Category Archives: Michael Morpurgo

‘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

FOMS at YALC

I can get so worked up and nervous before certain events, that I simply cannot do anything that day, other than get dressed and such like. I have to factor this in, so that I expect a short event to take more out of my day than it ought to.

But at the same time, I try and get things into perspective. Why am I about to do what I am fretting over? What is important and what should I just leave alone?

So I was intrigued to hear about the book fan at YALC the other weekend who had a different kind of fear of missing out. She had been so dead set on being first in the signing queue for a particular author that she hadn’t gone to the event preceding the signing. She clearly suffered fear of missing signing. It’s a shame, since if you are that much of a fan, you’d obviously want to attend the actual event.

My own strategy for this kind of thing is to leave early, having arranged to sit conveniently close to the exit (I mean even more conveniently than I usually aim for…). You only need a couple of minutes, and a clear head; knowing where you are heading for, and to do it before everyone else.

I was reminded of this when coming across our signed War Horse this week. Daughter and I spied the designated table for Michael Morpurgo at the National Theatre (this was half term, and MM was present for some reason) before sitting down to watch the play, and determined to get there before most of the rest of the Olivier audience. And we did. There was no way we could have afforded to stand in that queue for an hour.

Similarly, we cased the joint in Cheltenham many years ago, to see the layout of John Barrowman’s signing after his event. We calculated five minutes, and Daughter got up to run during the Q&A session, while I was packhorse and looked after our belongings. That worked too.

You can have your author event and the signing. It’s a pity if you miss out.

(What we’d do if everyone copied us is another thing. I’d prefer it if they go to different events from me.)

Nooooo..!

Please not the Cathy Hopkins books! Are we not finished with those? Are we not – both me and Daughter – over the age of 20? Are Cathy’s books not really quite fun?

Yes, they are. They are – almost entirely – staying. Three years on from The Move Clearances we are pruning here and there. Offspring’s sudden room switching (yes, no, neither live here any more) caused books to be looked at again. I thought maybe we could gain the half metre that Cathy’s books take up on the shelf.

But as you may have gathered, that didn’t go well. Although it depends on your point of view. Nearly all the Cathy Hopkins books will remain with us, minus the quiz books, etc.

Same with Caroline Lawrence. You can’t send the Roman Mysteries packing. Or Theresa Breslin. Definitely not Mary Hoffman. Oh no, those ladies are all just going walkabout in the house to rest elsewhere.

Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are semi-intact, with the very best still here. (I’m reminded of Son’s stash of toy cars. Age is no barrier to what you simply must keep. In fairness he recently parted with his third and fourth copies of His Dark Materials, sparing only two of each.)

But Doctor Who is leaving. Mostly. Even signed ones. (Yes, that was Daughter’s book you found in the charity shop. Lucky you.)

The Universe will make some other person happy, while the napkin folding guide stays. And she rather thought Helen Grant would want one of her cast-offs.

The other ‘great’ idea she had was to incorporate hers with mine, which only means taking every single book out and re-alphabetising the lot again; first and second rows on each shelf. I suggested her books might be in peril, come my next major pruning, but apparently her books can be post-it-ed.

Hah, as if I can be trusted!

Bookwitch bites #137

No, no, no. David Walliams is not ‘the biggest name in children’s books.’ He just isn’t. He’s a famous man, and he writes books many children enjoy, and they sell well. But he is not the biggest, no matter what festivals such as Bath say in their sales emails. I realise they are happy to have him coming, and I’m glad they are happy, but for bigness we need to look elsewhere. Or even in their own festival programme, where surely Michael Morpurgo is a not inconsiderable name.

Michael, since we’ve moved on to him, opened an exhibition at Seven Stories this weekend. I’d have loved to go, but somehow Newcastle appeared to be further away than I had hoped. I’m guessing it’s a similarly informative exhibition about Michael and his work, rather like the Jacqueline Wilson one a few years ago. It should be well worth going to.

Moving on to adult crime, Marnie Riches is yet again in with a chance of winning an award for her George McKenzie books. This time it’s the Tess Gerritsen Award for Best Series, and if you click here you can vote for her. (Or someone else, should you be so minded…) I did, and it was easy. Marnie might want to kiss you for it, or so she says, but if you run fast enough this can – hopefully – be avoided.

There’s no end to awards that can be won, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for Adrian McKinty and his Rain Dogs in the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award. His publisher has made this page for Adrian, where you can read about when he met Jimmy Savile, as well as Adrian’s future with colouring books. I’m sure it’s going to be bright.

On doing the impossible

The good thing about the Edinburgh International Book Festival is how impossible it is. The many famous and wonderful authors it will be impossible to see there, simply because they have so many such people coming.

The 2016 programme was unveiled yesterday and I have scanned it for the best and most interesting events. Of which there are a lot. So to begin with I will plan not to see quite a few tremendously big names in the book business, since even at a distance I can tell I can’t possibly get them on to my wishlist. Then comes that list, and then comes the more realistic list, and finally comes the actual list I will actually be able to do.

Maybe.

Best of all would be to have no opinion, but to go along one day, or two, and pick something off that day’s menu, where tickets are still available. That would be excellent.

I can’t do that.

There is a follow-on from last year’s YA debate with Daniel Hahn, and Anthony McGowan and Elizabeth Wein among others. Chris Riddell will deliver the Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, making it unmissable, and Michael Grant is back in town with his WWII alternate history.

Meg Rosoff will be talking about Jonathan Unleashed, and Francesca Simon is ‘doing away with’ Horrid Henry! Cornelia Funke and Vivian French have things to say about dyslexia, Nick Sharratt will talk nonsense (poetry), and Theresa Breslin and Debi Gliori and Lari Don and all those other lovely Scottish authors are coming.

Debut writer Kathy Evans is talking to Jo Cotterill, and Lucy Coats has some more Myths up her sleeve. And so does Kate Leiper, I believe.

Jackie Kay is doing stuff, and many of our finest crime writers are coming along to kill and thrill, and there are Swedes and other Nordic authors; some expected, others more unexpected. Quite a number of children’s authors are doing adult events, which I think is a good idea. Politicians will be there, talking about all sorts of things.

I know I’ve already mentioned Daniel Hahn, but as usual he will be doing so much that he should try and get a rest in now. Just in case. Hadley Freeman is coming, which makes me quite excited. Lemn Sissay.

Who have I forgotten? You see, it’s impossible. There are so many!

Clare and her Captain

I’m a bad old witch. I looked at Michael Morpurgo’s new book for Barrington Stoke, Clare and her Captain, and felt it was a very nice looking little book. (Pale green hardback, with matching ribbon bookmark.) If I read it carefully, I could probably give it away as new afterwards.

There will be no afterwards. It’s staying here. He gets to me – nearly – every time, does Michael Morpurgo. Especially this close to Christmas.

This story (originally from 1975) is based on a childhood memory of Mrs Morpurgo’s, and features a young girl called Clare, who goes on holiday with her quarelling parents, to stay at her aunt’s cottage in Devon. The aunt is a bit quarrelsome as well, so Clare escapes out on her own.

She meets a lamb, and eventually its owner, and then the owner’s ancient horse, Captain. This docile old horse becomes her friend, and then…

Well, I can’t tell you the whole story, obviously. It’s sweet. And the illustrations by Catherine Rayner are also rather sweet and suit the story perfectly. That horse is adorable!

Michael Morpurgo and Catherine Rayner, Clare and her Captain

The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature

The second edition, that is, rather nicely written and edited by Daniel Hahn. Although, as he acknowledges, he had a little help from his friends. And a foreword from Michael Morpurgo.

It seems Daniel is not a stranger to this business of reading a book and getting it signed and loving it to bits. He was once eight years old and met Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake and had his copy of The BFG signed by both of them. And here he is, a few years later, having actually edited The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature.

Thirty years earlier the Resident IT Consultant had cottoned on to the fact that I quite liked children’s books, despite being married and old and all that. He went out and bought me (us, really) a copy of the first edition of the Companion, by Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard. It is this text Daniel has edited, partly by removing a few old entries and partly by shortening some, in order to find room for all the exciting things that have happened to children’s literature in the intervening period.

It’s not just Harry Potter (the longest new entry). Try to imagine a world without Jacqueline Wilson, or Philip Pullman! Or all those other lovely writers and illustrators. Both the ones who made it into this edition, and the ones Daniel was forced to leave out. (I’ll have to speak to him about a few of them.)

I couldn’t help getting my (our) old copy out and making some very random comparisons. Roald Dahl has not only doubled in length, but he has died. Dick Barton is still in, as is Dido Twite. (I did mention it’s not only the authors, but their characters and various other types of entries that are in this book, did I?) And Daddy Long-Legs makes it.

The – to me – completely unheard of Hesba Stretton is still in. Carolyn Keene hasn’t changed, and I reckon Robert Heinlein and KM Peyton are both mostly intact. Likewise Joan Aiken, although she has been updated, obviously. There might be less of Peter Pan; I’m not sure, not having counted the words.

For a while I thought the entry on racism was bound to be a modern phenomenon, but it existed and was recognised in the 1980s as well.

There are about 70 more pages in the second edition, plus some very useful appendices on awards.

Carpenter, Prichard, Hahn, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

If you like children’s books, there is no question about it; you need a copy of the second edition. As for me, I suspect I won’t be able to part with the first, even though I can see that the new edition will be much more useful in my ‘work’ as well as for my own private enjoyment. The two volumes will look good together. And I might not last until a third edition comes along.