Pseudonymous Books

I’ve written about my top 10 pseudonymous books for the Guardian – and about my own decision to use an assumed name for my first book, which I have since regretted.

“When I was wrote my first book, A Dog Called Grk, I was working for
this very newspaper, writing and editing reviews for the books pages. I
didn’t want people to get confused about who I was or what I did, so I
thought it would be sensible to have two different names, one for books
and the other for journalism. I invented a new name for myself: a pen
name, a nom de plume, a pseudonym.”


Death in children’s literature

I’ve written an article for We Love This Book, a new magazine published by the Bookseller. Here are the first three paragraphs.

There comes a moment in every child’s life when they understand that everyone dies: not just pets, or neighbours, or relatives, but even themselves. It’s a terrible, terrifying realisation – life is never the same again once you know that you have to die – so it’s no wonder that children’s books are full of death. Without death, many great heroes of children’s literature wouldn’t even have a story to tell. If their mothers and fathers had lived, Harry Potter wouldn’t be banished to 4 Privet Drive, the Baudelaires wouldn’t suffer a series of unfortunate events, Mary Lennox wouldn’t come near the secret garden, and James would never grow a giant peach. But death is much more than a plot device. From a surprisingly young age, most children want to know the answers to questions about death and the afterlife. Why do I have to die? What will happen to me? Fiction allows children to articulate the fears and anxieties about mortality that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

You can pick up the magazine in bookshops, or read the whole article on the website.

The Glass Collector

I recently reviewed The Glass Collector, Anna Perera’s second novel, a story about the Zabbaleen, the rubbish sifters and collectors who inhabit a Cairo slum named Mokattam.

My review is here, but if you’re interested on the book or its subject, I’d suggest you read Leslie Wilson’s review first. As she explains, she has visited Mokattam and knows the subject well:

I was with my husband, who is a consultant in Wastes Management with a special interest in the informal sector, and a group of waste experts that included some informal recyclers from India and South Africa. We were welcomed into the workshops and saw the recycling of plastic and textiles; we also visited the ‘recycling school’ where boys and girls can earn a living as well as learning to read and write. It’s a cheerful building, whose bright blue paint made a brave show in the November sunshine. I was deeply impressed by the Zaballeen’s expertise, their hard work and cheerfulness, and their hospitality – and moved by their problems.

Her review is in Armadillo magazine; you’ll find it here. I wish I’d read it before I wrote my own.

She also discusses a film called Garbage Dreams, which sounds fascinating; a documentary about the Zaballeen which Leslie describes as “sensitive, moving, and totally engaging”. It’s the sort of film that should be on TV, but probably won’t, so I’m going to have track down a DVD.

(The amazing picture is by a photographer named Bas Princen: I don’t know him, or anything about him, but I took it – without permission, I’m afraid – from this website, which has more of his fabulous photos.)