At the sight of all those lifesize Doctor Who cardboard cut-outs Daughter cheered considerably. They were an unexpected bonus in Saturday’s full programme at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. We don’t often go for photos of cardboard photos, but we now have a nice selection of the Doctor and his ladies and some ‘monsters’. The Green Screen experience provided us with a great photo of the witch photographer in the Tardis, which is a very good fundraising idea.
As we attempted to get our bearings more generally, we were interrupted by Captain Hook removing his moustache up on the first floor walkway to announce the next event, which was Frank Cottrell Boyce, so we dashed off for our Frank. He began the day with an Alka Seltzer, something which was lost on the youngest in the audience. It was an experiment, rather than a hangover remedy. And it failed abysmally. Twice.
Frank read from Cosmic, which is fantastic even when you already know the book. He also read from Framed after borrowing a copy from a young fan. He even remembered to return the book. Frank loves art robberies, and told the audience how to go about committing art theft, and also about readings in jails where that kind of thing is frowned upon. There was also the tale about his dying friend and George Clooney, as well as facts about the many Waterloos of the world. And I have to admit to having lost my Millions. Must be somewhere. I’ll look again.
One very amusing man was followed by another when Steve Cole got started on his shenanigans. I don’t know why I always forget quite how funny he is, even when you’re more than forty years older than his target group. I’d like to bottle Steve as an anti-depressant. He jumps and makes the most astonishing faces, and he admits to forgetting how many books he has written and when the last one was published. There seems to be at least one a month, so with such riches I believe I’ll ask to have one dedicated to me.
Steve talks about chonsters and poofish and chocodiles, not to mention vampire bananas. Very dangerous. This man who has written as Lucy Daniels, spent his childhood looking for new Doctor Who books in WHS on a Saturday, before growing up to write them himself. He reckons he’s learned a lot from comics. It’s ‘hard to run out of stories, which is nice’ he says. It is.
With far too many lovely authors doing events (not complaining!), we had to miss a couple. Liz Kessler was on, but we run into her over lunch where she tries to sell my photographer a camera part. And signs her book. Cathy Cassidy we also had to miss, although we find her after her book signing for a brief chat and photo session. She praises the book festival, and we reminisce about when it was we first met, which tends to happen when people realise Daughter is no longer as young as she once was.
The MCBF have laid on sandwiches for the authors and we squeeze into the green room to watch them eat and catch up with friends. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman turn up together, and soon after Kevin Brooks walks in and so does Keith Gray a little later. Nice cups of tea are offered by the green room volunteers, one of whom has written a children’s cheese mystery, which I simply will have to hear more about. We get our books out for some signatures, and Mary gives Daughter a silver mosaic tile, as featured in her latest Stravaganza novel.
After being fed Adèle and Mary go to their shared event on romantic historical fiction, which is really good. They take turns asking each other questions, rather like television presenters. Mary says she created her own parallel Italy in order to avoid readers looking for historical discrepancies, and Adèle admits to having introduced lemons into ancient Greece. They discuss when some period becomes history, and decide that the 1980s qualify.
They say that the 18th century is quite crowded in teen fiction now, and Adèle says she would never write about the stone age (so we can expect one quite soon then…) whereas Mary thinks she’d write anything for a large wad of cash. Adèle tells us she does the bare minimum of research, while Mary does a fair bit, always starting with the internet. She also creates scrapbooks for each novel, which is an idea she’s borrowed from Celia Rees. Both of them feel that it can be hard to teach children today about periods older than their grandparents’, and they’ve been really pleased when they find a young reader wants to know more after reading their books. And getting your book banned is always good for some attention.
The final event is a panel discussion on teen fiction with Kevin Brooks, Keith Gray and Adèle, moderated by Sherry Ashworth. One conclusion they arrive at is that teen books should be sold in places other than the traditional bookshop, and especially not next to younger children’s fiction. Clothes shops and music shops are suggested. They also feel reading is tied too much to schools and libraries. It’s not as if you’d ask your teacher for advice on what music to listen to, and the same may go for books.
You can’t research teenagers; you can only follow them, but not literally, or you might be arrested, as Kevin says. There is a problem with the ‘gatekeepers’ of teen books. It’s always the adults who are offended by the content, and never the teenagers themselves. Keith wishes books weren’t seen as ‘so dangerous’. They all self censor according to what they themselves feel is OK. Keith mentions Losing It, a new anthology he’s edited, which is about losing your virginity, and which some schools are refusing to let their students hear about.
On the question whether vampires have bled the market dry, they feel the publishers’ confidence has been ruined. They don’t try new and different things, which means there are fewer books and it’s less easy to live off writing. As Keith says, he’s never known any boring children, but plenty of boring adults. He writes the books he’d want to read, and Kevin does his Gordon Brown thing and agrees.
In five years’ time Kevin is still writing more than ever. Keith will be doing the same, knows what his next three books are about, and hopes for more hair. Kevin replies ‘as if that will happen’. Adèle hopes she will still be here. So do we.
After the book signing we encounter both Elmer the elephant and the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, which goes to prove the wide range offered at the MCBF.
Daughter requires a last photo of herself and the Dalek, and I fail to understand why she laughs like mad when I oblige. It’s not that funny to see me with a camera, surely? ‘Look behind you’, she says. I turn, and find a weeping angel has crept up and is standing right behind me.
It’s time to leave. Preferably without blinking.
(Photos by Helen Giles)