Category Archives: Television

Secrets

Who knew there were so many secrets to be kept in the children’s books world? Well, I knew, but I didn’t realise there were quite so many, nor that so many people share the secrets quite so freely. If you tell me, I will tell no one. Except possibly the Resident IT Consultant, but he is equally discreet. Besides, he won’t know what I told him, nor will he remember it five minutes later. And whom would he tell?

Maureen Lynas blogged about secrets on Slushpile a while back, and call me naïve, but I had no idea quite so many people are in on so many secrets. I trust no one (see above). Besides, apart from one spectacular time when I lost my poker face, I know how to lie so as not to suffer the mishaps Maureen mentions.

But then I began thinking about all the other secrets, like Christmas University Challenge, which is recorded in one fell swoop, well before Christmas. How do the winners avoid walking round with smug faces? How come the audience can keep the secret of which team won? (Judging by who was in the audience, it could be they have only very special people watching, like members of last year’s teams, and this year’s losers and so on.) Based on this I decided not to email Adèle Geras to ask how her team did, in case she would be unable to lie convincingly.

On New Year’s Eve we watched BBC Alba (that’s Gaelic television) celebrate the New Year. After some rude comments [from me] about how the place reminded me of Oldham Town Hall, Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant said it looked like Stirling Castle. A few camera angles later, it turned out to be Stirling Castle. You know, a short walk away from where we were. In a town where they have recently stopped celebrating New Year at the castle. One of the performers was a Daughter favourite, Julie Fowlis, and Daughter would quite have liked to know about this so she could have attended.

Except, we worked out that the audience was small enough, and clearly Gaelic speaking enough, that maybe it was by invitation only. So, as the rest of town celebrated elsewhere, upset that the castle was not for ‘all of us’ it seems others were celebrating and televising from up there. My old favourite Calum Kennedy (was not there because he’s dead) provided a contribution through his daughter Fiona Kennedy. And it was fascinating listening to the almost completely incomprehensible Gaelic, which sounded pretty much like Norwegian with lots of ‘ch’ sounds added to it. Except I didn’t understand a word. I reckon the audience might have been shipped in from Uist.

But it was nice. And ‘secret.’

We’ve also entertained ourselves with a new, used, board game called The London Game. It’s where you have to keep secret which London tube stations you wish to travel to, so that the other players don’t put too many spanners in the tube stations around you. We reckon the Hazard cards could do with being more plentiful, as each hazard comes round a little too frequently; aunts visiting, forced trips to watch a match at the Oval, and some weird kidnaps to Kensal Green.

Today sees the announcement of the 2016 Costa Book Awards. I don’t know the shortlisted children’s books well enough to have any witchy premonitions as to which one will win. But on seeing that one of Daughter’s Christmas presents is on one of the other shortlists, and the giver mentioned its topical-ness, I wonder if he could be in on a secret? I mean, I don’t know. (The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry.)

So, yes. It’s all secret. Unless it isn’t.

End of year miscellany

I did that sitting up in the middle of the night thing again. We’d finished watching the Agatha Christie two-parter Witness for the Prosecution on BBC, and I’d blogged about it on CultureWitch. I claimed I didn’t really know the story, and then – midsleep – I wondered why it all felt so familiar, and how come I knew what the plot twist was going to be?

Elementary, my dear Watsons. I’d seen it before. Quite some time ago, although not as far back as 1957, which is when the film was made. And then I remembered something else. The Retired Children’s Librarian had watched it and she mentioned she’d not come across the book, and I made it my mission to find the book for her. But could I find a single copy of Åklagarens Vittne anywhere? I could not. Some second hand bookshops even had waiting lists for it.

Apparently I gave up at that point, and then I forgot the whole thing.

Forgetting is not something St Hilda’s alumni do. I was incredibly pleased to watch Val McDermid and Adèle Geras succeed all the way in the Christmas University Challenge, winning by beating the lovely Leeds team. But Uzbekistan, Adèle? It was the middle of the Pacific!

Never mind. We got a women only team winning, even beating another women only team in the semifinals.

And then. Then Daughter let her ancient parents accompany her to see Rogue One in the cinema. Oh dear, the amount of eye-rolling that had to be done when it turned out we’d not understood any of it. The Resident IT Consultant was silly enough to ask. I was going to play it cool and say nothing if I could help it.

I saw the first Star Wars film back when it was new, when you didn’t have to keep track of all the numbers of sequels and prequels. I didn’t get it. It was nice enough, I suppose, but I could never work out why they did what they did, nor who was good and who was bad. That Darth Vader chap seemed nice.

But I quite liked getting out of the house, if only to sit in a tightly packed cinema, with a constant stream of little children squeezing past on their way back from the toilets.

I suspect we won’t be invited again, though.

Go girls!

A big Christmas thank you to the ladies of St Hilda’s, Oxford, for wiping the floor with Magdalene, Cambridge, in the Christmas Day Christmas University Challenge!

A Bookwitch obviously supports team Adèle Geras and Val McDermid. Even if they left me feeling stupid and uneducated. But that’s all right. Sort of.

It just goes to prove how much you learn if you read books. And, dare I say it? If you are a product of universities past. OK, OK, I know all of the participants are from the past, but some more from the past than others.

When she discovered that Adèle was taking part, Daughter was really excited. That’s until she realised Chris Lintott was also going to be on. On the same day, on the opposite side. Real conflict of interest there.

Chris did do well on the science/maths questions, and he might have had a misspent youth as regards Christmas number ones, but books rule. As did Adèle’s drama and music background. Not to mention Val’s intimate knowledge of comics.

Go St Hilda’s!

Old Bear

Occasionally I can be so forgetful that I surprise even myself. I mean, how could Old Bear slip from my conscious mind so completely? We lived for Old Bear (and all the others; Little Bear and the various non-Bears). Both Offsprings loved him and I definitely did. We read the books countless times and when Old Bear became a television star, we were with him all the way.

30 years of Old Bear by Jane Hissey

And yet, when a few weeks ago I read about the exhibition to celebrate 30 years of Old Bear – in Brighton later this month – I realised I’d not thought about Old Bear and his friends for a long time. Natural, I daresay, for ancient people with grown-up children, but I write daily about children’s books and there can be absolutely no excuse.

‘You must be jolly tall,’ was the spontaneous comment* when the others met the giraffe. And Jolly Tall he was. That, to me, epitomised the whole series of books. Humorous, warm, normal, and very enjoyable. Books that you can read again and again and not be bored.

Just thinking about Old Bear once more, I can feel the love flooding back. Little Bear who is so, well, little, and bouncy. And Old Bear who is old and sensible and a true father figure to all. And the others; Jolly Tall and Sailor and Duck. I suspect there’s the odd new character I’ve not been properly introduced to, who has arrived during the intervening years.

A new book to celebrate the 30 years, Happy Birthday Old Bear, is available now. Hip hip hurrah!

*Please note I still remembered this quote.

The Makar and the First Minister

In the end it was just me and Shappi Khorsandi’s handbag. Fantastic handbag, actually, and I felt sort of honour bound to guard it while it was sitting there all alone. Now, if you knew me, you’d realise how odd this was. It was mere minutes after I had spectacularly missed taking photographs of Shappi. Twice. Because I didn’t recognise her well enough. And now I know what her handbag looks like.

Jackie Kay and Nicola Sturgeon

This was probably due to the excitement ‘backstage’ after the photo session with Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Kay. We’d waited, the way you do. And then it happened so fast, the way it tends to with people who have security staff and lots of commitments, but not so many that a First Minister can’t interview a poet at a book festival. They were nicely colour coordinated, the two of them. And it’s a sign of popularity for a politician when she is addressed by her first name.

So I missed Shappi’s photo call, coming immediately after this. Then I missed my unobtrusive photos of Shappi as she was being given the Chris Close treatment. And then everyone left, except for the handbag.

Prior to this I had skipped a book signing with Simon Callow. I decided I already had enough pictures of him, so went and sat in the yurt reading and eating my lunch. Only minutes later he joined me on that bench. Admittedly with an interviewer, but still. You can’t escape the great and the good. Luckily for Simon I hadn’t helped myself to the grapes in the fruit bowl as had been my intention, so he was able to polish them off as he talked.

Zaffar Kunial

Previously out on the grass, I had come across poet Zaffar Kunial seemingly doing an impromptu session with a large group of people. Maybe these things just happen as fans encounter someone they admire…

Holly Sterling

Carol Ann Duffy

Gillian Clarke

Then it was back and forth for me, catching children’s illustrators in the children’s bookshop and the more grown-up poets in the signing tent. Holly Sterling had a line of eager children after her event, and staying with the Christmas theme, so did Carol Ann Duffy across the square, along with her fellow Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. After them Jackie Kay signed, without Nicola Sturgeon. And I finally caught up with Shappi!

Jackie Kay

Shappi Khorsandi

Fiona Bird

Found Fiona Bird signing her nature book mid-afternoon, and she has such an appropriate name for the kind of books she writes! I went hunting for Kathryn Evans and Michael Grant, who had both been hung along the boardwalks by Chris Close. Had to try Kathryn several times, to see if the light would improve.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

Michael Grant by Chris Close

And there were no photos, but I glimpsed Kate Leiper, and spoke to both Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.

Tried to use my afternoon sensibly, so checked out various books in the bookshops. That didn’t mean I actually did sensible thinking, looking up ‘un-known’ names or anything. If I had I wouldn’t have been so surprised later.

Sun on Seacrow Island

I virtually am Tjorven, and summers on Seacrow Island are my past [well, you know], and I can feel the heat and the light in this sun-soaked spot. Because I – and most Swedes – have had summer after summer of this kind of life. It’s what’s natural; it’s what we still strive for, and want to give our children. The difference today is the cost of a house in a place like this. No Melker Melkerson could hope to strike lucky and buy his children’s summer paradise. Not even if he was awarded the ALMA. Well maybe, if he was content with some far flung summer beach a long way from the Stockholm archipelago.

Astrid Lindgren, Vi på Saltkråkan

I watched Seacrow Island on television in real time, being the same age as its main character Tjorven, and I know it back to front, as do Offspring and even the Resident IT Consultant. I only had to mention that the English translation has Pelle put on a windcheater when he gets on the boat with Malin and Krister, for him to burst out that ‘no, he doesn’t.’ (I clearly married the right man.)

It was wonderful finding a chubby seven-year-old as the main character, and despite my summers taking place on the west coast rather than on an island off the east coast, they were much the same. My summer shop was like their summer shop. I bet the smells were the same and we probably ate the same food (hamburger meat is not mince; it’s a sliced sandwich meat, that may or may not have a horsey background) and swatted the same wasps and hoped for ice cream.

For Christmas 1964 I received two copies of the book (which is unusual in that it’s the book of the television series, not vice versa), and I read one of them and loved it almost as much. I mention this mainly because the book might now strike you as too hard for that age group, but it certainly worked back then.

The English translation in this newly re-issued Seacrow Island is the 1960s one by Evelyn Ramsden, and I find it gives the reader the right feel of what it was like. The question, I suppose, is whether that’s what today’s children want. I hope it is. I wish they too could have summers like mine, and that they could watch the television series. But at least the book is available.

Astrid Lindgren, Seacrow Island

The new gorgeous cover should be perfect for attracting adult buyers, lovers of Nordic Noir, who want to give their child a children’s version of what’s so popular right now. Because this does not in any way look like my sun-soaked island, nor does it look like Sweden. Think the Lofoten archipelago in northern Norway, with a somewhat menacing sun shining on a chilly looking set of hills with church-like houses. Also, the ‘real’ Saltkråkan is not as empty of people as the blurb suggests. But hopefully any young reader will simply tuck in and enjoy.

I’m glad Seacrow Island is back in the shops once more, and please put this idyllic, but realistic, holiday book in the hands of a nearby child!

Scream Street – Uninvited Guests

Can’t quite decide whether it’s worse entering a house that is actually a live organism (and most likely not of the friendliest kind), or to have my body taken over by a crazy, and fairly dead, composer.

Let’s face it, neither is the most ideal thing to have happen to you.

But read Tommy Donbavand’s Scream Street, and this is what you might encounter. And if you are a young man, maybe lady, who likes horror mixed with humour (Scooby Doo with vampires, zombies and werewolves), then this should hit the right spot. Anyone with any sense has probably already found Scream Street on television, whereas I have to admit to having stopped watching children’s television with any regularity.

Tommy Donbavand, Scream Street

Apparently this book is based on the television programme, so I don’t know how much they differ from the original Scream Street books, but I don’t think that matters. It’s entertainment!

Scream Street is where ‘being a freak is totally normal’ and in Haunted House the gang of freaky children find a new house, sprung up overnight and – naturally – they enter it. In Wolf Gang it’s time for the music exam at school, and who better to improve a werewolf’s piano playing than Wolfgang van Mozhoven? Except he’d quite like a body, so he can compose a bit more music…

Give it a go! (Unless you are as easily scared as Mr Watson, father of the werewolf. I don’t think his nerves will last long. If he ever had any.)