Tag Archives: J K Rowling

Twenty years of Harry

Would I be where I am today if it weren’t for Harry Potter? Would you?

Reading the Guardian article about the fans who grew up with Harry, they were all very clued up, not to mention wearing great Pottery outfits. Offspring had to make do with what we could cobble together from our own clothes and a striped tie – in the wrong colours – bought from the neighbourhood charity shop. But that worked just as well as anything else. Daughter was Hermione twice in quick succession. And I always imagined Son would be the perfect Harry in the film. I’m so glad now he didn’t become rich and famous!

From having to bribe Son to read the first book, to standing outside bookshops in the middle of the night, or being part of an event at the local stately mansion hired for book seven, in charge of what turned out to be quite hard quizzes and things. Daughter’s shock when Stephen Fry couldn’t keep up, and she actually had to actually read the fifth book because she couldn’t wait for the audio book.

It became a way of life, almost. And people still refer to most things Harry Potter and expect the rest of the world to keep up and know what they mean.

And to think I was dreadfully disappointed when I realised that the book I’d bought after reading a very positive review, turned out to be about wizards! I almost sat down and cried. I had been under the impression I’d bought a nice old-fashioned boarding school crime novel for children…

And to think I might not have read it had the Resident IT Consultant not bitten the bullet and gone first. The man didn’t even have the decency to tell me he thought it was ‘all right, I suppose.’ He simply put it down and reached for book two, which I’d already bought by then. My reasoning went that if he did that, maybe it would be worth my while having a second go.

It was.

Where are the girls?

Well, mostly not in yesterday’s book, Kid Got Shot. It’s a pretty male book, and apart from Garvie’s mum and his teachers, the female part is played by the gorgeous Polish girl everyone – including Garvie – falls for.

As I believe I tried to suggest when telling you about Mother-of-witch last month, I was brought up in such a way that I never felt women were worth less or that you have to constantly count the sexes and make sure they are balanced.

Am I weird? No, don’t answer that!

I happily read about musketeers and anybody else offered in the books I came across. Thinking back, I wonder if I found it hard to identify with girls in books when they were not the kind of girl I was, and then I felt that if I’m not going to be like them, I might as well read about male characters. In the end it didn’t matter as long as it was a great story.

But I recognise that not all girl readers have such belief in themselves, and they do need to see more female characters in books. In its article Balancing the bookshelves, the Guardian wrote about the need for more girls. It is not wrong, but I didn’t absolutely agree either.

When I think of the ‘new age’ of reading that to my mind began with Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, I don’t think of the sexes or any balancing. Yes, Lyra is a girl and a strong one, too. But her daemon is a boy. Harry is a boy who hangs out with best friends Hermione and Ron, making up that traditional fictional trio of two boys and one girl. The Famous Five are two of each, if you don’t count Timmy the dog, and you forget about George being George.

I’ve not really stopped to check whether there are more boy characters because more men write books. When it comes to children’s or YA I believe, without having counted, that there are more female authors. And many of them write about boys. I see no reason why they shouldn’t.

Looking at my three favourite books, we have [primarily] one girl, two girls, and then a boy. All three authors are women. But while Meg Rosoff has Daisy in How I Live Now, she has also written some wonderful male main characters. I don’t feel that is wrong. In fact, I assume the stories demanded it. Can male writers manage good female characters? Yes, they can. Look at Marcus Sedgwick’s girls! I’m guessing his books needed females.

I think it’s too easy to get worked up about the sex of a character. What we need is a society where all are equally valued, albeit not all identical. But obviously, if reading about a particular person in a book turns into a life-changing experience for a young reader, then I’m all for it.

What they bought

Feeling grumpy again. And I’m going to ignore Thumper’s mother for a few minutes.

It is a good thing that of the 100 biggest selling books in 2016 17 were children’s books. I reckon that’s more than it used to be. But I am trying to work out if I believe it’s a good thing that eight of them are by David Walliams.

Five are by J K Rowling, two are Jeff Kinney’s and there’s a Mick Inkpen and a Roald Dahl. The last two were World Book Day books, which might explain the numbers.

On the one hand, I like that people are buying books for children, and I like the fact that lots of children are reading. But I would love for many more of those books to be by other authors.

I can understand why the book business bow and scrape to David Walliams. He brings in a lot of money. And presumably, if publishers didn’t go for his books, there wouldn’t be the same number by others sold, nor even published.

But I do mind. If the books are bought because they truly are what a child wants, then OK. I hope that after they will move on to other kinds of books, by other writers. Writers who take more part in the writing process.

But I hate the fact that books are bought because you recognise the name off television. And not in a literary way.

I’m relieved that the top selling spot is occupied by a Harry Potter related book. Anything to avoid the celebrity book effect.

As long as children read… And I suppose, as long as someone buys books for them. I remember reading pretty light and flimsy books myself, and craving more. They were all by different authors, however, and many of the books were borrowed. It’s the fact that it appears that children’s publishing stands and falls with one man that bothers me.

I hope his success means there is plenty of money to put into publishing real children’s books.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This was absolute bliss. Whereas it is generally ‘quite nice’ to revisit a film and its characters, the concept of J K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them beats most that I have seen. Even though I obviously read the book [by Newt Scamander] however many years ago it was published, almost as an afterthought, the new film is such a tremendous bonus!

It’s something you didn’t see coming, separate but still belonging to Harry Potter’s world, and it couldn’t have been better. I never thought of Newt Scamander as anything but an obscure historical character, with an interest in animals. The film about Newt shows how wrong I was, and how Rowling’s magic just carries on and on.

As someone said the other day, it’s rather a relief to have a film like this with almost no children in it. It meant we could see Muggles and Wizards in the New York of 1926 as it might have appeared in just about any film; it was all about adults going about their business, which in Newt’s case was rescuing creatures at risk, and trying to teach other magic people that the beasts have a place in the world too.

Kowalski, the wannabe baker Muggle, was a Rupert Grint kind of man. Quite ordinary but also quite brave and someone who adapted well to the seemingly crazy world of magic. The two main female characters, sisters Tina and Queenie, were just as intelligent, kind and beautiful as you needed them to be. And Eddie Redmayne’s Newt was mysterious and enthusiastic and kind, with a nice sense of humour towards his ‘walking stick insects’ and dragons and all the other creatures.

The bad guy was so charmingly bad that you almost believed he might be all right. And the remaining characters made for a rich background.

Isn’t it wonderful how you can have a spin-off like this from a ‘mere’ children’s publishing sensation? Something so good and fun and mature, which wasn’t born from the usual film mould?

I don’t often float away from cinemas, especially not in the middle of the night. But I did this time. And I felt happy.

The 2016 best

Yes, there were good books, even in a year like 2016. Let’s not lose [all] hope, shall we? In fact, after careful consideration, there were more serious contenders than I could allow through to the final round. Sorry about that.

During 2016 I seem to have read and reviewed 154 books. Before you gasp with admiration, I should mention that 40 of those were picture books.

2016 books

And here, without me even peeping at other best of lists, are my favourites, in alphabetical order:

Beck, by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff

Broken Sky + Darkness Follows, by L A Weatherly

Crongton Knights, by Alex Wheatle

Five Hundred Miles, by Kevin Brooks

Front Lines, by Michael Grant

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, by Dave Rudden

More of Me, by Kathryn Evans

The White Fox, by Jackie Morris

I believe it’s a good list, and I’m glad that two of the books are dyslexia friendly; one at either end of the age spectrum.

And, you are human after all, so you want to know who just missed this list. I’m human enough to want to mention them. They were Hilary McKay, J K Rowling, Malcolm McNeill, G R Gemin, Jonathan Stroud, Kate DiCamillo and Philip Caveney.

Two dozen more on my longlist, and we mustn’t forget; if a book has been reviewed on Bookwitch at all, it has passed quite a few quality tests. So there. You’re all winners. But some are more winners than others.

I love you.

Why not me?

The lists are gathering all over the internet. I am gathering a few books myself for my 2016 list, which is fairly imminent. Some people I admire, who are very knowledgeable about children’s books, are moaning and asking if this ‘list is any good?’ because they haven’t heard of a single book on it, or at least not read them.

And I’m rather like that myself. Not the moaning, obviously. I never moan. Except when I do, like now.

On most of those lists I have managed to find one I’ve read, and liked, and occasionally another I’ve heard of or even received but not read. My own gathering list already has too many books on it, even when I stick to my rules, children’s books published this year, which automatically disqualifies great adult crime and some really excellent books that were last year’s. But you have to have boundaries.

So I’m not short of wonderful books. I’m merely pondering why so many of the ones on other lists have not passed over my threshold. Or, it seems, a number of other thresholds either.

It is well nigh impossible to request books you don’t know exist, or I would do. And by the time enough people have enthused about them somewhere, there is less scope to jump on the bandwaggon. If they were by authors I know and have read before, the chances of hearing about their new books is greater. Except, even those writers who first became published during the Bookwitch era, and are considered – by me – to be established authors, seem to find it difficult to have their new books bought by publishers.

And at the same time there are countless debut authors. It makes me wonder if publishers actively go for new rather than established, because the established ones have failed to write the next Harry Potter, so the debut writers are seen as more likely to do a JKR? OK, so she was a beginner, but surely a new Potter success could come from anyone? Clearly not on quite the same unlikely scale, but still big.

Is a hitherto unpublished writer more likely to strike gold than the author who has had four really good novels published, but who is now not having any luck with their latest offering? Surely it must be possible to have plodded along for ten years before hitting on just the right thing at the right time?

Unless the only money publishers are looking for will be coming from celebrity books, ghost written or not?

Whatever.

All right, maybe some more last photos then

Nearly twenty years after J K Rowling was here with her first book, it has been illustrated by Jim Kay, and become much, much larger.

J K Rowling and Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

From Potter to poetry with Zaffar Kunial and the Scottish Makar. And festival director Nick Barley.

Zaffar Kunial, Jackie Kay and Nick Barley

And Pufflings, as in Lynne Rickards’ Skye the Puffling, with Jon Mitchell.

Lynne Rickards and Jon Mitchell, Skye the Puffling

Sticking with my letter P theme, here is Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies, busy entertaining fans in the children’s bookshop.

Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies

Slightly scarier stuff in Zom-B Goddess, but Darren Shan is as polite as they come.

Darren Shan, Zom-B Goddess

And before I leave you with another image of my favourite lights in trees, I offer you two people who always make my book festival a pleasanter place; local agent Lindsey Fraser in conversation with Mr B.

Lindsey Fraser and Mr B

Charlotte Square

(In order to find our first encounter with Mr B, I went down Memory Lane, which is about seven years away, and I was astounded to see how many authors were around then. We were only there for a week, but had authors practically coming out of our ears.)