Tag Archives: Chris Riddell

Goth wins Costa

Chris Riddell, Goth Girl

Congratulations to Chris Riddell for winning the Costa children’s book award with Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse. Both Ada and the poor little mouse deserve this. And so does my favourite political cartoonist author.

(I have to admit I suspected Chris would win when I saw that Josh Lacey had reviewed the book for the Guardian on Saturday.)

Winning such an award is no less than you would expect for a book that has ‘shiny purple sprayed edges … foil endpieces, … ribbon bookmark, … footnotes in the margin.’ It is not just a pretty book. It’s an intelligent one, as well. It is a book that makes for a good read whatever your age. And in times of need you can always stroke the sheer purpleness of it.

Chris Riddell

It would be very nice indeed if Chris could go on and win the ‘full Costa’ on 28th January. More power to children’s books!

Learning and playing

For the very young Nicola Killen has written two new boardbooks on Noises (as if children need help with that!), and on Opposites. Both books have liftable flaps which makes it a lot more fun. The Noises book is fairly obvious, inviting parents to roar like lions. You know the drill. The Opposites are more varied, and it’s not only small versus big.

I am increasingly realising Offspring were deprived at that stage.

Nicola Killen, Opposites and Noises

As the readers get older, or maybe just more capable, you can move on to alphabet books. Kelly Bingham and Paul O Zelinsky (they almost manage the A to Z with their own names…) have written a slightly different one; Z is for Moose. Yes, quite.

It is slightly crazy, with a moose who is impatiently waiting for his letter ( and I bet the mouse was too), and then trying to slip in wherever he can. Queen Victoria wasn’t amused.

Kelly Bingham and Paul O Zelinsky, Z is for Moose

Counting Sheep by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell isn’t exactly your normal bedtime book either. Here you have a boy who doesn’t settle for counting sheep and then falling asleep in an obliging way.

The book is a little like a board game and there is so much happening I’m not sure anyone will be sleeping. Learning to count might well be a success, however. Although, once you’ve looked at all the fantastic detail in Chris’s illustrations you could possibly feel a little sleepy.

Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell, Counting Sheep

More adventurous games for readers in Kristina Stephenson’s Charlie Stinky Socks and the Tale of the Wizard’s Whisper. It’s a bit of a wild goose chase, actually, but all is well in the end.

Kristina Stephenson, Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Tale of the Wizard's Whisper

Fortunately, the… whatever

Guinea pig?! I felt more like a cow. (No, don’t say it.)

Unfortunately I had been reading about cows on my way in to Manchester, on a most unwitch-like train, i.e. one that didn’t leave hours in advance. I felt so little inclination to go and hear Neil Gaiman yesterday afternoon, that I cut it finer than one should with British style rail travel.

Unfortunately, that was totally fine. I arrived at the Dancehouse theatre with 15 minutes to spare and thought it was going swimmingly. After which thought we ended up penned in rather like cattle, waiting forever to be allowed in. Stairs and reception and café filled up with eager Gaiman fans, plus a few small children (whose event this really was).

I decided that if things got any worse I’d just go home again, wondering why I’d come in the first place. I like Neil Gaiman. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like crowds, and he collects them. But I can put up with crowds if treated humanely. I wasn’t alone in waiting it out on the other side of the doors, near the toilets. Fortunately, once we were allowed up the stairs, my number seat was the right number seat and so I was allowed in. (But we still had to wait for everyone to be seated, and the whole event was train-like in running half an hour late.)

Why was I not keen? Everything about this book has gone not to plan. Publisher didn’t send me a copy. I had to buy my own when that became evident. The complimentary ticket for the event didn’t materialise, so I had to buy my own at the 11th hour. The crowds, as I said. The fact that there is no way I’ll stand in a queue for three hours to have a book signed. The fact that I’m old and grumpy. And a cow.

You could say that the whole thing was threatening to curdle. I decided not to get my camera out. I’d just sit there and ‘not be on duty.’

But, you know, once Neil came on stage he worked his usual magic. He is a born entertainer, and he does events so effortlessly that even I started to feel all calm and relaxed and almost happy. His voice is nice to listen to.

Neil Gaiman

(This is a photo of Neil. Try to imagine a red curtain in the background, and that his hair doesn’t hang down across his eyes quite so much. In which case he almost looked like this.)

He said we’d be guinea pigs. He wanted to test read a longer piece from Fortunately, the Milk… than he usually does. Lying in training for Westminster on Tuesday, when he has to read it all.

As for himself he is obviously a goldfish. Or two. He’s the dad who was exchanged for two goldfish. In a way the milk book is simply a continuation of the goldfish book, and an attempt to come up with a positive book for dads.

Neil talked about his very young book, Chu’s Day. Cute pandas who sneeze, apparently. Only, I didn’t hear – didn’t know – the title, so when he asked what we thought the next book would be called, I felt Wednesday seemed appropriate.

Btw, I didn’t take notes.

He recounted how it came about that Chris Riddell would illustrate Fortunately, the Milk…, this the shiniest book in history. And Neil is about the only one who doesn’t find the charicature of himself all that amusing.

Then it was question time. Say what you want about his fans, but they ask good questions. Not all of them were fans, however, so a pattern developed where the person doing the asking qualified how fan-like they considered themselves to be.

One question was about Terry Pratchett, and in the end we all felt we were privy to some personal secret (and I don’t mean ‘when Terry slept with Neil,’ which he did, when they were both younger and poorer and didn’t buy the hotel first if they had to stay somewhere), and that’s a great skill to have. Neil even made the last rather pedestrian question sound exciting, because he was able to make the answer really special.

At the end of all that, ‘we will do some signing.’ Though Neil reckoned it would be best if he signed, until his head fell off, and the rest of us waited patiently in line.

Well, I didn’t do that, so I have no idea how long his head stayed put. Here is a photo someone took earlier, showing what Neil looks like when signing.

Neil Gaiman

‘Did you enjoy that?’ said the adult to the small child behind me. Small child said nothing. This was not a small child event, whatever the organisers say.

Now me, I did enjoy it. In the end. Neil always delivers. But I’d be happier without the crowds.

From winegums to whisky

I worried a bit. Who would come to hear Chris Riddell speak at Waterstones Deansgate on a Saturday morning? (Not doubting his charm; just wondering.) The answer is: many of his most fervent fans, of all ages. I had not realised Mr Riddell is another of these cult people, with a huge following. I am an idiot.

Chris Riddell

Ghost of a Mouse

So, this artistic phenomenon walked into the events room and started drawing a dead mouse (I have often wondered what happens to these works of art left behind so carelessly by people who think nothing of what they’ve just doodled…) with a Japanese brush pen (that’s his drawing implement; not drawing a mouse with a pen), as he was introduced, at this event which was primarily about Chris’s newest book Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse.

Saturday’s audience laughed early on, marking us out as a good audience. The doodled dead mouse was to be proof he’d been. Or something. Chris began by showing us his family photo album, complete with his brother wearing nappies. Their father was a vicar, and to keep Chris quiet in church every Sunday, he was given pencil and paper and he drew pictures for the elderly lady next to him. (According to his mother this lady was the same age then [he reckoned about 103] as Chris is now. 51.) She paid him in winegums.

Then it was on to Chris’s random sketch books, featuring ugly men with large noses. I didn’t know that drawing pretty princesses is a lot harder, which is why he doesn’t. His now nappy-free brother buys him really huge and beautiful sketchbooks in Cairo, which is also fairly random information about random sketches.

Chris Riddell

Now that he has discovered Tumblr, Chris puts his random sketches on there, and whenever authors whose book covers he has doodled want to buy them, he charges in whisky. (I’ll want him to do mine, if I should ever have a book. Starting a home distillery now.)

Mary Shellfish

Chris told us about Lord Byron and his gang, and everyone else who had inspired him, ending up as thinly disguised characters in Goth Girl. Then he read to us from the book, before showing us the book’s shiny purple sprayed edges and the foil endpieces, the ribbon bookmark, and the footnotes in the margin, which all children’s books must have, finishing with a small ‘film’ of the hobby horse race which gives him a ‘stupid amount of pleasure.’

Chris Riddell reading to a cross-section of his fans

Drawing for a living is a hard life. He commutes to the Edwardian coach house at the end of his garden around 11 every morning, getting started around 12, watching tax deductible Sky television all day until he commutes home again. Where he might well relax and draw a bit. So he either works all the time, or not at all. ‘It’s possibly the best job in the world.’

Proper fan boots. And socks.

Getting a wee bit carried away he told us most of the plot for the next Goth Girl book, featuring hairy hikers and bake-offs and the 39 crepes.

He is bad at replying to fan letters, but if you do get a letter back, you should expect a doodle of a cycling fish on the envelope. Chris is known as the loony at his local post office.

Some time ago someone organising a round table event in Vancouver (although the table was long and rectangular, apparently) calculated that Chris had illustrated 163 books (which caused the girl behind me some concern, because she was only up to fifty or so of them), but this figure is bound to have risen slightly by now. (I’ve been concerned for Chris. He seems to draw all the time. Just as he admitted. It can’t be healthy, surely?) He can’t even remember all the titles.

Chris Riddell signing queue

Finally came the signing, and oh, the shame of it! I had gone for restrained, so had fewer books than others, and was thereby shunted further to the front of the queue, not being entitled to be last… The diehard fans had also been restrained as regards number of books brought along, but it was a completely different ball park of restrained from mine.

Chris Riddell with fan

I refrained from asking him to Nell Gurgle my copy of Fortunately, the Milk… and since Goth Girl had already been signed, Chris simply added a bit to it.

And idiot that I am, I didn’t recognise his lovely publicist Catherine (to be fair, she didn’t recognise the grey old witch I’d turned into, either), which is dreadful, seeing as she once led me expertly from my Ealing hotel to her office, early one morning. (See, I’m such an idiot I need leading.)

As I exited Waterstones, my shame was lifted slightly by the sight of the bus that went past. Witch Way. Appropriate.

The Witch Way Bus

But I will definitely have to mend my witch’s ways and get better acquainted with more of Chris’s work. Or is it leisure? Whatever.

Fortunately, the Milk…

Well, I liked it. Having heard conflicting opinions on Neil Gaiman’s latest offering for children, beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell, meant I couldn’t work out if it was supposed to be good or merely a bit meh.

Fortunately, the Milk… is a tall story about an inept dad who takes an absolute age to go out for milk so his poor children don’t have to have their cereal with orange juice. (Though it beats having it with coffee.) On the other hand, the dad has a lot happen to him while he’s bringing the milk home, so maybe he couldn’t help the delay. (Except, he was wanting his tea, with milk, so should have been fairly keen to get home.)

Aliens, pirates and time-travel with a dinosaur are among the things he claims happened. His children have possibly heard tall tales before, so take it with a pinch of salt. Although, who knows?

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, Fortunately, the Milk...

Thanks to Chris Riddell’s many, detailed pictures we find that the dad is a young Neil Gaiman look-alike, which actually makes it more fun. (I don’t know why it does, but it does.)

It’s a silly plot, so I won’t try to tell you more about it. Just read the book, and make sure you look at all the pictures (which might take quite a while). Fortunately, the Milk… wouldn’t be the same without them.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

Chris Riddell, Goth Girl

This book could have been made with me in mind! Chris Riddell has written and illustrated Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, and as you might be able to guess, the cover is of a goth girl, and a mouse (who unfortunately happens to be dead), and it’s all black and velvety with silver skulls, and the girl wears purple and the page edges are a shiny purple and there is a ribbon bookmark.

That’s all. No it isn’t. The dead mouse has written a book, and that is also in there, in its own little pocket. It’s lovely. (It’s a kind of dead mouse version of Gulliver’s Travels.)

Goth Girl is the story about Ada Goth, daughter of Lord Goth at Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Her tightrope-walking mother is dead and that makes Lord Goth so upset that he doesn’t want much to do with Ada, as she reminds him of what he has lost. (Silly man!)

So Ada wanders around the big house all on her own, until she finds some children (the way you do, in your own home) that she can be friends with. She gets a new governess. Again.

Maltravers the butler is not a very nice person, nor is the cook Mrs Beat’em. The house and the grounds are full of unusual creatures, and hidden gardens and what have you. The annual indoor hunt is about to take place, and this time things look decidedly fishy.

In a way this is your average gothic tale (which is no bad thing), but the adult reader, at least, will recognise the people and places, and the things, which Chris has put in his book, only slightly disguised. You get ‘all’ the classics in one fell swoop, and the whole book is full of Chris’s beautiful illustrations.

It is very charming, and all ends well. I was worried at first about the governess, but as long as there is no garlic she will be fine. And Ada’s new friends are good friends.

Letters to Klaus

I have been in Klaus Flügge’s office, and have seen the envelopes on his walls. They seem to be well known, which doesn’t surprise me. They are so lovely, that I believe I will draw an envelope of my own to send to Klaus. Let me just get this envelope review out of the way first.

Someone came up with the idea of making a book out of Klaus’s wall decorations, and here it is; Letters to Klaus. Many of this publisher’s picture book illustrators have contributed, but none more than David McKee. There’s a lot of his stuff in this envelope shaped little art book.

Letters to Klaus

It might sound slightly daft, but it’s actually a rather nice experience to leaf through it to see what these clever artists can do. And the stamps were so cheap then!

Speaking of money, all proceeds from the book go to Save the Children.

(I’m pleased to have discovered that Klaus is most likely Flügge rather than Flugge. It’s understandable that the umlaut disappeared here, but I rather like it, and the name flows more easily when you’ve dotted your u.)

Klaus Flügge's office

Bookwitch bites #106

It is – dare I say it? – getting warmer. Let’s throw the covers off. (For me personally that means one layer less. Maybe.)

Neil Gaiman has unveiled his cover for later this year. Fortunately the Milk will look like this:

Neil Gaiman, Fortunately the Milk - cover by Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell made that cover. He also did these illustrations – and presumably many more – for the book.

Neil Gaiman, Fortunately the Milk - ill. by Chris Riddell

Neil Gaiman, Fortunately the Milk - ill. by Chris Riddell

I was going to say I can’t wait. But I will have to. Fortunately the Milk will appear roundabout the time when I put another layer back on again.

And you know those other kinds of covers? The ones of girls, that scare me a little. Teri Terry’s Slated and Fractured both feature a girl on the cover, and oddly enough earlier this week I had wondered if they were the same girl. They look the same. And they don’t. A couple of days later Teri  blogged about her covers and the model (who is only the one girl). Now that I’ve seen what ‘Kyla’ looks like privately I am less scared. There is something about ‘the cover look,’ though.

Teri Terry, Slated

Teri Terry, Fractured

I think – because I am quite forgetful – that this last cover comes from my ‘facebook friend’ Arga Bibliotekstanten. That’s Angry Library Lady to you. She used to blog, but got fed up, and now has a large following on fb. Hardly surprising, as she’s forever giving us pictures of handsome men (posing with a book, naturally) to drool over or amusing ones to laugh at, and her acerbic comments about the users of her Swedish library are quite something. I hope I am never one of her customers!

Book cover

Bookwitch bites #101

Who wants books when they can have videos? You do?

OK, I will let you have book related video clips, then. With real live authors. Who to start with? I know it’s usually ladies first, but let’s get the boys out of the way. Just to get them out of the way.

That Lemony Snicket chap hasn’t given up yet. He has more weird books coming our way, and someone is about to tell you as little as possible about the next one. It’s what’s known as a leak. (No, not that kind of leak!)


Our second boy is less secretive. We can actually see what Neil Gaiman looks like as he talks about his new book (October in this case) Fortunately, The Milk… which is a book about milk, as well as many other silly things. Third boy, Chris Riddell, is doing wonderful illustrations of interstellar dinosaurs to go with the milk.

Moving on to the girls, we have Julia Skott, who will have her first book published later this year (and it has just struck me I don’t know in what language…). It’s non-fiction and it’s about bodies and health. Julia is the daughter of a Swedish journalist and a Russian academic, which is why she sounds like this when she speaks:


Someone who sounds pretty English and also pretty involved with saving libraries, is Fiona Dunbar, being grilled by someone on Sky News (who seems a little anti-library). Very brave of Fiona to venture into a television studio like this. Some of us would have seized up completely…

Finally to our last girls, who are not on video. There is a brand new blog featuring the life and works of Joan Aiken, run by her daughter Lizza. I wasn’t surprised to find a very early story by Joan on there, in facsimile. She clearly had the story-telling gene working right from the start. It’s about a teapot, and Satan. Obvious choice, really.

Joan also has a facebook page now. Please like!

The Bone Trail

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, The Bone Trail

It says something about my enthusiasm for the Wyrmeweald trilogy that I was willing to get up close to this A4 sized, one inch thick manuscript of the third book, The Bone Trail, which Random so kindly sent me when I moaned impatiently back in November.

I have to agree with Chris Riddell again. He and Paul Stewart really have written a very fine story. (Maybe he didn’t put it quite like that. That sounds like boasting. He’s a more modest man than that. But I can say it.)

The story carries on exactly where we left the characters in Bloodhoney. Micah and Eli find themselves with another couple of travel companions, and I spent some time working out how people would get paired off. I wrongly sacrificed one of them to a very bad fate.

There is discontent spreading from so many directions, and I worried in case the whole thing had to end in mayhem. It was bad for some. Some of them deserved it. Others didn’t.

When there is love, the love is very tender and good. The hate is pretty magnificent, too.

This is nearly all about migration. People and other creatures want – or need – to move somewhere new, and it doesn’t always work out. But just as in real life, immigrants aren’t to be despised; nor are they always going where they should go.

It’s touching, the lengths people go to to save or improve their lives. Wyrme-weald could be about both the European emigration to the new world in the west, as well as the spread of people from the east to the west, once they got there. Respect the natives when you arrive. Don’t assume you know better than those who have been there longer than you.

As usual, I kept hoping Paul and Chris would have a reasonably happy ending to offer, despite the bleak outlook when all the bad developments gathered. But I really couldn’t see how.

You won’t be disappointed.