Tag Archives: Guardian

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Not always hanging with the in-crowd, I only discovered Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, when the Guardian wrote about its sequel. The not with the in-crowd comment could describe quite a few of the 100 females in the book, too. They did their own thing.

I’d have liked to read it to Daughter, many years ago. And Son. Let’s not be sexist about it. Instead, I had to surreptitiously read Daughter’s copy while she was at work. She ‘just had to’ buy it when she saw it at Blackwells in Oxford. I’d not been able to justify the £20. Or £40 for the two.

This is a book that only happened with the help of some serious crowdfunding. How typical! And also, how like the Rebel Girls themselves.

Some were helped by their fathers/families. Others did their thing despite them. It’s interesting how this runs like a thread through so many of the 100 tales of extraordinary women.

Some I’d heard of. Others not. Some I knew quite well, but not necessarily in this way. Others I was very happy to be introduced to.

In a way, I don’t like the tone. But I recognise it’s all written for – fairly – young girls [and boys]. And sometimes you gain something when simplifying a really famous woman’s story into words for a small child.

Also, not sure I agree with smoothing over some of the bad stuff some of them have done, nor occasionally really bad things that happened to them, like the assassination of three of the four Mirabal sisters. I believe even young children deserve to know.

What many of these women have in common is being told girls don’t do these things.

Actually, they do. They did, and they will continue to do it.

Whether the men are stupid, or jealous and controlling, I wouldn’t want to say. And I don’t really believe that boys now need a book like this for themselves, just to make it fair.

This is a book to dip into and learn from. Preferably in the company of a young person, or two.

Intriguingly illustrated by many talented artists, giving a new face to some of these rebels. The pictures alone could invite readers to spend a lot of time looking at them, and talking about them.

I really like Michelle Obama’s mother.

AshleyFiolek-1024x748

(‘Honk all you want, I’m deaf!’ Bumper sticker belonging to Ashley Fiolek, motocross racer.)

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Sensitivity readers?

Honestly. This might well be the last nail in the coffin; the one that makes me hang up my broom.

I read the article with some interest, but in the end it left me both furious and dismayed, as well as once again agreeing with Lionel Shriver, which is something I cannot take lightly.

We should have editors who find language issues in a manuscript. If they are generally wise they might also point out certain other things that could do with changing or adding or leaving out.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of peer reading/editing either. Many authors have a trusted friend/colleague or two who read through and comment on their work. I myself have done a little of this.

But I have never done it as the elderly fat Swede, pointing out where the young and slim English author got it wrong [in his novel about grey and overweight Scandinavians]. Life doesn’t work like that. If we’re going to have ‘lay’ readers who charge for sensitivity reading of novels to make sure that everything about a particular type of person in a work of fiction satisfies them (not necessarily everyone else), and making the poor author write and rewrite until their fingers bleed, there is something seriously wrong in the publishing world.

There is something so smug about the censor who understands ‘sensitivity’ so much better than anyone else, and there is something so sad about the author who is made to believe they must listen to this.

As I said, I wanted to give up, there and then.

Learning to write?

To be honest, I have always wondered if you can really go to classes to learn how to write a book. A real book, that someone would want to publish, and others would want to read. Somehow the snob in me says that if you’re any good, then you just sit down and write and out comes a masterpiece. Rather like concert pianists, who sat down in front of a piano and…

Hang on. They didn’t. They quite possibly had a piano teacher. Maybe struggled a little even, before greatness struck.

So while I did initially wonder if taking a year out to learn how to write a children’s book at some university or other, was actually time well spent, I have come to the conclusion that it is. Far too many authors, whose books I have enjoyed, have done those courses, for it to be a fluke. Perhaps they would have done well regardless, but I’m sure the classes helped.

‘MA Creative Writing-speak’ was a new concept to me when it appeared in Julie Myerson’s review of debut author Sharlene Teo’s novel in the Guardian. She didn’t like it much, I think. And she seemingly doesn’t care for authors who have taken writing classes. Except, I understand that she teaches writing. For the Guardian.

Most of us learned to write at school, and not necessarily from a teacher who was terribly good at it. But we did learn, and some have gone on to be quite marvellous at it. I’ll repeat what I used to preach at Offspring; any way that we learn something is a good way.

But on the whole I’d rather that my surgeon went to medical school before she does anything to me. None of this feeling inspired and deciding to have a go to see what it’s like.

Or you could just be famous. That usually helps with the writing skills.

Michele Hanson

Michele Hanson – marvellous columnist in the Guardian – died last week. Today, for International Women’s Day, I need to write about what she meant to me.

For me, coming from a two-generation female home, it was refreshing to read about the three generations of women living under Michele’s roof. The weekly tales of her life with her mother and her daughter, and the dogs, were quite ordinary. In many cases what Michele wrote about could be almost anybody’s life, and that’s what made it so real, so eye-opening.

I too held those opinions. I just needed someone else to show them to me.

Mostly, Michele’s daughter was a teenager to me. I was a bit enraged when she grew up and left home, but it’s what children do. And then it was Michele and her mother. And the dogs. They argued, and we worried about her mother’s health, but she hung on for a long time, and I was sad when she died.

Then, for financial reasons, for a long time we didn’t buy the Guardian every day, and it was hit and miss what I’d be able to read on the days when we did get the paper. More recently, the Resident IT Consultant came home with a Tuesday Guardian, and I was so very happy to be back, reading about Michele’s life. I told him that if he only got one weekday Guardian, it had better be the day of Michele’s column. Because it made me feel good.

And also a bit unwell. I didn’t know that I ought to be concerned for my old age, until reading about Michele and her friends, worrying about hospital visits and GPs, and old age. It made me realise life wouldn’t always be mundanely middle-aged.

It was only going to get worse.

Michele was 75 when she died. Far too young. But it seemed so fitting that she had walked her dogs last Thursday, before having the stroke that killed her. No care home for her, and no pole dancers.

Time flies

I used to be a big fan of Emily Barr’s. I’ve not necessarily stopped; it’s just that life changes and you simply end up doing different stuff.

For instance, I could have sworn that Emily wrote her travel column (which is what I enjoyed so much) for the Guardian maybe a little over ten years ago. But it does seem like time has flown somewhat, without me noticing.

Her new YA book, The Truth and Lies of Ella Black – out next week – is something like her 13th book! Back when she was travelling and telling Guardian readers about it, she was single and childfree and had written no books (that I know of).

Now, Emily has a family, and a dozen books behind her. I remember hearing about her first novel being published, and I’ve read the odd article about her over the last ‘ten’ years, but I still wasn’t allowing for the twenty years it must have been…

Anyway, here are my tulips bowing to her latest book.

Emily Barr, The Truth and Lies of Ella Black

What (not) to buy in 2018?

It was the Resident IT Consultant who mentioned it first. He noted that that David Walliams seemed to be everywhere in the top 100 books sold in 2017. I wasn’t surprised, but wish I had been. I’ve not counted the DW books on the list. Daughter did, but reckoned I probably didn’t want to hear how many.

I am pleased that a children’s book came second on that list. (Also pleased that it was – considerably – outsold by Jamie Oliver.) But I really would have wanted it to be a different book. I know; it’s good that children read. Or at least that someone is buying the books, whether or not they get read.

If it was any other book, I’d also be happy for the author who was financially rewarded, along with his or her publisher.

To return to my previously mentioned lesson learned from Random House, we should be grateful these books make money, because they help publish other books that simply don’t sell in great numbers. Well, all I can say is that on the strength of the DW sales, HarperCollins should be able to support an awful lot of ‘smaller’ books. Children’s books at that.

I don’t know this, but how much of such revenue goes to happy shareholders? Instead of being re-invested in more book products. I’m aware that DW has a past of doing charitable things, even if that was a stunt requiring other people to cough up the cash. Does he support any worthy causes with the income from his books?

In the same Guardian there was an article about a businessman who has received rather a large bonus, an amount of money that it was suggested could do a lot of good if used to solve the sad state of the homeless. My guess is he won’t do this. (Although, think of how he’d be remembered for all time – in a positive way – if he did!)

So, DW and publisher: Is there any likelihood of you doing this kind of good deed? We only require so much money for our own needs.

But back to the list. I’ve not read much on it. This is usually the case, as most of the big sellers are generally adult novels I don’t have time for, or recipe books and biographies of or by people I’ve barely heard of.

This year Philip Pullman is in tenth place and I’ve read his book. Of older books there’s obviously Harry Potter, and I have at some point looked at a Where’s Wally and the Wimpy Kids books.

The usual suspects such as Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Dan Brown, are there; but interspersed with countless DW titles. Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, often the biggest contributors to children’s books on the list of bestsellers, are at the bottom end. There is Wonder, which presumably has reappeared because of the recent film.

While horrified in general, I am hoping that this willingness to buy lots of children’s books will continue. And I’m hoping for more diverse purchases, which will be made possible only when publishers don’t only push celebrity titles. I’d like for there to be more excellent children’s titles, but the truth is that there are countless terrific books already in existence. They ‘merely’ need to be sold to the buyers of books. Use some of that money on telling the world about your other writers.

I’d like to mention a few recent HarperCollins books here as examples, but I’ve not been told about many. The new Oliver Jeffers book was ‘sold’ to me. I asked about the Skulduggery Pleasant book myself when I discovered its existence. I was offered an adult crime novel on the suggestion by the author. And someone emailed me to say she was leaving the company. This is not to say there weren’t heaps and heaps of great books. Just that there was no publicity coming my way, and possibly not going to others either.

Happy New Reading in 2018!!!

10 10 10

On this tenth day of the tenth month in the tenth year of Bookwitch, I realise I’ve already been doing a lot of musing and looking back, and I keep telling you – even though no one asked for it – about all the good things the witchy work has brought me.

I appreciate all the comments you leave, offering some valuable thoughts that I have needed to hear.

There’s Fabio Geda’s smile when we met. I don’t tend to expect such reactions.

Can’t forget the Mars bar Terry Pratchett was hoping for when we first met, and I had nothing to offer him.

When we moved house, one of my goals in the house hunting was to find a garden like Candy Gourlay’s. Preferably with a house with similar vibes, too. It’s good to know what one wants.

I discovered that – occasionally – I can conduct interviews. This is an odd thing for someone quiet and unsociable.

Bookwitching led to some blogging for the Guardian. I’d never have thought that could be possible. I mean, not even Hallandsposten wanted me.

I now have pendant lamps in our newly built room inspired by the Edinburgh book festival’s lights in Charlotte Square.

There’s been a lot of interesting travelling, and some quite unusual event venues have been visited.

I was able to ask Derek Landy to leave a comment for a fervent fan who desperately wanted to hear from him.

And I’d like to think that my exploits have had a beneficial effect on the Bookwitch family.

Charlotte Square

That’s it. Not very scientific.