Tag Archives: Francesca Simon

EIBF and me, 2014

It is here. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book festival. And I’m sorry, but all I can think of is that Sara Paretsky will be there. It’s been three years, and she is finally coming in the summer rather than freezing her nether regions off in February/March. Which is so sensible.

OK, there must be a few other authors scheduled for the two and a bit weeks. Think, witch, think!

There are some very interesting looking events where authors one admires talk about authors one admires. I’m going to have to see if I can catch one of those, because they look like tickets might sell out fast (small tent). Then there is Patrick Ness who will give the Siobhan Dowd talk and Val McDermid will pretend to be Jane Austen.

Wendy Meddour is coming and there is a lovely pairing of Francesca Simon and Irving Finkel. Another interesting pair is Caroline Lawrence with Geraldine McCaughrean. Elizabeths Laird and Wein will cooperate, and Gill Lewis is also making an appearance.

Many more excellent authors like Sophie Hannah and Arne Dahl, Tommy Donbavand and Liz Kessler will be at the festival. I have to admit to paying less attention to the ‘grown-up’ authors again, in favour of my ‘little ones.’ Those who are given orange juice instead of wine (although I am sure not at EIBF!) because they write for children.

Have to admit that many of my hoped for events are school events. I am glad that some of the best looking events are for schools, because it means someone thinks school children deserve the best. I want to be a school child on a very temporary basis at the end of August.

Deck chair

I’m hoping for plenty of stamina on my part. I have planned a number of full or nearly full days, for about two thirds of the festival. (I was thinking of having a holiday at some point.) The event I am fairly certain I won’t be able to go to but wish I could, is Eleanor Updale talking about Vera Brittain. That would be really something.

Perhaps I will see you in Charlotte Square? (If my eyes are – temporarily – closed, just give me a gentle nudge.)

The Lewis Chessmen

I was about to say I don’t reckon I’ve seen the Lewis Chessmen in real life, but in my younger museum-going days I looked at lots of things without retaining a great deal of memory. (In one eye, out the other?) So I might well have said hello to them.

If not, I have now, through a book. The British Museum is re-issuing Irving Finkel’s The Lewis Chessmen and what happened to them. Great illustrations from Clive Hodgson shows you the Queens braiding their hair, and chess people drinking and having fun.

And fun is what this is. To be honest, I didn’t expect it.

Irving Finkel and Clive Hodgson, The Lewis Chessmen

Irving is telling the tale of these chess pieces from back when they were hibernating on Lewis and were found by a cow, and soon after by a fisherman. Then follows a trail of the Lewis Chessmen’s travels all over the place. They kept being sold, until they ended up in The British Museum in 1831.

Well, most of them did. They had to suffer the agony of separation, and across marriage vows at that. It wasn’t until 1993 that some Queens and Kings were temporarily reunited, when they were able to ‘visit’ for a few months. (They had a lot to talk about.)

This is a terrific way to sell history and ‘boring old museum exhibits’ to people like me. I believe the book was mainly intended for children, and I hope loads of them get to take a copy home from the museum shop. You could do a lot worse.

(And afterwards I suggest you have a go with Francesca Simon’s version.)

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?

Lobbying for Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Not all of us who would have wanted to, could make it to London on Monday for the mass lobby to save school libraries. Luckily, quite a few people did. Authors, librarians, readers.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

I didn’t even get the t-shirt.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Looks like they had fun, too.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Some people clearly didn’t take it seriously, at all…

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

I’m hoping it doesn’t say ‘The Best Ardagh’ on this sign.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Thanks to Candy Gourlay for the photos.

Mary Hoffman’s blog.

Blue about bestselling books

The list of bestselling books up for the vote on Blue Peter has left me feeling anxious. I don’t know why. I trust Blue Peter. Well, reasonably anyway. And Booktrust is a good organisation, working on worthy awards and various reading schemes.

Below is the list of the – apparently – bestselling books of the last decade. That’s 2002 to 2011, and it’s number of books sold, rather than in monetary terms. And an author can only appear once. Under 16s can vote for their favourite, so at some point we’ll have the overall winner.

Alex Rider Mission 3: Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz, Candyfloss by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, Horrid Henry and the Football Fiend by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross, Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, The Series of Unfortunate Events: Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket, Theodore Boone by John Grisham, and Young Bond: SilverFin ─ A James Bond Adventure by Charlie Higson.

Most of these books are really good. The question is if they are the best, and the question is whether it makes sense to have a list based on sales, which is then voted on. If we go for sales, there must be an overall winner already. Why not just announce who that is? (I can guess. So I can also guess why there needs to be a debate in the form of a vote.)

Many of these titles are obvious for anyone with any understanding of book sales versus other ways of measuring worth and popularity. The one that I am still surprised and vaguely pleased to find on here is the John Grisham. I’m glad that a book the reviewers didn’t seem to go for has sold. Unless it’s the Terry Pratchett phenomenon. Do Grisham fans buy everything – even children’s books – when it’s by their favourite author? Perhaps the sales weren’t caused by child buyers, or buyers for children?

Anyway, Theodore Boone is up against many solid favourites, so will most likely not win. I wouldn’t like to bet on who will, though.

Blue Peter

Along with the competition for book of the decade, Blue Peter announced the shortlist for The Blue Peter Book of the Year 2012:

Discover the Extreme World by Camilla de la Bedoyere, Clive Gifford, John Farndon, Steve Parker, Stewart Ross and Philip Steele

The Official Countdown to the London 2012 Games by Simon Hart

The Considine Curse by Gareth P. Jones

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

Only two of those are fiction, and I suppose it fits the Blue Peter image to include non-fiction books. I just don’t feel they are competing on a level playing field, somehow.

But don’t mind me. It was probably something I ate.

Oh my gods

As they keep saying in The Sleeping Army. They have more than one, because Francesca Simon bravely did away with Christianity and gave us modern Britain with Norse gods.

She has filled her new – longer – book with Joanne Harris’s characters. Or so it seemed to her. Francesca and Joanne were on Radio 4 this week (or was it the week before?), talking about their respective Norse gods stories, and how weird it was that the ‘other one’ had used ‘her’ characters. And I’m quite grateful for that, because ‘Norse’ witch that I am, I have always had the most tremendous difficulty keeping track of who’s who and who did what. Must be that I didn’t apply myself properly at school.

So, having my recent read of Runemarks to assist me, I felt almost at home with the Sleeping Army. Or the part of it that woke up again, and their gods. They were in a dreadful state, those gods, when Freya arrived in Asgard. And she wouldn’t have, had she not had a Horrid Henry moment and blown Heimdall’s Horn in the British Museum. You just don’t do that. That woke them up. Them being siblings Alfi and Roskva and the berserker Snot. Plus Sleipnir the horse with the surplus legs.

When you’re a modern 21st century London girl, you’re not always ready to save the old gods. Especially when you’ve suddenly been transported out of your comfort zone of pizza and stuff. But true to her name Freya rises to the occasion and does great things.

I’m glad I had met the Harris gods first. They are nicer looking and smell better. This way I could adapt to quite how awful Francesca’s gods and giants and trolls were. The question is which version is the right one?

Snot of the lovely name turns out to be quite a good friend to have, despite his violent berserking tendencies. (I believe that when she came to Manchester recently Francesca said his name is actually pronounced Snote, but she couldn’t resist him being Snot. I suspect he’s neither, actually, being a bit Norse, but who cares?)

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

I’m looking forward to the next story about Freya. I was pretty sure Francesca had said there’d be more, but I checked just to be certain. So Tony Bradman who wrote in the Guardian might get his wish, and there could be more about Freya’s parents next time. I want more Snot.

Bookwitch bites #64

The winners take it all. And the longlistees who haven’t won yet, might win later. One of them.

Andy Mulligan

I would say this, but I kept feeling that my feeling that I wanted to lay my hands on Andy Mulligan’s Return to Ribblestrop, just might mean he’d do well in the Guardian children’s fiction prize. And he did, but just so you know, I haven’t yet succeeded, so that will be why. And maybe the fact that it’s a tremendous book. I’m sure of that, even in my pre-reading state. It seems that Andy managed to be present at the prize event on Thursday evening, despite this photo showing him in some un-Londonesque high rise.

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize winners Liz Pichon, Peter Bently and Jim Field

It’s been quite a humourous week, if you don’t count my miserable week with a literary cold. The Guardian winning book didn’t have to be funny, except this time it was, but the Roald Dahl Funny Prize winners have to be. This year they are Liz Pichon, Peter Bently and Jim Field, and to be extremely fair, I haven’t read any of their books. But the people below have. I wouldn’t normally go for photos of judges, but then I thought they looked so nice, so why not?

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize judges Felicity Dahl, Francesca Simon, Michael Rosen, Danny Wallace, Grace Dent and Tony Ross.

The Carnegie longlist was announced last week, and as usual it’s a long list, full of excellent books. I have read 19 of them, which actually leaves rather a few still un-read. I won’t issue any predictions at this stage. The shortlist is easier to manage, so my tea leaves and I will get back to you then.

Someone who is both popular and funny, is Jeff Kinney who writes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid (and I’m afraid I can only manage to think of burgers). This successful man is about to appear at the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature on December 3rd. Yes I know, it does seem as if he’s a wee bit late. The festival was on in September, but apparently if you’re very big, they will make an exception. So if you’re into funny and angsty American cartoons, this event might be for you. The organisers wanted me to come to Bath for it, but you know me and my recent travel ban. I’ll stay put while they have all the fun.

Jeff Kinney at Bath Festival poster

I understand a couple of the actors from the film will be there as well. All glamour, in other words.

Francesca Simon goes all Norse

Whitworth Gallery

She’s good at reading from her books, that Francesca Simon. She does sound effects, and she even pretended that her main character was so well behaved that the book had to come to an end before it had begun, seeing as there wouldn’t be a story.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

I was a little surprised a week ago when I realised Francesca was coming to talk about her new venture which is very far removed from Horrid Henry. She has a new book out, featuring the Norse Gods in a 21st century England where Christianity never happened. (Yeah, I’m not getting into that…) And I would have known this, had I been able to read, since it’s in the programme. I suppose I only pretended to read, the way you do when you are young.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

Her new book, The Sleeping Army, is six times as long as  Horrid Henry book, and it took her a year to write, after nine months of thinking. So, it’s a toddler by now, I suppose. Francesca was the star children’s attraction for Sunday’s Manchester Literature Festival at the Whitworth Gallery, and brought hints of all that fame and wealth. Lovely dress, as usual. Photo of her large house in London. No, hang on, that’s actually the British Museum. Francesca doesn’t live there. Yet. But she apparently did so much research that it feels like it’s her home.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

She found the Lewis chessmen in the BM. They are very old, and they look really grumpy. She sees them as a sleeping army, and in her book she has her main character – who for a long time went by the name of ‘The Girl’ – accidentally wake them up. The Goddess of Youth has been stolen by a giant and the Norse Gods are growing old, so the Goddess needs to be found.

In this new pagan Britain there are no boys called Christopher. But they do have an Archpriest of York. There is ‘The Girl’ who became Freya, someone called Snot, and somewhere there is an eight-legged horse. (This despite horses legs being the hardest thing you can ask an illustrator to tackle.) There is a berserker, who is always a nice kind of person to have in any story.

And if you too are nerdy enough to need to know why the chessmen when they are so rudely awakened speak English, it’s because for years and years they have heard the phrase ‘where’s the toilet?’ from just about every visitor to the museum. (Actually, they didn’t. I think it was probably just me. I forgot every time.)

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

After all that background information, Francesca sat down in front of the pretty park outside and read to us. And despite Norse Gods generally bringing me out in a rash, I have to say it sounded pretty good. I might have to rethink my Norse ban.

Then it was Q & A time, and not only is her son not naughty enough to have inspired Horrid Henry, but he doesn’t know what a hoover is. (Francesca is a woman after my heart!) She hasn’t seen the HH film. Reading the script was enough, apparently.

Francesca Simon, Manchester Literature Festival

Francesca always writes a first draft that is absolutely terrible, but believes that this is necessary for a good book (which happens after another ten goes, or so). And she might be great with the sound effects, but when her toddler son wanted to know what a caterpillar sounds like, she didn’t actually know…

And then Francesca signed books. Lots of them.

A Horrid Zombie Vampire to you too, Henry!

There was no way I could not read the latest Horrid Henry! It’s got a picture of me on the cover! And the cover is blue and yellow, so felt even more like me. And can you just see what a nightmare it will be to put this HH in your bookcase?

Francesca Simon, Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire

I mean, it’s charming, the way they have made the cover all ‘hill and valley-ish’ with the help of… Yes, with the help of something or other. Henry is shown in relief and that might be his only relief in this book full of zombies. And vampires.

Henry continues as ‘Horrid’ as ever, but with a Perfect Peter in the house, what do you expect? In one story Henry forgets that one is not meant to plagiarise. Or downright steal someone else’s story.

In another, there is a famous chef capable of giving Jamie a run for his school dinners. There is also a harrowing Halloween tale, because it is that time of year. Soon.

And on the whole, it is worth avoiding sleepovers in museums. You just never know when the next zombie will appear. Most likely soon after the vampire. Or the other way round. Possibly together.

Francesca Simon, Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire

Orion’s party

Lucy Coats

The first to arrive and the last to go, is how Lucy Coats described herself last night. I have to take her word for it as Daughter and I took slight detour en route for the October Gallery (I have to admit here that it was my fault and Daughter would have made a better job of it) and arrived when things were in – if not full – then some sort of swing. And we didn’t outstay our welcome (at least I hope we didn’t) so weren’t there to witness Lucy washing up at the end.

Orion's party at the October Gallery

Lots of Orion’s very lovely and our favourite authors were there. Lucy, as I said. Caroline Lawrence, who by now will be feeling she has to put up with us every week. Nice to see Mr Lawrence again. Liz Kessler, fresh from ‘research’ along the coast of Norway. The Michelles, Lovric and Paver, and Annabel Pitcher, Angela McAllister and Viv French. I was introduced to Lauren St John, whose book I was reading on the train, getting me into a very St Ivesey mood. Daughter has obviously been around the literary world too long, seeing as she was clinging to the fire escape throwing names about; ‘there’s Francesca Simon, and that’s Tony Ross!’. Right on both counts.

Michelle Lovric and Annabel Pitcher

Boss Fiona Kennedy made a speech, praising her writers. Nina Douglas and Kate Christer had worked hard to organise things, and the October gallery, complete with bones and ‘dead babies’, not to mention glittery paintings was a good place for a party. The weather helped. We were all out in the courtyard in the mild and sunny evening. London at its best.

Caroline Lawrence

Francesca Simon

The courtyard

Among the ‘non-authors’ present were the other Stockport blogger, Wondrous Reads (we’ll have to stop meeting like this, Jenny), Geraldine Brennan (about whom I had a strange but nice dream last week), Julia Eccleshare, Ted Smart, Catherine Clarke, and I am sure I have left out lots of worthy people, but I’ll stop now before I turn into Hello Magazine again. (Better class of people, but too many lists of human beings clutching champagne glasses, if you know what I mean?)

I have a dreadful suspicion that in among everyone in the photos there will lurk someone with a dark secret, or someone committing a crime or an indiscretion or something. If you find anything like that, don’t tell me. I was the one in the flower pot. I noticed a dreadful smell and realised the pot was a geranium pot and I had disturbed the leaves. I hate the smell of geraniums!