Category Archives: Television

Is it?

It’s quite funny, actually. Because more recently we have dined with Grand Designs several times a week. (One runs out of things to chat about.) And he’s not bad, Kevin, once you get past the pattern of his constant incredulity over people’s house ideas.


You may have noticed I have a penchant for photographing magazines, like Vi. Here’s another one.

For some time now they’ve publicised an author event with Balsam Karam, whose photo is instantly recognisable, despite me never having read her. She was part of Son’s speed-dating an author event in Edinburgh a few years ago. I can only deduce that Balsam is doing well.

The photo above was the second of her in about six pages of my latest Vi. I also noted the man sitting on the floor reading. Not recognising him, I peered very intently at the very small print and managed to see that he’s Mark Isitt, presenter of the Swedish version of Grand Designs…

Any relation to ‘my’ Isitt? I wondered. Peered even more, and found that yes, David Isitt is his father. I say is, because as I may have mentioned before, Sweden is well organised for finding people, and I believe he is still alive. Which makes me happy. He was one of my lecturers at the English department in Gothenburg, and he was the one we started off with in Brighton, where the teaching took place. One subject was Phonetics, and David was unusual for an Englishman in managing a very passable Gothenburg accent. He said that’s how his children spoke.

And that’s clearly this Mark, who’s almost Kevin. In this article he describes his parents as a bit extreme; always reading.

Nothing wrong with that, I say.

And he has some rather nice bookshelves. Danish, apparently. I now want Danish shelves too.


The Outlander Effect

It’s Jacobite blog tour time! Here’s Barbara Henderson with some Outlanderish thoughts:

‘The Americans are back’, my husband remarked drily on his return from Inverness High Street, ten minutes away from our home. Don’t get the wrong impression – this was no disapproving comment. It was dry humour, tinged with relief. He might as well have said ‘Things are finally getting back to normal’.
The devastating effect of the pandemic on international tourism in our area had been acutely felt, particularly as a certain franchise had previously supercharged the tourist economy in these parts. A book, film and fandom feat like no other (perhaps Harry Potter aside).

Can you hear it? The distant and mournful version of the Skye Boat Song, now a major theme tune? I am (of course!) talking about Outlander, Diana Gabaldon’s epic time travel romance which features the Highlands during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.

Why do some things catch on while others do not? I often find myself bemused by what hits the popularity jackpot. But speaking as an interested observer rather than an Outlander superfan, I can absolutely see the appeal here: standing stones and ancient cairns, a doomed cause, heroism and healing – it’s a compelling mix. As the phenomenon grew, the Highlands changed all around me. Tourist gift shops began to replace their usual stock with Outlander merchandise. Busloads and busloads of Outlander themed tours arrived at key locations like Culloden Battlefield. Fans found each other, both online and in person. Gaelic-learning became fashionable again, and consultant herbalists and craftspeople were hired for the television series. From time to time, adverts for extras would appear in the local papers. I recently attended a creative industries conference. Half a day was given over to figuring it out: How can we as artists and writers and heritage professionals tap into the Outlander Effect? It’s the million-dollar question! That way profit lies.

As a children’s writer, I was well aware of Gabaldon’s books and the huge success of the television series. However, I thought all this had very little to do with me. When I was lucky enough to be published for the first time with my Highland Clearances novel Fir for Luck, I realised: It had everything to do with me.

Let me introduce you to the InverOutlanders, a local Outlander fan organisation. Full of likeable ladies, I have grown very fond of the group. They have been wonderfully supportive of me and of other writers, too. After all, they have already read every word that Gabaldon has written – and they are interested in more Scottish history of that time period. Fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t seem to matter. It certainly didn’t seem to matter that mine was a children’s book – Scottish history, a time of peril – tell us no more, we’re in!

I began to see them at some of my events. When my own Jacobite novel was ready to submit to publishers, I didn’t have to explain to the publishing world what this Jacobite rebellion was. They already knew. I began to pitch the novel as ‘Outlander for kids’ which was a convenient shortcut to what the book was about.

When The Reluctant Rebel was published on 18th May, the InverOutlanders were first to the microphone, shouting to their 14.6k followers about my book. I can never thank them enough.

I don’t know if I’ll ever meet Diana Gabaldon in real life. But if I do, I am determined to thank her for creating millions of readers who are now interested in Scottish history, culture and heritage. She didn’t mean to, but in some small way, the author of the mighty Outlander series has put my books on the map too.

Getting it wrong

Far too many years ago, in my sailor days, I got muddled up between two of the chefs on board the ferry I worked on for the summer. I mentioned something to one of them, believing he was a peer, if somewhat older. Turned out he was my boss. (I had thought it was the other one, much older and kinder.)

Anyway, I was told off soundly by one of my [definite] peers, because I’d been telling tales. Except to my mind I hadn’t. I’d grumbled about the behaviour of another peer, the way you do ‘between friends.’ But instead of letting on that I’d had no idea who the boss was, because that would have made me look stupid, I simply let her tell me off without a word in my defence.

Setting my stupidity aside, you’d have thought the boss would have introduced himself as such when I started.

But, there it was.

I thought of this when I discovered the upset seemingly caused by Philip Pullman to a lot of people, in and out of the literary world. He appears to have been more mature than I was at 19, and has explained the mistake he made and he has apologised. But people like being upset these days, so his head, or at least his resignation from the Society of Authors, is something others feel justified in demanding.

Some of these I know, others I don’t. And I’m disappointed. Much more than I was with the chef and my peers at sea.

I don’t know whether Philip is considering leaving Twitter. I know I am. But he is meeting the accusations head on, gamely admitting to his shortcomings in general. Luckily he appears to be the only person in the world to have these. His accusers are perfect.

Earlier this evening we watched an episode of The Good Fight. Excellent stuff and well written. But what struck me when thinking about today’s episode was that unlike other such shows, where the characters can see off the bad things and look forward to better times, the plot is taking them, and us, into worse times. And I don’t know what we can do about it.

Because I don’t believe it’s Christine Baranski’s fault.

Isn’t there anything else you can say?

In place of OMG, that is?

We’ve been watching too much of a certain type of television. The Dog House was lovely, and I can quite see why people felt the need to say those three words when coming face to face with cute puppy or needy older dog.

And we’ve returned to the company of Kirstie and Phil, and I’m surprised how much I like them. Actually. Their charges, not so much. Some like the houses offered while others are wanting more and better and cheaper. It’s probably mostly the former category who say those words when seeing a new potential home.

This harks back to the older programmes, where people volunteered to have their gardens or homes redone, and then having to say something when faced with the consequences. I mean, the results.

I’ve been trying to think what other words would convey a similar meaning; anything from ‘that’s just awful and I’m going to cry’, to ‘I love it’. I’m not coming up with much. Someone suggested crikey, but I’m not a crikey kind of witch. Nor golly, or gosh.

It’s not so much religious qualms as simply growing tired of the same verbal reaction to every single thing. I can even lipread those words if I’ve silenced the television.

I sense we are in for more of these words tonight, from Rotterdam. And I’m still puzzled by how this music competition became simply Eurovision. That surely is the whole television organisation within Europe (plus Australia, obviously…)? Not just one programme. One which I will have to not watch, but primarily listen to, because it’s turned into a contest to see who can have the most strobe lighting.

Eurovision strobe contest.

Pirie was here?

‘Most of The Scores is closed off,’ said the Resident IT Consultant after his brief recce of the local streets. Less parking for us mortals. Even he could tell something unusual was going on, and actually Googled this unusualness to discover what he’d almost seen.

Seems STV is filming the new Karen Pirie series; including The Distant Echo, as described by Val McDermid back in December.

Later that evening, Daughter gasped as she looked out over our airbnb garden in the twilight. There was a tall lighting rig, with a yellow ‘searchlight’ thing. Just past the houses we back on to. So clearly they were filming something ‘at night’ and I suggested someone had found a corpse or two littering the Castle ruins. To my mind that’d be a perfect place to find dead bodies. If you have to find dead bodies, I mean. I’d obviously rather not.

Or there could have been some twilight chase up and down those paths to the sea. I don’t know. I’ve not read Karen Pirie. And anyway, scriptwriters do what they want…

But it would seem these are the mean streets of St Andrews.

Hitchhiking again

I’m not too proud to republish an old post. It’s saying exactly what I wanted to say and I’m too lazy to write it again. It’s from October 2009. Doesn’t time fly?

“Who needs it? The history. The background to one of the funniest ideas in – well, in what? – literature? Broadcasting? Television? Film?

I started at the wrong end, if there is one. I read the books first. Though, come to think of it, since the radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a lot better than the books, it would have been more disappointing to go the other way. OK, maybe I did it the right way. In fact, I have a feeling I may even have watched the television series before getting to the radio. It was on just as I met the Resident IT Consultant, and I recall us watching it in the early days.

I looked on in fascination as the trilogy grew to five books. That’s British humour for you. It’s why I like my adoptive country so much. It has stuff like H2G2.

Fast forward to the unfashionable end of the last century, when I came across the radio series on audio cassette in the mobile library, and borrowed it for Son. I thought he might like it. He did. It wasn’t exactly news at the time. Nobody much – other than nerds – talked about it, so Son was educated in something vaguely historical and dated. Who cared, as long as he laughed and learnt a few new good quotes. It turned out useful, too. How his leaders at Pilots at the local church could even begin to think that children his age would be able to answer any questions on this subject in their fun quiz, is beyond me. Old-fashioned Son could, but his friends had never heard of it. Very handy, too, when it came to dressing up for World Book Day at school. We just needed to send Son to school in his dressing gown, holding a ‘book’ which said Don’t Panic.

From then on I’d say that H2G2 woke up again. More stuff on the radio, a film, and now the sixth book, written by Eoin Colfer. He is not Douglas Adams, but since we can’t have him, Eoin is a good second. I hope.

Anyway, that history. Who needs to know? I mean, who doesn’t already know about it? There was a long description/history thing in the Guardian a week ago, and I just wondered what the point was. As a fan, I do like reading about what I like, but there was something not quite right about this article. And I don’t just mean the fact that facts were wrong. Ford and Arthur did not hitch a ride with Zaphod when Earth was demolished.

The point of the new book is surely to educate a new generation of readers, and anybody old who happened to miss it the first time?”

The fictional prince

Fiction is quite marvellous, sometimes. It can help you see more clearly.

Like most other people I have watched all four seasons of The Crown. I understand that it is fiction. That does not mean that it can’t help in understanding what has taken place in real life, to real people.

It’s with that in mind that I think back on the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, who died today. I’d say that until a few years ago, I didn’t think of him in an especially favourable light. Pretty much like all the people today who have moaned about all the fuss, just because an elderly white man died.

Before the fiction that is The Crown, I’d have agreed. Now, though, I feel I can guess at what it was like for Prince Philip. And some of it probably wasn’t much fun, even if he was rich and entitled.

So I think what I am saying is that the scriptwriters might not have written his life accurately. Almost certainly not, actually. But they have planted a vision in my mind; I can see how things might have been. And it is that Prince I feel a small sense of loss for.

He’s been there all my life. In fact, he came to Stockholm when I was born. That has always been much appreciated by me, if only as family lore, about how my Aunt Motta’s navy blue dress coloured her underwear blue in the heavy rain, as she stood waiting to see her Prince Philip. I know the Queen was there, too, but it’s Prince Philip and the underwear we think of.

Who’s cooking?

Having cause to study Astrid Lindgren’s Vi på Saltkråkan again, Son watched a few episodes with Dodo. I have to assume it was Dodo’s first time.

Which is why her comments are of interest. Me being of the same age as Saltkråkan, and having Son and Daughter growing up with the television series, they will be seeing it much more the way I did.

With immediate access to Daughter, I asked her thoughts on Malin, the 19-year-old [eldest] daughter in the Melkersson family. And that was a surprise. She felt Malin had no real purpose.

Whereas the seven-year-old witchlet needed her screen peers to have a mother figure. Hence Malin acting as mother to her much younger siblings, and making sure their crazy, widowed father doesn’t cause too much havoc. She cleans, and peels potatoes, but also has fun and meets several hopeless, I mean promising, young men.

I was already reading the Famous Five books and I – I am sorry about this – thought it was fine for Anne to look after the domestic aspects of the mysteries, while the other three behaved like boys.

And Dodo. Well, she obviously remarked on the fact that Malin did all the work. She’s a female of the 21st century. I should be too. But when it comes to Saltkråkan I am seven again, and I need for Pelle to have a mother figure. I ‘am’ Tjorven, and I quite need a kind, caring adult female to chat to.

The four older siblings in both families, who must be around twelve, are purely there for adventures. Not peeling potatoes. In fact, I believe I’ve heard that they were meant to be the focus of the series, but no one reckoned on Tjorven. She and her dog took over, and along with them we have the other two younger children, Pelle and Stina.

I believe we also need Mr Melkersson to be single. Not for romantic reasons; simply to be alone and a bit useless. That’s why we also require Malin to bridge the gap. And to peel the potatoes.

In 1963 when this was filmed, I suspect none of us were all that aware. We were sold the set-up and we were satisfied. Since I have remained seven years old all this time, I am still satisfied.

Baby, it’s cold out there

‘Do you even know what that is?’ Daughter asked as I read out loud from the television guide, suggesting that Saturday afternoon we could have watched Ice Station Zebra.

Would I suggest something without knowing; without meaning it?

I swiftly informed her about the film, whose novel it was based on and that the Alistair MacLean book was far superior. But the film would still have been worth watching. Again. Can only have seen it three or four times.

This was confirmed by friends on social media, who did actually watch yesterday, and I felt I had sort of missed out. Even if I can watch later. But I’m glad that at least people my age are still enjoying these ancient adventure thrillers. And there was nothing wrong with Where Eagles Dare, which both Offspring have watched.

I probably won’t reread the MacLeans. Although the reason I gave up at whatever point, must have had more to do with me moving on as the books moved in a different direction. I suspect I favour the WWII and Cold War stories.

And if I may say so, one good side to the lack of new programmes and films has been that there is so much old stuff offered again. Things that would usually have been hidden away in the middle of the night if it ever came to light again. I like seeing films again.


Catching up on season one of His Dark Materials

That’s before season two. And no, that’s not me doing it.

As I might have mentioned, neither Daughter nor I were convinced by the first season of His Dark Materials on the BBC. As I suggested at the time, for me to continue watching after the first two episodes seemed fairly unlikely. And I didn’t, so when the time came two weeks ago to settle down with season two, the thought didn’t even cross my mind.

In fact, it was almost an afterthought that made me mention it to the Resident IT Consultant, seeing as he did sit through all of last autumn’s. He’s more open-minded, it seems. So he has by now watched the first three episodes, and is reasonably happy.

But Daughter, who decided to catch up on season one, on the minute off-chance that she’d watch the new one live, has been anything but happy. As a serial audio book listener, she knows the story inside out. And believe me, BBC, that does not make for satisfaction right now. There have been little – and not so little – screams over every wrong thing.

We both understand and accept that for film technical reasons you need to adapt, abridge, and so on. But writing a new story and changing the characters when you have a perfectly good story already?


I get that this version looks good. But it could have looked good while sticking to the original story too.

I suspect that the nice people I know who actually like it, are those who have not nerded over HDM for the last two decades. Perhaps they read the books, liked them, and promptly forgot any details, and thus the BBC series comes as a new thing of beauty.