Tag Archives: Nicola Morgan

Bookwitch bites #131

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

David Almond scooped the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize on Thursday. Congratulations to him, and commiserations to young ‘Master Sally Nicholls,’ who at his very young age let his disappointment that Mummy didn’t win be known. I like a baby who can cry when the time is right. And apparently he was passed round like a – very valuable – parcel, so I’m quite jealous I wasn’t there.

Sally is also on the shortlist for the Costa, so perhaps the young Master will appear at another awards event soon. Because as he well knows, Mummy’s is one seriously good book, and he will read it as soon as he can.

Someone (Muckle Media. And you know, I blogged about muckle only the other day) has been looking into who is most popular on Twitter in Scotland. It seems J K Rowling does quite well with followers and such. And what’s fascinating is that I’ve never heard of some of the top names, although Ian Rankin and Val McDermid ring a bell. As do Bookwitch favourites like Gillian Philip, Nicola Morgan, Julie Bertagna and Helen Grant. Long may they tweet.

On Twitter (where else?) I learned that Teri Terry was interviewed when she was in Denmark recently. Her answers are perfectly easy to understand. For those of you who still don’t read Danish after all those Killings and Bridges, I can only suggest you guess what Teri is replying to, as the questions are in Danish.

Anne Rooney has been interviewed by the Society of Authors about non-fiction (I thought of it first!), and it makes for very interesting reading. Times are hard. Being interested in everything is good. Anne is good.

If all this feels like it’s getting on top of you, counselling is at hand. Nicola Morgan is now the proud owner of a Certificate of Counselling, part of her Diploma in Youth Counselling. She is so good at so many things. And I’d have happily unburdened myself to Nicola even before she was certified.

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

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.


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


One afternoon some time ago I felt pretty awful. Not sure there was a particular reason, except I had a lot on my to-do list, and not so much afternoon, or even day, left.

There was some small task I thought I could – should – do before whatever else it was I was going to do at a specific point in time. But the more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me that I just had to do something which wasn’t on the to-do list at all.

I needed to read. So I assigned that small task to oblivion – or maybe to later that evening – and sat down with a book. Not for long, but long enough to calm down a little.

And then, by that funny thing called coincidence, my inbox offered me Nicola Morgan’s latest Brain Sane newsletter, where she just happened to mention readaxation.

Which is precisely what I’d been practising. Nicola is a wise woman, and I wasn’t too crazy either, recognising my need to readax.

Why do we feel more guilt over pausing a to-do phase to read, when a brief moment to cram paracetamol down your throat for some headache or other, seems perfectly acceptable? The book has fewer (bad) side effects. Almost none, in fact, unless you trip over it on the floor.

(I’m carefully not mentioning knee injuries caused by standing up after sitting down comfortably to read. And I know what I said about guilt feelings. On holiday right now I have read an unusual number of books. Which is good. And then I suffer pangs of guilt because I’ve not done enough ‘holiday’ stuff. You can’t win. Still, readaxing is good. Very good.)

Now, let me just peel the potatoes…

‘A land frightful to live in’

Not content with what Nordic-ness I could get at the conference, I decided to add a few more ingredients to an already busy, or potentially full, day. So, by skipping the morning conferency bits again, I went to church instead. The same church I walked past on my way to Nicola Morgan’s Brain event a couple of years ago, and decided I really liked. By some coincidence it hosted a Swedish service, ministered by God’s right hand – Swedish – man in London, who is up in Caledonia for a couple of days. (I omitted mentioning I belong to the militants from Liverpool. Just to be on the safe side. But he, and his wife, seemed very nice.)

Religion was swiftly followed by lunch at the pub round the corner, which is Swedish owned (Edinburgh is being taken over by Swedes). Lots more people there, enjoying meatballs or salmon. I sat with three friendly ladies, who knew how to discuss the rolling of meatballs. One of them even has a friend in common with me. Before a double chocolate dessert I wasn’t going to eat, I offered my apologies and left.

I had more things to do. The very kind Nicola Morgan had asked me round for Earl Grey – well, coffee, really – seeing as I was in the neighbourhood. (You know, I could do a blog post on authors and their kitchens.) My aim was to be out of there in 30 minutes, so that Nicola could go back to doing all that work she needs to do, and I almost succeeded. It was more like 35.

Pietari Kääpä

Managed to find the no. 5 bus that would take me from there to George Square and more conference and its very last session on Nation and Identities, chaired by Stirling’s own Pietari Kääpä.

Essi Viitanen

First out was Essi Viitanen with an interesting piece on film-makers Aho&Soldan: Filming a Modern Finland. Essi showed us snippets from films from the 1930s on subjects as varied as lumber and Helsinki beaches.

Marja Lahelma

Marja Lahelma was next, talking about Nordic Art and Mythical ‘Northernness’ Around the Year 1900. Back then there was a lot of thought on whether the cold climate makes us much more intelligent, or much more stupid…

William Norman

Third we had William Norman’s Savages and Slaves: Scotland in the Icelandic Family Sagas. That was surprisingly interesting (to me), considering it was about kings and heroics and treachery. The Scots were ‘fleeter of foot’ which seems to have been a bad thing. And William mentioned the ‘black hole for Scandinavian settlement’ in Central Scotland. (I don’t know what he means! I settled just fine.)

Ersev Ersoy

Finally Ersev Ersoy has a soft spot for Ossian, and she talked about 18th Century Epic: Nation in Ossian and Kalevala. I was intrigued by the notion of early ‘reviews’ and translations of Ossian.

And there I left, narrowly missing Son’s closing speech. (Sigh.) Not content with one children’s author, I had agreed to have drinks with another one, at Hemma, the day’s second Swedish owned bar and restaurant, where the conference had booked in for their celebratory meal. But I was stood up… (Sigh.) Two Swedish meals in one day might appear excessive, but it sort of made up for the sandwiches I lived on the previous day.

I had a good time (I don’t always), chatting to one of the people who is less blonde than my imagination made her, but very nice. And someone from close to ‘home’ who is looking into the way Gothenburgers and Stockholm people pronounce the letter ‘i’ and which meant she has no – professional – interest in me, despite the Resident IT Consultant doing his best to offer me. He had to say ‘sausages’ instead.

The ‘public’ sandwiches having been chauffeured enough, he was also available to drive me all the way home.

That just leaves today!

Topping & Company Booksellers

So, two days after Kirkland Ciccone’s crazy bookshop tour, saw your Bookwitch in St Andrews, in the brand new branch of Topping & Company Booksellers (to call them by their long and proper name; from now on Topping’s). I, too, am crazy like that. I had a[nother] Christmas tree to deliver, so decided to kill both tree and new bookshop with the one stone.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

You might recall I had pressed my nose against the shop window during my bookshop crawl on my last visit. Now I didn’t dare, as the shop was nice and done and open and I’m certain the window was lovely and clean.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

Instead I went in, followed by the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter, on standby to catch me if I looked like I might get my wallet out (my sincere apologies to Topping’s). And let me tell you, the shop is so wonderful that any wallet is at great risk. Even mine. (It actually broke yesterday…)

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

This was my first visit to a Topping’s, and I can quite see what all the fuss is about. I’m most grateful to my favourite Hodder publicist, who was the one to tell me this new shop was on the cards. If I leave my wallet at home, I can see I might be allowed to return to this haven.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

The place was full of people. Much fuller than the photos suggest, as I tried to avoid people so you can see the books and the shelves and the ladders and the chairs and tables, and the woodburning stove and anything else. Sofas. Little rooms at the back. Window overlooking some local wilderness. And all this just round the corner from the Students’ Union.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

Charming children’s books corner, containing what you’d want and expect, plus rather a lot more. Pleased to see Nicola Morgan’s Stress on the reference shelf.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

They have a lot of signed first editions, including Terry Pratchett’s Dodger, which is quite a feat I feel.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

I located a man who looked like he might be Mr Topping himself, and he was. It seems that one reason behind the new branch is that he has done what the Bookwitch just did; moved to Scotland. He will be running the St Andrews shop.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

I suppose all this is what you can expect from a man who was sacked by Waterstones for selling too many books.

Topping & Company Booksellers, St Andrews

The long day

You can’t get into Charlotte Square before 9.30. I’d do well to remember that, and I could – and should – stay in bed for longer. But a witch can always read, so on Tuesday morning time was killed with Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier.

Thanks to Theresa’s generosity I was able to be her husband for the morning. Not as nice a one as her regular Mr B, but I did my best. And I can confirm that while I was in the authors’ events prep area, I didn’t hear anything. At all.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

Then I went along to Theresa’s school event with Mary Hooper, and afterwards in the bookshop I listened in amazement as Theresa asked a female fan (obviously in her upper teens) if she was the school librarian  – from one of the visiting schools. It was quite clear that she was a mature upper secondary school student. No. Apparently she was the head teacher. (The librarian was the greyhaired ponytailed gent next to her.)

Eating a sandwich very fast before my next event, I ended up letting four Swedes share my table. I didn’t share my Swedish-ness with them, however. I listened as they speculated on the nature of Charlotte Square. Apparently it’s a bookfair of some kind. ‘But where are the books?’ one of them asked. Quite. The book festival as a mere coffeeshop for tourists.

Ran into Keith Charters, who was clutching 60 copies of  David MacPhail’s Yeti On the Loose. Did some heavy hinting, which resulted in Keith handing over 59 copies to the bookshop. I mean, he had promised me one ages ago.

After school event no.2 I chatted a little with Linda Newbery, Tony Bradman and Paul Dowswell, getting my anthology signed by all three, each in the right places. Then went in search of Cathy MacPhail’s son David, and found him where I thought he’d be but not where Keith had said, along with his mother and a lovely baby. I’d been told he’d be a slightly taller version of his mum, which as Cathy drily pointed out wasn’t hard to achieve. I forgot to take a picture, but got my Yeti signed with an extra generous RAAAAAR! Then I admired the baby.

Wrote yesterday’s onsite blog post, before learning that Son and Dodo were coming over to entertain me, and to have coffee. It had got unexpectedly warm and sunny, and Son complained. We chatted, saw Ian Rankin arrive, noticed the longbearded gent from earlier years, and came to the conclusion that the scones which used to be of almost home made quality, were just dry and boring.

Son and Dodo went off to search for more Maisie books, and I had my Dyslexia event to go to. Glimpsed Nicola Morgan and Val McDermid (not together) and then it rained and got unexpectedly cold. I repaired to the yurt for a restorative sandwich and an even more restorative sip of cola to keep me awake, as well as find that cardigan I suddenly needed.

Arne Dahl

Anne Cassidy

Waited for Arne Dahl to turn up for his photocall, and did the best I could when he did, considering how dark and wet it was. He seemed bemused by the attention. While waiting for Arne’s event with John Harvey (whom I’d have snapped too, had I known who he was…) I walked over to the children’s bookshop and caught Anne Cassidy and Emma Haughton (who does not have long brown hair, after all) signing post-event.

Emma Haughton

And after a much longer day than someone my age should attempt, I limped along Princes Street for my late train home. Someone at Waverley told me to smile. He’s lucky I’m a peaceful sort of witch.