Tag Archives: Sally Gardner

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.

Yellow, more yellow and black

The 2015 Carnegie medal shortlist is mostly yellow [book covers] and black. I trust that this is a coincidence, although fashion in cover design might be involved here. I’ve not checked to see what the books that didn’t make it have on their covers. Possibly more yellow.

Out of the eight, I’ve read three and they’re all potential worthy winners. Sally Gardner and Patrick Ness have won before. Some of the ones I’ve not read I have wanted to read, but they didn’t turn up in the post and it’s the usual problem of lack of time to chase, and sometimes lack of information that the book exists in the first place. Which is the case with the ones I’ve not read because I’d not heard of them.

If publishers do put together lists of what they intend to publish, it would cost them very little to email that list to ‘everyone.’ I keep hearing how overworked publicity departments are, and I realise that writing press releases and [personalised] letters and printing and posting them takes more time and will cost money. But you surely can’t run a company without listing what products you are about to offer the general public to buy, and if you have the list, please share it.

There have been other shortlists and longlists over the last few months. It is getting increasingly hard to keep up with the titles, let alone read them. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing for me not to have read as high a proportion of the chosen ones as I used to. I still read as many books, and that might mean I read and review ones that don’t even get close to the limelight of an award.

On the Carnegie longlist there are five books I would have liked to see make it, and several more ‘glaring omissions’ on the nominations list. As for the shortlist, I’d have liked to read Geraldine McCaughrean’s book and Elizabeth Laird’s, but as it is, I will root for Tanya Landman’s Buffalo Soldier.

Some February wisdoms

It’s not only the books from my February calendar page (by Kerstin Svensson, who does very nice calendars) that I like, although they look fine. The ‘thought of the month’ appeals to me as well. Hope I’m not showing some dreadful ignorance if I say I don’t know who the Jean Paul who is credited with saying it is:

Calendar page February 2015, by Kerstin Svensson

‘Life is like a book. The fool leafs through it quickly, but the wise man reads slowly, thinking about things, because he knows he can only read the book once.’

Well, that’s my translation, of what is probably a really well known quote…

I felt a bit down in the dumps yesterday (not in a romantic sense, I hasten to add), so pondered this business of re-reading favourite books. Many do, not least authors, who seem to have certain books they re-read every year. My time tends to run out before I get to the re-reads, however.

But as I was sitting there, my newly arranged personal shelves, next to my reading chair, beckoned. Because on the shelf closest to me, I have my top three books. So I got them out, and read the first few pages of all three, as a treat.

They still feel as wonderful as I hoped they’d do, and what struck me about them was how all three start by introducing the main character by letting them talk about a person close to them. No sudden explosions or crazy ways to grab the reader’s attention. Just a low key mention of one of the other characters; a male cousin, a pilot from Stockport and an old woman neighbour.

Very lovely. And if I do go off on a re-reading spree, you know where I’ll be.

The Door That Led To Where

Whenever there is a new Sally Gardner book out, I just know it’s the best she has written. Same this time, with The Door That Led To Where, which features time travel, and is set in the part of London where Sally grew up. Thanks to the time travelling, she also manages to fit in almost-Dickensian London, which is something she knows a lot about.

Both these factors explain why the novel works so beautifully, on so many levels.

It begins with, if not bullying at home, then some serious discord between poor AJ and his single mum. He has achieved exactly one GCSE (but at least he got an A*) and his mum is fed up and sends him out to get a job. And what a job! He ends up as baby clerk at a law firm in Gray’s Inn.

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

And that’s where the trouble starts; AJ discovers a key with his name on, and it leads to London in 1830, and it’s a fascinating place. Dangerous, but no more so than AJ’s modern London. He and his two best friends are forever getting into serious scrapes with people, and being able to escape to an older London seems ideal.

Except, that also has its problems. The three of them need to decide where to stay, and they must sort out some time travelling problems that have escalated over the centuries.

Sally deals with both modern social problems and 19th century crime as though she was born to it. And that’s the thing. She is the most wonderful of storytellers, and she spins fantastic yarns and makes it all appear totally plausible. I believe I’ve finally worked out how she does it; Sally is a time traveller. She has been to old London, as well as living in the city we know now. It’s the only explanation.

This is one of the best books I’ve read.

And the cover in its simplicity is fiendishly clever and attractive.