Category Archives: Bookshops

At last! Meg at Bokmässan!

A mere eleven years after I told people in no uncertain terms that they must invite Meg Rosoff to the Gothenburg book fair, she’s finally here. She only had to go and win the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for it to happen, but at least she got here in the end. And it’s not just me who’s happy. A great many people have gone all star struck over meeting Meg, so I reckon this is a good thing. I’d like to think I helped, but I probably didn’t.

Gothenburg book fair

And I actually didn’t run up to her when I first saw her yesterday, feeling she might need the respite. Five minutes later I knocked on her back, however, as she was waiting to go on for her first of four events, one of the many free floor events they put on in Gothenburg, meaning you can see your stars without forking out a fortune. Or being a librarian. I was introduced to Helen Sigeland from ALMA, who remembered meeting Son a few months ago. (There’s no stopping this family.) I also accidentally saw Meg’s iPhone password when she needed to show me a photo from Tasmania… As you do.

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Talking to Boel Westin, she covered everything from getting the news of the award (good news can be as much of a shock as bad news), believing they’d made a mistake, past the prairie of silence when you need to start a new book (generally early January), the sexy horse book, her mother’s dog who is not allowed on the couch, and possibly basing her male and female characters on her husband and their daughter. A little.

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One hour later it was the turn of magazine Vi Läser to host Meg at their stall, and the seats were long gone (so I borrowed one from the University of Lund). The conversation was slightly different, and Meg talked about the beginnings of her adult novel Jonathan Unleashed, and leaving Penguin over it. At the signing afterwards I tried to buy a couple of copies of Jonathan in Swedish, but as my faithful readers know, you can’t always buy things with cash in this country.

Meg Rosoff at Vi Läser in Gothenburg

Jonathan-less I made my way round the corner to Piratförlaget and their little stage, grabbing a comfy seat early on. Which is where Meg found me, slurping something rather pink. Her slurping; not me. She showed me a photo of her with Patti Smith, so I said they were on at the same time. Meg told me to go and see Patti instead of her, again. Meg also offered to buy me my own pink blueberry yoghurt drink.

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Her lovely interviewer asked Meg about coming to Gothenburg, and she mentioned she’d been hinting for years with no luck, and talked again of the strain of surprise on hearing about the award and how they must have had the wrong number. Many Swedes seem to like What I Was best of Meg’s books, which she – probably accurately – explained by saying how she’d based it on her own ‘feral existence’ in Suffolk, and this is pretty much a Swede’s dream life. Meg told us about her very responsible daughter (she has to be, with a writer and an artist for parents), and how her own mother had confused her early on by saying she was bound to meet Mr Right one day, and how Meg feared she’d be in the wrong place at the crucial time.

It was a good thing I rejected Patti Smith, as the queue for her event was worse even than for Desmond Tutu last time I was here. I and all the librarians managed to sneak past the hordes to get to Meg’s ‘big’ Thursday event, with Boel Westin. I was joined at the last minute by the New Librarian, as well as others made late by the ‘Patti effect.’

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Life after ALMA is fine, with everyone wanting to see her, and travelling like crazy. She’s not writing anything at the moment, and Meg probably wants to remember to pay her car insurance this time, as she finishes her to-do pile. Skirting past the sexy horse book, she told us how she acquired her agent, relishing being told to write ‘as fiercely as you can’ after having grown up being told the opposite. When How I Live Now meant Meg could give up her job, she had to ask how to do this, more used to being fired.

Meg talked about finding one’s voice, (apparently it can be a bit like a horse and its rider), telling us that her husband brings her coffee in bed, and she reckons that for this she will hang on to him. Not being good at remembering things, she suspects that what she does remember will be important. Boel said she feels Meg is good at coming up with great book titles, so we learned about Googling ideas for titles to see if you’re original or not.

She doesn’t know what logarithms are, and sometimes she and her husband wake up to the sudden awareness that they actually live with animals. And art is important, as is thinking about death all the time (Meg not being the type of person who thinks about what car to get). She finished by reading from the Swedish favourite, What I Was.

I saw her again as I was enjoying a well earned armchair rest in a corridor. Meg stopped to say she needed to go and lie down, and she was heading for her hotel room, except she wasn’t entirely sure where it was. I realised belatedly that she was walking in the wrong direction…

The Children’s Launderette was here

Scottish Friendly book tour banner

When my window situation prevented me from seeing Chris Riddell in Edinburgh three weeks ago I was a bit upset. But when Chris came to Stirling yesterday – which I have to say was awfully convenient – I was happy again. I wish people would do this more often.

And then – me being me – I spent the morning wondering why I do these things; blogging in general, and arranging to see Laureates in particular. I can tell you why now. It’s because people like Chris Riddell are so very lovely to meet and talk to. They make you feel all nice and warm inside.

Children's Launderette

He had been invited by Scottish Friendly to be taken round the country by Scottish Book Trust in their friendly little book van, visiting as many schools as can be fitted into a week. That’s two a day, plus interviews with radio stations and Bookwitches and that kind of thing.

Tiny Vader

I joined them at Riverside Primary where the children were being mesmerised by Chris as I arrived (it’s not always easy to work out how to enter schools these days) and I had some time sitting in on the questions and answers session. They had put answers on cards in a cheerfully lit box, and Chris drew some cards to answer, and then he drew the answers on a thingummy which enabled everyone to see his hand and the drawing on a big screen on the wall.

Chris Riddell, the pizza tester

Little Cameron was quite taken when Chris drew him a personal Tiny Vader (really Darth Teddi), and that was after we’d seen [a drawing of] the scalpel that airport security had removed from Chris’s possession the other day, leaving his pencil blunter than it wants to be. If Chris didn’t draw, he’d be a [fat] pizza tester, and he rather hopes to be drawing until he’s very old (=for ever and ever). And if that lets us see lots more drawings of his drawers and other garments, that is fine with me. This Children’s Launderette is fun.

Chris Riddell

The session over-ran. Obviously. The queue for the book signing took forever, as it should. Chris gave the children attention and answered more questions. Scottish Book Trust’s Beth ran back to the van for more books when required. Her colleague Tom and I photographed the children’s own drawings, which were very good.

Riverside Primary drawings

Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour

Eventually it was time to squeeze them and me into the van, recently used by, and now decorated by, Sarah McIntyre. Fuelled by enormous chocolate buttons we drove to Toast (yes it was warm), and found they were about to close, but this was quickly resolved by going next door to Frankie & Benny’s, where the old witch had tea, the Laureate drank wine – because he could – and the young ones ordered attractive looking, but dubiously colourful shakes.

Yes, I did mention I was interviewing Chris, didn’t I? We got through all the important stuff, like his passion for reading and libraries and their future, before he was to be driven to a live radio interview in Perth. But apparently I shouldn’t feel sorry for him, for having such a busy schedule. Chris thrives on it. So far he’s eaten pizza three times, going from not so good to pretty decent. Somewhere in Perth clearly has a duty to come up with a spectacular one. And then an even better one in Aberdeen.

As Beth and Tom began hustling Chris out the door, I managed to get my copy of The Graveyard Book out for a little doodle, next to where Neil Gaiman had already given me a tombstone…

The Graveyard Book and Chris Riddell

All right, maybe some more last photos then

Nearly twenty years after J K Rowling was here with her first book, it has been illustrated by Jim Kay, and become much, much larger.

J K Rowling and Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

From Potter to poetry with Zaffar Kunial and the Scottish Makar. And festival director Nick Barley.

Zaffar Kunial, Jackie Kay and Nick Barley

And Pufflings, as in Lynne Rickards’ Skye the Puffling, with Jon Mitchell.

Lynne Rickards and Jon Mitchell, Skye the Puffling

Sticking with my letter P theme, here is Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies, busy entertaining fans in the children’s bookshop.

Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies

Slightly scarier stuff in Zom-B Goddess, but Darren Shan is as polite as they come.

Darren Shan, Zom-B Goddess

And before I leave you with another image of my favourite lights in trees, I offer you two people who always make my book festival a pleasanter place; local agent Lindsey Fraser in conversation with Mr B.

Lindsey Fraser and Mr B

Charlotte Square

(In order to find our first encounter with Mr B, I went down Memory Lane, which is about seven years away, and I was astounded to see how many authors were around then. We were only there for a week, but had authors practically coming out of our ears.)

Some book festival pictures

It’s time for Bookwitch to offer a last few photos from Charlotte Square 2016, and where better than one of the corners that has those mood-lifting lights hanging from the trees? I know it’s a bit un-natural in a way, but I do like garlands of lights in trees.

Charlotte Square

And I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for these new long benches that are slowly working their way round the square. Good for queueing on and most welcome for the general comfort of tired witches when there is no queue.

It is so encouraging when young readers are this keen to see what authors and illustrators get up to.

Richard Byrne

It is also quite fun to see how keen perfectly grown-up authors can be to have fun at the book festival. They even bring toys, as seen here with Kathryn Evans. Invite her back! Maybe even allow the toys back.

Kathryn Evans

The assembled photographers were also keen, and they go for celebrities such as famous politicians; someone that everyone has heard of (unlike many authors).

Waiting for Nicola Sturgeon

And after this festival, even I know who Shappi Khorsandi is, not to mention what she looks like…

Shappi Khorsandi

She loves YA

At last night’s Great YA Debate, chaired by Daniel Hahn, the discussion was kicked off by the children’s books world’s enfant terrible, Anthony McGowan, who was of the opinion that you shouldn’t

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read YA. If, you are older than twenty, or so. Especially if you are white and female. And middle class.

Yes, that’s – approximately – what he said, but then Tony had been hired to be the naughty one, to get the conversation going. But he did mean it. I think. Mostly. Tony described his part as the hippo poo, spread all over the place, and Elizabeth Wein was there to clean up after him (and if that’s not an example of all kinds of -isms, I don’t know what is).

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

This year’s YA debate was different from last year’s. We had Daniel Hahn on stage with Tony and Elizabeth, and then they had a stash of other authors on the front row; Annabel Pitcher, Christopher Edge, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence and Philip Womack. They all had an opportunity to disagree later on, as did the audience.

But first it was Tony who described going to YALC and finding it so mono-cultural as to be distasteful. White, female writers, 30+ who write brilliant, terrible dross for people in their twenties and thirties. Elizabeth argued with him, and Daniel pointed out that should anyone tweet that YA is crap, the internet would catch fire.

Tony wants adults to move on. YA is for teens. You should read what makes you unhappy, what you hate, or you won’t be stretched enough. Here Daniel admitted to not only being a reader of YA, but having had an Asterix day not long ago.

I decided it was a good thing Daughter had not come along to this. She’d have exploded on the spot.

No one should read John Green.

Elizabeth pointed out that contrary to what we believe in Britain, YA is fairly old as a concept, and existed in the 1950s in America. You would borrow books from the library or from friends, have them as presents, and you ‘read up,’ so even younger children would read about teenagers in books. She talked about Sue Barton and the Hardy Boys, and how Nancy Drew wasn’t considered highbrow enough…

Back to Tony who called readers of YA immature. Then he went on to talk about Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet as supposedly YA writers, but who write adult books, really, mentioning Life: An Exploded Diagram, which is a proper novel. (I think we are allowed to read it.)

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham and Patrice Lawrence

The authors on the front row came to life here, and Christopher Edge mentioned how he as a teenager went between Alan Garner and Jack Kerouac, depending on how he felt and it had less to do with age. Annabel Pitcher said she doesn’t agree that YA is twee or cosy, and looking at her own books you can see her point.

So Tony said the problem with YA is that it always takes you home. There will always be some sort of resolution and happy ending. It has to be miserable to be worthy. (You have to hand it to him. He really found irritating things to say.)

Philip Womack talked about Mary Shelley, who was a teen author (her age), although Daniel reckoned that writing Frankenstein was never a normal thing.

Back to Tony, who spoke about his experience of working with children in First Story, saying children themselves don’t write YA, unlike the white women or his students at Holloway [writing class]. The difference between [Edinburgh] events where audiences can be self selecting, or they come as part of school groups, is an important one.

Jenny Downham remembered being asked by a young working class girl at a school event whether people like her could write stories. And Jenny mused over the weirdness of finding her own Before I Die on two different shelves in bookshops, both as a children’s book and an adult book.

Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Elizabeth said as a teenager she read lots of categories of books, but as an adult she doesn’t. Tony chipped in and was disparaging about YA book bloggers, and claimed we are not his friends (I will have to think about this). Patrice Lawrence pointed out that at 49 she has lived more than half her life and she has no intention of ruining the rest with Dostoyevsky. Her own Orangeboy is not a book for 28-year-old book bloggers.

And on that note Daniel opened up the discussion to the audience ‘in the unlikely event anyone has any views.’ They did.

The talk was about marketing and whether editors have views on what should be written. The difference between rainbow colours for children and black teen books in shops. A 16-year-old wanted beautiful books [the writing] and Tony came back with saying children’s books are often funny, and teen books not.

Elizabeth feels independent bookshops have more advice to give on what to buy, and it’s important as young people rarely buy, but have books bought for them.

Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Daniel suggested that the remaining time should be for readers under twenty (so that shut me up!) and there were many of them, with interesting thoughts on books and reading. The odd one even agreed with Tony. The girl behind me said she finds War and Peace intimidating. Someone else said there are many exciting YA novels out there, but you have to dig deep to miss the crap.

Our time was up and Daniel suggested continuing the chat over signing in the bookshop. The adult bookshop (the children’s bookshop was closed)…

There were many readers queueing up and many discussions. Elizabeth Wein won the popularity contest (if there was one) with by far the longest queue, which, naturally, I had to join. But I did have some books for Tony – yes – to sign, too. He asked if I offered them out of pity.

Before running for my train, I had time to chat to publicist Nina, ‘Mr Wein,’ and the lovely Philip Womack, who actually is a Bookwitch reader and who didn’t even twitch when I admitted to not having reciprocated. And finally I made myself known to Barrington Stokes’ Mairi Kidd, who thanked me for loving them, and wondered whether I could love even Tony. We decided I could.

Daniel Hahn, Philip Womack and Jenny Downham

Drawing on the Imagination

We need more ‘deprived’ picture books. That was one suggestion coming from the audience with Debi Gliori and Faye Hanson at Thursday lunch time. Theirs was the kind of event I find perfect;  for adults, by children’s books authors and illustrators. We should have more of these. Lots more.

Debi Gliori

Very nicely chaired by Kathryn Ross, we learned new things about Faye and Debi and how they work. And by ‘we’ I mean a whole theatre full of adults eager to hear about illustrating picture books. And when I say new things about Faye, I need to disclose that I knew nothing at all about her, and of course, that is one of the charms of this kind of thing. Go and hear someone speak about their work and suddenly you feel as if you are old friends.

Faye Hanson

Faye has only done two picture books so far, having had an earlier career in fashion with Alexander McQueen. She read a bit from Wonder, so I can’t totally claim not to have read her books. And the pictures are rather nice.

Debi ‘has lost count’ of the number of books she is responsible for. And it feels wrong with applause – as happened here – before she’s even spoken. She sat on the floor, the better to see her pictures from Hebridean Alphabet (which I’ve not had a chance to read…). The island in her book is a mix of several real ones, including Iona. She had to place her story in the past to get away with having two young children alone all day, out on the island, having fun, the way we used to.

There even had to be a pretend kayak, as you can’t have children playing on boats. Debi said she regretted giving the girl a beautiful Fair Isle cardigan, as it was a lot of hard work drawing, over and over. And as for the very patterned wallpaper, well…

The two illustrators had had a good discussion in the yurt before the event, and they agreed that what they draw comes from their own lives. And you need to put something more adult into a picture book, to keep the interest of the grown-ups who have to read these books to their children.

Kathryn suggested that children no longer have time to get bored, and Debi reckons ‘boredom is pretty creative.’ Every book begins with a picture in her mind, although – and here she was afraid of being hideously indiscreet – she once took an idea from an editor, because there was a mortgage to pay. With the US in mind, there must be no hedgehogs, no badgers and no red squirrels. In fact, Mr Bear was originally Mr Badger.

Faye feels it’s much easier to draw than to write, but hopes it might get easier with time. ‘Hell, no,’ Debi replied.

Debi Gliori

Someone asked if there is an age limit for reading picture books (if there is, I haven’t reached it yet), as her 10-year-old son needs to relax with a picture book when things feel hard. Debi said picture books make for great comfort reading, and of course we now also have graphic novels, aimed at older readers.

Another question referred back to what you can’t put in children’s books, because we now have different rules as to what children are allowed to do. Debi once had to remove a fridge, because of the potential danger to children getting locked in, and she was grateful to have had that pointed out to her. Faye had had to move a table lamp away from the edge of a table so it wouldn’t fall off. Whereas the problem with mice nestling in an electric blanket, the answer is that mice don’t read!

They were asked about their thoughts on the suitability of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton today, with a view to safety and political correctness.

Faye Hanson

And then we arrived at the request for more picture books about deprived inner city areas and children in poorer districts. Somehow there are disproportionately many books set in the Highlands and Islands, with their beautiful scenery and seemingly idyllic lifestyles. Debi feels she’d quite like to, but wasn’t sure she had the right credentials, while Faye said that she comes from a poor background and definitely wants more of this in picture books, as she has done already.

The Makar and the First Minister

In the end it was just me and Shappi Khorsandi’s handbag. Fantastic handbag, actually, and I felt sort of honour bound to guard it while it was sitting there all alone. Now, if you knew me, you’d realise how odd this was. It was mere minutes after I had spectacularly missed taking photographs of Shappi. Twice. Because I didn’t recognise her well enough. And now I know what her handbag looks like.

Jackie Kay and Nicola Sturgeon

This was probably due to the excitement ‘backstage’ after the photo session with Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Kay. We’d waited, the way you do. And then it happened so fast, the way it tends to with people who have security staff and lots of commitments, but not so many that a First Minister can’t interview a poet at a book festival. They were nicely colour coordinated, the two of them. And it’s a sign of popularity for a politician when she is addressed by her first name.

So I missed Shappi’s photo call, coming immediately after this. Then I missed my unobtrusive photos of Shappi as she was being given the Chris Close treatment. And then everyone left, except for the handbag.

Prior to this I had skipped a book signing with Simon Callow. I decided I already had enough pictures of him, so went and sat in the yurt reading and eating my lunch. Only minutes later he joined me on that bench. Admittedly with an interviewer, but still. You can’t escape the great and the good. Luckily for Simon I hadn’t helped myself to the grapes in the fruit bowl as had been my intention, so he was able to polish them off as he talked.

Zaffar Kunial

Previously out on the grass, I had come across poet Zaffar Kunial seemingly doing an impromptu session with a large group of people. Maybe these things just happen as fans encounter someone they admire…

Holly Sterling

Carol Ann Duffy

Gillian Clarke

Then it was back and forth for me, catching children’s illustrators in the children’s bookshop and the more grown-up poets in the signing tent. Holly Sterling had a line of eager children after her event, and staying with the Christmas theme, so did Carol Ann Duffy across the square, along with her fellow Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. After them Jackie Kay signed, without Nicola Sturgeon. And I finally caught up with Shappi!

Jackie Kay

Shappi Khorsandi

Fiona Bird

Found Fiona Bird signing her nature book mid-afternoon, and she has such an appropriate name for the kind of books she writes! I went hunting for Kathryn Evans and Michael Grant, who had both been hung along the boardwalks by Chris Close. Had to try Kathryn several times, to see if the light would improve.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

Michael Grant by Chris Close

And there were no photos, but I glimpsed Kate Leiper, and spoke to both Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.

Tried to use my afternoon sensibly, so checked out various books in the bookshops. That didn’t mean I actually did sensible thinking, looking up ‘un-known’ names or anything. If I had I wouldn’t have been so surprised later.