Category Archives: Travel

Celebrating Young Adult Fiction

Daniel Hahn

There were so many authors for Daniel Hahn’s event on YA literature that we got 15 minutes extra to sort out the seating arrangements, (a rather nice booth at the edge of the Spiegeltent for me) or so he claimed. We should – could – have had much longer. Not so much for the chairs as for the sheer marvel of what everyone had to say, whether or not YA exists. (Some of them reckon it doesn’t.)

Them, were Elizabeth Laird, David Almond, James Dawson and Tanya Landman, plus Agnes Guyon, chair for this year’s Carnegie. That’s four award winners, and one awarder. Daniel said, two of them were suspicious, but he changed that to having suspicions [about YA] when we laughed. The introductions had to be kept short or there would have been no time for the event. Elizabeth has written 150 books, and she claimed ‘most of them rubbish.’ David Almond has won everything, including the Hans Christian Andersen prize. New kid on the block, and reigning Queen of Teen, James Dawson, hasn’t won so much yet, except for the rather spiky QoT crown he keeps in a cupboard. And then there was this year’s Carnegie medalist, Tanya Landman.

With the exception of young James, who did grow up on  Nancy Drew, Melvin Burgess and Judy Blume (yes, that book), before moving on to Stephen King, none of the others had had access to any YA books back in the olden days. Elizabeth read Kipling, Geoffrey Trease and moved straight from Wind in the Willows to Agatha Christie and Jane Eyre. Oh, and she read her great aunt’s books…

David liked John Wyndham and Hemingway, as well as Blyton. Tanya was also a Wyndham fan, she read Leon Garfield, and then she has forgotten the rest. Agnes Guyon went straight from the Famous Five to Zola. As you do. Daniel felt this was a terribly French answer, and one he will use in future.

On being asked how they became YA writers, James said he decided after reading Noughts & Crosses. He reckons we’re all here because of J K Rowling, and what Stephenie Meyer did to follow. David didn’t even know he’d written YA when asked about it in America. Tanya reckons a book is a book is a book, and she doesn’t like categories.

James Dawson

James believes Philip Pullman only got away with what he wrote because the books were aimed at young readers. Elizabeth’s reading is mixed, and she reads what she needs for the moment. When ill she can consume many Agatha Christies in a short time.

Tanya read from her Buffalo Soldier, and had to stick to the first chapter, as she wrote the book with a southern American accent in mind, but she can’t actually read aloud like that.

Talking about diversity, James said there are many books, but none are bestsellers, unlike the leading David Walliams, John Green and the Hunger Games. Elizabeth feels that it’s the 3 for 2 offers in shops that make the bestsellers, in a fake sort of way. That’s why we need libraries, with librarians in them.

According to David, children’s publishers are more adventurous, and more confident in what they publish, than adult ones, and mentioned Shaun Tan. Elizabeth has experience of being recycled. If you can stay in print for 25 years, you find that your readers have become parents and will be drawn back to your books, until 25 years later when it’s the grandchildren’s turn.

Elizabeth Laird

Daniel’s bugbear is translations. There are not enough of them. Pushkin and Little Island are two publishers who do look for fiction to translate. Elizabeth read from her book A Little Piece of Ground, which was very moving.

Adults are people who ought to know better; they should read proper books. Or that’s what people think. Tanya reckons To Kill a Mockingbird has become what it is because it’s accessible. She knew someone who was embarrassed to be seen reading The Book Thief, because it’s not a ‘proper’ book. James even defended Twilight, being someone who’s ‘heading into his mid twenties.’

Tanya said what I’ve long failed to put into words, which is that in YA books things get better within the book (except for Kevin Brooks), while in adult books you start level, and then things spiral into something worse, with divorce, unemployment and worse. Elizabeth had some insight there and then which she shared with us; YA wants to tell a good story, straight and simple, with no ‘tricksy writing’ unlike so many adult books.

Agnes said that what the Carnegie judges look for is plot, style and characterisation, well told. And as someone retorted, ‘how hard can it be?’

James read from his new, almost not published, book, about a bisexual relationship. I think we were all impressed by how daring this seemed, but when asked if he’s ever encountered resistance, he said his whole next book got scrapped (grindr culture for gay men, starting with hardcore gay sex), and as a World Book Day author next year this wasn’t seen as being quite right. Elizabeth laughed so heartily at this, that I suspect the publishers are wrong.

We finished with David reading from Ella Grey, about Orfeus and rather grown-up sleepovers.

One question from the audience was on how children seem to get older younger these days, and James treated us to his memories of reading about demonic sex at the age of eleven.

Someone else told us that YA books save her in her job as a teacher, because the books suit the children. Elizabeth wonders if we are all teenagers, really, and Daniel added that it could be we are just optimists.

Perhaps there wasn’t any wolf whistling from the audience, but almost. This was one happy group of book lovers and we could easily have stayed there much longer. As it was, we trooped over to the adult (the irony of it!) bookshop for signings. It was good to finally speak to Tanya Landman, who was excited enough to give me an extra ‘e’ but that’s all right between Carnegie winner and witch.

James Dawson, Elizabeth Laird, Tanya Landman and David Almond

(This photo borrowed from Lindsay Fraser, because it’s so much better than mine.)

Leaving something of an echo of themselves

To have one biro run out of ink is a bit of a misfortune for a Bookwitch, who takes down notes the old-fashioned way at events. To have [her only] two biros become ink-free in the space of a couple of hours is something Lady Bracknell might have a few things to say about. So I’m starting with my second event on Monday, because it is in much more dire risk of not being blogged about, unless I make up half of it.

Edge of Your Seat Thrillers was a really good event, documenting how Tim Bowler and Sam Hepburn write their award winning and shortlisted books, chaired by witch favourite Ann Landmann. OK, so she did threaten us on the back row, but we refused to budge. Even Sam and Tim had to silence their mobile phones, because Hollywood would not be phoning just then.

Sam told us about her new book If You Were Me, and read a bathroom scene from it. Very more-ish. I suspect it might be as good as her first novel. Tim read from Game Changer, which is about a boy with a lot of phobias, but who doesn’t spend quite all his life in a wardrobe. Only some of it.

Sam Hepburn

They discussed reading aloud, which they both do and enjoy. They talked about writing dialogue, which can be hard. Normal conversations don’t sound anything like what you see in books. (I know. Not even the lovely Tim spoke totally grammatically when interviewed.)

They continued with their ‘terribly technical’ chat and Tim apologised for giving us all this advice we’d never asked for. He doesn’t plan, and both authors reckon things happen when you simply sit down and write. Characters start to behave uncharacteristically. Their advice is not to plan too much, if you must plan. Even Carnegie winners have doubts about their writing, and rubbish writing can be good raw material for what comes next.

Sam always types her stories, and Tim mostly does as well, including on his Blackberry (yes, he knows!), which helped him produce 2000 words on his journey to Edinburgh yesterday.

Does literature have a role to play? Yes, it does. Those cavemen didn’t have to start drawing pictures to survive. It was more the urge to leave an echo of themselves behind. It’s the same today. Authors don’t have more ideas than other people; they are just differently wired in how they use them.

If he could have, Tim would have liked to have written Tarka the Otter, while Sam rather fancies being the author of Northern Lights.

Tim Bowler

In the bookshop signing session afterwards, we had a veritable hugfest, as Tim needs to hug to begin with and then again when parting. This time I had both Offspring there who had to be hugged, although Tim rather doubts the existence of the Resident IT Consultant, whom he’s never seen. However, Ann Landmann could confirm he is real.

2 x Michael Grant

The place I had to be on Saturday afternoon was a nearby author hotel, where I was going to interview Michael Grant. Again. (He interviews so well! How can a witch not go for him over and over again?)

Michael had just arrived in Edinburgh, but had skipped immediate jetlag by doing research in England first. Some nautical research, and a wide-eyed new discovery in the shape of the London Oxford Street branch of the shop that is never knowingly undersold. Michael loved it, and had had no idea such a place could exist.

He looked better than ever, tanned and thin, and pretty unstoppable. This time I made sure he had coffee that didn’t politely go cold, although it might have been dreadful coffee for all I know. I had the tea.

I’d been reading his new book, out later this week, the second and last in his Messenger of Fear series. I wanted to ask why he’d gone in such a new direction, and what will happen next, and then what comes after that. Lots of books, is the answer. We got to admire his daughter’s new hair, which cost a fortune, and my photographer learned some financial tips from Michael’s son (who wasn’t there, and nor was his sister).

We got longer than planned, as Michael was hungry and wanted a sandwich as well. He can eat and talk at the same time.

Afterwards we walked over to Charlotte Square for his event, and I can tell you that was one long queue he had, waiting patiently. It’s always good when there are lots of teenagers at teenage events.

It was fortunate that Michael had already shown us the disgusting images on his laptop, so they didn’t come as a complete surprise when he started off with them. (His wife doesn’t like them, either.) And he set us a problem to solve, making the tent into a sealed brick building, with monsters coming out of the floor, wanting to eat three humans. He wanted to know what our monsters looked like. (Blue, in my case. A bit blobby.)

This time Michael had decided to preempt the perennial question about where he gets his ideas from, not wanting to get annoyed, or claim that they come from Tesco, next to the yoghurt. That’s partly the reason he’d found himself this software that produces such creepy and disturbing pictures.

At one point I thought Michael claimed not to have been on a riding course (and I could just visualise him on this horse), when I worked out he’d not been on a writing course.

One of his book ideas he described to his editor as The Seventh Seal, but with fewer Swedes and more teenagers. (You can never have too many Swedes.) As for sex, that is more fun to do, than to write about. Although we learned that he has a past writing Sweet Valley Twins books, which is actually a bit disturbing.

Michael has completely ruined his editor, who has gone from someone who recoiled from his suggestions, to actively embracing them. With Messenger of Fear he put in everything he could from his own fears, which have mostly to do with his children, and if he got rid of them, his wife. (He has tried.) Then it’s fire, and small closed in places.

Michael Grant

He’d never put himself in the books, but when asked who in Gone is most like him, it’s Quinn, ‘the unreliable friend, the backstabbing little shit.’

And on that note we stampeded to the bookshop next door, where he signed books until he eventually got rid of his fans.

As for me, I can’t now unthink some of the ideas Michael has put into my head; from bricked up book festival tents, to being the one fed to the monsters.

Yip yip yip

Finally!! I have actually seen Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve in Charlotte Square. I went to their Chilly Up North event, and I brought the youngest Offspring along. (I think she enjoyed herself more than she expected to.)

There was a long queue and lots of people. Mainly small ones. They handed out sketchpads to the little ones, and even to those adults who wanted to draw. We had to shout yip yip yip to make Sarah and Philip enter. (Personally I’d have stayed away if I heard a whole tent yipping like that…)

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve

Philip wore yellow trousers that would startle polar bears, and a fetching white Cossack style shirt. Sarah matched him for yellowness, with a rather lovely fur-trimmed yellow dress. In order to avoid crinkles she’d brought her iron.

Their new book, Pugs of the Frozen North, is about a race to reach the Snow-father before anyone else, so you can have a wish. They couldn’t afford huskies, so had to use 66 pugs to pull the sledge (apparently there is a knitting pattern on how to knit your own pug on Sarah’s website). When they mentioned a particle detector for the Northern Lights my personal astrophysicist moaned in despair.

Sarah McIntyre

This was the first time they’d done the show, so they had to feel their way round (‘couldn’t be bothered’ to rehearse, or so they claimed), but it wasn’t too bad. Philip stole Sarah’s pug at one point, but what is a pug between friends? They made a snow game, riddled with dangers such as avalanches and crevasses, not to mention yetis.

Plenty of opportunity for audience participation. There was the snowball throwing, which caused some unfortunate Elvis impersonation, farting and yeti hands, but it wasn’t quite the ‘end of Reeve & McIntyre’ as a member of the audience came to the rescue with their anti-yeti spray. Every performance should have some.

Philip Reeve

We were even taught how to draw our own pug, and it was surprisingly easy. We will be able to take over any day now.

There was an inflatable dice, and there was music and singing and an intricate chorus to sing (yip yip yip). They’re crazy. But popular.

So popular, in fact, that by the time the queue in the bookshop had sorted itself out, I had to give up on making myself known to Philip – again! – as I needed to be elsewhere. And he was so beautiful and yellow, too. It would have been lovely.

Yip…

Feeling Three Men in a Boat-ish

Tell me honestly; do you think it was the smelly Danish cheese that did it?

I suppose it was karma. I put the cheese in the Resident IT Consultant’s suitcase, thinking we’d just be travelling for the day and the cheese would be all right, and so would we. I mean, we were all right. And once the cheese had recovered in the fridge overnight, so was it. In fact, I had a very agreeable lunch sandwich with just the right degree of smelliness. The cheese. Not me.

Although it was hot, and we could all have done with more to drink.

You’d have thought that three out of four trips across the North Sea going somewhat wrong would be one or two too many? I felt we’d had our share of unexpectedly travelling via Oslo or the three of us flying on separate planes, to last us several months.

But on Tuesday our plane had scratches, not previously noted in any flying logbooks. So we sat there, and we sat there, and they gave us so much juice and water that they ran out, and then they told us to get off the plane and wait in the terminal. Luckily, Kastrup is a nice airport, and Daughter very nicely bought the two old people an almond croissant. Each.

Once the scratches had been deemed safe we were back on board, with people panicking nicely over possibly or definitely missed connections in London. We didn’t worry, because we knew we should make the last plane to Scotland. Until the purser came and said we wouldn’t. Until the people at Heathrow said we would, and we did. The plane was so empty they could easily accommodate each of us sitting separately from the other two, which is how we like it (unless we travel on separate planes).

And the only reason I’m boring you with this is because all the will we, won’t we, and getting home late meant I needed to give Debi Gliori and Ros Asquith a miss at Charlotte Square. And Xinran.

Sigh.

But I did get some reading done.

Summer books, and the ‘ants’

‘Where are all those books going?’ asked the Resident IT Consultant. Seems he meant the ones in the large IKEA paper carrier bag in the hall.

‘To the *Ants,’ I replied. ‘And they’re not all books, btw.’ Being me I had put the unwanted china underneath the books… And for a soft landing, the odd unwanted t-shirt under all that. But we’ve been to the Ants already (and this year they have So Many Things I Want [but don’t need] that I could barely contain myself in the shop), so chances are the bag will have to wait until next year. But at least we have tidied up a bit.

I have this – possibly misguided – idea that holiday houses should house lots of iffy books, and there is less need to keep pruning than at home. My memories of Aunt Motta’s summer cottage is that it was full of old magazines and paperbacks. A veritable treasure trove.

So that is what I aim for. All the books I rescued from Offspring’s school library are here. So are various other books acquired from all over the place. And the ones I brought to read and either don’t feel I need in the UK or that I didn’t like, or ones I have more than one copy of, are all here.

But as Daughter tidied away a few of the books from her shelf, I thought that perhaps I ought to be more critical of what I keep my thick layers of dust on. (Even one of this summer’s new books came out dusty when I offered it to the Resident IT Consultant. Presumably because the shelf had a certain excess of dust.) Hence the bag waiting to go to the Ants.

The thing is, you could easily arrive with nothing to read. Even I can find perfectly acceptable unread books if I look. But it’s hard not to pack lots of books anyway.

*Ants=Myrorna= Salvation Army secondhand shop.

Flying royally

All roads lead to Holiday Bookwitch Towers. Maybe. I told you a couple of months ago about our unusual flight route here, but a witch can always come up with more different ways.

This week I went another unexpected way, and I did it alone. The Resident IT Consultant and I were flying to Copenhagen, yet again (but we are clearly doomed), this time via Heathrow. But with our first flight delayed, we’d miss our second. We have no idea what was going on in Denmark, but judging by the lack of seats on any plane, with any airline, the whole world was heading there.

Meanwhile, poor Daughter who hadn’t had a seat on our planes at all, went ahead with her separate travel plans, also to Copenhagen, but with another airline. She was due to arrive last, joining us driving across The Bridge. Obviously, she arrived first. Also obviously, she ended up catching a train out of Denmark.

Wanting to be around to help her kill any uninvited spiders, I eventually suggested I fly to Gothenburg. They found this a strange idea, but put me on that plane instead, where I ended up sharing the last row with a cello and its player.

The flight crew hesitated each time they made an announcement, but each time – just – remembered we were bound for Gothenburg. Except when we arrived, when they believed we were in Bergen. I heard them giggling behind me, as the two names ‘are so similar.’ They are not. They are not even in the same country.

Unable to drive over any bridges, I also caught a train, which I shared with eight airline pilots (see, even the pilots had no planes!), who – one by one – went off to the toilet to shed their uniforms. Thankfully they had jeans and stuff in those natty little black carry-on cases.

By this point the Resident IT Consultant actually had arrived in Copenhagen, because there was the small issue of a hired car to pick up to drive across The Bridge. And once the witch had been removed from the equation, there was one last seat out that day.

By bedtime we were all here, separate flights notwithstanding. The rather lovely cellist had asked if I’d change seats with her boyfriend, but having been given my favourite seat, I really didn’t want to give it up. I explained to her that I had sent my Resident IT Consultant not only on a different plane, but to a different country, and she conceded that when you’re older you might do that.

Older, hah!