Category Archives: Travel

City Atlas

Travel the World with 30 City Maps. It’s Non-fiction November, and here is an atlas to inspire the reader to visit lots of cities all over the world. Or possibly ‘only’ read about them, which is equally fine.

Written by Georgia Cherry and illustrated by Martin Haake, this atlas is a little on the large side to actually travel with. It’s more for inspiration. The double page spread for each city is not so much an actual map, as a colourful sketch of the city, showing many of its most famous landmarks and pictures of people and possible activities. And for every city, if you look closely enough, you will find a small person saying hello, in the langauge of that country.

City Atlas

Sketch it might be, but looking at the cities I know, I feel it’s quite accurate. For Stockholm they’ve got Långholmen to the west and Gröna Lund to the east; just where they should be.

In London Henry VIII is skateboarding just where he always does… hang on, maybe not. But you get the right flavour for each city. (Not sure that fried fermented herring will tempt the Stockholm visitor, but it’s genuine.)

It can be quite tricky finding the small person greeting you, which is presumably intentional. That way you see everything there is to see while you search.

Booked – Elizabeth Laird and Daniel Hahn


As Janet Smyth – who organises the children’s books programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival – said yesterday, away from August and Charlotte Square it can be a lot of fun to revisit events and ideas in greater detail. So that’s what they are doing, with a programme under the [extremely clever] title Booked. What’s more, we are no longer suffering from bookfest fatigue.

The Bookwitch seat

I arrived at Assembly Roxy with plenty of time, and as the first one there (I know…) I was not only given the choice of best seat, but was more or less led to the most comfortable seat in the place, which happened to be a high-backed leather armchair [with just the right support for an ouchy back] which I sat down in and then simply never left. (Feel free to copy this idea at other venues.)

My back and I had come for Elizabeth Laird in conversation with Daniel Hahn, on the occasion of her nomination as the UK representative for the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen award. This IBBY book award is a global one, which looks at an author’s whole body of work. Liz has written around 30 novels, translated into about 15 languages, and she has lived in several countries, including Malaysia, Palestine and Ethiopia.

Asked how she feels about her nomination, Liz said it’s ‘absolutely stunning!’ She spoke of having a couple of her books translated into Arabic, which led her and Daniel to talk about the way so many children’s books in English are translated into other languages, as witnessed by them at a big book festival in Tehran. And Daniel compared this to the relatively few foreign books that are translated into English.

Janet asked if you have to be dead to make it into translation, and he said yes, or you are Cornelia Funke. From his own childhood he knows that children don’t care (possibly don’t know) that books are foreign. He grew up with Moomin and Asterix, and feels that publishers worry too much about what you can put into a book, in case it doesn’t translate well, and this goes for the illustrations too. As for the difficulty of translating rhyming verse, he says that doesn’t seem to stop Julia Donaldson’s books from selling abroad.

Liz said we don’t want child characters who do what their parents say, and Daniel pointed out that’s why we have so many orphans in books. As an example he mentioned James and the Giant Peach, where the parents are killed by a rhinoceros on page one; presumably because Roald Dahl felt he had to get it over with.

Children will engage in a story, and offer hope, endurance, forgiveness and love. Liz likes happy endings, and said that she wants to write hopeful, if not happy, endings. Children’s books should be something to remember as an adult. These days we have emasculated stories, making Grimm and Noah into tame versions of the original stories, in order not to upset.

Daniel Hahn and Elizabeth Laird

When it came to the Q&A, no one knew what Hans Christian Andersen did when he visited Edinburgh. (Did any of you see him?) Daniel reckons this keen but neurotic traveller probably worried about losing his passport, and that he would have had a rope in his luggage, just in case. And he’d quite like to be able to read HCA in Danish.

Asked for a racy story, Liz told us her favourite about the beautiful girl and her silly husband, equally silly father, and hopelessly silly neighbour.

They talked about Liz’s book A Little Piece of Ground, which is about football in Palestine, and she finished by saying she’s not ‘holding her breath’ as regards winning the award.

I think she could. Should.

Elizabeth Laird

There was a signing afterwards, but not before Liz had rushed to put her warm coat on, as she must have been freezing up there on stage. I finally cornered Daniel with my copy of his Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, ‘this lethal weapon, a nightmare,’ and it has been duly signed.

Daniel Hahn

Bookwitch bites #131

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

David Almond scooped the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize on Thursday. Congratulations to him, and commiserations to young ‘Master Sally Nicholls,’ who at his very young age let his disappointment that Mummy didn’t win be known. I like a baby who can cry when the time is right. And apparently he was passed round like a – very valuable – parcel, so I’m quite jealous I wasn’t there.

Sally is also on the shortlist for the Costa, so perhaps the young Master will appear at another awards event soon. Because as he well knows, Mummy’s is one seriously good book, and he will read it as soon as he can.

Someone (Muckle Media. And you know, I blogged about muckle only the other day) has been looking into who is most popular on Twitter in Scotland. It seems J K Rowling does quite well with followers and such. And what’s fascinating is that I’ve never heard of some of the top names, although Ian Rankin and Val McDermid ring a bell. As do Bookwitch favourites like Gillian Philip, Nicola Morgan, Julie Bertagna and Helen Grant. Long may they tweet.

On Twitter (where else?) I learned that Teri Terry was interviewed when she was in Denmark recently. Her answers are perfectly easy to understand. For those of you who still don’t read Danish after all those Killings and Bridges, I can only suggest you guess what Teri is replying to, as the questions are in Danish.

Anne Rooney has been interviewed by the Society of Authors about non-fiction (I thought of it first!), and it makes for very interesting reading. Times are hard. Being interested in everything is good. Anne is good.

If all this feels like it’s getting on top of you, counselling is at hand. Nicola Morgan is now the proud owner of a Certificate of Counselling, part of her Diploma in Youth Counselling. She is so good at so many things. And I’d have happily unburdened myself to Nicola even before she was certified.

Shetland Noir – the stories

They really went to town with their misused kitchen utensils. I’d say, never encourage a professional killer. They have enough horror to offer as it is.

I would like to say I enjoyed the little leaflet with the top three stories from the Shetland Noir writing competition. But enjoy isn’t quite the word I’d use.

Runners-up Matthew Wright and Marina Marinopoulos went for very bloody scenarios indeed. Kitchen utensils make you think kitchens, and from there it’s not far to food, and… Well, you get the picture.

Whereas winner Helen Grant was more restrained, if only by comparison. She has a gory corpse. She has made ‘good’ use of her kitchen utensil. I’ll say that for her. And I could sort of see where this story must go, which isn’t a bad thing. It built up the suspense quite nicely.

The Beach House, as her story is called, is all about death in a beautiful place. That makes it worse. I can visualise where the house is, and I can see the corpse, even though I’m trying not to. I’ll have to work on unseeing this at some point.


If Helen were to change paths and kill in the adult world from now on, I reckon she’d do it well.

Shetland Noir, only once removed

I’m the kind of witch who can recognise Denise Mina from behind, out of context (i.e. not at some book festival). On the other hand, my Shetland Noir representative, Helen Grant, had no idea who this ‘tremendously likeable’ woman was, gorgeous black furry boots and all. They travelled on the same plane, which despite it being Friday the 13th suffered no mishap, which is lucky for Scottish crime and its future. Helen did know the other crime writer at the airport, though, as she had been at Oxford with MJ McGrath.

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Helen was on her way to Shetland to receive the Jimmy Perez Trophy for writing the winning short story – The Beach House – from, as it turned out, the very hands of Jimmy Perez, aka actor Doug Henshall. Not bad for a simple misuse of a kitchen utensil. (I can just see how he stands there muttering, ‘not the cheese grater. Please not the cheese grater!’)

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Strangely (!) Helen was quite keen to see a bit of beautiful Shetland while she was there, so apart from the grand reception and award thing on the Friday night, she ‘only’ went to two events, but they both sound really good. Also very female, because as we know, women scare and kill best. Just look at Helen herself.

Donald Anderson, Jacky Collins, Mari Hannah, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Alexandra Sokoloff

There was a panel on the benefits and pitfalls of screen adaptations, with Alexandra Sokoloff, Ann Cleeves, Denise Mina and Mari Hannah, chaired by Jacky Collins. It’s apparently a bit like adopting a baby, and learning to step away. Ann Cleeves had Vera Stanhope adapted after the producer picked up a copy of her book in Oxfam.

According to Alexandra, who has a past as a screenwriter, in America television does sell books, whereas Ann recognises that viewers might not be readers. Denise has had a very successful adaptation made from her book, totally authentic down to the 1980s Irn Bru sign on Central Station.  And on the benefits of adapting a book, Denise said that we love books – ‘That’s why we’re all dweebing out when there’s a perfectly good craft fair on.’ The book is the real connection with another human being.

Jake Kerridge, Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar

The cheerfully named Killer Women is a London-based group of female (obviously) crime writers, which started as a social group, but now meet to discuss murder as well. In Lerwick Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar spoke to Jake Kerridge about women in crime, both as writers, detectives and victims. Apparently if the victim is male he must suffer as a spy or at war, and not in a domestic setting.

MJ McGrath enjoys turning things round, like having a female detective instead of just as the sidekick. Her male detective breeds lemmings, in order to replace those who jump off cliffs… Louise Millar has interviewed people affected by crime, several years afterwards, to learn of the long term effects. And MJ interviewed some Hell’s Angels after a murder. She felt that being a woman was an advantage in that situation: ‘Either they want to impress you or they don’t take you seriously.’

Women are ‘equal opportunities readers’ and will read books by both women and men, but men are more likely to read men. Helen Giltrow, who works in a male dominated sector, espionage, has been told ‘you write like a man.’ MJ commented that ‘I have been told with great sincerity and as a compliment, I write like a brunette!’

On sex and violence Laura said that she has heard male writers say that women can go further because if a man writes about sexual violence people will think that he is a pervert who really wants to do it! Louise added that there is also the issue of having to write ‘likeable’ women, which is very constraining.

(I’ve never noticed any ‘constraining’…)

On the gossip front the latest news from Ann Cleeves seems to be a non-crime (I’m guessing non-fiction) book about Shetland. Because she loves it. Alex Gray is incredibly nice, and she and Helen talked about Bloody Scotland. Valerie Laws’ sleep was not helped by waves breaking against the hotel wall right beneath her window. (At least the sea stayed on the outside.) Marsali Taylor wins [Helen’s] prize for best dressed crime writer, with a stunning fuchsia silk fitted dress with gold embroidery and matching trousers.

After a weekend like this, Helen can almost see herself having more of a go at adult crime. It was ‘inspiring.’ And next time she flies to Shetland, her woolly hat will be in her hand luggage.

Doug Henshall and Helen Grant, by Dale Smith

Hopefully not ditched

This is the Shetland Noir weekend. It could have picked better weather. Storm Abigail is upon us, and my own Ice Cube is bad enough, for being battered by winds and heavy rain.

I’m very grateful not to have been travelling to Shetland with Abigail. As far as I know, the authors who had to get there in time for the crime festival did manage to travel. Brave people who think nothing of throwing up in small planes or on choppy ferries in the service of literature.

But as I was thinking of these poor souls, in my relatively warm and cosy home, I could visualise the scenario of these people being stranded together. Either in some airport, with no planes taking off, or, well, in some rather more dire situation. You know, a whole plane load of professional killers.

Just imagine what they could get up to.

(Feel free to use this idea for a book, or a short story. I’ll settle for 10%.)

Well, that was moving

So Kirkland Ciccone began by moving Waterstones where he was to launch his new book yesterday. That’s really well above and beyond his duty as an OTT writer from Cumbernauld. I had to call the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was going.

Honestly! Old witches. You can’t let them roam Glasgow freely. Union Street. Buchanan Street. Same difference. I’ve been twice before. Went down each of those streets, and turned left the first time and right the second. On Wednesday Waterstones had turned into a shoe shop. Which is very nice. Except it hadn’t.

Anyway, the place was the same as before, once it had been found. Although, I believe I detected some slight doubt in the lift announcement. It said ‘first floor?’ in that American way.

Kirkland seemed reasonably happy to see me and gave me a copy of North of Porter, sounding very pleased that it was unlikely to be my kind of thing. We’ll see. Keith Charters and Alex Nye both arrived as I was gulping down my dinner (cheese and tomato wrap), so I was a little off-hand in my greeting.

Kirkland Ciccone

Last year’s fur was long gone, replaced by Hawaiian shirt and plenty of beads and pearls. Also contact lenses and sun glasses, which might explain why Kirkie didn’t see so well. He and Keith sat on bar stools, talking away like they are the latest in television chat shows. They could call it KCx2.

Kirkland Ciccone and Keith Charters

Keith rather unwisely invited Kirkie to tell us his one minute potted history, which is an impossibility. There was the library as babysitter story, something about being a psychic consultant, stalking Keith, and a pregnant London agent, before this ten-year overnight success finally arrived.

(As an aside, his friends seem nice and normal. I’m not sure how this happened.)

Kirkland Ciccone and Keith Charters

Kirkie read chapter one, and because it’s Keith’s favourite, a bit from further into the book. Apparently Keith reckons if Kirkland’s synopsis sounds insane, then it will work. North of Porter appears to have been inspired by a woman in Denny hitting her husband with her handbag. And something to do with Scooby Doo. Also a cow in the living room, three floors up.

Apple laptop

His nephew made a racket from the back, which I think was wise. No need to let Kirkie have all the attention. For some reason Keith talked about last year’s road trip which began in St Andrews, and he mentioned Daughter, who popped by on her way to a PhD. It was the library…

Kirkland Ciccone, North of Porter

They locked the doors (surely not…) so that people would buy copies of North of Porter and get them signed. Wine was drunk, as well as Irn Bru. Snacks were eaten. (And for me, Master Nye has promised me street curry in Dunblane, so I’ll hold him to that.)

North of Porter launch

While the going was good I escaped home to Kirkland’s favourites; tea and ginger nuts.