Category Archives: Travel

Bookwitch bites #148

The trip to Spain might have been fake – fake Spain with rain, not so much fake trip – but this week Kirkland Ciccone went to Sweden. Only in cyberspace, but it’s hard to travel these days, so it will have to do. I’ve been itching to have a photo published on Boktugg, and when Kirkie ended up on my television screen last Thursday, I decided to send in my picture of the occasion, and they’ve printed not only the photo, but my words about him, including the murderous porridge.

I must think before I press send…

This week gave us the long nominations lists for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals for 2021, and as always, they are good lists. They give pleasure and hope to those on them, and I feel considerable guilt for having read only a few. But those few were Very Good. I’m sure they will make the longlists and maybe the shortlists too. Even if only one – in each category – can win.

Somewhere you can win a bit more easily is when it comes to pay. Equal pay. I had kept a link to something from absolutely ages ago, but ended up never getting to it to comment, so deleted it. Now in The Bokseller I see that the gender pay gap at PRH – Penguin Random House – has widened. That’s what I would call going in the wrong direction. If you really, really want to improve pay equality, you do. More money to the women, and not necessarily less to the men, but not increasing their salaries disproportionately. Pay is something you can determine in an office. No need to wait for pandemics to end or for politicians to grow sensible.

And the same goes for reviews of children’s books. Last year The Bookseller reports only 4.9% of book reviews were for children’s books, and a year later this had managed to slide down to 4.3%. 50% is too much to hope for, I suppose, but maybe a little more than barely 5%? I forget who said this in the last few days, but children’s books matter more, because they shape their readers into the kind of people they will grow up to be. I do my best, but as you well know, that is not a lot, and my viral reading has plummeted.

My local newspaper has launched this year’s charitable collection for Christmas presents for children who might not get any. I am gearing up to give them books again. Especially with the above in mind, but also with that in mind, I fear that plastic toys in primary colours will be more welcome. At least by the adults sorting the gifts. Except I know there are children who don’t actually own any books, and who would be happy to be given one.

And finally, thirty years on, we are looking at the last book by Jacqueline Wilson to be illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Not that we have been wanting this to end, but as they say, the time has come for Nick to concentrate on his own work. Here at Bookwitch Towers we will be forever grateful for the way he has captured Jacqueline’s characters and made so many children want to read her books. I have on occasion wanted to simply sit there and stroke the gorgeous covers, especially that pink one over fifteen years ago. And who can beat Tracy Beaker?

Susanna Clarke was there

No, we would not sit at the back. For this event the teenage Son insisted we descend all the way to the bottom, and front, of the cake slice shaped auditorium at the Gothenburg Book Fair. Uncharacteristically I followed him and actually sat a long way from the door.

This was fifteen years ago. Perhaps not to the day, because the fair happens when it happens, and it just so happens that it begins today. The online 2020 Book Fair. Then, it was our first, and we’d come in search of Philip Pullman, but once he’d been dealt with, we had a list of others we wanted to see.

Susanna Clarke was one of them. The bookshop we used to frequent had a lovely, well-read girl working part time for them, and it was she who had suggested Son might like to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. He did, and he found it good. (I could never quite manage it.)

We both liked her event, and this was so new to us, and Son enjoyed being able to go up and chat to the various English-speaking authors as ‘one of them’. At the time I don’t believe we realised quite how exhausting the public event lifestyle is for an author.

I was made aware of how tired Susanna Clarke was in this Guardian interview the other week, when they spoke to her in connection with her next novel, Piranesi, which is out now. It’s been a long time, but I don’t blame her. Chronic fatigue is not much fun.

So what was the start of a book world whirlwind future for us, was perhaps the beginning of an essential period of rest for Susanna. I’m glad she’s found her way back. I hope the Gothenburg Book Fair does all right, and that we will all meet again at some other live event or book festival, but that we will also take it easy and not overdo things. None of us is getting any younger.

(I almost said older, which proves how tired and confused I am.)

And I like Susanna’s thought that ‘one day, there will be the wardrobe’.

Lockdown escapes

So, the other day I moaned about – by which I mean ‘mentioned casually’ – the unlikeliness of seeing authors the way things are. Or even normal people.

The always-willing-to-try new-things Helen Grant offered to come and sit in my garden, and I went as far as to wipe the table and chairs free from bird poo.

I also got my Moomin mugs out, although I seem to need more. We were one short. And I am not saying this in order to make anyone other than me go shopping!

A couple of days ago Kirkland Ciccone – dressed to the nines – went to Oxfam. (When I found out, it was too late to entice him to come and sit in the garden.)

What I particularly like are the bibles. As a background to Kirkie, that is. He was in the ‘Grandmother’s branch’ of Oxfam, and they always do a roaring trade in bibles.

I mean, I’m sure it’s him. It’s a bit of an incognito style. Not everyone can get away with an outfit like that.

Booking a holiday

Maybe you noticed me sneaking off on holiday in August? Or not. Service has been poor, so no difference there.

With no Swedish sea and sand to be had – for me – this was replaced with the beaches of St Andrews and plenty of the famous Scottish sunshine. So that was fine. It was a no-frills home-from-home kind of week. It was right opposite my favourite shoe shop and a few doors down from Waterstones, and not far to the other bookshops or the cheese shop, where it’s possible to spend a minor fortune on cheese. Might have spent a little bit on shoes, too. It just happened, like.

Toppings have too many books, if you know what I mean. It looks gorgeous and the books go all the way to the ceiling, but it’s kind of hard to browse. No room to turn and I don’t bend well – so had to instruct Daughter to bend for me and search among the crime paperbacks right under the table. When I sat down in one of their armchairs, someone came up and offered me tea or coffee within seconds. And I only needed to rest a little…

Didn’t go very deep into the children’s books corner, as I wanted to keep my distance from the mother and child already in there, reading books. Who wants to look at children’s books, anyway? Bought a few adult books, by which I mean non-children’s, not adult adult. Picked ones I could see and reach, so choice was what it was.

In Waterstones I picked a few more, including one standing face-out on a display shelf. Kicked myself afterwards for not having replaced it with a book of my choice, but leaving the empty space empty. Oh, well. Had wanted to browse a few more books, including a look at a second book of a series I wrote about some weeks ago, to see what it was like, but they didn’t have it. In fact, neither shop had what was on my mental list to physically look at when in a real shop.

As we had already done both the jigsaw puzzles in the flat, Daughter bought another one; a Vincent van Gogh. It looked easy enough, but by the end I almost grew to hate it, and it’s long been one of my favourites. Also played Jenga, which didn’t do  much for my blood pressure. What if the whole thing toppled???

There were books in the flat. Not many, but some. Pocket walking guides. Nigella and Jamie and Gordon. I suppose in case guests were wanting to know how to cook dinner.

We watched one film. Casino Royale. The old one. We love it and that’s why it was chosen, but oh dear, how un-pc it has become. I also only read one book, a fairly short one. Seating was a bit uncomfortable, and the lack of reading lamps not good for old witches. I’ll bring one, next time, if only to keep the coffee machine company.

The week ticked all the boxes; sea, sand, sun, ice cream, books, cheese, shoes, strolls through town. The Resident IT Consultant walked a lot more properly, and felt sorry for us, but each to their own, I say. He too came across some books when out.

On track, or not

I’ve hit a bit of a slump.

While I’ve ‘blessed’ the fact that I can attend bookfest events with no travelling or early gettings-out-of-bed, I suddenly realised something else. Had this not been the year of Covid with no live events, I’d still not have been going to Edinburgh for the festival.

Because there are no trains. Well, there are, but not all the way. You will no doubt have heard of the dreadful train accident near Stonehaven, near Aberdeen last week. The same night there were plenty of floods elsewhere in Scotland, including one causing a ‘hole in the ground’ near Polmont, which is exactly halfway to/from Edinburgh for me.

This will apparently take two months to fix.

So, no through trains. Yes, one can get to Edinburgh by car – so far – but that only works because there is no festival, with no tourists to clog up every available road or parking space.

Between the virus and the weather; there really wasn’t going to be any live bookfesting for me this year.

The Enchanted April

April 2020 might not feel all that enchanted, but it still seemed appropriate to read Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April right now, seeing as it was available. It features the beauty of Italy in April, but I have to say that my part of Scotland has managed to look enchanting in its own way.

Having known nothing about the author, except recognising her name, I discovered this novel in the Guardian Review a while ago, and felt the recommendation was strong enough that I would actually order the book. And read it.

Set in 1922, four women – strangers to each other – take up the offer to spend April in a castle in Italy after seeing an ad in The Times. We meet them as the first two, Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, slowly come to the realisation that by sharing the let, and allowing themselves to use their nest eggs, this could be a dream come true. They advertise for two more women to share the cost.

So it’s a sort of strangers in an airbnb.

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot leave behind Mr Wilkins and Mr Arbuthnot in lowly Hampstead, whereas the elderly Mrs Fisher is a widow and the young and gorgeous Lady Caroline just wants to be left alone. (Too many admirers.)

Lotty (Mrs Wilkins) and Rose (Mrs Arbuthnot) enjoy the freedom of not having to always put their husbands first. Mrs Fisher is a bit bossy, and Lady Caroline, aka Scrap, complains all the time but does it so nicely that everyone is charmed.

It’s clear that Lotty is somewhat of a witch, in that she ‘sees’ things. And her seeings do have a tendency to come true, however annoying Mrs Fisher finds her.

The castle truly is enchanted, or how else do you explain the changes in the four women? And the effect it ends up having on several other people. It’s not only the quiet, beige, Lotty who flourishes. There is magic for everyone.

It’s not quite what I had expected, but such fun and so lovely. We could all do with enchantment and wisteria, whether in Italy in April, or by some other means. Even if it’s not going to happen this year.

Ships, and paradise

It was the ‘Ship with no harbour‘ I thought of first. Was it last month? Time is strange right now. But anyway, those cruise ships that weren’t allowed to put into harbour in the Far East because of the contagion on board.

I felt there were many parallels with Lisa Tetzner’s novel set in the late 1930s, where poor, and ill, Europeans tried to start a new life in South America. But no country wanted them so they sailed on. And on.

Closer to home [Scotland] we have Teri Terry’s Contagion from three years ago. That was pretty terrible. I’m not even going to mention percentages here. I was only able to like it because it was so very fictional.

And that witchy feeling I had about the current Bookwitch Towers? I wasn’t sure what bad stuff I was expecting until Brexit happened. Then I ‘knew.’ That’s what was going to forcibly remove me from here. Maybe.

Then there’s the television drama from 2003, Virus au Paradis. I loved it at the time. It, too, was fictional. It was, wasn’t it? But I feel a lot worse about it now.

At the moment, I can only read nice fluffy books. I can only bear watching nice fluffy films. Before long I’ll be nothing but nice and fluffy.

Out of Berlin

When Daughter moved to Berlin for work after the summer, there were all the normal feelings you have about that kind of situation. Plus, I had one more. I could visualise her being stranded in war-torn Berlin, unable to get away.

As some of you may know, I am a witch. I see things, but don’t necessarily know exactly what my seeings mean. I told myself repeatedly that this scenario was pretty unlikely, and that I was using old prejudice and mixing up WWII and Berlin with… I don’t know what with, actually.

But the image stayed in my mind.

And then she decided to move back home and I felt that was it, then. No more war in Berlin. She returned to Scotland for a couple of weeks, before finalising the moving out. I was to go with her to help pack, and we booked the flights. (Out this coming Sunday, and back early April.)

Then Friday evening last week, I felt it would be much better to go sooner. Like on the Sunday morning. Because the travel issues to do with that other war, on the virus, made everything look almost undoable. We re-booked.

When he dropped us off at the airport the Resident IT Consultant looked like he’d not be seeing us again for a very long time. And I knew we couldn’t be certain of getting out in time, so we packed while keeping in mind that we might very well be stranded in the company of many, many boxes. Although for a pessimist I was a bit optimistic.

But I couldn’t un-see my premonition of being stuck in Berlin. I just hadn’t seen myself there as well.

After 24 hours we’d made enough progress that we re-booked our return travel on the first flight to Scotland, which was for two days later. Fingers were continuously crossed as more and more borders were reported closed.

With unprecedented optimism we threw out the last fish fingers the night before, and slept very little. Checked really carefully that the outbound flight had left Glasgow, feeling that this would almost guarantee that the plane would fly back as well.

It did, and I’ve never before been so pleased to see the pretend Scottish landscape at the airport, complete with birdsong and a ‘view over the loch.’ The Resident IT Consultant had made the most of his drive there, picking up coffee beans at IKEA. The way you do.

I understand the last scheduled flight to Scotland is some time today.

A close shave.

Cancelled all over

The London Book Fair cancelled really rather late. But better late than not, maybe? Probably. Not sure, though.

Looking at it from the point of view of Son, and not some London based employee in a big publishing house, it’s hard to know what to do for the best. Obviously money already spent is lost if you don’t travel. Your own money.

But it’s also the disappointment, if you have planned the trip, looking forward to seeing people you don’t otherwise see much of, because of where you spend most days of your working life.

Yes, you can Skype. But I believe it’s the personal touch that makes book fairs so useful. It’s how you decide to work with someone, and you do it over coffee, or wine, or if in a Nordic country, over a prawn sandwich.

London based staff can spend all this week seeing other book world people, in other venues, and they are probably a lot more relaxed about the loss of the fair.

To go anyway, or not to go? That is the question.

No granite for me

All I needed to do was keep that one day in February clear. Not too hard a task, you’d think. But as with the unavoidable snow two years ago, I had this lurgy, and I could see it’d last too long. I didn’t want my event with Sara Paretsky to have a The Mirror Crack’d kind of scenario. If the woman was willing to travel all this way from Chicago, I didn’t have to go to Aberdeen to infect her and her fans with anything.

But you’d think a cold could be satisfied with a week of me.

Anyway, what I’m doing instead of seeing Sara with Denise Mina in Aberdeen, is trying not to pass the cold on to a whole different host of people, travelling, when I perhaps shouldn’t. I hope they have fun without me.

I will think back on my snowy journey to Nottingham all those years ago, and my subsequent trip to Glasgow to see Sara talk to Denise, also ‘some’ years ago. One can learn to be satisfied with what one has already had.

Besides, Sara recently admitted to having killed Mr Contreras. I mean, she didn’t, because her heroic husband threw himself in front of the bullet, and Mr Contreras lives. But still…