Category Archives: Travel

She loves YA

At last night’s Great YA Debate, chaired by Daniel Hahn, the discussion was kicked off by the children’s books world’s enfant terrible, Anthony McGowan, who was of the opinion that you shouldn’t

to be continued...

read YA. If, you are older than twenty, or so. Especially if you are white and female. And middle class.

Yes, that’s – approximately – what he said, but then Tony had been hired to be the naughty one, to get the conversation going. But he did mean it. I think. Mostly. Tony described his part as the hippo poo, spread all over the place, and Elizabeth Wein was there to clean up after him (and if that’s not an example of all kinds of -isms, I don’t know what is).

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

This year’s YA debate was different from last year’s. We had Daniel Hahn on stage with Tony and Elizabeth, and then they had a stash of other authors on the front row; Annabel Pitcher, Christopher Edge, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence and Philip Womack. They all had an opportunity to disagree later on, as did the audience.

But first it was Tony who described going to YALC and finding it so mono-cultural as to be distasteful. White, female writers, 30+ who write brilliant, terrible dross for people in their twenties and thirties. Elizabeth argued with him, and Daniel pointed out that should anyone tweet that YA is crap, the internet would catch fire.

Tony wants adults to move on. YA is for teens. You should read what makes you unhappy, what you hate, or you won’t be stretched enough. Here Daniel admitted to not only being a reader of YA, but having had an Asterix day not long ago.

I decided it was a good thing Daughter had not come along to this. She’d have exploded on the spot.

No one should read John Green.

Elizabeth pointed out that contrary to what we believe in Britain, YA is fairly old as a concept, and existed in the 1950s in America. You would borrow books from the library or from friends, have them as presents, and you ‘read up,’ so even younger children would read about teenagers in books. She talked about Sue Barton and the Hardy Boys, and how Nancy Drew wasn’t considered highbrow enough…

Back to Tony who called readers of YA immature. Then he went on to talk about Meg Rosoff and Mal Peet as supposedly YA writers, but who write adult books, really, mentioning Life: An Exploded Diagram, which is a proper novel. (I think we are allowed to read it.)

Christopher Edge, Philip Womack, Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham and Patrice Lawrence

The authors on the front row came to life here, and Christopher Edge mentioned how he as a teenager went between Alan Garner and Jack Kerouac, depending on how he felt and it had less to do with age. Annabel Pitcher said she doesn’t agree that YA is twee or cosy, and looking at her own books you can see her point.

So Tony said the problem with YA is that it always takes you home. There will always be some sort of resolution and happy ending. It has to be miserable to be worthy. (You have to hand it to him. He really found irritating things to say.)

Philip Womack talked about Mary Shelley, who was a teen author (her age), although Daniel reckoned that writing Frankenstein was never a normal thing.

Back to Tony, who spoke about his experience of working with children in First Story, saying children themselves don’t write YA, unlike the white women or his students at Holloway [writing class]. The difference between [Edinburgh] events where audiences can be self selecting, or they come as part of school groups, is an important one.

Jenny Downham remembered being asked by a young working class girl at a school event whether people like her could write stories. And Jenny mused over the weirdness of finding her own Before I Die on two different shelves in bookshops, both as a children’s book and an adult book.

Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Patrice Lawrence, Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Elizabeth said as a teenager she read lots of categories of books, but as an adult she doesn’t. Tony chipped in and was disparaging about YA book bloggers, and claimed we are not his friends (I will have to think about this). Patrice Lawrence pointed out that at 49 she has lived more than half her life and she has no intention of ruining the rest with Dostoyevsky. Her own Orangeboy is not a book for 28-year-old book bloggers.

And on that note Daniel opened up the discussion to the audience ‘in the unlikely event anyone has any views.’ They did.

The talk was about marketing and whether editors have views on what should be written. The difference between rainbow colours for children and black teen books in shops. A 16-year-old wanted beautiful books [the writing] and Tony came back with saying children’s books are often funny, and teen books not.

Elizabeth feels independent bookshops have more advice to give on what to buy, and it’s important as young people rarely buy, but have books bought for them.

Elizabeth Wein and Anthony McGowan

Daniel suggested that the remaining time should be for readers under twenty (so that shut me up!) and there were many of them, with interesting thoughts on books and reading. The odd one even agreed with Tony. The girl behind me said she finds War and Peace intimidating. Someone else said there are many exciting YA novels out there, but you have to dig deep to miss the crap.

Our time was up and Daniel suggested continuing the chat over signing in the bookshop. The adult bookshop (the children’s bookshop was closed)…

There were many readers queueing up and many discussions. Elizabeth Wein won the popularity contest (if there was one) with by far the longest queue, which, naturally, I had to join. But I did have some books for Tony – yes – to sign, too. He asked if I offered them out of pity.

Before running for my train, I had time to chat to publicist Nina, ‘Mr Wein,’ and the lovely Philip Womack, who actually is a Bookwitch reader and who didn’t even twitch when I admitted to not having reciprocated. And finally I made myself known to Barrington Stokes’ Mairi Kidd, who thanked me for loving them, and wondered whether I could love even Tony. We decided I could.

Daniel Hahn, Philip Womack and Jenny Downham

Monday, Mounties, Metaphrog and the Makar

On my walk from Haymarket to Charlotte Square on Monday I was overtaken by a Mountie. This doesn’t happen often, and as this one was a fake, it might not even count. But still. That’s Edinburgh in August. Thank you kindly.

Just before the entrance to the book festival, I came across our new Makar, Jackie Kay, being photographed by a fan. On my way to a reception in the Party Pavilion, I first stopped by the signing tent to see who I could find. I had missed Philippa Gregory, but caught Dominic Hinde with his last fan. He’s written a book about Sweden, which I’ve not read, but is why I sort of knew he’d be there.

Dominic Hinde

Got to the party just as it was beginning, finding Debi Gliori in the queue by the door and had the nerve to ask her why she’d been invited… (For a good reason, I may add.) She was debating the impossibilty of removing more garments in the somewhat unexpected heat. It’s hard when you are down to your last cover.

Janet Smyth

We were there to eat scones and dainty sandwiches, and to hear about the book festival’s new-ish venture outside Charlotte Square and August, Book-ed. Janet Smyth introduced the speakers, who told us what had been happening, or was about to happen, in their home areas, primarily half a dozen new towns, including Irvine, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld. It seems that having the EIBF behind you means any venture stands a much better chance of success, so I believe we can look forward to many more little festivals here and there.

A wealthy Bookwitch would have offered to sponsor something on the spot, but in this case she merely had another piece of rather nice cake. Met a crime colleague, who was able to tell me what I did last August, which is something I increasingly need help with. To make the most of my invited status, I sat outside on the decking for a while, enjoying the sunshine.

Charlotte Square

It was going to be an afternoon of bookshop signing photos, and I hurried over to catch Nicola Davies and Petr Horáček (for a while I lost Petr’s lovely accents, which was worrying, but they have now been found again), who had so many young fans I didn’t stop to talk.

Nicola Davies

Petr Horacek

The really great thing about Charlotte Square is that someone built it near a good shoeshop, making it possible to pop out for new shoes whenever a gap presents itself. I found such a gap on Monday.

Richard Byrne

Back for Richard Byrne, who seems to be a very nice man, with a whole lot of lovely little fans. And then I crossed the square for Jackie Kay and Zaffar Kunial, checked out the sandwich situation, and went and had a chat with Sarah from Walker Books.

Zaffar Kunial

Jackie Kay

Refreshed from my brief rest, I braved the world of Harry Potter. Jim Kay, who is illustrating the books about the famous wizard, had a sold out event, which then filled the children’s bookshop. Although I couldn’t help noticing that those first in line were really quite old. I chatted to Jim’s chair, Daniel Hahn, who is so relaxed about travelling that he’d only just got off the train.

Jim Kay

After a little sit-down in the reading corner I was ready for Ross MacKenzie and Robin Jarvis. The latter had brought a skull. And with all three signings happening side by side, there was quite a crush. On the left side of the queue I encountered Ann Landmann, who told me she was feeling stupid. When she’d told me why, I also felt stupid, so it must have been an Ann thing. (We should have brought our copies of A Monster Calls. And we didn’t.)

Ross MacKenzie

Skull

My sandwich required eating, and I repaired to the yurt, before going zombie-hunting. Darren Shan was signing his Zom-B Goddess (and I can’t tell you how relieved I am I haven’t really started on his – undoubtedly excellent – books). His hair was extremely neatly combed. I liked the way Darren allowed time for chatting with his fans, initiating a discussion if they seemed shy. I can’t see how he’d have time to do it with all of them, but maybe he feels that those who’d waited to be first in line deserved a bit of extra attention.

Darren Shan

Over in the children’s bookshop I found Metaphrog still signing, and was pleased to see they look nice and normal. The name has always worried me a little…

Metaphrog

And then all I had left to do was get ready for Jo Cotterill and Kathryn Evans, which you’ve already read about. Listening to others in the queue, I got the impression, as with Michael Grant on Saturday, that many people buy tickets on the day for an event that sounds reasonably suitable, but might be with an author they’d not heard of before. I like that. It’s good to know you can discover a new favourite out of the blue.

And we’re back at Charlotte Square again

Some of the ducks are new. I’m sure of it. The Edinburgh International Book Festival opened yesterday, and my photographer and I joined them for a few hours. Not too long, and not too short. We have learned to pace ourselves in my old age.

Chris Close

We had fortified ourselves with some meze before collecting our press passes, rudely interrupting press boss Frances Sutton’s lunch in the process. Photographer Chris Close was yet again stationed outside the yurt with his camera, and some new boxes, which I genuinely hope he’s not going to ask any authors to balance on. There was new fake grass for the ducks.

Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy was our first prey, signing after her event, resplendent in her favourite green and with what looked suspiciously like a tub of cookies next to her. Well, signings can take time. And for her they did, as we could see Cathy still signing away an hour later. She had time for a hug before starting, and we talked about how I now live in Scotland and she doesn’t. And her latest book – Broken Heart Club – looks good enough to eat. (I have a thing for such very pink book covers.) Great to see her publicist Tania again, too.

Cathy Cassidy, Broken Heart Club

Came across Michael Grant being interviewed next to the ducks, and was told he’d been looking for me. Gratifying, but unlikely, I say. I was pleased to actually recognise Alice, his publicist, now that I am increasingly losing my marbles and generally failing at things. Michael got the Chris Close treatment, and then we grabbed him for a photo session of our own. We discussed how much money he spent on his daughter’s hair this last year. (Looking on the bright side, he must save on his own.)

Michael Grant

Before going to Michael’s event – which you will be able to read about tomorrow –  we caught illustrator Kes Gray in the children’s bookshop. I’d hoped to chat, but he had a long queue of young fans wanting their copies of Oi Dog! signed. I should have brought mine… Glimpsed his publicist Rebecca before she disappeared, and watched as Falkirk librarian Yvonne Manning did post-its duty along the queue.

Kes Gray

We hobbled off to catch our train home, grabbing seats by the skin of our teeth. This travelling is getting worse every year. In order not to look at all those who had to stand all the way, we buried ourselves in a book each. Lovely, life-saving things, books.

Goodbye to ‘the village pond’

There is no pond, of course. But as a foreigner I have this mental image of what is at the heart of a British village, and this is pretty much it. Minus the water. And the ducks.

The Grandmother’s flat has been sold, so it’s goodbye to the view from her living room window, which was the reason she bought the flat in the first place. Before she did, I thought she was a little crazy, going from a nice house nearby to this newly built block of flats, ‘insensitively’ slapped down in the local park.

But you change over time, and I came to see exactly why she wanted to live there. From ‘my’ armchair on the right hand side of the window I could stare endlessly at the scene outside. Very green, with many mature trees, and children playing, and football matches being played, and people just generally hanging out in what is now a Green Flag park.

At first there was also a cricket pavilion right outside. A little decrepit perhaps, but adding to the village look charm (and I hasten to add we are in a town, here, and the village is imaginary). The pavilion had to give way to the school built opposite, but you grow used to new things eventually.

When we first arrived in Scotland, we had two glorious spring months being permanently glued to the view of the park outside. It was a time of witnessing how things never change, actually. As the weather got warmer, the people walking past wore spring style clothes, and then more summery ones. Children wore shorts or pretty dresses, and their bikes would accompany them, or balls and other vital outdoors equipment.

I got to recognise the dog walkers by their dogs. I know, I should have watched less and got out more… But somehow it transported me back both to my own childhood, and also to my early visions of this country.

And now we have admired the view of the park from up there for the last time. The turn has come for someone else to while away their time checking out passersby passing by twice, both times in the same direction…

The park

(This photo doesn’t do it justice. And I’m not so sure about the latest addition of those Romans you can see. But that’s life.)

On being a traveler

I own a book by Meg Rosoff that most of you might not have heard of. It took a bit of effort obtaining a copy, but I am nothing if not determined.

It’s her London Guide from 1998, co-written with Caren Acker, and I actually do wish I’d come across it back then. Not that I particularly needed a guide to London, but it would have been fun to read something not quite like every other guide book.

Meg Rosoff and Caren Acker, London Guide

I bought it to complete my Meg collection, because it was intriguing, and because I could. And the book is fun, written in much the same style as her other books.

Primarily aimed at Americans, it has at least been written by someone who knows London like a native. I have an especial dislike of guides written by people who don’t know how little they know. Meg gives advice on how to find toilets, and what to call them. Very useful.

For good and cheap eating Meg suggests the Diwana Bhel Poori near Euston, and this pleased me a lot when I first read this guide. I like finding other people who like the same places I do. And I suppose the other side of the coin is that if they recommend somewhere else I don’t know, chances are I’ll like that as well.

By now some things in London have changed beyond all recognition, so I wouldn’t suggest using the guide as an actual giude, but more for fun and as an – almost – historical document.

Although, perhaps I could work my way round town and see how I do?

The Royal T

Little-cousin Volvina called in at Bookwitch Towers this week. It was mainly a mistake on her part. Not that she didn’t want to be here, but her reason for travelling went a bit wrong at one stage.

She brought both Double-O and Volvinita as well, not to mention the Queen’s tea towel. The day before they’d done the guided tour on the HMY Britannia, and very satisfied they were too. But they hadn’t had the tea there, and instead bought me a tea towel, under the impression that it’s some grand thing involved in the Royal serving of tea.

HMY Britannia tea towel

When actually it’s what you dry the dishes with. More useful, if you ask me, as I rarely have elegantly served tea around here, with some uniformed chap wearing a tea towel draped over his arm, or whatever you’re supposed to do with it.

So that’s what they learned from me. They’d not been before, but thanks to online maps they could tell I’d changed my garage doors…

The more telltale proof they’d come to the right house was the oystercatcher in the window. And Gunnar Sträng, Sweden’s former (very former) chancellor of the exchequer. He’s also in a window, although not sharing with the oystercatchers.

I offered them refreshments and they were keen to have tea, seeing as they’d missed out on the Royal variety. I wasn’t sure whether they thought I’d surpass the Queen, or if their expectations had been quite low at the Britannia. In the end I didn’t even manage side plates, and we simply peeled the wrappings off the little cakes from Sainsbury’s, eating them as they came.

But that’s all right. They won’t know how low my standards have sunk.

Delivered

Holiday post

This pile won’t beat its competitors in the big I-have-been-away-pile race. Happily some people receive even more books than I do. Good luck to them with their reading. I know I won’t get through all of mine.

And I refuse to speculate on how recent developments will affect the book trade. I’ve almost forgotten the changes after October 2008.