Tag Archives: Alan Gibbons

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.)

Introducing Raining Fire

Alan Gibbons

Whether it’s lack of time, or just that I’m a wimp, remains to be seen. But while my nerves are debating Alan Gibbons’ new novel, Raining Fire, I’d like to introduce you to Alan introducing his book. There are four equally watchable YouTube clips for anyone wanting to know what the book is about.

I have to admit that my pulse went up while watching, and I feel wimpier than ever.

Here is the blurby bit: ‘Ethan is a promising footballer, and when he is selected to go on a training programme in the US, he feels sure that he has found his chance to escape the gangs that dominate his streets. But as life spirals out of control for his brother, Alex, and things unexpectedly take a turn for the worse for Ethan, he finds himself drawn into the midst of an explosive feud with the gun at its heart.’

And here is Alan reading from his book:

What surprises me the most, is that Alan writes books at all. I don’t think I know any author who travels so much or who puts quite such a lot of his time into things for ‘the greater good,’ like the Campaign for the Book to save our libraries, or just plain book event travelling. Hull, or Hong Kong (I’m partly making this up), it’s all the same.

It’s marvellous that he does, though, and I believe Alan’s books fulfill an important role for boy readers. Crammed with boy stuff, and written by someone with the right ideas about things.

(And the piratical ‘eye patch’ makes a bit of a statement too, doesn’t it?)

Deary me, how terryble

If you haven’t got money you won’t want to read books. In fact, you shouldn’t have the right to read them, because (other) taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund your free reading. Rather like education. Why should those with no children pay to put other people’s kids through school?

Those pesky children might of course turn out to be the surgeon who saves your life 25 years later, but never mind that. Let’s live for today.

The Resident IT Consultant felt I was being strangely insincere in wanting to hang on to libraries, seeing as I don’t – currently – use them. That’s mainly because I already have access to all I can read. I used libraries until I moved to Britain, even after I discovered I could afford to buy English paperbacks. I read more than I bought.

Then I must have fallen foul of the ‘I am new here and I don’t quite know what to do in someone else’s library’ law, so didn’t. When Offspring arrived they had the school library, and before that there were all the book parties. Usborne and Red House parties were de rigueur in my neighbourhood.

And after that the mobile library parked in our street and I went every time it came. I stopped because I helped in Offspring’s secondary school library and there were so many books there I was in heaven. Once I stopped at the school, the mobile library had gone to park elsewhere (was it my fault..?) and I spent a year or two buying books again, since we could afford to, until Bookwitch was born and soon after her, the TBR piles arrived on the scene.

So that’s me. I have very little against libraries. I think we should hang on to the ones we have. Occasionally people with no money want to read books. Quite often people with money read nothing at all. The reading/not reading is not connected to the wallet, unless it has to be.

The well-off middle class children Offspring used to play with in the mid 1990s were delighted to discover libraries when they came along one day. They were readers already, but knew nothing about libraries. I blame the parents.

For obvious reasons, the mobile library had limited shelf space. But I found good stuff there. It’s the place I was introduced to Malorie Blackman and Gillian Cross, and which allowed me to work my way through ‘all’ of theirs. I found Tim Bowler, too, and the lovely and murderous Kate Ellis. They all went on to become firm book friends of the whole family.

Would I have discovered them without the library? I might have been waylaid by something garish and pink in some shop. Who knows?

And as for what authors get from libraries. They acquire readers. As someone pointed out in the Guardian; you can get ideas in the library, and then you go out and buy books. Another thing I’ve noticed authors are ridiculously fond of is the PLR money. So many of them aren’t dreadfully wealthy, and they are happy when that PLR cheque arrives every year. I know, because facebook is awash with PLR happiness for a day or two.

Then there is the greater good. J K Rowling is always saying how grateful she was for benefits, back when she wasn’t rich. She doesn’t need PLR, but I doubt she begrudges others that money. J K wasn’t uneducated, just a bit short of funds. Perhaps she even went to libraries.

Sometimes intelligence and the wish to read doesn’t increase with the bank balance. Actually, it could even be the reverse.

If and when my supply of review copies dries up, I’ll be down at the library too. If it’s still there.

Bookwitch bites #99

The children’s book world is a very nice place, but not 100% so. My estimation of Terry Deary sank somewhat this week. Not because he thinks it’s OK to do away with libraries. It’s his right to have opinions, and I’m sure there is a (very) small grain of truth in there, somewhere. But it appears he felt it was all right to get personal when Alan Gibbons turned out not to agree with him. Here is what Alan had to say in reply, and he has to be admired for the way he did so. He’s got style!

Rhys - Thirst For Fiction

I don’t know where Rhys of Thirst For Fiction blog fame started off his reading. These days I assume he gets all the same books I do. But he might well have been to a library at some point during his 16 or 17 years. The library is where I first met Caroline Lawrence, and here she can be found talking to Rhys, in an interview that is so much better than what I managed with Caroline.

How did you people do with getting your hands on the free ebook The Storm Bottle during the last couple of days? Don’t tell me you forgot. It’s no longer free and you will have to fork out 77p. But it will be worth it. Katherine Langrish posted a pretty perfect blog about Nick Green on Thursday. With people like her and Rhys around I will soon have to hang up my broomstick.

Formby Books

Another tireless book person is Tony Higginson, whose Formby Books is opening in new premises today. It sounds like he needed more space, and that can only be a good thing. (Please tell me those are the customer toilets, Tony? Or the fitting rooms, where you try new books out before taking them home, perhaps?) The address you want is 5 The Cloisters, Halsall Lane, Formby. Run along now! There is an absolutely perfect book waiting for you.

Formby Books

Dung beetles in Salford Quays

When the Resident IT Consultant heard that I’d asked another man out to dinner, I had to placate him by lending him a copy of Grk and the Phoney Macaroni. That’s because the man was none other than Josh Lacey, who is also Joshua Doder,* who writes about the adorable Grk.

I then added to my dinner guests by trawling through the shortlist for the Salford Children’s Book Award, and apart from those who were ill or otherwise indisposed, or who claimed to be telling 2000 people in Derry what to do, I found Dirk Lloyd (aka the Dark Lord, aka Jamie Thomson) and Gill Lewis, who both courageously sacrificed themselves to dinner with the witch. (I suppose it beats a dry sandwich alone in a hotel.)

Dining – and wining – authors is almost better than going to awards ceremonies. (Think Disney’s Snow White and a certain witch.)

Speaking of hotels; they shouldn’t be allowed to name and build them in such a way that authors don’t know where they are staying. We almost led someone astray after the meal.

I found Josh and the Dark Lord in the bar at the Lowry last night, where I had gone to warm up, and they for a glass of something. Before long I forced them to go out and search for Gill, who had abandonend the end of a very good book to dine with us.

We talked about a lot of things. The Dark Lord talked the most, and he is very keen on games. And similar stuff. He knows about smörgåsbord, and there was a rather unfortunate conversation about eating elk.

Some people go to awards nights away to sleep, when sleep is hard to come by at home. (On that basis, maybe there should be even more events away for the sleep deprived.) Gill, who is a vet, writes about animals, and the Dark Lord got busy thinking one up for her next book (which, if it mentions too much gamesy stuff is all his fault) to top ospreys, dolphins and bears. It seems dung beetles are the answer.

There was some speculation as to who will win today’s award. Most of our money is on Frank Cottrell Boyce, but I’m sure we could be wrong. It might be one of the dinner guests. Or Barbara Mitchelhill, David Logan or Lissa Evans. Who knows?

I gather Alan Gibbons is doing the talking again this year, so I wish I could be/have been there. But as usual, I’m happy for the children of Salford who have read and voted and hopefully generally enjoyed this year’s award work.

And my fellow diners might never have the same kind of bank balance as JKR, but they are great company, and only ever so slightly slow at ordering food. At least one of us was starving, and another very sleepy. Actually, that makes two of us.

There was some speculation on the feasibility of a Jacqueline Wilson sci-fi novel, and why not? The odds are better than for me getting the hang of modern mobile phonery. I tried texting my guests. I tried answering my phone. I’m pretty useless at it all.

Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner that I don’t distinguish between more and longer. I meant longer. I never knowingly insult children’s authors.

Thank you, Gill, Josh and Jamie.

PS Gill Lewis and her Sky Hawk won!!!

* I am sorry to have to tell you (well, not that sorry, actually) that Joshua Doder is now dead. Kaput, as Josh Lacey put it. He is taking over his alter ego, and from now on Grk will belong to him.

Newcastle’s library crisis

Save Newcastle Libraries Emergency Meeting Tuesday, 20th November, 7pm at St John’s Church Hall, 30 Grainger Street, Newcastle NE1 5JG. Speakers include David Almond, Alan Gibbons, Steve Barlow.

Save Newcastle Libraries

The indefatigable Alan Gibbons is still working to save the country’s libraries, and more specifically, those in Newcastle, where they are planning to close almost every library.

That is just not on, and I sincerely hope Alan’s efforts will have the desired effect. We all know about money and not having enough of it, but this is not the solution. Not while there is money being used unwisely in far too many places.

The photo above is like a who’s who in children’s books, and many authors have joined Alan’s campaign and many will be there on Tuesday in support of this protest.

Below is Alan’s open letter, and the names of those supporting it:

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are authors, many of whom have attended the Northern Children’s Book Festival and other events in the region over many years. We have enjoyed the tremendous warmth and hospitality of young book lovers in the North East and the librarians and teachers who introduce them to the joy of reading.

We are therefore appalled to hear that council leaders are planning draconian cuts to the city’s libraries. The UK is 25th in the PISA international reading rankings. This is no time to cut libraries. It is the young and the elderly who disproportionately depend on branch libraries. The cost in educational underachievement would far outweigh any savings made by cuts.

It is not the role of a Labour council to act as a conduit for the coalition government’s ‘austerity’ cuts which disproportionately hit the poorest and most vulnerable.

We call on Newcastle’s councillors to reconsider this wrong and immoral course.

Yours faithfully,

Alan Gibbons, Tommy Donbavand, Anne Fine, Beverley Naidoo, Theresa Breslin, Bali Rai, Katherine Langrish, Tim Bowler, Cathy Cassidy, Mary Hoffman, Steve Cole, Paul Hudson, Penny Dolan, Ann Turnbull, Lucy Coats, Dave Cryer, Bernard Ashley, John Dougherty, Angela Topping, Janine Amos, Margaret Storr, Danuta Reah, Sally Prue, Duncan Pile, Lori Fotheringham, Keren David, Ian Bland, Barry Hutchinson, Jim O’Neill, Tim Collins, Dugaldheelder Ferguson, Theresa Tomlinson, Veronique Martin, Malaika Rose Stanley, Val Bierman, Five Leaves Publications, Paul Shackley, Desmond Clarke.

Who ‘fired’ first

Two of my most treasured books as a ten-year-old were a couple of Reader’s Digest children’s annuals. I am not blushing all that much admitting to this, because they meant a lot to me. I read them over and over again, and there was plenty of interesting stuff to find.

In one there was a puzzle to solve. It was the picture of a saloon mirror which had lots of bullet holes, and the clever marshall who went there to decide in which order the shots had been fired, could immediately work out the correct answer, based on how the cracks on the mirror were hemmed in by each other.

That’s pretty much the technique I used to decide which author had signed an anthology of mine.

Some years ago I had this crazy idea that I’d get my anthologies signed by as many of the participating authors as I could. What I hadn’t worked out was that I’d be getting more and more of them, so my task would simply grow too big.

I still cart collections of short stories around, especially when I know I’m likely to run into more than one potential signer. But generally speaking it’s a lost cause.

The volume I had in mind when I mentioned the shooting above, was one I looked at a while ago, several years after I’d done my carting around. Melvin Burgess was obvious. He signed first, so had taken up a lot of the available space. Tim Bowler was next, so there was plenty of room for him as well.

Then came Alan Gibbons, who also did all right. And after him I collared… Yeah, who did I find? I tried deciphering the signature and failed abyssmally. It was more a doodle than anything. In the end I needed to look at the index to see which of the authors I had met, and thereby might have signed. There was only one possibility.

With that thought I peeped at some of his other signed books, and I’d been right. How could I have forgotten Eoin Colfer’s autograph? And what did he (or anyone else) think of being offered only a tiny space in which to doodle?

It’s a weird hobby, but one I suspect I will continue pursuing, on and off. I once made up a list of my books and which authors, and which ones I’d had signed, in order to make my planning easier. I gave that up pretty swiftly. It was as hard to keep up with as my card system for knowing what’s in my large freezer.

Better to take pot luck in both cases.

Higher Ground

Higher Ground

I have mentioned Higher Ground briefly in the past. Anuj Goyal had the bright idea to collect stories written by children’s authors about the 2004 tsunami, for the children who suffered in the tsunami. As it says on the cover, ‘stories inspired by the courage and hope of children who survived.’

Most of the stories are set elsewhere than India, because other countries were much harder hit. Not that details matter, but there are two southern India stories and a couple set in the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands. It doesn’t matter where they are set, because you will cry over all of them. Either because it is very dreadful and sad, or occasionally because something beautiful and wonderful happens. I don’t have a favourite, but keep remembering The Christmas Angel by Cliff McNish.

Apart from the obvious fact of bringing people’s attention to the tsunami children’s realities, it’s good to be able to read more about children in countries we tend to know less about. People go to Thailand, but what do they really know about their holiday hosts?

It’s worth being aware that these stories are based on real tales from the tsunami. They aren’t just something the authors made up. I hope Tim Bowler won’t mind my saying this, but I sort of understood from a comment he made back then, that writing his story made him cry. So, what hope does the reader have?

There aren’t many copies for sale these days, and probably none for the charitable causes it was conceived in aid of. But if you simply want to read about this disaster which now seems very far away, it is possible to get hold of a copy.

Bookwitch bites #75

If I’d known about it I would have wanted to be there. Here is a short video from when some other people spoke up for libraries, with Alan Gibbons at the forefront ‘as usual.’ The others are, in no particular order, Lucy Coats, Candy Gourlay, Philip Ardagh, Gillian Cross, Fiona Dunbar, Chris Priestley, Pat Walsh and the librarian of librarians, Ferelith Hordern. And probably some others I didn’t catch enough of a glimpse of to be able to identify them.

It’s easy for us to take libraries and the whole idea of them for granted. I had no idea that when Candy grew up in the Philippines there weren’t any libraries. And the elderly gentleman in the video who talked so passionately about borrowing books to read… well, it makes me want to cry.

Charlie Brown had access to a library. Probably even Snoopy had a library, unless it was ‘no dogs allowed.’ It can be easy to lose or forget a library book, but as long as you don’t ‘spill coffee’ on a book on purpose, you might be forgiven.

Charlie Brown library cartoon

The coffee spilling was a technique I learned about at work, back in the olden days. Not very honest, and not something I have ever practised.

Finally, here is a link to a radio programme on Monday 26th March, about Scandinavian children’s books, presented by Mariella Frostrup as ‘always.’ Let’s hope it won’t be only the same old stuff, despite the description. I am particularly interested, because I was party to a request for contributions to the programme from the Scandinavian church in Liverpool. Nice that they asked, but not sure who they hoped to find there. (Having said that, I will clearly be faced with all my friends at Gustav Adolf…)

Bookwitch award bites #67

It’s book awards season. Well, strictly speaking I suppose it’s time for an award somewhere in this country most of the year. I have given up trying to remember or keeping track of what goes on.

Nicola Morgan

Earlier this week Nicola Morgan won the RED award for Wasted, and I’m really pleased. It doesn’t matter how good your book is when you’re up against more fantastic books. And with young readers voting, there is no telling how the vote will go. RED is a Falkirk book award, which I had not heard of before. But it’s nice to know they read good books in ‘my Linlithgow alternative.’ (I’m obviously very sorry about anything I said about Falkirk in the past.)

As for yesterday’s award in Salford, it seems Michael Morpurgo won with his most recent (?) dog book. As I’ve mentioned, he wasn’t present, while several of the other shortlisted authors were.

Salford Children's Book Award 2011

That leads me to what many people have been saying over the years, about being invited when they don’t know if they’ve won or not. I can see that you’d not want to miss the Carnegie, even if you’re ‘merely’ a runner-up, but for the many-times shortlisted authors (and some really do seem to be involved in nearly every award) for ‘smaller’ awards it’s awkward to know whether to accept an invitation.

It must be flattering, and mostly fun, while also hard work and scary, appearing in front of large audiences of keen readers. But how many days can you realistically set aside for this kind of thing? Many have a day job, not to mention families. And in these cash strapped times, travelling costs can be prohibitive. Who pays? That seems to vary, but suffice to say that some authors, some of the time, foot at least part of the bill themselves.

And then someone else wins, who’s not even there. There are many good reasons why someone can’t make it, even if there is a whisper that they are the winner. And you can’t very well take away their win and give it to the next person, who just happens to be present. Can you?

(In the photo we have Alan Gibbons as MC, and Ally Kennen, publicist Mary Byrne, Jon Mayhew, Candy Gourlay, the Mayor of Salford – I would guess – and Pat Walsh as well as two unknowns, to me.)