Category Archives: Writing

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.

2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards

I encountered Elizabeth Wein at Stirling station as I caught the train to Glasgow yesterday morning. We were both heading to the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘I missed my train,’ she replied, which might have been true, but I wanted to know why she missed it in Stirling, seeing as Elizabeth has her own perfectly good railway station from which to miss trains. I met ‘Mr Wein’ who is very nice, but unfortunately I gave him the wet handshake. Sorry! I wasn’t expecting to be socialising that early.

FREE TO USE - FAVOURITE SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF 2016 REVEALED

We made it to the Glasgow Central Hotel, along with 1000 children and most of the shortlisted authors for this year’s award. Not having missed ‘my’ train, I arrived just in time for the photoshoot, where school children posed with their favourite authors. We were only a little bit in the way of hotel staff and their drinks trolleys and things, and there was an umbrella in my way and my camera stopped working for a bit, and someone mistook Elizabeth’s lovely book for photographic support…

Black Dove, White Raven - 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

I repaired to the Green Room, managing to lose most of my marbles on the way. Apologies to anyone subjected to my complete lack of conversational skills. (Age and sleep deprivation, I reckon.) Chatted to ‘Mrs Danny Weston’ and Lindsey Fraser, who was there representing Joan Lingard. I turned down the kind offer of exclusive interviews in place of informal gossip. And not every event has someone whose job it is to go round hunting for The Blue Feather. (Never discovered if it was found.)

Refreshed by a cup of tea, I went to the awards ceremony for the Older Readers, where Danny talked of [non-pc] battleaxes, and of wanting to terrorise children, which he did very nicely with a picture of ‘those dolls.’ Elizabeth impressed the audience with a photo of herself on top of an airborne plane. Lindsey took a photo of us to show Joan, and described how Joan uses an iPad for all her research.

Two students did an interview with the authors and there was a Q&A session, which revealed how Danny runs after his characters with a notebook in his hand, to see what they will do, and Elizabeth said she always has to tell her book cover artist that they’ve got the wrong plane… There were prizes for best book reviews (they won an author!), and then there was the Scottish Children’s Book Award which went to Danny Weston for The Piper. He thanked his wife, his editor Charlie Sheppard and his ‘friend’ Philip Caveney who taught him everything he knows.

Elizabeth Wein at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

Having brought loads – well, five – books to be signed, I joined the queues and was given a model plane to make by Elizabeth. Danny’s queue was too long so I went for lunch instead. Found Gillian Philip tackling the sandwiches, and we talked about motherhood and kelpies. Elizabeth Laird asked who I was, so I explained that I’m the one who always emails her after every event. She wondered if she ever writes back, and I assured her she always does.

The other morning session, which I had to miss, was for the [youngest] Bookbug Readers, and the winners were Simon Puttock and Ali Pye. Simon will be carrying his prize around for a couple of days, until he gets home. While ‘Mrs Weston’ secured sandwiches for her hubby I went and joined his queue, which had shrunk a little. Elizabeth Wein was interviewed on camera by someone, and I had the pleasure of witnessing another wet handshake, so at least I’m not the only one.

Danny Weston at the 2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

The Younger Readers award session started after lunch, with host Fergus introducing Gillian Philip, Liz Laird and Ross MacKenzie. When Fergus said they were going to read to us, they rebelled and said they were not. They’d decided to do things differently. (Good for them!)

Gillian talked about island holidays, cliffhangers, Saturday cinema and had a photo of the cutest puppy in a teacup. Her – very – early work consisted of many three-page books. Liz talked about Ethiopia and the running everyone does there, and mentioned the Emperor’s lion in 1968, and said she wasn’t guilty of that murder she was accused of. She also writes her books on the backs of used paper. (My kind of woman.) Ross described how you can find magic shops almost anywhere if you just look closely, and said an early reading memory was The Witches at school.

2016 Scottish Children's Book Awards

After a very successful game of Consequences (it’s funny how funny those little stories always are), it was time for more prizes for reviews (another author), as well as a prize for best book trailer (most professional). And then Ross MacKenzie went and won his category of the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards for The Nowhere Emporium. He did the usual, thanking his parents and his wife and his children and all those other people he might have forgotten.

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The children queued up to have books signed, and I went to find a train to take me home. Which means I didn’t take any more of my failed photos of Liz. I suppose there’s always next time.

Bookwitch bites #135

Super-publicist Nina Douglas has got a new job. Or I could turn the statement around and say that Barrington Stoke have got themselves a new publicist. I’m really quite pleased to see such a top publicity person go to such an excellent publishing house. I imagine that they will now be able to propel those wonderful little books with the big content much further, to reach many more potential readers who need those stories.

Over at Booktrust, their current writer-in-residence, Phil Earle, is into vlogs. Here you can hear and see him talking to Tom Palmer about boys who don’t read (basically themselves, as neither of them were boys who read books), and it is a tremendously inspiring short chat. (It’s quite funny too, as both are wriggling and wiping their noses, and stuff, despite being quite grown-up…) So really, you can read magazines and newspapers, or websites. It doesn’t have to be books. It can even be a book about Leeds football club. It could make you into a reader, and in some cases, as with Phil and Tom, an author. Really great.

Someone who’s waited a long time to write his first novel, is David McCallum. Yes, Illya Kuryakin is a novelist at the age of 82. I have not read the book, unfortunately (would welcome a copy, you know…), but the excellent people at Crime Review managed to ask David a few questions (Facebook for Dummies? Really?) on the publication of Once a Crooked Man last month. Lucky them!

And finally, wishing plenty of luck for all who found themselves on the Carnegie longlist this week:

Book by John Agard (Walker Books)

A Song For Ella Grey by David Almond (Hodder)

One by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)

The Earth Is Singing by Vanessa Curtis (Usborne)

The Door That Led To Where by Sally Gardner (Hot Key Books)

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold (Bloomsbury)

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Neilsen (Andersen Press)

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (Walker Books)

Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss (David Fickling Books)

Panther by David Owen (Little, Brown Book Group)

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett (Penguin Random House)

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders (Faber)

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick (Indigo)

Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton (David Fickling Books)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (MiraInk, HarperCollins)

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)

My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter (David Fickling Books)

Liccle Bit by Alex Wheatle (Atom Books)

 

RED 10 Book Award 2015

As I was hinting earlier, I made it to Falkirk and its 10th book award, with badge and everything (And yes, I know it says 2015. They do these things out of sync.) I rather expected to just make my way in unnoticed, and having been before, I’d know where to go. But superwoman Yvonne Manning who runs this show, was there to welcome me, give me my badge and tell me I had to have a cup of tea. (Once she’d turned her back, I was able to ignore the tea.)

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David and Lari Don

I found all four shortlisted authors – Gill Arbuthnott, Keren David, Lari Don and Ria Frances – in the lounge part of fth, and chatted to Keren and Lari, who repeatedly checked with me whether I knew the other one. Introduced myself to Gill, and we decided we had actually spoken before. I even ended up talking to the Provost, who’s at the end of his second five year stint of provosting and attending book awards. Agents Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross had braved Gertrude to be there for their authors.

When it was time, Yvonne started things off, wearing tartan tights and red skirt and a special RED 10 t-shirt. Red noses were found under chairs and prizes handed out and more prizes promised. Ten schools in nine other countries had been sent the shortlisted books to read, and some of their comments were read out.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

And then, it was time for the dramatised presentations of the books, by the schools who had taken part. This involved the accidental dropping of a baby on its head (it was ‘only’ a baby doll). Much hilarity ensued and later I witnessed the doll actually being autographed…

The prizes for the best reviews were handed out, the overall winner’s review was read aloud, Yvonne swirled round in her magic red coat and Provost Reid hitched up his trouser legs to show us his red socks. So it was all quite serious stuff.

RED awards Falkirk

We had a coffee break (you need this when the award takes all day to be awarded). We discussed lukewarm hot drinks (don’t ask!), I let Lari use my very tiny Swiss Army scissors, and I returned to my seat to find the school behind me having ‘spilled’ their drinks on my row of seats. I think we can assume a good time was being had by all.

RED awards Falkirk, Keren David

The authors’ turn to entertain came next. They each had three minutes to say something profound. Gill said she made her character Jess to act braver than she was. Keren mentioned that she’d had a completely different end in mind for Salvage. Ria’s book got written at night, when she suffered from insomnia, and she told us about Albert Göring, who was a better guy than his brother. Lari explained how surprised she was to find herself writing a YA book, which she’d never expected to do.

We had a second round of dramatised books, and I decided on the spot that the one for Mind Blind was by far the best, and it had a lovely cardboard van for kidnapping characters in. There was at least one flying potato and an amusing kelpie.

To celebrate the past nine winners of the RED award, some schools had made designs for a quilt, which was then practically singlehandedly sewn by Anne Ngabia from Grangemouth High. The very beautiful quilt was held up for us to see by two extremely unreliable stagehands,  while Anne told us about the batch of 3000 books she has just packaged up for Kenya, and how helpful we’d all been. (You’re welcome.)

RED awards Falkirk, Anne Ngabia

Lunch came next, and I managed to sit with and chat to Keren and the Provost, with Lari and her agents joining us after a bit. I believe Lindsey had a dog to walk first. I learned a lot about Falkirk, and politics, from Provost Reid who, while proud of his town, could understand why my first time (in 1973) I took one look at the place and left again.

RED awards Falkirk, Ria Frances

After they’d eaten, the authors had books to sign, with long queues snaking in front of them. Even the Provost queued up.

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott and Provost Reid

RED awards Falkirk, Gill Arbuthnott

More prizes. Prize for best dramatisation, prizes for best red clothes. Apparently someone even wore red contact lenses. My favourite was the boy in the red tutu, but the Cat in the Hat girl was very well turned out too.

RED awards Falkirk

RED awards Falkirk

Q&A followed, with a rapid pace for questions, very ably controlled by two teachers (I think) with a nice line in comments about the pupils. Gill wants her readers sleepless as they wonder how the characters will fare, and she couldn’t give up writing. It would be like giving up eating. Ria started her career with some early praise from a teacher at school, and Lari says she absolutely must edit what she’s written. Keren reckons the first draft has to be rubbish or it can’t be edited to become really good. The beginning matters more than the ending. As for weird questions from other readers, Gill said she wants to be a cat, while Ria once went dressed as a mermaid, and Keren got asked what hair products she uses…

Getting closer to the big moment, but first Yvonne had to be thanked, so she ran away. (She is a bit crazy like that.) Provost Reid entered in his official – Father Christmas style – outfit, red all over, and flowers had to be handed over to Barbara Davidson who made the prize, and the press photographer also got flowers, and as the Provost waved the large red envelope around, he thanked the ‘shy and retiring’ Yvonne for her hard work. Organised stamping from the audience.

And a bit more stamping. And the winner is: Lari Don, for Mind Blind. (Very worthy, if I may say so.)

RED awards Falkirk, Provost Reid, Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Ria Frances and Keren David

Lari’s unprepared speech was admirably short and sweet, just the way we want it. Before the authors were spirited away, there was a lot of posing for photographs, with the prize, and the Provost, and the little red cardboard van.

RED awards Falkirk

I got on my broom and headed home.

He’s no Olaf

OK, so anyone, just about, could be called Olaf. In principle, anyway. But occasionally I feel there are more unfortunately named Olafs in non-Nordic language fiction than there are actual boys in Sweden, bearing that name.

Yes, Sweden. If you at least could make Olaf Norwegian. If you did, I wouldn’t even know what age he ought to be. (Although someone else would.)

There are skills in naming people. In your own language, or more narrowly, within your own area, you probably know who might be called what, and how old they are likely be.

I don’t know whether to blame Olof Palme. There are two main facts about this former prime minister. One, his name was Olof. Not Olaf. And he was ‘old’ even when he died, by which I mean a boy Olof would not be someone today. But there is a real fondness among authors for naming their Swedish characters Olaf. As they have every right to do.

The other thing that sets my teeth on edge is a surname ending in -[s]sen. Doesn’t matter if it’s single or double s. If the letter e follows, they are either Danish or Norwegian. Originally, I mean. I went to school with a Jensen, who was pretty Swedish, apart from his Danish passport.

Sweden has so very many -sson names that it’d be a shame not to use one of them. Johansson, Nilsson, Svensson, to list but a few of the very commonest. (This is why I can’t take Scarlett Johansson seriously.)

If in doubt, ask a Swede. Find a phone directory if possible. Try to avoid the immigrant names. I believe Philip Pullman found Serafina Pekkala in a phone book. Wise man, because it rings (pardon) true. At least to me, who will have to count as a foreigner in this matter.