The Mystery of the Dashing Widower: A FitzOsbornes Story

I’d planned to publish this for Love Your Bookshop Day, to say thank you to all the Australian booksellers who have worked so hard to keep us supplied with books during the pandemic. Unfortunately, Love Your Bookshop Day was two weeks ago. I would have known the correct date if I was still on Twitter. But not being on Twitter meant I had lots more spare time to write this. Swings and roundabouts. So, here, belatedly, for booksellers and book readers, is a fluffy FitzOsbornes short story. I’m afraid it won’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve read The FitzOsbornes at War.

The Mystery of the Dashing Widower

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Miss Lancaster’s job at the bookshop — apart from the unlimited access to books, of course — was contemplating the hidden lives of the customers. Such mysteries! There was The Major, a gruff elderly gentleman who always had a Mills and Boon romance concealed in the stack of military history books he brought up to the counter each month. (“For the wife,” he’d muttered, when he saw Miss Lancaster’s glance snag upon Desire is Blind. She wasn’t sure if it would be more endearing if this turned out to be the truth or a lie.) There was the tall, thin lady who was slowly making her way through a badly-foxed copy of The Interpretation of Dreams in the dimmest corner of the shop, marking her place each week with a red cotton thread. There was The Brunette in Blue, who always contrived to be in the shop at the exact same time as The Shy Accountant, although Miss Lancaster had never managed to catch them exchanging a single word, let alone touching.

However, her favourite mystery by far was the Dashing Widower, whom she’d first encountered two years ago when he’d rushed in and begged for book recommendations.

“It’s for my sister,” he’d said. “She’s very clever and has read absolutely everything but we must keep her in bed, doctor’s advice, you see, first baby and all, and magazines and newspapers simply aren’t working anymore.”

“Ah,” said Miss Lancaster, brightening. It had been a very dull afternoon and the young gentleman had blond curls and sparkling blue eyes and a charming smile. “Well, what interests her?”

“The human condition,” he said solemnly, then laughed. “Let’s see. She likes Austen and Trollope and the Brontës and there’s a novel she’s just finished, I wrote down its author — Davey, I have to put you down for a moment while I find that note.” He’d been carrying a dark-haired child, perhaps two years old, who grumbled quietly as he was lowered to the floor. “Look, old chap, a book about yachts, you’ll adore that. Here we are — Rumer Godden. Can that be right? Is that really someone’s name?”

Up close, the gentleman was older than she’d first thought, with scarred flesh running down the side of his face and neck. He limped, and later she realised he had a wooden leg. The war, she supposed. What a tragedy, and then to have lost his wife, too — because surely he was a widower. Why else would a man spend so much time looking after his small children? Because soon after that, he began to visit the shop every couple of weeks or so, sometimes with a baby in a fancy silver perambulator, more often with his son on their way back from sailing toy boats in Hyde Park. He mostly bought books for the children, Ladybirds and Dr Seuss and a beautiful leather-bound collection of fairy tales. Sometimes he accepted further recommendations for his sister (“The Grand Sophy! Oh, yes, that’s perfect.”), but he always claimed he didn’t read himself.

“You do, Daddy,” corrected Davey. “You read about aeroplanes.”

“Yes, maintenance manuals,” said his father, and Miss Lancaster filed that away. Ex-RAF? Former fighter pilot? Current pilot? Except he didn’t ever seem to go to work.

“We had a box of Biggles come in this morning,” she offered. “Excellent condition.” She picked up Biggles Sees It Through and handed it over. A curious expression came over his face and he went very still.

“What’s that?” said Davey, peering closer.

His father shook his head and smiled down at the boy.

“Sorry, lost in thought. Your aunt loved these books. Oh, look, Davey, The Adventures of Wonk: Going To Sea! Shall we get that one?”

Miss Lancaster stayed well away from aeroplanes — indeed, anything military — after that. Her standard recommendation for men who claimed not to read was a collection of humorous short stories, but she didn’t dare suggest P. G. Wodehouse, not after all the fuss about his broadcasts during the war. Nazi propaganda, they’d called it. Sometimes it felt like the war would never be over…

Months later, Miss Lancaster spied the Dashing Widower by The Serpentine with a pretty blonde who looked so much like him that she could only have been his sister. Davey was hurling bread at the ducks, his sister had by then grown big enough to stand on her own legs and the lady was fussing over a smaller baby in the now-familiar perambulator. Her baby? Presumably. She did not, Miss Lancaster had to admit, look like a Biggles fan, but appearances could be deceiving.

However interesting this sighting was, it was nothing compared to the momentous afternoon the following year. Miss Lancaster had been walking through Belgravia. This was not, strictly speaking, on her way home, but sometimes she couldn’t resist the lure of those grand old mansions, so imposing, so intriguing. Since the war, some of them had been turned into embassies — mostly for tiny countries no one had ever heard of, but still, imagine all the fascinating people inside, the diplomats and press officers and spies… She turned a corner and there, across the road, was the Dashing Widower with little Davey, talking to one of the most beautiful women Miss Lancaster had ever seen in real life. She looked like a film star, except she was dressed in a sensible navy trouser suit and her only makeup was a slash of scarlet lipstick. The three of them were standing on the steps of the grandest house on the street and the resemblance between Davey and the woman was striking.

Miss Lancaster did some hasty editing of her mental file. Not a widower, then? Perhaps his beautiful wife was one of those modern career women and he’d agreed to take care of the children? Because his injuries were so serious that he knew he could never work again? Although she suspected that no one who lived in a house like that would ever need to worry about working at any sort of ordinary job. Old money, as her boss had said that morning when he’d returned from that deceased-estate auction in the country. Miss Lancaster sidled rapidly across the road to the neighbouring house and arranged herself behind a marble pillar, where she spent some time with her head bent over her handbag, carefully adjusting and re-adjusting the leather strap.

“I must go,” said the lady. “Meeting Daniel for tea at Westminster.”

Could she be a lady MP?

The woman climbed into a rather battered-looking motor car and Davey waved vigorously as she drove off.

“Bye, Aunt Veronica!” he cried.

Ah. Not his mother, then. An aunt, and this one looked even less like a Biggles reader. Miss Lancaster was just wondering whether she could stroll ahead now, perhaps nod hello and get a glimpse of their foyer as they opened their front door, when a far more impressive motor car pulled up and Cary Grant stepped out.

Well, not Cary Grant, because he was in Hollywood, but close enough, double-breasted pin-striped Savile Row suit and all. Davey ran down the stairs and threw himself at the man.

“Oh, you just missed Veronica,” said the Dashing Widower.

“Good,” said Not Cary Grant, hoisting up Davey. “How’s my boy?” he asked with obvious affection, and now Miss Lancaster could see the family resemblance between those two as well. “Is Julia back yet?”

“Yes,” said the Dashing Widower. “And the meeting went exactly as you predicted. But never fear, she’s plotting her next move.”

“You were away for two days,” said Davey accusingly, holding up two fingers.

“Yes, and I missed you,” said Not Cary Grant.

“Did you miss Mummy?”

“Yes.” He put the child down so that he could pull his suitcase out of the car.

“Did you miss Daddy?”

“Yes.”

“Did you miss Mr Simpkins?”

“Who’s Mr Simpkins?”

“The cat with three legs.”

“The one that chewed up my favourite silk tie? No, I did not miss him. And I wish your uncle would stop foisting all these defective animals on us—”

The three of them disappeared through the glossy red front door, which shut firmly behind them before Miss Lancaster could catch a glimpse of the interior.

Miss Lancaster pursed her lips. This was getting very confusing.

She had progressed no further with solving the mystery of the Devoted Father, as she’d re-named him, on an icy winter’s afternoon a few months later. Anyone who had any choice in the matter would have been tucked up by the fire with tea and crumpets. Davey, however, had birthday money to spend and was taking this book-buying expedition very seriously.

“I could get this one about sailing ships and this quite small book about a fireman or I could get this very, very good book about how to defend a castle from invaders…”

'Girl Reading' by Emil BrackMeanwhile, his little sister was sitting on the rug in the children’s section, her stout legs stretched out in front of her. She was the most angelic-looking child, all golden curls and enormous blue-green eyes, but her rosebud frock had mud smeared down the front. (“Toni fell in a puddle,” Davey had said disapprovingly. “On purpose. And she just laughed.”) Her father was holding up a book for her approval.

“I want bunny,” she said.

“We say please when we want something. And we do not need any more bunny books,” said her father. “Now, who’s this? Look, he’s grey and has floppy ears!” He handed her The Story of Babar, which she examined dubiously. “You sit here quietly and look at this for a moment. Davey! Have you decided yet?”

The little boy was frowning at two books. “I decided, but I don’t have enough money. This one costs two shillings and two pence and this very, very good one is three shillings and nine pence.”

“So how much are they, when you add them up?”

“Five shillings and eleven pence. But I only have five shillings and eight pence.” He held out a palmful of coins.

“So how much more money do you need?”

“I’m only four, Daddy,” said Davey. “I can do adding up, but I can’t do adding down.”

“It’s called subtracting and yes, you can. You were doing it this morning. Here, I’m going to lend you thruppence and you can pay me back from your jam jar when we get home. How much do you have now?”

“Five shillings and eleven pence!”

“So if you subtract three pence from five shillings and eleven pence, you get—?”

“Daddy, Toni is climbing the wall.”

Miss Lancaster, distracted by the arithmetic lesson, had also failed to notice the little girl, who had tucked her dress into her bloomers and scaled the bookshelf in the Natural History section as far up as Alpine Flora and Fauna.

“Good Lord, I leave you alone for thirty seconds!” said her father, who’d dashed over to rescue her. “No climbing, Toni! That’s very naughty. You could hurt yourself. And look, now you’ve torn your new dress—”

“Excuse me, I would like to pay for these books, please,” said a firm voice somewhere below the counter.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Miss Lancaster, leaning over to take the books and handful of coins from Davey. “Thank you, that’s the exact amount. Shall I wrap them for you?”

“No, thank you. I will put them in my bag.” Davey was carefully stowing them away in his satchel when his father came up, carrying the little girl.

“Give the book to the lady, please,” said the Devoted Father, rather wearily.

“No!” Toni clutched the book and shook her head. Then she suddenly changed her mind and thrust The Bunney-Fluffs’ Moving Day at Miss Lancaster, with a dazzling smile that showed off two new pearly teeth.

“Ah, a bunny book. How nice,” said Miss Lancaster blandly. “That will be 2/6, please. Shall I wrap it for you?”

“Put this in your bag, please, Davey,” said the Devoted Father. “Right! Have we got everything? Toni, where are your mittens? Let’s go or we’ll be late for tea. Remember, we’re going to see Elizabeth this afternoon.”

“Princess Elizabeth?” said Davey, and Miss Lancaster’s eyes widened.

“So we’ll be on our best behaviour, won’t we, Toni?”

“Bunny book,” said Toni.

“Yes, you can share your bunny book with her. I’m sure she’ll love that. Good afternoon,” he said, nodding to Miss Lancaster. “Terribly sorry about the mountaineering. Won’t happen again.” He herded the children out and the bell clanged behind them.

Miss Lancaster propped her elbow on the counter and her chin on her hand. She was considering getting some cushions for the children’s section and perhaps a Winnie-the-Pooh to sit on the windowsill. Her boss said they should not encourage children in the shop because they were noisy and smelly and had sticky fingers, but Miss Lancaster had pointed out that this also applied to a significant number of their grown-up customers. She very much enjoyed observing the various children who visited the bookshop and remained hopeful that one day, little Davey would let slip enough information to enable her to solve the mystery of the Devoted Father. In the meantime, she was going to put the kettle on. She was planning to have a nice cup of tea and an arrowroot biscuit. And then she had a box of Margery Allingham detective stories to sort through. Miss Lancaster really did adore her job.

© Michelle Cooper 2020

Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy

'Funny Business' by Leonard S Marcus“A joke isn’t a joke if you need to explain it,” says Leonard S. Marcus, who compiled and edited this series of interviews with authors of funny books for children. “Even so, the hidden clockwork of comedy has long been considered one of the great riddles of life.”

When the world is literally on fire, being able to have a laugh now and then may be the only thing stopping us from succumbing to utter despair. I like reading funny books. In fact, all of my favourite books include some form of humour, however dry or subtle it might be. And while I don’t write comedies, my books do have amusing bits in them (or at least, I find them amusing). So I picked up this book at the library, eager to learn more about why and how humour works in books.

Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy includes authors whose work I love and find hilarious (Beverly Cleary, Carl Hiaasen, Hilary McKay, Judy Blume), authors I don’t find funny at all (Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket1, Anne Fine), authors I’ve never heard of (Christopher Paul Curtis, Daniel Pinkwater) and authors I’ve heard of but haven’t gotten around to reading yet (Sharon Creech, Norton Juster). They discuss their childhood experiences with books and writing and comedy, how they write, and what they think about humour in their work and lives.

I was surprised at how many of these authors don’t plan their books before they start writing (or who claim they don’t plan), although nearly all of them discuss how much revision they do and how important reading is for writers. While there isn’t much about the “clockwork” of constructing a joke, there are lots of interesting insights into comedy. Sharon Creech, who has lived in America and Europe, thinks that the need for humour and the impulse to use it is “universal”, but feels that different nationalities have different senses of what is funny (“some being more wry or more subtle or pun-based, for instance”). I think this is true. Australian and British humour is often more self-deprecating than American humour, in my experience. I had an American editor ask me to change a bit in the first Montmaray book, in which my heroine was making fun of herself, because the editor felt this was a sign of low self-esteem and was sad rather than funny. (I also recall another American copy-editor who failed to see any humour in my joke about ‘were-chickens’ during a full moon and who thought that ‘Goat Husbandry for Pleasure and Profit’ was a real book — although that could be an individual-sense-of-humour thing and not an American thing.)

Sharon Creech agrees with Mark Twain about a link between humour and sadness, that humour is stronger when “juxtaposed with sorrow”. Along similar lines, Carl Hiaasen thinks that “even though my books are supposed to make people laugh, they’re serious books”. Meanwhile, Jon Scieszka is convinced that there is “boy humour” and “girl humour”, with broad, slapstick comedy appealing only to boys. Really? (Mind you, Scieszka has five brothers and no sisters and spent all his high school years at a boys-only military academy, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t know what makes girls laugh.) Hilary McKay, like many of the authors interviewed, isn’t exactly sure why her work is funny, but says, “I think if you listen to what people say, exactly as they say it, and write it down, it’s pretty nearly always funny”, especially when it’s children, who are “fairly blunt and fairly direct”.

There’s also lots of general writing advice, ranging from the useless (you must get up at dawn to write for five hours straight, every day of the year, et cetera) to the sensible (read a lot). Carl Hiaasen is full of praise for some of his English teachers but says:

“Teachers can’t give you a voice, and they can’t give you a reason to write. That’s got to come from inside. And you’ve got to become your own toughest critic: brutal, persistent, never satisfied. That’s the only way to get better. You have to have some sort of fire burning inside … There are not a lot of blissfully happy serious novelists.”

Hilary McKay thinks that studying science and working in a chemistry lab helped her writing because she had experience at meeting deadlines and “noticing details”, while Louis Sachar, who loved maths, especially algebra, at school, says his books are “more math- or logic-based than most writing.”

This book includes photos of the authors as adults and children, examples of revised manuscript pages and correspondence with their editors, suggested reading lists of each author’s work and a handy index. There are no Australian writers, either because Leonard Marcus hasn’t read any or because he doesn’t find them funny. (Obviously, Australian writers are hilarious.) I found this book an enjoyable and fascinating read.

  1. I know the Lemony Snicket books are really popular, but I find the humour mean-spirited. Then again, I never really enjoyed Roald Dahl’s books, either.

#AuthorsForFireys

Australia is currently in the middle of a bushfire catastrophe, with horrific destruction of human lives, property and wildlife. Like many Australians, I’ve been watching the news, seeing familiar places being burned to the ground, and feeling very sad, worried and helpless. For those of us not directly involved in rescue and emergency services, the most useful thing we can do right now is to donate money to appropriate organisations.

Emily Gale, Nova Weetman and other Australian authors are running a Twitter-based online auction this week, starting Monday 6th Jan 2020 and ending at 11pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday 11th Jan 2020. All proceeds will go directly to CFA (Country Fire Authority), a volunteer, community-based fire and emergency organisation that’s been fighting bushfires and helping fire-affected residents in Victoria. (International bidders can choose to donate via the Victorian Bushfire Disaster Appeal.)

As part of #AuthorsForFireys, I’m auctioning a signed set of all the books I’ve written – The Rage of Sheep, Dr Huxley’s Bequest and the three Montmaray novels, A Brief History of Montmaray, The FitzOsbornes in Exile and The FitzOsbornes at War. (The photo below shows the Vintage paperback edition of the first Montmaray book and the US hardcovers of the other Montmaray books, but the winning bidder can choose any edition of the Montmaray books they’d like.) I’ll sign each book with a personalised message and include a handwritten thank you letter.

Books for #AuthorsForFireys auction

How does the #AuthorsForFireys auction work? If you’re on Twitter (or you can borrow someone else’s Twitter account), simply reply to my tweet with the amount you’re willing to donate. On Saturday 11th January, I’ll directly message the person who posted the highest bid. The winning bidder will donate that amount directly to CFA and send me proof of the donation. Then I’ll post my package of books to them. I am happy to post to anywhere in the world and the auction allows international bidders.

Here’s a list of Australian Children’s and YA authors taking part in the auction, with links to each author’s Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/groups/the.knack/permalink/499228104059061/. (You don’t need a Facebook account to read it – just click on ‘Comments’ to see the list.)

If you don’t want to be part of the auction, but are looking for some way to help those affected by the Australian bushfires, here are some links to organisations accepting donations:

Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal

NSW Rural Fire Service

WIRES Wildlife Rescue

RSPCA Bushfire Appeal

Thank you!

When People Declare That Historical Novels Are Neither Interesting Nor Relevant To Modern Life …

… I think of Winston Churchill after the war:

Churchill worried not so much that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it, but that the loss of the past would mean ‘the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views.’

'Freedom is in peril' WWII poster

Some More Montmaravian Art

Some more Montmaravian artwork by Noah Hayes, who made a colour storyboard of A Brief History of Montmaray for his college design course. It begins with Sophie in a boat at sea:

'Montmaray storyboard 1' by Noah Hayes

'Montmaray storyboard 2' by Noah Hayes

She sees something very spooky in the depths of the water…

'Montmaray storyboard 3' by Noah Hayes

But fortunately, it’s only a dream. (Or is it?)

'Montmaray storyboard 4' by Noah Hayes

So she goes about her regular daily routine, saying hello to the chickens …

'Montmaray storyboard 5' by Noah Hayes

and visiting Veronica in the library.

'Montmaray storyboard 6' by Noah Hayes

'Montmaray storyboard 7' by Noah Hayes

Little does Sophie suspect what cruel and terrible fate awaits her innocent island kingdom!

(I think I’ve been reading too much Wilkie Collins lately.)

Anyway, lots of exciting stuff happens.

And SPOILER ALERT! it all ends in tragedy:

'Montmaray end' by Noah Hayes

(Don’t worry, there are two more books after that for Sophie to sort things out.)

Thanks again, Noah!

Some Montmaravian Art

How amazing is this artwork? It was created by Noah Hayes, who’s studying art and design at college. Noah created some art based on The Montmaray Journals for his visual development class and I first became aware of it when I saw these great book cover designs:

'Montmaray book cover' by Noah Hayes

'FitzOsbornes in Exile book cover' by Noah Hayes

'FitzOsbornes at War book cover' by Noah Hayes

And then Noah did a whole lot of work developing character studies. Here’s Sophie:

'Sophie character study' by Noah Hayes

Plus, there’s a huge storyboard for the scenes following the funeral in A Brief History of Montmaray. Here’s Veronica and Sophie discussing events:

'Veronica and Sophie' by Noah Hayes

And Simon and Toby looking shifty-eyed after Sophie tracks them down:

'Simon and Toby' by Noah Hayes

You can see the whole thing here at Noah’s tumblr (click on the Tumblr image to enlarge it).

There’s also a wonderfully evocative depiction of Montmaray Castle:

Montmaray Castle by Noah Hayes

But I think this might be my favourite – some sketches of Henry and Toby. Look how happy Henry is!

'Toby and Henry' by Noah Hayes

Thanks to Noah for allowing me to share these images. You can find them all at Noah’s Tumblr.

Castle Stalker

A Brief History of Montmaray

The bleak castle depicted on the hardcover edition of A Brief History of Montmaray may seem like the work of an illustrator, but I recently discovered it’s an actual castle.

Castle Stalker by Norrie Adamson
Castle Stalker. Photo by Norrie Adamson, licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Licence.

Okay, the book cover designer made a few adjustments to make it look as though the island were in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. But Castle Stalker is a real place that you can actually visit (if you happen to be in the general vicinity of Appin in Argyll, Scotland). And not only does Castle Stalker have a splendid name, it has its very own published Brief History, which is even more violent and dramatic than the history of Montmaray. It begins:

“In 1463 Sir John Stewart was keen to legitimise his son by getting married to his Mother, a MacLaren, at Dunstaffnage when he was murdered outside the church by Alan MacCoul, a renegade MacDougall, although he survived long enough to complete the marriage and legitimise his son, Dugald, who became the First Chief of Appin. The Stewarts had their revenge on MacCoul at the Battle of Stalc in 1468 opposite the Castle when the Stewarts and MacLaren together defeated the MacDougalls…’

There follows several centuries of Stewarts, MacLarens, MacDougalls and Campbells killing one another in various colourful ways. The Stewarts had a particular knack for getting murdered, even when they weren’t actually in Scotland – for instance, Duncan Stewart was appointed Governor of Sarawak in the 1940s and was assassinated a couple of weeks into the job. The Stewarts also weren’t very good at betting and lost the castle to the Campbells in a drunken wager. Unfortunately for the Stewarts, they’d fortified their castle walls so strongly that when they later tried to win it back from the Campbells by force, “their 2lb cannon-balls merely bounced off the walls”.

A couple of centuries later, the Campbells finally lost interest, abandoned the castle and allowed a Stewart to buy it back, and the process of restoration began. I would love to take one of the tours, but alas, I don’t think I’m likely to be visiting Scotland any time soon. I did do the virtual tour, which is pretty entertaining. And if you’re wondering where else you might have seen Castle Stalker, it makes an appearance in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the Castle of Aarrgh.

This Looks Strangely Familiar …

'The Scent of Secrets' by Jane Thynne
‘The Scent of Secrets’ by Jane Thynne (Published in September 2015 by Ballantine Books)

The Scent of Secrets, by Jane Thynne, is historical fiction set in 1938 and published last month in the US and Canada by Ballantine Books and Doubleday Canada. “The novel richly fuses fact and fiction with a cast of real Nazis and their British admirers, such as the Mitford sisters and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,” according to its Goodreads page. It “puts a new spin on an ever-fascinating era, fraught with glamor, political tension, tragedy, and romance.” What an interesting idea!

To make things more confusing, it was published under the title A War of Flowers in the UK and is the third in a series (although The Scent of Secrets is the first of the series to be published in North America, according to this Q & A by the author). The second book in the series, The Winter Garden, looks like this:

'The Winter Garden' by Jane Thynne
‘The Winter Garden’ by Jane Thynne (Paperback published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster)

I guess Jane Thynne’s publishers really, really like that 1949 photograph by Frances McLaughlin-Gill.

By the way, if you’re new to this blog and you’re wondering what I’m going on about, five years ago I wrote a novel about political tension, glamour, tragedy and romance, set in 1938 and featuring real-life Nazis and their British supporters, including the Mitford sisters and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It looked like this:

'The FitzOsbornes in Exile' - North American hardcover
‘The FitzOsbornes in Exile’, North American hardcover, released on April 5th, 2011

Miscellaneous Memoranda

Or, A Collection of Book-Related Links That Caught My Attention But That I Never Got Around To Writing Blog Posts About.

– And yes, I know I ended that sentence with a preposition and started this sentence with a conjunction. At least I have a better understanding of punctuation than these cake decorators. Not all Cakes are Wrecks, though – look at these amazing book-related cakes.

– Here’s a fascinating (if you’re a traditionally-published author) post by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown about why they decided to self-publish the second book in their Change series, after Viking published the first book. It says so much about how the publishing industry works these days. (Incidentally, the manuscript of the first book in the series started off that GayYA thing.)

– And here’s an article by Sally Nicholls about why it isn’t always necessary to kill off the characters’ parents in children’s books. (It does make plotting exciting adventures much easier, though.)

– I have no interest in reading Go Set a Watchman, partly because I don’t feel the need to read the unedited first draft of a novel that I’ve already read and enjoyed, but also because I have doubts about whether Harper Lee has given her consent for it to be published. Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

– Speaking of which, what is going on with the book bestseller lists at the moment? Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald’s top ten bestseller list consisted of the previously-mentioned unedited first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, four of the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths and FIVE colouring-in books! Now, I have nothing against Andy Griffiths – his books may not be my cup of tea, but he’s brought a lot of laughter and excitement to a lot of child readers. But colouring books? Why are they being counted?

– However, I do approve of this – a lot of people tweeting about what Young Adult books would look like if the books were Very Realistic.

– I also liked (possibly not the right word) this article by Annabel Crabb about a man who wrote her a detailed letter criticising her latest book, even though he hadn’t actually bothered to read the book. It reminded me of the time I was doing a book signing at an English teachers’ conference and two separate men came up to berate me for having the nerve to publish my book as a ‘Vintage Classic’, when my book was clearly not Classic Literature. Not that they’d read the book. (Not that I’d had any say in that book being republished under the Vintage Classics imprint, anyway.)

– Although if they had read my books, they probably would have objected to them anyway, because the books are full of princesses. Princesses doing girly, princessy things like buying ball gowns and learning how to curtsey and looking for a suitable husband, and also fighting Nazis, giving speeches at the League of Nations and writing newspaper articles about the plight of child refugees. There’s a good post about Princess Shaming over at Tea Cozy (the comments are interesting, too).

– And those men probably would have scoffed at the notion of a tiny island kingdom, as well. I guess they’re not aware of the “republican monarchy” of Atlantium here in Australia (“At 0.76 square kilometres we are counted among the world’s smallest states, which brings into play certain practical realities; we choose to deal with these in a pragmatic manner.”)

– I mean, those men probably don’t even believe in sea monsters!

'Colossal Octopus' by Pierre Denys de Montford, 1810
‘Colossal Octopus’ by Pierre Denys de Montford, 1810

Nancy Pearl Discusses ‘A Brief History of Montmaray’

A Brief History of MontmarayNancy Pearl talked about A Brief History of Montmaray this week in her regular book spot on KUOW-FM, a Seattle radio station. I am very chuffed about this – not only to hear someone on the other side of the world recommending my book, but also because this was NANCY PEARL. The most famous librarian in the world! Probably the only librarian to have her own action figure1 and trading cards and to have a tribute bluegrass band named in her honour!

The interview with Marcie Sillman includes some discussion about what distinguishes Young Adult fiction from adult fiction (“Marketing,” Nancy Pearl astutely observes) and the role of history in historical fiction. You can listen to more book recommendations at the KUOW website. Thank you, Nancy Pearl. Thank you, KUOW. And thank you, book people of Seattle.

_____

  1. The company responsible for the Nancy Pearl librarian action figure (with push-button finger-to-lips shushing action) also sells Edgar Allan Poe lunchboxes, Jane Austen tattoos and “Shakespearean Insult Bandages”. Just in case you’re interested.