Category Archives: Cathy Cassidy

And we’re back at Charlotte Square again

Some of the ducks are new. I’m sure of it. The Edinburgh International Book Festival opened yesterday, and my photographer and I joined them for a few hours. Not too long, and not too short. We have learned to pace ourselves in my old age.

Chris Close

We had fortified ourselves with some meze before collecting our press passes, rudely interrupting press boss Frances Sutton’s lunch in the process. Photographer Chris Close was yet again stationed outside the yurt with his camera, and some new boxes, which I genuinely hope he’s not going to ask any authors to balance on. There was new fake grass for the ducks.

Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy was our first prey, signing after her event, resplendent in her favourite green and with what looked suspiciously like a tub of cookies next to her. Well, signings can take time. And for her they did, as we could see Cathy still signing away an hour later. She had time for a hug before starting, and we talked about how I now live in Scotland and she doesn’t. And her latest book – Broken Heart Club – looks good enough to eat. (I have a thing for such very pink book covers.) Great to see her publicist Tania again, too.

Cathy Cassidy, Broken Heart Club

Came across Michael Grant being interviewed next to the ducks, and was told he’d been looking for me. Gratifying, but unlikely, I say. I was pleased to actually recognise Alice, his publicist, now that I am increasingly losing my marbles and generally failing at things. Michael got the Chris Close treatment, and then we grabbed him for a photo session of our own. We discussed how much money he spent on his daughter’s hair this last year. (Looking on the bright side, he must save on his own.)

Michael Grant

Before going to Michael’s event – which you will be able to read about tomorrow –  we caught illustrator Kes Gray in the children’s bookshop. I’d hoped to chat, but he had a long queue of young fans wanting their copies of Oi Dog! signed. I should have brought mine… Glimpsed his publicist Rebecca before she disappeared, and watched as Falkirk librarian Yvonne Manning did post-its duty along the queue.

Kes Gray

We hobbled off to catch our train home, grabbing seats by the skin of our teeth. This travelling is getting worse every year. In order not to look at all those who had to stand all the way, we buried ourselves in a book each. Lovely, life-saving things, books.

Meg unleashed

Five years on, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow looks the same. It’s just that in my mind I couldn’t make my photographic memory of what I call the ‘Sara Paretsky room’ match up with the ‘Julie Bertagna café’ area. After my search for the Aye Write! box office yesterday – I only had to ask three people – I was able to connect the five year old dots. Turned out I didn’t need a ticket after all…

The Mitchell is a nice place, where people come to use the computers and eat in the café and take their shoes off and strum their guitars. Warm too, but I was reluctant to remove my jacket in case the fire alarm would see me and go off.

Anyway, I made it all the way up to the 5th floor for Meg Rosoff’s event, and sat down to wait, surrounded by several seriously psychedelic carpets. Getting an authorly hug was nice, and I was glad that Meg had put me on a list to get in. The audience was exclusively female, if you don’t count the two male Aye Write! volunteers.

Introduced by local author Zoe Venditozzi, Meg discovered she’d already gone native by saying she’d talk a ‘wee bit’ about Jonathan Unleashed. She’s feeling ‘happy and well adjusted’ at this stage between writing and publication, unlike when she feels that ‘there will never be another book and my family will starve.’ On the other hand, good writing requires that she keeps ‘that balance of terror and confidence.’ And ‘maybe [Meg’s] brain is emptying out’ of books…

Yes, quite.

Meg told us how she woke up in August 2013 with the first line of the book, and just knew this was going to be her next book, without knowing what else would happen or why. Being what she calls a bad plotter, she described how her good friend Sally Gardner tends to come to the rescue. Sally was also able to see who Jonathan’s romantic interest should be.

She loves Lucky Jim, and she doesn’t mind stealing plots. Jonathan is a big ‘numpty’ really, and she read the bit where he first takes ‘his’ dogs to the vet’s. Meg apologised for not being able to do a proper British accent, after all her years in England.

Greeley, the character of uncertain sex in the book, is the way he/she is because it’s how Meg feels; never quite fitting in and not managing to heed her mother’s advice to be ‘more ladylike.’ In her writing she gives her clueless characters friends in order to help them. She said how together, she and her husband Paul are not ‘so nutty’ as they would be on their own.

Penguin dropped her when she wrote this adult novel, and Meg said how exciting it was to have Jonathan Unleashed auctioned both in Britain and in the US. Meg didn’t exactly mince words, and one of her more quotable lines yesterday was how ‘one could if one were a more generous-minded person.’ And then there was her first work, the ‘dark pony book.’ She blames the internet, which is where weird people find more weird people interested in the same thing, like My Little Pony or dinosaur sex.

Asked what books she has enjoyed recently, Meg mentioned Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm and that old ‘children’s’ classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. (If Meg were to see a child read it she said she’d take it away from them.)

To sum things up, novel writing is basically about getting stuck halfway, suffering, and tearing your hair out.

Meg Rosoff

And on that cheerful note we ran out of time. Not wanting to walk down five flights of stairs, Meg and I and a librarian got the lift down, after which we realised we had no idea where Meg was supposed to do her signing. We found it in the end, but the search was a new and different experience.

Wanting to take me out for a drink afterwards, Meg asked around for ideas of where to go. We left the building, only to stand on Julie Bertagna’s corner outside, staring at Meg’s mobile phone app. Which might have been upside down. The phone, not so much the app. Once we’d turned the motorway the right way round, and rejected one Indian restaurant, we ended up at the Koh-I-Noor, which I in my witchy way had clocked as I crossed the motorway earlier.

I clearly sensed it was for me. We shared their sharing vegetarian thali (apparently Meg is veggie these days, unless she is force-feeding Cathy Cassidy chicken stock) and gossiped about publishing, authors, children, growing older. And then I went off to Charing Cross for my train and Meg limped bravely back to her hotel, blisters from new boots and all.

Which, more than anything, brought home to me how hard the lovely people who write books work, travelling all over the place to meet the readers. Not just favourite authors, but all of them.

Thank you.

Save our libraries

In this case, Liverpool’s libraries. If I’ve got it right, then the Mayor of Liverpool got himself elected saying how much he was in favour of supporting libraries. And now he wants to close 11 of 18 in the city.

In fairness (?) the government has taken away a lot of the money the council needs, for everything. But 11 libraries is a lot. It’s probably the future of Liverpool, and if you were to take this to more places, it might be the future of the country.

Alan Gibbons and Cathy Cassidy have thrown themselves into the fight to save their home city’s libraries. There is a facebook page for the planned action on November 8th. And I don’t know, but someone (who may be well informed, or a malicious lier) posted this the other day: ‘Despite Joe ‘Bonaparte’ Anderson’s claims that Liverpool City Council is teetering on bankruptcy due to cuts in funding of over £150,000,000 from central government, he still managed to find £173,249 to pay the council’s bill with ‘The Pickled Walnut’ – a luxury caterer.’

Save Liverpool's Libraries

Well, anyway, lots of authors have joined in and have written to Mayor Anderson, pleading for him to change his mind. If Liverpool was the only place under threat, I’d say this was good and perhaps the protest stands a good(ish) chance of succeeding. But Liverpool isn’t alone.

I was struck, too, by how many of the names are those of children’s authors. Could it be they are more aware than their ‘adult’ peers? Is it that their readers are more likely to need libraries to read at all? We are many who are ‘poor’ but children have less say in how to use whatever meagre sum of money which might be at people’s disposal. Or maybe children’s authors are yet again proving they are the best.

On a lighter note, librarians can also be angry. Sometimes literally. I used to read a blog written by one; Arga Bibliotekstanten (The Angry Librarian Lady). She shut up shop a while back and moved to facebook, where she took the persona Arga Bibliotekstanten. The other day facebook closed her account because no one can be called Arga. So she had to become Anna in order to continue entertaining us with her librarianly woes. How can anyone decide what is a name, and what isn’t? Some people have weird parents. Others simply have weird names.

And they had no problem with Bibliotekstanten. Apparently Library Lady must be a regular surname. Somewhere…

Off the Page with Cathy Cassidy

Deep down I knew. All day I stalked round the house ‘just knowing’ that whichever coffeeshop I picked for meeting Cathy Cassidy in, it would be the one that was closed. Luckily I was wrong. The place gave us half an hour before turfing us out. We drank fast and then we ran. But not before Cathy had insisted on paying. I told her it was my turn as she paid last time, and her retort to that was incredulity that anyone would remember. Remember? I even have a photo of her money.

Cathy Cassidy's fiver

So, anyway. Cathy came to Stirling on this momentous day for Scotland, feeling jealous because she is no longer eligible to vote. She was doing an event for Off the Page at the Tolbooth, and she is such a nice person that she agreed to meet up with me before it, only to be shown the door. Cathy even acknowledged that I had been right when I said her hotel was posh. (Of course I’m right about these things.) And it was conveniently close to the venue, so we only needed to climb that hill once and then back down again. (Note to Stirling Council: At 19.45 a witch needs street lights to manouvre herself safely down that hill!)

Tolbooth

Over our swift ‘coffee’ we swapped family stories, and then we climbed some more. The nice people at the Tolbooth let us sit the remaining time out in the bar, which was closed, but still nice. After some prepping in the auditorium, we went and sat in Cathy’s dressing room, where I could have had a shower had I been so inclined. (Glam!)

It was good to be able to case the joint before the event, and I found myself a suitable seat at the back. Met the helpful lady from Tuesday, who recognised me as the troublemaker, and I pointed out that I am not stalking her literary guests, even if it looks like that. (Not much, anyway.) When the guy with the lights heard there were two chocolate fairies coming, his face lit up. Tsk.

Cathy Cassidy

At half past six the first girls came in and claimed the middle seats in the front row. All the girls (I am fairly sure there were only girls) were beautifully dressed, which is something I’ve observed about Cathy’s fans before. Quite a few mums and two dads.

This event was mainly about the latest of the chocolate box girls, Sweet Honey. Cathy said she’d answer any question – within reason – except if it had to do with numbers. And there was a no teachers allowed rule, which broke, because ‘they always slip through the net.’ So any fan who wanted detailed information on daydreaming, Cathy’s favourite subject at school, was directed to her website.

Cathy Cassidy

The teacher who told the young Cathy that daydreaming wouldn’t get her anywhere was wrong. Cathy has visited most parts of the world in her role as very popular author. (So there.) She talked about her research on chocolate, and how she ‘had to’ travel to a beach in Somerset to find where her chocolate girls live. Cathy plans her books with the help of a mood board, and we saw photos of some charming young men for Honey in the new book.

Persistence pays, as the teenage Cathy found when she finally had a story published, before landing her dream job working for Jackie magazine. These days she runs the blogzine Cathy Cassidy: Dreamcatcher with the help of her fans.

Cathy Cassidy

Her favourite book as a child was Watership Down, and it taught her that reading is cool, because although she tried to hide the silly rabbit on the book’s cover, she was chatted up by the coolest boy in school, and discovered that he loved the book too…

The most fun book to write was Dizzy, her first one. These days Cathy has to get past the throwing-the-laptop-out-of-the-window moment. Earlier this week she had a mishap where she lost a week’s work when her computer crashed (not through a window, I expect), so she now has to promise to save and back-up everything a hundred times.

As for the dreaded number question, she might have written 22 books. But generally her fans know the facts better than she does. There is more and more to do, and she feels as if she’s never going to catch up with herself. But if she does, there will be an Alice in Wonderland kind of book for us next year.

Cathy Cassidy

When question time was over, Cathy’s fans formed a signing queue faster than you could say book signing. And those who weren’t in that queue, were in the other one, buying more Cathy Cassidy books.

I tried to take photos, but basically, Cathy disappeared behind the hordes of lovely girls. And that is as it should be.

Cathy Cassidy

Me, I hobbled down the hill in the dark, as I said, musing over how Cathy manages to make every event feel special. I am an old cynic who has heard much of it before, but even I felt pretty special. If I were an 11-year-old girl I would worship her. I mean, I sort of do anyway, in my ancient way. But you can always worship more.

Bookwitch bites #126

If you didn’t read Hilary McKay’s Binny for Short when it came out last year (and why didn’t you?), I can tell you it has just been issued in paperback, and it is still as good. The singing ought to bring out the goosepimples on any but the hardest of my readers.

Cathy Cassidy

In the exciting run-up to whether or not Scotland will drift off into the North Sea next week, I have two book festivals on home ground to look forward to. First it’s Stirling Book Festival Off The Page. It has all sorts of events in libraries and schools and theatres. For fans of children’s lit there is the dystopian Teri Terry, the amusing Chae Strathie, sweet Cathy Cassidy, illustrator Kate Leiper, and the magical Linda Chapman.

Off The Page runs seamlessly into Bloody Scotland, where much murderous stuff will happen. They are even putting forensics into Stirling Castle, to find out who killed the Earl of Douglas back in the 1400s. Good luck to them.

And if you too want to be able to write like the authors who are coming here to talk about their books, then you could do worse than to have a go at the Connell Guides essay prize. If you are lucky, Philip Pullman might read what you wrote. You do need to be of an age to attend sixth form, but we are all young at heart here. You can submit from September 15th until January 15th.

Good luck!

And read Binny.

Mcbf, the end is near – for now

There has already been afternoon tea in Manchester. Today – on the last day – there will be more afternoon tea, and a quiz. I’m trying really hard not to mind.

While I’m busy not minding, I give you some more borrowed/stolen photos from the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. It is run (or do I mean organised?) by Kaye and James. They work very hard. By today they must be absolutely shattered. I know I am, and I wasn’t even there.

That’s why I will show you their happy smiles as they rubbed shoulders with the great and the famous this week. The one at the beginning was Curtis Jobling, who they worked pretty hard. Here they are with Curtis and his hat.

Kaye Tew, Curtis Jobling and James Draper

Then James seems to have got Sufiya Ahmed to himself.

Sufiya Ahmed and James Draper

After which we see James wondering what on earth Kaye has to laugh about. Are they not there to work? Their boss, the Poet Laureate is looking on.

Kaye Tew and James Draper

And look, here is James with his arms round Carol Ann and Kaye. He looks right at home.

Carol Ann Duffy, James Draper and Kaye Tew

More ladies for James; Jenny and Rachel.

James Draper with Jenny and Rachel

And with that Cerri Burnell off television.

Cerri Burnell and James Draper

Then luckily we have a break from our pair, as Kevin does his fan stuff with Guy Bass.

Kevin with Guy Bass

But then it’s back to more hanging out with authors, with Kate Pankhurst. James is testing out the intelligent look.

Kaye Tew, Kate Pankhurst and James Draper

Next is Justin Somper with our hard-working couple.

Kaye Tew, Justin Somper and James Draper

Imtiaz Dharker speaks at the poetry event. Proper grown-up it looks, and no Kaye or James. (Though I’m sure they were there…)

Imtiaz Dharker

Andrew Cope is looking pleased to have avoided the camera happy organisers.

Andrew Cope

Oh no, here they are, back with Andrew.

Kaye Tew, Andrew Cope and James Draper

Steve Cole got the whole line-up of mcbf helpers instead.

Steve Cole and mcbf volunteers

Cathy Cassidy and ‘her boys’ who, as I’ve said before, are among the nicest in children’s fiction.

Cathy Cassidy

Former MMU student Liz Kessler was back with her pals Kaye and James.

Kaye Tew, Liz Kessler and James Draper

And finally, Ali Sparkes with, surprise, surprise, Kaye and James.

Kaye Tew, Ali Sparkes and James Draper

But you know what I’m really trying to say, don’t you? These two lovely people work, and work, and they organise a rather nice and most friendly book festival. They deserve to be photographed with their guests. They deserve the limelight. Because they do this so well, with an ever present smile on their faces. Well, two smiles. One for each face.

There was no witch to ask to see James’s socks this year. No witch to send to the back of the room. And no cake for the witch. Or tea. Or quiz, which I would surely have won. Had I been there.

(The photos are by the mcbf photographer. I simply smuggled them onto my flickr account, because earlier this week I produced a nice post which suddenly lost half it’s pictures because someone went and pruned the mcbf gallery…)

The 2014 programme – Manchester Children’s Book Festival

James Draper

Would you trust this man to run your book festival? Well, you should. James Draper – with his dodgy taste in socks – and Kaye Tew are responsible (yes, really) for the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and there is no other festival I love in quite the same way. It is professional, while also managing to be friendly, fun and very crazy.

(While they now have their own teams working for them, and they claim there’s less need and opportunity to see each other all the time, I believed James when he said ‘I see more of that woman than I do the inside of my own eyelids!’)

James Draper and Kaye Tew

The extremely hot off the presses 2014 programme is proof that Kaye and James know what they are doing and are growing with the task (no, not in that way), but I hope they never grow away from the childish pleasure they seem to take in working together. Carol Ann Duffy was wise to give them the job in 2010. She might still have to be mother and stop anything too OTT, but other than that you can definitely hand your festival over to these two.

I’d been told the new programme would be ready by the end of Monday. And I suppose it was. James worked through the night until 9 a.m. on the Tuesday, but that really counts as end of Monday in my book. Then he slept for an hour to make it Tuesday, when he and Kaye had invited me round for an early peek at what they have to offer this summer.

James Draper and Kaye Tew

While James – understandably – got some coffee, Kaye started talking me through the programme. It went well, although if I’d brought reading glasses I’d have been able to see more. There is a lot there, and they have old favourites coming back and new discoveries joining us for the first time.

This year they start their reading relay before the festival with an event in early June with Curtis Jobling, who is launching the whole thing, before spending a month going into schools passing the baton on. I reckon if anyone can do that, it’s Curtis. The month, not passing the baton. That’s easy.

Multi-cultural Manchester launches on the 26th of June with Sufiya Ahmed returning to talk about human rights issues with teenagers.

Olive tree MMU

On the Family Fun Day (28th June) Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve will judge a seawig parade (no, I don’t know what that is, either), they expect you to make sea monkeys (instructions on Sarah’s website), and there will be countless other fun things to do. It’s an all day thing, intended to tire you out.

Sunday 29th offers entertainment at various venues belonging to the festival sponsors; Royal Exchange Theatre, National Football Museum, Waterstones and Ordsall Hall.

On the Monday Guy Bass is back, and newbie Kate Pankhurst is bringing her detective Mariella Mystery. (I think I was told that Kate is getting married before her event and then going off on honeymoon immediately after. That’s dedication, that is.)

Justin Somper will buckle some swash on Tuesday 1st July, and the Poet Laureate is handing out poetry competition prizes, while on the Wednesday Andrew Cope (whom I missed last time) will talk about being brilliant, as well as doing an event featuring his Spy Dogs and Spy Pups. And as if that’s not enough cause for celebration, that Steve Cole is back again. It will be all about me, as he is going to talk about stinking aliens and a secret agent mummy.

Farmyard Footie and Toddler Tales on Thursday 3rd July, ending with a great evening offering both Liz Kessler and Ali Sparkes. (How to choose? Or how to get really fast between two venues?) David Almond will make his mcbf debut on Friday night, which is cause for considerable excitement.

And on the Saturday, oh the Saturday, there is lots. Various things early on, followed by vintage afternoon tea (whatever that means) at the Midland Hotel in the company of Cathy Cassidy! After which you will have to run like crazy back to MMU where they will have made the atrium into a theatre for a performance of Private Peaceful: The Concert, with Michael Morpurgo, who is mcbf patron, and acappella trio Cope, Boyes & Simpson.

If you thought that was it, then I have to break it to you that Darren Shan will be doing zombie stuff in the basement on the Saturday evening. Darkness and a high body-count has been guaranteed.

Willy Wonka – the real one – is on at Cornerhouse on Sunday, followed by a brussel sprout ice cream workshop, or some such thing. Meanwhile, Tom Palmer will be in two places at the same time (I was promised this until they decided he’d be in two places one after the other), talking about the famous football match in WWI. There will also be a Twitter football final.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is the Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson festival finale, with afternoon tea and a quiz at the MacDonald Townhouse Hotel. (And it had better be at least as chaotic as the one in 2010 where James’s mother was disqualified, and I probably should have been.)

You should be able to book tickets from today, and doing it today might be a good idea. Just in case it sells out. Which would be good (for them), but also a shame (for you).

For some obscure, but very kind, reason they have put my name on the last page. 14 rows beneath Carol Ann Duffy, but only two away from Michael Morpurgo. And I didn’t even give them any money.

MMU

All I want now is a complimentary hotel room for the duration. And a sofa from the atrium area to take home.