Tag Archives: Ally Kennen

Wednesday – in two parts

When Ruth Eastham texted me to say she and Ally Kennen had arrived at Manchester Piccadilly, I looked carefully at the people coming up the escalator and found myself staring at Philip Caveney instead. The ladies were not far behind, but I think it was Philip’s job to identify one lone Bookwitch from the milling crowds. He did, and then left for home.

Ruth and I had been plotting for weeks to meet up, and when she told me Ally was coming along it made the deal even better as far as I was concerned. I’ve seen Ally several times without plucking up the courage to say hello, and here she was, actually wanting to meet me.

I had to do that thing I hate; admit to not having read a single book of hers. She, and her books, have scared me somewhat, but Ally assured me nothing bad happens in her books. So maybe..? Certainly, Ally the person is very nice. Believe me. She had gone along to the Oldham Brilliant Books for the fun, and to have a night’s un-interrupted sleep.

Ally Kennen

She was a bit green, however. The taxi they’d come in had not been of the steadiest sort. So Ally drank a glass of water, and watched as I had some pretty good gnocchi while Ruth showed what she’s made of by going straight for the tiramisu, the taxi ride notwithstanding.

Gnocchi

Now, I’d obviously planned to talk about Ruth and Ally and their books, but the tables turned quite early on and they found out more about me than makes sense. Although we interrogated each other to a suitable degree, and I reckon both Ally and I want to gatecrash Ruth in Italy, where she lives.

Ally had a train to catch (we all did, but hers was the first), so she left Ruth and me to discuss Ruth’s next book. (Speaking of next books, I think Ally’s next one sounds relatively safe.) I warned Ruth about all the things she doesn’t want to put in her book, and she took notes…

Ruth Eastham with Tiramisu

We enthused about war, which we both like. In books, if not in real life. And because Ruth was going off to spend 24 hours being an ‘exciting and famous aunt’ I dispatched her to a train leaving from the furthest away platform, with a mere five minutes to spare. Hope she made it.

I had more on the agenda, so went for my own train and spent a little time resting at home.

Caryl Hart

After some tea I gathered my camera and current book and walked over to the hotel used by the authors coming to the Stockport Book Award to see if I could catch up with some of them, since Wednesday was awards night at the Plaza. Using the same list of books as Oldham, it meant that some of the winning authors were also the same.

Ed Eaves

Hence I saw Caryl Hart again, looking fabulous in her ‘partydress’ complete with crown and everything. (This year’s theme was crowns and coronets.) She was accompanied by Ed Eaves, the illustrator of How to Grow a Dinosaur, and he wore a fantastic crown that he’d made himself. It’s that artistic vein.

The other winner waiting to catch a taxi to the Plaza was Clare Chambers, author of Burning Secrets. This year there have been many winners in Oldham and Stockport who I don’t know at all. It’s good to meet new people, but above all, it’s great that more than the obvious, well known books get an audience and new readers.

Clare Chambers

As far as I know, the other winners were Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, again, with A Monster Calls, and Clive Goddard and Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I hope neither Clive nor publicist Sarah, representing Patrick and Jim, had got lost. I understand they were coming direct from Oldham. And I believe Philip Caveney – Stockport’s very own author – was also at the Plaza.

The library representative bundled ‘my’ three into a taxi, and I walked home, having narrowly avoided the Market Research event at the hotel.

Brilliant Books

It was Oldham’s first book award last night, and what a brilliant name Brilliant Books is! Queen Elizabeth Hall was teeming with beautifully dressed school children of all ages, and I must say that those authors who usually spend their days in lonely garrets scrub up really well, too.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

As for your shabby looking witch, she was given her very own escort who did some excellent looking after. His name was Snape. Keith Snape. Not Severus. But anyway. (He’s older than he looks. Apparently.) He told me about the wonderful libraries in Oldham, and he is dreadfully enthusiastic about all sorts of things.

Twenty schools have participated in reading this first year, and the children came for a glittery night out at the round tables in the beautiful ballroom. The Mayor of Oldham spoke, and then it was Dave’s turn to look after things on stage. At least I think he’s a Dave. I didn’t catch his surname. He did a great job, ably assisted by young readers.

The names of the shortlisted authors for each category were read out by readers of that age group, followed by some very nicely done recorded readings from each book, along with an opinion on why that particular book was the best. (Like because the character had orange hair.)

Caryl Hart

Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves won the Early Years award for How to Grow a Dinosaur, and Caryl was there to receive the prize. She impressed Dave by reading her acceptance speech on her smartphone…

Oldham Youth Wind Ensemble played The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, before the titles of the five shortlisted books in the Key Stage 1 group were read out, by slightly older children, who in an egalitarian attempt to split the five titles, shared the last one between them.

Caryl Hart

Julia Donaldson and David Roberts won with Jack and the Flumflum tree, and our esteemed Children’s Laureate made up for having gone on holiday instead of coming to Oldham, by sending a video message, which included singing a song with her husband. Pretty good, actually.

Not wanting to be outdone (as if they would be!) the Wind Ensemble gave us the Drunken Sailor, and then it was straight on to Key Stage 2. I am pleased that Philip Caveney won with Night on Terror Island. It’s especially nice, because it’s a local award. Philip thanked his daughter for making him a children’s author, and his soulmate, who then ended up carrying his rather lovely trophy around for him.

Philip Caveney

Clive Goddard

Clive Goddard, who didn’t win, but who was there anyway, stood up to wave, so we know what he looks like. He wrote a book with the tongue-twisting title Fintan Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer. I agree with Dave; I don’t think I can say that too many times.

Stanley's Stick

Ruth Eastham

Before moving on to the Key Stage 3 books, we enjoyed a performance of Stanley’s Stick by young actors from Oldham Coliseum. The winning book in this category was The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham. She gave a great speech, which partly consisted of reading us her first published poem, written when she was nine. Basically, we should be aware of our inner caterpillar. I think. We will eventually turn into butterflies.

Ally Kennen

By this time poor Dave wasn’t sure if he was even at the right stage, but he was, because it was the turn of the oldest readers (so much taller than the first ones) to announce that Patrick Ness and Jim Kay had won with A Monster Calls. Unfortunately they were running late with their homework, and had been given a detention so couldn’t be there.

Sarah from Walker Books read out a message from Patrick, who regretted that his nice suit wasn’t going to get its annual airing, and he thanked Siobhan Dowd, on whose idea the book was based. Another shortlisted author, Ally Kennen, was in the audience and we got a wave from her.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham

Dave said he’s happy so many children can and do read more than 140 characters, and then everyone thanked everybody else. Andrea Ellison, whose brainchild Brilliant Books is, spoke and listed all her helpers. She waved her plastered arm around, and I wasn’t sure how much she had used it to persuade people… She finished by asking the children to parade round the room, to show off their beautiful outfits and perhaps to get some restlessness out of the way by marching round to the upbeat music.

Ruth Eastham

After which there was nothing more to do than buy books and chat to authors and give Lady Caveney advice on the Scandinavian languages and their differences. And seeing as it took me two hours to get there by public transport, I then decided I had to start working on my return journey. (Car would have been 30 minutes. Broom probably even faster.)

I feel honoured to have been present at the birth of a new award, and here’s to many more Brilliant Books!

Books

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.)

A fascination with graveyards and death

I will have to have words with Mr Google. Crosby Civic Hall just isn’t where he said it’d be. It’s also ‘quite easy’ to walk past, hidden by greenery. Which is nice. The greenery, not so much the extra walk, although I suppose it might have done me good.

What did do me good was the fabulous Sefton Super Reads event yesterday in Waterloo (I have finally seen the Waterloo of Cosmic fame!) Once Ellen Renner had given up trying to make me believe it was July, when it actually was June, I quickly chatted up Tony Higginson of Pritchards bookshop fame, and the kind man said what a great idea it’d be if I came. So I came, after giving up on Mr Google’s ideas.

Tony Higginson, Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner at Sefton Super Reads

Zoe and Tony at Sefton Super Reads

Sefton Super Reads with Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner

They had an incredibly strong shortlist comprising Mary Hooper, Ellen Renner and Jon Mayhew, who were all present, and also Eleanor Updale, Andy Mulligan and Ally Kennen, who weren’t. It’s fantastic that so many could be there, and I’m pleased that I managed to escape the – frankly ridiculous – idea that I pose for a photo with Ellen, Mary and Jon. Tony did that so much better. (I thought I hadn’t met him before. But I had. He was at the Plaza last month, also chatting with Elvis. Small world.)

Sefton does a brisk and informal awards ceremony, with brief introductions to the books, a Q & A where the schools who took part in the reading and voting got to ask questions of Jon and Mary and Ellen.

Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner at Sefton Super Reads

Running out of ideas is not generally a problem. Time to write all those potential books is. Both Mary and Jon are fascinated by graveyards and death and both their books feature professional mourners as main characters. The books are also set in much the same sort of (Victorian) time, as is Ellen’s Castle of Shadows. In fact, more than half the shortlist is historical, suggesting young readers like what’s old, as well as what’s dead.

Mary Hooper

Mary takes a year to write a book, and if Jon didn’t have to do all sorts of other things like paid work, he’d write lots of books in a year. Ellen disappointed us by saying her third novel won’t be coming next year. Jon stops the car to write down ideas. Hopefully only if driving while getting them.

Ellen Renner

One very sneaky question was what they thought of the competition and whether they had read each other’s books. They were pretty adept at admitting to having read less than the teenagers present, but complimented the others. And like me, both Jon and Ellen had had Mary’s Fallen Grace waiting in the tbr pile for some time. (I dealt with it by reading on the train…)

Jon Mayhew wins Sefton Super Reads

Then it was straight onto the announcement that Jon Mayhew had won with Mortlock. With so many wonderful books I was just grateful that it was one of the authors present who won. It feels so much better that way. But as with choosing who your favourite child is, there’s no way I was going to pick a favourite among the shortlisted novels.

After Jon’s admirably short thank you speech, which he may or may not have written (or thought about) in advance, I could see Mrs M eyeing the trophy with a view to dusting it and possibly arranging for a special trophy room at home if hubby is going to keep this winning streak going.

Reviews of Sparks at Sefton Super Reads

Drinks at Sefton Super Reads

Before the local school children could stampede towards the waiting refreshments, their reviewing labours were rewarded with book tokens. They had written some very good reviews and I especially enjoyed hearing about the teenager who had developed bird phobia after Mortlock. (Well, who hasn’t?)

Prize winners at Sefton Super Reads with Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner

Tony Higginson at Sefton Super Reads

The osmotic (his own choice of word) Tony provided the book tokens and ran the bookselling and took photos and told us about the great future events he is organising. That’s what booksellers should be like!

Jon Mayhew, Ellen Renner and Mary Hooper at Sefton Super Reads

There was book signing and queues and photographs, and it was hard to see the authors for the crowds. But that’s as it should be.

When everything had been said and done, I marched off towards Waterloo station, and found that I could see the sea. Lovely. I must return. And Waterloo does funny minutes. At times they last for ages, and at times they pass so fast they have to rewind and do the same minutes again. Weird, but interesting.

Hair apparent,

Nick Sharratt

and not. Bald is in, and didn’t even qualify as a description for when I went looking for Michael Grant. Not that that is his name. Plenty of other bald men in and out of yurt. Nick Sharratt at least has a beard. Found him signing on Sunday afternoon, wearing my favourite colour.

Ally Kennen

David Almond

Ally Kennen and Lucy Christopher had to squeeze up and share a table, but they looked cheerful all the same. David Almond had one to himself, and a pretty long queue. So I didn’t get my book signed. Sigh.

Lucy Christopher

Joyce Carol Oates was on early, for a Sunday, and we only just caught her at her signing, with not a hope of getting there for the official photo call. I was interested to see that some fans didn’t hesitate bringing out piles of their favourite books. With that long a queue I wouldn’t have, but we’re not all the same.

Joyce Carol Oates

Francesca Simon was the star turn of the day for us. She’s still not blonde, but she assured us that her lovely dark hair is now nit-free. (She brought the subject up!) Never having seen Francesca in action, her Horrid Henry talk was high up on my wishlist. I even managed to get my Horrid Henry non-fan to come along, which isn’t bad going. She, and I, were very taken with Jolly Josh who seems like a dream young man, not averse to the HH limelight. Rabid Rebecca was there as well, and I wouldn’t hesitate having her as my babysitter.

This Anglo-Saxon expert told us about alliteration, her horrible younger siblings and her badly behaved niece and nephew (I can see the next family get-together will be a real success), and had the nerve to admit that she’d sent Josh to dance lessons. There were pink Polish underpants, and the sign language interpreter did a lot of jumping about, making funny faces. It’ll be the HH effect.

Francesca’s beautiful dress appeared to be fully zipped up, unlike that very embarrassing moment in the past. We were treated to the world premiere of a reading from Horrid Henry Rocks, and children were carried out, and carried back in again. The brave Francesca even sang her own heavy metal rock number, which isn’t bad, considering she doesn’t know anything about heavy metal.

Francesca Simon

And then we all ran to make it to the front of the signing queue. Obviously we didn’t all make it to the front, but I didn’t do bad for an old witch. Even got to meet lovely PR lady Kate at long last.

The middle of the afternoon passed in a bit of a blur, but I know we toed and froed. Had been having an exchange of messages with Michael Grant about where and when to meet up for a brief interview (a witch has to make good use of his rare trip to Europe, all the way from California). In the end we just accidentally ran across each other, so sat down on that well used decking for a chat. I believe I even prevented the poor jet-lagged man from drinking his much needed coffee. Now that I think about it.

Michael Grant

Michael then went to get ready for his event, where his fondness for Mac Keynotes caused a wee hiccough while all available computer nerds rushed to his aid. I suspect he was seconds away from phoning his son for help.

This was another talk where there were a good number of readers in the audience, by which I mean it wasn’t full of parents. And that’s always good. Michael wanted to show us what it’s like to be hungry, so experimented with ‘moral ambiguity’ on two basically decent volunteers, who were willing to bash each other with a baseball bat for a Snickers bar.

He played us the theme songs he’s chosen to identify his characters by, and told us how he met his wife. We know they cleaned toilets for ten years, before deciding to earn piles of money writing books. There was also the question of whether Stephen King ripped Michael off, or vice versa.

It seems Michael doesn’t plan his writing, but instead writes ‘as he goes along, freaking out every day’. And this two-finger typist likes the grossest scenes the best.

Gone signing

It was like Piccadilly Circus in the bookshop at five thirty, with three authors and their queues competing for attention. After the photographer was done, we met up with the lovely Donna Moore, who had come all the way from Glasgow to see us. (And for a party, it has to be admitted.) Donna wore her summer Doc Martens, which was a relief to me who had imagined nothing other than heels would do.

Donna Moore

We went to the Spiegeltent for drinks (tea, you know), where we swapped information on what we’ve done and what we want to do and all that. Talked Old Dogs and who can be permitted to read it. (Neither the Grandmother nor Donna’s parents’ elderly neighbour.) She’s writing more capers. Two at once, or something. And we talked about Bristol and Alaska.

Left the Spiegeltent before we were kicked out. The tired witches to ‘go home’ and Donna to her party.

Worthy books

Some year I will learn that the longlist for the Guardian children’s fiction prize tends to emerge just as I go away for half term in May. I may even write it down in my newly acquired blog diary. Or would that take planning a step too far?

Better late than never, here is the 2010 longlist, accompanied by a worthiness problem further down.

Prisoner of the Inquisition, by Theresa Breslin

Now, by Morris Gleitzman

Unhooking the Moon, by Gregory Hughes

The Ogre of Oglefort, by Eva Ibbotson

Sparks, by Ally Kennen

Lob, by Linda Newbery

Ghost Hunter, by Michelle Paver

White Crow, by Marcus Sedgwick

For me it’s more of an unknown list than I’m used to. Three I’ve read, with another lying in waiting. At least another couple that I like the sound of. That makes the predicting rather harder. Although, predicting is mainly an inner ‘feel’ and not something based on fact or my own tastes. So the shortlist will comprise Theresa Breslin, Morris Gleitzman, Eva Ibbotson and Ally Kennen.

Perhaps.

There is one aspect to the list that has always puzzled me, and that is why they pick books not yet published. I have a copy of Marcus’ s book, but it’s not out yet. And if the young critics are to stand a chance, they need to be able to buy the books.

The worthiness referred to at the beginning of this post has to do with a letter in Saturday’s Guardian, where the correspondent was unhappy with the selection. The books are far too worthy and will not attract young readers.

Is he right? I’m not sure who does the picking for the Guardian longlist, but it’s true that awards where children vote, tend to pick more child oriented choices. Who are the awards for? Maybe he’s wrong? Not all children will like the above books, but many will.

As for me, I’m old and will pick like an old person. I can stand aside and say that some other books may suit some readers better. But if you leave it all to children, there are books they will never try, which is why adults are there to push and suggest.