Tag Archives: Liz Kessler

There were bests in 2021 too

I worried. But then I nearly always worry. What did I read? Was it any good?

As always, I read. And yes, it was good, even in 2021. I read fewer books than usual, and with a larger proportion being old, adult or a translation, I have left those out. It’s handy that I make my own rules here.

I’ll put you out of your misery right now. The book standing head and shoulders above all the other really great books is Hilary McKay’s The Swallows’ Flight. Set in WWII, it’s a story I can’t forget (and these days I forget a lot).

Hilary’s is not alone in being a WWII story, as 50% of my 2021 winners are. I don’t know if this is proof that many more such books have been published recently, or if it just shows how much I like them.

The other five are Phil Earle’s When the Sky Falls, Morris Gleitzman’s Always, Liz Kessler’s When the World Was Ours, Tom Palmer’s Arctic Star, and Elizabeth Wein’s The Last Hawk. The latter two are dyslexia-friendly books.

Debi Gliori’s A Cat Called Waverley also features a war, but a more modern one. The illustration below makes me cry every time, and it has that thing which makes a picture book truly great.

Waverley is Scottish, as are C J Dunford’s Fake News, Barbara Henderson’s The Chessmen Thief and Roy Peachey’s The Race.

Last but not least, we have an animal story from Gill Lewis, A Street Dog Named Pup, and a ‘historical futuristic fantasy’ in The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne by Jonathan Stroud.

These twelve gave me much pleasure, and they were not in the slightest hard to choose. If the publishing world continues to give me books like these, I will have no reason to give up [reading].

A piccalilli pair of days

Sometimes I just need to go back in time.

My 2015 piccalilli trip to London, as I think of it, was full of serendipities. It began when Liz Kessler wrote to ask if I could make it to her London book launch. And I felt I could; having determined that something special was all I required to invest in train tickets. I’d obviously need to stay two nights, before and after, to make sure I was there for the main event.

And then I started looking to see what else might be on.

The Society of Authors had an event on the evening I arrived in London. It was ‘only’ Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively chatting to Daniel Hahn at Waterstones Piccadilly, but I was happy enough with that. 😉

Son bought me a ticket for the event, which I wasn’t supposed to use. So I bought another. When Anne Rooney realised she wanted to go but was too late to buy a ticket, wasn’t it handy that I just happened to have a Society of Authors member ticket? Yes it was. And her predictive texting gave me the piccalilli.

It was Celia Rees who had told me about the event, so she was around too. And then there was the sighting of Judith Kerr one row in front of mine. That wasn’t a half bad evening.

For the next morning I’d agreed to have coffee with Marnie Riches, who just happened to be in town, before leaving again. From there I almost had to run to get to my next meeting, having booked an interview with Anthony McGowan, seeing as I had so much time on my hands! Somewhere there must have been a brief opportunity to eat my lunch sandwich. I’ve forgotten. Although I can tell you that the Hampstead pub we met in could use a longer setting for the light in the Ladies. Good thing I have arms to wave.

Tony was also going to Liz’s launch, which is where we went next. And basically everyone was at the launch.

For my second morning I had arranged to do brunch with Candy Gourlay before hopping on a northbound train.

It’s amazing how many authors can be fitted into slightly less than 48 hours. I keep living in hope, but there has yet to be a repeat of this.

When the World Was Ours

Her new novel, When the World Was Ours, is Liz Kessler’s best work. It stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that’s not saying a little.

I had heard about the background to this story set before and during WWII for several years, and always found the tale of Liz’s grandparents’ serendipitous encounter with a British couple on holiday in Europe, spine-tingling and hair-raising and all those other things you feel when something truly special happens. So I had been waiting for this book. Really waiting.

I have also, more recently, heard that many young people today don’t believe in WWII; don’t believe that it really happened. They need to read When the World Was Ours.

This story about how one young Jewish boy and his parents managed to escape from Hitler’s annexing of neighbouring countries before 1939, shares many aspects of what you can find in other children’s books set in the same period, most notably Lisa Tetzner’s Die Kinder aus Nr. 67. But I don’t believe I have seen the persecution of the Jews and the transport to the concentration camps, or the way someone might join the Hitler Jugend, from the inside, the same way as in this book.

Leo, Elsa and Max are three close friends in Vienna in the mid-1930s. We follow them from Leo’s ninth birthday until just after the end of the war. It starts in an idyllic enough fashion, but little by little, bad things enter their lives, and their relationship. Leo and Elsa are Jewish. Max is not.

This is realistic. It will not be a happy ever after for all of them. It can’t be, because that’s not how it was. But while reading about Leo’s route to England, based on Liz’s dad’s, we also learn much about what it was like if you were left in a Europe where things were quickly turning very serious.

As a hardened soul, I only cried towards the very end. But you can start much earlier if you want to. You will probably have to.

You will hopefully also want to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. I hope it’s not too late.

Bookwitch bites #149

The other day I discovered a lone book on the coffee table. That is unusual. Mostly I have a pile of three or four, that are either queueing or are emergency spares if things take a turn for the worse. But there I was, with just the one book. It’s Philip Caveney’s latest, which he’s about to launch this week. I now stand a small chance of reading the book by then. The Sins of Allie Lawrence. I’m scared already.

The Costa shortlist, by which I obviously mean the children’s Costa shortlist, turned up in the paper this past week. I’d like to think it’s because newspapers always feel this is important stuff, and not that they are keen to fill pages easily. I’ve only read one of the shortlisted books, Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden. But as I looked at the five author photos, I could count meeting three of the writers. Should I get a hobby?

I’ve got On the Cover of The Rolling Stone whirring around in my head. At the time – like in the early 1970s ? – I didn’t really know The Rolling Stone. But as Dr Hook sang so wistfully about it, I got that it was a big deal. Not sure what authors dream of, but I imagine that ending up on the cover of The Bookseller can’t be a totally bad thing to happen. Very happy for Liz Kessler whose new book, When the World Was Ours – out in January – is covering the latest Bookseller.

Speculating on Liz’s new book

I frown on speculation. People can write a lot of words on stuff they know very little about, guessing as they go.

But piecing together news from more than one source, I am hoping that the new novel by Liz Kessler – Chasing the Light – that Simon & Schuster will publish next year is based on a story Liz has told several times, about her own family’s past. (Yes, you are quite right. It is a long wait.)

The Bookseller says it’s set in the 1930s, it’s about three children, and it’s got something to do with an event in ‘her own family’s history.’ I forget the exact details of the story I have heard, but if that’s what we are dealing with here, it’s a tiny coincidence; the kind that happens all the time, but which in this case saved lives. Without it we wouldn’t have had Liz, or her books.

I hope this is what it is. And I’m looking forward to it. We are now back in darker times, and need all the help we can get from that period we believed we had long ago put behind us.

Finding Matt

I was getting rid of more books the other evening. After weeks of staring at flats for sale online, and admiring how nearly all of the owners have managed to prune their belongings to a ridiculous extent for the estate agent’s photographer, I felt that I would quite like my home to look as though it was for sale. Even when it isn’t. The empty surfaces appealed to me.

Hence the books facing the chop. Some were easy and some were keepers. And then there was one, which I didn’t immediately recognise from the spine, so pulled it out to look at. It turned out to be a short story collection from almost five years ago. Written by already authors as well as hopefuls, with a connection to MMU’s writing school, I remembered them sending me the anthology. I kept it because it looked good, and then I moved house and it sort of disappeared, until I found it this week.

And that was a good thing. Had it been much earlier, the name Matt Killeen would not have meant anything to me. (If you look back to the beginning of this week, you’ll see his debut novel reviewed by your Bookwitch.) I had seen in the press release that he was an MMU alumnus. And here he was, hiding in ‘the gym’ which is where my intermediate reading material rests.

Timelines (MMU)

In Lucky Hits the Skin, we meet a young drummer boy in the army, during the [I think] Napoleonic wars. It’s short, but those ten pages are at least as good as the WWII novel Orphan Monster Spy. It’s nice to see that so many of the people who enrol in the writing schools at our universities show so much promise, and that they go on to be published, and hopefully madly successful. (Liz Kessler is one of MMU’s.)

Now that it’s out of the gym, so to speak, I’ll have a go at some of the other stories, too. Coincidence is a funny thing.

Here I Stand

Here is a book you should all read. Here I Stand is an anthology for Amnesty International, where a number of our greatest authors and poets and illustrators have come together and written short pieces about the injustices in life as they see them.

Here I Stand

John Boyne writes about child abuse and Liz Kessler deals with same sex love. Both stories are hard to read, but at the same time they are uplifting and they make you think.

And it is repeated in every single contribution to this volume, whether by Jackie Kay or Jack Gantos, Sarah Crossan or Frances Hardinge. Bali Rai, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Laird are others who have important things to say about why life is far from right for many people in the world.

People who can be jailed or executed for the most normal behavior, or those who are simply too poor or too unfortunate in various ways. People for whom we need to continue fighting.

There is much in this book to think about. Please think about it.

Putting the Edinburgh 2015 bookfest to bed

Charlotte Square

It’s time to put the finishing touches to my book festival bits and pieces report. If I can even remember what I did and who I saw. If I can even find my notes (Although, I can always make things up.)

The first few days I had my photographer, until she went and left the country. It’s understandable. I’m a hard witch to go gallivanting with.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Then I was on my own, holding pen in one hand (except for when the ink ran dry) and pad in the other, and my camera in my third hand. But it worked, more or less. My first photocall I couldn’t remember who I’d come for, although I recognised Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when I saw her.

Chris Close

And I was pleased to ‘meet’ Nicola Sturgeon and see her selfie skills at first hand. I came to the conclusion that to make your event sell out like Roy Gill’s, you create a Facebook event and invite everyone, even your second cousin in New Zealand.

Nicola Sturgeon and Val McDermid

One day I travelled into Edinburgh in the company of Helen Grant, who was going to the Teen Titles event at the library. In actual fact, an awful lot of authors were going to that, and more still would have gone had they not had book festival events. Crazy Kirkland Ciccone went as some kind of Andy Warhol meets Boris Johnson in a beret. I had the opportunity of admiring Nicola Morgan’s shoes, which is a not inconsiderable experience.

DSCN7691

Saturday gave me Eoin Colfer and the ducks.

EIBF ducks

For my last day I made a list of events to go to, official photocalls I was interested in and the unofficial opportunities of catching authors signing after events I’d been to and events I’d been unable to go to. I colour coded them, and had three columns, in strict chronological order, and I still had to refer back to it again and again because I got muddled up. I needed to identify breaks long enough to eat in, and got confused because it looked like the hour I was in an event, I’d be free to have lunch, and then worked out that wasn’t the case at all.

How nice it would be to be less old.

Which brings me neatly to my discovery when I got home and checked Google images to see what Sarah Ardizzone looks like, as I saw several people at her translation event and didn’t know which one was her. She turned out to be the one I’d taken a photo of in the signing tent that day, just because she happened to be sitting there with author Marjolaine Leray, next to Liz Kessler.

Sarah Ardizzone

Marjolaine Leray

Liz Kessler

Luckily some authors spend forever signing books. This helps people like me catch up with them, when I would otherwise have missed them, in the midst of that colour coded list with not enough food breaks. Francesca Simon is one, and she was there with Steven Butler.

Francesca Simon

Steven Butler

Lauren St John

Lauren St John is another long signer, very popular with her fans, as is Tom Palmer who is clearly doing something right with his sports novels.

Tom Palmer

I had ignored the name Gordon Brown on the photocall list, assuming that since I’d seen the politician last summer, it was bound to be the crime novelist this time. But it was the former PM, and I even caught him signing after his popular event, shaking the hands of everyone in the queue.

Gordon Brown

Chris Riddell made a second appearance that day, this time with his long time writing partner Paul Stewart.

Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart

Before I ran for (OK, hobbled towards) my train home, I photographed the still very cute Christophe Galfard, physicist and former PhD student of Stephen Hawking.

Christophe Galfard

Here but not there

Well, they seem to have fun even without me, don’t they? And it’s not as if I begrudge them that. Some other summer I will be there, rather than here.

Liz Kessler

On Monday evening Liz Kessler presented her Read Me Like a Book at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, which makes so much sense for a former MMU writing student done good.

Amir Khan at Manchester Children's Book Festival

And this star studded photo of the mcbf people with Amir Khan looks very nice. I have to admit to having to look him up. I don’t know these things, but it appears he is a famous boxer. He’s also patron of mcbf’s multilingual poetry competition Mother Tongue Other Tongue. So that’s one boxer, one poet laureate and one poetry competition.

Steve Hartley

Finally, Steve Hartley and his giant pants. You just can’t have pants that are too large.

I was slightly mollified by the arrival of a local author and her daughter, bearing cake yesterday afternoon. Bookwitch Towers cheered up, and so did I. Especially as the daughter lost herself in Simon Mason’s Running Girl, which is A Very Good Book.

(Photos somewhat pilfered from mcbf.)

Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2015

Oh, how I miss them! That’s Draper and Tew, of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. They – and their festival – could almost have made me not move away. And as soon as I moved, they decided they could just drink lots more coffee and they’d be able to put up a festival every year.

Kaye Tew

Hmph! It’s too late to move back. However, I will make it there before this year’s festival is over. I will, I will.

Unfortunately, I will also have to miss a lot of good stuff before I get there. Like Liz Kessler launching her Read Me Like a Book, again. This time in the company of none other than Carol Ann Duffy. That could actually be quite good.

Did I mention it starts on Friday this week, on the 26th? Before that they have some trailblazers during the next few days. On Saturday 27th it’s the Family Fun Day, with Steve Hartley, Ruth Fitzgerald and Matt Brown.

More bookish events on the Sunday, before the Monday 29th Liz Kessler event. During the week there will be lots to do, including Alex Wheatle, Alex Scarrow and Sam & Mark, who I don’t know at all, but understand I should know…

Then we have the poetry weekend 4th and 5th July, when Mandy Coe will simultaneously be at two local bookshops (as if I believe that!). Meanwhile at the library and at Waterstones more poetry will be flowing, and James Dawson, the reigning Queen of Teen, will appear on Saturday afternoon.

James Draper

I have probably missed something off, but that’s because I’m missing Kaye and James. And you won’t mind me posting ‘library’ photos of them from last year, because it’s all I have, and anyway, they will be needing that coffee. I think I might label the last photo James and the Giant Coffee. That’s literary enough.

Forget about the red carpet; and just put a reserved sign on the chair at the back, please.