Category Archives: Michael Morpurgo

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.

The 2014 programme – Manchester Children’s Book Festival

James Draper

Would you trust this man to run your book festival? Well, you should. James Draper – with his dodgy taste in socks – and Kaye Tew are responsible (yes, really) for the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and there is no other festival I love in quite the same way. It is professional, while also managing to be friendly, fun and very crazy.

(While they now have their own teams working for them, and they claim there’s less need and opportunity to see each other all the time, I believed James when he said ‘I see more of that woman than I do the inside of my own eyelids!’)

James Draper and Kaye Tew

The extremely hot off the presses 2014 programme is proof that Kaye and James know what they are doing and are growing with the task (no, not in that way), but I hope they never grow away from the childish pleasure they seem to take in working together. Carol Ann Duffy was wise to give them the job in 2010. She might still have to be mother and stop anything too OTT, but other than that you can definitely hand your festival over to these two.

I’d been told the new programme would be ready by the end of Monday. And I suppose it was. James worked through the night until 9 a.m. on the Tuesday, but that really counts as end of Monday in my book. Then he slept for an hour to make it Tuesday, when he and Kaye had invited me round for an early peek at what they have to offer this summer.

James Draper and Kaye Tew

While James – understandably – got some coffee, Kaye started talking me through the programme. It went well, although if I’d brought reading glasses I’d have been able to see more. There is a lot there, and they have old favourites coming back and new discoveries joining us for the first time.

This year they start their reading relay before the festival with an event in early June with Curtis Jobling, who is launching the whole thing, before spending a month going into schools passing the baton on. I reckon if anyone can do that, it’s Curtis. The month, not passing the baton. That’s easy.

Multi-cultural Manchester launches on the 26th of June with Sufiya Ahmed returning to talk about human rights issues with teenagers.

Olive tree MMU

On the Family Fun Day (28th June) Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve will judge a seawig parade (no, I don’t know what that is, either), they expect you to make sea monkeys (instructions on Sarah’s website), and there will be countless other fun things to do. It’s an all day thing, intended to tire you out.

Sunday 29th offers entertainment at various venues belonging to the festival sponsors; Royal Exchange Theatre, National Football Museum, Waterstones and Ordsall Hall.

On the Monday Guy Bass is back, and newbie Kate Pankhurst is bringing her detective Mariella Mystery. (I think I was told that Kate is getting married before her event and then going off on honeymoon immediately after. That’s dedication, that is.)

Justin Somper will buckle some swash on Tuesday 1st July, and the Poet Laureate is handing out poetry competition prizes, while on the Wednesday Andrew Cope (whom I missed last time) will talk about being brilliant, as well as doing an event featuring his Spy Dogs and Spy Pups. And as if that’s not enough cause for celebration, that Steve Cole is back again. It will be all about me, as he is going to talk about stinking aliens and a secret agent mummy.

Farmyard Footie and Toddler Tales on Thursday 3rd July, ending with a great evening offering both Liz Kessler and Ali Sparkes. (How to choose? Or how to get really fast between two venues?) David Almond will make his mcbf debut on Friday night, which is cause for considerable excitement.

And on the Saturday, oh the Saturday, there is lots. Various things early on, followed by vintage afternoon tea (whatever that means) at the Midland Hotel in the company of Cathy Cassidy! After which you will have to run like crazy back to MMU where they will have made the atrium into a theatre for a performance of Private Peaceful: The Concert, with Michael Morpurgo, who is mcbf patron, and acappella trio Cope, Boyes & Simpson.

If you thought that was it, then I have to break it to you that Darren Shan will be doing zombie stuff in the basement on the Saturday evening. Darkness and a high body-count has been guaranteed.

Willy Wonka – the real one – is on at Cornerhouse on Sunday, followed by a brussel sprout ice cream workshop, or some such thing. Meanwhile, Tom Palmer will be in two places at the same time (I was promised this until they decided he’d be in two places one after the other), talking about the famous football match in WWI. There will also be a Twitter football final.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is the Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson festival finale, with afternoon tea and a quiz at the MacDonald Townhouse Hotel. (And it had better be at least as chaotic as the one in 2010 where James’s mother was disqualified, and I probably should have been.)

You should be able to book tickets from today, and doing it today might be a good idea. Just in case it sells out. Which would be good (for them), but also a shame (for you).

For some obscure, but very kind, reason they have put my name on the last page. 14 rows beneath Carol Ann Duffy, but only two away from Michael Morpurgo. And I didn’t even give them any money.

MMU

All I want now is a complimentary hotel room for the duration. And a sofa from the atrium area to take home.

 

They came for dinner

I started leaning on them a week ago. At various points most of them could either come or not come and it kept changing until the last minute, and I moved venue two days before, but finally they were here.

Dinner table

On Thursday evening it was time for my annual tradition (three times is tradition, yes?) of asking the shortlisted authors coming to the Salford Children’s Book Award to meet for dinner on the night before the ceremony. Not all of them managed to come up with a convincing enough excuse for not joining me – and Daughter – so three authors and one very cool aunt actually made it to Carluccio’s at Piccadilly.

Gill Lewis

Sally Nicholls

Gill Lewis arrived nice and early, and we decided to string out the dining experience by having starters we strictly speaking didn’t need. Olives, crispy pasta. That sort of thing. Sally Nicholls, accompanied by her Cool Aunt, got there at the end of our main course, and Cliff McNish wasn’t too far behind.

This year the award is a Top Ten kind of arrangement, so the authors had all won their year, and this morning they have to fight it out between them (including Michael Morpurgo who even has to fight himself), to see who is the overall winner of the last ten years. (Daughter pointed out it was like The Hunger Games, except they’d had dinner, and hopefully they will all be alive at the end.)

We talked about being a vet, about big animals and small animals and disobedient dog sled dogs. There was some general writing world gossip, and just as it got really exciting I was asked to sign the official secrets act, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything. Deadlines. Editors. Killing the wrong character. Who’s been buried in the garden. Mmmphh… (OK, I will be quiet now.)

Cliff McNish

Cliff had questions on everything, including why I arranged the dinner. (Stupid question. I want to hang out with the cool kids. Obviously.) Sally waved her minestrone about and talked, making the table shake. Cool Aunt makes puppets (films and television), and she has a brand new grandchild, as well as the sense to bring photos of the baby. Adorable!

At some point the latecomers caught up with the menu, and Cool Aunt was seen finishing the large and rather green olives which were still around. Just before we were chucked out, we managed to work out how much money we needed to find, before going in search of taxis to Salford Quays and last trains for Cool Aunt and Daughter and me.

It was lucky no one was hoping for an early night, except MC Alan Gibbons who had flown in from Hong Kong in the small hours, and who came to the belated conclusion he actually needed some sleep. Which is why he didn’t join us.

The other hopefuls this morning are Paul Adam, Georgia Byng, Angie Sage and the sisters of Siobhan Dowd. Robert Muchamore and Michael Morpurgo won’t be there, but might still win. I’ll update this when I know.

(Michael Morpurgo won with Shadow.)

Paws and Whiskers

Who knew Philip Pullman has had dogs? Yeah, I suppose you all did, except me. He doesn’t strike me as a pet person, somehow. But he has had dogs. Three, of which two were very stupid, according to the doting Philip.

I learned all this in Paws and Whiskers, which is an anthology about cats and dogs, chosen by none other than Jacqueline Wilson. She wrote about her own cats, and they sounded so lovely I was halfway to Battersea and its Dogs & Cats* Home before I remembered I don’t want a pet.

Being my normal cynical self, I was intending to glance at this anthology, before handing it to someone who might appreciate it. Seems that person is me. I have only sampled the odd thing here and there – so far – but I can see that P&W will have to join my shelf of collections, where I can dip in and out of stories as and when I need something nice. (Will have to see about getting the shelf made longer.)

Jacqueline Wilson, Paws and Whiskers

Jacqueline has written a new story herself, and there is also her old Werepuppy. Apart from Philip Pullman, you can read about Malorie Blackman’s fondness for German shepherds, even when they are cowards. The usual suspects like Michael Morpurgo and Enid Blyton are there, as is Sharon Creech with her lovely Dog. Adèle Geras has written about a cat I didn’t know she once had, including a poem about her beloved pet, who was never left alone when they went on holiday. They took turns…

Patrick Ness is there with his much missed Manchee, along with countless expected and unexpected authors who have had pets, or who have written about them. Some pieces are excerpts from books, and other stories have been specially written for P&W.

The really good thing with this kind of selection of writing is that if you love Jacqueline (and who doesn’t?) you will discover new writers and their work, simply because if it’s good enough for your hero, it will be good enough for you.

Illustrations – as nearly always – by Nick Sharratt.

*Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the home.

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

The illustrated War Horse

Just in time for the opening performance of War Horse at the Lowry, comes Michael Morpurgo’s story as a new and rather large picture book, wonderfully illustrated by Rae Smith, who was the stage designer for the National Theatre production.

It’s just over six years since Daughter and I saw War Horse in London, and I’ve taken every opportunity to tell people to go and see it if they possibly can. Not that they believe me, but there you are. (Due to lack of time, and the public’s level of enthusiasm for seeing the show at the Lowry, I have decided not to go. It is practically sold out, and will be returning to Salford in the summer. And I am certain it won’t have deteriorated since we saw it.)

Michael Morpurgo and Rae Smith, War Horse

War Horse is a fairly short story, but with the addition of Rae’s pictures, it’s grown into a beautiful volume that you could give to absolutely anyone. The story is still very sad. You will require a hanky, so as not to drip on the horses.

For anyone wanting a beautiful memento of the play, I’d say this new book version should be perfect. For small hands to hold the book to read* themselves, it might be a little on the large and heavy side. So, why don’t you read it together?

*Yes, I know hands don’t read.

A Medal for Leroy

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s book about Walter Tull, comes another one, inspired by Walter. It’s almost unavoidable that we will have a run of war books this week, and it’s also unavoidable to have one (or two) by Michael Morpurgo. But he does them so well.

Michael Morpurgo, A Medal for Leroy

A Medal for Leroy features both World Wars and many generations (where my one gripe is that I’m wondering what’s happened to Mr Morpurgo’s arithmetic, which had me counting and counting and concluding that the ages of his characters don’t fully add up) and is all the more powerful for it. I used to think the two wars were far apart in time, but looking back you see that if one generation escaped, then the next one would be ready to go out into the subsequent war. Very sad.

Young Michael is around ten in 1950 and lives with his French mother in London. His pilot father Roy died before Michael was born. They often visit his aunts in Folkestone, as they had brought his father up. And then Michael finds out more about his father’s parentage, especially Roy’s unknown father Leroy, who died in the first war.

It is Leroy who is losely based on Walter Tull, and it’s uncanny how many similar young men go to war and never come back. As in James Riordan’ book, A Medal for Leroy also features the old Michael, and his grandchild. And there are many generations of dogs called Jasper, who have all played an important part in the lives of the three male characters.

This book is perhaps more about paying homage to an early black soldier, than about the wars as such. It’s what happened to the people at home. The prejudice, and the private courage. And quite a lot of the plot apparently comes from Michael Morpurgo’s own life. You don’t need to make these things up.