Tag Archives: Joan Lennon

Stay at Home!

It’s not only sourdough bread that has happened over the last three months. Many authors have come up with online material to offer readers. In fact, there’s been such a glut that I’ve not been able to keep up. I just know there is much to find.

Small Scottish publisher Cranachan Publishing has a free ebook offering a wide variety of things to read. Their ‘Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown is a a free, illustrated anthology of poems and stories for children aged 8-12, comprising specially written lockdown-themed contributions by 40 writers based in Scotland.’

Try it! There are household names, and there are names you might not have heard of. Yet. But this is a nice collection, and what’s almost nicer still, is how people have pulled together to make it happen.

Granny Garbage

I’m not usually big on poetry at all, and scary poetry is not a thing I’ve really come across. But there is always a first time for nearly everything.

One of my guests on Wednesday, Joan Lennon, not only writes really great novels, but she’s into poetry too. Scary poetry. Instead of flowers/chocolate/wine Joan gave me a thin leaflet, which is her most recent literary offering (I missed the launch). Granny Garbage.

Joan Lennon, Granny Garbage

She reassured me that it wasn’t going to be so horrible that I’d not be able to sleep. But this poem lasting no longer than sixteen pages is not without fear. Especially when you get to the end, even if there is some menace on every page.

Look out for Granny Garbage.

(I mean that any way you might think I mean it.)

Ghost launch #2, take #2

I completely forgot the Mars bar. I’m the kind of witch who gives authors in need Mars bars.

Che Golden and Helen Grant

We launched Helen Grant’s Ghost last night. This was the second Edinburgh attempt, after the snow in March, and this time we were successful. Author Che Golden had mentioned the need for a Mars bar in her reverse psychology sort of invitation to the event on social media the day before. Che was chairing, so clearly felt the need to entice people to come. Online, Helen and Che have been known to call a spade a spade. And worse.

In person, Che is disappointingly polite.

Helen Grant and Ghost

We had a full room at Blackwells, and not just because both Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant came. There were a few authors, like Alex Nye, Joan Lennon, Philip Caveney and Roy Gill. Also a Ghost, except it was just some lunatic covered in a bedsheet, who later turned out to be Kirkland Ciccone gone bananas. And some perfectly normal people.

The bananas were later visible on his shirt, which he’d teamed quite nicely with a sequinned jacket. So while everyone else was also beautifully turned out, no one was quite as bananas as Kirkie.

Kirkland Ciccone

Once the silly photographs had been tweeted, Che went to work with a host of questions. Helen continued the fruit theme by mentioning The Pineapple, where you can stay for a holiday, and the deserted ruin nearby, which is one of the many places to have inspired her.

Helen Grant

She said again how hard Ghost had been to write. The dream would be an agent who reads her new novel immediately, loves it and calls with a book auction offer of £5 million. Helen doesn’t want to write more YA, but prefers to work on traditional ghost stories.

Che reminisced about how on their first meeting Helen took her to Innerpeffray Library, and showed her the leper squint. It’s what she does for her friends, I find.

Che Golden

Che also pointed out that while she has read every single book Helen has written, Helen has not read any* of Che’s. This is possibly not true, but a sign of how they insult each other. I occasionally wonder if I shouldn’t have introduced them, but then, where would I learn such a varied vocabulary?

Helen sets herself an amount of words to be written every week. If she has worked hard, she might get Fridays off. That’s when she relaxes by visiting solitary places, for the atmosphere. She can recommend graveyards.

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

And on that cheerful note it was time to buy copies of Ghost and to mingle and chat. There was wine.

Roy Gill

After I’d given Mr Grant a quick Swedish lesson, it was time to go home. Which, is easier said than done on a Thursday, with still no evening trains. We lured poor Kirkland to come along with us, which meant his debut on the Edinburgh trams as well as probably getting home considerably later than he’d have done under his own steam. But we meant well.

*I can recommend them.

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

Walking Mountain

Joan Lennon’s Walking Mountain is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Right, I just needed to get that off my chest.

And how come Joan Lennon isn’t a household name? She seems to be very much a hidden treasure. In a world full of books that would have been better not being published, people should read Walking Mountain. (And Silver Skin.)

Set somewhere where the Mountain has always moved away from the Sea, letting people have a little bit more land every time, now the Mountain has begun to move in the other direction. This is not good. Young Pema is chosen to tell the Women at the Abbey about it, but instead ends up walking to the Sea in the company of Singay, who’s always wanted to do something special, and Rose, a tiny silver man who’s a Driver of Comets. They have a world to save.

This incredibly loveable trio meet many obstacles on the way, as you should in a good story. They deal with everything as best they can. Sometimes they meet nice friendly people and sometimes they don’t. I mean, they meet people who are truly awful, the way people sometimes are in good stories.

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

The book is exciting in just the right way, and it is a perfect length at just under 300 pages. You just want to avoid having too many other things that need doing at the same time, because you will not want to be doing them.

Whereas afterwards, you’ll feel happy and content and might even get round to doing a few chores.

Inaugural Scottish Teenage Book Prize Winner!

And we have a winner of the new Scottish Teenage Book Prize. Claire McFall has just won the £3000 prize for her book Black Cairn Point, beating Joan Lennon and Keith Gray, who each receive £500. These things happen. Congratulations to all three.

I’ve not read Claire’s book, but it’s been described as a chilling and atmospheric thriller set in Dumfries and Galloway, which explores what happens when an ancient malevolent spirit is reawakened.

Claire McFall

Claire says ‘I’m over the moon that Black Cairn Point has been voted the winner of the first Scottish Teenage Book Prize. It’s a brilliant award that encourages young people around Scotland to read books about and from their country and their culture. But it also encourages them to get involved by taking part in the competitions for readers that run alongside. Silver Skin and The Last Soldier are both terrific books, so to know that readers chose my novel is an enormous compliment. This is why I write.’

She is an English teacher and lives in the Scottish Borders. Her first book, Ferryman, is a love story which retells the ancient Greek myth of Charon, and it won the Older Readers Category of the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2013; was long-listed for the UKLA Book Awards, long-listed for the Branford Boase and nominated for the Carnegie Medal. The sequel is coming in September. Her second novel, Bombmaker, is about identity in a dystopian devolved United Kingdom.

So, Hades, a dystopic Britain and malevolent spirits…

New Scottish teen shortlist

Another week, another Scottish shortlist. Scottish Book Trust have just announced the brand new Scottish Teenage Book Prize. This is where children aged 12 to a6 read and vote for the books on the shortlist. And they are:

Keith Gray, The Last Soldier

Keith Gray, The Last Soldier

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin

Claire McFall, Black Cairn Point

Claire McFall, Black Cairn Point

I know that the first two are terrific books, so I fully expect Claire’s to be as well. I’m glad that the reading and voting teens will have great stuff to get on with, and may the best great author win on March 1st next year.

FREE TO USE - Inaugural Scottish Teen Book Prize Shortlist Announced

As with the bookbug award, shortlisted authors receive £500 per book, and the winning author will receive £3,000.

Daughters of Time

I was in the middle of the story by Celia Rees in the anthology Daughters of Time, when the captain on my plane made an announcement. I looked up. ‘She’s a woman!’ I thought. I know. Stupid thought to have, but I did, and she wasn’t even my first female pilot. Then I looked at what I was reading, which was about Emily Wilding Davison, and I told myself off for my reaction. I’m ashamed of myself.

After that came Anne Rooney’s story about Amy Johnson, so there we had the second woman pilot of the afternoon. And of course, it felt completely normal, because I knew she was female, if you are able to follow my train of thought. I just hoped my plane and ‘my’ captain wasn’t going to crash as spectacularly as Amy Johnson did. Preferably not crash at all.

Daughters of Time

This collection of stories about women, and girls, from various times in the past, written by women and edited by Mary Hoffman, was published last year, so I’m rather late. I knew I’d love it, though, and I did.

Arranged in chronological order the book begins with Queen Boudica and ends with the Greenham Common women, with girls/women like Lady Jane Grey and Mary Seacole and many others in between. The list of authors reads like a who’s who in young fiction, and I’m now wanting to read more on some of these history heroines.

With my rather sketchy knowledge of some British history, I have also learned lots of new facts. I had never really grasped who Lady Jane Grey was, and now I have a much better idea.

This is the kind of collection you wish there would be regular additions to. Maybe not one every year, but I can see plenty of scope for more stories.

Silver Skin

The first thing I had to do after finishing Joan Lennon’s Silver Skin, was to look up Skara Brae. Like her character Rab, I learned a bit about it at school, even though it is Scottish history. Like Rab, I listened and didn’t understand and never bothered to stop and think, or to try and learn more. Now I am wondering how I can fit in a trip to Orkney, and if I can possibly avoid being seasick.

The difference between me and Rab is that he comes from a long time in the future. Earth is crowded and no one has much space, but they do have technology. And Rab and his built-in Com decide to travel to Orkney in the past – they already sort of live on Orkney, but in a tower stack high above the ground – to 1850 to be precise.

Naturally something goes wrong, and what was meant to be two hours in 1850 becomes a very long time in Stone Age Skara Brae, with Rab’s travelling silver skin and his Com being damaged on impact, when he falls out of the sky.

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin

Now, I apologise for my historical shortcomings, but I read this book not quite sure when the Stone Age was, apart from quite a long time ago. It was only as I looked up Skara Brae that I realised it was that long ago. 4000 years, give or take. Slightly different from 1850.

Rab is injured and taken into the home of Cait, who herself is an outsider, having been rescued and brought up by Old Woman Voy. Once he has healed, all Rab can think of is returning home, but only after he has collected as much information about this odd place as possible, so he can show off.

But you know, silver skins are hard to repair, and he falls in love with Cait, and…

We learn much about how life back then could have been. It’s so very interesting, while in no way making this novel anything but a fabulous read. I raced through it; both wanting to know what everyday Skara Brae was like, and what would happen to Rab and Cait.

Many thanks to Joan for educating an ignorant witch.

A Birlinn rendezvous

There is a certain freedom – not to mention a sense of adventure – in standing at a railway station as a train comes in, and you’ve got a trainload of alighting passengers to choose from. Who to go and ‘have coffee’ with. Well, to be truthful, I had already googled Sally from Birlinn, so I had an idea of who to look out for, and she knew to find a short, fat witch. And she did.

Sally was coming all the way to me, to talk about the many good children’s books Birlinn – who are an Edinburgh based publisher – are about to let loose on the world this year. I walked her to the Burgh Coffee House, as she confessed to earlier youthful trips to the Rainbow Slides in Stirling. What’s more, she came here from Linlithgow, and the less said about this lovely place and me, the better. (Actually, Sally has more or less sold me on the town, now. It has a good bookshop just by the station, apparently, so as long as I manage to get off the train in the first place…)

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin and Joe Friedman, The Secret Dog

So, Birlinn. Sally brought me books by Joan Lennon and Joe Friedman, which both look promising. She talked me through their whole 2015 catalogue, and plans include a Peter Pan graphic novel, books by Alexander McCall Smith about the young Precious Ramotswe, history by Allan Burnett, the Polish bear Wojtek, Lynne Rickards and the ever orange Tobermory Cat by Debi Gliori. There will be poetry and there will be naughty young lambs.

The books all have some connection to Scotland, be it setting or author or anything else. I knew it already, really, but it’s worth saying again, that Scotland has books all its own. It’s not just an appendix to England. If Norway can have a publishing industry, then so can Scotland.

There was a bit of gossip, too, and a secret that can’t be mentioned. And after that Sally ran for her train back to the big city, hoping that someone else would have done all the work by the time she got back to the office.