Tag Archives: Sally Gardner

Audible?

For her current commute, Daughter needs audio books. They will keep her sane and entertained during the 25 minutes on the S-Bahn and the 5 to 10 on the bus. Twice a day, five days a week. I understand that’s about the equivalent of The Hunger Games. (Not that I applaud her choice.)

Now, I have to admit here that I have not studied the finer details of having an Audible membership. Daughter has, and while she’s not thrilled with the cost, she hasn’t come up with anything better. There probably isn’t anything better, i.e. cheaper per hour.

When they were still cassette tapes I used to buy a lot. They were expensive, but I felt the benefits outweighed the cost, and there were four of us who would potentially listen, one at a time. Son wore out our copy of Kim, so bought a more hardwearing version of this Kipling story when he got older but still wanted to re-listen. As for Harry Potter, I winced when paying, but knew it was worth it.

I also frequented the mobile library when it stopped down the road, and borrowed a lot of audio cassettes, mostly for Son. That’s how I discovered children weren’t meant to read Terry Pratchett… Or Agatha Christie.

Thinking back to this time, I remembered that I must have contacted the library service at some point, about audio books for Daughter, who at that time really needed them to access literature at all. Somebody very nice provided her with a library card that allowed her free audio books, and I proceeded to request books from the mobile library, and every time they came, they would wave their latest haul at me. It was great.

Until the time we lost the nice and friendly crew and the replacement librarian got fed up with looking out for my requests, and told me so in no uncertain terms.

So that was that. Daughter learned to read for pleasure, mainly thanks to Nick Sharratt. But on her commute she prefers sound to paper. If only it wasn’t so expensive!

I recalled the event in Edinburgh in August where Sally Gardner ‘suggested to someone in the audience that if they can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.’ That’s probably similar to what I arranged for Daughter 15 to 20 years ago. I don’t know what would happen today.

Discovered from one author that the seemingly fair free exchange of a book if you don’t like it, can be abused. Readers listen to one book and then return it and read another for the same cost. Not surprisingly that money doesn’t then benefit either the author of the book or the narrator.

We looked at the audio books in the sale over Christmas, but there wasn’t much to her tastes. I went through my library and suggested really good books, that it would be worth paying for. Most of them weren’t available on audio…

Very good in 2019

To be perfectly frank with you, I’ve not known what to do. So, yes, it’s the 19th today, and it’s 2019 and my task is to give you some idea of the books I liked the best.

I started the list a couple of weeks ago. But there are simply too many books on it. That’s obviously good, as it indicates there were many books to be enjoyed. And I did.

Many of my favourites are Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia friendly books. This is especially great, meaning there are now loads of grownup books short in length, full on story, and easy for anyone to tackle. So I pondered making 2019 a dyslexia year.

But that would leave others, equally worthy. Some of the best books were part of trilogies or series. That doesn’t make them more, or less, good. Less of a surprise, perhaps, if one already knows their siblings. Should I not mention them?

Perhaps just go for the normal standalones?

Or, you know, make it a long 2019 shortlist? Maybe pick 19 books?

I colour-coded really nicely. Got quite confused when some books seemed to be in more than one category. And – I can hear you say ‘get on with it, witch!’ – then I plumped for three. Three that tingled inside. Me, that is. I went for non-series, and as you can see, only one of the three is part of a series, so that counts more or less as a success.

Wein, McGowan, Gardner

Elizabeth Wein, Anthony McGowan and Sally Gardner. Very good in 2019.

Invisible in a Bright Light

‘Se det var en riktig saga det,’ as you occasionally – but far too rarely – say.

I could have wept with happiness reading Sally Gardner’s new book for younger readers, Invisible in a Bright Light. I found myself removed from adulthood and now, straight back to my Hans Christian Andersen days.

Sally Gardner, Invisible in a Bright Light

The fact that Sally has set her story in ‘the city of C-‘ some time in the 1800s helps with the belief that you’re in Copenhagen, which I think you are. It’s where Sally discovered the fantastic chandelier that stars in this story, and it’s where Celeste and her sister Maria would like to be, only to find themselves in the city of C- instead.

As in all the best fairy tales there is confusion and displacement and an urgent need for things to be put right. Celeste, and Maria before her, is unsure where she is and what’s happened. She/they only know that life seems wrong, somewhat dreamlike, and hidden, as if there’s something they can almost touch.

But what is it? And why do some people think Celeste is crazy?

Set in a theatre in a magical city, shortly before Christmas, we meet a host of interesting characters. Some of them Celeste feels she’s known before, somewhere else. Maybe. There’s something she can’t quite put her finger on.

Drama, intrigue, an evil witch, some very talented children, a good King and a sad clown and many others fill Sally’s tale. What’s more, if this is indeed Copenhagen, she writes about it as it might have been, and not as an English town. Places are different, and authors need to show the reader this.

The whole book is so magical! Or did I already say?

Read Invisible in a Bright Light and let yourself be transported back to childhood. Give your children what you had when you were little. In fact, with Christmas so close, this is the book that can be – needs to be – given to everyone, no matter what age.

Magic with snow. And the clock is ticking.

The Wind in the Wall

Why don’t adults read more picture books? By which I mean picture books aimed at older readers. They exist, but I don’t believe I’ve come across very many.

Sally Gardner and Rovina Cai, The Wind in the Wall

Well, here is one by Sally Gardner, with illustrations by Rovina Cai. The Wind in the Wall is beautiful, and in a way quite like a children’s picture book, were it not for  the more mature content of cultivating an amazing amaryllis, or a prized pineapple.

It’s full of magic, which must be how the pineapple grew so perfect and caused our main character so much anguish. He is the Duke’s deposed gardener whose fondness for amaryllis lost him his job when the Duke decided he wanted pineapples from now on.

And who enjoys being replaced by a charlatan? Someone who’s both successful and cruel. A bully.

You are swept away by what happens, but at the same time you don’t really know for sure what’s going on. Just as we loved our childhood picture books, The Wind in the Wall enchants the adult reader.

Trains and unicorns

It’s not too late, I suppose. But I probably won’t.

Recently I was looking into train travel, of which I was in favour long before Greta. Let’s just say that it’d be an awful lot easier if this wasn’t an island, or at least if I lived at the southern end of it. So this time round I won’t be going to Berlin by rail.

I’d thought to make it a killing two birds with the one train ticket thing, stopping long enough in London to go and see a play. If you have to sleep somewhere en route, it might as well be London, and if sleeping in London I could do something there before bedtime. Like going to the theatre.

Because I’d happened to see the advertisement for Maggot Moon at the Unicorn Theatre [where I’ve not been for nearly ten years]. Sally Gardner’s book was one of the best that year, and I fully expect the play to be worth seeing. So discovering it’d be on in the month when my fictional train travel was about to happen, was a real boon. An encouragement.

But the best laid plans, and all that. 36 very expensive hours, or a dreadfully early start one morning but soon over, and for a reasonable amount of money… Well, let’s say I didn’t book a theatre ticket.

On the other hand, October isn’t over – it’s only just started – so a trip to London can’t be ruled out. But, well…

Cracking the Reading Code

You can’t hear enough about getting children – or even old people – to read, especially if they have extra obstacles to deal with. Well, I can’t, anyway. And I’d already heard the background stories of Tom Palmer, Sally Gardner and Alex Wheatle, but they can do with being repeated. Often. Until everyone who wants to can read.

Sally Gardner, Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

The three guests were ably interviewed by Mairi Kidd in Tuesday’s event hosted by Barrington Stoke, where she used to work. She knows about this business of dyslexia friendly books. And so do the three; with Tom probably having written the most books for Barrington Stoke, Sally being the most dyslexic while still writing the the most wonderful stories, and Alex for knowing what his readers know.

Tom Palmer

I do like the sound of Tom’s mother, getting him to read by giving him books and articles on football. And then he went to night school where he was supposed to read Shakespeare and Chaucer! It wasn’t until a tutor introduced him to poetry about Leeds United (!), and took students out to the actual ‘Wuthering Heights’ that Tom felt he could get on with this reading.

Sally Gardner

Not sure I like the sound of Sally’s school for maladjusted children (whose fault is it if children are maladjusted?), but at 14 when she tried reading Wuthering Heights for the second time and she suddenly was ‘in the f***ing book,’ things changed for her. As Sally said, you can be good at something and it needn’t be only academic for it to matter. We need ‘diversity in the brain.’

And Alex, who did read a bit as a child, from Huckleberry Finn and Ivanhoe to sports books, finally discovered books in jail at the age of 18. His cellmate, and mentor, gave him The Black Jacobins to read, as he ‘wouldn’t have anything better to do in there.’

Alex Wheatle

Asked to read to us, Alex again chose the bit from Kerb Stain Boys about being in detention, and this time it was Sally who asked if he reads his own audio books. And after Sally had treated us to a dyslexic pirate in Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon, Alex returned the compliment. Sally does have a great voice. Last but not least, Tom read from Armistice Runner, which is close to his heart, featuring both running and fells, and it still makes me cry.

Mairi asked the three about graphic novels; if they make reading easier. Sally mentioned Shaun Tan, and the ‘most genius book ever,’ which has no words at all. Both Alex and Tom were fans of Shoot Magazine, but understandably Sally’s not. Talking about Tom’s novel Scrum, and the revelation it brought a young boy at a school; ‘Miss, I can read this!’

Sally gets angry when people say to those who have listened to an unabridged novel as an audio book, that they ‘haven’t really read it.’ This is snobbery. She suggested to someone in the audience that if they can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.

The last question of the evening was not a question but a thank you, from a teacher who uses these books in her school. And it seems that Scotland might be better in this instance, not having reading rules, which means that teachers can let the children read anything, even if it’s not from the right part of a reading scheme. (This brings back dreadful memories of Son being forced to read ‘backwards’ so as not to rock the boat of equality.)

We then gathered in the bookshop where people were so keen to continue talking about this important subject, that poor Tom was unable to sit down at the signing table for quite some time.

This is what we like.

Sky falling

Discovered someone was sitting in ‘my’ seat in the Corner theatre for the event with Sophie Cameron and Sally Gardner. But I can be flexible, if I really have to.

Sally and Sophie’s books are both about people falling out of the sky. Sally was looking for what it is that makes us human; what we have that aliens don’t. It’s love. Sophie, on the other hand, had been inspired by the falling angels in an old deodorant commercial.

Sally kicked off by reading from My Side of the Diamond, and I was reminded again of what a great voice she has.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

From there the discussion went on to Sally’s dyslexia, and then back to how she came to start writing in the first place. It was the bailiffs. And you can’t argue with that. If you need money, you need to find a way to earn some. Sally’s first book came about with ease, as did the way it was accepted for publication. (Something to do with a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with a hole in it…) But after the first time, it’s not been quite such smooth sailing.

Asked if she prefers a certain age group, Sally said no, and that she has now written an adult book. Although she does feel that younger readers are more intelligent than adults.

Then it was the turn of Dick King-Smith fan Sophie to read from her debut novel Out of the Blue, which is set in Edinburgh, during the festival. Originally set elsewhere, Sophie changed this when she returned to work in Edinburgh and realised that there aren’t a lot of books set there. Her second, standalone novel, also has an Edinburgh setting. And somewhere in all this there might have been talking dolphins.

Both books have a black main character, and this led to some discussion as to whether white authors are allowed to write about black people, which Sally finds worrying. Also, there are not enough translated books, and after March next year she reckons other countries will not want ‘our’ books.

Chair Lucy Popescu had an author mother, who always put her in her books, so she wondered if Sally and Sophie have done that. Sally said her children would have killed her if she had.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

It’s important to bring boys up to read books by and about women, and Sally mentioned her favourite heroine, Daisy in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. In some cases it seems that statistics on who reads might be incorrect, as boys don’t want to say they do. Sally had a story about a school where pupils were not allowed to read on their phones. One boy was caught doing so, but was nearly forgiven when the teacher discovered he was reading Dickens. But the boy insisted on the punishment of being expelled, rather than have his reading habits made public. He enjoyed books, but wanted to stay cool by reading on his mobile like everyone else.

So, books can be a very private thing for many.

Asked about fan fiction, Sophie said she’d written some. It’s good practice, and you get feedback on your writing. Sally used to tell herself stories [before she could read] and tried to see if she could make herself cry. She sees all her stories as films in her head, and until recently believed that this happened to everyone. When writing I, Coriander, she listened to the story as though it was radio.

Sophie is happiest writing in cafés, while Sally has adopted a rescue dog who insists on sitting on its favourite chair, forcing her to stay and write in the same room.

And apart from a drunk giraffe and a Rupert Bear with tits, that was pretty much it.