Category Archives: Interview

Bad(diel and) Bookwitch

There’s no point in trying to play it safe, as has become obvious in the last few days.

A couple of weeks ago I referred obliquely to a celebrity children’s book. I was asked to do an interview with the author, but on second thoughts I decided against, because he didn’t have time to take part in this publicity the way I’d like.

I knew next to nothing about David Baddiel, so had nothing bad to say. Or good. After googling him, I found him to be a pleasant looking man, and as he has previously written a few adult novels, I’m thinking he might not be a bad author, even of children’s books. The topic – choosing your parents – doesn’t appeal, but then I’m more parent than child, and would rather not be unchosen by mine.

Guardian article

Reading the Guardian Family last Saturday I discovered David had had time for them. At least to pose for a very nice photo. The interview might have been a phone one, for all I know, and is sufficiently padded that it could have been pretty brief. And I guess the article writer hadn’t read the book.

If I’d got access to David, I would have. And let’s be honest, I was only vaguely interested in the whole thing because he’s a bit famous (while not being Katie Price). And because I didn’t know him or his work, I felt that might make it fun.

Apparently he did a radio interview about the book as well. That’s fine. His publicist got him a lot of attention, as she should do. I just don’t know why I was asked. I don’t get paid. I need something in return, other than a book. To meet people I have chosen myself is my main reward. Having ‘unknowns’ thrust upon me, I need to feel there is something a wee bit different, even outstanding, about my victim.

And they do need to reciprocate a little in effort. I will travel, and meet up, and write up, in return for as little as twenty minutes in person. Stupid of me, I know.

David seems like a nice man. Which is nice. Just too busy. Which for his sake is probably also nice. I’m also busy, so it was for the best that we were busy being busy at the same time.

So who’s Danny Weston?

After all he put me through reading The Piper, I decided I needed to know more about Danny Weston. I suspect there’s some funny business going on here. I just wonder what?

Anyway, I sent over some searching questions, and this is what came back:

Danny Weston

Danny Weston… the name sounds awfully familiar. I can’t believe this is your first book.

I’m a late developer, Witch. I’ve had ideas for books kicking around in my head for a very long time and finally one of them has popped to the surface.

I note that you live in Manchester. Have we met? No, I’d remember that face. (Somehow your name makes me think you’d look like Johnny Depp. I don’t know why.)

Some people have occasionally mistaken me for another author of children’s fiction, which is a mystery to me, as I’m far better looking than him.

The Piper is rather a scary story. Do you enjoy frightening little children?

It is great fun – and very therapeutic.

I’m guessing you said ‘yes.’ I‘d like to know why.

I think children enjoy being frightened by stories. It’s hardly a surprise. What are the first stories we give them to read? Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel are horror stories, pure and simple. It always amuses me when parents wonder why their children have such dark imaginations!

Do you have personal experience of Romney Marsh?

Romney Marsh is one of the bleakest wildernesses in the British Isles. I have spent many happy hours there. St Leonard’s church in Hythe, for instance, has thousands of human skulls stored in the crypt. What’s not to like?

What about quicksand?

Dreadful stuff. Tends to get underfoot…

And what’s the thing with those dolls? (We obviously don’t want any spoilers here.)

I don’t know about you but I do find china dolls rather terrifying… even when they don’t talk to you.

I can see The Piper as a film. Can you?

Yes, please! I think it would make a splendid movie, though it certainly wouldn’t be what they call a ‘feel-good’ film. I have actually written a screenplay for it, just in case anybody should be interested in pursuing the idea.

Have you got plans for any more books?

My next book is already written and should arrive some time in 2015. It’s called Mr Sparks and concerns the adventures of a psychotic ventriloquist’s dummy. Happy days!

Will you be doing events? If so, any near me? (I’ll have to make sure I’m away.)

I will find you anyway, Witch. You can run but you can’t hide. As for events, I’m planning to be haunting schools up and down the UK. Anybody who is interested can get in touch via my good friend Philip Caveney’s website –

philip-caveney.co.uk (He won’t mind.)

Finally, I have thought a great deal about this: Where do you get your inspiration?

That question! I hate that question! Wait… come back! Why are you running away?

Is he gone yet? The man’s crazy. Skulls. That’s sick. Ventriloquist’s dummy! It’s probably going to be worse than those dolls near Romney Marsh. Aarrgghhh!!

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.

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.

How to – not – write ten books

Arne Dahl and John Harvey, who appeared together at Charlotte Square on Tuesday evening, have something in common, apart from being crime writers. They both intended to write a crime series of ten books, rather like Sjöwall & Wahlöö. Both failed, by writing too many. John also failed spectacularly at pronouncing the names of his heroes, but Arne pointed out that it is hard, so he might as well carry on saying it wrong.

They were talking with Russel McLean who began by talking so fast that I suspected we might be done after twenty minutes. The rest of the time he laughed so much that he nearly cried. The two authors were reasonably amusing, but they weren’t that funny…

Although, I did find John quite interesting, with a nice sense of humour. He started by trying to hang his coat on some invisible hook and ended up throwing it on the floor, sending his cap after it with a flourish.

Arne Dahl

On the basis that guests go first, Arne began by reading an extract from his most recently translated book, To the Top of the Mountain. (I’d have been interested in knowing who translated it.) One fervent fan in the audience wanted to know how soon she could have all his novels in translation. She has all 23 in Swedish and reads them with the help of a dictionary (that’s what I call determination), but felt that translations would be helpful. I should say so!

John read from his Darkness Darkness, Resnick’s last case, which is partly set during the miners’ strike, and the part he read was definitely an ‘ouch’ kind of extract. He said this would be the last book about Charlie Resnick, but apparently he has said that before. The difference being that he lied on previous occasions. Well, we’ll see about that.

Both Arne and John praised each other’s books so much, that compliments were flying across the stage. Arne plots with the help of post-its and arrows which he puts on the floor. But as he pointed out, when he had small children, anything could happen. John has tried listening to young people in secret, to learn how they speak, but he couldn’t understand a word they said. But he has learned to tweet.

And who’d have thought that this man spent several years writing pulp fiction and teen romances? Writing a book every month for four years helped teach him the craft of writing.

At this point Russel’s phone made itself known, which was a little embarrassing for a man who had told the rest of us to switch ours off.

Talking of translations, Arne’s novels have been translated into 30 languages, and whereas he can read some of them, he has no idea what has happened when the Estonian version comes back and only half of it seems to be there.

The crime in crime novels is not what’s important. It is mainly there to facilitate the story. And because it’s what publishers want.

There will be a singing

That’s not just my continued mis-reading of the promised signing after every event. As I got off the tram on Saturday, I found myself struggling to avoid becoming part of a happy group of singers from the something or other gospel. I let them sway on ahead, but they gospelled so slowly that I ended up joining them, eventually overtaking whenever a more spacially aware singer prodded one of the others out of the way. And finally I led the procession, but I speeded up so I’d be out of there completely.

Tram? I hear you ask. Yes, I let the Resident IT Consultant drive me (us) to the Park & Ride and the tram conveyed me into Edinburgh. (It was Saturday. I wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer a repeat of the Saturday in 2012 when the train home was simply too full to join.)

I cased the joint for a while, coming to the conclusion the bookshop doesn’t stock Into A Raging Blaze. Found that the photographers’ background carpet was a more mellow green than it has been. Checked the price of cake – as you do – in case the Resident IT Consultant would need some later. And I, erm, rearranged some books in the bookshop. Although it is hard to put books face out when it is at the expense of other top books. Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Joined the proper photographers to snap Charlie Fletcher and Michelle Harrison. Not unsurprisingly they were keenest on the beautiful Michelle (who reminded me of a black haired J K Rowling). Me, I sort of stood behind the dustbins. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Being short, I’d already come to the conclusion I might have to take photographs between the legs of the others who have this unwritten shooting order I will never ever be able to join.

Michelle Harrison

After Charlie’s and Michelle’s event I repaired to the press yurt and most serendipitously came face to face with the newlyweds. I had more or less given up hope of fitting Philip and Lady Caveney into our respective schedules this week. So we had all of several minutes before Philip’s interview (for television, he claims) and I dashed on to The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, where I was unable to avoid the Resident IT Consultant. Former children’s laureate Anthony Browne was there too.

The Caveneys

I had asked permission to bring the Resident IT Consultant to the yurt, so we went there for our dinner sandwiches, and the life saving coffee. Sat opposite a woman I slowly worked out must be a Swedish journalist, and even more slowly I worked out that she the man she was interviewing was Bernardo Atxaga (whose book Shola miraculously appeared in my Swedish letterbox over the winter).

Being on translating grounds here, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Daniel Hahn, but I didn’t tug at his sleeve either, as he was intent on Bernardo. I trawled the square for some action and found I arrived just in time for the signing by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf, who write the Oksa Pollock books.

Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

Sara Paretsky

After some killing of time had taken place (it rained…) we finally got to the evening’s long awaited photocall with Sara Paretsky. She jumped straight into her star role, saying the attention she got from the photographers made her feel as though she’s important. Murdo Macleod pointed out she is important. I hung back by the dustbins again, knowing my camera would never totally overcome the fact that it was eight o’clock and a little dark, and that I couldn’t hope to achieve what Murdo and Co did. Meanwhile the Resident IT Consultant chatted to one of the photographers about why they all wear black. (I had no idea he was so into fashion!)

Sara Paretsky

We went straight to Sara’s event with Tom Rob Smith who – it turns out – is half Swedish. Naturally. Not knowing what he looked like before last night, I did miss his photocall on the green carpet. Apologies. (He looks sort of Swedish, if that helps.)

My skills for getting to near the front of the singing, I mean signing, queue had not deserted me, and I had my two minutes with Sara before too long. We agreed that facebook is the way to keep track of house moves and dogs. And stuff.

The light was far too bad for pictures, so I led the Resident IT Consultant back to the tram stop with no more singing, and from there it was a smooth trip home, without any need to get too close to any fellow passengers.

(In the small hours leading up to Saturday I had dreamed an alternate Sara Paretsky signing. She and her many (?) publicists, as well as a large group of fans, turned up outside my – old – house, to do the signing. I invited them in for soup and sandwiches. Her and the PRs, not the fans, obviously. Once inside it became my new house and that was so not good, because of its unfinished state. Also, my freezer isn’t that well stocked yet, and I was busy working out how to make the small amount of soup I had stretch between so many. But other than that, it was a fine signing.)

Bookwitch bites #123

C J Flood has won the Branford Boase for her first novel Infinite Sky. Congratulations!

I had so wanted to be there. But in the end common sense prevailed and I didn’t travel to London. It would have been a good time for it, apart from my moving into a new house handicap. For once it wasn’t the only thing happening, and I could have combined events. Adrian McKinty’s publisher was offering beer and sausage rolls with Adrian at their office yesterday afternoon. Not even teetotal veggie witches should be able to say no to that. Except I did.

And then I discovered Adrian was appearing at Waterstones Piccadilly the night before, in the illustrious company of Barry Forshaw, Mallock and Pete Ayrton. But in a way it was lucky I wasn’t there for that event, seeing as it started a mere 30 minutes after another event in the very same bookshop, featuring *Meg Rosoff and Marcus Sedgwick. I mean, how could a witch choose?

Trying to count myself lucky I didn’t have to.

Found this interview with Terry Pratchett about his next new book, Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If he has a favourite book, it seems to be the Tiffany Aching books, because she just gets on with things. So does Terry, of course. He might have had to cancel his Discworld appearance in Manchester, but the man is still writing, and Tiffany fans are looking forward to book number five.

Despite the shocking figures on author incomes that emerged this week, many authors do like Terry and his Tiffany, and just get on with things. Despite not earning a living wage. Despite other stuff too, no doubt. Terry obviously has no money worries, but he has another concern instead; how much time, and how many more books?

There was the news last week that food bank parcels now contain children’s books. It’s wonderful that more children will have a book to call their own, but pretty dismal that they have to rely on charity for it, not to mention that anyone in Britain should need food parcels.

*So pleased someone saw the similarities between Meg’s Picture Me Gone and Marcus’s latest YA book; American road trips involving British teenagers. Both books are fabulous, and She Is Not Invisible has just come out as a paperback. I have to admit to having handed over my copy of the latter to a teenager, because I felt the need to share this wonderful journey. Not in a food parcel as such, although there was food involved. And much talk of money.