Tag Archives: Gill Lewis

Of birds and bears

So maybe Gill Lewis is the next big thing? She had a long queue outside her venue yesterday morning, and the EIBF director came to listen (I imagine it’s like having the head teacher sit in on a lesson) and everything was great. Long queue in the bookshop afterwards, which meant I didn’t get to say hello until much much later.

They handed out clipboards to the audience, and even the adults were allowed to have one. Gill began by showing us some rock art (as in ‘caves,’ not music) in Zimbabwe (along with her husband holding a plastic carrier bag) – which apparently is like Dartmoor, but different.

Gill is not quite sure why she writes, but rock art has something to do with it. So she asked us to draw an animal and to try and get into that animal’s mind, see what its life might be like. She herself begins a book by drawing animals and people and seeing where it takes her. She’s also very good at it, in the kind of way that makes you jealous because someone seems to be far too talented at too many things.

Having talked to young carers, Gill found that what most of them fear is their family being broken up, so they use a lot of time and effort to pretend everything is fine. She used this in Scarlet Ibis, her latest book.

Gill Lewis

Thinking back to her own childhood, when she certainly wouldn’t have been able to do all the chores that Scarlet does, she told us about a dare in her group of friends. They went to the garden belonging to Mr White, who they just knew was a vampire, and they went to look inside the wooden box where… No, I can’t tell you. It would ruin the excitement for you if you ever hear Gill talk. She then read the dare scene where Scarlet goes to the house where an old woman is known to boil children and eat them.

Not content with being a vet, and a writer, Gill is keen on nature in general, and wants to help re-wild the urban landscape. It’s easy; you might have a birdbox, or leave a tree stump to rot, or grow nettles. Ever the expert, she then tested us on some easy, and some pretty difficult, pictures of wild animals, before asking people to make up a riddle about their drawn animal from earlier.

Very interesting.

And I’m glad I have two of Gill’s books still to read.

Lizday

At 9.59 there was considerable panic among Horrid Henry fans. Parents were seen running with their children across Charlotte Square, and then back again a minute or so later. It’s also known as ‘I didn’t need the toilet before but now I do.’ The event started at 10.

Liz Kessler

Francesca Simon

My first – literary – port of call was with Liz Kessler. I then had half an hour in which to take pictures of her signing, run across the square to see if I could catch Francesca Simon still at it, and then get myself to my second event with Gill Lewis. That’s when I remembered I had a book I wanted Liz to sign, and being a popular sort lady she still had a long queue and I wasn’t anywhere near the front of it. So I thrust the book at her publisher Fiona Kennedy and asked her to see to it that Daughter got an autograph. Surprisingly, Fiona seemed to know who I was.

Gill Lewis

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

After Gill’s event I had slightly longer, so had time to take pictures of her, and to dash across the square for Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart in the other signing tent. Had to remember to go back to base and get my hopefully signed book back. Then I went to meet Caroline Lawrence, whose Saturday event I had been forced to miss, but who very kindly sacrificed some of her time on me today.

Norse monster

Norse monster

Norse monster

Kate O'Hearn

We decided there was time for an ice cream – because we both carried spare food in our rucksacks, so didn’t need lunch – and we exchanged news and discussed what’s hot and what she’s working on now, and then she ran on to hear Kate O’Hearn, whose rather fantastic team of Norse monsters were a sight to behold. I caught up with them in the bookshop an hour later, where they chatted to babies (who will never forget this early literary experience) and posed and were generally rather unsusual.

Michael Rosen

Meanwhile I had found Michael Rosen signing across the square, talking to his young fans with his normal charm and performing facial acrobatics. He too had caused a late rush on the toilets, so that seems to be a hazard with young fans.

Simon Armitage

‘Backstage’ I found Carol Ann Duffy and I saw Peter Guttridge at a safe distance from sleeve-tugging. Again. While I waited for Simon Armitage to come to his photocall, Kate O’Hearn and her monsters returned, and thanks to Chris Close I got another opportunity to snap these fantastic creatures.

Kate O'Hearn

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Laird

Chris Riddell

My final event this book festival was another couple of Elizabeths; Laird and Wein. I even had a few minutes during which to take photos of Liz and Liz, as well as of Chris Riddell who was still signing away an hour after his Goth Girl talk, before I ran off to find a tram to the airport. It was high time to collect Daughter from her Californian adventure.

Telling stories about story tellers

Scarlet, in Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis, is a story teller. It’s what she’s good at, and it also serves to keep her autistic younger brother Red calm and happy. Similarly in Jo Cotterill’s Looking at the Stars, Mini makes life bearable for herself and others by telling stories. She makes them up as she goes along, even, not quite knowing where the story will go or how she will end it.

I read these two books close together, and was struck by the similarities. But as I stopped to think about it properly, I realised that many books have a main character who tells stories, writes, draws, daydreams, or all of these.

Jo’s Mini felt very much like a Jacqueline Wilson girl, except in a war torn country. Jacqueline’s heroines frequently, if not absolutely always, tell stories. They are her, really. We know how Jacky herself spent her childhood dreaming about things, making up characters and plots, drawing, and so on. She simply puts versions of herself in her books.

From that thought, I realised that authors are of necessity story tellers. It’s what they do. And if you follow the sensible advice about writing what you know, then the reality of story telling will be close to very many writers.

I don’t know if there really is a disproportionate number of fictional heroines (mostly girls, I believe) who do what their creators do. But I suspect so. More authors/dreamers than accountants or cleaners.

Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis is wonderful! That’s the book by Gill Lewis, as well as her heroine. They are both called Scarlet Ibis.

Twelve-year-old Scarlet is a hard-working older sister who looks after her younger brother Red, as well as their unwell mother. She loves them both, and both are rather difficult characters. The mother is immature and can’t cope. Red is on the autistic spectrum and loves birds; especially the scarlet ibis.

Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis

Red looks at the birds he can see from the window in their top floor flat, and once a month Scarlet takes him to the zoo as a treat. He collects birds’ feathers and is most particular about the order they are kept in, and he desperately wants one from a scarlet ibis.

But things go wrong, and the two siblings are separated from each other and from their mum. Scarlet knows she’s the only one who understands Red properly, despite what the social worker thinks, so she needs to find him again.

This is a very warm story, with less of the grey side of life than I had been expecting. Birds, and people who like birds, play a large part in the story. Scarlet makes good friends, and she discovers what it’s like to actually be allowed to be a young girl, and not just a carer. And Red is a fairly capable boy for an aspie and beautifully determined, and you can see that something will surely work out. The question is how.

I knew this would be great, and it was. Is. Read it and feel good about humanity. (And birds, I suppose.)

EIBF and me, 2014

It is here. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book festival. And I’m sorry, but all I can think of is that Sara Paretsky will be there. It’s been three years, and she is finally coming in the summer rather than freezing her nether regions off in February/March. Which is so sensible.

OK, there must be a few other authors scheduled for the two and a bit weeks. Think, witch, think!

There are some very interesting looking events where authors one admires talk about authors one admires. I’m going to have to see if I can catch one of those, because they look like tickets might sell out fast (small tent). Then there is Patrick Ness who will give the Siobhan Dowd talk and Val McDermid will pretend to be Jane Austen.

Wendy Meddour is coming and there is a lovely pairing of Francesca Simon and Irving Finkel. Another interesting pair is Caroline Lawrence with Geraldine McCaughrean. Elizabeths Laird and Wein will cooperate, and Gill Lewis is also making an appearance.

Many more excellent authors like Sophie Hannah and Arne Dahl, Tommy Donbavand and Liz Kessler will be at the festival. I have to admit to paying less attention to the ‘grown-up’ authors again, in favour of my ‘little ones.’ Those who are given orange juice instead of wine (although I am sure not at EIBF!) because they write for children.

Have to admit that many of my hoped for events are school events. I am glad that some of the best looking events are for schools, because it means someone thinks school children deserve the best. I want to be a school child on a very temporary basis at the end of August.

Deck chair

I’m hoping for plenty of stamina on my part. I have planned a number of full or nearly full days, for about two thirds of the festival. (I was thinking of having a holiday at some point.) The event I am fairly certain I won’t be able to go to but wish I could, is Eleanor Updale talking about Vera Brittain. That would be really something.

Perhaps I will see you in Charlotte Square? (If my eyes are – temporarily – closed, just give me a gentle nudge.)

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.)

White Dolphin

I always sensed I would love White Dolphin by Gill Lewis. Even though, and I have to be honest here, I am not totally keen on animal stories. The good ones are so very good, while the others are just, well, about animals. And that’s not my kind of thing.

With White Dolphin I found myself racing through the book and loving it from start to finish. I suppose it’s partly that it’s set by the sea, which I love. But primarily this is a novel that manages to engage on so many levels that you just can’t help but be satisfied.

Kara (I’m guessing she is about 11 or 12) and her dad live with her aunt and her family, because they are hard up. Her mum disappeared a year ago and no one knows what happened to her. Both Kara and her dad are dyslexic and this causes her school mates to be unkind, but she gives as good as she gets.

This is not only about the white dolphin Kara sees out at sea, but the future of their fishing village. There are eco problems and worries about money and jobs. There’s her missing mum, and her heavily pregnant aunt, as well as Kara’s friendly little cousin Daisy. Kara’s dad owns a boat they love to go out on. And when a new boy starts at Kara’s school she finds she just can’t stand him.

For a book which I thought would be a fairly simple plot about a lonely girl and dolphins, this grew into something really quite complex, and very lovely. Most of the plot threads are resolved, but not always the way we’d like. But there’s hope.

You can tell Gill is a vet. She knows about animals, and I reckon this is what made White Dolphin so real. She could do worse than write her way through the animal kingdom.

(After our meeting last year and the challenge thrown down by the Dark Lord, I eagerly await Gill’s dung beetle saga. I bet she could make me care.)