Monthly Archives: August 2010

Lucy Coats and her lucky coat

It’s your lucky day today. You are about to have a second post, so that I can tie up this festival business.

On our way south, we called in for a last little something in Charlotte Square. The very, very kind Lucy Coats had magicked tickets for us for her school event on Greek Myths. Well, what else? So it was us and a few hundred smallish children. And Lucy’s lovely red coat.

She started off with the more modern stuff, like Nike and Ambrosia and Atlas. Then she stealthily moved through Percy Jackson and Hagrid’s little dog and Doctor Who, to the real Greek stuff. The myths, of which one astute child asked her ‘are they real?’

Sort of.

Lucy Coats

Lucy has been on Blue Peter, and she has her badge. Well done! Her Granny had some connection to Rudyard Kipling, and Lucy really doesn’t care for Achilles. Before we knew where we were, storytime was over.

Despite Lucy having a very sore throat, she asked us in for tea. So we gossiped a little, before we braved the tiny hordes out on the grass again.


Last day of EIBF 2010

Entrance tent to the EIBF

Some late thoughts on the last day of the book festival.

It’s actually been quite good listening to some authors talk about their books, when I haven’t read them. I tend to think that I want to reinforce my love for a book by hearing the author speak about it, but it can be refreshing to listen with no previous knowledge at all.

Press yurt coffee, EIBF

Gillian Philip booksigning

Poster at EIBF

Chris Close and Martin Bell at the EIBF

Yesterday's crop of photos by Chris Close

Philip Pullman in Charlotte Square

The photography guys at the EIBF

A C Grayling and the Swedes

VTB at the EIBF

Queue in Charlotte Square

Book festival mud

Garth Nix was one such writer, and Barry Hutchison and his Invisible Fiends was another. Tohby Riddle. Katie Davies.

Daughter has been inspired to think about which accent she’d rather speak. A Scottish one came high on her list. At least until she heard an Aussie accent from the ‘arse end of the world’, and I have to point out – very strongly – that it’s a direct quote from Simmone Howell.

I don’t often go round photographing posters, but in the London Review tent the one with the name Gilsenan on it caught my eye. Any ideas why?

As Daughter got excited about one Alan Davies, I realised I’d been to an event with another Alan Davies.

It’s been fun witnessing Chris Close taking his own brand of photographs of visiting authors, and then the next day to see the result printed out on canvas and hung somewhere in Charlotte Square. There was a sex discussion one evening, where Chris received complaints that he mainly takes pictures of men. His retort was that more women than men turn him down… And to be fair, they aren’t exactly beauty shots. Good, but more fun than pretty.

Having stood about hearing the press photographers addressed as ‘gentlemen’ for the last fortnight, and thinking of the female ones, I have hit on the prefect one-word solution. Guys. It seems to be acceptable to be addressed as guys by waiting staff in restaurants, so might work on both sexes of the press, too. Because there are two.

Unless you’re A C Grayling, who only got the ladies. We had this freelance Swedish photographer who turned up one evening, getting quite vociferous on sexism in general. And then we never saw her again. Couldn’t decide who had the best hair.

Best beard goes to Philip Ardagh (below), as always. He appeared to have ditched his towel, but I forgot to ask Philip about it.

There was the initial problem facing your VTB, when her Stirling broadband failed, but the spotty table in the tent was an OK place to work from, until the timely dongle saved the blogging industry.

The queues can’t be avoided if you pick a popular event. The hardest thing is to ascertain you are joining the correct one.

Mud failed to be a problem, because the sun shone far too frequently. Not grumbling. The ducks did, but maybe they never saw this little wet paradise in the corner.

Not getting up and going on the train every day will feel good. For a while. It will also be a relief not waking up to the nearby Stirling High School’s bell, which sounds much more like a warning that they are about to use explosives, than that they want the students to go to their classrooms.

Philip Ardagh at the EIBF

Hair apparent,

Nick Sharratt

and not. Bald is in, and didn’t even qualify as a description for when I went looking for Michael Grant. Not that that is his name. Plenty of other bald men in and out of yurt. Nick Sharratt at least has a beard. Found him signing on Sunday afternoon, wearing my favourite colour.

Ally Kennen

David Almond

Ally Kennen and Lucy Christopher had to squeeze up and share a table, but they looked cheerful all the same. David Almond had one to himself, and a pretty long queue. So I didn’t get my book signed. Sigh.

Lucy Christopher

Joyce Carol Oates was on early, for a Sunday, and we only just caught her at her signing, with not a hope of getting there for the official photo call. I was interested to see that some fans didn’t hesitate bringing out piles of their favourite books. With that long a queue I wouldn’t have, but we’re not all the same.

Joyce Carol Oates

Francesca Simon was the star turn of the day for us. She’s still not blonde, but she assured us that her lovely dark hair is now nit-free. (She brought the subject up!) Never having seen Francesca in action, her Horrid Henry talk was high up on my wishlist. I even managed to get my Horrid Henry non-fan to come along, which isn’t bad going. She, and I, were very taken with Jolly Josh who seems like a dream young man, not averse to the HH limelight. Rabid Rebecca was there as well, and I wouldn’t hesitate having her as my babysitter.

This Anglo-Saxon expert told us about alliteration, her horrible younger siblings and her badly behaved niece and nephew (I can see the next family get-together will be a real success), and had the nerve to admit that she’d sent Josh to dance lessons. There were pink Polish underpants, and the sign language interpreter did a lot of jumping about, making funny faces. It’ll be the HH effect.

Francesca’s beautiful dress appeared to be fully zipped up, unlike that very embarrassing moment in the past. We were treated to the world premiere of a reading from Horrid Henry Rocks, and children were carried out, and carried back in again. The brave Francesca even sang her own heavy metal rock number, which isn’t bad, considering she doesn’t know anything about heavy metal.

Francesca Simon

And then we all ran to make it to the front of the signing queue. Obviously we didn’t all make it to the front, but I didn’t do bad for an old witch. Even got to meet lovely PR lady Kate at long last.

The middle of the afternoon passed in a bit of a blur, but I know we toed and froed. Had been having an exchange of messages with Michael Grant about where and when to meet up for a brief interview (a witch has to make good use of his rare trip to Europe, all the way from California). In the end we just accidentally ran across each other, so sat down on that well used decking for a chat. I believe I even prevented the poor jet-lagged man from drinking his much needed coffee. Now that I think about it.

Michael Grant

Michael then went to get ready for his event, where his fondness for Mac Keynotes caused a wee hiccough while all available computer nerds rushed to his aid. I suspect he was seconds away from phoning his son for help.

This was another talk where there were a good number of readers in the audience, by which I mean it wasn’t full of parents. And that’s always good. Michael wanted to show us what it’s like to be hungry, so experimented with ‘moral ambiguity’ on two basically decent volunteers, who were willing to bash each other with a baseball bat for a Snickers bar.

He played us the theme songs he’s chosen to identify his characters by, and told us how he met his wife. We know they cleaned toilets for ten years, before deciding to earn piles of money writing books. There was also the question of whether Stephen King ripped Michael off, or vice versa.

It seems Michael doesn’t plan his writing, but instead writes ‘as he goes along, freaking out every day’. And this two-finger typist likes the grossest scenes the best.

Gone signing

It was like Piccadilly Circus in the bookshop at five thirty, with three authors and their queues competing for attention. After the photographer was done, we met up with the lovely Donna Moore, who had come all the way from Glasgow to see us. (And for a party, it has to be admitted.) Donna wore her summer Doc Martens, which was a relief to me who had imagined nothing other than heels would do.

Donna Moore

We went to the Spiegeltent for drinks (tea, you know), where we swapped information on what we’ve done and what we want to do and all that. Talked Old Dogs and who can be permitted to read it. (Neither the Grandmother nor Donna’s parents’ elderly neighbour.) She’s writing more capers. Two at once, or something. And we talked about Bristol and Alaska.

Left the Spiegeltent before we were kicked out. The tired witches to ‘go home’ and Donna to her party.

Dead Boy Talking

Dead Boy Talking

‘Oh but it’s such a positive book!’ – or some very similar sentence – chirped the happy author Linda Strachan, the one who enjoys murdering, on the subject of her book Dead Boy Talking. That should teach me to voice my fears aloud. I had thought – I really did – that it was an obvious thing to have concerns about. Knife crime. Never nice. Boy dying throughout the book. Not top of my list of favourite things.

But Linda seemed genuinely surprised at the mere idea that dying teenagers would put me off. Anyway, a dare is a dare, so Daughter was ordered to pack Dead Boy Talking and bring it to me. (And don’t anybody else dare dare me again! I’m not up for it.)

I kept hoping the boy – Josh – wouldn’t die after all. But if he didn’t, then I’d be talking to the trades description people. And throughout the story you’re never quite sure. He might survive. Might he? Or? What’s the positive aspect? Is it that..?

Well, I clearly can’t tell you. But yes, it is positive. Sort of. And not.

There is more than one knifing happening, and several other tragedies, or at least problem situations, woven into Josh’s story. We see what happened, but don’t know why. We see different points of view. And we can learn from it.

So, that’s my Edinburgh International Book Festival book review for you. Challenged by the author herself, in Charlotte Square.

Dead hamsters and other horrors

Joan Lennon has no business looking like the Resident IT Consultant’s cousin. But other than that, it was lovely to meet Joan on Friday morning. It was Lindsey Fraser who led her up to me and made the introductions, which was kind of her. As to the misguidedness in believing I’d be worth speaking to, I won’t make any more comments. Joan has a new website, which has been sworn over a great deal. That is often the case with such things.

Joan Lennon

Lindsey Fraser

Loitering with the intent of catching Keith Charters as he set off for Gillian Philip’s school event, was really what I was doing, of course. He’d promised me I could be Graham, which was an interesting experience. When I located Keith, he said that my photographer could be Alison, so she was. It seems Strident Publishing had a ‘Ten little what’s-its’ kind of  morning, with only Keith left standing. A real ‘shame’, that.

Gillian Philip

Gillian claimed to be nervous, but she had the tentful of teenagers gagging happily over all her gory gruesomeness. (Photographer looked slightly green, however.) She detailed, in a most detailed manner, the things done to witches in the olden days, and I almost changed persuasion there and then. Gillian read several well chosen excerpts from Firebrand, and told us how she had gone about writing it.

Backwards, by the sound of things. She loves her bad guy (knew it!) and is fond of kelpies. Of course. And did you know that the people who went round doing horrible things to witches back then, billed for travel expenses?

Gillian Philip

Keith Charters

Successful signing session over, we trooped back to the authors’ decking area where we snuck in. Again. We were there for our interview with Gillian of the witch hunt, and it ended up being half an interview with Keith as well. The more the merrier.

Philip Ardagh came up to say hello, and when he heard I didn’t have a ticket for Katie Davies later on, he went off to perform magic. Meanwhile the photographer appeared to be oblivious to the fact that Alan, Mr Katie Davies, was standing right behind her. Me not having an inkling that it was relevant, said nothing. Seems she wasn’t unaware as much as star struck and paralysed. Oh well.

Shirley Williams

Back to the press yurt for some actual work, and to do something about a late lunch. Shirley Williams was scheduled to do a photo call, but didn’t appear at the given time. Instead she came and sat down about a metre away from me, finishing off an interview she’d been doing. I have to say politicians do interview differently from authors.

I went off to hear Katie Davies on The Great Hamster Massacre, with the half of Philip Ardagh that remains as chair. Mr Davies came too, complete with baby in sling. They were the only ones to leave when baby Davies got noisy. Though there were an worrying number of bluefaced children in the audience.

Katie Davies

This was Katie’s first ever event, and she talked about selling baby hamsters for sweets as a child, which was probably less gruesome than it sounded at first. She read a number of passages selected, I suspect, by Philip, who did a good job as chair. He’s read 130 funny books recently and was slightly less keen on funny books right now, but had enjoyed Katie’s first two books. Though he protested when Katie pondered ‘working her way up’ to writing an adult book that there is no such thing, because children’s books are not lower than any other books.

But she does know how to kill off hamsters with green cashmere, even if only fictionally. I hope. The number of dead hamsters in her book had been kept artificially low to prevent upsetting readers.

As for me, I had to rush on to another dead hamster event on the fringe. These things just happen.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

She was no Moominmamma

Instead it was Tove Jansson’s own mother who inspired the creation of Moominmamma. (And yes, that’s an awful lot of m’s all at once.)

Here is the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s first Bookwitch interview. Tove’s niece Sophia talks about her famous aunt and those ‘ugly’ creatures, the Moomin family, as well as the new books.

I really, really wish you could hear this interview in the original. Well, half of it, anyway. The witch sounds absolutely awful, but Sophia’s Finnish-Swedish accent is so beautiful. It’s like listening to Little My, except she’s not angry, or even a little sharp.

Sophia Jansson

Sophia’s English is extremely good, but it still felt natural for us to speak Swedish. Any peculiarities in the translation are entirely my fault. And as tends to be the case these days, not even native speakers can manage without the odd English word.

(And as Tove Jansson seems to get out and about all the time, here is a link to Normblog from the last few days.)

‘It’s special’

Eoin Colfer once said he was sure school children only came to his talks in schools to avoid going to their maths lesson. Well, I don’t know what they expect from a trip to Charlotte Square and the book festival. I managed yet another schools event on Wednesday morning, when Simmone Howell tempted me enough to crawl out of bed far too soon after having got into it. Close to 200 teenagers had done the same, and they were a quiet lot. Although the questions put to Simmone were good ones.

Simmone started off by talking about places in fiction, from The Hobbit to To Kill a Mocking Bird through to her own two teen novels. She likes doing maps, and did them for her books. She also admitted to an early fondness for the word ‘peripatetic’ . In between talking about the background to her novels, she read short pieces here and there from Notes From the Underground and from Everything Beautiful. Simmone feels a need to write about what she knows, like places she’s lived in. She reckons she compensates for her childhood by rewriting her life in fiction form. And like a certain witch I can think of, Simmone keeps returning to the same places whenever she travels.

Simmone Howell

They may have been quiet, but many of the teenagers came into the shop and bought one or both of the books. One girl very proudly showed off her newly purchased and signed book to all her friends. She kept opening the book and showing the dedication, kept telling her friends what a special book it was, specially signed to her. It’s nice to see.

Emma ‘Long-Arm’ from Bloomsbury showed off how many books she can hold in one go. Lotsi, as one toddler I knew well used to say when counting. Very lotsi. And she didn’t drop a single one.

As I said earlier, I wasn’t exactly alone in getting up at the crack of dawn. Approaching Charlotte Square I noticed a long snake of day-glo-vested children on the opposite pavement. Later I found them, along with all the others, eating their packed lunches on the grass. Now I know why the mud is so famously muddy. It’ll be all the orange juice they pour out.

It can be hard to get used to all the authors wandering around ‘like normal people’, but I’m trying as much as I can. And one day I’ll pick up the courage to ask Vivian French for a photo opportunity and a signature. As Daughter and Son and Dodo were leaving with the witch to go in search of lunch somewhere quieter, we ran into Gillian Philip. But it’s a bit much when she recognises Offspring first, isn’t it?

Naomi Alderman

Philip Reeve

Ian Beck

Spent some of my spare time looking for more victims I could take pictures of while they were signing books, and I found Naomi Alderman, Philip Reeve and Ian Beck.

Mal Peet

My evening event was yet again with Marcus Sedgwick, this time in a heated discussion with Mal Peet, and kept in order by the queen of writing-about-children’s-fiction herself, Nikki Gamble. The audience was boosted by an appearance by Gillian Philip, accompanied by the two Keiths, Gray and Charters. And I’ll be forever grateful to Nikki for the revelation that Marcus has a past in an ABBA tribute band. Mal, on the other hand, is a former mortuary assistant.

That sort of difference between the two seemed to be a pattern. Marcus’s fascination with cold countries versus Mal’s with warm countries. Marcus plans his writing in advance, whereas Mal can’t even plan a cheese sandwich, whatever that has to do with novel writing. The ‘bone idle’ Mal finds writing boring and depressing.

Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus read from his new book White Crow, which is no a bundle of laughs, according to himself, and he feels he’s outdone himself with this one. In order to stop himself blabbering Mal read from Exposure, which is the story about Othello he stole off Shakespeare. He pointed out that novels have nothing to do with real life; what with characters speaking in complete sentences and how people never go to the toilet.

This was a real conversation about teen fiction. We need more events like it.

VTAs and VTBs

Outside the hotel where we were meeting with one author, we ran into another. Jeanne Willis arrived at the same time as we did, and it was all I could do not to ask her to pose for a photo there and then. Managed to contain myself.

Simmone Howell

Ever since reading that Simmone Howell was coming to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d been wanting to meet up. So I’ve probably stalked her a little by email for a few months, but Simmone of the two Ms gamely turned up at the suggested spot for some tea on Tuesday afternoon. Well, not much of a tea, seeing as we could probably have sat there for hours having a good time, but not much to drink. Service wasn’t slow so much as not really there. At all.

She’s been in the UK for a few months, but is going back to Melbourne later this week. We talked Melbourne a little (not that I know it, you understand), and sex in Y A books, and how the Australian school year is arranged. She doesn’t know Adrian McKinty (yet), nor Sonya Hartnett, though they share a teacher in their pasts. Simmone was getting ready to do an event on making zines, which we didn’t have tickets for. Will see her this morning instead.

Had been going to see Andrew Sachs talking to Alexander McCall Smith, but Manuel cancelled, so I did too. At this rate my events with Mma Ramotswe’s author aren’t going too well.

Marcus Sedgwick

So in the event the day’s only event was this VTB hearing a VTA talk about ravens. And rabbits and de-iced squirrels. (Barry Hutchison should look out.) Marcus Sedgwick did a talk on the Raven Mysteries, and he explained he was a VTA, very tired author. Courtesy of Ry****r he had flown over from Sweden where he’s been busy writing a book, and what the maneater* jellyfish didn’t manage to do, the airline did. Marcus had had two hours of sleep, he was having a bad hair day (or so he claimed), and he’d allowed himself wine with lunch, which resulted in the purchase of new boots. (Footwear purchases do happen so easily…)

Marcus proceeded to perform literary cruelty to an amphibian. He read a bit, and talked some nonsense about peanut butter, and then he made some of the assembled children take part in a short play on the stage. He even had a raven glove-puppet which had passed muster as handluggage. It seems that we are able to enjoy the Raven Mysteries, which are great fun, due to a very early graveyard encounter for young Marcus.

Sarah McIntyre

Sarah McIntyre, of cartoons fame, was signing at the table next to Marcus, and then the photographer persuaded Marcus to jump into the Charlotte Square mud with his new boots. Never mind. He can always buy new new boots.

Attempted to wait around for Seamus Heaney, but this photo-shy man took his time to turn up, so we sloped off to another poet. Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross had finished their event and were signing books until we took them out and asked them (reasonably politely) to pose. I suspect Tony missed the lesson on not sticking his tongue out at people.

Tony Ross

I feel we got the better looking poet. Jeanne had warned me she’d be the one covered in tomatoes. Some tomatoes…

Jeanne Willis

*Jellyfish in Swedish is maneter, and Marcus’s pun was very bad. But then, the jellyfish probably did something not very nice to him first.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Secondary to none

Your comprehensive witch turned ever more school-like on Monday. The very helpful press officer at the Edinburgh International Book Festival had watched me all week, and came to the conclusion that I really do look like a school after all. So I could go to the ball, and all that.

Debi Gliori

Being allowed to attend a couple of schools events in Charlotte Square meant some hasty reorganising of the social/business side of things. But it could be done. We got out of bed really early to have scones and tremendously dense porridge with Debi Gliori. She had the porridge and I had a scone, which was lovely, but no Flora McLachlan scone. It was raining so we sought shelter in the bookshop café. Debi was surprised to find a café in the bookshop, which just goes to show how much she gets around.

We talked of books, especially Pure Dead Magic, with and without scones. New picture books, and old ones too. Books (her own) that make Debi cry. Moved on to fiddling. That’s as in music, not what some unscrupulous people do with their accounts.

Then I had to dash to hear Julia Golding talk about her plentiful genres of books. Is there a genre the woman hasn’t tried by now? And 15 books since 2006? Honestly. She’s a book machine. Julia gave the school classes from Aberdeen and elsewhere a history lesson, and we will never forget Bluetooth now. Nor Thorfinn Skullsplitter or the blood eagling, as once done by Julia’s own teacher. Julia is another one writing about Venice, with her new book The Glass Swallow set there. And she likes being God, apparently.

John Boyne

More dashing. More food. But first John Boyne, who was lined up against the willows to have his likeness taken. Then to the Spiegel tent where Mum Clare from Random fed us. Although in the end there was no tea, as promised earlier. Random water did as well. I now feel I know everything that will happen in their book world for the next six months. Not sure where my reading time will come from. But will want to read. Lots.

Spiegel tent

The schoolwitch ran on to her next schools event with Keith Gray and Patrick Ness who were talking about Losing It with Daniel Hahn. And let me tell you; this was the best event so far. When I normally feel happy to leave after an hour, I could have gone on for twice the time. So could the schools, I imagine, except they had their buses waiting. The reason the talk was so good will have been the combination of the speakers and the topic and the audience. For once, we had an audience consisting primarily of the ones who should read the book. Not babies, not parents. Just teenagers. And – well – me.

Keith Gray

Brave schools which take their young readers to this kind of talk. Patrick and Keith were welcomed like superstars. Keith talked about the varying ages of consent around the world, and the trailer for Losing It was shown. Great trailer. And they pointed out the very recent changes in the law. Seven years ago this talk would have been illegal. Makes you think.

When writing his story for Losing It, Patrick expected it to be ‘toned down’. It wasn’t. Someone who turned down the offer to contribute, did so on the mistaken assumption that it had to be autobiographical. As Keith said, it’s not a book on ‘what goes where and how’.

Patrick Ness

Their advice to the teenagers is to read everything, including rubbish. And for writing they say to write what you yourself want to read. These are two authors who readers really listen to. We need more events like this one.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Not totally translated yet

But almost. However, sleep beckoned before the Sophia Jansson interview had been fully translated. And those best laid plans of witches went slightly awry. The idea was: have a day off and get all the pending work done.


There just might be two or three readers who will feel they can do the original Swedish interview justice. So pop across and do your best. I suppose you can always look at the pictures. Sophia looked lovely in lime green.

Sophia Jansson

So what do you people expect to get up to in an outhouse? According to Sophia the beginnings of Moomin may have taken place in one. Always one to call a spade a spade (which might be stored in the outhouse) I’d rather call the possible birthplace of Moomin a privy.

Where you… Well, you know. And while you’re at it you can just start a new literary success.

And if that’s not how Moomin began (authors do lie a lot, don’t they?), then it was that uncle of Tove’s, in Stockholm, who had Moomins in his kitchen. Something about cold breaths.

Fairly sure someone had come across Hattifatteners in a privy, too. So, lots going on in those places.

Actually, better not to think about it. Now that I think about it.