Tag Archives: J K Rowling

Is it like running?

Overwhelmed as I am by all the new and excellent books I see, I can’t help wondering how they happen. Are written. Get published.

Is it like running faster? I’ve never understood how come people run faster with each generation. Once there was a fuss when someone could run a mile in under four minutes. I suppose there must be a limit to how fast a human being can run a mile? But then Stone Age runners might have thought so too, and their limit was probably far from four minutes. If they knew about minutes.

So do authors today write better books because they know they have to to stand a chance of getting published, or do they write good books because evolution makes it happen? (I’m on very shaky ground here, as you can tell.)

Although, unlike the runners who can’t arrive before they’ve started, I suppose writers could – in theory – write better and better books. Cleverer use of words and better sentences about really exciting new people in new style plots. (Unless schools prevent any sensible written language from evolving.)

Anyway, they say there are only so many plots. And I despair a bit about the state of editing. If I can see it, it must be bad. So I suppose it’s back to the running. And as I was reminded when I looked it up, there is a difference between the normally competent runner, and the really successful athlete.

Or could it be the Björn Borg factor? Sweden was over-run by especially good young tennis players in the years after Björn’s Wimbledon triumphs. Players wanted to be the new Borg, and there were plenty of people able to help train them.

Or were the tennis results simply contagious? Like J K Rowling started us on wizards and Stephenie Meyer gave us romantic vampires. I think tennis-wise that things calmed down after a while. Will books?

The drawbacks of being Scottish

Well, I’m not, obviously. But some people are.

There are good books being published by Scottish publishers, written by Scottish authors or authors resident in Scotland, sometimes actually about something Scottish. But not always.

It makes a great deal of sense to highlight the Scottish aspect of these books when you do PR in Scotland. We all like to buy homegrown, be it haggis from the next field or whatever. Nearby is good. Fresher. More like you. Just look at how the voting in Eurovision is done.

But that’s not to say that the Scottish author and his/her book does not travel well, or that no one outside Scotland would ever want to read a Scottish book. It’s not all tartans and heather and ‘och aye.’ Scottish authors are just as capable of writing books that will appeal to people all over the world as, say, J K Rowling. (Oh. She wrote the Harry Potter books in Scotland, you say?)

Scotland has about five million inhabitants, while the UK is more than ten times that, and as for the number of people in the rest of the world who can read books in English, that’s a wee bit larger still.

I spoke to a Scottish author recently. One who writes marvellous books, and which as far as I can tell are not particularly Scottish (any more so than a novel set in Newcastle would be deemed suitable only for the good people of that city). Anyway, this author told me of speaking to booksellers south of the border, and they were puzzled. Because they didn’t stock these books, and the reason they didn’t, was that the publicity had been such as to suggest ‘tartan books to be read in Scotland only.’ Sigh…

So, when selling at home, do point out it’s by ‘one of our own’ and when selling anywhere else, say it’s the best book ever. Maybe that the author lives in Scotland, like J K.

Ye ken?

You and Harry

Call me childish if you will, but I do quite fancy being on the cover of a Harry Potter book. After all, I’m a witch.

Life size cover Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

This life size cover will be at King’s Cross today, somewhere near platform 9 ¾, from seven to seven. I believe you can be photographed inside the 3D cover (and I’m hoping it’s free, but they didn’t actually say), as they are celebrating the new edition of Harry Potter.

I’m fairly sure it’s the same picture as was on the poster Son bought in Sweden back in 2002, and which sat on his wardrobe doors (yes, doors; we cut it in half) for longer than you’d think would be considered cool. Daughter bought another poster, and I bought wallpaper. The real kind, not what you have on a computer. And a suitcase, to transport it all home.

Hail, hail

During the last year it seems that J K Rowling has learned to hail cabs. The Tube still appears to be a mystery to her, however.

I’m reading the new Robert Galbraith. Last year it was the London travel scene that provided the only slight doubts I had about J K’s new criminal venture. I deduced – possibly erroneously – that when she was poor she’d either not spent much time in London or – understandably – not travelled much by taxi.

And once she could afford to hail cabs, she presumably was forced to travel less publicly, so never got to practise this art of getting around. That will be why she had her detective phone for a taxi, instead of waving one down in the busy street.

Cormoran Strike (that’s her detective) really can’t afford cabs, but as I read, he has just hailed one.

But I had to wince when the poor man and his hurting leg caught the Tube from Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street. He’d have been better off walking, and better still taking the bus.

I don’t agree with the people who have said Robert Galbraith waffles, and that there is too much detail in the books. There are many crime devotees all over the world who like to see where the character in a book is going. They can follow Cormoran on the map, if they want. If they’ve been to London, they might have been to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, and will be delighted to read about it.

I know I would have, once. It’s the Midsomer Murders effect, and one which natives find hard to grasp.

Just please, please, get Cormoran an Oystercard and show him a bus map!

(Or, I suppose, there’s always brooms.)

Stop it!

I’m not terribly keen on Martin Amis. I am fairly sure I’ve not read any of his books. So I’m basing my lacking keen-ness on what I know about his person. I could object to his fame. Or to the fact that he probably earns a sizeable amount of money from writing.

The one thing that would never have ocurred to me to do, is suggest he should stop writing books. I don’t think he should. It’s what he does, and according to some people he is pretty good at it.

I liked some of his father’s books, so I accept that Martin most likely has some talent in that direction. He writes. People read and like and pay for the pleasure. That’s fine.

But if your name is J K Rowling and Harry Potter made you more money than most of us can begin to imagine (and I speak as someone used to handling lots of money; just not my own), then it appears it is OK to suggest she should give up writing, and leave her window of opportunity to a few other needy authors.

Why should she? I like the fact that she clearly enjoys writing so much that she does it even when she doesn’t have to, in order to feed and clothe her children. Especially now, when she must have discovered that she will get lots of flak if she publishes another book.

Unless it’s something as unimportant as a children’s book. (These are my words, but the sentiment in the Huffington Post the other day seemed to be that children’s books are not proper books, and that even J K has Lynn Shepherd’s permission to write more. Generous. What if she were to earn an even bigger slice of the author income cake?)

I’ve not read Hilary Mantel’s books either. I have nothing against Hilary, who I’m sure is nice. But I probably won’t choose to read her books while there is so much else I would like to prioritise. She wins prizes. A lot. And while it would be lovely for other writers to win as well, I don’t feel we can suggest that no one should award Hilary any more prizes, in case it upsets her peers. Or that she stops writing in order to prevent literary judges from praising her work.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?