Tag Archives: Alan Garner

Bookwitch bites #144

I am such a grumpy old Witch. I don’t – necessarily – read in parks. I mean, I might. If I had nowhere else to go and I had a book and some time to kill. But I wouldn’t look at the sunshine and rush off to read in the park. Just as I don’t read in bed, or on the beach. It’s so uncomfortable.

My apologies if the person who emailed me regarding reading their book in the park sees this. It’s just that the supposedly tempting scene painted, was anything but. And, if the weather in London has been extraordinarily good and threatens to remain so, that doesn’t mean we at the other end of the country are similarly blessed.

Although, I did sit out yesterday. For a bit. In the garden. And yes, I am blessed, because I have a garden. I spent my time with a mug of tea, staring into space, hoping for rest and inspiration. The reading will happen in my armchair.

It’s time again for the Guardian’s summer reading advice pages. I like the fact that they have taken to printing suggested authors in bold, so you can pick them out quickly and not have to read every famous author’s holiday book suggestion to find what you want. Which in my case was to see if anyone mentioned children’s books.

One did. Someone is going to re-read Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And the Guardian had one children’s books in its ‘if you only read one book’ column, which was Joanna Nadin’s The Incredible Billy Wild. Very good choice.

That also happened to be the book I’d just finished reading when someone asked me for recommendations a couple of months ago. She made a note of the title and when I saw her last week she was still looking for it, which touched me, as I didn’t feel anyone should take my advice that seriously. Well, they should. I’m only trying to be polite and modest.

It was also time for the Branford Boase award this week. For once my guesstimate re the date was right. (Didn’t get the email…) Anyway, the winner was MG Leonard and her debut book Beetle Boy. I’ve heard much good about it, but so far I have stumbled on the creepy-crawly/insecty aspect. I know. It’s probably the new Kafka. And ever since Thursday I’ve kept seeing MG Leonard’s name everywhere. She’s doing ‘all’ the festivals, including Gothenburg.

Another busy lady is the Queen. She came here this week. That’s Stirling here, not Bookwitch Towers here. They had coned off a road near Sainsbury’s when we went for some essential food. We gather she went to see the spruced-up Kelpies in Falkirk, where she spoke to some real horses and fed one her bouquet of flowers.

Christmas beans

The trainee witch once (almost twice) worked in a bookshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was in the days of Christmas Eve getting the Saturday treatment, shop hour wise. So we closed at twelve, and I recall I had a Saturday bus to catch soon after, where I was the only passenger, on the last bus for a couple of days.

Where was I? Oh yes, in the bookshop, before the last bus. It was quite nice working on Christmas Eve (well, one had a Mother-of-witch doing the kitchen stuff at home…), and something I noticed was that the world is full of people who don’t shop until there are mere hours between the buying of and the opening of presents. It takes a cool and steady mind to be that late.

They come in and spend anything, just to get the deed done. And obviously they require wrapping and all that.

According to Son it seems the wellknown online bookshop can offer the same these days, as long as you live somewhere civilised. Order on Christmas Eve morning and have it delivered that afternoon. It will cost you, but as I said, the Christmas Eve shopper can afford it.

What I’m trying to say here, in a roundabout and waffley way is that you could still manage to buy Magic Beans. I’m truly sorry for being so late mentioning this perfect Christmas book, but I’ve been feeding the cake brandy. And various other minor things.

In Magic Beans you have absolutely the cream of children’s authors doing their thing with classic fairy tales. Adèle Geras retells the The Six Swan Brothers. It’s wonderful with such sibling love. But I wonder what happened to the old King and his witchy wife? It’s funny how Princes and Kings wander around finding themselves wives all over the place.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Henrietta Branford before. Here she retells Hansel and Gretel, without too much gruesomeness. And why do witches and stepmothers get bad press all the time? Berlie Doherty’s The Snow Queen is icy and season appropriate. And below you can listen to Jacqueline Wilson talking about Rapunzel.

Other particpating authors are Anne Fine, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Kit Wright, Alan Garner, Gillian Cross, Susan Gates, Malorie Blackman, Linda Newbery and Tony Mitton. And since it’s not only writers you get, every single fairy tale has been illustrated by some pretty creamy artists like Debi Gliori, Ian Beck, Lesley Harker, Nick Sharratt, Patrice Aggs, Peter Bailey, Nick Maland, James Mayhew, Siận Bailey, Ted Dewan, Michael Foreman, Sue Heap and Bee Willey.

By good fortune I have also just found out that some of these stories can be bought as ebooks, so if you’re really desperate…

Don’t say I haven’t provided a useful suggestion. And if you were to go for the old-fashioned dead tree version you get a nice, fat volume with pictures. I’ll even wrap it for you. If you come here, that is.

Bookwitch bites #27

I was about to say something hasty – and incorrect – like we seem to have left the shortlists behind and it’s time for award winners, but stopped myself in time. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ‘shortlist’ was made public this week. It’s a jolly long shortlist, but since it’s the last list, I suppose it has to count as the shortlist. It has the usual names on it, like Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and David Almond, among the British. Also Mary Hoffman for – I think – the first time, which is nice. Lots of organisations, and I do feel that they are perhaps worthier recipients of so much money. But if Mary wins I hope she remembers me.

Thursday must have been a Swedish announcement sort of day, with this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa. The Resident IT Consultant inquired if I knew him. Not personally, obviously, but with Spanish literature deep in my past, I do ‘know’ him.

Another winner this week was Michelle Paver who was received the Guardian children’s fiction prize, also on Thursday. Busy day, clearly. As I mentioned earlier, I never got started on Michelle’s books, so have long felt the uphill effect of even trying to catch up. But if everyone will insist on saying quite how excellent the books are, I will have no option but to dive in. Wouldn’t have minded being there for the award, but couldn’t make it. Not that I was asked, but you know…

More failure to attend for me with Cheltenham having got under way this weekend. Wonderful programme as always, and lovely town. Must work on returning some time soon.

Doing quite well on the new book front, however. My recent visitors were taken aback when they realised the postman staggers up the drive and rings the doorbell (once only) on most days, delivering books and more books. Yesterday I received six, and the bad news for me was that I liked the look of all but one.

I know I mentioned Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen last week, but must return to it today. The hardback has arrived and it’s gorgeous. I found myself sitting there stroking it, and gazing at the names of the great and the good who sing its praises on the back.

Had an uncharacteristically successful reading day as well, finishing three books. I’m sure that means I won’t get anywhere near my reading chair for a while.

And Norm Geras loves his books so much he wouldn’t ever consider a Kindle.

Bookwitch bites #25

Author-wise it was a busy Wednesday over at the local bookshop. Not only did Cathy Cassidy do her friendship thing for younger readers, but she had barely left when it was time for Adèle Geras and Sophie Hannah to do their event. In fact, she hadn’t left, as Adèle arrived too early and caught her as she was running for her train. It was admiration all round, as they are fans of each other’s books. Adèle read from Dido, and Sophie read from her latest crime novel, A Room Swept White.

Another criminally minded lady is Donna Moore, who can now add the job title Writer In Virtual Residence at the schools in the Kuspuk School District in Alaska. Donna was last there in the spring, yoyo-ing between schools, talking to the students about writing. When we saw Donna in Charlotte Square in August, she was saying how she hoped this would happen, but wasn’t sure they’d want her! Of course they want her. I think she’ll be really good for these children in the middle of ‘nowhere’.

And as I almost mentioned last week, Fiona Dunbar has a new series of books for 8-12s about a girl called Kitty Slade who develops ‘phantorama’, the ability to see ghosts. Each story contains a mystery that she solves with the aid of her phantorama. Fiona started out wanting to do a sort of Famous Five for the 21st century, but ended up with something more like Ghost Whisperer for kids. The first title is Divine Freaks and it’s out next spring.

To avoid this being an all ladies affair, I’ll round off with Alan Garner, over in Alderley Edge. It’s not far, but I don’t go very often. I mainly dream of the date loaf from the baker’s. It’s fifty years since The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was first published, and there is a new special edition, along with the paperback of The Moons of Gomrath. Alan Garner is the kind of author everyone admires tremendously. Coming to his stories as an adult, I may not have the same feelings for them as those who grew up reading Alan’s books. We used to listen to them in the car, and I have to admit to never having quite understood The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Lots of running around in tunnels under the Edge. I think.

Hook, line and Alderley Edge pub

I didn’t see it coming, and David Fickling certainly didn’t. But when Daughter does something, she does it thoroughly. As David enthused at length about Alan Garner and his writing, which he admires very much, he mentioned god’s head (that might not be how it is spelled) and mused about what it might be. Without missing a beat Daughter explained that it’s an Alderley Edge pub, and David was very pleased to have an explanation at last. And then she had to go and let on that she’d just made it up.

(I was thinking that I was a wee bit surprised at her knowledge of pubs, especially in Alderley Edge, but you never know what your babies grow up to know, do you?)

He took it well.


After my Random trip to London five months ago I knew that I had to go and visit David’s Oxford office, because it’s like publishers offices used to be like, and generally really wonderful, according to those who get to go there with their books. The lovely Matilda put us into the diary and threatened – ever so nicely – that there’d be weeding to do in their garden. It seems Linda Newbery and her recent book Lob, about the Green Man, had something to do with that. I believe Linda planted some trees out there. It looked really pleasant, and we were let off the gardening in the end.

DFB garden

David Fickling

Captain's hat

Curious Incident red cars


DFB floor

R L Stevenson

On their other outside there was scaffolding. There is always scaffolding wherever I go. It sees me coming. Here it was padded in yellow stuff. Presumably to prevent me injuring myself when walking straight into it. I had wondered if DFB has the whole house in Beaumont Street, but on the top floor they have stashed some dentists who are used to persuade authors to behave. Other measures against difficult writers involves incarceration in the basement. We found two men down there, ostensibly ‘working’ on comics and covers, but I don’t believe that. It’s also where David keeps his bike, and I can just imagine him racing through Oxford, red scarf trailing in the wind.

I do like a colour co-ordinated man. (Or have I said that before?) It’s all to do with Mother Fickling, whose clothes shopping expeditions little David didn’t care for. But once he knew he had to dress for an ‘audience’ he hit on his ironic style, which is very Fickling. Red bow tie, occasional red scarf, and red socks. And shirt and trousers in-between. Saw no evidence of shoes. Captain’s hat hanging on clothes tree.

Once we’d Garnered on about Alderley, we moved on to where we belong, and David does a good falsetto when he talks about Australia, which is nice, but not for him. Neither was Spain. He’s learning Japanese, but is most likely not contemplating moving there. He likes Oxford, and his house where you can’t swing even a small cat.

David and I have both – separately – worked our way through what the library had to offer, and that’s how he feels you should expand your reading, by trying new things. He reckons the UK is bad for comics, and he still hopes to remedy this by bringing his DFC back. He will not be beaten.

Among the many DFB books both in David’s room and in Matilda’s front office he has some shelves with his own childhood books. And Daughter pointed out how many different language versions of Philip Pullman’s books she could see. I noticed lots of copies of Jan Mark’s Useful Idiots, and I hadn’t known David worked with Jan.

Someone else who works at DFB is Bella Pearson, and on the same upstairs floor we encountered something as rare as an editor of adult books. She remained safely behind a closed door, and David did a passable Attenborough commentary on this species.

As I mentioned yesterday, Matilda went and got us sandwiches for lunch, although David said he’d be happy to take us out (must remember that) and even threatened us with sushi (we’re northerners for goodness’ sake!). Once we’d sorted our chicken from our falafel we did very well. Even Daughter managed fine, avoiding all tomatoes, and the root vegetable crisps.

If he is to be believed it seems David has a past in Swedish geography, and accidentally ended up at Cambridge through having read a book on history. Now he’d quite like to do physics… But he’d rather avoid blogging, so let’s be grateful for that.

David Fickling

And after our little battle over the k-word, David gave in at the end. One day I’ll learn to curb my typing, but I guess that’s not today.

(Photos by Helen Giles)