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.

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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