Tag Archives: Costa

What Five Children and It Did Next

My first event on Monday was learning more about Kate Saunders and her much praised book Five Children on the Western Front, which won last year’s Costa. I’ve not read it yet, nor do I know the Edith Nesbit original stories all that well. I read some, but it was a long time ago.

Kate wrote this sequel to Nesbit’s books for the anniversary of WWI last year. She had long ago worked out that those children were just the right age to be caught up in the war that Nesbit didn’t know about when she created their idyllic, magic, free childhood.

Kate Saunders

As a child Kate felt that E Nesbit spoke directly to her, and she reckons that the author ‘put all the seeds down’ and she simply wrote her book, based on what was already there. Kate’s own teenage son died a few years ago, so she feels the far too early loss of young people very strongly.

She had plans for whom to kill off, but at least one character was saved by book reviewer Amanda Craig, who forced her to rethink. And in Monday morning’s school event, it appears Kate managed to make chair Daniel Hahn cry, which just goes to show how books can affect people.

Writing your last letter home, for if you don’t survive the war, features in Kate’s book (this was the moment my first pen decided it had had enough). She said it’s ‘outrageous that young people are sent away to be killed’ and she found that using magic in her story meant that it wasn’t all about life on the home front, but she was able to let the younger children see what went on in the trenches, while they were trying to help the Psammead.

The one thing that doesn’t translate well to a new book like this is the way Nesbit treated servants. She was very un-pc, and Kate has made a point of being nice and kind to ‘her’ servants, in whatever accents you get.

The audience in the Writers Retreat were fairly young, but they had nevertheless read both Kate’s book and the Nesbit ones, and they came up with some really excellent questions. Kate told them she began writing at nine, and that in twenty years’ time it could very well be one of them who would be talking at the book festival.

On the subject of dramatisations of novels, she feels it’d be hard to get in there and beat War Horse. This former actress once had to pay her son to come to the theatre with her.

Kate had to work hard at not revealing who dies in her book, or the fates of any of the characters. The children kept asking, though. And with war you just can’t have anything but a sad ending. It can’t be avoided. The thing for Kate was that there should be kindness, and there’s a strong sense of right and wrong.

There will be no more sequels of other people’s books for a while now. She wanted her book to be true to the feeling of Edith Nesbit. She compared it to considering rewriting the New Testament, which is something you just wouldn’t do.

Generally Kate doesn’t know what the end will be until she gets there. It’s ‘better to make it up as you go along.’ She needs a good start and then she has to have a shape that she strives for. After that she might rip up chapters (computer fashion) to make her book better.

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.

Goth wins Costa

Chris Riddell, Goth Girl

Congratulations to Chris Riddell for winning the Costa children’s book award with Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse. Both Ada and the poor little mouse deserve this. And so does my favourite political cartoonist author.

(I have to admit I suspected Chris would win when I saw that Josh Lacey had reviewed the book for the Guardian on Saturday.)

Winning such an award is no less than you would expect for a book that has ‘shiny purple sprayed edges … foil endpieces, … ribbon bookmark, … footnotes in the margin.’ It is not just a pretty book. It’s an intelligent one, as well. It is a book that makes for a good read whatever your age. And in times of need you can always stroke the sheer purpleness of it.

Chris Riddell

It would be very nice indeed if Chris could go on and win the ‘full Costa’ on 28th January. More power to children’s books!

Witching it

It’s odd. Or perhaps it isn’t. The way things connect, unexpectedly. How easy it is being a witch, sometimes.

I was having Sunday breakfast, reading the Guardian Review from Saturday (someone had not provided the paper early enough the previous day). I glanced at the interview in the middle, and turned the page over as I got up to see about ‘the next course’ after my cereal.

Thought about the book by Gillian Cross I had finished the night before. Thought about the other three OUP novels from the event during the week (which I don’t -yet – have) and my thoughts strayed on to Geraldine McCaughrean.

From there I went back to 2004 when I ‘just knew’ that Meg Rosoff would win the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Knew in that witchy way I can’t explain. Then how I ‘knew’ she’d also win the Whitbread/Costa with How I Live Now. And how I had a wobble the last day in the library before the Christmas holiday and snatched up a copy of Not the End of the World. Maybe I ought to see what Meg was up against.

And there I was, reading about floods and Noah and the end of the world, as the tsunami burst forth. It was almost unbearable. After which Geraldine won the Whitbread for her wonderful, but watery, book.

Then (we are now back at breakfast, obviously) I thought about Geraldine’s new book and how that sounded so interesting. I poured the tea and sat down with the Review again, pleased to find I was actually on the page with the children’s book review. Which, naturally, was The Positively Last Performance by a certain Geraldine McCaughrean. I wanted to read the review, so I did, while hoping it wouldn’t be full of spoilers. It wasn’t. Lovely review, and I have to read that book!

Mustn’t forget Sally Prue’s blog post on The Word Den, as she set off on that OUP tour at the beginning of the week. She blogged about spaewives, taking care to mention that us in the pointy hats are the worst. I am fairly certain it was a slip of the keyboard, and that Sally meant best.

Spae is spå where I come from. Maybe it’s what I do. At least Meg Rosoff almost believed it, back then.

Twelfth Night miscellany


One has been awarded the Gargie Award. It’s rather ugly, but one takes what one can get. It’s for outstanding services in one’s field, or some such thing. (One doesn’t actually know what a field is.) Thank you, dearest Gargoyle.

Gargie Award

I really wouldn’t have minded getting a new dress for the occasion, however.

Bet Sally Gardner had a new outfit for the Costa award do. Bet she looked great. I would also like to bet that Sally will win the whole Costa, but I don’t know how to. Bet the Resident IT Consultant doesn’t want me to find out how to bet.

No betting needed as regards Mrs Pendolino, who achieved grandma status on New Year’s Eve. She feels very awarded, and I would too if I could cuddle a red and wrinkly baby like the one she held in her arms. Congratulations to Miss Pendolino, who did the hard work. (Note to Offspring: No need to copy Miss P just yet. One red, wrinkly, adorable baby is quite enough.)

It’s Twelfth Night. (I know you know that.) If it wasn’t also Borgen night, I’d be tempted to watch Twelfth Night, just to feel all cultured and proper. As it is we will go Danish. I have spent just under a week assisting Daughter in her catching up on season one of Borgen, just so she can watch it with us. You need some Danish in your life.

Maggot wins

Sally Gardner

Yippee! Sally Gardner has won the children’s Costa award for Maggot Moon. I had a look at the shortlist last night, just to remind myself of what might happen. And I have to admit I felt this was the only sensible outcome (no disrespect to the other books or their authors intended).

Maggot Moon isn’t only on my 2012 list of top books, but is just wonderful. It just is.

And if by some inexplicable fluke you haven’t already read Sally’s book, what a treat you have in store!

Bookwitch bites #93

Luckily I didn’t run into either of these two chaps as I haunted Edinburgh this week. Twice. That’s twice I didn’t see them. In fact, I forgot to even think about Philip Caveney and whoever that is behind him. ‘He’s behind you!’ Lucky, seeing as I was running around all alone in the dark.

Philip Caveney with Plague Doctor on The Close

Lucky too, that I had not yet come across Chris Priestley’s A Creepy Christmas, the story he has written for 247 tales. That is another thing you don’t want to have on your mind as you’re out alone, in the dark or otherwise. Good to see that the 247 tales are still going strong.

Pleased to hear that Bali Rai won one of the categories at the Sheffield Book Awards this week; his quick read The Gun. Obviously, other books won too, and even more were commended. Read all about it here.

Have been alerted that Sophie Hannah – who seems to be successful at just about everything these days – has been shortlisted for the Nibbies. The event is on Tuesday next week. Lots of other authors are also on the various shortlists, and pirates would appear to be in as far as children’s book titles are concerned. (It was hard to find the lists, however. Something wrong with google? Can’t be me, can it?)

But I did find it a little tricky to discover the Costa shortlist, as well. (So definitely not me, then.) Sally Gardner, Diana Hendry, Hayley Long and Dave Shelton are this year’s hopefuls. I’ve read two.

Barry Hutchison, The Book of Doom

And speaking of awards, I was very happy to hear that Barry Hutchison got married last week. He had proposed in a fairly public sort of way, by putting it in one of his books. Glad it paid off, and that he has now been made an honest man of. More good Hutchison news is the arrival of the cover for The Book of Doom. Would quite like for the rest of the book to get here, too. Fast.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, The Bone Trail

Fast is what another book would have managed, had I not been so busy running around a darkened Edinburgh. (See top.) A very early incarnation of The Bone Trail, the last in the Wyrmeweald trilogy by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell has been made available to me. I happened to mention I wasn’t feeling especially patient.

Arrived home to find DHL had missed me. (Miss you too.) I arranged for redelivery on Monday. Except they turned up yesterday. As I squeezed the package (to find out what it might be, the way you do) it felt like a rucksack. Couldn’t see why Random House would send me one of those.

I will now stick a plain sheet of A4 to the back of The Bone Trail to prevent me accidentally looking at what seems to be the last page of the book. A witch likes some element of surprise.