Tag Archives: Frank Cottrell Boyce

What’s your favourite pizza topping?

Frank Cottrell Boyce

During the signing in the bookshop after Frank Cottrell Boyce’s event, I was reminded that he’s used to having people trying to get close by crawling under tables. In this case it was young fans who wanted a photo with a much admired author, while I’m remembering the bookshop owner who wanted to invite him to do an event…

Frank knows how to entertain his fans, and this turned out to be my second astronaut and space related event in one day. Having been introduced by Lindsey Fraser, he read from Runaway Robot, having first told us about lost property, which can be anything from your umbrella to a lost hand. And when you find it – the hand, I mean – it’s not necessarily yours.

He also told us the ‘story of the magic haddock.’ And there was something about a wandering pizza bot, which he did with a good Italian accent.

The questions that followed weren’t always the most original, but Frank answered them politely, with kindness, although he turned down the opportunity to help one boy with writing a book. We must have had some moon-deniers in the audience, but Frank was able to deal with that by talking about Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

More reading from Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, the lightsaber birthday party episode. This was followed by more fun questions, the best of which was ‘what is your favourite pizza topping?’ Frank did a quick check to see how the audience felt about pineapple, before admitting to liking anchovies and capers.

Second best question was ‘how much books have you read?’ Frank wasn’t sure, because he always reads. When he was asked whether he has started his next book yet, Frank felt this confirmed that his publisher had planted questions in the audience. He has ‘honestly’ just started, and won’t be late this time…

To finish he read from Cosmic, the bit where Liam starts secondary school. The he’ll ‘tell them after the biscuit,’ is a good way of deciding when to own up to not being the new teacher.

And then it was book signing in the bookshop, and children crawling under the table (which to my mind needs more space around it).

Frank Cottrell Boyce

It’s always good to see Frank. He’s a cheerer-upper.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Fun, and hardly any rain, in Charlotte Square

It was an odd moment. There I was in the [authors’] yurt, and the two people the two Offspring aspire to be like, were both present. I don’t see how that can ever happen again.

Anyway. We had to be up early to get to Edinburgh in time, so actually got up even earlier and had breakfast before doing any festival work. Then we queued outside the Spiegel tent for our first event, with Dr Sheila Kanani, who just happened to be Photographer’s mentor at Space School many years ago.

Sheila Kanani

And afterwards as we hung around for the signing in the bookshop, we spied Frank Cottrell Boyce, looking rather like Chris Riddell’s alter ego, complete with flapping shoelace. Before we got round to tying it, I found Lynne Rickards, so had a nice chat with her, and I believe it was the day’s first mention of cellos.

Also chatted with Sarah Broadley, who was Sheila’s chair, before we all walked back to the behind-the-scenes area, for – well – more chatting. Discovered Jo Nadin in the yurt, sitting right where we all tried to fit in, which meant that the number of Doctors in the yurt went up again. We all had lots to talk about, and we were literally left holding a baby. Twice. I suppose we looked trustworthy.

Daniel Hahn came over to say hello from Son. I think this must be why I don’t see Son so much. He sees other people instead. Chris Close did planet stuff with Sheila, so we are looking forward to seeing the resulting photo after her workout in front of his camera. Meanwhile, Frank Cottrell Boyce came in, with a couple of young Cottrell Boyces. They seemed very nice.

Since I had agreed to meet the publicist from Sandstone, we said goodbye to the assembled doctors and went to buy a salad before finding Ceris, who was sitting outside the other yurt with a group of my ‘colleagues.’ Lots more chat, including the second cello reference of the day. There was also more space talk, and the books by Astrid Lindgren came up.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Then we had to run for Frank’s event, chaired by Lindsey Fraser. It rained. It wasn’t supposed to rain. In the bookshop afterwards I was finding out why Lindsey had her arm in a sling, when Diana Hendry came up to ask the very same thing. Seems like you just had to stand still, and authors would come from all directions.

Chris Hoy

After some ‘light’ sustenance, the Photographer and I hit Charlotte Square one last time [for Tuesday]. Went to have a look at Sir Chris Hoy signing books in the company of his author Jo Nadin and illustrator Clare Elsom. They had a Very Long Queue.

Jim Al-Khalili

The last attraction of the day was Jim Al-Khalili, another doctor and professor and scientist and all that. Photographer went to speak to him, as one scientist to another. And possibly had a photo taken with him.

I tried taking a picture of one of the ducks, but that failed spectacularly. And then we went home. It was a mostly fine day. With much science. And space.

Duck

See, that’s the duck there, right on top of Chris Riddell.

(Most photos by Helen Giles)

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)

Intergalactic House Guests

Well, that was nice. Me and a Spiegeltent full of the right age Frank Cottrell Boyce fans, and they had read his books. They also own ‘more than one lightsaber’ between them.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank was very happy. Not only had someone just said he’s ‘quite tall’ – which was a first – but he had literally finished writing his latest book that morning. This meant he wasn’t ready to talk about it, but he did read us the first page and I’m already sold.

Instead he talked about Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, and I’m so glad he did. I want that book! Which is about to become a film from Dreamworks, with Frank writing the script. So he reckons he will have some influence over the result.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

First he told us about the Soviet space dogs, which is a bit of a coincidence as I’ve just been reading about them. He tried to fool us about poor Laika, saying she met aliens in space, but it’s kinder that way.

Reading my notes right now, I suspect this tale will be almost as tall as Frank’s was. Basically, this is about an alien, who ends up somewhere near Dumfries, where the only one not to see a cute dog – possibly wearing a kilt? – is a young boy. That’s where the lightsabers come in.

The dog/alien repairs the toy one until it becomes so real that it ‘could be really dangerous.’ ‘Smell that burning hair!’ he says as the children’s birthday party grows wilder.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

It seems that there is a decluttering scheme for making new space for new planets, and someone needs to make a case for Earth not being got rid of.

My notes now go to chicken, Haribo, and something about meat pies and Aigburth. I apologise. After this we moved on to Cosmic, the idea for which might have happened near Tesco in Formby. It had been lovely meeting Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon, and children sometimes have the most astounding growth spurts.

Frank has never had a pet. He said that his favourite child, and his favourite book, both know that they are. (Except he obviously doesn’t have favourites.) He’s from Liverpool, and he went to some lengths to avoid saying how old he is. The Empire Fights Back might be his favourite Star Wars film, unless that’s the wrong answer. He possibly likes Luke Skywalker the best. Or not.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Everyone should read a lot. Not only author hopefuls, but butchers and American presidents. Everyone.

As our farewell treat he read some more from Sputnik, about putting Hadrian’s wall back together again. Reverse dynamite. That kind of thing.

(Almost 59.)

My day 2 of the 2018 EIBF

Thank goodness for favourite publicists! They have a way of making a witch feel better. Just before leaving Charlotte Square on Tuesday afternoon I went to Lindsey Davis’s signing, and no slight intended for this amusing and successful crime writer, but I popped by to say hello to Kerry Hood. We chatted, she asked after Offspring – all these many years later! – and we sort of competed on who was the oldest and most confused of us.

We both won.

After discovering I had a problem with my book on the train to Edinburgh (it was too short. The book. Not the train), my day started with a woman on the bus who was not prepared for what you do on buses, which is pay, and to have your purse standing by to do it with. That cost me the photocall with Frank Cottrell Boyce. Oh well. I got to see him at his event.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Ate my Three-Men-in-a-Boat cheese sandwich watching Chris Close photograph a fairly reluctant author. And then it rained. I also discovered I had pockets, having spent the morning mourning the loss of them.

Louis de Bernières

After Frank’s event I battled the bad light in his signing tent, toing and froing between him and Louis de Bernières, while also trying not to miss Lindsey’s photocall. In the end I did that thing which works when waiting for the gasman, except instead of going to the bathroom, I popped back in to see Frank and also opened the door for a young man carrying 16 pints of milk, and there she was. Works – almost – every time!

Lindsey Davis

Bumped into Sally Gardner and we had a chat, and then I went over to the children’s bookshop to see if I could corner Alison Murray who was supposed to be there. While I waited I snapped Sibéal Pounder signing books, and chatted to Ann Landmann who had chaired her event, which sounded as if it had been great fun. I then proceeded to show my writer’s credentials to Ann by talking about the light across the square as having been badder. Worser. Or it was simply brighter where we were…

Sibéal Pounder

Alison Murray

Then it was time for Sally Gardner’s event with Sophie Cameron, where I encountered L J MacWhirter again. Instead of brandishing a prawn sandwich at her, we talked about hen parties and fangirl moments. Charlotte Square is good for the latter.

Sophie Cameron

Back out to photograph Sally’s gorgeous new hair in the bookshop. It’s a sort of cerise. Her hair, I mean.

Sally Gardner

That’s me back at the beginning, telling Kerry about Offspring and her saying I shouldn’t keep them waiting.

So I didn’t. Even if Son had mentioned I’d be better not arriving too early…

That’s the question

How to explain the Carry On films to a young person? It didn’t go well. I’m just hoping it won’t be necessary to actually watch one in order to educate Daughter further. They are older even than those bands she thought were old and that the parents would know in the pub quiz book. (1980s pop…) As if.

On Christmas Eve morning we went out for elevenses. Or rather, Daughter drove her elderly people to somewhere nice – even if the place had run out of fruit loaf – yesterday morning, and the Resident IT Consultant discovered what it’s like to be a passenger with opinions on whether the driver has seen that other car over there, or not. You know, when you go ‘arghhhhhhh’ from the back seat. That’s never popular. (And she drove just fine.)

Back home again, whenever we had a quiet moment the quiz books came out. You learn a lot and you forget even more.

As you can’t ever have too many quizzes, we watched the Christmas University Challenge. This would have been easier had we known it was on over two hours earlier in Scotland… But what a great team Frank Cottrell Boyce was on! He wasn’t captain, but he seemed to know more than the rest. And they introduced him as a children’s author, which warmed my heart.

While we waited for Paxman & Co to turn up, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. It had been a long time. So long that Daughter was amazed that she didn’t freak out [more] in the past. It is a little scary in places, and I had not realised that the ghost of Christmas future was a dementor. Unless it’s the other way round.

As for the presents, I gave the Resident IT Consultant a nice book about railway stations which I really wanted to read. He gave me what I’d asked for, which was Philip Pullman on essay writing and an old Terry Pratchett novel. A Moomin mug and a Bookwitch mug completed the booky gifts.

There was a new mouse, too. This scares me somewhat.

La Belle Sauvage

Maybe Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage really is for fans only? I am a fan, so have no way of knowing what it’s like ‘on the outside.’

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

I read the book slowly, and I enjoyed every minute of it (apart from the sheer size, weight and sharp corners). Having come across a couple of negative reviews/opinions before reading, I kept them in mind, but could not agree. OK, maybe regarding one small aspect, which is that the chapter with the fairy appeared to be irrelevant. I say appeared, because it could turn out to be as important in the later books as Rowling’s polyjuice potion. I’d like to think that an author knows what they need to happen.

The pace in the story is slow, too. It’s quite comforting, and I loved being back in Lyra’s Oxford, albeit ten years earlier, just as I enjoyed the two shorter books we’ve already been given; the one with Lyra, and the Lee Scoresby one. And if that’s ‘just’ for fans, then so be it. We are many fans.

Whether this tale about 12-year-old Malcolm and 15-year-old Alice adds anything to Lyra’s life – other than saving her actual life – I have no idea. I’d like to meet them again, but if I don’t, then I’m sure the two books still to come will give me something else I will like.

If I were to criticise anything, it’s that this old, and alternate, Oxford somehow has grown more modern in the last twenty years. But it must be hard to remember the feel of that Oxford, so many years after. We have all been influenced by coffee shops everywhere, and mobile phones, and it’s impossible to see the past the way we saw it before. Philip Pullman probably can’t unsee an Oxford full of coffee shops. And we’ve not previously had cause to discuss the availability of disposable nappies in Lyra’s Oxford, so who am I to say they seem more handy than likely?

The other thing is that our world now lacks the hope we had back then. This makes the threat from Philip’s secret organisations come across as scarier than ever.

I feel no closer to understanding Dust. Maybe I will after the second, or the third, book. Or not. Some things are better for being mysterious.

(For another, totally different, and much more professional, view of La Belle Sauvage, here’s Frank Cottrell Boyce in the Guardian.)

Bookwitch bites #140

The London Book Fair was last week. There was plenty to tempt, but very little time and energy on my part, so I’ll hold out until some other year. The family was represented by Son, who sleepered south one night and sleepered back north the next night. In between all that ‘sleeping’ I imagine he did book-related work. So many people were there, and I have actually not asked him who he saw, but I do know he met up with/ran into Daniel Hahn.

Daniel did lots of things at LBF, most of which I’ve no idea what they were. (If you feel this is looking like me telling you very little, then you are right. I am.) I understand there was an event with Son’s colleague, fellow translator Guy Puzey. I’d hazard a guess they talked about translations.

Daniel Hahn radio

While on the subject of Mr Hahn, there was a piece on the radio the other week, where he talked about Good Books.

The Carnegie shortlist has been announced, and that has good books too. Mal Peet is on there, with Meg Rosoff, as are Glenda Millard, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Zana Fraillon and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Carnegie shortlist 2017

Damien Love who self-published his exciting book Like Clockwork a few years ago, now has a fantastic book deal in the US where it will be published some time in 2018 as Monstrous Devices.

Damien US deal

And finally, Debi Gliori tells the world about my marvellous baking skills in a recent blog post on her new blog. It’s very sweet of her. If I didn’t know what a great baker she herself is, I’d say she’s too easily impressed. In fact, I think I’ll say that anyway. Too easily impressed.

But you know, it’s not every culinary attempt of mine that ends up having a professional portrait made of itself.

Semla by Debi Gliori

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

London Book Fair

I made my London Book Fair debut this week. You already know why I was in London, and I happened to have an afternoon that needed filling with something, and it seemed silly not to test the waters at Kensington Olympia now, rather than travel to London specially for it, without knowing whether it’d be for me, or not.

Because that’s what I’d been told; that it’s not for the likes of me. Didn’t matter how many nice and supportive people said the opposite, when it was one person’s comment that stayed in my mind. Because I believe it was said on the basis that bloggers are wee little things who like reading books and reviewing them. Nothing about the bigger picture, or meeting up with book people in general.

In the end I didn’t see many people I knew at all. Partly because I’d not planned ahead – which I will do next time – either as regards arranging to meet, or to check what talk will be on where and when.

Mary Hoffman at London Book Fair

As I arrived I could hear a voice that sounded like it belonged to Mary Hoffman, and it did. And there she was, at Author HQ, talking to an audience about Author Collectives. I saw her briefly afterwards, lovely red hair and – I swear, purple lipstick – as she and husband Stephen Barber ran for something or other, hands full.

I wandered round the Children’s Publishing area upstairs, and with hindsight I understand it wasn’t merely full of people and companies I know, because it was mainly children’s publishers only, not the ones who do everything. So I saw Usborne’s sweet little ‘house,’ and I saw Andersen, with an active Klaus Flugge chatting to someone in the corner.

Andersen Press at London Book Fair

The next event at Author HQ was hopeful authors pitching their books to agents, which I only stayed briefly for. Eavesdropped a bit on another talk on non-author based books, which had a big and attentive audience, which is why I stayed on the sidelines.

Author pitch at London Book Fair

What I wish I could have caught, but was too late for, were events with Daniel Hahn, something else on children’s publishing until 2020, and the star turn of the day, Judith Kerr in conversation with Nicolette Jones. (I did run into Nicolette at the Barbican in the evening, so found out it had been good, that Judith had trended on Twitter – and that she had had to ask what this meant – and that she had refused the wheelchair laid on by her publishers on account of her recent hip operation, but Judith preferred to walk next to the wheelchair…)

FCB tea

I understand that by the third afternoon the LBF would be quieter, and it was certainly nothing like it is in Gothenburg, say, where you can’t move for people. I was offered the opportunity of winning a Kindle or an iPad, and for some reason I declined this… Maybe I could have won?

Had a cup of tea from what I will now think of as Frank Cottrell Boyce’s little moneyspinner; the FCB Artisan Espresso Bar. (It’s probably got nothing at all to do with Frank.)

Walking foot at London Book Fair

I happen to know that a reasonable number of people I know were there on Thursday. It’s just that I didn’t know where. Or when. As I said, I could have found out, had I not left it until the last moment to decide to go. I witnessed a girl carrying her head in her hand, and there was a padded foot walking about with its minder. Which was nice.

Kensington Olympia

The glass topped building of Olympia is beautiful, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it empty one day, the better to appreciate it. I walked up a purple staircase, and decided it was so tall that I’d get the lift down… There were men pushing those big trolleys around that you see in films, where they hide the corpses. Here I suspect it was mainly rubbish, and not lots of dead bodies.

Speaking of which, I glanced at some of the LBF publications lying around and learned that there is a new Albert Campion being published, not written by Margery Allingham. And I don’t know what I think of that…