Category Archives: Blogs

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.

The mummies have it

To go or not to go? Well, first I needed the ‘rest.’ Then I found I needed rest from the resting. So I went. I wanted to, really, because Wendy Meddour and Mina May were debuting in Charlotte Square and I didn’t want to miss it.

Wendy Meddour and Mina May

As I arrived I first noticed Wendy’s eldest son, and only then did I see that I was walking behind the whole family. How I can recognise children of people I’ve never met, is another thing.

Secret Agent Mummy

I was early, so sat in the yurt for a bit, when at the corner of my eye I seemed to see a man covered in bandages walk past. And I mean totally covered in them. It had to be Steve Cole. No one else is quite that crazy. Worked out that I could waylay him – if it was him – close to his event. There was a photocall for Michael Morpurgo, but a bandaged Steve trumps MM. (I suppose he must have slipped in the shower this morning, or something.)

My plan was successful and the mummy said hello and gave me hug (so whoever it was, seemed to know me) and said he’d maybe forgive me later for going to someone else’s event and not his.

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo was still there when I went to look, so I didn’t even have to go without. He had come to lend a hand for someone by the name of Barroux, about whom I know nothing. MM didn’t wear his customary hat, as apparently he hates it. Now we know.

Linda Strachan and Emma Barnes

Went to Wendy’s event, with her illustrator daughter Mina May. Encountered Linda Strachan and Emma Barnes outside, so we chatted. I knew Emma’s name from somewhere, but not her face. We concluded I had reviewed her (very enjoyable) book, but we hadn’t met before. Told Linda I was sorry to have missed her Hamish event on Wednesday, as I love Hamish and it was about the very topical Bannockburn.

Steve Cole

I had asked Steve (or whoever) to sign slowly, so that he’d still be there when Wendy and Mina got to the bookshop. He did and he was, and it seems as if it really must have been him all the time. (Who else would be idiot enough to wander around looking like that? He’d even crossed the road wearing his outfit, and not got arrested. I suppose August in Edinburgh makes anything look normal.)

Steve Cole, Wendy Meddour and Mina May

As there was only one of him, the Secret Agent Mummy agreed to let mummy Wendy have one of his chairs to sit on. Later, when one of Wendy’s sons wanted to buy a copy of Steve’s book she asked if he was sure he wanted to spend his money on this. He was. Sensible boy. They were all nice, actually. Funny, too. The mummies, I mean.

Secret Agent Mummy and victim

Lots of weird photos later I went home. A light workload is quite a good thing on occasion. And I like my authors funny.

Breaking down barriers to books and reading

You can’t help but feel dreadfully inspired by talks on how to help more people to read! In this case it was dyslexia and – primarily – Barrington Stoke who told a packed theatre on Tuesday about what goes wrong and what can be done to make reading better. I know it’s stupid, but you sort of come away from an event like that wishing you were dyslexic.

I’m not and I’m very grateful that I’m not, but it’s the sheer inspiration you get and the feeling of hope that you can make reading easier.

Mairi Kidd from Barrington Stoke talked about how you read. There are two ways; recognising the whole word, and working your way through a word letter by letter. It’s important the letters don’t look too similar, so they go out of their way to make b and p and q look different from each other in as many ways as they can.

She teased us with English words and names that just don’t do what you expect, like victual, epitome and Milngavie. Serifs are good and so is line spacing of 1.5, tinted background, and thicker than normal paper.

Many boys have not seen men read. That’s a dreadful statement, but probably more true than we can imagine. Good role models are important. Many books are too long (how I agree!). And then there are the must reads, like Harry Potter. Also too long.

Lucy Juckes founded Barrington Stoke 16 years ago with her mother-in-law. Lucy’s husband is dyslexic, as well as one of their four children. Now that their son is 16, his father is no longer allowed to cheat at Scrabble. She told us how they tried to help with reading, and how they have resorted to bribes when necessary.

Removing the pressure to read and using common sense are other obvious tips. And picture books! They end far too soon. There should be no reason why every age can’t have picture books. It’s like you are punished for learning to read books with only words in them. Barrington Stoke will have an app out in October, which should be another useful aid to reading.

Among the suggestions during the Q&A session were to invite authors to school libraries, to make potential readers more interested. Asking an author to become patron of reading at your school is another way. Vivian French who chaired the event said she had successfully introduced scribes who write down stories that young people come up with, in effect making them authors’ peers, which gives them new status.

Someone complained that there aren’t enough girls’ books in the Barrington Stoke range. Mairi agreed that more effort had been used on getting boys to read, but that they are now looking to publish more books for girls.

After the event they offered a workshop in the adjacent theatre for those who wanted to discuss this some more. For the rest of us there was a guided talk in the bookshop, showing us all the latest books. (It was a little crowded – which is good – and I returned later that evening for a second look. Lots of excellent books. You don’t need to find reading hard to want to try them.)

The long day

You can’t get into Charlotte Square before 9.30. I’d do well to remember that, and I could – and should – stay in bed for longer. But a witch can always read, so on Tuesday morning time was killed with Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier.

Thanks to Theresa’s generosity I was able to be her husband for the morning. Not as nice a one as her regular Mr B, but I did my best. And I can confirm that while I was in the authors’ events prep area, I didn’t hear anything. At all.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

Then I went along to Theresa’s school event with Mary Hooper, and afterwards in the bookshop I listened in amazement as Theresa asked a female fan (obviously in her upper teens) if she was the school librarian  – from one of the visiting schools. It was quite clear that she was a mature upper secondary school student. No. Apparently she was the head teacher. (The librarian was the greyhaired ponytailed gent next to her.)

Eating a sandwich very fast before my next event, I ended up letting four Swedes share my table. I didn’t share my Swedish-ness with them, however. I listened as they speculated on the nature of Charlotte Square. Apparently it’s a bookfair of some kind. ‘But where are the books?’ one of them asked. Quite. The book festival as a mere coffeeshop for tourists.

Ran into Keith Charters, who was clutching 60 copies of  David MacPhail’s Yeti On the Loose. Did some heavy hinting, which resulted in Keith handing over 59 copies to the bookshop. I mean, he had promised me one ages ago.

After school event no.2 I chatted a little with Linda Newbery, Tony Bradman and Paul Dowswell, getting my anthology signed by all three, each in the right places. Then went in search of Cathy MacPhail’s son David, and found him where I thought he’d be but not where Keith had said, along with his mother and a lovely baby. I’d been told he’d be a slightly taller version of his mum, which as Cathy drily pointed out wasn’t hard to achieve. I forgot to take a picture, but got my Yeti signed with an extra generous RAAAAAR! Then I admired the baby.

Wrote yesterday’s onsite blog post, before learning that Son and Dodo were coming over to entertain me, and to have coffee. It had got unexpectedly warm and sunny, and Son complained. We chatted, saw Ian Rankin arrive, noticed the longbearded gent from earlier years, and came to the conclusion that the scones which used to be of almost home made quality, were just dry and boring.

Son and Dodo went off to search for more Maisie books, and I had my Dyslexia event to go to. Glimpsed Nicola Morgan and Val McDermid (not together) and then it rained and got unexpectedly cold. I repaired to the yurt for a restorative sandwich and an even more restorative sip of cola to keep me awake, as well as find that cardigan I suddenly needed.

Arne Dahl

Anne Cassidy

Waited for Arne Dahl to turn up for his photocall, and did the best I could when he did, considering how dark and wet it was. He seemed bemused by the attention. While waiting for Arne’s event with John Harvey (whom I’d have snapped too, had I known who he was…) I walked over to the children’s bookshop and caught Anne Cassidy and Emma Haughton (who does not have long brown hair, after all) signing post-event.

Emma Haughton

And after a much longer day than someone my age should attempt, I limped along Princes Street for my late train home. Someone at Waverley told me to smile. He’s lucky I’m a peaceful sort of witch.

Dr Book

They think of everything. Visitors to the children’s bookshop have had the opportunity of consulting Dr Book. He/they looked really friendly and I was awfully tempted to ask them something. Like, what will become of my blog?

Dr Book at Edinburgh International Book Festival

But I was a little afraid of what the answer might be, so didn’t.

The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture #1

Having been – sort of –  ‘in’ on Siobhan Dowd’s memorial trust since its start, there was no way I wouldn’t go and hear Patrick Ness deliver (such a posh word) the first lecture in aid of the trust. He is well known for calling a spade a spade, so my feeling was that it wouldn’t be boring.

Tony Bradman

It wasn’t. Introduced by Tony Bradman, Patrick got his usual superstar greeting from the audience (I’m trusting there were lots of young people in the theatre…), before offering us his 90 minute talk in 28 minutes. He talks fast when he gets nervous. Apparently. He reckoned there would probably be time left for some Q&A at the end.

The end. Yes, for him that was meant to come at the age of eight, in 1980, according to the pastor in his pentecostal church in Washington (state). They were all going to die.

Patrick fiddled with his stopwatch as he told us about Siobhan’s first short story, which she offered Tony Bradman for his collection Skin Deep. Just hearing about it again made my hairs stand on end. It’s that good. Siobhan was that good. ‘Just plain damned good’ as Patrick said.

Children have always suffered in silence. Not just being condemned to death by their pastor, but he told us about the poor girl who was certain she’d die a death by artichoke. Being young is ‘impossible.’

And it’s wrong to use the word ‘them’ for children. We’ve all been children. Patrick sees himself as one big warehouse, storing all his previous ages, because he is all those ages at all times. He at least had Judy Blume when he was young. And whereas he wanted to write, his understanding was that only famous people become authors.

He wanted to write about being young and gay in Washington, because there is a lot of shame involved in being young. And Siobhan Dowd was the writer Patrick always wanted to be. ‘Stories told with love.’

On the calling a spade a spade, Patrick felt that the first question put to him on Saturday evening was more of a comment from the member of the audience (How I resent those who use vaulable time voicing their own opinions at times like these!) The next question was more a ‘Patrick compliment’ kind of question, about what message he’d leave his eight-year-old self if he could.

Patrick Ness

Adept at avoiding tricky corners, Patrick wriggled out of a favourite list of books, which was the third question. On that note we ran out of time and Patrick attempted a fast escape out the fire exit, at which point he discovered a witch sitting nearby, so he said a quick hello, waved and ran.

The queue for his book signing was long and I’m sure he was there for a while. If people will insist on being photographed with their favourite author and can’t get the camera to work, queues like these will take forever. Although I saw Patrick later, so he must have escaped eventually.