Category Archives: Tim Bowler

Getting to know them

My most recent book cull made me think. You can look at reading in different ways.

I’ve often envied those who came to Harry Potter once he was all here; with no need to wait for ten years before being able to finish the series of books. But then, we who did wait, had ample time to read and wait and think and do other things.

Back in 2003 – and how long ago that seems now! – Offspring’s secondary school library started its Author of the Term project. Our first one was Adèle Geras. Then came Tim Bowler and after him, Linda Newbery. After them it is a blur and I can no longer recall who came or when.

I had barely read anything by Adèle when she came. (I’d probably hurriedly read a short book to enlighten myself a little.) But afterwards, well, I read them ‘all.’ Because I wanted to and I could. I had the time to cover her backlist, as well as everything new that came my way. What a treat! And how lovely it was.

With Tim I had read a little more. After all, I was the one who suggested him and who ‘forced’ Tim to agree to come. But there was still room for improvement and I did have a few of his books to catch up on. And then, again, the new ones.

Finally, I am almost certain I’d not read any of Linda’s many books. But she spoke so well about her writing that no sooner had she left than I started working my way through ‘all’ her books. I especially liked her war books, of which there were quite a few. And before long I also tackled Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, for the simple reason that if Linda had been inspired by it, it had to be good. Which it was.

I can no longer do this. Occasionally I have read someone’s books extra fast, before an interview, perhaps. But that was also some time ago. No more. Anyway, reading too fast is a waste of a good book, and if it isn’t all that good, then why bother?

It was a luxury, getting to know someone both as a person and reading what they’d written.

(And although I mostly bought copies of my own, I had the good luck to be helping out in the school library, with instant access to the books by Adèle, Tim and Linda. That’s why we need libraries.)

Tricks and threats

I liked reading about the various tricks people use to get their children to read, especially on holiday. The Guardian Review had some tips this weekend, and it’s always interesting to see what others have done. They can be quite sneaky, parents.

Once I had told Son that the one thing I expected him to do at school – this was in Y2 – was to learn to read, I don’t believe I did much else.

As parents we are supposed to lead by doing, and I did read. The trouble is that parenting takes time away from reading for pleasure, so I could have read more.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but for the formative reading years I went to the mobile library just before it was time for our three to four weeks in Sweden every July/August. I looked carefully at what they had to offer, and picked books that might suit both me and the Resident IT Consultant and Son. Children’s books, obviously.

Gillian Cross, Tightrope

There was always a lot of possible choice. But the authors that stand out from that period are Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Gillian Cross, Celia Rees, Tim Bowler. At the time I knew very little or nothing about all of these excellent writers. It’s a good sign that by merely picking holiday books I was able to discover many leading YA authors.

Malorie Blackman, Tell Me No Lies

I’d take about eight books. Any more and I felt the suitcases would be too heavy. But that averaged out at two books per week, which seemed fine. Son didn’t read that fast back then, and the adults were supposed to do adult stuff like feed Offspring and take them to the beach. Maybe fly kites.

But I never told anyone they had to read. I think I would have said ‘these are the books we’re taking this year’ and left it at that.

The only other discussion on what to read or whether to read that I remember was when Son was 14 and we couldn’t agree on which one of us should vet Melvin Burgess’ Doing It before the other one could read it.

I still can’t recall who did the vetting. I blame Tim Bowler, who came to school and was so enthusiastic about his friend’s book.

Occasionally I feel the pressure from Son to read certain books gets the better of me. I say ‘should I?’ and he says ‘well, I liked it.’

The shortlists

Kate Greenaway 2016 shortlist

Are there too many lists? With something like a month between the Carnegie and Greenaway longlists and shortlists, it’s hard to keep up. Before them came the nominations lists.

Maybe not. I recall reading my first Tim Bowler, and taking the Carnegie medal on the front cover of River Boy as a guarantee I wouldn’t be wasting my time. It’s not just award winners who get a mention on their book covers. Many simply say nominated/shortlisted/etc for X award. It’s telling you this isn’t just any old book.

Perhaps this is the reasoning behind having three lists for the Carnegie Greenaway hopefuls. More book covers that could potentially be embellished with something awards related. Three lists are more than two.

The 2016 shortlists, which were announced last night, are still quite long. Eight books on each, of which I have read a total of four. 25%. It’s not for want of trying, but some books never materialise.

Carnegie 2016 shortlist

Greenaway 2016 shortlist

I’m sure the books on the lists are more than worthy, though I mourn some of the ones that didn’t survive the culls. Several of my best 2015 books were on the longlist.

It’s an honour to win, but I gather it also means a lot of hard work during the year until someone else wins and takes over the touring. Last year’s Carnegie medalist Tanya Landman seems to have been on the road, talking to young readers, virtually all the time since last summer.

Leaving something of an echo of themselves

To have one biro run out of ink is a bit of a misfortune for a Bookwitch, who takes down notes the old-fashioned way at events. To have [her only] two biros become ink-free in the space of a couple of hours is something Lady Bracknell might have a few things to say about. So I’m starting with my second event on Monday, because it is in much more dire risk of not being blogged about, unless I make up half of it.

Edge of Your Seat Thrillers was a really good event, documenting how Tim Bowler and Sam Hepburn write their award winning and shortlisted books, chaired by witch favourite Ann Landmann. OK, so she did threaten us on the back row, but we refused to budge. Even Sam and Tim had to silence their mobile phones, because Hollywood would not be phoning just then.

Sam told us about her new book If You Were Me, and read a bathroom scene from it. Very more-ish. I suspect it might be as good as her first novel. Tim read from Game Changer, which is about a boy with a lot of phobias, but who doesn’t spend quite all his life in a wardrobe. Only some of it.

Sam Hepburn

They discussed reading aloud, which they both do and enjoy. They talked about writing dialogue, which can be hard. Normal conversations don’t sound anything like what you see in books. (I know. Not even the lovely Tim spoke totally grammatically when interviewed.)

They continued with their ‘terribly technical’ chat and Tim apologised for giving us all this advice we’d never asked for. He doesn’t plan, and both authors reckon things happen when you simply sit down and write. Characters start to behave uncharacteristically. Their advice is not to plan too much, if you must plan. Even Carnegie winners have doubts about their writing, and rubbish writing can be good raw material for what comes next.

Sam always types her stories, and Tim mostly does as well, including on his Blackberry (yes, he knows!), which helped him produce 2000 words on his journey to Edinburgh yesterday.

Does literature have a role to play? Yes, it does. Those cavemen didn’t have to start drawing pictures to survive. It was more the urge to leave an echo of themselves behind. It’s the same today. Authors don’t have more ideas than other people; they are just differently wired in how they use them.

If he could have, Tim would have liked to have written Tarka the Otter, while Sam rather fancies being the author of Northern Lights.

Tim Bowler

In the bookshop signing session afterwards, we had a veritable hugfest, as Tim needs to hug to begin with and then again when parting. This time I had both Offspring there who had to be hugged, although Tim rather doubts the existence of the Resident IT Consultant, whom he’s never seen. However, Ann Landmann could confirm he is real.

The EIBF schools programme

Do any of you feel like a school at all? I’m asking because the Edinburgh International Book Festival schools programme was released this week, and it’s what Kirkland Ciccone and others were rushing to Edinburgh for on Friday evening, after the Yay! YA+.

The organisers invited (I’m only guessing here) a group of authors, some of whom are part of this year’s programme, to come and meet the teachers and librarians who might be persuaded to book a session for their young charges in August. And as I keep saying every year; it’s the schools events you really want to go to. Except you can’t, unless you’re local enough to travel and can surround yourself with suitably aged children.

But you can treat the programme as a sort of guide as to who could potentially be in the ‘real’ programme, which won’t be released until the 10th of June, and you are forewarned. Or you might be disappointed when you find that your favourite someone is only doing schools this year. But at least they will be there, and you could get a signed book.

Francesca Simon

I’m already excited by the list of great names, even if Kirkland is also on it. I’m no school, though, so won’t be there. 😉 But perhaps this year will be the year when I catch a glimpse of Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve. Or Tim Bowler, David Almond or Ali Sparkes. The list is – almost – endless. I’ve already made a wish list for myself of people to look out for, or whose temporary husband I could be. Perhaps.

Night Runner

Tim Bowler’s latest book, Night Runner, is absolutely normal, by which I mean it’s got none of the supernatural that he is so well known for. It was almost a relief. Sometimes I’d rather be scared by ordinary decent mean-ness than by the inexplicable.

And you certainly are in this book. Tim has come up with some really nasty characters in Night Runner.

Tim Bowler, Night Runner

Zinny knows his parents are involved – probably separately – in some funny business. He just doesn’t know quite what. His mum seems to be having an affair, and his dad is never at home, and when he is, he is violent. Not popular at school, Zinny has no one to turn to when things go even more wrong.

Not that he would, anyway. And I think that’s what this thriller is about; the fact that teenagers don’t necessarily share the bad stuff that happens to them with anyone, even if they have a sympathetic headteacher. Instead they attempt to sort things out on their own, and end up in a worse pickle than before.

This happens to Zinny. The wrong people tell him to do things, or else.

In the end you almost agree with poor Zinny; things are so bad that it won’t matter if the worst happens. Almost.

Very, very exciting, and without a ghost of a ghost.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

Brush twice a day

I do tact so very well. (Like the foreigners I am surrounded by, I cling to my own country’s excellence. Sometimes.) Years ago I dragged Son from one British dentist to another, looking for one that would meet with my approval. (How Son didn’t end up with a dental phobia, I don’t know.) For the last dentist we saw (before I gave up and travelled across the water for treatment for all the family) I had decided in advance what I would say. It would be measured and fair and polite. But what actually fell out of my mouth were the words: ‘I am Swedish and I think Swedish dentists are the best.’

He smiled at me sweetly (he did have a lovely smile) and said that he was Scottish and he reckoned Scottish dentists were also pretty good. Offspring remained with him for several years, until they outgrew his remit.

We did dental holidays from then on. When I happened to mention the annual dental trip to Sweden to Tim Bowler once, his retort was that my dentist must be one hell of a dentist. (I was a little taken aback at his use of hell. Tim is always very proper.)

Anyway, Son eventually found a dentist in the UK that he liked. I went there once as an emergency, and he was fine (ish), but with a solid mistrust of foreign dentists (which is rich for someone who hails from outside Britain).

But most good things have to come to an end and my trusty Swedish dentist retired. And I moved. And I had another emergency, because I am old and so are my teeth. I felt so willing to try new things that I went to see Aunt Scarborough’s dentist. I liked him. He seemed very competent, for a foreigner. And with as sweet a smile as his polite fellow countryman from that other occasion.

I have actually made the jump now, for real. He has an admiration for Swedish dentists, which does him credit. He sells books, too. In the waiting room there are shelves of used bestseller paperbacks, sold in aid of a charity. It’s a clever idea. Instead of sitting there reading a magazine you couldn’t care less about, you can start on a book. (Me, I bring my own, but we have already concluded I am abnormal.) And once begun, you will want to finish, so you pay 50p and the book is yours.

Books at the dentist's

Last week as we were whiling away the time between injection and action, he asked if I had noticed his multi language wall posters. I had. He asked if I would do one in Swedish for him. It has to say something like ‘for healthy teeth, brush twice a day.’

So as the drill went to work, I lay there pondering how best to phrase it. I wanted my translation to be as good as Swedish dentistry.

Seven, and half-baked

The text message from Son asking for the failed cake recipe reached me shortly after Daughter and I had witnessed Matt Smith miss our train in Milton Keynes. Which, it has to be said, he did with considerable skill. Mind you, he was merely Jim Taylor from Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart in those days.

We were about to see Tim Bowler’s Starseeker on the stage, and we were in Northampton, so had very limited access to any recipes at all. The job went to the Resident IT Consultant, who had to find this alien recipe book featuring half-baked cakes, and pass the relevant one on to Son, sitting in the Swedish wardrobe, waiting to show off for a picnic with Dodo.

As you can tell, I don’t know what to call this cake. But do have a slice, to help me celebrate seven years of blogging. It’s hard. Well, actually, it isn’t. It’s mostly soft and gooey. Failed. On purpose. (I am of course talking about the cake now. Not the blogging, which isn’t gooey at all.)

When I left the old country many years ago, it was still adhering to rules like cake should be spongy and rise beautifully in the oven and all that. 15 years into my foreign existence, I woke up to the fact that there is something called kladdkaka. We learned about it in church. After church. For coffee. But as it was chocolate I could never try it.

It’s all over Sweden these days (hardly surprising with runny cake) and Offspring have eaten their way through a lot of it. Years later I found myself the owner of a recipe book containing nothing but versions of kladdkaka. The author of this book rather charmingly referred back to her childhood when she had never heard of calories, so baked and ate one of these a day.

Sounds like heaven, if you ask me.

One day last week I got so annoyed over a missing ingredient for something else, that I decided to make failed cake myself, using carob instead of cocoa. (It was a bit dry, to be honest.) So despite having heard about calories, I had another go. It was so runny the Resident IT Consultant had to be polite about the result. (Perhaps I should have let it cool first?) I’m suspecting I might have to experiment and fail some more cake before I get it just right.

It’s good with whipped cream. In case you wondered. And since we are celebrating, that’s absolutely fine.

Put off

The Hardened Librarian (she’s really Den luttrade bibliotekarien) was blogging about what put her off reading when she was at school. It’s a relief to hear that others – even librarians – feel like that. I know I was certainly put off some books, and authors, by well-meaning teachers.

To some extent ‘all’ Swedish literature got to me. But as with so many things when you are growing up, you don’t know that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal. I must have assumed that in becoming an almost adult I simply had to read adult and ‘proper’ literature, and by definition it would be, if not boring, then not as riveting as it ought to.

Why should it be natural to move from exciting books at twelve, to adult boredom at 14? We’ve already established that in my day we had none of the YA. Hence the sudden move to adult classics. I wonder if (Swedish) schools today serve up more teen oriented reading material? Or do teachers pick adult books because they have forgotten already? Or because it’s the only ‘right’ thing to do?

John Steinbeck, Pärlan

I believe THL and I must be about the same age. We both read, and liked, Nevil Shute and John Steinbeck. Note that these two authors lack in Swedish-ness. I have never read many adult Swedish books. But I have friends who did, and do. I even have friends in the UK, leading English-speaking lives, but who wouldn’t dream of reading in English. Me, I always felt I was destined to come here, and to read books in my other language.

A few years ago when I interviewed Tim Bowler, he mentioned his favourite Swedish writers, and I didn’t dare admit that I didn’t agree with him. (Sorry!) Maybe I should get Tim and THL in the same room and they could discuss Pär Lagerkvist. Could be interesting.

The stupid thing is that I was so taken by the idea that I had grown up that I continued reading all this adult, but oh-so-boring stuff. I wonder why? Just think what fun I could have had in better company.

What puts English speaking teenagers off? At least many of the classics – albeit long – are reasonably interesting and readable. Though I’m grateful I saved Austen & Co until my twenties. I suspect I was more receptive to lengthy romances by then.

In the UK it seems to be customary to know which football team people, including your teachers, support. I think I can do a literary sort of line through my various teachers, showing the favourite author for each of them. When Heinrich Böll was awarded the Nobel, I read his most recent book. My German teacher adored Böll. I read several of his books. I am fairly sure I didn’t like any of them. Why did I do it?

I suppose it’s a good idea to try new writers, and not be too prejudiced. But to continue the punishment once you’ve established you don’t like someone’s writing, strikes me as madness.