Category Archives: Books

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?

Sci-fi v fantasy

Yes, what’s the difference? That was one question at the event with Roy Gill and Paul Magrs yesterday. According to Paul sci-fi is something that could happen, given certain technical circumstances, while fantasy just couldn’t.

I have never seen the Imagination Lab so full before. They had to keep carry in more chairs for people to sit on. I’d been hoping to learn how on earth you should pronounce the name Magrs, and from what my elderly ears picked up, it sounded rather like the title of Paul’s book, Lost on Mars. So, Mars by Magrs.

Paul Magrs and Roy Gill

Paul was there to talk about his Space Opera, set on Mars (and no, it couldn’t be moved to Venus just because the publisher already had one Martian book on the go). He’d been inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, as well as by Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi.

Apparently many authors treat writing like going to school, although I’ve never heard this before. So Paul started writing Lost on Mars on September 1st and sat at his kitchen table with his newly sharpened pencils until before Christmas, occasionally standing up.

Roy conveniently dreamed the Daemon Parallel. He’s someone who puts his ideas in a notebook, and this sat there for several years until he got desperate. The dream gave him the weird grandma, and to make her truly odd he decided she was going to want to bring her son back from the dead.

As the chair for the evening said, the two books seem quite different, but actually have a lot in common, like the grandmas. She asked them if the main characters could have been a different age than Paul and Roy made them, but they felt not. There is something about that age where they are old enough to be able to do what they need to do, but also young enough that they don’t act like adults.

According to his old diaries, Paul has wanted to be a writer since he was ten. When his school was closed due to snow, he spent the mornings writing a novel, and the afternoons writing Doctor Who episodes.

Writing was a less obvious choice for Roy, who didn’t really get it until he was about thirty. His PhD supevisor pointed out his writing was so good ‘you can get away with very little content.’

Paul read chapter five, which is where the grandma in his story has to have her artificial leg seen to. It almost seemed creepier than when reading it in the book. Roy read the meeting between the teenagers and the weird lawyer from Werewolf Parallel, and I’m not even going to mention the odd chin. (I didn’t mention it!) His daemons are all very random, and the Jenners episode stems from him getting lost in this posh shop as a small boy.

When they were young(er) Paul read and liked Doctor Who. Roy liked Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, and he’s a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Paul, on the other hand, was quite old when he discovered these books. And I didn’t totally grasp his tale of exchanging letters in verse with some dinner ladies…

But it’s all fine, and I made it out nice and early to have my copy of Lost on Mars signed. My Daemons had already been done.

The Girl Who Did Blog Tours

Today I welcome Marnie Riches, as she writes about what she writes about. 

From Middle Grade to Murder: a children’s writer’s descent into depravity

As an avid reader of middle grade fiction at the time I wanted a complete career change, writing for children seemed the obvious thing to do. I understood children because I owned two and had once been one myself. I knew quite a few words. Great. More to the point, as my children were toddlers at the time, I decided that ideally, since I could paint as well, I should be creating picture books. Perfect! So, I knocked up a 32 page dummy of a story about a selfish, lazy hippo, called Billy the Messy Hippo. It was a didactic, overly long story, where Billy got his comeuppance for being a shitehawk to the other toys.

Whoops.

Billy Bathroom

Really, I wanted to punch Billy on the nose for spilling his drinks and bullying teddy. Maybe a spell locked in the freezer would cool him down. Or maybe I could disembowel him and throw his plushie stuffing in the bin. OK. Perhaps this short format wasn’t working for me. And the illustrations took weeks and weeks to do – it just wasn’t practical. There were better illustrators out there, anyway. I laid my picture book aspirations to rest (no bludgeoning or shallow graves were required).

Next, I wrote a middle grade novel about a girl called Zeeba, who goes on the hunt for aliens, sighted above the hills in Huddersfield. She got roped into a high octane world of spies, subterfuge and gangsters. There were some menacing, corrupt policemen and a disembowelled cow.

Er, whoops.

There were more children’s novels – the first six books in the Time Hunters series for 7+, published by HarperCollins under the pseudonym Chris Blake. Lots of fighting and peril in them, of course. Plus a puzzle to be solved.

Everything I had written for children included a high concept mystery, a great deal of tension, thrills a-plenty and violence. But I felt my nasty narrative was stunted by the age-banding. Perhaps I needed to try something else…

So, having developed the sparing, highly visual style of a children’s writer, I started to pen a crime novel for grown-ups. The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die was the first novel in a gritty, gripping, often violent Euro-noir series, featuring a young criminologist called Georgina McKenzie. In writing these books (I’m currently working on book 3 – The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows), I feel like I’m home. Everything fits. My writing style is still very akin to that used by Young Adult authors – I use very little exposition. Each chapter contains a distinct, often visual scene. I try to keep my dialogue snappy and realistic. But importantly, I am now able to make people have sex, drink heavily, smoke drugs, commit criminal offences, be utterly unpleasant to one another and, yes, disembowel other people. I think I’ve found my literary calling.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Broke the Rules

The Girl Who Broke the Rules is the second instalment in the series. In this book, I feel I’ve really got into my stride with my characters. It’s a story, seemingly about the brutal murders of sex workers, that flits between the red light district of Amsterdam and the strip-clubs of Soho. I wanted to explore themes of parent/child relationships, sexuality and the abuse of vulnerable migrants. I hope readers will see shades of Nesbø, Larsson and Thomas Harris in there, since these three are my biggest influences.

The question remains, however, as to whether I regret trading middle grade for murder? The answer is no. Because I will still continue to write children’s novels when my adult fiction deadlines allow. For, although a warped, adult imagination lurks behind my terribly boring, respectable middle-aged exterior, there is still a part of me that laughs at fart jokes and wants to tell utterly daft, touching stories about discovering the world through a child’s eyes; making sense of their relationships with adults and peers.

In fact, I predict I might well be working on a high concept children’s thriller before the year is out and maybe, just maybe, there won’t be a single disembowelling!

(Respectable middle-aged exterior?? She’s got pink hair!)