.)

The Universe will make some other person happy, while the napkin folding guide stays. And she rather thought Helen Grant would want one of her cast-offs.

The other ‘great’ idea she had was to incorporate hers with mine, which only means taking every single book out and re-alphabetising the lot again; first and second rows on each shelf. I suggested her books might be in peril, come my next major pruning, but apparently her books can be post-it-ed.

Hah, as if I can be trusted!

Full circle

I received a phone hug last night. This is a technically complicated feat, but it can be done. I sent Son to (a former) prison. Actually no, he went of his own accord. Långholmen is rather nice these days, when you’re not inside for all the wrong reasons. Daughter and I spent a few days there ten years ago, and now it was Son’s turn (I believe it was some kind of conference). And since he was going to be in the actual Stockholm at the actual same time as Meg Rosoff, I instructed him to go to her public event at Kulturhuset yesterday.

Meg Rosoff and Maria Lassén Seger

Son elbowed the competition out of the way and managed to get close enough to the ALMA winner to receive a hug, which was to be passed on to me. Which he did over the phone. I’ll accept that.

The programme for this year’s Gothenburg Book Fair arrived yesterday as well, and lo and behold, they have invited Meg to come. (I just hope she is still upright by the time September comes round.) I consider this all my doing. First I badgered anyone I could for years about how they must have her. And then, as I reported a couple of months ago, I gave up. Decided it would never happen, and it was better to face facts. This is always a good technique, I find. Makes things happen much faster. (Should have thought of it sooner.)

I think I may have to go. Even if Bookwitch Towers is being rebuilt, or something, I must be able to abandon ship for a long weekend. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with builders in the house?

Anyway, the circle. We went eleven years ago, Son and I, as complete rookies. That was when his favourite won. Now mine has won. It’s only fair. He can come, if he wants. And like eleven years ago, Jonathan Stroud will be there. Plus a selection of archbishops and other famous people, such as our favourite French phycisist, Christophe Galfard.

Yay!!!