Tag Archives: Geraldine McCaughrean

Where the World Ends

Geraldine McCaughrean isn’t kind to her characters. The ones in her Carnegie-winning Where the World Ends are not purely fictional. Something like her story did happen for real. And if you want to know what, I suppose you can look it up. Or you could pay close attention as you read the book, and that might give you useful hints.

That’s what I admire about really good authors; the fact that if it’s in there, however small, it’s probably there for a reason. Or you could be like me and simply plod blindly on and wonder and hope for the best. Will she kill all those boys she has marooned on a faraway sea stac off St Kilda, or will they survive? How many of the nine will still live at the end of the book?

It’s less Lord of the Flies than I’d been afraid, because there are three grown men with the boys. Although being men does not necessarily make them more sensible in times of hardship and struggle.

Geraldine McCaughrean, Where the World Ends

Set nearly three hundred years ago, these boys were already used to a hard life, but as their three weeks on Warrior Stac turns into nine months, life becomes almost impossible at times, even for those used to being cold and wet and hungry.

You learn a lot about sea birds, and not just in the first sentence where Quilliam’s mother gives him a new pair of socks and ‘a puffin to eat on the voyage…’

Quill is a lovely and resourceful and unusually mature older boy, and so special that I found it hard to imagine he would be allowed to live. The other boys are the way boys often are, a little mix of everything, including the one who’s a bully. But they have such strength and so many skills, climbing and hunting for anything in this bird world that might make their survival possible.

It’s a beautiful but harsh place, and I have absolutely no wish to go there. I’ll take Geraldine’s story and that will be quite enough. I know why it won her the Carnegie medal, and so will you when you’ve read it, puffin in hand.

Advertisements

A perfectly ordinary Monday

Or was it?

As the rest of the literary world gathered in London for the announcement of this year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medalists, I made my way to Edinburgh for lunch with a literary lady. It’s always nice to get out and see new places and new people and to pretend to be a proper grown-up. So over 35 years after eating at Brown’s in Oxford, I’ve now tried the more local-to-me branch north of the border.

On the way I passed Charlotte Square. It looks so small when you see it without a book festival on top. Just grass, and trees, with a fence round it. Soon, though.

For anyone who missed it, Geraldine McCaughrean is our latest Carnegie winner – second time round, I believe – for Where the World Ends, and Sydney Smith won the Kate Greenaway medal with the book Town is By the Sea. Thank goodness it was someone as senior as Geraldine who won, because who else would have the nerve to tell publishers off for dumbing down the language in children’s books?

By the time the lunch was over and my literary lady and I made our way to two different shoe shops; one for her, one for me, Son had begun his PhD viva ordeal at the nearby university. I’d have been there if they let people in to watch, but they don’t. I will simply have to assume the boy was brilliantly clever and dazzled everyone in the room, including the not one, not two, but three supervisors. And, erm, the specially flown in expert. From Norway, I believe.

I gather Son is now Dr Son.

On the train home I continued reading one of the books one of his supervisors – Peter Graves – has translated. But more about that some other day.

Eight I’ve read

At last. A list I’ve read. I’m beginning to like Daniel Hahn even more. Clearly great minds think alike.

For the Guardian Daniel has chosen eight of the best YA novels, suitable – indeed highly recommended – for adults. And I’ve read them all, which I suppose isn’t so strange, really. I thought when I saw the list that they were all recent books, but YA hasn’t been around all that long, so it’s understandable.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen exactly that list, but I could have.

And I realise I should never have absolved Daughter from having to read The White Darkness. She asked, only a week or so ago, whether she still had to read it, and I said no. It is such a tremendous book. (Is it too late to force her now?) Fancy Daniel picking Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick! Very good choice. Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan. That was a long time ago now, and I almost didn’t consider it a death/cancer novel, but I suppose it is.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, of course. The odd thing is that when I read it, I was – almost – not keen on Chris Riddell’s illustrations. I thought I preferred Dave McKean’s. Well, a witch can change her mind. Siobhan Dowd’s A Swift Pure Cry; the book I thought I might not like because I had set notions about that ‘kind of plot’… What an idiot I was. But it’s a testament to Siobhan’s writing skills that this ‘kind of plot’ can be marvellous.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond is the one book I remember less well. Possibly because at the time I read several of David’s books in quick succession. Patrick Ness gets three books in, as Chaos Walking is a trilogy, but you can’t have just the one part. For me they are books that have grown in stature over the years. And finally, Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram. One of the best. And now there will be no more.

I know that I tend to preach to the converted here on Bookwitch, but I hope that a few of today’s readers are doubting adults, who would never dream of reading YA. Until today. Because this is such a good start to a new life of reading YA books.

Lucky you.

Yellow, more yellow and black

The 2015 Carnegie medal shortlist is mostly yellow [book covers] and black. I trust that this is a coincidence, although fashion in cover design might be involved here. I’ve not checked to see what the books that didn’t make it have on their covers. Possibly more yellow.

Out of the eight, I’ve read three and they’re all potential worthy winners. Sally Gardner and Patrick Ness have won before. Some of the ones I’ve not read I have wanted to read, but they didn’t turn up in the post and it’s the usual problem of lack of time to chase, and sometimes lack of information that the book exists in the first place. Which is the case with the ones I’ve not read because I’d not heard of them.

If publishers do put together lists of what they intend to publish, it would cost them very little to email that list to ‘everyone.’ I keep hearing how overworked publicity departments are, and I realise that writing press releases and [personalised] letters and printing and posting them takes more time and will cost money. But you surely can’t run a company without listing what products you are about to offer the general public to buy, and if you have the list, please share it.

There have been other shortlists and longlists over the last few months. It is getting increasingly hard to keep up with the titles, let alone read them. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing for me not to have read as high a proportion of the chosen ones as I used to. I still read as many books, and that might mean I read and review ones that don’t even get close to the limelight of an award.

On the Carnegie longlist there are five books I would have liked to see make it, and several more ‘glaring omissions’ on the nominations list. As for the shortlist, I’d have liked to read Geraldine McCaughrean’s book and Elizabeth Laird’s, but as it is, I will root for Tanya Landman’s Buffalo Soldier.

Ten years ago

Just over ten years ago I explained to Meg Rosoff that I am a witch. She seemed to think that was OK, and said she rather believed in what she called ‘minor witches,’ which I suppose is a fair description of my trade. I ‘knew’ she’d win the Guardian prize that autumn for How I Live Now. I just did.

I also knew she’d win the Whitbread. Or I did, until some odd instinct made me take out a copy of Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean from the library, to read over Christmas. Just in case. I’ve no idea whether what I sensed was Geraldine’s success in winning the Whitbread, or that the title suggested there really would be an end to the world for countless people.

It felt almost wrong to be reading about Noah’s Ark when all that water killed so many people in the tsunami on Boxing Day 2014.

Some of you may know I’m a Roger Whittaker fan. Earlier that year I’d felt an unexpected sense of unease when reading Mrs Whittaker’s annual newsletter to the fans. They would generally always have a family Christmas get-together. But in 2004 Roger had worked so very hard that they decided to spend Christmas away from the family, to relax. In Thailand.

I didn’t like it one bit, and wondered why. It’s not as if they had announced they wouldn’t be spending Christmas with me.

So when the news broke, I fished around in my mind for anyone I might know who was there, and realised that I did ‘know’ someone. Luckily the Whittakers were safe, and Roger went on to write a song about it, in aid of the victims.

But I do wonder how these premonitions work.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

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.)