Financial Times reviewer Jill Slotover writes about:
A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
May 2003 Archives
Financial Times reviewer Jill Slotover writes about:
Jan Mark reviews Montmorency by Eleanor Updale - see entry for May 9th:
"Disbelief is willingly suspended until our hero encounters and befriends a real nob, Lord George Fox-Selwyn, who embroils him in undercover work for the government..."
Guardian Unlimited Books | Special Reports | Ms Wiz & a Trollope
Terence Blacker, novelist and columnist, is reported to have apologised for calling Joanna Trollope a writer of 'Aga sagas'....
Darren Shan's Japan tour begins June 12th, with major events planned for the weekend of June 14th/15th.
This portrait gallery on Darren Shan's Japanese publisher's website is worth a look:
Just sent off a series of e-mails responding to event invitations. Miserable at having to say No to so many because of diary clashes - governors meetings, cricket matches, residential visit to France. Particularly disappointed to have to miss the award ceremony for the first CLPE Poetry Award, which will be presented by Michael Rosen at the Royal Festival Hall on June 11th. But I'm looking forward to Judith Kerr's 80th; a Macmillan event celebrating 10 years of publishing Julia DOnaldson and Axel Scheffler; and Simon & Schuster's Summer Party - all coming up in June.
David Lee Stone, author of the ILLMOOR CHRONCLES, we discover, is a dedicated ACHOCKABLOGGER: "Just wanted to tell you how much myself and my team are enjoying [ACHOCKABLOG]! It's becoming our second daily stopping off point (after the Bookseller)..."
After The Bookseller indeed! Never mind - here's a reminder that the first title in the Illmoor Chronicles is published on June 2nd:
The Ratastrophe Catastrophe
Waited in the grand lobby of Penguin HQ for JZ to turn up, harrowed text messages from P. regarding the Tree Savagery (see below) weighing on my mind. JZ was only a few minutes late. She had had 'transportation problems', which translated into having got on a bus going in the wrong direction, after a jaunt out to a Sainsbury store she hasn't visited before.
The event was Teenage Kicks, a panel discussion between Pete Johnson
chaired by Damian Kelleher.
The audience was a mixture of librarians, teachers, reviewers and teenagers. Kelleher asked Pete Johnson, the most experienced of the three, (the other two being debut novelists) to talk about his latest book, Faking It, first. Johnson had interesting things to say about boys' attitudes towards romance and girlfriends etc. Whilst it has to be said that Faking It is not a teenage book in the sense of being a Young Adult novel (only Green's book can conceivably be called a 13+ read), I couldn't help thinking how iteresting it would have been to have had a debate between Pete Johnson and Melvin Burgess. As it happened, neither Dent's summery, escapist girl-gang comedy, nor Blue Moon, Green's solid study of a pregnant schoolgirl's predicament, provided opportunity for bouncing off Pete Johnson's comments, and so the discussion, although admirably chaired in a relaxed and informal manner by Kelleher, was a somewhat disparate one. The fact that none of the teenager members of the audience raised a hand during the Q & A session might have been significant. Johnson and Dent spoke as if their books were being read by 14-year-olds. I doubt it somehow. Their true market is 10-13 year-olds. Publishers, booksellers and librarians know that as well as me, and therein lies the root cause of the pathetically predictable press paddies generated by genuinely teenage novels such as Melvin Burgess's Doing It. I would happily give Faking It to a Y6 child to read, as I would LBD It's A Girl Thing. These are books about teenagers. They are not Young Adult novels.
After the discussion and the usual drinks and chat, JZ took a mini movie of me and GB to show her West Coast friend. Then we exchanged proof copies, one of my gains being My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr, which JZ remembered me saying I'd heard good things about.
Still outraged by the ash tree destruction, I bought a copy of 'The Ecologist' for the train-ride home.
In the front of a children's book he writes: "This book was presented to Peter Sellers by the East Finchley Borstal Reform School where he graduated in hoisting, bin whizzing, fraud, embezzlement, sexual deviation, silly voices and over-acting. Terence Milligan. August 1951."
"JK Rowling has changed the whole image of children's books. Her fame and status has helped people realise there are some very interesting qualities in children's books. But I also think she's done a wonderful job for the whole world of books."
Obituary, The Times:
Man about to call and give us a quote for replacing the polycarbonate roofing on our lean-to conservatory, which was damaged in the recent hailstorm. At the same time dreading the arrival of more men, rumoured to be turning up today to fell two majestic ash trees at the bottom of the neighbouring plot of land. If they go, it will change our outlook considerably, and will be a severe loss to birds, squirrels etc. Yesterday afternoon we were serenaded by a very happy mistle thrush, apparently oblivious of the impending chainsaw.
My optician has finally been back in touch about the unsatisfactory new specs. He's just 'as coincidence would have it' attended a lecture by Professor Jalie 'probably the premier spectacle lens expert in this country' who has developed a computer program 'to help dispensing opticians solve off centre performance problems'. I have to go back with my old glasses, new glasses, old prescritions etc so that they can take readings. Good job I can still see perfectly well through my old specs.
Writing my renewal cheque for external membership of the University of Sussex Library, I wonder, as I do each 6 mths, if I can continue to justify the annual expense [which goes back to the 1980's when I used the library to research my Melville/Hawkthorne novel and Tennyson biography] - but just now, browsing in S. T. Coleridge's Notbebooks v.2 1804-1808 ed. Kathleen Coburn, I get my answer:
Two Boys now on board Decatur's ship, 1 of 11, the other of 9 - relations robbed &c &c &c waylayed surprized & one by one massacred by two Indians who saved the Boys for prisoners - found wine - drank went to sleep - the eldest put up the musket to the ear of one of the Indians, & placed his little Brother there, to fire it off when he made the signal - himself took the Indian's Tomahawk, went, killed with it the Indian, making at the very stroke the sign/the younger let off the musket & killed the other at the same moment/they then went off, the eldest using the Tomahawk to bark the Trees, & cut & scatter twigs to find the way back--..."
These little shots across the bow are worth their weight in tomahawks.
Article from The Times about the economics of becoming a writer of fiction. Contains interesting facts & figures about projected sales and advances and information about the changing roles of editprs and agents.
Observer 'teenage fiction' review by Kit Spring. Includes Pete Johnson's 'charming' Faking It, which ACHUKA has classified a children's book and included in our Fiction Picks.
"A sharp, edgy book that deals with another kind of virtual reality is MT Anderson's Feed (Walker ?4.99, pp314). We're in a future where everyone has a 'feed' connected in their brains to do their thinking for them. Titus is with his friends for a break on the moon, but 'the moon turned out to completely suck'. When he meets a girl called Violet who questions everything, Titus has to start thinking for himself.
This is a savage and ultimately moving satire with strong language which is definitely not for the feelgood market, but which challenges the reader to think about the way we are manipulated by mass culture."
Observer picture books review by Kate Kellaway:
"It is natural that the authors and illustrators of children's books sometimes suffer from what I shall call 'animal fatigue': they exhaust the ark, they don't want to think about another squirrel, bear, badger or wallaby..."
One of the Saturday supplements carried a photo feature on writers and their desks.
P. exclaimed, "They're so tidy! Look, Richard Holmes doesn't have a single book on the floor."
"Bet they tidied up for the photographer," I responded. Anyway, I thought it would be interesting (for my own point of reference as much as anything else) to keep a pictorial watch on the ACHUKA real-life desktop. So here are the first views. For the bizarrely curious, the thumbnails click through to full-sized images.
The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, which you can see I've been referring to recently, has a superb entry on Children's SF by Peter Nicholls. It's one of the best reference books I own.
Review by Francis Spufford of Boys And Girls Forever by Alison Lurie
"For reasons I can't quite fathom, Alison Lurie has joined the ranks of those who treat the whole genre as a kind of model village, where even the biggest monuments are only knee-high. She ought to know better. In fact, she used to know better. She is a novelist with a nicely acidulous understanding of the human condition, as manifested in both tall and short people, and she wrote Don't Tell the Grown-Ups, a good book about the way children's stories create subversive pleasures for their readers..."
Excellent article about John Cale, by Ed Vulliamy
And another feature about Neil Young:
A midweek deadline (Literary Review) has left me with lots of catching up to do. Fortunately, half-term week is almost upon us. The new specs (reglazed with asymmetric/aspheric(?) lenses) are still no good, and how the optician intends to proceed is unresolved. The house insurance has OK'd repairs to the conservatory roof, so we need to get someone to quote for the job. It is G's 80th on Saturday, so there will be another family get-together. I was out most of today with a group of Y6 at Bedgebury, Pinetum.
Rushed back for the second cricket match of the season, which we won by 24 runs, having lost the first earlier in the week by 50. Have caught nothing of the Test Match, except the score.
Eoin Colfer feature. Includes image of The Eternity Code's American cover:
"One of my responsibilities at school was being the IT (information technology) teacher, and there was not one kid who didn't love to come to computer class. So that was my extra element, the ingredient I added that kids really like."
Sarah Johnson's Spring roundup of children's books in The Times...
"Perhaps the darkest teen novel (and that?s saying something) on my desk now is Sandra Glover?s You, a peek inside the mind of a young offender who has had to change identities to avoid being hounded by vigilantes. Glover is super-gritty but does not romanticise the humdrum world of modern urban children ? I like her style." [SJ]
Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | The dangers of growing up
Natasha Walter, exploring J. K. Rowling's dilemma as Harry becomes an older teenager, makes some contentious statements about teenage fiction generally...
Michael Rosen's reply in today's Letters:
"...Natasha Walter (The dangers of growing up, May 19) says that in "most hard-hitting teen books", 16-year-olds aren't given the emotional or intellectual range to allow them to explore grittily realistic experiences.
This is a tired old accusation regularly wheeled out by critics who usually look at so-called serious fiction. Anyone who thinks that Natasha Walter is talking sense, should spend an hour or two reading some Robert Cormier, Aidan Chambers and Gina Wilson."
"Most teenage novels paint a dismally dystopian picture of a future crippled by political and environmental decay. This book holds out a more hopeful picture, at least in the short-term. It tells young people that sex can be beautiful as well as exciting. Those parts of the body most to do with this everyday miracle are named and celebrated. But Doing It also warns young readers that sex without feeling, or of some sense of responsibility, is poor stuff..."
Last night borrowed Js.' vid of the original Matrix film, with a view to catching up on it before possibly seeing the new one. After half an hour or so, P. said I would have to go on my own, as its was evidently not her kind of film, so we switched it off and listened to music. I'll finish watching it some time in the week. Comic book stuff so far, but fairly enjoyable in its implausibility.
Yet another grey morning. Have to write a piece for TES, do the ACHUKA Mail List update, and visit a few Open Houses.
Julia Eccleshare 'acclaims' the new children's laureate, Michael Morpurgo...
Long piece by Jan Dalley, literary editor of the Financial Times, which concludes:
[Fantasy] cannot, however, engage with our social world - that is what it is escaping. It cannot tackle the full complexities of real relationships within that social world. It can be skittish with stereotypes, but since it depends on them so heavily it cannot question them with any subtlety or seriousness. And for those reasons, it cannot teach us much. It can address, if not actually fulfil, the dream therapist's "collective hunger for an image of renewal and hope", yes - but what kind of renewal, what kind of hope is this, if it consists of magic and otherworldly elements that by their nature are impossible in our world?
A child's mind can be fully absorbed by the impossible, because childhood is that protected time of exploring and learning. To an adult whose mind is satisfied by the impossible, I am tempted to say: grow up
UK picture book, Little One Step by Simon James, heads Sydney Morning Herald's children's books reviews:
"This beautifully told story is about how a duckling faces what could be overwhelming difficulties (the world beyond your mother's wing) by taking one step at a time. And basic line-and-wash illustrations are all that is required to compel young readers right through to its satisfying conclusion. Little One Step is charged with the force of what has been left unspoken, and the message folded into the story is as useful as a hanky popped into a pocket on a cold morning..."
Children's books, including Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and AA Milne's Winnie The Pooh, did particularly well, making up a third of the titles picked by the public.
Art in the Family
Uncle Andy's: A Fabulous Visit with Andy Warhol by James Warhola
A book by the nephew of Andy Warhol describes childhood visits to the artist's home. "Warhola's witty, energetic pictures, including one of himself waking up in a room piled high with soup cartons, give a wonderful child's-eye view of a world that was clearly more entrancing than Disneyland..." NYT
Includes review of Varjak Paw by S F Said
"In addition to the compelling tale, the extraordinary illustrations by Dave McKean, a renowned British graphic illustrator, add depth and breadth to the story. McKean's drawings are intricately woven into the story, in black for present time and in amber for dream time. The effect is dazzling."
"I like to write about teenagers because it's such an uncertain and dramatic time," he said. "There's so much they are up against, so many pressures: drugs, AIDS, puberty and sexually transmitted diseases. Your life is constantly on edge." Rapp has published five novels in the young-adult genre and says he has about 20 plays in various stages of completion.
The Buffalo Tree
The hail earlier in the week has hammered several holes into the outer layer of the polycarbonate roofing on our 'conservatory', so we have got to see about repair/replacement. This should be covered by insurance. But not P.'s hostas, which she had been cosseting and protecting from slug damage, only to have them shredded and be-holed from the sky!
At a curriculum design meeting with JW this afternoon in an Eastbourne Hotel:
Colleague, having been asked to join our table, sits beside J. Says, out of the blue, "I must just ask a really unprofessional question. Who is the user of that absolutely wonderful fabric conditioner?"
J., nearly choking: "Well, it's not me."
Whereopon the other chap sniffs to one side of him, sniffs to the other, does the same again, and turning back to J. says "It IS you. It's you."
Hailstorm Fact Page
Rain fell in marble-sized hailstones this evening. Digital camera was charging up so I couldn't take pictures. Had just managed to eek out a game of cricket at school through a threatening and showery hour, when the storm clouds gathered, lightning flashed and down the hail fell. The gutters filled up with it, so that the following rain couldn't flow away and there was a torrent down the side of the house.
A. had been here completing an upgrade to one of the PCs but I just missed him. P. and granny were looking at the photos from Australia, which had arrived in two bulky packets this morning. After I'd eaten we drove her home, and stopped off on way back for a quick drink in The Tiger at East Dean.
Listening to Live for a Moment by Willy Schwarz, which I found in a shopfront sale in Brighton for just ?1. Knew nothing about him, and bought it as an experiment. It's an eclectic mix, reasonably listenable. Imagine The Incredible String Band with lush multi-instrumental-multi-cultural production. Looking Schwarz up on the web, I discover that he's palyed with Tom Waits and writes for the theatre. Glad to have bought it. Another ?1 bargain was the soundtrack from 'Shades', a Mickey Rourke film I haven't seen. I've found that bargain bin soundtracks are a good way of discovering new music... Turned wet mid-afternoon, which rather spoiled things for the Festival street theatre events.
Midweek, Granny discovered a mouse in her house. T. tried to find it but couldn't. But some chocolate left overnight on Thursday had been well-and-truly-nibbled-and-nobbled. So B. went over first thing yesterday, turned the room upside down, and discovered the intruder inside a cushion cover. She grabbed it in bare hands and put it in a shoebox. Went out to the golf course to release it. But some schoolgirls gathered round and insisted on taking charge of it, even though it bit them. P. went over on bus and put the room to rights.
MONTMORENCY LAUNCH May 8th 2003
Montmorency by Eleanor Updale (Scholastic) challenges the notion that a children's book, ipsp facto, has to contain a child character. This is a relatively modern assumption. Think Biggles. Think John Buchan and Conan Doyle. Indeed, Updale has written this book in the spirit of these late-Victorian authors, who assumed a broad readership, from older children to adult. Her book has a narrative tone utterly unfamiliar to the world of contemporary children's literature, and is all the more likeable for that. Personally, I think the Buchanesque espionage of the final third of the novel should have been saved for book #2, but this is being picky about a story that is a tightly and immaculately written, effortless read. It is the wholesomely amoral tale of a character reinventing himself and leading a double life - on the one hand as Montmorency, high-society man-about-town, staying at an upmarket hotel (Cissie, the hotel manager's daughter is one of the great grotesques of recent children's books), and on the other as Scarper, a low-life robber using the London sewer system as his getaway route. The book is a little vague about the actual breaking & entering of property, but we take that as read, because Montmorency/Scarper is already, at the start of this first book, a criminal who, while in prison, has been experimented upon and permanently scarred by a leading surgeon, Dr Fawcett. Updale created Montmorency while telling her own children bedtime stories. "Easier than reading abook. You can do it with the light off," she says. Apparently, talk of this and future books being filmed is sufficiently advanced for the family (Updale is married to broadcaster James Naughtie) to play games considering who might play the lead role. Updale rather favours Jude Law. Naughtie's media connections have given the book certain advantages over other first novels - dustjacket blurbs from Joan Bakewell and Jon Snow; a launch party appearacne by Rory Bremner. The party speech, delivered by Richard Scrivener, was one of the best launch speeches ACHUKA has witnessed. Later, an anxious PA asked how the Frank SInatra references had gone down. Perhaps we'd been too busy getting camera-shots to notice, or Scrivener had edited these particular witticisms out at the last minute.
The Observer | Review | Review: Neil Young
Came across this while catching up with Sunday papers late on Monday night...
Took photographs of incredible rhododendron trunks at Sheffield park.
Pip bought three plants at the nursery. We didn't spot another Berlingo in the car park. Got 2nd TES piece done in the morning. Rest of morning and evening spent doing the ACHUKA Update. Now to food & wine...
It's 8.30pm and I still haven't properly got to the Sunday papers. Will take advantage of the Bank Holiday tomorrow and send out the weekly ACHUKA Update a day late. Spent the morning on a TES piece, and the afternoon on transcribing the Sophie Masson interview from tape. Then, anxious to see at a bit more of the sun (I did have lunch outside), we took Berlingo to the beach, parked next to another Multispace, had a walk along the prom, then drove further up for a half pint in The Pilot, where a fox, with something in its teeth, walked by in broad daylight, just as we arrived.
After a fairly hectic two days, it was good to spend a leisurely afternoon celebrating a family birthday (sister-in-law's 50th). A pub lunch was followed by a walk at Butcher's Hole, then back to Seaford for scones and cake. Tim's still awaiting a response on The Baby Universe...
The dinner on Thursday for Joaquin & Ariel Dorfman's The Burning City was wonderful. The group was small, which meant that for most of the time there was just one conversation to follow - predominantly an entertaining father-son double-act. Further entertainment developed from a situation involving several phonecalls (two made on the ACHUKA mobile) and an extra mystery guest. The food, at the Bank & Zander restaurant, was excellent.
Sophie Masson spoke to both Y6 classes on Friday afternoon. I travelled back with her and Nancy Cooper (of Hodder), and interviewed her on the train. Sophie's latest Hodder title, The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare, will be an ACHUKA CHOICE either this week or next, with the interview to accompany it, so I'll say no more about our conversation here.
I don't often make two consecutive trips to London, but the launch for Melvin Burgess's Doing It was not to be missed. I was particularly pleased to meet up with Kevin Brooks and Tim Bowler, both for the first time and, for privately amusing reasons, to speak for the first time to fellow reviewer, Dinah Hall.
Before the lunch I collected new specs from the optician. They had to be reglazed after I'd complained the new prescription didn't seem right. The new lenses don't, intitially, seem any better, but I'll have to try them for a week I suppose.
Now, after the afternoon 'off', I've just had a look through the week's 'newly arrived'. So many books I want to read straight away, despite the size of my pending pile. Keith Gray's Malarkey will certainly jump the queue
as will Peter Dickinson' The Tears of the Salamander.
DOING IT LAUNCH
Rebecca McNally & Jonathan Douglas
Graham Marks, Adele Minchin, Kirsten Grant
JonathanDouglas & Justin Somper
Melvin's editor, flanked by family
Klaus begins to declaim
Klaus in full flow
Melvin thanks his supporters
Mary Byrne ushered forward
Melvin and Mary I
Melvin & Mary II
Elain McQuade, Damian Kelleher,
Busy day ahead. Go to the Polling Station as soon as it opens (8am) to vote in the local election. Teaching all day. Morning in Y6. PM in Y5. Take afternoon assembly (Truth and falsehood... 'This sentence is false' philosophical paradox... The truth in made-up stories... Lightened with a couple of extracts from The Liar blog. Umpire first cricket club game of season. Drive to station to catch 5 or 5.30 train.
Attend launch dinner for The Burning City by Ariel & Joaquin Dorfman, invitation for which arrived via Telemessage, the main character in the novel being a deliverer of telgrams for an organisation called Soft Tidings. Finish reading it on train. Also use train journey to complete preparations for Sophie Masson interview tomorrow.
BBC - Radio 4 - Woman's Hour - Melvin Burgess
If you missed yesterday's Woman's Hour interview with Melvin Burgess on Radio 4, the wonderful BBC website gives you the opportunity to catch up with it.
BBC NEWS | UK | Wales | North East Wales | Museum first for Alice pictures
Rare photographs taken by Lewis Carroll have gone on display in Wales for the first time since they were saved for the nation.