Tag Archives: Dave McKean

Odyssey – the Aarhus 39

We have a lot in common. But also, we don’t. That’s no bad thing, though.

Daniel Hahn has edited this collection of translated short stories. I think there are 21 in this, the older, group of stories of journeys from around Europe. If the list of names looks longer than 21, that is because the stories have both illustrators and translators as well as authors. So it’s been a big job to do, this collaboration with the Hay Festival in Aarhus. The Aarhus 39 stands for all the authors involved, as there is a collection for younger readers as well. (And personally I’d prefer to write Århus, but I can’t have everything.)

Odyssey - Aarhus 39

Anyway, this is very interesting. Daniel points out how similar [young] people are, wherever they come from. I agree, but it’s also obvious that we are different. Equal in worth and importance, but a little bit just ourselves.

Another thing about all the languages the stories were written in. You look at the name of the author and you think you know what language they use. But you could be wrong. So many seem to have made a journey or two themselves, and their stories are in a new language. This is fascinating and points to a new kind of Europe.

The Nordic short stories seem to be more into drugs, bullying and illegal behaviour. Further south it is more weird and entertaining. But none of that matters; they are stories about being young, and the journeys are either actual journeys, or about someone learning something about themselves.

I can’t possibly describe them, either their contents or the style. There are too many and they are too varied. The stories are short (yes, that is what a short story is), and mostly easy to read, and interestingly illustrated. They make you think.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s the size of the font. It is too small. And the very worthwhile list of all the contributors at the back; well that font is even smaller and made my eyes ache. But this is such a good idea, and we want more of it.

Just in bigger print.

Eight I’ve read

At last. A list I’ve read. I’m beginning to like Daniel Hahn even more. Clearly great minds think alike.

For the Guardian Daniel has chosen eight of the best YA novels, suitable – indeed highly recommended – for adults. And I’ve read them all, which I suppose isn’t so strange, really. I thought when I saw the list that they were all recent books, but YA hasn’t been around all that long, so it’s understandable.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen exactly that list, but I could have.

And I realise I should never have absolved Daughter from having to read The White Darkness. She asked, only a week or so ago, whether she still had to read it, and I said no. It is such a tremendous book. (Is it too late to force her now?) Fancy Daniel picking Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick! Very good choice. Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan. That was a long time ago now, and I almost didn’t consider it a death/cancer novel, but I suppose it is.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, of course. The odd thing is that when I read it, I was – almost – not keen on Chris Riddell’s illustrations. I thought I preferred Dave McKean’s. Well, a witch can change her mind. Siobhan Dowd’s A Swift Pure Cry; the book I thought I might not like because I had set notions about that ‘kind of plot’… What an idiot I was. But it’s a testament to Siobhan’s writing skills that this ‘kind of plot’ can be marvellous.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond is the one book I remember less well. Possibly because at the time I read several of David’s books in quick succession. Patrick Ness gets three books in, as Chaos Walking is a trilogy, but you can’t have just the one part. For me they are books that have grown in stature over the years. And finally, Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram. One of the best. And now there will be no more.

I know that I tend to preach to the converted here on Bookwitch, but I hope that a few of today’s readers are doubting adults, who would never dream of reading YA. Until today. Because this is such a good start to a new life of reading YA books.

Lucky you.

The other mother strikes back

What I like about Neil Gaiman is his calm. Especially on a night like Monday, when it was touch and go whether we would have an event with him at all. A family emergency meant he had to return home immediately after his talk with Chris Riddell, leaving the latter to do the book signing on his own.

Neil Gaiman

I obviously like a few more things about this unflappable man, and his event with Chris was just what fans want. Both are born entertainers, and worked perfectly together, including their impromptu reading of a chapter in Coraline, accompanied by simultaneous illustrating.

Because that’s what they were talking about; the tenth birthday edition of Coraline with button eye illustrations by Chris. Button eyes were what we got to see as Chris drew for us on the whatchamacallit on stage. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wondering how he does it, and how he makes it look so easy. I mean, if he made it look hard, we’d all admire him more, wouldn’t we? And the publishers could pay him more.

Coraline is anything but ‘the new Harry Potter,’ which is why Bloomsbury got to publish it. They were the ones who had the old Potter, and could allow Coraline to be Coraline.

The big tent was packed to the rafters, but I was alone. My companion has a problem with the buttons. At first I thought she was missing out on a great night for no reason, but that was until the eyes joined the discussion. Narrow escape.

As Neil said of himself, he is the kind of man who will lead you into the woods, and then let go of your hand and run away and leave you. He is also the kind of man who can go into a bookshop and ask what really weird horror books for four-year-olds they stock. It appears they had none.

Coraline was his answer to the lack of such books, but he was so busy he had to write it in bed, 50 words every night, in place of his bedtime read. And once it was due to be published, Bloomsbury – who had not heard of this Neil Gaiman before – decided on a paperback. Booksellers – who had – demanded a hardback, because they knew they could sell a more expensive book. They could and they did, but the UK edition had no pictures, on the grounds that Dave McKean’s illustrations were too weird. Not so weird that they didn’t make it into the subsequent paperback, however. And now it’s Chris Riddell’s turn to draw those eyes.

Chris Riddell

Chris had already done the children’s version of The Graveyard Book, so he and Neil knew where they were. He’s almost as weird, actually. He marinates his stories in the 18th drawer, getting them out to look at, before putting them back again. He likes standalone books, as part of trilogies. Well, who doesn’t?

Coraline is a popular book in libraries. It is often stolen.

In a funny way the two men were so alike, I can no longer remember which of them had bought crates of wine called Writer’s Block. But as Neil said, if you have it, you deal with it by drinking your Writer’s Block.

After an hour of crazy talk, we had to get up and leave. There was the time’s up warning in the shape of a low flying plane. Very noisy. As someone said, if that was Neil’s plane, he might as well stay.

He didn’t. He told the story of when his daughter asked him why he signs his books Nell Gurgle, and could she do it too? No she couldn’t, but he left saying Chris was allowed to.

So Chris Nell Gurgled for both of them.

Why, what, who? And possibly when?

Your 175-million-greats-grandfather looked like a newt. I’m sorry to be the one telling you this, but it’s probably true. So did mine. Our respective 185-million-greats-grandfathers were more fish-like. And since I object to this being purely about men, I suspect the grannies looked similar, but hopefully with better dress sense.

You know when the children come and ask all sorts of impossible – or just plain annoying – questions? And you can’t – or won’t – answer. Well, this ‘little’ book by Richard Dawkins might come in handy. The Magic of Reality has answers to some of those pesky questions, and if you really don’t feel like researching the answers yourself, just hand over the book and be done with it.

Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean, The Magic of Reality

Apart from insulting our many-times-greats-grandparents, Richard’s book is bursting with information. It’s been very capably illustrated by Dave McKean. The pictures are – mostly – beautiful, and sometimes rather scary. But a good scary, that ought to suit the child wanting to know everything.

I think that Richard sets out to prove you can’t make a carriage out of a pumpkin, and it seems frogs and princes aren’t interchangeable after all. There are myths. Plenty of them. Those fashionable Norse gods make an appearance. There’s a picture of toast, with or without Jesus.

Clocks stop when people die. Or not. You should watch the (original) Pink Panther film. More myths. The Goldilocks Zone, again, and tectonic plates. You might play the trumpet on a ski slope. And I have to say we seem awfully insignificant when you look at the Milky Way, the Universe, and maybe even everything. But then we’re really just slightly improved newts.

If I have one negative comment to make, it’s all those beautiful pages of mainly spacey pictures, where the words are in white on black. I know it fits in with the universe and all that. And if this is intended for younger readers, then I have no business getting stuck on the lack of readability with my 50+ eyes. But I would have wanted to. That’s all.

Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean, The Magic of Reality

(If the formerly very young witch is anything to go by, I suspect this is the kind of book one might buy as a Christmas present. Some children have been known to spend weeks and months reading stuff like this.)

More Graveyard

I generally skip the spoken word tracks on iTunes when I shuffle, which means that the other day I was really quite surprised at myself for letting it run. So I had Neil Gaiman reading his chapter Danse Macabre live in Edinburgh from a year ago, while I cooked dinner. It’s so wonderful! Both the reading and the chapter and the whole book. Unlike normal audio books you get audience reactions with laughs and applause, as well as brief pauses while Neil drinks some more water.

When I first read  The Graveyard Book I did so with no pictures at all. That’s because I read a proof, so at least I got to it earlier than other people. Mustn’t grumble.

And then in time for the above event last October and my interview with Neil, I did get a proper copy, complete with illustrations. Mine was the ‘children’s’ edition with pictures by Chris Riddell, which are very good. Only, then I caught sight of the ‘adult’ version which Julie Bertagna bought, because she likes Dave McKean, who did the pictures for it.

Wishy-washy that I am, I thought that looked really good. Too.

Well, now the paperbacks are out, yet again in both versions. My quandary is over, as some very generous soul has furnished me with both. So at the last count I must have four Graveyards. Small wonder the house is feeling a little on the tight side.

The Savage in Liverpool

The Savage
They are giving it away in Liverpool. The Savage by David Almond and Dave McKean has been chosen as the Liverpool Reads book for 2009. This means that from tomorrow you can pick up a free copy of this book from a variety of places around Liverpool.

‘This year there are 20,000 copies of The Savage (published by Walker Books) to give away across the whole of Greater Merseyside. The Savage will be available for you to collect from 15th September from: all Merseyside libraries (across Halton, Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, St. Helens, Warrington and Wirral), Merseytravel bus stations and M2Go rail station shops, Waterstone’s (Bold Street and Liverpool ONE), News from Nowhere (Bold Street), Amorous Cat (Lark Lane), Starbucks (Bold Street) and all Liverpool Football Club Stores. Get there quick to get yours!’

Sounds great, I think. All initiatives to get young people reading are good, and this strikes me as a really generous offer. David Almond writes books to suit new readers, and with Dave McKean’s illustrations they get some marvellous art as well. I have no idea how fast the books will go, but I hope it’s a roaring success.

Crazy Hair

Crazy Hair

There is almost a bit of a yuck factor here. Neil Gaiman’s latest picture book Crazy Hair, illustrated as usual by Dave McKean, takes a very close look at hair. So do hairdressers, but that’s more natural, somehow.

The hair in this book does not have nits, but I’d say that’s about the only thing it doesn’t have. Everything and everybody else can be found in this hair. I’m still a little hazy about whose hair it is, as it’s the hair that matters.

I’m most likely suffering from being an adult, who doesn’t appreciate the thought that anything at all would reside upstairs. For a child this book will be a great adventure in some new kind of jungle. As long as they don’t come looking for what lives in my hair…

Dave’s pictures are the normal exciting stuff you expect from him. I’m never quite sure how he produces his illustrations, but they always look as if they were fun to make.

I’ll sit back and await Mrs Pendolino who is coming to sort out my lack of jungle later today.

Dad swap

We have a Dad like the one in Neil Gaiman’s The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish. He sits and reads the newspaper and pays very little attention to things. We have yet to swap him for goldfish or anything else, but Daughter is trying to come up with a plan.

It’s another of the brilliant but simple plots that Neil is good at coming up with, or more accurately, that he’s good at recognising when he finds it. In this case it was his son who was annoyed with him and wanted a swap. Well, Mike, we’ll take your Dad and you can have something from us. Our Dad. Newspaper included.

The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish

The book is pretty much what it says on the box, except that once you’ve swapped Dad, you have to be prepared for further swaps, and getting him back can be tricky. It’s a nice simple story, made really interesting by Dave McKean’s illustrations. I was so intent on admiring the pictures I almost missed the story.

For such dizzy individuals the solution is to listen to the accompanying CD where Neil reads his story, and all you have to do is look at the pictures. Slight risk of falling asleep, as Neil’s reading is so soft and relaxed that you could drift off……………….

Dreams. And wolves.

As I was about to start telling you about my dreams, I realised that iTunes had Sweet Dreams playing. So, I must be meant to do dreams. I was only going to say that I’ve been having some weird ones, lately, including dreaming thrillers, in some detail. Must be something I ate.

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, and illustrated by Dave McKean, was inspired by a dream. The dream belongs to Neil’s youngest child, and feels very plausible as nightmares go. Though I’m less sure about the parent who, when called on to calm a child down after a bad scare, thinks “This’ll make a good book!”. Hope she got a share in the proceeds.

It’s probably not about nightmares. It seems the girl in the story, Lucy, can hear the wolves in the walls when awake. Her family don’t believe her until they all have to abandon house. Silly people. But Lucy has a beloved pig that needs rescuing, and one thing leads to another, so soon the wolves have people in the walls instead.

Then there are the elephants…

And then it’s all over.