Tag Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Moomins of Moominvalley

Philip Ardagh

As we entered the Corner theatre at Sunday lunchtime, there was a creature sitting quietly in the corner (where else?) of the room. It was Philip Ardagh, pretending he wasn’t already there. Quite eerie.

Once Jane Sandell had introduced ‘the best’ author, big in Germany (I’ll say!), Philip asked us a question. I’m afraid I have forgotten which one, but we all raised our hands, and he commented on our ‘fine variety of armpits.’

The World of Moominvalley

It seems there is more to Tove Jansson and the Moomins than the mugs.

The young Philip liked going to the library. He also liked book tokens. In the library he discovered his first Moomin book, which was Comet in Moominland. (Snap.) Before long his collection of Moomin books had grown, later supplemented with some ‘nice to have, stolen property’ in the shape of a few early hardbacks, so battered and unwanted the library didn’t want to keep them.

(We had better mention that Philip obviously didn’t mean any of these admissions to criminal behaviour.)

Getting on to business, he showed us his own new book about the Moomins – The World of Moominvalley – with pages and pages of facts about every last little creature in Moominland. He’s done a lot of research, although he did also have the help of an assistant. And he’s been hanging out with Sophia Jansson…

The World of Moominvalley

Philip is Sniff. (At least he didn’t say Little My!) There was some pondering on how – when you are not wearing clothes – you can have a pocket watch. Also, what’s the difference between a Snork and a Moomin? (Snorks can change colour.) The Moomins have a different kind of ancestor to you and me; as their ancestors are still alive, coming out to live in their house when the rest of them hibernate.

Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote a couple of chapters for this book, as he’s a Moomin fan, too. Apparently, he is also married to Little My. In Philip’s words, Frank ‘is an extraordinary man, and so is his wife…’

The audience was quite a knowledgeable one, meeting Philip’s standards regarding all things Moomin. There was one hairy moment discussing ‘girly pink’ but it was almost OK.

Another author in the yurt had informed Philip that ‘you’re exhausting.’ Something to do with his Sheldon-like fascination for certain things, maybe?

I hardly snoozed at all. At one point the Photographer prodded me to make sure I was awake. And I was. Really. (It was the early start. Nothing to do with the Moomins. Or Philip Ardagh.)

Philip Ardagh

‘I’ve been sensational,’ he told us, when it was time to go.

(Photos Helen Giles)

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Quite early on a Sunday, or Day 5 of the EIBF

I never book tickets for events starting at ten on a Sunday, having discovered in our first year that you can’t get there that early. So this year I decided we’d go and see Michael Morpurgo and Barroux at ten, on a Sunday, just because Alex Nye was doing the chairing. And she clearly wouldn’t get there on time either. We came up with various solutions, wondering if we’d have to hoist Alex over the gate so she’d get in, but she ended up being all right, and so were we.

My Photographer and I were so all right we even had a second breakfast, which sort of helps you keep going when you have events at meal times and such like. In fact, as I rushed in to collect tickets I found a relaxed Michael Morpurgo being done by Chris Close, before the rain. I’d wanted to meet Michael properly this time, and when he saw me he said hello, so I must have looked like a hello kind of witch. I was pleased to discover he was being looked after by Vicki, one of my long-standing publicists.

Barroux

We ran on to Michael’s event in the Main theatre, which was worth every one of those early minutes of trying to get to Edinburgh in time. He didn’t do a signing afterwards, but we watched Barroux painting his way through his part of the signing.

‘Backstage’ we found Ade Adepitan being photographed, in the rain, and I was introduced to Mrs Morpurgo, who had not been expecting a Bookwitch to be thrust on her.

Frances Hardinge

Marcus Sedgwick

Before going to the Moomin event with Philip Ardagh, we called at the children’s bookshop where I had estimated we’d find Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge signing after their event, and as a lovely bonus we got a Blue Peter Gold Badge winner, aka former children’s laureate Chris Riddell. He claimed he had only sneaked into the event, but there he was, at the signing table. A chair for a chair?

Chris Riddell and Marcus Sedgwick

It was time for us to go on to the Corner theatre for Philip Ardagh’s event on the Moomins, before returning to the same corner in the bookshop to chat with him as he signed his rather lovely looking book on his favourite creatures. It is expensive, though, which will be why it was wrapped in plastic, until my Photographer helped by getting her Swiss Army knife out and slashing the wrapping for Philip and his publicist, who was wishing she had sharper nails.

Philip Ardagh

Back to the yurt for a photocall with Ehsan Abdollahi, except he needed an umbrella and we decided it was too wet to snap. (You know, first he doesn’t get a visa, and then we treat him to cold rain. What a host country!)

I thought we could go and catch him at the Story Box where he was drawing, but it was busy, and we left him in peace. I’m glad so many children dropped in for some art with the book festival’s resident artist.

Our early start required us to miss a lot of people we had wanted to see, but who were on much later. And Judith Kerr had been unable to travel, leaving us with more afternoon than expected.

Cressida Cowell

Before leaving for Bookwitch Towers, we made a detour to Cressida Cowell’s signing. Her queue went a long way round Charlotte Square.

By some miracle, the Photographer and I hadn’t quite killed each other by the end of our day.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Coping with change

I found I rather liked ‘The Polar Bear,’ aka Steven Camden, at Wednesday evening’s bookfest event. I knew nothing about him, but would quite like to read his book, Nobody Real. I imagine most people were there for Melvin Burgess, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. With them was late addition L J MacWhirter, and they were all kept in reasonable order by Agnes Guyon. (I do like the French way of pronouncing Agnes…)

Steven Camden

Not that Melvin was ever out of my good books, but I appreciated the way he said ‘I love witches.’ His new book is The Lost Witch, and the subject of witches was suggested to him by his editor. I think. And that led to him thinking through what a book about witches would be.

Before this L J volunteered to go first, so she read chapter 11 about the stairs…

Steven didn’t have room for imaginary friends, and this made Thor Baker – an imaginary friend – angry. He read the A-level scene from Nobody Real. Talking about change – the topic for the evening – he said that what’s good is what you add to a situation.

Melvin feels that for teenagers change is obvious, and that’s why YA is interesting.

Agnes wanted to know whether the panel considered themselves to be feminists, and after rambling for a bit, Steven checked himself and replied ‘yes.’ Melvin said you have to be careful, because we all carry our prejudices around. He starts with a male character and then does a sex change halfway through. (Not sure if this is feminist behaviour.) For his next book he’s got a black character, and a friend had explained what he could and couldn’t do. L J loved writing Silas in her book. He’s a bit of a Poldark, apparently.

L J MacWhirter and Melvin Burgess

There were a couple of big names from the children’s book world in the audience; Julia Eccleshare and Ferelith Hordon. It was Ferelith who asked about morality in books. Melvin ‘objects to that’ and fears it might make you sound too pompous. Ethics, on the other hand, are interesting.

L J spoke of disadvantaged teenagers she had met, who wanted to do work that might not be an obvious choice for someone of their background.

Steven doesn’t know about morals. He’s ‘not a great believer in answers’ and prefers to trust his gut. Reading The Bunker Diary ‘messed me up for a week.’ (And then he asked the audience if we’d eaten. He was starving..!)

I’m not sure how we moved on to favourite books, but Melvin is very fond of Not Now Bernard, and Steven loves I Want My Hat Back.

For some reason this made L J mention dark books, which you want or things could get really boring. But after the dark, there should be hope. This might be from Geraldine McCaughrean, or it might not.

Can there be dark middle grade books? Ferelith told Melvin that his books are dark, and he said they aren’t MG, but she replied they are now, The Cry of the Wolf, Baby and Fly Pie (ending with a dead baby). He agreed this was a dark end with no hope.

Melvin doesn’t feel education has a place in novels. You go to school for that. You read about things [to find out about them] and that makes it private. He played around with the word ‘resilient.’ Teenagers can be too resilient = resilient to change. He sent us on our way, wishing us ‘good luck with the resilience.’

Day #4 of the 2018 EIBF

That’s my fourth day, which to my surprise turned out to be a Wednesday and not a Saturday, meaning I was able to contemplate a much better train home. And as I said to Daniel Hahn when I waylaid him on his way in, having just the one event felt positively holidayish.

We exchanged fond memories of an event at Waterstones piccalilli three years ago, which Daniel seemed to remember even more of than I did.

I was there ‘early’ because I’d agreed to meet up with Toddler Tollarp and his mother. So we had a couple of hours chatting about everything under the sun. Almost. Unfortunately for TT, he slept through most of it, not even getting cake!

Sitting in the greenhouse watching the bookfest world go past, I saw Beverley Naidoo and Jackie Kay. Later on as I checked my train timetable outside the yurts, Nicola Morgan ran past, but I knew she was in a hurry, so didn’t run after her.

It was a pleasant afternoon, which meant lots of people were enjoying drinks on the yurt decking. Saw Alan Johnson and Allan Little walk to their event.

Melvin Burgess

Strolled over to my lone event with Melvin Burgess, Steven Camden and LJ MacWhirter, who were talking to Agnes Guyon. Chatted to friendly, but hungry, lady in the queue, who had a poetry tale to tell. Those are always the best.

L J MacWhirter

Steven Camden

Afterwards, I had my good train home in mind, so made sure the photo session in the bookshop was swift, and I didn’t stop to chat. So you know what happened then, don’t you? The train was late.

Oh well.

Freedom to Read, Freedom to Write

Some events simply want to go on for longer. Or, failing that, to come back and continue. The SCBWI discussion on freedom to read and to write, with Lari Don, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein, was one such event. There was so much to talk about, and with three women with lots to say, an hour was not enough.

But that’s my only complaint! Very ably chaired by Elizabeth Frattaroli and Justin Davies, we all enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Despite feeling I know these three authors well, I had not stopped to consider what very different reading backgrounds they have, growing up in three countries well apart from each other.

Candy Gourlay

Candy grew up in Manila where she did have access to a school library, but there were no public libraries at all in the Philippines. She began alphabetically, but got stuck on B for Blyton, fascinated by the different world discovered in those books. But she never found any brown children in them, and deduced that maybe Filipinos weren’t allowed in books. There was one, The Five Chinese Brothers, which as an adult she has discovered to be very racist.

Elizabeth Wein

American Elizabeth spent her childhood in Jamaica, and therefore did have access to books about children of all colours. Her father recommended what to read, and she felt she had a good selection of books. Her favourite is A Little Princess, and her dream was to live in a cold climate. (I would say that Scotland is a dream come true.)

Lari Don

Lari was ‘not exotic’ at all, she said, growing up in Dufftown. And while her family and relatives lived in houses full of books, there were no Scottish books. She read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Narnia. Her favourite was Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones. There weren’t YA books in those days, and most of the books Lari read were about boys. Not about girls, and not set in Scotland.

Candy described coming to Britain, with all its wonderful libraries. And now they are being closed!! There were no publishers in the Philippines back then, but today there is a vibrant publishing scene. And there are some libraries. Her own problem is with rights, as US publishing rights include the Philippines, which makes the books too expensive. She has to negotiate a deal to make her own books affordable in her own country.

Reading from her new book, Bone Talk, Candy did so on her mobile phone. (She apologised.) After listening to her read the wild boar incident, I want to listen to Candy reading the whole book. It became something completely different when she read it.

Lari likes mixing different cultural ideas in her writing, but she’s now wary of cultural appropriation, and no longer feels sure she’s allowed to write about culture belonging to others, and definitely feels you can’t touch Maori or Aboriginal stories. You have to be sensitive.

Elizabeth spoke about the freedom she felt writing for Barrington Stoke. It’s not harder. You just write short, like a novella, and then there is the editing, which helps make these dyslexia friendly books easy to read. So for instance, in Firebird, they chose another spelling of Tsar – Czar – because the first one is easily confused with star. And even if you’re not dyslexic, short is always good.

For freedom to read, Lari suggested letting children choose what to read, or even not to read. It’s interesting to see how all three authors had so many thoughts and ideas on all this that they – almost – fought to speak.

When it was Elizabeth’s turn to read she chose three, very short pieces. First there was freedom in Code Name Verity, then some lines from her favourite Ursula le Guin, and finally the freedom on what to do with your hair and make-up in Firebird.

As for their own freedom, now that they are successful authors, there is a lot less of it. Elizabeth believes in discipline, being interested in what you write and to start small. Candy uses a forest app on her phone, where during 20 minutes a tree grows, and she is unable to access the phone for anything else. So she writes. And she doesn’t do homework for fans who write to her.

Lari loses herself in her own world. She then read to us the first bit from her Spellcheckers series, where Molly becomes a rabbit. Lari feels the best thing about being an author is to meet her characters. Elizabeth enjoys meeting readers and other writers, while Candy finds no one has heard of her…

There was barely time for questions from the audience, but they were all able to ask lots of questions during the book signing afterwards. It took time, but everyone left satisfied, and before the next event was ready to move in.

The bookfest should ask these authors back to continue where they left off.

Elizabeth Wein, Candy Gourlay and Lari Don

(Photos Helen Giles)

Love and commitment

We’re ‘getting older in a younger way,’ as Janet Ellis said at the beginning of the event with Kit de Waal and Jo Nadin. I’ve not heard it put so well before, but have often thought something similar. Kit de Waal had had the idea for her book as a teenager, but discovered at the age of 58 that 60 is nowhere near as old as her 16-year-old self had imagined.

Kit de Waal

She also found that the place where she set part of her story, based only on the memories of a childhood trip to Ireland, wasn’t quite as she remembered it. Much smaller for one thing. Reading from her The Trick to Time, she described a scene with a father talking to his young daughter about her mother who is ill. I’ve never heard it put better; why one should do something now even if it feels uncomfortable, because the time will come when you will regret not having done it.

Kit also finds YouTube excellent for teaching her almost anything, from hedgehog racing to drawing with vegetables. She is an ‘anal plotter’ who writes in fragments, and when it goes wrong she has to go back and rewrite.

Jo Nadin is also a plotter, but puts her pieces together sooner, comparing it to that awful feeling when you’ve knitted lots of little squares and find yourself facing sewing them all together.

Her novel, The Queen of Bloody Everything, features a dream mother, the total opposite of her own. She wanted the kind of childhood she read about in books, even if it would have been chaos. Jo has based characters on people she knows, and admitted as much at her book launch!

Jo Nadin

She has also deleted a couple of books completely, so now has some safety measures in place, in case she gets trigger-happy again.

Kit reckons there is love and kindness in everyone. She has a past working with criminals, and says they can be hard, but still cry over Bambi. Noting that bad behaviour is always blamed on mothers and never fathers, she discovered when her mother died recently that the theory of losing your mother isn’t the same as in real life.

All books are proper books, whether chicklit, crime or children’s. If a book will make you turn the pages, it counts as a good book and is worth someone’s £6.99.

Asked what made them turn to teaching writing, Jo said she needed to earn money. Kit wants to help other disadvantaged people to write, because she was one herself. Having been advised not to set up an award for working class writers, she has crowdfunded a collection of memoirs, where she asked 17 well known writers to write 2000 words, and then paired this with 17 unknown people’s memoirs. Kit wanted to show that working class does not equal only drugs or a dismal life.

Both Jo and Kit write books while visualising what the characters look like, based on famous actors. So Jo’s next book is set in Fowey and ‘stars’ Dominic West and Ben Whishaw, while Kit’s next work has Brendan Gleeson in it!

Unavoidably, there were spoilers if you hadn’t read the two books, although it was obvious that many had. And I hope Janet Ellis gets her copy back. Never lend books!

(Photos Helen Giles)

Sky falling

Discovered someone was sitting in ‘my’ seat in the Corner theatre for the event with Sophie Cameron and Sally Gardner. But I can be flexible, if I really have to.

Sally and Sophie’s books are both about people falling out of the sky. Sally was looking for what it is that makes us human; what we have that aliens don’t. It’s love. Sophie, on the other hand, had been inspired by the falling angels in an old deodorant commercial.

Sally kicked off by reading from My Side of the Diamond, and I was reminded again of what a great voice she has.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

From there the discussion went on to Sally’s dyslexia, and then back to how she came to start writing in the first place. It was the bailiffs. And you can’t argue with that. If you need money, you need to find a way to earn some. Sally’s first book came about with ease, as did the way it was accepted for publication. (Something to do with a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with a hole in it…) But after the first time, it’s not been quite such smooth sailing.

Asked if she prefers a certain age group, Sally said no, and that she has now written an adult book. Although she does feel that younger readers are more intelligent than adults.

Then it was the turn of Dick King-Smith fan Sophie to read from her debut novel Out of the Blue, which is set in Edinburgh, during the festival. Originally set elsewhere, Sophie changed this when she returned to work in Edinburgh and realised that there aren’t a lot of books set there. Her second, standalone novel, also has an Edinburgh setting. And somewhere in all this there might have been talking dolphins.

Both books have a black main character, and this led to some discussion as to whether white authors are allowed to write about black people, which Sally finds worrying. Also, there are not enough translated books, and after March next year she reckons other countries will not want ‘our’ books.

Chair Lucy Popescu had an author mother, who always put her in her books, so she wondered if Sally and Sophie have done that. Sally said her children would have killed her if she had.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

It’s important to bring boys up to read books by and about women, and Sally mentioned her favourite heroine, Daisy in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. In some cases it seems that statistics on who reads might be incorrect, as boys don’t want to say they do. Sally had a story about a school where pupils were not allowed to read on their phones. One boy was caught doing so, but was nearly forgiven when the teacher discovered he was reading Dickens. But the boy insisted on the punishment of being expelled, rather than have his reading habits made public. He enjoyed books, but wanted to stay cool by reading on his mobile like everyone else.

So, books can be a very private thing for many.

Asked about fan fiction, Sophie said she’d written some. It’s good practice, and you get feedback on your writing. Sally used to tell herself stories [before she could read] and tried to see if she could make herself cry. She sees all her stories as films in her head, and until recently believed that this happened to everyone. When writing I, Coriander, she listened to the story as though it was radio.

Sophie is happiest writing in cafés, while Sally has adopted a rescue dog who insists on sitting on its favourite chair, forcing her to stay and write in the same room.

And apart from a drunk giraffe and a Rupert Bear with tits, that was pretty much it.