Category Archives: Authors

Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

Yesterday saw the long awaited birth of Kirkland Ciccone’s first ever Scottish YA book festival Yay! YA+, and I really appreciate his thoughtfulness in arranging it for the day on which I celebrated my first year in Scotland. Kirkie had lined up ten teen authors, 200 teens and one tardis-like venue in the shape of the Cumbernauld Theatre. In Cumbernauld. He also arranged for the lovely people of Scotia Books to come and sell books, and between you and me, they not only had the good taste to like my sense of humour, but their mobile shop was the best I’ve seen.

Scotia Books

Once we were all in, Kirkland explained how some authors would ‘be taken out’ and split up into tiny pieces. Yeah. I don’t think he meant that literally. He wanted to say that six of the authors would be ensconced in their own little rooms (=bars and subterranean dressing rooms), where smaller groups of the audience would come to hear them read from their books, or talk about their writing, or anything else they might want to do. Ten times. Eek!

Kirkland Ciccone

Cathy MacPhail

Meanwhile, Cathy MacPhail, Theresa Breslin and Barry Hutchison stayed in the main theatre and each had 25 minutes in which to charm the half of the audience left behind, which they did with real style. Twice. Multi award-winner Cathy started by sharing the trailer to her film Another Me, based on a nightmare she once had. She can see a story in anything (perhaps because she’s from Greenock, where you know everyone), and Cathy is surprised she writes such scary books, when she really is such a nice person.

Theresa Breslin

Theresa brought her gasmask, which looked quite uncomfortable to wear, and some shrapnel from WWI. She reminisced about travelling to America a month after September 11th, and hearing he same words then, that soldiers used a 90 years earlier to describe why they went to war. Some things never change. She read a tense bit from Remembrance, before telling us how good it is to write YA for teens, as they will read everything, with no set ideas of what a book has to be.

Barry Hutchison

Last but not least, Barry Hutchison talked about his fears, so it was back to his perennially entertaining tales of ‘Death and Squirrels’ and his childhood concern whether the dead squirrel was ‘proper dead’ or might come back and attack the young Barry. I can listen to his tale of weeing in the kitchen sink as many times as he will tell it. Or about his friend Derek. Barry read from The 13th Horseman, which must have made half the children want to buy a copy.

Roy Gill and Lari Don

There was lunch – with cupcakes and fruit – and signings and even some time for hanging out. Keith Charters turned up, and admitted to a life-long ignorance of sharpies. That’s not why he came, but, still. I contemplated stealing Kirkie’s sharpies-filled lunchbox, but didn’t.

Keith Charters

After the eating I aligned myself with half the group from Cumbernauld Academy for my rounds of the nether regions of the theatre, and they were both lovely and polite as well as interested in books. Although, I joined them after their session with Linda Strachan – in the bar – which unfortunately meant I actually missed Linda’s seven minute show, as I was sitting out the empty slot with Alex Nye (one school was missing). And you’ll think I have something against Linda, since she is the only one who does not appear in any of my – frankly substandard – photos (photographer had better things to do…).

Alex Nye

Anyway, Alex spoke about her cool books, Chill and Shiver, featuring snow and ghosts, before we went to join Matt Cartney who not only sat in a warm bar, but who had been to the Sahara. Admittedly, he had been to Hardangervidda as well. His Danny Lansing Adventures (Matt loves adventures!) are set in sand, and snow, and wherever else Matt might find inspiration.

Matt Cartney

Lari Don read from Mind Blind, which was her first non-fantasy, for older readers. She had been troubled by not being able to solve problems with magic. Lari is very good with school children. We then found Roy Gill in one of the dressing rooms, and the poor man was only allowed five minutes with us, so raced like crazy through his werewolves and a reading from his latest book.

Kirkland Ciccone

We finished in another dressing room where Victoria Campbell had brought her Viking weapons. Just imagine, small basement room full of young teenagers and some – possibly not totally lethal – weapons. She dressed one volunteer in a spiky helmet but didn’t let go of either the Dane Axe or the sword. Victoria asked what the best thing so far had been, and my group reckoned it was the selfies! Apparently some of her Viking interest comes from a short period living in Sweden (good taste). Before we left her, there was an almighty scream from – I would guess – Roy’s dressing room.

Victoria Campbell with Viking

Ever the optimist, Kirkie had scheduled a panel session at the end (a full 20 minutes!), chaired by Keith. Unsurprisingly, the authors had different opinions on nearly everything. But the questions were good. Very good. This was one fine audience.

KIrkland Ciccone tweets

Theresa brought out a gift for Kirkie, which might have been a chocolate boot. And while the panel wound things up, he and some of the others hastily got ready to run off to Edinburgh, where they had an(other) event to go to. All good things come in twos.

Theresa Breslin gives Kirkland Ciccone the chocolate boot at Yay! YA+

The very lovely Barry Hutchison offered to remove me from the premises, on his way home to Fort William, which meant I was able to actually leave Cumbernauld – something that had worried me considerably earlier in the week. He set me down outside the newsagent’s after some nice conversation, and a secret.

My verdict of the day is that if we can only get Kirkland to speak less loudly in places, this worked really quite well. Might let him repeat it, if he can find more dark corners in which to stash Scotland’s finest.

(I found the photo below on facebook, and because it has Linda Strachan in it, I decided to borrow the picture, a little.)

Linda Strachan, Lari Don, Roy Gill, Alex Nye and Kirkland Ciccone

Anzac Boys

In time for Anzac Day tomorrow, I bring you Tony Bradman’s Anzac Boys; a dyslexia friendly short novel on WWI as seen from the other side of the world. And a little bit from ‘our’ end as well.

Tony Bradman, Anzac Boys

Tony writes about orphans Bert and Frank, who first end up in a children’s home in London in 1906 when their mother dies. They are soon sent off to Australia, to a ‘better life’ as the priest at the orphanage says. Bert is 12 and Frank is 9, so Bert needs to look out for his little brother and promises him always to be there.

When they arrive in Australia they are separated and there is nothing Bert can do to help Frank, who is shipped off to New Zealand. What follows are eight years of hard work on farms, often being treated badly, but with life getting a little better for Bert once he’s old enough to be allowed to have a say in where he goes and who he works for. And then war breaks out.

Bert enlists and is sent off to ‘Europe’ to fight, and much to his surprise and delight he finds Frank again, with the New Zealand army. But Frank hates his brother for deserting him.

We follow the brothers to Gallipoli, and I’m not going to tell you what happens there…

This is very sad, and very inspirational, and most of the ‘ingredients’ are true, even if there were no actual Bert and Frank Barker.

Werewolf Parallel

Do you remember Daemon Parallel, where unspeakable things happened at [maybe] Jenners department store, and where Cameron realises his granny is not quite like other grannies? Crazy, loopy, insane. Quite old, too.

As I suspected he would, Roy Gill has written a sequel, by popular request. It’s a good thing he did. Not only was Cameron still alive at the end of the first book, but I’d say Werewolf Parallel is even better.

Roy Gill, Werewolf Parallel

With granny gone, it’s down to Cameron and his friends Morgan and Eve to carry on her work and to survive on their own, if at all possible. ‘The cake cover was shuffling along the desk…’ That sort of thing. (I’d advise caution if you ever find any cake covers you are responsible for shuffling along anything at all.)

There is a wicked astrophysicist. Shame, really. There are grey blobs, ancient gods and lots and lots of weird and wonderful things all over Edinburgh. I’ll have to study my surroundings much more carefully when I’m next at Waverley station, for instance. All those secret railway routes.

And as you can guess from the title, there are a fair number of werewolves, along with a few surprises on the wolf front.

Very enjoyable, and I wouldn’t put it past Roy to accidentally write a third Parallel novel. After all, he didn’t kill everyone off this time, either. If Edinburgh is up for it, then so are we.

Desirable

Oh how I needed this book! I know, it’s been waiting for my attention a bit longer than it should have, but I was truly grateful for Desirable once I got to it.

You know, slightly bad day and you need something reliably uplifting and fun. That’s Frank Cottrell Boyce for you. Desirable. (That’s the title…)

George is a loser, and it’s brought home to him when even his Grandad can’t quite be bothered to do much for his birthday. No one else came to the party, and Grandad left pretty swiftly, after having given George the very same item that George’s mum once gave her dad (I believe it’s called re-gifting).

Although, perhaps Grandad knew what he was doing? George’s boring life suddenly changes. He becomes desirable. Not that that is necessarily as desirable as you’d think before you reached desirablity.

Frank Cottrell Boyce and Cate James, Desirable

This story is as heartwarming and funny as you would expect from Frank, and with very ‘undesirable’ illustrations from Cate James, in a desirable sort of fashion, if you know what I mean?

Those teachers are downright weird. Just saying.

The #14 profile – Tanya Landman

It appears I just managed to tie Tanya Landman down to answering some questions right in the middle of some serious travelling. Recently back from Istanbul (who says an author’s life is not charmed?), I understand she is about to travel to Sharjah, for its Children’s Reading Festival. I’m guessing they feel about Tanya as I do after having read two of her fabulous novels, that she’s not a bad author to invite.

Here is Tanya, telling you some of her trade secrets in my latest profile:

Tanya Landman

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Ouch. Do I have to answer that one?

Really? You’ll apply thumbscrews if I don’t????

OK, OK – if I must….

One and a half. (But PLEASE don’t mention this ever again. They were dire.)

Best place for inspiration?

Asleep in bed. Seriously. I quite often wake up with new ideas or solutions to plot problems that have been bugging me.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I do. (My real name is Eunice Petunia Biggs III.)

What would you never write about?

Anything creepy. I am a complete wuss when it comes to scary supernatural things. Vampires, demons, ghosts…I can’t cope with reading it so I certainly couldn’t write it.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

The Houses of Parliament at the launch of the Summer Reading Challenge just after the last election. I got my fingers stuck together whilst trying to eat an unexpectedly gooey fondant fancy and couldn’t shake anyone by the hand. Ed Vaizey gave a speech. (I should have headbutted him when I had the chance.)

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

I love Charley (Buffalo Soldier), Siki (Apache) and Itacate (Goldsmith’s Daughter) but they have such a tough time I wouldn’t want to be any of them. Poppy Fields just KEEPS on finding dead bodies, which might get tiring. I think Katrina Picket (Waking Merlin) would be best – she gets to ride on a dragon AND save the world.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Good thing. Deffo. I’m expecting a call from Johnny Depp any day now.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

‘When your son was sick on the swirly-whirly super de-luxe leather executive chair – what colour was the vomit?’

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I have magic scritchy-scratching fingers that can make a pig faint with happiness.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia. Talking animals? Timmy just can’t compete.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

ABBA

ABBA. They count as one person, right?

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

Arrange? You what??? Mine are stacked double on shelves or standing in piles. It’s all a total muddle and I can’t ever find a thing.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Stig of the Dump. Works every time.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

I am confused. I mean if I’m writing I’m reading what I’ve written, aren’t I? Or am I supposed to write blindfolded?

I suspect that Eunice Petunia didn’t take these questions all that seriously. Which is good, as it means she was obeying my orders. Although, that tin foil was stretching things a bit, even for me. It seems that if Tanya can switch off the tin foil a little, she might have chosen Thomas Lundqvist, genius puppeteer, instead. (No, I’d never heard of him, either.)

(If anyone is up for doing profile #13, get in touch with me…)

Blindside

Blindside is a dyslexia friendly revised version of Aidan Chambers’s Cycle Smash, from almost 50 years ago. If you read it as an adult, your heart will be in your mouth as young Nate cycles off into the evening. Because you can imagine it being your child and you can tell what must be about to happen.

But if you’re a teenager, it will presumably just read like an interesting and exciting story about an athlete who likes running, and who is about to go on to great things. Were it not for the bike accident, of course.

Aidan Chambers, Blindside

Seriously injured, Nate is furious that he won’t be running again, and is not terribly grateful for actually being alive. We see him in his hospital bed, feeling sorry for himself and ready to do really stupid things. But then – and I reckon this is where the original date of the story shows through – his kindly nurse tells him what she thinks of his behaviour and sets him off on a new course.

Because there are people far worse off than Nate, and it’s time he realised this. As he does, you might want a tissue handy.

And if you are a parent, you’ll be out locking your child’s bike away.

Totte, or Thomas

Author and illustrator Gunilla Wolde died earlier this week. I realise that many of my English language readers won’t know her. On the other hand, you might. I was surprised, and delighted, to find that author Guy Bass made his parents read Thomas bakes a cake every night for two years. That’s the kind of tenacity that pays off eventually. (Or they try and have you adopted.)

Gunilla Wolde, Totte badar

As with many Swedish authors, Gunilla’s books came too late for the young Bookwitch to read at the appropriate age. But being classics, they were widely available when Offspring appeared on the scene. (I’m actually not sure, but I suspect I owned mine well before Offspring arrived. I think I just liked the look of the books.)

I tried searching for them now, so I could tell you more, but couldn’t find where I’ve stashed them. The one that has stayed in my memory the most, is when Totte – or Thomas, as he is in translation – goes to the doctor. There is something about toddlers facing injections, or putting plasters on their teddies, that makes a lasting impression on you. (Perhaps I didn’t dare show Offspring those injections, in case they thought that’s what happens when you go to the doctor’s.)

Looking for cover images you find so many, in several languages, which brings home to you quite how popular Gunilla’s books were. Are. And if you study the ‘Swedish’ images page carefully, you will find illustrations that might be too, well, too Scandinavian for readers in some countries.

So you’re probably safest with Thomas bakes a cake.