Category Archives: Authors

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.

The Amnesty readings

If you feel up to the gruesome nature of what some people do to other people, you should go along to one or more of the Amnesty International readings in Charlotte Square. They are free, and they are good, but they could make you cry, as happened to one of the authors reading the other night. But then, if the people who need Amnesty’s help can put up with what’s being done to them, I reckon we can.

I’ve been to two readings this week. The first one had Dreams of Freedom as its theme, and it is also the title of a book published in association with Amnesty. It has short quotes from well known people who have been wrongly imprisoned, and it has been illustrated by famous artists, including Oliver Jeffers and Chris Riddell.

Dreams of Freedom

On Wednesday the authors who read to us were Dub Leffler, Debi Gliori, Michel Faber and D D Everest. They are all different people, but they all read very well, and talked about their pieces in a way to make me want to read more. To do more.

Wednesday’s writers were Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi and Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama). It’s easy to think we know it all, but we don’t. We need to hear more of what’s being done to people.

On Thursday the authors were Paul Magrs, Teri Terry, Priya Parmar and Cecilia Ekbäck. The pieces they read were all excedingly short, but no less powerful. The writers were Alicia Partnoy, Liao Yiwu, Enoh Meyomesse and Stephanie Ndoungo, and what strikes you again and again is how normal their behaviour has been, and still they end up incarcerated.

Amnesty in Edinburgh are asking people to sign a petition to free Atena Farghadani, who is an Iranian artist, punished for posting a cartoon on Facebook, and sentenced to 14 years. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they were both accused of indecent conduct. To sign you can text ATENA and your own FIRST and LAST name to 70505.

Dreams of Freedom

‘Freedom to feel safe.’

Celebrating Young Adult Fiction

Daniel Hahn

There were so many authors for Daniel Hahn’s event on YA literature that we got 15 minutes extra to sort out the seating arrangements, (a rather nice booth at the edge of the Spiegeltent for me) or so he claimed. We should – could – have had much longer. Not so much for the chairs as for the sheer marvel of what everyone had to say, whether or not YA exists. (Some of them reckon it doesn’t.)

Them, were Elizabeth Laird, David Almond, James Dawson and Tanya Landman, plus Agnes Guyon, chair for this year’s Carnegie. That’s four award winners, and one awarder. Daniel said, two of them were suspicious, but he changed that to having suspicions [about YA] when we laughed. The introductions had to be kept short or there would have been no time for the event. Elizabeth has written 150 books, and she claimed ‘most of them rubbish.’ David Almond has won everything, including the Hans Christian Andersen prize. New kid on the block, and reigning Queen of Teen, James Dawson, hasn’t won so much yet, except for the rather spiky QoT crown he keeps in a cupboard. And then there was this year’s Carnegie medalist, Tanya Landman.

With the exception of young James, who did grow up on  Nancy Drew, Melvin Burgess and Judy Blume (yes, that book), before moving on to Stephen King, none of the others had had access to any YA books back in the olden days. Elizabeth read Kipling, Geoffrey Trease and moved straight from Wind in the Willows to Agatha Christie and Jane Eyre. Oh, and she read her great aunt’s books…

David liked John Wyndham and Hemingway, as well as Blyton. Tanya was also a Wyndham fan, she read Leon Garfield, and then she has forgotten the rest. Agnes Guyon went straight from the Famous Five to Zola. As you do. Daniel felt this was a terribly French answer, and one he will use in future.

On being asked how they became YA writers, James said he decided after reading Noughts & Crosses. He reckons we’re all here because of J K Rowling, and what Stephenie Meyer did to follow. David didn’t even know he’d written YA when asked about it in America. Tanya reckons a book is a book is a book, and she doesn’t like categories.

James Dawson

James believes Philip Pullman only got away with what he wrote because the books were aimed at young readers. Elizabeth’s reading is mixed, and she reads what she needs for the moment. When ill she can consume many Agatha Christies in a short time.

Tanya read from her Buffalo Soldier, and had to stick to the first chapter, as she wrote the book with a southern American accent in mind, but she can’t actually read aloud like that.

Talking about diversity, James said there are many books, but none are bestsellers, unlike the leading David Walliams, John Green and the Hunger Games. Elizabeth feels that it’s the 3 for 2 offers in shops that make the bestsellers, in a fake sort of way. That’s why we need libraries, with librarians in them.

According to David, children’s publishers are more adventurous, and more confident in what they publish, than adult ones, and mentioned Shaun Tan. Elizabeth has experience of being recycled. If you can stay in print for 25 years, you find that your readers have become parents and will be drawn back to your books, until 25 years later when it’s the grandchildren’s turn.

Elizabeth Laird

Daniel’s bugbear is translations. There are not enough of them. Pushkin and Little Island are two publishers who do look for fiction to translate. Elizabeth read from her book A Little Piece of Ground, which was very moving.

Adults are people who ought to know better; they should read proper books. Or that’s what people think. Tanya reckons To Kill a Mockingbird has become what it is because it’s accessible. She knew someone who was embarrassed to be seen reading The Book Thief, because it’s not a ‘proper’ book. James even defended Twilight, being someone who’s ‘heading into his mid twenties.’

Tanya said what I’ve long failed to put into words, which is that in YA books things get better within the book (except for Kevin Brooks), while in adult books you start level, and then things spiral into something worse, with divorce, unemployment and worse. Elizabeth had some insight there and then which she shared with us; YA wants to tell a good story, straight and simple, with no ‘tricksy writing’ unlike so many adult books.

Agnes said that what the Carnegie judges look for is plot, style and characterisation, well told. And as someone retorted, ‘how hard can it be?’

James read from his new, almost not published, book, about a bisexual relationship. I think we were all impressed by how daring this seemed, but when asked if he’s ever encountered resistance, he said his whole next book got scrapped (grindr culture for gay men, starting with hardcore gay sex), and as a World Book Day author next year this wasn’t seen as being quite right. Elizabeth laughed so heartily at this, that I suspect the publishers are wrong.

We finished with David reading from Ella Grey, about Orfeus and rather grown-up sleepovers.

One question from the audience was on how children seem to get older younger these days, and James treated us to his memories of reading about demonic sex at the age of eleven.

Someone else told us that YA books save her in her job as a teacher, because the books suit the children. Elizabeth wonders if we are all teenagers, really, and Daniel added that it could be we are just optimists.

Perhaps there wasn’t any wolf whistling from the audience, but almost. This was one happy group of book lovers and we could easily have stayed there much longer. As it was, we trooped over to the adult (the irony of it!) bookshop for signings. It was good to finally speak to Tanya Landman, who was excited enough to give me an extra ‘e’ but that’s all right between Carnegie winner and witch.

James Dawson, Elizabeth Laird, Tanya Landman and David Almond

(This photo borrowed from Lindsay Fraser, because it’s so much better than mine.)

Doing justice to YA

Yes. To do that in the middle of the night seems foolhardy, so I will see you later when my ability to write anything at all has returned. If it ever does. Let’s just say that Daniel Hahn runs a good book event, but we knew that already, didn’t we?