Tag Archives: Candy Gourlay

Few is fine

Really. It is OK not to have rooms full of books.

I know I keep coming back to this. Which I suppose means I’ve not solved the problem, once and for all.

But I had a bit of an epiphany at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. Three authors – Candy Gourlay, Lari Don and Elizabeth Wein – talked about their early years. And someone, maybe all of them, mentioned not having had many books as children. Going to the library for something to read.

And of course, it was the same for me. Until the age of about 15, when it suddenly dawned on me that as an almost adult, I could save my pocket money and actually buy books. So I did. I know it might sound odd. But books in Sweden were expensive and mostly things adults gave you – a few of – for birthdays and Christmases. Not something you bought yourself.

I read so much. I went to the library. I was happy with what they had to offer, and didn’t mind handing books back after three weeks. Or four.

I didn’t mind that on my own shelves I had maybe a metre or two of books belonging to me. There was no prestige involved.

Whereas now, well, not only do I want to own the books I like best, and that I’ll want to read again, but I feel the need to show off a little, as well as having a selection of books in case someone comes to stay who wants to read.

The more I think of this, the more idiotic it sounds.

I need help. Someone to climb up to the back row of the top shelf (that’s the As and the Ns), so I can start being ruthless. Perhaps.

(Almost) every time I walk past the spot at Edinburgh Waverley station where Menzies used to be, I bless the day when I discovered you could buy Alistair McLean paperbacks there for 30 pence. Even though this was in 1973, it felt impossibly cheap to me, a young witch who knew books cost a fortune.

I grabbed a few books and went up to the girl at the counter, stabbing my finger against the printed price on the backs of those books, asking ‘is that really the price?’

It really was, and from then on, my luggage always contained at least twenty new paperbacks each time I left the country. I’d simply had no idea.

And with a start like that, it’s hardly surprising I now have a habit that has to be broken. Not the reading, but the owning.

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Freedom to Read, Freedom to Write

Some events simply want to go on for longer. Or, failing that, to come back and continue. The SCBWI discussion on freedom to read and to write, with Lari Don, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein, was one such event. There was so much to talk about, and with three women with lots to say, an hour was not enough.

But that’s my only complaint! Very ably chaired by Elizabeth Frattaroli and Justin Davies, we all enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Despite feeling I know these three authors well, I had not stopped to consider what very different reading backgrounds they have, growing up in three countries well apart from each other.

Candy Gourlay

Candy grew up in Manila where she did have access to a school library, but there were no public libraries at all in the Philippines. She began alphabetically, but got stuck on B for Blyton, fascinated by the different world discovered in those books. But she never found any brown children in them, and deduced that maybe Filipinos weren’t allowed in books. There was one, The Five Chinese Brothers, which as an adult she has discovered to be very racist.

Elizabeth Wein

American Elizabeth spent her childhood in Jamaica, and therefore did have access to books about children of all colours. Her father recommended what to read, and she felt she had a good selection of books. Her favourite is A Little Princess, and her dream was to live in a cold climate. (I would say that Scotland is a dream come true.)

Lari Don

Lari was ‘not exotic’ at all, she said, growing up in Dufftown. And while her family and relatives lived in houses full of books, there were no Scottish books. She read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Narnia. Her favourite was Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones. There weren’t YA books in those days, and most of the books Lari read were about boys. Not about girls, and not set in Scotland.

Candy described coming to Britain, with all its wonderful libraries. And now they are being closed!! There were no publishers in the Philippines back then, but today there is a vibrant publishing scene. And there are some libraries. Her own problem is with rights, as US publishing rights include the Philippines, which makes the books too expensive. She has to negotiate a deal to make her own books affordable in her own country.

Reading from her new book, Bone Talk, Candy did so on her mobile phone. (She apologised.) After listening to her read the wild boar incident, I want to listen to Candy reading the whole book. It became something completely different when she read it.

Lari likes mixing different cultural ideas in her writing, but she’s now wary of cultural appropriation, and no longer feels sure she’s allowed to write about culture belonging to others, and definitely feels you can’t touch Maori or Aboriginal stories. You have to be sensitive.

Elizabeth spoke about the freedom she felt writing for Barrington Stoke. It’s not harder. You just write short, like a novella, and then there is the editing, which helps make these dyslexia friendly books easy to read. So for instance, in Firebird, they chose another spelling of Tsar – Czar – because the first one is easily confused with star. And even if you’re not dyslexic, short is always good.

For freedom to read, Lari suggested letting children choose what to read, or even not to read. It’s interesting to see how all three authors had so many thoughts and ideas on all this that they – almost – fought to speak.

When it was Elizabeth’s turn to read she chose three, very short pieces. First there was freedom in Code Name Verity, then some lines from her favourite Ursula le Guin, and finally the freedom on what to do with your hair and make-up in Firebird.

As for their own freedom, now that they are successful authors, there is a lot less of it. Elizabeth believes in discipline, being interested in what you write and to start small. Candy uses a forest app on her phone, where during 20 minutes a tree grows, and she is unable to access the phone for anything else. So she writes. And she doesn’t do homework for fans who write to her.

Lari loses herself in her own world. She then read to us the first bit from her Spellcheckers series, where Molly becomes a rabbit. Lari feels the best thing about being an author is to meet her characters. Elizabeth enjoys meeting readers and other writers, while Candy finds no one has heard of her…

There was barely time for questions from the audience, but they were all able to ask lots of questions during the book signing afterwards. It took time, but everyone left satisfied, and before the next event was ready to move in.

The bookfest should ask these authors back to continue where they left off.

Elizabeth Wein, Candy Gourlay and Lari Don

(Photos Helen Giles)

A second Saturday of EIBF 2018

Our second book festival Saturday was mostly spent chatting to author friends we’d made earlier. And that’s a very nice thing; this meeting up with people who’ve all come to the same place. It’s also a rather bad pun to indicate that the first event yesterday morning was chaired by Janet Ellis. I got slightly more excited by this than my Photographer, until I did my maths and realised she’s too young for Janet’s time on Blue Peter. But us oldies enjoyed the BP-ness of it.

Kit de Waal

We had to get out of bed really early to get to Edinburgh to hear Jo Nadin and Kit de Waal talking to Janet. But thank goodness it was in the Spiegeltent, where you can buy tea and cake to revive yourself. I reckon we survived until well past lunch on those calories. It was so early when we got to the gates that the gates were actually not open, so we joined the queue, where we were discovered by SCBWI’s Sarah Broadley. My eyes were not open enough to see anyone at all just then. (That’s Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, in case you were wondering. It is, even if you weren’t.)

Jo Nadin

Once my eyes had opened a little more, I saw Alex Nye arriving for her event chairing A L Kennedy. And when we were back by the yurts after the first event, we watched A L being given the Chris Close treatment, although I think she might actually have given Chris the A L Kennedy treatment. She had her own ideas of what to do, like covering her face with a mask.

Jo Nadin and Kit de Waal

We also hung in the signing tent while Jo and Kit did their thing, meeting young miss Nadin for the first time, and after that they were ushered out to the photocall area, which brought back fond memories for Jo. And us.

Sent the Photographer over to catch perennial weekend morning favourite Andy Stanton and his long signing queue. It’s nice with traditions.

Andy Stanton

While getting ready to cross to George Street, we spied Barry Hutchison coming away from his morning event, and I could have sworn that was Chae Strathie who turned up as well. Barry came over for a hug. Two hugs, really, but that was before my Photographer mentioned the squirrels. We were treated to an impromptu show about a banana drink and a piece of popcorn in the wrong place (Barry’s throat; the wrong part of it) before he was called on to drive his family home.

Lari Don

There was a queue for the SCBWI event with Lari Don, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein, but it was all right. We got in and we got seats.

Candy Gourlay

Elizabeth Wein

Afterwards we hung in the George Street signing tent talking to the various SCBWI members and waiting for Candy to be free to socialise. Even Mr Gourlay turned up for a moment before deciding it was hopeless and walked off again. When the wait was over and Candy had promised not to talk to anyone else – hah! – we went for tea in the yurt, where we had such a good time that we forgot that Candy was going to be photographed by Chris Close, and she had to be extricated to high-five herself and to smile at the unlikeliest props. (At least she didn’t get the head with the black and white-chequered cloth covering!)

Candy Gourlay

Finally met Barbara Henderson in person, a split second after I worked out that’s who she was, and mere hours after talking about her book at home. Chatted to a charming **illustrator, whose name I forgot immediately, and her charming son, who will go far. Caught a glimpse of Donna Moore and then Photographer and I disagreed on whether we saw Jenny Brown or not. But it was definitely Yanis Varoufakis outside.

When there were more SCBWIs round the tea table than you could shake a stick at*, we decided we needed to run for the train we had picked as reasonably safe from too many Runrig fans heading to Stirling. Seems most of the 20 000 or so had not chosen our train. Just as well.

*There is obviously no such thing. I have plenty of sticks.

** Hannah Sanguinetti!!

(Photos Helen Giles)

Bone Talk

Candy Gourlay has always written about people from the Philippines, and in her third novel she has stepped even deeper into her country and further into its history. The result is absolutely magical.

Candy Gourlay, Bone Talk

Set in 1899 in a small village in the mountains, people live pretty much as they have always done. Ten-year-old Samkad and his friend Luki, who’s OK despite being a girl, play as they’ve always done, when the day comes for Samkad to become a man, i.e. to receive the ‘cut.’ They are very much bound by tradition and the older men rule the village.

They have deadly enemies – the Mangili – and are always on the look-out for them. It’s how you stay alive. But at ten Samkad isn’t quite as mature or knowledgeable as he thinks, as he discovers when many bad and surprising things happen in quick succession.

But of course in 1899 the whole country also have enemies, having been invaded by America. In Bone Talk the two worlds meet, and things will never be the same again. Samkad might have started out charmingly naïve, but he grows and does become a man, and it has little to do with the cut.

It’s hard to call a story about this difficult time lovely, especially considering that so many bad things happen. But it is lovely; a real must-read. While I really, really liked Candy’s first two novels, this rather surpasses them. There is truth in the saying that you should write about what you know, about your place, your country, your people.

Read Bone Talk, and discover the other side to the Philippines. The side we didn’t know.

10 10 10

On this tenth day of the tenth month in the tenth year of Bookwitch, I realise I’ve already been doing a lot of musing and looking back, and I keep telling you – even though no one asked for it – about all the good things the witchy work has brought me.

I appreciate all the comments you leave, offering some valuable thoughts that I have needed to hear.

There’s Fabio Geda’s smile when we met. I don’t tend to expect such reactions.

Can’t forget the Mars bar Terry Pratchett was hoping for when we first met, and I had nothing to offer him.

When we moved house, one of my goals in the house hunting was to find a garden like Candy Gourlay’s. Preferably with a house with similar vibes, too. It’s good to know what one wants.

I discovered that – occasionally – I can conduct interviews. This is an odd thing for someone quiet and unsociable.

Bookwitching led to some blogging for the Guardian. I’d never have thought that could be possible. I mean, not even Hallandsposten wanted me.

I now have pendant lamps in our newly built room inspired by the Edinburgh book festival’s lights in Charlotte Square.

There’s been a lot of interesting travelling, and some quite unusual event venues have been visited.

I was able to ask Derek Landy to leave a comment for a fervent fan who desperately wanted to hear from him.

And I’d like to think that my exploits have had a beneficial effect on the Bookwitch family.

Charlotte Square

That’s it. Not very scientific.

Bookwitch bites #134

Kathryn Evans’s launch earlier in the week went very well, as I might have mentioned. Books selling out and bookshops being tightly packed and all that. Here is a photo I may have stolen from Candy Gourlay, which shows how happy Kathryn was and how they couldn’t possibly have fitted me in.

Kathryn Evans

On the same day the list of authors taking part in the 2016 Yay! YA+ in Cumbernauld was announced, after organiser Kirkland Ciccone had had me on tenterhooks for a long time. Some I know, some I don’t.

And the programme for Glasgow’s Aye Write! has now been made public, and you can get your tickets very very soon. Please do! They always have so many people coming that I want to go and see, that I have to give myself a stern talking to and remind me that I don’t have the stamina for traipsing to Glasgow all the time. But there is one event I must go to. Have a look through the programme and see if you can work out which one.

It was National Libraries Day yesterday, and the Guardian published love letters to libraries by people such as Meg Rosoff and Ann Cleeves.

The Branford Boase longlist was announced this week, and I have read precisely one of the books on it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me… And the odd thing is that even though it’s for first novels, I could swear some of those authors have been around for years. It’s probably just me again, isn’t it? To the list:

Othergirl by Nicole Burstein, edited by Charlie Sheppard (Andersen Press)
Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare, edited by Penny Thomas (Firefly)
The Bolds by Julian Clary, edited by Charlie Sheppard (Andersen Press). Illustrations by David Roberts
The Baby by Lisa Drakeford, edited by Rachel Leyshon (Chicken House)
The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone, edited by Jane Griffiths (Simon & Schuster)
Captive by A J Grainger, edited by Elv Moody and Christian Trimmer (Simon & Schuster)
Seed by Lisa Heathfield, edited by Ali Dougal (Egmont)
Deep Water by Lu Hersey, edited by Sarah Stewart (Usborne)
Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr, edited by Ben Horslen (Penguin Random House)
13 Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt, edited by Jessica Tarrant (Hachette)
The Next Together by Lauren James, edited by Annalie Grainger (Walker)
The Unlikely Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, edited by Ben Horslen (Penguin Random House). Illustrated by Ross Collins.
Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre, edited by Stella Paskins (Egmont)
The Accidental Prime Minister by Tom McLaughlin, edited by Clare Whitson (Oxford). Illustrated by the author.
Girl on a Plane by Miriam Moss, edited by Charlie Sheppard (Andersen Press)
The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, edited by Genevieve Herr (Scholastic)
My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons, edited Kirsty Stansfield (Nosy Crow)
Birdy by Jess Vallance, edited by Emma Matthewson (Hot Key Books)
Hamish and the Worldstoppers by Danny Wallace, edited by Jane Griffiths (Simon & Schuster). Illustrated by Jamie Littler
One of Us by Jeannie Waudby, edited by Rachel Leyshon (Chicken House)
Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford edited by Nicholas Lake (HarperCollins)
The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, edited by Bella Pearson (David Fickling Books)
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine, edited by Alison Dougal and Hannah Sandford (Egmont)

The new kids

When I first joined Facebook – and I must point out I only did it for literary reasons! – I was quickly introduced to lots more authors than those I already knew and corresponded with. It’s that automatic suggestion system thing they have, and before long I was awash in new – to me – authors of children’s books.

Some of them I’d barely heard of, and I had not read anything by them. But then I discovered a new category of people. I don’t want to call them wannabes, as that sounds childish, and as though you could become a published author if you only wish for it enough.

Hopefuls, maybe. Those fully intending to be out there with published books very soon. I was amazed at how they all seemed to know each other, too. I was under the impression that garrets were there for a reason, and when you weren’t even published, how could you know others who were also not published?

Seems there are groups for everything under the sun. They knew each other because they attended writing groups, or critiquing groups, or any other kind of authorial group. They supported each other. They were friends.

But I was always afraid that when they did get published, I ‘would have to read’ the books and that I wouldn’t like them.

Well, that was almost as silly as my other ignorant thoughts, because the books have all been great. Many of the ‘hopefuls’ were published around the same time, like Keren David and Candy Gourlay and Jon Mayhew. Teri Terry wasn’t far behind. But so far Kathryn Evans hasn’t joined them. Until now.

It’s almost more exciting, after such a long wait. Not everyone writes at the same speed, and of course, I never knew where in the process people might be when I first encountered them. And Kathryn has strawberries to grow, and bellydancing to do.

Kathryn Evans

Here she is, at the recent SCBWI conference, wearing purple hair and the covers of books being published by her SCBWI friends this year. (In other words, perfectly normal…) Kathryn’s own book – More of Me – will be published in February. I’m really looking forward to it.