Tag Archives: J K Rowling

A must-have cover

When I saw Jim Kay sign copies of his first illustrated Harry Potter in Edinburgh, I was a bit tempted. The book looked fabulous, but it was also very large (and obviously, as we go along, the books will grow and grow) and I was telling myself to be sensible.

Sensible is a good thing to be.

But then I happened to come across the cover of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I sort of sank. How could anyone not want it?

I like buses. I like night time scenes because the colours are so gorgeous. This cover image has it all. And it’s a bus. The Knight Bus, no less. Did I mention that?

J K Rowling and Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is something I will need to think about. I have some time, as the book isn’t out yet. The thinking will have to be that I can’t fit a new shelf in anywhere. And a big book, and its friends, need space.

Old hands and celebrities

Following on from my thoughts yesterday, my new, bright, idea was to find some unknown names on the days I’ve planned to go to Edinburgh. And then to go and listen to these new possible stars.

There was just one problem. There weren’t many. I’m not saying there were none.

But I recognised most of the authors and illustrators in the children’s books programme. I reckon I found three or four new names in total, by which I mean they have only one book published, and/or have not done many events.

A couple of them I had highlighted, but they had lost out to another event on at the same time.

The other thing is that with celebrities now ‘writing’ children’s books and appearing at book festivals, there is less room for the new Julie Bertagnas or Joanne Rowlings.

And of course, even if they were going to be there, and even if their books are fabulous, that doesn’t mean they will be household names in ten or twenty years. I suspect it’s the household names that will be raking in more money and more fame.

Were you there?

It is so easy to pick the best known names, or even the known names; authors you have come across before and want to see, or see again.

I have just been choosing events I would like to go to this August in Edinburgh. The numbers are realistic, so not too many. Will probably end up being fewer once I get a little tired. Have I picked any new authors? Am I being adventurous? Let’s have a look.

Hmm, well, it wasn’t as clear-cut as I’d expected. There are people new to me, and people new to the British market. But even if I haven’t seen them before, I have read and enjoyed their books and actively want to see them.

No adventure there, really.

It’s actually hard to make a completely unknown name stand out in a programme, making you go for it. I often think I should go ticket-less on a random day, and simply pay to see someone who ‘happens’ to be on later in the day.

Last year I saw Kathryn Evans, who had a debut book and who was also a book festival debut. But I’d read her book and I’d ‘known’ her for seven years or so. I wasn’t being brave in my choice.

Twenty years ago two new authors appeared at the festival. One of them has told me how she sat next to someone called Joanne Rowling for the book signing afterwards, and how they signed a book for each other… If she has any sense, Julie Bertagna has her Harry Potter under lock and key. Or she has sold it and spent the money. I’d like to think that Joanne still has her copy of The Spark Gap on a shelf somewhere.

Both books are terrific. Both authors have gone on to publish more books.

Looking back from where I stand, it’s obvious that anyone would want to see them. But I wonder how the audience made the choice in 1997?

Were you there?

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.