Tag Archives: Charlie Higson


How would you feel about having a luxurious weekend at a hotel in the Scottish countryside, hanging out not only with likeminded people who want to learn to write better, but with the authors who are there to give talks on how to learn?

Yeah, I know. Me too. It sounds lovely.

The Society of Authors is organising a weekend at the end of September, at a hotel not too far from me. ScotsWrite at the Westerwood Hotel seems like a most worthwhile couple of days.

You know how it is. You read the programme and you try to decide what you’d choose if you were going. Well, I’ve done that. Tried, I mean.

Joanne Harris as keynote speaker with dinner the first night… In fact, when I’d got that far I wasn’t sure how they could better that offer.

But Saturday manages to look pretty good too. Denise Mina for a session in the morning. Except, well, at the same time there is Daniel Hahn and Ruth Martin talking translations. So that would have to be me.

Then another keynote talk just before lunch from Charlie Higson. They know how to keep those ravenous writers under control. And after lunch the not so easy choice of science fiction, how to charm a publisher, or ergonomic workspaces with Caro Ramsay. I’m so charming already, that it’d be a toss-up between sitting nicely or hearing about science fiction.

Before coffee there is no question but going for Emily Dodd and Celia Rees. For me, I mean. If I go. If I can. And between the coffee and the gin tasting (yes, really) a debate with Joanne Harris, Sam Eades and John Jarrold.

After which free time might well be required as there is dinner and a ceilidh before the day is over.

Sunday morning – after breakfast and Tai Chi – we have Joanna Penn talking about How to Make a Living with your Writing, followed by mental health for writers, graphic novels, commissioning, writing for radio and television, children’s books, poetry, plus some insider secrets before you go home.

Well, that sounds all right, doesn’t it?

Migs and Pig

So. Going to school is upon us again.

Jo Hodgkinson, A Big Day for Migs

Migs is starting, for the first time (yes, I know that’s what starting means), and Jo Hodgkinson shows the reader what a typical first day at school might be like.

You worry at first, but then, like so many children, Migs discovers that this school thing isn’t bad at all. He might even want to return tomorrow.

Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers, Freddy and the Pig

Whereas Freddy in Charlie Higson’s and Mark Chambers’s Freddy and the Pig, isn’t too keen on school. He wants to stay at home and play computer games. (He’s rather lazy, truth be told.) So one day he sends his pet pig to school instead.

The thing is, in this dyslexia friendly book, that the pig actually likes school. He gets better and better at it, and by the end he’s got himself a university degree and everything.

Freddy? Er, his mother sold him.

Mister Creecher

It didn’t end as I expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected from Chris Priestley’s most recent book. But it was different. That’s all.

The other thing about Mister Creecher is that because it’s inspired by another author’s well known novel, you sort of lose track of what’s what. I’m one of those people Chris mentions, who have not read Frankenstein, but somehow ‘know’ all they need to know anyway. The first thing that happened was that I forgot whether there was any truth in Mary Shelley’s story.

No, that’s not what I mean. Whether any of her characters were ‘real.’ After Charlie Higson’s talk about that fateful holiday in 1816, and me reading This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel some months ago, I felt as if many of the characters were real people, put into one – or several – of these stories. It’s what happens when you meet the same people several times.

I’m not making sense, am I?

It’s 1818 and Frankenstein’s monster is in London, looking for Frankenstein. He happens to meet orphaned pickpocket Billy, and after scaring him witless just by looking monster-ous, the two end up together, almost friends.

Frankenstein and his friend Clerval are holidaying in London, before travelling further north. Billy and Creecher follow them, except it’s not easy for a scary and enormous monster to travel unobtrusively. None of them are angels, but neither are they totally bad. In fact, it’s even hard to tell if Frankenstein is bad or not.

I had worried in case Mister Creecher was going to be as scary as Chris’s other books. It’s not. A lot of the time it is simply a nice early 19th century novel, albeit with a little gruesomeness on the side. But when you stop and think about what they do, all of them, it’s suddenly not so nice. And you wonder what the purpose of the story is. The monster can surely not live happily ever after? Can Billy?

Taking a new look at something familiar is nearly always interesting. This story is based not only on Frankenstein, but has bit of Dickens in it as well. You’re at home, but you’re not. And I was very relieved not to be scared witless.

Highly recommended.

Blue about bestselling books

The list of bestselling books up for the vote on Blue Peter has left me feeling anxious. I don’t know why. I trust Blue Peter. Well, reasonably anyway. And Booktrust is a good organisation, working on worthy awards and various reading schemes.

Below is the list of the – apparently – bestselling books of the last decade. That’s 2002 to 2011, and it’s number of books sold, rather than in monetary terms. And an author can only appear once. Under 16s can vote for their favourite, so at some point we’ll have the overall winner.

Alex Rider Mission 3: Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz, Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, Horrid Henry and the Football Fiend by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, The Series of Unfortunate Events: Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket, Theodore Boone by John Grisham, and Young Bond: SilverFin ─ A James Bond Adventure by Charlie Higson.

Most of these books are really good. The question is if they are the best, and the question is whether it makes sense to have a list based on sales, which is then voted on. If we go for sales, there must be an overall winner already. Why not just announce who that is? (I can guess. So I can also guess why there needs to be a debate in the form of a vote.)

Many of these titles are obvious for anyone with any understanding of book sales versus other ways of measuring worth and popularity. The one that I am still surprised and vaguely pleased to find on here is the John Grisham. I’m glad that a book the reviewers didn’t seem to go for has sold. Unless it’s the Terry Pratchett phenomenon. Do Grisham fans buy everything – even children’s books – when it’s by their favourite author? Perhaps the sales weren’t caused by child buyers, or buyers for children?

Anyway, Theodore Boone is up against many solid favourites, so will most likely not win. I wouldn’t like to bet on who will, though.

Blue Peter

Along with the competition for book of the decade, Blue Peter announced the shortlist for The Blue Peter Book of the Year 2012:

Discover the Extreme World by Camilla de la Bedoyere, Clive Gifford, John Farndon, Steve Parker, Stewart Ross and Philip Steele

The Official Countdown to the London 2012 Games by Simon Hart

The Considine Curse by Gareth P. Jones

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

Only two of those are fiction, and I suppose it fits the Blue Peter image to include non-fiction books. I just don’t feel they are competing on a level playing field, somehow.

But don’t mind me. It was probably something I ate.

More Bloody Horowitz

I’m with David Lloyd, head of Walker Books, on this. More Bloody Horowitz is a vile book, and it should never have been published. Less bloody Horowitz would be an excellent solution, but I gather David chickened out and published when Mr Horowitz provided him with incentive to do so. Weakling.

It’s horrible! Mr Horowitz’s name sounds rather like the contents of his collection of short stories. Well, they are not short enough for me. The trouble is, they were rather well written, which caused me to read them. But I felt sick throughout. I want you to know that. Perhaps not at the beginning when he killed off Darren Shan. I didn’t feel too bad then.

But as he moved on to kill and maim innocent children, television competition contestants, elderly relatives, and hooligans (well, perhaps that was OK), I wondered what had possessed the man. Selling your child on eBay is not acceptable parental behaviour. Finding you’ve gone on a French exchange and are sleeping next to a vampire will do nothing for learning foreign languages. Snakes. Ew.

I have never trusted our satnav, and now I know why. When we get close to home, driving through the less reputable parts of town, it always demands we turn right where we need to go left. As for New York, I’m never going there. Ever. And from now on, the iPod stays out of my ears.

Minutes after reading the last page I happened upon an ad for a massage chair. No doubt placed by Mr Horowitz for his comfort. In fact, if he availed himself of the chair, we really could ask Charlie Higson to take over writing the Alex Rider books. They might improve.

The – real –  literary people mentioned in this book made for a little light entertainment, but that was all. Quite cunning to get David Lloyd to explain his reasons for publishing. At least it kept him alive. (I know, because I saw him after the book had been published.)

On the other hand, when the Resident IT Consultant saw the book, he begged to read it. I pointed out that whereas he could, it was the same book he read last year, only in a smaller format. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It was such a nice book I wanted to read some more.’ (The title is misleading, seeing as it says ‘more’. And it’s just the same…) This mild mannered person I’ve known for so long is clearly not who I thought he was, if he calls this ‘nice.’

More Bloody Horowitz

When I showed it to Daughter, to get her opinion on whether the cover (which I actually liked) would put her off buying or reading the book, she said it definitely would. The girl has got taste.

In the author blurb it mentions that Mr and Mrs Horowitz have been abandoned by both sons. Hardly surprising. The (I assume) dog has gone for a long walk, which I find somewhat sinister.

The Dead

Charlie Higson

I felt fairly certain he didn’t look like that last time. Floppy hair and some sort of beard. Didn’t feel right. At all. (So I google imaged Charlie Higson when I got home, just to see what he most likely looked like when we were last in the same room together. Shorter hair and no beard is the answer.)

Very nice to find that the Manchester Children’s Book Festival has the odd event on during the festival drought period, and nicer still to find myself asked to pop along and fill up any empty seats (something I do so well). As another seat-filler I brought Son along. You know you need to entertain children in their time off education, and it’s only ten years since Son was the same age as the multicoloured (school uniform-wise) schoolchildren who did fill up the lecture theatre at MMU on Thursday.

Charlie Higson

OK, so Charlie Higson hit town with tales of the dead. His new zombie book also happens to be called The Dead. It’s about zombies, and we were treated to a trailer of the film, soon to be here (I think). Charlie cleverly began by telling his audience about the kind of boring and far too common question he and other authors hate to be asked. The ‘where do you get your ideas?’ one. Then he spent the next 45 minutes telling us where.

There would have been no vampires or zombies without the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Charlie did say he thought that for there to be no Stephenie Meyer books would be a good thing, but… The subsequent ash cloud prevented more than planes from flying, and poor Lord Byron found he couldn’t make boat trips on Lake Geneva on his holiday in 1816. So he and his pals had to stay in and tell each other scary stories, and not only did Mary Shelley (to be) dream up Frankenstein, but Byron’s personal drug dealer (sorry, doctor) John Polidori came up with The Vampyre, which later inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Charlie Higson

Charlie himself has been especially inspired by the film Night of the Living Dead, and he wants to frighten kids, to ‘scar them for life.’ His own bloodthirsty children egg him on to kill more characters, whenever he reads his books to them, and Charlie only felt he had got it right when his youngest had serious nightmares. Don’t feel sorry for him. This is the child who ‘loved it when the eyeballs exploded’. In amongst the blood and the gore Charlie also tries to ‘slip in a bit of plot and character’, while working on getting the black squiggles on white background (that’s words on paper, to you) ‘come alive’. A bit zombie-like.

When someone asked Charlie if he’d ever write a vampire book, he replied that ‘vampires suck’. Oh, how witty. But he seems to feel the world has enough of them by now. His advice is to write what you want to read. His own first books were for adults, so he warned the children not to go looking for them. ‘Don’t read!’ he said, before realising that this might well be the best thing to say to get someone to read.

Charlie Higson

A quick, and unscientific, show of the hands indicated that boys like zombies and girls like vampires. Presumably Edward type vampires, except they don’t exist. What girls do end up with are zombies, who are ‘basically typical teenage boys.’

It’s not every author who gets to walk into a lecture theatre to the accompaniment of whistling and cheering, and the applause at the end wasn’t of the forced ‘we-must-thank-X so please clap hands, children’. Charlie also had a good way of telling his audience to shut up. No hard feelings, though, as just about everyone queued up for books and to get them signed afterwards.

Charlie Higson

I was almost carried away by the idea of a signed book too. But then I remembered my reason for not stopping to chat to Charlie. I couldn’t face telling the man – yet again – that I still haven’t read his books. I know they are wonderful. I know. But I’ve run out of time. And zombies… No. Good for teenage boys. Not for elderly witches.

And then after returning home and telling Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant all about Mount Tambora and Byron I had to go and read a magazine article which told me Charlie was wrong. There were vampires back in the 14th century. At least. And it seems I’ve visited the corpse of one several times in my innocent childhood.

Monday – take one

I’m working backwards here, so need to put in the earlier part of Monday before we’re into a new week. By some unexpected miracle your witch managed to fit in an unplanned visit to the Puffin presentation early afternoon. This meant even more authors and book plans in one short day, but after travelling on the same train as Scrappy the ferret, I felt up to almost anything.

I swear (sorry) that those conference rooms have shrunk in the two years since I was last there. What did they do? Wash them?

With my usual skill I plonked myself down on just the right chair to have my coat where all the attending authors could stumble over it on their way in to speak. Or on the way out. None did, though, and it was a Puffin telephone of some sort that was eventually brought down by Jeanne Willis. Or vice versa.

Jeanne was elegant in a black top with leopard skin effect (it was, wasn’t it?) trim, and white blonde hair straight out of an early 1960s film. She has two new picture books on the way, and she had everyone but me singing a song about bottoms. Apparently ‘pythons only have them in their dreams.’ And Jeanne carried some insect cadaver round in a small metal tin. (Just thought you might want to know.)

Puffin themselves will be 70 this year and, surprise surprise, they are publishing some books to celebrate. Cheap Pocket Money Puffins at £3.99, written by some real favourites of mine, which I like the sound of. Classics, naturally. Some frightfully expensive limited edition books that will cost £100.

I’ll happily try out some of their merchandise, like the Puffiny deckchairs, so a couple of samples would be most welcome. There will be samples I hope? Or at least a mug? (Hint – we could do with five.)

Eoin Colfer appeared, but only on screen. Still lovely, and he told us Artemis will be lovely too, and that just isn’t right. Charlie Higson talked about taking your children to see zombies. I don’t think so, Charlie. Trailer for the new Percy Jackson film, coming soon. Rick Riordan has a new series coming. Two new series, in actual fact. The richer authors get, the faster they write.

Cathy Cassidy was another one not caught out by my coat. She has a new ‘chocolate box’ series starting, which sounds great. I have a feeling Cathy’s only thinking of the research, however.

Vampires. Goes without saying. Samurais. Coming faster and faster. How do authors suddenly write twice as fast as before?

Alex Scarrow and David Yelland reprised their talks from November. Alex’s Time Riders is high on the TBR pile, so we’ll have to see how that goes.

The star of the show was Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece. There is a new range of Moomins on the way, including baby board books, but where are they coming from? I believe they are writing new ones, with Sophia watching over them. What do we think of that?

There will be teen books. I’m still amazed that Sarah Dessen isn’t yet a household name in Britain. She will be! Helen Grant’s Glass Demon is coming and so is iBoy by Kevin Brooks, and I gather it’s a cross between Spiderman and The Wire. Well!

Tasty sandwiches at the end, well worth waiting for, but what do you do with over-mayonnaisey fingers when meeting authors?

I cornered Sophia Jansson before the others discovered her, and we had a discussion in Swedish about blogs and other online nonsense. She, sensibly, has no time for blogs or Facebook or Twitter. This Little My has a Tove Jansson empire to run and a lovely holiday island to spend her summers on. She told us that Moomin was first thought up by Tove’s uncle in order to scare her from having midnight snacks in his kitchen. The Moomintrolls live in the kitchen walls. Perfect for baby books then…

Graphic Bond

When I first met Charlie Higson, I mentioned that I’d started reading his latest Young Bond book on the train to London. I thought that sounded OK. About five months later I met Charlie again, and somehow managed to tell him I hadn’t got any further with the book. I really must practise what to do in situations like these. Silverfin

This tale should enlighten you as to my relief at getting my paws on the first graphic Young Bond, Silverfin. I felt that here was my salvation, and I’d be able to quickly read about young James. My usual doubts about graphic novels surfaced, but disappeared by page two or thereabouts. After that it was strictly racing through the book to get to the end. It’s great fun, and while being a little like a film, it has the advantages but none of the disadvantages of films. Kev Walker has done a great job with the illustrations.

I would like to read the “real” books, but will probably not have the time. Can’t wait for the next graphic book to come, though. This is perfect reading for almost anyone, but particularly so for those reluctant boys again. Just as you can catch new readers with a film, I reckon graphic novels should tempt future book readers as well.

Silverfin is a fast paced adventure, which takes James from his new boarding school Eton, to visit family in Scotland. His enemy from school turns up, and James also makes a new friend on the way north, who helps him solve the mystery that awaits them.

The P-Puffin p-party

London did what it does best on Monday night. It offered one of those balmy evenings, when it’s a pleasure to stroll along the South Bank, with the lights and the sights. The witch household had shivered under blankets as she left, but it’s a well known fact that it’s warmer in the south.

The people at Puffin felt compelled to express their love for the witch and a few others behind their successful publishing business, by throwing a party. The noise level at the Tate Modern rose a little too much, so most of my chatting happened early. And do you have any idea of how fast Nicholas Tucker can walk in a party crowd? He, and some other prey, will simply have to be caught some other time, when I will avail myself of a broomstick.

My technique for sidling up to people and start a conversation with the opening line that I haven’t yet read their book/s, needs some improvement. Worse still, was having to admit that I’d not got further on one book than I had at our last meeting, five months ago. Bad witch. Could always talk about the weather, I suppose.

If I name drop now, I’ll forget someone, or it could be that I just didn’t see or recognise some people. Kevin Brooks was there. So were Linda Chapman, Lauren Child, Linzi Glass, Charlie Higson, Graham Marks, Meg Rosoff and Ed Vere. And absolutely loads of the lovely Puffin ladies, some who weren’t ladies, and many others who do things that have to do with books.

And an EastEnder. I’m the kind of person who knows so little about soaps, that I was able to have a Coronation Street neighbour without knowing it. But I think Ross Kemp is in soaps. Which reminds me of the time I wanted to buy soap and googled Mitchell’s wool fat soap, and got EastEnders instead. Television! Bah!

Invite in a Jiffy

Bag, that is. It’s different – I’ll give Puffin that. I thought it might be a very thin book, when in actual fact the nice ladies at Puffin wanted to include the witch in their media book presentation for 2008. So, it being too wet to broom, I got my favourite morning train to London, which isn’t too full, and where the price of the ticket doesn’t force you to re-mortgage your house.

On arrival I shared a lift up with an author. Only I didn’t know it then, as picture book authors are not my strength. It was Jeanne Willis, and even I have had a book of hers read to me (though I do know how to read) before.

It was like Christmas come early, or maybe late, considering it’s mid January. Tables groaning under the weight of books, where you help yourself until you feel ashamed, or thereabouts. Puffin also did party bags, but seemed not to have cottoned on to the fact that you use them to get rid of people at the end. Never mind.

Very important people presented the new books for the year ahead. So I won’t tell you about those now.

Lots of people there. I didn’t quite have the nerve to introduce myself to Nicholas Tucker. Maybe I should have? I consider his voice an old friend. Talked to nice people from radio’s Go4It, and to equally nice people from book magazine Carousel.

Threw myself at Nicolette Jones to talk about her Pancakes for Findus review, and introduced myself to Julia Eccleshare, to apologise for all my “anonymous” emails. She took it well. Jellyellie from Spinebreakers was there, and not only is she one of these clever teen editors, but she’s writing a book. I sat next to someone from the Guardian, who had actually heard of me! (Fame must be round the corner.)

Ed Vere does picture books and he can talk and draw at the same time. Nearly. Something about piano playing gorillas.

Charlie Higson had been forcibly dragged to the presentation. He has a book to finish, but now we know who to blame that delay on. I’d started reading his Hurricane Gold on the train, which didn’t make me much of an expert. But he favours avoiding too much kissing for the young James Bond by having immediate and nearby explosions. And something to do with the Royal family that he couldn’t possibly talk about.

Meg Rosoff also has a book that wants finishing, but she did a good job going round kissing and hugging people, and tucking into the tasty food, and making dates for interviews and radio programmes and anything else.

To prevent myself from being the last person there, I took my leave and departed at an almost decent time. Could have done with help in the lift, though, as the buttons were totally un-intelligible. I’ve since worked out that E stands for Embankment and ST for Strand. And I only went wrong once. Bit of a challenge for a “country” witch.