Tag Archives: John Barrowman

Sweet sixteen

A year ago Bookwitch ruminated on what sells and what she reads and why.

Today I’m – because we are the same, Bookwitch and I – thinking about the effect Bookwitching has had not just on me but on the young and innocent, like Daughter. We have both put sixteen behind us – but only just. Obviously. Today it’s Bookwitch’s turn to hum ‘She was only sixteen…’

As you may have gathered, Daughter has recently moved and has some vintage shelves to arrange with books. And, it seems, a polar bear. Also two bookmarks, one of which I was intrigued to find personally dedicated and signed by Michelle Magorian.

This is the effect I mean. Somehow a lot of young literature has happened to Offspring. The vintage shelves I mentioned seem to contain mostly books by people I ‘know’ and who Daughter has met through being dragged on bring-your-child-to-work days.

There are an inordinate number of Cathy Hopkins books, and that’s as it should be. Likewise Caroline Lawrence and Liz Kessler and Jacqueline Wilson. Although the latter has had to be pruned down to more manageable numbers of books.

I won’t list them all, but basically, the story of Bookwitch can be seen on these shelves. There won’t be so many new ones, as the e-reader has taken over. This is just as well, because however lovely the vintageness from the local auction-hunter, a flat has only so much space.

Apologies for the tile samples. There is a kitchen splashback to deal with. And I would like it to be known that that book by Vaseem Khan has been ‘borrowed’ from a kind parent.


Lucky thirteen?

Who’d have thought? Thirteen today, and I’m not going to hand in any towels or broomsticks just yet. Probably.

But where I have occasionally mentioned that Bookwitching is rather like holding a tiger by the tail, it’s more me being blackmailed. Not by a tiger, however. Although, I am currently reading a book featuring a talking tiger.

No, what’s getting to me are the somewhere north of 8000 pictures I’ve got squirrelled away for use on here. Yes, it costs money. Yes, I should probably – definitely – have made other technical decisions years ago. But here we are, and my picture storage provider is trying to con me out of more money. And more again.

I’m not falling for it, but a) I hope they are not going to pull the plug prematurely, and b) I will have to unlink to these 8000 photos – only some of which have been ‘borrowed’ – and put them somewhere else instead, and I have 22 months in which to do it.

My arithmetic is fairly good. This won’t be possible.

Right, cheerful thoughts!!

It’s been fun. Mostly. Some of the drivel I’ve written is reasonably enjoyable if read in a good mood.

And I’ve got a talking tiger to read about.

To illustrate how weird my illustrations are, below is a photo of James Draper’s espadrilles. It’s one of my most popular photos. James, for anyone who doesn’t know, runs the Manchester Children’s Book Festival at the MMU, as well as being Manager of the Manchester Writing School. (This in sharp competition with Michael Palin and John Barrowman. For photos. Not footwear.)

And here he is again, wearing a slightly more respectable outfit, for some reason…

And ten years on…

Ten years go so quickly, don’t they? While the fresh-faced Bookwitch looks good for ten, that other, tired witch propping her up is certainly showing her age. I reckon she thought she’d still be 29, ten years in. Whereas it’s more like, well, at least 49.

Meg Rosoff and the ALMA award, with Alice Bah Kuhnke and Katti Hoflin

I’ve often wondered if I’d last this long. The next wondering has always been whether to give it up. You know, nice round figure (and I don’t only mean me) to end it all.

Philip Pullman

But when I voiced this thought to Ross Collins last month he seemed shocked (and I’m not fooling myself into thinking he’s been here for the duration), so I immediately retracted my threat.

Julie Bertagna, bookwitch and Neil Gaiman

Ross then said I must have ‘got’ a lot of authors in that time, so I sighed deeply and said yes. He seemed concerned that I wasn’t sounding happier, which kicked me out of my morose state of mind. Yes, I do ‘have’ lots of authors, and I love every single one, and treasure them, and this is a cause for celebration. Not sighing. But you know, when you’re 49 sighing comes easily.

John Barrowman

In the last few days I’ve been in email conversation with someone else, about books and publishing and all that kind of thing, and I realised I’ve picked up quite a bit over the years. Not just authors, I mean.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Actual knowledge, except it’s more like English grammar; I couldn’t tell you what it is. I just feel it.

So don’t ask me anything. I don’t know.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

There have been many absolutely wonderful books. And some less so. There have been really fun and interesting events, many of them in unusual places I’d not otherwise have got to visit. And those authors. Oh, those authors.

Steve Cole

Thank you.

(That’s the ‘I will go on for many more years’ thank you. Not the farewell thank you. I hope.)

Sara Paretsky

Jellybaby corpses and other gruesome stuff

Last time I went to Waterstones Argyle Street (Glasgow, for those of you who don’t know) was to talk to John Barrowman. That was nice. Two and a half years later I returned to launch Kirkland Ciccone’s second novel Endless Empress, only to find that in the corner where John’s fans had queued, someone had built a café. Very nice (but where will they queue next time?). And toilets (where the interview happened…). Also very nice, not to mention convenient.

Endless Empress

Where was I? Oh, yes, launching Ciccone’s book. (I might have told you already how disappointed I was when I found out that’s not his real name. Well, last night I discovered he doesn’t know how to pronounce it, either.* Or, his publisher and editor – Keith Charters – doesn’t. Might be a Cumbernauld thing, I suppose.)

So, there we were, about to launch. He has lots of friends, that Kirkland, and many of them were there. It was probably the most uniformly aged audience I’ve come across, outside schools.

Kirkland Ciccone

He wore dead leopard. Fake dead leopard, I hope (it looked a bit cheap, so it probably was), and it made him unbearably warm, which is why Kirkland had to take it off as soon as he’d stopped his crazy talk.

Keith Charters

Kirkland was introduced by Keith, who reckons his author is the funniest thing since sliced bread. When editing the book, there was always something new to discover on every read-through.

Endless Empress had a few provisional titles before it became EE; Dead Teenagers, Enkadar, Bombers, The X39 Is Late Again, and finally Endless Empress. Kirkland doesn’t want to write normal YA books (I can well believe it) and is hoping to prove himself to his old school. Or was it teacher? He’s a ‘pop culture sponge’ who listens to what people say in queues.

He cried when he had to read Women In Love at school (Cumbernauld, again). We were entertained by tales of his crazy, chainsaw wielding neighbour, as well as talking bushes (a flasher who mistook Kirkland for a girl), and women crying by the ice cream van. Kirkland doesn’t like Thomas the Tank Engine.

Kirkland Ciccone

At one point in the pre-publication days he worried that the book might be too realistic. He felt that the high school massacre he wrote about almost came true. And his Elvis impersonator killer did too.

Kirkland wanted a really cool and edgy cover. Keith got him art student Ida Henrich, who has made a pretty spectacular cover, despite the fire at the Glasgow School of Art.

Kirkland Ciccone and Ida Henrich

We got the Spanish holiday story again. His mum took him to Spain on holiday when he was a child. When he was invited to the Tidelines book festival in Saltcoats last year, he discovered that Saltcoats had a lot in common with Spain. In fact, it was Spain. Like many good mums his mum pretended a Spanish holiday.

This camp – not manly – author is of the YA generation. He was terribly excited to have been invited to lunch with Julia Donaldson and Theresa Breslin (except it seems he was incapable of going to the right restaurant). Kirkland finished by saying he hoped people would like Endless Empress as much as he loves it himself (quite) and that £7.99 might seem much, but it’s the price of two coffees and a muffin. Apparently.

Waterstones Cafe

Then there was Irn-Bru and wine and jellybabies (which look like corpses, or some such thing). I’d been promised Coke. What I got was Waterstones water with Waterstones ice.

What happened to my Coke?

*Mr Ciccone has since pointed out to me that he does know how to pronounce his own name, although of course it isn’t his name. He simply borrowed it off some woman.

The Book of Beasts

Carole Barrowman and her brother John have developed as their trilogy of books has progressed. I couldn’t wait to find out how they would end the Hollow Earth mystery, and well, I’d like to know what they are doing next. Perhaps I could twist an arm or two and find out?*

Animare twins Em and Matt were both in trouble at the end of book two, and in The Book of Beasts they need to use all of their fast emerging talents at drawing themselves out of trouble to save each other and their family. Although possibly not their father, who isn’t the best of role models as fathers go.

John and Carole E Barrowman, The Book of Beasts

We meet horrifying creatures (and how they smell!) and humans, who are almost worse than the beasts. The past smells. A lot. But it also features brave and intelligent people, and you can make friends across the centuries.

As before, what I like is the Scottish-ness and the use of art in the fight against evil. Some nice humour and a bit of romance add to it. I’d like to return to Largs and Auchinmurn Isle and Era Mina. I’d like to know if…

*I suspect they are not done with these characters. They are crying out to be developed further and put through more torment. OK, I’ll get my arm-twister out…

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 Barrowmans in the West End

Carole and John Barrowman poster

Even the bouncers looked familiar. (I know. That doesn’t paint me in a terribly good light.) And, you know, bouncers at a book signing?


Also, my reputation must have preceded me, as they gave me my own private enclosure, complete with armchair to sit in and everything. I could get used to this.

When it became obvious that the Barrowman siblings and I were hitting Scotland at the same time, it seemed like a good reason for getting fresh photos of them signing their second book, Bone Quill. I tried to rope my Edinburgh Offspring in to do it for me (not that I object to meeting Mrs Barrowman’s children), as my real Photographer was unavailable, but he was translated to Lund, leaving me to sit alone in the enclosure. So, apologies for shaky photos and all that. Carole and John looked divine, as usual. Carole’s hair was longer than last year and it suited her. John’s was as artfully ruffled as ever, and you could barely tell he fell off a – pantomime – horse last month. (What is it with horses and bad press?)

Carole and John Barrowman

They had a school event in the morning. They had another in the afternoon. What they had in between was an hour of signing books in Edinburgh’s Waterstones West End. Luckily – because it wasn’t half term – they ended up with approximately one hour’s worth of a queue as well. I’d been thinking they might never make it to their second school.

Carole Barrowman

So there I was, in the enclosure right opposite their table. It was warm, so I started undressing. But only coat and scarf. They’d got their pastel bunting out and it looked very nice. (In fact, it’s an altogether nice shop. I’d not been before. Helpful staff.)

John Barrowman

As the helpful Mandy (I do hope I’ve got the name right..!) pointed out, it was mostly female fans waiting. I suspect they were primarily there for John. Some people tried to talk entertainment stuff with him, but he said things needed to go via the proper channels. They might have been tired, but they gave their fans everything. They know how to do this kind of thing. I reckon most of the fans would agree with the lady who left saying ‘I can go home happy, now.’

Many went home very happy. Especially the ones at the end who persuaded John to pose for photos with them. A true friend is one who says she will have her picture with John taken after you have had yours.

Carole and John Barrowman

Good signing session. Very well organised. Lovely Mandy (still hope it’s the right name) gave me a ‘wee coffee voucher’ for afterwards, which I put to good use on a not very wee tea. I even had a wee cupcake, and I sat down at a table in the corner (which wouldn’t normally have been my first choice) to enjoy it, my enclosure business all done and dusted.

It was the witchiness. That corner turned out to be the route Carole and John took as they left. They said hello. I spoke to their hardworking publicity star Ana. Maybe they had time to gulp down a wee lunch. (Pardon me. I’ve got stuck on wee. It’s so lovely and Scottish.) Maybe they didn’t.

Check here for more signings. And apologies for going on about hair. It is not really of very authorly importance. But this was the celebrity signing. The one with bouncers.

Bone Quill

This second instalment in the Barrowman siblings’ trilogy about escaping into art, takes the reader places they won’t be expecting. At least, I didn’t.

More fun than book one, because we know who’s who and what people can do and why. Twins Em and Matt are confident in their ‘draw a picture and disappear into it’ abilities. They know their friends, and they know who their enemies are. Admittedly, their mum has disappeared, probably into a painting. But they’ll find her.

And for hopeless people like me, there is a very useful – and blissfully short – reminder of what happened in Hollow Earth.

John and Carole E Barrowman, Bone Quill

Matt is more hot-headed and does things without thinking for as long as he ought to. But both children, along with their friend Zach want to put things right. And that does not include unbinding the twins’ dad, who has the wrong kind of ideas about stuff.

This time their art travel has another dimension added, and they do find a few unexpected people. We see more of the monks in the Middle Ages. They are all more closely connected than we previously thought.

It took me a while, but I began to see roughly how this book must end. There is a cliffhanger, but it involves warm fruit scones, so all is not lost.

No reader will want to stop here. While we enjoy our scones, we expect John and Carole to get on with the happy ending.

The Gaiman effect

WordPress sent me their cheery stats for 2012. There really does not seem to be much one can do about Neil Gaiman. His fans create havoc when they land here, and very welcome havoc it is too.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

At least the post about Neil – and Chris Riddell, actually – was written during 2012. As WordPress pointed out, some of my most popular ones are oldies, which means my writing has staying power. Apparently. They suggest I should write more about these topics. Which, apart from Mr Gaiman, seem to have been me (cough), Terry Pratchett, the Barrowmans and Cats with Asperger Syndrome.

Sort of a varied selection, then?

You came here from 162 countries, and Twitter sent you. Or Eoin Colfer, or John Barrowman. But funnily enough you were mostly interested in me (again), Oliver Jeffers, Liz Kessler, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Faraday.

Stats are weird, but then, so am I.

Here’s to 2013 when I will not be taking things quite as easy as I ought to. You can see how the W – for witch – wobbles above the fireworks. Tired already.

Wordpress 2012 blogging report

When the Bookwitch met the Barrowmans

I emailed my questions to the Photographer, to act as my second-in-command, in case my Pendolino got stuck in a snow drift somewhere in the Lake District. You can’t be too careful. Her immediate reaction was ‘you can’t ask questions like that!’ and to please make sure I made it all the way, just so she wouldn’t have to.

Carole and John Barrowman

Well, I did. And John and Carole Barrowman are so funny and polite but chaotic that there is no way anyone could stick to a stupid list of questions anyway. My intended first one (the dustbin question) looked like it wouldn’t make it, when their general craziness caused it to pop up early on, because it sort of belonged. And that’s the thing, you have to wait and see what people are like.

These two didn’t even assume I’d read their book. Presumably because far too many other interviewers hadn’t. You probably don’t when you’re on television.

Anyway, John and Carole are loud and boisterous, while still remembering the good manners their parents must have instilled in them. I have never had less of a problem hearing a recorded interview, because John speaks LOUD and CLEAR as though he’s used to being on stage. They talk at the same time. And where most interviewees talk at a speed of just over 100 wpm, the Barrowmans managed around 200wpm…

Perhaps because there were two of them?

Here it is.