Tag Archives: Chris Riddell

A Great Big Cuddle – Poems for the very young

From words by one children’s laureate to illustrations by another. That’s A Great Big Cuddle, by Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell, and to be perfectly honest I didn’t think it’d be for me. I’m glad to report I was wrong, again. This is truly lovely.

Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell, A Great Big Cuddle

Some of the poems are not much more than words stacked together, but it would appear that when someone like Michael Rosen does the stacking, it works. There are nonsense words, as well as totally meaningful sentences covering ‘everything’ in life. You know, like if you are a bear cub with a splinter?

Burps and sick, a mother’s love, baths with an elephant, corn on the cob, being lost. Being found. Being loved. Cuddles.

Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell, A Great Big Cuddle

And whatever Michael throws at Chris, Chris comes back with the best pictures. For instance, was the hot dog meant to be a dog, rather than a sausage? You can’t be sure. And when Chris draws a cuddle, that’s one satisfying cuddle.

Monster mum

Beowulf for dyslexic readers. And for me. I’m not saying I couldn’t read the ‘normal’ Beowulf, but the fact remains I’ve never felt the urge to give him a go.

Here in Brian Patten’s short easy version, with irresistibly monsterous illustrations by Chris Riddell, you have it all. Well, most of it; the core of what matters.

Brian Patten and Chris Riddell, Monster Slayer

In Monster Slayer, we learn about the King’s party to which Grendel the monster wasn’t invited (a mistake, I believe), and how he discovers this and comes and eats some of the King’s best warriors. Which is not good.

Many try to kill Grendel, but he is one of the worst monsters around, and it’s not until Beowulf turns up that Grendel can be beaten. And then they have another party! (I can’t help but feel that they should party less.)

Even horrible monsters have mothers, and Grendel’s monster mum comes looking for revenge for her son’s death. Beowulf needs all his strength and cunning to deal with this furious mother.

This is the perfect way to read a classic, enabling you to be like everyone else, while also learning about Beowulf.

We Are All Born Free

‘If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe.’

The above is a quote from We Are All Born Free, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, where you get the simplified version of our rights, accompanied by the most beautiful illustrations. This book isn’t new, but we have never needed it more.

We Are All Born Free, by Frané Lessac

There is something about the simplified version that makes the truth about what this well known declaration is telling us really stand out. Our leaders would do well to read it. Many of them are most likely in favour of our rights, while conveniently forgetting to act as though they are. ‘We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.’

‘These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.’

We Are All Born Free, by Alan Lee

(The paperback of We Are All Born Free was published last year, and all royalties go to Amnesty International.)

Bookwitch bites #132

My timing is impeccable. Not only did it seem that my favourite book of the year was – belatedly – discovered in the press just as I got my own 2015 list ready, but that same day there were lists everywhere! Must have been something in the water to make us publish simultaneously.

The Irish Times splashed out on a top thirty books for all ages (children). Some of the suggestions I have read, and even agree with.

The Scotsman went the other way, and only picked five books, but that’s fine too.

And The Guardian asked lots of people; both authors and ‘ordinary’ readers for their favourites. It’s always interesting to see what people whose books you like, choose for their own enjoyment. Although with my usual careless reading, I was surprised to find that our children’s laureate, Chris Riddell, suggested ‘anything that isn’t by Chris Priestley’ which struck me as both unkind and unlikely. On looking again I saw that he actually recommends Chris Priestley’s book Anything That Isn’t This.

Barrington Stoke went political (their own words) this week over losing one of their members of staff. Publishing assistant Megan has been forced to leave her job and this country because she doesn’t earn enough money to be allowed to stay. There is something wrong about this.

Finally, it’s goodbye to a great children’s author, Peter Dickinson, who died on Wednesday, on his 88th birthday. As Lucy Coats says in her tribute to Peter on the ABBA blog, not everyone will know who he was. But he was a hero to those ‘in the business.’ There have been many lovely obituaries this week:

Publishers Weekly, Independent, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New York Times.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

Putting the Edinburgh 2015 bookfest to bed

Charlotte Square

It’s time to put the finishing touches to my book festival bits and pieces report. If I can even remember what I did and who I saw. If I can even find my notes (Although, I can always make things up.)

The first few days I had my photographer, until she went and left the country. It’s understandable. I’m a hard witch to go gallivanting with.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Then I was on my own, holding pen in one hand (except for when the ink ran dry) and pad in the other, and my camera in my third hand. But it worked, more or less. My first photocall I couldn’t remember who I’d come for, although I recognised Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when I saw her.

Chris Close

And I was pleased to ‘meet’ Nicola Sturgeon and see her selfie skills at first hand. I came to the conclusion that to make your event sell out like Roy Gill’s, you create a Facebook event and invite everyone, even your second cousin in New Zealand.

Nicola Sturgeon and Val McDermid

One day I travelled into Edinburgh in the company of Helen Grant, who was going to the Teen Titles event at the library. In actual fact, an awful lot of authors were going to that, and more still would have gone had they not had book festival events. Crazy Kirkland Ciccone went as some kind of Andy Warhol meets Boris Johnson in a beret. I had the opportunity of admiring Nicola Morgan’s shoes, which is a not inconsiderable experience.

DSCN7691

Saturday gave me Eoin Colfer and the ducks.

EIBF ducks

For my last day I made a list of events to go to, official photocalls I was interested in and the unofficial opportunities of catching authors signing after events I’d been to and events I’d been unable to go to. I colour coded them, and had three columns, in strict chronological order, and I still had to refer back to it again and again because I got muddled up. I needed to identify breaks long enough to eat in, and got confused because it looked like the hour I was in an event, I’d be free to have lunch, and then worked out that wasn’t the case at all.

How nice it would be to be less old.

Which brings me neatly to my discovery when I got home and checked Google images to see what Sarah Ardizzone looks like, as I saw several people at her translation event and didn’t know which one was her. She turned out to be the one I’d taken a photo of in the signing tent that day, just because she happened to be sitting there with author Marjolaine Leray, next to Liz Kessler.

Sarah Ardizzone

Marjolaine Leray

Liz Kessler

Luckily some authors spend forever signing books. This helps people like me catch up with them, when I would otherwise have missed them, in the midst of that colour coded list with not enough food breaks. Francesca Simon is one, and she was there with Steven Butler.

Francesca Simon

Steven Butler

Lauren St John

Lauren St John is another long signer, very popular with her fans, as is Tom Palmer who is clearly doing something right with his sports novels.

Tom Palmer

I had ignored the name Gordon Brown on the photocall list, assuming that since I’d seen the politician last summer, it was bound to be the crime novelist this time. But it was the former PM, and I even caught him signing after his popular event, shaking the hands of everyone in the queue.

Gordon Brown

Chris Riddell made a second appearance that day, this time with his long time writing partner Paul Stewart.

Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart

Before I ran for (OK, hobbled towards) my train home, I photographed the still very cute Christophe Galfard, physicist and former PhD student of Stephen Hawking.

Christophe Galfard

It’s easier if the authors are dead

On that cheerful note Chris Riddell and his illustrator pals Chris Haughton and Oliver (but Chris for the day) Jeffers ended a humorous – as well as sold out – Sunday morning talk about drawing pretty pictures. The Haughton Chris was saying he finds it hard to make pictures for someone else’s words, whereas the Riddell Chris went so far as to say he prefers other authors to be dead. If he’s going to illustrate their words, that is. Apparently he’s doing stuff to Lewis Carroll at the moment. (Maybe he didn’t mean it?)

I was so tired I even forgot to switch off my mobile phone, but luckily a good event like this will perk you up. A lot of people had crawled out of bed for it, including some of the Chrises’ peers, including the Irish Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer. I suppose he wanted to check out his UK counterpart, or to see how his illustrator Oliver ‘Chris’ Jeffers performed.

It seems they had already covered the most interesting topics in the yurt, but there was the odd snippet left worth hearing. They sort of interviewed each other, with the Riddell Chris taking the lead. (Well, he is the eldest.) The place to get ideas is in the shower or when making dinner, not sitting at your desk. The Haughton Chris has a rug project, and it now appears all illustrators want to make rugs.

Oliver got his idea for The Great Paper Caper while watching an episode of Columbo, which the Riddell Chris felt explained his coat. As for himself he often begins with the number of pages in his sketchbook. He has a naughty drawer where failed ideas marinate until they can be used. Oliver’s alphabet book came from two bad ideas, that worked when mixed together.

Chris Haughton

The Haughton Chris once had an idea about scale, which didn’t work at all, but which will be out as a book next year, with the title Goodnight Everyone. Riddell’s Goth Girl was based on one bad pun, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes.’ (I reckon you need to read the books to get it.)

They love their editors! The editors adjust the words they have written and make their books good. Oliver’s advice on quality is to trust your own ability. He is his own audience, and only wants to do what he himself likes. Chris Haughton wants everything to be as simple as possible, and keeps reducing until he gets there. Chris Riddell learned from David Lloyd that if you can’t read it aloud, then it is no good. These days he has a very useful daughter, who is quick to judge his work.

A young man in the audience wanted to know how to draw eyes, so all three showed us their eyes. Oliver Jeffers said you only need two dots. Chris R mentioned a ‘talking cockroach with manga eyes’ and Chris H is so ambidextrous he could barely decide which hand to use to hold his ‘great lump of lead.’

Asked how to deal with procrastination and to scare one member of the audience into getting on with it, Oliver told her she’d soon be dead. Chris H had talked about plans for a children’s book for so long, that in the end all he could do was buy a ticket to Bologna and then make sure he had something to show when he got there. Chris R told us about his first meeting with Klaus Flugge’s eyebrows, which caused him to pretend he’d left his story at home, allowing him just one night to write his first book.

So, paint yourself into a corner.

The three listed some of their illustrator heroes, and how you can’t really come up with anything new. You can only try and do the same, but better and prettier.

Oliver’s parents didn’t insist he get a proper job, for which he’s grateful. He and Chris H both work in places where there are many other likeminded people who can inspire and support. And Chris R has his daughter.

Chris Riddell, Chris Haughton and Oliver Jeffers

The father of a six-week-old baby, Oliver is starting to work shorter hours, when before he would do 12 hours seven days a week. You have to relax sometimes, in order to be creative. On the other hand, Chris Riddell relaxes by drawing every day, or he gets fidgety. He has a sketchpad in his pocket all the time. Chris Haughton works quite randomly, and he has those rugs, as well as sketchpads where he collects his ‘best of,’ and words and thinks ahead. Oliver has been known to stare at old notes, not understanding what he’d been thinking when he wrote it.

And here is where they came to the conclusion that dead authors are easier to work with than live ones.

The Amnesty readings

If you feel up to the gruesome nature of what some people do to other people, you should go along to one or more of the Amnesty International readings in Charlotte Square. They are free, and they are good, but they could make you cry, as happened to one of the authors reading the other night. But then, if the people who need Amnesty’s help can put up with what’s being done to them, I reckon we can.

I’ve been to two readings this week. The first one had Dreams of Freedom as its theme, and it is also the title of a book published in association with Amnesty. It has short quotes from well known people who have been wrongly imprisoned, and it has been illustrated by famous artists, including Oliver Jeffers and Chris Riddell.

Dreams of Freedom

On Wednesday the authors who read to us were Dub Leffler, Debi Gliori, Michel Faber and D D Everest. They are all different people, but they all read very well, and talked about their pieces in a way to make me want to read more. To do more.

Wednesday’s writers were Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi and Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama). It’s easy to think we know it all, but we don’t. We need to hear more of what’s being done to people.

On Thursday the authors were Paul Magrs, Teri Terry, Priya Parmar and Cecilia Ekbäck. The pieces they read were all excedingly short, but no less powerful. The writers were Alicia Partnoy, Liao Yiwu, Enoh Meyomesse and Stephanie Ndoungo, and what strikes you again and again is how normal their behaviour has been, and still they end up incarcerated.

Amnesty in Edinburgh are asking people to sign a petition to free Atena Farghadani, who is an Iranian artist, punished for posting a cartoon on Facebook, and sentenced to 14 years. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they were both accused of indecent conduct. To sign you can text ATENA and your own FIRST and LAST name to 70505.

Dreams of Freedom

‘Freedom to feel safe.’