Category Archives: Blogs

Launching Jonathan

It’s a long way to Chelsea, even if you don’t begin your journey in Scotland. The last mile or so was the worst, but when a witch is going to a Meg Rosoff book launch, then she is. And what more interesting place to launch than on a houseboat on the Thames? I was slightly worried the boat would sink once I hopped on board, but was comforted by Anthony McGowan promising to rescue me in return for a book review. (Deal! Can’t remember if it had to be a favourable one or not.)

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Hopping. Well, not so much. It was dark, and there were gangway things over bits of water and stuff. Once on board Meg sent me down some bannister-free stairs to ‘poke around.’ (Not her boat, by the way.) Was impressed by the row of plates nonchalantly leaning against the wall. And there were books everywhere.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Jonathan Unleashed

So, Jonathan. There were piles of copies of Jonathan Unleashed (I was under strict orders to get one for Daughter), and there was food and drink. Very nice canapés. Especially the little cheese toastie ones. Some of the salmon ones slipped onto the floor, but the only one who slipped [a little] on the salmon was Meg. So that’s ‘all right.’ She was wearing unsuitable shoes, anyway.

There was a nice mixture of people. Some I knew, others I didn’t. But I was able to chat to most of the ones I do know, and I grilled ‘Miss Rosoff’ on her university experience, the way old people tend to do, and gave ‘Mr Rosoff’ a brief lesson in Scottish geography.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Spoke to Elspeth Graham, Mal Peet’s other half, who remembered meeting me before. Which was nice. Chatted briefly to Francesca Simon, and to Steven Butler, and winner of Bookwitch best book of 2015, Sally Gardner.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Met the new – to me – people at adult Bloomsbury, and their Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Pringle made a nicely brief speech, mentioning that she wrote Meg a fan letter after the publication of How I Live Now, which Meg doesn’t remember. She’d better remember me doing the same thing! Though I wasn’t able to offer a publishing deal for any future books.

Meg Rosoff

As I said goodbye, Meg recalled our ‘interesting’ car journey when we first met, almost exactly ten years ago. This time I got a taxi, and the driver only had a minor brainslip and made two wrong turns before getting it right. (I got quite excited when it looked like he might drive straight through a barrier. You know, like they do in films.)

The water had disappeared by the time I left. I don’t know if that was reassuring or not. And I apologise for the very poor quality of some of the photos. I was travelling light, so used my mobile phone, which I suspect I will never get the hang of.

Nine

Half-baked cake and dining out with men I’m not married to. That, apparently, is what I wrote about on my last two blog birthdays. I never know what to say, so decided to go all historical and see what worked on previous occasions.

While it was quite entertaining (yes, I’m the kind of witch who laughs at her own jokes), it provided me with no inspiration whatsoever.

But, well, the thing is. We are nine years old, Bookwitch and me. Who’d have thought? Much greyer, and much fatter. Less spring (I accidentally typed sproing…) in our step. More autumn, probably. But that’s what broomsticks are for.

We’re happy though (when we manage to stay awake), so will soldier on for a while longer. We’d like to do some more interviews. The face-to-face kind, so if a few people wouldn’t mind coming round here?

Pass the half-baked cake! I’ll have cream with mine. And I’ll enjoy it in the company of the Resident IT Consultant, and not some other man.

RED 10 Book Award 2015

As I was hinting earlier, I made it to Falkirk and its 10th book award, with badge and everything (And yes, I know it says 2015. They do these things out of sync.) I rather expected to just make my way in unnoticed, and having been before, I’d know where to go. But superwoman Yvonne Manning who runs this show, was there to welcome me, give me my badge and tell me I had to have a cup of tea. (Once she’d turned her back, I was able to ignore the tea.)

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David and Lari Don

I found all four shortlisted authors – Gill Arbuthnott, Keren David, Lari Don and Ria Frances – in the lounge part of fth, and chatted to Keren and Lari, who repeatedly checked with me whether I knew the other one. Introduced myself to Gill, and we decided we had actually spoken before. I even ended up talking to the Provost, who’s at the end of his second five year stint of provosting and attending book awards. Agents Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross had braved Gertrude to be there for their authors.

When it was time, Yvonne started things off, wearing tartan tights and red skirt and a special RED 10 t-shirt. Red noses were found under chairs and prizes handed out and more prizes promised. Ten schools in nine other countries had been sent the shortlisted books to read, and some of their comments were read out.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

And then, it was time for the dramatised presentations of the books, by the schools who had taken part. This involved the accidental dropping of a baby on its head (it was ‘only’ a baby doll). Much hilarity ensued and later I witnessed the doll actually being autographed…

The prizes for the best reviews were handed out, the overall winner’s review was read aloud, Yvonne swirled round in her magic red coat and Provost Reid hitched up his trouser legs to show us his red socks. So it was all quite serious stuff.

RED awards Falkirk

We had a coffee break (you need this when the award takes all day to be awarded). We discussed lukewarm hot drinks (don’t ask!), I let Lari use my very tiny Swiss Army scissors, and I returned to my seat to find the school behind me having ‘spilled’ their drinks on my row of seats. I think we can assume a good time was being had by all.

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David

The authors’ turn to entertain came next. They each had three minutes to say something profound. Gill said she made her character Jess to act braver than she was. Keren mentioned that she’d had a completely different end in mind for Salvage. Ria’s book got written at night, when she suffered from insomnia, and she told us about Albert Göring, who was a better guy than his brother. Lari explained how surprised she was to find herself writing a YA book, which she’d never expected to do.

We had a second round of dramatised books, and I decided on the spot that the one for Mind Blind was by far the best, and it had a lovely cardboard van for kidnapping characters in. There was at least one flying potato and an amusing kelpie.

To celebrate the past nine winners of the RED award, some schools had made designs for a quilt, which was then practically singlehandedly sewn by Anne Ngabia from Grangemouth High. The very beautiful quilt was held up for us to see by two extremely unreliable stagehands,  while Anne told us about the batch of 3000 books she has just packaged up for Kenya, and how helpful we’d all been. (You’re welcome.)

RED awards Falkirk, Anne Ngabia

Lunch came next, and I managed to sit with and chat to Keren and the Provost, with Lari and her agents joining us after a bit. I believe Lindsey had a dog to walk first. I learned a lot about Falkirk, and politics, from Provost Reid who, while proud of his town, could understand why my first time (in 1973) I took one look at the place and left again.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

After they’d eaten, the authors had books to sign, with long queues snaking in front of them. Even the Provost queued up.

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott and Provost Reid

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott

More prizes. Prize for best dramatisation, prizes for best red clothes. Apparently someone even wore red contact lenses. My favourite was the boy in the red tutu, but the Cat in the Hat girl was very well turned out too.

RED awards Falkirk

RED awards Falkirk

Q&A followed, with a rapid pace for questions, very ably controlled by two teachers (I think) with a nice line in comments about the pupils. Gill wants her readers sleepless as they wonder how the characters will fare, and she couldn’t give up writing. It would be like giving up eating. Ria started her career with some early praise from a teacher at school, and Lari says she absolutely must edit what she’s written. Keren reckons the first draft has to be rubbish or it can’t be edited to become really good. The beginning matters more than the ending. As for weird questions from other readers, Gill said she wants to be a cat, while Ria once went dressed as a mermaid, and Keren got asked what hair products she uses…

Getting closer to the big moment, but first Yvonne had to be thanked, so she ran away. (She is a bit crazy like that.) Provost Reid entered in his official – Father Christmas style – outfit, red all over, and flowers had to be handed over to Barbara Davidson who made the prize, and the press photographer also got flowers, and as the Provost waved the large red envelope around, he thanked the ‘shy and retiring’ Yvonne for her hard work. Organised stamping from the audience.

And a bit more stamping. And the winner is: Lari Don, for Mind Blind. (Very worthy, if I may say so.)

RED awards Falkirk, Provost Reid, Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Ria Frances and Keren David

Lari’s unprepared speech was admirably short and sweet, just the way we want it. Before the authors were spirited away, there was a lot of posing for photographs, with the prize, and the Provost, and the little red cardboard van.

RED awards Falkirk

I got on my broom and headed home.

My second RED in Falkirk

The sandbags were at the ready. Falkirk Town Hall seemed safe enough, but you never know. Storm Gertrude had threatened to do her worst, which in my case was only half a train service. Luckily one had one’s Resident IT Consultant to convey one (sorry, that hurt even me) to Falkirk on Friday morning, where the ladies below were ready to fight it out to see who’d emerge the winner of the 10th RED award.

RED awards Falkirk - shortlisted books

I will tell you more later…

Write to me

Authors’ letters are drying up, it seems. Maybe they were a luxury, anyway, and now it’s all many can do to keep their heads above water, writing things that might pay. On the other hand, there is nothing actively wrong with emails. Paper can burn, while cyberspace could be lost in, well, cyberspace, as it were.

Anything can disappear, but most things can also last surprisingly well.

I read an article in Vi magazine the other week, about the correspondence of authors. One of the people interviewed was Peter Englund, former Permanent Secretary to the Swedish Academy. He saves every email. Which should mean that mine to him must be there, somewhere. (As is his to me; in my archives, so to speak.)

The article touches on one published volume of letters, which I’ve already blogged about. I did some more research on what they said, and decided that I was possibly slightly misinformed back then. But so were they. I believe the letters were from the author to ChocBiscuit’s father’s first wife’s first husband’s mistress. Rather than the other way round.

Tove Jansson is mentioned by someone who met her, many years ago. She astounded her companion by saying she read every letter, and replied to them as well. This someone wrote to Tove afterwards. He never had a reply.

Oh well.

As I said, I’ve got a small email archive here. If I save emails, it’s either because I might need to remember what someone said. Or because they wrote so well that I like keeping it. I very much doubt that I will publish any books off the back of my collection, however. So please continue writing.

Besides, most of them are signed xxx, and perhaps an initial, if I’m lucky. (And if I may quote briefly from one, ‘holy shit Batman!’ does not necessarily have a lot of literary merit.)

Village character

Daughter should be on her way to a Harry Potter character. Or is that the Swiss village? You Google Grindelwald and you get the option of one, or the other. To be on the safe side, I went for both. I’m not enough of a nerd, either way.

It’s obvious that Grindelwald is a place name in the German-speaking world. You don’t have to know where. At this time of year it’s a fair guess that it will be snowy.

Because I am not all that Harry Potter-nerdy, I can’t say I remembered much about any character called Grindelwald either. In one ear and out the other, so to speak. Daughter thought it was amusing. That she was going there, not that I’m useless and forgetful.

But thanks to other Harry Potter fans it’s easy to find out. There is a whole wikia, where I assume you can look up anything at all, when you are as forgetful as I am. Which is good. I now know more about Gellert Grindelwald than I ever needed to, and what worries me is how many other characters I might have forgotten as they left the page.

I can’t help thinking how much fun J K must have had when naming her people. I have no book and no characters, but I have an urge to go through atlases and reference books to find outlandish sounding [Swiss] villages to name them after.

Mystery tour

My knee felt tense earlier in the day. I should have heeded this, especially when the Resident IT Consultant proposed he take me on a mystery tour somewhere, as it looked like the afternoon might be sunny.

Linlithgow

Let me be clear on this. I never agree to unknown surprises! But I felt I could just about give in, this once. As I got ready, I quickly ran through possible places he might have in mind, and realised fairly soon what he must intend. I didn’t want to ruin his happiness, so didn’t say ‘it’s going to be Linlithgow, isn’t it?’

But it was. Obviously.

Linlithgow

So 42 – and a half – years after I didn’t go to Linlithgow, I finally set foot in the place, so carefully avoided, in order to keep it mysterious.

I needed my daily walk, so hobbled round the outside of the Palace, which was nice, but with a bit too much downhill for my liking. Kneewise. My mind doesn’t object to downhill.

Linlithgow

Then hobbled along the High Street as far as Far From the Madding Crowd, by which time my knee pointed out it would like to sit down. That’s a bookshop, by the way. Bookshop with crafts and stuff, fully in the spirit of an old-style Scottish town.

My knee didn’t linger, so it and I hobbled back the other direction, to the tearoom we’d noticed earlier, where I did what I do best; tea and scone.

The Resident IT Consultant was feeling in need of a bookshop, so abandoned me there and went to Oxfam, which supplied him with a new old poetry collection, to replace his falling-to-bits one.

The poetry collection

By then darkness was descending on Linlithgow, so we went home again.

Life will never be the same.