04 October, 2016

Do You Have to Like the Author?

Is it possible to enjoy the work of an author if you disagree with, or even dislike, them as a person?

With all the celebrations going on for Roald Dahl's centenary last month, I came across this article: "Don't Ignore Anti-Semitism in Centenary." I hadn't realised there was any controversy about Dahl and anit-Semitism before reading this. This made me sad. I DID know that another popular children's author, Enid Blyton, has regularly been criticised for racism and sexism. There are many discussion about whether she was particularly unusual, or merely fitting in with the ideas of her class at her time; either way, racism and sexism are racism or sexism.

A year or two ago, when I first joined Twitter, I followed an author whose most famous book I'd just read. Within a week I'd seen a Tweet they'd written fiercely defending gun ownership and criticising attempts to introduce better gun control in the USA. I don't want to get political on this blog, but lets just say that my views are strongly and passionately different from his! I was disappointed in him. But what do I expect? That books I enjoy must be written by people I would get on with a cocktail party? (This is a hypothetical question - being socially awkward and teetotal, at a cocktail party I would be sipping water and laughing too hard at rubbish jokes or asking inappropriate questions.)

I haven't sought out any more books by that author. It hasn't been deliberate - at least, I don't think so. But every time I think of the thriller I had enjoyed so much, I also think of that Tweet and what it says about the author.

I wonder too, what people would think of me from my tweets. I am concious that it is the public face of me as an author. Not a high profile one, but public nonetheless, and I am careful not to post anything potentially inflammatory. I do however, post links and tweets about things I'm passionate about - such as Amnesty International campaigns. 

What do you think? Does an author's character (which we mostly never know, of course) affect how you think of a book? If you were an author (or already are), do you make the effort to be non-controversial on social media for fear of putting people off?

I stopped following my gun-loving author. In fact, until recently, I didn't follow any other famous authors because of that incident. I might have misread that Tweet, or got the wrong idea, or something. But it made me realise that we can know too much about the mechanism behind the fiction.On the whole, perhaps I'd rather not know the author at all.

25 September, 2016

Happy Birthday To Us!

For my son's first birthday, our friends James and Jo gave us a copy of Five Minutes' Peace by Jill Murphy. It's a book a lot of you will remember from your own childhood - I certainly do - or perhaps read to your own children. Jo told me that it was a special year to give this book as a present as it is 30 years old. James, Jo, my husband and I were all born in 1986, so we too are 30 this year! With my birthday approaching in a couple of weeks' time (I like chocolate and pretty stationery thank you very much) I though it would be fun to look at which other books share a birth year with me.

Here are a few highlights from the Goodreads list of most popular books published in 1986:

  • IT - Stephen King
  • The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett
  • Red Storm Rising - Tom Clancy
  • The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins
  • An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Jolly Postman - Janet Ahlberg
  • Batman: the Dark Knight Returns - Frank Miller
  • The Bourne Supremacy - Robert Ludlum

What surprised me, looking through the list, was how many of the top-rated books from 1986 were part of long-running series (47 of the Top 100). Most of them are series I haven't heard of, but you can find books from the Adam Dalgliesh series, the Riftwar Saga and the Babysitter's Club! There is also an overwhelming bias towards fantasy and science fiction.

What were the most popular books in the year you were born? If you click on the link I gave above, then change the date in the address bar, you can find out! Let me know in the comments!

I also thought I'd check which books were celebrating important anniversaries the year I was born. In 1986 Gone With the Wind, How to Win Friends and Influence People and several Agatha Christie books were 50 years old, and The Secret Garden and The Phantom of the Opera were 75. (There were no results for 1886!)

So now you know. Happy 30th birthday to us!

16 September, 2016

Quotable Friday (49)

There were a lot of celebrations of the incomparable Roald Dahl this week to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his birth. How could I not join in? I adored Roald Dahl as a kid. I have particularly strong memories of listening to the audio books of Matilda and Danny the Champion of the World over and over again.

Here is a quotation in honour of one of the best children's authors this country has ever seen. It is from Matilda.

"So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone."

16 August, 2016

The Book... by Catherine Edwards

A long overdue addition to my series of guest posts where people who love reading tell us about a book that means something to them.

Today a post from Catherine Edwards.

Image from Wikipedia
The Book... that opened up a whole new genre to me

As a primary school teacher I have always read (and loved) children’s literature but it wasn’t until 3 years ago, whilst attending a training course that I was really introduced to young adult fiction. I had always considered this genre as a bit advanced for the children I was teaching but at the same time not for adults and so it had often passed me by. That was until I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

A Monster Calls tells the story of a boy called Connor who is dealing with a lot of different issues at the same time; his mother has cancer, he is being bullied at school and then he starts being visited by a monster in the dead of night. The monster tells Connor three stories and in return asks Connor to tell his story. What unfolds is a truly heart-wrenching tale of a young boy struggling to cope with everything going on around him.

Part of the reason that I love this book so much is because of the story behind the way it came to be written and published. The story idea was developed by Siobhan Dowd, an author who herself had been diagnosed with cancer. Siobhan died before she was able to complete the book and it was completed by Patrick Ness. Knowing that the ideas in the story had come from O’Dowd’s own experience really enhanced the emotion I felt when reading this book.

Since reading A Monster Calls I always make a bee-line for the young adult section in bookshops and have found so many other books which tackle some really challenging topics. It has encouraged me to explore different genres and develop my opinion of them on their own merit rather than assuming that they aren’t for me. 


Thank, Catherine! Catherine is a Year Six teacher who lives with her husband, Alex, in Royal Tunbridge Wells. More importantly, we went to school together and first made friends whilst playing urchins in the school production of Oliver! 

I read A Monster Calls because Catherine recommended it when I asked people to build me a must-read books list. I loved it. I have also just read The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Anybody else love young adult fiction?

12 August, 2016

Quotable Friday (48)

If you grew up in the UK, you will have read Ladybird books at some point. It's over 100 years since the first of these children's books was published, and they reached a peak in popularity around the 1970s, but all generations will recognise them. The distincitve illustrations of the tiny hardback books - that covered just about every genre for kids you could want - will be nostalgic for many of us. That's why, when a series of spoof Ladybird books for adults was published last year, people loved them.

I was recently given a copy of 'How it works' The Mum by my own mother. I thought I'd share with you two of my favourite pages...

"The mum gets lots of help from her little ones. Daisy is helping to move the laundry basket away from her mum. She has done this fourteen times in the last five minutes."

"Alice is a successful biochemist. She publishes at least one highly regarded academic paper a year and has won the Colworth Medal. At the school gate, nobody knows this. Alice does not even have a name. Everyone calls her Olivia's Mum. Olivia has not done anything yet."

And here is a picture of my oldest boy helping me with the laundry last summer.

PS: if you loved them as a kid, you might be interested to know that this November there will be a series of spoof Famous Five books published. Look out for Five Give Up the Booze, Five Go On a Strategy Away Day, Five Go Parenting, and - my personal favourite - Five Go Gluten Free.