Category Archives: Travel


I’ll see your lost blurb and raise you a plumbing emergency.

There I was on Daughter’s newly renovated Swiss balcony (they do these things ‘for free’ over there, just because it will enhance the block of flats), with nothing to do, when the email came from author friend in another country. She had misplaced her blurb.

Well, she hadn’t. She knew fine where it was. It just happened to be in the wrong place. And she knew she’d sent it to me, so wondered if I could possibly send it back to her, electronically. I could, except I couldn’t. In my balcony state, I had just my mobile phone, which didn’t seem to return attachments. (By which I mean I didn’t know how.)

So I Facetimed the Resident IT Consultant, and he actually answered. I sent him downstairs to my abandoned laptop and instructed him to return the blurb. As the author remarked afterwards, this turned into a three-country operation.

There I was, just arriving at Son’s new home, which had been anything but ‘free.’ He was in the midst of taking a call from a friend – in another country – who’d just opened up a mains water tap that I am technically responsible for. It was not good news. It was also after hours on the Friday of the Ascension long weekend (other countries do this) when no one in their right minds would be at work, or seemingly, have emergency plumbing cover.

A few panics later I phoned the author of the lost blurb, because according to my information she should be ‘not far away’ from the gushing pipework. She gathered up her husband and his toolbox and went to the rescue. She married a lovely and useful man, so he identified the problem, went home to see if he had one of those thingummies, and when he didn’t, asked the neighbours. As you do. Someone did have one of these plumbing antiques, and it was fitted and the water stopped running more than it was supposed to.

And in my other country, I was at last able to have a cup of tea.


She ‘hearts books’

Yvonne Manning

‘Have you spoken to Yvonne Manning?’ (I have, as matter of fact.) It’s Yvonne who runs Falkirk’s RED book awards, and it is she who ‘hearts books’ to such an extent that she wore a hearty sort of hat yesterday. Red, obviously, along with the other red accessories we had all unearthed in our wardrobes. Although the students from a Falkirk school had gone one better and got themselves red hair for the day, even if it was in the form of red wigs.

RED 2018

For the 2017 RED awards, their 12th one, they had shortlisted Alwyn Hamilton, Elizabeth Laird, Tanya Landman and Dan Smith. I thought this was a very decent list of people, and I was very happy to be conveyed to Falkirk to see them, even if they were one Elizabeth Laird short. She was very sorry. So were we.

RED book awards 2018

Over a custard cream (it would have been rude not to) I chatted to Anne Ngabia from Grangemouth High, about her latest batch of books waiting to travel to Kenya. And she introduced me to her handsome assistant Sandy.

I said hello to Tanya Landman, who had braved the Monday Bank Holiday traffic to travel from Devon, and who was pleased to have been to see the Kelpies. Dan Smith remembered me from the Manchester Chicken House breakfast, and was a little confused as to how I follow him around the country, living in different towns.

And I was introduced to Alwyn Hamilton, and finally got a little chat. We covered topics such as lipstick (I had no idea they were that expensive!) and Star Wars, and travelling abroad to see movies in the right language in the cinema.

As the coaches ferried Falkirk’s young readers to fth (Falkirk Town Hall), the authors took turns being interviewed by some of the students, and Dan turned out to be a sharpie-carrying man, always prepared. (I must copy him.) His school visit to Denny the day before, prompted the conversation to move on to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. (Are your ears burning, Kirkie?)

Tanya Landman, Dan Smith and Alwyn Hamilton

When it was time for the proceedings to start, Yvonne donned her red fairy lights as well as something looking suspiciously like heart shaped sunglasses. Red. Or possibly pink. Schools were introduced, the authors were introduced, their books were introduced, and tidiness was mentioned as something that could be rewarded.

The programme was slightly changed from earlier years. Instead of dramatising the books on stage, the schools had filmed short clips on how they imagined their allotted shortlisted books.

Cake queue


In the break there was coffee and cake for the adults, which made me feel quite grown-up and had me running for the carrot cake, with a tiny carrot on top. Had time for a little gossip with the authors before they went off to judge the students’ alternate book cover art, and signing books, and all kinds of other items.

Signing queue

Dan Smith

Alwyn Hamilton

Tanya Landman

Yvonne Manning and dancers

Anne Ngabia began the second half with a greeting in Swahili, showing us a video clip from a school in Kenya, and another of some dancing, to mirror the dancing going on at fth. She showed us one of her libraries from ten years ago; shelves full of books. And then we saw the same library today, with empty shelves, because the books have been read to shreds. They need new ones!

Then there were prizes for best reviews, best covers, best red accessories. If you could have a prize for something, it was bound to be awarded. In the end, there was even a prize for the author of the winning book. Not yet, though.

Yvonne manning

First the authors got to sit on the blue velvet sofas and answer questions from the audience. One was about playing the game Fortnite, another why one would want to become an author (because you get to read and go on holiday and call it research). Advice for future authors is to turn off all your devices and daydream.

Yvonne Manning, Dan Smith, Tanya Landman and Alwyn Hamilton

Dan has wanted to be Bear Gryll, or possibly a rock star. Alwyn wanted to go into advertising, while Tanya’s earlier ambitions were astronaut, ballerina, or at least to be a monkey. Writer’s block is not a block, merely a wrong turn. Taking the dogs for a walk is good, and you should just keep writing.

All Dan’s books are ‘awesome,’ Tanya feels you must love all your books, and Alwyn actually has a favourite; her second book. Asked if they’d like to stop to write something funny, the answer was a resounding ‘no!’

Someone wanted to know if Tanya had ever been eaten by a zoo animal, but the closest she’d come was being badly scratched by a really cute tiger cub. Favourite genres are ‘good books’ for Dan, YA for Alwyn and ‘not supernatural’ for Tanya. After a last game question for Dan, it was time for the RED book award.

Instead of the Provost of former years, I’d been sitting next to a glamorous looking lady, whose job it turned out to be to hand over the awards (I have completely managed to forget her name, though…). And the winner was, Elizabeth Laird for Welcome to Nowhere! As she wasn’t present, she doesn’t yet know what an absolutely fantastic prize is coming her way. Anne Ngabia has made yet another tapestry, featuring [past winning] books on a shelf.

RED book awards 2017

Alwyn, Tanya and Dan were given runner-up prizes, which looked too large to be carried home with any ease (I have now seen the inside of Tanya’s suitcase). Photographs were taken, and Dan will be practising how to smile and flick his hair (that one will be hard) to look as great in photos as Alwyn.

Tanya Landman, Dan Smith and Alwyn Hamilton

There was lunch for the grown-ups, and train timetables were studied, as bags were squished and repacked. I discovered Falkirk Grahamston station was twice as far away as it used to be.

Oh well, these things happen.

Apero in the woods

Did you miss me?

Space thingy

I’ve been away, stabbing tomatoes in the woods. Or more precisely, that was Daughter. I was standing by. Her friend, Rosetta Girl, had a PhD to defend. It’s what they call it in Switzerland. And Daughter said she’d help with the food for the apero, which is what they call all that drinking of wine afterwards, and I said I’d help her help.

So there we were, in the woods in Switzerland, a stone’s throw from the French border, stabbing tomatoes with toothpicks. I had my passport with me, in case I strayed. I’m so impressed by the language skills of these people. Rosetta Girl is a native Spanish speaker, but did her PhD-ing in English and French. Just imagine being clever in two foreign languages in a subject like astrophysics.

Kitchen sign

I was allowed into the kitchens, where it appeared Daughter’s French had improved to such an extent that she didn’t understand the instructions on how to use the dishwasher much better than I didn’t understand them. While the defending was going on in the Aula, Daughter and I watched empanadas cook in the oven, eyed the Chilean sweets, and carried lots of food and drink into the Observatory café.


We made it into the Aula for the verdict, which even if it was in French, I understood to be ‘very good.’ Daughter then showered Rosetta Girl with gifts, before the professors and assembled postdocs ran for the wine and nibbles.


(This served as a good dress rehearsal, for when we will have our own apero.)


After the last professor had been forced to finish the last wine by some careful wielding of damp cloths for wiping everything down, and the furniture was rearranged back to normal, and my performance had been so impressive that another friend wanted to book my services for her defense later this year, we did end up almost going to France, if only to avoid too long a wait at the bus stop.

Bodies in libraries

What was I thinking?

My mind works fast – occasionally – when coming up with ideas. And then it forgets again. I took this picture waiting for my train recently, to remind me what I was thinking. That worked well, didn’t it?

The Body in the Library bag

I believe I mused a little on my long ago reading of Agatha Christie. Because nearly all of it happened forty to fifty years ago, and I’ve not re-read much. I decided I couldn’t remember who dunnit in the library. Or who died, for that matter. The body will not be the same as the one in the vicarage, where there was also a murder.

Decided I could look it up, and then decided against. Just in case I happen to read the book again, any time soon. Or, for that matter, if it turns up on television, like that Ordeal by Innocence the other week. I gather one way of dealing with well known novels being adapted for the screen is to change the plot and the ending. In which case there is only annoyance for anyone with a good memory, or a recent encounter with Wikipedia.

So, looking on the bright side, I could have a brand new reading experience by reading The Body in the Library again, purely through poor memory and the passing of a lot of time. Or, I could have that anyway, by watching the BBC do their stuff. As long as it’s retro, who cares?

My apologies to the lady with the bag. I just liked the look of such a well-used bag, illustrating such a well-known crime novel.

Schools for Charlotte Square

It’s short and sweet, the schools programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. ‘Making books more affordable’ is a good motto, I feel. May it be successful and reach the children who need it the most.

I know I shouldn’t read the programme and plan, but I can read it and think. Some of the authors on the schools list will be doing ‘normal’ events too. And there is always the perfecting my school appearance. One of these days it will work.

Last year someone I’d just met talked very enthusiastically about Jason Reynolds, whom I’d never heard of. Well, this American is coming over, for an event with Chris Priestley who has illustrated his book. That should be pretty special.

Clémentine Beauvais is someone else I’ve not seen before, and she will be appearing with Sarah Crossan, which will be good. James Mayhew I have always managed to miss, so I could perhaps undo that, and Melvin Burgess, whom I’ve seen a lot, is coming back after a break of a few years. Or did I merely miss him?

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimifard

Ehsan Abdollahi will return, which pleases me, and he’s appearing with Eloise Greenfield. I’ve not seen Beverley Naidoo for years, and I don’t know her events partner Marjan Vafaeian at all, which I hope can be remedied.

I will quickly tiptoe past the ‘star attraction’ on the Thursday morning, to mention that the last day will be special as always, with people like Theresa Breslin and Philip Ardagh and lots of other fun.

As you can tell, many school children will have some great events to look forward to. I’m always in awe of the school groups who get up before dawn cracks, to travel across Scotland to come to one of the events. Hopefully it will be a memory for life, and be the beginning of a bookish future for some.

Quite moving

Today the Resident IT Consultant and his witch will rest. It’s not as well-earned a rest as I’d hoped for, because we were pretty useless ‘helping’ Son and Dodo move yesterday. I had visualised myself being tremendously helpful, but despite failing at that, I still managed to get quite tired.

I had hoped that there would be no bed-related problems, such as having to throw it across the fence from the neighbouring garden. Instead of any tossing, there was nothing. It wouldn’t even go up the stairs.

So the Resident IT Consultant and Dodo went off to that Swedish shop for an emergency bed, while I unpacked the kitchen boxes and Son stashed the contents in all the new cupboards where no one will find anything from now on.

The book boxes are another kettle of fish. The books came. The Billys stayed behind.


But at least there were removal men doing the lifting and carrying. The above photo illustrates how the world has changed; no tea needed to keep them going, but a hasty iPhone feeding with borrowed charger is what you do in this day and age.

Sea view

When my tired knees made it up to the top floor, I could see for myself that they have indeed a sea view from the bedroom window. Well, a Forth view, which is just as good. (I walked up. I didn’t crawl on my knees, or anything.)

They fed us well. The vegan wrap for lunch was really good, as was the South Indian dinner delivered to the new door, and polished off with chai in Moomin mugs.

Moomin mug

And then we had to find a new way home, in the almost dark. It’ll take a bit of getting used to.

Ghost launch #2, take #2

I completely forgot the Mars bar. I’m the kind of witch who gives authors in need Mars bars.

Che Golden and Helen Grant

We launched Helen Grant’s Ghost last night. This was the second Edinburgh attempt, after the snow in March, and this time we were successful. Author Che Golden had mentioned the need for a Mars bar in her reverse psychology sort of invitation to the event on social media the day before. Che was chairing, so clearly felt the need to entice people to come. Online, Helen and Che have been known to call a spade a spade. And worse.

In person, Che is disappointingly polite.

Helen Grant and Ghost

We had a full room at Blackwells, and not just because both Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant came. There were a few authors, like Alex Nye, Joan Lennon, Philip Caveney and Roy Gill. Also a Ghost, except it was just some lunatic covered in a bedsheet, who later turned out to be Kirkland Ciccone gone bananas. And some perfectly normal people.

The bananas were later visible on his shirt, which he’d teamed quite nicely with a sequinned jacket. So while everyone else was also beautifully turned out, no one was quite as bananas as Kirkie.

Kirkland Ciccone

Once the silly photographs had been tweeted, Che went to work with a host of questions. Helen continued the fruit theme by mentioning The Pineapple, where you can stay for a holiday, and the deserted ruin nearby, which is one of the many places to have inspired her.

Helen Grant

She said again how hard Ghost had been to write. The dream would be an agent who reads her new novel immediately, loves it and calls with a book auction offer of £5 million. Helen doesn’t want to write more YA, but prefers to work on traditional ghost stories.

Che reminisced about how on their first meeting Helen took her to Innerpeffray Library, and showed her the leper squint. It’s what she does for her friends, I find.

Che Golden

Che also pointed out that while she has read every single book Helen has written, Helen has not read any* of Che’s. This is possibly not true, but a sign of how they insult each other. I occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t have introduced them, but then, where would I learn such a varied vocabulary?

Helen sets herself an amount of words to be written every week. If she has worked hard, she might get Fridays off. That’s when she relaxes by visiting solitary places, for the atmosphere. She can recommend graveyards.

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

And on that cheerful note it was time to buy copies of Ghost and to mingle and chat. There was wine.

Roy Gill

After I’d given Mr Grant a quick Swedish lesson, it was time to go home. Which, is easier said than done on a Thursday, with still no evening trains. We lured poor Kirkland to come along with us, which meant his debut on the Edinburgh trams as well as probably getting home considerably later than he’d have done under his own steam. But we meant well.

*I can recommend them.