Tag Archives: Frank Cottrell Boyce

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.

Bookwitch bites #92

Thank goodness for these bites where I can complain on a variety of subjects almost every week. Occasionally I have lovely news as well. Let’s see if I can find some.

I don’t often (like never, obviously) receive invitations from the Canadian High Commission in London, but this week I had to make myself say ‘no thanks’ to them. But as Disney’s Cinderella says, what could possibly be nice about a visit to Canada House? (Only all of it…)

Came across the programme for Book Week Scotland at the end of November. Can’t go, even though I can be found north of the border that very week. So no Frank Cottrell Boyce. No Debi Gliori and no Steve Cole. Nobody.

Offspring are my reasons for travelling, and Son had some news this week, relating to the literal translation he did earlier this year. We are finally able to say it was Strindberg, for the Donmar at Trafalgar Studios. The Dance of Death. Will get back to you on that.

Before leaving Scotland, let me just mention the Grampian Children’s Book Award 2013. Apart from Patrick Ness who is on every single shortlist these days, the shortlisted authors are Barry Hutchison, Cathy MacPhail, Mark Lowery, Dave Cousins and Annabel Pitcher. Tough competition.

South to Newcastle, where the good news is that Seven Stories can call themselves National Centre for Children’s Books, as the only ‘national’ place in the Northeast. Well done to a special place!

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

Actually, I am coping with the happy business, after all. We’ll finish with a decisive jump across the water to Ireland, where they have The Irish Book Awards. You can vote, but you might want to follow my example and only vote in categories (they have so many!) where you have read the books. Luckily I didn’t have to choose between Declan Burke and Adrian McKinty. Not quite so lucky with Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy, though.

A witch can always flip a coin.

Coat wins the Guardian children’s fiction prize

Frank Cottrell Boyce and Philip Ardagh

You know what? It’s the middle of the night, and I’ve celebrated a birthday (not my own) and watched trains vanish into thin air (might have been the infamous Fife haar), so I have simply returned to my temporary base and I am not above stealing photos from Philip Ardagh. If he minds, I will deal with him later.

Because this is not about the tallish man with the beard, but about his pal on the left, Frank Cottrell Boyce, who won the Guardian children’s fiction prize on Wednesday evening. Very well deserved win, for a fantastic book (The Unforgotten Coat) by a marvellous author. (And he’s not short. He was just misguided enough to stand next to Ardagh. Even I would look short under such circumstances.)

Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Un-Forgotten Coat

It would have been great to have been in London, but I wasn’t. I sent my stand-in with the beard. He likes to hang out with successful people. Come to think of it, so do I.

Frank, meanwhile, has joined a long line of really very great writers who have won the Guardian prize. As he said about the award: ‘It would be amazing to win this award with any book I’d written but it is a special joy to win it with The Unforgotten Coat, which started life not as a published book at all, but as a gift. Walker gave away thousands of copies in Liverpool – on buses, at ferry terminals, through schools, prisons and hospitals – to help promote the mighty Reader Organisation. We even had the book launch on a train.’

And speaking of trains, I do wonder what happened to my disappearing one?

A Little, Aloud

This is one anthology that I won’t be able to carry around with me in order to catch all its participating authors for autographs. Many are dead, and anyway, there are so many of them. Many means good, because there is a tremendous variety and choice, and once you’ve read what you fancy, you might pick something you don’t. That way you discover that is actually also perfectly fine.

You don’t always get anthologies intended to be read aloud, which of course doesn’t stop you from doing so. Short stories and excerpts and poems are just right for that bedtime read, when you are praying you won’t be sitting on the edge of the bed half the night. This book obligingly tells you how long you can expect to spend reading each contribution, so no nasty surprises.

A Little, Aloud

The royalties for this collection of good reads go to The Reader Organisation, which has as its aim ‘reading and health.’ Very nice to see those two words used together. I frequently sit down with a book even when far too many little jobs and crises scream at me that my attention is of the utmost importance. I know that I will feel so much better after a read.

Foreworded by Michael Morpurgo (naturally) and with blurbs by Philip Pullman and Stephen Fry (two men whose voices I just love listening to), the book begins with Instructions by Neil Gaiman. I mistakenly thought he was needed to tell us what to do, but it was actually a proper poem.

Many of the stories in here are ones I have already read, as part of the novel they hail from or as works in their own right. They have, for instance, had the good taste to pick my favourite Shaun Tan story, Broken Toys. There are excerpts from Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as well as Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

You have Shakespeare and Kipling, Stevenson and Larkin, and even good old Anon. I haven’t read them all. Yet. This is another of those volumes I want to keep somewhere near, just to dip into. The pile for dipping is getting taller, but that just can’t be helped.

I will want to dip.

(Apologies to all those, dead or alive, whose names I haven’t listed. They are many. And how marvellous to be able to share classic writers in an easy bite size form with a child.)

Bookwitch bites #85

Hope is spreading, or at least I hope it is. There was an excellent article in the Guardian Education this week, featuring the new professor of reading at Liverpool Hope University, Frank Cottrell Boyce. It’s such a good thing to have, don’t you think? Hope, reading, Frank. All good. And I loved the photo of Frank, which I am not stealing for here, so you will just have to click.

I could do with reading help myself, on occasion. (Not to mention writing/spelling. When looking for the link above I accidentally called Frank rank. Sorry!)

But it’s my speedreading when out and about that catches me. I saw some ‘weird bras’ in M&S recently. Wired, witch! And at Piccadilly station a stall was selling trolls. It was really tea and rolls. Just as well they didn’t also stock etceteras. Our Pendolino catering manager last week advertised drinks, sandwiches, snacks and etcetera.

As water levels are rising (Will we ever be able to mow the ‘lawn’ again? Not with a brocked lawnmower, we won’t. But the rain isn’t helping.) I am thinking of the house a few doors down from us. It’s for sale, and it offers 6 bedrooms and large garden with cellars.

At the opposite end of 6 bedrooms is the tiny flat in the IKEA magazine, where the stylist has persuaded the occupant to install eight Billys. ‘They are great for books, crockery, clothes, shoes… Åsa came up with the idea of displaying my novels in them too.’

I thought that was the whole idea. Or else someone has a novel meaning of the words displaying or novels.

Speaking of novelties, this blogging madness is spreading in a most uncontrollable fashion. There is now a Simply Maths blog, which I feel compelled to recommend. If nothing else, it has a quite reasonable interview with Professor Frank James, of Michael Faraday correspondence fame. It mentions kangaroos on Vesuvius, among other things.

A shorter, but different, interview with the same professor on the same topic (minus the kangaroos) can be found here. It would appear that this blogger had a bit of a ‘close encounters with professors week,’ since there followed the tale of getting pretty close to Brian Cox. He is quite cute. But not as cute as the lion cub.

Excuse me, I’m beginning to drool. I’ll leave you with this full morning’s worth of clickiness.

The next place

Keith Gray, Next

I really wonder what goes on in the head of Keith Gray! First he writes a book about boys travelling round with their friend’s ashes. And then he comes up with this short story about death (again) which is similarly unusual in looking at dead friends.

In Next, Keith has edited an anthology on death. He got together a fabulous group of YA authors and made them write about death, and this they have done in the most varied fashion. They are all good. I thought ‘this is the best one’ for each and every story.

Take purgatory. I never stopped to think about what it actually is. It was just purgatory. Now it is so much more.

Jonathan Stroud has got a downright weird tale and I’m not sure I want to be in his world. Philip Ardagh, on the other hand, offers up death with muppets and humour. Naturally. Julie Bertagna is romantic, killing abruptly, and trying to fool the reader into thinking… something else.

Gillian Philip covers the kind of sensational death to which people seem to be addicted (unless it’s their own, maybe). Malorie Blackman writes about evil twins as though she has personal experience. Death isn’t always the worst thing that can happen to you.

Religion is less obvious than you’d expect in a book about death, but Sally Nicholls knows a thing or two. I was about to say that Sally is no stranger to death, but that actually goes for all of these writers. Frank Cottrell Boyce, finally, kills on something like facebook, and whereas I first thought that would be rather boring, it turned out to be very chilling indeed.

It’s fascinating to consider how many different deaths these eight people could come up with. I wonder if any stories were too similar to any of the others and had to have their view of the next place changed?

The afterlife anyone?

Witch’s Eleven

Here’s the 2011 top ten. Because it’s my top ten, it has eleven books. Because it’s 2011. Eleven is such a nice number. You know.

Anyway, I can’t have the same number every year. I need to keep my readers on their toes. There could have been many more. Books. Not toes, unless we count them individually, since every extra reader ought to bring around ten when they join.

DSCN1202

I was aiming for some sort of order of colour in this pile, but eleven isn’t enough. And rest assured, I didn’t choose my list according to colour of spine.

Whereas in the photo the books are rated by colour, I will list them here based on titles in alphabetical order. It’s an even year, and almost impossible to pick a ‘winner.’

Being Billy, Phil Earle

Bloodstone, Gillian Philip

Caddy’s World, Hilary McKay

Cat’s Paw, Nick Green

In the Sea there are Crocodiles, Fabio Geda

Life, an Exploded Diagram, Mal Peet

Outlaw, Stephen Davies

Return to Ribblestrop, Andy Mulligan

There is no Dog, Meg Rosoff

The Unforgotten Coat, Frank Cottrell Boyce

Wonder Struck, Brian Selznick

My rules are few. The books need to be from this year. I need to have loved them more than I loved many other excellent books. They need to have made me go ‘Yes!’ when reading them. Made me laugh or cry, or both, that little bit more than average. I’m also hoping to have at least partially avoided what someone was complaining about on facebook the other week, which is that recommended books often have very little to do with what children read. Or rather, since I don’t know what children actually read, that I’m not recommending books suitable for adults only.

If I’m to elevate one book above the others, it will have to be Fabio Geda’s Crocodiles. And it’s not even fiction. And it’s a translation.

The Un-forgotten Coat

You never know where you are with Frank Cottrell Boyce. And then again, you know precisely where. His new book The Un-forgotten Coat reads like it’s true. And if it weren’t for the little details that are almost too good and too funny and too much FCB, you’d think he was telling a ‘real’ story.

He originally wrote the book in support for The Reader Organisation, and now it’s been published for general reading by Walker Books. It’s something as unlikely as a story about two Mongolian boys on the outskirts of Liverpool, and about the coat that one of them wore.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Un-forgotten Coat
The two Mongolian brothers simply turned up at school one day, and their tale is told by Julie, the girl they chose to be their Good Guide. As usual with FCB, the story is both hilarious and quite sad.

The sense of reality is strengthened by the use of Polaroid pictures, which the boys take wherever they go. They have pictures to show how they fled Mongolia by walking along a railway line. There are photos to show what Mongolia looks like.

A demon is hunting the younger of the boys, and needs to be outwitted so they are not found. There are yurts when you most need them.

And there is the fear of being found and being sent back to Mongolia.

The Un-forgotten Coat is sweet and funny and absolutely irresistible. It’s childhood described as though we all had Mongolian friends at school when we were eleven.

In fact, maybe we did.

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.

The Truth is Dead

What if?

What if it had gone the other way? This short anthology, edited by Marcus Sedgwick, takes history and turns it round. Some famous times in the past get a new look through eight authors. Marcus has rounded up some of our best writers, like Philip Ardagh, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Anthony McGowan, Linda Newbery, Mal Peet, Eleanor Updale and Matt Whyman, and asked them to rewrite history.

I was fairly taken with Anthony McGowan’s Jesus, and I sincerely hope he will not get into trouble for this. Anthony, I mean. Jesus seems to have messed up, and he even passed on the Nike trainers. Honestly.

And I loved Mal Peet’s character, almost from the first sentence of his short story. I knew Mal is talented, but this is quite spectacular.

Linda Newbery does what she does so well, offering a tale from WWI. Philip Ardagh shows what a space nerd he is with his story about the moon, and Matt Whyman does other strange things to the same moon.

Marcus gives a new side to Napoleon, and Eleanor Updale tackles the millennium bug, while Frank Cottrell Boyce has a related topic in the world ending next year. That’s after the Aztecs colonised Glasgow.

At times I had to work to keep my wits with all this back-to-frontness. Makes you think.