Tag Archives: Eoin Colfer

Refugee reads

The other night, I was suddenly reminded of Anne Holm’s I Am David. This lovely, lovely story has always been on my ‘journey book’ list. But it is also a refugee kind of story. And worth reading again.

I won’t lie. A publisher presented me with a list of their refugee books, and many of them are excellent. But I will let my mind wander of its own here, and see what I come up with. It will probably mean I forget a really important one, but…

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr. I see from the comments that Judith wanted a cuckoo clock. It brings a whole more human scale to the refugee issue.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles, told by Enaiatollah Akbari to Fabio Geda. Enaiatollah who’s a real refugee, but who was also refused a visa to come to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Oh, those fears that everyone will want to come and live here illegally…

Like the poor souls we meet in Eoin Colfer’s and Andrew Donkin’s Illegal. All that suffering.

Life in refugee camps is no picnic, and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is a hard read. Necessary, but harrowing. Or you can read books by Elizabeth Laird and the Deborah Ellis stories from Afghanistan.

In No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton the refugees have arrived, but don’t know if they will be allowed to stay. You need to adapt, but with no guarantee that it will be worth it.

A Candle in the Dark by Adèle Geras is almost happy by comparison. It’s Kristallnacht and Kindertransport territory, but when we read that book we believed we were improving year by year. Yes, it was bad back then, but no more…

Like the true story told by Eva Ibbotson, by one refugee about another. Still makes me want to cry.

What’s a novel?

What counts as a novel? I asked the Resident IT Consultant this over dinner, when I’d read an astounding – to me – headline in the Bookseller’s emailed newsletter.

It seems Quercus has bought the rights to Eoin Colfer’s first adult novel. I thought, ‘hang on, what first adult novel?’ I looked in my bookcase and found two, Screwed and Plugged. Signed, even, so one can assume Eoin has taken responsibility for them.

We discussed how you might remove the novel-ness from a crime, erm, novel. I didn’t think it was possible. I know some people look down on crime, as they do children’s books, but if it’s full length written fiction, it seems to me we are talking about a novel. And surely Quercus who have published so much excellent crime, would not sneer at it.

Eoin Colfer

But no, it appears we are talking about Eoin’s first adult fantasy novel. I was able to click on the article to read it (I have only limited access) and found that they might have lost the fantasy word in the newsletter.

From the description it could be a Carl Hiaasen type adventure, and I can think of no better author to do this than Eoin. ‘Highfire is described as the “violent, gripping tale of Vern who’s been hiding out in the Louisiana bayou, until Squib Moreau explodes into his life, hotly pursued by a corrupt policeman, and his peaceful existence disappears in a hail of high-velocity projectiles.” ‘

Promising, yeah? ‘Publisher Jo Fletcher said: ”I was doubly hooked the moment I met Vern, the vodka-drinking, Flashdance-loving dragon whose isolated life in the bayous of Louisiana is about to be interrupted by Squib Moreau, a swamp-wild, street-smart, dark-eyed, Cajun-blood tearaway looking to save his momma from the romantic attentions of a crooked constable.”’

So I forgive them their missing fantasy word. I might quite like this book – I mean novel – when it is published. January next year, so some patience will have to be found somewhere.

Aarhus 39

Sigh.

I’m absolutely green with envy.

This is the Aarhus 39 weekend (if that’s what it is when it begins on a Thursday), and I’m not there. Meg Rosoff is swanning around in the company of Eoin Colfer and Chris Riddell, two ex-children’s laureates. Two of my favourites. They, in turn, are swanning around in the company of Meg, favourite everything.

I don’t see how it can get much worse. For me, that is. They and Aarhus are probably having a great time. They are probably swanning around with Daniel Hahn, assuming he’s in a position to swan with anyone.

This Astrid Lindgren nominated whirlwind has gathered at least two more ALMA nominees – Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson – as well as most of the other 37 Aarhus 39ers. That’s them in the jolly photo below.

Aarhus 39

No doubt they are mostly swanning too.

And the lucky citizens of Aarhus will have been going round to all these book events, most of which appear to have been free.

I hope this means that it might become a habit, and that maybe next year I can swan somewhere. Unless all the laureates are worn out by then.

Illegal

I must begin with part of the same quote by Elie Wiesel that Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin use in their graphic novel Illegal; ‘no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. … How can a human being be illegal?’

There was never a more important time to remember this than now. We believed we had moved on, learned something. Even that we were fairer and more aware than we (or ‘people’) were decades ago.

Illegal is a disturbing graphic novel about two brothers from Africa trying to reach Europe, for a better life, and hopefully to find their sister who left first.

Giovanni Rigano, with Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Chris Dickey, Illegal

Anyone who says our immigrants come for the easy life of ‘our’ benefits is ignorant. These people work so hard. So very hard, because they need to earn enough money to pay the people-smugglers who put them in unseaworthy vessels and send them out to sea, to drown, or hopefully reach land on the other side.

And when [if] they arrive, they hope to be allowed to stay, and they will look for work. And they will work.

In a way the story about Ebo and his big brother Kwame is not new at all. I’ve read similar tales over and over in books like this, or in the newspapers. But as a graphic novel the horror becomes more apparent, because you see what they are going through. Where they came from, what the – usually very long – journey was like, and the horror of fearing for your life trying to get to a place where they are not welcome or wanted.

This is a beautiful book, with illustrations by Giovanni Rigano and a story told by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, and lettering by Chris Dickey. Or it would be beautiful if the pictures could tell a sunnier story. Instead we see these two boys and their fellow travellers being cheated, robbed, threatened and even turned back when they’ve tried for so long. And after that come the boats, small inflatable ones or big ships overcrowded to the point of sinking.

Some people make it safely all the way. Many don’t.

It’s so easy to root for Ebo and Kwame, but whether or not they are successful, there are countless others who never will be.

I hope the fact that this is a graphic novel will mean that the book can reach readers who might otherwise not read this kind of thing, or learn the truth about our world. A world where a drowning mother might well thrust her little baby into the arms of a young boy who can barely swim, in the hopes of saving her child.

No benefits in the world can make up for this kind of experience.

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

Letter to a fan

Or more accurately, postcard to a fan. Postcard to an old witch, in fact, who although a fan, wasn’t expecting this.

It is very nice, and kind, and generous, when an author writes back to a fan. There obviously comes a point – for some – when they just can’t, but they want to and they do. Sort of.

I haven’t written any fan letters (ever, I think) to Eoin Colfer. Not that he doesn’t deserve them, because he does. But a witch needs to keep herself in check and not overdo things.

Eoin postcard

But there clearly was a time when I needed to communicate with Eoin, and I really don’t remember what it was about, and I didn’t have a good way of doing so. Maybe I wrote via the publisher? I’m not sure. It tends to work surprisingly well. You suspect your missive will disappear into that vast black hole that is the publishing house, but I think I’ve managed to hit the spot every time.

So too, with Eoin. I don’t know how it’s done. I assume he has someone who opens letters and then sends out the ‘personalised’ pre-written response, that can be so generally worded that it fits almost any fan.

Eoin postcard

Except when the writer was a witch on business. But it was nice enough to receive a postcard, and I like seeing what the fans of Eoin do get sent.

I’m pleased he feels my writing shows promise. One lives in hope.

Bookwitch bites #136

The rain is very wet as I write this. There is lots of it. We’ve got men working on making a new front garden and the Resident IT Consultant is feeling guilty for leaving them out in the rain. I told him they must do this a lot, so are used to it, and that they can’t very well put paving down inside the house anyway.

Here is Adrian McKinty reading the first chapter from his latest novel, Rain Dogs. It’s the one where Duffy meets Muhammad Ali. It’s rather nice hearing Adrian’s voice. It brings you closer to Carrickfergus.

Whether the weather was drier in Wexford when Eoin Colfer was a boy, I have no idea. But the photo the Guardian used for their column looks lovely and sunny. Here is the Laureate na nÓg musing about slightly illegal behaviour during his childhood. Me, I use my own photo to avoid argument (other than Eoin being told off for waving at me). It’s from the same occasion as theirs.

Eoin Colfer

Someone else who is very friendly and has a fancy title is the new Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay. I have to admit to being rather hazy on what a makar actually is, as I only encountered the term after moving north (for some reason you don’t talk so much about particularly Scottish things down south). Looking it up on Wikipedia the answer is poet or bard. And Jackie certainly is that. I’m so pleased they chose her as our new Makar.

Jackie Kay

And, there is the Manchester connection, too. Jackie still lives there, while being thoroughly Scottish.