ewein2412: (osprey hair)
For the past 18 years, Scottish Friendly Assurance have sponsored a series of week-long book tours in cooperation with the Scottish Book Trust, bringing authors and illustrators directly into schools: four per year in Scotland and two each year throughout the rest of the UK. I was lucky enough to be asked to tour as a Scottish author in Norfolk, England, this year.

Old school selfie – camera on timer! Beth, E Wein & Tom in King’s Lynn

With a pair of phenomenal representatives from the Scottish Book Trust, Beth Goodyear and Thomas Jefferson, I visited nine schools throughout Norfolk and managed to squeeze in a presentation to three more at the University of East Anglia’s FLY Festival of Literature for Young People in Norwich in the middle of the tour.

To start with, though, I got to meet with and enjoy a relaxed meal with Calum Bennie, the communications manager with the tour’s sponsor, Scottish Friendly. He is a dedicated supporter of the tour himself and stayed on to attend my first event. Later in the week we shared another evening and much book talk with the vibrant Mandy Steel of the Norfolk School Library Services, who was responsible for organizing and coordinating the events. It is fantastic to see so much enthusiasm and effort made to encourage young readers in these VERY TRYING TIMES. I was hugely impressed with Norfolk’s libraries – the old one at King’s Lynn is grand. But the
Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library
, where the FLY Festival was held – WOW! So many events and services, including a Polish club for children and being home to the 2nd Air Division USAAF Memorial Library – a beautiful working space well used.

King’s Lynn Public Library

Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library

Our Monday visits included a virtual tour of Ethiopia for enthusiastic participants at Cottenham Village College and a workshop on structure for the eager and diligent writing students at Downham Market Academy; Tuesday’s visit to Iceni Academy’s keen readers in Thetford combined aspects of both. I was so pleased with the students’ interest, their intelligent questions, and their hunger for books! This enthusiasm couldn’t have manifested itself more appropriately than it did on Tuesday afternoon, when we were surprised to see a familiar cover featured in the promotional banner for St. Clement’s High School:

St. Clement’s High School banner

Close-up of that banner… presumably taken during the Carnegie Shadowing 2013!

Beth and Tom had researched venues for both lunch and the evening meal each day, and on the drive between schools I basically sat in the front passenger seat taking pictures of windmills, pointing out items of interest with the aid of 25-year-old Ordnance Survey maps, demanding side-trips to places like Oxburgh Hall and Norfolk Lavender, and being stuffed with an apparently limitless assortment of comfort food that Beth had stashed in the back of the Scottish Book Trust minivan.

Lunch in King’s Lynn

Alderman Peel High School in Wells-next-the-Sea was a large group – ninety strong - who were focusing on heroism and its ramifications, and clearly just as eager to get stuck into a story of spies and pilots as the more intimate gathering in the lovely bright library at Dereham Neatherd High School in East Dereham. We couldn’t believe how many copies of Code Name Verity got snapped up that day. They were all gone by the end of the trip.

This bucket was full of books before our visit to Sprowston!

It was at Sprowston Community High School on Thursday morning where I learned that Edith Cavell, one of the heroic women mentioned in Code Name Verity, is a Norfolk native. The ensuing discussion of “famous last words” turned about to be an unusual way to hook new readers.

After the FLY Festival Event at the fabulous Millennium Library on Thursday afternoon, we finished the week with a visit to Caister Academy in Great Yarmouth, and had an entertaining and animated discussion with the year 9 English students at Thorpe St. Andrew School (I made the mistake of telling them not to blow their noses in my silk escape map. A lot of fake sneezing ensued). The Caister year 7s had all done amazing research projects on the women of the Special Operations Executive and put together a fantastic display of the results. I was disappointed I didn’t have time to read them all.

Caister Academy SOE project

Caister Academy readers

I ended up the week by myself in Peterborough, overflowing with images, names, faces, scenery, libraries, and youthful enthusiasm as I waited for my train home the following morning. What a lot of preparation went into this tour by so many different people, and how lucky I am to have been able to participate in it! It was hard not to feel a bit blue now that it was all over. I spent the evening glued to the BBC and Twitter as the results of the EU referendum were discussed all around the world.

I had one last outing before catching my train: Peterborough Cathedral. It turns out to be the first burial place of Mary Queen of Scots, before her body was moved to Westminster Abbey by her son James I (James VI of Scotland). It made me feel curiously at home to see the Saltire hanging there so unexpectedly after a week in deepest England.

Former burial place of Mary Queen of Scots in Peterborough Cathedral

What we didn't indulge in:

ONLY because it was closed.

And this is probably the best of the 420 pictures of the moon I took early in the week. Unretouched!

Note to Americans: almost all British kids wear school uniforms.
ewein2412: (e Wein)
Check out all the authors I’ve tagged in The Next Big Thing!

Erin Bow

Jeanette Cheney

Tanita Davis

Sarah Hilary (who has just won the Cheshire Prize for Literature!)

Rosanne Rivers

In the meantime, since not all these authors have their posts up yet, here are a couple more to check out:

Erin Johnson, who hasn’t tagged anyone herself. She has a nice rec for my Next Big Thing post on her own entry, and is a fellow SCBWI British Isles member, so I thought I’d tag her back. Erin is working on a doctorate at Oxford, researching masculinity in the works of the Brontës, and is also working on a young adult historical fantasy called Belladonna.

James Bow, who is Erin Bow’s husband and tagged in her blog post too - he’s working on a book called Icarus Down, YA sci-fi, inspired by a dream about a boy who tries to fly around the world on a kite. This is one I’m going to be reading!

I’ve also got an interview up with Katja Weinert on her blog at YA’s the Word, here, and I’ll be making a guest appearance on Saturday on the Booksmugglers to join in their Smugglivus celebration.
ewein2412: (e Wein)
I thought what I’d do for World Book Day is a My Favorite Books post; but to make it a little different, instead of a list of my all-time favorites, I’ve tried to pick really off-the-wall favorites and near-favorites in Ten Random Genres. Because I read in a lot of different genres.

Apologies for the lack of pictures. By the time I’d included all the links I’d run out of energy. This might be the longest book post I’ve ever made!

Urban Archaeology, for example!

Hands down, it’s got to be The Lincoln Highway by Drake Hokanson. A customer ordered this book when I was working in B Dalton Bookseller in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, in 1987. He’d heard about it on NPR. It sat on the customer order shelf for three days before he came in to pick it up and I couldn’t keep my paws off it. I think it was the photographs. The book sparked an obsession with early 20th century auto travel that I have never really outgrown. (I am a charter member of the Lincoln Highway Association and have got a small academic acknowledgement in A Pennsylvania Traveler’s Guide to the Lincoln Highway by Brian Butko, of which I am very proud.)

Middle Grade Horror

Again, NO QUESTION. It’s got to be The House with the Clock in its Walls by John Bellair. OMG this is the creepiest book I have ever read. I still have to put it down when I get to the chapter where his dead Aunt Mattie cranks the mechanical doorbell in the middle of the night. I love the depiction of small-town 1950s Michigan (I am actually a fan of all the books in this series). The magic tricks are off-the-wall and some of it is just fantastically atmospheric. The platonic partnership, or friendship, or what-the-heck-is-it between Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann, who has a doctorate in magic from a German university! It’s just a fabulous spooky magical adventure with a very sympathetic small bereaved nerd for a hero and loads of quirky supporting characters.


My mainstay is the 1963 edition of The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (which edition I can’t find on Goodreads and am too lazy to add), and I’m probably personally responsible for the global success of Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell, so for this entry I’m going to plug the Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book by J. George Frederick - originally published in 1935 as The Pennsylvania Dutch and Their Cookery. Most of the recipes in here are uncookable (I do try from time to time) but they’re great reading. I have dog-eared ‘Dutch Festival Doughnuts (Fastnachts)’ and reproduce the recipe in whole under the cut for those of you who are really very ambitious.

One to plan for next year )

Also includes such delights as Pea-Pod Soup; Dandelion Eggs (essentially eggs Florentine only with dandelion in place of spinach); Tangled Jackets (here’s the recipe in its entirety: ‘1 pint of sour milk, 3 eggs, 1/2 teaspoonful soda, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1 pound flour. Mix and cook in deep fat.’); Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup (The ingredients begin: ‘1 veal joint, 4 pounds tripe…’ The recipe begins, ‘This is a two-day job of cookery.’ You have to boil the tripe for ‘7 or 8 hours.’); and Dutch Pretzel Soup.

Now I am really hungry for Pepper Pot. If only someone else would make it for me.

Poetry for Small Children

All Join In by Quentin Blake is probably the most memorable poetry book of my children’s toddlerhood. This book isn’t very long, but Sara and Mark, who are now an oh-so-mature teen and preteen, can still recite ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ and ‘Bed Time Song’:”

We don’t want a lullabye,


Toddler Picture Book

Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is a CUNNINGLY DISGUISED window into life on the Home Front in urban Britain during World War II. OMG this book kills me. It’s a peekaboo book aimed at kids who can barely speak and takes you through the daily routine, from waking up till bedtime, of a tiny tot in a pushchair. But the discerning reader will spot Spitfires and barrage balloons and bomb damage in the background throughout the book. It doesn’t at all detract from the casual everyday cheeriness of the story. The picture of the baby being carried up to bed by his harassed mum and his Air Raid Warden dad, reflected as a very cozy and safe happy threesome in a hall mirror, has ALWAYS made me teary. It makes me teary writing about it.

One of the other things I have always really, really liked about this book is the slovenliness of this family. Their kitchen is chaotic. The mother of three is clearly exhausted. It’s not a big house and the granny lives there too. Bathwater has to be heated on the stovetop and poured into a washtub. There is drying laundry hanging everywhere. They are clearly battling entropy as far as cleanliness is concerned - in every picture someone is washing windows or dishes or children.

Everything I’ve just described to you is subtext I’ve extracted over many years of studying the pictures. The text is a simple riff on the couplet, ‘Here’s a little baby, one-two-three… sits in his cot, what does he see?’


I’ve been plugging A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller so much lately that I’m going to take a more modern and more personal tack here and recommend Jessica Handler’s Invisible Sisters. This is the wrenching story of the life and death of Jessica’s two younger sisters, Susie and Sarah, stricken with ‘diametrically opposed illnesses’ — leukaemia and Kostmann's Syndrome (it's a white blood cell deficit). The nuclear family didn’t survive the blasts. It’s a witty, heartbreaking read from a talented writer who’s keeping alive a family tradition of crystalline prose.

The personal interest I mentioned is that Sarah — the baby of the three sisters and the one with Kostmann’s — was one of my best friends in high school. She died when we were 27. Part of my love for this book is that, 20 years after her death, it gives me a little bit of Sarah back, in a tantalizing filling-in-some-gaps-but-not-others way.


I don’t think I’ve reviewed or recommended Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Listen! The Wind lately. It’s the very first of AML’s books that I ever read and (the genius of Gift from the Sea notwithstanding), I think it’s probably the most masterful. It documents ten days in the middle of an attempted flight across the South Atlantic in the 1930s on a route-finding trip with Charles Lindbergh. Anne was along as the radio operator and co-pilot. They got stuck in the Cape Verde islands because of the wind, and then had to backtrack to Bathurst in Gambia to wait for a favourable wind for the 16-hour-flight to Natal, Brazil. Loneliness and isolation and the desperate need for communication is an underlying theme of this book, and it’s dealt with so gently. Two incidents stand out in my mind — the decoded Morse radio message from the airbase at Porto Praia in the Cape Verde islands, where they’d been stuck the week before, as they pass over on their final trip out — ‘We listen you all time’ (they never heard from them again) - and how, in the morning after a long night of solitary flight while sending Morse messages to a radio operator on the German ship Westfalen, their flypast over the Westfalen the following morning - with the entire crew standing on the deck waving.

Roaring over her, for one second we were in her world. She there, we here; separated from each other by days of slow sea-travel but for this second together, sharing the time, the place…

I held up my arm and waved frantically, conscious of that supreme thrill of communication. It is the most exciting thing in life anyway, whether you find it in a book or in conversation or in the understanding of two minds. But this, the momentary synthesis of two kinds of communication, was almost unbearable in its intensity. All night and all day I had been struggling to speak over a radio. I had been able to contact people only through my fingers, and my ears, like someone who is blind. But now, suddenly, I could see. A veil had dropped away. I could see, face to face. One of those men waving on deck was the radio operator I had been talking to. I raised my arm again — wonderful!

They climb away. She signals to them in Morse, Many thanks all help.

Mainstream Fiction

Probably my favorite ‘adult’ fiction read of the past ten years is Ian McEwan’s Atonement, but one of the also-rans has got to be Paul Torday’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. In some very mysterious mystic way this book was written for me. It may be the only book that I ever saw in a bookstore window and walked in and bought just because of the title.

While it is true that half my novel The Lion Hunter and all of The Empty Kingdom are set in ancient Yemen, and also true that the dream of Fishing in the Desert features in the latter, it is not obvious (I don’t believe) that in my books this is a reference to the Grail Legend. But the title Salmon Fishing in the Yemen just screamed ‘Fisher King Parable’ to me and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s about two men whose lives cross - one a British civil servant, one an Arabian prince - who both share a vision of fishing as a means to break down cultural barriers. The prince is convinced that if he seeds the dry wadi valleys of South Arabia with salmon during the rainy season, the fish will run, and warring nations will flock to catch salmon there together. The two men make the dream come true. It doesn’t end well in one sense; it does in another. It’s a goofy, surreal book, driven by the earnest but somewhat cracked characters, and honestly, it is the only book that has ever made me cry over FISH.

I gave it to a dear friend whose brother used to write for one of the big angling magazines under the pseudonym Kingfisher - and he actually recognized obscure references in this book to people he knew.

Graphic Novel

Technically I suppose Literary Life by Posy Simmonds is more of a graphic collection of short stories than a graphic novel, but in many ways it is the bridge leading to her masterpieces Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe. Worth the read if only for the glorious ‘Cinderella,’ where the residents of the retirement home get turned into a collection of tearaway youth, splendidly outfitted in the fashion and accessories (smoking like chimneys) of 65 years ago. And any writers who read it will laugh and cry at the horrible book launches and wasted ink.

…Something a bit more multicultural, since it is World book day, after all

The book is called The Children of Ananse and it’s by Peggy Appiah. It was given to me by an Oxford-raised woman of Indian descent, married to a Jamaican, who happened to be the parents of my best friend when we lived in Jamaica in the 1970s. Ananse is a Jamaican national hero so we were all familiar with him as kids, and this book tells the story of his real Ghanaian roots. It was one of my favorite books as a beginning reader, read and re-read, and it remains pretty clear in my mind. It frames all the standard Ananse tales within a modern story of a child who is a descendant of the first Kwaku Ananse, his strange life in the hidden jungle village where animals can talk, and how he assimilates into modern culture by going to school and learning to read SO THAT, as the headman agrees, he will be able to RECORD the fabulous history of his village. I got all my knowledge of Ashanti culture from this book and made reference to it in a short story published some time ago in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine

You’ll notice I haven’t linked you to the book. It hasn’t got much of an internet footprint, so instead I’ll link you to the author’s Wikipedia entry: meet Peggy Appiah. An English society girl, she married Ghanaian statesman Joe Appiah in 1953. This is the first time I’ve ever found out anything about her and I am overwhelmed by this fabulous woman and her fabulous husband.

Hope some of these are tempting - good luck tracking them down - and happy reading.
ewein2412: (verity text)
My personal encounters with wartime aircraft on I Want to Read That:


(I am such a nerd)

Also do check out Tanita's rants/riffs on "war stories" and the term "historical fiction" over on Finding Wonderland, using CNV as a case in point:


ewein2412: (harriet smile)
my christmas present from ACB just arrived. This time it is Harriet Vane.

more of her gear. Note the picnic! (The sandwich is wrapped in wax paper.)

of course she comes with an academic gown and also the HAT. (But what I really love is the button for the hood on her back.)

nightie & kimono.

...um... (the lace! I wanted to show off the detailing.) (right)

ready for a car journey, I think...

the fur collar is monogrammed on the inside!
ewein2412: (harriet writing (text))
Is this a meme? I don’t know if it is meant to be a meme, but it is now. I stole the headings from [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink because it is such a nice idea and it’s so long since I did a proper literary post.

The books I'm reading: Michelangelo in Ravensbrück by Countess Karolina Lanckorońska, Berlin Calling: American Broadcasters in Service to the Third Reich by John Carver Edwards, The Doodlebugs: The Story of the Flying-Bombs by Norman Longmate, The Black-Out Book by Evelyn August, and All Clear by Connie Willis. SPOT THE THEME.

The books I'm writing: It’s about flying bombs and Ravensbrück. I’ll just shut up now.

The book I love the most: Still The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. That hasn't changed.

The last book I received as a gift: I think it was probably The Black-Out Book (not to be confused with Blackout), although I also got two others in the same gift pile and they were… World War II Allied Sabotage Devices and Booby Traps and SOE Agent: Churchill’s Secret Warriors. Some people might accuse the gift-giver of enabling.

The last book I gave as a gift: West with the Night by Beryl Markham, to my grandmother.

The nearest book: Well, it’s The Doodlebugs. My god I’m boring.

The last book I bought myself: Hahahahahahaha…. And now for something completely different… The Making of The Empire Strikes Back!
ewein2412: (verity no text)
this is the pile of books on my coffee table that I am ACTIVELY "In the Middle Of." It is not my "to read" queue. It does not include the dozens of books piled around my desk and bed that I'm ALSO in the middle of but haven't picked up for 6 months.

It is beginning to depress me, because every time I start to read something I LIKE I have to put it down and slog thru 50-pages-a-night of some pretentious second rate popular (or Scottish) novel for the next book group meeting. I just KNOW that The Devil's Footprints won't be as good as I Capture the Castle, but I am now going to have to stop in the middle of a book I'm really enjoying to read one I don't particularly want to read.

I love my book group. Maybe I will just go to the meetings without reading the books from now on.

I didn't mean to imply that all Scottish novels are pretentious and/or second rate. I really liked The Yellow on the Broom.

The implication that all second rate novels are pretentious stands, however.

ETA: [livejournal.com profile] tigertrapped, see that 2-inch pile of innocuous-looking newsprint near the bottom? that is a stack of Bunty from 1985 containing various episodes of "Catch the Cat." (and it cost me 45 p on eBay!)
ewein2412: (harriet crabby)
Doing our thing for SmartPop's Demigods and Monsters, which I have got an essay in. Sara and Mark have both reviewed the film The Lightning Thief here.

For a different view of things, try [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija's furious and frankly baffled review of the film here (I enjoyed the review, and the comments, very much). I confess I would not have made it through the first of these books, let alone the first three, if I had not already signed up to produce the essay. The Adbooks listserv raved about Lightning Thief (as did the whole children's lit scene) and I had overly high expectations for it. I think this is yet another series that is RIGHT ON TARGET with its target audience--Sara adores these books--and I am way outside the target. I am always seriously bugged by this. It's not that I dislike the series--I just find it dull and samey. WHY??? And is my failure to connect with these hugely popular books related to my own books "missing the target"? Hmmm.

Incidentally, when I was doing a boatload of reading for the Children's Literature New England seminar in 2007, I kept notes on the required books I'd read in order to be able to review them just before the lectures. I noticed that I was always trying to find good in everything I read, some redeeming thing to say about the book that was positive, even if I didn't really like it. And I realized that in fact I was fooling myself--for me, there is no in between. I either like the book or I hate it. The reaction is polar. This is why I never give a star rating to children's books on my Goodreads reviews unless the author is dead! Best just to keep it to myself. I might meet the author some day.


ewein2412: (Default)

September 2017



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