Monthly Archives: October 2011

Francesca Simon goes all Norse

Whitworth Gallery

She’s good at reading from her books, that Francesca Simon. She does sound effects, and she even pretended that her main character was so well behaved that the book had to come to an end before it had begun, seeing as there wouldn’t be a story.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

I was a little surprised a week ago when I realised Francesca was coming to talk about her new venture which is very far removed from Horrid Henry. She has a new book out, featuring the Norse Gods in a 21st century England where Christianity never happened. (Yeah, I’m not getting into that…) And I would have known this, had I been able to read, since it’s in the programme. I suppose I only pretended to read, the way you do when you are young.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

Her new book, The Sleeping Army, is six times as long as  Horrid Henry book, and it took her a year to write, after nine months of thinking. So, it’s a toddler by now, I suppose. Francesca was the star children’s attraction for Sunday’s Manchester Literature Festival at the Whitworth Gallery, and brought hints of all that fame and wealth. Lovely dress, as usual. Photo of her large house in London. No, hang on, that’s actually the British Museum. Francesca doesn’t live there. Yet. But she apparently did so much research that it feels like it’s her home.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

She found the Lewis chessmen in the BM. They are very old, and they look really grumpy. She sees them as a sleeping army, and in her book she has her main character – who for a long time went by the name of ‘The Girl’ – accidentally wake them up. The Goddess of Youth has been stolen by a giant and the Norse Gods are growing old, so the Goddess needs to be found.

In this new pagan Britain there are no boys called Christopher. But they do have an Archpriest of York. There is ‘The Girl’ who became Freya, someone called Snot, and somewhere there is an eight-legged horse. (This despite horses legs being the hardest thing you can ask an illustrator to tackle.) There is a berserker, who is always a nice kind of person to have in any story.

And if you too are nerdy enough to need to know why the chessmen when they are so rudely awakened speak English, it’s because for years and years they have heard the phrase ‘where’s the toilet?’ from just about every visitor to the museum. (Actually, they didn’t. I think it was probably just me. I forgot every time.)

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

After all that background information, Francesca sat down in front of the pretty park outside and read to us. And despite Norse Gods generally bringing me out in a rash, I have to say it sounded pretty good. I might have to rethink my Norse ban.

Then it was Q & A time, and not only is her son not naughty enough to have inspired Horrid Henry, but he doesn’t know what a hoover is. (Francesca is a woman after my heart!) She hasn’t seen the HH film. Reading the script was enough, apparently.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

Francesca always writes a first draft that is absolutely terrible, but believes that this is necessary for a good book (which happens after another ten goes, or so). And she might be great with the sound effects, but when her toddler son wanted to know what a caterpillar sounds like, she didn’t actually know…

And then Francesca signed books. Lots of them.


Enigma? Paradox?

Whatever. Anyone here ever heard of a guy called Panama Oxridge? Or a dame by the same name? (Wow, triple rhyme!) No, I haven’t either. But here she/he is, being reviewed for his/her book Justin Thyme. That’s also very witty. It’s a book featuring a time machine, among many more improbable things.

This book was brought to my attention when I carelessly mentioned I was going to have a go with some Scottish reading. The cover is covered in tartan, so is definitely the genuine article. But I have to say that despite the tartan and dear Panama and the cheesy title it is actually a very funny story.

Justin is a millionnaire. On his 13th birthday he receives a parcel that ticks, and as he is a bright boy, he knows it’s either a bomb or another blo*dy watch. It’s fair to say he doesn’t want either of them. He lives in a Scottish castle with his parents Sir Willoughby and Lady Henny, his older sister Robyn, who is a pain, and their little brother Albion. A tame gorilla called Eliza. There is a nanny, a tutor, a gardener, a housekeeper and eventually a butler and a cook. Naturally.

They have tea. It sounds heavenly.

And at some point Lady Henny is kidnapped and they need to sort out who did it. Also find her before it’s too late, obviously. The castle isn’t exactly short on suspects, and outside the castle walls there are a few more weird people. Justin is very intelligent. But he still starts to build a time machine to rescue his mother, as boys do.

Plenty of humour. I like the cook (‘ Having Off-Day. Plenty foods in my Panties.’) Adventure, lovely teas, romance, lost grandfathers and old spies. It’s both old-fashioned and quite up to date. The cast is interestingly similar to the Strega family in Pure Dead Magic, but who cares?

Slight quibble towards the end. There isn’t one. Possibly a time machine effect.

A Horrid Zombie Vampire to you too, Henry!

There was no way I could not read the latest Horrid Henry! It’s got a picture of me on the cover! And the cover is blue and yellow, so felt even more like me. And can you just see what a nightmare it will be to put this HH in your bookcase?

Francesca Simon, Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire

I mean, it’s charming, the way they have made the cover all ‘hill and valley-ish’ with the help of… Yes, with the help of something or other. Henry is shown in relief and that might be his only relief in this book full of zombies. And vampires.

Henry continues as ‘Horrid’ as ever, but with a Perfect Peter in the house, what do you expect? In one story Henry forgets that one is not meant to plagiarise. Or downright steal someone else’s story.

In another, there is a famous chef capable of giving Jamie a run for his school dinners. There is also a harrowing Halloween tale, because it is that time of year. Soon.

And on the whole, it is worth avoiding sleepovers in museums. You just never know when the next zombie will appear. Most likely soon after the vampire. Or the other way round. Possibly together.

Francesca Simon, Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire

The Sefton ScareFest 2

Skeleton 2

Barry Hutchison and I are doomed. At least photo wise. I press. He blurs. Happily he’s not as doomed as some. Whether this is a former performer or an ex-member of the audience, I’m not sure. But almost anything can happen at ScareFests.

My train travel was a wee bit doomed yesterday. But I suppose there has to be a first time for waiting for a train on the opposite platform. (I blame Liverpool South Parkway. I have rarely seen a more confusing station. Apart from Edgware Road, of course.)

Tommy Donbavand, Joseph Delaney, Barry Hutchison, Jon Mayhew and Curtis Jobling behind the fire at Sefton ScareFest

Which will be why when I arrived at Crosby Civic Hall, Tony of Formby Books had taken his performing authors and gone to the pub. This much was clear from what the locked-in technician could tell me. ‘I have no keys. They have gone to the pub.’ Thanks to my Resident IT Consultant Tony’s mobile number was found and the scary authors were found and I was found and so on.

Curtis Jobling, Sefton ScareFest

Facebook is such an introducer of perfect strangers, that I almost didn’t say hello properly to Tommy Donbavand. We’ve shaken hands now, so must know each other. And Curtis Jobling I didn’t know at all. He seemed like a perfectly nice looking man until he did this.

Philip Caveney, Sefton ScareFest

As I mentioned earlier, we were fed. Some clowning around was done for the benefit of the photographers. The authors forced chocolate cake down and worried about laptop support for their performances. I admired Philip Caveney’s red Converses. (This thing with grown men wearing cool red shoes has to stop!)

Then it was time to descend to the level of the waiting throngs, where Philip was first to be thrown to the wolves. He survived by reading from his new book The Eye of the Serpent, and if I never hear about crawling beetles in ancient Egyptian tombs again it will be too soon.

Philip Caveney, Sefton ScareFest

Second out was Tommy who cheated by wrapping a member of the audience in toilet paper, assisted by Barry, and terrorising a perfectly good egg. Sorry, this was a nice girl, who was made to act the part of the dragon’s egg. But we had fun. Even the pumpkin had fun. It looked far too happy for a ScareFest.

Tommy Donbavand with dragon and others at Sefton ScareFest

Curtis Jobling, Sefton ScareFest

Scarecrow by Curtis Jobling

Last before the interval was Curtis, who was cooked to a crisp by then, having been made to sit more or less right inside the flames on the right of the stage. He’s a jack of all trades who can write books but also draw pretty pictures and does animation. Cool. (Well, he was hot, but you know…) It’s a neat party trick that; being able to draw scarecrows with parsnip noses, not to mention Were-Bob the Were-Builder. Who was raffled for charity. (I’d have liked him. I suppose if I’d bought a ticket I would have stood a small chance.)

Tommy Donbavand, Sefton ScareFest

Joseph Delaney, Sefton ScareFest

In the interval sweets were eaten and books were bought and signed. And people generally thronged. They could only be tempted back by the promise of having won Were-Bob and other goodies. There were prizes for best costume, and that was a hard choice, so it was lucky someone like Tommy got to pick the little cat.

Sefton ScareFest

Joseph Delaney, Sefton ScareFest

Joseph Delaney set a cracking pace after his ‘rest’, talking about book covers and what he thinks of them. He’s got a lot of book covers, and some of the more foreign ones don’t get anywhere near Preston or Lancaster in looks. Oh well.

Next was Jon Mayhew, who told us what we should ask for when the angels and the devil come calling. And then he read us the prologue to his new book, The Bonehill Curse. (It’s not out yet.) It won’t have a prologue, which will be why Jon read it and then gave it away. Authors!

Jon Mayhew, Sefton ScareFest

Last out was Barry who is still scared of squirrels. (So he should be…) There was also the small matter of scary milk cartons and cream eggs. Being a boy at heart, Barry managed to mention both number ones and number twos in his little act. It involved the kitchen sink (ew) and imaginary friends, possibly by the name of Derek. With or without knives. If the book trade runs dry he should have a go at stand-up.

Barry Hutchison, Sefton ScareFest

He just about finished on time. The reason I go on about time is that Tony thought it’d be a good thing for me not to disappear on an early pumpkin as I had planned to, but to stay and let Jon drive me (along with Philip and Curtis) to a better railway station to catch a later train.

I didn’t think it’d be possible. Philip was extricated from the proceedings. Then Curtis. No, he had more doodles to do in books. And a suitcase to pack. I found Jon and decided to hold on to him. But the man has little fans. He signed. And doodled. More books.

Now Philip had started signing. And Curtis, asked by Tony, who soon realised the error of his ways. So stop again. Then more fans for Curtis. Suitcase packed. Same fan with booklet for Jon. At this point Philip gave up all hope of ever seeing Stockport again.

Skeleton 1

It blurs. But eventually we were all squeezed into two-door car. (Ow.) Curtis sat on the windscreen liquid bottle. Nice drive into Liverpool, with lots of book talk. (And yes, I know one shouldn’t get into cars with men one has met on facebook.)

Liverpool has been so re-arranged that to get to the station you find yourself up close to the Catholic Cathedral, where you have no business being when catching trains. And then Jon missed the turning, so we went round again, not going down the one way street the wrong way as suggested by Curtis.

We decanted ourselves from small car. Hands were shaken. Witches were hugged. Philip and I headed into station despite it being five minutes too late by then. I insisted on looking at the departure board anyway, because the Resident IT Consultant has brought me up to do things like that.

Happy pumpkin

Did we catch the train?

Yes, we did. It was late. And I have not done such running for years, is all I can say. Philip ran faster, if only to make sure he didn’t have to spend an extra hour in the pub with a witch.

Curtis? Don’t know what happened to him. He wasn’t going where we went. You win some, you lose some.

Halloween – The prologue

Yes, I think it’s a bit early too. But Tony of Formby Books believes in Halloween starting early. So it did. He had that Barry Hutchison down from the Scottish Highlands, and then he looked more locally for the rest. Tony came up with Philip Caveney, Joseph Delaney, Tommy Donbavand, Curtis Jobling and Jon Mayhew.

Sefton Scarefest skull

It was their job to scare the children of Sefton, but in order to reign in their worst behaviour he fed them first. He fed me too, which was nice of him. And he bought me a drink in the pub across the road, where they had all gone to hide. Next time I will make sure I have all the mobile phone numbers I need, as well.

And this my dear readers, is as much as you get in the prologue. The whatever-logue will follow on another happy two-post day.

Vimes and me on the Wonderful F*nny

No sooner had I decided I really wanted to be a cow, when this invitation turned up, making me temporarily pause the move towards cow-hood.

(I was on the train home from Scotland – and believe me, that was by sheer luck -and I felt totally done in with travelling. Maybe I’m past it? I noticed these docile looking cows grazing in fields near the train and thought they seemed to have a most uncomplicated life. It rained. Did they worry about their hair? Don’t think so. It was just a case of standing there, on the green stuff, eating the green stuff. Ideal.)

The Elizabethan (The Wonderful F*nny)

But when Commander Vimes requests one’s company on a paddle steamer it’s hard to say no. So I said yes. And after I’d read the book about the Commander’s latest adventures I got quite worried and had to check there wasn’t going to be that kind of action on Wednesday night. Was reassured about the planned sedateness of it all. (That is if you don’t factor in seasickness. I wasn’t, though.)

Terry Pratchett - Snuff launch

Terry Pratchett - Snuff launch

Terry Pratchett

The Wonderful F*nny (The Elizabethan)

To celebrate the launch of Terry Pratchett’s 50th book, aboard the paddle steamer The Wonderful F*nny, I travelled to London and Westminster Pier where the uniformed gent on the door seemed to think I needed helping in(=down). I was OK-ish.

It was a beautiful evening! The kind of London evening I so often get, which makes me want to live in London, and also makes my camera trigger finger itch. (But you can see how good I am with that. Especially in the dark.)

Drinks and nibbles on the top deck. Spinach toast and something salmony with seeds. So that was both the spinach and the sesame seeds to adorn my teeeth dealt with pretty swiftly. I chatted to one lucky fan who had won her invitation at Terry’s talk the previous evening.

A speaker whose name I’ve already forgotten did a talk (admirably early for these things) about how well Snuff has sold this first week and then he presented Terry with a 50-year-old bottle of something or other. And a framed picture with the sales figures on…

After all that praise Terry had to say something. Not sure he had prepared a speech, and his microphone technique left some of it inaudible to some. Not me. I was that close. He asked us to convey his thanks to Mrs P, further down the boat, for allowing him to go out and play every day. Write. Then he cried a bit and that was that. We resorted to applause to prevent ourselves from joining him.

Before The Wonderful F*nny set sail, or whatever it is paddle steamers do, some people disembarked, leaving more boat for the rest of us. Random’s Philippa came and suggested I should talk to Terry. But first I said hello to Rob, who greeted me by saying he remembered how we had met in that hotel room. Quite.

Terry thought I was smaller – or taller? – than last time. I’m not sure which. And because he is Terry – and possibly Vimes, too – I allowed that unspeakable thing to happen. Author photo, with fan attached. I apologise.

Terry Pratchett and Bookwitch

And you know, paddle steamers actually do have those paddle things, and they swirl around and paddle. I’d not stopped to think about this, so was unaccountably surprised. I stood outside on what might be called the aft deck or something similarly daft, for most of the trip. Just wish someone hadn’t thought to mention the Titanic.



Tower Bridge

London on the river in the dark is nice. Very nice. I felt very privileged, being on such a wonderful boat, being paddled all the way down past Tower Bridge and back to Westminster again. Seeing the lit up bridges, with worryingly little headroom for us, and all the sights from the National Theatre to The Globe, St Paul’s, the Tower, HMS Belfast and all the rest. Perfect.

Also just that little bit different from what goes on in Snuff. Have you read it yet? Terry thinks it’s old hat by now, because he’s busy with Happy Families (which I think is what I wasn’t supposed to tell you about last year) and the other book.

Thank you to Terry’s Lynsey who made The Wonderful F*nny do all this, and then went so far as to invite me. And thank you to Terry for writing all those books so that it happened.

Travelling interlude

If you read this – and let’s face it, would I even remove a brief masterpiece like this if I am not too half dead to blog in the early hours? – I am in bed. I’m Blue Petering again, making sure your elevenses will not be interrupted by shrieks of disappointment because the witch chose sleep over duty.

Wednesday evening had a London book event on offer, which was too good to pass up. But returning to the grim north on the last train, should it decide to not be cancelled, is truly late. And I’m being realistic. I’m old. I occasionally get tired.

Shut up witch.

Enjoy your coffee now, and if you’re lucky there will be time, not to mention energy, for me to blog before heading west later on today.

Now, when did I say I was giving up travelling? And did I happen to mention how I was intending to do it?