Tag Archives: Mitchell Library

Meg unleashed

Five years on, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow looks the same. It’s just that in my mind I couldn’t make my photographic memory of what I call the ‘Sara Paretsky room’ match up with the ‘Julie Bertagna café’ area. After my search for the Aye Write! box office yesterday – I only had to ask three people – I was able to connect the five year old dots. Turned out I didn’t need a ticket after all…

The Mitchell is a nice place, where people come to use the computers and eat in the café and take their shoes off and strum their guitars. Warm too, but I was reluctant to remove my jacket in case the fire alarm would see me and go off.

Anyway, I made it all the way up to the 5th floor for Meg Rosoff’s event, and sat down to wait, surrounded by several seriously psychedelic carpets. Getting an authorly hug was nice, and I was glad that Meg had put me on a list to get in. The audience was exclusively female, if you don’t count the two male Aye Write! volunteers.

Introduced by local author Zoe Venditozzi, Meg discovered she’d already gone native by saying she’d talk a ‘wee bit’ about Jonathan Unleashed. She’s feeling ‘happy and well adjusted’ at this stage between writing and publication, unlike when she feels that ‘there will never be another book and my family will starve.’ On the other hand, good writing requires that she keeps ‘that balance of terror and confidence.’ And ‘maybe [Meg’s] brain is emptying out’ of books…

Yes, quite.

Meg told us how she woke up in August 2013 with the first line of the book, and just knew this was going to be her next book, without knowing what else would happen or why. Being what she calls a bad plotter, she described how her good friend Sally Gardner tends to come to the rescue. Sally was also able to see who Jonathan’s romantic interest should be.

She loves Lucky Jim, and she doesn’t mind stealing plots. Jonathan is a big ‘numpty’ really, and she read the bit where he first takes ‘his’ dogs to the vet’s. Meg apologised for not being able to do a proper British accent, after all her years in England.

Greeley, the character of uncertain sex in the book, is the way he/she is because it’s how Meg feels; never quite fitting in and not managing to heed her mother’s advice to be ‘more ladylike.’ In her writing she gives her clueless characters friends in order to help them. She said how together, she and her husband Paul are not ‘so nutty’ as they would be on their own.

Penguin dropped her when she wrote this adult novel, and Meg said how exciting it was to have Jonathan Unleashed auctioned both in Britain and in the US. Meg didn’t exactly mince words, and one of her more quotable lines yesterday was how ‘one could if one were a more generous-minded person.’ And then there was her first work, the ‘dark pony book.’ She blames the internet, which is where weird people find more weird people interested in the same thing, like My Little Pony or dinosaur sex.

Asked what books she has enjoyed recently, Meg mentioned Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm and that old ‘children’s’ classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. (If Meg were to see a child read it she said she’d take it away from them.)

To sum things up, novel writing is basically about getting stuck halfway, suffering, and tearing your hair out.

Meg Rosoff

And on that cheerful note we ran out of time. Not wanting to walk down five flights of stairs, Meg and I and a librarian got the lift down, after which we realised we had no idea where Meg was supposed to do her signing. We found it in the end, but the search was a new and different experience.

Wanting to take me out for a drink afterwards, Meg asked around for ideas of where to go. We left the building, only to stand on Julie Bertagna’s corner outside, staring at Meg’s mobile phone app. Which might have been upside down. The phone, not so much the app. Once we’d turned the motorway the right way round, and rejected one Indian restaurant, we ended up at the Koh-I-Noor, which I in my witchy way had clocked as I crossed the motorway earlier.

I clearly sensed it was for me. We shared their sharing vegetarian thali (apparently Meg is veggie these days, unless she is force-feeding Cathy Cassidy chicken stock) and gossiped about publishing, authors, children, growing older. And then I went off to Charing Cross for my train and Meg limped bravely back to her hotel, blisters from new boots and all.

Which, more than anything, brought home to me how hard the lovely people who write books work, travelling all over the place to meet the readers. Not just favourite authors, but all of them.

Thank you.

When Michael Grant came to Manchester

I can honestly say I’ve never before returned home at ten minutes past ten – in the morning – from meeting an author. But at least there’s a lot of day left after a thing like that. ‘I’m going to Manchester?’ asked Michael Grant when I emailed him. It’s not easy to know, especially when it says Cheadle Hulme on your itinerary. Trust me, it was Manchester.

Michael Grant

We couldn’t decide whether to shake hands or hug. In the end I hugged Michael’s middle and he did something in the vicinity of my head. I had cold hands, so it was probably a good idea. And then we sat down for some post-breakfast coffee and water. It was very nice water.*

Michael’s combined Fear-BZRK tour has gone well, and he told me he’d been greeted like a rock star at one Scottish school (always nice when that happens) and the Mitchell library in Glasgow had been impressive.

I wanted to know if Michael actually understands all the computer gamey stuff to do with BZRK, but he sort of avoided admitting to anything. He’s had creative control over the contents of the ARG, but obviously got someone else in to do the transmedia stuff. There will be three books in total, and he’s not saying that some of the characters won’t change sides. I’d been wondering about Bug Man, and Michael said ‘Bug Man is completely amoral, or at least he is in book one. He may have an awakening in book two. And Sadie and Noah will realise how trapped they are.’ So now you know! Or not.

BZRK isn’t exactly politically correct. Sacrifices have to be made. Every war has been like that, and this is war. ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions. People always start off with some sort of rationale, and you can’t really kill people unless you think you are doing something good. It is a hell of a fine line and a very dangerous place to go.’

I pointed out it’s hard to grasp exactly what happens in BZRK with the biots and the nanobots, and Michael mentioned how ‘if you write near-future stuff, then you’ve got reality nipping at your heels the entire time. I thought it was speculative when I wrote it and now it’s fact.’

(I’ll mention right now that I ‘ve tried to avoid any spoilers for Fear, as no one will have read it yet. But it’s hard, because Michael said so many interesting things about it.)

Michael Grant

I tried asking for some early, inside information on Light, the book that comes after Fear (which is out in April), but like the last time we met, he’s keeping most of it to himself. That includes the very big secret that he hasn’t even begun writing it. Michael has a ‘mere’ four books coming out this year, and another four to write next year. But he doesn’t suffer from RSI, because he only types with two fingers, and he likes doing it sitting in a rocking chair on his deck, squirming a lot.

I mentioned that all his books are quite long, as well. ‘Stupid of me. I should write shorter books. I hope I can nail it in four months.’ Basically, the situation Michael has laid out in Fear, will have to be resolved and everything tied up neatly in Light. He’s confident he’ll be able to. ‘It’s been a long, long job and I’ve had fun through the whole thing.’

We tried to see if we could agree on whether Drake or Penny is the worst, but it’s a hard one. Drake is bad, but he’s normal whilst being evil. Penny is a psycho, and even Drake can’t stand her. And for the Astrid haters Michael explained that ‘I deliberately made people dislike Astrid, she’s the girlfriend, the perfect girl in so many ways.’

I said how impressed I’ve been with the development of all the children in the FAYZ. How they’ve been able to learn to do what modern children never need to, or get the opportunity to do. Michael feels that too many adults – and it’s always the adults – have very little belief in the capabilities of children today, and that includes being really horrible to others.

Something that wasn’t clear to me when we last met, was that whereas little Pete is autistic, I suspected it was ‘just something he was.’ It has since become obvious that Pete’s autistic-ness has a bearing on all that happens in the FAYZ.

As Michael put it, ‘I wanted the basic theory, that the gaiaphage alters the law of physics. Autistics have brains that are overly wired, too ready to go, and they get hit with data and it’s just like opening up a firehose in their heads and then they withdraw. So I thought that’s the kind of person who would be particularly vulnerable. Pete has all the power and no responsibility, so I thought that would be fun to play with. How I’m ending that I don’t know. I’ll figure it out…’

Michael Grant

I had to apologise that it was me taking photos this time, but said hello from the real photographer, mentioning that her pictures of Michael are about to appear in an American reference book on authors. ‘Photos? You’re kidding? I’ve kind of lost weight since then.’  He has, and he looked good, dressed in a more relaxed style. I wanted to know the secret behind his success. ‘The usual really depressing way of eating less and exercising a whole lot. Way more exercise than you think it will have to be, and you have to be a lot more hungry.’

Michael Grant

I told him about Bookwitch and Michael Grant fan Cynical, who had instructed me to tell him who he can and who he can’t kill off. I’d brought a greeting to her from him to pose with, which he gamely did. ‘Cynical Kate.’ He laughed. ‘I like that!’ We went outside to get better light, and ever the perfectionist, Michael had to check all the photos…

Once I’d snapped him with the real Manchester in the background, it was time for me to go catch a train and for Michael and his publicity lady, Isla, to check out of the hotel in order to convey themselves and all of Michael’s luggage to Cheadle Hulme and his next school event.

*With hindsight, I should have stashed the remaining water (inside its bottle, obviously) in my bag and taken it home.

Bookwitch bites #52

Could really do with an Emergency Labrador right now. Not sure what it would do for me, but feel  it’s a reassuring concept. I noticed the sign for one on the train a while ago. When I looked again, it appeared that all they had was an emergency ladder.

Fiction Express - Stewart Ross, Soterion Mission

From the train it’s not far to Fiction Express. This is interactive e-fiction where you control the plot. (Has to be better than losing the plot.) Different authors have written first chapters, which you can access free online (assuming I’ve got my facts right) and then there is a vote on what direction the story should take. Sounds like fun, unless of course you’d rather the story went somewhere different from what others have voted for.

More online writing for readers can be found at 247 Tales. This month’s author story is by Gennifer Choldenko, and it might be just a couple of hundred words, but they were quite scary words. Unlike Fiction Express, you don’t get more than 247 words, and there I was, all ready to read on. Last month’s winner is a pretty good one. Nice to see the future of writing is safe.

If you’re not sure you can write without help, I found just the thing for you: Writing a novel, six month curse, starts October. Or should that be course? If anyone wants to try it, I’m sorry but I can’t remember where I saw the ad.

Me, I’m surprisingly bad at both the writing and the remembering. As you know, I don’t set out to upset, but an ambition like that is never 100% water tight. And if I intended to insult, I wouldn’t actually send the ‘victim’ a link to the post. I had a response to just such a link recently, which I will share with you: ‘Thank you. Are all your blogs negative? It doesn’t have anything positive to say.’ Polite. If I had meant it to be bad, I’d have come up with something far juicier. Even without the help of the October curse.

Mitchell Library

To end on a much pleasanter note, I do wish I was in Glasgow this Thursday! I will be in Edinburgh on Friday, but it just isn’t the same. The lovely Bill Paterson will be doing an Aye Write! event at the Mitchell, reading from his own Tales From the Back Green. I must have one or two readers in the Glasgow area? Go! Enjoy!

The Mitchell Library

Mitchell Library

It’s not the norm that I do a blog post simply about the venue of a literary event, but I’ll do that today. Keep meaning to do one about my own library, but seeing as I seem to travel to far-flung libraries before the one closer to home, I will stick to what I’ve seen on my travels.

Mitchell Library

Needless to say I’d never heard of the Mitchell until a few weeks ago. I started researching where on earth I could find an event on Sara Paretsky’s British tour that would suit me. Clicked on the Glasgow event and found that the venue had nothing on, which wasn’t quite the expected result. Went back to Hodder’s Kerry who sorted me out. Or the Mitchell, perhaps.

Sara Paretsky poster for Aye Write!

And had I realised Sara was there as part of the Aye Write! festival, I’d have sorted myself out sooner. Once I mentioned it to the Resident IT Consultant I was informed that it was the place in Scotland if you needed somewhere good. Not that the man’s ever been, you understand, but his Scottish upbringing taught him that much.

The Mitchell is nice, and I’m not used to uniformed doormen when entering a library. This one was very polite, even when I said something eloquent and well mannered like ‘Café? Where?’ and showed me the way.

Mitchell Library

I only needed the café because I was due to meet Julie Bertagna there. Far be it for me to run to a café first thing when I go somewhere… Beautiful corridor with marble in every possible place and maybe even in the impossible places. Chequered black and white floor. Classy.

Then on to the new building behind the old domed one, with masses of space and books and people. Down to the café, which is nice and big and next to a very big number of computers. Lots of users in both areas. Plenty of seating. Warm.

OK, so then the fire alarm went and out onto the street we all went. But these things happen. I did wonder what they would do about all those coffees going cold, but on re-entry it was new coffees for everyone. I almost felt like asking for one, too. As it happens, Julie bought me my tea. And a piece of cake.

Mitchell Library café

We debated where Sara’s event would take place. My money was on the large room near the doorman, and Julie thought it was the theatre by the café. Obviously I was right, but it goes to show how big the place is. You can have a debate like that.

And then as we sat in the large old room we wondered what it had been like in the olden days. As if by magic, Julie found the answer on another blog the following night, so I can show you.

Mitchell Library

All in all, very nice. I might try Aye Write! some other year, too. Or just come for tea.

(With thanks to Steve Feasey for finding the photos first.)

Sara Paretsky in Glasgow

Willow Tea Rooms

I looked forward(s) and left and Hope Streeted it up to Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, just as per my email instructions from Julie Bertagna. Before getting even that far, I had crawled out of bed at an insufferably early hour, muttering to myself ‘why do I get these stupid ideas?’ and I had enjoyed an upside-down film on the train, where well-groomed American actresses drank coffee from upside-down cups and I was most impressed with the little dog running up (or down?) some stairs without falling off.

Mitchell Library

Sorry, getting sidetracked there. Anyway, I had decided that the best place to catch up with Sara Paretsky this time would be to hotfoot it north to the home of the Ned (non-educated delinquent). That’s why Julie very kindly offered to meet up, so she could protect me (she’s smaller than I am…), and generally believing that I’m useless at navigating (I’ll have you know the broom comes with satnav), she sent me careful instructions on how to get to the Mitchell Library, and it’s doomed roof. Sorry, domed.


This is where the Resident IT Consultant started talking about the motorway and how I just had to know it was there. Can’t miss it. Well, I have always thought of it as ‘a big road’. It still is. And it is a motorway but not up in the air. Here is the proof. It’s down below. So is the rather sizeable hole in the pavement. The Mitchell is nice, though.

Mitchell Library

I had several minutes in this lovely building before the fire alarm went off. (Maybe it wasn’t that Norwegian’s fault back in October? Maybe it’s me?) All out. So rather than meet in its café, Julie and I rendez-voused outside in the street, followed by super-fast tea once we were back in, before sitting down to hear Sara Paretsky and Denise Mina talk about Sara’s new book, Body Work. Sara looked wonderful, and as Julie pointed out, Sara ‘can do the scarf thing’.

Sara Paretsky and Denise Mina at the Mitchell Library

They sat in those kind of armchairs that look as if their hind legs have been sawn off. Very fashionable. Sara thought Denise’s introduction was so nice it made her speechless, but said she wouldn’t be ‘speechless for long’. And then she read from her book, a very good excerpt, where the bad guy slips on V I’s vomit. As you do.

Sara Paretsky reading from Body Work

Denise moderated as beautifully as ever and she asked just the right questions. We now know just how well Sara is acquainted with President Obama (there’s nothing like using the same supermarket for food shopping). And I believe my prayers have been answered, because from now on Sara’s characters will not age. They are old enough, and they need to be allowed to get on with what they do best.

V I is Sara in as much that she is Sara’s voice, but takes risks where Sara is too shy. On a recent visit to her old family home in Kansas Sara came face to face with the fact that her old cellar harboured not just the spiders she always avoided, but it’s also home to snakes. Currently the tally is 42 snakes.

Sara Paretsky

I’m glad the first question from the audience dealt with V I’s clothes. There’s nothing like getting your priorities right. Sara is about to insert her grandfather and his sewing skills into her next novel, so we’re looking forward to that. I think we also expected Sara to be suitably peaceful in her outlook on life, but she’s ‘always wanting to deck people’.

Sara has tried writing about new people and places, but finds she can’t leave V I and friends, and she can only write when she cares about something. She won’t ‘write by numbers’, because in that case she might as well go back to selling computers to insurance agents. Sara likes her characters because of their flaws, not despite those flaws. There is a difference.

Her New Year’s resolution was to stop trying to be perfect, because ‘it really does slow you down.’ One of her displacement activities before sitting down to write is making the perfect cappuccino, which involves throwing out all the not so good ones. At least this means the poor coffee farmer will earn more money. And chocolate solves any other problem.

Sara Paretsky and Denise Mina at the Mitchell Library

There’s a question on the ever longer acknowledgements in the books, and I have to say here that I feel I need a mention next time. It’s only the first-time writer who gets away with just ‘thanking their mother for having given birth to them’.

A guide dog in the audience caused Sara to feel homesick, because she misses her own dog so much. This is something she always mentions. It’s a shame Callie can’t come on tours.

Sara Paretsky

When the hour with Sara and Denise was up, Denise sprinted away in her Glasgow goth pixie outfit, in a hurry to get to the next point of call for the day, while Sara sat down to sign books in the magnificent corridor. And that’s where I found Hodder’s Jack, Sara’s minder ‘up north’.

Hodder's Jack

Prior to the day I’d been having problems telling my Hodder men apart, but now I can truthfully say I’ve never met Jack before. For such a non-stop talker he was surprisingly shy about photographs. Hence the hiding in the window with the light behind him. Between you and me, I think he liked Julie. And they discussed where she should take me to feed afterwards. Though he did say I was welcome to tag along to Peebles with Sara and him. That’s after Sara got her allotted nine minutes of Glasgow museums. Mean man.

Or was it a joke?

Jack and Sara went off, and Julie accompanied the only partially hobbling witch to an Italian restaurant within spitting distance of my train. Very handy. Would that count as lunch, between three and six? I’m not sure. It was good. Very Italian. Marble-y. Wood panelling. Gorgonzola. Unlike the place that has Italian lessons in the toilets, this one just caused someone to get lost. And it wasn’t me. Just saying.

I wasn’t even allowed to catch my train by myself. Do I look incompetent, or something?

If you’re wondering why after all those other photos, there is not a single one of Julie, don’t blame me.  I’ll get her. One day.

If Julie’s next book is delayed, it’s nothing to do with me. Julie offered to waste her day on me. And all that publishing gossip we covered? You won’t find it mentioned here. I think the Gorgonzola sealed my lips, somehow.