Mark Kermode: ‘There’s a magic in going on stage with a band’

The Observer film critic’s new memoir focuses on his parallel life in music. Here he talks school bands, busking and recording in Sun Studio...
• Read an extract from Mark Kermode’s memoir How Does It Feel? A Life of Musical Misadventures

You got the music bug very early…
I’ve been in bands since the year dot. When I was a kid the two things I understood were films and pop music. I remember going to a record store to buy Jealous Mind by Alvin Stardust and listening to it over and over again. Then I saw Slade in Flame – a brilliant fictional film about the rise and fall of a band who are basically Slade – and I thought, that’s it, I want to be a pop star! I didn’t have a guitar and I couldn’t play, but I spent two years at school building an electric guitar from ...

The Light Jar review – thoughtful and empathetic

Lisa Thompson brings bags of empathy to a deftly plotted tale about an 11-year-old suddenly left to fend for himself

Lisa Thompson’s The Goldfish Boy, about a troubled 12-year-old with OCD investigating the disappearance of a toddler, was one of 2017’s bestselling children’s debuts. Her follow-up, The Light Jar, is another mystery/thriller wrapped around psychological themes. Nate’s dad ran off with a colleague when he was six. Now 11, Nate and his mum are bedding down in an abandoned cottage, on the run from Gary, her emotionally abusive boyfriend. When his mother fails to return from a shopping trip, Nate must fend for himself – and convince Kitty, a girl who lives in the neighbouring stately home, that he has not been abandoned.

Domestic abuse is tricky territory for young readers (this is a “middle-grade” novel, as Americans have it), and there are moments here when Nate – ...

Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson review – journey of discovery

The actor’s tale about a seven-year-old pursuing her dad through history is engaging and insightful Children’s publishing is awash with books written by celebrities. In the space of a few weeks this spring, Cara Delevingne, Dermot O’Leary, Alesha Dixon and George Galloway announced debut kids’ books. Meanwhile non-multi-tasking, professional authors complain about celebs cannibalising their marketing budgets and swallowing huge advances. So I felt a bit bad, after reading comedian-and-actor Adrian Edmondson’s enjoyable debut, for having been irked by the copy I received with its boastful cover stamp: “Very Important Proof”. Edmondson is not a novice with an unfair fame advantage: he has a career’s worth of TV writing credits (Bottom, The Comic Strip Presents… etc), and it shows in this sophisticated novel. Continue reading...

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton – review

A stowaway discovers the truth about a feared mountain in Todd-Stanton’s magical follow-up to last year’s Arthur and the Golden RopeJoe Todd-Stanton’s junior graphic novel Arthur and the Golden Rope was a standout debut of 2016: a turbo-charged, 56-page story inspired by Norse mythology that told the story of Arthur, a young, unlikely (is there any other kind?) hero who finds himself on a dangerous quest to help Thor, god of thunder, defeat the wolf monster, Fenrir. Channelling Tove Jansson, Tintin and Japanese anime studio Studio Ghibli, the book’s enchanting, richly coloured illustrations had details to savour in every frame: a godsend for parents of reluctant learner-readers. The illustrator’s prompt follow-up, The Secret of Black Rock, is pitched younger (three-to five-year-olds) but its drawings are infused with the same mystical charm. The story is simply told: Erin, daughter of a fisherwoman (yay!), is determined ...

The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop (illustrated by Ashley King) – review

Bishop’s tale of an 11-year-old detective-cum-worrier is a charming hymn to the imaginative power of books Earlier this month, a video did the rounds on Facebook demonstrating dispiriting facts about gender and children’s books. Such as: 25% of kids’ titles don’t have any female characters at all; of those that do only half have female characters who speak. Simply baffling, at the very least because girls grow up to be more avid readers of fiction than boys. There are no such shortcomings in The Bookshop Girl, Sylvia Bishop’s follow-up to her well-received 2016 debut, Erica’s Elephant. The protagonist, 11-year-old Property Jones (so-called because she was adopted after turning up as lost property in a secondhand bookshop run by Netty and her brainy son Michael), is by turns detective, comic, action hero and worrier. Continue reading...

Uncle Shawn and Bill by AL Kennedy review – surreal and funny

In her first book for children, AL Kennedy conjures up a vividly imagined world with delightful prose The prolific Scottish novelist Alison Kennedy once observed that while children’s authors can say they “just make things up” because “it’s great fun”, other novelists have to dress up writing as something much more serious. In this, Kennedy’s first book for children, the sense is of an author gleefully letting herself off the leash. From the opening scene in which Bill – a shy, fastidious badger – finds himself trapped inside a bag which smells “as if someone had been crying inside it … and then maybe after that had been sick” and is being carried by someone with “a heart full of nails and sand and nastiness”, we are in a surreal, funny and vividly imagined world. What follows is a bonkers plot involving Bill, a daffy, sandy-haired man called Uncle ...