Author Archives: bookwitch

The 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist

FREE TO USE - Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist is announced.

It’s Scottish shortlist time again. Scottish Book Trust have announced the shortlisted books for the 2016 awards, and here they are:

Bookbug Readers (3-7 years)

Never Tickle a Tiger by Pamela Butchart and Marc Boutavant
Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit Book Burglar by Emily MacKenzie
Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock and Ali Pye

Younger Readers (8-11 years)

The Nowhere Emporium by Ross Mackenzie
The Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island: The Lost Children by Gillian Philip
The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird

Older Readers (12-16 years)

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
The Piper by Danny Weston (the pseudonym of Philip Caveney)
Trouble on Cable Street by Joan Lingard

Over the next five months, children in Scotland will be reading the three shortlisted books in their age category and voting for their favourite. The three winning books will be announced at a special award ceremony on 2 March 2016.

As always, let the best books win! Especially the Bookwitch favourites. Although that could be difficult, as I have read and liked more than one in some cases.

Work Experience

In the end I imagine it was only chair Jane Sandell and me who had read Andy Mulligan’s new novel Liquidator.* And that’s because it’s not out yet, but they did make an exception at the book festival and keen fans could buy a very early copy there on Sunday afternoon.

I was relieved to hear that Jane had had to read the book in one sitting, as I’d had the same feeling myself and wanted to know I wasn’t wrong. (Not that I usually am, obviously, and as you know, Andy writes Very Good Books.)

It’s all about work experience when you’re at secondary school, and how things can go a little wrong. Andy reckons he was lucky to be made redundant in the 1980s, which meant he ended up travelling to India to work, and then to train as a teacher, before starting to write. The man harvests his characters in the schools where he works or has worked. With the right children in the right school you have a lot of fun.

He grew up in south London, had Enid Blyton values, went to a boys’ grammar school, and so on. His father wanted a ‘real boy’ but thanks to a great teacher who encouraged him, Andy always sat in his room writing stories.

Jane reminded us of his shot to fame as the author of the book that was kicked off the Blue Peter book award shortlist for p 65. That little spat gave him more publicity than winning the award would have done.

In case people in the audience didn’t know what work experience is, Andy explained it. I suspect we have all done it, in some form or other, but these days it’s harder than ever to get something worthwhile to do. As a teacher he always hopes that his pupils will come back having been allowed to land the plane or wield the scalpel in the operating theatre, being inspired in what they could do when they are older.

Liquidator took Andy two and a half years to write, and he said his lovely publisher David Fickling was very critical at times, and told Andy to ‘make him cry,’ meaning he hadn’t yet. What Andy wanted to achieve was real jeopardy for his characters, not the Blyton style risk that ten-year-olds want.

Ribblestrop is a mishmash of several schools (which for obvious reasons can’t be named); ones with troubled pupils, and because of them, troubled teachers too.

Andy Mulligan

Asked how he knew what a rubbish dump in the Philippines was like, he explained he’d taken his public school pupils on a school trip to one, so that they would know and understand life better. And he’s very shocked that pupils don’t ever read newspapers these days.

Andy writes books covering lots of genres, but can’t see himself writing fantasy, so had to say no to the child who suggested he put a nice dragon into Trash. You’re allowed to stretch reality and you can break a few rules. But no dragons.

The next book has already reached the first draft stage, and is about a dog that wants to be a cat. (Someone in the audience said she has one like that.) He sees himself only as a children’s books author, and has never dabbled with adult books. Andy is comfortable where he is, and especially so with age group 11 to 16.

*Patience! There will be a review here soon.

You can’t have an Irish road trip

Apparently.

That’s why Derek Landy first wrote his new book after Skulduggery Pleasant as something totally different, before he realised this was no good and he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. So he wrote a new new book during a month after Christmas and moved all of it across the Atlantic to America where they really do road trips, and you can drive for weeks and see no one.

He reckons Demon Road is very good. It’s the best he’s written. This year. He knows that the rule in publishing is that your next book or your next series will never be quite as bestselling as the first. But he’s got used to us loving him, and he feels other books lack a certain Derek-ness.

The audience was full of fans. (At least I believe so, unless it was a cunning plot.) I’d say mostly the sort of age you’d be if you’ve followed Skulduggery for his lifetime (and I don’t mean the hundreds of years he’s had as a skeleton). So when Ann Landmann introduced Derek (in the – for her – unfortunately titled The Waterstones Event with Derek Landy) there was thundering applause for him, which he conveyed home to his mother via mobile phone, as it seems the woman doubted his popularity. Some mothers!

Derek Landy

He’s a sneaky fellow, that Derek. He did the Village Idiot act almost to perfection, and if I’d not read and admired Skulduggery all these years, I’d have been aghast. And I’m trying to visualise him in his 66 Ford Mustang, which he rarely drives at home in Ireland because he feels like a moron when he does. But he likes powerful cars, which is why his male characters drive really interesting ones.

Having stopped being a feminist for a while, he became one again when his girlfriend showed him what it’s like for us girls out there. He loved Valkyrie, and she’s someone who does not need feminism, but his new girl Amber, who is shorter and fatter than average, brought back the need for a bit of feminism. In demon form Amber is a bit of a nutcase, a psychopath. And Derek hasn’t got a clue how the third and last book about her will end.

Someone asked if Derek is Gordon. NO! He is Skulduggery, as will be obvious from how alike they are in every respect… Coming up with the funny names for characters in Skulduggery Pleasant was hard (although there was a competition to get fans to do the work for him…), and with Demon Road the tricky thing is looking everywhere up on Google streetview, as his sudden change of setting meant he had no time for on-site research.

Derek was about the third author in Charlotte Square to extol the virtues of the work of H P Lovecraft. He didn’t set Demon Road in Skulduggery’s world, because if there’s a film deal for one, the film company would automatically own the other books as well. Or something like that.

He never wrote from Skulduggery’s point of view, to keep him as the mysterious genius he must be; an icon, a figurehead, tough hero. (That’s enough now, Derek.) And he (Derek) kills our beloved characters because we love them so much. So he can break our hearts.

Thanks.

Derek Landy

At his signing, we were warned he had a train to catch three hours later, so he’d not have time to do his usual chatting at length with everyone. But looking at his first chattees, he Talked. A. Lot. The Irish do. On the other hand, I did witness him sneaking out the back gate in time for his train.

And talking of trains, as I got off mine, the people in front of me sat proudly brandishing a shiny new copy of Demon Road. I believe I know where they’d been.

It’s easier if the authors are dead

On that cheerful note Chris Riddell and his illustrator pals Chris Haughton and Oliver (but Chris for the day) Jeffers ended a humorous – as well as sold out – Sunday morning talk about drawing pretty pictures. The Haughton Chris was saying he finds it hard to make pictures for someone else’s words, whereas the Riddell Chris went so far as to say he prefers other authors to be dead. If he’s going to illustrate their words, that is. Apparently he’s doing stuff to Lewis Carroll at the moment. (Maybe he didn’t mean it?)

I was so tired I even forgot to switch off my mobile phone, but luckily a good event like this will perk you up. A lot of people had crawled out of bed for it, including some of the Chrises’ peers, including the Irish Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer. I suppose he wanted to check out his UK counterpart, or to see how his illustrator Oliver ‘Chris’ Jeffers performed.

It seems they had already covered the most interesting topics in the yurt, but there was the odd snippet left worth hearing. They sort of interviewed each other, with the Riddell Chris taking the lead. (Well, he is the eldest.) The place to get ideas is in the shower or when making dinner, not sitting at your desk. The Haughton Chris has a rug project, and it now appears all illustrators want to make rugs.

Oliver got his idea for The Great Paper Caper while watching an episode of Columbo, which the Riddell Chris felt explained his coat. As for himself he often begins with the number of pages in his sketchbook. He has a naughty drawer where failed ideas marinate until they can be used. Oliver’s alphabet book came from two bad ideas, that worked when mixed together.

Chris Haughton

The Haughton Chris once had an idea about scale, which didn’t work at all, but which will be out as a book next year, with the title Goodnight Everyone. Riddell’s Goth Girl was based on one bad pun, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes.’ (I reckon you need to read the books to get it.)

They love their editors! The editors adjust the words they have written and make their books good. Oliver’s advice on quality is to trust your own ability. He is his own audience, and only wants to do what he himself likes. Chris Haughton wants everything to be as simple as possible, and keeps reducing until he gets there. Chris Riddell learned from David Lloyd that if you can’t read it aloud, then it is no good. These days he has a very useful daughter, who is quick to judge his work.

A young man in the audience wanted to know how to draw eyes, so all three showed us their eyes. Oliver Jeffers said you only need two dots. Chris R mentioned a ‘talking cockroach with manga eyes’ and Chris H is so ambidextrous he could barely decide which hand to use to hold his ‘great lump of lead.’

Asked how to deal with procrastination and to scare one member of the audience into getting on with it, Oliver told her she’d soon be dead. Chris H had talked about plans for a children’s book for so long, that in the end all he could do was buy a ticket to Bologna and then make sure he had something to show when he got there. Chris R told us about his first meeting with Klaus Flugge’s eyebrows, which caused him to pretend he’d left his story at home, allowing him just one night to write his first book.

So, paint yourself into a corner.

The three listed some of their illustrator heroes, and how you can’t really come up with anything new. You can only try and do the same, but better and prettier.

Oliver’s parents didn’t insist he get a proper job, for which he’s grateful. He and Chris H both work in places where there are many other likeminded people who can inspire and support. And Chris R has his daughter.

Chris Riddell, Chris Haughton and Oliver Jeffers

The father of a six-week-old baby, Oliver is starting to work shorter hours, when before he would do 12 hours seven days a week. You have to relax sometimes, in order to be creative. On the other hand, Chris Riddell relaxes by drawing every day, or he gets fidgety. He has a sketchpad in his pocket all the time. Chris Haughton works quite randomly, and he has those rugs, as well as sketchpads where he collects his ‘best of,’ and words and thinks ahead. Oliver has been known to stare at old notes, not understanding what he’d been thinking when he wrote it.

And here is where they came to the conclusion that dead authors are easier to work with than live ones.

Translated

Another thing I didn’t do on Saturday was translate a book.

Writers retreat

The spectacular translation machine

Daniel Hahn rather thought I must, but I felt better suited taking pictures of those who did and of their work. I know they said you didn’t need to know French, but quite frankly, it was translation of a graphic novel (Barroux’s Alpha: Abidjan – Gare du Nord) from French into English. Do you want your translator to be a linguist, or not?

The spectacular translation machine

Run by Sarah Ardizzone, people dropped in and volunteered to do a bit of the book, all day long. They hung out in the Writers’ Retreat, and everyone seemed to have a good time, in a quiet sort of way. I found the clothes pegs down the side of Daniel’s shirt quite an unusual fashion statement.

The spectacular translation machine

I’d like to see the end result, because I did like the graphic illustrations. Very much.

The spectacular translation machine

Maybe next time I might join in.

Daniel Hahn

Some more Saturday in Charlotte Square

The first thing I decided after travelling in to Edinburgh yesterday morning, was that rubbing shoulders with Francesca Simon had to go. It would have been lovely, but the party at the Edinburgh Bookshop I’d kindly been invited to meant returning home on a late train, full of rugby fans and festival goers. And I like my trains a bit emptier than that!

Chris Close

So it was with a heavy heart that I didn’t go and meet all those authors. (I’d like these festivals and things to be more spread out, and for me to be the only one out travelling on a weekend.)

And I actually bought a book. Chris Close who has been photographing visiting authors since 2009 (that’s when Bookwitch started bookfesting as well), has put some of them into a book and I simply needed to have this book, and Chris signed it (rather more politely than I suggested) for me as well.

Kirkland Ciccone by Chris Close

He also pointed me in the right direction to find his recent photo of Kirkland Ciccone. Kirkie wore his loveliest test card jacket and tie (disappointingly with a plain white shirt) the other day, and it’s not that Chris is a bad photographer, or that your eyesight has gone funny, but he gave Kirkland the 3D treatment. (Personally I suspect the aerial needs adjusting.)

Oliver Jeffers had an event on before I arrived, so I caught him signing in the bookshop afterwards instead. He’d been dressed as one of his characters earlier, but looked more his normal self by then.

Oliver Jeffers

After my photo session with Eoin Colfer, we encountered a small child playing with the ducks. It struck me as unusual, but very sensible. The child’s father tried to claim he was from Fife, but that was the most American Fife accent I’ve ever heard. And I could only partly explain the purpose of the ducks to him.

At this point I spied a man arriving, elegantly dressed in a mac, which I suppose is suitable for a Scottish trip. He was none other than David Fickling, followed by Mrs Fickling. And I forgot to ask what I’d been thinking I needed to ask.

I hung around hoping to take pictures of Darren Shan (you can tell it was most of the Irish boys all in one day), but that didn’t come to anything. He did wear a rather fetching t-shirt as I saw him race past before his event.

So I finished by going to find Marcus Sedgwick in his bookshop signing instead. And that was nice too.

Marcus Sedgwick

W.A.R.P.ed, or when Fong broke his arm

Eoin Colfer

Admittedly it was my own fault. When the programme said Eoin Colfer would be talking about his second WARP book, I could have done my homework and seen that it’d be the third book. But luckily he didn’t really talk about either of them, except to read a chapter from book three, which will be the last. WARP, that is, not from Eoin. He has lots of books coming, already written. (But I could have prepared by acquiring and reading the last WARP. Just so I wouldn’t feel left out.)

Eoin had a photocall session before his event, and he was only scolded once for looking my way and chatting, when he should have looked the other way and been quiet. He recognised me, despite my cunning disguise of cutting my hair.

Eoin Colfer

Anyway, he spent most of his event – which was full of children, mainly boys, of the ‘right’ age – telling us about his eldest son’s broken arm. This is a recurring thing, and I’d say Eoin gets plenty of mileage out of poor Finn’s misfortune. Or Fong, as he’s called when he breaks his arm in France.

Finn gives as good as he gets, though, hugging his father and patting him on the head, because it’s not every dad who wears children’s jeans. In fact, I’d hazard a guess and claim that Eoin’s sons might have taken over where Eoin’s four brothers left off. And it’s not as if Eoin never broke an arm, or tried to splint it with tin foil and stuff. It’s a hard life being a Colfer.

So, Eoin is the kind of author who goes from writing about leprechauns to time travel, because it’s more mature. He told us about his best bad guy, Albert Garrick, and about the witch trials he set up in the 17th century, where he ended up hiding.

With 20 minutes to go, he reckoned he had time for four questions, as Eoin knows he’s the kind of man who never stops talking. There were no remotes in the 1970s, but they had one of the first in Ireland, achieved by throwing things at his baby brother to change channels. He didn’t always want to be an author, but an artist, so began by making comics until he realised he was better at writing.

His favourite book that he didn’t write is Stig of the Dump, and this has something to do with the exhaust in their Renault 4. He liked having a book to read in every room of the house, in case of earth quakes. Eoin also broke the toilet by stuffing books behind the cistern, while his brothers used to pull out the last page of his books. (What did I say about the Colfers?)

Eoin’s favourite authors are Oliver Jeffers, Philip Pullman and Roddy Doyle. At his age he likes short books, in case he dies, and people like Raymond Chandler who wrote 190p books are just the thing.

Favourite book that Eoin did write is The Legend of Spud Murphy, written especially for his favourite son Fong (or was it the other one?). Asked if he has put himself in a book, he didn’t believe he had, until his wife pointed out he’s just like Foaly; sits around all day at his desk, thinking he’s hilarious. To prove it he told us the cardboard box and computer story again.

Future books include one with Oliver Jeffers, and an adult (I hope crime!) one.

Eoin Colfer

When I looked in on Eoin after an hour, he was still signing. And that was without me bringing him all mine.