Category Archives: Reading

Stirling goings-on

The Bookbug Week‘s flagship event will this year take place only a mile or so away from Bookwitch Towers. Scottish Book Trust’s annual book week for young readers runs from May 16th for a week, kicking off at Bannockburn with a day of, I think, poetry and stuff.

Bookbug

The rest of the programme happens all over Scotland, and the theme this year is international. Songs and rhymes from around the world.

This tallies with what you find in the programme for Stirling’s own Off the Page where, surprisingly, they offer both a German Bookbug session, as well as a bilingual event or two.

You can also do colouring in and design your own coat of arms, along with attending a teddy bear’s picnic. At the other end of the age scale (or so I imagine) is a vintage reminiscence tea party, which sounds really very nice. Except I hope I am not old enough for that sort of thing yet.

Somewhere there are dragons.

In schools (they have all the luck!) you might find Chae Strathie, Janis Mackay, Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye, Ross MacKenzie and Mairi Hedderwick.

But despair not, Mairi Hedderwick is also doing a public event. Maybe even two. This ten-day long festival starts on May 6th, and other public children’s events offer Lari Don and Nick Sharratt.

Helen MacKinven, whom I met at Yay!YA+ last week is also doing an event. As are several of the big names in Scottish crime, such as Lin Anderson, Helen Fitzgerald, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay.

There are many more events and many more authors. And much upset on my part because I will not be going to any of these… The more attractive the event, the less convenient the date (for me).

The ability to read

Toby in Tony Bradman’s The Boy and the Globe was able to read. He was young, and an orphan, and so desperate he took up a [short] life of crime in order to eat. But he could read.

He got enjoyment from a book one of the other thieves accidentally stole, and Toby helped this boy, purely by being able to read. And when they ended up thieving at the Globe, it was the reading that eventually got him his better job, as an actor, as a friend of Shakespeare’s, and more.

Ned in Mary Hoffman’s Shakespeare’s Ghost could also read, as could the young girl who wanted to marry him. Both were poor, and Ned was an orphan like Toby. He couldn’t have done his acting without being literate. Or maybe he could, but it would have been much harder.

Set in a period when I suspect most normal children, by which I mean not terribly well off, would never learn how to read, this is remarkable. But had they not been able to, the plots for the books they feature in wouldn’t have worked.

It’s probably not just a plot device though. I’d like to think of it as being there to demonstrate to children how well someone can do just because they have this basic skill. A skill that many still don’t have, or not to the degree we’d like them to.

And for all the Government’s harping on about ‘Literacy,’ they are not necessarily helping. Especially not when they remove the places where the children could go to practice and enjoy their reading skills. You know, like libraries.

Toby and Ned got to where they wanted through reading. I assume that’s what the people in power are afraid of.

Shakespeare’s Ghost

‘Oh, a Mary Hoffman,’ said Daughter as she passed my stack of new books. ‘I might read that Mary Hoffman, if I may,’ said the Resident IT Consultant, and carried off Shakespeare’s Ghost. So I had to wait.

Mary Hoffman, Shakespeare's Ghost

It’s not terribly strange that many authors have written something about Shakespeare right now, but I find it amusing how both Mary and Tony Bradman chose The Tempest, as it was being written, to feature in their respective books, down to having Will give their orphan boys the part of Ariel. So, two orphans, two theatre companies (well, the same, really) and two Ariels.

And still, so very different from each other. It just goes to prove what a good author can do; one idea, but more than one story.

I liked getting to know Shakespeare a bit better, and finding out what his experiences regarding faeries might have been. Mary’s orphan, Ned, meets and falls in love with a girl from that other world, and it seems that Will had come across her and her family too, when he was younger.

The trouble with Ned falling in love with someone not entirely human, apart from the obvious things, was that he also had a girl in real London that he was interested in and who was hurt as his attention wandered. At first I wanted Ned to have nothing to do with Faelinn, but after a while I felt that maybe he should, and that Charity would be all right, and after that I didn’t really know what I thought.

Just as well the story looked after those things without me. Or it might have been Mary.

There is the plague to deal with as well, and the royal family. In fact, the royals on both sides of The Boundary have trouble getting on. As does Ned and some of his rival actors who are all after the same big parts. And they depend on Shakespeare to write a new hit or two, while he finds it hard to come up with inspiring ideas.

I know this is all made up. Probably. But it is nice to get closer to historical figures like this, and getting to know them a bit. More personal.

I enjoyed this.

Dessi and me

At least I have heard of William Shakespeare. I’ve read [some of] his dramas and I have seen [a few more of] them in the theatre. But I am woefully un-educated when it comes to the bard. Say Othello and I can’t necessarily name who else is in there with him. Although I am currently reading Malorie Blackman’s new novel, Chasing the Stars, which is set in space and based on Othello. And I read and loved Exposure by Mal Peet, which was about a footballer and also based on Othello.

It seems he has been a favourite with quite a few.

I know Dessi, of course. Short for Desdemona. I had only just learned to read when I had to ask Mother-of-witch who this Sharkers-peh-a-reh might be. He turns up on page one of Kastrullresan by Edith Unnerstad, if memory serves me right. It’s about the Larsson family and their seven children. The mother is a former Shakespeare actress, who wanted to name all her children after his characters.

The kind and sensible father manages to negotiate the right to name the boys, of which they have three; Lasse, Knutte and Pysen [Patrik, really]. Lasse is the book’s narrator and is most relieved not to be called Hamlet or Othello. You can see how that would have cramped your style back in the 1950s, in Sweden.

Edith Unnerstad, Kastrullresan

Ophelia is the mother’s favoured name, but her husband manages to negotiate away from that for a good many years, until the fourth girl and seventh child arrives and his defenses are low. So Ofelia she is, but always known as Little O.

The eldest is a girl called Desdemona, but is Dessi for short. I always used to think that was so cool, and I’d have a child and call her that. (I didn’t. Call her Desdemona, I mean.) Girl and child no. two is Miranda, called Mirre. I liked that too. The third is Rosalinda, and for some reason that’s also what people call her.

Then came the boringly named boys, and finally little Ofelia.

The thing is, I was so young, and knew nothing about Shakespeare, so I thought all the names were perfectly acceptable and normal, albeit previously unheard of by me.

It was a lovely book, and the plot is all about the father’s invention of a triple saucepan that whistles loudly when dinner is ready, and the sad fact that with seven children their tiny (two-bed?) flat is too small for them. So the father builds a couple of caravans on top of two horse-drawn carts, hitches up the two sturdy horses from the local brewery (can’t remember how they got the horses, except Rosalinda loves them…), and the family set off to visit the children’s aunt in another town, where they eventually settle down and live happily ever after.

And that was my introduction to dear old Will and his characters. Sort of.

The Boy and the Globe

Did anyone notice that it’s just been the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare? Not that I feel it’s quite proper to celebrate anniversaries of deaths, but still.

There are a lot of books out with some kind of Shakespeare connection. Tony Bradman’s The Boy and the Globe is one of them, and it’s a Barrington Stoke Conkers book. It’s the one I mentioned a few days ago as having given me so much more pleasure than the book I abandoned immediately before it.

What’s so fun is seeing what different authors can do with the same theme. The Boy and the Globe is just one story set in 1611, featuring a young orphan. Toby is forced to take up a life of crime in order to eat, but it’s not something he wants to do. By chance he ends up thieving at the Globe one day, and is discovered, in more ways than one.

The boy is befriended by Shakespeare, who is struggling to write a new play, and inspired by a book Toby has just read, he suggests the plot for Will’s next masterpiece, The Tempest.

Tony Bradman and Tom Morgan-Jones, The Boy and the Globe

He gets to do a bit of acting, too, as Shakespeare writes a part for him, and from then on it’s less crime and more theatre for Toby.

Lots of fun and pretty instructive of life in London at the time, as well as giving a theoretical glimpse into the life of Will. I expect any parent of a child who reads this to be forced to make a trip to the Globe before long. (If they are careless enough to mention it’s a real place.)

Illustrations by Tom Morgan-Jones, and lots of Funne Activities for Boyes & Girls at the back of the book. (We really ought to celebrate dead people a bit more.)

2016 Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

I swear I didn’t enter Cumbernauld Theatre yesterday morning, uttering the words ‘do you know who I am?’ I merely wondered if they needed to know who I am. You know, similar question.

(I suppose I should be grateful I arrived at all. The Resident IT Consultant was to give me a lift. What he’d omitted to consider was the amount of diesel a pumpkin likes to have in order to go all the way to Cumbernauld. It did. It even got him to the nearest petrol station after, so he could drive home.)

It’s interesting how the meaning of the term YA keeps slipping and sliding. Yesterday I suspected that what it meant was that the books were by young adults, and not just for them. In my mind I categorised the authors present as the teenagers, the debutantes (I know), the old hands (those with three published books) and the grand ‘old’ lady (sorry..!). Kirkland Ciccone had done his best to find authors I’d never heard of before.

Scotia Books at Yay!YA

And when Googling Kelpies Prize winner Alex McCall it is well nigh impossible to find anything that doesn’t suggest he’s an older man who has a lady detective in Botswana, but no, it’s not that one. The other Alex (Nye) also has a prestigious award under her belt, the Royal Mail Award. And organiser Kirkland won the Catalyst prize. Elizabeth Wein has won a number of awards, including the very valuable Bookwitch second best book ever.

Code Name Verity

I’m glad that’s the novel Elizabeth chose to talk about in her session in the bar. Not just because it’s such a favourite, but because I’d not heard her in an event about Code Name Verity before. She read a bit, down in her ‘cave,’ and then she showed the children her silk map, and mentioned that one author who inspires her is Hilary McKay. (Such a wise choice!)

Elizabeth Wein

If you’re wondering why the others have not won prizes, it’s because Victoria Gemmell and Martin Stewart have only just got their first books out (Martin’s not actually officially out, even), and Estelle Maskame is only 18. Not that that should stop anyone.

Estelle Maskame

Estelle was in one of the other bars, where she read the first chapter of what I will probably always call DIMLY, when it should be DIMILY, Did I Mention I Love You? She’s one of these online wonders with millions of hits who has gone on to be published ‘properly.’ Estelle began writing her first book (it’s a trilogy) when she was 13… It’s apparently very popular, and I can sort of see that I’d have liked it when I was 14. And as for becoming a role model for pupils barely younger than herself, I can see how that works.

Martin Stewart

In the third bar was Martin Stewart, more or less stuffed in a fireplace, who also read from his book, Riverkeep. It’s based on the Glasgow Humane Society, which seems to be about fishing people out of the river Clyde; either dead or alive. Martin is a former teacher, who gave up teaching when he was offered a book contract on the basis of a short story he’d written.

Kirkland Ciccone

That was my afternoon in three bars. The morning was spent in the theatre itself where Kirkland introduced Alex Nye, before ‘exiting’ – by that I mean standing just behind the rows of seats – and allowing himself to be interviewed very loudly, drowning out poor Alex and making the audience laugh.

Alex did much the same talk as she did in Dunblane in November, and I think it’s a good one, which works well for a secondary school audience. This time her spooky sound effects worked fine and added a certain something to her ghostly readings. I especially like her 007 and M photograph from Glencoe.

Alex Nye

This ‘failed’ waitress who still hasn’t got the red sports car she craves, got lots of good questions from the children, so now we know she writes accompanied by Kate Bush, and that she admires Marcus Sedgwick (that rather explains the spookiness). Her next book about Mary Queen of Scots will be out in July.

Then Kirkland himself took over and basically did half an hour of stand-up comedy, that no author in their right mind would want to appear after. Luckily there was no one else after the exploding houses of Cumbernauld or Kirkie’s older brother the Tesco robber. He did mention Meg & Mog and Winnie the Pooh, but only to follow with Stephen King and some seriously bad book covers.

He wore his leopard jacket again, and teamed it with failed black hair. Apparently he had been aiming for blue.

Kirkland Ciccone, Victoria Gemmell, Alex McCall, Elizabeth Wein, Martin Stewart

Lunch was nice, with lots of things I’d have liked to eat but couldn’t. Luckily the others made up for this, and Alex Nye did some heroic work on the macaroons. Victoria Gemmell had handbag trouble and spent quite some time jamming an enormous pair of scissors into the zip. I’m not sure if that helped. Kirkie said she ought to give me a copy of her book, but unfortunately Follow Me sold so well that it was decided she shouldn’t. (I gave Victoria my card.)

If you are thinking I’ve not reported on either her or Alex ‘not-Botswana’ McCall, you are correct. Kirkie stashed them down in the changing rooms, and whereas they both returned reassuringly unchanged, I vowed last year not to go down there again. (And after hearing one of the ushers telling me and Alex Nye about their resident ghosts, I feel less inclined still. Alex, on the other hand, looked ready to come back to investigate.)

Alex McCall

I had a little look at not-Botswana Alex’s award winning book Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, as I’d understood it to be for much younger readers, but if that is the case, I have to consider myself younger. It looked quite promising. And I’d have loved to hear Alex speak. He still looked as young as he is (that makes sense, doesn’t it?), but seemed nice. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Kirkland Ciccone

There was a sort of book signing at the end. Some of the small venues overran, and some schools had had to leave to get back on time, but there was still a throng of fans in the queue. I decided I was in the way, so escaped into the car park where I was recognised as ‘the witch from last year’ before my newly fed transport arrived for the second time in one day.

Elizabeth Wein

The Girl in the Blue Coat

Set in the Netherlands during WWII, Monica Hesse’s novel is about 18-year-old Hanneke who delivers black market goods around Amsterdam for her boss. It’s not quite resistance work, but it’s not legal or safe. Hanneke learns how to flirt with German soldiers, so they won’t think of what she might be carrying, right under their noses.

That’s until the day one of her customers asks her to find a Jewish teenage girl for her; someone who has gone missing from the hidden room where she was kept. Hanneke is reluctant, but she is good at finding things.

Monica Hesse, The Girl in the Blue Coat

This is interesting, because it shows us the war in yet another place and from a different angle than the usual ones. I didn’t know all that much about the Dutch in the war, except for what you learn from Anne Frank.

You can’t really know what people are like until something happens which proves that some are much better human beings than you’d thought, or occasionally, much worse. It seems that more people were satisfied to be quietly cooperating with the German invaders. I don’t know whether this is true, but Monica has done a lot of research. She knows what food people might have liked, and she’s discovered a lot of Dutch facts. However, to my mind, the book has quite an American feel to it, which is hardly surprising as Monica is American.

The plot is exciting, though, and as always, I should have paid full attention to what gets mentioned, as it all turns out to have been relevant in one way or another. Though I did guess at one of the core secrets early on.

A very enjoyable read, if you can say that about a Holocaust novel. There is a lot of bad, but also much that is good.