Category Archives: Blogs

Off the Page with Teri Terry

Deep down I knew. All day I stalked round the house thinking ‘I couldn’t leave it looking like this if people were coming.’ But we were going out for drinks, not staying in, and there was no need to clean or tidy or even remove the empty Ikea boxes or the reading lamp that almost went up in smoke that afternoon. Or anything.

So obviously I asked Teri Terry and Mr Terry round for a cup of tea. As you do. Being polite people, they even praised the hall for being nice, which it might have been were in not for all the stuff. But this is Stirling and I don’t believe you can go out for cups of tea at eight pm, so Bookwitch Towers was the place to go.

Before my domestic embarrassment, we’d had a nice evening at St Ninian’s Library, were Teri’s talk was part of the Stirling book festival. I’d not heard Teri speak in public before, so looked forward to it. There were a good number of readers of the right age – i.e. not like me – and many came without adults, which was particularly encouraging, I felt. But then I know that Teri’s fans do like her.

Teri Terry

There were soft drinks and slices of swiss roll, and they switched on the coffee machine for the adults. Nice warm welcome for everyone (and I only mention it because it doesn’t always happen). They were most helpful about toilet access as well (although I have to admit that was mainly me…).

Most people seemed to have read Slated, and a few had read Fractured, but I might have been the only one who’d got to Shattered. Lucky them to have so much to look forward to. Teri read from the first two novels, free from spoilers, but felt she couldn’t do that with the third book without giving everything away.

She started off by answering the questions she most commonly gets asked, just to get her funny name and accent and all the rest out of the way. (You can find much of it in my interview with Teri from last year.) Teri reckons writers are often a bit crazy, they might move a lot and become used to being outsiders, observing others.

Teri Terry

Teri herself is very interested in nature versus nurture, which was relevant both in her former job as a lawyer, but also now when she writes fiction. She talked about the evening of 9/11 (she was in Australia), and as she did, I did a quick calculation and came to the conclusion that most of the audience had not been born then, or were very young indeed. It’s weird how fast things become history.

Her next book, Mind Games, will be published in March next year (she showed me the cover image on her laptop and it looks fantastic), and she is currently writing the next book again, with a deadline in December, to be published next autumn or spring 2016.

Asked about writing for boys, Teri said that she doesn’t see readers as boys or girls, but as people. She also doesn’t want to suggest which age her books are for, although most readers seem to be from about eleven and older.

Like many authors Teri is very interested in stationery. She has a big collection of notebooks and can’t possibly start writing a book in the ‘wrong’ notebook. She once had to spend a week shopping for the right one before she could begin. She can type really fast, but finds it easiest to start a book writing by hand, moving on to her laptop after a while.

Because it’s not healthy sitting in bed all day writing, she now tends to get dressed every day, and she goes to write in her shack in the garden. But she needs to speak to humans every now and then, so has to leave her shack occasionally.

Teri Terry

That’s when she comes to lovely events like this one, right on my doorstep. After which she ended up much more on my doorstep than we’d intended. It was nice. Very nice. In case Teri and her Mr Terry ever feel like coming back, I will clean the house, decorate it, and purchase some green tea. Possibly find the wine glasses too, just in case.

Finding Critical Mass

It must have been towards the end of our holiday, shortly before the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I was going over in my head the things I needed to do and remember before getting to Charlotte Square. Especially knowing I’d have less time once I returned to the new house.

And there’s the crux, dear readers. New house. What do new houses have? Or more accurately, not have?

Precisely. No well-ordered rows of books on shelves. And one of my ‘must remembers’ was that I wanted to take Sara Paretsky’s Critical Mass to have her sign it. I’ve got a lot more relaxed about this, and can actually contemplate seeing people in the flesh without arriving equipped with scores of books to have signed.

But this was Sara and it was Critical Mass. And where was the book? Packed in a box, along with the other 80 or so metres of books. Where was this box? On the floor in the living room piled against the wall with no more than another forty boxes. (The other boxes are/were in other rooms.)

That was enough to make me not get back to sleep. OK, I could buy another copy. But this was the one I wanted signed.

I waited until the Resident IT Consultant seemed to be in a relaxed mood and asked him how likely he thought it would be that the book could be found, in the week we had available. Without either of us going crazy.

Once he realised what I was saying, and could get his head round my description of where the book used to be and how the box was likely to be labelled, he reckoned it was doable.

And it was. It only took him about five ‘wrong’ boxes (plus a lot of heavy lifting), and there it was!

Phew.

Sick reading

I’ve been feeling off-colour with my specially imported Glaswegian lurgy this week. So I’ve read more than average, because when you feel weak and achey sometimes reading is all you can do.

As I was grasping my current book – in the middle of the night – I suddenly remembered other books read while feeling under the weather. And it made me wonder why books read during times of incapacitation remain more memorable. Not better, necessarily, but I suppose illness reinforces the memory. Somehow.

(I could tell you what I read Easter 2007, for instance.)

The other thing I’ve mused about (all this thinking can’t be healthy) is why it’s so hard to find enough time to read, when it makes me feel much better. Even without the lurgy.

Kirkland Ciccone at his celebration party

The drawback this week was having to cancel going to Kirkland Ciccone’s celebration in Kilsyth. ‘Where?’ I hear you ask. Somewhere fairly near Bookwitch Towers, although even my native Resident IT Consultant wasn’t totally sure exactly where.

Kirkland Ciccone celebration party

It was (would have been) an opportunity to celebrate Kirkland winning the Catalyst Award for Conjuring the Infinite. I understand there was – almost – unlimited Monster Munch. And a red carpet. They know how to party in Kilsyth.

Kirkland Ciccone celebration party

To prove how mentally challenged I’ve been, I went as far as addressing this noble award winner as Kirkie… I’m so very sorry. It won’t happen again.

The #12 profile – Kenneth Oppel

I think I might fall in love with Kenneth Oppel. He likes trains. So do I. On the other hand, he was obviously one of those annoying child prodigies, getting published far too early. I’ll think about it.

He’s got a new book out, The Boundless. It’s about a train. And because of that Kenneth is here to tell us a few things about himself that we didn’t know before:

Kenneth Oppel

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Well, after seeing Star Wars when I was eleven, I started a sci-fi epic called Starship (then retitled Rebellion!), and wrote several chapters in a school exercise book. Lots of laser guns and spaceships exploding. It was a complete rip off of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica and I never finished it.

After that I wrote a book over two summer holidays when I was 14 and 15, and with the help of Roald Dahl, got it published just as I was leaving school. It was a very lucky break, and a very early start as a published writer.

Best place for inspiration?

A moving train.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

Never. Writing’s hard work. I want all the credit.

What would you never write about?

Nothing.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

It was winter and my car slipped off the road and I was quite badly hurt. Luckily a nurse saw and came to my aid. It turned out she was my Number One fan, a lovely person, but quite insane. She was unhappy with the ending of one of my books. She kept me prisoner in her house until I rewrote the ending.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Matt Cruse.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Only Good. You get money; you sell books. If the movie’s well done, or gets a big release, you sell loads of the book. Even if the movie’s a stinker, it’s still a plus, because your book remains the same book, and everyone will eventually forget about the rotten movie — and maybe someday another filmmaker will do it right.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

‘What kind of hair product do you use?’

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can play tunes on my teeth. I’m best at Jingle Bells.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia, but only for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. After that, it’s Enid Blyton all the way.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Tough one. Someone from Abba, but it seems mean to pick one randomly.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I used to have a Billy, and arranged things by size and colour for maximum aesthetic effect. Now I have too many books, and go alphabetically.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Silverwing. Because I wrote it.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Did a human being write this question?

In my defense I have to say I stole the question from a lovely Irishman. He is pretty human, I reckon.

Number One fans should always be treated with caution, unless they are me. I am harmless, although the hostage idea has its merits. I’ll think about it.

And if I could make a request? Pachelbel’s Canon would be lovely. Thank you.

Launching Ghost Soldier

Ghost Soldier launch

The plates of cake just kept coming. So did the sandwiches. That’s how you launch a book! Obviously the book matters, but people’s tummies do too. Especially if people are me.

Mr B at Ghost Soldier launch

Theresa Breslin launched Ghost Soldier in Glasgow yesterday afternoon, at The Penthouse, and they do very nice cake. And sandwiches. Lots and lots. Scones, with cream and jam.

While I’m on the cake front, there was a book cover covered cake, too. And Mr B had been put to good use selling books, while wearing his speciality book cover t-shirt, and his usual big smile.

Ghost Soldier

Ghost Soldier launch

I came across Kathryn Ross in the foyer, accompanied by Theresa’s illustrator Kate Leiper (who not only does beautiful kelpies, but has worked on Ghost Soldier too). Upstairs I found Cathy MacPhail, and had my first encounter with Kirkland Ciccone (he has never been to Spain, in case anyone wants to know), who is – probably – my nearest children’s author. Geographically speaking.

Kirkland Ciccone

Ghost Soldier launch

We chatted (about things like how Kirkland is young enough to have been a Theresa Breslin child fan), gobbled cake and admired Theresa’s fishy shoes. (That’s one of them, right there, being swung in mid-air for people to see, which explains the blur.) Then Theresa leaned on the Resident IT Consultant for balance. (Yes, dear readers, I brought him along. He needs to get out and meet interesting people. Besides, he’d never have believed me about the shoes.)

Theresa Breslin

After a suitable delay there were two beautifully brief speeches and Theresa read the first chapter from Ghost Soldier. She also told us the background to why she wrote the book, and how some of the unlikely things that happen in it had actually ‘sort of’ happened in real life, making them not so unlikely after all.

Theresa Breslin

She assisted the young girl, who had named the dog in the book, in cutting the book cover cake, which then was devoured by the other children present. There were loads of children, which was nice.

Ghost Soldier cake

Ghost Soldier launch

The Resident IT Consultant and I beat a retreat soon after, due to exhaustion. Perhaps it had been a mistake spending several hours at Ikea beforehand. Even the Resident IT Consultant needed to sit down at one point, and that is simply unheard of. In the end the people in charge of the premises paid us to leave, which was nice of them.

It’s a mercifully quick drive home from Glasgow, even if you include a diesel stop in Cumbernauld. I blame that on Cumbernauld-boy Kirkland. Plus we needed the diesel.

The #11 profile – Pat Walsh

I heard only good things about Pat Walsh’s debut novel The Crowfield Curse. Her peers kept going on about it (although I have to own up to not having managed to get my hands on a copy), which is always a good sign. Now, not only is there a sequel, The Crowfield Demon, but Pat has branched out on her own and is publishing The Hob and the Deerman, which is the first in a new, short series of stand-alone books featuring Brother Walter the hob from the Crowfield Mysteries. It is set in and around Crowfield Abbey in the 16th century and is a ghost story/historical fantasy.

You can tell how far behind I am with my reading, as well as what a prolific writer Pat is. And here we are, on the blog tour for Pat’s new book. It is my pleasure to introduce you to her, with the help of my usual profile questions:

Pat Walsh

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Five complete books, and numerous bits and pieces which never made it beyond the first few chapters. I keep everything though, as it’s surprising how often things can be recycled or reworked into something new.

Best place for inspiration?

Anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant detail can turn out to be important. I went to visit the site of a small abbey in Buckinghamshire a few years ago. There was almost nothing left to see, just an overgrown fishpond and a small chapel which stood all by itself in a field. Not the most interesting of places, but it stayed with me and became Crowfield Abbey in my Crowfield Mysteries series.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I don’t but I would do, if I wrote something in a new genre. I think it’s a way of flagging up that you are doing something different from the work you are already known for, and it warns readers not to expect more of the same.

What would you never write about?

I wouldn’t write pornography, but apart from that, I would write anything, but only if it was a subject I felt I really wanted to write about for personal reasons, and not to jump on a passing bandwagon or because it might be commercially successful.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

The most unexpected place was Chicken House supremo Barry Cunningham’s dark, damp cellar in his home in Somerset, reading a passage from The Crowfield Curse to a group of German booksellers by candlelight. They were delightful but I’m not sure how many of them actually understood what was being read to them. I wasn’t the only writer there that day, just in case this sounds odder than it really was. As for the most unexpected person – on a recent research trip to Oslo, I came across a noisy and colourful demonstration and hung around to see what was going on, and along came the Dalai Lama. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see him!

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Brother Snail from the Crowfield books. He cares deeply for the natural world, is happiest when he’s pottering about in his garden and tries to treat everyone with respect, whether they are human, animal or fay. I’m not sure I manage to live up to his standards, but I try.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I have mixed feelings about this. I have a clear idea in my head of how my characters look and what their world is like, and I know they would not look the same on screen. Also, because this possibility has been raised already, I know changes would be made to the books to adapt them into a film and those changes would most likely not come from me. I’m not thrilled at the idea of someone taking my work and in some way making it into something which is no longer mine. I watched the film of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising recently and was surprised to see the Thames valley setting moved to somewhere in Eastern Europe, with its very distinctive architecture. Will Stanton seemed to have turned into an American along the way too. It wasn’t a bad film but it didn’t capture the atmosphere of the book. On the plus side, if a film adaptation was done well, then wouldn’t that be great! And I might even get a bit part as a dung-encrusted peasant!

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

A young girl of about seven asked if I had a hob of my own. I wish! I haven’t been asked anything too strange but I did hear about one fantasy writer who was asked during a school talk if she liked moles. You just have to wonder what was going through that child’s mind.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can dig up a human skeleton neatly, and have done so on a number of occasions, and I am not too bad at medieval dancing. I won first prize in a national cross stitch competition, and I won a growling toy tiger and a voucher for a Mexican meal in a phone-in quiz on a local radio station. Plenty there to fall back on if the writing dries up.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

I loved them both as a child, but if I had to choose between them, it would have to be Narnia. A world full of magic and talking animals just wins out over lashings of ginger beer and plum cake. Just.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Other than you? It would have to be Carl Larsson, the Arts and Crafts painter. His paintings are a glimpse into another world and time, and are filled with light and colour. I went to see an exhibition of his work at the V&A a few years ago and was astonished by the beauty of his paintings and sketches. He has a lightness of touch which is just enchanting. (My daughter said I should pick Alexander Skarsgård of True Blood fame and I don’t think it’s for his acting skills.)

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

By subject – children’s books, ghosts and the supernatural, Vikings, trees and woodland – that sort of thing. The thing is, I know where to find a particular book when I need to, even if the actual arrangement of the subject groups doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Something funny, like Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens or The Grunts, or anything by Liz Pichon or David Walliams.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

I don’t think you can separate the two. I couldn’t imagine not doing either. Having said that, if civilization came to an end tomorrow, or I was sent back in time, then I could do without both, and go back to doing what humankind has done for millennia – sit by the fire and tell stories.

Skeletons. The Dalai Lama. In Oslo. Where else? And can’t you just visualise Barry Cunningham’s cellar? Finally, it pains me to admit that I don’t know what a hob is, apart from the kind you cook dinner on. I should read more.

Lizday

At 9.59 there was considerable panic among Horrid Henry fans. Parents were seen running with their children across Charlotte Square, and then back again a minute or so later. It’s also known as ‘I didn’t need the toilet before but now I do.’ The event started at 10.

Liz Kessler

Francesca Simon

My first – literary – port of call was with Liz Kessler. I then had half an hour in which to take pictures of her signing, run across the square to see if I could catch Francesca Simon still at it, and then get myself to my second event with Gill Lewis. That’s when I remembered I had a book I wanted Liz to sign, and being a popular sort lady she still had a long queue and I wasn’t anywhere near the front of it. So I thrust the book at her publisher Fiona Kennedy and asked her to see to it that Daughter got an autograph. Surprisingly, Fiona seemed to know who I was.

Gill Lewis

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

After Gill’s event I had slightly longer, so had time to take pictures of her, and to dash across the square for Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart in the other signing tent. Had to remember to go back to base and get my hopefully signed book back. Then I went to meet Caroline Lawrence, whose Saturday event I had been forced to miss, but who very kindly sacrificed some of her time on me today.

Norse monster

Norse monster

Norse monster

Kate O'Hearn

We decided there was time for an ice cream – because we both carried spare food in our rucksacks, so didn’t need lunch – and we exchanged news and discussed what’s hot and what she’s working on now, and then she ran on to hear Kate O’Hearn, whose rather fantastic team of Norse monsters were a sight to behold. I caught up with them in the bookshop an hour later, where they chatted to babies (who will never forget this early literary experience) and posed and were generally rather unsusual.

Michael Rosen

Meanwhile I had found Michael Rosen signing across the square, talking to his young fans with his normal charm and performing facial acrobatics. He too had caused a late rush on the toilets, so that seems to be a hazard with young fans.

Simon Armitage

‘Backstage’ I found Carol Ann Duffy and I saw Peter Guttridge at a safe distance from sleeve-tugging. Again. While I waited for Simon Armitage to come to his photocall, Kate O’Hearn and her monsters returned, and thanks to Chris Close I got another opportunity to snap these fantastic creatures.

Kate O'Hearn

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Laird

Chris Riddell

My final event this book festival was another couple of Elizabeths; Laird and Wein. I even had a few minutes during which to take photos of Liz and Liz, as well as of Chris Riddell who was still signing away an hour after his Goth Girl talk, before I ran off to find a tram to the airport. It was high time to collect Daughter from her Californian adventure.