Category Archives: Travel

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

Launching Charley Chambers

If you’re like me, you might struggle to remember if Charley Chambers is the author or the book title. Or if Rachel Kennedy is. One or the other. After a long day out and about, going to Edinburgh and back, I had a book launch to attend at Stirling Waterstones yesterday evening. This happens so rarely I simply couldn’t miss it.

Charley Chambers launch

(Although, between you and me, had the comfortable armchair not appeared right next to me at the moment I really, really wanted to sit down, I don’t know what I’d have done. But I’m a Witch. I suspect either the chair or the bookshop realised that they had to deliver, without delay.)

Charley Chambers launch

I have not – yet – read Rachel’s book. Yes, Rachel is the author and Charley is the name of her heroine. Remember that! The short excerpt one of Rachel’s friends read to us last night sounded good, so I might find myself dipping into this YA fantasy. It’s Rachel’s second novel, but the first published by Fledgling’s Clare Cain.

Talking to Emma Clapperton, the sizeable audience (they had to keep putting out more chairs) found out quite a lot about Rachel, who has wanted to write books since she first held a pen in her hand. Because she herself reads YA, this decided her on doing the same, and her writer stepfather advised her to just send the book in, and that seems to have paid off with getting published.

Rachel Kennedy

Rachel can write anywhere, as long as it’s quiet, and she does very little planning beforehand, but finds that plot and characters develop as she writes. Currently writing the sequel to Charley Chambers, Rachel also has a few chapters of another book written; not a fantasy, but one which we all seemed to like the sound of. She doesn’t like editing, and finds things like cutting thousands of words pretty hard.

Rachel Kennedy

Her favourite book might be Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and you can always find things to inspire you wherever you are, but especially in Glasgow. With a job and a young daughter, plus books to write, time to read has to be carved out of sleep time, or maybe when the writing gets tough and she needs a break for a bit.

I’d say Rachel has refreshingly many opinions on things. All too often you have to drag thoughts out of people, but here they just popped out. She is so right about one thing; no matter how good a book is, someone will dislike it. And that’s why you sometimes get rejected by publishers.

2016 Book Week Scotland launch

Remember the smell?

I must clarify that that is not a severed head you can see on top of the contraption of unidentifiable stuff [not whisky, either, as I thought]. Launching Book Week Scotland is not that gruesome. It’s much more at the civilised end, which is how I came to eat gluten free grey cake and drink iced coffee from a jam jar.

(The severed head, or not, was part of a smelling toy, where you would go round and sniff the various smells bottled in the contraption.)


Earlier yesterday morning Scottish Book Trust had driven ten authors somewhere out towards the back of Arthur’s Seat in a double decker bus, and photographers were invited to traipse round for fun photographs. It all seemed too complicated of a morning for me, which is why I am using the official pictures. You can tell they had fun.

Pamela Butchart

After that I failed to take a single usable photo of all the speakers who had interesting things to say about reading and books and Book Week Scotland. But Pamela Butchart’s dress is so fantastic that here she is anyway, only slightly blurred. Her challenge to us – I think – was to read a picture book a day. And, it’s actually something that is fully doable, and I will consider it.

Book Week Scotland 2016 launch

Graeme Macrae Burnet does not recommend giving people a copy of the biography of Dostoyevsky (1000p+) which he was given last year. Instead he read us three – extremely short – novels. He wants us to go up to perfect strangers and read them something we like. As if!

And Caro Ramsay is thoroughly into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I can’t disapprove of in the slightest. Let’s not panic.

The cakes

Marc Lambert of Scottish Book Trust spoke and so did Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop. It’s good when Governments support books and reading, and as in previous years (I think they said this is the fifth) there is a lot of programme waiting for Book Week Scotland to break out, which it will do on November 21st. For a week, obviously.

Really famous people like Jodi Picoult, Alexander McCall Smith  and Alan Cumming will be taking part, as will countless others, some not yet household names. But you never know…

Key to Book Week Scotland beer

My party bag contained a book beer, and a chocolate key, so not even the Resident IT Consultant will have to go without.


Marnie goes tartan

I had put clean clothes on, but I was no match for Marnie Riches, who made her first ever entry onto Scottish soil (well it was more like Glaswegian tarmac, but still) yesterday wearing tartan jeans and a shaggy black jacket thing, along with – I swear – freshly cerised hair. So she looked stunning, but seemed to be willing to be seen in my company anyway.

Marnie was on her way to an event in the metropolis of Motherwell, and had time for a Witch before it. I had swotted up on Glasgow’s tearooms/coffeeshops and felt that the overflow Willow Tearooms in Buchanan Street might just be it.

Willow Tea Rooms

My be-tartanned companion sat on one of those highbacked Charles Rennie Macintosh chairs, while I sat on the sofa, resting my chin on the table. Easy to tell who was the more elegant one. (If you’re wondering; it wasn’t me.) But the Willow blend tea was good and Marnie’s carrot cupcake was a sort of healthy vegetable choice. I’d been afraid she’d want the prosecco tea, in which case I’d have had to stop her, seeing as it was pre-event.

We talked books, killing people, and builders. That’s talking about builders, not killing them. Marnie is writing crime novels as if there’s no tomorrow, and I am hoping for lots more hair-raising murders from her.

And with jeans like that, she’d be perfect for Bloody Scotland.

On board the EF III

I went down to the quayside in Varberg last week. I sat for a long time in the sunshine, just enjoying being near the water and sitting there on my own, not having to get up because other people were ready to do something else.

My eyes strayed to the ramp on my right, wondering how much it gets used these days. It’s where the ferry to Denmark leaves from, and back in ‘my time’ there were four sailings every day, which isn’t bad for a four and a half hour crossing. The summer I was 19 I worked on the Europafärjan III, and we left Varberg at noon and at midnight.

Clearing tables on a boat is not exactly glamorous work, washing up while feeling seasick. But it was a job. And you sort of get less seasick after a while. Occasionally you’d have to go round the tables collecting only the dirty knives (leaving surprised passengers in your wake, because they felt you should remove all the dirty things from their table) and giving them a quick wash, as we’d unaccountably be out of [clean] knives. And you’d have to tell non-Danes that no, you don’t generally sprinkle dried onion on top of the Danish pastries.

Being able to say ‘remoulade‘ in as Danish a way as possible eased understanding between the two countries.

I shared a cabin below car deck with two other Swedish washer-uppers, and one cigarette smuggling Danish cleaner. Well, two really, as the shifts were different and their coming and going was out of sync with ours.

For an antisocial witch, I got on well with the others. We’d sit on our bunk beds writing nonsense stories, taking turns to write a sentence each. Not the kind where you don’t see what the one before you wrote, as we managed quite decent nonsense even with the knowledge of what went before. The best one was about me.

Understandable, really. The others were nowhere near as weird as I was. I’d let you read it if I could. But I’d need to find it, and translate it, and you never know what secrets might be let lose on an unsuspecting world. But it ended happily, with me and the dog arriving in Denmark. Can’t remember where the dog came from.

But there we were.

Fair Haughton

I’d forgotten how nicely Irish Chris Haughton sounds. I wasn’t surprised that this wonderful picture books author and illustrator had been invited to the Gothenburg book fair. Swedes love their picture books, after all.

But they’d added another aspect to Chris, by calling his event something like Fair Trade Picture Creator, and that is even more of a Swedish thing. So I don’t know if the ladies flocked to his event because they like sweet picture books, or they enjoy beautiful rugs, or they just like nice Irishmen.

Chris Haughton

That was the thing when I saw Chris in Edinburgh last year; I didn’t quite get the bit about making rugs. And appearing with Chris Riddell and Oliver Jeffers, maybe there wasn’t room for the rugs. But now I do, and I love them. They even had some at the fair to look at. (I had sort of imagined him at a loom, making rag rugs, when in actual fact Chris makes beautiful designs, which are then tied in the traditional way by professionals in India, and they look marvellous.)

Anyway, Chris started off his event talking about his picture books, with a slide show, and reading selected bits from a couple of books, showing us how he had developed his ideas. The young Chris had gone from being told he could work as a graphic designer, to enjoying making caricatures, and then discovering the use of computers at college.

The next stage was collaborating with The People Tree, designing various goods for them and being paid in t-shirts, which Chris liked. He travelled in India, and saw things he found interesting, and only got on to the rugs by accident when being shown yarn dyeing and felt he had to be polite about it. He quickly worked out where the rug makers were going wrong; making good quality rugs depicting the Manchester United logo. It was this that made him come up with attractive alternatives.

Chris’s next venture was making an app called Hat Monkey. This is for young children to do fun things, like dancing and singing. Great pictures as with all his stuff.

In Shh! We Have a Plan Chris solved his illustration problems by making it as a collage, and showed us a photo of him playing on his kitchen floor, putting the pieces together. He read us his new book Goodnight Everyone (featuring a beautiful sky at night) where basically everyone falls asleep. So many picture books are about falling asleep…

For school visits Chris has put together a shape kit, which allows young children to play with his characteristic shapes and colours, making new pictures every time.

Chris Haughton

As well as having a display of his rugs and some dolls down on the market stall level, there were books for signing outside. Amazingly all his picture books have been translated into Swedish, and the audience clustered around, eagerly awaiting a doodle or two in each book. I’d have liked to linger, but had another event to run to, so left Chris to ‘his’ ladies.


You might remember that Meg Rosoff left me in the corridor on Thursday afternoon. I was still there when she woke up on Friday morning. Or so I tried to claim. I had returned to the same spot, sorting out my plans for the day, when Meg came up and asked if I’d come for coffee with her.

On the understanding I’d not actually have to have any coffee, I agreed, and that’s how I ended up slurping my own pink blueberry yoghurt drink after all. Meg had one as well, and also coffee (Swedish coffee, where you don’t get to choose what kind) to set her up for the day.

(It must be tough to find that the only person ‘in town’ you know is your long time ‘stalker.’ A bit like when friends of ours moved to a new town and the only person they knew there was the bishop. Talking of whom, the bishop was the only famous person I encountered in the corridors during my two days at the fair. Except I refer to him as the former archbishop. Same difference.)

We talked about amusement parks, and nearly falling off carousels, and I recommended Liseberg [across the road] if she wanted a walk. Anyway, it turned out Meg had even more mini-events to appear at than I’d been told about, so I attempted to steer us towards the Brombergs stall, except in the end Meg did better than me. Oh well.

Meg Rosoff

It’s amazing how at a fair this size, with thousands and thousands of visitors you ever accidentally find people you know. As I was making my way to see Chris Haughton, my attention was caught – with some difficulty – by the New Librarian, who was standing there eating lunch with Pizzabella and School Friend. So we chatted over their Thai food, until it was time for me to eat my own lunch during Chris’s event.

My next event was 45 minutes on horror with Jonathan Stroud and Mats Strandberg talking to Lotta Olsson. And from there I ran to the stage where Meg was appearing, again, and where I’d arranged to meet both School Friend and Pippi. Failed to see School Friend, even with the help of the New Librarian and Pizzabella, who both passed by individually, and who both failed to find their mother. Pippi turned up and we chatted until it was time for me to force a couple of signed books from Meg. At this point School Friend materialised, but when offered the opportunity of meeting Meg she vanished, claiming she had another event to queue for, so in the end Meg only got to say hello to Pippi, who then insisted on buying me tea. And a kanelbulle.

Meg Rosoff

I just might have noticed Sven Nordqvist, of Findus fame, walk past. But on the whole I don’t recognise Swedish celebrities. I decided that gossiping was more important than a third Jonathan Stroud event, and when we were done I sent Pippi on her way to look at books and things, while I chased Jonathan for a signature, but missed him.

And that was that.

I went to pick up my suitcase from Miss Vet’s, called in at a bookshop on the way to the station (because I’d not had enough, and because the fair didn’t have the book I was after), and caught a train to go and spend the weekend with School Friend. And that is where I am now.