Chickens and Cherry Blossom

I do hope Hilary McKay’s gas supplier continues to send her plenty of gas bills for her to pay. Don’t misunderstand me, but if that’s the main reason she writes those wonderful books, then Hilary must be ‘persuaded’ to keep going.

Hilary McKay

We finally made our 2015 Charlotte Square debut yesterday, and started cautiously, going to just the one event. But it was a well chosen talk, where Hilary was in conversation with Gwyneth Rees (whom I’d not seen since a fairy event eight years ago), chaired by Hannah Love, who is a hard one, promising to keep every mobile phone that dared make a sound. (There were none, but that will be because she scared us into obedience.)

The audience consisted of mainly fairly small fairy types, so I felt distinctly on the old side, while being someone who grew up on the Famous Five, just like the two authors. Hilary set out to write a Famous Five kind of story with her – so far – two Binny books, where you have your summer holidays and your parents don’t see you for six weeks because you’re out doing things on your own.

Gwyneth’s new book, Cherry Blossom Dream, is about a pair of twins and an old house, as well as tarantulas and a python, and the embarrassment of having your mum go out with your teacher. She reckons she can always control her characters, who can be reeled in if necessary.

Gwyneth Rees

Hilary, on the other hand, finds her characters take over, and she gets tired of them. When asked, she decided it’d be quite nice to kill them, but that this won’t do for the age group she writes for. Her intended reader is neither male nor female; she writes for people. And there was a lot of moaning on her part before she was allowed to have a yellow book cover. Writer’s block is not a myth, according to Hilary, who suffers from it a lot, and thinks it’s ridiculous that her short books take a year to write. Right now she’s working on re-writing 12 fairy stories, and having done two, needs ten more before Christmas. So if you have any ideas…

The two authors have different family backgrounds, which might or might not influence what they write. Hilary is the eldest of four sisters, while Gwyneth was an only child until she was twelve. Gwyneth longed for siblings, and Hilary wanted somewhere to be by herself. And the last thing she wants is for the Casson family to ambush her and insist on another book. (Hilary might be alone in this.)

Gwyneth begins her books with the characters, and Hilary has an end she has to work towards, often starting with a (later deleted) conversation between her characters. There will be a yellow covered book for Gwyneth next time, and from Hilary we can look forward to Binny no. 3.

When Hilary counted them last week, she had written 81 books. She can’t afford to stop, what with those gas bills pouring in. Gwyneth thinks she might have written about 22 books. She writes down ideas so she won’t forget, but can never remember what was so good about them later. Hilary has a folder of ideas which she turns to in desperation.

Well I don’t know, but both authors had a long line of fans waiting to have their books signed afterwards. They won’t need to hang up their laptops anytime soon.

I finally got to meet Mr McKay, and I also came face to face with Hilary’s friendly publicist who does such a great job. I couldn’t remember where I’d met Hannah Love before, but luckily she knew. And I reconnected with Gwyneth’s publicist as well, so there was a lot of chattering going on.

It also seems that my Photographer had walked past Hilary in St Andrews the day before, ignoring her shouting and waving… (At the Photographer. I’m not suggesting Hilary goes round shouting or waving her arms in the air, in general.)

Val McDermid

We also caught glimpses of Alexander McCall Smith, Val McDermid and Charlie Fletcher. As I said, it was a brief day, and we were a bit laidback about hunting authors on our first day. But they were there.

Charlie Fletcher

And as the sun set on Albert, we found Son and Dodo and went off for pizza.

Charlotte Square

(All photos by Helen Giles)

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