Tag Archives: David Almond

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.

 

Skellig is 15

There is a beautiful new edition of Skellig out to celebrate that the book is now 15 years old. David Almond has written many other books, but I’d guess this is the one most people know.

The one with the angel (if that’s what he is) in the garage.

Because David Almond’s books, and this one in particular, are ‘unusual’ I find it hard to talk about plot. Somehow David’s books ‘just are.’ I have never felt I could say I understand them.

Skellig

But anyway, the anniversary edition is beautifully yellow and clothbound, and arrived all signed and specially belted. Which was nice. The inside has the usual list of quotes, which in this case reads like a who’s who in children’s book reviewing. It also contains some extra pieces written by David, as well as two poems by William Blake.

Back when I first read Skellig, I heard that David was a (former) teacher. I thought at the time that ‘this was really very clever of him’ to be able to write. I think I hadn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that being a teacher is a fairly normal background for authors.

David Almond

But I’m glad he let the baby live.

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

The Guardian 2013 longlist

Might this list change lives, I wonder?

At first I thought there’s not much you can say about a longlist, even though I usually do when the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize lists are published. I toyed with the idea of saying nothing, but then I remembered that fateful list nine years ago. Nine years!

This older reader saw a book called How I Live Now mentioned and just knew she had to read it. (She’s a witch. That’s probably how she knew this.) The book wasn’t even out yet, so had to be ordered and waited for. Not only was it the best book she’d read, but it changed her life.

So perhaps one of the books on this year’s list will have that effect on someone, somewhere?

Of the eight, I have read three and a half. All would be worthy winners. The half, too. I can only assume the remaining four are pretty good as well. They could all be life-changers, and not necessarily for the authors.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

David Almond, Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and Rebecca Stead have already done well. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t go on and do even more well. Katherine Rundell, William Sutcliffe and Lydia Syson are new to me, but so was Meg Rosoff that time. She turned out all right, didn’t she?

I hope someone finds the reading passion of their life in amongst these books.

And then there’s the competition for critics aged 17 and under to write a review of  one of the books. In the nine years since my moment of discovery I have been acquainted with two such young winners. I hope winning changed something for them too.

You just never know what will be waiting round the corner. It could be a literary longlist.

(I seem to recall people expect me to predict. OK, the shortlist – because that’s all the predicting you get at this point – will be Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and William Sutcliffe. And I’ve used Sally’s book cover here because Maggot Moon is truly extraordinary, and since the other books are pretty marvellous, that tells you how good it is. The 2004 winner agrees with me.)

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.

Bookwitch bites #76

As always, the Carnegie shortlist took me by surprise. Mainly by appearing. I’m not saying they picked the wrong books. One year I will have my diary totally sorted as to the when and how regular news and longlists and shortlists will appear. But not yet, obviously.

David Almond, Lissa Evans, Sonya Hartnett, Ali Lewis, Andy Mulligan, Patrick Ness, Annabel Pitcher and Ruta Sepetys are the lucky ones for 2012, although eventually one of them will prove luckier still. Lets’ see if I can sense something… It’ll be Patrick Ness. He’s pretty unstoppable.

Along with my own minor complaints of having too many iffy books thrown at me (as though a review here would really make or break a book!), I am also assumed to be either Derek Landy or some of my other interview subjects. I’m not. I’m me.

But at least I’m not Arthur, doing people’s homework. (After the junior school summer project back in the mid 1990s, when the Resident IT Consultant and I really excelled at helping with, well, with something, we don’t do it so much.) I really loved this piece on Meg Rosoff’s blog, which I understand she has borrowed from somewhere else. More Arthurs should be doing this. With belated thanks to James Thurber, who was very funny.

It’s the 1st of April (at least it is here and now for me, and don’t bother telling me if it isn’t for you), so let’s continue with more funny. I am reasonably certain this came courtesy of Sara Paretsky. It seems quite a while ago, too, now that I look carefully.

Dog and psychiatrist

Presumably I wouldn’t be here doing this, if I didn’t have access to free speech. I think I probably still have free speech. Although, certain things make you wonder. I’ll leave you with Statler and Waldorf. They know why you should support Amnesty International, because there are places that are far worse. It would be nice if they got better, and it would be quite nice if we didn’t join them by losing what we’ve got.

Guardian 2011 shortlist

Two out four is – not exactly good – but not hopelessly bad, either. I’m speaking of my predictions for this year’s Guardian prize shortlist. I correctly sensed that Simon Mason’s Moon Pie and David Almond’s My Name Is Mina would be chosen.

And then I failed to see that Andy Mulligan’s Return to Ribblestrop would make it through (I’m glad it did, because I’m sure I would love it if I read it) and Frances Hardinge is one of these authors I hear so much praise for, that I’m absolutely certain Twilight Robbery is worthy.

So, as to which book will win the whole list competition thing, it will be one of the first two. David or Simon? That is the question.

While the jury fights it out in private, I will persevere in getting hold of the second Ribblestrop saga. I suspect it’s one of those doomed relationships, me and the maddest school around.

The date for the award is slipping later and later. It was once September, and then became October, and now I see this year it’s November. The longer to argue, perhaps?

Ah well, let the best book win.

(It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s ‘my man in the basement,’ Simon Mason.)

Nothing

The snake on the cover of the proof should have been a hint. So should one or two other things on the same cover. Did I look properly? No. Felt uneasy about snakey, but that was after he’d turned up inside the cover as well. David Almond has come up with a cover blurb that goes like this; ‘bold, beautiful, terrifying’. And I thought I’d be safe after that!

Janne Teller, Nothing

This is going to be one of my most incomplete book reviews ever. I rarely write about books I’ve not finished. I rarely read books I have had bad feelings about well before the book even gets to me. As soon as I heard about Janne Teller’s novel Nothing I knew I didn’t want to read it. Didn’t help that everyone raved about it. I was not going to read it.

But, you know. Keith Charters at Strident Publishing raved about it. I warned him. Then it turned out Janne Teller isn’t a Norwegian man. She is a Danish woman. And she’s coming to the Edinburgh Book Festival. And I did need a Danish book for my foreign challenge. And Keith had reserved a rare (?) proof for me. With a snake on the cover.

Nothing is 206 pages, of which I read the first 128. Had this been thirty years ago I would have been on the floor by page 128. I’m much better now, so I simply went off to make dinner, thinking I might return. After dinner I knew I was never returning. Never. Moaned to the Resident IT Consultant, who offered to sacrifice himself, so took the book and read it in one sitting in the bath. (That’s one long bath, albeit a shortish book, which is easy and fast to read. As long as you don’t stop halfway, in which case it’s faster still.)

Fable, he says. Very good. Interesting. Allegory, says Keith. OK, even I could tell that a 14-year-old boy who sits in a plum tree for a few months is not part of a normal, straightforward sort of plot. But even so…

Pierre decides life is nothing, so goes to sit in this plum tree. How this will help, I don’t know. And not even his having a father who is a commune hippy explains this kind of behaviour.

But it’s Pierre’s classmates who really take the biscuit. In order to get him out of the tree, they each have to sacrifice something. Each thing worse than the previous one. (Consider my first paragraph.) It quickly escalates into bullying of the worst kind, which I found really bad even at the snake stage.

I don’t care how allegorical it is. It’s still horrible. I understand it has been banned. (In Norway?) It has also won awards. I can understand that, too. I can condone lots of violence in books, and bullying and what have you. This was something else.

(Lord of the Flies, she whispers.)

But I recognise that many of you will like this book. Love it, even. So if you are not the fainting type, do try it. As the Resident IT Consultant said, it should spark plenty of discussion in classrooms and elsewhere. As it did here.

I will do my very best to meet Janne Teller later this month. I have tickets for her event. That might turn out to be a lying-on-the-floor-from-the-start kind of event. With earplugs.

(At least Janne is Danish. And a lady. Unlike Jo Nesbø, who really is male and Norwegian. Also in Edinburgh.)

The translator is Martin Aitken, who has done a good job. Some surprising Americanisms, which personally I find makes the book feel less Danish. But it reads well, as people keep saying.

A few days after the interrupted read, the dinner and the long bath, I’m thinking maybe…

No.

Probably not.

2011 Guardian longlist

Well, I was all prepared for it to happen a week ago, and then it didn’t. That’s the problem with a lack of information. Yes, yes, I know I’m a witch. Ought to be able to work it out with no help. But help is a sociable thing. OK, I’m not a very sociable creature, either.

‘That’s a short longlist‘ said Daughter. And it is, but the Guardian seems to prefer it that way, and at least it’s easier to get a proper view of it with only eight titles on the longlist. As far as I’m concerned it’s also an abysmally unknown longlist. But this time I’ve worked out why.

So, to the list: David Almond, My Name is Mina; Lissa Evans, Small Change for Stuart; Frances Hardinge, Twilight Robbery; Saci Lloyd, Momentum; Simon Mason, Moon Pie; Andy Mulligan, Return to Ribblestrop; Annabel Pitcher, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece; Andy Stanton, Mr Gum and the Secret Hideout.

I have read Moon Pie and listened to My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. Both books have been heavily publicised not only in my direction, but I’m sure at most people with an interest in children’s books.

I obviously know David Almond, and have almost been tempted to read about Mina. David is a marvellous writer, but the last of his books that I read made me so depressed that I decided not to risk it again. I just don’t know. I’ve had a Frances Hardinge book around, but it was one of those I ran out of time with.

Andy Stanton

After reading the first Mr Gum I have not followed his subsequent career. Could be I’m not a little boy any longer. I have never heard of Lissa Evans or Saci Lloyd. As for Andy Mulligan, I loved the first Ribblestrop, and have been on the verge to try and get hold of this second book, just to immerse myself in more warm insanity and adventure.

Just as I have asked countless times to be included on the Guardian’s press information email list (and you know, this time I thought I actually was), it seems I’m still not. Which limits me to guesswork on the when, and leaves me to read the information in the paper along with everyone else.

The same with several of the books. They are published by companies I keep trying to get regular information from, and regularly failing. Most are quite happy to help when asked, but, you know, I have to know, before I can ask.

It’s not the books I’ve got in my piles but haven’t read that are on the list. It’s the ones I’ve not even got near.

You’ll be wanting to know which of the hopefuls will make the shortlist. (I wonder when that is?) It will – most likely – be David Almond, Simon Mason, Annabel Pitcher and, let’s see, Andy Stanton. I wish all of them the best of luck.

The angels are definitely here

Wall angel

Should I be concerned? Even worry? There are an awful lot of angels here now. And you know, I used to think they were nice. ‘People’ to be trusted.

From this point of view it was unfortunate that I read L A Weatherly’s Angel last week. Her angels being of the not very nice kind, I now find myself eyeing the angels in my house rather differently. Might not be as benevolent as I imagined. Not even mostly harmless.

And Christmastime is when they appear. They hadn’t arrived when I blogged about Angel the book last week, but now they are here in force. On the other hand, this ‘beanpole’ looks so very sweet and innocent. Doesn’t she?

GM Angel 2

GM Angel 1

IN Angel 1

HG lookalike angel

The one at the top of the tree has always struck me as sweetness itself. Likewise her sister creature further down the tree.

Friend Pippi’s hand-tatted angels, with and without body, look serene and kind. The Daughter (younger version) lookalike from the furniture giant may have a hole in her head, but is otherwise quite angelic. If that’s not a stupid thing to say.

I noticed the same Daughter had positioned the little dumpy BW-shaped angel in the white tutu near my chair, so that she and I can stare at each other. Her wings are ridiculously tiny and will fly her nowhere.

The tree at Bookwitch Towers has a dozen angels, if not more. We never had angels when I was young, so I wonder if it’s fashion, or maybe the foreign influence of living in a strange country. Very strange. (But nice!)

Perhaps I should simply ignore the badness of Lee’s fictional angels? There are other angels in books. Philip Pullman’s are fairly nice, and on the side of good. Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s angels in Good Omens are a little bad, but not in a terribly unpleasant way.

BW shaped angel

Though I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the angel in David Almond’s Skellig. Might be just me. Tim Bowler has several characters with that same angel feel to them, though I don’t think Tim actually says they are angels. A bit scary, though.

IN Angel 2

And then there is my bathroom radiator…