Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Tea at last!

Good thing that greed won over the less gluttonous instincts I harboured at one point. I imagined I could do the reporting of the afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel unobtrusively from the sidelines, but luckily the lovely James Draper of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival said I could have the lot. Frank Cottrell Boyce and Sherry Ashworth, the tea and the quiz. For two.

Reading by Sherry Ashworth

The MCBF authors were treated to tea at the Midland on Saturday, and I’d have been more jealous if I hadn’t had Sunday to look forward to. The buffet table groaned and groaned under sandwiches and scones and cakes, and all of the highest quality. I do like a place that knows how to make scones. And tea tasting of tea.

Frank very sweetly came up to us and said hello, and explained he’d have to leave fairly soon after the reading. And Sherry gave me one of her books, which was so nice of her.

Sherry kicked off by reading from three of her books; Is He Worth It?, Paralysed, and Revolution. She picked out some ‘first experience’ pieces, seeing as this is the first MCBF. And I do agree with Sherry on walking uphill. And downhill again.

Reading by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Then we heard from Frank about his childhood school blazer in vomit green wool, which was so girl repellant that he had to take up reading books. Being such a modest man Frank wanted to treat us to a reading of something ‘better’ than his own books, so we got the wonderful short story by Frank O’Connor called First Confession. I think Frank laughed almost as much while reading it as we did. Wanting to murder your grandmother can be amusing. Then he did the same Porsche reading from Cosmic as the previous day, which just goes to prove that it’s a piece you can listen to repeatedly.

Frank Cottrell Boyce at the Midland Hotel

We threw ourselves at the tea table as Frank left, and then we settled in with our quiz papers. Made some silly mistakes, but felt fairly confident of our excellence on the subject of mainly children’s books. When the second prize was announced as going to The Two Witches team, Daughter looked totally blank. Well, duh. It was us. She chose a prize of three signed Doctor Who books. Naturally.

(Our opposite team didn’t know The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so answered James Draper instead. JD wasn’t best pleased when he found out.)

Second prize

Considering Daughter was vaguely reluctant to go out another day, it cheered me up when she said on the way home how much she had enjoyed it. Right now I feel as if I don’t need to eat for some considerable time. But should anyone say ‘tea at the Midland, witch?’ I’ll be off like a shot. That’s how much self control I have.

Cakes at the Midland

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The bookwitch and the weeping angel


At the sight of all those lifesize Doctor Who cardboard cut-outs Daughter cheered considerably. They were an unexpected bonus in Saturday’s full programme at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. We don’t often go for photos of cardboard photos, but we now have a nice selection of the Doctor and his ladies and some ‘monsters’. The Green Screen experience provided us with a great photo of the witch photographer in the Tardis, which is a very good fundraising idea.

Captain Hook

As we attempted to get our bearings more generally, we were interrupted by Captain Hook removing his moustache up on the first floor walkway to announce the next event, which was Frank Cottrell Boyce, so we dashed off for our Frank. He began the day with an Alka Seltzer, something which was lost on the youngest in the audience. It was an experiment, rather than a hangover remedy. And it failed abysmally. Twice.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank read from Cosmic, which is fantastic even when you already know the book. He also read from Framed after borrowing a copy from a young fan. He even remembered to return the book. Frank loves art robberies, and told the audience how to go about committing art theft, and also about readings in jails where that kind of thing is frowned upon. There was also the tale about his dying friend and George Clooney, as well as facts about the many Waterloos of the world. And I have to admit to having lost my Millions. Must be somewhere. I’ll look again.

Steve Cole with chonster

One very amusing man was followed by another when Steve Cole got started on his shenanigans. I don’t know why I always forget quite how funny he is, even when you’re more than forty years older than his target group. I’d like to bottle Steve as an anti-depressant. He jumps and makes the most astonishing faces, and he admits to forgetting how many books he has written and when the last one was published. There seems to be at least one a month, so with such riches I believe I’ll ask to have one dedicated to me.

Steve talks about chonsters and poofish and chocodiles, not to mention vampire bananas. Very dangerous. This man who has written as Lucy Daniels, spent his childhood looking for new Doctor Who books in WHS on a Saturday, before growing up to write them himself. He reckons he’s learned a lot from comics. It’s ‘hard to run out of stories, which is nice’ he says. It is.

Liz Kessler

Cathy Cassidy

With far too many lovely authors doing events (not complaining!), we had to miss a couple. Liz Kessler was on, but we run into her over lunch where she tries to sell my photographer a camera part. And signs her book. Cathy Cassidy we also had to miss, although we find her after her book signing for a brief chat and photo session. She praises the book festival, and we reminisce about when it was we first met, which tends to happen when people realise Daughter is no longer as young as she once was.

The MCBF have laid on sandwiches for the authors and we squeeze into the green room to watch them eat and catch up with friends. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman turn up together, and soon after Kevin Brooks walks in and so does Keith Gray a little later. Nice cups of tea are offered by the green room volunteers, one of whom has written a children’s cheese mystery, which I simply will have to hear more about. We get our books out for some signatures, and Mary gives Daughter a silver mosaic tile, as featured in her latest Stravaganza novel.

Mary Hoffman

After being fed Adèle and Mary go to their shared event on romantic historical fiction, which is really good. They take turns asking each other questions, rather like television presenters. Mary says she created her own parallel Italy in order to avoid readers looking for historical discrepancies, and Adèle admits to having introduced lemons into ancient Greece. They discuss when some period becomes history, and decide that the 1980s qualify.

They say that the 18th century is quite crowded in teen fiction now, and Adèle says she would never write about the stone age (so we can expect one quite soon then…) whereas Mary thinks she’d write anything for a large wad of cash. Adèle tells us she does the bare minimum of research, while Mary does a fair bit, always starting with the internet. She also creates scrapbooks for each novel, which is an idea she’s borrowed from Celia Rees. Both of them feel that it can be hard to teach children today about periods older than their grandparents’, and they’ve been really pleased when they find a young reader wants to know more after reading their books. And getting your book banned is always good for some attention.

Keith Gray and Adèle Geras

The final event is a panel discussion on teen fiction with Kevin Brooks, Keith Gray and Adèle, moderated by Sherry Ashworth. One conclusion they arrive at is that teen books should be sold in places other than the traditional bookshop, and especially not next to younger children’s fiction. Clothes shops and music shops are suggested. They also feel reading is tied too much to schools and libraries. It’s not as if you’d ask your teacher for advice on what music to listen to, and the same may go for books.

Losing It

You can’t research teenagers; you can only follow them, but not literally, or you might be arrested, as Kevin says. There is a problem with the ‘gatekeepers’ of teen books. It’s always the adults who are offended by the content, and never the teenagers themselves. Keith wishes books weren’t seen as ‘so dangerous’. They all self censor according to what they themselves feel is OK. Keith mentions Losing It, a new anthology he’s edited, which is about losing your virginity, and which some schools are refusing to let their students hear about.

On the question whether vampires have bled the market dry, they feel the publishers’ confidence has been ruined. They don’t try new and different things, which means there are fewer books and it’s less easy to live off writing. As Keith says, he’s never known any boring children, but plenty of boring adults. He writes the books he’d want to read, and Kevin does his Gordon Brown thing and agrees.

Kevin Brooks

In five years’ time Kevin is still writing more than ever. Keith will be doing the same, knows what his next three books are about, and hopes for more hair. Kevin replies ‘as if that will happen’. Adèle hopes she will still be here. So do we.


Carol Ann Duffy

After the book signing we encounter both Elmer the elephant and the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, which goes to prove the wide range offered at the MCBF.

Daughter requires a last photo of herself and the Dalek, and I fail to understand why she laughs like mad when I oblige. It’s not that funny to see me with a camera, surely? ‘Look behind you’, she says. I turn, and find a weeping angel has crept up and is standing right behind me.

It’s time to leave. Preferably without blinking.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Bookwitch bites #8

As I was saying – I do hope you remember – a little revamping of websites can be good for the soul. Today is actually the first time I’ve said that, but I touched on the revamp idea before. Cathy Hopkins has a new look. Not Cathy, but her website, obviously. It’s a sign of how long I’ve had Cathy’s site bookmarked, that she is number three on my list (I haven’t done much sorting of anything).

And I keep going on about people’s launch parties. Felt so bad about saying no to Anthony McGowan’s party, but it seems to have been a waste of good concern. He got so many coming to the bookshop where the party for Einstein’s Underpants was held on Thursday, that they had to turn people away. (That could have been me!) Or it could be a publicity stunt, maybe? At least Tony managed to get there himself, after being marooned with ash problems ‘far away from home’ for some time.

News about the Booktrust Teenage Prize: “This year’s judging panel will be chaired by popular children’s and young adult author Tony Bradman and includes journalist and author Barbara Ellen, author and reviewer Mary Hoffman, Chartered Librarian Barbara Band and 2009 Booktrust Teenage Prize young judge Claudia Freemantle.”

From Booktrust to an old bird; Puffin is 70, and has a specially designated website to make the most of old age. I’m not sure exactly when the big day is, but the website turned up on my horizon this week.

Speaking of birthdays, former children’s laureate Michael Rosen was 64 yesterday.

Since it’s Saturday, I’m glad that Terry Pratchett and I can sit down together for our weekly Doctor Who. Not in the same room, alas, but a shared interest is always good. Terry made it known this week that he thinks they make it too easy for themselves these days, but he still watches every time. And personally I never encounter any problems with the windows when I transport hospitals through space. It’s always the aliens that annoy. Not the broken windows.

What about gay books?

‘Thank goodness we’re all heterosexuals here,’ sighs Patrick Ness in his Guardian review of Steve Augarde’s book X Isle. (Spoiler warning, in case someone reads Patrick’s review and wants to read Steve’s book later.) And he goes on to say:

‘Gay teens read books, too, having a bit more reason than most to seek a safe and private world, and how miraculous it would be for them, just once, to read a mass-market adventure story where their absence isn’t greeted with relief. —  How refreshing it would be for gay teens – and, incidentally, straight teens, too – to read a twist that reverses expectations in new ways, rather than the usual Shakespearean ones. It’s time, perhaps, for certain old plot devices to be buried with a fond, but firm, farewell.’

I have to agree. I probably wouldn’t have minded Steve’s plot device (similar to Meg Rosoff’s in What I Was), but I can see where Patrick is coming from. But then, maybe it’s not so much what Steve or anyone else might have done with their plots which matters, as the simple fact that there are not a lot of gay YA books around.

In fact, I’m struggling to come up with any at all, other than Jacqueline Wilson’s Kiss. When I read I don’t compartmentalise story lines in my mind according to sexuality or skin colour. I’m not absolutely certain how I categorise books, now that I think about it. More like I do people, I expect. Nice people, awful people, bores, etc. Things that don’t depend on them being black or white or wealthy or badly educated or anything else like that.

So, I think ‘good book’, ‘couldn’t-wait-to-put-it-down book’, ‘book of the century’ or ‘OK, I suppose’. That kind of thing. If it’s got interesting relationships or sex or whatever I’ll mentally file it away as such.

Patrick is right, though. As long as being gay is seen as a problem or as a minority thing, there will be a captive audience waiting to read about themselves. And it wouldn’t hurt for others to read about it as well. But my own experience from blogging about Aspie books in the belief that it would be useful for ‘the others’, only to find that it was the Aspie readers who were desperate to find reading suggestions, shows that you can’t necessarily predict what anyone needs. Most of us would like to find someone we can identify with in fiction, whether it’s sexuality, disability, race or just simple stuff like being fat, clever, shy or something else, which for the ‘sufferer’ takes on disproportionate dimensions.

We don’t need more books about the hardships of being rich, beautiful, popular or terrific at sports. Vampires have recently had plenty of publicity for their special handicap, so maybe it’s time to cast a wider net?

To get back to gay books; who best to write them? It’s tempting to say those who are gay, but I have no idea if that’s right, and I don’t know how many gay authors there are. And of course, if you are gay, it’s a bit boring to feel that you therefore have to sit and compose one gay book after another. But it’s the ‘write about what you know’ thing, isn’t it? On the other hand, lots of authors write excellent portraits of someone the opposite sex from themselves, and writing about something new or different is supposedly the skill of a professional writer.

The other question is; can the market cope with gay novels for young readers? I suspect the publishers would find it hard, as might the buyer from the large chain. What about the grandparents? Or the school librarian, who should know better, but who worries about upsetting the parents. But the thing is, we have a generation of quite young children who have watched Doctor Who, and perhaps even Torchwood, who know all about Captain Jack, as well as John Barrowman, and who find it totally natural.

Not all authors want to ‘come out’, and I can see that there may be special issues perceived both by authors of young fiction and their publishers, if the author makes their sexual orientation known. So, maybe not ‘write about what you know’, for fear of upsetting customers?

But then, how do we ever go forward?

(I’d like more fiction about boring, short, fat girls. Preferably with really good looking boyfriends. Or girlfriends, to be non-sexist.)

Torchwood, the book

Time to break with bookwitch tradition here. I generally don’t bother blogging about books that aren’t up to scratch, and I tend to have read them myself first. Not this time.

Daughter is very keen on the Doctor Who books. I can’t wean her off them, so have decided that it’s fine for her to read those books, even to the exclusion of so much else. I don’t think they are bad. (Maybe I ought to read one?) I just think of them as being more formula books, as they are written by a number of different writers. But, one of them is Steve Cole, who is an excellent writer. So as I said, it’s not all bad.

Recently, Daughter moved on to trying the Torchwood variety of BBC books, so while waiting to catch up with the new Torchwood on television this week, she read Another Life. When we like formula books, we tend either not to notice, or at least to overlook, poor writing, because there is something there that is satisfying and good. And Daughter never ever mentions bad writing, or bad editing.

This time she did. It must have been pretty bad for her to repeatedly say how badly written the book was, and to note how the proof-reading left something to be desired.

At £6.99 it’s not cheap for young fans, and I’m sure the BBC sell quite a respectable number of these books. They have certainly never responded to my requests for review copies, which tends to be a sign that someone reckons they don’t need reviews. They have never even bothered to reply to say no. But that’s up to them.

I do wish they’d provide young readers with better quality stories, though. Daughter has often wished she could write Doctor Who books. Maybe she could. Maybe she should.

Evil chocolate?

Halfway through Cornelia Funke’s Advent calendar book, I can tell you that chocolate is evil. At least I believe it is.

On that basis I should have refused Daughter’s dream of yet another chocolate Advent calendar, but she now has her own debit card and everything, so what can you do? As she hasn’t yet got round to lying about her age to shop on eBay, however, it was the witch who had to send off for the Doctor Who calendar. It’s a Dalek one, and the chocolates arrived very jumbled up, so I complained. They sent another one, but same jumble. The curse of the Daleks.

Dalek calendar

I suspect it’s Cornelia’s traditional calendars fighting back.

In the olden days, before chocolate calendars, the witch always bought her traditional calendar on the 19th of November. It was my name day, and the calendar was my present. It’s still my name day, of course, but no more calendars for me.

There was a Dalek in Stockport town centre on Saturday. Wasn’t able to ask it about the chocolates.

Anyone who needs to exercise their grey cells, can now start guessing what name goes with the 19th November.

Bookwitch in Cheltenham

You have an exhausted bookwitch at your service this morning. Let me tell you, going to Cheltenham is a lovely thing to do, but it is not restful. In order to be nice to Daughter, we went to see Russell T Davies and John Barrowman last thing last night, which meant the last train (lots of lasts, there) home. Daughter has staggered off to school now, and the witch has so far only managed to put her foot in wet paint once, this morning. (The decorator is here…)


Anyway, as I was saying, Cheltenham is nice. Daughter gasped when she saw the architecture and I had fears her camera would run out of batteries. (These days you can’t run out of film, at least.) So, lovely town. Lovely weather, warm and sunny and the summer we never had. Literature festival. Also very nice. So much to do, and not enough time.

Darren Shan

Celia Rees

The first afternoon we ran like scalded rats between venues, taking in Darren Shan and Celia Rees as mentioned previously. Why can’t they all be in one place? The advantage of these festival thingies is meeting all sorts of people, and it’s particularly good for me to meet the people who work in the background and send me books and are generally helpful. Celia had Emma from Bloomsbury with her, providing me with more proof that the publishing industry is very pretty. Observed Ann Widdecombe being interviewed in the park, and wanted to dash over and discuss Jacqueline Wilson and unmarried mothers with her, but didn’t. Mal Peet strolled past, unfortunately without Meg Rosoff, who I assume had gone home after their event the day before. Dinner was the slowest pizza ever encountered, before the dash to the race course for Roger Moore. The moon was particularly nice looking on Saturday night, in case you were wondering.


My last blog post was written in the middle of the night, while I perched on a pillow to reach the computer, swearing over slow hotel broadband. After a few hours of sleep, it was up at dawn for a rendez vous with Eoin Colfer and his biggest fan, Charlie. Ever the interfering busybody, I had leaned on Puffin’s Adele Minchin until she tilted dangerously and said that “yes, of course, Charlie can interview Eoin”.

Adele Minchin and Eoin Colfer


So that was Charlie and family brimming over with excitement, and we all trooped into the Everyman theatre to wait. The interview will appear here, soon. Suffice it to say that it went very well and the whole Charlie family now love Eoin. The event was better than ever, which makes me wonder if Eoin was fibbing when he said minutes before it, that he didn’t know yet what he’d be talking about. (His horrible brothers, since you ask.)

Eoin Colfer at the Everyman Theatre

After refreshments in the Everyman Theatre’s writers’ room, we looked round Cheltenham, again. I think I saw Kate Adie near the Promenade. We went to the Times tent for our free Times reusable bags. In the sweltering October heat it felt incongruous to see our lunch restaurant urging their customers to book for Christmas, but there you are. We had wanted to eat outside, but so did everyone else.

Back out to the race course, for John Barrowman and his sister Carole. Daughter is a VERY big fan, so getting close to John was imperative. We scouted out the best route to the book signing and prepared with almost military precision. As we did this we saw Richard Attenborough, or Santa Claus, as Daughter calls him. He was there with Bob, Jacqueline Wilson’s driver. John and Carole were great, and there’ll be more on that over on CultureWitch soon. And the planning paid off, with Daughter getting to somewhere near the front of the queue.

Carole and John Barrowman

While waiting for that last Doctor Who event, we took our M&S sandwiches outside and sat by the fence near the entrance, looking at people passing by. Daughter fantasised about seeing someone she knew, but it was the witch who found her colleague Karen, from Eurocrime. Who says it’s lonely blogging?


(All photos by H Giles)