Tag Archives: Catherine MacPhail

White Feather

It is the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years on. I can’t think of a better way to mark it than with White Feather by mother and son Catherine and David MacPhail.

Catherine & David MacPhail, White Feather

Ostensibly about a coward soldier in WWI, we discover early on that Charlie, who was shot as a deserter, is believed by his mother and younger brother Tony to be nothing of the kind. And the awful thing is that neighbours even handed Tony a white feather, on behalf of his dead brother.

Tony sets out to discover what might have happened to Charlie, and to clear his name. This is a short, dyslexia friendly, story, but it packs a lot into those few pages.

And today we can think back to Charlie’s terrible fate, and that of many other unfortunate soldiers, and we know they were all brave, whether or not they ran away from the fighting. How could anyone thrive on the horrors of this war? Today we know that it didn’t stop other wars from happening.

Let’s remember all who suffered through this time, one hundred years ago. They did it for us. What have we done for them?

Day 3

By some stroke of misfortune, when Kathryn Evans lay down flat on her tummy on the floor of the bookshop I had already put my camera away. She was demonstrating something to do with paintballing to Jonathan Stroud’s son. This is not in the slightest out of character, although I had just suggested she might need to ‘break into’ the authors’ yurt for her coat. Kathryn was cold, and I didn’t lend her my down jacket, but instead suggested to someone else that they should give her theirs. Which they did…

Kathryn Evans

Anyway, we both made it to Edinburgh in the end. Kathy had more than one plane delayed, which in turn made me wonder if it was worth going if she wasn’t going to make it. But it was all fine. Who needs hours to prepare for an event? And she even had time to change into her gorgeous frock. Even if it did make her cold.

I began the evening by being confused, getting two crime writers mixed up. Then I went to catch Cathy MacPhail signing after her event with Nicci Cloke, and got Alex Nye as a bonus. Didn’t know Alex was chairing.

Nicci Cloke, Alex Nye and Cathy MacPhail

Popped over to the other bookshop for Gill Arbuthnott, who had just de-vampired a whole tent, or something. She seemed to be busy planning to put this girl’s beautiful ribbons into her next book. It’s the kind of thing that happens at book festivals.

Gill Arbuthnott

And then it was time for the event of the evening, The Great Gender Debate with Kathy and Jonathan Stroud and David Levithan.

In the bookshop afterwards, I might possibly have rolled my eyes at Kathryn (when she mentioned selfies), so she told me off. Had a very senior moment when I realised that I was in the same room as Jonathan, and I had left every single Lockwood at home. Chatted to him anyway, and then convinced a potential new fan that he needed to start by reading the first Lockwood, and luckily Jonathan backed me up on this. I even found a copy, among all the later books.

Jonathan Stroud

It seems David Levithan is the kind of gentleman who signs standing up. It looks like such hard work, but maybe it isn’t. There were lots of fans, for all three of them.

David Levithan

I ran into a few people again, because these events are that kind of, well, event. It’s where you meet likeminded people. And it would have been nice to go for drinks, but I had a late train to wrestle with, and Kathryn had this floor to lie on, so we hugged a second time (I could get used to all this hugging), and I left while I still had a nice warm jacket to call mine.

Charlotte Square

Stars Shall Be Bright

Catherine MacPhail, Stars Shall Be Bright

In memory of the lost children of Maryhill, who died in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster exactly one hundred years ago today. We don’t know their names or what they were doing on a train full of soldiers going off to war.

Catherine MacPhail has a theory, which she shares with us in this Barrington Stoke story, Stars Shall Be Bright. She reckons they were siblings James, Belle and William, who set off to find their dad who was a soldier.

Their mum has just died and to avoid being taken into a home, James decides to take his brother and sister on a trek to find their dad, lying in order to get away from a ‘well meaning’ neighbour.

They hide on a stationary train, which soon fills up with over 500 soldiers, travelling from Larbert to Liverpool, on their way to Gallipoli. Near Gretna Green the train was involved in a three train crash, with 225 soldiers dead, 246 injured, and 65 walking wounded.

And then there were the bodies of three children.

Lovely (yes really) story, but awfully sad.

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.

YAY! YA+

And they have gone live! I might have whispered about Kirkland Ciccone’s grand YA plans before, but now the website is publicly available and it’s actually got stuff on it. Not too much dust yet, either.

Kirkland Ciccone

We can’t let London have all the fun, and not even Edinburgh or Glasgow. It makes sense to take Scotland’s first YA festival to Cumbernauld. It’s where it’s all happening. (Secretly I’m hoping for Craig Ferguson.)

Keith Charters

But if I can’t have Craig, then Kirkland has put together a lovely list of YA authors from, or living in, Scotland. They are Catherine MacPhail, Linda Strachan, Barry Hutchison, Theresa Breslin, Keith Charters, Matt Cartney, Victoria Campbell, Lari Don, Roy Gill and Alex Nye. As well as Kirkie himself. There could have been more names on the list, and by this I mean that there are more YA authors in Scotland. Many more. Some were busy. And then I gather Kirkie and his Cumbernauld theatre venue ran out of space. (The answer would be a second day… Or a third.)

Theresa Breslin

The day we do have is April 24th and I’m so looking forward to it. I have demanded to revert to being 14 again. If that’s not possible, I’ll have a press pass (which will probably be home made by Kirkie, but hey, as long as it gets me in).

This time round it will be for schools only. It’s a good way to start, and will mean larger audiences than the old-fashioned way with organic ticket-buying individuals. But I would say that if you are of the organic persuasion, I’d pester. Like crazy. Or there is always gate-crashing.

Linda Strachan

I’m quietly hoping this Yay! YA+ will be a success, and that it will grow into something big, and regular. Because, as I said, we have lots more authors were these came from. This year’s list contains lots of my favourites, and erm, no one that I hate, plus a couple of unknowns (to me).

So that’s all pretty good.

Bookwitch bites #122

If you’re up early and you’re near St Andrews, you could still make it to this children’s books day, organised by Waterstones. I had thought I might go, but realised I need to slow down and get some real work done, and not go gadding about, having my face painted. Helen Grant will be at the Town Hall, as will Lari Don and a few others. Sounds nice.

St Andrews children's events day

While I’m in poster mode, I will show you the poster for a blog tour in early July, for Janet Quin-Harkin’s HeartBreak Café. I don’t often do this, but I have my reasons…

HeartBreak Café blog tour

Sorry to have moved away from Sefton Super Reads, which took place this week. Eleanor Updale won with The Last Minute, which is a Bookwitch favourite. Here is Eleanor with Piers Torday and Catherine MacPhail, and if my eyes don’t deceive me they are sitting in front of that rather nice fireplace I saw last year in Southport.

Sefton Super Reads - Eleanor Updale with Piers Torday and Catherine MacPhail

Eleanor is a busy woman. Today she is at the Borders Book Festival (which I won’t be going to either…) chairing an event with Elizabeth Laird, and tomorrow Mr Updale, aka Jim Naughtie will be doing an event for his book. The day after – i.e. on Monday – Jim will be appearing in Edinburgh, talking to Gordon Brown (the ‘real’ one) and Tom Devine (I have this from Son and Dodo who are going).

From historians and politicians to royalty. Keren David, Keris Stainton and Candy Gourlay were invited to Buckingham Palace this week. It was a garden party to celebrate their good work on getting authors to donate stuff for the Philippines. I’m very pleased for them, and it seems they had a lovely time. (Strangely enough, they weren’t the only ones I knew who had been invited, so I must really know the right people these days.)

Candy Gourlay, Keren David and Keris Stainton

Lucy Coats is another author with ties to Buckingham Palace, and she has been celebrating her new website. I gather she’s also celebrating something else this weekend.

Someone who is no stranger to the royals, is Carol Ann Duffy, who has been involved in making a poetry anthology – Let In The Stars – written by real grown proper poets for children. It will launch at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival on July 1st.

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.

Evil and deadly and Scottish (ish)

It’s going to be blo*dy difficult to choose. I am talking about Bloody Scotland. The programme goes live today, and I have to urge you to buy tickets while stocks last and all that. Hurry.

You might also want to stock up on stamina. I began making a list of what I want to see and hear, and setting aside that little inconvenience of having mislaid my timeturner, meaning I can only go to one event at a time, I have come to realise it could turn out to be too taxing going to one event for every slot in the day. Do you think? Or perhaps I can?

Bloody Scotland venues

It’s in Stirling, and what better place for it? The organisers have commandeered the Albert Halls and the Stirling Highland Hotel. They are near each other, so the toing and froing will be OK. Or would be but for that little matter of the hill. The hotel is the former Stirling High School, the alma mater of the Resident IT Consultant. (No, he didn’t go to school in a hotel. He had to go somewhere else.) The Albert Halls sounds grand, and seeing as it has been good enough for the Singing Kettle, it will be good enough for the cream of crime.

I’m aware that I haven’t listed all the crime writers who are appearing. You will just have to check out the programme. Karin Fossum and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir are coming, which means it’s not exclusively Scottish. It’s northern, though, and Scotland has expressed this understandable interest in joing the Nordic countries. And I daresay that if they murder well enough, we might let them.

There are so many great looking events I don’t know how to choose, and I won’t even try to list them here for you. What I absolutely mustn’t miss is Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail with Helen FitzGerald talking about YA crime.

A couple of fancy dinners are also part of the programme, where you can dine with your favourite crime writers. I hope that the former school does nice meals. They say the dinners go on until late. Luckily it’s downhill on the way home (unless, of course, it isn’t – depends on where you intend to sleep), so that’s all right.

Get on that website now and book your tickets. There are even reduced prices if you buy lots (except I’m not sure they have been reading those maths books I’ve mentioned) of tickets.

See you there!

The second day

Here we are again. How did you get on yesterday? Did you have to queue for the toilets? No, I didn’t, either. Nor did I wear Lucy Coats’s pyjamas all day. (Not even part of the day, I’ll have you know.)

What did I do? I watched Mary Hoffman and Anne Rooney drink coffee. (It’s the personal touch that makes festivals such fun.) I watched Lucy Coats reading to three dogs.

And Sam Mills was interviewed by Tyger Drew (whoever he might be), and then she interviewed him back. I’m unsure of what Sam said to make Tyger want to poke his eye out, but there you are.

Tyger Drew and Sam Mills, ABBA festival

I entered competitions to win things. I never do, but then I seem to own most of the books on offer, so I’m best to let others, more needy than myself, win.

And here’s today’s programme for the ABBA online blog festival.

ABBA festival Sunday

I’ve got all my books ready to be signed today. It has to work!

And at least they aren’t starting too frightfully early. I might make it down to the kitchen for 10.30.

Zenith at the top

Much to her surprise Julie Bertagna won the Catalyst book award the other day for Zenith. It just goes to prove my theory that if you expect not to win and are quite relaxed about it, then things tend to go well. So, “knowing” that her fellow shortlisted writers were all very good and that sequels tend not to win, Julie enjoyed herself until the time came to make that speech she had omitted to prepare. And next time she’ll know not to accept glasses of wine from Anthony McGowan, just in case.

Catalyst is a book award in North Lanarkshire, designed to make secondary school pupils more interested in reading. The other shortlisted authors were Berlie Doherty, Catherine MacPhail and Tabitha Suzuma, who are all good. But then, so is Julie.