Tag Archives: Celia Rees

What can you say?

Daughter was browsing in Toppings in St Andrews a few weeks ago, when a young teenage girl and her mother came in. The girl looked around and noticed a copy of Celia Rees’ Witch Child, which seemed to have some significance to her. So she picked it up and handed it to her mother, presumably in the hope that she’d be allowed to buy it.

The mother looked at the cover and read the blurb on the back and looked inside the book, before telling the girl it wasn’t a book for her.

So, what should this Witch’s Daughter have done? She badly wanted to tell the mother that she had just rejected a tremendously good book, and that the girl had excellent taste, and should be allowed to read what she wanted.

But she didn’t dare interfere. Perhaps rightly so.

I’d like to think if I was that mother, I was simply making a rash decision from a quick look, and that I wasn’t involved in any serious gatekeeping regarding my child. That if another young person stood there and said they loved the book, I would change my mind and buy it.

But what if she was a strongly minded gatekeeper? Then she’d look a fool, and might feel forced to either buy the book, or to stomp out of the shop in anger.

And would this kind of advice or suggestion be better coming from a ‘recent teen’ reader, or from a trustworthy adult who is also a parent?

‘Extraordinary tellers of stories’

Daniel Hahn had trouble getting his tongue round the above words, but as he said, it might have been worth the wait. It was.

The witch travelled yesterday. Remind me not to do that again. Ever. There was a major IT hitch on almost all fronts on arrival in London, but if you are reading this, then it ‘solved itself.’ You know, sort of putting petrol in your mobile phone kind of thing.

OK, so you’re at Waterstones piccalilli (I thought Anne Rooney was being funny, but it seems she just suffered predictive texting) and you’re there to hear Penelope Lively and Philip Pullman tell Daniel Hahn anything he asks. Who – apart from your good self – will be in the audience? Anne Rooney was there, and so was Celia Rees, without whom I wouldn’t have known this was even on. Thank you! And then there was the lady in the row in front of me (i.e. second from the back), Judith Kerr. That’s what I call class.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

(And before I forget, please let me mention how friendly and helpful the organisers were. They were friendly and helpful. I was trying to do really weird things with tickets and then it turned out to be dead easy, and they were pleased that my friend was Anne Rooney.)

I very nearly sat down on the chairs where Penelope and Philip went to sit before going ‘on stage’ so it was lucky I didn’t. I’ve not seen Philip for almost three years. I’d hazard a guess that he hasn’t seen his barber since then either. Very cool.

In his introduction Daniel Hahn reflected that when he grows up he will become Penelope Lively. I think this was based on the fact that all three of them either are or have been something great in the Society of Authors. And he listed their books, making a wild guess that if we wanted to buy any, then Waterstones probably had them somewhere in their shop.

Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively and Daniel Hahn

Penelope seems to be proof that home education works, since that’s what she got as a child in Egypt. She read a lot. By WWII, Arthur Ransome’s books had arrived in Cairo, and all those lakes and all that rain seemed like fantasy. Later on she was sent to boarding school, where punishment for bad behaviour was an hour’s reading in the library. Both she and Philip are of the opinion that the kind of reading you do as a child is something you’ll never get back.

Philip learned how big the world is on his many trips round the globe by boat. He read the Just So stories, Noddy and comics (they were allowed in Australia, apparently), and he read Moomin in Battersea library. He needs the rythm of words, and when he’s writing he can’t tolerate music. Penelope agreed about rythm, and often reads her writing out loud to see if it works.

Penelope Lively

Her writing career came from her obsessive reading. She writes less these days, but always writes something. Philip compared the early days when he worked as a teacher all day, and still was able to write at night. Now he manages his three pages per day, but that’s it. (And no, no one asked about the Book of Dust.)

While Penelope generally knows what is going to happen in a book, Philip writes ‘in the dark’ and is quite opposed to planning. Daniel wanted to know if they are optimists, despite last week’s [political] results, and they are. Both agreed that stories are a human necessity and always will be. Both prefer paper books, and Philip pointed out it’s so difficult to dry your Kindle if you drop it in the bath, with thousands of books on it.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

Philip reckons that the good thing about the very large publishing companies we have today, is that their sheer size means there is room for smaller publishers in the holes between them. And that’s good.

Philip Pullman

Book festivals and book groups are new concepts for authors, and Philip likened author events to a roadshow, but without the possibility of filling large arenas or selling any merchandising. Although Daniel tried to suggest we could buy some HDM hats afterwards…

A book that really affected them when they were young, was a version of Robin Hood where Robin dies, for Philip, and Nicholas Nickleby for Penelope. The reason Philip introduced daemons in HDM was to make it easier to write; it was his version of Raymond Chandler’s idea of introducing a man with a gun whenever necessary.

Diversity is obviously important; it’s what you seek in books. Both to find yourself in the book, as well as learning about others. Neither of them writes a last page or chapter to use as a goal for their writing. Penelope might have an important scene, whereas Philip writes in the order you read, and he knows when he gets to the end.

He is superstitious and prefers to write at his own table, with all his ‘lucky’ things around him, although he has written in many different places too. Except in a concert hall. Penelope can write anywhere and often has done, including in airports. She quite likes to write in the garden.

Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively

Daniel Hahn

And on that note Daniel brought things to a close, which meant that the audience got wine and an opportunity to chat with the two Ps and to have books signed. And Daniel also had his book there (which I should have thought of!) to be bought and signed.

Before returning to my temporary home to face my IT woes, I had a nice chat with Celia Rees, thanking her for her part in this evening, and saying how this is the way we like our events.

Bookwitch bites #100

For my 100th bite I am donning my gossip magazine disguise, and we are going royal. Admittedly, the combination of authors and royals in the news has been somewhat unfortunate this week.

But all is rosy chez BWB! Earlier this week Nicola Morgan casually dropped the bombshell that she was agonising over what to wear for a dinner at The Palace. She’s in Edinburgh, so that would be Holyrood. I’m not sinking low enough to deal with the garment situation, because I’m all excited knowing someone who dined with the Princess Royal!

‘It was a dinner to spread the word about a charity she’s Patron of, Opportunity International, and I was very impressed indeed by how she spoke about it so intelligently and passionately,’ Nicola said afterwards. It seems everything went well, forks and other implements behaved themselves, Nicola was suitably covered and Hilary Mantel was only mentioned ‘very quietly.’ Ms Morgan ‘found the whole thing really interesting and it was amazing being inside the palace.’

So now you know. The rest of us can only dream.

Further good news is that Celia Rees has won the Coventry Book Awards 14+ category for This Is Not Forgiveness. Well done!

More good news for Michael Grant fans. The last Gone book – Light – will be here in just over a month. So will Michael himself, and Dublin fans will be delighted to hear he is actually coming to Ireland this time. Hang on for more details.

Finally, a big WELL DONE to all of you who bought/downloaded The Storm Bottle last week. Nick has reported back that it was a resounding success, with sales both sides of the Atlantic taking his book to seventh and sixth place respectively, and a lovely fourth place in the free children’s action and adventure category.

The Storm Bottle sales

So you see, pulling together does help!

2012’s best twelve

For the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 (I love this kind of thing!) I give you my list of the very best books. All twelve of them. (I know, there are really 13, but two for the price of one, sort of thing. Yes?)

All the books I have reviewed have been good, and it’s hard to pick the best. Except for the bestest of the best, because that one stood out by several miles, even back in January. And once we’ve got the twelves out of our system, next year I will have to go for a more restrained list. Always assuming people continue writing great books. Please do.

As always, I only include books published during the year. And here, the VERY BEST is:

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Swiftly followed by some alphabetically listed and very marvellous runners-up:

Philip Caveney, Spy Another Day

Joshua Doder, Grk and the Phoney Macaroni

Daniel Finn, Call Down Thunder

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

Nick Green, Cat’s Cradle

Barry Hutchison, The Thirteenth Horseman

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe, and The Black Cat Detectives

Gillian Philip, Wolfsbane

Terry Pratchett, Dodger

Celia Rees, This Is Not Forgiveness

Teri Terry, Slated

That’s it, dear readers. It was a good year, both generally, but also specifically for producing Code Name Verity, one of the best ever.

Putting EIBF 2012 to bed

Edinburgh International Book Festival

At least here. They have a few more days to go in Charlotte Square, but I shall bore you with some photos. Or infuriate you, because it will make your page too slow to load.

We aim to please.

Reader at edbookfest

This is what it should be all about. Reading. On the spot.

Jenny Colgan

Jenny Colgan, who so very kindly helped out a Doctor Who fan in distress. Here is a link to what her event was like, courtesy of HG2G. (No, not the hitchhiker…)

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, Bloodhoney

Another thing the edbookfest is about. Books.

Interview room in Charlotte Square

And the ‘interrogation gazebo’ where interviews can take place.

Chris Riddell in Charlotte Square

Stumbling across illustrators illustrating al fresco.

Celia Rees and Sally Gardner

Or being told off for profile photos. Sorry…

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The famous water in Charlotte Square, where it hides underneath the walkways and jumps up to get you.

Michael Grant

Californian authors can’t be too careful, and might as well adopt the local custom of carrying a brolly.

Hopes of a Nation at Edinburgh International Book Festival

The competition Hopes of a Nation in the bookshop.

Mirror in Charlotte Square

I have absolutely no idea why this photo was taken.

Light in Charlotte Square

Tree light.

Chris Close at work

Sitting down on the job.

Gordon Brown

And the MP for Kirkcaldy dropped in. We nearly dropped. But we are almost rested again, and as good as new.

(That was a lie, intended to make you feel better.)

When characters refuse to die

Nicola Morgan

Chaired by the Crabbitest of them all, Edinburgh’s own Nicola Morgan, there was no way we were going to miss Sally Gardner and Celia Rees, who weren’t bad either.

Only joking. You don’t get much better than these two, who have long been on my top reading list. Both have written a number of historical novels over the last few years, only to go more modern with their latest books. Celia totally up-to-date with her soldier home from Afghanistan, and Sally visiting WWII.

I know this was Monday, but we have had a backlog at the temporary Bookwitch Towers offices. This is very much last, but not least. For a Monday morning, there were lots of people there. I like it when people come to book events all week long.

Sally Gardner

Nicola divided the event up into halves, with Sally – who claims not to be good at plotting – going first. She told us about people who refuse to die, and new people who turn up uninvited. She writes a chapter at a time, finishing one, before going on, joining them up like a necklace.

Sally’s first attempts at fiction featured ‘bunny rabbits doing amazing things’ a very long time ago. Working in the theatre helped her to see, and she now thinks it’s wonderful to actually be paid to make up stories.

She read one of my own personal favourite chapters in The Double Shadow, where Amaryllis gets dead drunk. Apologising to Celia for keeping her waiting, Sally added the first, very short, chapter from her new book, Maggot Moon, which will be out at the end of August. It really was short, too.

Chair Nicola remarked about Celia that they have a lot in common, but said they’d compare notes later, in private.

Celia said she used to write contemporary novels in the 1990s, when she had a teenage daughter at home to check facts with. She wrote This Is Not Forgiveness to see if she still could, despite her daughter’s ‘betrayal’ of growing up and moving away. (I’d say she still can.)

Celia Rees

Unusually, Celia begins at the end. It’s also what she read to us, and despite knowing the book, it still sent shivers down my back. We need to realise we are living (tomorrow’s) history today. We don’t see it, but we are. Celia didn’t start last year’s riots, but writing while they took place, she needed to edit and change what went into her novel. It was great, and she enjoyed it.

The film Jules et Jim was the inspiration for the book, and Caro, the main female character decided herself what she was going to be like. Unconventional, interested in radical politics. It was impossible not to have each of the three main characters tell the story from their own point of view.

Celia doesn’t write every day. Sometimes she stops for a while, to think. And when stuck, she likes to go for walks, and she has memories from several books along her usual route; sort of a who did what where.

Sally takes her dog for walks in the churchyard. The dog is her excuse to stop every now and then to peer at gravestones for characters’ names, and to talk to herself. The phone can be a help, too. But if the dog’s not keen she takes a bath instead. Nicola says she irons, while Celia pointed out she does not iron.

Modern plots are easier, according to Celia. And Sally reckons she takes two years to do historical research for a book. So clearly, writing about now saves time. On the other hand, if you want dysfunctional, what can be better than the French Revolution?

And I am not leaving you with the story about Rupert Bear. (I think people got rather drunk…)

Close encounters of several kinds

Barry Hutchison

Her condition for crawling out of bed early on Monday morning, was that Barry Hutchison should buy Daughter a Coke. Just to keep going. As it happened, Barry needed to keep going as well, so that was two Cokes plus a water for the witch, for our interview at the hotel across the road, first thing. Barry and I have been trying to synchronise our diaries for months, and success finally arrived in the shape of the book festival.

We interviewed and laughed and had fun, even on fairly little sleep. I’m so excited I will have to go and read some of Barry’s Fiendish books now.

With another eleven hours of our festival day to go, we ventured over to Charlotte Square for the morning’s event with Sally Gardner and Celia Rees, chaired by Nicola Morgan.

Towards the end of their fascinating talk, Daughter crept out for one of her most important photocalls. The one with Frank Close, who had been joined by none other than Peter Higgs of Boson fame. The two physicists cavorted and posed as though they were really actors. Well done!

Frank Close and Peter Higgs

Meanwhile your witch was on camera duty in the bookshop, doing her utmost best to do justice to Sally and Celia. Luckily the real photographer popped up to repair most of my mistakes. The ladies had so many fans queueing that I didn’t even get the chance to chat. I left an incoherent message with Nicola and ran for the sold out talk on Particle Physics (which in turn meant I had to leave Barry Hutchison and his 13 horsemen to their fate…)

It was great. And in case you feel that isn’t enough information about this year’s big happening, rest assured I will follow up with detailed events reports.

The Particle Physics queue

We did double camera duty for the queue at the signing afterwards. The queue was as busy as you’d expect for Particle Physics signings. Daughter put her fan hat on and got close to Peter Higgs, who kindly signed his colleague’s book.

Peter Higgs and Frank Close and fan

Meanwhile I turned 180 degrees and caught Andy Stanton who was signing on the opposite side. Still. He had been there two hours earlier, signing, with enormous queue across the square. Andy was singing and joking and chatting as though he wasn’t even tired. (And the ladies in the Ladies were gushing about how wonderful he had been… Just so you know.)

Andy Stanton

Not being able to catch Celia still, we departed for lunch. She phoned while we were reviving ourselves, and we agreed that her Edinburgh visit was just too short for that elusive interview. We will manage it one day. Third time lucky, perhaps.

Sally Gardner

Back to Charlotte Square to catch Sally before her event with Barry (which I also had to miss), to take some much needed proper photos. Her outfit for the day, of which you can’t see much here, unfortunately, was as great as ever.

Chris Riddell

Daughter wandered off and encountered Chris Riddell drawing in the middle of the square, having drawn a large circle of people around him. And then we went to join the unusually large crowd of photographers in ‘the studio,’ where we stood around for a long while, waiting, and me staring at the FBI type by the gate. But eventually the festival’s director popped along to greet Gordon Brown as he was ushered in. He disappeared after stopping for a split second for photos, after which we hung around for another half hour until the former PM returned and gave us a couple of minutes for proper photos. He was there to give the NLS Donald Dewar Lecture, and his queue was a long one.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Trying to grab some internet, we headed back to the hotel, which we left rather quickly when the fire alarm went. So that was more or less goodbye to the internet again. Michael Palin cavorted outside the yurt, and then for the paparazzi. Daughter went to hear Michael talk, along with a few hundred others. Apparently he was GOOD!

Michael Palin

In amongst eating more cold pizza (yes, we do have a large supply of this ancient cheese topped bread) I managed to take some photos of Sjón and Jess Richards. Everybody is talking about this Icelandic author, but I know almost nothing about Sjón.


I was afraid I’d have to do the honours (photographic variety) for Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, but was saved by prompt arrival of the real photographer. Neil had previously been posing for Chris Close. Lying down. That won’t have done much – good – to his clothes. Black as usual. Black with grime afterwards, I imagine. Edinburgh started Monday with rain, leaving the ground in a eugh state.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

I popped along to Neil’s and Chris’s event, which was even better than you’d expect from such a pairing. We were lucky to have Neil at all, since he had to depart for home straight afterwards, due to a family crisis. Chris signed for the two of them. Sort of.

Chris Riddell

If I paid myself overtime I’d have been rich after a Monday like this Monday. But I don’t, so I’m not. But it was good. Apart from the internet.