Category Archives: Writing

Peddle? I don’t think so.

Aaand we’re peddling again. Eighteen months ago (thank goodness for the search facility – and I’ll get to that word any minute now – on Bookwitch) I moaned grumpily about the peddling of bikes in fiction. I do enjoy a good complaint. Towards other people, and not directed at me.

I have now read two novels in quick succession where the main character peddles their bike. Several times. Consistency is good. It means they firmly believe you peddle bikes. Or their editors do.

Bikes obviously are peddled, but mostly in bikeshops or on Gumtree and similar sites.

And don’t get me started on facilities. Usually I rather hope I will be offered a toilet, or more generally a nice arrangement of useful things and services.

I was reading the local paper last week, about a primary school that had closed its doors for the last time. The building was so old and decrepit the school will be demolished.

And a new facility will rise in its place!

So they get rid of a school, and build a facility. It’s hardly surprising a facility won’t be as good as a school in getting the difference between peddling and pedalling across. (Offspring pedalled at their primary school. There was an after school class in safe cycling.)

(Psst, anyone want a bike? Or two? The Resident IT Consultant is about to peddle a couple of bikes, as we can’t even swing a squirrell in our garage at the moment. Which, presumably, is why one of them visited the conservatory a few days ago. Stray cats needing to be sent packing is one thing. But I can’t abide the thought of the squirrels starting in on our food supplies, having witnessed how they dealt with the Christmas canapés last December.)

Bike

MCBF – ‘a festival to grow up with’

It’s almost that time again. The Manchester Children’s Book Festival launched yesterday. Without me, but a launch is still a launch, and they have Carol Ann Duffy.

I like the way they describe their programme, suggesting that if you’re a little bit older than you were six years ago when they began – oh so beautifully! – you might have grown from younger books to some of the older, YA books and their authors. I really like that idea; that you grow up with a festival.

James Draper and Kaye Tew

And it goes without saying that once grown up you can still never be too old. After all, just look at the festival directors. Do Kaye Tew and James Draper strike you as old? No, I thought not.

I fear this may be another festival where I miss Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve. I have seen them, but they feel like my forever missing act. I don’t even know if I’m going this year. I’ll wait and see if I’m suddenly afflicted by energy, next week, or the week after.

The other side of Jacqueline Wilson, MCBF 2012

They have a lovely patron in Curtis Jobling (I’d like to think I made the introductions, but that could well be fake memory syndrome), so I don’t see how they can go wrong. And I love the fact that on their home page there is a photo of Jacqueline Wilson from a few years ago, with Daughter shooting away in the mid-background, and a virtually invisible witch next to her. We’ll never go away!

There’s a poetry competition, with judges of the highest calibre. If I wrote poetry I’d love the opportunity of being read by the poet laureate, and her Welsh counter-part, Gillian Clarke.

So, for two weekends MCBF takes over various venues across Manchester, including the library and Waterstones, where on the last day you can check out local boy Danny Weston with Sally Green [she’s not a boy].

That sounds good, doesn’t it?

Teary about Terry

When Terry Pratchett discussed his inevitably upcoming memorial with his assistant Rob Wilkins, the one thing he wished for was to be there. He was, in as much as we all had him in our hearts last night. We talked about him. And there were a number of heartstoppingly bearded men in black, wearing hats in the bar outside the Barbican theatre. But those fans have always been there. It’s just that on the other occasions, so has Terry.

Terry Pratchett memorial ticket

Why I was included on the guest list for this outstandingly special memorial, I don’t know. But there I was. And as we were warned not to take photos or have our mobiles on, or we might end up a bit dead, I didn’t, and we didn’t, and it was mostly too dark to see to write notes, so I’ll make up a few things now instead. There was a choir. There was a display of all of Terry’s books travelling through a time glass.

Terry Pratchett: From birth to death, a writer

Lord Vetinari kicked off – after the death threats – by thanking Terry from all his characters for putting them in his books before they ended up in someone else’s books.

After a long-wished-for opportunity to utter the words ‘do not let me detain you’ to Vetinari,  Rob was there to speak for the family, introducing others, including Terry’s daughter Rhianna. There were people from Terry’s past (whom I might have known if I knew more). There was a coven of Terry’s three editors; Philippa Dickinson, Anne Hoppe and Jennifer Brehl. Only once did Philippa fear she’d gone too far in suggesting a change in one of the books, but whereas Terry wouldn’t go so far as to say she had been right, he could see some merit in what she said.

Dried Frog Pills

Larry Finlay, MD of Transworld, told about the reports Terry used to send after every author tour; what the bookshops had been like, and the hotels. You could get a four and a half star rating (frozen peas provided for his aching signing hand), but never five. And the ‘first’ hotel of the country was so bad he could well believe it was. Old floorboards, and so on.

And then there was Steeleye Span. You could hear the collective held breath of the audience as we deduced we were about to be treated to some top notch music from Terry’s favourite band.

You can’t send just anyone in after such a music display, and they didn’t. We got Neil Gaiman, who had flown in specially for his old friend, reading his foreword to A Slip of the Keyboard, including the tale of their long trek through San Francisco when they really should have been on live radio. He was also able to spill the beans on a Manchester bookshop that did get a minus star in Terry’s ratings. (It’s when the staff lock themselves in and won’t come out until the customers have gone away.)

Terry Pratchett postcards

Rob told us about the four documentaries about Terry Pratchett. The three we may have already seen; on Alzheimer’s, about the Orangutans, and about choosing to die. Currently there is work on the fourth, and I suspect some of yesterday will end up in there.

By then we’d been there for well over two hours, and Sir Tony Robinson chose to come on stage and mention bladder control. He admired us for it, as well he should.  He had the opportunity to prove again how perfect he is for reading Terry’s words out loud. This time he chose a letter Terry had written. (In fact, Terry left behind a number of letters to friends and family, written one day in October 2014 when Rob was out of the office.)

Terry Pratchett memorial brooch

Another thing Terry had arranged was for some special jewellery for special friends; the less visible people who helped make everything possible, his agent, his editor, his illustrator, his banker and so on. The ones who Terry turned to in order to find out the necessary force needed to pull the head off a troll, for instance. They are the Venerable Order of the Honeybees, and their rewards were presented in a newly made version of The Luggage.

More singing from Steeleye Span, and special thanks to Maddy Prior, who came and sang to Terry at home shortly before he died.

Terry Pratchett memorial tissues

As you can tell, this was very much not a dry eye kind of evening. Luckily there was in the ‘partybag’ left on everyone’s seat a packet of tissues. I put mine away, and then wondered what the protocol was for nicking my neighbour’s pack which he hung onto for the whole evening. But there are always sleeves that can be put to good use.

Rob was aware that the clock was ticking, but he still talked us through what the future has in store. There will be no more Discworld books, but there will be books on all sorts of things, including a biography by Rob. Films are also in the pipeline, for The Wee Free Men, Mort, and Good Omens (with screenplay by Neil Gaiman, despite his agreement with Terry that they’d always work together).

And lots more.

Tommy’s fight

Tommy Donbavand has cancer. Normally I wouldn’t mention anything so private on here, but because Tommy has gone public with his illness, I feel I must do so as well.

To share what it’s like, Tommy has started a blog called Tommy v cancer. It makes for painful reading, and it is tempting to skip past the bad bits. But if Tommy can put up with what’s being done to him, the least we can do is read about it. You need to be well to be strong enough to deal with cancer treatment. (Luckily we do still have a free health service.)

Another thing that’s easy to forget is what happens when an author, who of necessity is freelance, can’t do what it is they usually do to earn money. Writing is one thing, which perhaps you can do from a sickbed. But it’s the money brought in by doing school visits and similar, which suddenly stops coming. Apart from wishing to be well again, Tommy obviously wants to provide for his family.

What you can do to help, is donate money. Tommy has a PayPal button on his blog, or you could become a patron of Patreon to support him financially. I’d find it hard to ask for money, and I know Tommy does too. But he has to. Please consider if you could help a little.

He has some great friends, and none better than Barry Hutchison, who even sneaked in on Tommy’s blog one day and wrote his own post, which tells rather nicely of their friendship, and what lovely men they both are. Humour helps when things look grim.

I hope for the very best for this kind and funny man, who has such a knack for wrapping little children in toilet paper.

Tommy Donbavand with dragon and others at Sefton ScareFest

Meg unleashed

Five years on, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow looks the same. It’s just that in my mind I couldn’t make my photographic memory of what I call the ‘Sara Paretsky room’ match up with the ‘Julie Bertagna café’ area. After my search for the Aye Write! box office yesterday – I only had to ask three people – I was able to connect the five year old dots. Turned out I didn’t need a ticket after all…

The Mitchell is a nice place, where people come to use the computers and eat in the café and take their shoes off and strum their guitars. Warm too, but I was reluctant to remove my jacket in case the fire alarm would see me and go off.

Anyway, I made it all the way up to the 5th floor for Meg Rosoff’s event, and sat down to wait, surrounded by several seriously psychedelic carpets. Getting an authorly hug was nice, and I was glad that Meg had put me on a list to get in. The audience was exclusively female, if you don’t count the two male Aye Write! volunteers.

Introduced by local author Zoe Venditozzi, Meg discovered she’d already gone native by saying she’d talk a ‘wee bit’ about Jonathan Unleashed. She’s feeling ‘happy and well adjusted’ at this stage between writing and publication, unlike when she feels that ‘there will never be another book and my family will starve.’ On the other hand, good writing requires that she keeps ‘that balance of terror and confidence.’ And ‘maybe [Meg’s] brain is emptying out’ of books…

Yes, quite.

Meg told us how she woke up in August 2013 with the first line of the book, and just knew this was going to be her next book, without knowing what else would happen or why. Being what she calls a bad plotter, she described how her good friend Sally Gardner tends to come to the rescue. Sally was also able to see who Jonathan’s romantic interest should be.

She loves Lucky Jim, and she doesn’t mind stealing plots. Jonathan is a big ‘numpty’ really, and she read the bit where he first takes ‘his’ dogs to the vet’s. Meg apologised for not being able to do a proper British accent, after all her years in England.

Greeley, the character of uncertain sex in the book, is the way he/she is because it’s how Meg feels; never quite fitting in and not managing to heed her mother’s advice to be ‘more ladylike.’ In her writing she gives her clueless characters friends in order to help them. She said how together, she and her husband Paul are not ‘so nutty’ as they would be on their own.

Penguin dropped her when she wrote this adult novel, and Meg said how exciting it was to have Jonathan Unleashed auctioned both in Britain and in the US. Meg didn’t exactly mince words, and one of her more quotable lines yesterday was how ‘one could if one were a more generous-minded person.’ And then there was her first work, the ‘dark pony book.’ She blames the internet, which is where weird people find more weird people interested in the same thing, like My Little Pony or dinosaur sex.

Asked what books she has enjoyed recently, Meg mentioned Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm and that old ‘children’s’ classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. (If Meg were to see a child read it she said she’d take it away from them.)

To sum things up, novel writing is basically about getting stuck halfway, suffering, and tearing your hair out.

Meg Rosoff

And on that cheerful note we ran out of time. Not wanting to walk down five flights of stairs, Meg and I and a librarian got the lift down, after which we realised we had no idea where Meg was supposed to do her signing. We found it in the end, but the search was a new and different experience.

Wanting to take me out for a drink afterwards, Meg asked around for ideas of where to go. We left the building, only to stand on Julie Bertagna’s corner outside, staring at Meg’s mobile phone app. Which might have been upside down. The phone, not so much the app. Once we’d turned the motorway the right way round, and rejected one Indian restaurant, we ended up at the Koh-I-Noor, which I in my witchy way had clocked as I crossed the motorway earlier.

I clearly sensed it was for me. We shared their sharing vegetarian thali (apparently Meg is veggie these days, unless she is force-feeding Cathy Cassidy chicken stock) and gossiped about publishing, authors, children, growing older. And then I went off to Charing Cross for my train and Meg limped bravely back to her hotel, blisters from new boots and all.

Which, more than anything, brought home to me how hard the lovely people who write books work, travelling all over the place to meet the readers. Not just favourite authors, but all of them.

Thank you.

How to be Shakespeare

This is such a brilliant idea! Here I have two books from the British Library, by Deborah Patterson, on how to be your own William Shakespeare. Or J K Rowling or Tolkien. Or if you want to set the bar really high, Jules Verne or Arthur Ransome.

We’re actually back in the territory of writing in books, which is so tempting, but which could also lead to some less legit scribbling in all sorts of other books than these two. But my fingers are itching, just looking at the – inviting – pages in Deborah’s two My Book of Stories books.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own Shakespearean tales

In ‘write your own Shakespearean tales,’ she introduces old Will’s plays, with quotes and pictures and All Those Lovely Designated Pages For Writing On! So read a bit about dear Hamlet and then see what you can do about beating Mr Shakespeare at his own game.

Deborah Patterson, Write your own adventures

Likewise, in ‘write your own Adventures,’ we meet some of the classics in children’s literature; Alice, Peter Pan, Dorothy, Toad, Harry Potter, the Hobbit and all those others.

And then there are word games and that kind of thing, so really, you are in for a treat, playing and writing, all in one go.

Why am I so old? I was made for these books!

The Greystones Press

It’s not every day that a new publishing company is born. The Greystones Press is a brand new publisher’s of quality books, started by Mary Hoffman and her husband Stephen Barber.

Very sensibly they are sticking to what they care about most, which is literature, art, music, history, mythology and fairy tales. This will sound silly, but I feel quite excited at the thought of this, in a world too full of publishing companies who concentrate on, well, other things. And it’s because they do, that people like Mary and Stephen are needed. They want to publish the kind of books that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, or sell in vast numbers. (Although it’d obviously be nice if they did.)

We’ve got used to self-publishing by now. Authors who either can’t get commercially published, or who want to have some level of control over what happens to their books, publish either ebooks and/or print copies. But most of them don’t go all the way and start something that will publish other people’s books as well.

This is quite a brave thing to do, but then where would we be if no one tried something new occasionally? Mary clearly has a lot of experience after her years of writing over a hundred books. One of them, the one about David, is going to be part of their first list, and it’s a book that personifies what The Greystones Press stands for. They also have plans for translated novels later on, which I look forward to.

Among the other first books will be Seven Miles of Steel Thistles by Katherine Langrish, whose knowledge of fairy tales I have long been in awe of, and here she will expand on what she’s been writing about for several years on her blog with the same name.

Mary also has a YA/adult crossover book for The Greystones Press, called Shakespeare’s Ghost, which rather suitably will be published on April 23rd. Jules Cashford and Kate Snow complete the first list of books this spring.