Tag Archives: John Barrowman

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.


Bookwitch bites #70

Sisters and socks and television this week. I’ve been watching far too many daytime shows for my comfort, in order to take in most of the interviews with John Barrowman and his lovely sister Carole.

Then there was Blue Peter who had ‘some sort of ‘ book programme this week. The quotation marks are there to point out that I think they could have had more on books. I now also know stuff about escorting sharks in elevators – and surviving – which I dare say might come in tremendously handy one day, but which was not fully book related. Lucy Coats was lovely, talking about one of the books I have not read. Michael Rosen and others were also there to enthuse about the various Blue Peter shortlisted books.

David Fickling

Here is an ‘almost television’ programme, a video featuring Jacqueline Wilson and her books in general, and her new The Worst Thing About My Sister in particular. Jacqueline answers questions from an audience of children, and reads from TWTAMS.

This week’s sockman, Nick Sharratt is also in there. In retrospect I began wondering whether Nick got his sock inspiration from David Fickling of red socks fame. That’s DF from David Sockling Books, you understand. And in this week’s sock relay, it was to Oxford and David Sockling/Fickling that Nick headed as he left our ‘blissful, lovely’* Sockport.

Big Book Babble with Jacqueline Wilson ans Nick Sharratt

* That’s almost a literary quotation, but I’m afraid I can’t divulge who said it, for fear of repercussions.

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.)