Monthly Archives: August 2011

Buckskin and seven-shooter

Caroline Lawrence began signing books on stage before her event on Friday afternoon. That’s how keen her fans were. Or maybe they couldn’t make it to the signing afterwards? She wore glasses, which might be how she saw us hiding on the back row as usual. She waved. And then I suspect Caroline came up with her little idea on how to ‘include’ us in her talk.

‘Be careful what you read. A book could change your life.’ That’s how Caroline introduced this talk on how to write, and she admitted to having been no good at history at school. Mary Renault inspired her to write the Roman Mysteries, and later heroes include Sherlock Holmes (or was that just so Caroline could show us a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch?)

That brought the conversation round to films, and she asked the audience if they could name the best Western film ever. They named plenty, and since Daughter and I refrained from showing off, no one got it right. (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, if you must know.)  Cowboys are often portrayed the same, except Woody in Toy Story is not allowed to carry a gun (I should think so!).

Then Caroline read the first chapter about P K Pinkerton in the Western Mysteries, and it does work very well as a taster, and ought to have left anyone in the audience who hadn’t read the book wanting to. And after some brief explanations on Pinky’s world Caroline decided to tell the audience about scalpings. She did so while referring to the famous Bookwitch nerves, and caused the photographer to stick her fingers in her ears for the 60 seconds Caroline needed to talk in-depth about scalping, including showing pictures.

That was very naughty.

Caroline Lawrence

And did you know they didn’t actually have double swinging doors in the Wild West? Very disappointing. You are advised to spit leeward if you’re travelling by Stagecoach. Or it will all come back.


That brought things neatly to Caroline’s Roman sponge on a stick, and her Western equivalent, the spittoon. It took people some time to guess what it was. Not a chamberpot. (Would be a bit hard to aim, I’d have thought.)

Being a writer is the best job in the world for someone who wants to work wearing their pyjamas, eating chocolate and watching television a lot, and getting paid for it. The photo she showed us of her London riverside study didn’t exactly make the job look any less attractive.

Caroline promised us ten Western Mysteries in ten years, saying that she needs time in between for her Roman Mystery Scrolls, the first of which is the Case of the Sewer Demon. Coming soon.


The Amnesty International reading – Taslima Nasrin

I admit I only went along to the Amnesty reading on Saturday because Debi Gliori was one of the readers, and I wanted to catch up with her. But it was good, and I think I’ll go to more readings if and when I return.

Taslima Nasrin

Saturday’s author was Taslima Nasrin from Bangladesh. She’s not in jail, but she’s been banished from her country.

Between them Debi Gliori, Regi Claire, Chan Koonchung and Belinda McKeon read a number of poems and longer pieces, and they were wonderful. Not what I usually read, which made it all the more interesting.

Another positive experience was the feeling of international solidarity through having authors from different countries do the readings. It’s what Amnesty is about.

The one thing that marred the evening was that they over-ran and the last reading was stopped rather abruptly. I can see that they have other events starting, but considering the reason for the reading, it was unfortunate, and in this case I’d have preferred for the ‘advertising’ of the next evening’s reading to have been curtailed instead.

Liz Kessler and her girls

The tendency to say that that was the best event can obviously get a little repetitive. But I really did feel that Liz Kessler’s talk on Saturday afternoon was pretty perfect. Especially so for a newbie. I was so sure that we’d missed Liz in previous years, and then it turns out this was her first time.

OK, so Liz had a bit of a croaky voice, but that didn’t stop her. What she also had was a sold out event, and – too rarely for festivals in general – an event that was full of fans or potential fans, rather than well-meaning adults or people who have wandered into the wrong event. (Once those girls have read their first Liz Kessler book, they too will worship her.)

So, there I was with my own over-age fan, restraining herself like mad from taking part, so as not to deprive the right age girls from their moment of glory with Liz.

Liz Kessler

Liz explained how she was going to do her thing, and get us all involved. She had brought a box full of her ‘writer’s things’, and she let the girls in the audience pick them out, one by one. So there was a door, for fairies. Index cards for all those ideas, several of which she read out, realising she’d not used them in the end.

There was a watch to signify time travel, for A Year Without Autumn, which she then read an extract from, musing on how hard it was to find ‘nice’ bits. For some reason Liz then sang a line from her old school song…

All writers have to love stationery, so that’s easy. You need an emergency note book. And for some obscure reason Liz had a packet of crisps in her box, signifying Poppy, her Dalmatian. (There will be a book about Poppy next year, Poppy the Pirate Dog!) Story cubes to play with. No chocolate, because she ate it.

Liz brought along some old school reports and read out some less than complimentary comments from her teachers. And then a lovely A-level teacher of English came along and changed Liz’s school work and most likely her future. We just need one, and they can be so important. Although, having said that, Liz apparently wrote her first book at the age of eight (for her grandmother, I think).

Bribes came next. Liz had brought stuff to bribe her audience to ask her good questions, and they certainly did. None of the old tired questions you hear all the time. (So on the whole I’d recommend more authors to use bribes in future Q&As.) The best was the ‘what if’ question referring to the A-level teacher. Would we still have Liz Kessler the author without her?

And beware scrunching up daisies that you have picked. It could make them a little out of sorts the next day.

There was a satisfyingly long queue in the bookshop afterwards, and I imagine the girls bought most of Liz’s books, if they didn’t already own them. The only drawback was the long wait photographer and I had for our photo opportunity by the old tree trunk.

But this is the kind of event we want more of, and what a great Edinburgh beginning!

Lounges and yurts

Daughter laughed so much her cheeks hurt. (Weird. Is that even possible?) We had tea with Steve Cole at his hotel, in order to do an inexcusably late interview with someone we’ve known and laughed at for so long. Should I tell you about the time he took his trousers off in New York? In the street, I mean.

Better not. Sorry. Standards have been lowered, and all that.

We’d barely got going with the cheek-hurting when we were hailed by cheerful hellos on my right. It was Liz Kessler and friend who walked past, as seems to happen in the best lounges. Liz and Steve didn’t know each other before, but now they do.

Once Steve had gone off to do whatever he had to do after being a perfect gentleman all morning, Daughter informed me that Malorie Blackman had been hiding in a corner all that time.

Honestly. Author overload. Again.

A bit later in the day we ran into Debi Gliori with daughter KR after a reading, and were lured into the yurt for some brief socialising before they had to go home to be fed specially made gnocchi. I say brief, because Debi sauntered off for some water and ended up chatting to Ian Rankin. Can’t say I blame her.

But seeing as we had a ‘date’ with Neil Gaiman, I suppose we are quits.

Before anyone thinks this trip has been a bed of roses, let me tell you that the trains have been full to over-flowing, and that after Neil we didn’t even get on the one we’d gone to catch.

We have reluctantly decided to give Eoin Colfer a miss tomorrow and simply head home. Not that we believe the train home will be a picnic, either.

But I suppose that’s what M&S is for.

And I’ll see what I can do about bringing you up to speed on all those events we haven’t skipped.

A Kathryn Ross event

Kathryn Ross chaired an event this morning, and it set me thinking about what I’d written on the rather good event she chaired earlier in the week. Now, which one was it? Oh yes, it was the Southern hemisphere one, on my Aussie day, with Morris Gleitzman and Jason Wallace. The one Mal Peet was sad to have missed. And the reason I couldn’t recall what I’d written was that I hadn’t. At all.

Jason Wallace

I assumed Morris to be here for his umpteenth EIBF appearance, but it turned out to be his first. I’m fairly certain it was Jason’s first, as Out of Shadows is his first book. And here he was, paired with old-timer Gleitzman, whose new book Too Small to Fail is yet another laugh-and-cry story about a young child who tries to do his best in an awkward situation.

Jason Wallace, Out of Shadows

They started off by each reading a piece, with Jason in the nice boots choosing the snake story from somewhere at the beginning of Out of Shadows. He did a passable Zimbabwean accent, or so I’d like to believe, anyway.

Morris read the early chapter with Oliver standing outside the pet shop loving the doggie in the window. It quickly goes from sweet and traditional to potentially dangerous but also funny, because this is Morris Gleitzman, after all. He was probably rather tired, as he’d just arrived from Australia, but you wouldn’t have known.

Both authors like introducing difficult situations for their characters to solve, or for the readers to solve. They go for characters who do what you yourself wouldn’t do. Jason is an optimist who wanted to find out why Ivan was quite so horrible, and Kathryn suggested that perhaps we can sort of like him, simply because he is so awful.

When asked if they like their characters, Morris said it’s like with your children. There is a reason you don’t strangle them, even if you sometimes feel like it. Characters and children can be disappointing and surprising, but it’d be hard to live with the characters for the length of the book if you don’t like them.

Jason found he ‘enjoyed not liking Ivan’ very much, and that it made the writing work. And no one sees themselves as totally bad or evil. He believes in writing about what you know, whereas Morris subscribes to the idea that you should write about what you feel.

Someone asked if Morris felt bad about the end of Then, and he admitted it was the hardest thing to write, ever, and he had had to force himself. Morris then asked if they thought it was the wrong end, but was told that Then needed to end this way.

Morris Gleitzman

The eight-year-old Morris was a daydreaming wannabe dentist who wrote in secret, until the day someone in the football changing rooms found a story of his and was still reading it ten minutes later. That’s when he realised that if he could ‘keep kids in bag rooms’ his writing might be OK.

A question as to why adult characters come across as a lot weaker than child characters was explained by describing parents as ‘collateral damage’ in children’s fiction. There wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise, and the books need to be written from the point of view of the child, seeing adults as the child sees them.

Which makes a lot of sense. The same goes for the child being a smaller person, while their feelings are not smaller.

We didn’t want this event to end. Kathryn could have gone on and on, and so could most of us. Except perhaps for Morris who really might have been ready for bed.

Some Randomness and other news

Did I mention being tired? I’m so intolerant of this life in high lit society.

Anyway. We are sitting in a hotel lounge drinking caffeine. It almost helps. And then Jacqueline Wilson arrived. She came and sat in the lounge for a bit, and at that point Caroline Lawrence walked through the place, buckskin outfit and all. Caroline stopped to greet her and I couldn’t help hearing the word six-shooter mentioned.

Daughter had fit of giggles, but don’t let that turn you off.

Theresa Breslin's boot

We arrived bright and early this morning, called in for Theresa Breslin’s tickets and went and waited for Shaun Tan, who had a small free window for us to chat. We chatted, and that was just as nice as you’d think it would be. PR Jayne also turned out to be both nice and efficient.

Shaun Tan

While waiting we saw Orion’s Nina, who was in need of caffeine. So was Gillian Philip, who was up and out of bed far earlier than she should have been. Bloomsbury’s Emma and Ian were also early risers, but that’s nothing compared to the High School pupils from Oban who got up at the crack of dawn to come here to hear Theresa talk books. (In other words, a bit like me.) And aren’t Theresa’s boots absolutely divine?

Malorie Blackman

More Random names with Malorie Blackman, who was signing after her early school event. She looked like she was in for a long stint judging by the length of her queue.

Time now to go hear Caroline explain away her six-shooter* comment.

(* There is inflation in shooters. It was a seven-shooter by the time we got there.)

Rock stars

Btw, we are all doomed. And that’s not only because roles were reversed and I took the photos today while my photographer interviewed. (That is so not right, wouldn’t you say?)

Ted Nield

Where was I? Doom. Either we humans destroy the Earth or Earth gets us. Neither is nice. Ted Nield seems quite nice, however. It was he who mentioned our poor future prospects. He did an event last night, which I missed most of, but that’s OK because this morning I had a whole hour listening to him in private while photographer interviewed this geologist on stones and stuff.

So, first I was the mother who dragged Offspring to interviews. Now Offspring drags the mother. Very topsy turvy, and that’s also geology.

Door Pig

We were in the pig room. At least I assume we were. The room at Ted’s hotel had pigs in it. Stone piggies. That’s geology, too. So much is, when you think about it.

Unlike some of my victims, Ted will need very little pruning or editing. I’ve rarely heard anyone speak so fluently about rocks.

Ted Nield

He’s got a rock collection. Or at least, he had one. Most of it has now found new homes.

We strayed very briefly on to the subject of Brian Cox. Then Ted mentioned rock stars. And that’s what we are. He is well known, if not exactly publishing in Rowlings, and to do with rocks. While Daughter and I pondered this deep thought further, we worked out that the astronomy/geology interest has moved from the witchlet to her. And that’s both stars and rocks, innit?

Ted Nield

The Bloodstone launch

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

We had a lazy – well, lazier – sort of day yesterday, mainly attending the launch of Gillian Philip’s Bloodstone at the Edinburgh Bookshop. Hadn’t been there since it was enlarged, and I have to say the shop looked good.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

People came and people mingled, and the able bartender served red and white and soft with aplomb. If anyone saw me with two glasses in my hands that’s because I had to hold the photographer’s drink. Nothing else.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Keith Charters of Strident Publishing hopped into the shop window and spoke. Not too long, and really quite well. They publish good books at Strident.

Keith Charters

Then it was Gillian’s turn, but before she hopped her shoes had to come off. (Always consider your choice of socks in these circumstances!) Gillian read from Bloodstone and a pretty good piece it was, too. The one about the bloodthirsty ‘horse’. That kind of reading is likely to make people want to buy, and even read, Bloodstone.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Gillian Philip

We mingled some more. I spoke to Vanessa about her plans for the bookshop, and I talked to one of my faithful blog readers, before attempting to get her run over on the street outside.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

And no, Seth wasn’t there.

A masterclass with Shaun Tan

Those pillows were definitely not necessary. Or perhaps the couple in Shaun Tan’s audience last night had been shopping?

The word masterclass makes me suspect that whatever is coming will be boring. But I didn’t for a moment think Shaun would be, and he wasn’t. In fact, I almost wish more events were done in this way. It’s not for everyone, but for those who can.

Charlotte Square’s Corner Theatre was almost full to bursting. I was glad to see Mal Peet there, making up for missing the other Aussie earlier on. Nikki Gamble was there, but Andersen’s Clare was stuck on the train home and was devastated to miss Shaun.

I occasionally worry that I shouldn’t use words like weird in connection with this marvellous – but weird – artist and author, but he used it himself. So that’s all right, then. Shaun had a presentation on his Mac, which he described as ‘very weird stuff, somewhat autobiographical’. As Janet Smyth who introduced him said, it’s been a good year for Shaun. He won an Oscar for The Lost Thing, and then there was that pile of money from Sweden, which now that I think of it, isn’t nearly large enough for Shaun’s talents.

He usually imagines himself talking to his brother, who has a ‘radar for pretentiousness’, and this decides how Shaun describes things. His mother is responsible for the phrase ‘it’s a cultural thing’ which I have recently adopted, because it is so useful. And it’s his architect father who inspired his style of drawing.

Shaun often kicks off with Eric, the tale about the foreign exchange student. It seems they once had an ‘Eric’ themselves, and he was Finnish. That’s why he didn’t talk much. The emotion is under the surface, but it is there.

I was struck by the Tove Jansson quality of the picture that stayed as Shaun’s backdrop for most of the talk. More Finnish-ness. Shaun has travelled from dinosaurs at age three via sci-fi and Star Wars at school to books like The Arrival which took five years to make.

Let’s hope that the Astrid Lindgren award money doesn’t go towards a dishwasher. Shaun does his thinking over the washing up, and where would we be if that stopped? Also, he doesn’t like work, so tries to prune as much as he can off potential work before he even begins.

That’s my kind of person!

And so is his art. Except as he said, he leaves enough space in his work for the readers to put themselves there. So maybe it’s just that he has left what I need to make those beautiful books mine.

Janne Teller, controversial jet-setter, continued

So there I was, not quite on the floor. Which is good.

Janne was our third foreigner in around 24 hours, although with not a single interpreter in sight. Not necessary, as Janne divides her time between Denmark and New York, which as chair Gill Arbuthnott said is so glamourous. Janne looks glamourous, too, but actually seems nice despite this. And those boots…

We sat in the adult’s row at the back with Janne’s publisher Keith Charters and authors Gillian Philip and Linda Strachan, who are both quite good with knives and swords.


But nothing beats the (mental) goriness of Janne’s Nothing. She suggests. I faint.

I blame it on the fact Janne has no children. I think you can be much scarier if you don’t have them, and as we had agreed while waiting outside, parenthood makes a wimp out of you. She had been asked to write a children’s book, and first she thought she couldn’t, until Pierre Anthon (the boy who sits in a plumtree) spoke in her ear.

Then her publisher said the book was too strange to publish, so there was a delay until a teenage publishing offspring had been found who liked Nothing. At first the book sold badly and then it was banned in several countries. After which things appear to have picked up somewhat.

Janne read to us from the beginning, introducing the ‘heap of meaning’. It’s a weird feeling when someone reads softly and beautifully from what feels like a quietly menacing story, and doing so on what is really a glorified roundabout, with the traffic roaring extra loudly for Janne.

The end of the book was so hard that Janne wrote several. She was surprised by the reactions to her book, as she was under the impression she had written a ‘nice book’. This ‘nice’ book has been dramatised and has even been done as a musical in Denmark.

Her favourite character is Pierre Anthon, and she doesn’t particularly like her narrator. The humour in the story is absolutely necessary, she feels, although she is amazed at all the surveys that portray Danes as the happiest people. They ‘never’ smile, and she believes they just tick the happy box because it’s what you do.

There will be more YA novels from Janne. She has a short book about refugees (inspired by the xenophobia in Denmark), which features a Danish family fleeing to Egypt. And in every translation she changes the refugee family to one from the country in which it is published.

That’s what we need more of; something to make us think.

Afterwards I told Janne where I had given up reading. She told me nothing bad happens after that. Am I expected to believe her?