Tag Archives: Kate Thompson

Who can write what?

I’m stepping right back into the cultural appropriation hole here.

I wanted yesterday’s review of Kate Thompson’s book to be about the book. Not whether she should be allowed to write about the Aboriginal people of Australia. Which, of course, she should be.

According to Kate it was hard to find a willing publisher, as they were most likely worried about cultural appropriation. So she published the book herself.

Now, as far as I know, Kate is English, living in Ireland. Over the years she has treated us to some first rate children’s books, mostly set in Ireland, and involving the, ahem, fairies. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Or at least, not about Kate’s lack of Irish fairy-ness.

Some other favourites of mine among Kate’s books are about children switching to become animals; squirrels, rats. That kind of thing. Call me a cynic, but I doubt she’s spent all that long as a squirrel.

Kate has spent quite a lot of time in Australia in recent years, which presumably explains both why she wanted to write Provenance, and why she did it so competently. It’s not done from the point of view of an Aboriginal person. It’s about a slightly confused, but well-meaning, outsider Englishman. I can’t help but feel that this makes it all right.

Over the Bookwitch years I have read a number of Australian YA and children’s fiction. Great stuff, but primarily the ‘same’ as if those stories had been set somewhere else. By which I mean a teenager is a teenager, and their school issues are just that. Yes, there is an Australian flavour to these books, but not overwhelmingly so. They are as authentic as they need to be.

And let’s not go into the Scottish ferret-cum-human hero Hamish in Ebony McKenna’s books set in a non-existent small European country. I don’t care what Ebony’s experience of ferret-ness is; the books are great fun.

In fact, what Provenance made me think of more than anything was Nevil Shute’s Australian novels. I hasten to add that I have no idea what current pc thoughts are on Mr Shute. I enjoyed his books 40-50 years ago, and that’s good enough for me. He was also English, but I still feel he gave a good account of the country, if not necessarily its native people.

It’s that hot and dusty country I found myself in when reading Provenance. And if you’re going to feel shame over something, this is not it.

The Aboriginal art that plays such an important part of the book made me think back to what Offspring did at school. We have more than one lot of ‘Aboriginal’ art in some folder here. Maybe it was wrong of the art teacher to teach them about this. I don’t think so, but I’m sure some would.

Besides, if we are to become more knowledgeable about the Aboriginal situation, someone has to tell us. Provenance did this pretty well. Yes, seen through the yes of the outsider, but that is also a valid view.



That angry feeling you get when someone just turns up and starts helping themselves to your biscuits. You know. How dare they? Without even asking.

Kate Thompson’s new [adult] novel Provenance is set far from her usual Ireland. It’s about Elliot – an English doctor in Australia. After a long ago road trip with a friend, taking the scenic route to Alice Springs he has a fascination for the centre of the Australian continent, and he just can’t let it go.

Elliot wakes up in a hospital bed, and he has very little idea of what has happened to him. A brain injury prevents him from remembering, and the reader discovers alongside Elliot as the tale slowly unravels. A bit like Elliot himself, really.

The plot centres around Aboriginal art, plus Elliot’s fervent wish to drive really deep into the forbidden parts of the country outside Alice Springs. There are so many rules to do with what you are permitted to do, because the people there have rights. Except those rights get ignored by many white people, except for when it suits them to quote the rules back at someone like Elliot, the perennial outsider.

He wants to be liked, so much. And he wants to be a part of the local way of life, so much. At least he thinks he does. He puts up with things that he perhaps ought not to, until the day when someone eats his biscuits, without asking, out on a very big road trip.

But the big question is; what really happened?

Like Elliot, we learn quite a bit about the people there, their art, their wanting toyotas, the importance of initiating the young into the traditional ways, and how the white incomers have cheated them all the way. It’s not surprising things are not going well.

It’s much the same as the issue of taking biscuits that are not yours to take.

This is a well written, interesting story, showing a new Australia to the rest of the world. It’s a colourful minefield; worth visiting, but dangerous, nevertheless.

Harry hole

I almost sat up in bed in the middle of the night. I’d remembered a few more book suggestions I could make.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am always on the lookout for more child readers. They grow up so fast, and I need more recipients to give books to. I found an eleven-year-old whose grandfather lives in the flat above the Grandmother’s, and have been lobbing bags of books in her direction for some time. She’s a keen reader, and I went so far as to ask for a list of what she normally reads, the better to choose books for her.

Then I thought to make a list of suggestions for her, for books I like so much I wouldn’t dream of parting with them. It was this list I suddenly thought of new additions to, mid-sleep. (Since you ask, Che Golden, Kate Thompson, among others.)

The list already has Philip Pullman and Derek Landy and Debi Gliori on it, along with several other great writers.

And then I had another thought. (Yes, I know. That’s awfully many thoughts for one night.) I take it as read (!) that everyone has read Harry Potter. You can’t not have heard of him. But is eleven too young? Was Harry not on the list because he’s obvious, or because this girl hasn’t actually read the books yet? Or tried them and gave up.

Are we now so far removed from Harry hysteria that not ‘every’ child will read about witches and wizards? Would I be an idiot if I suggested it? Or would I be more of an idiot if I don’t?

The Feral Child

This is one book you can’t buy for Christmas, because it’s not out yet. But if the 5th of January could somehow be jiggled round to come before Christmas, I would suggest you buy a copy of The Feral Child for someone you know, and one for yourself. Unlike many books for 9+ this one is enjoyable for adults.

So there was no cause for me to worry. But one does, anyway. What if this new – first – book by someone who frequents this blog were to turn out to be boring or badly written? But Che Golden writes books the way she comments on blogs; intelligently and with wit and humour.

The book has a very strong first chapter. You just want to go on. There is nothing wobbly about this beginner.

Che Golden, The Feral Child

I am quite fond of Tír na nÓg, although I have to say that Che has put some vicious faeries in her version. (For visiting purposes I’d much rather go to Kate Thompson’s Tír na nÓg, where the people are inept but friendly in a charming Irish sort of way.) But if they weren’t unpleasant there would be no adventure.

Maddy is a second generation Irish English girl, who has come to Blarney to live with her grandparents when her parents died. As we all do, she discovers that the lovely holiday destination is much less fun when you have to stay forever. She’s very unhappy, and her cousins aren’t too friendly towards her, either. ‘Dealing with prats like Danny, one of the nastiest people you could meet this side of an ASBO.’

She likes her toddler neighbour Stephen best, and when he’s snatched by a faerie one night, and taken to Tír na nÓg, Maddy sets off to rescue him. Unfortunately she can’t shake off her cousins, so they end up coming along on this dangerous journey. Some people – like Maddy’s grandfather – believe in faeries, but most people in Blarney don’t.

The Feral Child is a fantastic read, and has a nice Irish feel to it. I’m becoming increasingly partial to Irish books. It’s the first of a trilogy, and I’m looking forward to more Maddy, and wondering what on earth she can get up to next time. Will it be back to known enemies, or will she discover new ones?

Rats with fluff

Autumn deck

I sit in my reading chair and swear as I see the ghastly squirrels scampering back and forth on the deck, a few feet away. They were never this forward before. They are probably hungrier, and there are more of them. They are really nothing but rats with a slightly fluffier tail.

My thoughts get this far every time, and then I think that since I know how squirrels reason, I should be more sympathetic. Because they are nice creatures, only wanting to stock up on food for the winter. After which I pull myself together and tell myself that I do not know anything of the kind. I just happen to have read Kate Thompson’s Switchers series. Tess, the main female character, can switch and become an animal. She often chooses to become a squirrel, and you can read about life as seen from the squirrel’s point of view.

That does not mean it is real. I mean, it’s not as if Kate actually tried being a squirrel before she wrote the books. I hope she didn’t.

To Tess, in her human form and as a squirrel, rats are horrible. That’s why she’s so reluctant to switch into a rat when she meets another switcher. But she does, and she discovers rats are also quite noble creatures.


The Switchers trilogy is one of those lucky finds. If it didn’t seem too nerdy, I’d tell you that it was ten years ago when Red Fox celebrated some anniversary or other by selling (some of) their books on a bogof offer. Ever the frugal reader I stocked up on as many books as I liked the look of. And once I’d read Switchers I had to go and buy Midnight’s Choice and Wild Blood too. I bet Red Fox knew that would happen.

It’s a fantastic trilogy, and it got me started on all Kate’s other books. But as for her ‘relevant experience’ before writing these books, I don’t believe she switched into an animal at all. Though, you never know, do you? When I think of rats, I try to think of her noble ones.

Squirrel highway

But as for squirrels, I’m afraid I’ve had enough of them. When we first moved here I was taken by the way ‘ours’ travelled through the ash trees, but now that I can’t put down bulbs or bedding plants without them coming along and digging everything up again, I don’t think very fondly of them.

The difference here is that these are grey ones, and I grew up with red ones. We didn’t have them in the garden, but I used to see them a lot on Gallow’s Hill, which was (and still is) a lovely place. Named after people doing you-know-what there in the olden days. Somehow red ones seem nicer. Is there a scientific reason for this?

Future tulips

Nowadays I use chicken wire. We once had a squirrel proof bird feeder. They actively ate the wood! So what chance do tulip bulbs stand? I’m just concerned I’m being lulled into a false sense of security.

Two dogs and a horse

So at what age can one trust Offspring not to require more soft toys? Beanie Babies were at least quite small and more easily accommodated. We can’t totally agree whether Jethro is a Labrador or a Golden Retriever. But trust me, he’s big. On the other hand, I suppose he doesn’t bark. Or bite.

By pure coincidence on this soft Labrador/Retriever adoption day I also read a reissued Corgi Pups book called Snow Dog. Really.

It’s by Malorie Blackman and – since I don’t seem to have any information about the book – I’m guessing it’s part of an easy read series, for which it will be absolutely perfect. To be honest, the cover is too cute for me, but I can see that it would melt the heart of a young reader. The story however, is as woof-onderful as the dog in the story keeps saying.

Nicky wants a dog but when her parents very sensibly say no, she and her Grandad bake a dog for her. And it’s magic. As long as it stays cold.


As I was having an animal sort of day (if you’ve read CultureWitch you’ll be aware that we even had the vet calling) I also finished a second short and easy read by another giant in the children’s book world, Kate Thompson. Wanted! is set in Ancient Rome and is about the Emperor’s second-in-command who happens to be a horse.

I felt so sure while reading it that it was true, because it rang a bell somewhere, but according to Kate’s notes at the end she made it up. Oh well.

It features baker’s boy Marcus who unexpectedly meets Consul Incitatus, who is a horse. A very nice horse, but still a horse. Apart from this being a really good horse story there is some hidden political comment here. I’m sure. I think we could learn from this, how to choose our leaders.

And as all you horse lovers out there know, horses are sensible people. Loving. True.

Wanted! also provides a brief but fun look at history, served up so you almost overlook the fact that you’re being educated. Kate knows her horses.

Meanwhile I’ll have my bell serviced.

These I loved

The year is almost over and I need another blog post for 2009 and I spent too long at the laptop hospital for any peace and quiet and spare time to blog. So I was going to do my top ten books of the year, and then I chickened out when I realised how many people would come after me with a meat cleaver, so I’m making it my top five. Though that may add to the number of meat cleavers  out there…


What I need to point out is that I liked an enormous number of books this past year. I have only considered new books in 2009. And the list is anything but scientific, so now that I think of it, don’t pay any attention at all.

But here goes – alphabetically:

Morris Gleitzman, Then

Helen Grant, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer

Meg Rosoff, The Bride’s Farewell

Marcus Sedgwick, Revolver

Kate Thompson, The White Horse Trick

And yes, I know it’s six books. I’m a witch. I’m allowed. And besides, six is a nice witchy number.

It’s not ‘best’ books. It’s sort of ‘loved’ books. And did I mention that it’s impossible to do this kind of thing?

Have a nice New Year’s Eve!

More apples, anyone?

Small talk can be useful between people in families. But each time I opened my mouth to chat to the Resident IT Consultant about what a marvellously wonderful book my current one was, I stopped myself just in time. I mean, he’s bound to steal anything off me when he hears that. Can’t trust the man. So that was one mistake I didn’t make, re Kate Thompson’s The White Horse Trick.

Whenever I’m in-between reading one of Kate’s books I do make one huge mistake. I decide that much as I love her, she’s a second-level-from-the-top writer. That is high praise, btw. And when I’m reading her books I realise every single time that she’s top-level. Hence my reason for not wanting The White Horse Trick snatched from under my nose.

The book is the third in Kate’s New Policeman trilogy. I have no idea whether she perceived a trilogy when she set out, but it doesn’t matter. It has grown very nicely. And unlike many trilogies, you can easily read every part on its own, without knowing the other books. Why you’d want to is beyond me, but it wouldn’t be annoying the way some other stories depend on each other.

Spread over one hundred years, you first get JJ as a teenager, then as a Dad, and finally as an enhanced old man of about 100. With fairy magic (what else in Ireland?) JJ stopped growing old around 70, so he’s much the same age as his son Donal, who is as lovely at 67 as he was at nine.

Reading this book, somewhat belatedly, but at the same time as the Copenhagen talks about saving the world, was quite shocking. It’s a very unpalatable truth, but it most likely is the truth. Read Kate’s book, and see where we are heading. Glamour gets a totally new meaning.

Kate knows her stuff, whether it’s the environment, fairies or Irish music. And what makes her books so good is the humour. It may be grim, but the humour is there. Very Irish, particularly where Aengus Óg is concerned; charming and happy, but pretty useless. And even the wonderful Pup shows he’s a male towards the end. How typical.

What goes round comes round. Like apples.

Nominations for the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The ALMA people have a long longlist of 168 nominations for next year’s award, and I won’t write them all down here. I had a little look for individual authors that you may know and be interested in:

David Almond, Quentin Blake, Aidan Chambers, Morris Gleitzman, Margaret Mahy, Michael Morpurgo, Walter Dean Myers, Axel Scheffler, Kate Thompson, Tomi Ungerer, Jacqueline Wilson and Diana Wynne Jones.

There are absolutely masses of Scandinavian writers, as well as others from countries we rarely pay attention to in the English speaking world. And then there are the organisations. Boring as it may seem to vote for a group that brings books and reading to many children, I wonder whether that is what they should do after all.

The above writers are all good and worthy, and as Sonya Hartnett found last year, five million kronor will do a lot for a person. But the good the money will do through an organisation is very different.

I also wonder why these particular authors are on the list. Presumably because they have someone who campaigns for them and who are allowed to nominate. I need to find out who does get to nominate. I can see myself nominating, you know.

The 2009 Carnegie shortlist

Yippee! At last a shortlist where the lazy witch has read every single book! Very nice list, very nice books. It’s traditional to say let the best book win, but which one?

I have enthused about them all. Can’t say more than that.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cosmic

Kevin Brooks, Black Rabbit Summer

Eoin Colfer, Airman

Siobhan Dowd, Bog Child

Keith Gray, Ostrich Boys

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Kate Thompson, Creature of the Night

Actually, as the Guardian points out, it’s a ‘boy’ sort of list. That is good.