Tag Archives: New Year

The Book of Dead Days

This has been the perfect in-between-days read. 270 pages of ‘dead stuff’ spread out over the five days leading up to New Year’s Eve. I managed to fit in my daily quota just as it was intended, which rather added to my feeling of satisfaction.

Marcus Sedgwick, The Book of Dead Days

I say ‘dead stuff’ and by that I mean suitably cosy horror; nothing too gruesome. Set in a nicely atmospheric fictional city somewhere in Europe – probably at the end of a fictional 19th century during those dead days after Christmas – there is snow and there are orphans and weird scientists. In short, everything you need during those days that are neither one thing nor the other.

Boy (that’s his name) is assistant to Valerian who works in the theatre. That’s where he meets Willow, who assists the fat lady who sings. Valerian grows rather strange in the dead days, by which we have to understand stranger than usual. He seems haunted, and he leads Boy and Willow on a hunt for something. Something that might save him. He’s got until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

It is cold, and it is dark, and Boy is hungry as usual. Valerian veers between his normal cruel behaviour and being almost kind and normal.

This is such a nice and easy and effortless read, while not being simple or intended for younger readers. Very, very enjoyable.

The New Year’s Gift

We went nearly every year, on the 31st December. Mother-of-witch liked getting together with her ‘girlfriends’ whenever she visited her home town, and usually there was a New Year’s Eve party. I always came too.

I was young, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew three of these friends would have a gift for me. I was very mercenary, so I liked going. The particular New Year’s Eve I’m thinking of must have been when I was four or maybe five. I can remember approximately how tall I was (not very), which is how I know.

These friends – let’s call them Izzy, Kerry and Annie – always did things together. Always. Izzy was the boss, and so it was she who addressed me, holding the coveted parcel. ‘This present is from Annie’ she said. I recall quickly processing this weird piece of information in my mind. If it was from Annie, why on earth was Izzy giving it to me? Did she mean that it was from all three of them – as expected – but that she was saying it wrong? But if it was from Annie (and she said it was), it was Annie who should be thanked. What a conundrum. (I didn’t know that word back then, but I felt it.)

However awkward it was having a gift from one person handed over by another, thanking the right woman was paramount. Quick as a flash I turned round 180 degrees and curtseyed to Annie. (It’s what polite little girls did.)

And then the assembled ladies did what adults have always done. They laughed at the sheer humour of this small person who was getting it wrong. And right. Perhaps they laughed at Izzy, the childless spinster who didn’t know what was necessary and what wasn’t.

So I had to turn round again and curtsey to Izzy and Kerry as well, because the gift was, as always, from all three. I reckon Izzy was thinking I wouldn’t know Annie was in on it if her name wasn’t mentioned.

They must have thought I was stupid because I was only four. Or maybe five. But I wasn’t.

Whenever I consider the reasoning capacity of young children these days, I remember the young Bookwitch. If she could process these conflicting thoughts in a split second, while also noticing how absurd Izzy was being, I believe most children could, and that their brains are much further advanced than we give them credit for.

Four watching Five at Twelve

The film that launched a bookwitch. And they had the temerity to laugh. Not at me, but at my beloved Five on a Treasure Island. All these years – nearly fifty of them – and I finally got to watch The Film Of My Childhood once more.

I came away from the cinema back then, so enthusiastic that I tried to retell the whole film to the Girl Next Door. I didn’t often do that. And Mother-of-witch went out and bought me the book, just like that. No birthday, no Christmas. Just my enthusiasm. I read the first Famous Five book in a week. I’d never done that before. A whole real book with no pictures.

Famous Five on Treasure Island, 1957

This being Sweden in the stone age, there was no such convenience as going to the cinema again. The film was gone. It didn’t turn up on television. I never saw it again, until this New Year’s Eve. I was given it last year by Daughter (she’s a nice girl), but had saved it for viewing in company. Some company.

The four consisted – not of sympathetic sweet Daughter – but of Son and Dodo and the Resident IT Consultant. And me.

Back then it was a feature-length film, presumably glued together from the eight 15-minute episodes of this cinema series. And it was wonderful! The children! The dog! Uncle Quentin! The Island!! The views, the sea, the boat, the everything! Bars of gold to be discovered in castle ruins. What’s not to like?

OK, so back then I would not have noticed the boat called the Gay Viking. In fact, gay had not been invented. But the three that I watched with howled and giggled. The Resident IT Consultant, usually a model of decorum, turned red in the face and laughed helplessly. The other two were hardly better, and Son did a running commentary on everything FF.

In the end I told him he would not be here, had it not been for this film. It launched my love of Blyton, of books, of reading, of England, and more. It’s what brought me to this country, and ultimately to the Bookwitch blog. Only to be laughed at at midnight.

They don’t know what they missed.

Upstarts

New Year. New beginnings, and all that.

Since today is a Bank Holiday, you will sleep late, unless you’re in some part of the world that is holiday-free. Your bookwitch is up early – for a change – in order to show Daughter the door. (It’s that rectangle at the front of the house, cunningly disguised with cobwebs if you approach it from the outside.) Ill with a cold and so tired, she will just have to lump it, and wheel those astrophysical volumes back to where they came from.

Son – on the other hand – is taking up temporary decorating in one of the country’s most expensive neighbourhoods. Or so I read in the paper. About the poshness of where Posh used to live, I mean. Not about Son. Although it could be that Dodo’s parents’ house isn’t exactly in Footballer’s Lane. Nearby, though. We were very heartened to read that Son and Dodo resided in the most expensive street in Edinburgh last year. One likes the young to have class.

And finally to one of my youngest readers, who has just set up her own blog. I’d like to think it was my inspired writing that pushed her, but most likely it’s just that Kate is good at writing and likes it, and has the sense to get going with something of her own.

Cynicalisbest is what it’s called. Just the one post so far, but a good one, so I will be back for more when it comes. I do admire a young person who gets up on New Year’s Day to set up a blog, when the rest of the world has a lie-in. Luckily Kate intends to be cynical about things other than books, too, so there is no immediate threat.

Slacking

Since we’re not into New Year’s resolutions around here, I need to bore you with something else. Plans for 2012. That sort of thing.

I’m intending to take it easy, or possibly easier. I suspect I won’t actually do so, but it’s a nice thought. Would like to travel less, so am madly hoping that Manchester will have loads of nice booky stuff happening (nicely spread out over the year, please!) so that I can have my fun on home ground.

Because I do want to go to events. I’d just rather not spend six hours travelling to them. There’s the Manchester Children’s Book Festival coming in June/July. Looking forward to that. Ten days, practically at home! In fact, any author who wants to drop in for a cup of tea, just let me know. (Or coffee.)

And there’s Bloody Scotland. Won’t want to miss that. It’s in Stirling in mid-September. That’s almost home ground for me.

Could that be enough? I don’t know.

I’ve rashly said I’ll do a talk in early September. For those of you who really know me, you’ll be aware quite how outrageously unlikely that is. If you have any good ideas for getting out of it, do let me know… Or if you’d like to pretend to be the Bookwitch for a morning? The position is open.

Still hoping to read more ‘old’ books. It might be possible. I’ll speak to myself quite strictly and see if that helps. And I can try to do little unannounced challenges, just for the fun of it.

But as with diets, you and I both know there will be nothing new here, once the first few days are done.