Tag Archives: Kirkland Ciccone

Death in the garden

I am quite a powerful witch, when all is said and done. A mere few weeks ago I was sitting in my garden, chatting to a visiting friend. I mentioned how tired I was of online book launches, and that now someone could just have a small gathering in their garden, to celebrate a new book. An hour later the invitation arrived. Alex Nye must have good ears to have heard my instructions so clearly.

Alex also had the good sense to arrange fine weather, and we had one of those rare, but warm and sunny September evenings. To, erm, celebrate her new book about Death. It’s a similar Death to the one you might have encountered in other people’s books, except here she – yes, she – is being interviewed by a journalist, over afternoon tea.

The Resident IT Consultant gave me a lift there, and we only drove the wrong way twice. He then very wisely went for a walk – instead of drinking prosecco – because that’s what Resident IT Consultants do.

Me, I said hello to Clare Cain, Alex’s publisher, said hello to a can of nicely chilled Cola (I must learn how to do that ice in a bucket thing!) and then went over to bother Sarah Broadley and Kirkland Ciccone. Thanks to social media it didn’t feel quite as long ago as two years, but it was still nice to see someone who is not of the witch clan in person. Even young master Nye came up and talked to me, when he was not taking lots of photos and chatting about drones.

The star of the ‘show’ was the Nye dog, who was literally in stitches after a recent incident, but who walked among the guests and only looked longingly at the sliced meat for about 90% of the time. Kirkie did his best to feed me, but that sausage roll had to sort of do the rounds a few times before there was a taker. Paper plates are hard to balance. Especially after such a long break in the ‘being out’ business.

Alex did a reading from her book, even the birds grow silent, but I missed most of it due to me trying to arrive not too early. She has a nice forceful way about her, so I’m certain not a single person left without a copy of the book. Except for me, who instead returned it. (I’d been sent more than one.)

We chatted about the book festival. Kirkie asked the French intern who had come along, about his childhood yoghurts, and was disappointed to learn there was no exciting French involved that he’d failed to understand. (Never ask!) The garden was – and probably still is – filled to the rafters with lovely things growing in ‘quite a few’ pots.

The house, when I passed through on the way to the Ladies’ proved to be filled with books. Very suitable. And Kirkie clearly knows his way around, making what looked like a bucketful of coffee for Clare as she womanned her bookstall.

Then the Resident IT Consultant came and took me home again. A different way.

Goodbye Cathy

Cathy MacPhail has died. She had been ill for several years, and I often thought of her, but felt I mustn’t keep asking her family for news.

We met over ten years ago, in a [Stockport] hotel bar. The first thing Cathy did was demand I take her necklace off, so I gave it my best shot, but I must be quite a bad necklace-taker-offer. Luckily Rachel Ward arrived soon after, so I introduced them to each other, and then Rachel had a rather more successful go at removing her new friend’s necklace. (The necklace in the photo below is not that necklace. It’s the one Cathy replaced it with for the awards ceremony. Very glam.)

From then on I came across Cathy in various places, and mostly in her native Scotland. Always cheerful, always supportive of people. And always very much admired by everyone. Children liked her books. Adults, authors, liked her books. I think I especially admired the way this selfmade woman had achieved so much, and I used to enjoy thinking of her in her waterside home in Greenock, watching the large cruise ships cruise by.

When I came up with my crazy idea of inviting my dear children’s authors to lunch at Bookwitch Towers, she was the first to volunteer. Admittedly, she was about the last to arrive, because she got a wee bit lost between Greenock and Stirling. In the end I sent the Resident IT Consultant out with my mobile phone, to try and find Cathy before she turned her nice big car round to go home again.

She even returned the next year, and I do admire (there’s that word again) the way she’d get into her car and drive to all sorts of places just because people wanted to see her.

We’d meet at the RED book awards, where she’d be accompanied by one of her daughters.

The last time I saw Cathy was at the Glasgow launch of Theresa Breslin’s book about Rasputin, almost four years ago. There was a group of us who sat down where we were not supposed to sit, to have a nice gossip about the kinds of things a person needs to gossip about.

It was after another book launch, in Edinburgh, that Kirkland Ciccone asked me about Cathy’s health. He’d heard rumours about her being ill, but didn’t feel he had the right to start asking questions. I made enquiries. Sadly he was right; Cathy was ill. We kept hoping for the best, and hopefully the best is what Cathy’s family got over the last few years.

The tea nook

We made our Book Nook debut yesterday, Daughter and I. It had been a long time coming. This second-hand bookshop in Stirling was due to open around the time of the first lockdown. Then it did open during the freer parts of last year, but we weren’t so fast on our feet. The bouncy Kirkland Ciccone attended. Every week, or so it seemed. So I felt that he might carry the place forward on his own.

But yesterday, we had cause to visit the street it’s in anyway, and decided the time had come to actually enter and have a look around. Daughter looked around a lot, as she had time to kill while I ‘visited’ the nearby barber shop…

And then, because this is almost more café with [lots of] books than bookshop with added tea, we had something to eat. Lunch bagel for Daughter and tea and cake for me. All the cakes bar one was chocolate, so I ordered the ‘much healthier’ carrot version. I should let them know that while chocolate is the nicest thing on earth to eat, some of us can’t.

Anyway. The china was rather nice, and so was the presentation of everything. Mark Twain marked – haha – our table. Even the carrot was suitably unhealthy, and I understand the bagel was acceptable too. We chose the table next to the YA section. Obviously.

I was sufficiently tired after the barber’s, so we mostly looked at the books from a distance and promised ourselves that the books will get more and closer attention next time. There are a lot of books. Although Daughter said she recognised most of them from our shelves at home, this might have been an exaggeration.

The whole shop is quite large. Airy. Very nicely decorated. It’s everything I’d have wanted to do myself, but have now been spared from having to do. Someone else did it for me, including painting the shelves a rather nice green colour.

And we’re out

We emerged from Bookwitch Towers, a little bit like the Moomins after hibernation. After over a hundred days of only seeing the Sainsbury’s delivery driver and the odd medical person, or limiting chatting to the neighbours on a one-to-one basis, this new freedom felt strange.

And the weather was good! While nice, it’s not essential, but did mean we could ‘party’ at long last. The very kind Helen Grant volunteered to be our first this week, and she came and sat in our garden and drank tea and talked, and we were quite literary and almost intellectual for a while there.

(We’d obviously been frightfully interesting all by ourselves for months on end, but this was different.)

After a pleasant interlude midweek at the dentist’s, came Friday, and our next volunteers. It seemed only fitting that on a day when quite a few people mentioned Shakespeare for some reason or other, we should have two authors visiting.

Alex Nye and Kirkland Ciccone braved the even hotter and sunnier weather for, yes, tea and some Krispy Kremes in the garden. We were loud. (Sorry.) And we gossiped long and hard and some ears are bound to have burned a bit, somewhere. There are a lot of interesting things one can discuss when finally meeting in person. Like, does Orion wear trousers?

And I don’t think we are done. There will have to be more tea. Our first three are always welcome back, and other volunteers can apply here. Today’s got properly fried in the sunshine, but we worked out one can go all Victorian and use umbrellas. And those would work in that other kind of weather too, I suppose. The wet, Scottish kind.

Dr Noir meets Kirkie

Kirkland Ciccone is a lucky man. All through his conversation with Dr Noir – aka Jacky Collins – on Friday evening, he sat facing my wall of books, which is something he likes. All those Agatha Christies! I know he could ‘see’ them, because we were watching his YouTube chat on our television, and that sits opposite the wall of books.

This was another event featuring his book Happiness is Wasted on Me, which had delighted Dr Noir, although she clearly needed to learn more about Cumbernauld. There is a risk that come the end of Covid restrictions, she will hotfoot it over there. Unless the powers that be, have dynamited the place by then.

We admired Kirkie’s outfit, his banana shirt, a furry yellow cape thing, and topped with an orange hat. It matched the stringlights behind him.

Is is his book really a crime novel? There is a murder, but I’m not sure it is. Really. Fairly sure it won’t make his fans hunt out Agatha Christie afterwards.

Cumbernauld is ugly, but Kirkie thinks that’s all right. He can still love it. He sort of suggested he’s not Walter in the story. He can say that, but…

There were questions. One, from Daughter, was whether that was IrnBru he was swigging from his very tall mug. He claimed it was Earl Grey. Twinings. Honestly! I will have to send Kirkie some real Earl Grey.

He talked about his mother, the flat roofs of the houses in Cumbernauld, about the library and how hard it can be to find, about his brother’s criminal exploits, steak pie at New Year, and liking Stirling’s Thistle Centre. Well, someone has to, I suppose.

Towards the end they moved on to Kirkie’s Desert Island Discs, which he clearly hadn’t prepared for, so there was much – weird – music being mentioned. Also, 1990s style magazine covers, which were behind the design of the book cover. (This is so much not my time!)

And, you know, they want you to buy the book. I think I want you to do that too.

Afterwards I had some proper Earl Grey and a Gingernut, and thought of Cumbernauld. As you do.

What’s missing?

I have been dreaming events. Book events. Real ones. Except if they are dreams they are not quite as real as I’d like them to be.

Yes, I know I ‘attended’ an event just two days ago, but Kazuo Ishiguro was online. It is nice, and I obviously don’t have to sit too close to anyone else and all that. No trains to catch after, and I can eat my dinner should I feel like it.

But even an unsociable witch is beginning to feel there are some things she just misses. Events. The people and the books in them. Exotic venues. The fact that someone always says something really funny or does something really crazy, and then I can write about that.

They seem so real, too. Daniel Hahn’s been, and Moira Mcpartlin was involved in one. The biggest and best was when ‘the David Fickling team’ arrived halfway through and pushed their way in, the way the really important people do in films.

Anyway, you can see how my mind works.

(In one of our private pub quizzes at Bookwitch Towers the name of David Jason came up. Daughter asked ‘who is he?’ All I could say was ‘actor, and we were at the same party once’.)

But I’ve not been dreaming celebrities; just the nice, normal people I miss. And Kirkland Ciccone.

Launching Allie

You could tell it has been cold in Edinburgh. For the launch of his new book The Sins of Allie Lawrence on social media, Philip Caveney has walked, or been made to walk, all over the place to be filmed saying stuff about his book. This is good. I reckon authors should be made to work hard. And Philip looks reasonably handsome in a knitted hat, so that’s not the disaster it could have been.

He started by reading from this, his 54th, or maybe 55th, book. He’s been at it for 43 years (which fact made Helen Grant say something less well thought through), so that could be why he’s not counting so well. But at least the flowers in the background were not plastic. Kirkland Ciccone wondered about that.

As you can tell, this launch was well attended by quite a few of Philip’s peers, and it felt almost as if we were meeting in real life. Except there was no cake. Apparently I was meant to do the cake. Oops.

Philip took us round past Söderberg’s and round some fancy apartment near the Meadows, and at least two theatres, plus other Edinburgh sights. It made us all wish we were there.

Once this prancing around town was over, it was question time, with lots of people asking, both from before and also during the event, as well as some recorded questions from three child readers. He likes his covers. In fact, he seemed to have some of them framed on the wall behind him.

‘The ideas will come’, he said ominously regarding where he gets his ideas from. And he does like all his children, I mean books, because if he doesn’t, then how can he expect the rest of us to like them? Good question.

There will be at least three drafts of a book, taking two to three months to begin with. Philip quite fancies being picked by Netflix, and who wouldn’t? His alter ego, Danny Weston, was originally a character in one his early books, and someone he needs for the really creepy stuff. Like his most evil character, Mr Sparks, in the book dedicated to me. Such a relief to know that.

Having autonomy when he writes  might be the best thing about being an author. In fact, if no publisher were to be interested in his books, Philip would still write them. He said something about ‘howling into the void’ but mercifully I have already forgotten what that was about. Sounds desperate. And just think, if his then 10-year-old daughter hadn’t wanted to read his totally unsuitable adult novel, there might never have been these books to entertain, or scare, younger readers.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. He’s still not quite Ray Bradbury (but it can’t be long now), author of his favourite book, the book that changed his life. As to why Allie comes from Killiecrankie, Philip simply needed a ridiculous name. But not even this passed without argument (from a man closer to Killiecrankie than some of us).

That’s book launches for you. All sorts of people attend them.

Happiness Is Wasted On Me

Kirkland Ciccone has done that thing which is so often a good move for an author. He has gone home. To Cumbernauld, in fact. Not that he ever left, but in writing his new – adult* – novel, Happiness Is Wasted On Me, he has re-visited his own life. I don’t care how much he says he’s not Walter. This book is home. None of the crazy aliens or the poisoned porridge or exploding schools from previous books.

This story is so simple and so normal, told with less of the fanfare from before, and just getting on with telling the life of Walter Wedgeworth from the day he as an 11-year-old finds a dead baby in a cardboard box, and for the next ten years or so.

Writing fiction by writing what is mostly straight from life makes for very satisfying reading. Walter’s life is horrendously bleak, but it relaxed me, and I don’t even like that kind of thing.

Growing up with his four siblings and a hardworking mother and a scumbag of a father in Cumbernauld, it doesn’t really help to be rather odd as well. His older brother is a delinquent, and his oldest sister finds herself a scumbag boyfriend, the next sister understands Walter best, and then there is his little brother, so much wiser than Walter.

Apart from the dead baby, and the odd murder and lots of drugs and other crime, not much happens. It’s simply life. Walter watches those around him, but is happiest when reading books and drinking tea. If only I’d understood properly this deep fondness for tea.

I can’t recommend Kirkland’s book enough. And I’m not even being polite.

I’ll put the kettle on. (The lockdown must surely end at some point.)

*While possibly not of interest to children, it is in no way so adult that any normal teenager wouldn’t enjoy it. At least the odd ones.

Bookwitch bites #148

The trip to Spain might have been fake – fake Spain with rain, not so much fake trip – but this week Kirkland Ciccone went to Sweden. Only in cyberspace, but it’s hard to travel these days, so it will have to do. I’ve been itching to have a photo published on Boktugg, and when Kirkie ended up on my television screen last Thursday, I decided to send in my picture of the occasion, and they’ve printed not only the photo, but my words about him, including the murderous porridge.

I must think before I press send…

This week gave us the long nominations lists for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals for 2021, and as always, they are good lists. They give pleasure and hope to those on them, and I feel considerable guilt for having read only a few. But those few were Very Good. I’m sure they will make the longlists and maybe the shortlists too. Even if only one – in each category – can win.

Somewhere you can win a bit more easily is when it comes to pay. Equal pay. I had kept a link to something from absolutely ages ago, but ended up never getting to it to comment, so deleted it. Now in The Bokseller I see that the gender pay gap at PRH – Penguin Random House – has widened. That’s what I would call going in the wrong direction. If you really, really want to improve pay equality, you do. More money to the women, and not necessarily less to the men, but not increasing their salaries disproportionately. Pay is something you can determine in an office. No need to wait for pandemics to end or for politicians to grow sensible.

And the same goes for reviews of children’s books. Last year The Bookseller reports only 4.9% of book reviews were for children’s books, and a year later this had managed to slide down to 4.3%. 50% is too much to hope for, I suppose, but maybe a little more than barely 5%? I forget who said this in the last few days, but children’s books matter more, because they shape their readers into the kind of people they will grow up to be. I do my best, but as you well know, that is not a lot, and my viral reading has plummeted.

My local newspaper has launched this year’s charitable collection for Christmas presents for children who might not get any. I am gearing up to give them books again. Especially with the above in mind, but also with that in mind, I fear that plastic toys in primary colours will be more welcome. At least by the adults sorting the gifts. Except I know there are children who don’t actually own any books, and who would be happy to be given one.

And finally, thirty years on, we are looking at the last book by Jacqueline Wilson to be illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Not that we have been wanting this to end, but as they say, the time has come for Nick to concentrate on his own work. Here at Bookwitch Towers we will be forever grateful for the way he has captured Jacqueline’s characters and made so many children want to read her books. I have on occasion wanted to simply sit there and stroke the gorgeous covers, especially that pink one over fifteen years ago. And who can beat Tracy Beaker?

Was happiness wasted on him?

We ‘went’ to Kirkland Ciccone’s book launch this evening. By which I mean we attended the online launch, happening on Facebook, and which Daughter cast to the television, for us to sit in comfort and enjoy.

Well, after some ‘casting around’ for the actual event, we found it, but immediately discarded it, since it was clearly a mistake, what with mad fuzzy lines in colour and then there was some maniac who muttered curses, and fairly loudly too.

Turned out it was the real thing. Very psychedelic, it was. But once our dear host had been messaged to mute his sound, we could actually make out what was being said in his interview with Gillian Hunt at Cumbernauld Library. Well, some of it… And the rest was taken care of by some of the most inspired subtitles I’ve come across in my life. ‘Hommage’ turned into ‘a mash.’ And why not? Kirkie mentioned that he would usually launch his books at Waterstones in Argyle Street, which became ‘our street.’ That too.

He read the haircut episode from the book.

Did I mention the new book? It’s for adults. Hah. It’s called Happiness Is Wasted On Me.

And then he was at home again, Kirkie. He wasn’t sure we could hear or see him, when we could actually do both. Sort of. He kept breaking up, and laughing so much that we decided he’d overdosed on IrnBru. But he was very Kirkie.

He has a playlist that goes with the book, somehow. Daughter warned me never to try listening to it. (As if I would.)

Kirkie is very popular. The event was well attended and we all love him. But next time I’ll insist he takes Daughter’s advice on the technical stuff.