Tag Archives: John Barrowman

The Barrowmans are back in Glasgow

They began queueing at nine, while I was still dozing comfortably on my Glasgow bound Pendolino. We’d all got up early; the fans, me, the photographer, and John and Carole Barrowman, who flew in for the day to sign their new children’s book Hollow Earth.

Carole and John Barrowman

And as the gathered fans lifted their eyes upwards to watch Carole and John descending the stairs in the style of astronauts just back from the Moon, I was sorely tempted to see if I could get someone to pay me a fiver to shake my hand. The hand that had just shaken John’s hand. It had to be worth something, surely?

But I restrained myself. And I have since washed it, so it’s too late.

As you will have gathered, your witch had an audience with Captain Jack and his long suffering big sister Carole. Hence the travelling for both witch and photographer, each from their own corners of the land. (Being crazy helps.)

John Barrowman

You’ll want to know what they are like. They are bonkers. As John said, they are the kind of people you end up sitting next to in a restaurant, wishing you didn’t.

We talked about their television appearances where Carole hasn’t always been (allowed to be) present, despite the fact that it was she who wrote the book. It’s the price you pay for having a famous brother. There was a discussion about the background to the Hollow Earth story, and we covered everything from gay children’s authors, to eating ice cream in a freezing cold Scottish summer.

Carole Barrowman

After the interview we left them to gulp down a hasty lunch, which seemed to consist of salad and a smoothie, followed by a bag of Maltesers. Well, he needs to get his bounce back somehow.

And then we joined the nine o’clockers downstairs, with the photographer braving the burly bouncers for a position near the signing table. 263 photos later we repaired to an Italian restaurant for a late and well deserved lunch, before returning home our separate ways.

It’s going to be hard dealing with people’s envy, but we will do our best.

Hollow Earth

There is no absolute rule that because you are good at one thing – and successful and famous and stuff – that you can’t therefore also do something else, and even do a tolerable job of it. It’s just that we don’t like people who seem to be able to turn their hands at ‘everything.’ At least I don’t. I feel there should be a limit to how much any one person gets up to. Spread the talent. That kind of idea.

That’s why I thought it was a bit much when John Barrowman started his solo concert career. Can Captain Jack really sing? How embarrassing. Those were my personal moans. And now he’s written a children’s book. But I’ve learned my lesson, and the autobiography he co-wrote with his sister Carole a few years ago was quite readable. So why not a children’s adventure story?

Why not indeed? I raced through Hollow Earth pretty quickly, just to see how it would end. (Not clear-cut enough. There is more to come. Clever move.) I’ve no idea how Carole and John divided up the work between them, but it seems that the whole book just popped up on a long car journey and they had it all planned by the time they arrived. With his acting background I can just imagine John not being short of a crazy idea or two, and Carole has the writing credentials and can presumably sort out those ideas on paper.

John and Carole E Barrowman, Hollow Earth

Not surprisingly, this tale about twins Emily and Matt is set mostly in Scotland, on an island the Barrowman siblings made up. It sounds real enough, though. The twins are good at drawing and when they draw, they find they can make what’s in the picture real. Hence the surplus of water in the National Gallery, which caused some embarrassment.

This isn’t a safe skill to have, so the chase is on, with the twins taking refuge in Scotland, where more and more ‘life’ drawing takes place. There are plenty of baddies after the children, and they will stop at very little to get what they want. (Some) family and friends help the twins, but then you never know who to trust. My main complaint about the story would actually be that very fact. All the adults are fairly similar, so it wasn’t easy guessing who was good or bad. I’ve only got one right, so far.

The story begins in a monastery in the Middle Ages, when an artistic monk slips while working on a book illustration, very nearly letting a creature lose. That seems to be the background to what Emily and Matt experience, and we find the past and the present have close ties.

Apart from being a pacy adventure, Hollow Earth could be said to provide some art education for young readers. While John and Carole have made up the paintings included in he story, they are based on real and similar art. Let’s hope children will take a renewed interest in art galleries after reading this book.

And there’s always good old Scottish ice cream to be eaten in oh so typical Scottish sunshine.

(For more info, visit Hollow Earth. If you dare.)

Did you write that yourself?

The cover of G2 one day this week made me happy. I think it was the photo featuring a man and a stack of books. The man didn’t do much for me, but I like stacks of books. Just wish they had turned them all the same way before taking the picture. The ferret faces the opposite way from all the others, and I’m unsure if by design or accident. You don’t know with ferrets.

John Harris undertook to read an awful lot of celebrity autobiographies in a very short time. He is to be admired for surviving. I knew that kind of book is likely to be dire, but the direness was worse than expected. It would appear that the kind of editing that novelists experience does not take place when a highly paid celeb sits down to write about themselves.

Maybe ghostwriting is too much to hope for, but they could at least work on the opening sentence in order not to put the prospective reader off before they’ve paid for the book.

Though I do understand why the books sell. I may not know who Cheryl Cole is (I have an inkling, before you all write in), but were I a fan of hers, I’d like to read more about her. So anyone who writes a biography of someone I admire, be it themselves or a ghost or someone else, I’d probably buy it. And if it’s bad, it will join its sisters in Oxfam before long. Two months after I’d heard Roger Moore talk about his autobiography in Cheltenham, the charity shops were awash with copies.

I enjoyed reading about Rolf Harris and Billy Connolly, and John Barrowman, sort of. John very sensibly got his sister in to write. I did not last past the first 100 pages of Michael Winner. Though I did learn something from his book. If you can fill pages with photos of yourself with the caption ‘here I am with XX’, then Daughter can use hers with Mr Winner in her autobiography, when the time comes. It’s quite a good photo, even if it did embarrass her dreadfully. I believe he helicoptered in for it, as well.

But is it important that Joe Bloggs writes the book himself? Is it not more important that we can read something readable about Joe Bloggs? If we are fans of his. Admittedly, I feel the only person I could write a passable biography of is me. And I’m not interesting to more than a handful of people.

It seems the book to read at the moment is Keith Richards’, but I’m not interested in him. Maybe I should be.

I just looked at the original article again. I apologise. It’s a meerkat. Not a ferret. Ferrets are better.

Bookwitch bites #16

The fruit from my January Random trip turns up now and then. I don’t mean that I forgot an apple in my bag, but that at this distance from all those meetings I attended, things are trickling through, having become real. One of the latest is the news that the novel written by the neighbour has got a contract. Annie Eaton’s neighbour Lindsey Barraclough has persuaded the powers at Random that her Long Lankin novel really was worth publishing. So it’s hopefully a happy ending for her now.

In fact, the end is all I read. Various people at the meeting had been given various parts of the novel to read, and I had the last fifty pages, which is a surreal way of approaching a book. So basically what happens is that they *** and after that it gets really tricky when ***, but it sort of ***. Maybe.

Captain Jack is going to write a sci-fi children’s book, which should have the cash tills ringing, unless they’ve totally been abolished by next summer when the book is published. John Barrowman will write the book with his sister Carole, who seems to work well with her baby brother, judging by past efforts. I know someone who will want to read it.

Daughter and I threw ourselves at Eclipse as soon as it was ready to be viewed yesterday (not counting previews and other cheats), and that was not because I couldn’t wait. I just reckoned that if I didn’t get it over and done with now, I’d not get to it at all. Still not having read a single one of Stephenie Meyer’s books I have to say that the progression of the films suggests that I’d do best to stay away by now. This was a dire film, even by my ‘easy-watching’ standards.

Less trashy is the new novel Trash by Andy Mulligan, the arrival of which I mentioned here earlier. Let’s just say that now that I’ve read it I’m a fan of a fantastic book. Only Trash by name. I would prescribe impatient waiting until September.

What about gay books?

‘Thank goodness we’re all heterosexuals here,’ sighs Patrick Ness in his Guardian review of Steve Augarde’s book X Isle. (Spoiler warning, in case someone reads Patrick’s review and wants to read Steve’s book later.) And he goes on to say:

‘Gay teens read books, too, having a bit more reason than most to seek a safe and private world, and how miraculous it would be for them, just once, to read a mass-market adventure story where their absence isn’t greeted with relief. —  How refreshing it would be for gay teens – and, incidentally, straight teens, too – to read a twist that reverses expectations in new ways, rather than the usual Shakespearean ones. It’s time, perhaps, for certain old plot devices to be buried with a fond, but firm, farewell.’

I have to agree. I probably wouldn’t have minded Steve’s plot device (similar to Meg Rosoff’s in What I Was), but I can see where Patrick is coming from. But then, maybe it’s not so much what Steve or anyone else might have done with their plots which matters, as the simple fact that there are not a lot of gay YA books around.

In fact, I’m struggling to come up with any at all, other than Jacqueline Wilson’s Kiss. When I read I don’t compartmentalise story lines in my mind according to sexuality or skin colour. I’m not absolutely certain how I categorise books, now that I think about it. More like I do people, I expect. Nice people, awful people, bores, etc. Things that don’t depend on them being black or white or wealthy or badly educated or anything else like that.

So, I think ‘good book’, ‘couldn’t-wait-to-put-it-down book’, ‘book of the century’ or ‘OK, I suppose’. That kind of thing. If it’s got interesting relationships or sex or whatever I’ll mentally file it away as such.

Patrick is right, though. As long as being gay is seen as a problem or as a minority thing, there will be a captive audience waiting to read about themselves. And it wouldn’t hurt for others to read about it as well. But my own experience from blogging about Aspie books in the belief that it would be useful for ‘the others’, only to find that it was the Aspie readers who were desperate to find reading suggestions, shows that you can’t necessarily predict what anyone needs. Most of us would like to find someone we can identify with in fiction, whether it’s sexuality, disability, race or just simple stuff like being fat, clever, shy or something else, which for the ‘sufferer’ takes on disproportionate dimensions.

We don’t need more books about the hardships of being rich, beautiful, popular or terrific at sports. Vampires have recently had plenty of publicity for their special handicap, so maybe it’s time to cast a wider net?

To get back to gay books; who best to write them? It’s tempting to say those who are gay, but I have no idea if that’s right, and I don’t know how many gay authors there are. And of course, if you are gay, it’s a bit boring to feel that you therefore have to sit and compose one gay book after another. But it’s the ‘write about what you know’ thing, isn’t it? On the other hand, lots of authors write excellent portraits of someone the opposite sex from themselves, and writing about something new or different is supposedly the skill of a professional writer.

The other question is; can the market cope with gay novels for young readers? I suspect the publishers would find it hard, as might the buyer from the large chain. What about the grandparents? Or the school librarian, who should know better, but who worries about upsetting the parents. But the thing is, we have a generation of quite young children who have watched Doctor Who, and perhaps even Torchwood, who know all about Captain Jack, as well as John Barrowman, and who find it totally natural.

Not all authors want to ‘come out’, and I can see that there may be special issues perceived both by authors of young fiction and their publishers, if the author makes their sexual orientation known. So, maybe not ‘write about what you know’, for fear of upsetting customers?

But then, how do we ever go forward?

(I’d like more fiction about boring, short, fat girls. Preferably with really good looking boyfriends. Or girlfriends, to be non-sexist.)

Queue? Me?

Who would you queue for? And once you have queued, do you mind the brief and often impersonal contact achieved in 30 seconds or so? (Yes, I know, many of you stop and spend time on each fan, doodling and chatting and being friendly. But not all queuees do.)

Sara Paretsky was wondering this on her blog recently. She felt that she’d want her special Sara-ness to be recognised. So do I. My witchyness has to be acknowledged for complete happiness, but sometimes I’m willing to receive the 30 second blank stare simply to have been that close to X. It’s better than not having got close at all.

It’s the several hours in the queue I’m not too keen on. Let’s face it; I’m too old and nervous to cope well with any wait, so I don’t think I could do the Jacqueline Wilson style queue for most of the day (or was it just JW who spent eight hours signing, rather than her fans?). What makes sense is to plot and plan how you get to the beginning of the queue. Daughter and I did a careful recce in Cheltenham last year in anticipation of beating all the John Barrowman fans to it. (Not me, her.) And Michael Morpurgo at the National Theatre went accidentally well, with us just happening to be at the front.

I didn’t care enough for a Neil Gaiman signature to stand on a London street for hours that time a few years ago, when I had no idea of his cult status, and marvelled at the snake of people all over Covent Garden. When Terry Pratchett’s signing in Manchester turned into a barricade, thanks to Waterstone’s staff, we didn’t bother staying, either, despite Son’s admiration for Terry.

On the other hand, the queue for Wilbur Smith at the local bookshop last year wasn’t all that slow, despite him taking the time to shake people’s hand. Twice. And he asked people if they were ‘together’, which seems awfully risky to me.

Offspring and I stood in line to meet Sara Paretsky the first time we saw her. And she was friendly. The second time I took an alternative route, and asked to interview her, which can cut down on waiting time. It needn’t, since people often run late on tours. But you can wait sitting down, and generally you get more than the blank 30 seconds.

In theory there are people I’d wait hours for, except I don’t wait well. And close up some people can be a disappointment.

Bookwitch in Cheltenham

You have an exhausted bookwitch at your service this morning. Let me tell you, going to Cheltenham is a lovely thing to do, but it is not restful. In order to be nice to Daughter, we went to see Russell T Davies and John Barrowman last thing last night, which meant the last train (lots of lasts, there) home. Daughter has staggered off to school now, and the witch has so far only managed to put her foot in wet paint once, this morning. (The decorator is here…)


Anyway, as I was saying, Cheltenham is nice. Daughter gasped when she saw the architecture and I had fears her camera would run out of batteries. (These days you can’t run out of film, at least.) So, lovely town. Lovely weather, warm and sunny and the summer we never had. Literature festival. Also very nice. So much to do, and not enough time.

Darren Shan

Celia Rees

The first afternoon we ran like scalded rats between venues, taking in Darren Shan and Celia Rees as mentioned previously. Why can’t they all be in one place? The advantage of these festival thingies is meeting all sorts of people, and it’s particularly good for me to meet the people who work in the background and send me books and are generally helpful. Celia had Emma from Bloomsbury with her, providing me with more proof that the publishing industry is very pretty. Observed Ann Widdecombe being interviewed in the park, and wanted to dash over and discuss Jacqueline Wilson and unmarried mothers with her, but didn’t. Mal Peet strolled past, unfortunately without Meg Rosoff, who I assume had gone home after their event the day before. Dinner was the slowest pizza ever encountered, before the dash to the race course for Roger Moore. The moon was particularly nice looking on Saturday night, in case you were wondering.


My last blog post was written in the middle of the night, while I perched on a pillow to reach the computer, swearing over slow hotel broadband. After a few hours of sleep, it was up at dawn for a rendez vous with Eoin Colfer and his biggest fan, Charlie. Ever the interfering busybody, I had leaned on Puffin’s Adele Minchin until she tilted dangerously and said that “yes, of course, Charlie can interview Eoin”.

Adele Minchin and Eoin Colfer


So that was Charlie and family brimming over with excitement, and we all trooped into the Everyman theatre to wait. The interview will appear here, soon. Suffice it to say that it went very well and the whole Charlie family now love Eoin. The event was better than ever, which makes me wonder if Eoin was fibbing when he said minutes before it, that he didn’t know yet what he’d be talking about. (His horrible brothers, since you ask.)

Eoin Colfer at the Everyman Theatre

After refreshments in the Everyman Theatre’s writers’ room, we looked round Cheltenham, again. I think I saw Kate Adie near the Promenade. We went to the Times tent for our free Times reusable bags. In the sweltering October heat it felt incongruous to see our lunch restaurant urging their customers to book for Christmas, but there you are. We had wanted to eat outside, but so did everyone else.

Back out to the race course, for John Barrowman and his sister Carole. Daughter is a VERY big fan, so getting close to John was imperative. We scouted out the best route to the book signing and prepared with almost military precision. As we did this we saw Richard Attenborough, or Santa Claus, as Daughter calls him. He was there with Bob, Jacqueline Wilson’s driver. John and Carole were great, and there’ll be more on that over on CultureWitch soon. And the planning paid off, with Daughter getting to somewhere near the front of the queue.

Carole and John Barrowman

While waiting for that last Doctor Who event, we took our M&S sandwiches outside and sat by the fence near the entrance, looking at people passing by. Daughter fantasised about seeing someone she knew, but it was the witch who found her colleague Karen, from Eurocrime. Who says it’s lonely blogging?


(All photos by H Giles)