Tag Archives: Elizabeth Wein

Some February wisdoms

It’s not only the books from my February calendar page (by Kerstin Svensson, who does very nice calendars) that I like, although they look fine. The ‘thought of the month’ appeals to me as well. Hope I’m not showing some dreadful ignorance if I say I don’t know who the Jean Paul who is credited with saying it is:

Calendar page February 2015, by Kerstin Svensson

‘Life is like a book. The fool leafs through it quickly, but the wise man reads slowly, thinking about things, because he knows he can only read the book once.’

Well, that’s my translation, of what is probably a really well known quote…

I felt a bit down in the dumps yesterday (not in a romantic sense, I hasten to add), so pondered this business of re-reading favourite books. Many do, not least authors, who seem to have certain books they re-read every year. My time tends to run out before I get to the re-reads, however.

But as I was sitting there, my newly arranged personal shelves, next to my reading chair, beckoned. Because on the shelf closest to me, I have my top three books. So I got them out, and read the first few pages of all three, as a treat.

They still feel as wonderful as I hoped they’d do, and what struck me about them was how all three start by introducing the main character by letting them talk about a person close to them. No sudden explosions or crazy ways to grab the reader’s attention. Just a low key mention of one of the other characters; a male cousin, a pilot from Stockport and an old woman neighbour.

Very lovely. And if I do go off on a re-reading spree, you know where I’ll be.

I can’t wait

It usually annoys me when people say that. Because it’s usually about some thing that you do have to wait for. So, you obviously can wait, because you must.

At the moment I must. Don’t want to, but I must.

It is Elizabeth Wein’s next book. New book. Soon book, but not soon enough. Black Dove, White Raven is the title, and I feel as if I’ve been waiting forever, after my erroneous understanding it was going to be here last summer. I believe it’s ‘only’ a couple of more weeks now, but still. That’s long. I suppose it won’t be when we get there, but right now I feel a wee bit impatient.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, and as you can tell, I am mentioning it again now. Before I’ve read it, I mean. If it were to replace my second most favourite book, Code Name Verity – also by Elizabeth – I’d be surprised. But I wouldn’t mind, because it would mean it’s a truly marvellous book.

Sometimes a tremendously good book early in the year makes me nervous, in case there is nothing to match it for another ten or so months. On the other hand; you will know the year has offered you something special. Although this year already has, in the shape of Sally Gardner’s The Door That Led To Where. Elizabeth will have to fight it out with her.

But then fighting might not be hard for a woman who thinks nothing of spending a summer strapped to the outside of a small plane, for research purposes. I think we can expect the aerobatics in Black Dove, White Raven to be realistic, as will the flying. We already know Elizabeth writes well about pilots, as both her two recent novels feature girl pilots. The new book – set in the 1930s – will give us two more, one of whom will set out for Ethiopia and a new life there, with two small children, to become part of the Emperor’s new air force of imported black pilots.

I have no idea where this book will be going, but I’m convinced I’ll want to tag along.

Lions and Lizes

Were I not totally unworthy, I’d love to be best friends with Lizes Laird and Wein. They are so brave and adventurous and so funny. No wonder they write fantastic books. Write about what you know. Well, these two ladies know a lot.

Elizabeth Wein spent the summer strapped to the top of a small plane (which then takes off and flies). The strapping part seemed to be due to health and safety rules. Quite. Otherwise it’d be fun to just stand there, on top of a plane up in the air. Her next book, Black Dove White Raven is about circus flying, which is why Elizabeth needed to have a go. Because she loves flying, anyway, and this was fun.

She showed us photos from Ethiopia – which was the topic for the day – and when Elizabeth Laird looked more closely at a range of mountains, it turned out she had walked across them. When she was young (which apparently made it nice and easy and nothing to write home about!). EL had also once stayed with EW’s aunt and uncle in Ethiopia, many years ago.

Because EL spent a few years in Ethiopia in the 1960s, teaching – as you do. That’s when she witnessed the homecoming of Olympic champion Abebe Bikila at the airport, where she just happened to be. The Emperor met the plane, complete with favourite lion, to honour the country’s hero. It’s the done thing.

Now everyone in Ethiopia runs. Partly to get to school, when that happens to be six miles away from home and you have no car, and partly in the hopes of making it to the Olympics. Elizabeth’s new book, The Fastest Boy in the World, is about a runner. Obviously.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s book, which is due out next year, features female pilots; one white and one black. They are part of a group of pilots trained at Tuskegee, who came to Ethiopia in 1935 to set up the Ethiopian Air Force during the second Abyssinian war. The Emperor wanted to have planes and black pilots from the US.

Both Elizabeths have written other books set in Ethiopia; EW’s A Coalition of Lions is set in the sixth century, and EL’s Prince Who Walks With Lions is about a young prince during Victoria’s reign. Liz managed to forget the title of her book momentarily, and made a joke out of it. In fact, both of them are really very amusing and they should make something of this.

They said they will now need to agree in advance who gets to write about what, so no doubt they will divide up Ethiopia between them. EW admired EL’s fictional grandparents, and EL proceeded to unwrap her real grandfather’s real WWI medals. And she didn’t just show us them, but trusted us enough to allow the medals to circulate round the room.

Elizabeth Laird

Asked about writing, EL told the audience to write from the heart. Only you will know your story. Read, write and live/do stuff (which includes being strapped to the outside of planes). EW thinks people should write about what they are passionate about, and she is sure she will have to fight EL for Haile Selassie’s lion.

The best things about Ethiopia according to EL is the weather, how beautiful the country is and the people. EW agrees about the wonderful people and told us about the clever children she met in the middle of nowhere, who were able to write in three different languages.

Books they would recommend were Holes, Journey to the River Sea, Goodnight Mister Tom, Code Name Verity (EL), Noughts & Crosses and Coram Boy. EW added the books by Hilary McKay. (No cause to disagree there.)

Elizabeth Laird writes in her study, which has got a woodstove, while Elizabeth Wein is the wandering type who writes everywhere, liking the noise in cafés and on trains. She thinks it’s important to ‘get out there’ to get the right feeling for what to write. And we were unable to end the event without a very brief description of the time EL was forced to leave Ethiopia, accused of murder…

Boring these ladies are not.

Lizday

At 9.59 there was considerable panic among Horrid Henry fans. Parents were seen running with their children across Charlotte Square, and then back again a minute or so later. It’s also known as ‘I didn’t need the toilet before but now I do.’ The event started at 10.

Liz Kessler

Francesca Simon

My first – literary – port of call was with Liz Kessler. I then had half an hour in which to take pictures of her signing, run across the square to see if I could catch Francesca Simon still at it, and then get myself to my second event with Gill Lewis. That’s when I remembered I had a book I wanted Liz to sign, and being a popular sort lady she still had a long queue and I wasn’t anywhere near the front of it. So I thrust the book at her publisher Fiona Kennedy and asked her to see to it that Daughter got an autograph. Surprisingly, Fiona seemed to know who I was.

Gill Lewis

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

After Gill’s event I had slightly longer, so had time to take pictures of her, and to dash across the square for Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart in the other signing tent. Had to remember to go back to base and get my hopefully signed book back. Then I went to meet Caroline Lawrence, whose Saturday event I had been forced to miss, but who very kindly sacrificed some of her time on me today.

Norse monster

Norse monster

Norse monster

Kate O'Hearn

We decided there was time for an ice cream – because we both carried spare food in our rucksacks, so didn’t need lunch – and we exchanged news and discussed what’s hot and what she’s working on now, and then she ran on to hear Kate O’Hearn, whose rather fantastic team of Norse monsters were a sight to behold. I caught up with them in the bookshop an hour later, where they chatted to babies (who will never forget this early literary experience) and posed and were generally rather unsusual.

Michael Rosen

Meanwhile I had found Michael Rosen signing across the square, talking to his young fans with his normal charm and performing facial acrobatics. He too had caused a late rush on the toilets, so that seems to be a hazard with young fans.

Simon Armitage

‘Backstage’ I found Carol Ann Duffy and I saw Peter Guttridge at a safe distance from sleeve-tugging. Again. While I waited for Simon Armitage to come to his photocall, Kate O’Hearn and her monsters returned, and thanks to Chris Close I got another opportunity to snap these fantastic creatures.

Kate O'Hearn

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Laird

Chris Riddell

My final event this book festival was another couple of Elizabeths; Laird and Wein. I even had a few minutes during which to take photos of Liz and Liz, as well as of Chris Riddell who was still signing away an hour after his Goth Girl talk, before I ran off to find a tram to the airport. It was high time to collect Daughter from her Californian adventure.

EIBF and me, 2014

It is here. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book festival. And I’m sorry, but all I can think of is that Sara Paretsky will be there. It’s been three years, and she is finally coming in the summer rather than freezing her nether regions off in February/March. Which is so sensible.

OK, there must be a few other authors scheduled for the two and a bit weeks. Think, witch, think!

There are some very interesting looking events where authors one admires talk about authors one admires. I’m going to have to see if I can catch one of those, because they look like tickets might sell out fast (small tent). Then there is Patrick Ness who will give the Siobhan Dowd talk and Val McDermid will pretend to be Jane Austen.

Wendy Meddour is coming and there is a lovely pairing of Francesca Simon and Irving Finkel. Another interesting pair is Caroline Lawrence with Geraldine McCaughrean. Elizabeths Laird and Wein will cooperate, and Gill Lewis is also making an appearance.

Many more excellent authors like Sophie Hannah and Arne Dahl, Tommy Donbavand and Liz Kessler will be at the festival. I have to admit to paying less attention to the ‘grown-up’ authors again, in favour of my ‘little ones.’ Those who are given orange juice instead of wine (although I am sure not at EIBF!) because they write for children.

Have to admit that many of my hoped for events are school events. I am glad that some of the best looking events are for schools, because it means someone thinks school children deserve the best. I want to be a school child on a very temporary basis at the end of August.

Deck chair

I’m hoping for plenty of stamina on my part. I have planned a number of full or nearly full days, for about two thirds of the festival. (I was thinking of having a holiday at some point.) The event I am fairly certain I won’t be able to go to but wish I could, is Eleanor Updale talking about Vera Brittain. That would be really something.

Perhaps I will see you in Charlotte Square? (If my eyes are – temporarily – closed, just give me a gentle nudge.)

The surprise factor

How can you be sure if any subsequent book by author A is better than the first one he or she had published? It’s just about possible to say that an OK book wasn’t quite as wonderful as the first. But if it is a really fantastic novel, can I appreciate it properly?

I’m thinking here of three ladies, whose first books I adored. They are – in chronological order – Meg Rosoff, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein.*

How I Live Now had such an impact on me, that I simply do not know how and where on a scale (stupid things, anyway) I should put Meg’s other books. They are all exceptionally good. Some have been more enjoyable than others. But I had been wondering if anything could ever beat HILN.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay wasn’t just all right. It kept surprising me and I was left feeling very happy afterwards. As someone I ‘knew’ before I read her debut book, I was also relieved Candy could actually write. Shine was another fantastic book, leaving me glowing. But was it as good?

And as for Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, that was the second best thing to hit me after HILN. (Never mind that I couldn’t even remember the title of it recently. That was merely a senior moment. I’d have been able to tell you the whole plot.) So when Rose Under Fire followed CNV, could it be as marvellous?

I know authors are supposed to get better with writing more books. Many do. Some remain excellent throughout. And I suppose some never quite manage what they wrote the first time round.

But I think what I’m getting at is that the sheer surprise of coming across one of the best books you’ve ever read, is one thing, while any subsequent book by the same author will never be a surprise. You know what they can do. You expect it. You hope for the very best.

So I wonder how I’d have felt about any of the later books by Meg, Candy and Elizabeth, if I’d not read their first novels. And if I’d then got to their debut books, would they have changed anything?

When you take a person’s details (schools, etc) people sometimes write down where in the sibling group they belong. Because it matters. Perhaps the same can be said for books? What might have happened to the sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird?

*I know. I know. It wasn’t Elizabeth’s first. It was my first, so it felt like it ought to have been hers too.

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.