Category Archives: Education

The 2019 Yay! YA+

It was time for another instalment of Kirkland Ciccone’s vendetta against the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday.

Yay! YA+

Only joking. (But if you at first don’t get invited, start your own book festival.) This was the last time at the old Cumbernauld theatre, with great plans for what it’ll be like in the new one. Bistro. With chips. Or so I gather.

After introducing all his authors, Alex Nye, L J MacWhirter, Moira McPartlin, Philip Caveney/Danny Weston, Paul Murdoch and Ross Sayers, Kirkie sent the others off to their respective bars and dressing rooms, while he and Alex stayed in the main theatre for their longer performances.

Kirkland Ciccone at Yay! YA+

Considering that many of the school children who came, are less used to reading and book festivals, it was good to hear Kirkie talk about his own humble background. We got the lot; the exploding council house, his mother’s ‘apple juice’ and his older brother, Scotland’s worst armed robber. Yes, he mentioned the lamp post incident, Kev. And going to collect the benefits Kirkie discovered the library in Cumbernauld and it changed his life, starting with Meg&Mog.

The only reason Roald Dahl didn’t adopt him, despite his repeated entreaties, was that Dahl was already dead. After Dahl and Matilda we quickly covered Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Point Horror, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Robert Cormier, Harry Potter and Twilight and Stephen King. All these were somehow responsible for Kirkland’s own books that have since been released into the wild.

Alex Nye’s turn next, where she took us back to the morning of the roof of Cumbernauld Castle falling down and how Mary Queen of Scots helped tidy up afterwards. Then we were in the snow on Sheriffmuir, in the ghostly tales of Chill and Shiver, before moving on to Glen Coe and Darker Ends.

Alex Nye at Yay! YA+

She bemoaned the fact that not enough Scottish history is taught in Scottish schools, and that it’s more British history. Mentioning the new film about Mary she said it was good, but featured a fake meeting between Mary and Elizabeth I and some laundry. This year Alex has two new books out, one about Mary Shelley and another about children from Syria.

When Kirkie turned up again to tell me that lunch was ready, I ordered him to assist Alex in coming to an end, so that the entire lunch break wasn’t taken up with questions from the audience.

Moira McPartlin and Alex Nye at Yay! YA+

Over lunch I was struck by the fact that out of the eight of us sitting round the table, three had a past in Stockport. Bit of a coincidence. Four if Danny Weston counts as a person… We ate fruit, and discussed the latest phenomenon of how to eat a pineapple. And when the children came with books to sign, the authors were surprisingly badly equipped with pens!

Alex Nye and LJ McWhirter at Yay! YA+

Photos and selfies were taken and books got bought, before everyone was herded back to their bars and dressing rooms for the afternoon. Having sworn never to return to the nether regions of the theatre, I’m afraid I missed Paul Murdoch and Ross Sayers, which was a double shame as they were the ones new to me.

L J McWhirter at Yay! YA+

I began in the bar where L J MacWhirter had music and candles and string lights to help her talk about her book featuring dreams back in the 1500s. She talked about the characters in the novel that took her 15 years to write. L J read to us, until the bell went and it was time to up and change to another author in another bar.

I went to hear Moira in ‘the Fireplace’ where she had bluetacked photos of her inspirations for her characters; Nicole Kidman and Sheila Hancock among them. Moira had purple badges with Celtic knots to hand out, and she told us how she got started writing, being bored when travelling on business. Then she was a runner up in a story competition, where Gillian Philip was a judge, and she told her this was material for a full novel. So she wrote a book.

Moira McPartlin at Yay! YA+

Moira read a piece from the first book in her trilogy, and it sounded pretty good, I have to say. With time for just one question, it was lucky it was an excellent one, about technology in her future. Good children, who paid attention.

Moving to the next bar where Philip/Danny was, I stayed for two talks, seeing as he alternated between his two personalities, and I didn’t want to miss one of them. Danny was born out of necessity, when Philip wanted to go darker in his writing, and the publisher wished to avoid upsetting his fans. And is there anything scarier than a ventriloquist’s dummy? Hence Mr Sparks, which he read in a variety of accents.

Danny Weston at Yay! YA+

By the time Danny became Philip again, he complained his voice was going, but ‘I don’t know where.’ He read from The Slithers, and it was no less disgusting than when I read the book. He reckons that writing fiction is ‘one time in your life you have autonomy.’ There were good questions, and Philip also had a great technique for dealing with the not so good ones, not to mention a way to force unwilling children to come up with questions. This was clearly not his first time out.

Yay! YA+ bookshop

At this point I discovered the bookshop was closed, which was a slight disappointment. I went back into the main theatre and listened to the end of Alex’s talk again, before all the authors congregated down ‘in the pit’ to answer the odd question – very odd, in fact – from Kirkie and the children. Someone wanted to know why they were all so ‘dark.’ It seems it’s what makes writing interesting, so I suspect the time for happily ever after is long gone.

Alex Nye, Ross Sayers, Philip Caveney, L J McWhirter, Paul Murdoch, Moira McPartlin and Kirkland Ciccone at Yay! YA+

The seven/eight signed books and exercise books and bits of paper, and were photographed with ever bolder fans. I saw at least one boy clutching three books, and it gladdened my heart. I will now imagine him sitting at home reading.

Yay! YA+

Carrot topping was discussed at least twice, and I for one am glad Alex still has all her fingers. And then L J went and mentioned Macbeth. In a theatre.

To be on the safe side, Moira drove L J and Philip/Danny to their train and then she gave me a lift home. Let’s hope for the best.

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More family women

Hindsight often makes me worry I shouldn’t have done that, whatever it was. Like two years ago, when instead of reviewing some suitably woman-ish books on International Women’s Day, I rambled on about Mother-of-witch. But with more hindsight, and a rereading, I came to the conclusion it was OK. As for her, she was more than OK.

Another two years earlier I wrote about her mother, my grandmother, whom I never met. It was the fact that she embroidered five identical stars for Christmas one year. I realise they probably made for fairly affordable Christmas gifts, but it’s still a lot of work, alongside all the day-to-day stuff women do. Mothers. She had five children, this grandmother I never knew.

While we’re on the subject of sewing, her second daughter, my Aunt Motta, was a pro, by which I mean she made a living sewing. And when she didn’t make her living by it, she sewed for the rest of us, plus a little hobby sewing, like the cushion you see here. It was made from the cut-off corners of the lace that edged 18 table cloths. Obvious, when you think about it.

The thrifty cushion

They could all sew. Well, perhaps not Uncle. But then not every uncle wore two red paper napkins tied round his waist (and nothing else). Careful what you get up to, as impressionable 9-year-olds remember the most astonishing things.

But this is International Women’s Day, so let’s move on from Uncle, however much fun he was. He was the one who got the education. Not because he was the eldest, or the cleverest, but because he was the boy.

The eldest child, another girl, my Favourite Aunt, was very intelligent and very capable. She left school at fourteen and started working in her home town’s textile industry. By the time I knew her she was 47 and worked for the textile union, where she ‘looked after the money,’ and rubbed shoulders with future Prime Ministers and other bigwigs in the leading political party. What might have become of her if she’d been able to continue at school?

The baby aunt quite possibly didn’t sew so much, but she certainly knitted, and brought up three cousins for me, and worked nights so she wouldn’t need a babysitter. And when Mother-of-witch needed childcare, she was there. She helped admit half the town’s teenagers to see films at the cinema where she worked, recognising friends of friends. Plus there were all the discounted coats I wore as a child and in my teens.

The thing about these four sisters is that had they got more of an education, they’d definitely have gone further. Not that there was ever anything wrong with where they did end up. We need people who make winter overalls for their nieces – especially if purple – and who has connections in the world of film, or who helps you wee by the side of the road. This kind of assistance should not be underestimated.

‘One of the best jobs in the world’

Librarian tree

That could describe my ‘job,’ but in this case it’s what Deena Wren who has just been awarded the 2019 Scottish Book Trust Learning Professional Award, said at the Lighthouse in Glasgow last night. I think I’d like to be a pupil at Beeslack Community High School, if I could have her as my school librarian. Take everything good that could possibly be said about a librarian, and that’s what everyone at the school did say as they were interviewed for the video we were shown at the award ceremony.

Alan Windram at Scottish Book Trust Awards

Last night was an award-studded event where the winners of the 2019 Bookbug Picture Book Prize, Alan Windram and illustrator Chloe Holwill-Hunter were presented with their prize money for One Button Benny. Following last week’s announcement, John Young was there to receive the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, and Kerr Thomson, one of the runners-up was also present.

Theresa Breslin at Scottish Book Trust Awards

And after all that it was time for the Outstanding Achievement Award to be given to Theresa Breslin for her thirty-year-long career as an advocate for children’s literacy and libraries. I know how hard Theresa has worked, and she’s also written ‘a few’ books. About fifty. Ever modest, Theresa praised Deena Wren for her excellent work, telling us what it had been like when she did an author visit at her school. (Something about sandwiches, I believe.)

The Lighthouse was full of teachers and librarians out in force to celebrate their own, and – I’m guessing – to have a nice night out. There was wine, and the thing to eat right now seems to be deep fried cauliflower, with some sort of dribbled chilli icing. I might have eaten quite a few of those.

Theresa Breslin at Scottish Book Trust Awards

As usual I encountered Mr B, Theresa’s ‘stalwart husband,’ along with a Theresa ‘twin’ who turned out to be her sister, and I’m just not saying anything about how old anyone is. There were daughters, and at least one niece, and possibly friends and neighbours. The award was embargoed, so it had been awkward inviting people along without saying what to. Theresa herself came and sat with us, for at least a minute, before she was called upon to get up and talk to people.

I’m glad Mr B was there with his camera, as mine really didn’t enjoy the dark, or the fact that I am short and couldn’t reach far. One junior Breslin even climbed up on a chair.

Scottish Book Trust Awards

As I took a few turns round the place – which unlike me is quite tall and narrow, and might explain the name Lighthouse – I encountered Barbara Henderson, down from Inverness. It seems that we both sort of invited ourselves… Barbara introduced me to Kerr Thomson, and also to Lindsay Littleson whom I’d not met before. The conversation then strayed to unicorns.

John Young, Kerr Thomson and Barbara Henderson

It was the kind of evening when you remember why you read and why it’s something most of us need. Reading makes us feel better. And your reading can improve if you have access to good librarians with a passion for books.

(Photos of Theresa by Tom Breslin)

Impressive

That’s me, that is.

Daughter was flabbergasted to discover her old mother was capable of finding a webcast from the conference she’s at, and that I watched her give a talk. Live. (It was worth a try. Beginner’s luck, perhaps, but I found it, and even sent it on to the Resident IT Consultant to watch as well. So we sat in separate rooms watching our child say stuff about stuff we know virtually nothing about.)

Helen Giles in Baltimore

But anyway, the webcast. Don’t tell me it exists if I’m not meant to look for it. My evening meal suffered a little. I managed a rush job of slice of bread with cheese and an apple, as the webcast from Baltimore started in what was their early afternoon.

Daughter was pretty impressive too. Obviously.

(But not as much as I was.)

I Used To Know That

Yeah, so Christmas was a while ago. But the order from our hosts, Dodo and Son, was to buy lots of non-targeted stocking-filler type presents. These were to sit in a basket and could be opened by anyone at any time during Christmas Day. You know, for when you got bored…

They said they’d started by buying some cheap books from charity shops.

This one – I Used To Know That – was probably one of them. I have to admit to having picked book-shaped parcels. Not that I needed books, but I felt I needed silly gadgets or socks even less.

It’s quite fun, actually. Caroline Taggart has gathered ‘stuff you forgot from school’ in a short, humorous and easy to read format.

The Resident IT Consultant and I discussed whether we’d forgotten the same things, and I pointed out that to some extent we would have been given sufficiently different material from which to forget. So, no, we have blissfully put different stuff behind us. Me more than him. I have always been the type to learn for the moment (=exam) and forget quickly to leave room for more like that. And so it went on.

Maths might have been ‘the same’ were it not for the two countries (languages?) having different ways of describing it. Grammar is both the same, and not. Classic authors? Not the same. Well, a bit. The more foreign, the likelier. Science? Hmm, not always easy wherever you do it.

History; I had my kings and he had his. US Presidents were the same, but we didn’t feel they were all that important. Dates to remember… well, I knew some of his, and him being special, he clearly knows about Freden i Knäred – as do I – but do you?

Then there are the planets, and they depend entirely on how old you are. How many did you learn, that you could later forget?

I had never come across litotes, but now that I have – thank you, dear book – I can tell you it’s something I use a lot. Whereas all I recall about anapaest is that it is one.

So there you have it.

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

A small travelling miscellany

I lied a little. I told Daughter I’d only visited Cambridge twice, but once we got there I remembered a third time. Still, it’s not a lot, is it?

She had cause to go there for a couple of days, and I asked to be allowed to come along, to see a little more of the world and to discover if there was anything new since 2006. (Open Day, with Son, trailing round as many colleges as possible…) I’d say there was.

The weather was gloriously cold and sunny. And isn’t it marvellous how flat it is? Realised on the train home that I’d not travelled north of Cambridge before, so I really enjoyed seeing the flat landscape as I left. It might have been there on Monday as well, but it was dark so I can’t be sure.

I saw Newton’s apple tree. I’d been a little confused, thinking I was being promised to see his apple, but Daughter pointed out this was unlikely. I suppose someone ate it. I saw a Hogwarts shop. Or two. Had a nice cream tea, including the largest milk jug I’ve ever come across in a tearoom. Admired the Christmas lights in the darkening streets.

We met up with Anne Rooney, who kindly sacrificed some of her morning on us, and introduced us to a non-chain coffee shop. (If this makes it sound like we did nothing but drink tea and coffee, it’s because we – almost – didn’t.)

I didn’t actually have time to read any of the three books I’d brought until I was on the second train home, and I only finished one of them.