Tag Archives: Tanya Landman

Passing for White

Reading about a married couple, two slaves in the American Deep South in the mid-19th century, who manage to escape to freedom due to the fact that the woman could ‘pass for white,’ you’d probably admire the author’s way of solving a difficult situation for her characters, and mutter something about it being unbelieveable.

Tanya Landman, Passing for White

But as they say, truth can be stranger than fiction, and in this case Tanya Landman has based her story on a real life couple, who really did get away from their owner, purely because the woman had white skin. That, and the fact that they were hardworking and brave, as are Tanya’s fictional couple Rosa and Benjamin.

Written for Barrington Stoke, this short but strong tale is truly inspiring, showing us what people are capable of. Rosa is ‘white’ because she was fathered by her owner. She was then sent away from her mother, to a new owner who uses her in the same way her father did her mother. It seems they ‘all’ did this.

That alone means Rosa’s marriage to Benjamin can never be quite as real as you’d expect, nor can they live together. So it’s not only freedom they are escaping to, but they hope to finally be able to lead a normal life, to live together, to be sure whose baby they could be expecting, and much more.

Unlike fictional characters whose creators have allowed them to learn to read and write, for instance, Rosa and Benjamin don’t have these necessary skills, and that becomes a problem as Rosa is trying to pass herself off as her husband’s [male] owner. She doesn’t have the knowhow to be a white man. But there are good people out there, as well as really bad ones.

And it’s fascinating to see quite how racist the people who worked against slavery in the North actually were. There are setbacks and there are successes, and we know they will escape, but we can’t foresee what almost insurmountable problems they will face.

Passing for White is an essential read.

Beyond the Wall

Most of the major newspapers have been reviewing Tanya Landman’s new novel, Beyond the Wall, in the last few days, so why should Bookwitch do any different?

This is a fantastic book! It deals with the less common period of Roman Britain, as seen from the perspective of the slaves. Now, slaves are a bit of a speciality for Tanya, and this book does not disappoint. We’re on homeground, so to speak, and although it might seem to have been a long time ago, there’s a surprising number of situations for our heroes that could almost be today.

Tanya Landman, Beyond the Wall

Female slaves were often sexually abused by their masters, and it seems that many babies who were the result of this kind of behaviour, never had a chance of surviving, because they were not needed by the master. It is an absolute agony to think about.

Cassia is one such baby, with the difference that she’s permitted to live. In her mid teens she’s chosen to do for her master what her mother did before her, but somehow she escapes, with her master’s dogs giving chase and soon with a prize on her head.

She believes she must get to the north, past the wall, outside which people live free. And the person who ends up helping her is a young, good-looking Roman. She knows she should probably not trust Marcus, but she has no choice.

This could have been merely an exciting adventure story of how to escape an enraged slave owner, but it soon becomes so much more. You gasp as the tale takes – several – unexpected turns, and you fear for all your favourite characters. And you wonder if, or when, Marcus will show his true colours.

Beyond the Wall becomes a story about the Roman Empire, and not just a British runaway. It’s one of these all too rare unputdownable books.

Paint it black

It wasn’t an entirely traditional Easter Saturday, but I suppose it was all right.

The Resident IT Consultant drove across half of Central Scotland searching for black spray paint, and as soon as he brought some home I went outside and sprayed it all over the dining table. After enough cans had been used up, the table looks sort of finished. And black.

The [formerly green] grass is also slightly black.

And my arms hurt. Who knew paint-spraying was so tiring?

I also sprayed some tomato all over myself, causing a red-orange streak down my front. As we didn’t have a bonfire to grill sausages on, we made do with the grill pan in the kitchen. And I didn’t fly over the cooker on my broom, partly because of lack of space and partly because a witch needs a proper bonfire to be sent on her way. Daughter bought one of those foil barbecue things, but I absolutely refuse to broom over that as well.

In-between the countless black layers I read Tanya Landman’s new book. It’s so good I didn’t always want to put it down to attend to my painting.

Daughter decided to stretch Lent as far as she could, so made us Lent buns to have with our afternoon cup of tea. I reckon as long as it was before Easter Sunday it’s probably almost legal.

We watched Doctor Who, which we liked, and then we played The Great Penguin Bookchase, which we also liked, and which I lost.

Life-changing longlists

Immediately on reading through the Guardian’s longlist for its children’s fiction prize, I felt grumpy.

Yes, as people said on social media, it’s a really good list. They would say that, of course, and you noticed that I did too. That’s with only having read two of the longlisted novels; Malorie Blackman’s and Tanya Landman’s. And they are award material.

But I liked the description of most of the other books. And I did come across one of them at Yay!YA+ in April, where I heard Martin Stewart read the first chapter of Riverkeep about three or four times. It wasn’t out yet, at that time, and whereas it was available to buy early that day, you know me; I don’t buy books. And Penguin haven’t offered it to me. If I was Martin I’d want my first book to be mentioned to people.

Perhaps some of the other books are also only just out in the shops. That was certainly the case with my life-changing book, How I Live Now, in 2004. I read about it on the longlist, and then found I couldn’t buy it just yet, so had to wait. That turned out quite well for both me and Meg Rosoff.

Brian Selznick seems to have another book out, which is promising. Then there are two authors – Alex Wheatle and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock – whom I have only heard of because they are in the Edinburgh programme this summer. The remaining two are completely unknown to me, and one of them has a book with a cover so tempting it’s all I can do to stay calm. That’s G R Gemin with Sweet Pizza, along with Zana Fraillon who’s written about refugees, which I also like the look of.

G R Gemin, Sweet Pizza

Hopefully one or two of these will find their way to me, and hopefully they will inspire me, and lead to great things for the authors. Just like in 2004. And hopefully I’m grumping now because no one has done publicity yet, and it’s all to come…

The shortlists

Kate Greenaway 2016 shortlist

Are there too many lists? With something like a month between the Carnegie and Greenaway longlists and shortlists, it’s hard to keep up. Before them came the nominations lists.

Maybe not. I recall reading my first Tim Bowler, and taking the Carnegie medal on the front cover of River Boy as a guarantee I wouldn’t be wasting my time. It’s not just award winners who get a mention on their book covers. Many simply say nominated/shortlisted/etc for X award. It’s telling you this isn’t just any old book.

Perhaps this is the reasoning behind having three lists for the Carnegie Greenaway hopefuls. More book covers that could potentially be embellished with something awards related. Three lists are more than two.

The 2016 shortlists, which were announced last night, are still quite long. Eight books on each, of which I have read a total of four. 25%. It’s not for want of trying, but some books never materialise.

Carnegie 2016 shortlist

Greenaway 2016 shortlist

I’m sure the books on the lists are more than worthy, though I mourn some of the ones that didn’t survive the culls. Several of my best 2015 books were on the longlist.

It’s an honour to win, but I gather it also means a lot of hard work during the year until someone else wins and takes over the touring. Last year’s Carnegie medalist Tanya Landman seems to have been on the road, talking to young readers, virtually all the time since last summer.

Hell and High Water

This is Carnegie medalist Tanya Landman’s new book, out next week, and it does what it says on the cover. There is a hell, and there is high water. There is plenty of other exciting stuff as well. It’s very clear why she was awarded such a prestigious award.

Tanya Landman, Hell and High Water

Set in Devon – albeit a Devon Tanya has altered to suit her needs – in the mid eighteenth century, it’s the story about Caleb, who is black, and his father Joseph, who is white. They walk from town to town with their Punch and Judy puppets, just managing to earn a living. One day disaster strikes and Joseph is accused of stealing, and is swiftly sent off to the colonies, leaving his teenage son alone.

Caleb finds his way to a hitherto unknown aunt, who lives in a fishing village with her young daughter and an older stepdaughter, Letty. They are poor, and they live in constant fear of being turned out of their simple home by the cruel landlord.

Tanya is not someone who writes about dark tragedy, only to let it end all sunny and happy. Here you want the bad things that happen to be turned around and for Caleb’s life to be all right. But the bad things don’t un-happen just because we want them to, and more bad things will join them.

Things are not right, but with Letty’s help Caleb tries to prove his father has been wronged and that someone is breaking the law. First there is hell, and later there is high water, and still things don’t change for the better.

But you have to believe that something positive will happen. This is a seriously riveting story, that will have you reading until you get to the end. You just have to find out if anything good at all will come of this.

Celebrating Young Adult Fiction

Daniel Hahn

There were so many authors for Daniel Hahn’s event on YA literature that we got 15 minutes extra to sort out the seating arrangements, (a rather nice booth at the edge of the Spiegeltent for me) or so he claimed. We should – could – have had much longer. Not so much for the chairs as for the sheer marvel of what everyone had to say, whether or not YA exists. (Some of them reckon it doesn’t.)

Them, were Elizabeth Laird, David Almond, James Dawson and Tanya Landman, plus Agnes Guyon, chair for this year’s Carnegie. That’s four award winners, and one awarder. Daniel said, two of them were suspicious, but he changed that to having suspicions [about YA] when we laughed. The introductions had to be kept short or there would have been no time for the event. Elizabeth has written 150 books, and she claimed ‘most of them rubbish.’ David Almond has won everything, including the Hans Christian Andersen prize. New kid on the block, and reigning Queen of Teen, James Dawson, hasn’t won so much yet, except for the rather spiky QoT crown he keeps in a cupboard. And then there was this year’s Carnegie medalist, Tanya Landman.

With the exception of young James, who did grow up on  Nancy Drew, Melvin Burgess and Judy Blume (yes, that book), before moving on to Stephen King, none of the others had had access to any YA books back in the olden days. Elizabeth read Kipling, Geoffrey Trease and moved straight from Wind in the Willows to Agatha Christie and Jane Eyre. Oh, and she read her great aunt’s books…

David liked John Wyndham and Hemingway, as well as Blyton. Tanya was also a Wyndham fan, she read Leon Garfield, and then she has forgotten the rest. Agnes Guyon went straight from the Famous Five to Zola. As you do. Daniel felt this was a terribly French answer, and one he will use in future.

On being asked how they became YA writers, James said he decided after reading Noughts & Crosses. He reckons we’re all here because of J K Rowling, and what Stephenie Meyer did to follow. David didn’t even know he’d written YA when asked about it in America. Tanya reckons a book is a book is a book, and she doesn’t like categories.

James Dawson

James believes Philip Pullman only got away with what he wrote because the books were aimed at young readers. Elizabeth’s reading is mixed, and she reads what she needs for the moment. When ill she can consume many Agatha Christies in a short time.

Tanya read from her Buffalo Soldier, and had to stick to the first chapter, as she wrote the book with a southern American accent in mind, but she can’t actually read aloud like that.

Talking about diversity, James said there are many books, but none are bestsellers, unlike the leading David Walliams, John Green and the Hunger Games. Elizabeth feels that it’s the 3 for 2 offers in shops that make the bestsellers, in a fake sort of way. That’s why we need libraries, with librarians in them.

According to David, children’s publishers are more adventurous, and more confident in what they publish, than adult ones, and mentioned Shaun Tan. Elizabeth has experience of being recycled. If you can stay in print for 25 years, you find that your readers have become parents and will be drawn back to your books, until 25 years later when it’s the grandchildren’s turn.

Elizabeth Laird

Daniel’s bugbear is translations. There are not enough of them. Pushkin and Little Island are two publishers who do look for fiction to translate. Elizabeth read from her book A Little Piece of Ground, which was very moving.

Adults are people who ought to know better; they should read proper books. Or that’s what people think. Tanya reckons To Kill a Mockingbird has become what it is because it’s accessible. She knew someone who was embarrassed to be seen reading The Book Thief, because it’s not a ‘proper’ book. James even defended Twilight, being someone who’s ‘heading into his mid twenties.’

Tanya said what I’ve long failed to put into words, which is that in YA books things get better within the book (except for Kevin Brooks), while in adult books you start level, and then things spiral into something worse, with divorce, unemployment and worse. Elizabeth had some insight there and then which she shared with us; YA wants to tell a good story, straight and simple, with no ‘tricksy writing’ unlike so many adult books.

Agnes said that what the Carnegie judges look for is plot, style and characterisation, well told. And as someone retorted, ‘how hard can it be?’

James read from his new, almost not published, book, about a bisexual relationship. I think we were all impressed by how daring this seemed, but when asked if he’s ever encountered resistance, he said his whole next book got scrapped (grindr culture for gay men, starting with hardcore gay sex), and as a World Book Day author next year this wasn’t seen as being quite right. Elizabeth laughed so heartily at this, that I suspect the publishers are wrong.

We finished with David reading from Ella Grey, about Orfeus and rather grown-up sleepovers.

One question from the audience was on how children seem to get older younger these days, and James treated us to his memories of reading about demonic sex at the age of eleven.

Someone else told us that YA books save her in her job as a teacher, because the books suit the children. Elizabeth wonders if we are all teenagers, really, and Daniel added that it could be we are just optimists.

Perhaps there wasn’t any wolf whistling from the audience, but almost. This was one happy group of book lovers and we could easily have stayed there much longer. As it was, we trooped over to the adult (the irony of it!) bookshop for signings. It was good to finally speak to Tanya Landman, who was excited enough to give me an extra ‘e’ but that’s all right between Carnegie winner and witch.

James Dawson, Elizabeth Laird, Tanya Landman and David Almond

(This photo borrowed from Lindsay Fraser, because it’s so much better than mine.)