Tag Archives: Hilary Freeman

Let’s keep them out

Or kick them out, in case they already sneaked in.

I’m afraid I can’t leave the state of the world’s affairs alone. There are days when several hours pass without me thinking about this, and there are days when they don’t.

Where to start? Last week at least the children’s books world cried out when Australian author Mem Fox was detained by US immigration officials and treated as though she was a threat to their country. There is very little I can say. I don’t know whether this was done through sheer ignorance, or knowing full well what they did and that that was the whole point.

Maybe on to Australia after that. It seems no country is better than the rest. Luckily it appears that a last minute intervention has saved the deportation of a [Bangladeshi] doctor and her autistic daughter, who it was feared might become a burden on Australia and its tax payers’ money.

While we’re in the medical world, let’s move on to Sweden, shall we? A week ago a 20-year-old pregnant woman was refused entry to the antenatal clinic in a leading Gothenburg hospital, because she looked like a muslim. She is muslim. Born in Sweden, but still. She had phoned in about a concern in her pregnancy and been told to come in. Except when they saw her staff didn’t want to open the door.

Sticking with medical issues, my thoughts went to Malala, the foreign girl from a country so many don’t want immigrants from, who was permitted to come to Britain for her life to be saved. And we all feel so good about that, and we admire her for what she’s gone on to do after recovering. She’s become a National Treasure, unless I’m mistaken?

The same goes for Nadiya Hussain, who bakes and writes books and is so popular you need to queue up to get her autograph.

On Saturday a Facebook friend of mine, author and journalist Hilary Freeman wrote an article for the Guardian about her worries for her family’s future. She has a young child and the father of the child is French. He hasn’t been here long enough to qualify for anything, nor does he earn enough money. The article is very well written, and manages to cover the concerns of many, even if our individual cases vary.

Thinking some more about authors. Two of my top three favourite books were written by immigrants. I keep those books in my ‘special’ bookcase. Had a little look to see who else is there, and counted up to eight ‘foreigners,’ including Italian Scots, before the shelf disappeared behind the armchair. But you get the picture; lots of fabulous books have a non-British background. Even when ‘we’ think it’s good old English stuff.

If I did to my bookcase what the Davis Museum in America did when they removed art by immigrants (for the best of reasons), it’d soon look pretty deserted.

And there is always something that can be done, putting people in their place. Quoting Wikipedia, Tamarind Books ‘was founded in 1987 as a small independent publisher specialising in picture books, fiction and non-fiction featuring black and Asian children and children with disabilities, with the mission of redressing the balance of diversity in children’s publishing.’ This is very worthy and I have the highest opinion of Tamarind. But now that it is also an imprint within a much larger organisation, has it become the place to stash away the slightly foreign authors? You know, ‘you will be happier next to your own kind’ sort of thought.

As for tax payers’ money, I always believed it was there for the burdens in life.

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The #18 profile – Hilary Freeman

Hilary Freeman has been busy. She has a new book out, When I Was Me, and she has a young baby daughter, who very kindly agreed to go for a walk with her Dad so her Mum could answer my questions. I like that in a child; an understanding that occasionally literature has to come first, like maybe 2% of the time. So here’s Hilary, sharing some of her secrets with us:

Hilary Freeman

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

None: I’m the luckiest person in the world because my very first novel was published. Piccadilly Press approached me on the strength of my journalism and teen agony aunt work, and asked me to pitch some book ideas. They liked the outline for Loving Danny, asked me to develop it, and commissioned it based on just one chapter. I am incredibly grateful for that break. I’m not sure I’d ever have had the confidence to send anyone my fiction writing, if that hadn’t happened.

Best place for inspiration?

By the sea. I find it hypnotic and calming. It really helps to clear my mind and let me focus.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I would consider it, if there was a good reason, and I have been involved in a couple of ghost writing projects. But I do like having my own name on the front of a book, partly as an up-yours to anyone who put me down in the past.

As a journalist, I often masquerade as celebrities when I write first-person articles with them. Once I had to choose a pseudonym for a national newspaper because I had several articles in the same edition. I chose Sue Denim, thinking they’d just laugh and tell me to choose another. But they didn’t get the joke, and printed it. I later learned that when Kylie Minogue checks into hotels, she calls herself Sue Denim!

What would you never write about?

There’s nothing I wouldn’t write about (now there’s a challenge). When I trained to be a journalist I was taught that a good writer is able to write about any subject. You just need to do the research and ask the right questions… Which is how I ended up writing about insurance (yawn) early on in my career. It’s the same with novels. Of course, it helps a lot if you’re interested in the subject matter. I failed my maths O-level and gave up physics at 14, but I tackled quantum physics in When I was Me.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

Will you allow me to be sentimental? I’m going to say, my baby daughter Sidonie, who is now just 10 weeks old. If I hadn’t taken myself away on writing retreats to Nice in France, I wouldn’t have met my partner Mickael, who worked in the apart hotel where I stayed, and we wouldn’t have had Sidonie. So in a roundabout way, she’s the result of my writing.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

That’s a tricky one, because most of my characters go through difficult times or have big flaws, so I wouldn’t really want to be any of them. Rosie from The Celeb Next Door probably has the most fun, so maybe her. And, of course, Naomi in Loving Danny is semi-autobiographical, so I’ve already been her.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I think it would be fantastic. I love film as a medium, and the way I write is probably influenced as much by films as by books. Then, of course, there’s the money and the publicity too, which would attract new readers. To be honest, I can’t really think of a downside. So if anyone is reading this…

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

At a school visit in London, a girl asked me: ‘Have you ever met Nicki Minaj?’ (In case you don’t know, she’s a very loud American pop star.) I haven’t.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I’m not sure what people would expect of me… I’m afraid I have no special talents (that are printable) but I do love a karaoke session. Once I get going, it’s hard to stop me. And I’ve been told that I can, surprisingly, be quite scary (not when singing Karaoke, I hope, but when I’m angry).

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Definitely Narnia. I loved those books when I was a child and there’s actually a little reference to Narnia in my new book, When I was Me. The idea of a magical world at the back of the wardrobe really fired up my imagination. I wasn’t allowed to read Enid Blyton as a kid – the only censorship my parents ever practised. They let me read anything on their vast bookshelves, but not Blyton.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

This is where I’m meant to say someone dark and brooding from a Swedish crime drama, right? I’m afraid my answer is far less cool. I love Abba (remember the karaoke) – all four of them – and actor Alexander Skarsgård is yummy.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I’m quite a messy person and my books are not arranged in any particular order. They’re shoved wherever they will fit. In fact, the bookshelves are so overfilled that they’re now bowing, and there are piles of books on the floor in several rooms. That’s why I really only buy e-books these days.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

I’d give him a book that appealed to an interest he was passionate about, such as football. In fact, I once contributed a short story to a book called Football Shorts (Walker), which was aimed at encouraging literacy in young boys, and which contains stories by both children’s authors and footballers.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

What an impossible choice. They go together like rhubarb and custard, one making the other sweeter and one, sharper. I keep changing my mind but I think it would have to be writing because the urge to express myself in words is like an itch. Although I guess I could speak the words out loud instead. Would that be cheating?

A big thank you to Ms Denim, and if you must sing Mamma Mia non-stop, please do it somewhere else. You’ll wake the baby.

Coffee, beer and a book launch

You’ll have to excuse me, but I saw so many authors on Thursday that I am unable to list them all here. Not because the list would be too long, but simply because I no longer recall absolutely everyone, nor did I necessarily see or recognise them in the first place. But if you were there, tell me and I will add you to the list.

I had crawled out of bed to go and have ‘coffee’ with Marnie Riches who was also in town. She’d been doing her own book related things the night before, and was now up for grabs while on her way to CrimeFest via Paddington. We chatted and drank ‘coffee’ and then I accompanied her to her train and made sure she got on it, to join her murderously minded colleagues in Bristol. (I provided her with a secret list of who to talk to there, but I doubt she’ll obey.)

After some admin and a good rest (because having ‘coffee’ is hard work…), I packed my going to do an interview and going to a book launch bag and went off to Hampstead in the rain.

Anthony McGowan's beer

First I did a recce at my second Waterstones in two days, before walking uphill (they have some surprisingly steep hills in Hampstead) to a very old pub suggested by Anthony McGowan as a suitable venue for me to grill him on all kinds of authorly secrets. He was right; it was a good place to go, even if there was a slight but steady drip of water from the skylight above me. Before leaving for the book launch we were going to, Tony took his t-shirt off, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

He brought me along the scenic route to Waterstones, and we encountered new author Nicole Burstein in a café across the road, and she came along as well. And then everyone started the game of turning their books face out on the shelves. Nicole’s bookshop past also meant she had to tidy all the book piles on the tables, and I have to admit it’s hard to resist…

Caroline Green, Rachel Ward, Joy Court and Anthony McGowan at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Laura at the Read Me Like a Book launch

More and more authors kept arriving at the shop, and even a few ordinary people. Liz Kessler, whose launch it was – for Read Me Like a Book, arrived accompanied by her wife. Before long the upstairs at Waterstones was full of guests, and after a while it was just about too crowded to move about and take photos of people, because there was always someone else ‘in the way.’ But believe me when I say they were all there.

Read Me Like a Book launch

There were drinks, and there was the most enormous cake. And you can’t celebrate a novel like this without some speeches. Orion’s Fiona Kennedy spoke of her decision to publish Liz’s book; because she ‘didn’t want anyone else to have it.’

Read Me Like a Book launch

Liz herself talked about why she wrote Read Me Like a Book, and how things on the lgbt front have changed over the last twenty years or so. She thanked all the people in her life who had made the book possible, from her former English teacher, to her wonderful agent and her publisher, to her wife.

She read a chapter from the book, where Ashleigh stays behind to talk to her English teachers, just because she needs to.

Liz Kessler at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Finally there was a short speech from Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall. And I believe there was even a little time left for the buying and signing of books

Always share your banana

If you don’t, you can’t be sure of where literary history will lead. In this case it always comes back to Preston and Lancashire.

Lancashire Book of the Year 2011

As you well know, Keren David won the Lancashire Book of the Year award, and yesterday we travelled to Preston to see her receive her prize and to hear her speech. It was a good one, and it features UMIST and non-iron fabric for the Royal family and several generations’ worth of romance in her family. And the banana.

Keren David

With space at a premium I can’t tell you the whole story, but rest assured that coincidence is not dead and it really is a small world. And had Keren’s mother not been the type to share bananas, we might not have had When I Was Joe to read and enjoy and to reward with huge cheques (physical size, mostly) and art.

Chris Higgins

Joseph Delaney

This was a good year, with nine out of ten shortlistees  present; C J Skuse, Chris Higgins, Hilary Freeman, Jane Eagland, Jim Carrington, Joseph Delaney, Keris Stainton, Sam Mills and Keren. And as ever, Adèle Geras, overseeing the young members of the jury. Unfortunately, I have only read Keren’s and Keris’ books. Fortunately, those excellent child readers have read every single book on the longlist, and some of them have read and re-read their favourites on the shortlist several times.

Hilary Freeman

Jim Carrington

When the witch and her photographer arrived, Adèle was busy drinking coffee but took us round to meet everyone. To my horror some people had heard of me, which makes you wonder what they had heard. It was lovely to meet super-publicist Nicky for the first time, and now she will be not simply a name at the end of my email line.

County Councillor Geoff Roper

The place was heaving. The place being the plush home of Preston’s councillors. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel important, and those men wandering round with fancy necklaces add to the style. Pleased to see the efficient Sue and Elaine of the SilverDell Bookshop providing books for sale, at this oldest of book awards.

Jake Hope

More than one speaker reminisced about 1987, when the award started, and whereas I can remember much further back than that, I suppose it was quite long ago. Especially if you weren’t born. Super-librarian Jake had dressed to impress, and he certainly did. It’s not just a jacket; it’s a whole suit. Note his ‘cheeky’ 25!

Jane Eagland

C J Skuse

As always, the children spoke about everything to do with the award and the reading, and I’m glad the boys realised that some books might be pink, but the reading of them ‘has to be done’.

Keris Stainton

The authors, too, had to speak, and they pointed out how important it is to have reviews by children, and not just by us boring adults. Awards like these can also save authors’ careers, for which we have to be grateful.

Adèle Geras

Adèle spoke, and she mentioned her predecessor Hazel Townson, who died this year, and who had supervised the readers for 21 years. And finally it was Keren’s turn, and as I’ve mentioned, she spoke of bananas. If I’d been her, I’d have died of nerves by that time, so it’s to her credit that she was both alive and completely lucid. She was pleased to hear the other shortlisted books praised so often, since that made her win even more valuable. It also seems that Keren had always wanted to marry someone from Lancashire. (No need to propose. She’s already married.)

Keren David

The cheque Keren received was beautiful, and so was the work of art by Hayley Welsh, which came in the shape of a defaced book. But it was beautifully done, and seeing as it even had a picture of me, I wholeheartedly approve.

Art by Hayley Welsh

Keren wasn’t the only one to receive prizes, with the children each getting a signed copy of When I Was Joe. And despite her dislike for attention, the hardworking librarian Jean, who is retiring was also on the receiving end of speeches and flowers and a hug from Keren. She admitted to always being bossy. Well, how else do you get something like this award to happen? So, thank you Jean for telling so many dignitaries how and when and where to sit, stand, do, or whatever. They need that kind of thing.

Jean with Keren David

It’s funny how after my last and only presence at these awards two years ago, how many friendly faces I recognised, and who recognised me back. It was like coming home. Julie was another hardworking ‘face’, so it must have been the power of the Js. Jake. Jean. Julie.

Jane Eagland

Joseph Delaney and Jim Carrington

And I talked quite a bit to author Jane (Eagland), so she was another J for the day. Also Joseph and Jim and C J. There was a signing afterwards, and even more afterwards there was that lovely lunch they do so well in Preston.

Then it was time for us to catch trains home in all directions. Luckily Preston offers through trains to my back garden, so there was no need for any broomsticks at all.

Sam Mills

Of all the admirable books yesterday, the one that was praised the most, besides When I Was Joe, was Blackout by Sam Mills. I might have to try and read it.

Shortlist