Tag Archives: Frank Cottrell Boyce

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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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.