Tag Archives: Anthony McGowan

Tough Teens

As Daniel Hahn and I agreed afterwards, we had forgotten the event a couple of Augusts ago, which he had chaired and where Anthony McGowan turned himself into the bad voice re YA. But we remembered the night fondly, because last night’s event with Tony and Alex Wheatle was also a really good one.

Tough Teens, it was called. Chaired by Mairi Kidd – who had ‘mothered’ Tony’s fictional boys into being – this was a great conversation. In fact, it’s one of very few where the authors involved got so caught up that they talked to each other, in earnest, about writing, [almost] forgetting the chair and the audience.

Yes, the audience. It wasn’t the biggest I’ve known, but it was Monday night when the schools had just gone back. But it was the right audience. It was nearly all teenagers, mostly boys, with a few token adults like me and Daniel, and Kwame Alexander. This is how it should be.

Alex Wheatle and Anthony McGowan

So, the talk was right, and the audience was right. The questions were great, and far better for me staying out of things (someone had wanted me to ask the first question…).

And jail, well, it can turn a man into a reader, and then into an author. The young Alex met his ‘mentor’ in a jail cell; someone who told him he’d nothing better to do in there so he might as well read. And now with his personal experience of living in care, Alex has written a book about a girl in care. He had to force his own daughter to tell him what girls talk about, to get it right. He was a bit shocked at what he discovered.

Tony, on the other hand, returned to Sherburn in Elmet outside Leeds, where he grew up, to write about two brothers in the four-book Brock trilogy. It’s a place for boredom, and with a bacon factory. Not as exciting as London.

Alex’s fictional Crongton can be London, but it could also be almost anywhere else. He knows about detentions, and remembering how he wanted to impress a girl he met there, it all went into Kerb Stain Boys. His reading from the book revealed a lot about his made up slang and accents.

When it was Tony’s turn to read, I thought he was trying to get out of it, but a member of the audience lent him her reading glasses, so all was fine. He needs to pace around when he reads, and we all enjoyed the story about swimming across the ‘bacon pond’ in the nude.

Winning awards is nice, and it opens doors. But, they feel shortchanged by the media. Asked if they get fan mail, it seems that teens are too cool to write; it’s mostly younger ones who do. Mental health is a big thing in their books, as is life for young carers.

They recognise their own teen years when they do school visits, but reckon mobile phones have changed how pressured children are today. Tony remembers everything from his teens, but not what he did last week. Alex is the hopeful guy who wants to date the beautiful girl, who already has a more exciting boyfriend.

Anthony McGowan

And on that happy note we all congregated in the bookshop. Well, Tony got there a little late, but he got there. Kwame chatted to Alex and got a book signed. Even I remembered after a bit that I had books that wanted signing. (I’m the one without an ‘e’ at the end, btw.) Tony discussed tonality with a fan, and did his best to sign in Chinese.

Alex Wheatle and Kwame Alexander

As I said earlier, it’s great when authors simply get on with it and talk about writing. It’s also great when their peers come to the event, along with the appropriate age readers.

We want more of this.

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A somewhat abridged day in Charlotte Square

The decorator was coming to Bookwitch Towers. So I cancelled my first Monday events. The decorator did not come. My rather shortened day in Edinburgh ended up being just the one event, with Alex Wheatle and Anthony McGowan. Plus a photocall with the First Minister and Arundhati Roy.

Waiting

You can [almost] see the excitement amongst the assembled photographers as they wait. And wait. And wait a bit more. I’d been about to get out my cheese sandwich when I woke up to the fact that they all seemed to be waiting and I thought Nicola Sturgeon and Arundhati might be early. After ten years I ought to know that there was plenty of time for Brie and bread, as well as trips to the Ladies’. But it’s all good.

Nicola Sturgeon and Arundhati Roy

Although I did cause a major jinx in the process, and I really must learn not to use my powers in this way.

Alex Wheatle

Finally met Alex Wheatle after discovering him in the middle of ‘Yurt Gardens.’ Had already shaken hands with and been air-kissed [twice] by his events partner Tony McGowan. Chatted to Sarah Broadley as her charges were given the Chris Close treatment.

And hopefully Candy Gourlay and Michelle Paver experienced good events even without me in the audience. I’m sure it must be possible.

Towards the end of my event, I could hear loud applause and other happy noises, which I assume came from the Main Theatre where the First Minister and Arundhati would have come to the end of their conversation..

Lark

I, well, by the last page of Lark I needed to remove my glasses. They got spattered by some wet substance, most likely caused by Anthony McGowan’s writing. (I continued blubbing – not all that silently – for some time.)

We’ve reached the last of the four books about Nicky and Kenny; some of the loveliest stories about two disadvantaged Yorkshire boys as you’ll ever read. Yes, I know they are dyslexia-friendly, but that’s not why you read them. They are really very grown-up YA books. Just short. No wasted words.

I was surprised by Brock, keen to continue when Pike was published and very happy to get to Rook. With Lark I didn’t know what to expect, except something exceptional. There was a suggestion that not everyone would be alive at the end.

And now I’m crying again.

Anthony McGowan, Lark

This time Nicky and Kenny go for a walk, hoping to find a lark where their dad suggests they might see one. But they are young, and Nicky is only a boy, charged with looking after his big brother Kenny. It might be spring, but out on the moors the weather gets worse, and rain turns to snow.

There is some youthful carelessness, and it is so easy to see how similar stories you find in the press could have happened in real life. But there is also bravery, and so much love.

Barrington Stoke sent out a packet of tissues with the book, but has anyone got a really large hanky??

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

I Killed Father Christmas

Children! Don’t you just love them? (Well, I suppose you do, especially if they are yours.)

In this Little Gem Anthony McGowan shows us how easy it is to get the wrong idea. How you might end up believing you have killed Father Christmas. Poor Jo-Jo overhears his parents arguing, which leads him to the belief that Father Christmas is dead and it was all his fault for wanting too many Christmas presents.

Anthony McGowan and Chris Riddell, I Killed Father Christmas

This is a sweet tale of how easy it is to misunderstand, but it is mostly about how good children really are, once the excessive Christmas lists have been dispensed with. Jo-Jo will make sure it is Christmas after all.

And then, well, wearing his mum’s red coat, Jo-Jo does his thing, and Father Christmas does his bit, and with the help of Chris Riddell’s illustrations, we have ourselves a rather nice little book about what matters.

The question is, did Father Christmas really..?

Rook

In Rook we’re back with Nicky and Kenny from Anthony McGowan’s Brock and Pike, and it is as enjoyable and fun and excellent and heartrending as the first two books were.

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Both boys are growing and Nicky, who’s the younger of the two, is surprised to realise that Kenny is a person in his own right; and not just a special needs boy who must be helped at all times.

This time they find an injured rook and Kenny simply has to take it home to nurse it back to health. Nicky helps, but he’s finding life extra taxing because he’s being bullied at school. And he’s in love.

It’s hard, and it goes bad, but things can be sorted out eventually, except perhaps for the library closing hours, robbing Nicky of a safe place to escape to. These books are so inspiring and give the reader so much! And if your brother claims to be friends with Doctor Who, well, maybe he really is.

And the YA debate rages on

My goodness how people have fought! I erroneously assumed Anthony McGowan was merely ruffling feathers on the night at the book festival, almost two weeks ago. Possibly the next day.

But still? And people are growing angrier. Oh dear.

I linked earlier to Tony’s own confession on the Barrington Stoke blog, and later Elizabeth Wein had her own blog post about the debacle. In fact, lots of people have opinions, and occasionally I almost feel that they shouldn’t. Some know very little of the topic, except that doesn’t stop them, and some have difficulty grasping that we can have many differing views and many of us can be right, all at the same time.

Then after a while Tony ‘turned into’ a misogynist, so he blogged some more about that. The Guardian added their bit, confusing matters by illustrating the article with a photo of Frances Hardinge, who was never involved, and using a headline claiming most YA books are crap, which hardly goes for Frances. Somewhere they also listed a few more authors who didn’t take part, which I suspect is the problem of editors who like to improve things by mentioning people you might have heard of, even if irrelevant.

Maybe it all began with the article in the TES shortly before the book festival debate. Or perhaps the damage had been done earlier still?

As long as you understand that I am more right than anyone else…