Tag Archives: Sefton Super Reads

Sefton Super Reads 2013

Lady with lamp

It was time for another Sefton (‘see if you can find us this time’) Super Reads yesterday afternoon. And yes I could. Eventually. This venue, Southport Arts Centre is even larger than Crosby Civic Hall, and was thereby proportionally harder to find. But you can’t keep a good witch away. (I had a choice of Sefton on Tuesday or Carnegie today…)

Tony Higginson

You could call it Ladies’ Day, since it was the girls on the shortlist who made it to Southport. Tony from Formby Books seemed to feel that recent fatherhood (David Walliams) or living in Italy (Fabio Geda) was reason enough to stay at home. And he came up with no excuse whatsoever for J D Sharpe.

Tony and Lesley with Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

And then there was Ruth Eastham who had come here all the way from Italy. (Girls rule!) Caroline Green came from London, and Barbara Mitchelhill had done something for the first time (or so she confided to me) and had had eyes for the Manchester train only. But she was nevertheless the first one to arrive.

So, when I had finally deduced that what I wanted was the enormous building in the middle of Southport, on its impressive Lord Street, I popped in and asked for more directions. Was told that I wanted the same as ‘that lady’ so followed her, and found it was Barbara. Which is why we shared travelling information with each other, as we waited for the others.

It’s a fabulous old/new theatre and library and museum, which has been done up so recently that not all areas are 100% ready and there is a fresh paint kind of smell. The theatre we were in was great, and the charming man in charge of it serves coffee very nicely. (It seems we had a narrow escape. The people before us had been served dinner by staff from Fawlty Towers.)

Books at Sefton Super Reads

When the invited school children were given a guided tour of the place, the rest of us tagged along, admiring the chandeliers and stucco ceilings and purple armchairs.

Tony with Barbara Mitchellhill and Ruth Eastham at Sefton Super Reads

After threatening the audience with a Latin lesson and some singing, Tony introduced the three ladies, before opening the floor to Q&A. Writing a book takes anything between two months and three years. All three authors save the stuff they’ve written but have decided not to use. Just in case.

Caroline had an inspiring teacher in Year 6, after which there was a gap in writing until she was an adult. Barbara loved Enid Blyton, but after the age of twelve she found her library so stuffy that she went off reading. Meanwhile Ruth relied on reading recommendations from librarians.

Caroline Green

Character names can be difficult, especially historical ones. These days you can be called anything (Caroline made up the name Kyla for her book, only to find Teri Terry had done exactly the same) but in Shakespeare’s time there were only certain names to choose from.

Barbara had inspiration for her 16th century novel, Road to London, from The X Factor. But she herself would really like to be Anthony Horowitz.

Ruth Eastham

Ruth began by reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials ‘backwards’ but was still very impressed. And Caroline has read everything by Marcus Sedgwick and thinks he’s fantastic.

They were all a little embarrassed to admit they hadn’t read each other’s books, but at least Ruth has now put the other two on her tbr pile. And I can no longer remember why Barbara told us that she ‘likes killing people!’ but I’m sure she only kills for a good reason.

Barbara Mitchellhill

After learning all about our three ladies, it would have been a bit of an anticlimax if the winner of the Sefton Super Reads had not been one of them. But you can relax. She was there!

Before Ruth Eastham could receive her winning trophy, there were prizes for best book reviews to be awarded. The participating children had read and reviewed the shortlisted books, and there was a first and second prize for a review of each of the six books.

Barbara Mitchellhill, Ruth Eastham and Caroline Green at Sefton Super Reads

Once the winners had received their book tokens and been photographed with the authors, it was time for Ruth’s winner’s speech (when all she wanted to do was show Caroline her trophy).

Long before the afternoon was over, the children had bought nearly all the books for sale and queued up to have them signed, and to be photographed with their favourite author. (And it has to be said, one school – very sensibly – ate a late lunch first.)

Signing at Sefton Super Reads

I had rather witchily managed to put my copy of the winning book, The Messenger Bird, in my bag before I left home, so I joined the signing queue.

Then it was time for goodbyes, with all three authors sprinting off to catch trains. Possibly even the same train. I’m hoping to see them at another award ceremony soon. And having checked out Barbara’s and Caroline’s books, I’m thinking I’d like to read them.

As for me, I called the Resident IT Consultant (who had very kindly driven me all the way to Southport) and ordered him to take me for a walk on the pier. I hadn’t come all the way to the seaside not to see where the sea ought to have been if it had any sense at all.

Southport Pier

This being Southport, there was no sea below the pier, obviously, but we had a most acceptable stroll along it anyway. Made the mistake of not buying hot donuts as we passed on the way out, meaning the mug of tea the Resident IT Consultant bought me at the end of the pier, had to go unaccompanied. But we bought some on our way back, and had them for dessert.

Very nice. Very seasidey. Apart from the distinct lack of sea.

Bookwitch bites #97

Let’s start with a stolen photo, shall we? (My thieving is getting worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it.) Here is a photo, which might have been taken by Gill Lewis, winner of the Salford award last week. It was on her Twitter, anyway. And the lady between Jamie Thomson and Josh Lacey is not Gill, but Barbara Mitchelhill, who narrowly avoided that dinner.

Jamie Thomson, Barbara Mitchelhill and Josh Lacey

Another award is Sefton Super Reads. They have announced their shortlist for the summer, and it’s pretty good. The lady above is on it, for instance. And so are some of my other favourites, and some unknowns (to me).

• Ruth Eastham, Messenger Bird
• Fabio Geda, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles
• Caroline Green, Cracks
• Barbara Mitchelhill, Road to London
• J. D. Sharpe, Oliver Twisted
• David Walliams, Ratburger

In fact, there are awards absolutely everywhere. Declan Burke could be in for an Edgar for his hard work on Books To Die For, along with John Connolly. I don’t know who or what they are up against, but if ever a book and its creators deserved an Edgar, Books To Die For must be it.

While we are in an awards kind of mood, it appears Adrian McKinty is on the shortlist for The Last Laugh for The Cold Cold Ground, which will be awarded at Crimefest later this year.

Nick Green, The Storm Bottle

Finally – in more ways than one – Nick Green’s The Storm Bottle is available to buy. That’s over three years since I reviewed it, which happened by some odd fluke (me looking into the future, kind of thing). So far it’s ‘only’ on Kindle, but if you only ever buy one Kindle book in your life (although that sounds a bit unlikely, now that I stop and think) this has to be it. The Storm Bottle! Very good book! Sad. Funny. Exciting. Does not end the way you expect it to.

Dolphins can definitely talk.

Fibs

Is it ever OK to kill off your Granny?

By this I mean when you ask for time off work to go to Granny’s funeral. I’ve heard of people who have rather a lot of grannies. It’s obviously easier than ‘killing off’ certain other family members. You are allowed to start with two, and some might well have more, with steps and so on.

But is it that the skiver forgets they killed Granny last time, or do they reckon no one remembers? Maybe they don’t like their Granny very much, so puts less emotion into her death, while forgetting that those around them might feel very strongly about both their own, as well as the dead grannies of others. Or does the faker feel it is so natural, they assume we all do it?

If you ask me, I will quite possibly tell you I feel fine. I might even go so far as to say my Christmas was lovely, thank you. Or my holiday. Those can be lies. It’s hard – and I understand socially unacceptable – to burden your small talk counterpart with the dreadfulness of your life.

So those are lies I will fairly willingly tell. (And you look divine in lime green, btw.) But I assume you might half expect me to smooth over the holiday that was a disaster from beginning to end, and you could hear me coughing, so would be able to tell I’m not entirely well.

But what other lies are acceptable, once we become adults? OK, income. In Britain you don’t tell people how much money you make. And if you mention a sum that sounds either too low or too high, I might guess you were pulling the wool over my eyes, for some reason.

Omission is another way of ‘lying.’ Or waffling about something else, all of a sudden.

Daydreaming is one way of escaping reality for a while. As a child I found it used to send me to sleep, so for years I’ve used it to send me to sleep. But whereas I can then be as pretty, thin, rich, or whatever, as I like, I can’t go round telling you stuff like that.

Andy McNab

I could if I was an author writing a book. I’d be expected to daydream up some plausible and entertaining lies. The closer to the truth they are, the better it will be. Fantasy or fairy tale, they still need lots of realism one way or another.

The power that goes with creating whole worlds could be addictive. But I’m guessing authors know when they’ve switched off their computers and are part of normal life again. Although, some cover their tracks by adopting pseudonyms, and with people like Andy McNab there is a certain camera shyness. Panama Oxridge goes one step further, and we don’t know who (s)he is. I’m looking forward to the Sefton Super Reads 2012, where (s)he has been shortlisted. Will (s)he turn up? Send someone else? Be ill?

I suppose it would almost be OK to make up a slightly more glamourous/ adventurous/or some other -ous persona in order to attract readers. But surely there must be a boundary somewhere?

Personally I would prefer for someone I know to kill off their fourth Granny in order to get a day off work, than for their Granny to have died for real. I’m not sure what that says about me. When I had ‘headaches’ as a child I made sure I stayed in bed and really suffered. What I would have been trying to avoid was always far worse than faking it all day.

Trying to remember. Did I invent siblings? Rich relatives? I suspect the worst. But it was definitely done at an early age.

Fallen Grace

Mary Hooper enjoys death and coffins and the like. At least, that’s how it seems. And Mary admitted to a fascination for graveyards the other week at Sefton Super Reads.

Her book Fallen Grace has been sitting on the top level of books to be read for a year. Or more. The Sefton event just spurred me on that little bit. Fallen Grace was never in danger of being relegated, as sometimes happens to books. But strangely enough, despite me having had a firm idea of what it was about all this time, once I started reading it turned out to be quite a different story.

Grace and her sister Lily have been orphaned a long time, and they live on their own, managing to survive, but only just. Set in London in 1861, life is grim for poor people. At the beginning of the book Grace is trying to bury her dead newborn baby as decently as possible. That means putting the dead baby in the coffin of someone well-off, to avoid a pauper’s burial.

Things go badly for the girls, and then slightly better, until at last life is so bad they don’t know what to do, and Grace takes them to seek work with the undertaker she met when her baby died. This provides food for them to eat, but ultimately leads to even more problems.

It’s an exciting read and and an educational one as well. You learn a lot about life 150 years ago. There is just the right mix of adventure, romance and skulduggery. I feel perhaps that the way everything ties together is a little too much of a coincidence. But then again, why not?

This was my second read in a limited period of time on the subject of ‘mourning emporiums’, so I suppose it really is the case that several writers can suddenly be struck by the same inspiration. Wasting vast sums of money on funerals strikes me as outrageous, and hiring someone to look sad for you seems particularly strange. But it’s what people did.

And it’s always fun meeting Queen Victoria. I tend to forget how young poor Albert was when he died. And how long his Queen had on her own.

A fascination with graveyards and death

I will have to have words with Mr Google. Crosby Civic Hall just isn’t where he said it’d be. It’s also ‘quite easy’ to walk past, hidden by greenery. Which is nice. The greenery, not so much the extra walk, although I suppose it might have done me good.

What did do me good was the fabulous Sefton Super Reads event yesterday in Waterloo (I have finally seen the Waterloo of Cosmic fame!) Once Ellen Renner had given up trying to make me believe it was July, when it actually was June, I quickly chatted up Tony Higginson of Pritchards bookshop fame, and the kind man said what a great idea it’d be if I came. So I came, after giving up on Mr Google’s ideas.

Tony Higginson, Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner at Sefton Super Reads

Zoe and Tony at Sefton Super Reads

Sefton Super Reads with Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner

They had an incredibly strong shortlist comprising Mary Hooper, Ellen Renner and Jon Mayhew, who were all present, and also Eleanor Updale, Andy Mulligan and Ally Kennen, who weren’t. It’s fantastic that so many could be there, and I’m pleased that I managed to escape the – frankly ridiculous – idea that I pose for a photo with Ellen, Mary and Jon. Tony did that so much better. (I thought I hadn’t met him before. But I had. He was at the Plaza last month, also chatting with Elvis. Small world.)

Sefton does a brisk and informal awards ceremony, with brief introductions to the books, a Q & A where the schools who took part in the reading and voting got to ask questions of Jon and Mary and Ellen.

Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner at Sefton Super Reads

Running out of ideas is not generally a problem. Time to write all those potential books is. Both Mary and Jon are fascinated by graveyards and death and both their books feature professional mourners as main characters. The books are also set in much the same sort of (Victorian) time, as is Ellen’s Castle of Shadows. In fact, more than half the shortlist is historical, suggesting young readers like what’s old, as well as what’s dead.

Mary Hooper

Mary takes a year to write a book, and if Jon didn’t have to do all sorts of other things like paid work, he’d write lots of books in a year. Ellen disappointed us by saying her third novel won’t be coming next year. Jon stops the car to write down ideas. Hopefully only if driving while getting them.

Ellen Renner

One very sneaky question was what they thought of the competition and whether they had read each other’s books. They were pretty adept at admitting to having read less than the teenagers present, but complimented the others. And like me, both Jon and Ellen had had Mary’s Fallen Grace waiting in the tbr pile for some time. (I dealt with it by reading on the train…)

Jon Mayhew wins Sefton Super Reads

Then it was straight onto the announcement that Jon Mayhew had won with Mortlock. With so many wonderful books I was just grateful that it was one of the authors present who won. It feels so much better that way. But as with choosing who your favourite child is, there’s no way I was going to pick a favourite among the shortlisted novels.

After Jon’s admirably short thank you speech, which he may or may not have written (or thought about) in advance, I could see Mrs M eyeing the trophy with a view to dusting it and possibly arranging for a special trophy room at home if hubby is going to keep this winning streak going.

Reviews of Sparks at Sefton Super Reads

Drinks at Sefton Super Reads

Before the local school children could stampede towards the waiting refreshments, their reviewing labours were rewarded with book tokens. They had written some very good reviews and I especially enjoyed hearing about the teenager who had developed bird phobia after Mortlock. (Well, who hasn’t?)

Prize winners at Sefton Super Reads with Mary Hooper, Jon Mayhew and Ellen Renner

Tony Higginson at Sefton Super Reads

The osmotic (his own choice of word) Tony provided the book tokens and ran the bookselling and took photos and told us about the great future events he is organising. That’s what booksellers should be like!

Jon Mayhew, Ellen Renner and Mary Hooper at Sefton Super Reads

There was book signing and queues and photographs, and it was hard to see the authors for the crowds. But that’s as it should be.

When everything had been said and done, I marched off towards Waterloo station, and found that I could see the sea. Lovely. I must return. And Waterloo does funny minutes. At times they last for ages, and at times they pass so fast they have to rewind and do the same minutes again. Weird, but interesting.