My Lockdown Books: Fourteen

How dated is this cover?!  I never even thought about it when I first read See You Thursday by Jean Ure because I was a teenager in the 1980s.  It’s one of the books I found for myself in Lossiemouth Library.  Not long after I read it, the second book, After Thursday, was published and I read it too.  Meanwhile I had discovered more of Jean Ure’s books and thoroughly enjoyed them.  In fact, in my current collection I have kept three sets of hers.  As well as Marianne and Abe’s story (which was completed in Tomorrow is Also a Day), I have the two Sebastian books, If It Weren’t for Sebastian (I appreciated the subjunctive even as a teenager) and Always Sebastian, and the ballet duo, A Proper Little Nooryeff and You Win Some, You Lose Some.

Two of these books were published when I was an adult, a youngish adult, and not at a time when I was specifically collecting children’s books.  However, I bought a copy of Tomorrow is Also a Day and Always Sebastian out of my meagre salary.  That, I think, demonstrates how much I enjoyed Jean Ure’s writing.

I chose Thursday for my lockdown random selection because it was the first book by Jean Ure I read.  These days I don’t suppose it would appear unusual to a teenage reader but it has a blind male lead and a tentative age-gap relationship.  At fourteen or so I found it different enough to be significant although I can’t say that it impacted on my reaction to the book.

My Lockdown Books: Thirteen

I had the very great pleasure of meeting Dan Smith when I was asked if I would like to host a couple of events on his promotional tour for his latest book Boy X.  Dan came to Elgin Library where I was then based and captivated the children from many Moray primary schools.  He was friendly, genuine and relaxed.  His book was exciting and dramatic and his presentation was good enough that I could listen to it more than once.

On the strength of all of that I’ve continued to follow Dan online and in his books.  There are very few children’s authors that I will refuse to work with a second time.  Most are at the very least polite and competent.  However, those who engage with their readers (and I include myself there) and work well with others in the book industry are the ones whose ongoing careers I am most likely to follow.

So I read Below Zero even though it didn’t sound like my kind of book.  It’s a thriller set in Antarctica and I have to tell you that it’s brilliant.  Dan’s style of writing really engages the reader and he keeps the plot moving along.  There’s a bit of tech involved in this one and I have to confess that some of it I let drift over my head!  But the story and the characters grabbed hold of me.  As did the punishing cold of Antarctica.

15th December

I discovered the Drina books by Jean Estoril serendipitously in Lossiemouth Library as a child. I read them in a random order as and when they were available. And only the first six, which had been recently re-issued, were available at all. The last of these chronologically is Drina Dances in New York, set partly in that city and partly on board a transatlantic liner. I may have said before that I grew up with my Mum’s stories of sailing to Australia and back, and ship-board life had always fascinated me. And I was a great reader of ballet stories so this was a combination guaranteed to appeal. I still re-read the Drina books and I now have all of them, including Drina Ballerina, published MUCH later than the others when the series was issued in paperback. I have them in a variety of editions as I find their publishing history fascinating. They’ve been updated over the years but haven’t suffered too badly. Honestly, I could have selected any of the books for inclusion in this list but the description of life at sea probably brought Drina Dances in New York into my mind first!

A few years ago Greyladies, a small independent publisher, re-issued some of the books of Susan Pleydell, a mid-twentieth century Scottish writer. I enjoyed them (Summer Term and A Young Man’s Fancy) so much that I checked the library catalogue to see if we had any of the rest of her ten novels. And thus I found Brighouse Hotel, her final offering. It’s set in the fictional Glen Torran somewhere unspecified – between Inverness and Fort William is my best guess – in the Highlands. Clunie Ritchie, a regular visitor to the area as a teenager, suddenly finds herself homesick for the mountains. So when the receptionist at Brighouse Hotel is rushed into hospital, Clunie is delighted to deputise. The hotel, as well as being frequented by walkers and fishers, is the local Mountain Rescue base and much of the plot revolves around this. But really this is a story about people and relationships and how both change and develop. It’s a charming novel without being at all cloying and enough of the real world of the 1970s intrudes to make it believable.

Emily Gravett

What a brilliant artist Emily Gravett is and what wonderful picture books she produces.  Her first book was Wolves.  Set in a library, it was, of course, going to win the hearts of me and my type!  But, that apart, it was clever and witty and had a snappily funny ending.  Her latest book also features a wolf.  But this one is not of the big bad kind – or not until he’s provoked just too far.  Wolf Won’t Bite the title says but beware!  Beware, but buy it or borrow it.  It’s as good as everything else Emily has created.

Back Beside the Sea

As I write, it is a beautiful autumn day: the sun is shining, the sky is blue and there is scarcely a breeze.  The view from my windows is glorious: the trees still have their autumn colours, there are swans swimming in the pond and I can just catch a glimpse of the cathedral.  Where am I?  In my new office in Elgin.

I’ve just recently been fortunate enough to be given the post of Senior Librarian in Moray.  I have a varied remit including, I’m pleased to say, services to young people.  It’s a great job and I’m working with friendly and helpful people.  But, best of all, I’ve moved back to Lossiemouth after an absence of over twenty years.  From my house I can see the sea and the view is wonderful!

As yet, I don’t have all my books with me which is clearly not a good thing.  Deciding which titles to bring was tough and, in the end, I went for a random selection.  I do work in a library after all!  It’s been fun, though, reading my way through the books I brought.  I’d forgotten all about some of them and they’d got hidden away in my collection.  Maybe less really is more.

What did I bring?  Well, some are books I can’t be without.  Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery, Sisterland by Linda Newbery and Nancy Calls the Tune by Dorita Fairlie Bruce for example.  I also brought some short series: the Carol books by Helen Dore Boylston and the Merry titles by Clare Mallory.  And then there are some that I’ve acquired since moving.  I love Ottoline at Sea by Chris Riddell and Big Bear, Little Brother by Carl Norac and beautifully illustrated by Kristin Oftedal.

I have others, too, some of them even for grown-ups, but to feel completely at home I’ll need all my books with me.  The day can’t come fast enough!

Book Festivals and Book Launches

Over the last few weeks I’ve met and listened to about as many authors as I could cope with!  Without exception they’ve been lovely people and have had interesting books to talk about but I have to say that, when Friday came and went, I was glad to think that I had a whole week before I had another book event to attend.  It seems you can have too much of a genuinely good thing!

The main reason for my being authored out is the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  On my own account I heard a whole raft of great authors.  Some of them (whisper it!) were even talking about books written for adults.  Alexander McCall Smith was as seemingly random and entertaining as ever although I suspect his performance was more planned that it appeared.  Menzies Campbell was Raj Persaud’s guest – and a fine one he was too.  A politician with opinions he was willing to share, no less.  Waving my chair’s pass, I sneaked in to hear Margaret Drabble.  I have to confess that I’ve never read any of her work but she was fascinating.  And, trying to keep up my knowledge of Norwegian culture, I went to hear Lars Saabye Christensen, talking about Beatles.  One of the most popular Norwegian books of the last quarter century, it’s just been translated into English. 

And then there were all the children’s authors.   I was chairing some events which meant I heard people I might not have chosen myself.  And what a good thing that was!  I enjoyed all the events I was involved in but I have to make special mention of two.  I was delighted to be chairing Elizabeth Laird.  As I’ve said before I have a very high opinion of her books.  It was a joy to hear her talk about The Witching Hour and to listen to all the questions the young people had.  The other mention goes to Michelle Paver, author of The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.  I had read the first book, Wolf Brother, when it came out about five years ago but hadn’t bothered to read the rest of the series.  However, before meeting her in Edinburgh, I read Ghost Hunter, the final book.  I’m still not hugely interested in the historical setting but I found myself engrossed by the book and involved with the characters.  And Michelle really brought the books to life in her excellent session where she expertly fielded some inspired questions.  Both of these authors signed copies of their books for ages afterwards and I stayed around to talk to the young people as they queued.  So-called experts who love to suggest that young people don’t read anything (worthwhile) these days should have been there.  A special mention here to the staff and pupils from Nairn Academy who left at 5.30am to be at the festival.

I chose to go and hear some children’s authors too.  I’ve heard Keith Gray speak a number of times but always at events I’ve organised so it was a pleasure to hear him in Edinburgh where, whatever happened, it wasn’t my responsibility.  He was as funny and interesting as ever, although I have had to take him to task for suggesting that librarians and dragons might appear in the same sentence!  I’ve been reading Joan Lingard’s books for thirty years and enjoying them for as long.  Her latest book was launched at this year’s festival.  What to Do about Holly is a good read and somehow reminded me of the Maggie quartet.  The story is completely different so it must be the atmosphere that is reminiscent.  The Maggie books remain my favourite of Joan’s and I was pleased to have a faint echo of them as I read about Holly.  I’ve saved the best till last, though.  I mean no disrespect to the other authors I heard when I say that this year’s Edinburgh book festival was made for me by the appearance of Judith Kerr.  As a child, I read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and loved it.  When I was older, I read the other two books in the trilogy and, for me, these are her best books.  Yes, The Tiger who Came to Tea is good fun and Mog is a lovely cat but there is something special about Pink Rabbit.  Please go and read it if you haven’t already.  When I heard that Judith was appearing at the festival, I got very excited and bought a ticket as soon as they were available.  And she didn’t disappoint.  I am so pleased to have met her.

My last book event was on Friday evening when I went to the launch of The Keepers’ Daughter by Gill Arbuthnot.  I’d been sent a copy of the book by Gill’s agent, Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates, and I’m grateful for that as it was a great book.  It’s a sort of fantasy but set in a world which is completely recognisable.  The characters step immediately off the page and are people whose fate I can care about.  And in my head I have a map of the islands on which much of the action takes place.  Altogther this is a book I can heartly recommend.

So that’s it: my book-filled three weeks.  Actually, there was one other event but more of that later.  Ahead of me (less than a week ahead) is Stirling Council Libraries’ book festival, Off the Page.  Being responsible for the children’s programme, I’m approaching it with more trepidation than anticipation but I’m sure the authors at it will be just as good as those I’ve heard recently.  Full details can be found at www.stirling.gov.uk/offthepage but just let me mention here that we have this year’s winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal appearing – Catherine Rayner.  Now there’s a coup!

IFLA

Yesterday I met Anne Shirley.  Well, not really, of course, but someone from Library and Archives Canada dressed up as her.  This year, of course, is the centenary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables and in honour of that LAC has an exhibition in Ottawa.  I`m a huge fan of the Anne series and I had a very interesting conversation with the heroine!

I`m in Canada (although not for much longer) attending the World Library and Information Congress, the annual conference of IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations).  I`m thrilled to be here, both at the conference and in Quebec City.  Obviously Prince Edward Island would have been my first choice of destination but Quebec is a beautiful and historic city – more French than Paris, however, and I hide my Higher French very well!

It`s been a great opportunity to attend the conference courtesy of CILIP (I know, too many acronyms; this one is the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals).  I`ve only been at one of IFLA`s conferences before this one and it was in Glasgow.  Don`t get me wrong; it was just as good a conference (in fact, it might have been better) but there`s an extra something being in a different country.  I`ve been to some excellent sessions but for me the best bit has been meeting librarians from all over the world: a lecturer from Nigeria, school librarians from Norway, a health services librarian from New South Wales and a university librarian from PEI amongst many others.

It`s almost time to go home now and I will be glad of a rest but I am so glad to have been here.  I`ve learnt lots from my colleagues worldwide and am looking forward to putting some of it into practice in Scotland.