Tag Archives: Ellen Renner

A fascination with graveyards and death

I will have to have words with Mr Google. Crosby Civic Hall just isn’t where he said it’d be. It’s also ‘quite easy’ to walk past, hidden by greenery. Which is nice. The greenery, not so much the extra walk, although I suppose it might have done me good.

What did do me good was the fabulous Sefton Super Reads event yesterday in Waterloo (I have finally seen the Waterloo of Cosmic fame!) Once Ellen Renner had given up trying to make me believe it was July, when it actually was June, I quickly chatted up Tony Higginson of Pritchards bookshop fame, and the kind man said what a great idea it’d be if I came. So I came, after giving up on Mr Google’s ideas.

Tony Higginson, Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner at Sefton Super Reads

Zoe and Tony at Sefton Super Reads

Sefton Super Reads with Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner

They had an incredibly strong shortlist comprising Mary Hooper, Ellen Renner and Jon Mayhew, who were all present, and also Eleanor Updale, Andy Mulligan and Ally Kennen, who weren’t. It’s fantastic that so many could be there, and I’m pleased that I managed to escape the – frankly ridiculous – idea that I pose for a photo with Ellen, Mary and Jon. Tony did that so much better. (I thought I hadn’t met him before. But I had. He was at the Plaza last month, also chatting with Elvis. Small world.)

Sefton does a brisk and informal awards ceremony, with brief introductions to the books, a Q & A where the schools who took part in the reading and voting got to ask questions of Jon and Mary and Ellen.

Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner at Sefton Super Reads

Running out of ideas is not generally a problem. Time to write all those potential books is. Both Mary and Jon are fascinated by graveyards and death and both their books feature professional mourners as main characters. The books are also set in much the same sort of (Victorian) time, as is Ellen’s Castle of Shadows. In fact, more than half the shortlist is historical, suggesting young readers like what’s old, as well as what’s dead.

Mary Hooper

Mary takes a year to write a book, and if Jon didn’t have to do all sorts of other things like paid work, he’d write lots of books in a year. Ellen disappointed us by saying her third novel won’t be coming next year. Jon stops the car to write down ideas. Hopefully only if driving while getting them.

Ellen Renner

One very sneaky question was what they thought of the competition and whether they had read each other’s books. They were pretty adept at admitting to having read less than the teenagers present, but complimented the others. And like me, both Jon and Ellen had had Mary’s Fallen Grace waiting in the tbr pile for some time. (I dealt with it by reading on the train…)

Jon Mayhew wins Sefton Super Reads

Then it was straight onto the announcement that Jon Mayhew had won with Mortlock. With so many wonderful books I was just grateful that it was one of the authors present who won. It feels so much better that way. But as with choosing who your favourite child is, there’s no way I was going to pick a favourite among the shortlisted novels.

After Jon’s admirably short thank you speech, which he may or may not have written (or thought about) in advance, I could see Mrs M eyeing the trophy with a view to dusting it and possibly arranging for a special trophy room at home if hubby is going to keep this winning streak going.

Reviews of Sparks at Sefton Super Reads

Drinks at Sefton Super Reads

Before the local school children could stampede towards the waiting refreshments, their reviewing labours were rewarded with book tokens. They had written some very good reviews and I especially enjoyed hearing about the teenager who had developed bird phobia after Mortlock. (Well, who hasn’t?)

Prize winners at Sefton Super Reads with Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner

Tony Higginson at Sefton Super Reads

The osmotic (his own choice of word) Tony provided the book tokens and ran the bookselling and took photos and told us about the great future events he is organising. That’s what booksellers should be like!

Jon Mayhew, Ellen Renner and Mary Hooper at Sefton Super Reads

There was book signing and queues and photographs, and it was hard to see the authors for the crowds. But that’s as it should be.

When everything had been said and done, I marched off towards Waterloo station, and found that I could see the sea. Lovely. I must return. And Waterloo does funny minutes. At times they last for ages, and at times they pass so fast they have to rewind and do the same minutes again. Weird, but interesting.


Spend for Japan

Please hand over your money. Author Keris Stainton set the ball rolling some time at the weekend, when she came up with the idea for an author based auction for Japan. She asked all author friends to donate something of theirs to be auctioned to help people in Japan.

Authors for Japan

Personally I had rather hoped for the opportunity to bid for an author, but even without that very attractive option, there are some nice things to bid for. Books by the dozen, obviously. Signed, obviously. Advice and courses and things.

I briefly had my eye on Ellen Renner’s picture of Charlie, but that was already out of my comfort zone when I got there. And on the whole, that is good. Let’s hope it moves much further out of my reach.

Tommy Donbavand will let me be a character in his book. I think that would suit me very well, actually. Didn’t dare see how high the bids were for that. You could have Katie Fforde be frank and fearless with you, which sounds very, very, well, nice. And frank. And fearless.

I could be mentored by Lisa Clark. Or I could be a Sarra Manning character. Though I dare say I’d fit better in Tommy’s horror setting. Maybe name a future Gillian Philip character?

And there is much more where these came from, which is Authors for Japan. In fact, there is nothing to stop you from bidding on every single item. You have until Sunday at 8pm, and I think that’s GMT.

When I first heard about the auction I got so carried away that I wanted to donate something. But I’m no author and I don’t think it’s possible to donate a blog.

So to make up for that shortcoming, please spend.

It’s meat cleaver time


And I’ve worried so much about this that I’ve barely been able to decide whether to do it and if so, how to do it.

But I do like lists, and in a way I’ve mentally ticked books throughout the year. But should it be ten best, or five best, or just a random number of bests?

Oh, come on witch!

My best book of the year has to be Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. It just has to.

It is closely followed by Linda Sargent’s Paper Wings and by Keren David’s When I Was Joe/Almost True. Keren having had two books out this year I can’t choose between them, so they share.

They in turn are barely ahead of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes and Ellen Renner’s City of Thieves.

I have a very complex list of candidates, with circles and highlighting and things going on. So I could go on. But I feel that too long a list dilutes the effect.

I think I’ll stop here. But believe me; there are many many wonderful books. It’s been a tremendously good year for reading. Please keep those books coming!

2010 books

City of Thieves

Someone very wisely said something about second novels often being so much better than the first, and it was only just the other day, too. City of Thieves is such a book. I liked Ellen Renner’s Castle of Shadows, but have to say that with the sequel she has come a long way with her writing. Castle of Shadows had a hint of Joan Aiken about it, whereas this could almost be mistaken for an Aiken.

Where the first book concentrated on Queen Charlie, before Queenhood struck, this is the story of her faithful friend Tobias. And contrary to what I expected there is little contact between the two of them. They end up doing their bit for the nation of Quale separately. Charlie in her castle, and Tobias out in the town, where he finds himself uncomfortably close to his thieving relatives, the Petches.

So not only does Tobias have to contend with his biological father, the disgraced former prime minister, but his equally unsavoury adopted uncle Zebediah Petch gets his hands on him and trains him in the skills of thiefhood. It’s quite fascinating, really. A good little earner, and a skilfully set up company. You have to admire old Zebediah.

Between the thieves and the crooked politician and the scheming royals you get a fair bit of excitement. What will Tobias do? What can he do? His pal Charlie may be Queen, but what can she do?

Neither Zebediah nor the ex-prime minister Alistair Windlass are nice people, but they are awfully interesting. The Petch family also has some real characters who no doubt will be given an opportunity to do more.

Because, unlike Castle of Shadows, this book is not finished. You could have left things – just about – after book one. Now you’ll be panting for more, and fast.

I like very much.

Castle of Shadows

There is a distinct risk that I miss worthwhile books completely, because I’m not on mailing list terms with the publisher. This debut novel by Ellen Renner is one of those books. The title might make me think of Enid Blyton, but if it had been anything like that I doubt that Mary Hoffman would have recommended that I read it. And she did, so I felt in safe hands.

Castle of Shadows is the first of four books set in an alternate 19th century England. I think it’s England, anyway. Charlie, aka Her Royal Highness, Charlotte Augusta Joanna Hortense, Princess of Quale, is 11 and roams the castle where she lives with her father the King. Unfortunately he is vague and confused after the Queen disappeared five years earlier, and the kingdom is falling apart. Charlie never gets enough to eat and she is dressed in dirty rags.

Mrs O’Dair, their scary housekeeper, runs the castle as she likes, and Charlie is aware that the people are in uproar, outside the thick walls of her home. Almost by accident, Charlie comes to realise she needs to find out why her mother left and what the Prime Minister is really up to. Her only help comes from Tobias, the gardener’s boy, and Moleglass, the former butler.

This novel provides quite a good lesson in politics, something which is often missing in children’s books. It’s interesting to see how hard it is to decide whether the Prime Minister is good or bad, or just somewhere in-between, as so many politicians seem to be. Should you fear the Resistance, or help them? And does anyone want the King dead, and if so, who?

Nice Victorian style adventure in the spirit of Joan Aiken. The initial problem is resolved in book one, but with a few more planned there is obviously plenty that can happen. The teaser pages included at the end of this one, show Tobias – picker-of-locks – centre stage. I assume there will be plenty for Her Royal Highness – the daredevil climber – to do, too.