Tag Archives: Sarah Mussi

Iceland, here they come

We’ll be up early to send the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter out to look for the Northern Lights. I’ve worried for months about whether or not there will be any. Is it the wrong time of the month? (Yes, I understand it is.) Will the weather co-operate? Who knows?

But it seems this is the last good winter for years, and lots of people have had successful trips. And Iceland appears to be ‘in.’ (So it’s not as if they are being terribly original.)

It’s a supposedly educational trip, as well as fun, organised by the University of St Andrews Astronomical Society.

Just in case Daughter needs something to read, I had to find a successor to The Hobbit. It’s actually quite hard to pick a book that will suit. Not too long, but not too short, either. Not too heavy or large. It has to be good; exciting, but not – too – scary, with engaging characters. In other words, it has to be just right. Sort of in the Goldilocks zone of YA fiction. In the end I chose Siege by Sarah Mussi.

And for the group as a whole, you can’t beat a good quiz, so the Christmas quiz book has found itself sharing rather close quarters with a pair of heavy boots.

Should they need more entertainment, they also have Jar City on DVD. Nordic crime is in, and Arnaldur Indridason will hopefully be less well known than some other writers, and I hope no one has seen the film already. I was awfully tempted to send Virus au paradis, but that might have been taking things Icelandic too far. Besides, not everyone will be fluent in French/Swedish subtitles.

I will sign off with Eyjafjallajökull, which is even harder to say than it looks.

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Siege

Reading Siege soon after two or three serious mass shootings was perhaps not the best of things to do. But it feels like it could be hard to pick a time when nothing bad is going on in the world.

Sarah Mussi, Siege

I thought the worst about reading Sarah Mussi’s book would be the school shootings that it’s about. That was until I realised that Siege is set slightly in the future. A slightly dystopian future, at that. Although, the way things are going, that kind of society is almost here already.

YOU OP 78 is a school for less worthy children. The troublemakers who are deemed to merit less of an education, and who go to schools with special measures in place to keep them under control.

It’s enough to make you claustrophobic, if you weren’t already.

16-year-old Leah is late for school, which is why she is where she is when the shootings start. When the shooters have done their worst in her classroom, she and another student, Anton, escape up into the ceilings. It appears to be her younger brother Connor’s stupid and pathetic gang, going round shooting at anyone they feel like, armed to the hilt.

So far, so ‘normal.’ Leah, and the reader, thinks that all they need to do is wait for the police to come to the rescue. That’s when you suddenly understand that in a dystopic society, there could be other possible outcomes.

It would be hard to say much more without giving away what happens, and why. Leah behaves very bravely, doing her very best to escape, and to help others who come her way. She’s a credit to… yes, to what? Because a school for losers can’t very well produce courageous citizens with initiative, can it?

I guessed a little bit wrong, but both my theory and Sarah’s actual idea are equally chilling. There are worse things than school shootings.

And I wish that so many aspects of what’s in this book didn’t feel so close to Britain today.

Launching Shine

The custard creams made all the difference. They and the Coke. Halfway through the launch party for Candy Gourlay’s new book Shine, I was overcome by an urge to liberate ‘a few’ custard creams. They were looking lonely, sitting on a table at Archway Library. That sugar rush kept me going all night, more or less.

Archway Library

I arrived just in time for The Three Hundred Word Challenge. Candy read out as many entries as there was time for, and her collected authors pitched in with their thoughts. The advice was good. The fledgling stories were even better. It’s reassuring to find that young people still want to write, and that they know how.

Teri Terry, Candy Gourlay and Jane McLoughlin

While this was going on in front of an audience so numerous they ran out of chairs, people went about their business in the library, and there was a nice mix of festival special and ordinary library behaviour. (It was the first day of the first Archway With Words Festival.) The authors couldn’t always agree on their advice, which should go a long way to proving that there is no one correct way to write. (I thought they were going to come to blows. Which would have been exciting.)

Random's Clare, Simon Mason, Philippa Dickinson and Keren David

Once it was time for the launch proper, I had a job recognising people without the customary name badges. I managed some. I was discovered in my corner by Random’s Clare, who was almost on her own doorstep for this event.

There were speeches. MDs Philippa Dickinson and Simon Mason came. David Fickling, on the other hand, did not. Replacing him, Philippa and Bella Pearson spoke, but they couldn’t quite manage David’s voice, so Candy had to help out.

Candy Gourlay with Philippa Dickinson and Bella Pearson

In her own speech, Candy told us of the long hard slog to get there. What’s three years between friends? Bella went on maternity leave, and came back. Candy said nice things about her editor Simon, even after he told her that her first attempt was no repair job.

Candy’s daughter Mia and friends sang a cappella. Absolutely lovely.

Candy Gourlay at Archway Library

Dave Cousins

We mingled. There were more authors than you could shake a stick at. (Not that I’d want to, I hasten to add.) Fiona Dunbar and I met where we always seem to meet. I met several facebook friends for real. (They exist!) Teri Terry was surrounded by young fans. Dave Cousins came.I recognised Jane McLoughlin but took ages to work out who she was. Missed Joe Friedman. Ruth Eastham was over from Italy, which was very nice. She introduced me to Sarah Mussi, whose book I just ‘happened’ to be reading, so I hauled it out for an autograph. (Very scary. The book. Not so much Sarah.)

Sarah McIntyre

The other Sarah (McIntyre) also ended up signing stuff, although not for me. Keren David said hello, and then goodbye. I chatted to Inbali Iserles and Savita Kalhan. I spoke to people I have emailed with, and to people I haven’t. Sam Hepburn.

Steve Hartley

And then Mr Gourlay went round saying it was time to go home. So we did. To the Gourley home, where the eldest junior Gourlay was looking after food and drink. There was a lot of it.

The Gourlays

They have the loveliest of gardens! Admittedly it was dark, but it was all lit up and the evening was balmy, and there was somewhere to sit. Not the trampoline for me. Spoke to DFB basement man Simon, and the kind Tilda who once bought me a sandwich. At some point I had to admit to a fondness for the Circle Line. (Yeah, well.)

The wine flowed (the recycling men were most impressed with the bottle collection the next morning) and there was cheese beginning with the letter c, and for the carnivores pork sausages on the barbecue, very ably operated by Mr G.

It was dark. As I said. So I gave up on the camera and simply enjoyed, which is why there are no scandalous shots of anyone. I think the man who hugged me before he left long past midnight might have been Cliff McNish, despite him being underwhelmed by my drinking.

Recommended crime to beautiful blonde, who was impressed with my recent meeting with Colin Bateman… When it got too cold we repaired to the inner regions. In the end most people went home, and Candy was left with a mere five houseguests. Eldest son politely gave up his bed for an old witch, and was banished to his godmother’s ‘vomiting room.’

In the morning I got up long after the six o’clock taxi guest had departed, and people had dispersed to school and jobs and things. I met my brand newest facebook friend (less than 24 hours) in her pyjamas. And then Candy made us breakfast and we gossiped about the great and the famous.

But I had a noon train to catch, so shouldered my nightie and toothbrush and walked up the hill to the tube station hidden in mist. Once I got to Euston I encountered the Poet Laureate on the escalators, going the opposite way. Bought some treats for the Resident IT Consultant to celebrate our first 31 years, and hopped on my train.

Tired library visitor

(I know how that doll feels.)

Free?

The older of us grew up with the idea of the United Nations as something good and natural. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also a very obvious thing to believe in. And to belong to Amnesty International was more or less expected. At least where I came from. So, what happened?

Here is a new anthology to mark that it’s been sixty years since those rights were put down on paper, and things are still not right. They are not right, somewhere worryingly close to home. Because it’s quite natural that things can be bad somewhere else, somewhere far away, isn’t it?

In Free? fourteen writers give us stories, each connected to one or two of the rights on that list. Some are set in the recent past, but most are from the here and now, and things are not good. Hopefully young readers will learn from this collection.

There are some very big names in the children’s fiction world on the list of authors, but as with many anthologies, it’s not always that the best stories were written by the people you know. That’s what I like about collections. You find new people who write very well indeed. I may not be able to pronounce their names, but we all speak the same language.

I was interested to see that Malorie Blackman’s poem, set in the future, echoed the ideas that she mentioned in the interview in November. And I can’t help but mention the story by Sarah Mussi, about the boy scout from Ghana who accidentally stole the Crown Jewels. Your Crown Jewels. That story belongs in my Aspie list, whether or not the adorable Prometheus Prempeh has AS.

Read!