Tag Archives: Katherine Langrish

In the event of success

Now, I have never been in the position to offer a quiet room in which an author can scream with frustration. Sorry, to rest in. That’s because my only experience of author visits has been as volunteer helper in either a school or a shop, and neither does spare rooms. But I have accompanied an author or two to the toilet. Not all the way, obviously. Just enough to make sure they found their way back again, because school corridors can be hard to navigate. I used to get lost myself.

I’d like to think that Offsprings’ secondary school library wasn’t a bad place to visit, even without a private restroom. We really wanted the authors to come. Due to lack of library space it was always the keen students who were invited. Perhaps that was the wrong way to do it? They will have been better behaved, but leaving less opportunity for an author to convert someone. I was very heartened by the young man in Y7 who was seen carting all (as they were) eight of the Roman Mysteries around.

We remembered the names of our visiting authors, and had we had access to a red carpet, we would have rolled it out. Depending on the programme they were offered tea and coffee with cake or biscuits. Since I can remember eating Cathy Hopkins’ sandwiches, there must have been some of those on occasion. Reasonably good ones, for a school.

But funds were always a problem. Travel expenses were paid. But never a full day’s fee, and that was simply because the school didn’t have the money. Not because no one felt the author deserved to be paid. I offered a bribe once. Which has still not been ‘acted on’.

It surely must be like having guests come to dinner at your house? We can’t all give the same experience, but the dinner guests are not the same either. Or is it more like calling a plumber out? You need their services, but you don’t have to become best friends. Sometimes getting together will be a success, and at other times not. And it’s not always the case that both parties feel the same. I was once overcome with the feeling that an author was ghastly beyond belief, only to have them say how well they thought it went.

So did we get it wrong? Nicola Morgan has some firm ideas about what makes a good author visit. For the author, that is.

Don’t walk on the grass before 12.30

In the middle of the night we found to our great surprise that Stephen Fry’s Harry Potter had turned into Kidnapped in a non-Fry Scottish accent. By strange coincidence we encountered the collected works of Robert Louis Stevenson the very same afternoon.

The manicured lawns don’t do much for me. The ones you aren’t allowed to walk on at all. Then there are the bits of grass that you are permitted to use after 12.30. I know there is a good reason for this. I just don’t know what it is. I much prefer the wild strawberries of St Edmund’s. Must be the corpses resting below that fertilises nicely.

Wild strawberries

After about the fourth college of the day they began to blur. As we left one, I had to enquire from Daughter where we were. Lucky then, that I had booked ourselves in to see Mr Fickling in his office for some light relief. And apparently for lunch. I had a narrow escape eating David’s chicken sandwich, but the falafel one was wonderful.

The office

We talked so much about so much that it will have to be a separate blog, one day soon. David’s socks were interesting, and in the end we didn’t have to weed the garden for him. Coincidences being what they are, we were recommended John Dickinson’s novel We. The very same book that Katherine Langrish told us on Wednesday that we had to read.

Red Sox

Strengthened by our DFB we were able to face a couple more colleges, before returning back to our hosts who were hosting (obviously) the annual book club group’s summer dinner. So they had the ‘pleasure’ of a real bookwitch for their gathering, and I had some nice conversations with various members of the group.

With so much socialising in one day, the rather anti-social witch is actually going to bed. Anything remotely clever or amusing from this college-blurry day will have to be dealt with some other time. I’m off to Bali Rai-shire. Early.

And if you want to know where Philip Pullman was all this time, he was out unveiling solar panels. (When all we want him to do is finish The Book of Dust!)

(Photos by Helen Giles)

‘Do you have a wedding, Jesus?’

They hadn’t bothered ‘putting the kettle on’, and they didn’t put their friendliest bowler-hatted man on the gate, they opened early but nothing happened. They tell you off for sitting in the wrong place, because ‘it looks bad for the tourists’ (on open day?), and still leave their rubbish sacks out. And no rooms available to look at, but they ‘are really nice’.

Good to know.

Christ Church, Oxford

I had shared a room with Daughter and allowed her to let Stephen Fry and Harry Potter share as well. Ron Weasley was shouting down the phone as I fell asleep, and when I woke up Fred and George were giving Harry the Marauder’s map. So I daresay it was fitting that Christ Church told people about Harry almost on arrival. We were allowed a peep in through the doors to the hall. And one of the porters told me to keep turning left, which could be taken as a political instruction if you like.

Philip Pullman’s Exeter gave me tea. That’s enough to get my vote. Generally quite lovely, we thought. Could have sworn the choir sang Silent Night, but maybe not. Nice with some distant hymn singing, however.

Knowing I’d need rest from colleges at some point, I had fished for people to eat lunch with, and the lovely Katherine Langrish and Joanna Kenrick both gave up their days and came into Oxford to eat Lebanese with us. Very nice to see them, and great food.

Katherine Langrish and Joanna Kenrick

The Jesus quote above is from Katherine, who had a sad tale about college porters and a lost wedding. In between the chicken liver (yes, I know, but better than the brains of lambs) and all the veggie stuff, there was time for gossip and some discussion about writing and how hard it can be to get past page three. (No, not that kind of page three.) And also how to get any writing done while dealing with toddlers, or any other family members who may have needs that come before literature.

Joanna is doing her best to avoid pink, which can be hard with a series called Sweethearts, and Katherine may have to think up a whole new world, which I gather is not as easy as it sounds.

To anyone who feels the report above is shorter than they wanted, I have to say that Joanna and Katherine spoke ‘off the record’ a fair bit. They said… And then they mentioned… There is also a photo I’m not using. But other than that there were no secrets.

It was a very hot day, and a hot bookwitch is not a pretty sight. Nor is a cool one, come to think of it. At the physics department I saw ‘the coldest thing I’ll ever see’, if I’m to believe the man playing with dry ice and colder stuff, and going on about Kelvin this and Kelvin that.

Coldest ever or not, we were still melting as we shuffled to our bus and our hosts and a great dinner in an Oxfordshire garden, to the peals of bell ringing. There must have been a murder somewhere.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Dark Angels

I wonder if there’s going to be more? Katherine Langrish’s Dark Angels could end where it does, or it could be the start of something bigger, just like her Troll trilogy. She’s good at the ‘young boy and young girl, with small domestic “creature”, and dark secret places’ kind of plot.

Dark Angels is Wales, rather than Norway, but both settings have that interesting mystical feel to them. Wolf has escaped a cruel master in the monastery where his father sent him as a small child, and Lady Agnes, or Nest, is soon to be married to someone she doesn’t know. Both want something different from life than what they’ve been given.

Then a small creature, who might be an elf, is found, and Agnes’s father thinks it/she may be the answer to his troubles. Wolf and Agnes and even the small elf have to learn who to trust, and who is the enemy.

The story is set soon after the Crusades, and Wolf is full of the romance of fighting for God. The crusaders, however, have a different view of what they had to do.

I didn’t quite understand if there really was something supernatural in Dark Angels, or not. Elves, a white lady, hobs and the devil himself, maybe. Or perhaps all of them could be explained away, somehow. Katherine’s strength is that she makes the fantasy elements seem perfectly normal. Of course you have a hob in a corner, telling you what you need to know. Don’t you?

A new ‘non-adult’ book blog

Karen at EuroCrime has started up another blog. This time she is giving in to her urge to read younger fiction, which just goes to prove that crime and children’s books go hand-in-hand. It’s what intelligent people read. May we never ‘grow up’!

Katherine Langrish has just had a long moan on ABBA on the perceived differences between children’s fiction and ‘real’ books.

And all this in the same week as GP Cousin appeared flabbergasted that the little cousin was still reading children’s books. Well, I must still be waiting to be allowed to borrow those Blytons. Can’t be more than 45 years since I asked. (Yes, I do have a long memory.)

Troll Blood

It’s such a relief that books don’t go away, and that they don’t go mouldy. Having read Troll Fell when it had just come out, and Troll Mill before publication, I have no good explanation for my long delay in reading Troll Blood. I saw to my dismay, and slight hilarity, that the name on the accompanying press release nestled inside my copy of Troll Blood was of someone who has worked for another publisher for at least eighteen months.

Katherine Langrish’s first two books were really enjoyable, even for someone who doesn’t jump with joy over Viking historical fiction. I met Katherine for the launch of both her other books, and we talked about her next venture (this one) and it was fascinating to hear about her hands-on experience of sailing a Viking boat. I may have thought it was taking things too seriously at the time, but I can see now how useful Katherine’s Viking sailing class turned out to be.

Troll Blood is a fantastic story, and why on earth did I leave it so long? All I can do is urge others not to delay further. At a pinch I’d say you can read Troll Blood first, if you can’t wait.

Where Troll Fell and Troll Mill were set in old Norway, in a small community with trolls and other ‘fantasy’ creatures, Troll Blood is the tale of a trip across the sea to Vinland, and further adventures once the crew reach the new country far away.

The main characters are still the young boy Peer and his (girl)friend Hilde. The two of them set sail with the other people on the boat, some of them nice and ordinary and others not quite so pleasant or friendly. There is an interesting subplot set in amongst the ‘Native Americans’, if I may call them that. I wouldn’t mind reading more about them.

My over-sensitive eyes would have preferred Peer to be called Per, and I have never come across an Arnë with an umlaut. But that’s a minor quibble. Read Troll Blood. Soon.


How do you know what you don’t know? Tricky, isn’t it?

My friend Pippi spent a year as an au pair in Aberdeen many years ago, and later a few months studying in Brighton, where we met. And like the witch she visited this country many, many times. But she doesn’t like filmjölk (sour milk), and that’s probably why Pippi didn’t know you don’t get it in Britain. Access to filmjölk would improve my life a lot, so I’m fully aware that you can’t get it here. But Pippi assumed you could, because to her it was clear that countries may be different, but they are mostly the same.

That would also be the likely explanation for the annoying column in the Guardian before Christmas. (See what a long memory I have when it suits me?) It was written by Father Christmas. Hah. If it had been, he’d have got it right. The G2 elves responsible don’t know anything, and didn’t think to think first. They assumed that wherever FC goes, he gets mince pies to eat. Do they really think the rest of the world eat mince pies? Think again!

So when writing fiction set in another time or place than your own, what do you do? Research? Or just use common sense? Or ignore idiots like me who get worked up about details?

Adèle Geras writes many books set in places she can’t possibly know about, but Adèle is canny enough to use her ‘kitchens and bedrooms’ theory a lot. They don’t vary much, if you keep it vague.

I recently came across a book set in Norway, today. It featured English children who went to live there, and what really got me was that they behaved as if they hadn’t left England. Your Norwegian neighbour won’t be addressed as Mrs (or even fru) Larsen. You’ll call her Mette (if that’s her name). If you need to make apologies for the informal Norwegian way of life, you could have your character remark on it. But only if you, the writer, know about it.

Katherine Langrish’s Troll books, also set in Norway, are in effect quite English, but I mind that less, because I don’t think many of us know quite how the Vikings addressed each other. That makes it fantasy, and so can’t be authentic.

A recent read was set in Berlin in 1941, in a posh flat, with ‘very proper’ people. I can’t visualise them with a kitchen notice board with newspaper clippings displayed. I could well be wrong, but it feels more like an English kitchen of today. And would the young girl really have played hockey? I’m willing to be convinced, but hockey is so English/British/Commonwealth/whatever. Most of us say hockey and mean ice hockey.

The ‘charitable’ theory, according to the person I grumbled to, is that things need to be slightly ‘translated’ to fit in with the modern reader. That’s fine as regards strict but normal Victorian fathers, but in many cases you can either find out, or leave it out.

We are all the same, but oh so different.

I hasten to add that I don’t know anything. Except for filmjölk. And Swedes don’t feed FC at all. There will be porridge by the back doorstep for the house elf. That’s all.