Tag Archives: Kevin Brooks

The easy read

Another thing I discovered at the library (see yesterday), was their section of beginners’ fiction in English.

Well, that’s what they called it. I noticed the thin books in English by, among others, Bali Rai and Kevin Brooks on the shelves on the end of one of the sections.

I didn’t recognise these books, so went closer, and realised that they were older Barrington Stoke titles. And yes, as such they are easier to read. Shorter and in a simpler language, and thereby ideal for the novice reader of English. We should have had books like that when I was at school! We got Somerset Maugham instead.

Have no idea how popular they will be, now that impatient young readers tackle Harry Potter in the original, because they can’t wait. And I get the impression that having started, many young teens go on to read a lot more in English, because they’ve realised it’s possible. That they can.

But for those who can’t, these dyslexia friendly books are just the thing.

The 2016 best

Yes, there were good books, even in a year like 2016. Let’s not lose [all] hope, shall we? In fact, after careful consideration, there were more serious contenders than I could allow through to the final round. Sorry about that.

During 2016 I seem to have read and reviewed 154 books. Before you gasp with admiration, I should mention that 40 of those were picture books.

2016 books

And here, without me even peeping at other best of lists, are my favourites, in alphabetical order:

Beck, by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff

Broken Sky + Darkness Follows, by L A Weatherly

Crongton Knights, by Alex Wheatle

Five Hundred Miles, by Kevin Brooks

Front Lines, by Michael Grant

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, by Dave Rudden

More of Me, by Kathryn Evans

The White Fox, by Jackie Morris

I believe it’s a good list, and I’m glad that two of the books are dyslexia friendly; one at either end of the age spectrum.

And, you are human after all, so you want to know who just missed this list. I’m human enough to want to mention them. They were Hilary McKay, J K Rowling, Malcolm McNeill, G R Gemin, Jonathan Stroud, Kate DiCamillo and Philip Caveney.

Two dozen more on my longlist, and we mustn’t forget; if a book has been reviewed on Bookwitch at all, it has passed quite a few quality tests. So there. You’re all winners. But some are more winners than others.

I love you.

Five Hundred Miles

Five Hundred Miles is just wow! Kevin Brooks has done it again, and Anthony McGowan needs to look out. Generally I find the harsh settings of Kevin’s books quite hard to cope with, as I do the bleakness in his books. This one is no more cheerful, except the title tells you there might be something to look forward to.

Kevin Brooks, Five Hundred Miles

Cole and Ruben are the sons of a feared criminal, and live in a breaker’s yard in East London. You feel they are good boys, even though it becomes quite clear they are capable of both theft and violence.

When they unexpectedly come across a teenage girl who’s wanting to rescue a monkey from some gangster types in a pub, it’s not only the fact that she looks like their dead sister that makes them jump in to help.

I ought to dislike everything these boys stand for and what they do, but the way Kevin writes about them you just want to love them and be their friend. This is the kind of book I want to put into the hands of dyslexic teenagers everywhere, as well as capable readers. No one could help but love this book!

The Devil’s Angel

I mentioned Kevin Brooks and his new book with Barrington Stoke some months ago. It’s great that they invite and are accepted by all these good, mainstream authors. Luckily it seems that both sides consider it an honour to be working with the other. That’s the best way.

Kevin Brooks, The Devil's Angel

The Devil’s Angel is as scarily bleak as Kevin’s other writing leads you to expect. To be perfectly honest, it is not my kind of thing. At all. I prefer a rosier outlook on life, but recognise that this will appeal to countless teenagers, and I can’t see why dyslexics should be any different in that respect.

This is good stuff if you want edgy fiction. As described on the cover, The Devil’s Angel is about Dean, who ‘just walked into the classroom. Sat down. Smiled. Then beat another kid to a pulp.’

Dean befriends the fairly average John and they have an unusual and unforgettable summer, doing the kinds of things we parents would prefer teenagers not to do.

It can’t end well.

Bookwitch bites #127

You know books? There is money in them. Sometimes, at least, and not only for author and publisher, although I’d wager Michael Morpurgo has made a reasonable sum from War Horse the book. Possibly more from the play and the film.

Michael Morpurgo at the Lowry

War Horse the play has just finished its second run at the Lowry, hopefully pleasing the 200,000 people who came to see it. But what’s more, it hasn’t merely earned money for Michael or the theatre. It has been estimated that Greater Manchester is better off by £15 million. And it’s pretty good that books can have such an effect.

For the last performance in Salford they had a Devon farmer as a Devon farmer extra.

Not a farmer, nor a twinkly old elf, is how Neil Gaiman doesn’t describe his friend Terry Pratchett in the Guardian this week. Terry is driven by rage, Neil claims, and I can sort of see where he’s coming from with that. I reckon Terry got pretty annoyed to hear me say that my local library service banned him from the under 16s. (Correction, it was their representative who did. Not the whole service. But still.) And any person with any decency would be furious about what’s wrong in this world. And luckily we have the non-twinkly Terry to write wonderful books about it.

Someone who scares me much more is Kevin Brooks. I know. He seems non-scary, but his books deal with people in circumstances I find hard to cope with. Kevin has just written a book for Barrington Stoke, to be published in January 2015, and it might be short, and it might be an easy read. But it’s also not an easy read, in that it deals with the hard reality for young, male, teenagers. A typical Brooks, in other words.

Barrington Stoke make books accessible to readers who would otherwise not read. Daniel Hahn was on the radio this week, talking for 13 and a half (his own description) minutes on the importance of translated books. They make books accessible to people who would otherwise not be able to read French or Finnish, or any other ‘outlandish’ language.

Daniel has also worked hard on the new Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, to be published in March 2015. I’m looking forward to that, and hopefully this new companion will pave the way for a few more readers, too.

Whereas authors playing football will achieve exactly what? OK, let’s not be negative or anti-sports here. I did actually want to go and see the football match between English crime writers and their Scottish counterparts. It was part of Bloody Scotland last weekend, but unfortunately the match clashed with an event, and being lazy, I chose to sit down in-doors instead of standing on the side of a rectangle of grass watching grown men kick a ball around.

The winning Bloody Scotland football team - 2014

I understand the Scottish team won. Ian Rankin is looking triumphant, and I can see Craig Robertson, Christopher Brookmyre and Michael J Malone, plus some more people I don’t recognise in shorts.

How dark?

When Kevin Brooks won the Carnegie Medal this week, war broke out over how dark you can have your children’s books. Kevin’s The Bunker Diary is apparently very dark indeed (and I think that’s why I chose not to read it), and some people love it and others don’t, at all.

I seem to be in agreement with Amanda Craig in The Independent, who prefers her Carnegie winners to be for younger readers, and she wants the books to have hope. Not necessarily a happy ending, but there needs to be some reward for all that gloom. But then there are many who actively like dismal realism, and say that children can take it.

I agree with the last statement. Children don’t need protecting from gritty and realistic literature. Whatever they encounter in their own lives, they will welcome in fiction. You want to read about people like yourself. But I suspect that a little bit of something positive would be welcome. Not an unrealistic sugary ending, but something. Something you could add to your own life, even when you have no power.

But we are all different, which is why Kevin was awarded the Carnegie Medal, and why so many feel it was the right thing. I’m happy for him (although if this was fiction, I suppose for Kevin never to win would be suitably dark realism) and I’m convinced it’s an excellent book. Just not a happy one.

I’m a little surprised at Amanda’s outspokenness, but as one of our leading critics she can get away with it. The press have been more than keen this week for articles on the subject. I believe there is more coming. It’s good that children’s literature can stir up feelings.

You can read

Two things happened almost at once. I received a bundle of books from Barrington Stoke. And Nicola Morgan pointed out that she was going to have a bit of a dyslexia day today. It seemed as if it was meant.

These books are great! I can’t praise them highly enough! I just hope they will find their way to someone who needs them. That is always the problem, isn’t it? You might not know what your problem is, nor what can be done about it. And then there are people who know and can help. The two just need to meet.

Many parents have had a dyslexia moment. I know I have. You look at your child and think, ‘could he/she be dyslexic?’ And you’re not quite sure how to find out.

As Nicola tells us here, she has a long connection with dyslexia, and has done a lot of good and useful things to help dyslexic children and their parents. But she ran out of time, and had to give most of it up. She wouldn’t have returned to it either, had it not been for Jackie Stewart, whom she sat next to at a dinner recently. (I am very jealous.)

Today she has another blog post about dyslexia, and she will spend the day tweeting about it, and wants the rest of us to help by retweeting. Nicola will point people to an online assessment toolkit, developed by Dyslexia Scotland, but free for all to use. So tell a teacher about it, and hopefully they can help a child.

And then there are those books I mentioned. Barrington Stoke have reissued some older books in a new style, which is even more user friendly (can you say that about fiction?). There are useful, but almost invisible numbers on the back, telling adults what reading age and what interest age they are intended for. All very discreet. And the dyslexia sticker on the cover peels off, leaving no embarrassing clues.

A couple of the books I have here are for younger readers, which you might expect from Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman. Easy to read younger books are less ‘unlikely’ though. What I’m really impressed with are the older books, where the plots are pretty advanced and not in the slightest childish. They are simply easy to read novels for almost anyone.

Nigel Hinton, Until Proven Guilty

There are books by Kevin Brooks and Nigel Hinton, and they definitely look the business. They are books set on the rougher side of life, and apart from their length and layout, they look just like ‘normal’ books. Because they are. Another couple of books I already had are by Chris Wooding and Sam Enthoven, and I’m not sure that I’m not too scared for these kinds of topics.

I mean, how do you fancy a mobile phone that is evil and that you can’t escape from? It might almost make you wish you couldn’t read after all… No, I don’t believe it would. Readers will love these books!

The bookwitch and the weeping angel

Ood

At the sight of all those lifesize Doctor Who cardboard cut-outs Daughter cheered considerably. They were an unexpected bonus in Saturday’s full programme at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. We don’t often go for photos of cardboard photos, but we now have a nice selection of the Doctor and his ladies and some ‘monsters’. The Green Screen experience provided us with a great photo of the witch photographer in the Tardis, which is a very good fundraising idea.

Captain Hook

As we attempted to get our bearings more generally, we were interrupted by Captain Hook removing his moustache up on the first floor walkway to announce the next event, which was Frank Cottrell Boyce, so we dashed off for our Frank. He began the day with an Alka Seltzer, something which was lost on the youngest in the audience. It was an experiment, rather than a hangover remedy. And it failed abysmally. Twice.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank read from Cosmic, which is fantastic even when you already know the book. He also read from Framed after borrowing a copy from a young fan. He even remembered to return the book. Frank loves art robberies, and told the audience how to go about committing art theft, and also about readings in jails where that kind of thing is frowned upon. There was also the tale about his dying friend and George Clooney, as well as facts about the many Waterloos of the world. And I have to admit to having lost my Millions. Must be somewhere. I’ll look again.

Steve Cole with chonster

One very amusing man was followed by another when Steve Cole got started on his shenanigans. I don’t know why I always forget quite how funny he is, even when you’re more than forty years older than his target group. I’d like to bottle Steve as an anti-depressant. He jumps and makes the most astonishing faces, and he admits to forgetting how many books he has written and when the last one was published. There seems to be at least one a month, so with such riches I believe I’ll ask to have one dedicated to me.

Steve talks about chonsters and poofish and chocodiles, not to mention vampire bananas. Very dangerous. This man who has written as Lucy Daniels, spent his childhood looking for new Doctor Who books in WHS on a Saturday, before growing up to write them himself. He reckons he’s learned a lot from comics. It’s ‘hard to run out of stories, which is nice’ he says. It is.

Liz Kessler

Cathy Cassidy

With far too many lovely authors doing events (not complaining!), we had to miss a couple. Liz Kessler was on, but we run into her over lunch where she tries to sell my photographer a camera part. And signs her book. Cathy Cassidy we also had to miss, although we find her after her book signing for a brief chat and photo session. She praises the book festival, and we reminisce about when it was we first met, which tends to happen when people realise Daughter is no longer as young as she once was.

The MCBF have laid on sandwiches for the authors and we squeeze into the green room to watch them eat and catch up with friends. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman turn up together, and soon after Kevin Brooks walks in and so does Keith Gray a little later. Nice cups of tea are offered by the green room volunteers, one of whom has written a children’s cheese mystery, which I simply will have to hear more about. We get our books out for some signatures, and Mary gives Daughter a silver mosaic tile, as featured in her latest Stravaganza novel.

Mary Hoffman

After being fed Adèle and Mary go to their shared event on romantic historical fiction, which is really good. They take turns asking each other questions, rather like television presenters. Mary says she created her own parallel Italy in order to avoid readers looking for historical discrepancies, and Adèle admits to having introduced lemons into ancient Greece. They discuss when some period becomes history, and decide that the 1980s qualify.

They say that the 18th century is quite crowded in teen fiction now, and Adèle says she would never write about the stone age (so we can expect one quite soon then…) whereas Mary thinks she’d write anything for a large wad of cash. Adèle tells us she does the bare minimum of research, while Mary does a fair bit, always starting with the internet. She also creates scrapbooks for each novel, which is an idea she’s borrowed from Celia Rees. Both of them feel that it can be hard to teach children today about periods older than their grandparents’, and they’ve been really pleased when they find a young reader wants to know more after reading their books. And getting your book banned is always good for some attention.

Keith Gray and Adèle Geras

The final event is a panel discussion on teen fiction with Kevin Brooks, Keith Gray and Adèle, moderated by Sherry Ashworth. One conclusion they arrive at is that teen books should be sold in places other than the traditional bookshop, and especially not next to younger children’s fiction. Clothes shops and music shops are suggested. They also feel reading is tied too much to schools and libraries. It’s not as if you’d ask your teacher for advice on what music to listen to, and the same may go for books.

Losing It

You can’t research teenagers; you can only follow them, but not literally, or you might be arrested, as Kevin says. There is a problem with the ‘gatekeepers’ of teen books. It’s always the adults who are offended by the content, and never the teenagers themselves. Keith wishes books weren’t seen as ‘so dangerous’. They all self censor according to what they themselves feel is OK. Keith mentions Losing It, a new anthology he’s edited, which is about losing your virginity, and which some schools are refusing to let their students hear about.

On the question whether vampires have bled the market dry, they feel the publishers’ confidence has been ruined. They don’t try new and different things, which means there are fewer books and it’s less easy to live off writing. As Keith says, he’s never known any boring children, but plenty of boring adults. He writes the books he’d want to read, and Kevin does his Gordon Brown thing and agrees.

Kevin Brooks

In five years’ time Kevin is still writing more than ever. Keith will be doing the same, knows what his next three books are about, and hopes for more hair. Kevin replies ‘as if that will happen’. Adèle hopes she will still be here. So do we.

Elmer

Carol Ann Duffy

After the book signing we encounter both Elmer the elephant and the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, which goes to prove the wide range offered at the MCBF.

Daughter requires a last photo of herself and the Dalek, and I fail to understand why she laughs like mad when I oblige. It’s not that funny to see me with a camera, surely? ‘Look behind you’, she says. I turn, and find a weeping angel has crept up and is standing right behind me.

It’s time to leave. Preferably without blinking.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The Midland, the tea and Frank

I’m beside myself with excitement, and that may well be a good place to be. Which will be best? Afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel in Manchester? Or afternoon tea at the Midland in the company of Frank Cottrell Boyce? (And a few others, I have to admit.)

Have long (very long) wanted to enter that establishment and never quite worked up the courage to do so. Yes, I hear you say. It doesn’t sound like me at all. But now, thanks to the Manchester Children’s Book Festival the Midland will be graced by the presence of a real bookwitch. If it looks too grand I’ll hide in a darkened corner, just so I can listen to Frank. There will be a quiz, which I’ll stand no chance of winning, and a reading. It’s the grand finale to four days of bookfestivalling.

I’ll miss Michael Rosen. Story of my life, that. I’ll be touring Fickling county when the festival starts on Thursday 1st July, and I’m travelling through Bali Rai-shire as it continues, with lots and lots of educational events. Carol Ann Duffy is at the helm of this great venture, and you can read more about it here. Carol Ann and Jeanette Winterson will also head the gala dinner at the Midland on Friday night.

Provided all that broomsticking doesn’t finish me off completely, I’ll be there on day three, however, and what a programme there is! Frank, again, Liz Kessler and Cathy Cassidy for all us girls, and Steve Cole for, um well, us girls again and for the boys, too. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman will be getting romantic and historical, which I know they’ll do well. And there is a big discussion on teen lit with Kevin Brooks, Keith Gray, and Sherry Ashworth.

My main fear is that I’ll be so knackered after Saturday that it’ll be hard to crawl out of bed for tea with FCB.

Slurp.

Monday – take one

I’m working backwards here, so need to put in the earlier part of Monday before we’re into a new week. By some unexpected miracle your witch managed to fit in an unplanned visit to the Puffin presentation early afternoon. This meant even more authors and book plans in one short day, but after travelling on the same train as Scrappy the ferret, I felt up to almost anything.

I swear (sorry) that those conference rooms have shrunk in the two years since I was last there. What did they do? Wash them?

With my usual skill I plonked myself down on just the right chair to have my coat where all the attending authors could stumble over it on their way in to speak. Or on the way out. None did, though, and it was a Puffin telephone of some sort that was eventually brought down by Jeanne Willis. Or vice versa.

Jeanne was elegant in a black top with leopard skin effect (it was, wasn’t it?) trim, and white blonde hair straight out of an early 1960s film. She has two new picture books on the way, and she had everyone but me singing a song about bottoms. Apparently ‘pythons only have them in their dreams.’ And Jeanne carried some insect cadaver round in a small metal tin. (Just thought you might want to know.)

Puffin themselves will be 70 this year and, surprise surprise, they are publishing some books to celebrate. Cheap Pocket Money Puffins at £3.99, written by some real favourites of mine, which I like the sound of. Classics, naturally. Some frightfully expensive limited edition books that will cost £100.

I’ll happily try out some of their merchandise, like the Puffiny deckchairs, so a couple of samples would be most welcome. There will be samples I hope? Or at least a mug? (Hint – we could do with five.)

Eoin Colfer appeared, but only on screen. Still lovely, and he told us Artemis will be lovely too, and that just isn’t right. Charlie Higson talked about taking your children to see zombies. I don’t think so, Charlie. Trailer for the new Percy Jackson film, coming soon. Rick Riordan has a new series coming. Two new series, in actual fact. The richer authors get, the faster they write.

Cathy Cassidy was another one not caught out by my coat. She has a new ‘chocolate box’ series starting, which sounds great. I have a feeling Cathy’s only thinking of the research, however.

Vampires. Goes without saying. Samurais. Coming faster and faster. How do authors suddenly write twice as fast as before?

Alex Scarrow and David Yelland reprised their talks from November. Alex’s Time Riders is high on the TBR pile, so we’ll have to see how that goes.

The star of the show was Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece. There is a new range of Moomins on the way, including baby board books, but where are they coming from? I believe they are writing new ones, with Sophia watching over them. What do we think of that?

There will be teen books. I’m still amazed that Sarah Dessen isn’t yet a household name in Britain. She will be! Helen Grant’s Glass Demon is coming and so is iBoy by Kevin Brooks, and I gather it’s a cross between Spiderman and The Wire. Well!

Tasty sandwiches at the end, well worth waiting for, but what do you do with over-mayonnaisey fingers when meeting authors?

I cornered Sophia Jansson before the others discovered her, and we had a discussion in Swedish about blogs and other online nonsense. She, sensibly, has no time for blogs or Facebook or Twitter. This Little My has a Tove Jansson empire to run and a lovely holiday island to spend her summers on. She told us that Moomin was first thought up by Tove’s uncle in order to scare her from having midnight snacks in his kitchen. The Moomintrolls live in the kitchen walls. Perfect for baby books then…