Tag Archives: Alwyn Hamilton

She ‘hearts books’

Yvonne Manning

‘Have you spoken to Yvonne Manning?’ (I have, as matter of fact.) It’s Yvonne who runs Falkirk’s RED book awards, and it is she who ‘hearts books’ to such an extent that she wore a hearty sort of hat yesterday. Red, obviously, along with the other red accessories we had all unearthed in our wardrobes. Although the students from a Falkirk school had gone one better and got themselves red hair for the day, even if it was in the form of red wigs.

RED 2018

For the 2017 RED awards, their 12th one, they had shortlisted Alwyn Hamilton, Elizabeth Laird, Tanya Landman and Dan Smith. I thought this was a very decent list of people, and I was very happy to be conveyed to Falkirk to see them, even if they were one Elizabeth Laird short. She was very sorry. So were we.

RED book awards 2018

Over a custard cream (it would have been rude not to) I chatted to Anne Ngabia from Grangemouth High, about her latest batch of books waiting to travel to Kenya. And she introduced me to her handsome assistant Sandy.

I said hello to Tanya Landman, who had braved the Monday Bank Holiday traffic to travel from Devon, and who was pleased to have been to see the Kelpies. Dan Smith remembered me from the Manchester Chicken House breakfast, and was a little confused as to how I follow him around the country, living in different towns.

And I was introduced to Alwyn Hamilton, and finally got a little chat. We covered topics such as lipstick (I had no idea they were that expensive!) and Star Wars, and travelling abroad to see movies in the right language in the cinema.

As the coaches ferried Falkirk’s young readers to fth (Falkirk Town Hall), the authors took turns being interviewed by some of the students, and Dan turned out to be a sharpie-carrying man, always prepared. (I must copy him.) His school visit to Denny the day before, prompted the conversation to move on to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. (Are your ears burning, Kirkie?)

Tanya Landman, Dan Smith and Alwyn Hamilton

When it was time for the proceedings to start, Yvonne donned her red fairy lights as well as something looking suspiciously like heart shaped sunglasses. Red. Or possibly pink. Schools were introduced, the authors were introduced, their books were introduced, and tidiness was mentioned as something that could be rewarded.

The programme was slightly changed from earlier years. Instead of dramatising the books on stage, the schools had filmed short clips on how they imagined their allotted shortlisted books.

Cake queue

Cake

In the break there was coffee and cake for the adults, which made me feel quite grown-up and had me running for the carrot cake, with a tiny carrot on top. Had time for a little gossip with the authors before they went off to judge the students’ alternate book cover art, and signing books, and all kinds of other items.

Signing queue

Dan Smith

Alwyn Hamilton

Tanya Landman

Yvonne Manning and dancers

Anne Ngabia began the second half with a greeting in Swahili, showing us a video clip from a school in Kenya, and another of some dancing, to mirror the dancing going on at fth. She showed us one of her libraries from ten years ago; shelves full of books. And then we saw the same library today, with empty shelves, because the books have been read to shreds. They need new ones!

Then there were prizes for best reviews, best covers, best red accessories. If you could have a prize for something, it was bound to be awarded. In the end, there was even a prize for the author of the winning book. Not yet, though.

Yvonne manning

First the authors got to sit on the blue velvet sofas and answer questions from the audience. One was about playing the game Fortnite, another why one would want to become an author (because you get to read and go on holiday and call it research). Advice for future authors is to turn off all your devices and daydream.

Yvonne Manning, Dan Smith, Tanya Landman and Alwyn Hamilton

Dan has wanted to be Bear Gryll, or possibly a rock star. Alwyn wanted to go into advertising, while Tanya’s earlier ambitions were astronaut, ballerina, or at least to be a monkey. Writer’s block is not a block, merely a wrong turn. Taking the dogs for a walk is good, and you should just keep writing.

All Dan’s books are ‘awesome,’ Tanya feels you must love all your books, and Alwyn actually has a favourite; her second book. Asked if they’d like to stop to write something funny, the answer was a resounding ‘no!’

Someone wanted to know if Tanya had ever been eaten by a zoo animal, but the closest she’d come was being badly scratched by a really cute tiger cub. Favourite genres are ‘good books’ for Dan, YA for Alwyn and ‘not supernatural’ for Tanya. After a last game question for Dan, it was time for the RED book award.

Instead of the Provost of former years, I’d been sitting next to a glamorous looking lady, whose job it turned out to be to hand over the awards (I have completely managed to forget her name, though…). And the winner was, Elizabeth Laird for Welcome to Nowhere! As she wasn’t present, she doesn’t yet know what an absolutely fantastic prize is coming her way. Anne Ngabia has made yet another tapestry, featuring [past winning] books on a shelf.

RED book awards 2017

Alwyn, Tanya and Dan were given runner-up prizes, which looked too large to be carried home with any ease (I have now seen the inside of Tanya’s suitcase). Photographs were taken, and Dan will be practising how to smile and flick his hair (that one will be hard) to look as great in photos as Alwyn.

Tanya Landman, Dan Smith and Alwyn Hamilton

There was lunch for the grown-ups, and train timetables were studied, as bags were squished and repacked. I discovered Falkirk Grahamston station was twice as far away as it used to be.

Oh well, these things happen.

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True Survival

Bosco Theatre

As I approached the Bosco Theatre to do a bit of a recce 25 minutes before the event with Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff, I was surprised but pleased to find a queue of fans already waiting. I suspect it’s the fantasy effect, which seems to have really keen fans. Girl fans, mostly. And I have no idea who they came to see, Alwyn or Maria. I understand that Alwyn is quite big. But then, I believe Maria is big too.

Chaired by Daniel Hahn, these three knew what they were doing, having already got together for an event in Hay. Alwyn wore the wrong – but lovely – shoes, and walked down those stairs carefully, so as not to get stuck in the gaps. Maria wore a Moomin dress, i.e. made of a fabric that might have looked like white spots, but those spots were Moomins. (Philip Pullman would kill for a dress like that!)

To the accompanyment of screeching seagulls outside, Daniel introduced the ladies as exciting new voices in YA fantasy. He started by asking them how they came to write, and Alwyn said she falls asleep by making up stories in bed (me too, which is why I fall asleep), and she really can’t undertand how people who don’t write manage to sleep. From there she moved on to Harry Potter fan fiction.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

Maria admitted to being far too old to have done any Harry Potter-ing, but in kindergarten she would be allowed to stay up when the other children had a nap, and she would write stories. So while Alwyn sent herself to sleep, Maria stayed awake. She liked Moomin, so wrote Moomin-style stories. She knew she could write, but didn’t have ideas of her own. She wants writing to be easy; a bed of roses.

Alwyn wanted to write about girl heroines, but discovered that it was considered wrong to have girls do what male characters have long been doing. ‘Dragons were realistic, girls were not.’ Girls were not strong enough. She wanted sharpshooters, in order to avoid the requirement for strength, and it became a sort of Western crossed with a Thousand and One Nights.

Maria found a Greek island where women were forbidden to land, and this inspired her to write Maresi, about an island that didn’t permit men to visit. Both authors agreed that you just have to wait for things to click, and then the writing will work.

Reading from Naondel, Orseola’s story – because it was the happiest – she said she has not tried to protect her characters from bad things. You only need to look at what’s in the news to realise how much bad stuff your readers will already be aware of.

Daniel asked about gatekeeping, quoting teachers on an awards committee, who wanted to recommend certain books to their pupils, but feeling they were not allowed to do so. It had to be the parents who permitted their children to read. Maria said that she was not aware of any banning of books in Finland, and that Naondel was part of a book parcel offered there.

Alwyn read from chapter two of her second book in the Rebel of the Sands series. When she writes she likes to do so with fast music in the background,  and she needs to write fast, using placeholders to get past obstacles, saving details for later. And that’s also when she removes unnecessary details. The most she’s ever written in one day was 8000 words. Maria sets a goal of perhaps 2000 words, because she is lazy and she needs to have something to work towards.

Asked about how to deal with writer’s block, Alwyn said she always carried a notepad, and she would listen to people on the bus, and write things down, and she’d look at people and practise writing descriptions of them. ‘Me and my art,’ she called it.

Regarding writing ‘real’ books instead of fantasy, the answer is that if you don’t like reading those ‘real’ books, then you can’t write them.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

Another question was how to explain what a fantasy world is like, if that world is the norm to those living in it. The best solution is to introduce a newcomer, like Maresi, who then describes what she learns about the island. Or you take an outsider like Gulliver and put them in ‘a situation.’

I hope Alwyn’s fans grew as interested in Maria’s books, as I did Alwyn’s. And there really is something about fantasy fans.

Day 4

The days are getting shorter. Well, I suppose it’s that time of year. And it felt like even the long trains were also shortening; unless there really were that many extra daytrippers yesterday, being a Sunday and that.

DSCN0184

I didn’t quite make it to see Jo Nadin or Tony Ross at their signings, but you can’t have everything. I was there for the event with Maria Turtschaninoff and Alwyn Hamilton, chaired by the little known Daniel Hahn. It was in the new Bosco Theatre venue, out on George Street, and this was my first time. What I will say is that Theresa Breslin was spot-on earlier in the week, when she said it was lovely, but not for wearing stiletto heels in. At the time, Keith Charters and I looked at each other, both fairly secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be.

The other thing about the venue is that the signing tent is very small. No room for Bookwitches wanting to take pictures, except for this close-up of Alwyn’s handbag contents. But I dare say it wasn’t made with me in mind.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

I joined Daniel Hahn outside instead and forced him to sign a book (one he had edited, so I wasn’t being totally unreasonable) and then he made me want to go to Denmark with him in October…

After this fantasy event I wandered back to Charlotte Square, catching William Dalrymple signing for a queue of fans, after what looked like a full Main Theatre event. I feel I know, as I stood there trying to take photographs of Chris Close’s picture display, and I tried at just the wrong moment, when the whole tent walked past, very slowly. Well, obviously it wasn’t the actual tent that moved, but the people who had been in it.

William Dalrymple

Hoped to see Ross Collins and Claire Barker after their event, but they must have been busy chatting to admirers, as they hadn’t emerged when I had to make a move.

Because, dear readers, I had an interview to conduct, and was meeting Maria Turtschaninoff in the gap between her own event and seeing Jonathan Stroud. We sat in the sunshine on the deck outside the authors’ yurt, chatting about mothers and books and how arrogant Sweden is towards the other Nordic countries. I mean, I said that. Maria is far too polite to.

And as she went off with a bagful of Lockwood books, I walked to Waverley again, prepared to fight the other festival-goers, but struck lucky by finding an unexpected train going my way a couple of minutes later, and it wasn’t even full.

Bosco Theatre