Tag Archives: Matt Haig

What to call Father Christmas

Does Father Christmas have a first name? I suspect that depends on who you are, or which Father Christmas figure you subscribe to.

I read Tony Bradman’s glowing review of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas in the Guardian. Not having received a copy of the book, it wasn’t one I’d imagined I’d be reading. But I was pleased Tony liked it so much.

What struck me was the character in Matt’s book, who apparently is called Nikolas, and lives in Finland. It’s easy to see that the step to him becoming Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus is a fairly short one. And I assume the name Nikolas was intended as a clue.

It would be to me now, as it probably will be to English language readers in general. But he isn’t always called Nick something. Not everywhere.

I have no idea what he is called in Finland; either in his Christmas role or in private. But in Sweden he doesn’t have a name. Or if he does, we don’t use it, and we wouldn’t call him Niklas, or even Klas.

He is Jultomten. So really Yule-something or other. I can never decide what tomte is best translated as. He’s a blend of all the little helpers you have around the home. Elf. Brownie. Those sort of creatures.

I could be wrong, but there is very little that’s religious about Jultomten. He simply gives us the things we wish for anyway. All in return for some porridge. No alcohol. No mince pie. After all, what is a mince pie?

It’s hard to work out that your norm is not someone else’s. That they might not have your norm at all, even in a lesser form. No Niklas. No pie. Not even a carrot for the reindeer.

What’s more, we don’t lie to our children. We/they know he’s not real, but that doesn’t stop the fun. The child knows, as much as a child can know these things, that the gift was from his/her parents, an aunt, a brother, a neighbour, or their best friend. That doesn’t make Christmas or Jultomten or the giving any less special.

Bookwitch bites #102

It’s not all Harry Potter and J K Rowling in the children’s books world. This week I’ve come across some interesting articles on authors and books. One is by Matt Haig, where he spills the beans on what an author’s life can be like. (They’re not all the same, it seems.)

Advances vary a great deal, even between books for one author. Think about what Matt says, and consider how easy it would be to live like that. And if you happen to be a chicken, for goodness’ sake don’t go to Nando’s!

Amanda Craig has been around a long time and knows an awful lot about children’s books. This week she put a talk she’d done on her blog, and I have to join the line of people who have said what a great piece it is. It is a great piece. I wish I’d written it.

And if I was Amanda’s postman I’d either leave or ask for more pay. I bet he or she is not so keen on The Third Golden Age of Children’s Literature. One hundred books a week! It takes me a few months.

Whenever I threaten to become too starry eyed when meeting authors in person, I give myself a talking to, and tell myself that they are quite normal people, and you don’t exactly see their publicists going crazy. (It depends.)

This week J K Rowling did an event in Bath, and at least two people I know were there to see – and hear – her. One author, and one publicist, and both appear to have gone all soft-kneed and fan-like in her presence.

I’m glad. I don’t want to be alone in this admiration business. I am working hard at not kissing your feet. (Please wash them, just in case, though.)

But it’s good that the magic is still there, and isn’t it great that children’s literature can have the Rowling effect? Even if the gold bars for some are smaller than for others.

(Disappointed to discover that – yet again – this week’s Guardian Review was ‘children’s book review free.’ I can understand what Amanda means regarding cramming those 100 weekly books into a few hundred words, less than weekly. We need a spell, Harry!)


Or Authors & Artists for Young Adults, volume 88, as published by Gale, Cengage Learning. It’s a reference book, and as the more astute of you have worked out, there have been 87 volumes before it, and I suspect (and hope) there will be many more after it as well.

Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

No, I’ve not taken to reading and reviewing piles of reference material, but this came my way four months ago when someone wanted to use ‘my’ photos of Michael Grant. They were really my Photographer’s pictures, and after thinking about it she gave her consent and they chose the ones they liked best.

It took me a while to even work out the publishers were in the US, and once I’d established what kind of book they were producing, I asked if we could see the finished copy, which they generously said they’d send us. It’s not really the kind of book you’d go out and buy as a private individual. The edition is fairly limited and the price is high, so I’m guessing it’s mainly for libraries and similar.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

But it’s such a good idea, collecting information on people who write for Young Adults, or illustrators. The selection process seems a little random, since it’s not alphabetical, nor chronological. There is an index listing who has been in all the 88 volumes, and in which one.

It’s not your ordinary list of YA people, either. Adèle Geras sits tantalisingly near Mel Gibson and Paul Gauguin. Staying with the Gs we have Michael Grant as well as El Greco and Graham Greene. There are disproportionately more Americans, but in volume 88 we have Matt Haig, and he and Knut Hamsun and Stephen Hawking are close, index-wise.

Jane Austen is there, and so is Mrs Michael Grant, K A Applegate. Walter Dean Myers gets a lot of room in volume 88, which he also shares with Anna Godbersen and Aprilynne Pike and Kenneth Oppel. As you can see, a varied lot of writers. ‘My’ volume has just over thirty names, and I’m guessing the older volumes are similar. Some names are listed more than once.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

Michael gets six pages in this edition, and unlike some he doesn’t have either his address or his email listed. I suppose it’s up to each person how easy to find they want to be. Since this isn’t intended for the young readers, I imagine contact details are more for people who might want to book someone for events.

It’s a nice idea. You can – probably – never have too much information about what young people want to read.


Would you rather sleep well? If so, don’t do what I did. I read a short story every evening before going to bed. I thought it’d be a good way of enjoying this new anthology – Haunted – for Halloween. How wrong I was.


The stories aren’t bad. Not at all. Most of them do exactly what they are meant to do. Scare you, and make you think of ghosts, and possibly even make your pulse go a wee bit faster.

Who’d have thought there could be so many ghosts? There are bad ones and small ones and sweet ones (I think so, anyway) and funny ones and ones you wouldn’t want to meet in your friendly neighbourhood graveyard. Even in daylight.

Some stories end well (ish). Others don’t.

As I might have mentioned when Derek Landy guest blogged here the other day, his story is very funny. Doesn’t mean people don’t die.

And if you look in the mirror, is there someone there? Apart from your good self, I mean. Also, whatever possesses people – children – to go out late at night to some dark and haunted place? On their own. It’s just asking for trouble.

I have to take issue with Matt Haig over giftshops. At first I thought he’s a really enlightened man. Then I realised he’d got it all wrong. He could have done the umbrellas even by doing the giftshop the other way round.

It’s not just dark dungeons that are haunted. Sunny beaches aren’t necessarily any better. Sunnier, but not safer. And what are you most scared of; computers or dogs?

Anyway, don’t let me put you off. Joseph Delaney, Susan Cooper, Mal Peet, Jamila Gavin, Eleanor Updale, Derek Landy, Robin Jarvis, Sam Llewellyn, Matt Haig, Philip Reeve and Berlie Doherty have come up with some good stories. Best enjoyed with your elevenses, than with your bedtime snack, though.

Small reading

One very positive aspect of The Radleys was the short chapters, if one can call them chapters. Many were just a page, maybe two pages. It may look bitty, but it’s so easy to read. I’m not saying I can’t cope with long, but I firmly believe that I may read more and faster if a book is divided up like this. You look at the next chapter and find it’s only another two pages, so you read on. And possibly even another two pages, or more. Whereas the long worthy chapters get the chop, because you don’t have the time or the inclination to continue.

I had already been thinking small when I read Normblog yesterday. Now, Norm was primarily discussing how to pick your next book to read. And why, and so on. I disagree with Norm about reading more than one book on the same topic, one after the other. I may not decide to do it, but have often found that books featuring say, Alchemy, just happen to jump into my reading pile together. Zeitgeist? Coincidence? Don’t know, but it’s nicely weird when it happens.

It was Norm saying ‘I decided my shelf needed more thin books and so I went out with a mission to get “thin books by authors I like”,’ that caught my eye. I like the idea of a sane and intelligent man going shopping for books by size. It’s different. And of course, he had a valid reason.

I love these tiny books in the photo below. That’s another kind of small reading. I love being able to put one in my pocket, just in case I need a book. And if the commuter train is full to bursting, there will be room to unfold a tiny read without killing, or even offending other passengers.

Small books

Sara Paretsky tends to write shortish chapters, so she is another author whose books are easier to read, especially when the reader feels he or she is in a hurry. Right now I’m reading Sara’s Burn Marks, which also happens to be a tiny book. It’s a Virago edition, of the smallest kind. The drawback is that the print is small, too.

But that’s what I have reading glasses for. When I can find them.

The Radleys

Bloody book. That’s all I can say. Except I’ll most likely go on to say a little bit more.

I have a problem with using the word ‘bloody’. The first time I had a need for it was at the age of 13, in the company of my penpal from deepest Surrey. I wanted to describe something covered with blood, and ‘bloody’ felt like a reasonable way of turning the noun ‘blood’ into an adjective. Miss Surrey nearly fainted and told me it was not all right to say something so awful. (Properly brought up, she was.) So I spent years and years looking for another word that would adequately describe stuff with blood on top.

OK, so I’ve lost any vampire virginity I may have suffered from. If suffering is the correct term here.

Matt Haig’s The Radleys looked more amusing before I read it than after, if you don’t take that the wrong way. None of the Cullen veggie vampirism, or whatever rot it is Edward claims. It is humorous in parts, but all that killing and blood sucking is a little nasty when you stop and think of it. And I’m grateful for being both veggie and a non-drinker as far as red wine is concerned. Ew.

The Radleys is one of the crossover novels published simultaneously by Walker Books and Canongate, and I have to say ‘crossover?’ ‘Includes some adult content’ it says chirpily on the back cover. That it does. And I’ll take normal sex any day instead of sucking blood. Not that I suck blood.

The Radleys

So we have this nice and normal family. Peter and Helen are the normal parents. Boring as parents are supposed to be. Then there’s Clara and Rowan, the teenagers with nausea and pale skin and rashes and insomnia. I mean, couldn’t they work out what’s wrong, just from that? Enter bad uncle. Very bad uncle.

As I said, there is too much wanton killing going on, for this to count as a fun sort of book. And can you really expect it to end happily?

The Resident IT Consultant enjoyed this book. To be truthful I’m shocked. What’s happened to his standards?

Truthfully, I enjoyed it, too. Or I will have done, once I stop gagging. Always knew Manchester’s an exciting place to be.

But there is crossover, and there is crossover.