Category Archives: Meg Rosoff

The 2017 Gothenburg Book Fair

Next week it’s time for this year’s book fair in Gothenburg. Maybe we should refer to it more as a Swedish book fair? Because it is the book fair, and it just happens to take place in Gothenburg. People travel there from Stockholm. In fact, perhaps they need an excuse to leave.

Before I out-festivalled myself this summer I was seriously tempted. It was as if the nine-year gap from 2007 to 2016 had not been. I was there last year and although I was exhausted from the word go, it still felt as if I should – would – be going. But we all get funny notions occasionally. I started with Philip Pullman, and ended with Meg Rosoff. Not sure what the fair would need to offer to rouse me this time.

The programme, which I perused carefully, has a lot going for it, and that was before I recollected that many authors are boycotting it this year, for permitting the far right to attend. And – this might gall them, if they actually read Bookwitch – I didn’t miss them in the programme. It looked interesting enough anyway.

My new ‘pal’ Christoffer Carlsson will be there on the Saturday. There are talks on subjects such as Arabic children’s literature today, and Are there too many children’s books being published? It bears thinking about. Black Lives Matter, on politics in teen books. Quality or Quantity? on children’s publishing. Read Yourself Well. Very important. Does the Swedish school system kill the creativity of its pupils? Chapter books vs YouTube.

Jenny Colgan will be there, talking among other things about living in a castle. I didn’t know she did. How to use children’s books to talk about current affairs. And it seems Norway has never been hotter [in children’s books].

Perhaps there are fewer ‘names.’ I’m not sure. But then, it’s not necessarily the ‘names’ that make for a good event. We flock to see and hear our literary stars, but occasionally they can be less good at performing than other literary professionals.

YA in Icelandic; how about that? Or there’s M G Leonard and Frances Hardinge. And does educated = well read? I suspect there won’t be any cake in the Afternoon Tea event with Jenny Colgan and Sophie Kinsella. Or even tea. An event on how reading trash could be the start of good reading sounds just like my kind of thing.

In fact, right now I am wondering why I’m still at home. (I know why, but temptation is back.) David Lagercrantz talks about his Lisbeth Salander, with Christopher MacLehose. FYI I’m still only on Saturday. One more day.

Astrid Lindgren and Jane Austen. Not together, and not in the flesh, for obvious reasons. More Val McDermid. Some [Swedish] superstars like Sven-Bertil Taube and Tomas Ledin. It gets lighter as the weekend progresses. It’s a way to tempt the masses to come on the Sunday, and it’s a way for the masses to rub shoulders with stars.

There’s Arundhati Roy. Ten years ago I grew – almost – blasé about seeing Orhan Pamuk all over the place. It’s what it’s like.

I might go next year. But I’ll – probably – never again have constant access to my favourite author as I prowl those corridors.

Meg Rosoff at Vi Läser in Gothenburg

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Meg as Mal

Jake Hope began his chairing of Meg Rosoff’s event on Tuesday evening by saying so many nice things about her writing, that she felt the need to pat him on the arm and explain to us that he had to say those things.

Either that, or he really meant them. The trouble with Meg is that she doesn’t understand that Jake and I and everyone else quite like her writing and occasionally feel compelled to mention this. And where better than in a tent full of her fans?

Meg Rosoff

Meg had new hair, and the red chair she was sitting on (I don’t mean Jake) went well with her black and grey outfit. (See, I’m managing to steer clear of the writing!) Jake wore a new pair of colourful boots.

This event was about how Meg finished writing Mal Peet’s book Beck after he died, and she explained how offering to do this was the one thing she could say when Mal phoned her with the unwanted news of his illness. You know, the time when you desperately want to say something nice or kind, but you can’t, because there is nothing that will make it better.

After reading what Mal had written so far, Meg felt she could definitely adopt this book. She read a lot of Canadian literature to get a feel for the country Beck ends up being ‘deported’ to as a teenager.

Mal Peet

The end was in place, but she felt the story arc needed pushing for a special ending. She made Beck’s love interest a little younger, and Beck had to be made more attractive [to an older woman].

At Jake’s request Meg’s reading from Beck was the [beginning of the] abuse chapter, which she felt was all right to have in a book for young adults, as long as it was made terrible enough, with no chance of the reader finding it the slightest bit exciting. That is the important thing about what might be taboo; it mustn’t appear tempting in any way.

Despite the beginning of the book being great, Meg reckons she started changing things from about page three, to make it fit in with what she wanted it to be, and now she can barely remember who wrote what in some cases.

The discussion then moved on to politics and her belief that the 45th President has never read a book, so is ‘entirely unshaped by other people’s views of the world.’ Cultural appropriation was next, and Meg feels that children don’t need mirrors in fiction, so much as doors. She said she’s part of the generation who thought things were going to get better… That makes two of us.

Early favourites were A Wrinkle in Time, as well as Hamlet and Lear. We need a mix. One book that inspired her was The Cat in the Hat, which she used to scare her daughter by reading in a funny voice. Then there were pony books, dog books, her parents’ books, books about spies and finally reading le Carré aged nine and not getting it. And why did no one ask Meg to write one of the new Bonds? She liked literature like The Secret Garden, and she read trash, for the good bits.

Meg Rosoff

She knew she could never be an author because she could never write as well as the writers she liked. But when she realised she didn’t want to be run over by a bus, having only worked in advertising, she still wrote a book. And she says she really wrote it for her agent (Catherine Clarke), to please someone difficult to please.

Meg’s well-known inability to plot surfaced a lot. For her the characters come first, and as there are no rules for how you are an adult, hers are weird, singing rabbits and invisible greyhounds. Writing Beck didn’t change her way of writing, but she tended to ask herself ‘what would Mal do?’ And she toned the sex down.

Asked if she wanted to cooperate with others, she said ‘not really.’ Although she does discuss plots with Sally Gardner, and recently disagreed with Sally on rewriting Romeo and Juliet as old people; because she didn’t make them old enough. And ‘I’ll have that idea if you’re not using it.’ She admits to getting weirder as she grows older.

‘How does she plot?’ ‘Haha, I wonder that too.’ The best thing is stealing a plot. For instance, Jonathan is really Lucky Jim. And if she waits a while after she’s written something, ‘a bit of plot creeps in.’

We can be satisfied with that.

Day 1

What a day! Now all I need is for the rest of the Edinburgh International Book Festival to be as good. And if the sunshine could continue shining? As I might have mentioned yesterday, I had a good line-up for Tuesday, and it did not disappoint. Nor did any of the day’s little bonuses.

After collecting my press pass, which is a new, edgier design this year, I picked up my events tickets from a boiling entrance tent. I reckon they were expecting rain with that ‘glass’ ceiling in there. I nearly expired, and was grateful I wasn’t queueing up for returns for Peter May.

I ate my M&S salad and ran for Barry Hutchison’s event, where I found Lari Don, busy checking out the competition. Well, she said she was enjoying seeing her colleagues, but… In the bookshop, after I’d taken hundreds of pictures of Barry, I encountered Keith Charters standing next to the Strident shelves, surreptitiously checking they looked all right. They did. He’d been expecting to rearrange them.

Strident books

While we were talking about running, and stargazing, Theresa Breslin arrived on her off-day, and the conversation turned to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. Then Keith and I went over to bother Barry for a bit, and to find out how he writes quite so many books quite so fast. He was mostly – I think – pondering the groceries he had to buy on his way home, and how appearing at the book festival wasn’t quite as glamorous as it was the first time.

Barry Hutchison

Glamorous would be the word to describe Judy Murray, whom I saw as I returned to the yurt area. Onesies never looked classier.

Stephen Baxter

I did another turn round the bookshops, and found Stephen Baxter signing for adults, and in the children’s bookshop a signing table for, well, I’m not sure who it was for. But after some googling I’d say that the people in this photo are Ehsan Abdollahi – who was originally refused a visa to enter the country – and I think Delaram Ghanimifard from his publisher. And I only wish I’d stopped to talk to them. (I didn’t, because the books on the table confused me.)

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimafard

Begged some tea in the yurt before walking over to Julie Bertagna’s event with William Sutcliffe. I noticed a man in the queue behind me and my witchy senses told me this was Mr Bertagna, which was confirmed later. And I couldn’t help noticing that ‘my’ photo tree either has moved, or the Corner theatre has, or the theatre has grown fatter over the winter.

Tree

Was introduced to Mr B and also to Miss B in the bookshop, after Julie and I had covered Brexit and Meg Rosoff and lunches in our conversation. And then I needed to go and queue for Meg’s event, which seemed to draw a similar crowd, with much of the audience being the same as at Julie’s and William’s talk.

Julie Bertagna and William Sutcliffe

Miss Rosoff had come along, as had Elspeth Graham, who has been involved a lot with Meg’s work on Mal Peet’s last book, which Meg was here to talk about. Spoke to Louise Cole in the signing queue, before Meg persuaded me to miss my train in favour of having a drink with her.

Meg Rosoff

So she and I and Elspeth chatted over wine and water on the deck outside the yurt, and many people were discussed, but my memory has been disabled on that front. Sorry. They had a French restaurant to go to and I had another train to catch.

I hobbled along Princes Street as best I could, and hobbling fast is never a good look, which is why I paid little heed to being hailed by someone who insisted on being noticed, and who turned out to be fellow ex-Stopfordians Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney. They had been to a church half-filled with water. Apparently this was very good.

My train was caught, and the Resident IT Consultant and I ended up at our destination almost simultaneously. I believe we both thought that our day had been the best.

Låt stå!

‘Who are you seeing tomorrow?’ Daughter asked last night from her Andean mountain. ‘Barry, Julie and Meg,’ I replied. We don’t bother with surnames at Bookwitch Towers.

Today is my first day at the 2017 book festival. It feels fitting that it was Meg Rosoff who lost out last year, as far as I was concerned, appearing on my last night when I was tired and didn’t go because I was travelling the following day. I suppose someone felt they had better put her in on what is my first night this year, and it’s been over 24 hours since I travelled.

My Swedish neighbour felt we could stay longer. ‘Are you not retired?’ she asked. ‘Mwmph,’ I replied. I might have to explain about Bookwitching and book festivals one day. People who are holding on to tails of tigers don’t retire.

The Resident IT Consultant is continuing his trek across Scotland, as I trek across Charlotte Square. We both required sandwiches, and with emptyish post-holiday cupboards this was a harder task than usual. Can you put frozen peas in sandwiches?

In the olden days Swedish teachers used to write the two words ‘Låt stå’ next to anything they wanted to remain on the blackboard, which presumably prevented cleaners from wiping important stuff off. I might have to take to doing that in my fridge. The greek yoghurt I’d carefully planned for to stand there and survive until I returned (they last a long time) was gone. Both Offspring have been visiting during our absence.

Oh well.

Ready, steady, go

Really? Can they do this to me?

I had coldly calculated that I’d start my Edinburgh International Book Festival late this year. That way I can have a slightly longer/later August holiday and still be there to take in the generally excellent authors coming to do school events in the second week.

But the programme, which was made public yesterday, is busy scuppering those plans. I will have to talk to myself and see what I can do. My favourite author is appearing on one of the first days! But at least she [Meg Rosoff] is appearing.

And there are others. In fact, I think I can confidently state that there will be authors, good ones, almost every single day for the 17 (18 if you count the school finale) days the book festival is on. That’s without me even checking the details of adult authors who are going to be there. Authors for adults. Most of them are adults in themselves.

Then we have the news that the festival is spilling out of Charlotte Square and onto George Street this year. This is both exciting and slightly worrying, for those of us who like things to be exactly the same as it always was. How can I imagine an event in a venue I’ve never seen?

It will be fine. Well, it will be, setting aside the vaguely annoying fact that my Photographer has plans to, well, not to be there, this year. She claims to be as upset about it as I am. For the inconvenience, you understand.

Charlotte, and George, here I come!

Seeing Catherine Clarke

Well, no, I haven’t. Not recently.

But I was pleased to hear that literary agent Catherine Clarke – responsible for Meg Rosoff, among many others – has been chosen Literary Agent of the Year. Which is very nice.

My impression is that Catherine works hard. She is ‘responsible for’ by far the most sightings of any agent I am capable of recognising when out and about. Once in London, I reckon Daughter and I managed to come across her three times in one day.

A couple of years ago Daughter reported seeing someone on the tube as she travelled through London, someone who ‘had to be an author, and who could it have been?’ I told her people look the same.

Then when she arrived in Oxford, she ran into Meg Rosoff, which made me a bit jealous. I don’t run into my favourite author, just like that. And within minutes ‘that woman off the tube’ appeared as well, at which point it became clear she really had recognised her, because it was Catherine. Who also must have accidentally run into one of her authors.

So basically, she’s everywhere, and I’m sure that helps in knowing what to do about authors and their books. If I hear that an author is looked after by Catherine, I feel that is a recommendation in itself.

Congratulations!

The Bookseller - Catherine Clarke

(Apologies to The Bookseller for borrowing their page.)

Good Dog McTavish

Meg Rosoff can’t let caring dogs lie, it seems. After Jonathan Unleashed, where his canine flatmates made sure Jonathan was all right, she unleashes McTavish on younger readers in Barrington Stokes Conkers imprint.

Meg Rosoff, Good Dog McTavish

The Peachey family have discovered that mothers are the best. They do most of the work, after all. But when Ma Peachey has had enough, something has to happen, and after some initial domestic mayhem, the remaining Peacheys decide to get a dog. Luckily they find McTavish, who’s prepared to take them on, despite them not being ideal humans for an easy – dog’s – life.

What to do about the laundry mountain, the shoe mountain and everything being in the wrong place? Getting out of bed on time?And when that’s fixed, there’s the cuisine. A dog can only eat so much pizza.

McTavish has many plans, and believe me, they are necessary. But sooner or later a firm paw will work wonders on a misguided family.

I foresee a run on rescue dogs after children – and maybe their adults – have read Good Dog McTavish. Not by me, obviously. Here at Bookwitch Towers we are virtually perfect. Especially me. But needier souls will want a McTavish in their lives.

(Illustrations by Grace Easton)