Tag Archives: Hilary McKay

Chickens and Cherry Blossom

I do hope Hilary McKay’s gas supplier continues to send her plenty of gas bills for her to pay. Don’t misunderstand me, but if that’s the main reason she writes those wonderful books, then Hilary must be ‘persuaded’ to keep going.

Hilary McKay

We finally made our 2015 Charlotte Square debut yesterday, and started cautiously, going to just the one event. But it was a well chosen talk, where Hilary was in conversation with Gwyneth Rees (whom I’d not seen since a fairy event eight years ago), chaired by Hannah Love, who is a hard one, promising to keep every mobile phone that dared make a sound. (There were none, but that will be because she scared us into obedience.)

The audience consisted of mainly fairly small fairy types, so I felt distinctly on the old side, while being someone who grew up on the Famous Five, just like the two authors. Hilary set out to write a Famous Five kind of story with her – so far – two Binny books, where you have your summer holidays and your parents don’t see you for six weeks because you’re out doing things on your own.

Gwyneth’s new book, Cherry Blossom Dream, is about a pair of twins and an old house, as well as tarantulas and a python, and the embarrassment of having your mum go out with your teacher. She reckons she can always control her characters, who can be reeled in if necessary.

Gwyneth Rees

Hilary, on the other hand, finds her characters take over, and she gets tired of them. When asked, she decided it’d be quite nice to kill them, but that this won’t do for the age group she writes for. Her intended reader is neither male nor female; she writes for people. And there was a lot of moaning on her part before she was allowed to have a yellow book cover. Writer’s block is not a myth, according to Hilary, who suffers from it a lot, and thinks it’s ridiculous that her short books take a year to write. Right now she’s working on re-writing 12 fairy stories, and having done two, needs ten more before Christmas. So if you have any ideas…

The two authors have different family backgrounds, which might or might not influence what they write. Hilary is the eldest of four sisters, while Gwyneth was an only child until she was twelve. Gwyneth longed for siblings, and Hilary wanted somewhere to be by herself. And the last thing she wants is for the Casson family to ambush her and insist on another book. (Hilary might be alone in this.)

Gwyneth begins her books with the characters, and Hilary has an end she has to work towards, often starting with a (later deleted) conversation between her characters. There will be a yellow covered book for Gwyneth next time, and from Hilary we can look forward to Binny no. 3.

When Hilary counted them last week, she had written 81 books. She can’t afford to stop, what with those gas bills pouring in. Gwyneth thinks she might have written about 22 books. She writes down ideas so she won’t forget, but can never remember what was so good about them later. Hilary has a folder of ideas which she turns to in desperation.

Well I don’t know, but both authors had a long line of fans waiting to have their books signed afterwards. They won’t need to hang up their laptops anytime soon.

I finally got to meet Mr McKay, and I also came face to face with Hilary’s friendly publicist who does such a great job. I couldn’t remember where I’d met Hannah Love before, but luckily she knew. And I reconnected with Gwyneth’s publicist as well, so there was a lot of chattering going on.

It also seems that my Photographer had walked past Hilary in St Andrews the day before, ignoring her shouting and waving… (At the Photographer. I’m not suggesting Hilary goes round shouting or waving her arms in the air, in general.)

Val McDermid

We also caught glimpses of Alexander McCall Smith, Val McDermid and Charlie Fletcher. As I said, it was a brief day, and we were a bit laidback about hunting authors on our first day. But they were there.

Charlie Fletcher

And as the sun set on Albert, we found Son and Dodo and went off for pizza.

Charlotte Square

(All photos by Helen Giles)

Binny in Secret

Hilary McKay knows how to write exactly the kind of book I, and many more, want to read. Need to read. I can’t tell you how happy I was to find there was going to be a sequel to Binny for Short. Although that ended in such a perfect way that it was hard to see how you could revisit Binny and her family and improve on things.

Hilary McKay, Binny in Secret

But you know, it is possible, and Binny in Secret is the proof.

Reluctance to going to school is something many of us have experienced, and here we meet it in two very different, but also similar, ways. Hilary has written not only about Binny in the present day, but has woven the tale about three children who spent their holidays in the area exactly a hundred years earlier, into the book as well.

Binny ‘only’ has current-day troubles at school, although that can be more than enough. The story about the Penrose cousins features school, sexism and that awful thing that happened in 1914, the War. The reader knows it’s coming, while the Penrose children don’t.

The family’s roof blows off, but that doesn’t save Binny from having to go to school. She thought it would, but things get even worse. And something eats James’s chicken Gertie, and the children’s mother has to work longer hours to pay for the new roof. So how can Binny share her troubles with her family?

She discovers the local wildlife, and she discusses it at length with her long-distance friend Gareth. There is a puzzle to be solved, and there is bullying to be dealt with, as well as a 100-year-old museum that the Penrose children began.

As always with Hilary’s books, you know this will end in a satisfying way. But you can’t predict how.

If you haven’t read this book yet (and how could you, seeing as it’s only out today?), you have such a treat in store! And there is Binny for Short first, if you didn’t get round to reading that.

Bookwitch bites #126

If you didn’t read Hilary McKay’s Binny for Short when it came out last year (and why didn’t you?), I can tell you it has just been issued in paperback, and it is still as good. The singing ought to bring out the goosepimples on any but the hardest of my readers.

Cathy Cassidy

In the exciting run-up to whether or not Scotland will drift off into the North Sea next week, I have two book festivals on home ground to look forward to. First it’s Stirling Book Festival Off The Page. It has all sorts of events in libraries and schools and theatres. For fans of children’s lit there is the dystopian Teri Terry, the amusing Chae Strathie, sweet Cathy Cassidy, illustrator Kate Leiper, and the magical Linda Chapman.

Off The Page runs seamlessly into Bloody Scotland, where much murderous stuff will happen. They are even putting forensics into Stirling Castle, to find out who killed the Earl of Douglas back in the 1400s. Good luck to them.

And if you too want to be able to write like the authors who are coming here to talk about their books, then you could do worse than to have a go at the Connell Guides essay prize. If you are lucky, Philip Pullman might read what you wrote. You do need to be of an age to attend sixth form, but we are all young at heart here. You can submit from September 15th until January 15th.

Good luck!

And read Binny.

The long Carnegie

I was surprised to read that publishing the longlist for the Carnegie was a new idea. Surely I’d got that wrong, somehow?

Ah. Have checked. I know what’s new. The longlist. Before, the long list used to be all the nominated books, and then you got to the shortlist. So presumably we are skipping the very long list this time. Glad to have sorted that out.

It’s a good list. Some I have read, others I’ve not had time to get to. And yet more I have not got close enough to, to be able to consider reading. Two are from my own best of 2013 list (I’d like to think they visited and compared notes), so I’d be especially grateful if they could hand out the medal to Binny or to Brock.* If not, any good book will do. The better the better, though, if you know what I mean.

2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal longlist

As far as the picture books go, I haven’t read a single one. I don’t recognise the titles either, so have hopefully not shown a shocking lack of interest in what will turn out to be a really magnificent book.

2014 Kate Greenaway Medal longlist

*It is especially nice to find a Barrington Stoke novel on the list.

Numbers and meat cleavers

This is for people with a fondness for ‘interesting’ dates. And even for people who couldn’t care less. Today is the 11th day of the 12th month in the 13th year (well, you know what I mean!). But I will not now provide a list of the year’s best ten books. Or best 14.

I need to slim these lists down, but when I looked at the possible contenders for best Bookwitch book 2013, there were so many wonderful reads that it’s as hard as giving up cake and cheese and go on a diet.


Let’s continue.

I have a bunch of six books, where I can’t say that one is an overall winner. I would like to, but can’t. One thing that has made me pick these over some others, is that they provided that special glow of happiness. Scary and good is obviously good, but happy and good wins every time. (Apologies for excessive soppiness.)

I’ll list them in first name alphabetical order:

Anthony McGowan, Brock

Debi Gliori, Dragon Loves Penguin

Hilary McKay, Binny for Short

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co – The Screaming Staircase

Marcus Sedgwick, She’s Not Invisible

Sam Hepburn, Chasing the Dark

If you – or your favourite book – are not on the list, please be gentle with that meat cleaver! Let’s face it; there are lots of wonderful books out there.


Please, where can I find a needy motorway? I have stuff to get rid of, and there is landfill, and then there is landfill (to build roads, or so Hilary McKay has been saying for far too long about her own wonderful books). The latter strikes me as the much more sensible option, if there’s nothing else you can do with your unwanted books.

And when I say unwanted, I am not referring to Hilary’s work, nor am I suggesting that the unwantedness stems from the Resident IT Consultant so much. They just happen to be his books. Most of the ones from the back row on the double rows of books. They are unwanted by me. And looking at them, I am shocked ‘we’ ever wanted/bought/kept them at all.

Future motorway?

But now that he has been a very good Resident IT Consultant and cleared them out (when I say that, I mean onto the floor in the front room), they need to go a little bit further. Where to, though? The Grandmother was consulted, in case Oxfam could pass them on, but she felt they were beyond even that.

They are not allowed in the paper and cardboard recycling bin our local council has provided. As far as I have been able to find out, there is nowhere to take them. Except to the general hole in the ground for all general things that don’t fit the description of any recycling category at all.

I suspect books are something you are not meant to have very many of. Meaning you will have no problem giving them a comfortable forever home, and books are sacred and Can’t Possibly Be Got Rid Of! Hence the lack of a recycling category for them.

Now that I have had them declared unsacred, I will have to get them out of the house quickly (if only so I can use that bit of floor to pack, reorganise or dispose of other belongings), and the only way appears to stick them in the boot of the car and point it at the local tip. But that makes me feel sick.

Bra Böckers Lexikon

I am the proud owner of two sets of the same – Swedish – encyclopaedia (one here, one there…) and neither is especially useful in this age of Google. The ‘one there’ can remain for the time being. But the ‘one here’ will have to go. Presumably also into a hole in the ground. And not of the new motorway variety, either.

(Perhaps… no, probably not. You can build houses out of straw. And stuff. The ideal thing would be to build a new house out of books.)

A writers’ writer

For the aficionado Hilary McKay barely needs an introduction. Not everyone is as slow or as stupid as I was some years ago, thinking Hilary was just your ordinary girls’ books author.

She is anything but, and my ways have been truly mended. I still have a few of her, mostly junior, books to read, which makes me very happy. Because reading Hilary’s books makes me happy.

It was very kind of her to come to Bookwitch Towers to subject herself to an interview. She wants the minimum of fuss, so isn’t an obvious interview subject, really. But I was very glad she came, and that she could put up with it all.

Here she explains her philosophy of how nice people are. I’m beginning to think she might be right. (Except for her idiotic notion of how it would be better to use her books for building motorways.)