Tag Archives: Jim Kay

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

He can marry me anytime

Patrick Ness wanted to be an author from an early age, but had no expectations about getting to where he is today. Not through misguided modesty or anything, but his Pentecostal church knew the world was going to end (in 1980, I believe), so there was no point in looking further. He is now living on borrowed time, and reckons God just hasn’t noticed.

At this point Patrick tried to deflect the attention from him to Keith Gray by talking about Ostrich Boys, but Keith told him in no uncertain terms that this was no debate; it was an interview.

Patrick Ness

He – Patrick – actually entered the Corner theatre so quietly we hardly noticed he had arrived. But Keith made sure we knew all his achievements by listing Patrick’s awards, from the Carnegies and ‘down.’ The place was packed, and mostly by teenagers, which is almost unusual these days.

So it was interesting to hear Patrick’s next book is an adult one. The Crane Wife was written because he needed to write it, and he sort of omitted telling his publisher about it. It will be out in 2013, and so will the next YA book he is currently two thirds through editing the second draft of.

Keith asked him about his rather public argument with G P Taylor, on age banding, which Patrick felt had more to do with G P T’s wish for publicity (he’s not here today, is he?) than anything else. Then it was on to Will Self, and later Stephen King, after which Patrick might have run out of steam, coming up with caustic comments about his peers… He doesn’t mince words, and I suspect that’s something young readers notice and like.

As for his own writing, if Patrick doesn’t like it himself, why should he expect anyone else to? You need to laugh at your own jokes. He needs to want to hurry back to writing, or we won’t want to hurry back to where we left off reading. You can’t be both an oracle and an author. To him being an author has to come first. Always.

‘Momentum is everything’ and the Chaos trilogy really has come to an end. He can’t rule out another book set in the same world, but these books are done. There will be no more. When he wrote The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick knew what the last line of Monsters of Men would be. (Although, there could be a few more short stories…)

For those who might not already know, Patrick explained the background to A Monster Calls, talking at length about Siobhan Dowd. It was important to him that the book should be his book. He didn’t want to pretend to be Siobhan. When he began, he could see the ruined living room in his head, so he knew what to do.

As to whether the tree is real, he leaves that to every reader to determine for themself. He knows what he thinks. But he won’t tell. He has written the screenplay for A Monster Calls, because he didn’t want it changed by someone else.

Patrick might feel he has left the church behind, but the phrase ‘totems are the work of the devil’ tripped very easily off his lips. One piece of advice he has for would-be writers is to write from a totally new or different point of view. If you are a boy, write as though you’re a girl. And write the best you can. You can always go back and fix it, so don’t wait for perfect.

And then to the last question, which Keith bagged for himself: ‘Will you marry me?’

Patrick pointed out they were both happily married, and not to be an idiot. (He might not have used that exact word.)

The explanation for all this was simpler, and also stranger, than you’d think. Patrick’s oldest friend in America had got married recently. She wanted him to marry her. So he went and got ordained online, and then he married his friend.

Form an orderly queue here.

A Pope kind of moment

I recall Putney Boy’s reaction to hearing that the Pope had died. Being very Italian and impatient with it, he pointed out to the bearer of this piece of news that it was old news. Very old news. What this favourite waiter of mine had missed was that Pope John Paul I had died, and that we weren’t still talking about the death of Paul VI.

But it’s easy to miss even the biggest news on occasion.

I had one of those dead Pope moments on Thursday evening. I saw a mention on facebook that Carnegie winner Patrick Ness had made some speech about the government and books. I thought irritably that it was all very well to post this if you care about books and reading, but that it had been a year since Patrick’s speech.

Patrick Ness

By Friday morning I had cottoned on to the fact that he had only gone and been awarded the Carnegie again. And the speech was a new speech. My next piece of intelligence suggested that A Monster Calls had actually won the Kate Greenaway medal, which to my tired mind (two days on the road and very little sleep) meant that it was really Jim Kay who had got the medal.

Over mugs of tea the witch family slipped onto the subject, and I shared this Greenaway thought when Daughter said A Monster Calls had received both awards. Personally I thought it unlikely, and we only managed not to come to blows over this by some unexpected maturity we must have had in us.

Struck by a need to know, I researched the whole thing and found she was correct, and that the 2012 medals had been awarded in an unusual way, with one book sharing both.

Well deserved, as everyone has been saying. And some of us feel that it is perhaps an award shared by three people if we count Siobhan Dowd as well.

A Monster Calls

I really, really need to get on a Carnegie mailing list, if there is such a thing. Longlists and shortlists and award dates and winners must no longer slip through my keyboard in this embarrassing fashion. And to think I was actually, for once, in London on the day, too…

Bearded off

You can’t leave a good yurt alone. It grows. The Edinburgh press yurt has sprouted an extra room over the winter. The sideways growth will no doubt prove to be a blessing. As the witch and her photographer fell across its threshold yesterday afternoon, suitcases and everything in tow, we found Claire Armitstead from the Guardian interviewing away in there. (Come to think of it, perhaps it’s the Guardian as BookFest guardians we have to thank for the space?)

My photographer returned General Sutton’s press pass from the Science Festival in April (don’t ask…), and then we set off with our fresh press passes for the year, with much softer ribbons, so we won’t be uncomfortable. At least not round the neck area.

Philip Ardagh

Gentleman with beard

We went looking for Philip Ardagh, of long beard fame. We found someone with an even longer beard! Although PA will be pleased to know he still leads in the excessive height and very large (red, nice) shoes department.

Philip Ardagh

Philip had moderated the Horror boys, aka as Alexander Gordon Smith, Barry Hutchison and Darren Shan. We missed their event, but not their signing, with a mile long queue of mainly boys, and some very useful mothers who queued for them.

Alexander Gordon Smith

Barry Hutchison

Darren Shan

(I fully believe Darren is starting an argument above.)

I can tell you that Patrick Ness doesn’t arrive in time for official photocalls. And we had been so pleased that he’d been considered important enough to merit one… Oh well. We got Nick Sharratt instead. Although as the photographer pointed out, there are only so many pictures you can take of a man wearing a cloud shirt, even of someone who happens to be her favourite illustrator.

Nick Sharratt

‘Hi, here we are!’ said Patrick when he arrived for his event A Monster Calls, in the company of moderator Julia Eccleshare. (Too late, I say.) He read the first chapter of his book with the same title. Then he and Julia talked about how the book came to be written, after an idea by Siobhan Dowd.

It was something she wanted, and Patrick has written it as a tribute to Siobhan, rather than trying to copy her style or even using the first chapter she had written. He got the general idea for the plot and the characters from Siobhan’s notes, and then he did his own thing.

That’s generally important to Patrick, writing for himself, keeping it private, and he reckons A Monster Calls is a sad book, but a hopeful one. He remembers only too well what it was like to be a teenager. He feels it’s important to have picture books like this, for older readers, and Patrick was involved in choosing the illustrator, Jim Kay.

To engage in some name dropping I can tell you that the Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson was in the audience, joining in asking questions afterwards. It was an almost full event, after which most of us obediently toddled over to the bookshop for a spot of queueing. It’s a something we can never have enough of.

Patrick Ness

Although it might have been the after-effects of the massive queue round most of Glasgow Queen Street station earlier in the day that finished us off pretty promptly, and meant that all my earlier ‘coughing’ all over Philip Ardagh came to nothing. I’d been hoping to hear him and Jenny Downham talk about her second novel You Against Me. But I’m sure it went well, even without my witchy presence.

We just went and stood in a few more queues on the way to our BookFest home-from-home. Edinburgh in August, is there anything better? (That’s a more or less direct quote from one of the natives. It would have been rude to disagree.)

A Monster Calls

I was ridiculously relieved to find on starting A Monster Calls that Conor, the main character, is 13. It was the almost picture book quality and the description of what happens that lead me to expect a much younger child. And that felt unbearable. I don’t know why. But Conor was the right kind of character for me. His age also means it’s a more mature story, and I would go so far as to say this is very much an adult book. Not that a child can’t read it, but I don’t know who I would suggest it to.

The other thing was whether Patrick Ness, who is a marvellous writer, should be allowed to write the book which Siobhan Dowd didn’t have time to even start. She planned it, and it’s easy to see where her thoughts must have been heading. Conor’s mother is dying of cancer, and knowing what we do, it feels as if it’s Siobhan’s own illness we are reading about. Or perhaps it’s simply Patrick’s skills in interpreting Siobhan’s plans which make the story what it is.

It feels almost wrong that two such great writers should somehow be ‘collaborating’ on a book. One early reaction I had to the news that Patrick had been asked to write the book with the help of Siobhan’s notes, was that he ought to be able to come up with his own story. He obviously is. What was needed was someone to write what Siobhan couldn’t.

And he certainly has. A Monster Calls feels like neither a Dowd or a Ness, which is probably for the best. It’s like having a baby; you get a little of both and it’s surprising how well the two go together.

Conor has nightmares about a monster. Some boys at school bully him. Then another monster turns up in his already difficult life. And his Grandma. As with all really good stories it’s impossible to tell what’s real and what isn’t.

The plot turns around the yew tree outside Conor’s home and his mother’s illness, which is further advanced than he’s willing to admit. Because she is a single mum, the situation feels much more threatening than if Conor had had a resident father, and his fears are ones I can identify with totally.

A Monster Calls

I mentioned there are pictures. The illustrations by Jim Kay are suitably menacing, and fit the story perfectly. I thought I wouldn’t want pictures, but I was wrong.

This is very much a Siobhan Dowd story, and the description of the chemotherapy and other treatments is harrowing. I’d love to know exactly how much material Patrick had to work with.