Category Archives: Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman – Master storyteller

They were queueing for returned tickets from late morning on Saturday. That’s how much in demand Philip Pullman is, and will help explain why the book festival organisers had been after him to come back here for years. Last time, I believe, was when Philip had a couple of bishops to chat to in his event, so it must have been for his book on Jesus, in 2010.

But, she who waits for something good… and all that.

Philip Pullman

Philip did not sign books in the bookshop after. Luckily I discovered this before joining a non-existent queue. But with the new main theatre so enormous, I can understand that signings will be considerably harder than they used to be, when popular authors – well, it’s why they will have been put in the main theatre in the first place – could easily spend a couple of hours and more.

He did, however, sign as many books as there was time for, or maybe until his hands dropped off, before the event, so if you’re quick, you might still be lucky.

Val McDermid was the one chosen to chat to Philip, and you can’t really go wrong with Val. Although, I was quite shocked to discover that it was David Fickling who killed Frederick Garland. Or at least, was an accessory to the killing. Hmm.

Philip Pullman

It’s good that it wasn’t only Philip’s recent Book of Dust that got an outing, but that many of Philip’s books were covered. While Daughter didn’t manage to ask her burning question regarding more Sally Lockhart books (just hurry up with Dust!), it’s good to know they have not been forgotten.

To portray a strong woman, you don’t have to portray a man as weak. Obvious really, but not something everyone understands. Philip does have some of the best female characters, but there is nothing wrong with his men, and boys, either.

And as all wise authors do, he pointed out that we really need school libraries, and there needs to be librarians in them. People who can point readers in the right direction, based on what they’ve read already. People who read, in fact.

This sold-out event was great, and not surprisingly was attended by many of the festival’s guest participants. They could probably have run several events.

Philip Pullman

(Photos Helen Giles)

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EIBF 2018 – Day 1

Philip Pullman and I talked about the weather, which was Goldilocks-like. Not too hot and not too cold. Not wet. Nor sunny. It felt very British, on this the first day of the book festival in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Philip Pullman

It’s a new, streamlined square. Less higgledy piggledy, although no doubt more ‘character’ will find its way onto the fresh decking before long. I offered them my sandwich wrapping, but it seems they didn’t feel the need for it. I now know how they were able to make the Main theatre bigger. They picked up a whole theatre and put it in the middle of George Street. Very clever.

The Photographer and I arrived early and had a leisurely start, collecting tickets and getting to grips with all the changes, saying hello to press boss Frances, and gossiping with Theresa Breslin’s Mr B – whose t-shirt sported Mary Queen of Scots on the front and Rasputin’s dagger ‘in’ the back, so he had everything covered. Waved to Cathy Cassidy (wearing an unexpected red…), before venturing across to George Street to watch her signing in the much improved signing tent.

Cathy Cassidy

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

After noting that the festival regular with the magnificent beard was there again, we went to Theresa Breslin’s event with Holly Webb, chaired by Daniel Hahn. It was really full, despite Theresa’s grandchild choosing to go to see Terry Deary instead.

Chatted to Kate Leiper in the bookshop afterwards, and then went back to the behind-the-scenes decking where we found Philip Pullman with a pile of [his] books. Had a second go at chatting to Cathy Cassidy, and watched as Chris Close photographed an unknown, attractive female author who, when I got to my next event, turned out to be Tomi Adeyemi, appearing with Sophie Anderson.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Tomi Adeyemi and Sophie Anderson

This was another full event, and I realised that having left the Photographer to deal with Philip, I was on my own and needed to take pictures of Sophie and Tomi in the bookshop. I’m short, so was able to use the entrance for hobbits and munchkins. Saw Vikki Gemmell and wanted to say hello, but she ran away. Quite understandable.

There is a blur after that, but I definitely saw Linda Strachan and Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Kathryn Ross, and Carol Ann Duffy. Val McDermid was around, as Philip Pullman’s chair. Someone came up to me and asked if I was Bookwitch, so I had to admit I was. Seems our paths have kept crossing, and now she wanted to say hello.

L J MacWhirter found me mid-prawn sandwich, and I had no idea that this would scare her off so fast. Didn’t mean to, L J! And while I was enjoying those prawns I watched as Chris Close commented on Jacek Dehnel’s outfit – it was very, erm, chequered – before persuading him to pose.

Jacek Dehnel

Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was being interviewed nearby, before also getting the Close photo treatment, and director Barley himself brought some more tartan for this venerable author.

Ngūgī wa Thiong'o

My Photographer returned when Philip Pullman’s sold-out event came to an end, and we gathered ourselves and went in search of a train home, hoping that seven was both early enough and late enough and would mean there was room for two tired witches. There was. Just.

(Photos Helen Giles + Bookwitch)

Tricks and threats

I liked reading about the various tricks people use to get their children to read, especially on holiday. The Guardian Review had some tips this weekend, and it’s always interesting to see what others have done. They can be quite sneaky, parents.

Once I had told Son that the one thing I expected him to do at school – this was in Y2 – was to learn to read, I don’t believe I did much else.

As parents we are supposed to lead by doing, and I did read. The trouble is that parenting takes time away from reading for pleasure, so I could have read more.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but for the formative reading years I went to the mobile library just before it was time for our three to four weeks in Sweden every July/August. I looked carefully at what they had to offer, and picked books that might suit both me and the Resident IT Consultant and Son. Children’s books, obviously.

Gillian Cross, Tightrope

There was always a lot of possible choice. But the authors that stand out from that period are Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Gillian Cross, Celia Rees, Tim Bowler. At the time I knew very little or nothing about all of these excellent writers. It’s a good sign that by merely picking holiday books I was able to discover many leading YA authors.

Malorie Blackman, Tell Me No Lies

I’d take about eight books. Any more and I felt the suitcases would be too heavy. But that averaged out at two books per week, which seemed fine. Son didn’t read that fast back then, and the adults were supposed to do adult stuff like feed Offspring and take them to the beach. Maybe fly kites.

But I never told anyone they had to read. I think I would have said ‘these are the books we’re taking this year’ and left it at that.

The only other discussion on what to read or whether to read that I remember was when Son was 14 and we couldn’t agree on which one of us should vet Melvin Burgess’ Doing It before the other one could read it.

I still can’t recall who did the vetting. I blame Tim Bowler, who came to school and was so enthusiastic about his friend’s book.

Occasionally I feel the pressure from Son to read certain books gets the better of me. I say ‘should I?’ and he says ‘well, I liked it.’

Pay the authors!!!

It’s the extra bottle of wine I always remember when I think of pay for authors.

I used to believe that when things are tough, they are tough(-ish) for all of us. That if times are bad and books don’t sell so well (hah), then it’s understandable if there is less money for publishers to pay authors with.

Except this doesn’t seem to be the case. Books sell. Well, some books do, and it appears publishers are rolling in it. And it seems as if the better someone does, the less likely they are to share.

This article in the Guardian by Danuta Kean quotes Philip Pullman and Sally Gardner, to name a couple of children’s authors who have done well. Or used to. Authors are now getting paid less than they were before, and it’s not because the publishers are on the brink of ruin.

It’s time this changed! Pay the people who do the most important work for you!

The wine? It was some time ago now, but I was already concerned over the potential end of the good life for publishers, when at an event with one such (big) company, where there had already been drinks organised for slightly later that evening, the publicist I was with, looked round and decided we needed some wine now, whipped out the company credit card and spent £30 on a bottle for those who couldn’t wait.

I get that even if this bottle could have been bought for £6 in a supermarket, that it was hardly going to break the bank at five times the cost. But in my mind I multiplied this unnecessary bottle and it brought down all the publishing houses. And then where would we be?

Her Dark Weekend

‘What shall I do now?’ Daughter wailed when The Book of Dust was no more. My heartless suggestion of patience didn’t seem to be what she wanted to hear.

Rereading His Dark Materials was what she eventually came up with, except the books are all here with me. Remember, this is the family with rather a lot of copies of HDM. But she felt she ought not to add to them by buying more.

The next solution was to listen to the audiobooks – and they are especially attractive because it’s Philip Pullman himself reading them. It seemed she already had the books sitting electronically somewhere, and they could easily be moved to travel to work with her on her mobile phone. She even calculated how long each walk + bus + walk to work would take and how long it would last.

Let me tell you how long it lasted. A whole weekend, is what.

The audiobooks never made it onto any bus at all, as she listened non-stop all weekend. OK, maybe the very last chapter got to travel on Monday morning.

I heard little from her over the weekend, and now I know why. There was one text message about Lee Scoresby dying. (Sorry, if you didn’t know this.) And another soon after, when Will’s father also departed this life.

Yes, and a third, noting how different the books felt now she’s an adult. Seems all the darkness washed over the child reader, all those years ago.

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!!!

The film of the book

Why do newspapers insist on illustrating an article about a book with a still from the film?

Is it because no one thinks about basics like book covers, or is it that much sexier to have a photo of one or several actors? Are readers (of the newspaper, not the book) deemed to be so shallow that they can only be interested in something straight out of Hollywood?

The second half of 2017 offered quite a few written pieces on the much awaited Book of Dust, and invariably I found myself staring at the film still of Lyra* on Yorek’s back. OK, a small girl riding an armoured bear is striking, but so are many of the book covers of the His Dark Materials books.

With Harry Potter you even have two covers for each original Potter book, adult and child version. And with seven books, that’s a good many choices. But you are offered countless film stills when you google Harry Potter, and if you try Hermione Granger it’s pure Emma Watson.

Even the seasonal The Railway Children offers film pictures before you finally come to a few book covers.

So I suppose it makes sense that someone needing an illustration for an article does a search for whatever it is and finds an attractive photo of real people, rather than a painted or drawn book cover.

And then of course, they put the film still on the book as a new fresh cover, and the movie aspect of the book just grows and grows.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

(Book cover by Thomas Taylor)

* I take this back. The Retired Children’s Librarian sent me a cutting from Expressen (Swedish tabloid). It was a review of La Belle Sauvage. This was illustrated by high-rise buildings under attack from massive waves, straight out of the film The Day After Tomorrow…