Tag Archives: Linda Sargent

The nines, ten years later

By the third evening I wanted to be home, alone. But instead I sat down on the suitcase-unpacking surface in the hotel room and stared into space. It sort of worked.

Ten years on from this event, we were back in Oxford. And isn’t it amazing how similar we all are? OK, the people from Bangalore have bougainvillea in their garden. I do not, but wish I did. And it sounds like the Indian ID [card] system is far superior to the Swedish one.

It was also very English – and in this instance I don’t mean British – with college gardens, afternoon tea and chats about Roedean. The trees blossomed by the side of the streets and it was all I could do to not move to Oxford there and then.

Because it was ten years since the last celebration, our hosts – yet again – offered us a Ceilidh, although it was more English dancing than Scottish, and everyone made fools of themselves, except for me and Aunt Scarborough (because we sat it out). Only one guest needed to join in via Skype, from the top of some volcano, the other side of the world.

The 2019 Ceilidh

It was, as many of you will know, unseasonably warm. This was due mostly to the fact that I had brought my padded jacket, the same one I’ve worn all winter. I know that such a hot Easter is a bad sign, but it was actually quite nice, except for those who turned over-pink in the process.

But oh, the luxury of sitting outside like that, and the balmy evenings!

The day before, the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter accompanied me to, lightly, grill Linda Sargent and Mr ‘Sargent’ over Easter Sunday lunch. Well, roof terrace type of places are likely to do that. We had such a good time and sat for so long, that we had to be asked to leave as they were closing. But not before we had moved tables to achieve more shade.

Also discovered a place that serves enormous Kransekager, so I will just have to return. Or move to Oxford.

If all this sounds nice, let me tell you how nice it is to be home. Alone.

The Hippo at the End of the Hall

What a lovely book this turned out to be! Helen Cooper’s The Hippo at the End of the Hall, was one of the books Linda Sargent ‘sourced’ for my own reading pleasure, rather than duty (it’s really not so bad…), and it certainly was pleasure.

It’s apparently Helen’s first novel, but she has an illustrious past as a Kate Greenaway medalist, which shows in the drawings that adorn every chapter in this Hippo story.

Helen Cooper, The Hippo at the End of the Hall

Set mostly in an old-fashioned, small museum where you will find exhibits such as stuffed animals, so old that they are worn out and a bit dusty, this is a sweet and fast-paced mystery featuring young Ben who lives with his mother, in almost poverty after his father died some years before. Ben receives an invitation to the Gee Museum with the milk one morning. (Whereas it had really been delivered by the bees. The invite, not the milk.)

Helen Cooper, The Hippo at the End of the Hall

When he gets there, he finds that not all the long dead exhibits are totally dead, and that the museum is in danger and it is up to Ben to save it.

This is a true children’s story with a pair of deliciously ghastly baddies, lots of fine – if dead – animals, an elderly museum owner, and Ben’s mum, who is real heroine material. And, erm, a witch.

Can’t say more than that. Read the book and let some pleasure into your life. It worked for me.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

The other thing I didn’t remember was Linda Sargent mentioning this book; Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas. I’m very fortunate, because Linda sent me a copy of this picture book about forgetfulness, so I could enjoy it. It’s my first book by Mem Fox, who I clearly recall being held and questioned when she went to America for a book event last year.

Mem Fox and Julie Vivas, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a small boy, whose best friend is an elderly lady in the old people’s home next door, Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper. When he learns she has lost her memory, he sets out to find it for her.

You know how it is; every person you ask – in this case, what’s a memory? – will have a different answer. So he looks for something warm, something old, something sad, something to make you laugh, something precious.

And once faced with all the things the boy has gathered for her, Miss Nancy does remember. Wilfrid’s little gifts unlock old memories, and it seems Miss Nancy’s lost memory might have been – a little – found.

Very lovely.


We spoke about forgetfulness the other week, Linda Sargent and I. I forget why.

No, I had not heard of the poem Forgetfulness by Billy Collins. At least, I don’t think so.

Linda very kindly sent me the words after she got home, so I could read the poem. Thank goodness she remembered. Because I didn’t, until it arrived in the post.

It’s quite reassuring in a way, as it describes me perfectly. And I suppose it’s good to know I’m not alone in this. But whether or not us old and confused readers stand a chance of improving, I have no idea. Presumably not.

The page I received had a comment by Billy, mentioning people in their thirties, and people in their forties or fifties. He didn’t say anything about those of us a little older than that.

So whatever you do, don’t ask me if I’ve read anything good recently. Well, by all means do, but my reply won’t go further than ‘yes.’ If pressed for examples, I will be forced to turn to Bookwitch. She will know what I read last week.

So you might as well have looked there.

What about you? Did you have a nice Easter?

Witch in search of a litfest

I had no idea that you require portals – into other worlds – in this day and age. But your witch has travelled to Oxford, with three intentions; to attend the Oxford Literary Festival for the first time, to meet up with friends and family rarely, if ever, seen, and to be embarrassing to Daughter’s planetary colleagues.

Worcester College

Staying in a real Oxford college, because it is Easter, or very nearly, and rooms are empty. Or would be, were it not for a lot of Chinese and American visitors. A witch still needs connectivity, even when surrounded by romantic, if murderous, daffodils, but found she had been followed by her usual travelling curse. The one where internets and wifis disappear into thin air. But it seems that a part solution can be achieved by finding an untainted website, which will act as a portal. (So far it seems the Guardian works…)

Daughter is here too, with her exoplanet chums. They had a ceilidh the other evening, at the church in Jericho (this feels so His Dark Materials!). I invited myself in, and watched this planetary bunch jump around to the music. You know how girls often have to dance with each other, because there are not enough men? Hah. Here the boys had to dance with boys, because there were too few women. Truly back-to-front, this.

Worcester College

I can’t tell you much about the litfest. Yet. For my part it is resting, midweek. Children’s book events happen at the weekends. So I’ve been relaxing and walking among the college daffodils, watching the gardeners hard at work, making this the best college garden in Oxford, according to my old friend Botany whom I met for afternoon tea one afternoon. Well, I suppose it had to be. Afternoon, that is.

Went back for more afternoon tea the following afternoon, to finally properly meet Linda Sargent, over ten years after I’d been too scared to interrupt her conversation with Linda Newbery, here in Oxford. She’s lovely, and the kind of person who will ransack the shelves of David Fickling, to give away books. And we talked for so long that she practically had to be carried out… 😇

On the advice of another author, Daughter and I had tapas for dinner one night, in the company of a planet person who thinks I’m funny. (You all do, don’t you?) And it’s a small world, because on our very short walk there, we ran into the one relative we have in Oxford, Professor G.

Now all I need is for this not to be an episode of Morse.

Worcester College

What he got, what we got

Birthday flowers

Mr School Friend’s birthday went fairly well. What am I saying? It went very well. Mrs School Friend gave him a book, and so did I. Mrs SF also gave him a CD, which we sat and listened to on the by now blissfully normal-temperatured deck.

Pizzabella brought flowers that she just might have picked in the woods on the way. And why not? They matched the books nicely in colour. Which is all that matters.

Birthday books

We ate a lot of wild raspberry cake, also picked in the woods. The berries. Not the cake. Wasps were chased and the Brio railway suffered a mishap. People felt sorry for the Resident IT Consultant for being surrounded by Swedes.

The coincidental connection between my sister and Brother of School Friend has already been mentioned. I ended up chatting to Aunt B of School Friend. Strangely enough, she knew my sister even better. Sweden is such a small country, while seeming large on the surface.

I’d better stop talking to people. Possibly give up cake as well.

It’s meat cleaver time


And I’ve worried so much about this that I’ve barely been able to decide whether to do it and if so, how to do it.

But I do like lists, and in a way I’ve mentally ticked books throughout the year. But should it be ten best, or five best, or just a random number of bests?

Oh, come on witch!

My best book of the year has to be Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. It just has to.

It is closely followed by Linda Sargent’s Paper Wings and by Keren David’s When I Was Joe/Almost True. Keren having had two books out this year I can’t choose between them, so they share.

They in turn are barely ahead of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes and Ellen Renner’s City of Thieves.

I have a very complex list of candidates, with circles and highlighting and things going on. So I could go on. But I feel that too long a list dilutes the effect.

I think I’ll stop here. But believe me; there are many many wonderful books. It’s been a tremendously good year for reading. Please keep those books coming!

2010 books

Paper Wings

This turned out to be one of the most beautiful books I’ve read for quite some time. It was totally unexpected, and all the more special for that. I knew Linda Sargent’s new novel Paper Wings would probably be worth reading, because I’d heard good things about it. And when the Resident IT Consultant wanted to be helpful the other week, I suggested he read Paper Wings and then he could give me his views on the book.

Well, that just confused me, because he was saying it’s definitely not a children’s book. And I think it is. It’s the book I’d have loved reading at the age of ten, which was quite a few years ago, and it’s a book I can love just as much at my current age. I’m certain it would be right for any stage of my life.

Paper Wings

I’ve been spacing it out over a few days just to enjoy it more. It’s been the perfect story to read at this time of year, and it describes a time and place I have romantic (no, not that kind!) dreams of. Rural England, fifty years ago, and although I wasn’t there at the time, it feels just right, with not a single historically misplaced fact. That’s probably because Linda herself is a similar age to her heroine Ruby and will have lived what she’s written about.

Set in Kent, in ‘hopping country’, in 1959, it’s the story about 9-year-old Ruby and her friend Peter. They discover a man living in the nearby woods, and with all the talk about the ‘distant’ war, it’s not hard to guess what he might be. The two children, and their new gypsy friend Oby, help the man to remain hidden, despite many complications.

The way the children are allowed to live separate lives from the adults, without constant supervision (as I expect things were like in those days) and without the author needing to kill off or otherwise remove the parents, is fascinating to witness. It feels a very authentic 1959, and Linda sets the scene using only a few everyday details. The countryside library service, or the ice creams, are things you’d need to have seen to know so well. Also the way the mother gets up early to see to the range.

You can tell that something horrible might well happen, without knowing quite how or what. But while the local ‘bad guy’ is unpleasant, things are balanced by the sensible adults surrounding the children. They are real, and not like the stupid adults you so often find in fiction, for the sake of the plot.

Ruby is fascinated by flying, and flying is the theme through the whole book. And you can be an outsider in so many different ways.

Paper Wings is hard to categorise. It just is. I’m so glad I read it, and particularly now. Although I may have felt like this at any time.