Tag Archives: Paul Dowswell

Erich und Lisa, and Paul and Matt, too.

No, that’s not a new book.

Travel gods willing, I’m off to Berlin today, so thought I’d ‘fob you off’ with some Berlin books.

I’ve never been, so am writing this blind. I’ll be interested to discover how much of Erich Kästner’s city remains. Having watched all three Emil und die Detektive films, I should know. Only one was made before the war. If Emil was English, it’d be easy enough to film a boy in prewar London now. There are plenty of houses and buildings left. I hope quite a bit of Berlin is also still there.

The other old Berlin I ‘know’ is Lisa Tetzner’s, where her child characters lived in tenements in the 1930s. Surely some remain? And I have no idea how large Berlin was in those days. I’m assuming the children in no. 67 lived quite centrally.

You can find countless children’s books set in today’s London. There must be a Berlin counterpart. It’s ‘just’ that we don’t get to see those books.

The more recently written novels that come to mind are British. There was Paul Dowswell’s Ausländer ten years ago. Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen from last year. Both showing life within Germany. Both featuring WWII. There’s more to Germany and Berlin than that.

Death in Berlin, by M M Kaye, set in postwar Berlin. It’s decades since I read it, and I recall a sense of bleakness.

Ich bin ein Berliner, as JFK said. Whether or not that makes us doughnuts I will leave unsaid. I’m certainly rounded enough.


Set on the 1st of July in 1916, and also in 2016, the adult reader can work out what happens. At first I regretted not having read it on the day, so to speak, but am glad I didn’t. It’s such a loaded kind of date.

Paul Dowswell, Wave

Paul Dowswell has come up with two pairs of brothers – Eddie and Charlie Taylor. One pair for each century. Today’s boys are the great grandsons of one of the soldiers in 1916. Their grandmother is Rose, as was the girlfriend of one of the young men in 1916. The modern Rose is the daughter of the older Rose.

Clearing out their great grandparents’ house in Hastings, they find a photo of the older two, taken at the Somme on that fateful morning, as they waited to be part of the First Wave. Today’s Eddie wants to join up, unlike the older Eddie who only went to war in order to do the same as his big brother Charlie.

This short and sad story shows us the same day, one hundred years apart, and how the two sets of brothers handle the war, and the memories of it.

Very powerful, and it is yet more proof of the horrors of war, and how easily persuaded young men can be.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

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.

Was it Franz Ferdinand’s fault?

My second WWI event participants agreed that the war would have happened anyway. Things were tense in Europe.

School events are the best. The topics seem more interesting and the theatres are full, and the questions asked by young audiences are sometimes good, sometimes a little unexpected.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

I successfully became 13 again for a whole morning listening first to Theresa Breslin and Mary Hooper discuss their WWI novels with chair Jane Sandell. Theresa’s Remembrance has been re-issued and Mary has a brand new novel out, Poppy. For added interest Theresa brought along a hand grenade. She claimed it is empty.

They both set the beginning of their books in 1915, because that’s when conscription forced ordinary men to join up, and Mary was quite taken by the idea of platoons made up by friends, football teams or factory workers. This meant that when things went badly, whole areas would be depleted of all its men.

The effect on women was that they had the opportunity to do what men usually did, and Theresa couldn’t resist returning to her story about the rich girl whose first task as a volunteer nurse was to fill a bucket with amputated limbs.

Theresa Breslin and Mary Hooper

Class boundaries disappeared to some extent, although at first it was only well off women who could volunteer, which is why Mary had to arrange some financial help for her Poppy, who was working class. Theresa agonised over whether to allow her WWI characters a happy ending, with a baby, when she realised that the baby would definitely end up being slaughtered in WWII.

It was Remembrance Day 1999 that inspired Theresa to write Remembrance. She could see that there were no books about the young of WWI. Mary remembers a real life story about a dog that jumped into the water after its master as he sailed off to war, which she felt was so poignant.

Paul Dowswell, Tony Bradman and Linda Newbery

There was barely any need for a break before Tony Bradman chatted to Linda Newbery and Paul Dowswell, two of the twelve contributors to the WWI anthology he edited.

Linda has written about the war before, and in her story Dandelions For Margo, she wanted to concentrate on the role of women, especially the Land Army. She read an extract about a German plane crashing near where her characters lived. (And she had a sweet explanation for the title of her story, which hinges on the similarities between a tortoise and a hand grenade…)

Paul wrote about the Unknown Soldier, and he talked about a photo of some soldiers taken in the morning before the battle of the Somme. He too mentioned the Pals Battalions, and described the outbreak of WWI as similar in euphoria to a football final.

They discussed some of their other books about war, and Tony became rather outspoken about Gove’s view of ‘noble sacrifices.’ He suspects there will be no OBE now. Both Linda and Paul advocated a trip to Flanders for anyone with an interest in WWI and described the vast fields of crosses, as well as tiny cemeteries with perhaps only twelve graves.

Tony said he’s particularly excited to be talking about this here in Scotland, a month before the referendum, and made comparisons with Ireland a hundred years ago. And as they all pointed out, it wasn’t only the British and the Irish who fought, but Indians, West Indians, and even the Chinese were forced to join in the war effort.

Paul Dowswell, Tony Bradman and Linda Newbery

Bookwitch bites #30

I was getting ready to tick ‘like’ on facebook on Friday, and to leave a comment, but within a minute it became clear that most of my facebook friends appeared to be on the Carnegie longlist, and the liking and commenting that would have been required to cover them all was more than I could manage. So you can go and have a look yourselves, because just listing them will be a who’s who for children’s authors. Suffice it to say that most of my own longlist for best of 2010 were there. Well done everyone, and good luck!

Linda Strachan is already lucky, having just won the Catalyst prize. She beat Tim Bowler and Paul Dowswell, which is good. That didn’t come out right, did it? Lovely for Linda that she won, but I’m not saying Tim and Paul deserved to be beaten. I’ve not read Spider, but if it’s anything like Dead Boy Talking, then I’m not surprised.

Tim Bowler, Linda Strachan and Paul Dowswell

Another Scottish piece with a link to a short story by Keith Gray for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. There is a list of specially written short stories by some of the authors who were at the book festival, and I’m linking to his since it was Keith who drew my attention to this. The other stories might be quite good, too. ; )

Meg Rosoff has been blogging about how she writes and getting very poetic about it. Although the next day she posted more on writing, so perhaps she’s just too preoccupied with the subject. Or procrastinating.

In a recent review of the latest Artemis Fowl I read that The Atlantis Complex is the penultimate Fowl. I had no idea Eoin Colfer has decided to ‘end it’, but some people are better informed than others. I just wish she hadn’t given away so much of the plot, though. And I liked Orion. Sometimes you need a complete change in plot pattern.

Also new is the Harry Potter website which was unveiled this week. It has games and stuff, and a facebook page. Naturally. I can’t say I’m into games, but I do like the next generation covers. If it wasn’t so ridiculous to fill one’s house with multiple copies of the boy wizard books I’d say I want the new books, too.

Tea with Flora MacLachlan


That is not the first word you’d associate with the Edinburgh Festival season.

Almost too warm. That’s another unlikely description. (Meg Rosoff; it may not be NYC hot, but then we can’t all be over there.)

Nice day. No rain. Warm. Sunny.

No events either, so although we had to crawl out of bed to get to Edinburgh for the morning of Day 6, it was purely pleasure. Not that the other days weren’t pleasure, I hasten to add.

Gillian Philip, of Crossing the Line and Bad Faith fame, had an educational encounter with 96 school visitors and survived. I knew she would, because we had agreed to meet up afterwards, and I didn’t want to just mop up the remains.

First, however, we had an assignation with Nicola Morgan outside the children’s bookshop. Not too busy there on a Monday morning, but I still took Donna’s Tim’s advice and looked for interesting shoes. They were. Lime green suedy things, beautifully set off with purple shirt and green scarf. That’s my kind of dressing. Nicola being a capable sort of woman determinedly smuggled us into the authors’ yurt, so we hastily hid the red neck ribbons and exchanged them for green ones.

Nicola Morgan

Did I mention the sunshine? We sat out on the authors’ deck area and talked and gossiped for an hour. Nicola does a lot of events at the festival, and was halfway through this year’s talks. She also seems to know everyone. Bali Rai turned up briefly before his school event, and Kevin Brooks sat at the next table with Mary Byrne. We talked about Tim Bowler (did your ears burn, Tim?) while we were on the Swedish connection. And as Nicola knows everyone, she came with us to help identify Gillian Philip, as there is always a possibility that someone doesn’t quite look like their Facebook photo.

Gillian Philip

Gillian was in the bookshop, just finishing chatting to some young admirers, along with Keith Charters, who wore an author badge, but seemed to be more of an enthusiastic publishing person. We trotted back to the deck and the sunshine, for Gillian to relax and for a chat. Daughter admired her ear-rings, which apparently were purchased in a very recent panic buy. Have to say that Gillian looked stunning with matching jewellery and top. (I know it shouldn’t matter, but I enjoy matching-ness and strong colours. But it probably doesn’t make anyone’s books better.) Keith did some good business moves, handing out his card, and handing out a booklet with chapter one of a book called Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket by Hazel Allan.

Keith Charters

Paul Dowswell

At the next table we had Melvin Burgess and Paul Dowswell of Ausländer fame, and I kicked myself for not having checked out the schools programme, in order to pack a more suitable selection of books to be signed… I could get used to this part of Charlotte Square. How do I become an author for next time? Preferably one who is allowed in without having to ‘pay’ by doing a public talk.

We skulked back to the wifi in the press yurt to sort out the case of Monday’s missing photos, and let me tell you that I may have a laptop, but my lap does not have a top suited to balancing anything like that for any length of time. Did get the photos on, with minutes to spare before we had to rush down to Waverley. We had an invitation to have afternoon tea with Flora MacLachlan, aka Debi Gliori.

Debi is so wonderfully kind that she had volunteered to have the witch and her witch baby round for tea. She collected us from the train and drove us home to her beautiful garden, and then she plonked us down in the shade in a corner and brought out a groaning tea tray. I apologise to the world for the day of book-writing that has been lost through so much baking and general kindness. But fluffy scones and the most lemony cake and shortbread in a sunny garden is beyond good.

Before we left, we got to have a very early look at the artwork for a new book. I love it already. Picture books often look very attractive, but that’s nothing compared with what they’re made from.

Just a thought; am I turning into a cross between Cheshire Life and Hello magazine?

(All photos H Giles)


This is what I like; war fiction set in Germany, looking at the war from the other side.

Piotr from Poland becomes Peter when he is orphaned and found to be ‘volksdeutscher’, i.e. a proper German. Nice, blond, tall, blue eyed, intelligent. So, first the Germans, accidentally, kill his parents, and then they take him to Berlin to be adopted by a German family. This particular family is Professor Kaltenbach’s, and his line of work is racial purity. Chilling stuff.

At first Peter adapts well and seems to be the perfect Hitlerjugend they want him to be, but then he begins to use his brain and to think for himself. That in itself is not a very safe thing, and to be in Berlin during the war isn’t safe either. He makes new friends, and ends up doing very unsafe things. And friends aren’t always what they seem.

Peter’s new ‘sisters’ are all involved in knitting socks for the soldiers and collecting money for the war effort. The Kaltenbach family find they have been deceived when bombs start falling on Berlin, and it seems that bad things might happen to good Germans, too.

There are some Swedish language issues in the book, bordering on the ridiculous, and I wonder what research Paul did on hair dyes in the 1940s? Suspect none. But this is a great story, and it actually comes to an end, unlike so many books that have endless sequels. Having said that, in a way it would be interesting to see more of what went on in Berlin, and in particular how the Kaltenbach girls did.