Tag Archives: Helen Grant


Helen Grant and I have probably convinced Lee Weatherly – who is a recent convert to living in Scotland – that we can’t get babysitters. We have brought our sons to meals out with Lee, which is a weird thing to do, considering everyone’s ages. Ours and theirs. But still; they are charming boys and surely anyone would love hanging out with them? (One at a time, obviously.)

Yesterday it was Son’s turn to have brunch with three older ladies. Trains were cancelled or people missed their train. Luckily I had brought a book. Son and I kept the table warm, so to speak, and sneaked in some extra chai while we waited. Luckily Dishoom gives you as much of the stuff as you want, and then some.

We ate our spicy breakfasts and gossiped books and translations and looked out onto St Andrew’s Square in the sunshine. It was very civilised.

When we were almost too full to move, we permitted Son to foot the bill and then sent him back to ‘school.’ The rest of us had shopping to do, ribbons to cut in libraries and plastic screw caps to paint. (I’ll leave you to decide who did what.)

I suspect I might have worn the wrong colour shoes.

But that’s OK.



March isn’t over just yet, but I feel confident enough to state that two authors made it through the Bookwitch Towers doors (and safely out again) during this month. Both got the Lent bun treatment.

As you know, I try to operate a ‘come empty-handed’ policy, but people find this hard to do. Both my visitors brought tulips, which is probably the nicest thing anyone can do, and get away with it.


Debi Gliori had talked about my tulips before she even came. It all sounded rather confusing to me, because she wanted to compare hers to Mother-of-witch’s tulips, that she’d noticed the last time she came. We have a large sketch of a vase of tulips on one wall. And it turned out Debi had sketched very nearly the exact same vase of tulips. She brought three of them for me to see, and then she said I could keep them!

One can never have too many tulips.

Which is lucky, as Helen Grant turned up with a bunch of tulips [real ones], looked at them doubtfully and said she thought they were tulips…

Good thing I’m an expert.


And you know, I’d sort of overlooked the fact that the new room – still not quite finished, but in use – needed tulips. Any flower would have looked nice, obviously, but those tulips really made the room. And my week.

Yesterday was Waffle Day, so if any of you wanted to come over for waffles, you’re too late. We had one guest round for these lovely things, and then we sort of happened to eat the leftovers ourselves. (Although, if tulips were involved, I might rethink the waffle situation.)

What was I thinking???

Have you any idea how often I ask myself this? On Tuesday I asked the question so often and so loudly that you could be forgiven for thinking it had been a while, whereas the question had popped up only last Friday.

Do you remember SELTA? I blogged about them last year. They are the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, and they do things I’m sort of interested in. And on Tuesday it was time for their AGM in London, and they thought it’d be good to ask a few ‘translated literature’ bloggers over for some light entertainment at the end. I was one of them, and why anyone would think I can speak in the first place, and why I might measure up next to two people who read almost exclusively translated, and literary, books, is beyond me.

But there I was, pretending to speak about translation and other linguistic stuff. This is when I wasn’t feeling petrified at the mere idea. I garbled a few things at them, and I distinctly recall them laughing at one point, so I must have said something amusing. Shame I can’t remember what. I could use it again, if I did.

Wait a minute! No, that would suggest I’d ever do this again. No need to know what was funny.

They encouraged the asking of questions, so I asked whether they read the book before they translate it. Interesting reaction. Some do, some don’t. Those who do were shocked to find others don’t.

My co-speakers were Stu Allen of Winstonsdad’s Blog, and Ann Morgan from A Year of Reading the World. As you will find if you look them up, they read adult books in translation. Ann spent a year reading a book from every country in the world, a while back. And Stu reads books from all over the world, as long as they have been translated.

And then there was me. Let’s just say I wasn’t the most accomplished speaker in the room.

But it was fun. Afterwards, I mean. Never again, though. Most likely.

I threw them a challenge. I spoke to Fiona Graham who was the one who did the sample translation of My Mum’s a Gorilla – So What? that I so enjoyed last year. Dr Death was there. So was Deborah Bragan-Turner who did me the honour of interviewing me a year ago. She did it so well that when the Resident IT Consultant re-read the Swedish Book Review, he felt I’d get on well with ‘that person.’ Until he discovered that was me. Ruth Urbom, who was the one who invited me, and many others. They could all tell what was wrong with ‘sugar cake’ but hamburgerkött was less obvious. (Horse meat…)

Afterwards we went to the pub. And after that Son and I went to Diwana Bhel Poori, before we slept our way north (where I was – accidentally – greeted on the platform by Helen Grant). And that’s where I am now.

(Home, not on the platform. Obviously.)

Best Scottish?

It came back to me, out of the blue, a few days ago. I had a Scottish Reading tag on Bookwitch. First, I had my one year Foreign Reading Challenge, which was tough enough. Not the doing, so much as the finding a new foreign published book every month for twelve months. And a different foreign every time.

Seemingly I wasn’t challenged enough, as I veered off onto a new tag, Scottish Reading. I believe I felt I should concentrate a bit more on a slightly ignored section of British books for children. But I just cannot remember what happened to it! The foreign challenge had rules; the Scottish was just supposed to happen.

Recently I have, for obvious reasons, read more Scottish again, but without tagging it or anything. My memory isn’t what it was.

The Resident IT Consultant pointed me in the direction of the the BBC’s 30 top Scottish books list the other day. It even made us argue a bit, en famille. What counts as a Scottish book? Who counts as having written one?

I had my opinion, he had his and Son turned up and said his bit. Can Harry Potter be Scottish? I think so, others are less sure. Does the author have to be Scottish, merely live in Scotland, write about Scottish topics or set their novel in Scotland?

England is full of wonderful authors who are American. But I think we tend to happily adopt these foreigners as homemade successes if they are successful. On that basis, English or American writers living in Scotland ought to qualify, whether or not they write about a wizard school that may or may not be in Scotland (never mind that the train there leaves from King’s Cross).

If a novel is set in outer space, what does that make it? If a Scottish born and bred author sets their novel in London or Cornwall, what then? In fact, it’s getting a bit Brexit. If anyone is supposed to go back to where they came from, the only true Scottish novel must be by a Scottish author, set in Scotland, featuring Scottish characters, who wouldn’t dream of stepping south of the border.

And that’s not right. Elizabeth Wein lives and writes in Scotland. Alex Nye likewise, entertaining us with what Sheriffmuir covered in snow is like. Helen Grant has so far killed the good people of Belgium from the comfort of her Scottish home. Philip Caveney has just joined the ladies here, after some frantic years commuting between Stockport and Scotland. The Scottish Book Trust have all four of these writers on their list of authors.

I have read three of the books on the BBC’s list, and watched another four on film. That’s not much at all, and the fault is all mine. I am overdue another Scottish Reading Challenge. Although it shouldn’t be a challenge at all.

Thirteen at the tables

It couldn’t be helped. There were 13 for lunch. At times we stood up together, as though that would somehow safeguard our future. If we have one. I blame Helen Grant, with her sense of doom. I mean, you can’t completely control how many invitees will come, no matter how many, or few, you invite. (Hmm, I suppose inviting fewer than twelve would work…)

I’ve had these cinnamon buns hanging over me for a couple of years. Figuratively. It’d be silly to have real cinnamon buns. And then I had this bright idea; why not invite every* single person in the Scottish children’s books world all at once? And never mind the cinnamon buns.

Some people suddenly had to go to Norway or Norwich, which is more than understandable, but a surprising number said yes. I had tears in my eyes when someone I’d never met and who didn’t know me said she’d travel several hours on the train in order to come. One author required the Resident IT Consultant to guide her over the phone, just so she could escape the clutches of Denny.** Some people have day jobs. Others said they hope to come ‘next time.’ Right.

Helen Grant had been summoned to hold my hand, and also ended up making salmon lilies and bartending.

Seen from my point of view, it was a lovely lunch. The event, not necessarily the food. Much stuff was discussed, and I’m not telling you anything at all about that. Or who was here. I’m just amazed that they were so kind to a mere witch. One of them even left a tip. (Will be returned to its rightful owner if you can describe it satisfactorily.)

The tip

I have so many flowers I could start a flower stall (didn’t know the Resident IT Consultant had it in him, all this flower arranging), and mountains of chocolates and other nice edibles.

It seems if ‘you make the smörgåstårta, they will come.’

Thank you.

*To clarify, by this I mean ladies, as it’s far better to gossip single-sex.

**That’s a place. The wrong place.

The bottles

(I quite like the Spencer Tracy film Father of the Bride, where he sits among the debris of the party. The above is fairly tame in comparison.)

Ode to the Bookwitch

If I’m not careful I’ll sprout poetry or something. I feel as if I could do anything. Almost. Were it not for the knees.

Yesterday the Resident IT Consultant and I celebrated something which has not happened yet. Family and friends turned out to be quite skilled at cheating at giving no presents [by strict order], and it’s really interesting to see what lengths people will go to. Flowers are ‘not really gifts.’ Cardamom pods don’t count. A bag if not wrapped, likewise. Nice try my friends, and so kind of you.

And then there was Helen Grant who felt that writing an ode was no present either, having slaved away over her Keatsian style poetry for hours. Weeks? Maybe months? She has generously agreed to my sharing it with you.

Ode to the Bookwitch on her 60th Birthday

If Sweden’s ever mentioned, you will find

(Though less well known than Germany or France)

That certain things will quickly come to mind

Like Stockholm Syndrome, ABBA, or perchance

Surströmming with its most distinctive whiff.

The Billy bookcase from IKEA – yes! –

Has fixed the Swedish nation in our hearts

Though we’d be joyful if

We didn’t have to scratch our heads and guess

The way to make the bookcase from the parts.


This smörgåsbord of Swedish joys bestowed

Upon the grateful world is not complete

Unless we list the Swedish folk who’ve showed

How ripe with talent is their land, replete

With expertise and triumph – only look

At Greta Garbo, Björn Borg and poor

Stieg Larsson, sadly cut off in his prime,

The Muppets’ Swedish cook

And PewDiePie and many, many more

That I could name if only I’d the time.


And now I feel the time has come to name

Another Swede we ought to celebrate,

Who also has achieved a certain fame

By telling us which books are crap or great.

The Bookwitch works her magic all the year;

She lovingly composes each review

With honesty – no flattery or spite;

She bravely does not fear

To give her praise where praise is clearly due

But warn us if the book is rather shite.


But why, you ask, would anybody swap

The wondrous land of Sweden for these shores?

Precipitation never seems to stop

And only ducks can stand it out of doors.

Yet even witches have a tender heart,

In spite of how formidable they look,

And love can cast a spell they can’t withstand.

So, as to live apart

Would be a tragic ending to life’s book,

She made her future in this barb’rous land.


Two masterpieces of her own she’s done:

A debut work and then a sequel too!

The first a rather literary one,

The other, scientific through and through.

Her sixty years she bears with girlish ease

As magic through the ages shall prevail

And witches never really show their age

(Except perhaps their knees);

So may her story be a merry tale

With happiness until the final page.

[Helen Grant 15/5/2016]

Isn’t that great? And kind? I should really wait until the right day, but my heart is full now, so I won’t delay.

(But I got my ‘revenge.’ One guest rather carelessly suggested that if we wanted nothing because we already have too much, perhaps they could assist by taking stuff home with them. So I forced partybags on them as they left… That’ll teach him.)

The killing commute

The water was cold and rather sudden. One minute my boot wasn’t in it, and the next it was. It was winter and it was cold and I was on my way to school and had to remain waterlogged (one foot only) the rest of the day.

I was 16 and sometimes had to get the bus to school. Most of the time Mother-of-witch drove me the ten miles, because she taught at the same school. But occasionally our one early morning bus was necessary. (At the time we had four buses a day.) Hence my encounter with the ditch. It was dark at that time, with no streetlights and I sort of veered sideways the wrong way by the field by the bus stop. Splosh.

These days I’d do more things if it wasn’t for the poor public transport in places. Not necessarily kill, but go in directions I now can’t, and/or at times that are now impossible. Or just uncomfortable.

I’ve swapped a big city for a small town. I’m not saying big city was better, but there was more accessible travel, by [local] train, bus and tram. Expensive, with a bad ticket system. And you had to hurry if you wanted to get home by train after a show, for instance. Last train wasn’t all that late. Full though, so clearly there was a market for it.

Now I have good(-ish) trains to Edinburgh and Glasgow. What I don’t have is a sensible bus to take me to the station. I abuse the Resident IT Consultant’s kindness and ask for lifts. I could walk, but like to save myself for when I get there.

But it could be worse. I could live where Helen Grant lives. Here she blogs about life on public transport, and how much more convenient it is to commute to kill if you live in Belgium, as her characters did. Do.

Well, I’m not saying they actually killed. They misbehaved a bit, and they did it all with the help of trams and buses, and late at night too. In some places you come to take this kind of thing for granted.

My former – Swedish – four buses a day are now more like every hour, which for a countryside bus is pretty OK. You can even go out late at night and expect to get home again. There could be time to kill – not people – as you wait, just as when Daughter missed the midnight train out of Geneva recently. There were two more. After she’d killed time.