Category Archives: Interview

Marcus Sedgwick on horror and sheds

The Marcus Sedgwick interview is ready for your entertainment today. I wish you could hear Marcus, as well as just read. He laughs a lot and he talks ‘just right’ by which I mean that he is interesting on whatever stupid question someone like me might ask, and he spends time on them, but not too long.

Lagom, as we say in Sweden.

He is someone who has been on my interview radar for years, and it’s mainly coincidence that it was his new adult novel, A Love Like Blood, that caused us to meet and talk (I ‘blame’ the very helpful Kerry at Hodder), which is why I used up some of our ‘adult’ time on talking about his – slightly – younger books as well.

Marcus Sedgwick

And his shed. (It’s not necessary to buy a house that has a good shed. You can actually build a nice shed once you’ve found the house of your dreams.)

Marcus claims not to be obsessed by horror, but he is a man who scares me a lot, through his books. They are the kind of books you read hiding behind the sofa.

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.


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


16 floors

On arrival in London yesterday, we had to repair to a nearby hotel’s facilities to make an emergency medical dressing repair (plasters and acetone do not make good partners, but at least no one fainted). Once done we made it on time – if only just – to Hodder & Stoughton’s 16th floor offices, with no visible blood whatsoever. The lovely receptionist even made sure I didn’t have to go up in the glass elevator by ordering me a proper old-fashioned lift.

When we got there, I made sure I sat with my newly dressed back to the windows, which according to my Photographer offered great views. (She went in the glass elevator, no doubt to show off.)

The blood aspect was unexpectedly apt, as we were there to interview Marcus Sedgwick about his new ‘bloody’ novel – A Love Like Blood. There was a slight misunderstanding as to his arrival on floor 16, which meant we had a nice long chat in the lobby, with me carefully not asking him about ‘the other stuff’ and instead discussing the high points of Gothenburg and hair raising theme park rides (neither of which I like very much).

Marcus Sedgwick

We got to meet publicist Kerry’s lovely dog, which I’d only seen photos of before. I think we’d get on; plodding walking pace and a fondness for hanging out in kitchens. (Dog, not Kerry.) We diligently interviewed, and then Marcus had to rush off to finalise things to do with his book launch, while we walked to another kitchen (the Scandinavian Kitchen, for a late Lent bun).

After that we whiled away our remaining spare time in Trafalgar Square, looking at tourists, pigeons and an enormous blue rooster, before walking over to Goldsboro Books for the book launch. Thanks to Kerry’s sun dance, it didn’t rain at all. That’s what I call service.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

I believe there was champagne, or some such drink, judging by popping corks, but we stayed nice and sober (I am obviously not suggesting anyone else was drunk), and chatted to people, including Thomas Taylor, who does not like blood, much. I have to admit to advising him not to read Marcus’s book.

Children’s author Linda Chapman was there. And Cliff McNish and I really must stop meeting like this. That’s twice in eight days. He’s got a nice new book out about nice dogs, with no creepyness or blood.

And then my Photographer and I sneaked out before we suffered social overload, and sort of limped home in a tired kind of way.

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.

The #6 profile – Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan is very kindly publishing two of her out of print novels as a double ebook today, thus enabling me to put my famous profile questions in front of her. She’s a woman made to answer questions, you know. Here, to celebrate the publication of Sleepwalking and The Passionflower Massacre, I give you epublisher Nicola:

Nicola Morgan

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

Three and several halves. And an eighth.

Best place for inspiration?

Not at my desk. Either out for a walk on my own (but not in a scary place, otherwise I start worrying who might be following me with an axe, instead of whatever idea I need to be inspired by) or ironing, cooking or any kind of housework. In other words, things where my body is occupied and I can’t go on social media or check my emails. (Though, actually, I can and do check my emails in all sorts of places, including while walking or doing housework…)

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

I don’t think so. But if I had to, I would. And then I’d go to the launch party and tell everyone how absolutely amazing that “Petronella Dietrich” is.

What would you never write about?

Space. And anything else that a) bores me rigid and b) I don’t understand.

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

I slept in the house where Alfred Noyes used to live, at the invitation of his daughter (because I was writing The Highwayman’s Footsteps.) I sat on my bed after dark, reading The Highwayman poem while listening to a cassette of Noyes reading it, and when I opened the curtains and looked out of the window, the moon was a ghostly galleon.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Matilda in The Passionflower Massacre. But only after the massacre and before the last chapter. And also probably a year after the book ends, because she’ll take at least that long to recover, though she will.

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

Definitely good. Even if they changed everything, as they can, it was and is still my book and they can’t change that. They just create something new out of it, which is good. And I get paid, which, frankly, is not to be sneezed at.

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

“What is your name?” and “How does someone as nice as you write such nasty books?”

Do you have any unexpected skills?

It depends what you expect! I’m damned good with an electric drill. Shelf, anyone?

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia, as long as I can alter the personalities of all the children and ignore the religious references. And add in Timmy the dog.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

You mean apart from you?! Well, perhaps Greta Garbo, because I also often vant to be alone. But perhaps Astrid Lindgren. Now, I confess I didn’t know much about her other than that she was obviously a hugely successful children’s author, but I’ve just discovered that she once incurred a 102% tax rate, so I reckon she deserves a mention. And a rebate.

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

Teenage and children’s books in my study (children’s books by age of child or size of book and by visual rules; teenage books alphabetically) and others wherever shelves can be found, never alphabetically but according to where Mr M and I agree they should go, adhering to unspoken rules and our own internal logic. A selection of interesting and light fiction and non-fiction in the spare room.

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

The Marvin Redpost books by Louis Sachar. And The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer. I know you asked for one book, but an unwilling reader needs lots of choice. Then he could read all the other Louis Sachar and Eoin Colfer books. When he got tired, because reading is tiring when you’re eight and unwilling, I’d read Clemency Pogue, Fairy Killer, by JT Petty, to him, followed by One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. And that would be that.

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

You mean forever? I’d never be able to do the other one? Meh. Reading. I’d have to be very arrogant to think my writing would keep me more inspired than all the other books there are to read. And I’m lazy and writing is hard.

Thank you! Very interesting questions.

Yes, they were, weren’t they? And finally an intelligent person who could detect my ulterior motive regarding the Swede question! Honestly, how hard can it be? (After today no one is allowed to pick me, however. Copycats.) And I’ll have a shelf or two, thank you, Petronella.

The #5 profile – Mårten Sandén

Today is Mårten’s day. Swedes (might) celebrate by eating goose. So I sort of felt that it’d be appropriate to ask the only Mårten I know to be my profile for the day. He is Mårten Sandén, and the first of his books to be translated into English was published in the summer, House Without Mirrors.

Mårten Sandén

A real Anglophile, Mårten has treated my silly profile questions like the pro he is, being the kind of author who translates his book into English himself, just so he has something that he can cart round to show possible foreign publishers. There could be more books one day…

Over to Mårten:

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

Just one finished (but rather longish) novel, which was mysteriously turned down by every major publishing house (and quite a few minor ones) in Sweden. Something we should all be thankful for, I assure you.

Best place for inspiration?

Standing by the open window of a moving train has always seemed to work for me. Too bad so few train windows open at all these days.

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

I have considered it, but so far always decided against it. The main reason for using a pseudonym would probably be not to confuse readers, since I write for so many age groups, in so many genres. But so far everything has been published under my real name.

What would you never write about?

Bottomless, senseless despair, I think. No matter how dark the protagonist’s situation becomes, there must be hope, or at least a sense of meaning.

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

Through my songwriting I had the pleasure of briefly meeting rockabilly legend Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes) in Nashville, just months before he passed away. Visiting Swedish-speaking schools on remote islands in the archipelago of southern Finland, in winter, was very strange and wonderful.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

There are quite a few, but feisty heroine Jannike Faltin in an Urban Fantasy trilogy I wrote a few years back would be nice. Jannike is bright, has psychic powers, can travel through time and parallel realities, and is in excellent physical shape. The bad news is she’s a teenager, and I wouldn’t want to be that again.

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

A good thing, certainly, if the script was good, the actors and director brilliant and the budget not too tight. I love movies and have learned a lot about writing novels from watching them and from reading books about screenwriting.

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

Since I usually speak before middle-graders, most questions I’m asked tend to be slightly odd. “Why aren’t you taller?” is one I like to ponder.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Um, I’m really good at untying knots … Does that count? I can also whip up a rather decent George Formby-style version of “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue” on the ukulele.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

As a boy I would have said both, but as a boring adult I probably prefer Narnia.

Who is your most favourite Stopfordian?

Fred Perry! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him play, even on TV, but I grew up in his tennis shirts and trainers. A Mod icon!

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

I have Billys untold in our apartment, and a basement stash with almost as many. The ultimate goal is to have all the books sorted alphabetically and by subject (Fiction, History, Travel, etc.). I actually achieved this lofty ambition once, very briefly. But then we moved again …

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

That depends on the boy, but I would probably go for something classic and adventurous. Jules Verne, or Stevenson’s Treasure Island, in a young reader’s edition, perhaps.

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

That’s one choice I hope I’m never forced to make … If I was, I would probably try to worm my way out of the situation by using some version of the old Woody Allen joke: “The money or your life!” “Well, you’d better take my life then, because I need the money.”

In the end it would be writing, because I can’t see myself spending my days without it, but I would certainly miss reading.

You can see how very dapper and ‘English gentleman’ Mårten is by his terribly elegant three piece suit. I bet this is a man who never writes in his pyjamas. Although, if forced to choose between not writing and doing it in PJs, I reckon I can guess what his decision would be.

The Teri Terry interview

Facebook is useful for, well, quite a few things. You meet people on there. People who haven’t yet published books. And then they go on to be published authors. You find out they are coming to Manchester, even if it is to speak to librarians and not to me. That’s the kind of thing that can soon be altered. Added to, rather. I didn’t prevent Teri Terry from seeing her librarians. I just made sure she saw me too.

We met over fruit juices. (Because it was still, technically, morning.) We had our borrowed photographer, Marnie Riches. And there was my list of ‘things I wanted to know.’

Teri speaks with an interesting accent, which I would probably label as American. It is ‘Canadian, actually.’ With bits of several other accents thrown in. But she has that confidence when speaking that I recognise from other Amer… I mean, people from North America.

So here she is, the author who collects degrees, careers and accents the way the rest of us hoard stamps. Teri Terry, the cheerful dystopia writer who doesn’t mind running.

And then it was time for lunch

First I need to get the pink pyjamas out of the way by mentioning them in passing, like this.

Right, that’s that done then.

For a very long time I didn’t meet Teri Terry. And then I see her twice in eight days. Which was very nice. On Tuesday she had some librarians to talk to at Waterstones Deansgate, and being a friendly sort of person she inquired as to how many willing and able lunch companions Manchester had to offer for a meal beforehand.

George Kirk, Jon Mayhew and Teri Terry

Seven, in the end, as some people were working, and some people remembered in the nick of time that they are parents and would actually need to pick up their children from school.

Marnie Riches, Jo Dearden, Nina Wadcock and Lorrie Porter

But the rest of us met up for lunch, with Jon Mayhew the lone male, surrounded by lovely women writers. And me. It was great food, and great fun. I’m so discreet, however, that apart from the pyjamas I will say no more.

Well, not much more, anyway. We talked ebooks at my end, and praised Harry Potter (yes, really), and there was some publishing gossip. And people brandished their copies of Teri’s and Jon’s books for signing. (We never forget we are fans first.) Marnie Riches who came despite being a parent-picker-upper left early. Which was a shame, but better than nothing.

Teri Terry

The day started with me boarding Teri’s Pendolino* in Stockport, so that I could gently guide her from Piccadilly towards Deansgate, and by happy circumstance interview her as well. I felt Waterstones café was a suitably bookish venue for this kind of thing. Teri bribed me with apple juice, so I will only say nice things about her. (I would have, even without juice.)

Marnie Riches

Marnie, eager to get in early to make up for parenthood, joined us there, and I saw the attraction in this and appointed her my photographer. The rumour must have spread, as Jon also turned up early, but by then the camera had been packed away. And in order to feed Marnie before she had to leave, we crossed the road to the Mexican restaurant someone had suggested.

Their cheesecake could have done with being half the size.

*That makes me feel like a cowboy who jumps from his horse to the stagecoach for a daring rescue.

A writers’ writer

For the aficionado Hilary McKay barely needs an introduction. Not everyone is as slow or as stupid as I was some years ago, thinking Hilary was just your ordinary girls’ books author.

She is anything but, and my ways have been truly mended. I still have a few of her, mostly junior, books to read, which makes me very happy. Because reading Hilary’s books makes me happy.

It was very kind of her to come to Bookwitch Towers to subject herself to an interview. She wants the minimum of fuss, so isn’t an obvious interview subject, really. But I was very glad she came, and that she could put up with it all.

Here she explains her philosophy of how nice people are. I’m beginning to think she might be right. (Except for her idiotic notion of how it would be better to use her books for building motorways.)

The Great, the Good and the Gory

This was the event I hadn’t planned to go to until a spare ticket fell into my hands a few hours earlier. And I’m so glad it did, and that I went. I and the rest of the audience had a great time, but I’d say Val McDermid and Stuart MacBride had even more fun. He might have been jetlagged, coming straight from down under, but he was more than up for some dirty jokes, and by the end Stuart and Val almost danced the Gay Gordons on stage, just as they’d threatened to do.

Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid and Craig Robertson

Craig Robertson was there to chair, but anyone requiring less chairing I’ve not come across. He also knew that we didn’t need introductions, but supplied them anyway, because it would have been rude not to. Craig said he couldn’t be certain that Val hadn’t written another book since the previous day, which is one way of describing her as prolific. Stuart, from the mean streets of Aberdeen, is famous for his mushroom soup. And last night he pointed out he was ‘the sensible, sober one’ on stage.


The short version of what happened would be to say that they are bonkers. But then you’d be missing all the fun.

In order to outdo Stuart, Val told us about touring New Zealand and performing for three days on no sleep, or some such unlikely fact. I forget where a certain bodypart in milk, and the chilli, and the subsequent coffee best drunk black came in, but it was there, and it made sense at the time. Not past the nine o’clock watershed, however.

Val McDermid

Val had once been treated to lesbian mudwrestling in Perth (Australia) to cheer her up. It didn’t. Stuart couldn’t beat this, because he’s from Aberdeen. (Did I say that already?) And it seems the Beatles came to Kirkcaldy in 1963. They didn’t stay. Not sure how this is relevant.

Someone – I forget who – mentioned a crime writer who tested how to drown people in the bath, just so she’d know it works. Val hasn’t had a bath this century. Which could be a lifesaver. She likes Swedes. 😀 In Dead Beat she has a mixed race character, who was a blonde on the cover of the Swedish version. (The publishers were poor. They had to use a friend for the cover photo and knew no ‘dark’ people.) Val had worried in case mixed race in Sweden meant half Norwegian.

While we are on the subject of that excellent country, Stuart had once had a book translated into Norwegian first. His deep fried pizza turned into frozen pizza. It continued being frozen in all subsequent translations he came across. Just as well it wasn’t a Mars bar.

Stuart MacBride

By the time Val talked about her German bath-sized sanitary towel (another translation issue), Craig muttered that his five minutes prep for the event were five minutes wasted. Both Val and Stuart are involved in collecting money for the Dundee mortuary, so that doctors can practise cutting up real dead people.

Titanium knees came up, and so did Jimmy Savile, who did inspire Val long before the current news broke. She also cited O J Simpson and Michael Jackson, and reckons crime novels deal with what scares us in the news.

Val gets inspiration when she sleeps, while Stuart goes to the supermarket. He was once accused of not being himself in a Chinese restaurant. Val had the same thing happen in a petrol station. Of not being Val McDermid, not of not being Stuart MacBride.

The reorganisation of Scottish police to Police Scotland is causing havoc for Stuart. Although Val is sticking to the English system, both feel that no one spared a thought for the crime writers when they reorganised.

Stuart was once asked permission by Aberdeen Council to quote him on something, and he rather hoped they’d go for ‘Aberdeen, hame of the serial killers,’ but they didn’t. For some reason.

We – and they, hopefully – could have gone on forever.