Tag Archives: Alexander McCall Smith

Series – to abandon or not to abandon

That is the question.

As has become clear over the Bloody Scotland weekend, there are series everywhere. Not only do the long – and medium – established writers have series. The debut authors are also planning several books. Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.

If you are free to read whatever you like, whenever you can, with no blog commitments, you can probably keep up with lots of series.

I no longer know what to do. I tend to wait and see what happens. Because I can’t actually make the decision. It has to be made for me. I will – temporarily – abandon a series of books I love, if there is something else, equally loveable out there. Maybe something that is noisier when looking for attention.

And that first abandoning was never intentional. It just happened. It’s not you; it’s me.

In the last maybe fifteen years I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the crime novels by Kate Ellis and Stephen Booth. I read every one up to a certain point. I read about Mma Ramotswe. I read these usually in the right order, moving backwards to catch the odd earlier book, and then waited in real time for the next one to be published. It seemed like a long wait, until it wasn’t so bad, and then until the next two books were here and I didn’t know how to fit them in.

I discovered Sara Paretsky, whose books I still read when a new one comes along, and slowly reading the older ones.

Among my new people, as you know, are James Oswald and Vaseem Khan. I don’t know how long I can keep going. I want to. But I wanted to with the others as well.

With Sophie Hannah I grew too scared to continue, so that was an easier decison to make. And thankfully we have the new Poirots.

Or there is Harry Potter, but we knew how many books to expect. Knew there would be an end. As we did with Skulduggery Pleasant, at least until Derek Landy decided to keep going a bit longer. With Lockwood you might not have known for certain, but unless something changed, the characters would eventually be unable to do what they did because of their [lack of] years.

Which books do you keep? Will I ever reread the abandoned series? Will I restart one day? Which ones will I regret once I have ditched my copies? When we moved, we parted with about half our Dorothy Sayers. That seemed OK. Many of Agatha Christie’s books I’ve never owned as I borrowed them from the library.

And then I looked at my shelves for inspiration, and considered Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Those books I read slowly over a long time, and I don’t claim to have read all. But the thought that I might get rid of the books made me want to cry. They are staying. Campion is like a crazy older brother, and Alleyn some benevolent uncle. Yes, I know I have now bypassed them in age, as far as most of the stories are concerned.

So what to do about those just starting out? Not read at all, just in case? Read one and be hooked? Have nervous breakdown?

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2016 Book Week Scotland launch

Remember the smell?

I must clarify that that is not a severed head you can see on top of the contraption of unidentifiable stuff [not whisky, either, as I thought]. Launching Book Week Scotland is not that gruesome. It’s much more at the civilised end, which is how I came to eat gluten free grey cake and drink iced coffee from a jam jar.

(The severed head, or not, was part of a smelling toy, where you would go round and sniff the various smells bottled in the contraption.)

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND PROGRAMME LAUNCH

Earlier yesterday morning Scottish Book Trust had driven ten authors somewhere out towards the back of Arthur’s Seat in a double decker bus, and photographers were invited to traipse round for fun photographs. It all seemed too complicated of a morning for me, which is why I am using the official pictures. You can tell they had fun.

Pamela Butchart

After that I failed to take a single usable photo of all the speakers who had interesting things to say about reading and books and Book Week Scotland. But Pamela Butchart’s dress is so fantastic that here she is anyway, only slightly blurred. Her challenge to us – I think – was to read a picture book a day. And, it’s actually something that is fully doable, and I will consider it.

Book Week Scotland 2016 launch

Graeme Macrae Burnet does not recommend giving people a copy of the biography of Dostoyevsky (1000p+) which he was given last year. Instead he read us three – extremely short – novels. He wants us to go up to perfect strangers and read them something we like. As if!

And Caro Ramsay is thoroughly into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I can’t disapprove of in the slightest. Let’s not panic.

The cakes

Marc Lambert of Scottish Book Trust spoke and so did Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop. It’s good when Governments support books and reading, and as in previous years (I think they said this is the fifth) there is a lot of programme waiting for Book Week Scotland to break out, which it will do on November 21st. For a week, obviously.

Really famous people like Jodi Picoult, Alexander McCall Smith  and Alan Cumming will be taking part, as will countless others, some not yet household names. But you never know…

Key to Book Week Scotland beer

My party bag contained a book beer, and a chocolate key, so not even the Resident IT Consultant will have to go without.

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND PROGRAMME LAUNCH

Precious and the Zebra Necklace

I used to love sitting down with the latest novel about Mma Ramotswe. To begin with I kept up with each new book as it came, but when Bookwitch got going, a few pleasures fell by the roadside, and my crime sprees in Botswana were among them. I still drink my redbush tea, though.

Alexander McCall Smith, Precious and the Zebra Necklace

So I was happy to reacquaint myself with Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s shorter books about our favourite detective as a child. She was just as sweet then, as the woman she became.

In Precious and the Zebra Necklace, she makes a new friend at school, and when she discovers this girl has a sad mystery in her past, Precious sets out to solve it.

Like the adult ‘crimes’ this is more about human nature and simplicity and ordinary things going wrong. A bit of thinking about things, and talking to people gets you a long way.

Short and sweet.

A Birlinn rendezvous

There is a certain freedom – not to mention a sense of adventure – in standing at a railway station as a train comes in, and you’ve got a trainload of alighting passengers to choose from. Who to go and ‘have coffee’ with. Well, to be truthful, I had already googled Sally from Birlinn, so I had an idea of who to look out for, and she knew to find a short, fat witch. And she did.

Sally was coming all the way to me, to talk about the many good children’s books Birlinn – who are an Edinburgh based publisher – are about to let loose on the world this year. I walked her to the Burgh Coffee House, as she confessed to earlier youthful trips to the Rainbow Slides in Stirling. What’s more, she came here from Linlithgow, and the less said about this lovely place and me, the better. (Actually, Sally has more or less sold me on the town, now. It has a good bookshop just by the station, apparently, so as long as I manage to get off the train in the first place…)

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin and Joe Friedman, The Secret Dog

So, Birlinn. Sally brought me books by Joan Lennon and Joe Friedman, which both look promising. She talked me through their whole 2015 catalogue, and plans include a Peter Pan graphic novel, books by Alexander McCall Smith about the young Precious Ramotswe, history by Allan Burnett, the Polish bear Wojtek, Lynne Rickards and the ever orange Tobermory Cat by Debi Gliori. There will be poetry and there will be naughty young lambs.

The books all have some connection to Scotland, be it setting or author or anything else. I knew it already, really, but it’s worth saying again, that Scotland has books all its own. It’s not just an appendix to England. If Norway can have a publishing industry, then so can Scotland.

There was a bit of gossip, too, and a secret that can’t be mentioned. And after that Sally ran for her train back to the big city, hoping that someone else would have done all the work by the time she got back to the office.

Best Scottish

Oh, how I wish I could have been there! Now that I’m finally here, I mean. But I gather that the 2015 Scottish Children’s Book Awards managed without a witch (this one, anyway) and celebrated the three winners in style on Wednesday, at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.

With three categories, there were three celebrations, and three shortlisted authors for each (except Alexander McCall Smith who’d gone off to Dubai).

Ross Collins and Sean Taylor

The Bookbug Readers were lucky, in that picture books being relatively short, all three books could be read out on stage. There was also live drawing on stage, and singing. Very jolly. And the winner was Ross Collins, for his illustrations of Robot Rumpus, written by Sean Taylor.

Alex McCall

Robots are clearly the thing, as the winner of Younger Readers category, first time novelist Alex McCall won with Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens. He’s only 21, and looks, well, younger still… There was a book quiz to entertain an audience (and I’m sure I’d have won that. If I’d been there) of visiting school children from all over Scotland.

Cathy MacPhail

The winner of the Older Readers category was Cathy MacPhail with Mosi’s War, which didn’t surprise me at all. Cathy wins a lot, and for a good reason. Her audience were also treated to a book quiz, which I’m sure was great fun for all those involved.

I might as well say this again; I feel Scotland is very lucky to have the Scottish Book Trust.

Good Dog Lion

This Little Gems story has the most gorgeous illustrations by David Dean! I know I said these books are not picture books, but oh, what great pictures.

Alexander McCall Smith and David Dean, Good Dog Lion

The words, by Alexander McCall Smith are not to be sneezed at, either. This is a man who knows how to tell a story. Good Dog Lion is about a dog called Lion. He is very brave, and very loyal.

Set somewhere in Africa, it’s the story about Timo, who might be nine years old. He’s a good boy who helps his single mum, by picking fruit for her jam making, and perhaps finding some honey. Their hard work keeps them, but only just. No way can they afford to feed a dog.

Alexander McCall Smith and David Dean, Good Dog Lion

So it looks like Timo will have to settle for dreams. But because this is a story, we know what must happen. There is a dog, and there is courage and good behaviour and hard work from all.

It’s a very nice little story.

Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist 2015

The latest shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards has been announced today, and from now until next year young Scottish readers can vote for their favourite books.

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

Bookbug Readers (3-7 years)

Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray (Nosy Crow)

Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Ross Collins (Andersen Press)

Lost for Words by Natalie Russell (Macmillan)

Younger Readers (8-11 years)

Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith (Birlinn)

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens by Alex McCall (Kelpies)

Pyrate’s Boy by B. Collin (Kelpies)

Older Readers (12-16 years)

Dark Spell by Gill Arbuthnott (Kelpies)

The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Bloomsbury)

Mosi’s War by Cathy MacPhail (Bloomsbury)

What’s nice about this – among many other things – is that small publisher Kelpies have got three books on a list of nine. Another nice thing is that this is for Scottish authors and illustrators. And then there is the handing out of free books to readers; ‘Scottish Book Trust will give a free copy of the three Bookbug category books to every Primary 1 child during Book Week Scotland.’

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

As Jasmine Fassl at Scottish Book Trust says, ‘The Scottish Children’s Book Awards are much more than a celebration of Scottish literature – they are about expanding children’s horizons far beyond their physical boundaries and barriers. By simply reading just one of the shortlisted novels in their category, a 5 year old can imagine what it’s like to have rampaging robots as babysitters, a 10 year old can hop aboard a pirate ship, and a 15 year old can be transported into the mind of a teenager in a war zone.’

I’ll read to that! I can’t vote, but we will find out who wins on 4th March next year, after Scottish children have had their say. And the rampaging robots.