Tag Archives: Ian Beck

A small Oxford miscellany

The Bodleian Library shop is a dangerous place. I only went in because Daughter went in, and because it meant standing still instead of walking even more. I have a very effective do-not-buy filter that I can apply in a situation like this. Still, I went from one item to the next, feeling that as a one-off I really could buy it. Or that other thing. Maybe both.

In the end I channelled my inner Chris Riddell and bought what he had when I last saw him; a notebook covered in the cover off an old – now dead – ‘real’ book. I know, I know. But if it was good enough for the then children’s laureate to doodle in, then what hope could there possibly be for me?

We began Sunday morning by resting on the seat outside Trinity College. As we sat there, Sheena Wilkinson walked past. But these things happen. We’d had our Weetabix in the same college breakfast room as well.

Palm Sunday, Trinity

Anyway, Trinity. Suddenly there was singing from afar. The singing drew nearer and Daughter got up and said people were coming towards us. There was incense and some of them carried bits of what looked like stalks of grain. Finally, the penny dropped and Daughter remembered it was Palm Sunday. They were singing their way to the morning church service.

Very Oxford.

A ‘classmate’ from St Andrews had popped up on Facebook the previous night, and we had arranged to have lunch with him. We chose the biggest tourist trap in town, or so it seemed. But it came with Morse and Lewis connotations. And they had my broom on a beam on the ceiling.

Broom

The classmate had recently started his PhD in this venerable spot. Oxford. Not the pub. It has something to do with doughnuts. I think.

After we’d fed, we staggered round past a few more bookshops, and finished up in the Weston Library. Which is very nice. They have seats. Good baking. And a shop. Saw Ian Beck, presumably on his way to an event.

Then we agreed we’d done quite enough for one day, and walked back to our luggage and a train to take us to the sleeper train home, via another bit of Blackwells. We went in and said we wanted to buy ‘that book in the window.’ They were extremely helpful.

It would be safest never to go back there, ever again.

Lounge mouse

Sleeper passengers get to wait in the lounge at Euston. We met a nice little mouse in there. I suspect it was getting ready to collect the day’s food debris, fresh off the floor. It knew to wait until the exact right moment.

And this is not an invitation to put any traps out. Or poison. It was cute.

Quest – the Aarhus 39

Quest is the ‘younger’ half of the two Aarhus short story collections, edited by Daniel Hahn. I use quotation marks, because I am less convinced of the age ‘gap’ than has been suggested. Yes, it is a little younger than Odyssey, but I felt many of the characters in Odyssey were not proper YA material; they were children who tried out older behaviour.

It’s not important, as both collections offer a great range of stories from all over Europe. As with Odyssey, the authors are occasionally quite famous, and so are the illustrators, and I’ve come across several of the translators before as well.

Quest - Aarhus 39

Of the 17 short stories in Quest I chose to start in the middle, because I just had to read the one by Maria Turtschaninoff first. I might have a crush on her. The story, The Travel Agency, did not disappoint. In fact, I could want to read a whole book based on it.

It’s unfair to pick favourites, but I did enjoy Maria Parr’s A Trip to Town, about a girl and her grandma. And as for Journey to the Centre of the Dark by David Machado; you’d do well to have a hand to hold. In the end it didn’t go quite as far as I kept being afraid of, but I’d be happy to offer my idea to anyone who feels like writing scary stories.

The Quest stories are not as dark as in Odyssey. Maybe that’s why they are offered as children’s stories. And perhaps that’s why they suited me better. But, in short, I can recommend these two collections as a starting point for fun with unknown [to you] names in children’s literature.

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.

Christmas beans

The trainee witch once (almost twice) worked in a bookshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was in the days of Christmas Eve getting the Saturday treatment, shop hour wise. So we closed at twelve, and I recall I had a Saturday bus to catch soon after, where I was the only passenger, on the last bus for a couple of days.

Where was I? Oh yes, in the bookshop, before the last bus. It was quite nice working on Christmas Eve (well, one had a Mother-of-witch doing the kitchen stuff at home…), and something I noticed was that the world is full of people who don’t shop until there are mere hours between the buying of and the opening of presents. It takes a cool and steady mind to be that late.

They come in and spend anything, just to get the deed done. And obviously they require wrapping and all that.

According to Son it seems the wellknown online bookshop can offer the same these days, as long as you live somewhere civilised. Order on Christmas Eve morning and have it delivered that afternoon. It will cost you, but as I said, the Christmas Eve shopper can afford it.

What I’m trying to say here, in a roundabout and waffley way is that you could still manage to buy Magic Beans. I’m truly sorry for being so late mentioning this perfect Christmas book, but I’ve been feeding the cake brandy. And various other minor things.

In Magic Beans you have absolutely the cream of children’s authors doing their thing with classic fairy tales. Adèle Geras retells the The Six Swan Brothers. It’s wonderful with such sibling love. But I wonder what happened to the old King and his witchy wife? It’s funny how Princes and Kings wander around finding themselves wives all over the place.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Henrietta Branford before. Here she retells Hansel and Gretel, without too much gruesomeness. And why do witches and stepmothers get bad press all the time? Berlie Doherty’s The Snow Queen is icy and season appropriate. And below you can listen to Jacqueline Wilson talking about Rapunzel.

Other particpating authors are Anne Fine, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Kit Wright, Alan Garner, Gillian Cross, Susan Gates, Malorie Blackman, Linda Newbery and Tony Mitton. And since it’s not only writers you get, every single fairy tale has been illustrated by some pretty creamy artists like Debi Gliori, Ian Beck, Lesley Harker, Nick Sharratt, Patrice Aggs, Peter Bailey, Nick Maland, James Mayhew, Siận Bailey, Ted Dewan, Michael Foreman, Sue Heap and Bee Willey.

By good fortune I have also just found out that some of these stories can be bought as ebooks, so if you’re really desperate…

Don’t say I haven’t provided a useful suggestion. And if you were to go for the old-fashioned dead tree version you get a nice, fat volume with pictures. I’ll even wrap it for you. If you come here, that is.

Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp

Unlike Philip Pullman I haven’t ‘always loved the story of Aladdin.’ Quite the opposite, and I blame it on Mr Disney. I first read Philip’s retelling of Aladdin a few years ago when I was doing my best to read everything he’d written. (Well, within reason.) And I found it was actually OK. More than OK, in fact.

But then, Philip does fairy tales well. At my age I don’t always feel I’m the target audience for them, but when done right they are marvellous. A true story teller will give a traditional tale the correct makeover. Maybe it helps catch the attention of new children that way?

Philip Pullman and Ian Beck, Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp

Philip Pullman and Ian Beck, Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp

Philip Pullman and Ian Beck, Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp

Now there is a new Aladdin with illustrations by Ian Beck, and they are gorgeous. Just right for this kind of romantic, oriental story. I felt the urge to go get my scissors and cut the pictures out, again. I know it’s not the done thing, and I’ll keep myself under control.

I wish books had come with this kind of illustration when I was of Aladdin age. But better late than never. It would be perfect for Christmas, if you still need something to buy. Or try the Children’s Book Tree. Someone out there might not know they’d love this book. And now you know.

The Haunting of Charity Delafield

The Haunting of Charity Delafield is my first Ian Beck book. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long, but it looked so nicely Christmassy that I needed to investigate.

Ian Beck, The Haunting of Charity Delafield

It’s the classic story about a young girl stuck in a house for some reason, and how she finds out why and then deals with it. In this case Charity has a ‘condition.’ She’s only allowed out very rarely, and always accompanied by her governess.

Charity’s father seems both quite nice and fairly awful. He’s not mean to her, except for setting the rules on going out and not speaking to anyone outside the house. But he is worryingly weird. Mrs Delafield died when Charity was a baby.

This is a book for fairly young readers, and I don’t know how obvious it’s meant to appear to them, but it didn’t take me long to work out that her mother wasn’t as dead as she was supposed to be. There are unusual things happening in the house. And when Charity makes a friend in the chimney sweep’s boy, she begins to learn more about what went on twelve years earlier.

Her ‘condition’ is an interesting one, and it’s easy to see why Mr Delafield panicked. But he’s far from the only shortsighted and prejudiced person in this story. Charity’s mother’s family are at least as bad.

There’s a bit of magic, and there is a romance or two. And remember it can be well worth not throwing little wooden bits and pieces away.

Lovely drawings for each chapter, and as I said, a pretty Christmassy cover.

My hero’s hero

Meg Rosoff and K M Peyton

There was no way I couldn’t go. It’s the most fascinating thing to find that your favourite author has a favourite author. Well, no. What I mean is finding that they behave just as giddily as the rest of us when they finally make contact with the person they admire.

When I first heard Meg Rosoff wax very lyrically about K M Peyton, my reaction was ‘who?’, but I seem to be alone in that. As I said the other day, when you’re my age you simply know everything there is to know about Kathleen Peyton and her horse books and her books on many other topics. They are your childhood. And now that I’ve read two of them (only another 70 or something to go!) I know that they would have been.

K M Peyton

So, when Meg not only met Kathleen, but rashly decided to invite her to her house, and then to ask many of her own admirers to witness this; how could I not want to go? Hence my trip south yesterday, for a day of many literary encounters, starting with Sally Gardner (who only refrained from meeting her friend Meg’s hero because she and I seem to be the only two people in the world not to have grown up with Flambards and the rest).

Flowers for K M Peyton

The 'staff'

Kate Agnew, David Fickling and Annie Eaton

Blinis

Kathleen is so refreshingly different that she doesn’t even know what a blogger is, and why should she? She’s very brave, because she must have known she was in for lots of people flinging themselves at her, prostrating themselves at her feet and generally doing the ‘Beatles scream.’

The kitchen where Bookwitch was conceived is no more, and much as I mourn its passing, I have to say that the replacement facilitated Meg’s inviting quite so many KMP fans, and we were only in danger of expiring from the heat (London was wet, but very warm) as we munched our way through some of the best canapés I’ve come across in a long time, served by some unusually pleasant helpers. Meg had sensibly got the help of super efficient Corinne Gotch and it all worked like clockwork. (Except possibly for their debate as to who was going to open the door for me when I arrived… I heard that!)

I knew the guest list was full of lovely people, authors, publishers, agents, publicists, bookshop people and writers-about-children’s-books. And then there was me.

Meg climbed up on a chair and did her fan speech, starting with saying how surprised she’d been when she found Kathleen was still alive. And without climbing onto anything, Kathleen countered with thanks for her ‘sending off’, which she much preferred to a launch. At least this recognised things achieved, rather than making hopeful demands for things to come. She has written her last book, for which Meg was grateful, but only because there are so many still to read (and I think she mentioned the time she herself takes over writing her own books, which are slightly fewer than 70). Kathleen was very amusing in her thank you speech, remembering a young Terry Pratchett, who she had suspected might do well…

Listening to K M Peyton

David Fickling, Geraldine Brennan, Ian Beck and Lucy Coats

'Mr Rosoff'

Blue

Catherine Clarke and Graham Marks

Among the fans were Tabitha Suzuma (who used to write long letters to her favourite author, receiving long replies back), Keren David and Lucy Coats. Ian Beck was there, seemingly taking photographs with his chequebook, and I recognised Graham Marks, as I do every time, before I have to work out who he is, and that David Fickling was there. I queried why – being a boy – he had turned up and was informed he edits Kathleen’s books. Of course he does. Silly me. And Mrs F recommended her favourite K M Peyton book.

Speaking of books, there were some on display and we were allowed to take one home with us! So, now I have my own – signed – copy of Flambards (seeing as how I’ve been told I must read it.)

Blue, Meg’s lurcher, kept us company all evening. I’m surprised any dog would stay sane and quiet in such a human din. And the Eck made an appearance. He was slightly bigger than I had visualised, but otherwise just as I thought he’d be.

And as the party was at its best, the bookwitch slunk out the door to catch that famous 21.40 back home. The walk to the station was never six minutes (who dreamt that up??), but the 15 minutes there took me 20 on the return. And it was downhill.

Cow-hood, here I come!

(Apologies for any untruths told. I have discovered – via Wikipedia – that there were actually three K M Peyton books in translation before I was past the horse book stage. The next thing I know will be finding that I actually read them.)

Tabitha Suzuma

Eck

Thanking K M Peyton

The Random Christmas Party

After frenzied discussions on facebook as to the level of insanity of me travelling in this snowy weather, it was all a bit of an anticlimax. Nothing untoward happened as far as my travelling was concerned. To go or not to go. That was the question. And until I put my coat on and locked the door behind me, I didn’t know myself.

Sat next to someone on the train who wrote a list of cocktails on his Macbook, and I wanted to scream when he listed vodke. But to point it out would have been to admit I was reading his document.

And while on the subject of drinks, I may have been standing in the part of the room at Random’s Christmas party where all (well, two) the wineglasses broke, but it wasn’t me. They simply exploded next to me.

I knew I was in the right place. Address, not exploding bits of glass corner of room. Partly because I’d been there before, and also because when I got to the front door Klaus Flugge stepped out of a cab, which was as good a sign as any.

Everyone was there. Except for all those less than intrepid souls who cancelled because of the weather. If I could broom in, then anyone could. Maybe. I understand it’s normally more of a crush at these parties, and although I was unable to hear myself think, Mum Clare told me it was on the quiet side. Of course it was.

Someone even missed Daughter, which was awfully kind of her, and it made Daughter’s day to have been remembered. I’d heard about these parties, and decided that people might dress to the nines for them, but that my Arctic explorer persona would allow me to be sensibly dressed. So I was only slightly disconcerted to find beautifully assembled guests ahead of me. And the rest of them changed into their party toilettes in the toilets.

So, who was there? Philip Pullman was there, until he left. I steered clear of him on account of me having complained about his writing speed only last week. Same for David Fickling, to spare him any more embarrassment. Eleanor Updale came, and I missed speaking to her too. Didn’t even see John Dickinson.

I did spy Sarah McIntyre, so decided to make myself known to her. Her beautiful spectacles and lipstick make her instantly recognisable. I looked at the floor to see if Sarah was wearing very exceptionally, extra high heels, but she wasn’t. I felt a wee bit short. Sarah introduced me to Neill Cameron, who’s one of her David Fickling Comics colleagues.

Neill has a book launch (for Mo-Bot High) today in Oxford, so make sure you don’t miss it. I hope Neill doesn’t miss it either. He looked worried when I said the forecast was for his non-return to Oxford, and said he’d leave at the first sign of a snowflake. We spent some time shouting to each other on a variety of subjects, from what three-year-old boys should read to me being followed on Twitter (and I don’t even tweet) by a fictional 17th century Scottish faerie (hi, Seth!).

I saw Jenny Downham, who actually had a new book out yesterday. I say they missed a seriously good opportunity for a book launch party there. I was introduced to Klaus Flugge, who is too old for blogs. I’ll show him!

Ian Beck was there, and so was Steve Cole, but I never made it across to say hello. Didn’t speak to Anthony McGowan either, and I so wanted to ask him to smile at me. Lindsey Barraclough was there. She’s the neighbour of Random’s Annie Eaton, and who will be a publishing sensation next year. Annie smiled at me and touched the sides of her head. She might have been saying her hair was very nice or that mine was awful. Either way she’d be right.

Agents Rosemary Canter and Hilary Delamere chatted by the window, and Philippa Dickinson made a good speech. It was all about hairnets and labcoats and Puffin’s Kaye Webb, whose biography we must read. I’m more worried about needing to wear a hairnet to operate my laptop.

At some point I found myself clasping a small spear and wondering why, as I had no intention of stabbing anyone, until I remembered it had arrived with a tasty mozzarella ball which I had eaten. Many delicious canapés were being walked around the rooms, but I seemed to attract mostly the sausages and the chicken. If there were no breadsticks left, I suspect it might have had something to do with me.

I have finally met Pete Johnson! And he wasn’t anywhere near as short as his name had lead me to believe. I was so overcome I couldn’t even recall the title of his book which I read about a year ago, so I had to assure him I could remember everything about it except the title. (The TV Time Travellers)

With elderly knee and hearing both giving out, I decided to call it a day before I ended up spending the night (I had threatened poor Clare that I’d come and sleep at her house if the trains were cancelled!) and broomed away pretty swiftly and caught the second last of the offpeak trains where I had a choice between sitting next to a John Boyne lookalike and a Nick Green lookalike. I picked Nick because he had a window.

‘It’s special’

Eoin Colfer once said he was sure school children only came to his talks in schools to avoid going to their maths lesson. Well, I don’t know what they expect from a trip to Charlotte Square and the book festival. I managed yet another schools event on Wednesday morning, when Simmone Howell tempted me enough to crawl out of bed far too soon after having got into it. Close to 200 teenagers had done the same, and they were a quiet lot. Although the questions put to Simmone were good ones.

Simmone started off by talking about places in fiction, from The Hobbit to To Kill a Mocking Bird through to her own two teen novels. She likes doing maps, and did them for her books. She also admitted to an early fondness for the word ‘peripatetic’ . In between talking about the background to her novels, she read short pieces here and there from Notes From the Underground and from Everything Beautiful. Simmone feels a need to write about what she knows, like places she’s lived in. She reckons she compensates for her childhood by rewriting her life in fiction form. And like a certain witch I can think of, Simmone keeps returning to the same places whenever she travels.

Simmone Howell

They may have been quiet, but many of the teenagers came into the shop and bought one or both of the books. One girl very proudly showed off her newly purchased and signed book to all her friends. She kept opening the book and showing the dedication, kept telling her friends what a special book it was, specially signed to her. It’s nice to see.

Emma ‘Long-Arm’ from Bloomsbury showed off how many books she can hold in one go. Lotsi, as one toddler I knew well used to say when counting. Very lotsi. And she didn’t drop a single one.

As I said earlier, I wasn’t exactly alone in getting up at the crack of dawn. Approaching Charlotte Square I noticed a long snake of day-glo-vested children on the opposite pavement. Later I found them, along with all the others, eating their packed lunches on the grass. Now I know why the mud is so famously muddy. It’ll be all the orange juice they pour out.

It can be hard to get used to all the authors wandering around ‘like normal people’, but I’m trying as much as I can. And one day I’ll pick up the courage to ask Vivian French for a photo opportunity and a signature. As Daughter and Son and Dodo were leaving with the witch to go in search of lunch somewhere quieter, we ran into Gillian Philip. But it’s a bit much when she recognises Offspring first, isn’t it?

Naomi Alderman

Philip Reeve

Ian Beck

Spent some of my spare time looking for more victims I could take pictures of while they were signing books, and I found Naomi Alderman, Philip Reeve and Ian Beck.

Mal Peet

My evening event was yet again with Marcus Sedgwick, this time in a heated discussion with Mal Peet, and kept in order by the queen of writing-about-children’s-fiction herself, Nikki Gamble. The audience was boosted by an appearance by Gillian Philip, accompanied by the two Keiths, Gray and Charters. And I’ll be forever grateful to Nikki for the revelation that Marcus has a past in an ABBA tribute band. Mal, on the other hand, is a former mortuary assistant.

That sort of difference between the two seemed to be a pattern. Marcus’s fascination with cold countries versus Mal’s with warm countries. Marcus plans his writing in advance, whereas Mal can’t even plan a cheese sandwich, whatever that has to do with novel writing. The ‘bone idle’ Mal finds writing boring and depressing.

Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus read from his new book White Crow, which is no a bundle of laughs, according to himself, and he feels he’s outdone himself with this one. In order to stop himself blabbering Mal read from Exposure, which is the story about Othello he stole off Shakespeare. He pointed out that novels have nothing to do with real life; what with characters speaking in complete sentences and how people never go to the toilet.

This was a real conversation about teen fiction. We need more events like it.

Bookwitch bites #14

That David Fickling has set up in competition with me. There is now a DFB blog, or so I’m told. I’m reminded of an old Swedish saying that says something like shoemakers should stick to making shoes. With my current amnesia I can’t recall if there is an English equivalent. ; )

Terry Pratchett has a big prize to offer in a sort of book writing competition. ‘Anywhere but here, anywhen but now‘ is quite a mouthful for anything, but that’s what it’s called. Details for how to submit can be found here. £20,000 strikes me as very attractive, but I suspect it will still not make a novelist of me. Oh, well.

Melvin Burgess is playing. Something. He’s worked with the BBC to make an interactive drama and computer game thingy. The Well can be played here. It’s got Doctor Who’s lovely Amy in it. I think.

More stuff to look at in some videos of Bloomsbury’s authors talking about their books. Here are some links to Lucy Jago, Celia Rees, Jon Mayhew and Ian Beck, but not necessarily in that order:

http://www.youtube.com/user/BloomsburyPublishing#p/u/0/A3Dk3g_Hajo

http://www.youtube.com/user/BloomsburyPublishing#p/u/8/68Hz9N7ViWI

Candy Gourlay launched her Tall Story this week. From the photos I’ve seen from the launch, she looked like she’s always done this sort of thing.

I’m off to try and reorganise my TBR pile again. One book that won’t be part of it, is one I was offered, and felt duty bound to accept, by someone who emailed me out of the blue. When I did so, I had an immediate reply to thank me for my interest, but they had someone else who wanted it. Quite.

Terry 'two hats' Pratchett

A final link here to watch Terry Pratchett pick eggs out of his hat. It’s for Terry’s Discworld football cup. Though between you and me I suspect the eggs may have been pingpong balls. And there are chickens. Quite what happens with the balls and the chickens I’m not sure. I believe you have to vote for something. Go on, vote!