Tag Archives: Ebony McKenna

Who can write what?

I’m stepping right back into the cultural appropriation hole here.

I wanted yesterday’s review of Kate Thompson’s book to be about the book. Not whether she should be allowed to write about the Aboriginal people of Australia. Which, of course, she should be.

According to Kate it was hard to find a willing publisher, as they were most likely worried about cultural appropriation. So she published the book herself.

Now, as far as I know, Kate is English, living in Ireland. Over the years she has treated us to some first rate children’s books, mostly set in Ireland, and involving the, ahem, fairies. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Or at least, not about Kate’s lack of Irish fairy-ness.

Some other favourites of mine among Kate’s books are about children switching to become animals; squirrels, rats. That kind of thing. Call me a cynic, but I doubt she’s spent all that long as a squirrel.

Kate has spent quite a lot of time in Australia in recent years, which presumably explains both why she wanted to write Provenance, and why she did it so competently. It’s not done from the point of view of an Aboriginal person. It’s about a slightly confused, but well-meaning, outsider Englishman. I can’t help but feel that this makes it all right.

Over the Bookwitch years I have read a number of Australian YA and children’s fiction. Great stuff, but primarily the ‘same’ as if those stories had been set somewhere else. By which I mean a teenager is a teenager, and their school issues are just that. Yes, there is an Australian flavour to these books, but not overwhelmingly so. They are as authentic as they need to be.

And let’s not go into the Scottish ferret-cum-human hero Hamish in Ebony McKenna’s books set in a non-existent small European country. I don’t care what Ebony’s experience of ferret-ness is; the books are great fun.

In fact, what Provenance made me think of more than anything was Nevil Shute’s Australian novels. I hasten to add that I have no idea what current pc thoughts are on Mr Shute. I enjoyed his books 40-50 years ago, and that’s good enough for me. He was also English, but I still feel he gave a good account of the country, if not necessarily its native people.

It’s that hot and dusty country I found myself in when reading Provenance. And if you’re going to feel shame over something, this is not it.

The Aboriginal art that plays such an important part of the book made me think back to what Offspring did at school. We have more than one lot of ‘Aboriginal’ art in some folder here. Maybe it was wrong of the art teacher to teach them about this. I don’t think so, but I’m sure some would.

Besides, if we are to become more knowledgeable about the Aboriginal situation, someone has to tell us. Provenance did this pretty well. Yes, seen through the yes of the outsider, but that is also a valid view.


They call it Eurovision in Sweden these days. I’m sure it used to be Melodifestivalen, even when it was the European finale, rather than the qualifying rounds at home. What’s more, each country had to sing in their own language. Maybe it’s ‘fairer’ when all can be heard in English. I don’t know. Sometimes there is a lot to be said for the sounds of home.

People rarely sing in local dialect. Somehow you adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when singing, despite speaking with a local accent. In my teens there was a [political] rock group who sang in dialect. It just wasn’t my dialect.

So to find HishultaBörje on a local [to me] CD some years ago, was quite refreshing. Gunnar Bringman (who seems to be a local dentist, of all things) sings the sad story of Börje from Hishult (southern Halland, in southern Sweden) with a Halmstad accent. It’s a catchy tune and the tale is sort of fun, as long as you’re not Börje himself. But it’s the accent I like. It takes me home, every time.

And I believe there is something important being lost. Not only do most people not sing in dialect, but they often sing in English. It does bring the lyrics closer to more listeners, but still. In my part of the world as I listen to children talk, I have discovered they are ditching the accent, and swapping it for some ‘posher’ sounding mongrel dialect which only tells me someone is ashamed of what they are and is trying to sound ‘better.’ Except by now it’s so general, that children will believe it’s the real deal. And if it has usurped the way we used to speak, then by definition it probably is the local dialect today.

So I rather wish they’d remove the English from Eurovision, except from the UK, Irish and Maltese entries. The UK one won’t win anyway. (And Swedish songs are always great, no matter what language.) Oh, and maybe the Australian song.

This well know European country is most welcome if only for their enthusiasm for the whole thing. I’m still not sure about Brugel, though. I was under the impression this tiny state had never been allowed to enter, but on checking my facts I see that [author] Ebony McKenna describes her small country as never having won. Maybe. Possibly they are so small we never see the Brugel entries. I’m a little hazy on what language they would sing in. Although the lovely part-time ferret Hamish speaks with a Scottish accent, so perhaps that is it. And ferrets are tiny, which could explane why Brugel is less visible.

Ebony McKenna, Ondine books

I do like an author who isn’t too cool to admit to a fervent love for Eurovision. This is presumably the attitude that brought Australia into the midst of the European Azerbaijanis and Israelis and so on. Soon it is only the UK who will neither win, nor be able to call themselves European.

Sweden hasn’t won for year at least. Must be time again?

Little orphaned Ondine

I must be careful. Very careful. If I’m not, you’ll find Ebony McKenna has taken over as chief Bookwitch. Which would at least mean you’d be well entertained. As you may have noticed in yesterday’s review of her third Ondine book, it is an ebook. Below is her background story as to why.

‘I hate orphans. Not actual orphans (poor loves) but the trope of orphans in fiction.

They started in fairytales and never went away, did they? The loner who has to face the world – alone – with no parental figures to offer sanctuary; the plucky victim of circumstance who wins the prize based on their sheer goodness/magical abilities/discovery of the elixir. Orphans may have reflected the times they were originally from – mothers who died in childbirth, parents who died in battle or from the pox – but they’re an anachronism today.

Which is why I made sure Ondine wasn’t an orphan. When her story first crashed into my brain she was an orphan. Because I picked that low-hanging fruit. But as her character became flesh and blood she grew a family. Two older sisters and parents who treated her like a baby, plus a batty great auntie slash mentor. Love and conflict all rolled up together. Plus, she worked in a pub, surrounded by people. Family, magic mayhem and a talking ferret. I’d captured lightning in a bottle.

Ondine and her sequel found generous parents at Egmont in the UK, who doted on her, educated her and gave her the prettiest clothes. They sent her off to the ball bookshop, in hope of finding true love with readers.

Many readers did love Ondine. Laika films showed interest in adapting the story for animation. Alas there were more books that were prettier, had wealthier suitors, were more glittering . . . and I’m clubbing this fairytale analogy to death.

Ondine had two big adventures in the bookstores in the UK and Commonwealth, but all the love and care in the world wasn’t enough to guarantee a third outing (let alone a planned fourth). Around this time, bookstores were closing and the GFC was kneecapping everything. Times were bad, especially for authors.

My anti-orphan series became an orphan.

If my life were a book, this would be ‘the black moment’, where all is lost and love is not enough.

After gobbling chocolate through a funnel, it was time to look at options. The first step was to take advantage of ‘the rest of the world’ rights I’d retained, so I could self-publish the first two Ondine novels as ebooks into the USA, Russia, China, Japan and Moldova (which has eerie similarities with Brugel, where Ondine is set. For starters, neither has won Eurovision).

Ebony McKenna, The Winter of Magic

The thing about self-publishing is you have to do it all yourself. Which means hiring everyone to do the things an author can’t do.

Fate had not completely given me the middle finger; I found an editor who used to work with Egmont, who was now living in my home country, Australia. Naturally I hired her to edit the next two novels in the series. I hired a cover designer to give the series a stunning new look. I hired a formatting company to crunch the pixels into shape so the novels would be available everywhere good downloads were sold. All the while I kept writing, because that’s what had gotten me into this fix in the first place, and it would be what got me out of it.

Now the Ondine ‘trequel’ is available worldwide. The Winter of Magic has me brimming with tears of joy. Relief is in there too. Terror gets a mention – it’s always scary putting a book out there into the world, however it’s published.

There is also pride. Not a boastful pride, but a quiet, satisfied sense of a job well done; a wellspring of hope as my orphaned Ondine gets to dance at the ball once again.’

Thank you, Ebony! And don’t worry too much about Eurovision. One day Brugel will win. (Also, please keep writing.)

The Winter of Magic

I get it now. Ebony McKenna is working her way through the seasons. We did autumn three springs ago (she’s from Australia. She’s bound to get things like that ‘wrong’), and now it’s Christmas (with the before and after, so almost right) and it’s cold in Brugel. Very cold. Especially with the electricity cuts.

The Winter of Magic, the third book about Ondine and her beautiful Hamish, who is only occasionally a ferret, is out as an ebook, which means you can do amusing things with the lovely footnotes. Ebony said to tap the screen, but no amount of tapping the Resident IT Consultant’s Kindle did me any good. Was she pulling my leg, or is my equipment no good? Not to worry, the footnotes come at the end of each chapter, and if you have a good memory, you will even remember what they refer to, by the time you get to them.

If you’re waiting for Hamish, you can’t wait too long. Three years is obviously far too long a gap, but you will do it for Hamish. I mean Ondine – of course – because she is the main character here. A witch. Luckily for her, most of her witchery must be done by kissing Hamish. Such hard graft

They are back with Ondine’s family, working hard in the pub. Her sister is getting married, and her great aunt is poking her nose into everything. The Duchess is trying to make herself popular, while town is filling up with witches (it’s time for the CovenCon), one of whom is a very bad witch.

This is such fun. Again. I recommend this book against the dark depressing times we have to suffer through before it’s summer, or at least spring, again.

The seasonally obsessed Ebony seems to plan to end the series (which personally I thought was a trilogy) with a spring themed fourth book. She had better be kind to Hamish!

(Review of first book here. To buy The Winter of Magic.)

The Autumn Palace

The season’s all wrong, obviously, but Ebony McKenna’s second novel about Ondine is nicely royal and romantic, and I don’t know, but I’m feeling woozy. The air is full of royal romance. I can feel myself succumbing to somethi… And what could be more romantic than a handsome Scottish ferret? I ask you.


Hamish is running about that Brugel Palechia, as cute as any ferret. No wonder Ondine is crazy about him. And with a witch as chaperone, what can go wrong?

Well, someone appears to have it in for the Duke. Is it his ‘lovely’ son, or his loving wife or that old battle-axe of a sister, the Infanta? Stuck working in the palace’s laundry, Ondine is sure to work it out… Meanwhile Shambles/Hamish does his spy bit, and the witch is good. But then, witches usually are.

I know I said I loved the first book about Ondine, but I had totally forgotten about the funny one-liners and the weird and amusing footnotes: ‘The suitcases aren’t going to carry themselves, are they?’ (You know, I suspect they would have.) ‘You’ve never seen a man turn into a ferret before?’ (Now you have.)

Hard work is good. Knowing about laundry, or being able to warm a teapot properly. There is raining fish. There’s a lot of fishy stuff, in actual fact. It’s the sort of thing that makes you positively want to live in a palace, with all its intrigues and, stuff. (I think I meant this ironically.)

Hopefully Ondine and Hamish can live happily ever after in, say, a pub.

As for me, I’ll sign up for next year’s CovenCon.

Sparkling and still at Cornerhouse

Yesterday’s Easter holiday entertainment for bookwitches was a grown-up sort of meet/chat with Egmont’s Vicki in the bar at Cornerhouse. It’s good to be allowed out of the house occasionally, and so handy when those southerners travel ‘up north’ to my dark and dismal (only joking!) home ground. Although when I think of it, our first meeting was actually up here in the ‘dark’ as well. Almost exactly three years ago. Where has time gone?

While waiting for Vicki  (not the whole three years, obviously) I started on the second book about Ondine and her ferret by Ebony McKenna. I snatched it as I went to catch my train, because the book I was reading wasn’t as totally enticing as it needed to be. I had forgotten quite how funny Ebony is. Also, had not noticed I had been quoted inside the book. How nice to have become so blasé. I mean, how bad of me not to have checked and then jumped up and down for joy. Some of you might have an inkling as to why jumping would be bad.

I sometimes wonder what these publishing types do, and it seems Vicki was up here to speak to a bookshop and to look at a venue or two, and possibly something else. Oh yes, talking to me.

That was a lucky thing. I had not realised it was already time for Michael Grant’s Plague. Last summer it felt like it would be absolutely ages, and now that ages have passed, it’s here. Not here here, unfortunately, but I believe Vicki will remedy that.

She wondered what blogs I read, and I barely know that myself. Not as many as I used to. We discussed blog tours. I was offered authors to speak to, and more books than I can shake a laptop at. As things are I can’t remember titles, so we had to resort to talking about the yellow proof or the red one, and the pale grey. It’s my visual memory. You could say that if it’s that visual I could simply read the title on the spine as well, but there are limits. You know.

Egmont are planning more YA novels, which is fine with me. Very good idea, in fact. With a bit of luck I may even squeeze in a few of them to read.

But right now ferrets rule.

Bookwitch bites #49

I’ve turned all nice and pink. At least my mind gets a little pinker. Have some not bad pink tulips at the moment. The daffodils didn’t amount to anything – again – so I depend on my tulips. However, most of the pinkness has been on my desk, aka as the kitchen table. I stole a pink Marimekko folder off Daughter, and there was the unfortunate incident last year with me buying a pink blog diary. They go well together. Nicely complemented by the red plastic ‘thing’ Daughter made in school. I was about to chuck it (I’m not a nice person) when I thought it’d be good to put some of my smaller bits and pieces in. Or should that be on?

My Ballet Dream

For a few days now I’ve had a beautifully pink book next to my tottering ‘admin piles’. Adèle Geras’s new ballet book was published this week, and I know I’m too old for this, but there is something irresistible about ballet and pink pictures. Although one little problem in this story about Tutu Tilly has to do with colour. But you know that problems in ballet picture books are there to be overcome. Everyone’s getting ready for The Recital, which is all Tilly can think about. Shelagh McNicholas’s illustrations for My Ballet Dream are perfect and adorable and very pink. I love them. Maybe I was deprived when I was the right age for pink and ballet? I’m simply compensating, however belatedly.

A Year Without Autumn Blog Tour

Speaking of belated; I have totally omitted to put up the poster for Liz Kessler’s blog tour. It’s the bus coming in threes syndrome again. There is either too much to blog about, or too little. But, all is not lost. The tour is still on the road, so I’m not shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Or something.

Gillian Philip's blog tour

In order to avoid repeating this next weekend I will post another poster while the posting is good. Who knows what will happen next? That was a rhetorical question. I’m a witch. I know. Just not saying. Blog tour posters come in twos, and I offer you Gillian Philip’s.

Hmm, this business of posting pictures is fun. Let’s continue. I got this one of Theresa Breslin the other week. She is posing with two of the boys who are in her Divided City play; one of each colour, which in Glasgow is deadly serious stuff. At least none of them are pink. I don’t even know what football is, so will say nothing about their shirts except to say that they both look lovely. So does Theresa, although she’s done that thing and changed her hair. How can I not walk past her?

Theresa Breslin meets Bryan Wilson (Drumchapel High) and Kyle Nolan (Bannerman High) Divided City. Photo by Tim Morozzo

I see those boys are in agreement about which beer to drink. It is beer, isn’t it? In which case you didn’t see it here.

From Glasgow it’s not far at all to Cumbernauld. I know, because I once visited a petrol station there. Cumbernauld has a famous son, who apparently likes ferrets. I offer you this ferret plate (yes, really) courtesy of Ebony McKenna, who writes books about a ferret. A very fanciable ferret. Remember Hamish? Book two is out now. (Watch this space.) Anyway, plate man is called Craig Ferguson, and he’s quite cute here on his plate. Mad, obviously. Lovely accent. Just like Hamish.

Craig Ferguson and his ferrets

Notice how the pictures got bluer as we went from girls to boys?

Twelve don’t go to Anglesey

Or ‘how to fail at getting Daughter to read’. Something. Anything.

She went on a Geology field trip to Anglesey last week. So obviously they were going to spend lots of time staring at rocks. And other geological things. But you just never know what you might want if you wake up in the middle of the night in a strange place. Or if your room mates are boring.

Small luggage allowance in the college minibus meant we decided on just one very good paperback. But which one? Daughter wanted it to be adventurous. ‘It will be, dear’ I said. ‘Oh, the book you mean?’

Nothing girlie. Not too long. Not scary.

I dug out twelve contenders to share with the waterproofs and thick socks. They were: Between two Seas, Burn my Heart, Chains, Crossing the Line, Halo, Hootcat Hill, Ondine, Revolver, The Cat Kin, The Night of the Burning, Time Riders, When I Was Joe.

Having lined them up (sorted according to colour of the covers) on the piano, we met and she pruned. Oh how she pruned. Too pink. Too chavvy (cover). Scary dragon. No. Don’t get it. Too political. No. No religion. Prefer to read this at home. (!) Don’t think so.

Then it was down to two. Halo and Between Two Seas. Hard choice, but Between Two Seas ‘spoke’ to her.

So this historical tale set in Jutland was the one that got squeezed into her bag. The one she would have read, had she read a book there.

Oh well.

(Looking on the bright side, at least she didn’t tear the pages out and stuff them inside her boots to make them dry faster. Seeing as they had no newspaper to stuff with.)

Vets Flickring past

Mr and Mrs Vet came by last week. Normally we go and see them at their surgery in Sweden most summers, though never for professional reasons. But this time they were in England, so called in for a cup of tea on their way past. Miss Vet didn’t accompany them, although she was the reason for the trip. She had decamped to attend a McFly concert (no, there really is no accounting for taste) in Wigan, of all places.

Having done scones last year, I went for toasted teacakes and some scotch pancakes. And gingernuts. Mrs Vet loved them. She had intended to bring us lovely Swedish preserves, but they were confiscated on the way out as resembling explosives a little bit too much.

Vetting is a busy life, so they have never really followed any of my charming blogs. Showed them what they look like, before offloading some books on them. Lots of unsuspecting people have found themselves leaving our house clutching books. Since miss Vet had enjoyed the Mary Hoffman we gave her last year, we found her another one. And Ondine by Ebony McKenna makes for suitable Vet-reading, what with it being about ferrets and stuff.

Mrs Vet doesn’t have time for the internet much, so was unnecessarily impressed by my exploits. I told her about the late night session in my kitchen 24 hours earlier, when in-between posting one blog on Bookwitch på svenska and the next one on Bookwitch I found that Flickr had changed. There I was, almost asleep with exhaustion and with loads of photos to put on the blog, and Flickr had the nerve to change how you do it. Just like that.

I had the choice between going and waking up Daughter, asking the Resident IT Consultant or working it out myself. I worked it out myself. Don’t know if that tells you something about us. Sat there swearing over how much more complicated they had made it. On third thoughts it could be that it’s actually more efficient.

But still not OK to just spring on tired witches in the middle of the night.


It’s about witches who fall in love with ferrets. What’s not to like?

The cover of the proof of Ondine by Ebony McKenna is sufficiently pink, that I was tempted – more than once – to ignore it. But every time I looked inside I felt that it really did look fun. So it may have been sitting around for a while, but I finally got to it. Didn’t do to laugh too loudly on the plane, so I didn’t. But I could have.

Ebony is an absolute marvel when it comes to humour. I don’t think this is a book for teen readers, at all. It’s a book for old people who enjoy romance and humour and plenty of wit. Like me, in other words.

The setting is a tiny Dukedom on the Black Sea. Very Zenda. Modern, but with fewer of the modern inventions, so doesn’t even manage broadband. I dare say that’s why they have to be so romantic. And why people want to kill off the Duke.

So, the ferret. He’s Scottish, as all good ferrets are. A Lord, obviously. Devilishly handsome, as ferrets go. Talks rather like the Wee Free Men, although I’d say Ondine – our 15-year-old heroine – is more grown up than Tiffany Aching. Ondine is a witch. So is her mum. And the great aunt.

There is a handsome villain. There is a fat chef. He’s pale, and therefore a very good chef. Ondine’s sisters are like sisters are. Their father is very patriarchy in his fatherly behaviour. But a man who can tolerate a ferret sleeping with his youngest daughter is not a bad man.

It’s so romantic.

And funny.

Did I mention the footnotes? I hate footnotes. There are copious footnotes. And they are very, very funny. They are used as comic asides and they offer vital information about ferrets and they translate all that Scottish rubbish Hamish the ferret says. (Did I mention the ferret is called Hamish?) Like ‘stoat the ba’, which I understand is quite daring.

Well, I like this book. If you’re old enough, why don’t you try it yourself? Stay away from the Plütz, though.