Tag Archives: Cat Clarke

Coming of Age

Waiting for the two double-Cs to appear in the Bosco Theatre, I studied those cracks in the floor again. It’s not just the poor stiletto heel that needs protecting. You could chuck pens down there, even the whole notepad. Or why not your mobile phone? I mean, I know why not the phone, but it’d slip so easily. I held on to my pen and pad and put everything else away.

I was sure there’d be plenty of people, because Cat Clarke has lots of fans, meaning that even though Christoffer Carlsson might have begun the evening a relatively unknown foreigner, he’d win fans during the event. So, lots of teen girls and a few older girls like myself. And two grown men, one of whom was fellow author Jared Thomas.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

When the CCs and their chair Ann Landmann arrived, walking down those steps to sit underneath the glittering disco ball, I noticed that Christoffer carried a Fjällräven rucksack, blue with leather straps. Naturally.

Ann urged us to come closer, to get ready for the audience participation, saying the trapeze would be lowered later, and that perhaps they’d better lock the door so we couldn’t escape. Not a soul, apart from Jared, moved…

She also said there’d be a signing afterwards, in the signing Portakabin, the ‘white kind of box’ near the theatre. I’m glad she said it. I’d hate to be complaining about its, erm, lack of space.

Having forgotten the title of the event, Ann referred to Death & Murder, two of her favourite subjects, pointing out that Swedish Christoffer has a ‘real degree’ – to which Cat added, a PhD – in criminology. ‘A terrible over-achiever.’ And Cat is ‘not quite homegrown,’ having been born in Zambia, but Ann doesn’t think she has ‘a strange accent.’

So that Ann could shut up for ten minutes, she handed over to her guests, asking them to read. Cat said her book Girlhood is set in a boarding school (she loves them!), and she read from chapter five, about some sort of initiation of a new girl which, to be honest, is why I don’t want to go to boarding school. But I can see that it’s better to be wearing the Trump mask, as you don’t have to look at it.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer told us about Halmstad, asking if anyone has heard of Roxette, and described the darkness of Småland, where October is the Coldest Month is set. He read the first chapter where we meet Vega. Both books feature darkness, rain and cold, so not much difference between Scotland and Sweden.

An obsession with Mallory Towers made Cat set this book in a boarding school, and needing a mix of the best and the worst in life, she gave her heroine a dead twin. Christoffer hears voices, by which he meant he talks to his characters. He has to write fast to get it down on paper, and many ideas don’t work. Unlike other Swedish authors who set their books in Stockholm or Gothenburg, or even ‘mid-level cities’ such as Örebro, he chose the countryside close to where he grew up. He wanted to write about violence against women.

This wasn’t planned as a YA book, but he realised he was writing for himself at 17. And that way you can have a smaller book; one that fits in a pocket and can be read on the bus.

Cat feels it’s fun to explore teenage feelings, and said the new girl is a bit weird. She had an idea to begin with, but it changed, and she feels Girlhood is more honest than her other books. But she never did pretend to be a prospective parent at a boarding school, to find out more, and left this to a documentary about Gordonstoun.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer wrote his book during the summer, in Halmstad, where he now feels like an outsider, belonging neither there nor in Stockholm where he lives. A bit like Vega. His dad who never usually reads, has in fact read October is the Coldest Month, while his mum hasn’t, although this keen reader always reads all his books, at the expense of everything else. The title refers to the TS Eliot poem about April being the cruellest month. He set the story in October, because he needed Vega not to be going to school.

As for Cat, she had lots of titles for Girlhood, including one she might use for some other book. Regarding characters’ names, she has to like them, and they must type easily. Such as Harper in Girlhood, which unlike George is easy on the keyboard. She does find though that good names are running out. Even bad characters have to have good names.

I found that Christoffer used the word ‘sucks’ a lot. He needs to learn to be ‘crap at’ things in Britain. Anyway, he gets up early, to write from five am, until maybe eleven. He can edit anytime, but not write. Cat writes in chunks of 25 minutes, acording to the Pomodoro Technique, although she might be taking rather longer breaks than prescribed. She too has to write before noon. This book took her two years to write, which is too long, for someone who is not famous, although Cat aspires to be Donna Tartt one day.

Describing writing like go-karting, Christoffer swore enough that he had to stop and apologise, even if his replacement word was only marginally more sanitised… The pitfalls of a second language. He feels one difference between YA and adult novels is that the sentences can be shorter. He’s a middle class man living in Stockholm, writing about a working class teenager in the countryside, and the book needs to be accessible to everyone, including non-readers.

The last, and really excellent, question from the audience was on hating what you write. Cat said this is normal. You should write, even if it is crap. ‘Crap can be moulded.’

And on that note we piled out and over to the Portakabin.

Advertisements

Day 5

If you thought day four was short, then day five was – blissfully – shorter still. I went for one reason only.

Started my evening by quickly eating my sandwiches, because it’s finding a time and place for eating that has been the hardest. I sat on the press pew and stared at the rubber ducks for a few minutes.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

And then I took one turn round Charlotte Square, to see if there was anything new I’d not seen before. Any new crazy photographs by Chris Close, for instance. There weren’t, so I offer you some I found earlier and kept back, in case I needed them.

Juno Dawson by Chris Close

Walked over to George Street and the Bosco Theatre again, and was really pleased to find that the event was being chaired by Bookwitch favourite Ann Landmann. She had the double Cs to deal with. I’m sure someone knows I use initials when taking notes, and thought it’d be a hoot to have CC and CC talk to each other. (That’s Cat Clarke and Christoffer Carlsson.)

Signing queue

There was no way I was going to miss this, seeing as Christoffer and I come from the same place, and he has such a lovely surname. So I queued up behind all the fans afterwards, for my books to be signed and to chat. And having ‘missed’ my first train, I had 15 minutes to spare on Christoffer. Enough to have some water near the yurt, and find out why he’s ditched the accent. Apparently his Stockholm students couldn’t understand what he was saying in lectures.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

It was meant to rain, but it didn’t. How could it? I was there. In fact, I’d say that my walk back to Waverley around nine o’clock was the balmiest evening I’ve had so far, with no rain, and a comfortable temperature, and the lights and the [not too many] people. The kind of evening when you want to sit out, over drinks, and chat to someone.

Hang on, I did. OK, I didn’t have any water, but I had a companion, and we chatted. It was pleasant and warm. The poet laureate sat at the next table. There were [other] nice people around. Ticks a lot of boxes, that does.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

He ‘can revert at any point’

They are all quite lovely and tremendously interesting, but aren’t they a little weird,* too? I don’t want to be indiscreet, but among Sunday’s crop of authors we found a murder suspect, someone with plans to celebrate a well known politician’s death, a sofa arsonist, a perennial teenager and a writer reluctant to do research in the south of France in winter.

Sunday was literally bursting with great writers for children, and I very nobly only went to see half of what I wanted in order to preserve what little sanity I still have.

We began our day out with a lunch to keep us going until late, and found we could access the wifi and this enabled some ‘office work’ before we walked on to Charlotte Square, which, as I said, was teeming with the great and the good. I so wanted to stop and chat to Philip Reeve as he strolled by, but had neither the time nor the courage. Chris Bradford walked round dressed in black robes, trying to entice people to come and see him.

Sophia Bennett and Sarra Manning

Having failed to keep track of Barry Hutchison through useless email all day, we suddenly found the man himself, recently arrived from the Highlands, en route for a night on the town with ‘the boys.’ My photographer found Sarra Manning and Sophia Bennett signing in the bookshop, and also ran into Keren David who was out enjoying events before her own talk.

One event not to be missed was Theresa Breslin and Elizabeth Laird talking about writing historical novels. They both read from their latest novels, and described how they do research. Theresa had had some luck with a book belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, which she wasn’t allowed to even see, until she came across it almost by accident.

Elizabeth admitted to an unhealthy obsession with Ethiopia. (It’s OK. We all have something to hide.) Liz told us about how breeds of dogs were totally different in medieval times. Theresa mentioned embroidered, encoded spy messages, and both thought that the middle of the book was the worst part to write.

Cat Clarke

That’s something the next pair of ladies agreed with. Keren David and Cat Clarke discussed their contemporary teen novels, and read from their books. Keren chose to read from Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery, and we now know more about exploding breast implants than some of us might have wanted. Cat read from Torn, which she did so well that Daughter immediately wanted to read it.

Both Cat and Keren spend too much time on social media, and reckon chocolate can cure writer’s block. You need to kill parents or divorce them, because how else could you have your characters staying out all night? For the same reason you have an abnormal number of only children in fiction. Siblings get in the way.

Keren David

Cat once wrote a book that scared her so much she had to give up after twenty thousand words, and Keren is very excited that Lia’s Guide is about to be made into a musical.

We had a full programme, so had to dash after Cat’s and Keren’s signing to set up an interview corner at the opposite side of the square. Daughter had persuaded Professor Frank Close to give her an interview, on the eve of his talk about the Higgs Boson. I’m not sure I understood all they talked about, but they do seem to have found something to laugh about. Apologies to the lady who wanted our help. We weren’t really the best people to ask right then.

Photowitch and Frank Close

The evening finished with a Masterclass with Chris Riddell, introduced by Sue MacGregor. It was very dark. Almost too dark to take notes, but I am fairly sure I wrote something about Blair as Bambi. And Clinton, and Cameron, and all the others. Amusing though cartoons are, they are unlikely to change anything, and Chris feels he is politer in colour. (Bring back black and white?)

Chris’s tutor at Brighton Polytechnic was Raymond Briggs, and that’s why he started working on children’s books. When the Economist asked him to do political cartoons on the basis of a children’s book about elephants, Chris enjoyed being allowed to draw lederhosen, onions and bulldogs (I think those signify the Germans, the French and the British…).

The darkness was to allow us to see the slideshow of holiday snaps, no, I mean cartoons, which Chris had put together with help from his clever son. Though I don’t think that’s what he (or was it Sue?) meant when saying we were there to laugh when we think of dark things. It was dark. I’m not sure any longer. Chris gets invited to all the best parties, and he does get edited, but only by being told he can’t do something. He won’t allow interference within a cartoon.

Chris Riddell

At the subsequent signing in the adult bookshop (it was late) Chris met the best kind of fan; someone who turns up with a pile of old and well worn picture books. I wished I’d had some to get signed myself.

*(And speaking of weird, what are those cut-off rabbit’s heads doing on the ends of rows of seats in the Corner theatre? Other than preventing accidents on sharp corners?)

(The title refers to Chris Riddell, who wasn’t sure he wouldn’t revert to being a children’s author, bursting into some unsuitable song.)