Tag Archives: Blackwell’s

Patrick Ness – setting aside expectations

Ann Landmann clearly knew she could fill the George Square Lecture Theatre for the Blackwell’s Patrick Ness event on Saturday afternoon. So she did. People were queueing before the doors opened. There were plenty of young fans, but also a good number of unaccompanied adults. It’s OK. I was one myself, as was Kate Leiper who turned up again. (We’ll have to stop meeting like this…)

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

I knew it’d be good when I heard that Keith Gray was going to be the one to talk to Patrick about his new book Release. This was their third event together (and I’ve been to them all), and as Keith said, a lot has happened since the last time; three books, television, a film.

The edge of the stage nearly brought Patrick down as he entered, but he managed to right himself, and then he put his mic on, having left it off in case we could hear him in the Gents.

Keith wanted to know if he had anything he needs to get to before… ‘Death?’ Patrick is aware that every book could be the last, so he doesn’t hold back. He sets aside what the publisher and the market might expect, and writes what he needs to write. He pointed out that no one was expecting Harry Potter, and that J K Rowling’s joy with her book is clear.

Patrick never expected anyone would want what he wrote. Asked to describe Release to the people in the audience, most of whom had not yet read the book, he said it’s A Day in the Life of Adam Thorn, based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, from buying flowers in the morning, to a party at night.

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

He wants to kick off his safety net, and see how you survive the apocalypse; what feels like the end of the world. Asked why he wrote it now, Patrick felt the time was right. All his ten books are about him, but this one much more so. He’s not trying to be controversial for the sake of controversy. But it was time. It’s the book he’d have wanted to read when he was 16. And he can only write about his own experiences. Gay love needs to be described as more than romantic hand-holding, and he pointed out that his story contains ‘no worse’ than what’s in Judy Blume’s Forever.

Keith wanted to know if Adam might turn up in more books, but Patrick felt that was a terrible question. (He doesn’t know.) Yes, he does want to get people to read Mrs Dalloway and Forever, and there isn’t much difference between Stephen King and Virginia Woolf. Joanna Trollope’s name was mentioned, followed by a laugh. Patrick likes Donne, but not Wordsworth, which is perfectly valid.

Patrick only writes for himself at 16. He writes about everything that he’d have wanted to talk about at that age. When he wrote A Monster Calls, he knew he couldn’t guess how Siobhan Dowd would have written the story, so he had to do it his way. And books are like children; you love them, and send them out into the world, hoping for the best.

Angela in Release was based on his oldest friend, and he used the name Angela Darlington after someone paid £1000 (to charity) to have their name in his book. Someone wanted to know if Patrick would ever write about a trans character, and he replied ‘never say never.’ He mentioned his friend Juno Dawson [formerly James], who came out to him about being trans, and he feels it’s wrong that even now you ‘have to’ come out about sexuality.

Another question was about the world ending, and Patrick said he had waited for the apocalypse, but when the world kept not ending, he didn’t know what to do. Now he worries more about the boiler making odd noises, than about the apocalypse. He had a very kind answer to the age old question about what inspired him to become an author, and which book he liked writing the best.

Stories get to stew in his head for a long time before he starts the painful process of writing. And it never becomes what you think it will be. If he has a new idea when reading the first draft, he pretends in the second draft that he always knew about it.

Queue for Patrick Ness

Keith brought the discussion to a close, and Ann Landmann directed everyone where to go; those who had books for signing, those who still needed to buy books, and those who had no intention of stocking up on Christmas presents.

George Sq Lecture Theatre

Patrick Ness

As for me, I realised this was too long a queue for me to stand in (it was of Pratchett/Gaiman proportions), so I stared at the recently emptied auditorium, at Ann waving her hands in the air, took a few fuzzy photos from a distance, said goodbye to Kate, and walked out into the sunshine again.

And here is a prettier one ‘we’ snapped earlier:

Patrick Ness

(Photo above by Helen Giles)

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Lari Don – aiming higher with every book.

She’s got some lovely fans, this author who wrote her first book in Primary 2. Lari Don has aimed to improve her next book ever since (although I’m sure the P2 book wasn’t all that bad). And I suppose because she remembers her own early start, Lari is quite happy to read what anyone in her audience has written, which is really generous. She even said she’d hand out her email address [the better to receive these works of fiction].

Lari was at Blackwells on Saturday to launch her second Spellchasers book, The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away. I brought both my Photographer and the Resident IT Consultant. The latter was the first at Bookwitch Towers to read the first Spellchasers book, and he is currently ensconsed in his reading spot with the second.

Lari Don

But as I said, Lari didn’t have to rely on us oldies, as she had a lovely collection of nice girls who have read and loved her books and who had lots of opinions and questions. The perfect fan audience, in fact. She got quite a bit discussed as we waited for two o’clock, thanking the fans for choosing her over the park on such a nice day (of course they would!), finding out their favourite characters, and reminiscing about a school pupil, years ago, who was started on reading by an author’s visit to his/her school.

Lari Don

After an introduction by Ann Landmann, who reckoned we were the right kind of audience, liking the right kind of books, even more readers arrived and everyone had to squeeze in. Lari said she’d tell us about her writing process, and then she’d tell us a story, because Ann had asked her to.

She showed us her older books, including the embarrassing (to her own children) The Big Bottom Hunt. Lari likes novels the best, and after she had made the characters in the Fabled Beast Chronicles suffer enough, she started on Spellchasers. The trilogy will end with The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat, which is out this autumn.

Lari Don

Lari read us the first page of it, which is still only in manuscript form [until later this week], and she had changed the odd thing over breakfast. Book two is about shapeshifting, so Lari asked the audience how they perceived this would look as it happens. They had a lot of ideas; eggs, smoke, eagles on top of bunk beds. That kind of thing.

As Lari began telling us the promised story, about a boy with a drum in Africa, I sort of rested my eyes a little, and the Resident IT Consultant looked as if he was asleep (I’m sure he wasn’t, really), but we both rallied when Lari requested snoring sounds, as though coming from the beast in her story… There was a monster who ate the boy’s parents and then vomited them out again. You get the idea.

Lari Don

After a brief reading from the second book, we had five minutes left for Q&A. I estimate those five minutes to have lasted about 15, so that was good value. The girls had a lot of questions, but I suppose it’s to be expected from people who know that eagles need to sit on bunk beds in order to see better.

She doesn’t want to think about how many hours she uses up on writing her books. One book takes about a year, but she’s always working and hours would be too scary to contemplate, in ‘the interest of sanity.’ A brief mention of the excellence of Speyside whisky, Alan Garner and Diana Wynne Jones, and then we found out that the pre-school Lari had been quite sneaky and faked reading in bed when she was actually ‘writing’ books. Unfortunately the squiggles she wrote back then are hard to read now and she doesn’t know what the books were about.

Lari Don

Ann Landmann finally put a stop to Lari and her fans (who simply continued talking over the book signing), after admitting she’d missed half her requested story because she’d had a customer to serve… As for us oldies, we had tea to drink in the café, and felt we really couldn’t compete for Lari’s attention with such ardent fans, anyway.

Debi’s Night Shift

There were people already sitting in the leather sofas at Blackwell’s. And I arrived really early, too. So there was nothing for it but to sit on one of the ‘filthy’ staffroom chairs (this charming description courtesy of the shop’s Ann Landmann) at the back, but that was fine too. I like the back. And I didn’t break the chair, which at one point seemed worryingly likely. Maybe next time.

Ann Landmann with Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

I’d come to Edinburgh to see – well, hear – Debi Gliori talk to Andrew Eaton-Lewis from the Mental Health Foundation about Night Shift; her book on depression. The event had been sold out for some time, and it was the fullest I’ve seen the room. Hence the need for all the ‘uncomfortable folding chairs’ as well as the staffroom contribution.

Debi arrived with her family in tow, and was greeted by lots of people who seemed to know her. And she noted I wasn’t sitting on the sofa, as I’d promised…

Ann Landmann’s introduction was more honest than ever, and also covered the matter of blue drinks being served, the shop front being painted blue, and that it is ten months until Christmas, but that this musn’t deter anyone from buying copies of Night Shift.

Debi Gliori and Andrew Eaton-Lewis

Debi and Andrew ended up doing their talk standing up, the better for us to hear them. The first time Debi suffered from depression was the worst, possibly because it was the unknown. These days she doesn’t always notice when it’s coming, but her family can tell. Debi feels she has wasted enough time on depression over the years, which is partly why she started on the book.

The pictures were mainly intended for herself, but part-way in she changed her mind and felt there could be a book in it. Debi is an ‘ancient hippy’ which could be why she uses dragons to illustrate the bad feelings. She made the pictures big, but is unsure why the book ended up quite as small as it did.

The book was mostly intended as a communication tool, a bit like the Point It book she used on holiday in Portugal. If you can’t say it, you can always point to a picture of what you mean. It was hard finding a publisher for the book, because it was so dark, and so far removed from fluffy bunnies.

Debi Gliori

Fellow illustrator Kate Leiper, who sat next to me, asked how Debi manages her ordinary illustration work when she’s depressed. The first time it was so bad Debi couldn’t even go in her studio for over a year, but now she finds she writes better books the more depressed she is. No Matter What is ‘a very dark book.’ But she’d rather make bad books and be happy.

Running was what saved Debi, and that first time it was running that led to her feeling able to go next door and have coffee with her neighbour, at a time when even little things like that seemed impossible.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis and Debi Gliori

While she doesn’t want to put dark images in the minds of children, Debi pointed out that children watch some pretty grim television these days. The US version of No Matter What has lost the last page in order not to upset American sensitivities. Debi occasionally checks reviews on Amazon to see what people say about death in picture books.

Asked if there was a book that made her feel very special when she read it, Debi mentioned Tove Jansson’s Comet in Moominland; the most perfect book in the world. She wants to be adopted by the Moomins, and to have access to Moomin mamma’s handbag.

From there it was straight to the signing table, where a special silver sharpie awaitened Debi and her queue of fans. I hurried over with my book, but got stuck waiting for a bit after all, chatting to someone from the book festival, who in turn introduced me to the person responsible for Granite Noir. Queues can be useful that way.

Debi Gliori

Finally, before running off to the airport, I stopped and chatted to Kate Leiper who was busy ‘being spontaneous.’ And we talked a bit more about illustrating. Seems Kate makes ‘notes’ when she comes up with good ideas for pictures, just like I do with words; before they can escape.

Brush Back with Sara Paretsky

If I’d had one of those buttonhole cameras I’d have taken a photo of Sara Paretsky as she gave me that searching look after signing my copy of Brush Back at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh last night. But I didn’t, which is a shame because she looked particularly pretty and happy at that point. I, in turn, got all tongue-tied and eloquently uttered ‘what?’ like the teenager I’d turned into.

Sara Paretsky

Oh well, I don’t think I had spinach between my teeth, and I hope there will be a next time when I might have grown up a little. It’s a blessing that Sara has friends near Edinburgh and that she was willing to break her holiday to meet her fans for an extra early book launch, and that Blackwell’s Ellie had had the good sense to snap her up. (There would have been Harrogate, but it’s another of those things I’ve cancelled, so this was a most welcome break for me.)

Sara Paretsky, Brush Back

And for many others. There were lots of chairs set out, and then there was floor space to stand on or stairs to sit on, because Sara has masses of fans, most of them women who don’t look like they go round murdering people. Or not much.

As Sara was being introduced, she squeezed past where I was sitting on one of the comfy sofas and rested briefly on the armrest (something that slim people can get away with), before standing in front of us saying she hoped we’d have a good time, herself included.

Sara Paretsky

Normally she starts a book because she has a crime she wants to write about, but this time Sara was wanting to set a story at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs* ‘pretend to play baseball.’ Having had Harrison Ford beat her to a chase scene somewhere else in Chicago, she wanted to get in and write about Wrigley Field before Harrison got there. Built in 1923 from poured concrete it is virtually indestructible (although I imagine V I Warshawski could have something to say about that), to the extent that rumour has it there is a toilet which has not been flushed since 1927. After reading the first chapter, she invited us to ask questions, warning us that as an author of fiction her answers could be fiction too.

Sara Paretsky reading from Brush Back

The first questions was what she thought of the film. Not much, is the short answer, but Sara told us much more. In effect she has signed away the rights to her character, and Disney – who own V I – once phoned her regarding ‘a product of theirs that Sara had once been involved’ with…

But it got V I attention, Sara had the opportunity to tread the sacred grass at Wrigley Field; even running the bases. And falling on the home plate. Kathleen Turner also bought Sara and her husband Courtenay dinner, handing Courtenay her private phone number.

Sara Paretsky

The next question was about Totall Recall, which was a very personal book for Sara, featuring Lotty in 1930s London. She’d have loved to write more on London in the thirties and forties, but reckoned it’d be hard to get right. The book came out in America on September 4th 2001, with a reader contacting her to ask who the Taliban were.

Sara Paretsky

Asked how V I came to her, Sara said she’d been fantasising about turning the tables on old style hardboiled crime, and her first character, Minerva Daniels, was much harder than V I. Sara realised after a while that she didn’t want Philip Marlowe in drag, but a woman like herself and her friends who say what they mean.

The final question was one Sara mentioned she’d just answered on Facebook (which I’d seen), about how long it takes her to write a novel. Between nine and 24 months, with research, meaning it’s anything between a human pregnancy and that of an elephant. Sara has been working four months on her next book, and has 16 usable pages. She has an uneasy feeling this one is an elephant baby.

With Sara you always get nice, long answers to your questions, even though she apologised for the length. (It’s good to go in-depth and find out more!) But very sensibly the talk had to end giving Sara enough time to sign a lot of books. You can’t have too much queue left when the shop closes. As I already had my copy, I jumped in early. And then I did that juvenile thing… Sigh.

Sara Paretsky

*Apparently they are ‘over 500,’ which is the same as winning the World Cup, which Sara knows is as incomprehensible to us as cricket is to her. And to me.

An ‘attention seeking little brat’

is how Helen Grant describes her younger self, in the days when her pudding basin hairstyle made people think she was a boy. Well, I don’t think they’ll make that mistake any more. Helen is a beautiful woman, who feels that Hannibal Lecter got a bit tame in the end, and that’s not how she wants to write her books.

Susy McPhee and Helen Grant

Helen Grant

The Bookwitch family were part of the discerning, quality audience at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh on Tuesday evening, there to launch Urban Legends. Admittedly, Son only popped in to say he couldn’t stay, but it was still somewhat of a witchy family gathering. The way I like it when an author reads from her book and chooses the bit where the killer eases off the strangling of his victim, because he has to have a hand free to grab his axe.

Even the lovely Susy McPhee, whose task it was to chat to Helen and ask her difficult questions, admitted she had been rather terrified of Urban Legends. Whereas Helen actually reads her own book in the bath (one assumes to relax…), which is why her copy looks decidedly dogeared.

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Susy started off by asking what the difference is between entertaining books and literature. Helen reckons she is neither a Dan Brown nor a Nobel prize hopeful, but somewhere in-between. She doesn’t want to be more literary than she is. With her earlier books Helen pussy-footed around, while now she’s ready to ‘go for it, gloves off.’

Quite.

Helen Grant

If Urban Legends was a television programme, Susy said she would have switched off when they got to page 38. Helen admits Urban Legends is not for younger readers. She likes creepy, not bloody, and doesn’t set out to be deliberately gross. Here she used the word eviscerated, which Susy said she’d have to look up. And to make her pay, Susy had prepared some tricky words for the audience to test Helen on. Mine was vivandiere. Helen ‘cheated’ by knowing Latin too well.

The weirdest thing Helen has eaten is probably not crocodile (which Susy agreed is delicious), but the fried ants as served in Jericho in Oxford. (At this point I could see Daughter silently removing Jericho as somewhere she would ever return to. She had already decided she’s not up to reading Urban Legends.)

This might be a trilogy, but Helen won’t rule out more books. She likes Veerle’s world, and would love to write more. She herself has tried a lot of what’s in the books, visiting sewers and getting herself inside a forbidden church, for example. Her favourite is the definitely-not-allowed visit to a former factory, which she put most of into her book, in a most charming way… She likes a high body count.

Susy McPhee and Helen Grant

On that note Susy brought the conversation and the questions to an end, and we mingled over the wine and the literary discussions. I introduced the Resident IT Consultant to the man [Roy Gill] who did interesting things to Jenners department store in one of his books.

Once I’d secured a signature in my copy of Helen’s book, we left in search of a bus to take us to the tram, which took us to the car and home.

The Lure of Elizabeth Laird

It might have been a dreich November night, but my route through Edinburgh from Waverley to Blackwell’s took me through the Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens to the Scottish National Gallery (no I was not lost) and up the hill past the charming St Bookwitch Street and St Bookwitch Cathedral, and slightly down again (such a waste of the uphill!) to my event with Elizabeth Laird. To be perfectly honest, I’d forgotten what it was to be about, but that doesn’t matter when it’s Liz. It will be good. And it was.

The event was for adults, which was lucky, because last night Elizabeth used rather more adult language, if you know what I mean. You also needed to know your Bible well, so I was on slightly shaky ground.

Elizabeth Laird

I was early (no surprise there) so was able to hog a corner of the sofa, and when I remembered I’d forgotten to eat my sandwich on the way, I asked for and was granted permission to eat. There were mainly women in the audience. Perhaps that’s as it should be, since Elizabeth reckoned it was the women in Ethiopia who had the best stories to tell.

She said that she was going to ‘drone on about Ethiopia’ and we should interrupt if necessary. Her book The Lure of the Honeybird, began when Elizabeth returned to Ethiopia in 1996, after thirty years away. There was an encounter with an ‘ant motorway,’ and a farmer telling her a marvellous story about ants.

Elizabeth Laird

Elizabeth promptly forgot how the story went, but she came up with an idea, and she talked to the British Council and demanded a Landrover and an interpreter so she could travel and learn new stories and write two books. This was deemed to be such a good idea that a demand for 24 books was made, and Elizabeth found herself travelling round the mud and the bureaucracy with a driver and an interpreter.

Many of the stories people told her had a lot in common with the Bible. She reckons they didn’t come from that famous book, though, but believes that the Bible most likely borrowed its stories from ancient Ethiopia. The same thing goes for Aesop, who by all accounts cleaned up the story about the hare and the tortoise. And there was a funny story about the beautiful girl who gets married, and the three ridiculous men in her life…

Because the thing is, Elizabeth told us these stories. She didn’t just talk about how she went about finding them, but showed us her photos, described the people she met, and which of them had an interesting story to share. And she can definitely tell a story!

Elizabeth Laird

Was it worth risking the lives of her driver, her interpreter and herself for these stories? Yes, she believes it was. Now. Walking through tall grass with pythons and lions on either side wasn’t quite such fun at the time. Nor was driving along a road where only the day before people had been kidnapped and killed.

When she met a group of naked women, far away from anywhere else, she found it difficult to get them to understand what she wanted to hear, so as an example she told them about Little Red Riding Hood (the unexpurgated version) and they all agreed about the unsuitability of walking alone in the woods, and of talking to the wrong man.

Elizabeth Laird

Elizabeth told us many stories from Ethiopia last night. If you want more you can read The Lure of the Honeybird, or you could try these websites, recently set up by Elizabeth: ethiopianfolktales.com and ethiopianenglishreaders.com. Both have been financed with the help of one of her students from the 1960s, whom she just happened to meet in London one day. He’s now a fund giver, which is nice, since so many of Elizabeth’s other students are dead, having turned revolutionaries while attending university, instead of becoming teachers as they were meant to.

You’ll wish you’d been there. Elizabeth Laird is a fantastic storyteller. And she may well have been scared when out collecting the stories, but it’s only the brave who do this kind of thing, and who don’t mind admitting to being frightened. She’s also a beautiful woman, and I have yet again failed to take photos that do her justice. You will have to take my word for it.

Launching demons in Edinburgh

From the ‘dark underbelly of Crieff’ emerged two fabulous ladies to chat about The Demons of Ghent. I’m – almost – not sure who I liked best; author Helen Grant or her ‘chair’ Suzy McPhee. It’s a rare thing when two people sit in front of lots of other people and it’s both fun and interesting. (On the way back to Waverley I wondered why I felt so hungry and realised I’d forgotten about food. That’s how much I enjoyed it.)

Helen launched her new book at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh – or Thins, as the Resident IT Consultant prefers to call it – and for me who’d never been before (sorry) it made for a nice experience. I had enticed Son and Dodo to join us (Son used to work there…) so it was a family affair, with only Daughter missing, which is why the photos are not what they should be.

Demons of Ghent launch

I’ve obviously been around some authors too much when I recognise their parents even when I’ve never met them before. Their children. Their facebook friends. Nicola Morgan was there, a week early. Presumably to do a practise run before her launch next week.

The place was full, and the wine flowed. I found a most comfortable sofa to sit on. It was a bit difficult to get up from it again, but it was good while it lasted. The youngest there was 7 (and a half) weeks old. Didn’t ask how old the oldest one was.

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant with Ann Landmann

Blackwell’s events organiser made one of the best introductions I’ve heard at an event like this. Admittedly there are a few words Ann Landmann actually can’t say, but we only found out one last night. (So we’ll have to return for more…)

Suzy McPhee and Helen Grant

Helen described her British rustiness, which is why she writes about Germans and Belgians. She and Suzy had some difficulty in finding spoiler safe topics, but settled for the famous altar piece, which plays such an important part in The Demons of Ghent. There was something else Suzy wanted to ask, but which met with a resounding ‘no’ after some whispered negotiations behind hands.

Helen Grant

Helen never set out to write YA books, but just wrote what she wanted to write. There is no need to ‘write down’ to younger readers, and they can always look things up on Google if necessary. Suzy described how she had needed to look up rorschach tests, and proceeded to test Helen on some inkblots she’d printed out and brought along. (See, not all people in her position would think to do such a thing.) I will await the results of the ‘dead chicken’ interpretation with interest.

Without the internet Helen reckons it’d be impossibly expensive for her to get research right. She’d need to travel to Ghent to find out how high the pavement is in the spot she needs for something to happen. And making sure Veerle eats the right kind of waffles, and not simply any old waffle. She doesn’t want it to be ‘Britain dressed up.’

She’s now eyeing up parts of Scotland for future books, and described her happiness after finding a hidden church in a churchyard, when all she’d expected were more old tomb stones.

Helen Grant

In the end there was no time for a reading and Ann craftily suggested we should (buy, and) read the book ourselves. Someone wanted Helen’s phone number to call for a private reading, but she hastily offered to put a chapter up on her blog. So I suppose that will have to tide us over while we wait for Urban Legends.

And there was time for more wine.