Tag Archives: Sally Gardner

‘The lucrative children’s fiction market’

They usually start arriving early summer. And I usually have to leave the reading of most of them until much closer to the first Thursday in October, purely because I have too many books with earlier publication dates. Or I would throw myself at some of the tastiest October offerings. I’m only a witch.

They are the books destined to be released on Super Thursday, which is today. It’s almost ironic how in the week when I and many others are furious over the celebrity books issue, there are so many fantastic new books being published. Sally Gardner’s My Side of the Diamond which I reviewed yesterday is one such Super Thursday book. In Sally’s case I’m not in the slightest surprised she’s been chosen.

It’s like Christmas. Well, it is for Christmas, of course. And just as with Christmas when we tend to get too much of whatever it is we fancy, so do the offerings of great books in early October seem to me to be too much. I can’t appreciate them all, and I don’t even get to see every potential Bookwitch favourite published today.

The Scotsman had an article about this earlier in the week, and two things in particular struck me. One was the photo of books stacked in a bookshop, to illustrate Super Thursday. I can only assume it was sheer fluke which made it a table laden with children’s and YA books. But it pleased me to find myself face-to-face with books by Patrick Ness and Michael Grant, and others behind them.

The other was the quote above; ‘the lucrative children’s fiction market.’ I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s good to feel there is money in children’s books. And if there is, it’d be great if it could be more evenly distributed and not go to the celebrities. Because the quote was in the context of one of ‘our new children’s authors, Cara Delevingne.’ Maybe that’s what was meant by lucrative – it’s what it becomes when they get someone ‘properly famous’ in.

Because all the names mentioned in the article are well-known ones, or dead and well-known ones. Not the people I mainly read and like. Much as I loved and admired Terry Pratchett and Henning Mankell, if the only live authors listed are Cara, plus Miranda Hart and Tom Fletcher, this could, well, it could give people looking for ideas on what to buy for Christmas, the wrong ideas.

The only books by celebrities I might want to read are their biographies, but I gather they are out of fashion. I wish the celebrities were too.

You’d have thought publishers wouldn’t want to unleash all the new books at once. Surely many books will go unnoticed in this avalanche?

Yes, it seems some books are being kept back a couple of weeks, like Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. Good for him.

And anyway, all that unpacking and displaying of so many new books all at once can’t be much fun for the bookshops.

Same goes for reviews. Even if I could read the Super Thursday titles well before October 5th, there is no way I could suddenly make all the reviews available in one fell swoop. They need to be eked out. As do the books. Too many marvellous books is like being given a whole chocolate cake. You need to be disciplined and tackle this loveliness in small portions.

A book is not only for Christmas. In fact, for me it’s the time of year I read the least.

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My Side of the Diamond

Aliens. Inexplicable happenings, with more than a hint of Roswell. And it’s written by Sally Gardner. What more could you want?

This isn’t Sally’s first science fiction novel. It could be her best, but when I say that I don’t have the others in such fresh memory that I can swear to it. She is a woman who can tell stories. Yes, it’s sort of not original, but it is. I’ve not read anything like it.

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

It’s short. I was almost worried Sally wouldn’t have time to reach the conclusion by the end, but of course she does. There are no wasted words. And it’s all so normal, too, apart from the abnormal, and the little futuristic view of London, which seems so likely when you think of it.

Weird stuff has happened. Jazmin’s best friend Becky jumped off a tall building and disappeared. She didn’t die. Or she probably didn’t. There was no body. But the authorities don’t like this kind of thing so it’s all blamed on Jazmin, the poor working-class girl.

Told mostly from Jazmin’s point of view – but occasionally by various other characters as and when their input is needed – she appears to be talking to someone about what happened. If there really is someone there? Maybe she’s gone crazy and sees things?

Absolutely wonderful, with likeable and sensible adults (well, there is the odd exception), and a genuine mystery as to what might have happened; both this time and the strange goings-on in the past. There’s not enough intelligent science fiction in YA, especially with romance.

Where are the girls?

Well, mostly not in yesterday’s book, Kid Got Shot. It’s a pretty male book, and apart from Garvie’s mum and his teachers, the female part is played by the gorgeous Polish girl everyone – including Garvie – falls for.

As I believe I tried to suggest when telling you about Mother-of-witch last month, I was brought up in such a way that I never felt women were worth less or that you have to constantly count the sexes and make sure they are balanced.

Am I weird? No, don’t answer that!

I happily read about musketeers and anybody else offered in the books I came across. Thinking back, I wonder if I found it hard to identify with girls in books when they were not the kind of girl I was, and then I felt that if I’m not going to be like them, I might as well read about male characters. In the end it didn’t matter as long as it was a great story.

But I recognise that not all girl readers have such belief in themselves, and they do need to see more female characters in books. In its article Balancing the bookshelves, the Guardian wrote about the need for more girls. It is not wrong, but I didn’t absolutely agree either.

When I think of the ‘new age’ of reading that to my mind began with Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, I don’t think of the sexes or any balancing. Yes, Lyra is a girl and a strong one, too. But her daemon is a boy. Harry is a boy who hangs out with best friends Hermione and Ron, making up that traditional fictional trio of two boys and one girl. The Famous Five are two of each, if you don’t count Timmy the dog, and you forget about George being George.

I’ve not really stopped to check whether there are more boy characters because more men write books. When it comes to children’s or YA I believe, without having counted, that there are more female authors. And many of them write about boys. I see no reason why they shouldn’t.

Looking at my three favourite books, we have [primarily] one girl, two girls, and then a boy. All three authors are women. But while Meg Rosoff has Daisy in How I Live Now, she has also written some wonderful male main characters. I don’t feel that is wrong. In fact, I assume the stories demanded it. Can male writers manage good female characters? Yes, they can. Look at Marcus Sedgwick’s girls! I’m guessing his books needed females.

I think it’s too easy to get worked up about the sex of a character. What we need is a society where all are equally valued, albeit not all identical. But obviously, if reading about a particular person in a book turns into a life-changing experience for a young reader, then I’m all for it.

Meg unleashed

Five years on, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow looks the same. It’s just that in my mind I couldn’t make my photographic memory of what I call the ‘Sara Paretsky room’ match up with the ‘Julie Bertagna café’ area. After my search for the Aye Write! box office yesterday – I only had to ask three people – I was able to connect the five year old dots. Turned out I didn’t need a ticket after all…

The Mitchell is a nice place, where people come to use the computers and eat in the café and take their shoes off and strum their guitars. Warm too, but I was reluctant to remove my jacket in case the fire alarm would see me and go off.

Anyway, I made it all the way up to the 5th floor for Meg Rosoff’s event, and sat down to wait, surrounded by several seriously psychedelic carpets. Getting an authorly hug was nice, and I was glad that Meg had put me on a list to get in. The audience was exclusively female, if you don’t count the two male Aye Write! volunteers.

Introduced by local author Zoe Venditozzi, Meg discovered she’d already gone native by saying she’d talk a ‘wee bit’ about Jonathan Unleashed. She’s feeling ‘happy and well adjusted’ at this stage between writing and publication, unlike when she feels that ‘there will never be another book and my family will starve.’ On the other hand, good writing requires that she keeps ‘that balance of terror and confidence.’ And ‘maybe [Meg’s] brain is emptying out’ of books…

Yes, quite.

Meg told us how she woke up in August 2013 with the first line of the book, and just knew this was going to be her next book, without knowing what else would happen or why. Being what she calls a bad plotter, she described how her good friend Sally Gardner tends to come to the rescue. Sally was also able to see who Jonathan’s romantic interest should be.

She loves Lucky Jim, and she doesn’t mind stealing plots. Jonathan is a big ‘numpty’ really, and she read the bit where he first takes ‘his’ dogs to the vet’s. Meg apologised for not being able to do a proper British accent, after all her years in England.

Greeley, the character of uncertain sex in the book, is the way he/she is because it’s how Meg feels; never quite fitting in and not managing to heed her mother’s advice to be ‘more ladylike.’ In her writing she gives her clueless characters friends in order to help them. She said how together, she and her husband Paul are not ‘so nutty’ as they would be on their own.

Penguin dropped her when she wrote this adult novel, and Meg said how exciting it was to have Jonathan Unleashed auctioned both in Britain and in the US. Meg didn’t exactly mince words, and one of her more quotable lines yesterday was how ‘one could if one were a more generous-minded person.’ And then there was her first work, the ‘dark pony book.’ She blames the internet, which is where weird people find more weird people interested in the same thing, like My Little Pony or dinosaur sex.

Asked what books she has enjoyed recently, Meg mentioned Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm and that old ‘children’s’ classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. (If Meg were to see a child read it she said she’d take it away from them.)

To sum things up, novel writing is basically about getting stuck halfway, suffering, and tearing your hair out.

Meg Rosoff

And on that cheerful note we ran out of time. Not wanting to walk down five flights of stairs, Meg and I and a librarian got the lift down, after which we realised we had no idea where Meg was supposed to do her signing. We found it in the end, but the search was a new and different experience.

Wanting to take me out for a drink afterwards, Meg asked around for ideas of where to go. We left the building, only to stand on Julie Bertagna’s corner outside, staring at Meg’s mobile phone app. Which might have been upside down. The phone, not so much the app. Once we’d turned the motorway the right way round, and rejected one Indian restaurant, we ended up at the Koh-I-Noor, which I in my witchy way had clocked as I crossed the motorway earlier.

I clearly sensed it was for me. We shared their sharing vegetarian thali (apparently Meg is veggie these days, unless she is force-feeding Cathy Cassidy chicken stock) and gossiped about publishing, authors, children, growing older. And then I went off to Charing Cross for my train and Meg limped bravely back to her hotel, blisters from new boots and all.

Which, more than anything, brought home to me how hard the lovely people who write books work, travelling all over the place to meet the readers. Not just favourite authors, but all of them.

Thank you.

Launching Jonathan

It’s a long way to Chelsea, even if you don’t begin your journey in Scotland. The last mile or so was the worst, but when a witch is going to a Meg Rosoff book launch, then she is. And what more interesting place to launch than on a houseboat on the Thames? I was slightly worried the boat would sink once I hopped on board, but was comforted by Anthony McGowan promising to rescue me in return for a book review. (Deal! Can’t remember if it had to be a favourable one or not.)

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Hopping. Well, not so much. It was dark, and there were gangway things over bits of water and stuff. Once on board Meg sent me down some bannister-free stairs to ‘poke around.’ (Not her boat, by the way.) Was impressed by the row of plates nonchalantly leaning against the wall. And there were books everywhere.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Jonathan Unleashed

So, Jonathan. There were piles of copies of Jonathan Unleashed (I was under strict orders to get one for Daughter), and there was food and drink. Very nice canapés. Especially the little cheese toastie ones. Some of the salmon ones slipped onto the floor, but the only one who slipped [a little] on the salmon was Meg. So that’s ‘all right.’ She was wearing unsuitable shoes, anyway.

There was a nice mixture of people. Some I knew, others I didn’t. But I was able to chat to most of the ones I do know, and I grilled ‘Miss Rosoff’ on her university experience, the way old people tend to do, and gave ‘Mr Rosoff’ a brief lesson in Scottish geography.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Spoke to Elspeth Graham, Mal Peet’s other half, who remembered meeting me before. Which was nice. Chatted briefly to Francesca Simon, and to Steven Butler, and winner of Bookwitch best book of 2015, Sally Gardner.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Met the new – to me – people at adult Bloomsbury, and their Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Pringle made a nicely brief speech, mentioning that she wrote Meg a fan letter after the publication of How I Live Now, which Meg doesn’t remember. She’d better remember me doing the same thing! Though I wasn’t able to offer a publishing deal for any future books.

Meg Rosoff

As I said goodbye, Meg recalled our ‘interesting’ car journey when we first met, almost exactly ten years ago. This time I got a taxi, and the driver only had a minor brainslip and made two wrong turns before getting it right. (I got quite excited when it looked like he might drive straight through a barrier. You know, like they do in films.)

The water had disappeared by the time I left. I don’t know if that was reassuring or not. And I apologise for the very poor quality of some of the photos. I was travelling light, so used my mobile phone, which I suspect I will never get the hang of.

Good, better, best

2015 is a rare year. Its best book happens to be my third best book ever. So no contest as to who sits at the top of the Bookwitch Best of 2015 Books list. It’s

Sally Gardner with her The Door That Led to Where. Among many stunning books, this is the stunningest of them all. The Door That Led to Where is a novel that has it all, to my mind. Just getting it out to look at again as I write this, I feel all twitchy.

It is red. Perhaps that is a sign I can re-read it over Christmas? It’s been almost a year. (And on a different note, I was pleased to see Sally’s book finally reviewed in the Guardian this weekend. High time indeed. And I’m not the only one to think so.)

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

So, now that this obvious choice has been announced, I come to the rest. Eight books stand out as having been that little bit more ‘stand-outy’ than others. They are books that made me feel all warm inside as I read them. (Apart from Helen Grant’s book which made my blood go cold. In a good way.)

These warm ones are, in alphabetical order:

Stephen Davies, Blood & Ink

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

Andrew Norriss, Jessica’s Ghost

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove White Raven

On the longlist were another 25 books, so the tip of the iceberg was pretty big. But the point of a best of list is that it is a litte bit short.

Thank you to all who wrote these, my bestest books of the year. You make a difference.

Carnegie medal nominations 2016

While you wait for me to wake up and tell you other stuff, I will just mention the almost completely fresh list of books nominated for the 2016 Carnegie medal.

It’s long, it has some good books on it, and, well, it’s almost impossible to guess who will win. I can probably guess which books – of the ones I’ve read – will make the longlist, and even some for the shortlist. But then there are the books I’ve not read, and they won’t all be insignificant. In fact, none of them can be, or they wouldn’t be listed here in the first place.

Sally Gardner’s The Door That Led to Where, aka the third best book ever [according to Bookwitch] will most likely do well. As, I hope, will the new book by Bookwitch second best book author Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove, White Raven.