Tag Archives: Keith Gray

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

Not the EIBF – for me

I was so sure I’d be able to fit in a little EdBookFest this year as well. On top of everything else, I mean. But I’m not.

I have enthused about the programme. I have gone through it in detail. I finally picked my dates, allowing me four days in the middle. Yes! It was the mid-weekenders who would have won. Until common sense kicked in and I told myself very sternly that something had to give, and it would be really useful if it wasn’t me.

So, that’s one book festival less for me, and maybe for you, if you were counting on me doing it on your behalf. I spent the other evening undoing what I’d so far arranged to do, hoping that not too many people would be overjoyed by the witch-free aspect.

So that’s no tea with Theresa Breslin and Julia Jarman. Big sob. No meeting with Badger the lovely dog in person. No Jon Mayhew, or Elen Caldecott (finally, as it was to be…) or Charlie Fletcher. Similar fate for Prentice & Weil (who I hope are not solicitors, despite their names), Melvin Burgess and Keith Gray. There will be no Keiths at all for me.

I was going to hear all about Jonathan Stroud’s new book, and even get close to Arne Dahl.

The list could go on. I have it here, right next to me, colour coded and with indecipherable comments, that once meant something.

I would have had to miss Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry. Again. But these ladies at least have something exciting going. You can win their books, if you go here.

As for me, I’m looking ahead to the next thing, thinking if I plan properly – and early – I will not have to cancel more events. But things always look very doable when looked at in advance.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

For all others – and the crouching tigers – Edinburgh International Book Festival starts today. Mind the mud. And the puddles.

And have fun!

The EIBF 2013 programme

It’s not exactly a bad programme this year. It’s not exactly short on authors, either. I’ve probably missed a few, seeing as I have only browsed the pdf  in a hasty fashion, but even so, were it not for the fact that I actually know I am unable to cover the full two and a half weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d sign up for the complete works. Again.

I’d been thinking a weekend. Maybe a longish weekend, but no more than four days. But which longish weekend? And what about the fantastic midweek offerings?

This is going to be an easy post to write! I could simply list authors, one after the other. But that would be boring.

For the time being I will not cover the adult writers, although I noticed Salman Rushdie is coming. Roddy Doyle. And Patrick Ness is an adult this time.

So, first weekend ‘as usual’ we have Meg Rosoff, as well as her stable (yeah, right…) mates Eoin Colfer and Cathy Cassidy. Anne Fine, Tommy Donbavand, Helena Pielichaty, Linda Strachan, Andy Mulligan. Carnegie winner Sally Gardner. Obvious choice. First weekend it will be.

Meg Rosoff

On the other hand, during the week when it grows a little quieter we have Elizabeth Wein. Hmm. Debi Gliori with Tobermory Cat. Nicola Morgan. Lari Don and Vivian French. Damien M Love. Well, that would be good!

But Elen Caldecott is someone I’ve always missed. She’s there the second weekend. It will have to be the middle weekend. Charlie Fletcher, Teresa Breslin and Eleanor Updale, Jon Mayhew and Darren Shan. Need I say more? OK, Tom Palmer, Chae Strathie. Melvin Burgess. Keith Gray.

Jonathan Stroud has a new book coming, which I like the look of. And he’s there the second week. So are Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry, and Daniel Hahn is talking translation. That is interesting.

Having said that, the last, extra long weekend looks by far the best. Doesn’t it? Judit Kerr. Neil Gaiman. Our new children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman. Our own Liz Kessler, and Tim Bowler. Philip Caveney from ‘home’ and Derek Landy, whom I’ve not seen for a long time… Jo Nadin and Spideyman himself, Steve Cole.

Yes. No competition there. Except maybe all the other days.

What do the rest of you think?

(Sorry. I see I have done a list after all.)

Barrington Stoke is 15!

Reading is easy to take for granted. Even though there was a time when I couldn’t read, and even though I remember that my first ‘real’ book (Famous Five) took me a week at age seven, you soon unlearn what went before. So I read. I used to read very fast (at least I thought I did), and now I’m rather slower again, but I read.

And you know that delicious feeling you get when you discover that the book you’re starting on is one of those really special ones, that will – almost – change your life? I suppose I must have felt like that, all those years ago. Realising that my Treasure Island experience could just go on and on.

Rather stupidly, I hadn’t thought too much about what it might be like to be dyslexic and not read, and then to find something like the Barrington Stoke books and find that you can. You are actually reading! Or to be the parent of such a child. Hopefully it is a child. To become an adult and still have nothing you can read seems too sad.

Browsing the booklet about the books Barrington Stoke are planning to publish to celebrate their 15 years of making readers out of people, made even me excited. There is something so satisfying in finding that top authors are writing Barrington Stoke books. If I could, I’d read them all. As it is, I have read two of the January titles, which are both quite mature and quite scary and strangely both about dead people and consequences.

 Andy Stanton, Meg Rosoff, Pete Johnson, Lee Weatherly, Philip Ardagh, Catherine Johnson, Bali Rai, Karen McCombie, Geraldine McCaughrean, Nigel Hinton and Kaye Umansky

Keith Gray has written You Killed Me! which is a marvellous story. Imagine waking up and finding a man at the end of your bed. A man with a hole in his head, accusing you of killing him, and demanding you put things right.

Shivers by Bali Rai features the teen ‘geek’ who suddenly finds he has the hottest girl around for his girlfriend. But she is somewhat unusual, and soon his life turns around, and not for the better. I thought at first the girl might be a vampire, but she’s not…

I’d like for these two books to start someone’s shivers, either when they discover reading for the first time, or as two more great reads following many earlier ones.

(For the ‘normal’ reader the only thing wrong with them is they don’t last long enough. Although I suppose that means it’s easier to read more of them.)

Censorship

Seems it’s not only Meg Rosoff who gets uninvited to schools (last year in Bath, in case you’re wondering). Found a link to an article by James Klise in the Chicago Tribune about being invited to speak in a school and then being uninvited again. He is very understanding, and it is easy to see the librarian’s plight. The thing is, if you are inviting on behalf of someone who might take offense, why not check extra carefully before you end up in a pickle?

Keith Gray

Then there was this piece Keith Gray wrote for PEN. As with everything Keith writes, it’s a wonderful and considered keynote address. It’s just a shame that they need to be written at all.

At that point I was thinking there was a lot of coincidental censoring going on. That’s until I discovered it was Banned Books Week. (Is my diminished reading of newspapers beginning to show?) Here is Dead Guy on banned books.

I am obviously against censorship. But then, perhaps writers ought to self-censor certain things before someone has to do it for them? Except in some places it would appear you have the right to do whatever you like.

I’ve got ‘distinguished’ Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård in mind. He put someone he knew (a little) into one of his books, with name and everything. Also the woman’s four-year-old daughter. He didn’t think terribly highly of either of them, apparently, and felt the need to say so in the book. (Min kamp, since you ask. And yes, it does sound pretty similar to another book title I can think of.)

Personally I can’t help feeling his editor or publisher should have sorted him out. But they do things differently in Scandinavia, and who cares whether they are hurting real people?

Martinmas drugs

I’d like to show you the drugs I sent with Daughter, for use this Martinmas term. (I think it’s so quaint with these terms for terms…)

2012 leisure reads

Following on from the session we had in the Scottish Parliament back in August, we fully agree with the use of books for medicinal purposes. They make you feel better. Probably much better than the stuff you get on prescription. (Even when prescriptions are free, as they are north of the border.)

Anyway, when exam nerves or essay stress take their toll, Daughter can grab one of the lovely titles you see above. (Guess which one is her own input?)

So, there are fairies and faeries, Irish and Scottish, and their cousins the angels. Nicholas Flamel, a Stockport cinema, cat people, various Victorian ladies, code breakers, resistance boys and ugly people. Keith Gray’s wonderful anthology. And the Doctor.

We think there is enough for one term. If not, I suppose she will actually have to buy a book. Shocking concept, but a feasible solution.

The photo is partly to make sure I get back what I sent out, but also to assist when I need to advise on which one to choose, according to specific needs.

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.

Keiths bearing gifts

‘The real deal,’ is how Keith Gray described his co-eventee Patrick Ness. This time we had Patrick round the back for a photocall and that might be ‘bizarre,’ but you do need to treat a double (or should that be triple?) Carnegie winner as the star he is.

Patrick Ness

While we waited, we sat outside the yurt in the sunshine. My photographer in one of the fun deck chairs, and myself more modestly on a plastic, blue folding chair. It was a good spot. We watched Chris Close making Vivian French play the toy guitar, while waving her leg in the air.

The deck chair

And just as we started feeling lonely, Keith Charters came past. He stopped to talk, because he’s such a lovely man that he even chats to witches. Especially to witches. And as he regaled us with tales of Gillian Philip finishing writing her latest Sithe instalment while balancing on a li-lo in Barbados, he sat down on the somewhat soggy carpet at our feet. Which was so not a good thing. He resorted to kneeling after a while. That’s how I like them.

When Keith heard I didn’t yet have my Wolfsbane, he went and got me copy. Just like that!

While he was down, the other Keith (Gray) arrived, and joined us. He, too, brought a gift. Which was very nice of him. They are a bit like that, those Keiths. Then we talked about lack of sleep and courgette baby food. Admired the second Keith’s blue and yellow lanyards. So very Swedish!

After the Keiths wandered off, a semi-Swede came up to chat, and the Guardian’s Claire Armitstead joined us, doing a good impression of knowing who Bookwitch is. She’s rather like the Head Girl and I’m a little scared of her. But she’s lovely.

The time for Patrick’s bizarre paparazzi moment came, which was when Chris Close borrowed him for a bit, having him hide his face behind his hand, and later, rummaging through the recycling bin… (If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.)

I had time to re-connect with Patrick’s new-ish publicity lady Sarah, and when they went to get ready for Patrick’s event, we wandered off to find Philip Ardagh and Axel Scheffler signing after theirs.

Philip Ardagh

Axel Scheffler

After which I headed towards the Corner theatre queue, to listen to Patrick and Keith argue about who’s boss. But that – as they say – is another story…

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?

Surviving It

I missed the Bill Clinton look-alike as we waited for our train, but not his companion wearing a lampshade on her head. Sunday night at Haymarket station was sort of mixed. Lots of very happy people. The Clintons. Us.

On Monday morning’s train in there was murder. The young woman near us stood up and said ‘kill it, you have to kill it’, to the Chinese/Japanese? tourists sitting opposite. They did. The corpse (wasp, maybe?) lay on the floor between us.

This festival business is hard. I couldn’t help noticing a photographer ‘hoovering’ up the crumbs from the almond croissants in the yurt. It’s hungry work. You get food, but not necessarily when you want it. On Sunday we leaped aside to allow trays of strawberries and cream-topped pastries walk past. Nicola Morgan had also noticed them, so we hallucinated food for a bit.

Julie Bertagna

OK, so so far we are surviving. The ever more school-shaped witch went to a schools event yesterday lunchtime. It was called Surviving It, and featured the lovely Julie Bertagna and her futuristic drowning world, and the very generous Keith Gray on teenage suicide and other difficult teen stuff. Before the event Keith said it might be good to sleep through, but it wasn’t. It was good to listen to, and well chaired by Philippa Cochrane who is always excellent.

Julie Bertagna, Aurora

Julie talked about Exodus, Zenith and Aurora, explaining the background to the trilogy, and finishing by telling the audience that it’s up to them now. They are the ones who will decide where we go. Julie had a good look at them and decided they seemed a promising bunch.

Keith read the hilarious bungee-jumping story from Ostrich Boys, stopping at just the wrong (i.e. right) moment. He’s quite fond of statistics. I remember that from last year. Did you know the average person spends four months of their life having sex?

Anyway, Keith has ‘been there’, and remembers those teen years very well. He says he was miserable (well, listening to heavy metal, I’m not surprised). He’s not a glass half full/half empty kind of person. To him the glass is twice as large as it needs to be. And it’s worth thinking of all the people you’d never meet if you commit suicide. (Or, I was thinking, how many people would never meet ‘you’.)

On the plus side, few children worry about nuclear bombs these days. On a more bad side, it sounds as if Keith isn’t all that heavily into recycling. With a baby on the way, it’s time to start!

Keith Gray

As an adult I often wonder how children in school parties look at events like this one. As they left the signing tent I overheard one say to her friends how worried she’d been that ‘they’ would refuse to ‘sign it’. Clearly the didn’t refuse, and happiness reigned.

Those seagulls outside the tent were noisy!

Charlotte Square

(Additional pictures on Photowitch.)