Tag Archives: Alan Gibbons

RED in Falkirk

Yesterday the Bookwitchy feet touched Falkirk soil for the first time since that fateful day in 1973. She (I mean I) saw red even on the train (a woman wearing a lovely red coat, but who wasn’t actually going where I was going). My mind was on red things, as there was a sort of dress code for attending the RED Book Award in Falkirk, and I’d dug out the few red garments I own.

Cathy MacPhail

Ever since I knew we’d be moving to Scotland, I’d been thinking how much I wanted to attend the RED Book Award, and then it happened so fast I barely knew what I was doing (I had to ditch Daughter, and feed up the camera battery), but everything worked out in the end. I walked to fth (Falkirk Town Hall), which was teeming with people in red, and I found Falkirk librarian and organiser Yvonne Manning (a Geraldine McCaughrean look-alike if ever there was one), and she showed me to the front row, despite me mentioning how I’m a back row kind of witch. There was coffee, and there were authors. All four shortlisted authors were there; Cathy MacPhail, Alan Gibbons, Oisín McGann and Alex Woolf.

Alan Gibbons and interviewers

They were being interviewed by some of the participating schools’ pupils, and it was rather like speed dating. I chatted briefly to Cathy, who’d brought her daughter along, and who said how nice Alex Woolf had turned out to be. (She was right. He is.)

Alex Woolf and interviewers

Barbara Davidson and interviewers

I found a very red lady, who turned out to be sponsor Barbara Davidson, who makes the RED award, and whose wardrobe apparently is extremely red. I like people who know what they like in the way of colour. There were even helpers wearing red boilersuits.

Back in the front row, we were treated to Yvonne Manning entering dancing, wearing a short red kilt, spotty tights and red ribbons in her hair, and she got the popstar reception treatment. Apparently ‘timing is everything’ and she managed to steer the whole day to a tight schedule.

There was a prize for anyone who found a red nose under their seat. Obviously. Another prize was offered for the school that left their seats the tidiest. After short introductions for the authors, the schools had prepared short dramatised sketches of the shortlisted books.

Yvonne Manning

At this point the Mayor came and sat on my right. Sorry, I mean Provost. Mayors are Provosts up here. Same lovely necklaces, though. And Yvonne reappeared wearing an incredible red patchwork coat, well worthy of Joseph, and it earned her some appreciative whistling from the audience.

Then it was time for prizes for the best book reviews, and the winning one was read out (after the break, after Yvonne had apologised for forgetting this important thing). She’s sweet, but also hard. The authors were given four minutes each to talk about their books; ‘speak briefly!’ They spoke about where they get ideas from. Oisín stared at people until it got ‘creepy enough.’ Cathy had found out about a real vampire in Glasgow in the 1950s, and still regrets she couldn’t have ‘It Walks Among Us’ as the title for Mosi’s War…

Alan Gibbons

Alex described how his Soul Shadows came about, which involved him writing one chapter a week, and then offering his readers several options on how to continue and they voted on which they preferred. Alan could well believe in Glaswegian vampires, and mentioned meeting Taggart once. Football is his passion. Alan’s. Not Taggart’s.

We had more dramatised books and then we listened to the woman who is the answer to my prayers. Anne Ngabia is the librarian at Grangemouth High School, and in the past she has set up little libraries in Kenya. The RED Book Award is even being shadowed by a school in Nairobi, and she showed us pictures from her libraries, as well as a short film based on Mosi’s War that they’d made.

Oisín McGann

After a very nice lunch, where I just might have offered to sue the Provost as I got him to test the veggieness of the food (if he got it wrong, I mean), the authors signed masses of books and many other things as well. The pupils thronged so much that it was hard to move for the sheer excitement of it.

Back to business again (the people of Falkirk don’t believe in half measures when they do their book awards), and we learned that the dramatised books we’d seen would tempt most people to read Alex’s book, Soul Shadows. They do believe in prizes too, so next to be rewarded were the red clothes, etc. I’d tried to bribe the judge over lunch, but it seems the prize wasn’t for old people. He turned out to be quite good at rap. Something along the lines of Red Hot. (If you want to win, I reckon wigs or pyjamas is the way to go.)

RED clothes winners

With ‘no time for fun’ the authors were then seated in two blue velvet sofas (they got the colour wrong there, didn’t they?) and the Q&A session kicked off. Good questions, and lots of them, so I won’t go into detail here. Halfway through Oisín was asked to do a drawing, and Yvonne magicked up a flipchart out of nowhere and while the others laboured over more answers, Oisín drew a fabulous picture of, well, of something.

Oisín McGann

Provost Reid, Barbara Davidson, Alan Gibbons and pupil from Denny HS

Finally, the time came to announce the winner. Provost Reid – in his beautiful red gown – made everyone stamp their feet to sound like a drumroll, and I rather hoped the ‘terraces’ behind me wouldn’t collapse under all that vigour. He told us how much he likes books, and then it was over to a fez-wearing pupil from Denny to open the red envelope and tell us the winner was

Alan Gibbons. His thank you speech was on the topic of ‘ you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ and that could be libraries, or it could be your life. We complain too much in our comfortable lives, compared to those readers in Kenya we met earlier.

There were prizes, naturally, for the runners-up. And photos. Lots and lots of them. Cathy commandeered her handbag to be brought and she pondered taking a selfie, but in the end she went for a conventional picture of her and her pals.

Cathy MacPhail, Alex Woolf, Alan Gibbons, Provost Reid and Oisín McGann

Cathy MacPhail and Alex Woolf

Us old ones chatted over mugs of tea before going our separate ways. And some of the helpers and I have vowed to wear much warmer clothes next time (that is, if I’m ever allowed back).

A big thank you from me, to Yvonne for inviting me when I dropped a heavy hint, and to her helpers for helping so well, the schools for their magnificent work, and to Cathy, Alan, Oisín and Alex for writing the books that caused us all to be there, at fth.

And the prize for tidiest row of seats? The prize was Oisín’s picture. And I can assure you it won’t go to us on the front row. Cough.

Save our libraries

In this case, Liverpool’s libraries. If I’ve got it right, then the Mayor of Liverpool got himself elected saying how much he was in favour of supporting libraries. And now he wants to close 11 of 18 in the city.

In fairness (?) the government has taken away a lot of the money the council needs, for everything. But 11 libraries is a lot. It’s probably the future of Liverpool, and if you were to take this to more places, it might be the future of the country.

Alan Gibbons and Cathy Cassidy have thrown themselves into the fight to save their home city’s libraries. There is a facebook page for the planned action on November 8th. And I don’t know, but someone (who may be well informed, or a malicious lier) posted this the other day: ‘Despite Joe ‘Bonaparte’ Anderson’s claims that Liverpool City Council is teetering on bankruptcy due to cuts in funding of over £150,000,000 from central government, he still managed to find £173,249 to pay the council’s bill with ‘The Pickled Walnut’ – a luxury caterer.’

Save Liverpool's Libraries

Well, anyway, lots of authors have joined in and have written to Mayor Anderson, pleading for him to change his mind. If Liverpool was the only place under threat, I’d say this was good and perhaps the protest stands a good(ish) chance of succeeding. But Liverpool isn’t alone.

I was struck, too, by how many of the names are those of children’s authors. Could it be they are more aware than their ‘adult’ peers? Is it that their readers are more likely to need libraries to read at all? We are many who are ‘poor’ but children have less say in how to use whatever meagre sum of money which might be at people’s disposal. Or maybe children’s authors are yet again proving they are the best.

On a lighter note, librarians can also be angry. Sometimes literally. I used to read a blog written by one; Arga Bibliotekstanten (The Angry Librarian Lady). She shut up shop a while back and moved to facebook, where she took the persona Arga Bibliotekstanten. The other day facebook closed her account because no one can be called Arga. So she had to become Anna in order to continue entertaining us with her librarianly woes. How can anyone decide what is a name, and what isn’t? Some people have weird parents. Others simply have weird names.

And they had no problem with Bibliotekstanten. Apparently Library Lady must be a regular surname. Somewhere…

They came for dinner

I started leaning on them a week ago. At various points most of them could either come or not come and it kept changing until the last minute, and I moved venue two days before, but finally they were here.

Dinner table

On Thursday evening it was time for my annual tradition (three times is tradition, yes?) of asking the shortlisted authors coming to the Salford Children’s Book Award to meet for dinner on the night before the ceremony. Not all of them managed to come up with a convincing enough excuse for not joining me – and Daughter – so three authors and one very cool aunt actually made it to Carluccio’s at Piccadilly.

Gill Lewis

Sally Nicholls

Gill Lewis arrived nice and early, and we decided to string out the dining experience by having starters we strictly speaking didn’t need. Olives, crispy pasta. That sort of thing. Sally Nicholls, accompanied by her Cool Aunt, got there at the end of our main course, and Cliff McNish wasn’t too far behind.

This year the award is a Top Ten kind of arrangement, so the authors had all won their year, and this morning they have to fight it out between them (including Michael Morpurgo who even has to fight himself), to see who is the overall winner of the last ten years. (Daughter pointed out it was like The Hunger Games, except they’d had dinner, and hopefully they will all be alive at the end.)

We talked about being a vet, about big animals and small animals and disobedient dog sled dogs. There was some general writing world gossip, and just as it got really exciting I was asked to sign the official secrets act, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything. Deadlines. Editors. Killing the wrong character. Who’s been buried in the garden. Mmmphh… (OK, I will be quiet now.)

Cliff McNish

Cliff had questions on everything, including why I arranged the dinner. (Stupid question. I want to hang out with the cool kids. Obviously.) Sally waved her minestrone about and talked, making the table shake. Cool Aunt makes puppets (films and television), and she has a brand new grandchild, as well as the sense to bring photos of the baby. Adorable!

At some point the latecomers caught up with the menu, and Cool Aunt was seen finishing the large and rather green olives which were still around. Just before we were chucked out, we managed to work out how much money we needed to find, before going in search of taxis to Salford Quays and last trains for Cool Aunt and Daughter and me.

It was lucky no one was hoping for an early night, except MC Alan Gibbons who had flown in from Hong Kong in the small hours, and who came to the belated conclusion he actually needed some sleep. Which is why he didn’t join us.

The other hopefuls this morning are Paul Adam, Georgia Byng, Angie Sage and the sisters of Siobhan Dowd. Robert Muchamore and Michael Morpurgo won’t be there, but might still win. I’ll update this when I know.

(Michael Morpurgo won with Shadow.)

Introducing Raining Fire

Alan Gibbons

Whether it’s lack of time, or just that I’m a wimp, remains to be seen. But while my nerves are debating Alan Gibbons’ new novel, Raining Fire, I’d like to introduce you to Alan introducing his book. There are four equally watchable YouTube clips for anyone wanting to know what the book is about.

I have to admit that my pulse went up while watching, and I feel wimpier than ever.

Here is the blurby bit: ‘Ethan is a promising footballer, and when he is selected to go on a training programme in the US, he feels sure that he has found his chance to escape the gangs that dominate his streets. But as life spirals out of control for his brother, Alex, and things unexpectedly take a turn for the worse for Ethan, he finds himself drawn into the midst of an explosive feud with the gun at its heart.’

And here is Alan reading from his book:

What surprises me the most, is that Alan writes books at all. I don’t think I know any author who travels so much or who puts quite such a lot of his time into things for ‘the greater good,’ like the Campaign for the Book to save our libraries, or just plain book event travelling. Hull, or Hong Kong (I’m partly making this up), it’s all the same.

It’s marvellous that he does, though, and I believe Alan’s books fulfill an important role for boy readers. Crammed with boy stuff, and written by someone with the right ideas about things.

(And the piratical ‘eye patch’ makes a bit of a statement too, doesn’t it?)

Deary me, how terryble

If you haven’t got money you won’t want to read books. In fact, you shouldn’t have the right to read them, because (other) taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund your free reading. Rather like education. Why should those with no children pay to put other people’s kids through school?

Those pesky children might of course turn out to be the surgeon who saves your life 25 years later, but never mind that. Let’s live for today.

The Resident IT Consultant felt I was being strangely insincere in wanting to hang on to libraries, seeing as I don’t – currently – use them. That’s mainly because I already have access to all I can read. I used libraries until I moved to Britain, even after I discovered I could afford to buy English paperbacks. I read more than I bought.

Then I must have fallen foul of the ‘I am new here and I don’t quite know what to do in someone else’s library’ law, so didn’t. When Offspring arrived they had the school library, and before that there were all the book parties. Usborne and Red House parties were de rigueur in my neighbourhood.

And after that the mobile library parked in our street and I went every time it came. I stopped because I helped in Offspring’s secondary school library and there were so many books there I was in heaven. Once I stopped at the school, the mobile library had gone to park elsewhere (was it my fault..?) and I spent a year or two buying books again, since we could afford to, until Bookwitch was born and soon after her, the TBR piles arrived on the scene.

So that’s me. I have very little against libraries. I think we should hang on to the ones we have. Occasionally people with no money want to read books. Quite often people with money read nothing at all. The reading/not reading is not connected to the wallet, unless it has to be.

The well-off middle class children Offspring used to play with in the mid 1990s were delighted to discover libraries when they came along one day. They were readers already, but knew nothing about libraries. I blame the parents.

For obvious reasons, the mobile library had limited shelf space. But I found good stuff there. It’s the place I was introduced to Malorie Blackman and Gillian Cross, and which allowed me to work my way through ‘all’ of theirs. I found Tim Bowler, too, and the lovely and murderous Kate Ellis. They all went on to become firm book friends of the whole family.

Would I have discovered them without the library? I might have been waylaid by something garish and pink in some shop. Who knows?

And as for what authors get from libraries. They acquire readers. As someone pointed out in the Guardian; you can get ideas in the library, and then you go out and buy books. Another thing I’ve noticed authors are ridiculously fond of is the PLR money. So many of them aren’t dreadfully wealthy, and they are happy when that PLR cheque arrives every year. I know, because facebook is awash with PLR happiness for a day or two.

Then there is the greater good. J K Rowling is always saying how grateful she was for benefits, back when she wasn’t rich. She doesn’t need PLR, but I doubt she begrudges others that money. J K wasn’t uneducated, just a bit short of funds. Perhaps she even went to libraries.

Sometimes intelligence and the wish to read doesn’t increase with the bank balance. Actually, it could even be the reverse.

If and when my supply of review copies dries up, I’ll be down at the library too. If it’s still there.

Bookwitch bites #99

The children’s book world is a very nice place, but not 100% so. My estimation of Terry Deary sank somewhat this week. Not because he thinks it’s OK to do away with libraries. It’s his right to have opinions, and I’m sure there is a (very) small grain of truth in there, somewhere. But it appears he felt it was all right to get personal when Alan Gibbons turned out not to agree with him. Here is what Alan had to say in reply, and he has to be admired for the way he did so. He’s got style!

Rhys - Thirst For Fiction

I don’t know where Rhys of Thirst For Fiction blog fame started off his reading. These days I assume he gets all the same books I do. But he might well have been to a library at some point during his 16 or 17 years. The library is where I first met Caroline Lawrence, and here she can be found talking to Rhys, in an interview that is so much better than what I managed with Caroline.

How did you people do with getting your hands on the free ebook The Storm Bottle during the last couple of days? Don’t tell me you forgot. It’s no longer free and you will have to fork out 77p. But it will be worth it. Katherine Langrish posted a pretty perfect blog about Nick Green on Thursday. With people like her and Rhys around I will soon have to hang up my broomstick.

Formby Books

Another tireless book person is Tony Higginson, whose Formby Books is opening in new premises today. It sounds like he needed more space, and that can only be a good thing. (Please tell me those are the customer toilets, Tony? Or the fitting rooms, where you try new books out before taking them home, perhaps?) The address you want is 5 The Cloisters, Halsall Lane, Formby. Run along now! There is an absolutely perfect book waiting for you.

Formby Books

Dung beetles in Salford Quays

When the Resident IT Consultant heard that I’d asked another man out to dinner, I had to placate him by lending him a copy of Grk and the Phoney Macaroni. That’s because the man was none other than Josh Lacey, who is also Joshua Doder,* who writes about the adorable Grk.

I then added to my dinner guests by trawling through the shortlist for the Salford Children’s Book Award, and apart from those who were ill or otherwise indisposed, or who claimed to be telling 2000 people in Derry what to do, I found Dirk Lloyd (aka the Dark Lord, aka Jamie Thomson) and Gill Lewis, who both courageously sacrificed themselves to dinner with the witch. (I suppose it beats a dry sandwich alone in a hotel.)

Dining – and wining – authors is almost better than going to awards ceremonies. (Think Disney’s Snow White and a certain witch.)

Speaking of hotels; they shouldn’t be allowed to name and build them in such a way that authors don’t know where they are staying. We almost led someone astray after the meal.

I found Josh and the Dark Lord in the bar at the Lowry last night, where I had gone to warm up, and they for a glass of something. Before long I forced them to go out and search for Gill, who had abandonend the end of a very good book to dine with us.

We talked about a lot of things. The Dark Lord talked the most, and he is very keen on games. And similar stuff. He knows about smörgåsbord, and there was a rather unfortunate conversation about eating elk.

Some people go to awards nights away to sleep, when sleep is hard to come by at home. (On that basis, maybe there should be even more events away for the sleep deprived.) Gill, who is a vet, writes about animals, and the Dark Lord got busy thinking one up for her next book (which, if it mentions too much gamesy stuff is all his fault) to top ospreys, dolphins and bears. It seems dung beetles are the answer.

There was some speculation as to who will win today’s award. Most of our money is on Frank Cottrell Boyce, but I’m sure we could be wrong. It might be one of the dinner guests. Or Barbara Mitchelhill, David Logan or Lissa Evans. Who knows?

I gather Alan Gibbons is doing the talking again this year, so I wish I could be/have been there. But as usual, I’m happy for the children of Salford who have read and voted and hopefully generally enjoyed this year’s award work.

And my fellow diners might never have the same kind of bank balance as JKR, but they are great company, and only ever so slightly slow at ordering food. At least one of us was starving, and another very sleepy. Actually, that makes two of us.

There was some speculation on the feasibility of a Jacqueline Wilson sci-fi novel, and why not? The odds are better than for me getting the hang of modern mobile phonery. I tried texting my guests. I tried answering my phone. I’m pretty useless at it all.

Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner that I don’t distinguish between more and longer. I meant longer. I never knowingly insult children’s authors.

Thank you, Gill, Josh and Jamie.

PS Gill Lewis and her Sky Hawk won!!!

* I am sorry to have to tell you (well, not that sorry, actually) that Joshua Doder is now dead. Kaput, as Josh Lacey put it. He is taking over his alter ego, and from now on Grk will belong to him.