Category Archives: Jacqueline Wilson

A Scottish Jamboree for books and reading

It’s not every birthday a couple of former children’s laureates come my way. In fact, I’d have to say yesterday was a first. To celebrate twenty years of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tours, they and Scottish Book Trust gathered a few of the many authors and illustrators they have carted round Scotland for two decades, entertaining school children and making a difference.

Chris Riddell, Cressida Cowell, Jacqueline Wilson, Pamela Butchart, Lorenzo and Robin Etherington

2000 children descended on the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow for a couple of hours of fun with some of the best. As they began to arrive, the invited authors came out onto the front steps, in the famous Scottish sunshine, to pose for the gathered photographers, and where would you be without the fun and crazy Etherington Brothers?

The former laureates were Jacqueline Wilson and Chris Riddell, and they were joined by dragon trainer Cressida Cowell and Scottish star Pamela Butchart. In front, complaining they’d never get up from their semi-kneeling positions, were Scottish Friendly’s Calum Bennie and Scottish Book Trust’s Marc Lambert.

Scottish Friendly bag

I was pleased to see two of my favourite publicists, Naomi and Rebecca, and a brief conversation about exams took place. Time goes so fast! I was also trying to pass a message on a piece of paper to Pamela Butchart, without her thinking I was a crazy, random Witch. Luckily she had a handbag-holder person with her.

Now, it takes time to seat 2000 children, even when they are so well behaved and the operation going really smoothly. To keep them happy once they’d got in Chris Riddell sat on stage doodling away, using his instant machine thing that displays the drawings on a large screen. There was applause whenever they approved of Chris’s work, and none more so than when he went a little political towards the end, with the 45th President seemingly having problems with gas while playing golf, and our PM and her shoes stuffed upside down in a dustbin.

Chris Riddell

After an introduction from host Sian Bevan, Chris told the children not to draw on the walls at home – like he did, aged three – and how his mother cut his discarded pieces of paper into ever smaller pieces. ‘Get a sketchbook! he told us. He suggested his new book Doodle-a-Day, explained how his hairy daughter turned into the Ottoline books, and read a beautiful piece by Katherine Rundell on libraries.

When it was Jacqueline Wilson’s turn she told us about being small and lonely in Dundee many years ago, and how her years ‘in the linen cupboard’ were some of the best. There were midnight feasts, apparently. Tracy Beaker narrowly avoided being Tracy Facecloth, which is just as well, now that there will be a new Tracy Beaker book. Jacqueline’s historical writing got a mention, as did the ‘new’ Tay Rail Bridge, and her recent book about WWII evacuees.

Jacqueline Wilson

At this point I discovered I was hungry. I’d been so interested in what was being said that I’d forgotten to eat. And speaking of needs, I thought the stealthy trailing out to the toilets and back in again was well orchestrated. As done by the children, I mean.

Cressida Cowell seems to have come up with her dragons from the shape of the hill on the Scottish desert island her father always took his family to every summer. Besides, they had no television. She wanted the children to understand that the ability to write books does not come from how good your handwriting is, but it’s your ideas that matter. So despite having bad handwriting, Cressida’s books are turning into ever more films.

Cressida Cowell

Dundee teacher-turned-author Pamela Butchart makes up everything. She briefly showed us all her books, which are mostly about schools. She even got the headteachers who were present to bark like dogs. Pamela introduced us to a ‘real alien’ who turned out to be a normal human baby. Hers. Apparently she ‘sometimes speaks too much’ and she finished by inviting a member of the audience up on stage to investigate making fiction with the help of magic crisps. Salt and vinegar.

Pamela Butchart

To finish we had the Etherington Brothers, Lorenzo and Robin. They caused much loudness to happen. It’s all about stuff. Something is. Having the ‘wrong prop’ is important, whether it’s ‘never take a tomato to the beach,’ or having a sock parachute. It’s about having choice, and choosing the wrong thing. And then they turned round, posing for the camera, with the whole audience behind them, waving to the children who were watching this online at school.

Lorenzo and Robin Etherington

All six special guests returned to the stage to wave, before – presumably – being revived with food and drink prior to facing 2000 signatures. Again, this was very well organised, and everyone took turns and it was never too crowded. Or at least I think it wasn’t, since I left while they were peacefully signing away.

I hope they are not still there now.

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Stories for empathy and a better world

I had been looking forward to the event with Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai on Saturday. I’d never met Miriam before, but she was everything I had expected, and Bali was Bali as usual. Empathy is important and it promised to be an interesting discussion.

Bali Rai and Miriam Halahmy

We were all asked for examples of empathic children’s books that had made a difference to us. I can see the point of asking the audience, but it split my attention a bit too much. Miriam is a big fan of Morris Gleitzman and talked about his Blabbermouth, and Bali suggested Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow. President Obama’s talk about the ’empathy deficit’ was mentioned.

Miriam read from The Emergency Zoo, and explained how she loses herself in the book when she writes. She is her characters.

Bali then read from The Harder They Fall, apologising for some ‘rude’ words. When he started writing about a female character, it took him some time to understand that girls are ‘just’ people. He talked about how many poor teenagers never even consider going to university. Sometimes because they are the main carer for someone in their family, and they can’t contemplate getting into debt.

On getting started Miriam reckoned the most important thing she did as a child was to read. After that it was being a teacher, doing a writing course, and reading and meeting people like Morris Gleitzman and Jacqueline Wilson. The best thing about writing is losing yourself in the writing.

Roald Dahl was a hero of Bali’s, and he liked reading about Vikings and volcanoes. Later on Sue Townsend played a big part influencing him. Bali described his hard-working colleague Alan Gibbons, who travels and writes and campaigns tirelessly for good causes. The best thing about being a writer seems to be ‘vomiting [words] on a page.’

Can you understand the world if you read escapism? Miriam believes in a real place and a real boy or girl. Bali feels that in The Lord of the Rings the whole world is escapism, and he listed Andy Stanton for sheer bounciness, had nothing [positive] to say about David Walliams, and it seems the archetypal white man comedian comes from Stockport. He praised the way Jacqueline Wilson writes about hard work and ordinary children. And there’s Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness.

Someone in the audience had problems seeing how fantasy could be empathic, but discovered Miriam and Bali disagreed. To make children understand empathy we don’t need it on the curriculum, and there is no right age. According to Miriam you can’t suddenly ‘do empathy today,’ but you need to embed it more deeply. For Bali it’s economical politics in this dog eat dog world. And you should be allowed to have fun at school, because how else do you get to write about fish zombies?

As with letting school-children have enough time for fun, I’d have liked more time for the two authors at Saturday’s event.

Miranda McKearney, Anna Bassi, Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai

Oh Tracy Beaker

Who’d have thought Tracy Beaker would return?

Not me. Although when I think about it, I do realise it makes sense. Authors can and do revisit old characters. In this case for Jacqueline Wilson it does mean she needs to work round Tracy’s age.

Because it’s been a while. It’s easier to forget the passage of time when it’s someone outside your immediate family, even if Tracy almost, nearly, is family. I am aware that Daughter has got – a lot – older, so obviously Tracy has too. She was always a little older, anyway.

Jacqueline deals with the 27 years by making Tracy the adult, which sort of feels an unlikely thing, but why not? Tracy has a daughter of her own now, Jess.

And you know, when you get that far, it does make a lot of sense. Mothers and daughters can read together. I had just about come to the conclusion that I am unable to keep up with Jacqueline’s two new books a year, but this news has made me rethink. I need to meet Jess. But more than that, I have to see how Tracy is.

What (not) to buy in 2018?

It was the Resident IT Consultant who mentioned it first. He noted that that David Walliams seemed to be everywhere in the top 100 books sold in 2017. I wasn’t surprised, but wish I had been. I’ve not counted the DW books on the list. Daughter did, but reckoned I probably didn’t want to hear how many.

I am pleased that a children’s book came second on that list. (Also pleased that it was – considerably – outsold by Jamie Oliver.) But I really would have wanted it to be a different book. I know; it’s good that children read. Or at least that someone is buying the books, whether or not they get read.

If it was any other book, I’d also be happy for the author who was financially rewarded, along with his or her publisher.

To return to my previously mentioned lesson learned from Random House, we should be grateful these books make money, because they help publish other books that simply don’t sell in great numbers. Well, all I can say is that on the strength of the DW sales, HarperCollins should be able to support an awful lot of ‘smaller’ books. Children’s books at that.

I don’t know this, but how much of such revenue goes to happy shareholders? Instead of being re-invested in more book products. I’m aware that DW has a past of doing charitable things, even if that was a stunt requiring other people to cough up the cash. Does he support any worthy causes with the income from his books?

In the same Guardian there was an article about a businessman who has received rather a large bonus, an amount of money that it was suggested could do a lot of good if used to solve the sad state of the homeless. My guess is he won’t do this. (Although, think of how he’d be remembered for all time – in a positive way – if he did!)

So, DW and publisher: Is there any likelihood of you doing this kind of good deed? We only require so much money for our own needs.

But back to the list. I’ve not read much on it. This is usually the case, as most of the big sellers are generally adult novels I don’t have time for, or recipe books and biographies of or by people I’ve barely heard of.

This year Philip Pullman is in tenth place and I’ve read his book. Of older books there’s obviously Harry Potter, and I have at some point looked at a Where’s Wally and the Wimpy Kids books.

The usual suspects such as Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Dan Brown, are there; but interspersed with countless DW titles. Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, often the biggest contributors to children’s books on the list of bestsellers, are at the bottom end. There is Wonder, which presumably has reappeared because of the recent film.

While horrified in general, I am hoping that this willingness to buy lots of children’s books will continue. And I’m hoping for more diverse purchases, which will be made possible only when publishers don’t only push celebrity titles. I’d like for there to be more excellent children’s titles, but the truth is that there are countless terrific books already in existence. They ‘merely’ need to be sold to the buyers of books. Use some of that money on telling the world about your other writers.

I’d like to mention a few recent HarperCollins books here as examples, but I’ve not been told about many. The new Oliver Jeffers book was ‘sold’ to me. I asked about the Skulduggery Pleasant book myself when I discovered its existence. I was offered an adult crime novel on the suggestion by the author. And someone emailed me to say she was leaving the company. This is not to say there weren’t heaps and heaps of great books. Just that there was no publicity coming my way, and possibly not going to others either.

Happy New Reading in 2018!!!

Starting young

If I’d stopped to think about it, I suppose I’d half expect the child of an author [whose work] I like to turn into a competent writer as well.

One day. Just not yet.

I may have mentioned this before. One of my very first contacts among fellow blog people was Declan Burke. This author and compiler of Irish crime – on his blog Crime Always Pays – has introduced me to countless lovely people, writers and non-writers. (Thank you, Siobhan Dowd!)

Back in 2007 I believe he’d just got married. I mention this because the next year he became a father. So that’s nine years ago.

Last year Declan’s daughter Lily wrote me an email to thank me for the Christmas e-cards I have sent them over the years (she’s been keeping count…), which was lovely of her.

And this year she has written something else, which I recommend you read. I won’t borrow, so you have to pop over to her dad’s blog to read it. It seems Lily is a Jacqueline Wilson fan. Well, who isn’t? And it seems there’s been a competition to write a historical letter, where the winner would appear in Jacqueline’s next book. So Lily obviously wrote a letter.

No, she didn’t win. I imagine there will have been ‘a few’ entries to such a competition. But ever the proud father, Declan put her letter on Crime Always Pays, and that’s where you can read it.

I’m having two thoughts here; 1) Jacqueline Wilson really inspires her fans, 2) we have to stop thinking that young children are too young. I would never have expected a nine-year-old to write quite what Lily wrote. But if she can think such grown-up thoughts, then surely there are more girls like her?

In fact, the really great thing about Jacqueline’s books is that even the ‘older’ stories are quite simply written, which means that her younger fans can access the teen books, and they like them, and understand them. And they go forth and write their own.

Lily gives me hope.

Read as you fly

It’s not for me to recommend who you fly on holiday with, but easyJet have just launched a books for children scheme for this summer, helped by Jacqueline Wilson.

It is a good idea, because you can never have too much to read (unless you are me). And some parents don’t see books as the priority it should be, and maybe forget to pack a book for their child, or not enough of them. Not all would stop and buy one at the airport, either. And sometimes we don’t realise we need something until it’s too late, and we’re up in the clouds.

I’m glad they asked Jacqueline for help, and I’m glad she chose mainly classics for the easyJet reading list. There’s often not enough of the golden oldies in children’s lives.

If I have a criticism of the Flybraries it is that the young passengers can start on the book as they fly, but are then expected to leave it on the plane for the next child to enjoy. Fine if you finished the book, but less so if you’re mid-story and simply can’t let go. And let’s face it; that is the sort of reaction people like me want the children to have.

Start a life of crime by stealing the airline’s books?

Say what you want

Confession: I don’t know much about Nadiya Hussain. Yes, even I have heard she is famous for baking. At the time I merely believed this was some normal average person who’d happened to bake well. On television.

What I hadn’t understood is the sheer celebrity status when you win this kind of thing, and how everyone – but me – knows you. I realised from an email from a bookshop from my past that hosting Nadiya for a signing was a big thing. I think they did timed tickets, which is something I last encountered in connection with Jaqueline Wilson.

And now Nadiya has written a book. I imagine she has a few baking books out there, but now she has written a novel. I’d like to think she didn’t just decide to do it on a whim. The likeliest thing is that the publisher knew they could shift a good many copies if her name was on the cover, so persuaded Nadiya to ‘write’ a novel.

She had help, as seems to be the case with many celebrity books. A biography based on her life could have been interesting, and any amount of ghost writing would have been quite acceptable. But we only need a novel from the celebrity who can write it themselves and do it well.

So I was surprised how negative people were when Jenny Colgan, who knows a thing or two about writing, reviewed Nadiya’s novel, managing to balance her admiration for this master baker with her feeling that a novel written with help wasn’t what the world needed. I thought the review was extremely well written, taking into account all the angles.

But it would appear that people want their celebrities to take over literature as well. No need to stick to what you are good at.