Tag Archives: Melvin Burgess

‘Children have the right to read rubbish’

Malorie Blackman

The children’s laureate was in Manchester yesterday. If anyone has the right to say something like that about children’s reading, it must be Malorie Blackman. And she was only saying what Patrick Ness said the other evening. I think we can all (well, most of us, anyway) agree that reading everything can only be good.

This was another school event organised by the Manchester Literature Festival and Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and Malorie was talking to Jackie Roy, who is a favourite chair of mine, someone who asks all the right questions. The event was at Z-arts in Hulme, which is a suitable venue for children of immigrant background in particular to find out how far you can get in life, and that it’s got nothing to do with what colour you are.

Malorie Blackman behind fans

The place was packed, and they even Livestreamed the whole thing to interested parties who were unable to attend. Until this year Malorie has also been unable to come, despite being asked by MLF every year, but as they say in Sweden, trägen vinner.

Malorie spoke about how far equality has come, but pointing out there is a long way still to go before fiction is ethnically diverse, with books featuring disabled characters without being disability books, and where people have a place regardless of sex, race, culture, and so on.

She read very little fiction at home, as her father said it wasn’t real and you ‘never learn anything from fiction.’ So Malorie practically lived at her local library from the age of seven until she was 14 and got a job and could buy her own books. She’d take a packed lunch every Saturday and spend the day, returning home with as many books as she could take, hoping they’d last until the following Saturday.

There were no black children in those books, and it might have been this which made Malorie write on, despite receiving 82 rejection letters from publishers. (She said that she almost gave up after no. 60, but vowed to carry on until the 1000th.) She wrote what she would have wanted to read as a child.

Malorie Blackman

While trying not to tell her readers what to think, Malorie presents a dilemma, and then asks questions to make her characters explore the things she herself is wondering about. It could be animal organ transplants as in Pig Heart Boy, or being a whistle blower versus allowing some things ‘for the greater good,’ like in Noble Conflict.

‘Oh my god, I thought that was an enormous spider!’ I’m not sure what she saw, but something almost made our laureate jump out of the sofa and run…

As a child – and still, actually – she loved comics, using her pocket money to buy them. Their use of cliffhangers has influenced the way she writes. Malorie describes how a teacher at school took her comic away from her and tore it to pieces, because it was ‘rubbish.’ The fact that Noughts & Crosses is about to become a graphic novel gives her great pleasure.

Her careers teacher told Malorie that blacks don’t become teachers, and that she would not pass her English A-level. She laughed as she described walking away from that advice session thinking ‘I’ll show you, you old cow!’

The young Malorie got hooked on computers instead and her first novel was Hacker, which Transworld took on, despite ‘all of it’ needing re-writing. This taught her how to plan, so she wouldn’t waste time writing, and it won her an award, which turned into a wonderful holiday to Barbados.

Malorie Blackman

‘Is that water for me, or has it been here for a long time?’ Malorie pointed to the water next to her when her throat felt dry. (It was for her…)

She’s currently writing her 61st book, and hopes to go on until at least her 100th. And if she didn’t write, she’d have some other book related job. Or maybe she’d be an English teacher. She laughed at that.

When asked if she’d be willing to become the next children’s laureate, her gut reaction was to ask if they had the right person. They were very big shoes to fill, with so many great authors who had done it before her. But she knew she wanted to do it, and it’s an honour to be able to spread her passion for books and reading.

Her mother would be very upset if she didn’t say she supports Arsenal, but to tell the truth she is not a football fan. She has rarely been recognised when out, except for one stalker incident in Sainsbury’s which was ‘well creepy.’

This lovely children’s laureate got the audience to sing Happy Birthday, when a girl asked if she could wish her friend a happy birthday. Our laureate also admitted to having carried around a leotard and tights and a utility belt for a couple of years in secondary school, just in case she ever needed to turn into a super hero in a school kidnapping scenario…

Malorie Blackman

Every book is like opening a new door to somewhere. Malorie loves crime and Jane Austen and can quote most of the first Narnia book. She admires many writers, including Benjamin Zephaniah, Melvin Burgess, Anne Fine, Patrick Ness, Jacqueline Wilson and Jackies Kay and Roy.

The character she feels is mostly her is Callum, and much of what happens to him in Noughts & Crosses has happened to Malorie in real life. As a teenager she was once told to go back to where she came from, so she asked for the bus fare back to Clapham.

Spookily, the launch for Checkmate was on 7/7 seven years ago, and she was having her hair done in central London, when the whole city shut down, and Malorie felt as if she was almost inside one of her own books. She doesn’t condone terrorism, but she can see why people become terrorists. Because of the book connection, she was interviewed on television that time, and there were even people who wanted to ban her book.

Malorie Blackman and Jackie Roy

I’d say that by now Malorie has shown that ‘cow’ a thing or two. The fact that there were two black women on that sofa yesterday made me very happy. One of them is a university lecturer and the other is the children’s laureate.

As I was waiting to go in to the event (gobbling down sandwiches again, having been driven there by the Resident IT Consultant, and trying not to drown in the incredibly deep sofa we hid in) I noticed Malorie disappearing off in the company of a young lady. I was introduced to Sophie (that’s her name) a few minutes later, and she turned out to want to interview me. Yikes. First Malorie. Then me. (Good taste, I have to say.)

Malorie Blackman

And now that Malorie has finally been, she promised she’d be back if the MLF would let her have one of their t-shirts. That seems like A Very Good Deal, so please don’t forget to put one in the post!

Malorie Blackman can be our superhero in a literary T-shirt. No leotard necessary.

Even more Edinburgh author photos

I’ll finish as I started, with a photo of a photo. This time it’s Patrick Ness posing for Chris Close with a duck on his head. Ear. I’d say Patrick’s reluctance to be photographed is waning. Just a little.

Patrick Ness by Chris Close

Simon Mayo usually hides on the radio, but here he is in his role as new children’s author.

Simon Mayo

Ali Sparkes is one of several Alis who always confuse me when I try and sort out who is who. The fault lies entirely with me. This is the one and only Ali Sparkes.

Ali Sparkes

At the end of the evening Jeremy Dyson, whom I don’t know at all, but who makes me think of vacuum cleaners, did an event with Melvin Burgess in his adult guise. (At least, that was before Melvin posed for Murdo Mcleod. Third pic.)

Jeremy Dyson

Melvin Burgess

Monsters, Mayhew, Melvin, Morgan

When Daughter sat down to hear what Jon Mayhew had to say about his Monster Odyssey on Saturday afternoon, my only option was open up the book and start reading. Admittedly, that’s a pretty good thing to do as well. But it’s not exactly the EIBF, is it?

I encouraged Daughter to go for the day, since it might be fun, and it would mean that at least one of us managed a few hours of the 2013 bookfest. I even – sneakily – hoped there might be the odd photo I would be allowed to use. (I only emailed her a long wishlist of who to stalk round Charlotte Square…)

Odd is not the word for Nicola Morgan. But I had heard a rumour that she had been given the Chris Close photographic treatment and I wanted to see what he had done to her. That, too, required someone to go and find Nicola and take a picture of the findings.

Nicola Morgan by Chris Close

Will Hill did an evening event for slightly older children (like mine, or thereabouts). I always reckon they offer something for young readers to go to while their parents do something more mature, like an event for the elderly or a visit to the bar. Or something. Daughter has liked Will’s books ever since one caught her in a bookshop a couple of years ago. Dangerous places, bookshops.

Melvin Burgess is doing a YA event in Charlotte Square today, and did an adult one on Saturday evening, complete with photocall and everything. His two Wagnerian novels, Bloodtide and Bloodsong have just been reissued, and very good they look too. I mean the covers. I read the blood books when they first came out, and they are fantastic.

Some of Melvin’s other oldies are also out again, including my personal favourites The Cry of the Wolf and An Angel for May, as well as The Baby and Flypie and Burning Izzy. So, lots of topnotch books to read for those who didn’t last time round. (The best excuse is to have been too young then.)

And let’s face it; by not travelling to Edinburgh we have more time for reading, don’t we?

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!

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

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.)

Chicken House at Cornerhouse

Not every book event can be reached by 19-minute train trips from the bottom of my garden. I almost wish they could. So, full marks to Chicken House for coming ‘up north’ in the first place, and second for picking that rather excellent watering hole Cornerhouse as their venue for breakfast on Thursday morning. Good and convenient.

Annexe at Cornerhouse

It was quite nice meeting authors there, too. Melvin Burgess, being one of our token Mancunians, I had not seen since our Christmas dinner, and newbie Fletcher Moss not since that coffee-less morning coffee a couple of months ago. They were the only advertised star turns, but there were more Chicken people present; a fact which had me resorting to stealing. (Sorry.)

Dan Smith

Fletcher introduced me to Dan Smith, whose book I had not thought to bring. So I sort of helped myself to another copy of My Friend the Enemy (out in July) in order that Dan could sign it. I had to lend him my pen – which he actually returned after some further borrowing – but at least he didn’t need to practise his signature. (By the time Fletcher had warned him that I’d head straight home to write all kinds of stuff about everyone, it was too late for Dan.)

That was one wonderful breakfast! I have rarely been so well fed at an event. By the time I’d checked out the double buns with sausages on Tony Higginson’s plate (did I mention Formby’s no. 1 bookseller was there?), I noticed Melvin and raised my camera to photograph him, which caused the poor man to pause his sausage bun eating… They had a veggie version too, meaning I could join in, and it was Very Delicious! (Now that I think about it, maybe it was Fletcher who had a double helping. Or someone.)

Melvin Burgess and Barry Cunningham

At this point Barry Cunningham started the chatshow, so the eating had to cease. First Barry told us why children’s books are so good. We knew that already. He mentioned the peculiar fact that it wasn’t raining. Apparently you can’t use the words sunshine and Manchester in the same sentence. Then he talked to Melvin about the background to The Hit, and after that Melvin read the first chapter. (He’d done some research into the willingness of teenagers to sleep with someone who was about to die a virgin…)

Fletcher Moss

Our second Mancunian was Fletcher, who talked about winning a book competition only to have to re-write the whole thing. He read the first chapter of Poison Boy, by which time I had liberated a chair to sit on, right at the back where I could do as I wanted.

Sam Hepburn

The third author was Sam Hepburn, who is a girl, despite the name. Sam writes what Barry wants most; crime for and about young people. I’ve had my copy of Chasing the Dark in my tbr pile for a while, and I knew I wanted to read it even before hearing Sam read a chapter to us. She told us her children thought she’d based the really horrible aunt character on herself!

Stuart Hill

Author no. four was former bookseller Stuart Hill, who wrote lots of – unpublished – books before finally sitting down to write the one he really wanted to write; the one no one would read anyway, so he could do what he wanted. And that’s the one Barry published. Apparently his prequel Prince of the Icemark happened because readers wanted to know what went before Cry of the Icemark. And you know, I don’t exactly love zombies and werewolves, but I liked what Stuart read. Even though I was under the impression he had a witch called Cadwallader. It turned out to be the cat.

David Massey

Dan Smith (about whose name I said some less than polite things, on account of it being a bit common) and David Massey were not there to read, but mingled nicely, and I helped myself to a copy of David’s book Torn.

Jake Hope's shoes

It was good to meet some new people, and nice to see old acquaintances like children’s books expert Jake Hope (wearing very snazzy shoes). I noticed from the un-claimed badges that I could have met up with even more old friends, and I hope they are now thoroughly regretting their absence from this culinary-literary event.

Chicken House breakfast

Then I went back for another of those sausagey things. I don’t know what I was thinking. Not only did it make my subsequent chat with Sam a little difficult, but it was very filling. As I stood staring at the cake selection, I realised just how filling. I ate a slab of carrot cake. Large piece, since it was the only size available. (I reasoned the icing made it impossible to smuggle home in a napkin.)

Cake, Cornerhouse

I witnessed someone else wrap a blueberry muffin (ginormous variety) to take home, so went to get a napkin to do the same thing, seeing as my earlier stealing of books had gone so well. Had barely touched the napkin when Tony demanded I take a photograph of him and some of his closest author pals. So I did.

Dan Smith, blogger Kate, Sam Hepburn, Tony Higginson and Fletcher Moss

Tina from Chicken House

As I got closer to the muffins again, I was waylaid by the lovely Tina who had organised the whole shebang, and we had a nice long chat, seeing as it was our first meeting in person. She was also vaguely thinking of pocketing muffins.

When I finally thought I was in the clear, Waterstones new events manager Louise came up to talk, while valiantly dealing with some carrot cake. So we talked events, we talked John Green – as you do – and books in general. Barry came up and discovered Louise had moved here from Reading, which is a most suitable place for someone involved with books. (Even when you know how to pronounce it correctly.)

Barry Cunningham

With Barry’s blessing I finally helped myself to the muffin, while he apologised for having said bad things about the Mancunian weather. Which was when I happened to glance at my watch, realising I had just enough time to catch my train home so I could make dinner. There was a Resident IT Consultant who needed feeding.

I – on the other hand – didn’t.

The Hit

Life affirming. That’s what The Hit is. And trying to kill yourself. You hear about this; how it’s only when you’re about to die that the importance of life hits you.

Melvin Burgess, The Hit

At first the concept of this new book by Melvin Burgess put me off. Like many of Melvin’s topics tend to do, before you get stuck into the book.

The Hit is set in a future Manchester, at a time when our ‘bad things’ have got much much worse. Only the very rich have proper lives. Or so it seems. If you are ordinary you work hard at staying alive. But then this new pill turns up. If you take it you will die, exactly one week later. But during that week you will feel things so much more, so much better, that for many it seems the way to go.

17-year-old Adam is poor, and his  girlfriend Lizzie is rich. They talk about this new drug, and discuss what they’d do if they took it. Because – of course – they will not take it. Except, things have a way of happening, and before long they have lost control of what they do.

Adam has the typical list of a dying teenager; sex, more sex, violence, money, fast cars. That kind of thing. And into this personal problem of whether you live or die, come the street riots, where people are showing the government just how unhappy they are about the state of affairs. And, there are the crooks who produce the drug that kills.

I am too old and sensible to be able to identify with Lizzie and Adam, but I can see how young readers would. The fact that life is much like it is today, but worse, and the fact that they play out this final scenario in the familiar streets of Manchester, makes it so much more real.

It’s not scary, so much as you despair because Adam is such a fool. But that’s a teen thing. I guessed how it must end, but you just can’t be sure. Exciting, and satisfying.

Melvin Burgess knows his teenagers better than most. Perhaps he still is one, deep down.

Bookwitch bites #105

Do you remember Reading Matters, the new bookshop that opened late last year in Chapel-en-le-Frith? Well, as befits an ambitious shop, they have a variety of events planned, and next Saturday they have ex-Chapel author Bernard Hardy coming to read from his local novel, Savannah Bound. This is an historical novel with its roots in the textile industry, and it’s precisely the kind of book I’d have read prior to my growing tbr pile problems. It’s also the type of book event that should do well, with both readers and author coming from not too far away.

And believe it or not, but through my letterbox the other day, came a sheet of A4, telling me about another local historical novel. Alice Frank has written A Bowdon Romance, which begins in Edgeley, and moves on to Bowdon, and features servant girl Charlotte.

Maybe it’s a recent bug, or it could be that people are always busy writing novels set locally. It’s admirably forward thinking to leaflet houses with what amounts to a home made version of the press releases I see every day. A Bowdon Romance is available to buy at the Book Exchange at Stockport Market.

It’s been a Grant kind of week for books being published. I reviewed Light by Michael Grant yesterday, and the day before was publication day for Silent Saturday by Helen Grant. Both the Grants like to scare and creep us out, and they do it so well. That’s two different kinds of gruesome for your pleasure reading…

Melvin Burgess, The Hit

Melvin Burgess also has a new book out. The Hit. For good measure he has two covers. You can have blue, or you can have red. I got a little confused over this, since I was convinced my copy was green. Or possibly yellow.

I suspect what I am remembering is the green spine. The yellow could be drugs. Or maybe the proof copy. Or not.

Anyway, there are masses of books out there for you to read!

Meeting Fletcher Moss

I suppose it’s safer this way. Instead of Poison Boy author Fletcher Moss coming to Bookwitch Towers for coffee, he has opted to meet us on neutral ground. Sensible man. You never know when someone will next want to poison you. Not giving away his real name, is another thing. Fletcher is assistant head at a local school, and wants to ‘keep it secret.’ I’m not sure this is possible, or even necessary. Pupils ought to love having a real live author for their English teacher. Someone who knows their stuff.

(For any Mancunian who has already thought that the name Fletcher Moss sounds familiar – but odd – it’s because he’s taken the name of a park in Didsbury. The park in turn, was named after Alderman Fletcher Moss, and the new Fletcher says he wants to pay homage to the old one.)

Fletcher Moss

However, the neutral ground idea backfires when it turns out that the Waterstones coffee machine is broken. As for choosing his name, Fletcher has worked out this could have been a mistake, too. His books will have to sit next to Michael Morpurgo’s… You should always think ahead.

(That’s what I did the night before, putting the book where I’d remember to take it with me in the morning. In the morning it wasn’t there. After giving the matter some thought, I worked out the Resident IT Consultant must have ‘borrowed’ it. He had. I borrowed it back.)

As the photographer and I stand in the café searching for a brand new author-cum-teacher poison expert, Fletcher – at least we think it’s him – appears, pushing an empty pushchair, and asks if we are who he’s meeting. We say we think so, and he goes off to find drinks that aren’t coffee. The pushchair belongs to young Miss Moss who has wandered off to discover new picture books with Mrs Moss while we talk with Dad. (I gather The Worst Princess found favour.)

While the photographer stirs the tea, Fletcher thanks me for my review of The Poison Boy, and I say how relieved I was to find I liked it, having worried about what I’d do if I hated the book. And then I ask about everything there is to do with winning competitions and turning into an author, and all the work that comes with it.

Fletcher Moss

For one thing, Chicken House have had Fletcher change a lot about the book. They loved the end, but felt it was in the wrong place. (It now comes about a third into the story.) He had too many characters. It was a case of simplify, simplify. The politics had to go. Fletcher couldn’t help wondering how he won the competition, with so much editing being necessary. But he says the first chapter was always the first chapter. And he found he had been rather too fond of the word ‘caked.’ At one point it was absolutely everywhere.

Although, after ending his book with a cliffhanger, Fletcher has had second thoughts about whether there will be a sequel. He’s got ‘one or two ideas that [he's] quite excited about’ and he does like Eyesdown as a character. There could be a book about him.

Fletcher is very happy with the support he’s had from his publisher, and is more than a little impressed to have spoken after Melvin Burgess at a recent Chicken House launch. Fletcher once organised a school trip to Preston to hear Melvin talk, and here they were, as equals…

Combining the ‘assistant heading’ and teaching with writing and editing a book sounds like gruelling work, and he says ‘you need to be so disciplined.’ Fletcher wrote the book by doing 1500 words every Sunday for a year. He goes to a writing group one evening a week. In between he thinks about what he will write when he next sits down at his computer. He reckons he’s a 65,000 word book kind of writer.

At the end of our chat I ask Fletcher to sign my copy of The Poison Boy. He looks a little embarrassed and explains he’ll need to practise on something first, just so he knows what he’s doing. I offer my note pad and after a bit of scribbling; ‘I’ve got it nailed!’ (On the off-chance that Barry Cunningham has indeed found the successor to J K Rowling, I will hang on to the piece of paper. Might pay for a new kitchen one day.)

‘I want the book to be a success’ he says, before we take him down to the children’s books department and stand him where he belongs. Next to Morpurgo.

Fletcher Moss