Category Archives: Television

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.)

300 and counting

It was quite satisfying to stray from the books on Tuesday. I think I’ll do it again.

After all, it’s not every week that not only has your favourite singer turn 80, but your favourite television show clocks up 300 episodes. In other words, I have watched NCIS since well before I became your favourite Bookwitch. And as with Roger Whittaker, I blogged about my love in the Guardian. That time it was because I got furious over the offhand way their television reviewer mentioned the start of, I think, the 4th season. No one seemed to watch it, and it was OK to mock.

Palmer, Gibbs and Vance

Now, NCIS is the most watched show in America. Last week the 300th episode aired, and it was a good one. They were a bit shaky last year, but that’s how it is with ‘family’ and you love them for better and for worse. We’ve had a very good run recently and I’m thinking the show could survive the planned departure of of one of the original characters. Just don’t kill him!

Abby and Ducky

(I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that both photos – © CBS – are from Autopsy…)


The Retired Children’s Librarian phoned to ask if we had been flooded. She and her sister had discussed this after seeing the news. I said we were all right.

She asked after everyone in the family, finally checking if I was out meeting authors all the time. (As if.)

Then she said ‘You know the one who wrote Harry Potter [she hasn’t read the books], who has now written some other books? What do people think of them? Because I like them.’

I replied that people who feel they must dislike J K Rowling on principle won’t have much good to say about her Galbraith crime novels, but that those who are not thus afflicted tend to say they like the books. She was a bit surprised that there are people who can’t stand fame and riches in others. And I admitted to not knowing J K personally and that she’s definitely not one of the authors I might see, frequently or otherwise.

Her next question was whether the press here had reported on Henning Mankell’s death, and I said they had, as he’s quite big here. She was a bit surprised, especially when I went on to mention the number of people who try to, or want to, learn enough Swedish/Danish to watch crime on television without subtitles. (I didn’t mention that I think they are doomed.)

Knowing we are safe from the rivers, she hung up, because she needed to phone to order a bus timetable. The internet is so taken for granted in Sweden that they feel passengers can look up their next bus there. Or travel to Stockholm to pick one up. Which would be easy enough if it wasn’t 70 kilometres and almost an hour away by bus. And if you had a timetable.

Let them read crime novels instead.

More resolutions

Sorry. I wasn’t going to do them. But the Guardian published some author resolutions on reading, and I need to air my views.

Obviously, I don’t have resolutions. I long decided the best way to go is to avoid them like the plague.

But, I would like to read more. Meg Rosoff aims to read for four hours a day. That had better be tongue-in-cheek! Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Unless temporary circumstances forced it. It feels excessive. Two hours? I could aspire to that.

Jackie Morris has a sensible idea; half an hour at each end of the day. I like that. But then I had to go and ruin it by wondering how I’d deal with those mornings when you’re up early to go to the dentist, catch a train, or something. (OK, I’d read in the waiting room to calm myself down, and the train is perfect for reading.)

In general though, I suppose it’s worth aspiring to change. I have this long term idea of a new reading challenge I could do, while recognising I will never get round to it. It’s much easier to go on as I am.

Harking back to the toddler years – Offspring’s, not mine – I felt so much better once I got re-started on reading. On the other hand, sitting is said to be the new smoking, and I do feel the need to sit during most of my reading. I should aim to bake more bread, or do the ironing; both of which are jobs done standing up, and both are good for the mind.

Or, I could go back to audiobooks. Anthony McGowan cycles round London listening to books. I have a garage full of audio books, but nothing on which to play them. Besides, I have ‘read’ them already.

In reality I imagine I will stumble from book to book the way I have been for years. And I may need to ditch my current book. It could be that it’s not gripping me enough, rather than lack of time between eating Stollen and watching Christmas television that keeps me from picking the book up.

Bookwitch bites #133

I have allowed a certain amount of channel surfing over Christmas. It’s not something I do myself. Much. I’m actually never quite sure how to change television channels, and I tend to stick with a few programmes, and don’t generally have enough time to sit and pick the least bad thing to watch.

When I saw that David Walliams was going to present Britain’s Favourite Children’s Book on Boxing Day, I decided to boycott the programme. Which is why I ended up catching a bit of favourite Disney songs instead. That was nice enough, and I always enjoy the Bare Necessities, even if I’m not allowed to wriggle my behind the way Baloo does.

And when the singalong ended, I inevitably found myself in the company of David Walliams anyway. He did the job competently enough, but I wish a more ‘ordinary’ author could have been given the task. It was fun to see how many former children’s laureates they were able to dig up to come and talk about their popular books.

The selection of books was good. But did they actually say how they had been chosen, or by whom? The children they had on the programme were well read, and amusingly precocious, but they weren’t exactly Winnie the Pooh fans. So what made this bear the best?

Then we moved on to – the planned – watching of And Then There Were None. It’s good. I read the book so long ago, that not all the facts remain as fresh in my memory as they should. But this isn’t going to end well. (Unlike the stage production I saw in 1970 where they decided to go for a happy ending…) And I vaguely recall a creepy film version from maybe forty years ago. I think.

I wonder what Agatha would have said about the bare chests?