Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Julie Bertagna, flying pigs and the future

The Midland Hotel

There is a first time for everything. I have never been womanhandled by an author before. And anyone half my size is ill advised to try it. But Julie Bertagna had a brave go on Saturday morning, and I slunk back to my favourite seat at the back. Seems I’m too much of a distraction at the front (naturally), which is why I like it at the back, and I had only been obeying orders to come nearer the front. Truly. Will never do so ever again.

Afterwards Julie said she realised I would write something like this. Too late! ; ) She blamed it on me being like family (i.e. an embarrassment). I was even warned about taking pictures…

The Midland Hotel

Julie had left the perpetual rain cloud hovering over Glasgow for sunny Manchester to give a talk on Friday evening to a large group of teachers, while missing the joys of accidentally bumping into Professor Brian Cox. (Sean Connery was quite enough for you, Julie!)

On Saturday morning the bookwitch crawled out of bed early, for eleven o’clock at the Midland Hotel. Very nice venue. I could tell that Julie’s teenage girl fans were impressed with their surroundings. Nice room, and tea and juice and biscuits. Unlike me they had dressed up a bit, too.

Julie based her talk on the Exodus trilogy, and started by going through science fiction in the olden days, from Frankenstein’s monster via H G Wells to 1984 and The Matrix. In Exodus it’s the Earth itself which is the monster of the story, when water levels rise, forcing a change in how people live. A few years ago when many places, including Glasgow, flooded, Julie found sales of her book rocketing, proving that people do want to read about dying worlds.

In her youth Julie expected the future to be robots, holidaying on the moon and other magic. Predictions usually go wrong. We do have magic these days, but not in a form you could have imagined. It’s our iPods and text messages and similar. Like my camera, when I can operate it and am allowed to…

She likes David Tennant best of the Doctors, talked about flying cows and other creatures in hurricane Katrina, the Large Hadron Collider, and how our Universe probably is like just one bubble in a bath full of bubbles. And Lord Byron was a male Lady Gaga.

Manchester Literature Festival 2011

Julie took the opportunity to help Manchester Literature Festival launch a short story competition for teenagers, featuring Manchester in the future. She came up with so many ideas, that even I could half see myself entering, were it not for those extra few years that would disqualify me. The girls in the room had lots of great plot ideas, that they were willing to share. We were reminded that Mary Shelley was a teenager when she came up with her science fiction, so there is every likelihood of this competition going well.

Julie Bertagna at the Manchester Literature Festival

They also had an unusually good selection of questions. One good way of starting a story is to write something that you then ditch, in favour of jumping straight to what matters. Julie might write a fourth book in the trilogy, but only if ideas that keep her awake at night pop up. She also likes endings that ‘infuriate you.’ I think that might mean endings that don’t spell out every little detail, leaving something to the imagination.

Poster for the Manchester Children's Books Festival

This was an especially good event. We all want Julie to come back soon; Manchester Literature Festival, Manchester Children’s Book Festival, the girls, and even me. (I’ll be the one at the back.)

(And you know why there are more pictures of posters and hotel interiors than of the star performer, don’t you? Good thing Photowitch was unavailable.)

Trunks

A Facebook friend mentioned she found it useful to put all her child’s essential items for university in a traditional trunk. Whereas we are all suitcases, rucksacks, cardboard boxes and rubbish sacks chez Bookwitch, reading about this trunk brought back memories.

Not that we have a trunk. But we used to. When I married him, the Resident IT Consultant owned a large silver coloured monstrosity of a trunk. It was vaguely useful as a table. Storage, less so. It began to smell, and when we ran out of somewhere to keep it, we came to the conclusion it would have to go.

We lived in Brighton at the time, so I put it outside the house on collection day, hoping my nice and friendly binmen would take pity on me and just take it. But when I heard them outside, discussing the trunk, and I caught the words ‘old man’, I decided to stick my head out and plead with them.

They wanted to look inside the trunk. Once they were satisfied my ‘old man’ wasn’t in there, dead or otherwise, they took the trunk and chucked it in the van.

I gathered – too late – that Brighton has a reputation for putting deceased husbands in trunks for disposal. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t even have tried.

Anyway, back to the black rubbish sacks of the present. Today it’s Daughter’s turn to flee the nest, as it were, and there is a tremendous number of bits of luggage going with her. The Resident IT Consultant always tries to make out he merely took a change of clothes and a few books on the train to his university, and that was that. Likely story! (Hang on! I just told you about his trunk. He must have taken loads of stuff…)

St Andrews

There are around twenty books of fiction in amongst the teabags and pillowcases and whatnot. Daughter said the other day that she needed to take books by her friends. (That’s you lot.) So we went through my shelves and (cherry) picked some reading for her. She has said she’ll return the books to me. I should think so! Some of them are even signed.

Not that she’ll have time to read. There will be ‘lessons’, and there is always Doctor Who and Downton Abbey. And some important person at the university has sent the students a copy each of Linda Grant’s The Clothes on Their Backs for everyone to read and then meet to discuss. She wasn’t sure about this, until I described Linda as someone who often comments on Facebook. ‘Oh, that Linda Grant!’ I think that means she will give it a go.

Excuse me. I’m off to cry a little.

Bookwitch bites #47

Back to Authors for Japan. I have been inactive for a couple of days, and what do I find? I could be a Julie Bertagna character. I didn’t know that. Julie definitely needs a bookwitch. Although I already own a signed copy of Exodus…

I’m not the only one who has Offspring who’d like to be a Doctor Who character. But that is one luxury which is a little beyond our means. And I have no reason to believe the bidding will slow down over the weekend.

Authors for Japan

Remember, you have until Sunday evening to part with your piggybank contents.

Frank and fearless with Katie Fforde is going up. People will pay anything to be insulted.

I have tried to tell Tommy Donbavand that he needs me. The bidding is up to £150 at the moment. That’s ten times more than my measly bid.

Came across this little conversation overheard on a bus: A mother tells her young son that when she was a little girl they had no computers. So the boy asks ‘but how did you get on the internet?’, and that is a valid question. How did we? And how would we bid on stuff like these wonderful things?

A clean house?

But at least we were nice and clean. Weren’t we?

Multiples

Is it a little bit over the top to have five copies of The Amber Spyglass in the house? I’m just asking.

Son appears to own three copies. One first edition hardback. One paperback, to read. And then the nice white woodcut one. Daughter has another paperback, and I own another ‘woodcutter’ copy.

I know I complain about lack of shelf-space now and then. Could this be one reason? Some things can be pruned. Not sure Philip Pullman falls into that category.

Sat down for a rest in Son’s room (why does he even have a room, when he doesn’t live here?) the other day, which is when I discovered the glut of Amber books. My eyes then travelled over the shelves and found quite a number of Eoin Colfer books, as well. Understandable, as we love him. But there were several instances of duplicate hardbacks of the same Artemis book. I thought about getting up from the chair and investigating, but didn’t. Must make the most if this sitting down business. I’m sure there is a reason for it. The Colfers, I mean.

Now, Harry Potter is what more (normal) people have bought several copies of. Strangely enough we only seem to have two lots. Plus the audio. Obviously.

Daughter keeps buying Doctor Who books. But she’s very good at keeping track of what’s what. When I go to her Who shelf my eyes can’t cope with all the almost identical book spines, and my head spins. (Because I have to lean backwards a little.) But thanks to that raffle win in the summer she did turn out to have a couple of doubles, even one where both the copies were signed.

The number one Meg Rosoff fan has quite a few  of her books. But never more than proof, hardback, paperback and Swedish translation of any one title. They stand next to the Potter lad.

Other multiple books are accidents. I’m fairly sure they are. Otherwise we’d be mad. Or forgetful. I did find a good Christmas present for the Resident IT Consultant for this year. I knew for a fact (unusual, these days) that we hadn’t read this particular book. Only, when I got home, I discovered I had sort of already got it last year, waiting for the right moment. But at least we haven’t read it!

What exactly counts as excessive?

Tea at last!

Good thing that greed won over the less gluttonous instincts I harboured at one point. I imagined I could do the reporting of the afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel unobtrusively from the sidelines, but luckily the lovely James Draper of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival said I could have the lot. Frank Cottrell Boyce and Sherry Ashworth, the tea and the quiz. For two.

Reading by Sherry Ashworth

The MCBF authors were treated to tea at the Midland on Saturday, and I’d have been more jealous if I hadn’t had Sunday to look forward to. The buffet table groaned and groaned under sandwiches and scones and cakes, and all of the highest quality. I do like a place that knows how to make scones. And tea tasting of tea.

Frank very sweetly came up to us and said hello, and explained he’d have to leave fairly soon after the reading. And Sherry gave me one of her books, which was so nice of her.

Sherry kicked off by reading from three of her books; Is He Worth It?, Paralysed, and Revolution. She picked out some ‘first experience’ pieces, seeing as this is the first MCBF. And I do agree with Sherry on walking uphill. And downhill again.

Reading by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Then we heard from Frank about his childhood school blazer in vomit green wool, which was so girl repellant that he had to take up reading books. Being such a modest man Frank wanted to treat us to a reading of something ‘better’ than his own books, so we got the wonderful short story by Frank O’Connor called First Confession. I think Frank laughed almost as much while reading it as we did. Wanting to murder your grandmother can be amusing. Then he did the same Porsche reading from Cosmic as the previous day, which just goes to prove that it’s a piece you can listen to repeatedly.

Frank Cottrell Boyce at the Midland Hotel

We threw ourselves at the tea table as Frank left, and then we settled in with our quiz papers. Made some silly mistakes, but felt fairly confident of our excellence on the subject of mainly children’s books. When the second prize was announced as going to The Two Witches team, Daughter looked totally blank. Well, duh. It was us. She chose a prize of three signed Doctor Who books. Naturally.

(Our opposite team didn’t know The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so answered James Draper instead. JD wasn’t best pleased when he found out.)

Second prize

Considering Daughter was vaguely reluctant to go out another day, it cheered me up when she said on the way home how much she had enjoyed it. Right now I feel as if I don’t need to eat for some considerable time. But should anyone say ‘tea at the Midland, witch?’ I’ll be off like a shot. That’s how much self control I have.

Cakes at the Midland

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The bookwitch and the weeping angel

Ood

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.

Captain Hook

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 Cottrell Boyce

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.

Steve Cole with chonster

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.

Liz Kessler

Cathy Cassidy

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.

Mary Hoffman

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.

Keith Gray and Adèle Geras

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.

Losing It

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.

Kevin Brooks

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.

Elmer

Carol Ann Duffy

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)

Bookwitch bites #8

As I was saying – I do hope you remember – a little revamping of websites can be good for the soul. Today is actually the first time I’ve said that, but I touched on the revamp idea before. Cathy Hopkins has a new look. Not Cathy, but her website, obviously. It’s a sign of how long I’ve had Cathy’s site bookmarked, that she is number three on my list (I haven’t done much sorting of anything).

And I keep going on about people’s launch parties. Felt so bad about saying no to Anthony McGowan’s party, but it seems to have been a waste of good concern. He got so many coming to the bookshop where the party for Einstein’s Underpants was held on Thursday, that they had to turn people away. (That could have been me!) Or it could be a publicity stunt, maybe? At least Tony managed to get there himself, after being marooned with ash problems ‘far away from home’ for some time.

News about the Booktrust Teenage Prize: “This year’s judging panel will be chaired by popular children’s and young adult author Tony Bradman and includes journalist and author Barbara Ellen, author and reviewer Mary Hoffman, Chartered Librarian Barbara Band and 2009 Booktrust Teenage Prize young judge Claudia Freemantle.”

From Booktrust to an old bird; Puffin is 70, and has a specially designated website to make the most of old age. I’m not sure exactly when the big day is, but the website turned up on my horizon this week.

Speaking of birthdays, former children’s laureate Michael Rosen was 64 yesterday.

Since it’s Saturday, I’m glad that Terry Pratchett and I can sit down together for our weekly Doctor Who. Not in the same room, alas, but a shared interest is always good. Terry made it known this week that he thinks they make it too easy for themselves these days, but he still watches every time. And personally I never encounter any problems with the windows when I transport hospitals through space. It’s always the aliens that annoy. Not the broken windows.