Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sophie Someone - Hayley Long

Sophie Someone – Hayley Long

Sophie Someone - Hayley Long
Sophie Someone is a pacy mystery full of more laughter than tears with an intriguing use of wordplay.  I really enjoyed this novel.

The plot is about fourteen year old Sophie whose family moved them in cloaked circumstances to Belgian. She finds the new language difficult but by the time she’s fourteen, Sophie starts putting bits and pieces together that make her wonder who exactly she is, and that things might not be the way her parents say they are.

From the get go, I was drawn to the mixed up language. Initially, I thought the novel was going to be about dyslexia but quite quickly realised the story was going to be slightly different and quite suspenseful. I was intrigued to find about about this story that was difficult to put into words.

Initially, it was a bit of a challenge to remember what the words meant but, as it went along, I realised that I was working it out contextually. A bit like we do in life and with foreign languages, an aspect that the novel explores a little. 

There was also a definite playful element to the word play, eliciting little chuckles from me, picturing women as wombats and men as maniacs, and those wearing uniforms were actually in a unicorn. But, I also enjoyed how replacing a word with another unrelated word meant there were occasionally layers of meaning in paragraphs or sentences, a kind of sub-text. Whether intentional or not, this played along in my mind, e.g. introvert/internet, computer/companion. An additional aspect to the language meant that while there was swearing it didn't sound like it. I imagine younger readers would find this hilarious and it certainly removes any potential grit from the novel.

The novel is divided into sections that show how Sophie comes to see herself as the mystery about their lives deepens, unfolds and twists. On another level, it’s a novel about language and names not defining individuals, and that the way we view things in life – especially our troubles and anxieties - are all a matter of perspective.  Along the way, Sophie does this with the help of a cast of (mostly) warm and loveable characters.


Sophie Someone has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017.  It was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2015.

Publication details:
Hot Key Books, 2015, London, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publisher

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Poetic writers & Feminism at Ilkley Literature Festival

I love literary events and I especially love literature festivals. There's usually the chance to hear one of our favourite authors speaking (and to get them to sign your books!). There's also the chance to find out about something new, to learn something unexpected and maybe even discover something that you didn't know you'd enjoy. Sometimes, you even get entertained. And, of course, you get to chat (which I always like!). I think Little M likes the cake too but my eye is usually wandering in many other places.

We went to so many events at this year's Ilkley Literature Festival, probably more than usual. I'm making up for lost time. Here are some of our highlights.

I don't read that much poetry. At school we had to learn it word-for-word and make copious line notes. At uni, well, in many ways that was worse. But, I like the odd poems and I do own anthologies and there have been many nights where reading poetry out loud is our dinner table entertainment. And, some of my favourite events at literature festivals are poetry inspired ones (a late and recent realisation!).

The books we bought

Kei Miller, a self-proclaimed middle-class Jamaican, read an extract from his novel Augustown. Kei Miller is a poet and you could hear it. I was on-the-spot sold. He also made an interesting comment about magic realism suggesting that from some people's perspective it is their realism, their belief, their experience, and that there is nothing fantastical or magical about it. Hmmm. I'll bear this in mind when I read  his novel. He was completely charming and his event was definitely one of my most entertaining of the festival.

Garth Greenwell is also a poet. But, I went to an event about this debut novel What Belongs to You. He was being interviewed by Andrew Motion, also a poet, and the festival's poet-in-residence. The chat, inspired by the novel and gay literature, explored topics of novels of consciousness, desire, disgust, bodies, shame, the ethics of seeing and of course (!), sex scenes in novels. Most thought-provoking and literature-exploring event that I attended. Oh yeah, and Little M's first encounter of being read an unflinching sex scene. Gosh, the difference a few years make.

Inua Ellams, another poet. He read a couple out loud. He chatted about being a black, male poet in a Western world. His response to what is the most interesting thing about women question was "clothes". I bought two of his books.

I bought the Selected Poems by Walter Swan, a late friend, whose Memorial Lecture was given by James Brining, creative director at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I learned quite a bit from this lecture, especially about dementia-friendly theatre performances. And Walter's poetry brings a smile to my face.

Little M and I also went along to a couple of 'feminist' events.

Well, Jenni Murray, is so funny (among other things!). Thoroughly enjoyed her chat about A History of Britain in 21 Women. Yep, she started off talking about the engineers and ended by saying that although she'd like to think she would have been a nice-talking Suffragist she suspects she'd have been a stone-throwing Suffragette. Little M thinks an audio version would be heavenly.

And then Laura Bates's Girl Up talk. Nothing especially new in this - for me - but she definitely engages people brilliantly. A packed room full of inspired  (and inspiring!) girls (and even older women) attended was was less a book-reading than an hour long campaign.  Guess that's the way to get the wheels on revolutions and book sales turning. Nice one, Laura.

Between Little M, Daddy Cool and me, we also attended events about Star Trek, peace activists, politics, war, and work-in-progress dramas.

This year, Little M was a volunteer steward. At one point, she asked me why I wasn't doing it. I laughed: good question. I'd probably love it but I'd just never thought about it. Next year then, maybe.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Sweet Pizza - GR Gemin

Sweet Pizza by G R Gemin

Sweet Pizza - GR Gemin
Sweet Pizza is a heartwarming novel about a 14 year old boy who develops a vision to keep his family heritage alive, and he learns a lot about community spirit and efforts along the way.

I was attracted by the plot, which was based not on a thrilling page-turner, but rather a young teen boy’s attempt at saving his family’s Italian cafĂ© on a small Welsh village’s high street. This was interwoven with a sub-plot – told as an oral history by Joe’s Nonno - about Italian immigrants during WWII. The sub-plot added a riveting and deeper dimension to what is already a charming and comic story.

The plot is feel-good and generous-hearted. It abounds with loveable characters: entrepreneurial Joe (is he a Welsh-Italian or an Italian-Welsh?), Nonno (Joe’s grandfather), Combi (Joe’s best friend who has a very mixed-Caribbean heritage), and Mimi (the bellissima Italian cooking cousin).

The novel overflows with family love, community spirit, oral history, food, Italian communication, opera, Polish sausage, immigrants and the problems facing many small town high streets. There are also quite a few pages about cooking – and even some recipes at the back – so perfect for aspiring Jamie Olivers.

Interestingly, the story depicts many of the teenage characters as being more open to each other and new ideas, as well as embracing their history and traditions.

This middle grade story perfectly captures the normal everyday contributions that immigrants add to a community, and weaves this into a charmingly funny little story.

Sweet Pizza gets a thumbs up.

Publication details:
Nosy Crow, London, 2016, paperback
This copy: review copy from the publisher

Sweet Pizza has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie Medal.

Monday, 24 October 2016

CKG17 Judge chat

We Sat Down for a Chat....with a CKG17 judge

Where do we begin with our chats for the 2017 Carnegie awards? 
Hmmm, why not where it all begins and start with a CILIP librarian and judge?

Caroline Fielding is the London Judge for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway 2017 medals. I’ve known Caroline on Twitter as CazApril1 probably since We Sat Down began. She always delighted me with her tweet length reviews: straight-talkingly succinct. I’m going to miss reading those for the next few years. As well as having to read and judge all the Carnegie and Greenaway lists, Caroline is also working and, importantly, newish mum to Bea as well. She describes herself as a bea-keeper!

Bea, Caroline and Michael Rosen
M: Caroline, thanks for agreeing to do this. I know you must be really under the pump right now, what with juggling judge and bea-keeper at the same time. Which do you think will prove trickier?

CF: Hah, that's a tough one - pre-Bea I think judging wouldn't have been nearly as daunting because I'd read on the bus, during lunch breaks, when hubby was working late...nowadays it can only be while Bea's asleep and my one-day-a-week commute so hubby's going to be lonely of an evening!

M: Do you like bees? Or honey?

CF: A big fan of bees, we want to have a hive in our garden one day.  There were three reasons for the name Beatrice.
1) nice & traditional but not too common.
2) Dennis the Menace's little sister is called Bea Menace & I love Dennis.
3) hubby really liked the idea of dressing her like a bee!

M: I see that Bea's met many authors? Who was her favourite and do you agree with her choice?

CF: Before she arrived I hadn't planned to drag her around events, but when she was 4months old I decided I needed some bookish company and took her to the launch of Mango and Bambang, and unexpectedly met the national treasure that is Shirley Hughes there. 

Bea and Shirley Hughes
Bea was so content and everyone was so happy to see her that I decided that while she was portable we would make the most of it and so I took her with me to a dozen more events to meet, amongst others, 5 children's laureates!  She was particularly unhappy on the evening she met Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell, they were very nice about it but we left pretty early! 

She was probably happiest at last year's Hachette picturebook preview, mainly because she enjoyed playing with everyone's name badges...she had a good chat with Pat Hutchins that evening and didn't seem to mind being passed around a dozen illustrators for photos! 

I couldn't pick a favourite, they were all so lovely to Bea that they automatically all became our favourites.  I'm sad that she's too grownup and grumpy to come to evening events now, but hopefully she'll choose to come to events with me in 10 years or so when she can be excited about occasionally missing bedtime.

M: Wow, isn’t Bea lucky?!
Caroline, as a geologist, what prompted you to librarianship?

CF: I'm afraid I didn't enjoy English at school, I just wanted to 'read for pleasure', science and geography were always my favourite subjects so those were the A-Levels I picked and that led to a degree in geology! 

I had no plan of what to do afterwards but, after considering being a geography teacher, I remembered I'd always wanted to be a librarian.  My intention was to go into a scientific library, ideally the Natural History Museum Earth Science library. But, after volunteering in a public library during the summer to get some experience, I realised that I did want to work with children after all and that as a librarian I could encourage them to love books like I did without having to set them homework. I did my MA while working in public libraries and then decided to go into school librarianship for the captive teen audience.

M: What's the craziest thing you've done in a library?

CF: What happens in the library, stays in the library...

M: Ha! You got me!

So, you're a CKG judge, which takes a lot of commitment, so you obviously love the awards and/or think they're important. What do they mean to you?

CF: For as long as I have known about the awards I have wanted to be a judge and I still can't quite believe that I've managed to wangle myself into the position of the London Judge.  As the official blurb goes, authors and illustrators describe it as "the one they want to win" and I love that, with shadowing, it is becoming more and more influential on the reading habits of generations of children.

M: I think I remember you being a fan of lego (or was that superheroes)? Am I right?

CF: When the lego librarian came out I managed to convince my kids at school that it was modelled on me because it does look ridiculously like me! I do also love superheroes but don't think I know enough about any to call myself a massive fan.

Bea among the books
M: What are your other hobbies/personal interests?

CF: Reading really is my main hobby. I was a Beaver leader (tiny Scouts) before Bea arrived but won't be able to go back to that until she's much older because of timings.  A small obsession with Dennis the Menace started when I had really short hair at uni and my Mum compared me to him, so I have a lot of Beano or black and red striped things. I also love owls and bees...and have 13 piercings (ears and tongue) and 15 pairs of Converse All Stars :-)

M: A bit of bling and shoe girl then!

Dinner party: who's invited and what's on the menu?

CF: I am rubbish at social situations because I am a massive introvert: if there are more than maybe 5 people in the room I stop talking, even if I know and love everyone there.  So I respect many people from afar but honestly would choose to have dinner with hubby and a couple of old friends.  Menu is easy though: roast beef with all the trimmings followed by rhubarb crumble and custard!  If pressed, I would loved to have had dinner at the same table as Terry Pratchett and just listen to him...

M: Do you like dogs? This is important. 

CF: I feel like I have to answer 'yes' now!  I don't dislike dogs, some of my best friends are dog owners <ahem> but I'm a cat person I'm afraid.

M: *silently rages* What do you think, people, is she in or out on this one?!

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Caroline. I wish you all the best with your judging (and bea-keeping) and look forward to seeing what you and the other judges come up with on 19 June 2017!


You can read more about Caroline’s judge role on the awards website.

And now I’m wondering if my old school librarians were harbouring any lego figurines!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

80s Throwback

It's the Carnegie's 80th anniversary. I know, I'll write something about the '80s.

You can't. It has to be 80 years ago.

Hmm. Who's making rules anyway?

So, here we have....the 1980s

Middle Grade me

No way did she know what her right hand was doing!

Always have liked medals!


Young Adult me

No selfie stick was involved in the taking of this photo.

Can you imagine medal girl me and road girl me reading the same book at the same time?
Nah, me either. Makes you think. Doesn't it?

Fast forward to....2016

A bit vintage and always looking for a classic

So yeah, we sat down

Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Vintage me.
We'll all 3 be shadowing
the 80th anniversary Carnegie
from the nominations to the shortlist.

There'll be fun, there'll be frolics.
There will be tears, there will be laughs.
There will be huffs when a novel doesn't pass my first page scrutiny.
There will be sighs of pleasure when every page is such a pleasure.
There will be shadows and there will be spreadsheets.
And a shortlist.

There'll probably be a sculpture.

And then a bunch of librarian judges will hand a Carnegie medal over to a winner
and an Amnesty commendation to a different kind of winner.

And then we'll all squabble a bit too!

Anyone else joining me on the ride?

PS. Lots of other people - and especially the judging panel - will also be going through the whole process for the Kate Greenaway medal, which covers picture books.