Tag Archives: Tabitha Suzuma

My hero’s hero

Meg Rosoff and K M Peyton

There was no way I couldn’t go. It’s the most fascinating thing to find that your favourite author has a favourite author. Well, no. What I mean is finding that they behave just as giddily as the rest of us when they finally make contact with the person they admire.

When I first heard Meg Rosoff wax very lyrically about K M Peyton, my reaction was ‘who?’, but I seem to be alone in that. As I said the other day, when you’re my age you simply know everything there is to know about Kathleen Peyton and her horse books and her books on many other topics. They are your childhood. And now that I’ve read two of them (only another 70 or something to go!) I know that they would have been.

K M Peyton

So, when Meg not only met Kathleen, but rashly decided to invite her to her house, and then to ask many of her own admirers to witness this; how could I not want to go? Hence my trip south yesterday, for a day of many literary encounters, starting with Sally Gardner (who only refrained from meeting her friend Meg’s hero because she and I seem to be the only two people in the world not to have grown up with Flambards and the rest).

Flowers for K M Peyton

The 'staff'

Kate Agnew, David Fickling and Annie Eaton


Kathleen is so refreshingly different that she doesn’t even know what a blogger is, and why should she? She’s very brave, because she must have known she was in for lots of people flinging themselves at her, prostrating themselves at her feet and generally doing the ‘Beatles scream.’

The kitchen where Bookwitch was conceived is no more, and much as I mourn its passing, I have to say that the replacement facilitated Meg’s inviting quite so many KMP fans, and we were only in danger of expiring from the heat (London was wet, but very warm) as we munched our way through some of the best canapés I’ve come across in a long time, served by some unusually pleasant helpers. Meg had sensibly got the help of super efficient Corinne Gotch and it all worked like clockwork. (Except possibly for their debate as to who was going to open the door for me when I arrived… I heard that!)

I knew the guest list was full of lovely people, authors, publishers, agents, publicists, bookshop people and writers-about-children’s-books. And then there was me.

Meg climbed up on a chair and did her fan speech, starting with saying how surprised she’d been when she found Kathleen was still alive. And without climbing onto anything, Kathleen countered with thanks for her ‘sending off’, which she much preferred to a launch. At least this recognised things achieved, rather than making hopeful demands for things to come. She has written her last book, for which Meg was grateful, but only because there are so many still to read (and I think she mentioned the time she herself takes over writing her own books, which are slightly fewer than 70). Kathleen was very amusing in her thank you speech, remembering a young Terry Pratchett, who she had suspected might do well…

Listening to K M Peyton

David Fickling, Geraldine Brennan, Ian Beck and Lucy Coats

'Mr Rosoff'


Catherine Clarke and Graham Marks

Among the fans were Tabitha Suzuma (who used to write long letters to her favourite author, receiving long replies back), Keren David and Lucy Coats. Ian Beck was there, seemingly taking photographs with his chequebook, and I recognised Graham Marks, as I do every time, before I have to work out who he is, and that David Fickling was there. I queried why – being a boy – he had turned up and was informed he edits Kathleen’s books. Of course he does. Silly me. And Mrs F recommended her favourite K M Peyton book.

Speaking of books, there were some on display and we were allowed to take one home with us! So, now I have my own – signed – copy of Flambards (seeing as how I’ve been told I must read it.)

Blue, Meg’s lurcher, kept us company all evening. I’m surprised any dog would stay sane and quiet in such a human din. And the Eck made an appearance. He was slightly bigger than I had visualised, but otherwise just as I thought he’d be.

And as the party was at its best, the bookwitch slunk out the door to catch that famous 21.40 back home. The walk to the station was never six minutes (who dreamt that up??), but the 15 minutes there took me 20 on the return. And it was downhill.

Cow-hood, here I come!

(Apologies for any untruths told. I have discovered – via Wikipedia – that there were actually three K M Peyton books in translation before I was past the horse book stage. The next thing I know will be finding that I actually read them.)

Tabitha Suzuma


Thanking K M Peyton

Dare I recommend a book?

Well. Do I?

Some discussion broke out the other day after my review of Losing It. I was halfway to sending an email to a young reader of my acquaintance, suggesting he/she read Losing It, when I came to my senses and thought I might have to ask permission from the parents first. And my next thought was that they’d think ‘there goes that tiresome woman again’. So I didn’t.

Steve Augarde left comments saying he thought recommendations were fine, but even he felt he’d prefer it to come to him rather than directly at any child of his. I brought the subject up with some visitors to our house yesterday. They also felt recommendations were OK, but they too would like any ‘sexy’ recommendation to come via them.

So we’re back to my old complaint about school libraries where they are afraid of parents turning to the press if any child comes home with a dubious book.

I could position myself in a bookshop near the shelf that hopefully houses Losing It and point it out to prospective readers. How long until they kick me out? I know it can work a treat with ‘ordinary topic’ novels, but probably not with sex. And as I said the other day, there is really very little of it in Losing It.

When I read Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden a few weeks ago, I was struck by how sensitively, but graphically, she wrote about the taboo lovemaking. It made me compare it with William Nicholson’s Rich and Mad, which the press have written about a lot more. Presumably because that lovemaking is OK, where incest isn’t.

I’m doing a lot of remembering all of a sudden, wondering why old people believe that young readers will copy any behaviour they read about in a book. Someone I knew had a son aged fourteen at the time Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now was published, and she felt that if her son was allowed to read HILN, he would automatically assume that sex between young cousins is perfectly all right, and go ahead and do it. Why would he? Reading such a marvellous novel won’t instantly change your intelligent child into someone with no sense at all.

Let’s face it. Do young readers even want old people to recommend books with a potentially sexy content? We’re embarrassing.

And did Son clear reading Doing It by Melvin Burgess with me? He felt a strong need to vet it. You can’t let a mother read just anything, can you?


Forbidden is Tabitha Suzuma’s new novel on that very dreaded subject, incest. I had been dreading it, while also knowing I had to read it. The dreading wasn’t because I disapprove, except I can’t sit here and say I actually approve, either. Of incest; not the novel.

But I just knew that however positive a novel Forbidden might be, it just couldn’t end well. And that’s a problem. It doesn’t end well. No spoiler there. You just couldn’t end with a happily-ever-after incestuous relationship, however much you’d want to.

And you do want to. Trust me.

It made me think of inter-racial relationships not so very long ago. They weren’t just frowned on; they were illegal. That has changed. Could this change too?

Maya and Lochan are sister and brother; 16 and 17 years old. They are lovely people, and they really do love each other. It’s not simply lust. I kept feeling they were just too lovely. But had they not been, we would have frowned on their relationship. As it is, we like them and feel for them and love them back.

They have a father who left years ago. They have an inadequate mother, who is almost never there at all. And they have three younger siblings who they look after, trying to keep the family from being torn apart by social services.

At first I wondered why Tabitha added this complication to the equation, but it’s necessary. They have to have something to fear, so they have to reign in their feelings. The way they play mum and dad to their siblings makes them impossibly good, and they are clever academically, and very mature when we read their thoughts, as we do.

But we do need to respect them. And they have a problem that is just not going to go away. It’s mainly a case of when it’s going to go bad, and how.

Until it does, it’s an almost happy story, with so much that is positive, if we discount the ghastly parents.

I’m not sure why Tabitha felt the compulsion to write this book. I’m guessing she thinks that incest is not quite as black and white as we mostly tend to believe. The question is whether society can rethink the rules and boundaries for this, too, in the way race has ceased to be the big problem it was. Or same-sex love.

Is this different?

Bookwitch bites #12

I have only just found out that my master co-interviewer Charlie has gone and won a Skulduggery Pleasant competition. He has come up with a name for a character, and Derek Landy will put his Geoffrey Scrutinous in a future book. I’m so proud!

The shortlisted books for the Stockport Schools’ Book Awards can be found here. I’m pleased to see lots of books I like, so as usual it will be hard to do anything other than keeping fingers crossed for a whole bunch of them. Maybe Tabitha Suzuma will be back in town? And perhaps Gillian Philip will be travelling south from Scotland? Who knows?

Another piece of almost local (to me) news is the publication this week of Liz Kessler’s third Philippa Fisher book, Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy’s Promise.

It somehow feels as if 3rd June is a big day for publication. Last push before summer? Meg Rosoff’s The Bride’s Farewell is out in paperback and so is Melvin Burgess’s  Nicholas Dane.

I have been trying to reach the organiser for the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, which is on early July. I’m not getting anywhere. Not being one who shies away from asking others to do her hard work I have enlisted the help of Adèle Geras. So far she’s been no luckier, and Adèle is actually doing an event for them. So, mcbf, are you there? Once I’ve done the rounds of uni Open Days I’d love to spend a literary day with the great and the good. Please?

To round off with another maybe/perhaps piece of news, it’s the time of year for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. I was relieved it’d be while I’m in Sweden, so I could watch the festivities on television and report to you. Except for some reason it was not on. I trust it still took place and that Kitty Crowther had a lovely time. Crown Princess Victoria has been somewhat busy recently, so I believe her mother, Queen Silvia, did the honours. Victoria is getting married, so keeps popping up in the news every single day.

Witch goes to County Hall

‘What kept you?’ said Daughter when we found each other at Preston’s very grand County Hall on Saturday morning. Well, it was Tabitha Suzuma, who sort of got mislaid for ten or fifteen minutes as we were setting off. I was busy composing a story about a lost author, when Tabitha appeared, and all was well. So, nothing to do with me. I had simply enjoyed breakfast with Adèle Geras and ‘the shortlist’. (Now, that could be the name of a rock group!) I could really get used to chatting to interesting people at breakfast. I missed the Weetabix, but one day without won’t be harmful.

Adèle Geras

We mingled. And Tabitha’s Mum had a go at Adèle with a hairbrush. It was with the best intentions, but the fluff wouldn’t go away. No harm done, as I felt everyone looked stunning, with or without fluff. Post-mingling, we filed into the Council Chamber, which is much more impressive than Chester Crown Court, and the seats were so comfortable. I’ll be a councillor in my next life. I sat on the Labour side and Daughter accidentally turned into a Conservative…

The important people were sitting in front, facing us, and they were eight children from the judging panel.  The award winner Sophie McKenzie and facilitator Adèle and three grown men sat alongside them. Lots of beautiful speeches, especially from the young people, and before long the awaited hanky moment arrived. One charming young man said how Sophie McKenzie was a ‘worthy winner, even if Sarah Wray’s The Trap is better’. How can you beat our future adults telling it as it is?

Lancashire book award judges

The judges have discovered reading, or they have discovered new ways of looking at books and reading, and they all seem to have changed – for the better, I hope – while on the job. Boys have discovered it’s possible to read books with pink covers and survive. Girls similarly found they could read a book featuring an exploding plane, and still enjoy it. One young lady pointed out that as someone who loves books and has lots of opinions on things, this was the perfect task.

Craig Simpson

Joseph Delaney

The schedule did extremely well until Sophie got up to talk about her writing. I suspect it was the live story telling about banana-eating gorillas that did for the time table, but it was fun. There were flowers for Adèle, a large check – in more ways than one – for Sophie, and masses of books for the judges. As an extra bonus local author Joseph Delaney had been called in to hand out even more books. His own, I believe. But at least there was no need for the intricate red and green light system the county councillors have to adhere to. No speech longer than five minutes!

Sophie McKenzie signing

More mingling followed, and then there was the usual book signing and some good photo opportunities. Craig Simpson is still thinking about what he’d like to look like, so we’ll have to get back to that subject. I stuck my nose into the bags the authors had been given. 

Tabitha Suzuma and fan

Sophie McKenzie and the dessert table

After so much fun the lovely Lancastrians could have been forgiven for turfing us all out, but instead there followed the most delicious lunch in the County Mess. It looked fine to me; no mess at all. Lancashire specialities like Bhajias, spring rolls and Pavlovas all tasted great. Words fail me when it comes to the Lancashire Lancashire cheese. I usually love it. This time it was way beyond my wildest dreams. I’ll be back. If you’ll have me.

I can’t go without mentioning Alison and Jean and Jake. Thank you! (I do realise there are more people who should be listed, but I just don’t know everyone’s names. You know who you are, I hope.)

(Photos H Giles)

Lancashire reads

You’ve all heard the joke about the traveller who jumps into a taxi and demands to be taken to his hotel, and is refused. The hotel turns out to be just across the road. I thought my taxi driver looked a little less keen than I’d have expected. It wasn’t quite across the road, but let’s say the meter didn’t have to tick for long. I’ll consult google maps next time I go somewhere, though Haggis-knee was quite happy to be driven.

Sophie McKenzie

First things first, so it was lunch in the company of shortlisted authors and library staff. Before much time had passed, we were given advance notice of one of the young readers, a boy who has taken part in the Lancashire Book Awards. He sounds just like my kind of person. The Lancashire awards people are very nice and friendly. There is literally room at the inn, even for bookwitches.

Craig Simpson and Sarah Wray

Not all the shortlisted authors could come, but here in Preston we’ve got Craig Simpson, who writes about things Norwegian; Sarah Wray, who sounds very Northern Irish – to me – for someone coming from England; this year’s winner, Sophie McKenzie; and Tabitha Suzuma, who’s brought her Mum.

Library tie

They don’t skimp on the festivities up here, so Friday afternoon offered a Q&A session with a hundred and thirty readers from participating schools. The award is sponsored by the University of Central Lancashire, and that’s really good to see. Keep it up! I like a librarian with good taste in ties, and they have one here. (Btw, if anyone finds a dried cherry in the lecture hall; it’s mine, but I don’t need it back. I noticed food was banned, so nibbled on the quiet. Just happened to drop one.)

Tabitha Suzuma

I have discovered an unexpected fondness for Johnny Depp among the authors gathered here. And I think that taking up writing books as an antidote to too much football at home, is a most sensible thing to do. As is considering a career as a reader. But I will have to disagree with Tabitha; I positively crave happy endings, and according to her Mum the book I have read is the happiest of the lot…

Friday evening it was time for a grand dinner. It’s a hard life, but someone has to go to events like these, and I’m glad it was me. How many authors can you fit into the back seat of a small pink car? Two, plus one mother, in this case. Plenty of hilarity over seat belts, with conversation along the lines of ‘I’ll do yours, if you do mine’ and much giggling. Almost a shame the drive was even shorter than my taxi ride.

I think I could just about get used to dining with a live string quartet in the background. Plenty of speeches, from adults (politicians, librarians, that kind of thing) and from children. The young speakers were all astoundingly accomplished, and a hanky wouldn’t have been entirely out of place. I was especially taken with Leesa from my table, who may have been very nervous, but who spoke un-scripted and exceedingly well. The mayor type chap with the fancy necklace seemed to be in agreement with the witch on this.

They are a little wrong about stuff like Lancashire being the centre of the Universe, however. Actually, no, maybe they are right. I’d love to come again, folks. (I know, I know. I was seriously under-dressed, but that can be remedied. I’ll get out the family heirlooms.)

A little disappointed that ‘facilitator’ Adèle Geras never got as far as singing, but that is a pleasure still to come, I hope.

Stockport Schools’ Book Award

I will restrain myself this year. The Stockport Schools’ Book Award event was on last night at the Plaza. I had spent some weeks trying to find out the date, again, because the council is not very active in updating its website. It has also not yet published the results, which is a shame when they go to so much trouble to organise the whole thing and get the children reading and voting.

So, I can tell you that the Key Stage 4 category was won by Tabitha Suzuma, for From Where I Stand. She is right now swanning around the local schools and chatting to her fans.

My detective work yesterday also led me to Siobhan Dowd, who won the Key Stage 2 category with The London Eye Mystery. I’m busy thinking how lovely it would have been if Siobhan could have been here too. I gather from my informant that David Fickling wrote a nice speech to be read out last night.

And that’s it. There are several more categories, but my detective skills didn’t tell me who won those. And it shouldn’t really require sleuthing in the first place. A press release next year, perhaps? (And SMBC, I am on your side really. We all want to promote good reading, so please join the 21st century.)

Halloween reading

Trust me to find a scary book to read on Halloween. Quite by accident, of course. I decided some time ago that I must catch up on the shortlisted books for the Stockport Schools Book Award. At least the ones for Key Stage 4 pupils. Daughter wanted to read them too, so that she could vote, but she got round to do her reading some time ago. I’m still puzzling over the SSBA, because I don’t even know when it is. November some time.

I complained last year that it was hard to find anything on the council’s website, while there was still time to do anything. If you remember, I complained a lot about it, full stop. That didn’t go down terribly well with the head of library services, and after the two page letter from him telling me what an awful person I am, I have taken the cowardly decision not to ask them whether I can come to the awards ceremony this year.

Anyway, back to Halloween. I picked up Tabitha Suzuma’s From Where I Stand, and read it in more or less one sitting. I had to hand out sweets at the door from time to time, but otherwise it was full speed ahead. The blurb on the back does suggest it might be a little scary. When Tabitha introduces a real book into the plot, Looking For JJ by Anne Cassidy, I began to suspect that it might be worse than I’d thought, since this was a book I almost lost my nerve over.

Tabitha Suzuma’s book is about Raven, who has watched his mother die, and who is now living with foster parents. He gets bullied at school and trusts no-one. He is into self harming, and he wants revenge for his mother’s death. With the help of his one friend from school he sets about making this happen, and at some point you just feel nothing good can come from this.

Try it.

Zenith at the top

Much to her surprise Julie Bertagna won the Catalyst book award the other day for Zenith. It just goes to prove my theory that if you expect not to win and are quite relaxed about it, then things tend to go well. So, “knowing” that her fellow shortlisted writers were all very good and that sequels tend not to win, Julie enjoyed herself until the time came to make that speech she had omitted to prepare. And next time she’ll know not to accept glasses of wine from Anthony McGowan, just in case.

Catalyst is a book award in North Lanarkshire, designed to make secondary school pupils more interested in reading. The other shortlisted authors were Berlie Doherty, Catherine MacPhail and Tabitha Suzuma, who are all good. But then, so is Julie.