Category Archives: Travel

Another Scottish Friendly

You might have noticed before that the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tours tend to offer some really rather good authors and illustrators to schools around Scotland. Their past list reads like a Who’s Who in children’s books. I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear they were bringing Sarah McIntyre here next.

Sarah McIntyre

Sarah is both an illustrator and an author. She arrives this weekend, for five days in the Highlands, which in this case means she starts right up north in Thurso and works her way ‘south’ to Inverness. Well, to me Inverness is still pretty north, and this week is pretty full of other things, and I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Sarah and her Highlands will have to be witch-free this time. But there are ten lucky schools who get her full attention.

And occasionally (what am I saying? It happenes all the time) Sarah gets attention in other ways too. She’s not the only one, but the other week she wrote a blog post about it, which is too good not to share. The ‘it’ being hopeful wannabes who ask illustrators to do the illustrations for the book they’ve just written. Usually without any idea of how much work that entails, or that an illustrator would like to be paid, or even being able to be polite once they’ve been turned down. (At least they got a reply!)

The trouble is that even to someone like me who understands that work takes time and you can’t work for free, these professional illustrators make it look so effortless. And I must admit that whenever I daydream about having a book out there that is all mine, my next daydream is who to ask to illustrate it, or at least do some nice cover art for me…

Bookwitch by Sarah McIntyre

Oops. Very easily done.

I am the proud owner of a genuine McIntyre. Digital, but very lovely. I believe it was something Sarah ‘threw together’ on her sickbed, one day when she was too tired to do anything else. She’s made the wicked old witch look quite pretty.

There’s always one

Bathroom visit in the early hours, a few weeks ago. Barely awake, I noticed an annoying beeping sound. I thought about it. ‘Hmm, it’s rather like when smoke detectors try to tell you they are hungry,’ I said to myself. ‘If we had one.’ It seemed odd that I could hear the neighbours’ one.

Exiting the bathroom, I discovered we did indeed have a smoke detector. And it went beep once a minute. I felt I couldn’t demand the Resident IT Consultant should pop out of bed to deal with it, so I tried to sleep a bit more despite the noise. Wasn’t easy, but I managed some. Woke up to find the beeping had stopped. Still informed the Resident IT Consultant about it (he’d heard nothing…) but I could tell he didn’t believe me.

What’s more, he wasn’t going to change the battery, because the smoke detectors are wired in. I suddenly remembered finding this out once before (when it had actually rung and scared the living daylights out of Daughter and me) and how stupid it all seemed. And then I had forgotten.

I was travelling to London the next morning, so wanted an early night, and contrary to other such well-intentioned evenings, I was ready to hop into bed at nine. ‘Beep!’

It was on again. Obviously having rested all day long it felt nice and fresh. This time the Resident IT Consultant couldn’t deny hearing it. Hah!

How was I going to sleep? He thought about it, googled how to do it, and then proposed climbing up there and removing it live, as it was too dark to see anything if he removed the lighting circuit fuse [to which it is wired] first. I thought about this and then said I wouldn’t allow it. After all, he was supposed to drive me to the airport the following morning and it’d be so inconvenient if he eloctrocuted himself just then. And I’m a bit fond of him, too.

After more thinking he decided to go ahead anyway. The dratted thing came off reasonably well, while obviously still beeping as it had a back-up battery. The Resident IT Consultant pulled the battery out and put it and the smoke detector side by side, rather like a chopped off limb.

‘Now you’ll stay quiet,’ he told it.

‘Beep.’

Yeah, you couldn’t make it up. There was a back-up back-up battery. ‘I’ll put it in the conservatory,’ I said. We could still hear it. I went out in my pyjamas and stuffed it in the garage instead, where it beeped away during the night.

But at least sleep was once again possible and the Resident IT Consultant was still alive and I made it to the airport, the London Book Fair, Terry Pratchett’s memorial and all that.

We now have a replacement pair of alarms, which [touch wood] shouldn’t be quite so hard to disable in the middle of the night.

Maybe.

Chasing the Stars

Othello in space. We don’t get anywhere near enough YA books set in real proper ‘old-fashioned’ space. Malorie Blackman’s version of Othello shares much with the science fiction I used to read when I was a young adult.

Set in the future, twins Olivia and Aidan are alone on a spaceship after everyone else has died. Both are very competent technically speaking, but perhaps less so socially, which is not surprising seeing as they have only had each other for company for three years.

Malorie Blackman, Chasing the Stars

Olivia is Othello, so you have to try and look at the story the other way round. The siblings rescue a group of people off a planet (moon?) and things on board the ship soon change, both for the better, but mainly for the worse.

Think murder and back-stabbings, and as with any Shakespeare there is more than one problem for this group to deal with. The twins are 18, but still pretty young and inexperienced and all the new problems soon become too much.

As I said the other day, I don’t know Othello, and I kept trying to think Desdemona (easy) and Iago (harder), and then I gave up. You can read this simply for what it is; a newly written futuristic space drama.

But you know, you could ask yourself what happened to the ship’s original crew. And who is the bad guy on board now? Also, will it end precisely as Othello did, or is there any hope of happiness?

The EIBF schools programme 2016

Perhaps I could – temporarily – start a very small school? That way I could book seats for me and about three pupils to attend as many of the rather interesting looking school events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as possible.

I’m doomed whatever I do, as there are too many events, and some of them happen simultaneously (and I don’t), but it’d be nice to go to some of them.

This year’s programme is available online now, for anyone who wants to have a look, and to daydream a bit.

Anthony McGowan is coming, and will be talking about his fantastic Brock and Pike books, alongside Patrice Lawrence, on Urban Grit. It’d be worth getting out of bed that early for. I’ve realised why Vivian French scares me so much. She has written 300 books! She’ll be talking about [one of] her latest, Alfie Onion. Jennifer Downham and Annabel Pitcher sound like a duo made in heaven.

Lynne Rickards will talk about her Puffling, and Gill Lewis is bringing her Puppy Academy with her. Keren David and Alex Wheatle will be doing diversity [duck!], while on the same day there is going to be LGBT theatre on offer.

Miriam Halahmy will bring her emergency war time zoo, and Gill Arbuthnott and Nick Armstrong are offering A Beginner’s Guide to Electricity, which sounds more fun than you’d think. A bit of Shakespeare or some terrorism, with Tony Bradman and Tom Morgan-Jones, or Alan Gibbons and Brian Conaghan respectively.

Sarah Govett, Tanya Landman and Anne Cassidy should all be pretty good, and on the last day Debi Gliori, Philip Ardagh and Barry Hutchison will be let lose in Charlotte Square.

And countless others. I suppose we could always just agree to hang around, hoping to catch sight of all these lovely authors…

2016 Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

I swear I didn’t enter Cumbernauld Theatre yesterday morning, uttering the words ‘do you know who I am?’ I merely wondered if they needed to know who I am. You know, similar question.

(I suppose I should be grateful I arrived at all. The Resident IT Consultant was to give me a lift. What he’d omitted to consider was the amount of diesel a pumpkin likes to have in order to go all the way to Cumbernauld. It did. It even got him to the nearest petrol station after, so he could drive home.)

It’s interesting how the meaning of the term YA keeps slipping and sliding. Yesterday I suspected that what it meant was that the books were by young adults, and not just for them. In my mind I categorised the authors present as the teenagers, the debutantes (I know), the old hands (those with three published books) and the grand ‘old’ lady (sorry..!). Kirkland Ciccone had done his best to find authors I’d never heard of before.

Scotia Books at Yay!YA

And when Googling Kelpies Prize winner Alex McCall it is well nigh impossible to find anything that doesn’t suggest he’s an older man who has a lady detective in Botswana, but no, it’s not that one. The other Alex (Nye) also has a prestigious award under her belt, the Royal Mail Award. And organiser Kirkland won the Catalyst prize. Elizabeth Wein has won a number of awards, including the very valuable Bookwitch second best book ever.

Code Name Verity

I’m glad that’s the novel Elizabeth chose to talk about in her session in the bar. Not just because it’s such a favourite, but because I’d not heard her in an event about Code Name Verity before. She read a bit, down in her ‘cave,’ and then she showed the children her silk map, and mentioned that one author who inspires her is Hilary McKay. (Such a wise choice!)

Elizabeth Wein

If you’re wondering why the others have not won prizes, it’s because Victoria Gemmell and Martin Stewart have only just got their first books out (Martin’s not actually officially out, even), and Estelle Maskame is only 18. Not that that should stop anyone.

Estelle Maskame

Estelle was in one of the other bars, where she read the first chapter of what I will probably always call DIMLY, when it should be DIMILY, Did I Mention I Love You? She’s one of these online wonders with millions of hits who has gone on to be published ‘properly.’ Estelle began writing her first book (it’s a trilogy) when she was 13… It’s apparently very popular, and I can sort of see that I’d have liked it when I was 14. And as for becoming a role model for pupils barely younger than herself, I can see how that works.

Martin Stewart

In the third bar was Martin Stewart, more or less stuffed in a fireplace, who also read from his book, Riverkeep. It’s based on the Glasgow Humane Society, which seems to be about fishing people out of the river Clyde; either dead or alive. Martin is a former teacher, who gave up teaching when he was offered a book contract on the basis of a short story he’d written.

Kirkland Ciccone

That was my afternoon in three bars. The morning was spent in the theatre itself where Kirkland introduced Alex Nye, before ‘exiting’ – by that I mean standing just behind the rows of seats – and allowing himself to be interviewed very loudly, drowning out poor Alex and making the audience laugh.

Alex did much the same talk as she did in Dunblane in November, and I think it’s a good one, which works well for a secondary school audience. This time her spooky sound effects worked fine and added a certain something to her ghostly readings. I especially like her 007 and M photograph from Glencoe.

Alex Nye

This ‘failed’ waitress who still hasn’t got the red sports car she craves, got lots of good questions from the children, so now we know she writes accompanied by Kate Bush, and that she admires Marcus Sedgwick (that rather explains the spookiness). Her next book about Mary Queen of Scots will be out in July.

Then Kirkland himself took over and basically did half an hour of stand-up comedy, that no author in their right mind would want to appear after. Luckily there was no one else after the exploding houses of Cumbernauld or Kirkie’s older brother the Tesco robber. He did mention Meg & Mog and Winnie the Pooh, but only to follow with Stephen King and some seriously bad book covers.

He wore his leopard jacket again, and teamed it with failed black hair. Apparently he had been aiming for blue.

Kirkland Ciccone, Victoria Gemmell, Alex McCall, Elizabeth Wein, Martin Stewart

Lunch was nice, with lots of things I’d have liked to eat but couldn’t. Luckily the others made up for this, and Alex Nye did some heroic work on the macaroons. Victoria Gemmell had handbag trouble and spent quite some time jamming an enormous pair of scissors into the zip. I’m not sure if that helped. Kirkie said she ought to give me a copy of her book, but unfortunately Follow Me sold so well that it was decided she shouldn’t. (I gave Victoria my card.)

If you are thinking I’ve not reported on either her or Alex ‘not-Botswana’ McCall, you are correct. Kirkie stashed them down in the changing rooms, and whereas they both returned reassuringly unchanged, I vowed last year not to go down there again. (And after hearing one of the ushers telling me and Alex Nye about their resident ghosts, I feel less inclined still. Alex, on the other hand, looked ready to come back to investigate.)

Alex McCall

I had a little look at not-Botswana Alex’s award winning book Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, as I’d understood it to be for much younger readers, but if that is the case, I have to consider myself younger. It looked quite promising. And I’d have loved to hear Alex speak. He still looked as young as he is (that makes sense, doesn’t it?), but seemed nice. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Kirkland Ciccone

There was a sort of book signing at the end. Some of the small venues overran, and some schools had had to leave to get back on time, but there was still a throng of fans in the queue. I decided I was in the way, so escaped into the car park where I was recognised as ‘the witch from last year’ before my newly fed transport arrived for the second time in one day.

Elizabeth Wein

Well, what a surprise!

What surprises me is that people are surprised. The Resident IT Consultant discovered an online Guardian article about foreign students at the University of Stirling. He found it interesting, and was only marginally disgusted by its accompanying photo, of a red London bus on Westminster Bridge in London. I thought that was the kind of rookie mistake made by foreigners, not Guardian editors.

So students come over here expecting it to be pretty much like it was at home. And it is, if you’re European. Sort of. It will be almost the same, unlike how it is for those from much further afield. But it will still be different. I believe that even somewhere small like Malta has ‘regional’ differences, and Sweden obviously has them, as does the UK. You can generally go somewhere in your own country where they eat funny food and speak in a way that forces you to ask again.

But then the natives that these students lived and studied with were also a bit odd, not grasping that a foreigner won’t know everything; that in their country they might not have (oh horror of horrors!) mince pies. The foreigner might politely decline eating them for years, believing the pies to be meaty (well, they were, originally). So you could explain a few things. And you, the visitor, could ask a few more questions.

I do agree with this article’s findings on [Stirling] public transport. It is very hard to find out about tickets and routes and all the rest.

As for what you wear when you go out, and whether that night out starts or ends at three am, is another matter. Ask. Adapt. Or avoid. By all means, be disappointed by the lack of your favourite food in the new place, if you must.

Having a favourite Blue Peter presenter is something else, however, covered in this article on not being quite the same as others. The half this, half something else. I have two of those myself, and whereas Offspring fit in best in Britain, they are not as ‘normal’ as those who are completely home made. Nor do they fit 100% in the other place.

I can talk Blue Peter reasonably well. Not only did I watch with Offspring for years, but as a student I benefitted from living with the G family, who had a Blue Peter aged child. I never quite got it, but it was a lot easier than Doctor Who.

Basically, though, we are all strange.

Go somewhere else, and see how your normality evaporates. Only a few weeks ago, a mortified Daughter quickly opted to order the Easter Bonnet at the local café, rather than have me continue my interrogation of the waitress as to what it actually was. (She did ask me to ask..!) That was no digestive biscuit, and that was definitely no teacake.

Oh, there is another kind of teacake???

How was I supposed to know?

Caledonian calendar coincidence

In the hope that we as a family will at least sometimes know what the others are doing or planning, we have a shared online calendar. I was reluctant to begin using it, but am slowly getting better.

Putting Daughter’s recent flight times in, it appeared that she’d be flying out at almost the same time as her brother and Dodo, until I saw that the airports weren’t the same. Anyway, airborne simultaneously.

Then I went to put my own dates in for this week, and discovered that on the date next to my entry for the Caledonian sleeper back to Scotland, was Son’s (and Dodo’s) sleeper back to Scotland. Very narrow escape! Just think what it would have been like for them to discover that the old witch was available to cramp their style.

As I burrowed down for a second short sleep after breakfast (my train was running late) I pondered the softness of the mattress, and wondered how I could have forgotten this.

Now that we are all back, I have an explanation as to why my night was better than expected. Seems they have new mattresses, and new pillows (2 per bed), and they are actually comfy. Might even try this again.

As for the calendar, I found the Resident IT Consultant had beaten me to it. Wednesday morning we have ‘arch’ at ten o’clock. Not what I’d have said, but it works.