Tag Archives: Elle McNicoll

The 16th RED award

It was the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday, and as a special treat he was commanded out of bed and reminded he was giving me a lift to the RED book award 2022. (But it was a nice drive through the countryside, and I’m sure he didn’t mind.) We even got there before the coaches bearing children, so there was no dodging about in the car park.

I can’t tell you how great it was to be out and going to an event and to almost be back to a little normality! Well, actually, I can and I’m about to.

I swanned in as the seasoned Witch I am, spying Ross MacKenzie having a coffee. So I accosted him, since we’d never met before. He took it reasonably well. Before long we were joined by Manjeet Mann, who’d come all the way from Folkestone. Unfortunately neither Melinda Salisbury or Elle McNicoll were able to be there. Coughs are unfortunate, and I suppose weddings are allowed to happen too. But it was a shame.

The front row was waiting for me, and I had the most welcome aisle seat, where I could enjoy librarian boss Yvonne Manning dancing to ABBA as she entered. As usual the children got to introduce their authors, followed by digital presentations of the shortlisted books, two schools per book. I particularly liked Bowness Academy for Melinda Salisbury, and voted for that. But the others were all good too.

No Provost for me to sit next to, however.

Ross and Manjeet introduced themselves, with Ross rather too tall for the microphone, but Manjeet compensated by being a little shorter. So that worked out fine. This encouraged Yvonne to do a rap, so she jumped up on the stage and demanded meatballs. (On reflection, I believe it was something else. You know, the background beat that goes with rap?) As Yvonne rapped what sounded like Little Red Riding Hood, a boy – let’s call him ‘Rob’ – ran up to the aforementioned microphone and meatballed steadfastly through the whole thing. Apparently it was not pre-arranged. I like the Falkirk young readers who step up so well. The rest of the audience had to stand up every time Yvonne said ‘red’. Which was often.

Coffee came next, and after a while the authors were spirited away to sign books. And a boxing glove. I chatted a bit to Yvonne, and then discovered that not only were my clothes red, as per order, but even my emergency snack was red [grapes]. Totally accidentally.

And did you know, technology is now so advanced that my phone takes better pictures than my special witch camera?? (You even get people waving. But I’ve not quite understood this yet.)

Back to the theatre Yvonne had donned her act two red wig. That’s red as in really red. There was more dancing, before Yvonne led most of the 300 children in a sort of conga line round the whole place. Ross looked baffled as he stood in the doorway. I suspect not all book awards do this. But it does wake you up if you are flagging.

More presentations followed, and then we sang Happy Birthday. Twice. None of them for the Resident IT Consultant, but it does seem to be a popular day to be born. Manjeet and Ross were invited to sit on the temporary red sofas. (They are usually blue, but always sofas.) Questions were asked and answered, with the help of what I had taken to be rolled up socks. Turns out they were mobile microphones…

Prizes for alternative book endings, book cover art and redness of dress were all handed out.

And then it was time for the actual award. And you know the irritating way they pause in Eurovision before reading out the points? Well, Yvonne beat them hands down. She had left the red envelope in her car (!) and ran off to get it, telling the young ones to come up with something to say during the wait. Before one of them told a really bad joke – or it might have been a good one – the elegant looking woman sitting next to me, who was not the Provost, jumped up to assist with this unexpected interval. She was the hander-over of the award, so this made sense.

Yvonne ran back in, gave the envelope to the young announcer who never got to tell her joke, and the RED award went to Elle McNicoll! They had one of those ‘one we made earlier’ videos, where Elle coughed her way through heartfelt thanks, and said how much she loves Falkirk.

And that was mostly it. Anne Ngabia of the African libraries and patchwork quilts had made another one, featuring all sixteen winning books from over the years. ‘Us three photographers’ took more pictures, for you, for RED and for the Falkirk Herald.

The way to the station had not changed too much during the long hiatus of live awards, so I hobbled successfully to my train home, as did Manjeet – not hobbling, and also heading for the other platform. And luckily the Resident IT Consultant had followed instructions and bought himself a birthday cake. The one I had been too busy to bake. But there was no singing. Twice in one day is quite enough.

Oh, how good it felt to have been ‘normal’ again.

A Kind of Spark

It is worse than I had expected.

No, not the book. The situation in general, in this life.

As a witch with an interest in autism, Elle McNicoll’s A Kind of Spark has been on my wish list for a couple of years.

I had not stopped to think at all. That is perhaps the mistake we so often make. Witch hunts and the dislike of people who are different, people who are autistic, have a lot in common.

Addie is an 11-year-old autistic girl, currently being bullied by her teacher, having lost her best friend, and feeling utterly alone. Well, she does have her family. Her older twin sisters, one of whom is also autistic. Probably Dad, too, a little bit, and I’m guessing his father as well.

Addie likes sharks. And when the witch trials in the past, which happened in their own village, become known to her, she feels it strongly. So strongly that Addie wants, needs, to do something about it.

But then there are the bullies. And the bystanders. Those who do nothing, or not enough. I kept feeling that even if the book has a happy ending – which it does – it has opened up a totally new way of looking at things. One that is not comforting.

This is a new way of looking at autistic children’s fiction. It’s necessary, but it is also bloody scary, if you’ll pardon my French.

Can Robots Be Friends?

The Sunday afternoon event with Elle McNicoll and Alastair Chisholm, chaired by Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, was about robots. Not having managed to read either Elle’s Show Us Who You Are or Alastair’s Adam-2 I was a little adrift, but no worse than I could work out I need to read these books. There is a lot of talent in this neck of woods. Well, Elle has left Edinburgh for London, but otherwise they are both from around here.

Elle wore her Blue Peter badge. She has had a lot of jobs so far, which presumably is why her ideal [real] robot would clean for her. Alastair, on the other hand, wants his robot to be like a pet he can look after! His dream hologram would be Ada Lovelace, while Elle’s would be Charles Dickens.

Both their books are about relationships, and their characters are nice people. Or robots, as the case may be. Alastair is a Star Trek-Doctor Who fan, with some interest in Isaac Asimov. Doctor Who is big for Elle as well, but preferably the current day type episodes rather than galaxies far away. And Greek mythology.

And both their readings left me wanting more. They were also well chosen to tempt us. Although both authors had received letters – well, emails – from readers telling them off for not doing what they wanted, which was more books about the characters from the first book, by Alastair, and Elle got strict orders to mix her first and second books.

Elle does not want more robots while neurodiverse humans are not properly understood or treated right. Fair comment, I think. As to whether we can be friends with robots, Alastair said if we are nice enough; because we are the problem.

Asked whether they always wanted to be authors, Alastair said he wanted to be an astronaut and he’s now a computer programmer. Elle used to come to the book festival as a child, so she knew what she wanted, and said the good thing is you can write and do other jobs at the same time.

As for what I want, it is to have been at this event as it happened. It was perfect. Great authors and an excellent chair, talking just the right amount about the right kinds of things. And it was live; all three on the same stage, and with a live audience. Yes, the online event was flawless too. But I want to have been there.