My literary clematis

I must have forgotten to make it public that I kill any clematis in my possession. I love them, but I don’t have clematis-fingers. The lovely clematis I got for my 50th didn’t even last a year.

So, last June when I hosted my inaugural Ladies Literary Lunch, my guests brought me [far too] many gifts. But never mind that now. In amongst the bunches of flowers and bottles and boxes of chocolates, there arrived a clematis.

It was on offer from Lidl; two for £3. I immediately admired this guest for knowing to buy something that would (might) last, and to have been frugal about it. We buy a lot of plants from Lidl ourselves. I just despaired a little because I knew it was not long for this world.

The next day I guided the Resident IT Consultant outside and told him to dig.

I watered and hoped for the best.

And, this spring it flowered. For such a small plant, it bore some enormous flowers. Purple. My favourite.

And then, well, I don’t know how to tell you this. It started flowering again. So now, it is November, and cold, and a bit dismal, but there are new purple flowers, right next to the front door, doing surprisingly well.

I just don’t know what I should do. Pray?

And, I even think I know who gave it to me. (Remember, there were a lot of people arriving bearing gifts.) I am pretty certain my Lidl bargain buyer was the well-known author and illustrator of… She struck me as though she knows about gardening, so I am hoping she has magical powers, making this flower-fest possible.

LLL clematis


Free day, Friday

Fat and difficult. Well, that can describe many things. It could be me. Or, in this case, it could be Dust, i.e. La Belle Sauvage. How I wish I’d had a review copy! Or gone to an airport to buy the trade paperback. If a book insists on being quite so large and quite so fat, I need it to be soft. (I’m soft. Just saying.) I am actually having to read more slowly because I can’t handle the weight or the sharp corners for any length of time. (Not talking about me here.)

But I’ll get there. Just as my second interview from August will eventually ‘get there’ too. Typing slowly. Very slowly, in fact.

Speaking of interviews, a dream interview I’d never even considered, is Keren David’s with Tom Stoppard for the Jewish Chronicle this week. It’s clearly how the professional works. Conducts good interview. Transcribes it promptly. Loved it! (That’s me.) What’s more, the man sounds like a really pleasant person.

I had a pleasant afternoon out yesterday, when a local author bought me some interesting fruity tea at the ‘coffee burghhouse’ as I like to call it. It is, of course, really the Burgh Coffeehouse, but I get so mixed up. Nice conversation about property and pyjamas, and why I can’t ever prepare my sprouts on Christmas Eve.

The Carnegie/Kate Greenaway nominations

Some I’ve read. Others I would have wanted to read.

I haven’t counted how many books were nominated for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, but a quick search through the two lists suggests I have read maybe thirty of the books in total. Which is not much.

The wonderful news is that Barrington Stoke have ten books on those lists, and I have read nine of them. I was never sent the tenth one, so have a slight excuse there. It’s so good to see both that dyslexia-friendly books aren’t overlooked when it comes to list-making, and also that there are so many competitively great books written for those who find reading challenging.

Carnegie Barrington Stoke nominated books

As for the books I’ve not read, a few have arrived here at Bookwitch Towers, but most haven’t. And based on what I wrote about the other day, I now feel quite disinclined to request any of them.

But it’s good to know I’ve had the opportunity to read so many potential prize-winners from Barrington Stoke. I should know. One – The White Fox – was on my best of 2016 list.

George and the Blue Moon

Travelling to Mars has become quite a thing now, what with ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ people just about signing up for the first trip to our neighbouring planet. So not surprising that Lucy and Stephen Hawking’s George and Annie also get ready to go.

Lucy & Stephen Hawking, George and the Blue Moon

Except, it might have been described as a summer training camp for future trips to Mars, but in the end it seems that plans for the children who take part aren’t quite as they expected. But there would be no mystery and little excitement if we had no strange goings-on at space camp. And you can always have room for more bad guys, whether old enemies or new ones.

So while George and Annie make plans for the summer holidays, Annie’s dad is given the sack, and his computer Cosmos is facing tablet-status. What could be worse?

As usual in these books, Stephen and his colleagues from all over the world chip in with short ‘talks’ on their special subjects, and for the reader who can understand it all, lots of new worlds will be opening up to them. It is really tremendously educational and entertaining all at once.

The two children and their peers learn a lot about becoming astronauts and working together, making split-second decisions, and how to build stuff, and so on. And I know no other authors who could describe from personal experience, the feeling of zero-gravity in a ‘normal’ plane. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

This is fiction, so maybe George, Annie and their new friends are slightly more capable or clever than children that age (11-12?) would be, but how inspiring they are! And maybe future trips to Mars isn’t all that’s going to happen. Cosmos’s portal is still going strong and you can always teleport, can’t you?

I’d been under the impression that this fifth book was going to be the last, but the ending was such that I had to contact Lucy immediately to ask if there is more.

There is more.


When you get that perishable feeling

Classics. Hah!

How will today’s books ever become classics? And when?

It appears books have become perishable goods. And whatever your opinion about that may be, it feels to me as if it means books are no longer intended to last; to be here for your children, or grandchildren to read. When you die, out go your books, because they are old, and new ones will be published tomorrow, which makes them so much better.

It’s happened to me twice. No, three times, that I’ve been refused a review copy because it’s been too long since it was published, and why would anyone want attention in the shape of a review after several weeks?

I’ve obviously gone without requested books more times than that, but it’s the ‘no we won’t because the books is old’ response that sticks in my mind. The first one, to be fair, was years after. With the second book I’d missed that it was out and by the time I had un-missed it, a year had passed. The most recent time was a couple of weeks ago, when I was informed that the publishing company has a policy of not sending review copies out after one month.

As this was a publisher who has until very recently provided me with many fantastic books and got a high ratio of reviews in return, I was a bit hurt. I had known the book was coming, but not which publishers. Hence my inability to request a copy in time.

I think if it was me at the other end of the email, I’d have sent a copy out anyway. Unless there were hundreds of late requests. And if there were, maybe sending out lots of late books would repay itself. What I’m saying is, that an exception smooths future paths, whereas now I suspect we feel quite prickly on both sides of the mail server.

Having just finished reading a book from the same umbrella of imprints, and noticed that it was actually much older than I’d imagined (I thought I was a few months late, while it turns out I was a few months plus a whole year late…) and I was granted a copy with no moans about lateness at all, I don’t know what’s going on.

Another recent review for the one-month-is-too-late publisher, was only made possible when the author asked and discovered I’d not received a copy and ended up sending me one him/herself. It cost him/her £1.74 in postage which – while not breaking the bank – should not be necessary.

So when – and why – did books become so fragile and time-dependent? And what good will it do them? I recognise that a flurry of reviews in one week is quite nice, and possibly effective. But just as I enjoy a bunch of flowers better on its own, rather than ten bunches all at once, stringing the experience out ought not to harm a book’s future at all.

Reviewing isn’t an exact science. Occasionally publishers send books out months in advance, wanting early feedback and tweeting, to build up to the day. At other times they simply want to make sure a book gets time to be read and reviewed, and they want the review for publication day. Or, if it’s a few weeks later, they appear not to be angry.

Some time last year, I think, I reviewed a book I’d had waiting for about ten years. Yes, that was rather late. But the alternative would have been for me not to read it at all, or if I did, not to mention it here on Bookwitch.

As for the true classics, written decades or longer ago, there is no reason not to write about them, whether or not they have been re-issued by a publisher. A book is a book, not cottage cheese.


Just because you’re paranoid does not mean it is not out to get you.

Under normal circumstances 15-year-old Jack is a little crazy, and has a history of seeing things. So it doesn’t really help that as he and his dad are on the run from some bad guys, he witnesses a scarecrow eating a crow, and later he ends up talking to it. Him. The scarecrow. His name is Philbert.

Danny Weston, Scarecrow

Jack’s dad is a recent whistle-blower who decides to flee his London home with Jack, as a way of staying safe. Bad idea. The Scottish countryside is not a safer place. Bad guys. Hungry scarecrows. That kind of thing.

And they’ve left their mobile phones at home. Just to be safe. Hah.

This is very good. I’m thinking it might be Danny Weston’s best, so far. Think Pimpernel Smith. (That’s a film.) Or that Christmas song about a snowman, as sung by Bing Crosby.

Anyway, Jack meets a girl called Rhona. Did you know they even have iPhones up there, near Pitlochry? Not so sure about finding a copy of the Guardian in the village shop, but there you are. Or rather, there they are. And how is anyone going to escape?

It was Rhona’s mother – who was a white witch –  who made Philbert. His task was to look after her family once she was gone. Because a pile of straw tied to a cross in a field can totally do that.

Did I mention that things get quite exciting after a bit? Well they do. And what’s that thing in the woods? Who can you trust?

Just so you know, witches rule.


Painting and drawing can be therapeutic. Or so I believe. Not that I would know, as I can’t do those things [well enough for the therapeutic-ness to kick in]. And someone on social media has been painting her way round some book tours recently, posting one picture after the other for the rest of us to see.

Hoping it might eventually lead to a change of ownership, some of us tried to lay claim to ones we particularly loved. But you know, in some cases others got there first.

So [let’s call her] Tally isn’t just an author who authors extremely well. But she can paint too! She’s not the only one, either, and that’s not counting those people I know who make a living from both words and pictures.

Finally, a couple of days ago, Tally said we needed to take these paintings off her hands, and then the fighting began. I was awake early enough, but needed breakfast before engaging in online art war, and that’s when ‘some business’ happened.

But later in the day I caught [let’s call her] Kaye saying she wanted the one I wanted, so I said it was ‘mine, actually’ and she said ‘damn’ and then we went to bed. Separately, I hasten to add.

Woke up the next day to find shopkeeper Tally reminding me that Kaye ‘is pretty nifty with a sword.’ As if I needed reminding. I obviously said Kaye could have the painting. Just to be nice, not because the sword worried me. At all.

And you know, I could see it in my mind. The Western style bar, Tally leaning back nonchalantly in her chair, legs resting on the table in front of her, chewing on a toothpick, watching me and Kaye. Possibly twirling her gun, if she had a gun.

I mean, personally I feel she should have sold those paintings as quickly as possible, and none of this baiting the customers… but then Kaye said she’d have a puffin instead, putting her sword away, before I even got my broomstick ready.

Ah, well, one lives (hopefully) and learns.

But don’t you just hate it when some people are multi-talented?