Tag Archives: Danny Weston

The 2019 Yay! YA+

It was time for another instalment of Kirkland Ciccone’s vendetta against the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday.

Yay! YA+

Only joking. (But if you at first don’t get invited, start your own book festival.) This was the last time at the old Cumbernauld theatre, with great plans for what it’ll be like in the new one. Bistro. With chips. Or so I gather.

After introducing all his authors, Alex Nye, L J MacWhirter, Moira McPartlin, Philip Caveney/Danny Weston, Paul Murdoch and Ross Sayers, Kirkie sent the others off to their respective bars and dressing rooms, while he and Alex stayed in the main theatre for their longer performances.

Kirkland Ciccone at Yay! YA+

Considering that many of the school children who came, are less used to reading and book festivals, it was good to hear Kirkie talk about his own humble background. We got the lot; the exploding council house, his mother’s ‘apple juice’ and his older brother, Scotland’s worst armed robber. Yes, he mentioned the lamp post incident, Kev. And going to collect the benefits Kirkie discovered the library in Cumbernauld and it changed his life, starting with Meg&Mog.

The only reason Roald Dahl didn’t adopt him, despite his repeated entreaties, was that Dahl was already dead. After Dahl and Matilda we quickly covered Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Point Horror, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Robert Cormier, Harry Potter and Twilight and Stephen King. All these were somehow responsible for Kirkland’s own books that have since been released into the wild.

Alex Nye’s turn next, where she took us back to the morning of the roof of Cumbernauld Castle falling down and how Mary Queen of Scots helped tidy up afterwards. Then we were in the snow on Sheriffmuir, in the ghostly tales of Chill and Shiver, before moving on to Glen Coe and Darker Ends.

Alex Nye at Yay! YA+

She bemoaned the fact that not enough Scottish history is taught in Scottish schools, and that it’s more British history. Mentioning the new film about Mary she said it was good, but featured a fake meeting between Mary and Elizabeth I and some laundry. This year Alex has two new books out, one about Mary Shelley and another about children from Syria.

When Kirkie turned up again to tell me that lunch was ready, I ordered him to assist Alex in coming to an end, so that the entire lunch break wasn’t taken up with questions from the audience.

Moira McPartlin and Alex Nye at Yay! YA+

Over lunch I was struck by the fact that out of the eight of us sitting round the table, three had a past in Stockport. Bit of a coincidence. Four if Danny Weston counts as a person… We ate fruit, and discussed the latest phenomenon of how to eat a pineapple. And when the children came with books to sign, the authors were surprisingly badly equipped with pens!

Alex Nye and LJ McWhirter at Yay! YA+

Photos and selfies were taken and books got bought, before everyone was herded back to their bars and dressing rooms for the afternoon. Having sworn never to return to the nether regions of the theatre, I’m afraid I missed Paul Murdoch and Ross Sayers, which was a double shame as they were the ones new to me.

L J McWhirter at Yay! YA+

I began in the bar where L J MacWhirter had music and candles and string lights to help her talk about her book featuring dreams back in the 1500s. She talked about the characters in the novel that took her 15 years to write. L J read to us, until the bell went and it was time to up and change to another author in another bar.

I went to hear Moira in ‘the Fireplace’ where she had bluetacked photos of her inspirations for her characters; Nicole Kidman and Sheila Hancock among them. Moira had purple badges with Celtic knots to hand out, and she told us how she got started writing, being bored when travelling on business. Then she was a runner up in a story competition, where Gillian Philip was a judge, and she told her this was material for a full novel. So she wrote a book.

Moira McPartlin at Yay! YA+

Moira read a piece from the first book in her trilogy, and it sounded pretty good, I have to say. With time for just one question, it was lucky it was an excellent one, about technology in her future. Good children, who paid attention.

Moving to the next bar where Philip/Danny was, I stayed for two talks, seeing as he alternated between his two personalities, and I didn’t want to miss one of them. Danny was born out of necessity, when Philip wanted to go darker in his writing, and the publisher wished to avoid upsetting his fans. And is there anything scarier than a ventriloquist’s dummy? Hence Mr Sparks, which he read in a variety of accents.

Danny Weston at Yay! YA+

By the time Danny became Philip again, he complained his voice was going, but ‘I don’t know where.’ He read from The Slithers, and it was no less disgusting than when I read the book. He reckons that writing fiction is ‘one time in your life you have autonomy.’ There were good questions, and Philip also had a great technique for dealing with the not so good ones, not to mention a way to force unwilling children to come up with questions. This was clearly not his first time out.

Yay! YA+ bookshop

At this point I discovered the bookshop was closed, which was a slight disappointment. I went back into the main theatre and listened to the end of Alex’s talk again, before all the authors congregated down ‘in the pit’ to answer the odd question – very odd, in fact – from Kirkie and the children. Someone wanted to know why they were all so ‘dark.’ It seems it’s what makes writing interesting, so I suspect the time for happily ever after is long gone.

Alex Nye, Ross Sayers, Philip Caveney, L J McWhirter, Paul Murdoch, Moira McPartlin and Kirkland Ciccone at Yay! YA+

The seven/eight signed books and exercise books and bits of paper, and were photographed with ever bolder fans. I saw at least one boy clutching three books, and it gladdened my heart. I will now imagine him sitting at home reading.

Yay! YA+

Carrot topping was discussed at least twice, and I for one am glad Alex still has all her fingers. And then L J went and mentioned Macbeth. In a theatre.

To be on the safe side, Moira drove L J and Philip/Danny to their train and then she gave me a lift home. Let’s hope for the best.

Advertisements

Bookwitch bites #145

Books for teens? Not as popular as they were?

It’s tough for YA authors, and as is pointed out in this Guardian article, they are giving up. It’s no longer enough to have a burning ambition and plenty of ideas. You need to eat and pay the rent, too. With publishers not so active at promoting the books they publish, they sell less well. Not surprising. I practically have to drag both information and books out of their hands.

Kirkland Ciccone isn’t giving up, however. Next month he is back with another YA day in Cumbernauld. He’s lined up six – or seven – authors (it’s hard to know where you are with Philip Caveney and Danny Weston) to come and entertain students from local schools for a day. Yay! YA+

Last night I’d half hoped to attend Noir at the Bar in Edinburgh, had it not been for last minute builder issues. I’ve so far missed every one of these evenings, but am sure one day, evening, I will be there. I had been under the impression it was all noir [crime], but having had coffee with Moira McPartlin the same morning, and learned that she was there to be noir about her Star of Hope where there is a lot of death – cannibals, even? – she reckoned that you could noir pretty much about anything. (And she’s going to be in Cumbernauld for Yay! YA+…)

More good YA news for John Young, who has just won the Scottish Teenage Book Prize for Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist. Very good book.

The Carnegie/Kate Greenaway medal has only got as far as its longlist, but that’s good enough for me. I like seeing how right I was from the nominations, and also to see how many I’ve read. This year, more than expected. And I can’t name one I prefer, which is probably as it should be.

Yesterday’s top ‘news’ was the date for Philip Pullman’s second Book of Dust, The Secret Commonwealth, which will be with us in just over seven months! Put October 3rd in your diaries.

While you wait, buy a few YA novels to keep those authors going.

Scottish Book Trust Awards 2018

After months of secrecy, all the Scottish Book Trust Awards for this year have been made public, culminating in an awards ceremony in Edinburgh last night.

I don’t actually know where to start. They are all important, so does one go from less to more, or the other way round?

OK, I’ll go with the Learning Professional Award. Where would we be without such hardworking people, especially someone who sounds as absolutely fabulous as Eileen Littlewood, Head Teacher at Forthview Primary in Edinburgh? First I marvelled at all Eileen has achieved, and then I quickly felt both exhausted and not a little envious of all her great work.

Eileen Littlewood upright pic - credit Jonathan Ley

When Eileen started, the school library had been dismantled, and in order to create her vision of an in-house library catering for all ages, she applied for and secured over £10k of funding. She was able to start a reading community, and also helped the Family Support Teacher to start a parent book group, using Quick Reads and comic books to engage parents who were reluctant to read.

Eileen has established a paired reading initiative, has organised author visits to the school and has ensured her staff are trained to deliver reading projects. She also runs a lunchtime book club for pupils, as well as regular writing workshops. And she has recently worked with parents to create a book of poems on mental health to share with their children.

The Outstanding Achievement Award has gone to Vivian French, who has written hundreds of books. She has also worked hard to promote books by other authors and illustrators. Vivian is not only an inspiring figure to those in the industry, but has also acted as a mentor to budding authors and artists. Vivian is an active advocate for dyslexia.

In 2012, she and Lucy Juckes set up Picture Hooks, a mentoring scheme to encourage emerging Scottish illustrators.  And Vivian has been Children’s Writer-in-Residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and a guest selector for the children’s programme. She also teaches at Edinburgh College of Art in the illustration department and is a Patron of the Borders Book Festival.

Vivian French wide pic - credit Jonathan Ley

Vivian’s comment to all this was; ‘I have the most wonderful time visiting schools and festivals, tutoring young illustrators, talking (always talking!) and discussing books and pictures… surely such an award should be for someone who’s earned it by the sweat of their brow? Not someone like me, who skips about having such a very lovely time! I’m not ungrateful – truly I’m not – it’s the most amazing award to be given… but I’m going to redouble my efforts now to ensure that I really deserve it.’

There’s modesty, and then there’s modesty. Vivian deserves this award!

SBT_BPBP_18_web-2124

And finally, there’s the Bookbug Picture Book Prize for Gorilla Loves Vanilla by Chae Strathie and Nicola O’Byrne, and the Scottish Teenage Book Prize to Caighlan Smith for Children of Icarus.

Caighlan Smith

Mustn’t forget to mention runners-up Michelle Sloan and Kasia Matyjaszek, Debi Gliori and Alison Brown, Danny Weston and Elizabeth Laird.

Phew, what a lot of talent and good books!

Scarecrow facts

I’m Danny Weston’s favourite bookwitch. Or so he says alongside his signature in Scarecrow. And I can sort of understand it, and maybe he did have me in mind when writing. There is a witch, there is an Annie, and a Giles. All good decent names, even if Giles is a baddie.

After I sent Danny the questions below, however, I might be only his second favourite bookwitch. Flattery will get him nowhere! But I just had to learn more about scarecrows. Over to Danny:

So, what do you know about scarecrows? And what’s this about bull’s blood?

I know that scarecrows have been around for a very long time – and that in the ancient days, they were there to do more than just scare birds. They were meant to protect families from harm. And the consecration of the harvest using bull’s blood is a tradition that goes back to pagan times. I always do quite a lot of reading before I embark on writing a story.

Do you think it’s wise to encourage young readers to approach and talk to, even confess to, just any strange scarecrow they happen to meet?

Why not? The truth is that scarecrows are very good listeners. Of course, people think that because they’re made of straw, they don’t actually take anything in. In my story, I suggest that they don’t miss very much at all.

Speaking of young readers, did you choose the worthy route of whistle-blowing to educate them about this kind of thing, or to steer clear of sleazier crimes? Although, it does get quite dirty and dangerous later on.

Whistle-blowing seems to be increasingly common in these troubled times. I’m fascinated by the way it divides opinion. Look at Edward Snowden, for instance. Many people say he’s a traitor who has endangered the security of his country. Others argue that he’s a hero, a man banished from his homeland because he told the truth. I’ve always believed in telling the truth and I hate the fact that I now live in a world where such a practice is often discouraged.

Philbert has an astounding vocabulary for someone leading such an isolated life, in a lonely field. How do you explain this? He also seems to know what he doesn’t know, something lots of humans actually fail at.

Well, don’t forget that a scarecrow takes on all the wisdom and experience of the person that creates them. Unfortunately for Philbert, he has also taken on the anger of the woman who made him – a woman dying of a dreadful illness. Consequently, he can have a very short fuse…

Finally, I can’t help but notice that your books are moving north with every new story. Dare I hope that they will continue to do so, and that they’ll soon be at a safe distance somewhere like the North Pole? It’s just a polite request, you understand.

This is not an intentional device. It may have something to do with the fact that I have moved further North myself, from Manchester to Edinburgh. I’ve also fallen a little bit in love with Scotland and the more I visit different parts of it, the more I discover interesting settings for new stories. At the moment, I love Edinburgh, and have no plans to live elsewhere. But who knows what the future has in store?

I do. I’m now quite certain I will never feel safe here again. That man is bound to introduce some scary creature into a setting close to me. Bound to. And the North Pole such a lovely and distant place and all…

Scarecrow

Just because you’re paranoid does not mean it is not out to get you.

Under normal circumstances 15-year-old Jack is a little crazy, and has a history of seeing things. So it doesn’t really help that as he and his dad are on the run from some bad guys, he witnesses a scarecrow eating a crow, and later he ends up talking to it. Him. The scarecrow. His name is Philbert.

Danny Weston, Scarecrow

Jack’s dad is a recent whistle-blower who decides to flee his London home with Jack, as a way of staying safe. Bad idea. The Scottish countryside is not a safer place. Bad guys. Hungry scarecrows. That kind of thing.

And they’ve left their mobile phones at home. Just to be safe. Hah.

This is very good. I’m thinking it might be Danny Weston’s best, so far. Think Pimpernel Smith. (That’s a film.) Or that Christmas song about a snowman, as sung by Bing Crosby.

Anyway, Jack meets a girl called Rhona. Did you know they even have iPhones up there, near Pitlochry? Not so sure about finding a copy of the Guardian in the village shop, but there you are. Or rather, there they are. And how is anyone going to escape?

It was Rhona’s mother – who was a white witch –  who made Philbert. His task was to look after her family once she was gone. Because a pile of straw tied to a cross in a field can totally do that.

Did I mention that things get quite exciting after a bit? Well they do. And what’s that thing in the woods? Who can you trust?

Just so you know, witches rule.

The Haunting of Jessop Rise

Danny Weston is back in North Wales. It’s the mid-19th century and recently orphaned William is just arriving in a desolate corner of Wales, having walked the five days from Cheshire. His rich uncle Seth has asked him to come and live at Jessop Rise. He just didn’t say in what capacity, or for how long.

Danny Weston, The Haunting of Jessop Rise

We soon learn that William’s only ‘choice’ is to work as a servant for his uncle and his cousin Toby (who I thought was all set to be Dudley Dursley meets Draco Malfoy). But like all good heroes William works hard and is polite and makes friends among the few staff in this big house.

What makes a good horror story? Do you need a mean, bad guy, or are you better off with a good ghost or two? Or how about a scary creature you don’t really know what it is at all? The Haunting of Jessop Rise has all three. The locals believe in the Gwrach, but William seems to mostly meet a mysterious woman whenever he goes out. Who is she and what does she want from him?

And then there is mean old uncle Seth, who is pretty ghastly at times, but who appears almost normal on other occasions. You just don’t know what to expect. Toby misses his mother, who disappeared a year earlier, and it makes you suspect you know what’s happened. Atmospheric stormy seas, thick fogs and a dangerous slate quarry all add to the perils William faces.

Nowhere near as creepy as Danny’s Mr Sparks, this is more a traditional, old-fashioned tale about families and what makes them do what they do. You don’t feel threatened by the ghost. You want to know its history, and you want things put right. And you know uncle Seth is capable of almost anything.

When Philip met Danny

It’s all my fault. I wanted to ask Danny Weston a few questions on his winning the Scottish Children’s Book Award last week. But then I had this – I thought – brilliant idea. So I asked Philip Caveney if he’d have a go and do the interview. I might get better questions that way.

I’m so sorry.

“The brief was very straightforward. ‘Get an interview with Danny Weston,’ she said. ‘Go to his house and get him to talk.’ It sounded easy enough.

But it wasn’t as simple as I might have imagined. For a start, it wasn’t to be at his apartment in Tollcross; that would have been too easy. No, it was to be recorded at his ancestral home in the Highlands, a big rambling Victorian construction out in the sticks and the only way to get there was to hire a pony and trap at the local station. There followed a long, slow ride across the moors and the aged driver, a grey bearded fellow with a wizened face, clearly wasn’t in the mood to make polite conservation.

‘Do you know Mr Weston?’ I asked him and he gave me a long, withering look.

‘Aye, I know him,’ he said darkly, and spoke no more.

When we finally arrived at the house, I asked the driver if he’d wait for me but he simply shook his head and set off back in the direction from which we had come, whipping up the horses into a near gallop. Charming, I thought. The ancient front door of the house was ajar. I pushed it open and stepped into the hallway. There were no lights on within and the place smelled of decay and neglect. I shouted Weston’s name and my voice seemed to echo throughout the house but there was no reply.

I was obliged to wander disconsolately from room to room until I finally found him sitting in what looked like a library, surrounded by shelves of mouldering books. ‘What kept you?’ he snarled and indicated a vacant seat in front of him. There was no offer of refreshment after my long journey so I settled myself down, thinking what a poor host this man was. Perhaps everything I’d heard about him was true.

FREE TO USE - FAVOURITE SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF 2016 REVEALED

I switched on my voice recorder. ‘You must be pleased,’ I ventured. ‘After winning the Scottish Book Award and everything.’

‘Delirious,’ he said, but his expression remained grave.

‘But it must be nice, surely? After all, this is your first attempt at a novel…’

There was no reaction to that, so I decided to dispense with the niceties and asked him a few questions about his childhood. I was amazed to discover that the two of us had rather a lot in common – both of us had fathers in the Royal Air Force, we had spent much of our childhoods in boarding schools and both of us acquired the overpowering urge to write in our teens. Astonishingly, we were inspired by the very same book, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. ‘I’m not always banging on about it like you, though,’ he muttered ungraciously. I let that one go.

‘So what attracts you to such dark stories?’ I asked.

He looked annoyed at the question. ‘Your stories aren’t exactly Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,’ he growled.

Fair point, I admitted, but… a vengeful ghost haunting two young evacuees on Romney Marsh? And the new book, Mr Sparks… a twisted ventriloquist’s dummy who outlives his operators? Where do these strange ideas come from?

He gave me a scornful look as though he thought I should have known better than to ask that question.

‘Is there anything new in the pipeline?’ I asked. I was floundering here.

‘There will be a new story along in September,’ he said. ‘The Haunting of Jessop Rise…’

‘See, right there,’ I interrupted him. ‘That’s clearly not going to be a laugh riot.’

‘Young readers love to be scared,’ he assured me. ‘And little wonder! What are the very first stories we give them? Little Red Riding Hood… Hansel and Gretel… These are horror stories and they are of course, thrilled by them, as soon as they’re old enough to understand words.’ He gestured to a shelf of books to his left. ‘It’s not as though you’re unfamiliar with the idea yourself, after all.’

I was astonished to see a whole row of my old titles residing there. ‘What about your Edinburgh trilogy?’ he asked me. ‘As I said before, your books are not all sweetness and light are they? In Crow Boy you deal with the bubonic plague. And Seventeen Coffins features the serial killers, Burke and Hare.’

I was frankly astonished. ‘I had no idea you were familiar with my work,’ I said.

‘My dear fellow, you are one of my biggest influences,’ he assured me. ‘After all, we have so much in common.’

‘Some of my books are lighter in tone,’ I protested. ‘The new book, The Calling, for instance, that’s about all the statues in Edinburgh, coming to life for one night a year. It’s quite funny in places…’

‘… and also features a brutal kidnapping,’ he interrupted. He raised his eyebrows. ‘The publishers sent me a proof copy,’ he added by way of explanation. Then his expression changed to one of annoyance. ‘Isn’t this supposed to be about me?’ he snapped.

‘Oh, er… yes. So… Jessop Rise. Tell me a bit about that.’

‘It features all my favourite things,’ he said, looking animated for the first time. ‘Ghosts. Children terrorized by things that go bump in the night. An ancient supernatural being. Oh yes, and a really cruel villain.’ He smirked. ‘There’s one scene where…’ He leaned closer and whispered something into my ear. I blanched. I’ve been writing for something like 40 years but that…. that was going too far.

He grinned at me, his face ghoulish in the already fading light. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked me. ‘Have I offended you? Are you shocked?’

‘Not at all,’ I said but I was beginning to feel distinctly nervous. I was uncomfortably aware that it was already getting late and I had no transport arranged. I glanced at my watch.’ ‘I er…. really should be getting back,’ I murmured. ‘I was wondering if you had a phone number for the coachman at the station.’

He smiled grimly, shook his head. ‘There are no phones in this house,’ he said. ‘And even if there were, the old man wouldn’t come all the way out here this late in the day. Not after what happened last time.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to walk back. Unless of course, you’d like to stay in the guest room for the night? The sheets haven’t been changed in several years and there’s been an invasion of slugs, but if you’d prefer to…’

‘No thanks,’ I said, a little too quickly. ‘I’ll walk. I… could do with the exercise.’

‘As you wish.’ He picked up an oil lamp from the table and handed it to me. ‘You’ll need this,’ he said. ‘To light your way. But a word of warning. Whatever you do, stay on the track. And make sure you keep your gaze fixed on the way ahead…’

It took me hours to get back to the station, by which time it was dark and the moon was up. The place was absolutely deserted. Sitting alone in the ancient waiting room by the light of the failing oil lamp, I wondered if I had got enough from Weston to actually write up the interview. I took out my recorder to listen back to what was on there.

There was nothing. Not a single word – only a deep rasping chuckle. And then, without any warning, the lamp went out.”