Category Archives: Humour

You can’t have an Irish road trip

Apparently.

That’s why Derek Landy first wrote his new book after Skulduggery Pleasant as something totally different, before he realised this was no good and he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. So he wrote a new new book during a month after Christmas and moved all of it across the Atlantic to America where they really do road trips, and you can drive for weeks and see no one.

He reckons Demon Road is very good. It’s the best he’s written. This year. He knows that the rule in publishing is that your next book or your next series will never be quite as bestselling as the first. But he’s got used to us loving him, and he feels other books lack a certain Derek-ness.

The audience was full of fans. (At least I believe so, unless it was a cunning plot.) I’d say mostly the sort of age you’d be if you’ve followed Skulduggery for his lifetime (and I don’t mean the hundreds of years he’s had as a skeleton). So when Ann Landmann introduced Derek (in the – for her – unfortunately titled The Waterstones Event with Derek Landy) there was thundering applause for him, which he conveyed home to his mother via mobile phone, as it seems the woman doubted his popularity. Some mothers!

Derek Landy

He’s a sneaky fellow, that Derek. He did the Village Idiot act almost to perfection, and if I’d not read and admired Skulduggery all these years, I’d have been aghast. And I’m trying to visualise him in his 66 Ford Mustang, which he rarely drives at home in Ireland because he feels like a moron when he does. But he likes powerful cars, which is why his male characters drive really interesting ones.

Having stopped being a feminist for a while, he became one again when his girlfriend showed him what it’s like for us girls out there. He loved Valkyrie, and she’s someone who does not need feminism, but his new girl Amber, who is shorter and fatter than average, brought back the need for a bit of feminism. In demon form Amber is a bit of a nutcase, a psychopath. And Derek hasn’t got a clue how the third and last book about her will end.

Someone asked if Derek is Gordon. NO! He is Skulduggery, as will be obvious from how alike they are in every respect… Coming up with the funny names for characters in Skulduggery Pleasant was hard (although there was a competition to get fans to do the work for him…), and with Demon Road the tricky thing is looking everywhere up on Google streetview, as his sudden change of setting meant he had no time for on-site research.

Derek was about the third author in Charlotte Square to extol the virtues of the work of H P Lovecraft. He didn’t set Demon Road in Skulduggery’s world, because if there’s a film deal for one, the film company would automatically own the other books as well. Or something like that.

He never wrote from Skulduggery’s point of view, to keep him as the mysterious genius he must be; an icon, a figurehead, tough hero. (That’s enough now, Derek.) And he (Derek) kills our beloved characters because we love them so much. So he can break our hearts.

Thanks.

Derek Landy

At his signing, we were warned he had a train to catch three hours later, so he’d not have time to do his usual chatting at length with everyone. But looking at his first chattees, he Talked. A. Lot. The Irish do. On the other hand, I did witness him sneaking out the back gate in time for his train.

And talking of trains, as I got off mine, the people in front of me sat proudly brandishing a shiny new copy of Demon Road. I believe I know where they’d been.

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.

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.)

Yip yip yip

Finally!! I have actually seen Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve in Charlotte Square. I went to their Chilly Up North event, and I brought the youngest Offspring along. (I think she enjoyed herself more than she expected to.)

There was a long queue and lots of people. Mainly small ones. They handed out sketchpads to the little ones, and even to those adults who wanted to draw. We had to shout yip yip yip to make Sarah and Philip enter. (Personally I’d have stayed away if I heard a whole tent yipping like that…)

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve

Philip wore yellow trousers that would startle polar bears, and a fetching white Cossack style shirt. Sarah matched him for yellowness, with a rather lovely fur-trimmed yellow dress. In order to avoid crinkles she’d brought her iron.

Their new book, Pugs of the Frozen North, is about a race to reach the Snow-father before anyone else, so you can have a wish. They couldn’t afford huskies, so had to use 66 pugs to pull the sledge (apparently there is a knitting pattern on how to knit your own pug on Sarah’s website). When they mentioned a particle detector for the Northern Lights my personal astrophysicist moaned in despair.

Sarah McIntyre

This was the first time they’d done the show, so they had to feel their way round (‘couldn’t be bothered’ to rehearse, or so they claimed), but it wasn’t too bad. Philip stole Sarah’s pug at one point, but what is a pug between friends? They made a snow game, riddled with dangers such as avalanches and crevasses, not to mention yetis.

Plenty of opportunity for audience participation. There was the snowball throwing, which caused some unfortunate Elvis impersonation, farting and yeti hands, but it wasn’t quite the ‘end of Reeve & McIntyre’ as a member of the audience came to the rescue with their anti-yeti spray. Every performance should have some.

Philip Reeve

We were even taught how to draw our own pug, and it was surprisingly easy. We will be able to take over any day now.

There was an inflatable dice, and there was music and singing and an intricate chorus to sing (yip yip yip). They’re crazy. But popular.

So popular, in fact, that by the time the queue in the bookshop had sorted itself out, I had to give up on making myself known to Philip – again! – as I needed to be elsewhere. And he was so beautiful and yellow, too. It would have been lovely.

Yip…

Hobnobbing with the Pope

Not me. Anthony McGowan, if he’s to be trusted. But why* shouldn’t this cricket-mad slightly crazy children’s author socialise with the Pope?

He’s also much nicer and kinder than he tries to make himself out to be. Tony, that is, not the Pope.

Anthony McGowan

It was the cricket I really wanted to hear about. Any author can talk books and writing, but not all live for their cricket quite like Tony does. His whole being lit up when I pushed him onto his favourite topic.

So here is he – finally – talking about the Pope, teachers as role models and getting wrecked in Vienna with the new children’s laureate. Not bad at all for a working class northern kid.

*It seems he didn’t. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Read that email, I mean. Anyway, he was close, and so was I.

Binny in Secret

Hilary McKay knows how to write exactly the kind of book I, and many more, want to read. Need to read. I can’t tell you how happy I was to find there was going to be a sequel to Binny for Short. Although that ended in such a perfect way that it was hard to see how you could revisit Binny and her family and improve on things.

Hilary McKay, Binny in Secret

But you know, it is possible, and Binny in Secret is the proof.

Reluctance to going to school is something many of us have experienced, and here we meet it in two very different, but also similar, ways. Hilary has written not only about Binny in the present day, but has woven the tale about three children who spent their holidays in the area exactly a hundred years earlier, into the book as well.

Binny ‘only’ has current-day troubles at school, although that can be more than enough. The story about the Penrose cousins features school, sexism and that awful thing that happened in 1914, the War. The reader knows it’s coming, while the Penrose children don’t.

The family’s roof blows off, but that doesn’t save Binny from having to go to school. She thought it would, but things get even worse. And something eats James’s chicken Gertie, and the children’s mother has to work longer hours to pay for the new roof. So how can Binny share her troubles with her family?

She discovers the local wildlife, and she discusses it at length with her long-distance friend Gareth. There is a puzzle to be solved, and there is bullying to be dealt with, as well as a 100-year-old museum that the Penrose children began.

As always with Hilary’s books, you know this will end in a satisfying way. But you can’t predict how.

If you haven’t read this book yet (and how could you, seeing as it’s only out today?), you have such a treat in store! And there is Binny for Short first, if you didn’t get round to reading that.

An Island of Our Own

This is the best book Sally Nicholls has written – so far – and she has written some really good ones.

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

An Island of Our Own is that perfect thing; a tremendously good children’s book. Written as though by 13-year-old Holly, who is an orphan, living with her 19-year-old brother Jonathan who is official carer of her and their brother Davy who is seven, Holly wants new school shoes and Davy wants a bike. And for his pet rabbit to get well.

This costs money they don’t have, especially as they live in London, and when their rich great aunt Irene dies, they embark on an only slightly crazy quest for their inheritance. As it says on the cover, this really is a book about home-made spaceships, lock-pickers, an exploding dishwasher, and Orkney (my second Orkney book in a short time). But most of all it’s about love, and resilience.

Jonathan makes a far better ‘parent’ than many ‘real’ fictional parents, and it’s heartbreaking to think of this boy who was all set to go to university and had to give it up, and who cries in secret when he can’t find the money they need to pay for Sebastian’s (that’s the rabbit) care or the effects of the dishwasher incident.

Holly is a wonderful girl, ever the optimist and very clever at working out how to solve things. She reads Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie, whose novels might be for adults, but ‘even Agatha Christie never kills twenty-two kids in one book, like they do in The Hunger Games.’

There is something so very light about Sally’s writing. Her topics are serious, but she turns everything into sheer delight, and you smile and you cry. And you want to read the book again.