Category Archives: Siobhan Dowd

In my taxi

You hear taxi drivers boasting about who’s been in their taxi.

And in my former post office job a long time ago I would ponder if I’d had any famous people in my queue. I did, a couple. A major Swedish actor and singer and celebrity in general, who none of you will have heard of. Also a local singer songwriter who none of you will have heard of. One of them knew exactly what he was doing, while the other one hadn’t got a clue and shouldn’t have been there at all.

But in my taxi, I mean, in my queue on Bookwitch; who have I had?

Who haven’t I had? So many lovely and more or less famous people in the book trade have popped in, either once, or regularly. I imagine even the Queen reads Bookwitch, but she never leaves comments, so this is hard to prove.

Two lovely ladies who are no longer with us, are Siobhan Dowd and Dina Rabinovitch. I’m very pleased they made it on here.

I was surprised to find Sharon Creech on the premises, as it were, but then again, why not? Edwina Currie. I definitely didn’t see her coming.

In a way it wasn’t surprising that Jacqueline Wilson popped by to comment. It’s just that you need to have an email address to do it, and she didn’t (then) do email, which means a bit more effort had to go into the commenting. It was kind of her.

I feel that you are in very good company when you visit Bookwitch. You just don’t know who you might have a conversation with.

Eight I’ve read

At last. A list I’ve read. I’m beginning to like Daniel Hahn even more. Clearly great minds think alike.

For the Guardian Daniel has chosen eight of the best YA novels, suitable – indeed highly recommended – for adults. And I’ve read them all, which I suppose isn’t so strange, really. I thought when I saw the list that they were all recent books, but YA hasn’t been around all that long, so it’s understandable.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen exactly that list, but I could have.

And I realise I should never have absolved Daughter from having to read The White Darkness. She asked, only a week or so ago, whether she still had to read it, and I said no. It is such a tremendous book. (Is it too late to force her now?) Fancy Daniel picking Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick! Very good choice. Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan. That was a long time ago now, and I almost didn’t consider it a death/cancer novel, but I suppose it is.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, of course. The odd thing is that when I read it, I was – almost – not keen on Chris Riddell’s illustrations. I thought I preferred Dave McKean’s. Well, a witch can change her mind. Siobhan Dowd’s A Swift Pure Cry; the book I thought I might not like because I had set notions about that ‘kind of plot’… What an idiot I was. But it’s a testament to Siobhan’s writing skills that this ‘kind of plot’ can be marvellous.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond is the one book I remember less well. Possibly because at the time I read several of David’s books in quick succession. Patrick Ness gets three books in, as Chaos Walking is a trilogy, but you can’t have just the one part. For me they are books that have grown in stature over the years. And finally, Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram. One of the best. And now there will be no more.

I know that I tend to preach to the converted here on Bookwitch, but I hope that a few of today’s readers are doubting adults, who would never dream of reading YA. Until today. Because this is such a good start to a new life of reading YA books.

Lucky you.

The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture #1

Having been – sort of –  ‘in’ on Siobhan Dowd’s memorial trust since its start, there was no way I wouldn’t go and hear Patrick Ness deliver (such a posh word) the first lecture in aid of the trust. He is well known for calling a spade a spade, so my feeling was that it wouldn’t be boring.

Tony Bradman

It wasn’t. Introduced by Tony Bradman, Patrick got his usual superstar greeting from the audience (I’m trusting there were lots of young people in the theatre…), before offering us his 90 minute talk in 28 minutes. He talks fast when he gets nervous. Apparently. He reckoned there would probably be time left for some Q&A at the end.

The end. Yes, for him that was meant to come at the age of eight, in 1980, according to the pastor in his pentecostal church in Washington (state). They were all going to die.

Patrick fiddled with his stopwatch as he told us about Siobhan’s first short story, which she offered Tony Bradman for his collection Skin Deep. Just hearing about it again made my hairs stand on end. It’s that good. Siobhan was that good. ‘Just plain damned good’ as Patrick said.

Children have always suffered in silence. Not just being condemned to death by their pastor, but he told us about the poor girl who was certain she’d die a death by artichoke. Being young is ‘impossible.’

And it’s wrong to use the word ‘them’ for children. We’ve all been children. Patrick sees himself as one big warehouse, storing all his previous ages, because he is all those ages at all times. He at least had Judy Blume when he was young. And whereas he wanted to write, his understanding was that only famous people become authors.

He wanted to write about being young and gay in Washington, because there is a lot of shame involved in being young. And Siobhan Dowd was the writer Patrick always wanted to be. ‘Stories told with love.’

On the calling a spade a spade, Patrick felt that the first question put to him on Saturday evening was more of a comment from the member of the audience (How I resent those who use vaulable time voicing their own opinions at times like these!) The next question was more a ‘Patrick compliment’ kind of question, about what message he’d leave his eight-year-old self if he could.

Patrick Ness

Adept at avoiding tricky corners, Patrick wriggled out of a favourite list of books, which was the third question. On that note we ran out of time and Patrick attempted a fast escape out the fire exit, at which point he discovered a witch sitting nearby, so he said a quick hello, waved and ran.

The queue for his book signing was long and I’m sure he was there for a while. If people will insist on being photographed with their favourite author and can’t get the camera to work, queues like these will take forever. Although I saw Patrick later, so he must have escaped eventually.

There will be a singing

That’s not just my continued mis-reading of the promised signing after every event. As I got off the tram on Saturday, I found myself struggling to avoid becoming part of a happy group of singers from the something or other gospel. I let them sway on ahead, but they gospelled so slowly that I ended up joining them, eventually overtaking whenever a more spacially aware singer prodded one of the others out of the way. And finally I led the procession, but I speeded up so I’d be out of there completely.

Tram? I hear you ask. Yes, I let the Resident IT Consultant drive me (us) to the Park & Ride and the tram conveyed me into Edinburgh. (It was Saturday. I wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer a repeat of the Saturday in 2012 when the train home was simply too full to join.)

I cased the joint for a while, coming to the conclusion the bookshop doesn’t stock Into A Raging Blaze. Found that the photographers’ background carpet was a more mellow green than it has been. Checked the price of cake – as you do – in case the Resident IT Consultant would need some later. And I, erm, rearranged some books in the bookshop. Although it is hard to put books face out when it is at the expense of other top books. Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Joined the proper photographers to snap Charlie Fletcher and Michelle Harrison. Not unsurprisingly they were keenest on the beautiful Michelle (who reminded me of a black haired J K Rowling). Me, I sort of stood behind the dustbins. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Being short, I’d already come to the conclusion I might have to take photographs between the legs of the others who have this unwritten shooting order I will never ever be able to join.

Michelle Harrison

After Charlie’s and Michelle’s event I repaired to the press yurt and most serendipitously came face to face with the newlyweds. I had more or less given up hope of fitting Philip and Lady Caveney into our respective schedules this week. So we had all of several minutes before Philip’s interview (for television, he claims) and I dashed on to The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, where I was unable to avoid the Resident IT Consultant. Former children’s laureate Anthony Browne was there too.

The Caveneys

I had asked permission to bring the Resident IT Consultant to the yurt, so we went there for our dinner sandwiches, and the life saving coffee. Sat opposite a woman I slowly worked out must be a Swedish journalist, and even more slowly I worked out that she the man she was interviewing was Bernardo Atxaga (whose book Shola miraculously appeared in my Swedish letterbox over the winter).

Being on translating grounds here, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Daniel Hahn, but I didn’t tug at his sleeve either, as he was intent on Bernardo. I trawled the square for some action and found I arrived just in time for the signing by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf, who write the Oksa Pollock books.

Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

Sara Paretsky

After some killing of time had taken place (it rained…) we finally got to the evening’s long awaited photocall with Sara Paretsky. She jumped straight into her star role, saying the attention she got from the photographers made her feel as though she’s important. Murdo Macleod pointed out she is important. I hung back by the dustbins again, knowing my camera would never totally overcome the fact that it was eight o’clock and a little dark, and that I couldn’t hope to achieve what Murdo and Co did. Meanwhile the Resident IT Consultant chatted to one of the photographers about why they all wear black. (I had no idea he was so into fashion!)

Sara Paretsky

We went straight to Sara’s event with Tom Rob Smith who – it turns out – is half Swedish. Naturally. Not knowing what he looked like before last night, I did miss his photocall on the green carpet. Apologies. (He looks sort of Swedish, if that helps.)

My skills for getting to near the front of the singing, I mean signing, queue had not deserted me, and I had my two minutes with Sara before too long. We agreed that facebook is the way to keep track of house moves and dogs. And stuff.

The light was far too bad for pictures, so I led the Resident IT Consultant back to the tram stop with no more singing, and from there it was a smooth trip home, without any need to get too close to any fellow passengers.

(In the small hours leading up to Saturday I had dreamed an alternate Sara Paretsky signing. She and her many (?) publicists, as well as a large group of fans, turned up outside my – old – house, to do the signing. I invited them in for soup and sandwiches. Her and the PRs, not the fans, obviously. Once inside it became my new house and that was so not good, because of its unfinished state. Also, my freezer isn’t that well stocked yet, and I was busy working out how to make the small amount of soup I had stretch between so many. But other than that, it was a fine signing.)

EIBF and me, 2014

It is here. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book festival. And I’m sorry, but all I can think of is that Sara Paretsky will be there. It’s been three years, and she is finally coming in the summer rather than freezing her nether regions off in February/March. Which is so sensible.

OK, there must be a few other authors scheduled for the two and a bit weeks. Think, witch, think!

There are some very interesting looking events where authors one admires talk about authors one admires. I’m going to have to see if I can catch one of those, because they look like tickets might sell out fast (small tent). Then there is Patrick Ness who will give the Siobhan Dowd talk and Val McDermid will pretend to be Jane Austen.

Wendy Meddour is coming and there is a lovely pairing of Francesca Simon and Irving Finkel. Another interesting pair is Caroline Lawrence with Geraldine McCaughrean. Elizabeths Laird and Wein will cooperate, and Gill Lewis is also making an appearance.

Many more excellent authors like Sophie Hannah and Arne Dahl, Tommy Donbavand and Liz Kessler will be at the festival. I have to admit to paying less attention to the ‘grown-up’ authors again, in favour of my ‘little ones.’ Those who are given orange juice instead of wine (although I am sure not at EIBF!) because they write for children.

Have to admit that many of my hoped for events are school events. I am glad that some of the best looking events are for schools, because it means someone thinks school children deserve the best. I want to be a school child on a very temporary basis at the end of August.

Deck chair

I’m hoping for plenty of stamina on my part. I have planned a number of full or nearly full days, for about two thirds of the festival. (I was thinking of having a holiday at some point.) The event I am fairly certain I won’t be able to go to but wish I could, is Eleanor Updale talking about Vera Brittain. That would be really something.

Perhaps I will see you in Charlotte Square? (If my eyes are – temporarily – closed, just give me a gentle nudge.)

They came for dinner

I started leaning on them a week ago. At various points most of them could either come or not come and it kept changing until the last minute, and I moved venue two days before, but finally they were here.

Dinner table

On Thursday evening it was time for my annual tradition (three times is tradition, yes?) of asking the shortlisted authors coming to the Salford Children’s Book Award to meet for dinner on the night before the ceremony. Not all of them managed to come up with a convincing enough excuse for not joining me – and Daughter – so three authors and one very cool aunt actually made it to Carluccio’s at Piccadilly.

Gill Lewis

Sally Nicholls

Gill Lewis arrived nice and early, and we decided to string out the dining experience by having starters we strictly speaking didn’t need. Olives, crispy pasta. That sort of thing. Sally Nicholls, accompanied by her Cool Aunt, got there at the end of our main course, and Cliff McNish wasn’t too far behind.

This year the award is a Top Ten kind of arrangement, so the authors had all won their year, and this morning they have to fight it out between them (including Michael Morpurgo who even has to fight himself), to see who is the overall winner of the last ten years. (Daughter pointed out it was like The Hunger Games, except they’d had dinner, and hopefully they will all be alive at the end.)

We talked about being a vet, about big animals and small animals and disobedient dog sled dogs. There was some general writing world gossip, and just as it got really exciting I was asked to sign the official secrets act, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything. Deadlines. Editors. Killing the wrong character. Who’s been buried in the garden. Mmmphh… (OK, I will be quiet now.)

Cliff McNish

Cliff had questions on everything, including why I arranged the dinner. (Stupid question. I want to hang out with the cool kids. Obviously.) Sally waved her minestrone about and talked, making the table shake. Cool Aunt makes puppets (films and television), and she has a brand new grandchild, as well as the sense to bring photos of the baby. Adorable!

At some point the latecomers caught up with the menu, and Cool Aunt was seen finishing the large and rather green olives which were still around. Just before we were chucked out, we managed to work out how much money we needed to find, before going in search of taxis to Salford Quays and last trains for Cool Aunt and Daughter and me.

It was lucky no one was hoping for an early night, except MC Alan Gibbons who had flown in from Hong Kong in the small hours, and who came to the belated conclusion he actually needed some sleep. Which is why he didn’t join us.

The other hopefuls this morning are Paul Adam, Georgia Byng, Angie Sage and the sisters of Siobhan Dowd. Robert Muchamore and Michael Morpurgo won’t be there, but might still win. I’ll update this when I know.

(Michael Morpurgo won with Shadow.)

The Ransom of Dond

Somehow, from somewhere, someone has dredged up a short story by Siobhan Dowd. We are many who are grateful for more, however brief.

Because although this looks like a short novel, it is more of an older picture book, with many illustrations to fill out a short story. With illustrations like these, from Pam Smy, I am more than happy with this situation. Bluey grey, they literally are the story, The Ransom of Dond.

Ransom of Dond, from Pam Smy's sketchbook

I learned long ago that anything Siobhan wrote will be well worth reading, even when the subject doesn’t sound like it’s for me. It’s the same this time (and I’m secretly praying for more little finds).

This is wonderful. Set on a small island near Ireland, there is an old curse which says the 13th child born on the island will have to be sacrificed to bring the islanders luck.

Darra is that child, and on the eve of her 13th birthday we meet her and some of the people on that island. It seems very cruel, and while it obviously is, there is always anoher side to every story, and there is here as well.

Read, and be happy that Siobhan had one more story for us.