Treasures and mysteries

It’s interesting going to a two-author event where you have read one writer’s books but know nothing about the other’s. They will obviously have been paired for a reason. I know that Michelle Harrison is quite famous, but I still haven’t read any of her books. Charlie Fletcher, on the other hand, I have come across a few times. This event was good in that it had a large number of readers of the right age group, plus the unavoidable parents. And, erm, me and a few more un-accompanied adults.

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Calum McGhie, who chaired, let Charlie and Michelle fight it out as to who should go first. Charlie is clearly a man of the ‘ladies first’ brigade, and Michelle read from her current book, a prequel to her other novels. She likes writing the beginning, although these 300 words took her a day to write.

As Charlie finished reading the first chapter from Dragon Shield he got to the part where everything ‘freezes’ and that’s when our tent started moaning in the wind.

The best fantasy is where you put magic elements into the real world. London is old, and Charlie has enjoyed teaching his children some history by fitting his characters into a ‘real’ old world. He goes for walks, and stories simply fall out of the houses he passes.

Michelle Harrison

For Michelle the problem was that her characters grew older and that made the books older, so when her readers clamoured for more about these characters, she decided to write a prequel, to stay within the younger age range. She has read up on fairies, so knows for a fact that red makes you invisible (the walls and floor in the tent were red…) and to wear your clothes inside out means the fairies can’t hurt you. (I think I’ll take my chances, thank you.)

She is the second author this week who grew up on the Point Horror books, ‘where your best friend could be a serial killer…’ Quite.

Charlie was asked by his publisher to write another three book series, and at first he said no. Then he realised he writes for money and that he was stupid not to, so changed his mind. He reckons that museum exhibits simply must talk to each other at night, and that mass produced dragons are like cooking food without a saucepan. (I have to admit that made more sense when he said it, than it does right now.)

Charlie Fletcher

Asked if there is a book they’d like to write a sequel to, Charlie replied Far Rockaway. He feels there are many more old favourites he’d could put in another book. He always knows how a book will end, whereas Michelle only knows approximately how. Charlie loves finishing a book, and he pointed out that a book needn’t be perfect; it just needs to be finished.’

Michelle read the Famous Five books as a child, before moving on to Roald Dahl’s The Witches, which was the first one she decided to buy for herself. She likes being scared, and doesn’t care for the film version of The Witches. Charlie pointed out that to read books is more dangerous than the internet. It won’t be the same as what your friends do, and in films everything has been decided for you, while in a book you do.

His advice is to ‘read dangerously!’ That way you end up with interesting, awkwardly shaped people. Here Calum suggested that boys should read Michelle’s books and that girls should go for Charlie’s, in order to avoid stereotyping. He’d enjoyed both.

Before we went, Michelle mentioned that her favourite read is Julie Hearn’s The Merrybegot. So there you are!

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.

How to keep thrillers thrilling

Sara Paretsky

They were so colour co-ordinated that they might almost have agreed in advance what to wear. Sara Paretsky was striking in fuchsia and part of Tom Rob Smith’s jumper was the same hue. Or perhaps vivid pink is the current big thing among crime writers.

Their chair, Jackie McGlone, introduced them as briefly as she could, in order to save some of the evening for the actual event. Sara’s books about V I Warshawski have sold ten million copies, and Tom’s novel about a mother going crazy on a Swedish farm, was based on his own Swedish mother who went a little crazy (understandable) on a farm in Sweden.

Sara started by reading the beginning of Critical Mass; the gory part where V I finds the body. Tom read from The Farm, but I’m afraid I don’t remember which bit. I was too interested in Swedes going crazy on farms in the Swedish countryside, which isn’t as nice as it looks.

Jackie wondered how much of their writing is based on true events and people. Lotty is almost Sara’s grandmother, and Tom’s story is a little true, in that his father did actually phone him to say his mother had gone crazy, and then she called to say her husband was conspiring against her. Except it wasn’t quite like that. He’s had to change things in the book.

Sara was interested in whether or not Tom’s mother had read The Farm, seeing how instrumental she was in its conception. She has, and she came to the conclusion he’d made it up…

At nine o’clock the shooting began. It might be part of the Edinburgh Tattoo, but it makes hearing people speak almost impossible in the rest of town. But Sara and Tom soldiered on as best they could. Sara said that V I does what she herself is too chicken to do, with a ‘certain lack of impulse control.’ She discussed V I’s age and that of the dogs and Mr Contreras, not to mention Lotty, who really shouldn’t be in the operating theatre at 85. She’s letting her characters hover where they are, just so she can let them continue. At Sara’s age when people around her are ill or dying, she likes to be in control of her characters, letting those she wants to stay alive do just that.

Tom’s earlier novel Child 44 is about to be released as a film. He has just seen it and reckons it’s very good. Sara, on the other hand, said that the one film made about V I was as far away from her book as it could possibly be. The only good thing about it was that she was allowed to run on Wrigley Field for one evening, when Disney hired it. The men from Hollywood had been surprised to discover that ‘feminism might be commercially viable’ after all.

Sara Paretsky

Neither author believes in writing about mass murderers, and prefer to stay away from real evil. Asked if V I’s controversial ways of working has had an effect on her sales, Sara replied that they have. She gets a lot of mail and she answers all letters except the very worst ones, for which she has a file labelled ‘weirdos, cranks and idiots.’

V I will never be rich, doing pro bono work as she does. But Sara won’t let the dogs starve. Nor was she able to ruin V I’s beautiful new Italian boots in the next book.

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.)

My Saturday highlight

For those of you who misguidedly admire my middle-of-the-night blogging: Here is a lovely fuchsia coloured Sara Paretsky to keep you going.

Sara Paretsky

I did wonder whether it could be seen as too frivolous to concentrate on looks and clothes, but then it struck me that V I Warshawski has a fondness for good footwear and expensive silk garments, despite the fact that they soon get ruined by her next impulsive escapade.

And as Julie Bertagna said a few years ago, Sara does do ‘the scarf thing’ well.

Dragon Loves Penguin – live

In the end there was no 90-year-old fiddle-maker in the audience. But Debi Gliori had me, and that was embarrassment enough for one day.

Dragon Loves Penguin is one of my most favourite of Debi’s books. Not so much because I love dragons (certainly not with the passion Debi reserves for them), but because I love mummies who love their babies. It might sound boringly traditional – not to mention obvious – but it needs to be said. ‘Love and time, the greatest gifts of all.’

Debi Gliori

After explaining how she came to write – and draw – Dragon Loves Penguin, Debi read the whole book to us. Not just a bit, but the lot. It can still make me cry.

Debi started off by drawing us an egg. Come to think of it, she ended by drawing us an egg. Too.

Her life long ambition has been to put penguins and dragons in one book, and she showed us her older books The Trouble With Dragons, and Penguin Post, about a daddy penguin who attempts to hatch a parcel. (You can’t.)

This was a great event. Sometimes a young audience can be too young, but here they were just right, and what amazing questions they asked!

How do dragons fly? Well, it helps if Debi has remembered to draw wings (she has been known to forget). But it’s probably by magic.

How did the egg end up on the ice? Yes, how? The baby penguin (in the egg) will freeze to death if left unattended for more than two minutes, so we decided that dragon had been very fast, because ‘a page is a long time.’

What does a dragon’s egg look like? Lovely, is the answer. And orangey, but with some magenta in it. And did you know that charcoal is merely a burnt stick?

Debi mentioned my old favourite Ffup, who makes toast by breathing on bread. It strikes me as most efficient. I’d like to do that, too.

Debi Gliori

(As you can see, Debi spent a lot of time actually talking to fans. I think this was about school.)

Friday the 15th

‘As usual’ I had a quick rest on Willie Johnston on my way to Charlotte Square. I can see that he – or more accurately his bench – and I will be seeing more of each other.

Zeraffa Giraffa

I had a carefully compiled list for Friday, in order to fit as much as I could in. Finding a mutually convenient time to have a spot of lunch with wonderful publicist Nicky proved just about possible. Her charges were busy all day, and first I went to find Jane Ray – who is very good with giraffes – at her signing. She had been making giraffe masks at her event, and the shop was full of tiny human giraffes. Very nice to meet publisher Janetta Otter-Barry (hers was a regal sort of presence…) who was there to oversee the proceedings.

Jane Ray

Nicky gave me lunch in the authors’ yurt, and we had a little chat about families as well as about books. I came away with two new books, and having surprised her with my weird interests, there might be more. (I now have a flag sticker book!) In return I tipped her off that Craig Pomranz (of Raffi knitting fame) was due a photocall session after lunch.

Debi Gliori, who was next on my list, popped in for a cuppa before her event, and was slightly disturbed to find I’d be there to heckle from the back. But as long as I vote the right way in the referendum we are fine…

Speaking of politics, by the time I’d decided I could tug on Peter Guttridge’s sleeve (as instructed by himself), Paddy Ashdown ‘got in the way’ and there was Ming Campbell and many others whose names could be dropped. So, no sleeve-tugging. Yet.

Ever the involved publicist, Nicky has taken up knitting to join in with Craig’s and Raffi’s scarf making. But the biggest help had been a very, very young girl in the audience who spontaneously organised Craig’s event for him.

Debi Gliori

I went off to get to Debi’s event on time (more of which in separate post), and after it I trailed her to the bookshop where she doodled for her fans for about an hour and a half. One of her talented picture book colleagues, Jackie Morris, was busy painting in the grown-ups’ bookshop all afternoon.

Jackie Morris

Then it was time for Craig Pomranz to sign after his second knitting event, and he unravelled (no, I don’t mean that… he got out) Raffi’s actual scarf and proceeded to wind it round a couple of small fans.

Craig Pomranz and Raffi's scarf

Me, I went back to the yurt and waited for Gordon Brown. There was some discussion between two people as to whether we were about to get the former PM or the Scottish crime writer. I knew it was the politician, and they rather hoped it would be.

We were lined up at the front of the yurt long before the ’round-the-square’ queue for Gordon Brown’s event with Alistair Moffat had even begun to move into the main theatre. Authors and others who actually had to pass us looked disconcerted, apart from the ice cream man and Tom Conti. And that other Scottish Italian, Debi Gliori.

Debi Gliori

This time it wasn’t the police so much as Men In Black who milled about. James Naughtie was there. So was insect repellant. There were also midges. Even after the spraying.

Alistair Moffat and Gordon Brown

And at last he came. Mr Brown, as they addressed him. He went on to his event, and I waved to Willie Johnston on my way home. It’s nice this. I’ve never gone home from the book festival before.