Category Archives: Writing

Three ten-year-olds

I have been reminded of some books that were first published ten years ago. 2010 was an interesting year for books and witches. There seemed to be a whole host of new authors, sort of clamouring for my attention. And that always scares me.

But early 2010 was a good year. (Maybe later in 2010 was good too. I’ll deal with that some other time.)

First I read Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story, even though it didn’t come out until May or thereabouts. But I read an early copy and I loved it. And it wasn’t a one-off, as Candy has continued to supply some lovely novels for, well, for everyone, I should say.

Second I read Keren David’s When I Was Joe, which I’d not been sure about, what with knife crime and that kind of thing. But even then, it was a fabulous story. The kind where you look forward to all the next books coming from that keyboard.

And sandwiched between these two authors was Jon Mayhew and his Mortlock. Just the title was enough to send the right vibes, and there are graves and ravens aplenty. Jon has also gone on to write lots more books. So many, in fact, that I can’t keep up. But that’s all right. I think.

This is precisely what I like in this business. New people turn up, and turn out to be as good as those who were already there. And so it grows.

Happy tenth birthday to all three books and their creators!

Speculating on Liz’s new book

I frown on speculation. People can write a lot of words on stuff they know very little about, guessing as they go.

But piecing together news from more than one source, I am hoping that the new novel by Liz Kessler – Chasing the Light – that Simon & Schuster will publish next year is based on a story Liz has told several times, about her own family’s past. (Yes, you are quite right. It is a long wait.)

The Bookseller says it’s set in the 1930s, it’s about three children, and it’s got something to do with an event in ‘her own family’s history.’ I forget the exact details of the story I have heard, but if that’s what we are dealing with here, it’s a tiny coincidence; the kind that happens all the time, but which in this case saved lives. Without it we wouldn’t have had Liz, or her books.

I hope this is what it is. And I’m looking forward to it. We are now back in darker times, and need all the help we can get from that period we believed we had long ago put behind us.

Are we not all the same, then?

How many times can I jump in, feet first, and say the wrong thing about who is allowed to write what? Too many, probably.

But honestly, in a world where so much is wrong, should there be this much arguing about whether people are brown-skinned enough to write certain books? Somewhere at the back of my mind runs a song which claims that we are all the same, regardless of colour [of skin]. I mean, I know we are not. Not really. We should be, but life isn’t fair or equal.

I’d quite like to be paid a seven-digit sum for a novel, should I ever write one. But I’d rather not be at the receiving end of threats. (Could these people not have a go at someone who’s done something worse than write a book?)

This made me think of Elizabeth Acevedo, who identifies as Afro-Latina. She writes books about young people with a similar background to her own; black, Spanish-speakers, born and living in the US. That’s good, because it’s what many of us need, whatever our colour.

I’d like to think that no one will question Elizabeth’s ‘right’ to write these stories.

But then my mind wandered, as it does. You know those acknowledgements at the end of a book? I remembered that in her latest book, With the Fire on High, she thanked someone for advice on what it’s like to be a teen mother. And that’s good. It means Elizabeth, who I understand has no children yet, got feedback on what she ‘made up’ for her heroine Emoni.

If you really wanted to, though, you could take this cultural appropriation thing as far as you need to, to get an argument going. Maybe only someone who’s not only a mother, but who was a teenage mother, should write this book? Stupid, but isn’t this what’s happening when white people get it into their heads to write about a topic they are not ‘qualified’ to cover?


I obviously believe that anyone may write what they want. If someone wants to publish that writing is another thing, as is whether anyone will read it.

Meanwhile I’m more than happy with the efforts of  Elizabeth, and authors like Angie Thomas and Jacqueline Woodson. There could and should be more, and with time there probably will be. Unless we should all have worried more about the men who have the power to end the world right here and now. Maybe argued some more, and stopped them. Instead.

Off my trolley

Things change.

And, yeah, you and I both know I don’t much like change. But this isn’t one of those changes.

Back in the infancy of Bookwitch – the blog, not so much herself – she wrote by hand, and she sat in her comfortable armchair and read books. Oh, the innocence of it all…

Daughter was still at school, and she needed to build me a piece of furniture for her GCSE tech. The teachers were still raw from her brother’s triangular table, so there was a complete ban on triangles of any kind. She designed a Bookwitch trolley to sit next to my chair, and where everything would go, from mug of tea and spectacles to current books and paper and pen. It’s on wheels, so I could push it around. It’s what I do best.

But now, I don’t do these things, apart from the pushing.

The trolley leads a more sedate life, mostly holding maps and large books for the Resident IT Consultant. It stands quietly, next to the two Oyster catchers in the window.

That’s life, I suppose. Needs change. Still love the trolley, and Daughter. Also still have the triangular table. (It’s behind me!)

Can’t say the same for the rest in this photo, which has a certain antique value. Wrong room. Wrong house. Young-ish looking witch. Much of the furniture is gone and the lamp has had its foot removed, but you’ll be pleased to learn I still wear the Crocs…

Eleven years on, we are coming up for Bookwitch’s 13th birthday, and there might be changes. I’m already at war with someone about Bookwitch’s looks (I don’t mean her in the photo).  We’ll see how that goes.

Perform

From what I understand it’s something that takes most [new] authors by surprise. They thought it was enough to write the book, enough to get enough professions interested in the book, and enough for it to be published and enough for people to buy the book. And then we start the whole process all over again for the next book.

Well, after a few years of stalking authors.., I mean going to lots of author events, I knew I didn’t want to be one of them. I did not want to get the call from the Edinburgh International Book Festival to come and talk about my new book. It’s enough to make me not even consider writing, other than this drivel, in case it turned out better than expected.

And I have looked at them. Many are extroverts. Quite a few are [ex]-teachers, and I have assumed standing in front of rooms full of people is fine if that’s what you’re like. I gather some make use of the wine in the green room, just to feel braver. But I’d like to think that a good number simply say ‘no thanks.’

I saw this article in The Bookseller a while back. Couldn’t actually read it, as I seem to have clicked on too many articles recently. But it sort of says what it’s about. Benjamin Myers, whom I don’t know at all, and the Society of Authors are critical of the pressure to be[come] a ‘personality’ in order to sell your book, when writing it in the first place ought to be enough.

And then we have the personalities who take to writing. One assumes they at least relish the performing. Maybe that’s why we have so many? Publishers get fed up with authors hiding in garrets, so go in search of new ones from the stage and the screen?

Know Thy Star, Know Thy Planet – Disentangling Planet Discovery & Stellar Activity

Thought I’d treat you to another of my – our – Christmas present books. Rather than offer any kind of review, which would be fairly hard to do, I will show you some of my photos of it! The title is a bit of a mouthful, but I gather academics, even scientists, like that sort of thing. It’s called Know Thy Star, Know Thy Planet – Disentangling Planet Discovery & Stellar Activity.

As you will have worked out, this is Daughter’s thesis, and it was generous of her to let us have a copy. I believe they cost a fortune.

Dr Giles has her foreword in no less than three languages, which is one more than they demanded. (Apologies for any mistakes in the third one; I don’t really speak ‘science’ in any language. And the visible mistake is all my fault…)

Because astrophysics is such a male subject, she worked hard to put women scientists in there, from Dr Nirupama Raghavan who is the Resident IT Consultant’s cousins wife’s cousin’s mother-in-law (!), and who was Director of the Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi, to Dr Jessie Christiansen, an almost peer from CalTech.

I like heavenly bodies to be eccentric; it sounds fun. And in the index I discovered that Daughter’s surname puts her right after some G Galilei chap.

Also, the book is purple!

The Lammisters

I suspect Declan Burke’s new novel would make a good film. In fact, I have no way of knowing that it’s not already happening. Set in Hollywood, slightly under a hundred years ago, it would be appropriate. And I do enjoy humorous films.

The Lammisters is completely different from Declan’s other crime novels, which – mostly – take place in Ireland, featuring inept and sometimes bad characters, but usually also very funny ones. If they talk too much, it’s because they are Irish.*

Here, though, is a narrator who uses a lot of words. Long words. Fancy words. Complicated sentences. Footnotes. That sort of thing.

Not being as well read – or educated – as the Guardian’s Laura Wilson, I don’t know Laurence Sterne, although I have heard of him. I gather it is his style that Declan has gone for. The review in the Guardian was very positive, which is well deserved. To my mind, all his books ought to have got a mention there.

It’s a period I like a lot, and coincidentally it’s the second of two crime novels set in that period that I had lined up over Christmas; one on each side of the US. (More about that tomorrow.) And the cover is fabulous.

Declan Burke, The Lammisters

* Apologies for the stereotyping…