Tag Archives: Michelle Magorian

The Front Room

Would Michelle Magorian be able to scare me witless in a mere 66 pages? Barrington Stoke length pages at that, so not that many words.

Yes, she could.

The Front Room is about a family of four, on a belated holiday, after the mother has had a miscarriage, where they were lucky to book the flat they’re in. Hannah has to sleep in the front room, and she is sure she can hear someone breathe at night, and she can feel chills down her spine. But her parents don’t want to be disturbed…

Michelle Magorian, The Front Room

So maybe the place is haunted, but how bad can it be? Just a little breathing and some chills. Just ignore it. If you can.

Hannah can’t, and ever desperate she

Well, I can’t tell you that, of course.

(Illustrations by Vladimir Stankovic)

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The Smile

Don’t you just hate babies? I mean, younger siblings. They get all the attention and they are allowed to make noise and keep you awake all night.

Michelle Magorian’s The Smile (a Little Gem) with lovely pictures by Sam Usher is about a young boy called Josh. He has a new baby brother called Charlie, and as if it’s not enough to have your mum stolen away by this noisy newcomer, he’s also had to move house, and his new room has pink and yellow wallpaper which is so bright you need sunglasses to cope.

And here is poor Josh, all alone in his floral jail, while Charlie has the attention of both parents and gets to sleep in their room. His mum even seemed to like the idea that Charlie was going to be with them for years and years.

But being a mum she knows what to do. She cunningly makes sure Josh is in a position where he has to get to know this little pest better.

Or maybe she really did need a shower.

This is a sweet new-baby-rivalry story for the slightly older than the traditional picture book reader.

Newbies no more

I was thinking when compiling my best of 2014 list the other day, how fast authors ‘grow up.’ In February 2007 when I started this Bookwitchery business around half of the people on that list were not published authors.

Michelle Magorian has been at it for a long time now, although she is not the little old lady she was expected to be even back in the 1980s. Carl Hiaasen has written for a while, too. Eoin Colfer, sort of. And as I said, many had not been published.

It’s rather nice how fast you can grow fond of someone’s writing, and how quickly you find you have read half a dozen books by some ‘newbie.’ Yeah, it’d be easier if they were published more slowly, both for me and for them.

Being approached by a facebook friend/acquaintance who is about to see their first novel being born is worrying stuff. Impossible to say no, and I wouldn’t want to. But what to say if it turns out they are no good?

As this year’s list proves, there isn’t too much cause for concern. Lack of time is bad, but I rarely come across anyone who has written a dreadful book.

Thinking ahead, I wonder who I will be admiring in 2021? Someone with their first book coming next year, maybe, who I have yet to hear about.

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

Michelle Magorian in the limelight

If anyone had told me ten years ago that I’d be able to put together a few questions for Michelle Magorian, and that she’d actually answer them for me, and take the time to check that she hadn’t written too much (too much? – Impossible!), would have seemed close to unbelievable.

There is a love and respect for Michelle both among ‘ordinary’ readers and among her peers, which stands out. She’s not the most famous author in the world, nor the richest, but there is something about the way people have a special room in their hearts for her and Mister Tom.

I loved her new novel Impossible! and I felt I wanted to ask her about it, and why it took so much longer to appear in print than you’d expect from a ‘Michelle Magorian novel.’ Why didn’t publishers tear it from her hands? Here is Michelle with – nearly all – the answers:

  1. You must be the same age as Josie. What things do/did you have in common? Were you in the Girl Guides?

I was in the Girl Guides. It was the only way I could go camping. Like Josie I was also a tomboy and went to ballet classes and I loved acting. In my teens I used to hide in our local theatre and watch new companies set up the scenery and lights. I was discovered by the man who ran the theatre who said, ‘you naughty girl!’ He directed to me to his office where he promptly gave me fliers to hand out to people to advertise the new show.

  1. And did you watch ITV? You must have got those commercials from somewhere.

Yes. My family watched some of the programmes mentioned in Impossible! Other commercial jingles around at the time were:

            Don’t forget the fruit gums Mum, You’re never alone with a strand and You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.

  1. Were you too young to have seen a Joan Littlewood production back then, or is this told from experience? If not then, did you see one later?

I was too young but when I was a drama student I knew of her and I assumed most people did. It was only later when I was carrying out research that I discovered how badly the Arts Council in this country had treated her and how she was fêted abroad. At a time when new playwrights in England were being hailed as angry young men, girls and women were told that they must never show their anger as it would make them appear ugly. Joan Littlewood did not follow this advice!

During my research I also began to have the most extraordinary coincidences. I remember looking at my October 1959 calendar and thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if Joan Littlewood was directing a production that had crowd scenes in it so that Josie could be one of the crowd’. To my astonishment I discovered that at that exact time she was directing a new musical called Make Me an Offer and that there were market scenes in the Portobello Road. I couldn’t believe it. Then I discovered that one of the cast was a young Sheila Hancock.

  1. And for the celebrity question; do you know Sheila Hancock?

I had met her briefly at award ceremonies and then later when she was made Chancellor of Portsmouth University. I received a doctorate there and try to attend at least one ceremony a year to show my support to the students who are receiving their degrees. She very kindly allowed me to interview her and shared her memories with me.

And then, before one of the summer ceremonies, when I was standing in the waiting area in my robe she suddenly walked up to me and said, ‘I’ve been offered the part of the grandmother in Just Henry.’ I was stunned having only just received the script the previous evening. After we had chatted I realised that the vice-chancellor was standing nearby. ‘This is all under wraps, ‘ I exclaimed. ‘I haven’t heard a word,’ he said.

  1. Who actually were Scowler and Moustache? Just a couple of crooks?

If I answer this question it will give away some of the Just Henry plot. So – and this is for your eyes only…

(Sorry!)

  1. I know you researched things, but were there really that many police available to solve crimes and rescue people even then?

The River Police were fantastic. As I mentioned many of them were ex-Navy. One of their many jobs (which I haven’t mentioned in the book) is that they had to keep an eye out for ‘jumpers’ (people who committed suicide). In Impossible! the extremely nasty piece of work who is after Josie has been known to Scotland Yard for some time, which is why they are using extra man power. Although he has been responsible for a number of crimes they have never had enough evidence to pin him down as he always has other people to do his dirty work and if those ‘hired helps’ don’t do a good job they ‘disappear’ until their bodies are found. Naturally I haven’t put those details in the story as it is a book for young people but I have hinted at it in a conversation between DI Gallaway and Auntie Win. They are also convinced that Josie’s life is in danger.

  1. Five years ago you reckoned the book could be out in a year. What slowed things down?

When I delivered it to my publisher I was extremely shocked to be told that she wanted me to cut most of it and make it more of a stage school story, and for it to be no more than 60,000 words but the book was mainly about a child actor working professionally in an adult world and how those experiences changed her. I looked for ways I could cut it but realised that she was telling me that it was not the kind of book she wanted to publish. In other words it was a rejection.

The literary agent representing me offered it to other publishers but she told me that they had rejected it too because it was historical fiction and that my way of writing was too traditional. She suggested I find a publisher for it myself but as you know publishers won’t look at a book unless it comes through a literary agent.

I decided to ask Martin West for advice. He had been my editor for Goodnight Mister Tom. It was then that I discovered that he had started an independent publishing company called Troika Books. He asked me to send him the manuscript and loved it. He said it had him laughing one moment and then wondering how the hell Josie was going to get out of trouble the next, which was exactly what I had intended, a mixture of comedy and drama.

He also knew of Joan Littlewood and had actually been and seen the original performance of Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. It was later that I began to wonder if some of those publishers who had rejected the manuscript had thought that Joan Littlewood was a character I had invented as I have discovered since then that there are many people who have never heard of her.

By the way, they loved her in Sweden! And in France and in Russia and…

  1. Do you think people and publishers see you mainly as a writer of WW11 fiction? More of your novels are about the theatre, although Cuckoo In the Nest obviously shares some wartime experiences.

Perhaps they do. I don’t know. Most of my books contain the seeds of later books. Goodnight Mister Tom and A Little Love Song are the only novels I have written set in the second world war although Back Home, Cuckoo In the Nest, A Spoonful of Jam and Just Henry are about families finding ways to adjust to living together and cope with post war problems.

In 1947 there was a baby boom as demobbed men returned to England and families took to their beds to keep warm as electricity was rationed during the coldest winter since the 1880s so even Josie’s existence is influenced by the second world war.

  1. Do you have any thoughts on publishing today (that you are willing to share?)

I think thoughts about publishing today would be better coming from someone inside the industry. I have noticed a lot of moving around of staff from one publisher to another.

  1. Might you return to these characters in another book? Or have they suffered enough?

I will be returning to some minor characters for another children’s novel for Troika Books but I have to confess that I would also like to write an adult book about one of the people who is in Impossible!

Witch and Michelle Magorian

Coincidences are good. They show that something was meant to be. Michelle’s writing is ‘too traditional?’ And they don’t want historical fiction? What’s wrong with people? God bless Troika Books.

I’m already looking forward to both these books. Take your time, though, Michelle. I can wait.

And I can’t resist this: ‘Den gula hinnan det är känt, den borstas bort med Pepsodent!’ It’s the only jingle I can recite, and try and visualise it delivered by Björn Borg if you can.

Impossible!

How I have waited for ‘the next’ Michelle Magorian novel! And here it is, and it is absolutely perfect and well worth the six-year wait, and I love it! (No apologies for the exclamation marks. There is one in the title of the book, too, and I’m not sure I understand the title. I might have missed something.)

Impossible! is a continuation of the theatre saga featuring the Hollis family from Cuckoo In the Nest and A Spoonful of Jam, as well as blending in with the Carpenters from Just Henry. I just love re-visiting old friends! Ten years on from Henry, we meet Josie Hollis, Elsie’s baby sister; the little girl born at the end of Cuckoo In the Nest 12 years earlier. And what a girl she is!

Michelle Magorian, Impossible!

Josie has just started stage school, and is living with her Auntie Win in London. She misses her family, but desperately wants to act. But somehow it seems as if her school doesn’t want her to. They obstruct her every step. (Between you and me, they turn out to be a useless bunch, in more ways than one. But fear not.)

Struggling to make friends and to survive her school’s rules, Josie still lands some acting parts, before she is kidnapped. It’s a case of mistaken identity, and she has to be very brave.

This book is also a tribute to (the real) Joan Littlewood’s theatre company, and it’s where Josie ends up when she’s on the run from the baddies. It’s where she learns what acting should really be about and her life changes totally, again.

You can tell that Michelle knows her theatre/film/acting world, and also that she knows exactly what life in 1959 was like. This is a wonderful adventure as far as the kidnapping drama goes, and a marvellous tale of life on the stage and on the screen, big or small. The dreaded ITV was in its infancy, and it wasn’t the done thing to watch it. I guess Michelle did anyway, just like Josie.

There is no need to be interested in acting. The story will make you want to know. As far as I’m concerned it could have gone on for a few hundred pages more than the 600 it is. This is feelgood excitement of the very best kind.

(Impossible! was published last month, right on cue to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Joan Littlewood’s birth. I wish she’d been here to read it.)

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?