Category Archives: Interview

Cymera on the small screen

I have to confess I didn’t know there was going to be live coverage from Cymera on its Facebook page. But it was a nice thing to discover when my knees refused to go out this weekend. Had I known well in advance – about the filming, not so much the knees – I could have planned to make better use of it.

Thus it was that I did that time-wasting staring at Facebook post-cup-of-tea yesterday, and arrived just as Cymera started off on James Oswald, or JD as he was for the weekend, with his Sir Benfro hat on. Not that he wore a hat. But on the very small screen on my phone, the ‘camera eye’ unfortunately sat right on top of his head, leaving only the beard and the pink jacket visible. But I know what he looks like.

(Yes, the image was better on the computer. But it buffered an awful lot.)

JD Oswald and David Bishop

But anyway, I got to see James talking to David Bishop and that’s what I had wanted to do all this time, after discovering he was going to be there, and after reading the first Sir Benfro book.

Much of what he said has been covered in my own interview from four years ago, but I was struck by how James said he now has three books a year to write. Plus being a farmer. And then someone asked what he likes to read! As though the man would have time to read.

Actually, he does, and he listed a number of books, but like me, he forgets immediately, making it hard to recommend books. And he ‘cheats’ by reading audio books when out on his farming duties. It’s mostly fantasy. Seems he doesn’t like reading crime! (So before you send him yet more crime novels for a quote; don’t. Send him fantasy instead.)

There was a somewhat abrupt end to the filmed event, but it was far better than nothing!

Below is the ‘only good’ photo Clare Cain got of the Ghost event with Claire McFall, Rachel Burge and Helen Grant chatting to Sarah Broadley. I imagine they are hearing ghostly voices there. Or something.

Claire McFall, Rachel Burge, Helen Grant and Sarah Broadley, by Clare Cain

And even more below, is another stolen photo from Sunday morning’s event where Moira McPartlin chatted to Sarah Broadley [Sarah does seem to be everywhere, doesn’t she?].

Moira McPartlin and Sarah Broadley

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Cymera – meet the boss

If you haven’t already met Ann Landmann at some event, you’re in for a treat at her Cymera weekend. And today, as a bonus, I have asked Ann a few questions from which you can find out, roughly, how to start your own litfest. That is, if you have even a fraction of Ann’s energy.

How do you even come up with the idea of starting your own book festival?

I love book festivals, big and small, and living in Edinburgh obviously means I have one of the best on my doorstep. Over the years I have noticed that SFFH authors don’t feature in book festival programmes as much, and while I know there are lots of conventions, a lot of them are down South.

The easy solution to bringing authors that I love to Scotland was starting my own book festival. So, armed with festival experience, events organiser experience, an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management and a lot of enthusiasm, I found some equally crazy people and here we are.

Was it obvious what category books and authors you wanted?

Yes. Cymera is dedicated to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and we pretty much stuck to those categories. As to authors, we’ve been super lucky – the support from publishers has been great, and we actually got almost every author we asked for. I suspect the lure of Edinburgh, Scotland, played into this too!

According to the press release you have 81 authors. Have you read all of them?

I have read a lot of them, but not all (yet). There’s still time though …

How do you go about finding a venue?

From the beginning it was clear that we wanted to create the buzz you get when everything is in one venue, like at a convention. We also needed a bar, it had to be accessible and have lots and lots of space.

For my old job as Events Manager for a local bookshop I’ve always stayed on top of what venue in Edinburgh does what, and I knew the Pleasance just had a refurbishment making it more accessible. EUSA, who run the Pleasance, have been great to work with, and hopefully the space is as perfect as I am envisioning it.

Has it been hard to get volunteers? Who is volunteering?

We’ve had a fantastic response for our call for volunteers for the weekend! We have people from all sorts of backgrounds, from students to people that have volunteered at festivals before.

Are you actually looking forward to the Cymera weekend, or just to it being over?

I can’t wait! I hope we’ll get that buzz going, that everyone has a great time, makes new friends, discovers new writers – all those things that make a successful festival!

Dare I ask; once it’s over, will you do it again?

We fully intend Cymera to become an annual event that people look forward to every year. There’s definitely plenty of authors out there to fill an annual programme, and we have lots and lots of ideas of what we else we can do. 2019 is the year we are trying things out, and we are hoping for lots and lots of feedback that we can build the 2020 festival on.

I like the convention idea! Now all I need is a bed under the stairs.

See you there! (At Pleasance, not under the stairs.)

The #25 profile – Tom Palmer

To my surprise I have read most of Tom Palmer’s books. When I was sent the first one I was happy to read it. A bit sporty, you know, but a fine story. And the books kept coming, and I kept reading and liking them. All that football… But the man writes a good story, and he is gold with boys. I know that’s a little sexist, but there you are. And he has written about girls and sport. Now that Tom’s moved deeper into war stories, he’s got even better. I have no idea where this will end.

Below Tom makes short work of my silly questions, and here is a handsome photo of him and his dog, Finn. Woof.

Tom Palmer 2018 (with dog)

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Three. Amid a hundred-plus false starts over 20 years.

Best place for inspiration?

A moving train.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

Yes.

What would you never write about?

Torture.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

A Russian oligarch’s bodyguard. A cruise ship prison cell. Not at the same time.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Ernest from Armistice Runner, because he knows what it feels like to win a fell race.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

A good thing. Largely financially, to be honest. Though I’d like to see Armistice Runner on camera for the lovely scenery.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Why do you support Leeds United?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I have a superb reputation in the family for decorating cakes.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Famous Five.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Pontus Jansson.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

Categories that become corrupted very quickly.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

I’d have a chat with him first to find out what he is into, then suggest something. But – without any of that intel – I’d say Eoin Colfer’s The Legend of Spud Murphy.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing. Reading makes me really happy, but I think, when it’s going well, writing makes me even happier.

Well, this just goes to prove how weird people are. Leeds United … well. The author questions, the secret skills. Their Swedes. (I had to look Pontus up.) But Tom’s got great taste when it comes to advice on reading. And I’ll have a slice of that cake if you don’t mind!

What shall we do without Kerry?

Yesterday the Bookseller delivered the unwelcome news that my favourite publicist is retiring. Yes, Hodder’s publicity director Kerry Hood is hanging up her, well, I don’t know what she’s hanging up. But something. Her not being one of those 27-year-olds, I did realise this time would come, but I pushed the thought away and hoped for the best.

Because that’s what Kerry has given me; the best PR help and some of the bestest authors. (I’m sure the woman cherry-picks…)

We first met eleven years ago, when I forced her to bring me Sara Paretsky. Seriously, I had no idea people were so easy to force. Nor did I know that publicists could speak, I mean type, like normal people, which is why when I got this email I’ve treasured it all these years, ‘Crikey! Yep – that’s you!’ (It refers to an unexpected appearance by me on Sara’s website.)

Hodder's Kerry

The next time was in that maze they call Nottingham, and I will link to the whole blog post here, because it shows so clearly how Kerry provided 110% book & author experiences.

More recently I have had thoughts such as, ‘that looks like Peter Robinson over there! I wonder where Kerry is?’ I’ve not had enough time to be a Peter Robinson fan, but his choice of publicist is certainly a recommendation.

Kerry has not only facilitated meetings with authors of interest, but she has gently pushed me in the direction of others that she just knew would be my kind of author. And there have been so many books, usually dispatched with that admirable hands-on technique that I – well – admire. Everyone should be like that.

I have so many great Kerry-related events that I can’t link to them all. Hence Nottingham. I know I’m not alone in this fan behaviour. Just mentioning her name leads to others admitting they love her too.

Daughter and I met Kerry’s dog when we were in London. I had no idea that having your dog in the office could work so well.

I hope there will be another lovely dog for Kerry’s retirement, if that’s what she wants. And maybe the odd appearance at book events? Please? Or just call in for tea.

Transcribing

So, mid-interview when the person who has agreed to answer your questions says ‘hang on while I Google this, as I am no expert on what you just asked’… Should they politely offer something off the cuff that can later attract foul language on Twitter? So they can be accused of all kinds of shortcomings?

One thing I’ve learned after being the one who asks the questions, is to see more clearly when reading someone else’s interview how what was said might have happened. Often the person who has been interviewed is made to look as though they launched into a monologue on whatever it is, when in actual fact they were asked – or pressed – for their opinion, when it could be something they either don’t want to talk about or don’t know enough about.

Jacqueline Wilson

I have no idea what Jacqueline Wilson knows about transgender issues, but I’d guess it’s average, or above. She’s an intelligent woman, interested in life, and she is extremely polite, and kind and caring. That’s presumably why she talked about transgender children in her interview with the Telegraph (according to The Bookseller). An interview most likely arranged because she has a new book (Dancing the Charleston) out, and not about this topic. Or she’d have read up beforehand.

I’m the first to admit I only know an average amount about transgender issues, and I stay away from unpleasant spats on Twitter if I can. It’s only from hearsay that I know how badly John Boyne was treated recently.

Short of clamping your lips shut – and that would sort of defeat the purpose of an interview – there is no easy way to avoid being misinterpreted when the ‘chat’ is in print. (I’m obviously naïve for emailing my transcribed interview to discover if I’ve got anything dreadfully wrong.)

Having no wish to name Jacqueline’s attackers, I can only say that none of us have to be experts outside our own area, nor should anyone righteously tweet that they have worked for years on this subject, so they know best. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But others don’t therefore have an obligation to have done the same.

It would be better if these people continued working hard on whatever important thing they feel so strongly about, and then stand back to consider whether others must be accused of ignorance. And if you need to bring it up, perhaps don’t swear?

In the children’s books world there are countless lovely and kind people. Jacqueline Wilson is one of the kindest and politest. (I also suspect she has the ‘right’ opinions about the things that matter in life. But I’ve not felt I could ask her. Her reaction to Ann Widdecombe’s comments on siblings with different fathers, was to write Diamond Girls, about siblings with different fathers.)

(Photo by Helen Giles)

Scottish and Friendly with Lauren Child

‘Hello,’ they say. Not ‘do you want to sign in,’ as they do in English schools. That’s what so friendly about Scotland, like this week’s Scottish Friendly tour, where Scottish Book Trust are driving Children’s Laureate Lauren Child (see how those words and her name sort of go together?) all over Central-ish Scotland. Same procedure as every tour; five days, one school in the morning and one in the afternoon. Apparently it can be hard to remember whether you just said what you just said, or if that was in the last place.

Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour

Not since they brought me the last Laureate – Chris Riddell – have I been so pleased that I didn’t have to travel anywhere to meet Lauren Child, but they brought her to me. This time there was no need to break into any schools, even if they did have our local primary school on the itinerary, as I managed to insinuate myself to join them for ‘the daily pizza.’

Except it wasn’t pizza this time. And the Burgh Coffee House was full, even with Scottish Book Trust’s Tom & Co looking pointedly at the table-hoggers there, so they repaired to the new place across the street, where I joined them, having a latte as they worked their way through avocado toast with whipped cream. Ah, no, it was actually poached eggs. Looked like cream. And Lauren Child took to having a random witch join her like the professional she is.

We started by agreeing how strange it was that after all these years, we’d never been in the same place at the same time before. A witch should always aspire to someone new. Her Charlie and Lola books, and subsequent television series, were too late for Offspring [and me]. I had perused Lauren’s website before the meeting and discovered that I am not the only one to believe she’s American.

She’s not. I deduced from her description of a very long radio interview she’d done with someone once, that she might be from Wiltshire. Apparently it matters where you come from, as it does which part of London you live in now.

I’d been hoping to ask a really good question, but Lauren beat me to it and asked one of me instead… ‘Who do you still hope to meet?’ My answer should have been, ‘after you, no one.’ But I wasn’t that alert at that moment.

Lauren Child

Lauren has done what she wanted to do as Children’s Laureate, which is great. She’s at ‘the end’ now, and reckons she managed her goal by not setting such a crazy pace as her predecessor did. In fact, Lauren said it’d be better if the Laureate could stay on for longer than the two years, making it easier to have bigger goals, and for them to be successful.

She can also think of who might be good to take over after her, but is far too discreet to mention names. Although, she did say she feels it would be better not to choose the really big names, as someone slightly less famous could have more time to do the work.

I asked if it helps being known from television when she goes into schools, and it does. Sometimes children can take time to decide that an author is worth listening to, so if they already know about them, that helps.

Lauren’s entourage this week consists of three helpers, making her look terribly important. Scottish Book Trust’s Tom had managed to get two assistants to carry the books for him, which is good going for someone who drank Choconana two and a half years ago. Yesterday he had what looked suspiciously like some kind of coffee. And the café gave them two free slices of chocolate and beetroot cake. Because it was Wednesday.

As always, I stayed for far longer than I should have. (I blame the nice company.) And I turned down their kind offer to smuggle me into that afternoon’s primary school. It was good to have met Lauren, after so much time. And she looked lovely, dressed for spring, and far too sensible in a London and Wiltshire kind of way to even contemplate milkshakes. I’d say some sort of green tea?

The #24 profile – Moira McPartlin

Later this week Moira McPartlin’s Star of Hope, the third book in her Sun Song trilogy is published. I think it’s an exceptionally good title for a book, and I wish it and Moira all the best out in the big wide world.

As you can see, today I have cornered Moira for some questions and answers, but let me tell you right now that I have already emptied her bank account, so don’t even think about it!

Over to Moira:

Moira McPartlin

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

One.  It is called Torque and is about the strange love/hate/trust/jealousy relationship climbers have with their climbing partners. I sent submissions out to agents and publishers and received many, many rejections. Most saying they didn’t know where to place it in the market. I also received a free report from a Literary Agency which was pretty scathing so I buried Torque deep in my hard drive. One day I may dig it out again but it will need a full rewrite.

Best place for inspiration?

I can write just about anywhere but I know that my best work is written away from home. I spent many holidays in Applecross, a remote peninsula in the West Highlands and wrote some fine short stories there. I also wrote Ways of the Doomed, the first book in the Sun Song Trilogy, while living in Paris for a year.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I don’t write under a pseudonym because an agent once told me, before I was published, that Moira McPartlin is a great writer’s name. But I have toyed with the idea of using the name Agyness Foley if I ever wrote anything totally different. Agnes is my middle name (but the spelling is old fashioned) and Foley is my mother’s maiden name, although I probably shouldn’t have told you that because that’s a security question isn’t it?

What would you never write about?

I’m not sure I can say there is anything I would never write about although I would think twice about appropriating another person’s culture and race. My debut novel The Incomers is about a black West African woman, Ellie. I didn’t set out to write Ellie, she took over my story. I struggled hard before publication about whether I had the right to tell her story and it was only after a couple of black African men read The Incomers and approved that I felt relief. Having said that, one of the characters in my work in progress is an Arab male but that might change.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

 Just before I put the finishing touches to The Incomers I went to Africa for the first time. I felt it was my duty to get the feel of Africa. I went to the Gambia and took a local tour to a village where I met women and school children and learned a tiny bit about their lives. When I came home, my hairdresser put me in touch with a Gambian woman who lived in the next village to me. Ellie, my character’s story is set in 1966 Fife. Fatoumata lived in 2011 rural Stirlingshire. I was amazed to discover their stories were not that different.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

I think I’d to be Ishbel, the 21-year-old heroine of The Sun Song Trilogy. One reviewer described her as a post-apocalyptic Lara Croft. I like that description. When I created her I imagined her as a fresh-faced Nicole Kidman before the glam; tall, slim, red hair, amber eyes, in control. Yes, definitely Ishbel.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I think it would be a great thing! I am a very visual person, so when I write I can picture every scene in my head. I think that is why readers tell me my books would make good films. The hardest thing for writers is getting their books discovered by readers, a film is a great way to make that happen.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

I was once asked what was the difference between storytelling and lying? I was running a workshop on creating future worlds and I handed out made-up newspaper headlines about their town and asked them to write the story. One girl took real offence to this and more or less called me a liar. It was a good question though and made me rethink my definition of storytelling

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I am very good at untangling: fishing line, which I’ve snagged up in the first place; my granddaughter’s silver chains; my granddaughter’s Rapunzel-like hair; my sewing threads.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

The Famous Five. I read quite a few when I was young. I didn’t discover Narnia until my boys were small. I read a couple to them but I only enjoyed the first book.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Henrik Johansson.  In 1998 I was part of a work transfer team to move finance jobs from Stockholm to Glasgow. Henrik was a young consultant and my boss. He’d always turn up for work late, with his shirt unironed and hanging out. He has a funny, crazy laugh. He married a friend of mine and now lives in Malmö but his in-laws live in Fintry, a small village near me, so we were able to catch up a couple of years ago when they were home for Christmas.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I have many bookcases and need more. I read both fiction and nonfiction so I have bookcases for specific genres. I have a small bookcase for books still to be read and a fiction only bookcase. These are both organized alphabetically. In my study I have a writing bookcase which includes writing craft, poetry, plays and literature criticism books. These are organised by subject, then alphabetically. In my husband’s study I have matching book cases for nonfiction, guidebooks and maps. These are a bit mixed up at the moment because we’ve recently moved but these too will be organised by subject then alphabetically.

I could go on forever about my book collection.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

My grandson is a reluctant reader. For his Christmas I gave him the Peter Bunzl trilogy and we are reading Cogheart, the first of that trilogy, just now. It is a steampunk book with airships and a mechanical fox. What more could a small boy want?

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Reading. I can’t imagine ever not wanting to write but I know I could never give up reading.

How, erm, refreshing to have found a writer who has a normal person as their favourite Swede. It’s not even as if Henrik is Norwegian, or anything. And that agent was right, Moira McPartlin is a really good author name. 

What luck that Moira could just continue putting her ‘surplus’ books in her husband’s study! Although a woman who writes in [corpse-strewn] Applecross and in Paris clearly needs no study at all…