Monthly Archives: August 2014

Lizday

At 9.59 there was considerable panic among Horrid Henry fans. Parents were seen running with their children across Charlotte Square, and then back again a minute or so later. It’s also known as ‘I didn’t need the toilet before but now I do.’ The event started at 10.

Liz Kessler

Francesca Simon

My first – literary – port of call was with Liz Kessler. I then had half an hour in which to take pictures of her signing, run across the square to see if I could catch Francesca Simon still at it, and then get myself to my second event with Gill Lewis. That’s when I remembered I had a book I wanted Liz to sign, and being a popular sort lady she still had a long queue and I wasn’t anywhere near the front of it. So I thrust the book at her publisher Fiona Kennedy and asked her to see to it that Daughter got an autograph. Surprisingly, Fiona seemed to know who I was.

Gill Lewis

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

After Gill’s event I had slightly longer, so had time to take pictures of her, and to dash across the square for Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart in the other signing tent. Had to remember to go back to base and get my hopefully signed book back. Then I went to meet Caroline Lawrence, whose Saturday event I had been forced to miss, but who very kindly sacrificed some of her time on me today.

Norse monster

Norse monster

Norse monster

Kate O'Hearn

We decided there was time for an ice cream – because we both carried spare food in our rucksacks, so didn’t need lunch – and we exchanged news and discussed what’s hot and what she’s working on now, and then she ran on to hear Kate O’Hearn, whose rather fantastic team of Norse monsters were a sight to behold. I caught up with them in the bookshop an hour later, where they chatted to babies (who will never forget this early literary experience) and posed and were generally rather unsusual.

Michael Rosen

Meanwhile I had found Michael Rosen signing across the square, talking to his young fans with his normal charm and performing facial acrobatics. He too had caused a late rush on the toilets, so that seems to be a hazard with young fans.

Simon Armitage

‘Backstage’ I found Carol Ann Duffy and I saw Peter Guttridge at a safe distance from sleeve-tugging. Again. While I waited for Simon Armitage to come to his photocall, Kate O’Hearn and her monsters returned, and thanks to Chris Close I got another opportunity to snap these fantastic creatures.

Kate O'Hearn

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Laird

Chris Riddell

My final event this book festival was another couple of Elizabeths; Laird and Wein. I even had a few minutes during which to take photos of Liz and Liz, as well as of Chris Riddell who was still signing away an hour after his Goth Girl talk, before I ran off to find a tram to the airport. It was high time to collect Daughter from her Californian adventure.

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Ghost Soldier

This week’s war events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have got me started on the war books again. I read and enjoyed Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier, which is aimed at younger readers. That in itself is an indication that some good things need to happen before the end, but it is still about WWI and things are bad as well.

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Set in a small village in Scotland, Rob’s and Millie’s father has been away for some time and his letters have stopped coming, when there is a telegram to say he is missing in action. Their mother falls to pieces and it’s up to Rob to look after things.

He gets the idea to search for his father, and while this sounds an improbable action to take, considering the war is abroad and he is in Scotland, it works much better than you’d think. His little sister Millie turns out to be just as determined, and she’s a real asset in their fight against adults who don’t understand.

Witnessing friends and neighbours finding out about their lost ones brings home the horrors and realities of war. Someone somewhere is always finding out that their soldier is dead. At the same time normal life goes on.

If a WWI story can be lovely, this is it. It’s not just a re-hashing of the same old facts, and the Scottish rural setting brings something to the children’s efforts to find their dad. Lots of brave acts from lots of people, and much kindness.

But people still die, or are wounded.

A family affair

I was going to go with Mothers and Daughters, but then I didn’t have mine with me and Wendy Meddour was rather more than mother and daughter with Mina May. The whole clan was there, and where would we have been without the running commentary from youngest son? He was lovely. So was the older one telling his brother to be quiet. And the one in between who liked Steve Cole.

Wendy Meddour

As were all of them. Admittedly, Wendy’s mother didn’t let her have pierced ears (she does now, though, and she wears beautifully dangly ear rings) or pointy shoes when she was young(er). Nor does it seem that the parents were in on Wendy’s invisible dog. She had it for a year and a half when she was a little girl. (I didn’t take proper notes, but I think it was a golden retriever.)

Wendy’s own little girl towers over her mother, as daughters do. Not only has Mina May done the illustrations for all three Wendy Quill books, but she showed us how to draw. I have never drawn such a great rat or spooky ghost as I did yesterday afternoon. In fact, I’d say we were all pretty artistically enabled. We did so well. Although the adults never got any sweeties.

Possibly for the best. Our teeth would fall out.

Mina May

As I was saying, Mina teaches like an adult. (And I know it’s irrelevant, but that was one fantastic pale green lace dress she wore!) She is just about an adult at 13, seeing how she sent her first portfolio of pictures to a publisher at the age of eight. By the time Wendy Quill came to be, the publisher felt Mina’s illustrations were better than her mum’s.

The audience was asked what parts they had played in the school play, and we had two angels, a Mary, a scorpion and a cow. And then there was Wendy’s crocodile’s bottom.

Wendy read from the crocodile book, and we had the scene where Kevin, the school rat, jumps out of the teacher’s handbag, and later on we jumped on our bed to make our big sister’s diary fall off the out-of-reach shelf.

Wendy Meddour and Mina May signing

All in all, a fun afternoon. And I do like a woman who not only comes out about her invisible dog, but takes her children to work.

The mummies have it

To go or not to go? Well, first I needed the ‘rest.’ Then I found I needed rest from the resting. So I went. I wanted to, really, because Wendy Meddour and Mina May were debuting in Charlotte Square and I didn’t want to miss it.

Wendy Meddour and Mina May

As I arrived I first noticed Wendy’s eldest son, and only then did I see that I was walking behind the whole family. How I can recognise children of people I’ve never met, is another thing.

Secret Agent Mummy

I was early, so sat in the yurt for a bit, when at the corner of my eye I seemed to see a man covered in bandages walk past. And I mean totally covered in them. It had to be Steve Cole. No one else is quite that crazy. Worked out that I could waylay him – if it was him – close to his event. There was a photocall for Michael Morpurgo, but a bandaged Steve trumps MM. (I suppose he must have slipped in the shower this morning, or something.)

My plan was successful and the mummy said hello and gave me hug (so whoever it was, seemed to know me) and said he’d maybe forgive me later for going to someone else’s event and not his.

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo was still there when I went to look, so I didn’t even have to go without. He had come to lend a hand for someone by the name of Barroux, about whom I know nothing. MM didn’t wear his customary hat, as apparently he hates it. Now we know.

Linda Strachan and Emma Barnes

Went to Wendy’s event, with her illustrator daughter Mina May. Encountered Linda Strachan and Emma Barnes outside, so we chatted. I knew Emma’s name from somewhere, but not her face. We concluded I had reviewed her (very enjoyable) book, but we hadn’t met before. Told Linda I was sorry to have missed her Hamish event on Wednesday, as I love Hamish and it was about the very topical Bannockburn.

Steve Cole

I had asked Steve (or whoever) to sign slowly, so that he’d still be there when Wendy and Mina got to the bookshop. He did and he was, and it seems as if it really must have been him all the time. (Who else would be idiot enough to wander around looking like that? He’d even crossed the road wearing his outfit, and not got arrested. I suppose August in Edinburgh makes anything look normal.)

Steve Cole, Wendy Meddour and Mina May

As there was only one of him, the Secret Agent Mummy agreed to let mummy Wendy have one of his chairs to sit on. Later, when one of Wendy’s sons wanted to buy a copy of Steve’s book she asked if he was sure he wanted to spend his money on this. He was. Sensible boy. They were all nice, actually. Funny, too. The mummies, I mean.

Secret Agent Mummy and victim

Lots of weird photos later I went home. A light workload is quite a good thing on occasion. And I like my authors funny.

Breaking down barriers to books and reading

You can’t help but feel dreadfully inspired by talks on how to help more people to read! In this case it was dyslexia and – primarily – Barrington Stoke who told a packed theatre on Tuesday about what goes wrong and what can be done to make reading better. I know it’s stupid, but you sort of come away from an event like that wishing you were dyslexic.

I’m not and I’m very grateful that I’m not, but it’s the sheer inspiration you get and the feeling of hope that you can make reading easier.

Mairi Kidd from Barrington Stoke talked about how you read. There are two ways; recognising the whole word, and working your way through a word letter by letter. It’s important the letters don’t look too similar, so they go out of their way to make b and p and q look different from each other in as many ways as they can.

She teased us with English words and names that just don’t do what you expect, like victual, epitome and Milngavie. Serifs are good and so is line spacing of 1.5, tinted background, and thicker than normal paper.

Many boys have not seen men read. That’s a dreadful statement, but probably more true than we can imagine. Good role models are important. Many books are too long (how I agree!). And then there are the must reads, like Harry Potter. Also too long.

Lucy Juckes founded Barrington Stoke 16 years ago with her mother-in-law. Lucy’s husband is dyslexic, as well as one of their four children. Now that their son is 16, his father is no longer allowed to cheat at Scrabble. She told us how they tried to help with reading, and how they have resorted to bribes when necessary.

Removing the pressure to read and using common sense are other obvious tips. And picture books! They end far too soon. There should be no reason why every age can’t have picture books. It’s like you are punished for learning to read books with only words in them. Barrington Stoke will have an app out in October, which should be another useful aid to reading.

Among the suggestions during the Q&A session were to invite authors to school libraries, to make potential readers more interested. Asking an author to become patron of reading at your school is another way. Vivian French who chaired the event said she had successfully introduced scribes who write down stories that young people come up with, in effect making them authors’ peers, which gives them new status.

Someone complained that there aren’t enough girls’ books in the Barrington Stoke range. Mairi agreed that more effort had been used on getting boys to read, but that they are now looking to publish more books for girls.

After the event they offered a workshop in the adjacent theatre for those who wanted to discuss this some more. For the rest of us there was a guided talk in the bookshop, showing us all the latest books. (It was a little crowded – which is good – and I returned later that evening for a second look. Lots of excellent books. You don’t need to find reading hard to want to try them.)

How to – not – write ten books

Arne Dahl and John Harvey, who appeared together at Charlotte Square on Tuesday evening, have something in common, apart from being crime writers. They both intended to write a crime series of ten books, rather like Sjöwall & Wahlöö. Both failed, by writing too many. John also failed spectacularly at pronouncing the names of his heroes, but Arne pointed out that it is hard, so he might as well carry on saying it wrong.

They were talking with Russel McLean who began by talking so fast that I suspected we might be done after twenty minutes. The rest of the time he laughed so much that he nearly cried. The two authors were reasonably amusing, but they weren’t that funny…

Although, I did find John quite interesting, with a nice sense of humour. He started by trying to hang his coat on some invisible hook and ended up throwing it on the floor, sending his cap after it with a flourish.

Arne Dahl

On the basis that guests go first, Arne began by reading an extract from his most recently translated book, To the Top of the Mountain. (I’d have been interested in knowing who translated it.) One fervent fan in the audience wanted to know how soon she could have all his novels in translation. She has all 23 in Swedish and reads them with the help of a dictionary (that’s what I call determination), but felt that translations would be helpful. I should say so!

John read from his Darkness Darkness, Resnick’s last case, which is partly set during the miners’ strike, and the part he read was definitely an ‘ouch’ kind of extract. He said this would be the last book about Charlie Resnick, but apparently he has said that before. The difference being that he lied on previous occasions. Well, we’ll see about that.

Both Arne and John praised each other’s books so much, that compliments were flying across the stage. Arne plots with the help of post-its and arrows which he puts on the floor. But as he pointed out, when he had small children, anything could happen. John has tried listening to young people in secret, to learn how they speak, but he couldn’t understand a word they said. But he has learned to tweet.

And who’d have thought that this man spent several years writing pulp fiction and teen romances? Writing a book every month for four years helped teach him the craft of writing.

At this point Russel’s phone made itself known, which was a little embarrassing for a man who had told the rest of us to switch ours off.

Talking of translations, Arne’s novels have been translated into 30 languages, and whereas he can read some of them, he has no idea what has happened when the Estonian version comes back and only half of it seems to be there.

The crime in crime novels is not what’s important. It is mainly there to facilitate the story. And because it’s what publishers want.

The long day

You can’t get into Charlotte Square before 9.30. I’d do well to remember that, and I could – and should – stay in bed for longer. But a witch can always read, so on Tuesday morning time was killed with Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier.

Thanks to Theresa’s generosity I was able to be her husband for the morning. Not as nice a one as her regular Mr B, but I did my best. And I can confirm that while I was in the authors’ events prep area, I didn’t hear anything. At all.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

Then I went along to Theresa’s school event with Mary Hooper, and afterwards in the bookshop I listened in amazement as Theresa asked a female fan (obviously in her upper teens) if she was the school librarian  – from one of the visiting schools. It was quite clear that she was a mature upper secondary school student. No. Apparently she was the head teacher. (The librarian was the greyhaired ponytailed gent next to her.)

Eating a sandwich very fast before my next event, I ended up letting four Swedes share my table. I didn’t share my Swedish-ness with them, however. I listened as they speculated on the nature of Charlotte Square. Apparently it’s a bookfair of some kind. ‘But where are the books?’ one of them asked. Quite. The book festival as a mere coffeeshop for tourists.

Ran into Keith Charters, who was clutching 60 copies of  David MacPhail’s Yeti On the Loose. Did some heavy hinting, which resulted in Keith handing over 59 copies to the bookshop. I mean, he had promised me one ages ago.

After school event no.2 I chatted a little with Linda Newbery, Tony Bradman and Paul Dowswell, getting my anthology signed by all three, each in the right places. Then went in search of Cathy MacPhail’s son David, and found him where I thought he’d be but not where Keith had said, along with his mother and a lovely baby. I’d been told he’d be a slightly taller version of his mum, which as Cathy drily pointed out wasn’t hard to achieve. I forgot to take a picture, but got my Yeti signed with an extra generous RAAAAAR! Then I admired the baby.

Wrote yesterday’s onsite blog post, before learning that Son and Dodo were coming over to entertain me, and to have coffee. It had got unexpectedly warm and sunny, and Son complained. We chatted, saw Ian Rankin arrive, noticed the longbearded gent from earlier years, and came to the conclusion that the scones which used to be of almost home made quality, were just dry and boring.

Son and Dodo went off to search for more Maisie books, and I had my Dyslexia event to go to. Glimpsed Nicola Morgan and Val McDermid (not together) and then it rained and got unexpectedly cold. I repaired to the yurt for a restorative sandwich and an even more restorative sip of cola to keep me awake, as well as find that cardigan I suddenly needed.

Arne Dahl

Anne Cassidy

Waited for Arne Dahl to turn up for his photocall, and did the best I could when he did, considering how dark and wet it was. He seemed bemused by the attention. While waiting for Arne’s event with John Harvey (whom I’d have snapped too, had I known who he was…) I walked over to the children’s bookshop and caught Anne Cassidy and Emma Haughton (who does not have long brown hair, after all) signing post-event.

Emma Haughton

And after a much longer day than someone my age should attempt, I limped along Princes Street for my late train home. Someone at Waverley told me to smile. He’s lucky I’m a peaceful sort of witch.