Tag Archives: Carole E Barrowman

Sweet sixteen

A year ago Bookwitch ruminated on what sells and what she reads and why.

Today I’m – because we are the same, Bookwitch and I – thinking about the effect Bookwitching has had not just on me but on the young and innocent, like Daughter. We have both put sixteen behind us – but only just. Obviously. Today it’s Bookwitch’s turn to hum ‘She was only sixteen…’

As you may have gathered, Daughter has recently moved and has some vintage shelves to arrange with books. And, it seems, a polar bear. Also two bookmarks, one of which I was intrigued to find personally dedicated and signed by Michelle Magorian.

This is the effect I mean. Somehow a lot of young literature has happened to Offspring. The vintage shelves I mentioned seem to contain mostly books by people I ‘know’ and who Daughter has met through being dragged on bring-your-child-to-work days.

There are an inordinate number of Cathy Hopkins books, and that’s as it should be. Likewise Caroline Lawrence and Liz Kessler and Jacqueline Wilson. Although the latter has had to be pruned down to more manageable numbers of books.

I won’t list them all, but basically, the story of Bookwitch can be seen on these shelves. There won’t be so many new ones, as the e-reader has taken over. This is just as well, because however lovely the vintageness from the local auction-hunter, a flat has only so much space.

Apologies for the tile samples. There is a kitchen splashback to deal with. And I would like it to be known that that book by Vaseem Khan has been ‘borrowed’ from a kind parent.


The Book of Beasts

Carole Barrowman and her brother John have developed as their trilogy of books has progressed. I couldn’t wait to find out how they would end the Hollow Earth mystery, and well, I’d like to know what they are doing next. Perhaps I could twist an arm or two and find out?*

Animare twins Em and Matt were both in trouble at the end of book two, and in The Book of Beasts they need to use all of their fast emerging talents at drawing themselves out of trouble to save each other and their family. Although possibly not their father, who isn’t the best of role models as fathers go.

John and Carole E Barrowman, The Book of Beasts

We meet horrifying creatures (and how they smell!) and humans, who are almost worse than the beasts. The past smells. A lot. But it also features brave and intelligent people, and you can make friends across the centuries.

As before, what I like is the Scottish-ness and the use of art in the fight against evil. Some nice humour and a bit of romance add to it. I’d like to return to Largs and Auchinmurn Isle and Era Mina. I’d like to know if…

*I suspect they are not done with these characters. They are crying out to be developed further and put through more torment. OK, I’ll get my arm-twister out…

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

The Barrowmans in the West End

Carole and John Barrowman poster

Even the bouncers looked familiar. (I know. That doesn’t paint me in a terribly good light.) And, you know, bouncers at a book signing?


Also, my reputation must have preceded me, as they gave me my own private enclosure, complete with armchair to sit in and everything. I could get used to this.

When it became obvious that the Barrowman siblings and I were hitting Scotland at the same time, it seemed like a good reason for getting fresh photos of them signing their second book, Bone Quill. I tried to rope my Edinburgh Offspring in to do it for me (not that I object to meeting Mrs Barrowman’s children), as my real Photographer was unavailable, but he was translated to Lund, leaving me to sit alone in the enclosure. So, apologies for shaky photos and all that. Carole and John looked divine, as usual. Carole’s hair was longer than last year and it suited her. John’s was as artfully ruffled as ever, and you could barely tell he fell off a – pantomime – horse last month. (What is it with horses and bad press?)

Carole and John Barrowman

They had a school event in the morning. They had another in the afternoon. What they had in between was an hour of signing books in Edinburgh’s Waterstones West End. Luckily – because it wasn’t half term – they ended up with approximately one hour’s worth of a queue as well. I’d been thinking they might never make it to their second school.

Carole Barrowman

So there I was, in the enclosure right opposite their table. It was warm, so I started undressing. But only coat and scarf. They’d got their pastel bunting out and it looked very nice. (In fact, it’s an altogether nice shop. I’d not been before. Helpful staff.)

John Barrowman

As the helpful Mandy (I do hope I’ve got the name right..!) pointed out, it was mostly female fans waiting. I suspect they were primarily there for John. Some people tried to talk entertainment stuff with him, but he said things needed to go via the proper channels. They might have been tired, but they gave their fans everything. They know how to do this kind of thing. I reckon most of the fans would agree with the lady who left saying ‘I can go home happy, now.’

Many went home very happy. Especially the ones at the end who persuaded John to pose for photos with them. A true friend is one who says she will have her picture with John taken after you have had yours.

Carole and John Barrowman

Good signing session. Very well organised. Lovely Mandy (still hope it’s the right name) gave me a ‘wee coffee voucher’ for afterwards, which I put to good use on a not very wee tea. I even had a wee cupcake, and I sat down at a table in the corner (which wouldn’t normally have been my first choice) to enjoy it, my enclosure business all done and dusted.

It was the witchiness. That corner turned out to be the route Carole and John took as they left. They said hello. I spoke to their hardworking publicity star Ana. Maybe they had time to gulp down a wee lunch. (Pardon me. I’ve got stuck on wee. It’s so lovely and Scottish.) Maybe they didn’t.

Check here for more signings. And apologies for going on about hair. It is not really of very authorly importance. But this was the celebrity signing. The one with bouncers.

Bone Quill

This second instalment in the Barrowman siblings’ trilogy about escaping into art, takes the reader places they won’t be expecting. At least, I didn’t.

More fun than book one, because we know who’s who and what people can do and why. Twins Em and Matt are confident in their ‘draw a picture and disappear into it’ abilities. They know their friends, and they know who their enemies are. Admittedly, their mum has disappeared, probably into a painting. But they’ll find her.

And for hopeless people like me, there is a very useful – and blissfully short – reminder of what happened in Hollow Earth.

John and Carole E Barrowman, Bone Quill

Matt is more hot-headed and does things without thinking for as long as he ought to. But both children, along with their friend Zach want to put things right. And that does not include unbinding the twins’ dad, who has the wrong kind of ideas about stuff.

This time their art travel has another dimension added, and they do find a few unexpected people. We see more of the monks in the Middle Ages. They are all more closely connected than we previously thought.

It took me a while, but I began to see roughly how this book must end. There is a cliffhanger, but it involves warm fruit scones, so all is not lost.

No reader will want to stop here. While we enjoy our scones, we expect John and Carole to get on with the happy ending.

The Gaiman effect

WordPress sent me their cheery stats for 2012. There really does not seem to be much one can do about Neil Gaiman. His fans create havoc when they land here, and very welcome havoc it is too.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

At least the post about Neil – and Chris Riddell, actually – was written during 2012. As WordPress pointed out, some of my most popular ones are oldies, which means my writing has staying power. Apparently. They suggest I should write more about these topics. Which, apart from Mr Gaiman, seem to have been me (cough), Terry Pratchett, the Barrowmans and Cats with Asperger Syndrome.

Sort of a varied selection, then?

You came here from 162 countries, and Twitter sent you. Or Eoin Colfer, or John Barrowman. But funnily enough you were mostly interested in me (again), Oliver Jeffers, Liz Kessler, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Faraday.

Stats are weird, but then, so am I.

Here’s to 2013 when I will not be taking things quite as easy as I ought to. You can see how the W – for witch – wobbles above the fireworks. Tired already.

Wordpress 2012 blogging report

When the Bookwitch met the Barrowmans

I emailed my questions to the Photographer, to act as my second-in-command, in case my Pendolino got stuck in a snow drift somewhere in the Lake District. You can’t be too careful. Her immediate reaction was ‘you can’t ask questions like that!’ and to please make sure I made it all the way, just so she wouldn’t have to.

Carole and John Barrowman

Well, I did. And John and Carole Barrowman are so funny and polite but chaotic that there is no way anyone could stick to a stupid list of questions anyway. My intended first one (the dustbin question) looked like it wouldn’t make it, when their general craziness caused it to pop up early on, because it sort of belonged. And that’s the thing, you have to wait and see what people are like.

These two didn’t even assume I’d read their book. Presumably because far too many other interviewers hadn’t. You probably don’t when you’re on television.

Anyway, John and Carole are loud and boisterous, while still remembering the good manners their parents must have instilled in them. I have never had less of a problem hearing a recorded interview, because John speaks LOUD and CLEAR as though he’s used to being on stage. They talk at the same time. And where most interviewees talk at a speed of just over 100 wpm, the Barrowmans managed around 200wpm…

Perhaps because there were two of them?

Here it is.

Bookwitch bites #70

Sisters and socks and television this week. I’ve been watching far too many daytime shows for my comfort, in order to take in most of the interviews with John Barrowman and his lovely sister Carole.

Then there was Blue Peter who had ‘some sort of ‘ book programme this week. The quotation marks are there to point out that I think they could have had more on books. I now also know stuff about escorting sharks in elevators – and surviving – which I dare say might come in tremendously handy one day, but which was not fully book related. Lucy Coats was lovely, talking about one of the books I have not read. Michael Rosen and others were also there to enthuse about the various Blue Peter shortlisted books.

David Fickling

Here is an ‘almost television’ programme, a video featuring Jacqueline Wilson and her books in general, and her new The Worst Thing About My Sister in particular. Jacqueline answers questions from an audience of children, and reads from TWTAMS.

This week’s sockman, Nick Sharratt is also in there. In retrospect I began wondering whether Nick got his sock inspiration from David Fickling of red socks fame. That’s DF from David Sockling Books, you understand. And in this week’s sock relay, it was to Oxford and David Sockling/Fickling that Nick headed as he left our ‘blissful, lovely’* Sockport.

Big Book Babble with Jacqueline Wilson ans Nick Sharratt

* That’s almost a literary quotation, but I’m afraid I can’t divulge who said it, for fear of repercussions.

The Barrowmans are back in Glasgow

They began queueing at nine, while I was still dozing comfortably on my Glasgow bound Pendolino. We’d all got up early; the fans, me, the photographer, and John and Carole Barrowman, who flew in for the day to sign their new children’s book Hollow Earth.

Carole and John Barrowman

And as the gathered fans lifted their eyes upwards to watch Carole and John descending the stairs in the style of astronauts just back from the Moon, I was sorely tempted to see if I could get someone to pay me a fiver to shake my hand. The hand that had just shaken John’s hand. It had to be worth something, surely?

But I restrained myself. And I have since washed it, so it’s too late.

As you will have gathered, your witch had an audience with Captain Jack and his long suffering big sister Carole. Hence the travelling for both witch and photographer, each from their own corners of the land. (Being crazy helps.)

John Barrowman

You’ll want to know what they are like. They are bonkers. As John said, they are the kind of people you end up sitting next to in a restaurant, wishing you didn’t.

We talked about their television appearances where Carole hasn’t always been (allowed to be) present, despite the fact that it was she who wrote the book. It’s the price you pay for having a famous brother. There was a discussion about the background to the Hollow Earth story, and we covered everything from gay children’s authors, to eating ice cream in a freezing cold Scottish summer.

Carole Barrowman

After the interview we left them to gulp down a hasty lunch, which seemed to consist of salad and a smoothie, followed by a bag of Maltesers. Well, he needs to get his bounce back somehow.

And then we joined the nine o’clockers downstairs, with the photographer braving the burly bouncers for a position near the signing table. 263 photos later we repaired to an Italian restaurant for a late and well deserved lunch, before returning home our separate ways.

It’s going to be hard dealing with people’s envy, but we will do our best.

Hollow Earth

There is no absolute rule that because you are good at one thing – and successful and famous and stuff – that you can’t therefore also do something else, and even do a tolerable job of it. It’s just that we don’t like people who seem to be able to turn their hands at ‘everything.’ At least I don’t. I feel there should be a limit to how much any one person gets up to. Spread the talent. That kind of idea.

That’s why I thought it was a bit much when John Barrowman started his solo concert career. Can Captain Jack really sing? How embarrassing. Those were my personal moans. And now he’s written a children’s book. But I’ve learned my lesson, and the autobiography he co-wrote with his sister Carole a few years ago was quite readable. So why not a children’s adventure story?

Why not indeed? I raced through Hollow Earth pretty quickly, just to see how it would end. (Not clear-cut enough. There is more to come. Clever move.) I’ve no idea how Carole and John divided up the work between them, but it seems that the whole book just popped up on a long car journey and they had it all planned by the time they arrived. With his acting background I can just imagine John not being short of a crazy idea or two, and Carole has the writing credentials and can presumably sort out those ideas on paper.

John and Carole E Barrowman, Hollow Earth

Not surprisingly, this tale about twins Emily and Matt is set mostly in Scotland, on an island the Barrowman siblings made up. It sounds real enough, though. The twins are good at drawing and when they draw, they find they can make what’s in the picture real. Hence the surplus of water in the National Gallery, which caused some embarrassment.

This isn’t a safe skill to have, so the chase is on, with the twins taking refuge in Scotland, where more and more ‘life’ drawing takes place. There are plenty of baddies after the children, and they will stop at very little to get what they want. (Some) family and friends help the twins, but then you never know who to trust. My main complaint about the story would actually be that very fact. All the adults are fairly similar, so it wasn’t easy guessing who was good or bad. I’ve only got one right, so far.

The story begins in a monastery in the Middle Ages, when an artistic monk slips while working on a book illustration, very nearly letting a creature lose. That seems to be the background to what Emily and Matt experience, and we find the past and the present have close ties.

Apart from being a pacy adventure, Hollow Earth could be said to provide some art education for young readers. While John and Carole have made up the paintings included in he story, they are based on real and similar art. Let’s hope children will take a renewed interest in art galleries after reading this book.

And there’s always good old Scottish ice cream to be eaten in oh so typical Scottish sunshine.

(For more info, visit Hollow Earth. If you dare.)