Category Archives: Radio

The Hobbit

I never read The Lord of the Rings. I just never wanted to. I listened to the BBC dramatisation, which was pretty good. I had trouble telling who was who, apart from Robert Stephens as Aragorn, who was wonderful. I obviously didn’t see the films either. Although, I seem to have seen the end quite a few times, having managed to walk into the room where the DVD was playing, at the same moment every time. It sort of ends happily, I think?

The only Tolkien I’ve read was the first chapter of The Hobbit – to Son at bedtime – many years ago. Luckily something intervened after that, and the Resident IT Consultant continued the reading.

Daughter likes the LOTR films. She liked the first Hobbit film, too, and wants to go and see the second one. Before doing that she decided to actually read the book. She finished it yesterday.

A little bit later she asked if it was all right for her to say something, and once I’d ascertained I’d not be sad or offended by this something, she had my permission to proceed.

‘The Hobbit was boring,’ she said. I replied I wasn’t surprised. There must have been a good reason I never returned to it.

We sort of came to the conclusion the reason it’s possible to make so many films out of the one book, might be that its boringness requires more fun and exciting stuff to be added. Which makes it longer. Rather like the  two-hour films made of Agatha Christie’s short stories. You pad. And then you pad some more.

J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit

(The cover is nice, though.)

A reasonable copy of Under Milk Wood

Mrs G taught me a lot. I marvel at how little I actually knew before coming to lodge with the Gs for one academic year. I was a reader and surrounded by likeminded readers at home. But I never thought of books per se. Didn’t buy all that many, either.

So to find my ‘landlady’ showing me her collection of first edition H E Bates novels was a novel (pardon) concept. I understood the words, but not so much the sentiment. She also told me that Mr G collected books on WWI. So there were their bookshelves, groaning under the weight of attractive looking volumes. It was nice when they were added to, but the collecting wasn’t frantic.

A year later I was back in England, and had an essay to write on Under Milk Wood. Feeling she’d be interested, I must have told Mrs G about it, because when I arrived at the house for a visit, she packed me into the car to go and ‘look at a book.’

While I already had a paperback of the Dylan Thomas drama for radio, she felt that was to work with. A girl would also need a nice copy. And in her regular trawls through the East Sussex secondhand bookshops, she’d found a reasonable copy for me. I mean, I didn’t know I needed a second copy, but as I said, I knew very little.

Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood

It wasn’t a first edition (I suspect that would have been expensive), but it was old enough and the original edition. I have absolutely no idea where we went. It was a drive down some of the countless narrow lanes in Sussex, to a quaint little cottage selling books.

I seem to recall it cost about three times as much as the cheap new paperback, but obviously I bought it. And – equally obviously – it is the copy I’m hanging on to, now that the essay is a mere memory. Because it is a nice copy. And because of how I came by it.

Isn’t it astounding what someone will do for an ignorant ex-lodger? I believe that the H E Bates and WWI collections on their own would not have done it for me, nor would the reasonable Under Milk Wood. But together they started me off on a totally different life.

Rat Runners

What a marvellous film Rat Runners would make! It’s a great book, but I spent my time reading it seeing the film it could be turned into. Daughter won’t like me saying this, but it’s precisely the kind of thing she likes watching on television. (So read the book!)

Oisín McGann, Rat Runners

This must be Oisín McGann’s best book to date. I have enjoyed all the ones I’ve read, but do feel Rat Runners has that little bit extra. Set in a slightly futuristic London, it’s much as we know the place, except for the way everything is policed and what people can do. They have a kind of robotic – but live – watcher who can see everything, bar your thoughts. Possibly.

Nimmo is under age and isn’t allowed to live on his own, but he does anyway, having made a deal with the scientist Brundle who owns the building. When Brundle is murdered Nimmo wants to find out who did it and why. He also ends up having to search for something that Brundle had, which it turns out all the crooks in London want.

He is made leader of a group of three other adolescents – Scope, Mannikin and FX – and their job is to find this item. The four each have special skills, taken straight from your favourite thrillers. The youngest is twelve, and they all have something that their ‘boss’ can use as leverage to force them work for him.

Very exciting, and I am more than ready for the next one. I can’t see that we are done yet.

Paul Temple was here

Be still my beating heart!

When my curtain rail next falls down (requires attention, or whatever) I want Paul Temple to come and assist me. It would be a much more refined experience than what I’m used to.

As I was getting ready for Bloody Scotland, enjoying an unexpected brief meeting with the Sister of Grandmother, who had also made it to Scotland – if not the Bloody one – for a visit, the curtains failed. Actually, they failed before I arrived, but they needed dealing with.

So that’s why the Grandmother called in her old pal Paul Temple. (Anyone who clicked on the link above will have discovered he’s an actor.) He was a little taken aback to turn round on the ladder to find two little ladies watching him, Sister of Grandmother and your own Bookwitch. Perhaps his normal curtain rescuings are audience free.

But oh, the joy of hearing his voice doing a running commentary on what might be wrong with the curtain rail! And most ‘handymen’ never exclaim ‘voilà’ or address bystanders with ‘Mesdames et Messieurs.’ And never in a voice like that.

Afterwards we had to prevent him from leaving through the airing cupboard, herding him firmly but gently towards the actual door.

Talking Cranes

There was another wedding at some later point. Actually, there were two Indian family weddings within one week of each other. Both in America and we didn’t go because we couldn’t afford to. Have regretted it ever since. If they wouldn’t mind doing it again, I’d do … well, something.

The nice thing about it was the addition of Cousin Kerala, and at another wedding (we sacrificed them hard and fast during a short period in time) I almost married off both Offsprings (although Daughter had yet to be born) to the offspring of those weddings. The Indian relatives were most impressed with this Swede who didn’t flinch at the idea of arranged marriages. (It’s probably easier if you are the arranger rather than the arrangee.)

20 years later

Anyway, where was I? A better question would be, where am I heading?

Immigration. Or as seen from the other side, emigration. Whichever it is, it’s not necessarily easy. That will be why Cousin Kerala and friends have started up a website for South Asian women. It’s called Talking Cranes and is a curious mix of news items, recipes and advice.

It’s a good idea, now that it’s not just the British who are out collecting for their empire, but we all move about a lot and lose what’s familiar. We need something else to replace home. Here is Cousin Kerala, talking about Talking Cranes.

Two decades after our lack of wedding attendance, they did do a sort of repeat, closer to (our) home, with everyone else doing the travelling. And what could be more Indian than an English barn dance?

The barn dance

Bookwitch bites #75

If I’d known about it I would have wanted to be there. Here is a short video from when some other people spoke up for libraries, with Alan Gibbons at the forefront ‘as usual.’ The others are, in no particular order, Lucy Coats, Candy Gourlay, Philip Ardagh, Gillian Cross, Fiona Dunbar, Chris Priestley, Pat Walsh and the librarian of librarians, Ferelith Hordern. And probably some others I didn’t catch enough of a glimpse of to be able to identify them.

It’s easy for us to take libraries and the whole idea of them for granted. I had no idea that when Candy grew up in the Philippines there weren’t any libraries. And the elderly gentleman in the video who talked so passionately about borrowing books to read… well, it makes me want to cry.

Charlie Brown had access to a library. Probably even Snoopy had a library, unless it was ‘no dogs allowed.’ It can be easy to lose or forget a library book, but as long as you don’t ‘spill coffee’ on a book on purpose, you might be forgiven.

Charlie Brown library cartoon

The coffee spilling was a technique I learned about at work, back in the olden days. Not very honest, and not something I have ever practised.

Finally, here is a link to a radio programme on Monday 26th March, about Scandinavian children’s books, presented by Mariella Frostrup as ‘always.’ Let’s hope it won’t be only the same old stuff, despite the description. I am particularly interested, because I was party to a request for contributions to the programme from the Scandinavian church in Liverpool. Nice that they asked, but not sure who they hoped to find there. (Having said that, I will clearly be faced with all my friends at Gustav Adolf…)

Launching mcbf, again

You can never launch a good thing too many times. You might recall I ‘helped’ launch the Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2012 back in January last year. It was very nice. That’s presumably why they did it again.

Yesterday’s launch at New Charter Academy in Tameside (Ashton-under-Lyne) was properly executed, despite this being the week of throat infections and other kinds of bad throats. The member of staff at NCA who was to lead us to the auditorium had to whisper, hence the few followers. Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy fared only a little better, but was assisted by microphone and water.

John Brooks, Carol Ann Duffy, NCA staff member, Kaye Tew and James Draper

But we did it, and that’s the main thing. With the help of my chauffeur, aka the Resident IT Consultant, I made it to this far flung outpost of Greater Manchester, and it was my very first academy visit. It was nice. No sooner had I braved the cold winds of the car park and made it inside when I was shanghaied into a – mercifully brief – interview with Radio Tameside (I conduct the interviews here, thank you very much!), as well as been begged for a contribution to the mcbf blog.

Carol Ann Duffy with students at New Charter Academy

I was introduced to MMU Vice Chancellor John Brooks, who might be the one who said that well behaved parents could be permitted to accompany their children to the mcbf in the summer. (If not, someone else said it. It’s all a blur at the moment.) Nearly everyone spoke at some point or other. A few specially invited NCA students asked Carol Ann Duffy some extremely good questions. Kaye Tew enthused about their schools programme and James Draper (wearing truly cool socks) introduced the second half of the launch.

John Sampson's instruments

John Brooks, John Sampson and Mozart

Which was Carol Ann Duffy and her best friend John Sampson, doing a similar show to the one I saw last year. But you simply can’t have too much of The Princess Blankets (the end of which I had already *forgotten…) read by Carol Ann and with John playing a lot of different flute-y instruments, including something looking like a walking stick. (The Resident IT Consultant nodded approval for every outlandish and ancient music contraption brought out.)

Noisy audience participation (by this time the audience had grown with the arrival of pupils from nearby primary schools) complemented a successful show. It included much worthy learning, but also a sign bearing the words ‘Bloody Hell.’ And I don’t think that was an accident… Mozart was there, not to mention his older colleague Johann Sebastian Baah, the famous sheep.

Flowers for Carol Ann Duffy

I could go on. And on. But to save you having to switch off your computer, I’ll leave you with the link to the brand new and freshly produced mcbf programme. It contains many witchy favourites. Some only in school events, however. I will work on my witch-to-school transformation for daytime use.

(And I’m sorry, but my photos are as rubbish as last week’s were. I suffered a ‘technical hitch’ which has now – belatedly – been rectified. Suffice it to say I am an idiot. Sorry.)

(*As for my concerns about early dementia, I have looked at last year’s launch blog. It seems Carol Ann never read us the end. Hardly surprising I couldn’t remember it.)

Just One Cornetto…

Book Power 100

I had so hoped to be on it. Or would have, if I’d known it was being done. ‘It’ being the oddly named Guardian list of the most powerful people in the book world. The top one hundred names, except they have cheated by having pairs of names for some entries, making it 100+.

Unlike other commentators I am not horrified by having J K Rowling at no. two. I see no reason why she shouldn’t be. It’s quite interesting to see how they have picked people I know quite well, and also people I’ve never heard of.

First I went on the website showing the lucky one hundred as un-named photos, and came to the conclusion I recognised about twenty of them. Furnished with names I ‘recognised’ a lot more. I have spoken to six, and met another two.

And I finally know who that chap with the wild beard is. Not Ardagh. The other one. (Have already forgotten his name…)

The thing is, I have talked to people who know many of these important ones. Or who have met them, or heard some juicy gossip about them. And somehow, when that is the case, it’s harder to take them seriously. There is one author in particular, highly thought of by many, who sank considerably in my estimation on hearing a personal account of their behaviour.

But then, they can behave as they wish. It’s their books that matter. I do find that the best books are written by decent human beings. At least in the children’s books world. And they haven’t been forgotten here.

Good to see so many women on there, and interesting that so many CEOs are female. Two Swedes, albeit one dead, which didn’t go down well with some. (Bet he’d have preferred not to be dead, too.) And it’s odd, what I know. I couldn’t have put a name to Nick Barley. But seeing his photo I could have told you he is the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as he is a visible kind of leader, who is always out and about in Charlotte Square.

Books 100

And it turns out that I am indeed on the list. I made it as no.100, which is a round and pleasing figure. Rather like myself.

Bookwitch bites #52

Could really do with an Emergency Labrador right now. Not sure what it would do for me, but feel  it’s a reassuring concept. I noticed the sign for one on the train a while ago. When I looked again, it appeared that all they had was an emergency ladder.

Fiction Express - Stewart Ross, Soterion Mission

From the train it’s not far to Fiction Express. This is interactive e-fiction where you control the plot. (Has to be better than losing the plot.) Different authors have written first chapters, which you can access free online (assuming I’ve got my facts right) and then there is a vote on what direction the story should take. Sounds like fun, unless of course you’d rather the story went somewhere different from what others have voted for.

More online writing for readers can be found at 247 Tales. This month’s author story is by Gennifer Choldenko, and it might be just a couple of hundred words, but they were quite scary words. Unlike Fiction Express, you don’t get more than 247 words, and there I was, all ready to read on. Last month’s winner is a pretty good one. Nice to see the future of writing is safe.

If you’re not sure you can write without help, I found just the thing for you: Writing a novel, six month curse, starts October. Or should that be course? If anyone wants to try it, I’m sorry but I can’t remember where I saw the ad.

Me, I’m surprisingly bad at both the writing and the remembering. As you know, I don’t set out to upset, but an ambition like that is never 100% water tight. And if I intended to insult, I wouldn’t actually send the ‘victim’ a link to the post. I had a response to just such a link recently, which I will share with you: ‘Thank you. Are all your blogs negative? It doesn’t have anything positive to say.’ Polite. If I had meant it to be bad, I’d have come up with something far juicier. Even without the help of the October curse.

Mitchell Library

To end on a much pleasanter note, I do wish I was in Glasgow this Thursday! I will be in Edinburgh on Friday, but it just isn’t the same. The lovely Bill Paterson will be doing an Aye Write! event at the Mitchell, reading from his own Tales From the Back Green. I must have one or two readers in the Glasgow area? Go! Enjoy!

Warning! Squirrels.

‘Do you enjoy murdering people?’ I asked Linda Strachan as we came out from the event with Eleanor Updale and Sally Gardner, where they had discussed killing their characters. ‘I do’ she said, far too enthusiastically for my liking. Linda has a new book out called Dead Boy Talking, and so far I’ve resisted reading it, because I’m scared. And quite frankly, her reply didn’t do much to allay my fears.

Photos at EIBF by Chris Close

Early Sunday morning started with some real Stirling haar, but by the time I was sweeping along in the wake of three Portuguese paragons in Edinburgh, the sun was shining and then it shone and shone and it got hotter and hotter. So did I, and towards mid-afternoon I was willing to kill for a cup of tea. Which isn’t free, unlike the coffee. I know I’m a moaner, but I really don’t get the difference. Other than that it’s £1.75 a cup.

Sunny Charlotte Square

Anyway, before I got so thirsty, I ran into Lindsey Fraser and introduced myself. We hadn’t met before, although I’d seen her in action here last year. As she ran off for an event, Linda Strachan strolled past, and we chatted a bit as I hung around waiting for the events ticket promised me by Eleanor. It was eventually delivered into my hand by none other than Mr Update himself, aka James Naughtie. I almost had a giddy fan moment there.

(Btw, Update is Son’s updated name for Updale. He tweeted, and got it a little wrong.)

Vivian French, Lindsey Fraser, Lauren, Eleanor Updale, Nina and Sally Gardner

Lindsey was, in fact, chairing the Historical Fiction talk with Sally and Eleanor, which was very interesting, even without those murderous thoughts. Sally was given a new surname, which came as a surprise, but I can assure you it was ‘the Gardner woman’ who was there. Updale can also cause problems, because your books can end up on the floor when bookshops run out of shelf space, although Eleanor has often been saved by the presence of Jacqueline Wilson, who’s got it even worse. They both read from their latest books, The Silver Blade and Johnny Swanson. And then they discussed Americans. (More of which later.) Sally confessed to feeling that killing a couple of her characters ‘was delicious’, and Eleanor has problems with her daughter who is furious over her killing a beloved character in Montmorency.

Eleanor Updale and Sally Gardner

In between a desperate need to eat my two-day-old sandwiches, we hung out with these killers in the bookshop for a bit, finding a few more authors hanging out as well. Took them back to the greenery at the opposite corner, and then dashed off to photograph Cornelia Funke, who got the ‘sexy’ style of photo session. Men!

Cornelia Funke

This aspiring astronaut and pilot has left her native Germany for Hollywood, and I bet that was a real sacrifice to make. The woman behind me gasped when she heard that Cornelia still writes her books in German, which personally I find isn’t odd at all. We had a world exclusive, hearing the first chapter from Reckless, her new book out in a month’s time.

Barry Hutchison

It was a relief getting to the Corner Theatre for Barry Hutchison after being baked in the main tent with Cornelia. I noticed the enormous queue trailing all round the square, which should have been a relief to Barry. And it did say outside the bookshop that he would be sighing there afterwards. Sorry, signing. Barry had been nervous about his Edinburgh debut, but it all went perfectly. He is scared of a lot of things. The squirrels are his. He’s scared of them. (Which reminds me of the story of the Shetland squirrels, which we’ll save for another day.)

Barry Hutchison fans

Barry is a good story teller, who has already managed to scare his own son witless with the latest book. He hopes to have traumatised a whole generation by book six, and considering the two fans on the right who looked normal before the event, you can tell it’s hard to escape unscathed.

I finished the day by getting thrown off the spotty table outside the yurt, as I was trying to do emergency internet stuff like posting a blog and sorting out photos. At this rate I’ll need both my own desk as well as a pot of tea to carry around.

Mairi Hedderwick

Whilst internet problems persist (We think it’s BT’s fault. Hi, BT!), my blogging behaviour will change, and I will post new blogs during the day from Charlotte Square. Always assuming spotty table is available.

Crossed the road against a red man in the company of two policemen, reckoning they’d be hit by the oncoming cars first. (I’m a caring sort of witch.) And I got off the train in Stirling right behind a piper in full tartan regalia, including the nonchalantly draped blanket nonchalantly thrown over his shoulder. As I thought about how hot HE must have been, he turned round and said something to me. I didn’t understand a word.

It can’t have been regarding my piece of smelly Brie, because I’d eaten that.