Tag Archives: Philip Caveney

The Calling

I enjoyed this book enormously. Philip Caveney’s new novel The Calling is an exciting and hilarious caper across Edinburgh, Philip’s new home city, and Manchester, his soon-to-be former home.

Philip Caveney, The Calling

It’s not often that I can recognise a pub from a short description of its exterior, but I had no trouble identifying the green tiled building that the main character Ed vaguely remembers, which is about the only thing he does recall. He seems to be suffering from amnesia, so has no idea who he is or how he ended up in Edinburgh, with no train ticket and no money. And life’s not made any easier when Ed finds himself awake at night, the only human in a city full of statues who have come to life for 24 hours.

The statues name the 13-year-old Ed, after Edinburgh, and the majority of them want to chop his head off to make sure he stays quiet.

This is fascinating stuff, and after meeting the characters who usually stand so silently all over Edinburgh, I’d quite like to walk round the city and say hello. (This could be a touristy sort of book, seducing young readers into wanting to look at the sights, whilst teaching them history.)

Anyway, some of the more sympathetic statues reckon Ed needs help and who better to assist than Sherlock Holmes? Sherlock is a crafty old – well, actually, fairly recent – statue, who’s got plenty of tricks up his deerstalker, and he and Ed start unravelling the mystery of the Softie who stayed awake.

At the risk of offending old Sir William, pardon, Walter Scott, I’d not heard of Peveril of the Peak as anything other than a Manchester pub. But we live and learn. With the help of James Clerk Maxwell, and a small terrier called Bobby, Ed and Sherlock engage in some sleuthing as well as a spot of portal hopping.

It’s a surprisingly likely story in the end. Except possibly for what goes on in Chorlton, but that’s Chorlton for you. You need to be more circumspect.

Elementary, my dears.

(Fledgling Press are onto something good here, I reckon. This is Philip’s fourth Edinburgh-based book, and I can see how attractive an idea this is, for local readers, as well as for visitors. And the Scotland-Manchester combo is one I find suits me.)

When Philip met Danny

It’s all my fault. I wanted to ask Danny Weston a few questions on his winning the Scottish Children’s Book Award last week. But then I had this – I thought – brilliant idea. So I asked Philip Caveney if he’d have a go and do the interview. I might get better questions that way.

I’m so sorry.

“The brief was very straightforward. ‘Get an interview with Danny Weston,’ she said. ‘Go to his house and get him to talk.’ It sounded easy enough.

But it wasn’t as simple as I might have imagined. For a start, it wasn’t to be at his apartment in Tollcross; that would have been too easy. No, it was to be recorded at his ancestral home in the Highlands, a big rambling Victorian construction out in the sticks and the only way to get there was to hire a pony and trap at the local station. There followed a long, slow ride across the moors and the aged driver, a grey bearded fellow with a wizened face, clearly wasn’t in the mood to make polite conservation.

‘Do you know Mr Weston?’ I asked him and he gave me a long, withering look.

‘Aye, I know him,’ he said darkly, and spoke no more.

When we finally arrived at the house, I asked the driver if he’d wait for me but he simply shook his head and set off back in the direction from which we had come, whipping up the horses into a near gallop. Charming, I thought. The ancient front door of the house was ajar. I pushed it open and stepped into the hallway. There were no lights on within and the place smelled of decay and neglect. I shouted Weston’s name and my voice seemed to echo throughout the house but there was no reply.

I was obliged to wander disconsolately from room to room until I finally found him sitting in what looked like a library, surrounded by shelves of mouldering books. ‘What kept you?’ he snarled and indicated a vacant seat in front of him. There was no offer of refreshment after my long journey so I settled myself down, thinking what a poor host this man was. Perhaps everything I’d heard about him was true.

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I switched on my voice recorder. ‘You must be pleased,’ I ventured. ‘After winning the Scottish Book Award and everything.’

‘Delirious,’ he said, but his expression remained grave.

‘But it must be nice, surely? After all, this is your first attempt at a novel…’

There was no reaction to that, so I decided to dispense with the niceties and asked him a few questions about his childhood. I was amazed to discover that the two of us had rather a lot in common – both of us had fathers in the Royal Air Force, we had spent much of our childhoods in boarding schools and both of us acquired the overpowering urge to write in our teens. Astonishingly, we were inspired by the very same book, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. ‘I’m not always banging on about it like you, though,’ he muttered ungraciously. I let that one go.

‘So what attracts you to such dark stories?’ I asked.

He looked annoyed at the question. ‘Your stories aren’t exactly Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,’ he growled.

Fair point, I admitted, but… a vengeful ghost haunting two young evacuees on Romney Marsh? And the new book, Mr Sparks… a twisted ventriloquist’s dummy who outlives his operators? Where do these strange ideas come from?

He gave me a scornful look as though he thought I should have known better than to ask that question.

‘Is there anything new in the pipeline?’ I asked. I was floundering here.

‘There will be a new story along in September,’ he said. ‘The Haunting of Jessop Rise…’

‘See, right there,’ I interrupted him. ‘That’s clearly not going to be a laugh riot.’

‘Young readers love to be scared,’ he assured me. ‘And little wonder! What are the very first stories we give them? Little Red Riding Hood… Hansel and Gretel… These are horror stories and they are of course, thrilled by them, as soon as they’re old enough to understand words.’ He gestured to a shelf of books to his left. ‘It’s not as though you’re unfamiliar with the idea yourself, after all.’

I was astonished to see a whole row of my old titles residing there. ‘What about your Edinburgh trilogy?’ he asked me. ‘As I said before, your books are not all sweetness and light are they? In Crow Boy you deal with the bubonic plague. And Seventeen Coffins features the serial killers, Burke and Hare.’

I was frankly astonished. ‘I had no idea you were familiar with my work,’ I said.

‘My dear fellow, you are one of my biggest influences,’ he assured me. ‘After all, we have so much in common.’

‘Some of my books are lighter in tone,’ I protested. ‘The new book, The Calling, for instance, that’s about all the statues in Edinburgh, coming to life for one night a year. It’s quite funny in places…’

‘… and also features a brutal kidnapping,’ he interrupted. He raised his eyebrows. ‘The publishers sent me a proof copy,’ he added by way of explanation. Then his expression changed to one of annoyance. ‘Isn’t this supposed to be about me?’ he snapped.

‘Oh, er… yes. So… Jessop Rise. Tell me a bit about that.’

‘It features all my favourite things,’ he said, looking animated for the first time. ‘Ghosts. Children terrorized by things that go bump in the night. An ancient supernatural being. Oh yes, and a really cruel villain.’ He smirked. ‘There’s one scene where…’ He leaned closer and whispered something into my ear. I blanched. I’ve been writing for something like 40 years but that…. that was going too far.

He grinned at me, his face ghoulish in the already fading light. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked me. ‘Have I offended you? Are you shocked?’

‘Not at all,’ I said but I was beginning to feel distinctly nervous. I was uncomfortably aware that it was already getting late and I had no transport arranged. I glanced at my watch.’ ‘I er…. really should be getting back,’ I murmured. ‘I was wondering if you had a phone number for the coachman at the station.’

He smiled grimly, shook his head. ‘There are no phones in this house,’ he said. ‘And even if there were, the old man wouldn’t come all the way out here this late in the day. Not after what happened last time.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to walk back. Unless of course, you’d like to stay in the guest room for the night? The sheets haven’t been changed in several years and there’s been an invasion of slugs, but if you’d prefer to…’

‘No thanks,’ I said, a little too quickly. ‘I’ll walk. I… could do with the exercise.’

‘As you wish.’ He picked up an oil lamp from the table and handed it to me. ‘You’ll need this,’ he said. ‘To light your way. But a word of warning. Whatever you do, stay on the track. And make sure you keep your gaze fixed on the way ahead…’

It took me hours to get back to the station, by which time it was dark and the moon was up. The place was absolutely deserted. Sitting alone in the ancient waiting room by the light of the failing oil lamp, I wondered if I had got enough from Weston to actually write up the interview. I took out my recorder to listen back to what was on there.

There was nothing. Not a single word – only a deep rasping chuckle. And then, without any warning, the lamp went out.”

2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards

I encountered Elizabeth Wein at Stirling station as I caught the train to Glasgow yesterday morning. We were both heading to the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘I missed my train,’ she replied, which might have been true, but I wanted to know why she missed it in Stirling, seeing as Elizabeth has her own perfectly good railway station from which to miss trains. I met ‘Mr Wein’ who is very nice, but unfortunately I gave him the wet handshake. Sorry! I wasn’t expecting to be socialising that early.

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We made it to the Glasgow Central Hotel, along with 1000 children and most of the shortlisted authors for this year’s award. Not having missed ‘my’ train, I arrived just in time for the photoshoot, where school children posed with their favourite authors. We were only a little bit in the way of hotel staff and their drinks trolleys and things, and there was an umbrella in my way and my camera stopped working for a bit, and someone mistook Elizabeth’s lovely book for photographic support…

Black Dove, White Raven - 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

I repaired to the Green Room, managing to lose most of my marbles on the way. Apologies to anyone subjected to my complete lack of conversational skills. (Age and sleep deprivation, I reckon.) Chatted to ‘Mrs Danny Weston’ and Lindsey Fraser, who was there representing Joan Lingard. I turned down the kind offer of exclusive interviews in place of informal gossip. And not every event has someone whose job it is to go round hunting for The Blue Feather. (Never discovered if it was found.)

Refreshed by a cup of tea, I went to the awards ceremony for the Older Readers, where Danny talked of [non-pc] battleaxes, and of wanting to terrorise children, which he did very nicely with a picture of ‘those dolls.’ Elizabeth impressed the audience with a photo of herself on top of an airborne plane. Lindsey took a photo of us to show Joan, and described how Joan uses an iPad for all her research.

Two students did an interview with the authors and there was a Q&A session, which revealed how Danny runs after his characters with a notebook in his hand, to see what they will do, and Elizabeth said she always has to tell her book cover artist that they’ve got the wrong plane… There were prizes for best book reviews (they won an author!), and then there was the Scottish Children’s Book Award which went to Danny Weston for The Piper. He thanked his wife, his editor Charlie Sheppard and his ‘friend’ Philip Caveney who taught him everything he knows.

Elizabeth Wein at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

Having brought loads – well, five – books to be signed, I joined the queues and was given a model plane to make by Elizabeth. Danny’s queue was too long so I went for lunch instead. Found Gillian Philip tackling the sandwiches, and we talked about motherhood and kelpies. Elizabeth Laird asked who I was, so I explained that I’m the one who always emails her after every event. She wondered if she ever writes back, and I assured her she always does.

The other morning session, which I had to miss, was for the [youngest] Bookbug Readers, and the winners were Simon Puttock and Ali Pye. Simon will be carrying his prize around for a couple of days, until he gets home. While ‘Mrs Weston’ secured sandwiches for her hubby I went and joined his queue, which had shrunk a little. Elizabeth Wein was interviewed on camera by someone, and I had the pleasure of witnessing another wet handshake, so at least I’m not the only one.

Danny Weston at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

The Younger Readers award session started after lunch, with host Fergus introducing Gillian Philip, Liz Laird and Ross MacKenzie. When Fergus said they were going to read to us, they rebelled and said they were not. They’d decided to do things differently. (Good for them!)

Gillian talked about island holidays, cliffhangers, Saturday cinema and had a photo of the cutest puppy in a teacup. Her – very – early work consisted of many three-page books. Liz talked about Ethiopia and the running everyone does there, and mentioned the Emperor’s lion in 1968, and said she wasn’t guilty of that murder she was accused of. She also writes her books on the backs of used paper. (My kind of woman.) Ross described how you can find magic shops almost anywhere if you just look closely, and said an early reading memory was The Witches at school.

2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

After a very successful game of Consequences (it’s funny how funny those little stories always are), it was time for more prizes for reviews (another author), as well as a prize for best book trailer (most professional). And then Ross MacKenzie went and won his category of the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards for The Nowhere Emporium. He did the usual, thanking his parents and his wife and his children and all those other people he might have forgotten.

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The children queued up to have books signed, and I went to find a train to take me home. Which means I didn’t take any more of my failed photos of Liz. I suppose there’s always next time.

One For Sorrow

The third and last time travel adventure from Philip Caveney is probably the best. In One For Sorrow I felt that both Philip and his hero Tom, as well as the reader, have finally got the hang of this time travelling thing. It’s one of the most convenient ways of adding a little something to a plot. You can go forwards and backwards, and possibly even over the Irish Sea…

Philip Caveney, One For Sorrow

As the Resident IT Consultant pointed out when he tackled the book, surely Tom should know better than to get on that train from Manchester to Edinburgh. Things always happen. But if he didn’t, then we’d be none the wiser about Plague Doctors, infamous murderers or, in this latest case, how Robert Louis Stevenson went about writing Treasure Island.

And there is that priceless humour that comes from joking about everything Mancunian. They certainly do do things differently there.

Last time Tom had to leave Catriona – the love of his life – behind in 1829. Now it’s 1881 and she is still alive. What can a 14-year-old boy from Manchester do? Other than influence Stevenson in his career?

The Plague Doctor is still around, still ruining Tom’s life. But other than him, and Stevenson’s pesky stepson, 1881 is a sunnier place to visit than either of the two earlier trips. No plague, no murderers, ‘just’ a lost love and some literary advice.

And quite a lot of fun.

Down the close

Do you recall my meeting with the Plague Doctor five months ago? I was in Edinburgh, outside The Real Mary King’s Close, on my way to hear Philip Caveney frighten school children. So was the Plague Doctor; on his way to frighten school children.

Mary King's Close

In ‘real’ life the good doctor works for Mary King’s Close, and I said a few things about it. Like me not wanting to have a look round, because of the plague and also because I might not like the dark and narrow and steep passages. Naturally their publicist Caroline invited me to come and be walked round the place with her, before they open for plague business in the morning. I said yes – having been promised I could escape whenever I wanted. And then I was felled by migraine and couldn’t go. And then when I thought about it again, on the other side of moving house, I decided it’d be a bit forward of me to email and ask if I could come now.

Luckily, Caroline sensed this and emailed me to say it was high time we did this. (She did use more finesse than that in her choice of words.) I decided to face the plague there and then, so the resident IT Consultant and I got up really early one morning last week to get to MKC for nine.

(I, erm, went to the Ladies on arrival. The WC screams as you flush. Thought you might want to know. It’s a little disturbing.)

We set off down the first set of stairs and I paused a bit to see whether I wanted to freak out and panic a little, but came to the conclusion I might be all right. And I was. The hardest thing was how steep the actual close is, and you want to mind your head in places, even at my modest height.

View of Mary King's Close

It’s interesting to see how people used to live. So close together, in small rooms with low ceilings and extremely basic facilities. Cooking, sleeping, using the toilet, looking after cattle. No wonder the plague did well under such circumstances.

Usually visitors are taken round by guides, dressed as real people from those days. Caroline seemed to feel she wasn’t as good as the regular guides, but she did marvellously well. We could stop as and when we liked. MKC was home to people of all sorts. Not just the poor, but also to better-off people, some even with their own front door. (I liked the chap who was so proud of his toilet that it’s the room you see immediately from the street entrance.)

Mary King

We came upon a woman who’d just murdered her son-in-law (he had it coming). We met Mary King herself, and a couple of her neighbours. They could talk, so we found out a fair bit about them. And we saw the room with all the toys; beanie babies and Barbies and goodness knows what. It seems there was a sad ghost girl who’d lost her doll, and now she has something to play with again.

Annie's Shrine

People would hang their washing out, high above the close. And unlike when we were there, the close would be full of stalls and people shopping. We could hear them, but not see them. But the worst was seeing the people who were sick, and the Plague Doctor at work.

After our fantastic private tour, we had another look at the model of MKC in the shop, to see where we’d been. We looked at what else the shop had, including plenty of copies of Philip Caveney’s Crow Boy.

MKC also put on events, and as part of their Close Fest, which runs for a week from Halloween, there will be a sort of talk by Arran Johnston on November 6th at 19.30, A Close Encounter With Charles Edward Stuart. I think it might be in the cowshed…

Cowshed

Afterwards the Resident IT Consultant and I felt we needed elevenses, as we’d had such an early start, and we went to the St Giles Bar & Café just round the corner. We felt the name had a nice ring to it, somehow.

There will be a singing

That’s not just my continued mis-reading of the promised signing after every event. As I got off the tram on Saturday, I found myself struggling to avoid becoming part of a happy group of singers from the something or other gospel. I let them sway on ahead, but they gospelled so slowly that I ended up joining them, eventually overtaking whenever a more spacially aware singer prodded one of the others out of the way. And finally I led the procession, but I speeded up so I’d be out of there completely.

Tram? I hear you ask. Yes, I let the Resident IT Consultant drive me (us) to the Park & Ride and the tram conveyed me into Edinburgh. (It was Saturday. I wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer a repeat of the Saturday in 2012 when the train home was simply too full to join.)

I cased the joint for a while, coming to the conclusion the bookshop doesn’t stock Into A Raging Blaze. Found that the photographers’ background carpet was a more mellow green than it has been. Checked the price of cake – as you do – in case the Resident IT Consultant would need some later. And I, erm, rearranged some books in the bookshop. Although it is hard to put books face out when it is at the expense of other top books. Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Joined the proper photographers to snap Charlie Fletcher and Michelle Harrison. Not unsurprisingly they were keenest on the beautiful Michelle (who reminded me of a black haired J K Rowling). Me, I sort of stood behind the dustbins. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Being short, I’d already come to the conclusion I might have to take photographs between the legs of the others who have this unwritten shooting order I will never ever be able to join.

Michelle Harrison

After Charlie’s and Michelle’s event I repaired to the press yurt and most serendipitously came face to face with the newlyweds. I had more or less given up hope of fitting Philip and Lady Caveney into our respective schedules this week. So we had all of several minutes before Philip’s interview (for television, he claims) and I dashed on to The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, where I was unable to avoid the Resident IT Consultant. Former children’s laureate Anthony Browne was there too.

The Caveneys

I had asked permission to bring the Resident IT Consultant to the yurt, so we went there for our dinner sandwiches, and the life saving coffee. Sat opposite a woman I slowly worked out must be a Swedish journalist, and even more slowly I worked out that she the man she was interviewing was Bernardo Atxaga (whose book Shola miraculously appeared in my Swedish letterbox over the winter).

Being on translating grounds here, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Daniel Hahn, but I didn’t tug at his sleeve either, as he was intent on Bernardo. I trawled the square for some action and found I arrived just in time for the signing by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf, who write the Oksa Pollock books.

Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

Sara Paretsky

After some killing of time had taken place (it rained…) we finally got to the evening’s long awaited photocall with Sara Paretsky. She jumped straight into her star role, saying the attention she got from the photographers made her feel as though she’s important. Murdo Macleod pointed out she is important. I hung back by the dustbins again, knowing my camera would never totally overcome the fact that it was eight o’clock and a little dark, and that I couldn’t hope to achieve what Murdo and Co did. Meanwhile the Resident IT Consultant chatted to one of the photographers about why they all wear black. (I had no idea he was so into fashion!)

Sara Paretsky

We went straight to Sara’s event with Tom Rob Smith who – it turns out – is half Swedish. Naturally. Not knowing what he looked like before last night, I did miss his photocall on the green carpet. Apologies. (He looks sort of Swedish, if that helps.)

My skills for getting to near the front of the singing, I mean signing, queue had not deserted me, and I had my two minutes with Sara before too long. We agreed that facebook is the way to keep track of house moves and dogs. And stuff.

The light was far too bad for pictures, so I led the Resident IT Consultant back to the tram stop with no more singing, and from there it was a smooth trip home, without any need to get too close to any fellow passengers.

(In the small hours leading up to Saturday I had dreamed an alternate Sara Paretsky signing. She and her many (?) publicists, as well as a large group of fans, turned up outside my – old – house, to do the signing. I invited them in for soup and sandwiches. Her and the PRs, not the fans, obviously. Once inside it became my new house and that was so not good, because of its unfinished state. Also, my freezer isn’t that well stocked yet, and I was busy working out how to make the small amount of soup I had stretch between so many. But other than that, it was a fine signing.)

Incidentally

You know how it is. You decide to be a little more sociable, and what better time and place than in Edinburgh? Before getting on that train to Edinburgh on Monday, I made plans to see a few people. So I’ve got a couple of meetings arranged for later.

I knew Philip Caveney would be up here. Again. (A witch moves away from Stockport, and Stockport follows her here.) I asked if we might meet up. He’d be busy Monday, he said, but later in the week perhaps?

On Facebook I’d seen a photo from the Charlotte Square children’s bookshop, of Philip, standing next to his books. Secretly I thought the photo was a bit orange, so when I came across the same books myself, I took a picture to show how it’s done.

Philip Caveney books at EIBF

Actually, orange seems to be the way. Something to do with the light.

Oh well.

And then I found out why he was ‘busy’ that day. There’s no need to get married just to escape a meeting with the witch. Really. But it’s lovely news that Lady Caveney has made an honest man of Philip.