Tag Archives: Anne Fine

Losing It

There is a certain irony finding Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess sharing an anthology on the subject of losing your virginity. It shows they have both moved on from their little spat seven years ago. Or it’s simply that Keith Gray who has edited Losing It is good at persuading people to contribute. Keith has chosen well, with all eight authors approaching this topic in their own different way.

I hope I don’t sound like some sex-crazed old woman if I say that I really enjoyed all eight stories tremendously. I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again; the short story is a very good medium, and we don’t get enough of them.

Losing It

Although losing your virginity sounds as if it’s only about sex, the truth is that there is surprisingly little sex in this collection. So any old people thinking they can’t possibly be responsible for supplying a book of this kind to their young ones should think again.

The reader sees the issue of virginity from the point of view of the ‘traditional’ teenager of today, and there is an ‘older’ person – two, actually – and there is the historical angle as well as the Asian immigrant’s. And then there is the gay experience, which I found very moving and enlightening, and I hope Patrick Ness will write something longer one day, incorporating this side of love and sex. There isn’t just the one gay character, but interestingly the reader can’t be quite sure who is and who isn’t. Much like in real life.

And I loved Jenny Valentine’s story about the embarrassing old relative at Sunday dinner. It had absolutely everything, and so much humour and warmth. I won’t forget Danny in a hurry, nor Finn, the narrator. (I really must read more of Jenny’s books.)

I’m not sure where on the scale of things Losing It belongs. It’s actually quite close to Doing It, with the exception that it’s a collection of shorter stories instead of a full novel. And it’s got Anne Fine’s contribution, which ought to guarantee its proper credentials. Buy it for a young teenager if you have one, or for yourself whether you are fourteen or 73.

Eating Things on Sticks

Clare at Random snuck this Anne Fine book in with some others I had asked for. She thought it was worth a try. It was. It took a while, but I always intended to read Eating Things on Sticks. It travelled to Edinburgh with me, and Anne very kindly signed it for me after the debate with Melvin Burgess, which had been about rather more daring subjects than destroying houses on remote islands. By mistake.

Glerhus dill sotblug. Still don’t know what it means, but I can tell you it’s bad. It’s how the people on this island speak, and it affects the leaveability of the island. You can’t. And some people want to, but are stuck. (Philip Ardagh would love it there.)

So, Harry burns down his family’s kitchen, and then engineers a holiday with his Uncle Tristram, who quite frankly shouldn’t be allowed near cats or nephews. He’s in love with Morning Glory, who is very flaky indeed. She lives on the island with the sotblug lot.

This is a funny book. Read it.

I think I have read one other Anne Fine book, but am not sure. About time, wasn’t it? I was a wee bit scared of her, but I believe that even Melvin may be back on Anne’s Christmas card list. Or close. And I don’t aspire that high.

Some more photos for you…

if you haven’t already had enough. In fact, here are more photos even if you have.

Ian Rankin 2

Lynne Chapman and Julia Jarman 2

Gerald Scarfe 2

Linda Strachan and friends

Judith Kerr 2

Neil Gaiman

Val McDermid 2

Debi Gliori signing 2

Henning Mankell

Michael Morpurgo

Malorie Blackman 4

Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud

Anne Fine

Keith Gray 2

Rachel Ward

Michael Holroyd

Steve Cole

Jacqueline Wilson

Klas Östergren

Lucy Hawking

Henning Mankell

Theresa Breslin and Adèle Geras

Nicola Morgan

Keith Charters 2

Gillian Philip 2

Marina Lewycka 2

Philip Ardagh

Patrick Ness 2

Melvin Burgess

Elizabeth Laird 2

Bali Rai 3

Louise Rennison

And that’s it. So called ‘normal’ service will resume here really soon.


So what did Anne Fine say, really? I’m of the opinion that she spoke exactly those words that were quoted in the Times yesterday, but I didn’t feel then that she meant it quite as people are interpreting it.

Anne Fine 2

My theory is that Daughter and I weren’t the only ones who thought that an event with Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess discussing the more troubled end of YA literature would be quite interesting and potentially exciting. Someone was obviously taking more careful notes than I was, but I do recognise the quote just about word for word.

It made perfect sense to me at the time (And I’m not saying this because I’m a little scared of Anne. I am, but that’s not why I’m saying it.) and it didn’t seem contentious in the least. It’s a fact. Books were different before, from what they are now.

Someone is doing that molehill thing, because there was nothing juicier to get from the discussion on Sunday evening. Anne Fine is a former Children’s Laureate, and the kind of person the press take an interest in. I simply don’t understand why there is a debate. I would also like to know whether those who have thrown themselves into this were actually there? If they weren’t, this debate risks the same fate as when Anne reviewed Doing It in a slightly one-sided manner. That time I believed her, until someone else made me look at it from both sides.

Or maybe I’m just stupid, and didn’t notice the undercurrents the other evening.

‘This boy will never amount to anything’

Well, he did. Last week he received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama, accompanied by his daughter whose ‘charm is no substitute for hard work.’ I’ll get back to this father-daughter team later.

Steve Cole

I will never ever get teenagers. Ever. Given the choice between seeing Jacqueline Wilson or Steve Cole on Sunday morning, Daughter went for Steve’s talk about his Astrosaurs. She enjoyed it a lot, although she felt she was the oldest child there. Wrong thinking I said; she was the youngest adult. Steve was so noisy I heard him through the walls. The press people apparently wondered what was going on next door to their yoghurt pod.

Jacqueline Wilson

Meanwhile, the witch went to see Jacqueline, along with a vast number of girls and mums, and a sprinkling of dads. Jacqueline wore black jeans and a black and turquoise top, and the famous rings shone along with the bangles on her arms. She talked mainly about her teens, because the subject for the day was My Secret Diary which was out in the spring. And she did say that she might write a third autobiographical book about her time in Dundee, writing fake horoscopes and readers’ letters, as long as she can censor her diary notes a little. Sounds good to me.

Per Wästberg

As I raced along to the talk by the ‘lazy’ girl from paragraph one, Daughter was anything but lazy. Her task was to shoot Per Wästberg, part of the Meeting Sweden programme (How did they know I was going to be there this year?), when he emerged for his photo call. Except he didn’t, so when she saw a likely Swede she inquired, in Swedish, if he was Per. The poor man said he wasn’t, but took her all the way into the authors’ yurt ( a real no-no) and put her in front of this famous Swedish writer, who was even more confused with the idea of the Bookwitch blog, but posed anyway.

Lucy Hawking

When the witch goes back to school, she wants to have Lucy Hawking for her science teacher. I can’t think of anyone who can talk so well and so sensibly on physics and space and anything else related. Lucy kept the attention of her roomful of children, while explaining dad Stephen’s ideas, which they have turned into two books for children. George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt is new this year, and there will eventually be a third book about George. Lucy and Stephen are, of course, the people mentioned above. I think they turned out OK in the end.

We got to see how (not) to gargle in space. Asparagus will be a suitable crop on Mars, when the time comes. Comet’s go ‘very fast’. Robots don’t get homesick in space. The questions from the children were really very good, but not many people can say what went before the Big Bang or why it happened. Not even Lucy. And look out for the toothbrush in orbit round earth, if you happen to be up there. I asked Lucy if she wants to travel in space, and she does. Preferably to the moon. I was too shy to ask for the phone number for her co-writer for book one.

Henning Mankell

Lunch was gulped down fast, in order to catch Henning Mankell’s little publicised signing in the childrens’ bookshop. In fact, there was hardly a soul there, but I don’t think that was why he was pleased to see me. (Anyone would be pleased to see me, wouldn’t they?) He looked so morose that I addressed him in his own language, though his English is very good. The ‘mini interview’ went something like this:

‘Hello, we’ve met a few times in Gothenburg.’ ‘ Yes, I remember you.’ ‘Uh-oh, that sounds ominous’, said Daughter. ‘What do you mean?’ asked Henning. ‘Only that you may remember me for all the wrong reasons. I could be one of those bl***y old women you get everywhere.’ ‘I don’t think so. I’d have remembered. But there are a few of them around.’ ‘Yes, and I’m often one of them.’ He looked remarkably happy after this exchange. But you would, wouldn’t you, when ‘one of those’ leaves him in peace.

Klas Östergren

Next victim for a photo shoot was Klas Östergren, except he didn’t show, initially. Just as we were leaving for our next rendez vous he turned up in the rain, and as we departed he had someone’s lens half an inch from his nose. The man’s quite good looking, but that’s ridiculous.

The two witches had been invited to afternoon tea at the Roxburghe Hotel by the very, very kind Theresa Breslin, so the road was crossed, and the comfortable lounge was found. Daughter has clearly been deprived, and was very excited by the posh surroundings. Thank you Theresa, it was wonderful. The perfect respite to a busy day. And I’m not averse to similar offers, if anyone is feeling generous. Not all at once, though.

Adèle Geras

Back across the road to see Adèle Geras, and photograph her. We enticed her round the back, where all the big names get shot. As she left again, Theresa turned up, so we all trotted back to the ‘studio’, whereupon the paparazzi fell out of their little pod and descended on Theresa big time.

Theresa Breslin

Resting in the yurt, Klas Östergren appeared, looking for a place to be interviewed, so we offered our seats. He was also quite grateful to be encountering Swedes in a Mongolian tent in the middle of Edinburgh. He’s been brought up properly, so we shook hands.

Bali Rai

In case nobody has noticed, my social calendar for Day 5 was quite full, really. We met up with Clare from Random (a really Randomy weekend), and apart from the fact I thought she’d have blond hair, it was as good to meet her as I’d thought. Clare brought out Bali Rai for a short chat. And more photos round the back. Predictably the paparazzi emerged again, just needing reassurance that Bali was indeed a real writer and a little famous. Even my copy of his book, City of Ghosts, was photographed. Don’t think Bali knew what hit him.

Adèle Geras

Jonathan Stroud

We breathed for a few minutes before trotting off to the talk by Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud. Really liked the way the two of them had planned it, with short introductions, followed by a reading, and ending with them asking each other questions, before letting the audience loose. Good way of doing it.

Our final port of call for the day was back in the same tent again, for the much awaited discussion with Rachel Ward, Melvin Burgess and Anne Fine. Daughter said she didn’t want to miss the Anne-Melvin encounter for anything. I wanted to see if they’d both survive it, and I think Melvin had wondered the same thing. There were one or two references made to the blasting Anne did of Melvin’s Doing It some years ago.

Melvin Burgess, Rachel Ward and Anne Fine

They were all alive and well when we left for the day. And the discussion was good.

(Photos by H Giles)

Witch journalism

Shock, horror! None of the children’s laureates chose Harry Potter for their favourite children’s books!

Well, why would they? They are old people. (No offense intended. I’m old myself.) They will pick what they liked as children, or something that stands out as excellent over decades of reading. Harry will be chosen by the children’s laureates in forty years’ time.

I just don’t get this newspaper/journalism thing. Are they stupid, or do they go out of their way to appear as stupid as they think we, the readers, are? Or do they hate Harry with a vengeance, so must rub his, or rather JKR’s, face in it as often as the opportunity arises?

Don’t worry about me. I might have got out of bed on the wrong side this morning.

But it would be nice if things weren’t always dumbed down or ‘over-scandalised’. I love Harry Potter, but even I can see that it’s possible to discuss children’s books without him.

And of the books listed in the Guardian article, the ancient witch has read very few. Nesbit. Treasure Island. Have naturally seen Mary Poppins the film. Have to hope that I have read all that was not listed. I’m not laureate material, that much is clear.

Anthologies for charity

I mentioned the anthology Like Mother, Like Daughter the other day. I have a couple of other story collections too, that were both published in aid of charity. Unlike Amnesty International’s Click, which was one story written by different authors in a literary relay, these are simply short stories by well known authors.

Higher Ground is all about the 2004 tsunami, and was published only months after the disaster. Sixteen children’s authors each wrote a story based on what happened to a real child, somewhere in the world during that period. It’s very sad and very uplifting. Definitely worth having a few hankies standing by for when you read it. The authors are Melvin Burgess, Gillian Cross, Tim Bowler, Bernard Ashley, Eoin Colfer and many more, with foreword by Michael Morpurgo. Highly recommended.

Last year ten authors, hand-picked by readers of Cosmo Girl, wrote a short story each for Shining On, sold in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. We’ve got Melvin Burgess again, as the lone boy, with girl writers Jacqueline Wilson, Anne Fine, Malorie Blackman, Rosie Rushton, Sue Limb, Meg Cabot, Cathy Hopkins, Meg Rosoff and Celia Rees. The stories are as good as you’d expect from the star-studded line-up.

The witch is slowly – very slowly – collecting her signatures in these two anthologies. It’ll take me years.