Tag Archives: Alex Scarrow

Off the Page 2017

If there is one thing that I have against Stirling’s Off the Page libraries book festival, it’s that it’s so hard to find the information I want online. I follow links to pages that aren’t the right ones, and then I swear a bit. Luckily the Resident IT Consultant brought home the printed programme for me, so I have finally been able to catch up with what will be on.

And things are on, so that’s good. Some of them not terribly convenient, at the further away libraries, which just proves what a large catchment area it is for Stirling. But there is good stuff.

Teri Terry is back (I mean, will be back, as this is in early May), but only for a school event. I’m guessing they like her there.

Alex Scarrow is coming, as is Ross Collins and Chae Strathie, whereas Craig Robertson is already here, being local. James Oswald is semi-local.

The names above are the ones I’ve highlighted for my personal interest, but there are many more. The Grandmother’s pal Crawford Logan is appearing at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, for instance.

My track record for attendance isn’t terribly good, I must admit. I’ll have to see what calamities will prevent me from seeking these various libraries out next month. I hope none.

Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2015

Oh, how I miss them! That’s Draper and Tew, of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. They – and their festival – could almost have made me not move away. And as soon as I moved, they decided they could just drink lots more coffee and they’d be able to put up a festival every year.

Kaye Tew

Hmph! It’s too late to move back. However, I will make it there before this year’s festival is over. I will, I will.

Unfortunately, I will also have to miss a lot of good stuff before I get there. Like Liz Kessler launching her Read Me Like a Book, again. This time in the company of none other than Carol Ann Duffy. That could actually be quite good.

Did I mention it starts on Friday this week, on the 26th? Before that they have some trailblazers during the next few days. On Saturday 27th it’s the Family Fun Day, with Steve Hartley, Ruth Fitzgerald and Matt Brown.

More bookish events on the Sunday, before the Monday 29th Liz Kessler event. During the week there will be lots to do, including Alex Wheatle, Alex Scarrow and Sam & Mark, who I don’t know at all, but understand I should know…

Then we have the poetry weekend 4th and 5th July, when Mandy Coe will simultaneously be at two local bookshops (as if I believe that!). Meanwhile at the library and at Waterstones more poetry will be flowing, and James Dawson, the reigning Queen of Teen, will appear on Saturday afternoon.

James Draper

I have probably missed something off, but that’s because I’m missing Kaye and James. And you won’t mind me posting ‘library’ photos of them from last year, because it’s all I have, and anyway, they will be needing that coffee. I think I might label the last photo James and the Giant Coffee. That’s literary enough.

Forget about the red carpet; and just put a reserved sign on the chair at the back, please.

An old git at the People’s History Museum

Those were his own words. Alex Scarrow is all of 46 years old, so the perfect exhibit for a history museum.

Alex Scarrow

I crossed over into new territory (Salford) to take this photo of the People’s History Museum, which is situated just by the bridge as you leave Manchester. Which I did, but only to come back at once.

People's History Museum

We – Alex, me and the good people from the Manchester Literature Festival and the Manchester Children’s Book Festival – were there to travel in time, and to launch another fantastic competition.

Alex Scarrow, Time Riders

Former rock guitarist Alex now writes the Time Riders book series. His route to writing was twisty, but he got there eventually. Having left school 28 years ago he wasted the first two years, and then he got a job doing blood spatter effects for a computer games company. In the end he left, because his ideas were too weird for them (purple orcs, anyone?), and he started writing books for adults.

Alex Scarrow

Alex Scarrow

Some years ago Alex came to the conclusion that his weird ideas would be better as books than as games (although that trailer for the books is actually awesome) and he began his Time Riders books for children.

Unexpectedly many people in the audience had read the first Time Riders, but Alex still explained ‘where he got the inspiration’ to the series. Although I rather suspect he was making fun of the Titanic film; especially the romance. And he likes Nirvana. That might even be relevant to Time Riders, you know.

There are ‘timewaves,’ and Alex illustrated how history can be manipulated by accidentally allowing a girl in the audience to go and knock on Hitler’s door in 1941, advising him not to invade Russia.

Alex told us the backgrounds of the three New York agents and their ‘support unit’ Bob, before reading the first two chapters of book one. He’s very dramatic, and very noisy, but really quite compelling. His reading alone probably persuaded everyone they wanted to buy the books.

Alex Scarrow

In the Q&A we learned Alex is tired of games, and there were many good time paradox type questions which he explained away. There was also a hint that explaining everything could be a spoiler, so maybe there is something still to come that we don’t know about.

He would love to go back to the moment the Mediterranean filled up with water from the Atlantic (some time ago, I imagine), but he wouldn’t want to travel into the future at all. It scares him. And I hate to report this, but Alex doesn’t like Doctor Who.

Alex finished by reading the postcard one of his characters sent to his mother from the Titanic, and this launched the Postcards from the Past competition. Write a postcard from someone in the near or distant past. Open to all age groups, so get your inspiration hats on and write!

Alex Scarrow

Kaye Tew and James Draper, Manchester Children's Book Festival

Then there was book signing (the young man from Waterstones and I really need to stop meeting like this) and photographs for the various school groups. At one point it looked like they just didn’t want to leave.

James from mcbf arrived, accompanied by an oversize umbrella. He’d been able to hear Alex from well outside (rather like the Scarrow brothers in Edinburgh this summer). I introduced myself to Alex and reminded him that we met three years ago. He politely agreed.

People's History Museum

I left to catch my train, and I would like to know how Alex managed to get to Piccadilly before me! He was looking at departing trains, and I was tempted to suggest he get on mine. But I suppose that would have been mean.

Blowing bubbles and buying boats

I suppose it’s good for the constitution to start as you (don’t) mean to go on, i.e. doing lots and lots, leaving us witches totally exhausted. Although Daughter says we can sleep some other time.

Andy Mulligan

We began our Saturday book festival with an interview. Andy Mulligan has returned from the Philippines and I really wanted to catch the man behind those crazy, lovely Ribblestrop books. Sitting in typical Scottish sunshine behind the yurt was good for the soul and very entertaining.

I ordered Andy not to give anything away, since I’m only part through his third Ribblestrop, and he was reasonably good about that. If I ever have to go back to school, I want him for my teacher. As for finding out more about the boat buying you will need to arm yourselves with patience.

Jacqueline Wilson

There followed a quick dash ‘backstage’ for a photo call with Jacqueline Wilson, who was back in black, looking absolutely fabulous. She has a new book out for Puffin, and her fans lined the square as they always do.

Simon and Alex Scarrow

There was no time to hear the Scarrow brothers talk, although when I think back, I find this just isn’t true. We heard plenty, because they were very noisy indeed, in their tent event. We just didn’t pay to go in, seeing how we were more intent on wolfing down Friday’s pizza, sitting outside on the grass.

Linda Strachan

We caught the brothers at their bookshop signing session, where we also noticed Linda Strachan engaged in some furtive signing. Good for her!

Post-pizza we went to hear more from the accident obsessed Andy Mulligan, who was talking ‘health and safety’ with Vanessa Robertson. He used to play with Action Man, which taught him early on that when imagination takes over, the game starts inventing itself. Just like writing books. He was a useless theatre director until Mrs Thatcher axed funds, and he ended up in India.

Basically, Andy says we want to watch the knife thrower because he might miss, not because it is guaranteed to be safe. He is beginning to run out of ways to get rid of parents (in books). More knife throwing, maybe?

Simon Callow

Since it was a day for dashing, we caught Simon Callow’s photo call, where he posed both with a mug of something, and without. He posed for a good long time, and we now have more Callow pics than we can use in a lifetime.

This time jigsawing allowed us to catch Meg Rosoff just before her event, where she talked to Eleanor Updale about God. Meg got the idea from a dyslexic atheist joke she once heard, and managed to remember, and she unwisely let her daughter name God Bob. Meg’s books  ‘might not be great, but at least the chapters are short.’

She forgot to bring her Eck, and described how she once pulled the plot out of There Is No Dog, which is the same as pulling the skeleton out of a chicken. (I rather wish she hadn’t mentioned that.) Meg admitted that her next book was relatively easy to write, but also talked about the importance of composting when you write. (I think that means you shouldn’t be too young.)

And I had no idea that when ‘proper, adult’ authors are given wine, children’s authors get orange juice…

Cathy MacPhail

Back to the bookshop we found Cathy MacPhail signing at the table next to Meg’s. Meg spent a long time talking to all her fans, which allowed us time to chat to the Parents of Dodo, who suddenly materialised in the children’s bookshop, of all places. They were going for Alexander McCall Smith, which reminded us we needed to rush off for his photo call. It was our first time, having spent every year always missing Edinburgh’s great man.

Alexander McCall Smith

Once she had avoided the orange juice hazard, and enjoyed something a bit more Scottishly grown-up, Meg got the Chris Close treatment and posed willingly, blowing bubbles and other stuff. I’m afraid we piggy-backed, because for a favourite author Meg always manages to escape the best photo situations. She also always disapproves of any photo we publish, so she’ll hate this one too. Except I hope not.

Meg Rosoff

We spied ‘Mr Updale,’ aka James Naughtie, who had been broadcasting from Edinburgh. All the ‘Puffins’ disappeared off for dinner somewhere, and so did we, but without much luck. Edinburgh is very busy in August, isn’t it?

(While internet connectivity remains a problem, we will post at funny hours. If we post at all. And, if we can’t blog, we can always tidy and clean. At least until the Parents of Dodo come and take over.)

Twelve don’t go to Anglesey

Or ‘how to fail at getting Daughter to read’. Something. Anything.

She went on a Geology field trip to Anglesey last week. So obviously they were going to spend lots of time staring at rocks. And other geological things. But you just never know what you might want if you wake up in the middle of the night in a strange place. Or if your room mates are boring.

Small luggage allowance in the college minibus meant we decided on just one very good paperback. But which one? Daughter wanted it to be adventurous. ‘It will be, dear’ I said. ‘Oh, the book you mean?’

Nothing girlie. Not too long. Not scary.

I dug out twelve contenders to share with the waterproofs and thick socks. They were: Between two Seas, Burn my Heart, Chains, Crossing the Line, Halo, Hootcat Hill, Ondine, Revolver, The Cat Kin, The Night of the Burning, Time Riders, When I Was Joe.

Having lined them up (sorted according to colour of the covers) on the piano, we met and she pruned. Oh how she pruned. Too pink. Too chavvy (cover). Scary dragon. No. Don’t get it. Too political. No. No religion. Prefer to read this at home. (!) Don’t think so.

Then it was down to two. Halo and Between Two Seas. Hard choice, but Between Two Seas ‘spoke’ to her.

So this historical tale set in Jutland was the one that got squeezed into her bag. The one she would have read, had she read a book there.

Oh well.

(Looking on the bright side, at least she didn’t tear the pages out and stuff them inside her boots to make them dry faster. Seeing as they had no newspaper to stuff with.)

David and me

The young ones headed for Cathy Cassidy and the oldies went for David Rintoul. I had great plans and intended to do both, however technically difficult it’d turn out. And I’d have managed it, too, because I’m a great witch. (And not just in that way.)

David Rintoul

But, my photographer went a little missing to begin with, and plans changed. I’d have to skip Cathy. She seemed to think this was just as well, as I told her when she swished past on her way to the young ones.

Instead I took up position to do David’s photocall with my size-challenged camera. All by myself. I just didn’t imagine doing it quite as much by myself, seeing as when David turned round he found only me there. ‘Looks like it’s just you and me’ is what I managed to say, frantically wondering how to do this.

Eventually one more photographer, equipped with somewhat better stuff than I had, was found. But David was very polite and made sure I’d got what I needed. (What I need is the ability to take proper pictures. That ability vanishes in the presence of those lenses on steroids. Doctor?)

David’s fans had waited for up to an hour to secure good seats, and considering the place was heaving, that was wise. A J Cronin’s biographer Alan Davies was there to talk about the passion of his life, and he pleaded for the Scottish people to remember their great author and raise statues of Cronin, and to read his books. I like a bit of enthusiasm, and it’s a shame that the book wasn’t quite ready to be sold at the book festival.

David read to us from Doctor Finlay’s Casebook until sweat poured down his face. That’s what I call reading! We enjoyed it, and we had fun with his reminiscing over the filming of Doctor Finlay, especially the poisoning of the baby, when they tried too hard for authenticity.

Aminatta Forna

Kat Banyard

While we were busy with all this, the late photographer made up for his near miss by taking photos of just about everyone he found, including someone I don’t know who they are. We were rather hoping for Cathy to appear for her photocall, but she was too popular in her signing, so was another one who ran late. We kept hanging around for the delayed Cathy, but had to give up in the end.

Cathy Cassidy

We had lunch with the next-door neighbour from home. As you do. Very nice to catch up, although maybe a little weird. Had previously missed Alex Scarrow as he marched past, but came to the conclusion he could be found signing in the bookshop after his talk. Alex Scarrow

Met up with Linda Strachan in the bookshop. Again. Our chat kept getting interrupted by people buying her Hamish books, who on having it pointed out to them by staff that the author herself was standing over there, wanted them signed.

It’s nice. I’d like that to happen to me a lot more often than it does.

Having given up on Cathy’s official photo, we went home, forgetting all about Ian Rankin. Which. Is. Annoying. Especially since I’d noticed him just before, but with a mind like a sieve you have to accept that a few things escape when you’re not watching.

John Banville

Bookwitch bites #20

Lots of new books this week, just ready to take on holiday. (It’s good for you. See below for proof.)  I am not managing to keep pace with Lucy Coats and her Greek Beasts, the last four of which are now out for your enjoyment. And Mary Hoffman’s Troubadour is out in paperback. The second book in Alex Scarrow’s TimeRiders series called Day of the Predator has just been published, but I’m afraid I’ve not had time to read it. Story of my life.

I may be away from it all, but I’m still capable of discovering the odd gold nugget. As I turned to the really quite excellent teen blog Tonårsboken the other day, I noticed they’ve branched out and are doing interviews. Well, one anyway. They liked Rachel Ward’s Numbers so much that they emailed her with some questions ‘in impeccable English’ according to Rachel. And within 24 hours they had her answers translated and published. In times when far too many bloggers blog quite boringly and badly, it’s great to see two 15-year-olds do so much and to do it so well.

It looks like Nick Green has finished revamping his website. I notice he’s used my excellent photo again. It’s from Bolton two years ago. I really will have to set Daughter on him to come up with something new. But I’m glad he likes the picture enough to recycle it. (My bill’s in the post, Mr Green.)

In a New York Times blog Tara Parker-Pope writes about the importance of reading. It’s good to know that you can measure the advances gained in reading by just making sure children have one book to read over the summer holidays. And her argument is back to the old idea that to read anything at all is better than to read nothing. Even if it’s about Hannah Montana.

Time Riders

Time travel, alternate history (President Schwarzenegger, anyone?), creepy crawlie horror creatures, not quite ‘dead’ time agents, premature ageing and a ‘robot’ computer character as loveable as Isaac Asimov’s Tony. That’s what you get in Alex Scarrow’s Time Riders.

I would have read it hanging on to the edge of my seat, except this was uncomfortable and I ended up reading in my normal position. Only a little tenser. I was scared, if not witless, then feeling quite uncomfortable with the sheer horror of Alex’s alternate histories. I’m not much of a horror fan, so it was borderline at times.

Time Riders is a group of ‘dead’ teenagers who travel in time to make sure that history doesn’t change when other, less scrupulous, people alter something in the past. Or the future. I’m a little hazy on the logic of time travel. They’re part of an agency which recruits those who are about to die in their own time, and that’s why you have a former cabin boy on the Titanic working with a computer nerd from 2010 and someone who is ‘good at detail’ from 2026. The fourth member of their group is Bob, who is their ‘support unit’ (computer to you and me).

To avoid being noticed as they go about their business, they live and work under a New York bridge in 2001. September 10th and September 11th, to be precise.

There wouldn’t be a story here if things didn’t go wrong. Big time. There are a few small ‘what ifs’ to warm you up a little, before some madman does something quite revolutionary. It’s a fascinating way of going back and forth in history and thinking about things that might have been different. It’s very much cause and effect, and if it wasn’t so exciting it’d be good material for lessons on why we should look after Earth a bit better, and to think before we jump, so to speak.

It’s quite yucky in places, and sad, as well as scary. It’s not the big disasters that worry me so much as the little details. Time Riders comes to an end, without an obvious need to read any of the sequels. You’ll probably want to, though.

Monday – take one

I’m working backwards here, so need to put in the earlier part of Monday before we’re into a new week. By some unexpected miracle your witch managed to fit in an unplanned visit to the Puffin presentation early afternoon. This meant even more authors and book plans in one short day, but after travelling on the same train as Scrappy the ferret, I felt up to almost anything.

I swear (sorry) that those conference rooms have shrunk in the two years since I was last there. What did they do? Wash them?

With my usual skill I plonked myself down on just the right chair to have my coat where all the attending authors could stumble over it on their way in to speak. Or on the way out. None did, though, and it was a Puffin telephone of some sort that was eventually brought down by Jeanne Willis. Or vice versa.

Jeanne was elegant in a black top with leopard skin effect (it was, wasn’t it?) trim, and white blonde hair straight out of an early 1960s film. She has two new picture books on the way, and she had everyone but me singing a song about bottoms. Apparently ‘pythons only have them in their dreams.’ And Jeanne carried some insect cadaver round in a small metal tin. (Just thought you might want to know.)

Puffin themselves will be 70 this year and, surprise surprise, they are publishing some books to celebrate. Cheap Pocket Money Puffins at £3.99, written by some real favourites of mine, which I like the sound of. Classics, naturally. Some frightfully expensive limited edition books that will cost £100.

I’ll happily try out some of their merchandise, like the Puffiny deckchairs, so a couple of samples would be most welcome. There will be samples I hope? Or at least a mug? (Hint – we could do with five.)

Eoin Colfer appeared, but only on screen. Still lovely, and he told us Artemis will be lovely too, and that just isn’t right. Charlie Higson talked about taking your children to see zombies. I don’t think so, Charlie. Trailer for the new Percy Jackson film, coming soon. Rick Riordan has a new series coming. Two new series, in actual fact. The richer authors get, the faster they write.

Cathy Cassidy was another one not caught out by my coat. She has a new ‘chocolate box’ series starting, which sounds great. I have a feeling Cathy’s only thinking of the research, however.

Vampires. Goes without saying. Samurais. Coming faster and faster. How do authors suddenly write twice as fast as before?

Alex Scarrow and David Yelland reprised their talks from November. Alex’s Time Riders is high on the TBR pile, so we’ll have to see how that goes.

The star of the show was Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece. There is a new range of Moomins on the way, including baby board books, but where are they coming from? I believe they are writing new ones, with Sophia watching over them. What do we think of that?

There will be teen books. I’m still amazed that Sarah Dessen isn’t yet a household name in Britain. She will be! Helen Grant’s Glass Demon is coming and so is iBoy by Kevin Brooks, and I gather it’s a cross between Spiderman and The Wire. Well!

Tasty sandwiches at the end, well worth waiting for, but what do you do with over-mayonnaisey fingers when meeting authors?

I cornered Sophia Jansson before the others discovered her, and we had a discussion in Swedish about blogs and other online nonsense. She, sensibly, has no time for blogs or Facebook or Twitter. This Little My has a Tove Jansson empire to run and a lovely holiday island to spend her summers on. She told us that Moomin was first thought up by Tove’s uncle in order to scare her from having midnight snacks in his kitchen. The Moomintrolls live in the kitchen walls. Perfect for baby books then…

New-ish Puffins

Thank goodness Helen Grant had hair! Nice hair, too, in a French plait. The other three didn’t. At all. I’m not being alopecia-ist, I hope. It’s fashionable to be bald.

Anyway, the witch made it to the Strand offices of Puffin on Monday, to meet New Talent. They had a line-up of four, comprising Jason Bradbury, Alex Scarrow, David Yelland and Helen Grant with the hair. The Resident IT Consultant wondered why I was going, but relaxed when he heard I would be meeting the author of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. ‘That’s a very good book’ he said. (Just imagine – the man remembered it!)

Don’t know Jason Bradbury, though I gather he’s on television. I can believe that. He bounced through his presentation for the new book Atomic Swarm, out early next year. It’s a sequel in his Dot Robot series. He went on about hover boards and tele presence, in a fairly bubbly and crazy sort of way. (Does television make people like this, or do people like this make it to television?) But I don’t want him to operate on me, in any form. Nice cap and Converses, though, not to mention the white spectacle frames.

Alex Scarrow time travels. He also plays with computer games and things. He had played and made an impressive trailer for his first children’s book, TimeRiders. (It’s all beyond me, but what do I know?) He recruits people on the verge of dying, so it’s ‘come and work for us or die’ kind of thing. Alex believes in the ‘what if?’ idea, but I must say that a king called Henry the Ape is too much ‘if’ for me. He’s written for adults, apparently, but it seems that writing a children’s book was more fun. At least I think that’s what he said.

David Yelland seemed to be into revealing new things about himself, and was talking about the three A’s; adoption, alopecia and alcoholism. His first book, The Truth About Leo, is vaguely based on his own life in various ways. It’s supposed to be a very moving read, but I was last to the book table and didn’t quite make it. (One might turn up in the post?) But I do wish he hadn’t told us how the book ends! There’s information, and then there’s information.

Not last and not least, Helen Grant. Helen has a new book out next spring, too, called The Glass Demon. It’s set in Germany, like her first novel. (And, she told me afterwards, the third book too, which she is writing now.) Helen greeted us in German, and was kind enough not to translate what she’d just said. Maybe she thought we were intelligent. She told us more about the town of Bad Münstereifel, and it really does sound idyllic. Apart from the murders, maybe. The first book is just coming out in German translation, so she’s keen to hear what her German friends will say. Perhaps. Someone called Helen the “Stieg Larsson of teen fiction’. Let’s hope so, for her bank balance, at least.

After a few canapés, the witch Cinderella-ed off to her train home. But I did get to speak to Helen.