Category Archives: Travel

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day

Soup. And olives.

Wasn’t entirely sure what that bright shiny thing in my eyes was yesterday. Thought about this and vaguely recalled something called sunshine. That could have been it, I suppose.

We ventured out in the car, seeing as we’d received an invitation to some literary soup. With olives. It was surprisingly nice being out there, in the bright whatsit, looking at the distant hills that had a little bit of snow on them.

The Resident IT Consultant insisted on driving us past a gingerbread house. I somehow expected him to leave me there, but he didn’t. It was on a narrow road which was shorter and straighter than the main road to where we were going, but one that ‘would probably take as long, because you have to drive more slowly.’

We arrived too early. It is terribly embarrassing arriving too early. We stood outside for a bit, listening to our hosts hoovering, and seeing Daughter disappear down the road because we were embarrassing. They let us in after a while, and we had soup and olives, served with funny bread, normal bread and something that turned out to be brown bread.

There was cake and cups of tea, once the Resident IT Consultant had been lured out on a walk by our host. There was talk of zombies, but not too much, and the advisability – or not – of walking widdershins round churches and such. And how the local witch wouldn’t give away her trade secrets.

Paying tax.

That kind of thing.

And not only did we arrive too early, but we left too late. Best to make the best of such a bright day.

In the bleak midwinter

Had hoped for more sun yesterday. We were visited by Once New Librarian and Pizzabella. They looked round the castle. Not mine; Stirling Castle. Though I suppose if it’s grey it’s more atmospheric among all those old – royal – ghosts.

I had made my best burnt macaroni cheese, and as a special treat for Pizzabella there was dry [but cooked] pasta with slices of cucumber. Each to their own, I say. The ice cream was turned down because it’s winter. What’s wrong with people? It’s why central heating was invented, so you can pretend it’s warmer than it is.

Christmas tree

Luckily we had some odd – and as it turned out, very tasty – melon bought by the Resident IT Consultant.

After dinner the others headed out to tour a distillery. I sacrificed myself, as there wasn’t room in the car, staying at home, nibbling on cucumber and blueberries as I stacked the dishwasher. They go surprisingly well together. And I pondered the weirdness of all these [former] babies now taking an interest in whisky, and doing it legally.

And because I needed to relax, I put aside all other chores and sat by the Christmas tree and finished the book I had been reading. You really can’t beat a good book if you want to feel better.

Atlas of Miniature Adventures

Do you recall Atlas of Adventures? It was a most excellent atlas, but it did have a slight drawback. Size. It was enormous. My arms didn’t stretch that far, so it was more a ‘read on a table’ kind of book. Nothing wrong with that, though!

Here is its complete opposite, also illustrated by Lucy Letherland, and written by Emily Hawkins; Atlas of Miniature Adventures. It is an admirable size. Normal book size. Normal weight. Suitable for short arms, and no tables required.

It is not just the book that is smaller, but the adventures are ‘smaller’ in that they all deal with tiny somethings, be it smallest butterfly, a bonsai village, tiny penguins, hobbits or pygmy kingfishers. The list is endless. In a small way. A big endless could be really long.

I can see the attraction of this. Not only is it fun to discover new things in general, but tiny things are always fascinating. And I feel this could be a miniature kind of goal for children, to visit as many mini attractions as they can.

Lucy Letherland and Emily Hawkins, Atlas of Miniature Adventures

(I accidentally read the above as smallest tortilla…)

Murder on the Caledonian

I mean drinks. Of course I do. There was no murder.

After I arrived at King’s Cross, which was not Euston, I then had to travel home again. After I’d done what I came for. To confuse matters, I travelled home from Euston.

Rather than spend the night in a hotel (I find I’m going off hotels) I suggested to Son we should book ourselves on the Caledonian Sleeper, and travel in style. I’m keener now, since discovering the beds have new mattresses and pillows, as well as duvets and duvet covers. The beds are still narrow, but the rest is fine.

We had an interconnecting door between our ‘rooms.’ Son was awfully excited by this and had to take a photo. (I hasten to add that he is so young and I am so old, that both of us qualify for a third off the fare, which is how you make this affordable. Before you think I’m rich, or something.)

He then invited me for a bedtime drink in the Lounge. It was very civilised and straight out of Agatha Christie. (Until the Americans turned up.)

While Son had something I’m glad mother-of-witch couldn’t see, I had tea. Or it would have been tea had the lovely barman not forgotten the teabag. But that just added to the jollity, and with teabag, the tea tasted like nectar. (Well, it had been a long day.)

There were a few other passengers drinking, chatting politely to strangers across the aisle. Someone ‘old,’ who looked like they came straight from the opera, and a white-shirted beautiful young man who could have starred in any Poirot you care to mention.

So there we were, enjoying our Agatha-ness and the sophistication of sleeper travel. No one was being murdered or anything.

When in walked a party of Americans, maybe ten of them. I love Americans, but these were so very American, somehow. Loud, dissatisfied with what they found, ordering American whisky and not liking there was none. Suggesting there ought to have been soft music in the background. (Wouldn’t have been enough of a sound barrier.) Taking photos of each other and wanting to put them on Facebook, asking if there was wi-fi.

Thank goodness there was no wi-fi.

There could have been murder. (I’m hoping they went to Glasgow. I didn’t see them – or hear them – in the morning.)

Nine and three quarters

I passed through King’s Cross again last week. It doesn’t happen often, but I am slowly getting used to the place. I am especially getting used to it not being Euston. When I first began travelling south on the East Coast trains it was hard to unthink my mind from arriving off a West Coast train. I’d even planned my route to the nearest cash machine, when I realised I was in the ‘wrong’ station.

It’s quite nice there, though. Much fancier than it used to be in my InterRail days. Although, because of that, it feels less charmingly English. But that’s just me being difficult. And the IRA bomb dealt with the charm.

This time I even stopped for long enough to read the sign above the escalator near platform 9 3/4 to discover that it is actually the convenient way to the tube. Should you have arrived off the Hogwarts Express and wish to cross London in the conventional way.

Last week the queue for platform 9 3/4 was far longer than those for the more normal trains. It seems people will happily queue for this. Judging by the amount of Swedish flying all around me, it must have been half term in some part of Sweden.

I’ve not actually investigated what it is you do once you’re at the head of the queue. I think you merely borrow a scarf, which someone then holds on to for you, and someone else takes a photo as you attempt to ram the brick wall. And your parents or friends may also take a photo. I think. One which presumably is rather cheaper than the official one.

I’ve never seen the cost mentioned, but I’m sure there is a price to pay. There always is.

It could, of course, be worth it.

Likewise, I’ve not gone into the Harry Potter shop next to it. Strikes me like a very risky thing to do. (I well recall visiting the Harrods toy department just before Christmas 2001. We exited the proud owners of a lovely Hermione Granger, but she also came at a cost.)

Cornelia and her Mount Everest

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

And, bringing up the rear, here is Bookwitch interviewing Cornelia Funke on the last day of the blog tour for Reckless, The Golden Yarn. Good things come to those who wait, and I knew – somehow – that talking to Cornelia would be good, even if I had to chase her to Newcastle’s Seven Stories to do it.

I was right. Cornelia is the kind of woman I’d happily chat to some more. And aren’t languages – foreign ones, even – the best? Where would we have been if we’d not both of us paid attention in school? I’d not have got far in German, and for all her early reading of Astrid Lindgren, I guess Cornelia’s Swedish isn’t very fluent. If at all.

Here she is, on standing up to publishers, editing, languages and the beauty of Los Angeles, coyotes and all. And, well, the naked man who traditionally plays the violin, standing in some river or other. She knows about him too.