Tag Archives: Jonathan Stroud

‘Don’t show your ghosts too soon’

Jonathan Stroud had been in Gothenburg before. 11 years ago, he reckoned, which is true, as that’s when we met him the first time. Then he had his Bartimaeus trilogy to talk about, and now it’s Lockwood.

On Thursday morning Jonathan did a short event with his publisher, and he only had to warn her once that she must be careful with spoilers. I’m glad I was already past that bit, so it didn’t upset me. I’ve been reading the 4th Lockwood all week (and the reason I’m not done yet is not because I’m slow, but simply that there hasn’t been enough time in the week) and it has been just the right background for a bookish few days at the Gothenburg book fair.

Jonathan feels there’s a bit of Pippi Longstocking about Lockwood. And needless to say he wants to be him. (So it was interesting to hear him tell Lotta Olsson on Friday that when he tried to use Lockwood as narrator in book two, he gave up as he didn’t want Lockwood’s interior monologue.)

Everyone is impressed by his extensive research (this is fiction, folks!) into ghosts and the weapons he gives his characters in their fight against the ghosts. Poltergeists are – sort of – real, but most of the rest he obviously made up.

Mats Strandberg, Lotta Olsson and Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood began when Jonathan wrote a short introduction, featuring a boy and a girl outside a door, and he wanted to find out who they were and what they were about to do. Lockwood and Lucy and George emerged from that short opening. The reason he uses – an alternative – London as the setting for a fantasy is because it’s more realistic and exciting in a real place. He doesn’t know much, but builds things up slowly.

The agencies in the books are growing increasingly corrupt, so he made the ghost hunters young because they are more open than adults. Jonathan compared the work the young agents do on a nightly basis with our own everyday tasks that we just have to do, whether we want to or not. He feels that by implying things and being sparing with details, you have a more powerful story.

In his event with Lotta Olsson, he and scary author Mats Strandberg discussed the difference between horror and terror. It could be that horror is more for children, while terror works better for adults. Mats, who has been inspired by Harry Potter [the films…] described his new book as being a bit like The Walking Dead, set on the ferry to Finland. (Which sounds pretty terrifying, if you ask me.) And apparently in his next book Mats is even scaring himself.

Jonathan believes in suspense, which is why he doesn’t want to show his ghosts too soon. You will be more frightened by not knowing what’s coming. There’s the bump in the night, versus machine guns. Mats said that in terror it is generally the underdog who fares best. Asked by Lotta how the easy access to violent [real] videos for even quite small children will affect future writing, Mats hopes that empathy can save the world.

Freedom to Think is a campaign Jonathan is involved in, which wants to give our far too busy children some time to themselves, when they can simply sit and do nothing; dream up new ideas and maybe learn the skills to be an author or to do other creative things. Not to be ferried round by parents to ever more activities.

Lotta wondered if Lucy was meant to be the main character in Lockwood, and Jonathan felt that the fact she is flawed, brave, and has anxieties, makes her a useful and very suitable hero, and why he discovered that Lockwood was no good in that role. Finding your voice is the best thing.

Asked by someone in the audience for their favourite writers, Mats confessed to being a Stephen King fan, while Jonathan likes M R James and his ‘short and nasty’ stories.

Jonathan is currently writing the fifth and last Lockwood novel, which is nervous work. But he finds that the scary bits make the jokes better.

Slurp

You might remember that Meg Rosoff left me in the corridor on Thursday afternoon. I was still there when she woke up on Friday morning. Or so I tried to claim. I had returned to the same spot, sorting out my plans for the day, when Meg came up and asked if I’d come for coffee with her.

On the understanding I’d not actually have to have any coffee, I agreed, and that’s how I ended up slurping my own pink blueberry yoghurt drink after all. Meg had one as well, and also coffee (Swedish coffee, where you don’t get to choose what kind) to set her up for the day.

(It must be tough to find that the only person ‘in town’ you know is your long time ‘stalker.’ A bit like when friends of ours moved to a new town and the only person they knew there was the bishop. Talking of whom, the bishop was the only famous person I encountered in the corridors during my two days at the fair. Except I refer to him as the former archbishop. Same difference.)

We talked about amusement parks, and nearly falling off carousels, and I recommended Liseberg [across the road] if she wanted a walk. Anyway, it turned out Meg had even more mini-events to appear at than I’d been told about, so I attempted to steer us towards the Brombergs stall, except in the end Meg did better than me. Oh well.

Meg Rosoff

It’s amazing how at a fair this size, with thousands and thousands of visitors you ever accidentally find people you know. As I was making my way to see Chris Haughton, my attention was caught – with some difficulty – by the New Librarian, who was standing there eating lunch with Pizzabella and School Friend. So we chatted over their Thai food, until it was time for me to eat my own lunch during Chris’s event.

My next event was 45 minutes on horror with Jonathan Stroud and Mats Strandberg talking to Lotta Olsson. And from there I ran to the stage where Meg was appearing, again, and where I’d arranged to meet both School Friend and Pippi. Failed to see School Friend, even with the help of the New Librarian and Pizzabella, who both passed by individually, and who both failed to find their mother. Pippi turned up and we chatted until it was time for me to force a couple of signed books from Meg. At this point School Friend materialised, but when offered the opportunity of meeting Meg she vanished, claiming she had another event to queue for, so in the end Meg only got to say hello to Pippi, who then insisted on buying me tea. And a kanelbulle.

Meg Rosoff

I just might have noticed Sven Nordqvist, of Findus fame, walk past. But on the whole I don’t recognise Swedish celebrities. I decided that gossiping was more important than a third Jonathan Stroud event, and when we were done I sent Pippi on her way to look at books and things, while I chased Jonathan for a signature, but missed him.

And that was that.

I went to pick up my suitcase from Miss Vet’s, called in at a bookshop on the way to the station (because I’d not had enough, and because the fair didn’t have the book I was after), and caught a train to go and spend the weekend with School Friend. And that is where I am now.

and more still

from 2005 in Gothenburg, while I’m carried away and all that. The amazing thing is how many books Son and I managed to fit in before we went, just so we could be up to scratch on all that was talked about. And how many of those he really liked.

Susanna Clarke

These days I have too much to read, and Son has too much of everything, but still – I believe – retains a fondness for Roddy Doyle and Susanna Clarke, whose name I always forget. But Son adored her Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and was so keen to hear her speak that we actually had to go and sit near the front (and you know I don’t do the front), so he could be close enough.

Roddy Doyle

We read The Commitments in preparation for Roddy Doyle even though he was there to talk about his newest book. I don’t think I realised quite what a literary giant he is in Ireland. Just because I’d barely heard of him at the time didn’t mean he wasn’t revered, or famous.

And it’s funny how things come back to you after all these years. I knew full well we’d seen Lee Child, and been thorougly underwhelmed (I know, everyone I admire seems to like him) by him. But that’s not what I meant. When seeing the photographs for the first time in ten years I realised I knew the man next to him, the one who was there to chat; John-Henri Holmberg. He has more recently been involved in all things Stieg Larsson, and only the other week the Resident IT Consultant came home from the library asking me if I had heard of this person who had translated the anthology he’d just borrowed. I had.

John-Henri Holmberg and Lee Child

Fairly certain we didn’t listen to Jeanette Winterson, but only saw her at the signing. Or maybe we did. See how much I ‘know’? It wasn’t the year that Jeanette complained about the dreary events rooms, anyway. That came later.

Jeanette Winterson

I’d not – still haven’t – read the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, but that didn’t stop us from going to hear him chat to Lotta Olsson; the woman who likes what I like, crime and children’s books, and does so for Dagens Nyheter. On departure I had discovered that I did have a Jonathan Stroud book in my possession, so brought Buried Fire along to be signed. I felt somewhat ashamed for popping up bearing an old book and such a decrepit looking one at that.

Jonathan Stroud and Lotta Olsson

But Jonathan was so pleased to see a well read copy of – I think – his first book, that I learned something new. Authors like seeing that people have read their books, and if it’s an older one, it shows you didn’t simply turn up because of an event for some other book, brandishing a pristine copy of it.

So whenever you see me with an old book, blame Jonathan!

Lockwood – The Hollow Boy

All of Chelsea is covered in ghosts, and Lockwood & Co have not been invited to help fight them. All the other agencies are there.

You and I know how unfair that is, and so do Lockwood and his two assistants. They have to persevere with some of the more minor ghostly problems in London, and you and I know how good they are with stuff like that. They only disobey Lockwood’s orders occasionally, risking their lives and making mistakes that could cost people their lives. But on the whole they do well.

Jonathan Stroud, The Hollow Boy

Lucy is particularly keen to try her special abilities to solve the ghosts’ problems, and Lockwood would rather she didn’t. She is getting on better with her dreadful green pal in the jar she carries around, and he in turn has some helpful suggestions for how she could get rid of… Well, I won’t tell you who, but let’s just say Lucy and the boys don’t agree on something of great importance.

Brave and talented though Lucy and Lockwood are, I’m not sure where they would be without George. He is often quiet and always hungry, but generally researches their cases thoroughly, discovering what others have missed or not even bothered to look up in the first place. I have to admit to seeing him in a new light in this third book about our psychic investigators.

Old enemies surface, as do new ghosts, and that person I was referring to above. Chelsea needs saving, and then there is the mystery of Lockwood’s sister.

This is another jolly, thrilling and amusing instalment in the Lockwood saga. I have to admit to panicking towards the end, when it looked like George’s cake-eating was about to take a beating. But I’ve been reassured there are many more ghosts coming my way.

The Whispering Skull

Like meeting up with old friends. Jonathan Stroud’s second Lockwood & Co novel returns the reader to some favourite characters, and you just know you will have fun together. Again.

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co - The Whispering Skull

Lockwood and Lucy and George have a nicely functioning style of searching for ghosts and getting rid of them, making London and the world a safer place. A year has passed since Lucy joined the company (please tell me this doesn’t mean they will soon be too old to deal with ghosts?), and they are about to start work on a new and dangerous hunt for a mirror that kills.

The three keep running into their rivals from Fittes, and this new case sees our friends actually having to cooperate with them. But it’s not always those who seem to be your enemy that you ought to worry about the most. What about the – illegal – green skull in the jar they keep in the house? Friend or foe?

You have to admire Jonathan for creating this modern day, alternative London, which at the same time feels really Victorian. His core group of characters might follow the standard pattern of two boys and one girl, but Lucy as the narrator makes for a different kind of story. She’s also very talented. Perhaps not more so than the others, but their skills complement each other.

This is quality reading for young and old. Bring on those ghosts, but first hand me my rapier!

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.

Numbers and meat cleavers

This is for people with a fondness for ‘interesting’ dates. And even for people who couldn’t care less. Today is the 11th day of the 12th month in the 13th year (well, you know what I mean!). But I will not now provide a list of the year’s best ten books. Or best 14.

I need to slim these lists down, but when I looked at the possible contenders for best Bookwitch book 2013, there were so many wonderful reads that it’s as hard as giving up cake and cheese and go on a diet.

Cough.

Let’s continue.

I have a bunch of six books, where I can’t say that one is an overall winner. I would like to, but can’t. One thing that has made me pick these over some others, is that they provided that special glow of happiness. Scary and good is obviously good, but happy and good wins every time. (Apologies for excessive soppiness.)

I’ll list them in first name alphabetical order:

Anthony McGowan, Brock

Debi Gliori, Dragon Loves Penguin

Hilary McKay, Binny for Short

Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co – The Screaming Staircase

Marcus Sedgwick, She’s Not Invisible

Sam Hepburn, Chasing the Dark

If you – or your favourite book – are not on the list, please be gentle with that meat cleaver! Let’s face it; there are lots of wonderful books out there.

Lockwood & Co – The Screaming Staircase

This is the kind of book you fall in love with at first sight. Even when the cover of the proof is all black and claims to harbour a Type II Apparition in the bottom right hand corner. As if that would scare me!

(I gather I could download an app, and I would actually see the ghost, and then I might die from ghostlock, and that would be rather terrible, so I don’t think I will. Even so, quite exciting.)

Jonathan Stroud, The Screaming Staircase

Jonathan Stroud’s new book, The Screaming Staircase, is absolutely marvellous! At first I believed it to be Victorian. It feels Victorian, but is set today, in an ‘alternate’ Britain. My Victorian confusion lasted until I worked out that all was ‘normal’ except that some time in the middle of the last century ghosts started appearing more and more, and they became dangerous.

So what we have is a society geared towards staying safe from ghosts. There is a a curfew at night, and people surround themselves with iron and silver, and that way most of them survive. Young people are different, which is why children are sent out to patrol at night, and the agents who try and find and destroy ghosts are all in their early teens. Some of them survive.

Lockwood & Co is a small agency, consisting of Lockwood himself, George and new recruit Lucy. We meet them as they attempt to free someone’s house from its resident ghost, which might have killed the owner’s husband.

Lucy is the narrator, and she’s an intelligent and brave girl ‘not above fifteen years’ who hears ghosts more than she sees them. Her boss Lockwood (who reminded me a lot of Albert Campion) is a little vague, but runs his agency with an iron hand. Most of the time. George eats doughnuts and finds facts, besides being an awfully good agent.

The three of them encounter some pretty gruesome ghosts in a dreadfully haunted house. But it’s not only ghosts and ghostlock you need to worry about. This is a crime novel at heart. One which features ghosts and plenty of humour among all the grisly stuff.

I’d like to hear more from Lockwood & Co (apart from that letter Lockwood sent me, claiming my property is being troubled by various apparitions!). Lots more. There is little indication that there will be more, but I live in hope.

Not the EIBF – for me

I was so sure I’d be able to fit in a little EdBookFest this year as well. On top of everything else, I mean. But I’m not.

I have enthused about the programme. I have gone through it in detail. I finally picked my dates, allowing me four days in the middle. Yes! It was the mid-weekenders who would have won. Until common sense kicked in and I told myself very sternly that something had to give, and it would be really useful if it wasn’t me.

So, that’s one book festival less for me, and maybe for you, if you were counting on me doing it on your behalf. I spent the other evening undoing what I’d so far arranged to do, hoping that not too many people would be overjoyed by the witch-free aspect.

So that’s no tea with Theresa Breslin and Julia Jarman. Big sob. No meeting with Badger the lovely dog in person. No Jon Mayhew, or Elen Caldecott (finally, as it was to be…) or Charlie Fletcher. Similar fate for Prentice & Weil (who I hope are not solicitors, despite their names), Melvin Burgess and Keith Gray. There will be no Keiths at all for me.

I was going to hear all about Jonathan Stroud’s new book, and even get close to Arne Dahl.

The list could go on. I have it here, right next to me, colour coded and with indecipherable comments, that once meant something.

I would have had to miss Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry. Again. But these ladies at least have something exciting going. You can win their books, if you go here.

As for me, I’m looking ahead to the next thing, thinking if I plan properly – and early – I will not have to cancel more events. But things always look very doable when looked at in advance.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

For all others – and the crouching tigers – Edinburgh International Book Festival starts today. Mind the mud. And the puddles.

And have fun!

The EIBF 2013 programme

It’s not exactly a bad programme this year. It’s not exactly short on authors, either. I’ve probably missed a few, seeing as I have only browsed the pdf  in a hasty fashion, but even so, were it not for the fact that I actually know I am unable to cover the full two and a half weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d sign up for the complete works. Again.

I’d been thinking a weekend. Maybe a longish weekend, but no more than four days. But which longish weekend? And what about the fantastic midweek offerings?

This is going to be an easy post to write! I could simply list authors, one after the other. But that would be boring.

For the time being I will not cover the adult writers, although I noticed Salman Rushdie is coming. Roddy Doyle. And Patrick Ness is an adult this time.

So, first weekend ‘as usual’ we have Meg Rosoff, as well as her stable (yeah, right…) mates Eoin Colfer and Cathy Cassidy. Anne Fine, Tommy Donbavand, Helena Pielichaty, Linda Strachan, Andy Mulligan. Carnegie winner Sally Gardner. Obvious choice. First weekend it will be.

Meg Rosoff

On the other hand, during the week when it grows a little quieter we have Elizabeth Wein. Hmm. Debi Gliori with Tobermory Cat. Nicola Morgan. Lari Don and Vivian French. Damien M Love. Well, that would be good!

But Elen Caldecott is someone I’ve always missed. She’s there the second weekend. It will have to be the middle weekend. Charlie Fletcher, Teresa Breslin and Eleanor Updale, Jon Mayhew and Darren Shan. Need I say more? OK, Tom Palmer, Chae Strathie. Melvin Burgess. Keith Gray.

Jonathan Stroud has a new book coming, which I like the look of. And he’s there the second week. So are Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry, and Daniel Hahn is talking translation. That is interesting.

Having said that, the last, extra long weekend looks by far the best. Doesn’t it? Judit Kerr. Neil Gaiman. Our new children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman. Our own Liz Kessler, and Tim Bowler. Philip Caveney from ‘home’ and Derek Landy, whom I’ve not seen for a long time… Jo Nadin and Spideyman himself, Steve Cole.

Yes. No competition there. Except maybe all the other days.

What do the rest of you think?

(Sorry. I see I have done a list after all.)