Tag Archives: Liz Kessler

Mcbf, the end is near – for now

There has already been afternoon tea in Manchester. Today – on the last day – there will be more afternoon tea, and a quiz. I’m trying really hard not to mind.

While I’m busy not minding, I give you some more borrowed/stolen photos from the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. It is run (or do I mean organised?) by Kaye and James. They work very hard. By today they must be absolutely shattered. I know I am, and I wasn’t even there.

That’s why I will show you their happy smiles as they rubbed shoulders with the great and the famous this week. The one at the beginning was Curtis Jobling, who they worked pretty hard. Here they are with Curtis and his hat.

Kaye Tew, Curtis Jobling and James Draper

Then James seems to have got Sufiya Ahmed to himself.

Sufiya Ahmed and James Draper

After which we see James wondering what on earth Kaye has to laugh about. Are they not there to work? Their boss, the Poet Laureate is looking on.

Kaye Tew and James Draper

And look, here is James with his arms round Carol Ann and Kaye. He looks right at home.

Carol Ann Duffy, James Draper and Kaye Tew

More ladies for James; Jenny and Rachel.

James Draper with Jenny and Rachel

And with that Cerri Burnell off television.

Cerri Burnell and James Draper

Then luckily we have a break from our pair, as Kevin does his fan stuff with Guy Bass.

Kevin with Guy Bass

But then it’s back to more hanging out with authors, with Kate Pankhurst. James is testing out the intelligent look.

Kaye Tew, Kate Pankhurst and James Draper

Next is Justin Somper with our hard-working couple.

Kaye Tew, Justin Somper and James Draper

Imtiaz Dharker speaks at the poetry event. Proper grown-up it looks, and no Kaye or James. (Though I’m sure they were there…)

Imtiaz Dharker

Andrew Cope is looking pleased to have avoided the camera happy organisers.

Andrew Cope

Oh no, here they are, back with Andrew.

Kaye Tew, Andrew Cope and James Draper

Steve Cole got the whole line-up of mcbf helpers instead.

Steve Cole and mcbf volunteers

Cathy Cassidy and ‘her boys’ who, as I’ve said before, are among the nicest in children’s fiction.

Cathy Cassidy

Former MMU student Liz Kessler was back with her pals Kaye and James.

Kaye Tew, Liz Kessler and James Draper

And finally, Ali Sparkes with, surprise, surprise, Kaye and James.

Kaye Tew, Ali Sparkes and James Draper

But you know what I’m really trying to say, don’t you? These two lovely people work, and work, and they organise a rather nice and most friendly book festival. They deserve to be photographed with their guests. They deserve the limelight. Because they do this so well, with an ever present smile on their faces. Well, two smiles. One for each face.

There was no witch to ask to see James’s socks this year. No witch to send to the back of the room. And no cake for the witch. Or tea. Or quiz, which I would surely have won. Had I been there.

(The photos are by the mcbf photographer. I simply smuggled them onto my flickr account, because earlier this week I produced a nice post which suddenly lost half it’s pictures because someone went and pruned the mcbf gallery…)

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.)

Bookwitch bites #120

Bah, rubbish! And I mean google and unresponsive websites. I went looking for the link to Peter Dickinson’s essay A Defence of Rubbish and found nothing. I understand the origin is a talk from 1970, but I read about it not long ago. Unfortunately, as this rubbish stands, I can offer no link.* Sorry.

I was reminded of this when I came across another – not quite so old – piece on reading rubbish, by Clémentine Beauvais on ABBA. I don’t know how I missed it, seeing as it stirred lots of feathers, and quite rightly so. Clémentine is against, but a lot of people believe in rubbish.

So do I, although there is good rubbish and bad rubbish. I’m probably most in favour of the better stuff.

John Connolly Edgar award by David Brown

Not rubbish at all is what I can say about John Connolly’s recent Edgar Award for Best Short Story for The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository. (I’ve not read it, but I very much doubt he’d win anything if it was bad. Or that John would write bad stuff.) The photo of John and Edgar is pretty appalling, however. Could almost have been taken by me, but wasn’t.

More Irish excellence with the news that Eoin Colfer is the new Laureate na nOg, which I believe means he’s their Malorie Blackman. Congratulations to Eoin, and here’s to the great work he’s bound to do, for books and reading!

Someone who definitely gets young people reading is Liz Kessler, who recently reported that there is now a fantastic screenplay of her Emily Windsnap, written by a Hollywood-based producer and an amazing scriptwriter. As Liz points out, that’s still a long way from it becoming a film, but it’s a start. We’ll be waiting!

You don’t have to wait quite as long, and there’s more certainty, for the Borders Book Festival. The programme is out now, and the festival itself will happen in five weeks’ time. Who knows, I might even make it there this year. Bring on the famous Scottish sunshine!

*Below are two screen caps of parts of what Peter said:

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

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.


All I want now is a complimentary hotel room for the duration. And a sofa from the atrium area to take home.


From road rage to eyebrows

Did I ever tell you about my ‘crush’ on Meg Rosoff? Well, anyway, I quite like her. And her books. So it was high time the Guardian Weekend did one of their profile thingies on her. Interestingly, she – or the editor – picked out her tendency to ‘inspire road rage’ for the headline. It was one of my earliest discoveries with Meg. You know, when she is on the verge of opening the car window (on the passenger side) to say something ‘interesting’ to the driver over there. And you’d rather she didn’t, because you are sitting in the passenger seat, and you’d quite like to survive a few more days.

Being in a car with your hero is obviously the thing. Addy Farmer published the shortest, but most succinct, blog post on getting close to someone she admires, after she gave Malorie Blackman a lift. I wish I could be that brief.

Liz Kessler wedding

Another blog entry I was overjoyed to read, was the one on ABBA by Liz Kessler (who only happens to be the subject of Daughter’s huge admiration). It left tears in my eyes, and I believe, in many more eyes than mine. The hard thing about children’s authors coming out must be that while children are generally not prejudiced, they depend on adults to buy their books for them. So if children’s authors are being over-cautious, it’s because of the ‘grown-ups.’

But hero worship is not limited to people like me or Daughter or Addy. Heroes ‘suffer’ from it as well. It was fascinating to read about Margaret Drabble’s admiration for Doris Lessing. Both the ease with which she got to know her, how Doris Lessing ‘used’ her, and about having lunch with Margaret’s cleaner.

And as we are moving up in the world (in this blog post, I mean), I need to share with you the glorious moment when MMU Writing School director and organiser of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, James Draper, met the Queen. James had better not have washed that hand since, as I’m hoping to shake it when I next see him.

James Draper and Queen Elizabeth II

Last but not least, we have someone else whose work I admire. If you can call it work? Someone who sadly has lost his cleaner, but who still has two ladies come and do his eyebrows. At home. Yes, it is Tim Dowling. When it comes to entertaining people by writing about everyday life, Tim is master of the kind of humour that ‘just happens.’ The trick is to know when and how to use it.

Poppy’s little brother

This is the sweetest little book! Maybe not the sweetest ever, in the whole wide world, but so cute! (Apologies for the over-use of !!)

Liz Kessler, Poppy the Pirate Dog's New Shipmate

Liz Kessler’s new Poppy adventure for early readers, Poppy the Pirate Dog’s New Shipmate, with the most adorable little pictures by Mike Phillips, had me literally melting. My hard heart, especially. Oh…

OK, down to business. Poppy is lonely, now that the holiday is over and her children go to school again. When they realise this, they set about remedying the situation immediately. Poppy is promised a little brother.

She starts to dream of her wonderful new life with her spotty Dalmatian baby brother. It’ll be fantastic!

When George arrives, however, he is not spotty. He is ginger. He ‘wasn’t even a dog.’ What a usurping, ginger brat! Cat.

But the humans go out, leaving Poppy and George alone. The inevitable happens.

Oh, it’s so sweet!

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.)

Liz Kessler – In praise of writing courses

To celebrate the publication of North of Nowhere, Liz Kessler has stopped off on her blog tour to tell us precisely what she thinks budding writers can and should do. She was part of the panel event at MMU in June, and I thought it’d be good to hear more of what Liz has to say on the subject. Because she has been there.

“I’ve often heard people say that you can’t teach someone to write. Write creatively, that is. I think we’d all agree that you can teach people, literally, how to write. It’s done every day in schools across the land.

North of Nowhere blog tour

But when it comes to degrees and MAs and residential weekends and night schools and all the other many ways that people attend courses on creative writing, some people argue that this you can’t teach. We’re writers or we’re not, and if we’re not then we can’t be taught how to be something that’s about our own innate creativity. (Or lack thereof.)

I think that there is perhaps a teeny tiny bit of truth in this. I don’t believe, for example, that any amount of attending art courses would ever turn me into Picasso. I regularly play ‘Draw Something’ on my iPhone and have never got beyond stick men. I have attempted to draw mermaids for fans of my Emily Windsnap books and the pictures – at best – resemble a character out of Casper the Ghost.

However, I could probably (possibly) be taught a few tricks and techniques that could enable me to develop my drawings a bit, and perhaps learn enough to be able to enjoy sitting by the sea painting the scene in front of me for an afternoon.

And if I did have some talent but had never been given the opportunity to develop this, I could be taught an awful lot more, and could possibly go quite a long way with my art. Maybe even get it to a point where I could make some money from it.

Liz Kessler

All of this is the same with writing. I have taught many writing courses where I have seen people who don’t realise they are talented develop and grow as writers. Finding their voice and their style and gaining confidence as they listen to feedback from their peers and teachers. This is an absolute joy for me, and something I love to do. And I’ve been on both sides of this situation.

It was a writing course that helped start my own writing career. I had left a teaching job to take on a more temporary and part time contract so I could focus on writing. At the same time, I enrolled on an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. (Just down the road from the Witch’s own abode.) This course was instrumental in helping me learn how to become a writer. I think that I already had some skills and I certainly had a passion – but the course helped me hone all of this.

The workshops, in particular, really focused my mind and helped me to develop my craft. Knowing that you have to produce 5,000 words for an audience who (in your mind) are ready to hungrily tear it to pieces really helps you to produce the best work you can. Having to do this every other week gave me a discipline and respect for deadlines. And listening to what people (fellow students and teachers) said about my work helped me to learn how to deal with criticism. All of it helped to take me from being someone who liked writing but didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go with it or what I wanted to do with it, to someone who considered myself to be a writer first and foremost and to commit myself to writing books, honing my skills and getting published.

So I would like to thank the MMU for this opportunity, and also thank all the people who put their time, effort, hard work and considerable amount of talent and expertise into running courses like this. You guys change lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that these things are for everyone. And I don’t believe that everyone ‘has a book in them,’ a phrase that some people bandy about without really thinking about it. Why are you choosing my profession as the one that anyone can do? Have you ever thought how crazy (and mildly insulting) that sounds? Why not say that everyone has a brain surgeon in them, or everyone has an Olympic marathon race in them? Because it’s nonsense, that’s why. Same applies to writing books! Not everyone can do it – but a lot of people who believe they can’t but would love to try, might just manage it, given the right support and a lot of hard work.

So for those who have an interest in writing, a passion, and, yes, an inkling of a seedling of a possibility of some sort of talent – go for it. Try it out. It might be an MA like the one I did, or a week’s residential course with someone like the Arvon Foundation (or even with me if I ever get round to setting up the St Ives-based writing holidays that I plan to one day!) Or it might even just be getting a group of friends who love writing to meet up regularly to support each other. Being part of a group like this where you are focused on the writing and getting some sort of encouragement to go forward with it is one of the best things you can do.

Oh, and if you happen to have a writing fan in your life who is aged between eight and thirteen, then check out the writing competition that Orion and the Guardian Children’s Books are running to coincide with my new book, North of Nowhere. You never know, it could be the start of their writing career.”

If I said that this has given me hope, you will – erroneously – believe I’m thinking of me. I’m not. I’m thinking ahead to the books I’ll get to read one day, because someone enrolled at MMU, or similar.

Go on!

North of Nowhere

It doesn’t make any difference that I am way past Liz Kessler’s intended reading age group. She still catches me every time, and her latest time travel novel was no different. I raced through it, despite knowing it couldn’t end well for everyone.

I mean, it can’t, can it? If you really can travel in time – and of course you can – someone will get stuck or jump forward or something. And if they do, they won’t be where they first belonged.

Mia’s grandad vanishes into thin air, and because her grandma is devastated, she has to accompany her mum to go and visit, to see if they can help.

I know quotes are boring but I absolutely loved this paragraph from chapter one: ‘I’d like to ruthlessly destroy your life by taking you to the middle of nowhere, where you’ll die a slow death from boredom, loneliness and a general lack of anything that makes life worth living’ as said by Mia’s mum. Except she didn’t actually put it as wittily as that, but I wish she had. It would make this parent-talking-to-child business so much more fun, as well as true to life.

Liz Kessler, North of Nowhere

Right, let’s get on with this destroying of Mia’s life. They don’t even have a mobile signal in this hole of a fishing village. But Mia goes out, and she meets someone she wants for a friend, and then she meets someone else who is friendly. But nothing is quite as it seems.

There is a boat that is there some of the time, and at other times disappears inexplicably. Now, you and I know that this is typical of time travel, but it takes Mia some time to work out.

After which she has to get a grasp on what’s what and how she can resolve the situation. If she can. Who will stay and who will have to go?

I can’t see how any young reader can resist North of Nowhere.


Neil Gaiman’s dog has died. I would have treated this as private, had he not blogged about it so beautifully, thereby making it public. But it makes sense. If you talk about your beloved dog when it’s fine, you need to warn us when things are no longer so fine, or we will put our foot in it.

Lurcher with broken pottery

One thing I often use to illustrate the beauty of blogging, is getting to know the dogs of so many authors. Not necessarily in person, although that has happened a lot more than I had bargained for when I set out six years ago.

But even the dogs I’ve never met, I somehow feel I know well. I’m not an animal person, but if I were I’d be a dog person. I suppose it goes with being a writer, that you can express things well, and that goes for making your dog come alive in other people’s minds.

Except, there comes the day when the dog isn’t there anymore. I have made more than one author cry when asking about their dead dog, and I never meant to! Neil Gaiman won’t be avoiding all such questions, but he will miss many of them now. Even I, who is not a regular reader of his journal, feel I’ve heard a lot about his ‘white wolf.’

Liz Kessler and Poppy working in the garden

Some put their dogs in their books, like Poppy the pirate dog, who Liz Kessler belongs to.

How can we not love them?