Some book festival pictures

It’s time for Bookwitch to offer a last few photos from Charlotte Square 2016, and where better than one of the corners that has those mood-lifting lights hanging from the trees? I know it’s a bit un-natural in a way, but I do like garlands of lights in trees.

Charlotte Square

And I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for these new long benches that are slowly working their way round the square. Good for queueing on and most welcome for the general comfort of tired witches when there is no queue.

It is so encouraging when young readers are this keen to see what authors and illustrators get up to.

Richard Byrne

It is also quite fun to see how keen perfectly grown-up authors can be to have fun at the book festival. They even bring toys, as seen here with Kathryn Evans. Invite her back! Maybe even allow the toys back.

Kathryn Evans

The assembled photographers were also keen, and they go for celebrities such as famous politicians; someone that everyone has heard of (unlike many authors).

Waiting for Nicola Sturgeon

And after this festival, even I know who Shappi Khorsandi is, not to mention what she looks like…

Shappi Khorsandi

Here I Stand

Here is a book you should all read. Here I Stand is an anthology for Amnesty International, where a number of our greatest authors and poets and illustrators have come together and written short pieces about the injustices in life as they see them.

Here I Stand

John Boyne writes about child abuse and Liz Kessler deals with same sex love. Both stories are hard to read, but at the same time they are uplifting and they make you think.

And it is repeated in every single contribution to this volume, whether by Jackie Kay or Jack Gantos, Sarah Crossan or Frances Hardinge. Bali Rai, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Laird are others who have important things to say about why life is far from right for many people in the world.

People who can be jailed or executed for the most normal behavior, or those who are simply too poor or too unfortunate in various ways. People for whom we need to continue fighting.

There is much in this book to think about. Please think about it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I was filled with a nice warm glow reading the new Harry Potter stage play, enjoying myself a lot and just letting myself feel good about returning to a place I used to love.

And I think that’s OK. Others can have other views, and we’d all be right, in our own way. I believe we had been told there’d be no more Harry, but I see no reason why a person can’t change their mind. Also, this is not the same as another novel; it is merely revisiting people and places we know from before.

I am generally a sucker for finding out ‘what happened after’ and this is a good example. Not everything in the lives of Harry and his friends is perfect, but we see what they’re up to now, and how relationships have continued and developed, and we meet the next generation.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Young Albus Severus Potter is a complicated boy, but he is his own person. He’s not a copy of his dad. And he shows us that you can find friends in the most unexpected quarters.

It’d be interesting to see how this works out on the stage, but I have no idea if I’ll be up to sitting for so many hours, should I get hold of tickets at some point in the far future. I might hold out for the film.

And I’m guessing we can’t have more after this. That really would be taking it too far. Or would it?

(And another thing; this teaches millions of fans that you can read drama. That there are other kinds of texts apart from novels.)

Missing

For those of you who have said you wish you were there/here/in Edinburgh, you are no longer alone. Neither am I.

I ran out of time for necessary ‘chores’ on Tuesday, and very – and I mean very very – reluctantly had to decide there was no way I could travel to hear Meg Rosoff talk about Jonathan and the dogs on Tuesday evening. Finding seven spare hours can be tricky at the best of times.

Meg Rosoff - EIBF

Missing any attractive event is hard, and to decide not to see your favourite author is not to be taken lightly. On the other hand, hysterically trying to finish what needs finishing is not fun either.

But, looking on the bright side, Meg will now not have to receive a second-hand kiss from Tony McGowan.

She loves YA

At last night’s Great YA Debate, chaired by Daniel Hahn, the discussion was kicked off by the children’s books world’s enfant terrible, Anthony McGowan, who was of the opinion that you shouldn’t

to be continued...

read YA. If, you are older than twenty, or so. Especially if you are white and female. And middle class.

Yes, that’s – approximately – what he said, but then Tony had been hired to be the naughty one, to get the conversation going. But he did mean it. I think. Mostly. Tony described his part as the hippo poo, spread all over the place, and Elizabeth Wein was there to clean up after him (and if that’s not an example of all kinds of -isms, I don’t know what is).

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

This year’s YA debate was different from last year’s. We had Daniel Hahn on stage with Tony and Elizabeth, and then they had a stash of other authors on the front row; Annabel Pitcher, Christopher Edge, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence and Philip Womack. They all had an opportunity to disagree later on, as did the audience.

But first it was Tony who described going to YALC and finding it so mono-cultural as to be distasteful. White, female writers, 30+ who write brilliant, terrible dross for people in their twenties and thirties. Elizabeth argued with him, and Daniel pointed out that should anyone tweet that YA is crap, the internet would catch fire.

Tony wants adults to move on. YA is for teens. You should read what makes you unhappy, what you hate, or you won’t be stretched enough. Here Daniel admitted to not only being a reader of YA, but having had an Asterix day not long ago.

I decided it was a good thing Daughter had not come along to this. She’d have exploded on the spot.

No one should read John Green.

Elizabeth pointed out that contrary to what we believe in Britain, YA is fairly old as a concept, and existed in the 1950s in America. You would borrow books from the library or from friends, have them as presents, and you ‘read up,’ so even younger children would read about teenagers in books. She talked about Sue Barton and the Hardy Boys, and how Nancy Drew wasn’t considered highbrow enough…

Back to Tony who called readers of YA immature. Then he went on to talk about Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet as supposedly YA writers, but who write adult books, really, mentioning Life: An Exploded Diagram, which is a proper novel. (I think we are allowed to read it.)

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham and Patrice Lawrence

The authors on the front row came to life here, and Christopher Edge mentioned how he as a teenager went between Alan Garner and Jack Kerouac, depending on how he felt and it had less to do with age. Annabel Pitcher said she doesn’t agree that YA is twee or cosy, and looking at her own books you can see her point.

So Tony said the problem with YA is that it always takes you home. There will always be some sort of resolution and happy ending. It has to be miserable to be worthy. (You have to hand it to him. He really found irritating things to say.)

Philip Womack talked about Mary Shelley, who was a teen author (her age), although Daniel reckoned that writing Frankenstein was never a normal thing.

Back to Tony, who spoke about his experience of working with children in First Story, saying children themselves don’t write YA, unlike the white women or his students at Holloway [writing class]. The difference between [Edinburgh] events where audiences can be self selecting, or they come as part of school groups, is an important one.

Jenny Downham remembered being asked by a young working class girl at a school event whether people like her could write stories. And Jenny mused over the weirdness of finding her own Before I Die on two different shelves in bookshops, both as a children’s book and an adult book.

Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Elizabeth said as a teenager she read lots of categories of books, but as an adult she doesn’t. Tony chipped in and was disparaging about YA book bloggers, and claimed we are not his friends (I will have to think about this). Patrice Lawrence pointed out that at 49 she has lived more than half her life and she has no intention of ruining the rest with Dostoyevsky. Her own Orangeboy is not a book for 28-year-old book bloggers.

And on that note Daniel opened up the discussion to the audience ‘in the unlikely event anyone has any views.’ They did.

The talk was about marketing and whether editors have views on what should be written. The difference between rainbow colours for children and black teen books in shops. A 16-year-old wanted beautiful books [the writing] and Tony came back with saying children’s books are often funny, and teen books not.

Elizabeth feels independent bookshops have more advice to give on what to buy, and it’s important as young people rarely buy, but have books bought for them.

Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Daniel suggested that the remaining time should be for readers under twenty (so that shut me up!) and there were many of them, with interesting thoughts on books and reading. The odd one even agreed with Tony. The girl behind me said she finds War and Peace intimidating. Someone else said there are many exciting YA novels out there, but you have to dig deep to miss the crap.

Our time was up and Daniel suggested continuing the chat over signing in the bookshop. The adult bookshop (the children’s bookshop was closed)…

There were many readers queueing up and many discussions. Elizabeth Wein won the popularity contest (if there was one) with by far the longest queue, which, naturally, I had to join. But I did have some books for Tony – yes – to sign, too. He asked if I offered them out of pity.

Before running for my train, I had time to chat to publicist Nina, ‘Mr Wein,’ and the lovely Philip Womack, who actually is a Bookwitch reader and who didn’t even twitch when I admitted to not having reciprocated. And finally I made myself known to Barrington Stokes’ Mairi Kidd, who thanked me for loving them, and wondered whether I could love even Tony. We decided I could.

Daniel Hahn, Philip Womack and Jenny Downham

Across the Barricades

As I said, I could barely wait to read Joan Lingard’s Across the Barricades after The Twelfth Day of July. It has the pleasure of re-connecting with old friends, but it has stopped feeling even a little bit cosy. Three years on, Kevin is 17 and Sadie is 16 – which back then seems to have almost counted as being adult – when they unexpectedly meet up again.

Joan Lingard, Across the Barricades

Things are much worse in Belfast; barbed wire everywhere and disturbances and violence have become daily occurences and seemingly normal, even to peaceful and ‘normal’ people. Childhood friendships are falling apart, when people find themselves on opposite sides, and I don’t mean religious ones, but whether or not they want to live peacefully or if they prefer to go on the attack against people who’ve not done anything to them.

As we can see today too, prejudice is rife and you hate on principle. This makes it harder for our young couple, who find that they very much want to keep seeing each other, while also realising that the other one will be much safer if they can stay away.

What a choice!

Just as it is upsetting to see how blinkered some people were (are), it is reassuring to find the odd ones who can see both sides of the coin and who are normal and decent human beings.

Even as their situation darkens, you want to read on and on. And knowing that this is anchored in recent history, you know that not everything can be fine, just like that. People will die, and they will be injured. Others will be upset, because separation of some sort is unavoidable.

I just want more.

Drawing on the Imagination

We need more ‘deprived’ picture books. That was one suggestion coming from the audience with Debi Gliori and Faye Hanson at Thursday lunch time. Theirs was the kind of event I find perfect;  for adults, by children’s books authors and illustrators. We should have more of these. Lots more.

Debi Gliori

Very nicely chaired by Kathryn Ross, we learned new things about Faye and Debi and how they work. And by ‘we’ I mean a whole theatre full of adults eager to hear about illustrating picture books. And when I say new things about Faye, I need to disclose that I knew nothing at all about her, and of course, that is one of the charms of this kind of thing. Go and hear someone speak about their work and suddenly you feel as if you are old friends.

Faye Hanson

Faye has only done two picture books so far, having had an earlier career in fashion with Alexander McQueen. She read a bit from Wonder, so I can’t totally claim not to have read her books. And the pictures are rather nice.

Debi ‘has lost count’ of the number of books she is responsible for. And it feels wrong with applause – as happened here – before she’s even spoken. She sat on the floor, the better to see her pictures from Hebridean Alphabet (which I’ve not had a chance to read…). The island in her book is a mix of several real ones, including Iona. She had to place her story in the past to get away with having two young children alone all day, out on the island, having fun, the way we used to.

There even had to be a pretend kayak, as you can’t have children playing on boats. Debi said she regretted giving the girl a beautiful Fair Isle cardigan, as it was a lot of hard work drawing, over and over. And as for the very patterned wallpaper, well…

The two illustrators had had a good discussion in the yurt before the event, and they agreed that what they draw comes from their own lives. And you need to put something more adult into a picture book, to keep the interest of the grown-ups who have to read these books to their children.

Kathryn suggested that children no longer have time to get bored, and Debi reckons ‘boredom is pretty creative.’ Every book begins with a picture in her mind, although – and here she was afraid of being hideously indiscreet – she once took an idea from an editor, because there was a mortgage to pay. With the US in mind, there must be no hedgehogs, no badgers and no red squirrels. In fact, Mr Bear was originally Mr Badger.

Faye feels it’s much easier to draw than to write, but hopes it might get easier with time. ‘Hell, no,’ Debi replied.

Debi Gliori

Someone asked if there is an age limit for reading picture books (if there is, I haven’t reached it yet), as her 10-year-old son needs to relax with a picture book when things feel hard. Debi said picture books make for great comfort reading, and of course we now also have graphic novels, aimed at older readers.

Another question referred back to what you can’t put in children’s books, because we now have different rules as to what children are allowed to do. Debi once had to remove a fridge, because of the potential danger to children getting locked in, and she was grateful to have had that pointed out to her. Faye had had to move a table lamp away from the edge of a table so it wouldn’t fall off. Whereas the problem with mice nestling in an electric blanket, the answer is that mice don’t read!

They were asked about their thoughts on the suitability of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton today, with a view to safety and political correctness.

Faye Hanson

And then we arrived at the request for more picture books about deprived inner city areas and children in poorer districts. Somehow there are disproportionately many books set in the Highlands and Islands, with their beautiful scenery and seemingly idyllic lifestyles. Debi feels she’d quite like to, but wasn’t sure she had the right credentials, while Faye said that she comes from a poor background and definitely wants more of this in picture books, as she has done already.