Tag Archives: MMU

A moving account

This is your second-hand witch speaking to you. (Blogging, really, but you knew that.)

We moved in yesterday. Well, the furniture moved in, and when it had done so there was no room for us, so we are biding our time until such a moment that we have cut a path through the house.

And because of this, as you already know very well, I am not swanning around the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. The lovely people there have their own blog and you can read what they get up too. They have said I can borrow their photos, so I shall jolly well do so, and here are some of them. Doesn’t it look like they are having a good time?

Curtis Jobling started off the whole book festival and I can see he’s up to his normal tricks, cartooning away. He looks a little hairier than last time, but the man does write werewolf books.

Author of the Wereworld Series and Illustrator of Bob the Builder Sketches a Bob-the-Builder-Turned-Werewolf

These two people I always ‘manage to avoid.’ No matter how many festivals they and I go to, we never coincide. I’m in despair, actually. Who wouldn’t want to be dazzled by the very pretty Sarah McIntyre, and the almost as pretty Philip Reeve?

Authors of 'Oliver and the Seawigs' - Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre and the Sea Monkeys

As for avoiding, you can see what the green bear is doing, can’t you? He’s got James Draper on his blind side, which in effect must mean James wasn’t there at all.

Festival Director James Draper and Humphrey the Hospital Bear

Iris Feindt and Livi Michael look like they think it’s their festival. That they can play on the furniture. (Oh, I suppose it’s all right.)

P1030176

And my blogging colleague Kevin with – the to me – unknown lady passenger is having a fun time, too.

Untitled

Kaye and Claudia are posing with two lovely St John Ambulance men (the Resident IT Consultant was also unavailable, for the same reason as the witch). I do hope they weren’t needed. SJA, not Kaye and Claudia. They are always needed.

Untitled

That path I mentioned before? I reckon the best thing would be to burn all the books. There can be no earthly reason for us keeping all those books. The boys from Tillicoultry clearly thought so, as they staggered in with thousands of book boxes. (I swear – pardon – they must have been breeding in storage. The books. Not the Tillicoultry boys.)

(I – probably – didn’t mean that. I am just in a jealous mood, festival-wise, and wishing I could see my new house for boxes full of books. My heart is in Manchester. Which is an odd phrase, but why not?)

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.

MMU

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

 

‘People respond to courage’

While I eyed up the new furniture at MMU (would anyone really notice if I walked off with one of those sofas?), the other people who had come to hear Deborah Ellis speak scoffed wine and canapés. Deborah is back in the UK for the first time for years, so I’m not surprised her fans wanted to see and hear her.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Deborah’s interest in Afghanistan started in the late 1990s, when she visited refugee camps in Pakistan a couple of times. She based her idea for writing books about it on the fact that if you know who someone is, you have a relationship, and it’s much harder to hate them.

She heard about two girls who dressed up as boys and went out to work to support their families, and they became her character Parvana, and as she herself has an older sister, it wasn’t at all hard to write about family members who drive you crazy, because that happens wherever in the world you happen to live.

When asked about writing torture scenes, she described water-boarding, and discussed how you know what counts as torture, as well as saying she hopes her fellow Canadians have not taken part in it, but she’s not sure. Deborah reckons children understand complicated situations well, and always ask astute questions wherever she goes.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Her wish was to show the Afghan people as warm and welcoming, and she pointed out that the Taliban are people too. Trying to explain why the parents and grandparents in My Name Is Parvana didn’t want their children to go to school, she said that if none of them had attended school, it’s hardly surprising they were nervous about it.

Asked about how to deal with writer’s block Deborah recommended doing something real, like the washing up or mowing the lawn. On how to become a writer she suggested reading a lot, as well as reading more advanced things than usual and also different stuff than what you normally read. Then you just sit down and write and 90% of it will be garbage, but you’re allowed to spend 20 minutes a day on writing bad stuff.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

The teachers in the audience use The Breadwinner in the classroom and find that it provides openings for all sorts of discussion and tasks among their students. Not bad for a book which Deborah only hoped would sell $3000 worth for the women in Afghanistan.

Before the book signing at the end, Deborah read a short piece from her new Kids of Kabul, which is based on interviews with children. The one she read was about ‘Frank Sinatra.’

This was a marvellous early start to the 2014 Manchester Children’s Book Festival. (The regular programme will be available very soon.)

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.

Organised chaos

‘You see what I’ve had to put up with!’ Tim Bowler said as his three female colleagues talked about being ‘more splayed out’ for their panel discussion at MMU on Wednesday evening. I was there to enjoy the kind of stellar line-up you can only dream of, and which ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought possible I’d ever attend.

OUP titles

I got wind of this tour organised by OUP to air these four authors’ new titles, in the place where you always find things out. On facebook, courtesy of Gillian Cross, whom I have admired for years and years. Along with Gillian and Tim we got Sally Prue and Geraldine McCaughrean, so you can understand how my excitement got the better of me.

As things turned out, it was Geraldine who received the ‘I’m a big fan’ greeting, because I’d never met her before, or heard her talk. She is funny. Very funny. (Good funny, obviously.) Tim and Sally I’ve not seen since I last saw them at that dinner in London two years ago. And poor Gillian got the ‘big fan’ attack in Birmingham even longer ago.

Gillian Cross

This time she came up and chatted to me, so I was able to tell her how my heartbeat reacted to her new book, which I began reading yesterday afternoon, in the hopes of calming down. I’ll have to report back on After Tomorrow when I know more. It’s not so much a book for soothing frazzled nerves. That much I can say now.

Claudia at MMU

The evening was organised by OUP’s Jennie (aka she-who-silences-muzak-in-bars) and MMU’s Kaye, with the ever efficient Claudia at her side. Jackie Roy was there to chair the discussion, and she is a woman armed with good questions and the most soothing voice.

Tim was complaining because he has been travelling with these lovely ladies to Dublin and Glasgow and Manchester, finishing in Bristol tonight. He’s a typical boy, talking as much as the other three taken together. Before the audience arrived he entertained us with the tale of the torn trousers, and you can just tell that Gillian didn’t want to see what you might have seen.

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

According to Gillian they have been having fun, and now that I have heard Geraldine speak, I can understand what it must have been like this week. Absolutely wonderful…

Tim Bowler

‘Dive-in man’ Tim read from chapter three of Sea of Whispers, which is about yet another girl. He likes girls. He sees a picture in his mind, and then he writes, not knowing what will happen.

Gillian tried to sell us on the idea of a new computer programme she’s been using, ‘Write or Die,’ which seems to eat your typing if you slack for too long. I suppose time-wasting will be a thing of the past, once your fledgling book ‘starts unwriting itself.’

Jackie admitted to having cheated when reading Gillian’s book. She had to look at the end before she could read it at all. (I might have to copy her…) Gillian told us how she had planned what had to happen in her story about a Britain that is collapsing, and where the English become refugees in Europe. And every single thing she thought of, proceeded to happen in real life soon after, which makes it look like she hasn’t got an original thought in her head. Which is so wrong.

Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue and Jackie Roy

Sally told us about her purple Miss Wheeler, the teacher who changed Sally’s life, and made her realise she didn’t have to be small and boring. She could do things, like learn fencing to sort out the big bad wolf. Writing is the ‘widest freedom in the universe.’ Then she read from Song Hunter which is about Neanderthal characters, and taught us how to kill a seal, but asked us not to. (I’m thinking her book might not be very vegetarian.)

Geraldine McCaughrean

Geraldine’s editor has told her a book must always end with a ‘bearable universe,’ which sounds just like Terry Pratchett’s idea about children’s books. She has an ideas box in the corner of her bedroom, although her new book Positively Last Performance didn’t come from this box. The idea was suggested to her by the Royal Theatre in Margate; that she should write about them and then let them share the proceeds of the sales. Which is an unusual approach, but it seems to have worked.

For the Q&As they continued talking about chaos. The good thing about it is that it forces them to write a book to the end, so they can find out what happens. All Tim’s books have rubbish in them (his words) somewhere in the draft process, but he now recognises this, and it’s not too worrying. He knows he will sort it out.

Research is wonderful, according to Geraldine. You do it and then the book writes itself. ‘Displacement activity’ is what Gillian calls research, while Sally tried to calm things down by mentioning the ideas box as a last resort.

They always think about the reader as they write. Tim wants the kind who reads under the blanket with a torch, but this seems to be an out-of-date kind of thing these days. Sally suggested reading should be described as dangerous (reverse psychology), while Geraldine felt it should be outlawed.

So there you have it.

Before the four got going on the pornography shelf, Kaye urged us to come into the atrium for books and photos and wine and canapes. (There were some great mushroom ones.)

Jackie Roy and Kaye Tew

People bought and they chatted and everyone seemed happy. Tim asked after every member* of the Bookwitch family, which was lovely of him. I asked him to say hello to Mrs B for me. Then I got my book signed by Gillian, and she said she hopes I will still talk to her when I’ve finished it. Which I think sounds ominous.

OUP at MMU

MMU

* Even the Resident IT Consultant. He was touched. But then he is.

Becoming a little retrospective about mcbf 2012

At the safe distance of nearly a week, I feel almost ready to re-visit mcbf. How about the rest of you? I guess that even James Draper might have finished sleeping by now.

MMU

There are things I didn’t do, apart from author events I just had no stamina to attend. I didn’t make it to Cornerhouse for a screening of The Witches. And it would have been so very suitable too. (Swedish witch, and all that.)

I still have the war books exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North in mind, and will do until it ends.

James had a hard eleven days of it. At one point I thought he would have to finish the festival wearing espadrilles, when his pointy shoes gave up the ghost. And was it tired eyes that caused the spectacles to emerge one day?

Kaye did all right, wearing some lovely outfits and still seeming to feel up to starting to plan mcbf 2014.

There were others who did a wonderful job as well. Claudia travelled all over Manchester, and Kevin smiled in the face of exhaustion whenever I met him. Duncan was elegant in his suit until the bitter end, and Iris continued with her bright spottiness. Anyone else I’ve omitted mentioning will just have to forgive a confused old festival-witch.

I’ll leave you with some more photos, chosen with no plan or reason whatsoever.

Holden Gallery

MCBF audience

Jackie Kay

Liz Kessler

Steve Cole

Cathy Cassidy

Jacqueline Wilson and fan

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Josh Degenhardt and Julie Bertagna

Michael Rosen

John Sampson

Carol Ann Duffy

Philip Pullman x 2

He doesn’t do many events these days, but not even Philip Pullman can say no to Carol Ann Duffy. That’s why we could all pile into the large lecture theatre at MMU to hear him talk about, well, stuff. And a little Dust, although we were left fairly much in the dark about it. Literally too, until someone finally switched on all the lights, and stopped switching them off again. (James!)

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Sherry Ashworth acted the fan-struck moderator who wanted to know what most of us wanted to know. It’s reassuring that even Philip first read and loved Noddy, almost like a normal small person. He loved Arthur Ransome’s books, but not the awful illustrations, and he read Moomin, whose creator Tove Jansson was a real artist. The sex in the Alexandria Quartet made him want to grow up to be just like the characters in the books.

Philip enjoys being a ‘totalitarian’ when he writes. ‘I kill people, I bring them back to life, and I like it.’ Whereas when people read, they can read as they like, with no one seeing into their heads. Writing books, and persuading readers they want to read them, should be like sitting in the market, telling a story. People can stop and listen if they want, and they can pay a little, if they think it’s good.

Philip Pullman

There is a Lyra in every school class, and it’s love that Lyra does best. What Philip does, or so he says, is write three pages of Dust every day. He maintains there will be a book, eventually.

But one of the things that kept him from Dust was the archbishop’s challenge to write about Jesus, so that’s what he did. Philip said he thinks about God all the time. He also had to write the two short books set in Lyra’s world. (So that sort of explains the last six years, then?)

While Philip took a break, Sherry collected questions from the audience. It was a surprisingly young audience for an author who appeals as much to adults.

Pullman fan with books

He reckons his parents were mainly surprised that their dreamy son got a book published, but he is sad they didn’t live to see his real success. His advice to get published is to write a good book, and not to plan too much. He planned his second novel so carefully he got bored and had to write something else instead.

The armoured bears came as a surprise when he was writing Northern Lights, and he feels that if you’re writing things at school, you should write first and plan after. That way the two will agree and you will get much better marks. Philip doesn’t believe in writer’s block, and says you have to sit at your desk, because that’s where the ideas will come, and if you’re not there you will miss them.

His reasons for writing are to earn money, and because it’s therapeutic. It becomes a habit, it’s fun when all goes well and he likes getting language right. (Who or whom?) Page 70 is always the hard one, and he once gave up reading a book after two words. (That was the Booker winner.) Don’t start with a pronoun, or you’ll drive Mr Pullman crazy, and steer clear of the present tense. He loves The Magic Pudding and has re-read it many times.

When asked how he feels the Golden Compass film could be improved on, he suggested it would have been a good idea to put in the scenes actually filmed but not used. He’d also have preferred the real ending, instead of a resolution coupled with a cliffhanger. By now Dakota is too old and Daniel Craig too expensive.

Philip Pullman

Thursday evening finished with a signing in the next room, and it was good to see the stampede as the audience tried to get there first.

We didn’t need to, because we had our own appointment with Philip on Friday morning. We ran a little late in the downpour, with our train deciding to sit just outside the station for ten minutes. But Philip had checked out, and sat in the Midland’s lounge when we arrived, so all was well.

Philip Pullman

Greetings from shared friends were exchanged, and we reminisced about our last interview in Gothenburg seven years ago (and still no Book of Dust!). We did talk Dust a little, but you’ll have to wait to read what Philip said. There is another book that has sneaked in, and we talked about the various campaigns he’s involved in, and many other things. The advantage of doing it this way round is that we could concentrate on what wasn’t mentioned the night before.

Philip worried a bit about the possible cost of the tap water we had ordered, but I suggested he make a run for it, so he left to catch his train south through the floods. We stayed on, nursing our iced water for a while, reluctant to go back out into all that other water.