Category Archives: Interview

And ten years on…

Ten years go so quickly, don’t they? While the fresh-faced Bookwitch looks good for ten, that other, tired witch propping her up is certainly showing her age. I reckon she thought she’d still be 29, ten years in. Whereas it’s more like, well, at least 49.

Meg Rosoff and the ALMA award, with Alice Bah Kuhnke and Katti Hoflin

I’ve often wondered if I’d last this long. The next wondering has always been whether to give it up. You know, nice round figure (and I don’t only mean me) to end it all.

Philip Pullman

But when I voiced this thought to Ross Collins last month he seemed shocked (and I’m not fooling myself into thinking he’s been here for the duration), so I immediately retracted my threat.

Julie Bertagna, bookwitch and Neil Gaiman

Ross then said I must have ‘got’ a lot of authors in that time, so I sighed deeply and said yes. He seemed concerned that I wasn’t sounding happier, which kicked me out of my morose state of mind. Yes, I do ‘have’ lots of authors, and I love every single one, and treasure them, and this is a cause for celebration. Not sighing. But you know, when you’re 49 sighing comes easily.

John Barrowman

In the last few days I’ve been in email conversation with someone else, about books and publishing and all that kind of thing, and I realised I’ve picked up quite a bit over the years. Not just authors, I mean.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Actual knowledge, except it’s more like English grammar; I couldn’t tell you what it is. I just feel it.

So don’t ask me anything. I don’t know.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

There have been many absolutely wonderful books. And some less so. There have been really fun and interesting events, many of them in unusual places I’d not otherwise have got to visit. And those authors. Oh, those authors.

Steve Cole

Thank you.

(That’s the ‘I will go on for many more years’ thank you. Not the farewell thank you. I hope.)

Sara Paretsky

The #21 profile – Nick Sharratt

Scottish Friendly (such a Friendly sounding, and Scottish name, don’t you think?) are currently trundling Nick Sharratt round Liverpool. Lucky Liverpool! We are all very lucky that there still are some who take books for children seriously. The Bookwitch family have always treasured Nick’s services to reading, as without him and Tracy Beaker – and I do mean the pictures – Daughter wouldn’t be where she is today. Although I think she should have pestered him that time they were on the same train. Unless that would have killed a new book idea…

Here is Nick now, with bats for tats:

Nick Sharratt

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

None. I was primarily a magazine illustrator when I found myself commissioned by Oxford University Press to illustrate my first picture book, ‘Noisy Poems’, and as I remember it, the first book that I wrote as well as illustrated (‘I Look Like This’, now called ‘What Do I Look Like?’) was coaxed out of me by my editor at Walker Books.

Best place for inspiration?

A very long train or plane journey. Nothing to distract from truly getting to grips with an idea in one’s head.

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

Never thought about it.

What would you never write about?

Can’t see myself writing a violent crime thriller somehow.

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

I was placed next to the actress Fenella Fielding at a book festival dinner once. (I loved Carry On films as a boy and Carry On Screaming was a particular favourite.) She was delightful.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Timothy Pope’s dad in my Shark in the Park books. He’s a bit of a rocker.

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

Good. Please can I have animated films made of several of my books?

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

Will you draw a bat for me so that I can have it turned into a tattoo?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can juggle with jellies – and frequently do.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

The Famous Five. I liked the sound the hot chocolate and Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe though.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

I have four equally favourite Swedes and they comprised Abba. (Yes, I know Anni-Frid was born in Norway.)

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

By height.

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

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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

Please don’t ask me such an unsettling question!

Sorry. Didn’t mean to. Getting some hot chocolate ready as I write. But NO jellies.

I do like a man who knows his Norwegians. And for some idiotic reason when Nick said he organises his books by height – which is quite sensible – I visualised them all high up, because he is so tall. (Yes, those are his feet down there.)

Nick Sharratt's socks

Another A G

She looks nice, my saviour from Not Reading. And the odd thing is that I – who obsess about meeting the people I admire – have never even Googled Ann Granger to see what she looks like. But by complete accident I came across this short interview with Ann talking about her new crime novel, The Dead Woman of Deptford, a couple of days ago.

There are a number of authors, whose books helped make me the Bookwitch I am, and Ann is one of them. In fact, she is the only one to encounter me at the stage when I was not reading books. At all.

With both Offspring fairly young I read to them, and perhaps managed a quick glance at magazine if they had the decency to sleep. At the same time. (I think we can deduce that I didn’t cope well with stress.) The Resident IT Consultant travelled a lot, so it’s not as if I was going anywhere.

Ann Granger, Say it with Poison

One day I went into the newsagent’s and bought a magazine purely on the basis of the free crime novel that came with it. This was the first Mitchell & Markby book, and as soon I’d got rid of Offspring in the evenings (by which I mean putting them to bed), I read one chapter every night. Even at such a slow pace, sooner or later you get to the end.

Not only did reading make me feel calmer, but it showed me the error of my ways; that I needed time for me, and that reading regularly – however little – was A Good Thing.

Because I really liked the Mitchell & Markby books, I worked my way through every one as they appeared. The drawback being that after the first few I had to wait for them to be written.

Then came the Fran Varady books, which I liked even better. And in between waiting for Ann to write, I read other books, and when Son started reading, I moved on to Roald Dahl with him, and then further upwards and outwards.

By the time Ann Granger began her third and fourth crime series, I was no longer able to keep up. But I always intended to give them a go…

Thank you, to the other Ann G! I owe you a lot.

Cornelia and her Mount Everest

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

And, bringing up the rear, here is Bookwitch interviewing Cornelia Funke on the last day of the blog tour for Reckless, The Golden Yarn. Good things come to those who wait, and I knew – somehow – that talking to Cornelia would be good, even if I had to chase her to Newcastle’s Seven Stories to do it.

I was right. Cornelia is the kind of woman I’d happily chat to some more. And aren’t languages – foreign ones, even – the best? Where would we have been if we’d not both of us paid attention in school? I’d not have got far in German, and for all her early reading of Astrid Lindgren, I guess Cornelia’s Swedish isn’t very fluent. If at all.

Here she is, on standing up to publishers, editing, languages and the beauty of Los Angeles, coyotes and all. And, well, the naked man who traditionally plays the violin, standing in some river or other. She knows about him too.

‘Fantasy readers are much better people’

I have to agree with Garth Nix there. Maybe. It’s not every day someone ushers a writer like Garth from the room, so I can have some peace and quiet, but this happened yesterday at Seven Stories in Newcastle. I was there to interview Cornelia Funke. Garth’s presence was an added bonus, and it was lovely to see him.

War Horse at Seven Stories

Newcastle wasn’t quite as complicated as it was when I was last there. The train was on time. The taxis behaved – sort of – normally. Seven Stories was just as nice, and they had several exhibitions on, including one about Michael Morpurgo, and as I waited for Cornelia, I visited all seven floors for a quick look. So did the woman with the pram, who was trying to locate her husband. I hope there was a happy ending for them.

Chris Riddell at Seven Stories

Cornelia arrived with her publicist Vicki, and along with Garth we were conveyed to a quiet room, with only one Tiger [who came to tea] in it. And then Garth was conveyed somewhere else. Cornelia and I had our chat, which I had ended up re-planning in the middle of the night when I came up with a more important question for her.

Cornelia Funke Blog Tour

Afterwards I climbed up to the seventh floor where I waited for Garth’s and Cornelia’s event to start, along with a few early fans, and I suffered only mild vertigo. In more than one direction, but I survived.

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

I do love that room at the top, though! All those beams with fairy lights strung all over! And I reached the purple sofa first.

Garth talked about his premature idea of writing postapocalyptic dystopia, and he and Cornelia both agreed that writers write what they want to write. He works  towards the iceberg idea, where the story in the book is 10% with the other 90% existing in the writer’s mind. With fantasy you dig deeper, and it is more realistic than realism…

Cornelia Funke and Garth Nix at Seven Stories

A lot of fantasy is about boundaries; crossing them, or not crossing them. Cornelia who is now thinking six books for her Reckless series, is working on the fourth, which is exclusively Japanese fairy tales. Her plans for writing is to continue her three different series (which sounds like something her fans will approve of), taking them further.

There was some advice on what to do when meeting bears, but if it’s a grizzly I believe this will mostly mean the bears eating [you]. Garth grew up in Canberra where you are never far from the wilderness, and he had some tale about his father, who sounds as if he was the one who taught little Garth to lie so fluently.

Just as well, since he is monolingual, and quite jealous of Cornelia and her several languages. (She helpfully pointed out that speaking two languages protects you against Alzheimer’s.) In the US they believe Garth is English on account of how he speaks…

Cornelia Funke

After the Q&A session, Garth and Cornelia did a signing, and this was very much the kind of place where diehard fans had arrived carrying piles and piles of books, and much time was spent talking about whatever you talk about with your favourite author. Photos were taken, and even I had an offer of being photographed with Cornelia. But you know me; that’s not how I operate if I can help it.

Garth Nix

The first signing was followed by a second signing downstairs in the bookshop, where I carefully studied what they had for sale. A lot of good books.

Cornelia Funke

And then I went to check on my earlier booking for a taxi, joining other hopefuls on the pavement outside. Eventually I managed to persuade one driver that I probably was the Annie who had booked a taxi to the railway station.

(My apologies to any Annies left behind in Lime Street…)

Seven Stories

A view of the laureate

If I’d known he’d one day be the children’s laureate, I’d never have addressed Chris Riddell as deluded the first time I emailed him. But I didn’t know, and I did.

Although, he started it, by contacting me and wondering if he might be deluded. I suppose he didn’t have the slightest inkling about any laureateships either.

Now, however, I always feel I must be on my best behaviour around Chris, and that’s a thought I have until I see him, and realise – yet again – what a nice and normal person he is. Not deluded, and just the right amount of stately to carry off the fancy title.

Anyway, enough with the musings about whether one has to be extra polite or not. Here is the interview, and it only took me a month to get it ready. (Never travel or have the builders in when you have a laureate interview to transcribe.)

Chris Riddell with questions box

‘Don’t show your ghosts too soon’

Jonathan Stroud had been in Gothenburg before. 11 years ago, he reckoned, which is true, as that’s when we met him the first time. Then he had his Bartimaeus trilogy to talk about, and now it’s Lockwood.

On Thursday morning Jonathan did a short event with his publisher, and he only had to warn her once that she must be careful with spoilers. I’m glad I was already past that bit, so it didn’t upset me. I’ve been reading the 4th Lockwood all week (and the reason I’m not done yet is not because I’m slow, but simply that there hasn’t been enough time in the week) and it has been just the right background for a bookish few days at the Gothenburg book fair.

Jonathan feels there’s a bit of Pippi Longstocking about Lockwood. And needless to say he wants to be him. (So it was interesting to hear him tell Lotta Olsson on Friday that when he tried to use Lockwood as narrator in book two, he gave up as he didn’t want Lockwood’s interior monologue.)

Everyone is impressed by his extensive research (this is fiction, folks!) into ghosts and the weapons he gives his characters in their fight against the ghosts. Poltergeists are – sort of – real, but most of the rest he obviously made up.

Mats Strandberg, Lotta Olsson and Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood began when Jonathan wrote a short introduction, featuring a boy and a girl outside a door, and he wanted to find out who they were and what they were about to do. Lockwood and Lucy and George emerged from that short opening. The reason he uses – an alternative – London as the setting for a fantasy is because it’s more realistic and exciting in a real place. He doesn’t know much, but builds things up slowly.

The agencies in the books are growing increasingly corrupt, so he made the ghost hunters young because they are more open than adults. Jonathan compared the work the young agents do on a nightly basis with our own everyday tasks that we just have to do, whether we want to or not. He feels that by implying things and being sparing with details, you have a more powerful story.

In his event with Lotta Olsson, he and scary author Mats Strandberg discussed the difference between horror and terror. It could be that horror is more for children, while terror works better for adults. Mats, who has been inspired by Harry Potter [the films…] described his new book as being a bit like The Walking Dead, set on the ferry to Finland. (Which sounds pretty terrifying, if you ask me.) And apparently in his next book Mats is even scaring himself.

Jonathan believes in suspense, which is why he doesn’t want to show his ghosts too soon. You will be more frightened by not knowing what’s coming. There’s the bump in the night, versus machine guns. Mats said that in terror it is generally the underdog who fares best. Asked by Lotta how the easy access to violent [real] videos for even quite small children will affect future writing, Mats hopes that empathy can save the world.

Freedom to Think is a campaign Jonathan is involved in, which wants to give our far too busy children some time to themselves, when they can simply sit and do nothing; dream up new ideas and maybe learn the skills to be an author or to do other creative things. Not to be ferried round by parents to ever more activities.

Lotta wondered if Lucy was meant to be the main character in Lockwood, and Jonathan felt that the fact she is flawed, brave, and has anxieties, makes her a useful and very suitable hero, and why he discovered that Lockwood was no good in that role. Finding your voice is the best thing.

Asked by someone in the audience for their favourite writers, Mats confessed to being a Stephen King fan, while Jonathan likes M R James and his ‘short and nasty’ stories.

Jonathan is currently writing the fifth and last Lockwood novel, which is nervous work. But he finds that the scary bits make the jokes better.