Tag Archives: Holly Webb

Historic women

Honestly, they didn’t look that historic. Theresa Breslin and Holly Webb had a full house on Saturday afternoon, Terry Deary in the Main theatre notwithstanding.

Theresa has written around 40 books, but Holly easily beats that with an exact 128 ‘quite short’ books. Daniel Hahn, who chaired this unusually young [for him] event, asked how Theresa’s The Rasputin Dagger came about. She said she saw this gorgeous bejewelled dagger at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and when Mr T refused to steal it for her she needed to put it in a book.

Holly’s book The Princess and the Suffragette started with A Little Princess, and her favourite The Secret Garden (which apparently caused her to draw maps, badly). She didn’t want to centre her story on Sara, but chose little Lottie – the girl who was only four when she was sent to boarding school – instead.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Research is all very well, but it should make a story, and not just a list of interesting facts. Holly discovered the changing skirts. When skirts got wider, women could take longer steps and walk faster. Women were supposed to be well behaved, but ignorant.

Siberia was part of Theresa’s research for The Rasputin Dagger, and there’s the vast difference between a life filled with jewels and a life of starvation. She read us the part where the women protest against having to queue for bread and how this eventually led to Russian women getting the vote earlier than in most other countries.

The reason Theresa started to write was she read books and wished there’d be more, so she wrote the continuation of what had ended too soon. She always wanted to be the heroine in the books she read. Whereas Holly didn’t want to write at all, and was glad to discover she could work for publishers, reading books and editing.

Inspiration for Holly was Philip Reeve, Frances Hodgson Burnett and C S Lewis, while Theresa received support from Anne Fine, Joan Lingard and Michael Morpurgo.

An excellent question from a girl in the audience was about what’s unfair to women in the world. Theresa mentioned things like women not being allowed to drive in some countries, were not allowed to go out freely, that they receive limited information. Holly pointed out that women are paid less and are always the ones expected to look after children.

Theresa’s favourite book is – probably – A Tale of Two Cities. Holly liked Prince Caspian best.

A very crafty young lady asked four questions of each as the ‘last’ question of the session, when there was very little time left… Of their own work, both authors prefers the latest book, and Holly admitted to feeling that her first book would improve if she were to rewrite it. The best thing about being an author for Theresa is that she gets invited to events like this one, and the worst that she has to know ‘what comes next.’ Holly likes working from home, but it’s hard having to finish writing something.

This event was aimed at eight to twelves. Holly has many much younger fans, and there were a lot of five-year-olds in the audience. Parents take note?

(Photos Helen Giles)

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EIBF 2018 – Day 1

Philip Pullman and I talked about the weather, which was Goldilocks-like. Not too hot and not too cold. Not wet. Nor sunny. It felt very British, on this the first day of the book festival in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Philip Pullman

It’s a new, streamlined square. Less higgledy piggledy, although no doubt more ‘character’ will find its way onto the fresh decking before long. I offered them my sandwich wrapping, but it seems they didn’t feel the need for it. I now know how they were able to make the Main theatre bigger. They picked up a whole theatre and put it in the middle of George Street. Very clever.

The Photographer and I arrived early and had a leisurely start, collecting tickets and getting to grips with all the changes, saying hello to press boss Frances, and gossiping with Theresa Breslin’s Mr B – whose t-shirt sported Mary Queen of Scots on the front and Rasputin’s dagger ‘in’ the back, so he had everything covered. Waved to Cathy Cassidy (wearing an unexpected red…), before venturing across to George Street to watch her signing in the much improved signing tent.

Cathy Cassidy

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

After noting that the festival regular with the magnificent beard was there again, we went to Theresa Breslin’s event with Holly Webb, chaired by Daniel Hahn. It was really full, despite Theresa’s grandchild choosing to go to see Terry Deary instead.

Chatted to Kate Leiper in the bookshop afterwards, and then went back to the behind-the-scenes decking where we found Philip Pullman with a pile of [his] books. Had a second go at chatting to Cathy Cassidy, and watched as Chris Close photographed an unknown, attractive female author who, when I got to my next event, turned out to be Tomi Adeyemi, appearing with Sophie Anderson.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Tomi Adeyemi and Sophie Anderson

This was another full event, and I realised that having left the Photographer to deal with Philip, I was on my own and needed to take pictures of Sophie and Tomi in the bookshop. I’m short, so was able to use the entrance for hobbits and munchkins. Saw Vikki Gemmell and wanted to say hello, but she ran away. Quite understandable.

There is a blur after that, but I definitely saw Linda Strachan and Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Kathryn Ross, and Carol Ann Duffy. Val McDermid was around, as Philip Pullman’s chair. Someone came up to me and asked if I was Bookwitch, so I had to admit I was. Seems our paths have kept crossing, and now she wanted to say hello.

L J MacWhirter found me mid-prawn sandwich, and I had no idea that this would scare her off so fast. Didn’t mean to, L J! And while I was enjoying those prawns I watched as Chris Close commented on Jacek Dehnel’s outfit – it was very, erm, chequered – before persuading him to pose.

Jacek Dehnel

Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was being interviewed nearby, before also getting the Close photo treatment, and director Barley himself brought some more tartan for this venerable author.

Ngūgī wa Thiong'o

My Photographer returned when Philip Pullman’s sold-out event came to an end, and we gathered ourselves and went in search of a train home, hoping that seven was both early enough and late enough and would mean there was room for two tired witches. There was. Just.

(Photos Helen Giles + Bookwitch)

Rain and fizz

Steve Cole

Were you scared? Could you work out that Spiderman was really – only – Steve Cole? See, nothing to worry about.

Steve Cole

Steve came out of his lunchtime event fizzing. So did his Pepsi. All over the signing table. Hence the ‘handy-with-a-cloth’ Spiderman you can see here.

Steve Cole

Most unusual sight. Make the most of it.

We’d heard about the suit. Seeing it was almost better than the anticipation. Didn’t see much of the squirrels, though. Those that weren’t appropriated by the audience had already been stashed into a bag. (And they looked like teddies!)

Let’s see how long we can spin out our last weekend in Charlotte Square. There will be more detailed reporting on events, but the general goings-on come first.

We began by getting the first train out of Stirling, in order to go to Michael Grant’s morning event. It was worth it. Once you’re actually out of bed and dressed and all that, it’s not too bad.

Michael Grant

He had a very long signing queue, but after more than an hour we were permitted to drag Michael behind the tent to the dustbin area for a private photocall.

We hung on for Steve Cole’s signing, having found two well positioned chairs to watch from. I couldn’t help but admire the ‘Cole Mothers’ who were still smiling after over an hour waiting with their children.

Julia Donaldson

Julia Donaldson sat on her chair for a considerable time, and her ‘Gruffalo parents’ were very patient indeed. Her event was on first, and she was still there, signing away, hours later. Julia’s trusty musician entertained the crowds, and the Gruffalo did his bit.

The Gruffalo

A lovely message came via facebook, with the news that Jenny Colgan – who doesn’t know us at all – had managed to find Daughter a ticket for her Doctor Who talk that evening. It made our day.

Steve Cole

We trailed after Steve back to the yurt, where everyone jumped at the chance of seeing him jump. He jumped for a solid ten minutes for Chris Close while director Barley watched, along with Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Patrick Ness, Melvin Burgess and many more, who happened to be passing.

Found Holly Webb in the children’s bookshop after her early morning event. Very long queue.

Holly Webb

Once things quietened down, we sat out in the yurt ‘garden’ again, until I spied Theresa Breslin and Nicola Morgan and we ran over for a signature in Theresa’s new book, Spy For the Queen of Scots. I made the mistake of telling the Guardian’s Michelle Pauli it wouldn’t rain. Hah.

Peter Englund

Back to photocall with Peter Englund of the Swedish Academy. He was bemused to be getting instructions in his own language on how to turn. In typical Swedish fashion he shook my hand. I suspect that is as close as I’ll ever get to a Nobel Prize. Oh, well.

As we ran to get to his event, we spied Philip Ardagh, so stopped to chat briefly. That’s when he decided to lean on me. Someone will have to tell him it’s not good manners. Besides, the cool red shoes of 2011 are no more. He’s back to black brogues.

Mrs, Baby and Mr Wigtown and Philip Ardagh

Philip introduced us to Mr and Mrs and Baby Wigtown, which was nice of him. Apparently they have nine star hotels in Wigtown. (Like I believe that!)

Mr Wigtown and Philip Ardagh

Then we ran on, and after Peter’s event the heavens opened. It’s a most effective way to make people take cover. If they have a cover to take, that is. We really, really needed to go and eat lunch, seeing as it was coming on for five pm, so covered all our techie stuff in polythene, looked at the one umbrella between us, and panicked. All was not lost. In the entrance we found people covered in some delightful white bin liners with the words The Guardian on the front. We bought an Observer and got ourselves two ‘free’ bin bags to wear, and the afternoon was a little drier. So were we.

On second thoughts, we could have sheltered under Ardagh’s beard. Should have.

Post lunch we returned for Daughter’s eight o’clock Doctor Who talk, which she very much enjoyed. A quick chat with Jenny Colgan over signing, followed by a dash for a train.

We are now officially back at Bookwitch Towers.

A day of politics

I’m afraid we swapped allegiance by going to the Scottish Parliament on Saturday morning, instead of to our intended event in Charlotte Square. (It was sold out, anyway, so we weren’t missed.) Theresa Breslin was talking in Parliament about The Importance of Reading to Children and to Society, along with a few others, and had invited us along.

So down to Holyrood we went, subjecting ourselves to airport style security to be allowed in. Found Mr B in the foyer, and he wished he’d stayed in bed an hour longer. I think we all did, but this was a good cause. As we lined up to go in, Daughter asked me who the people behind us were. She could recognise their voices. I turned round to look (why didn’t she do it herself?) in order to tell her she was hallucinating and why would she know anyone in Edinburgh?

The voices turned out to belong to Linda Strachan and Julie Bertagna, so she was right and I am an idiot. Sigh.

There is a convenient bus between Parliament and Charlotte Square, and we got back fairly painlessly for an afternoon with Lee Weatherly on the subject of Angels. After her signing, and before she rushed off home, Lee posed for photos for us.

Lee Weatherly

We had intended to go ‘home’ after Lee’s event, but when we found that both Steve Cole and Joanna Nadin were taking part in the Amnesty International reading, we went and got tickets and joined them.

Afterwards it struck me that it’d be a good thing to take some photos of Jo (Steve very wisely disappeared…), so we walked over to the yurt area. It turned out to be covered with photographers taking pictures of Seamus Heaney, and there was simply no room for us.

Joanna Nadin

My bright solution was to invite Jo round the back, as it would be empty. Which it was, and we got started. The famous Irish poet must have been quick though, because soon the full set of paparazzi were upon us, and more specifically, on Jo. They wanted in as well. (They do have a soft spot for a pretty woman.) So through no fault of her own, Jo turned this way and that way, and posed like crazy.

Once the mayhem we’d caused was over, we hotfooted it out of there. If I’m lucky, Jo will even remain on speaking terms with me.

The Amnesty reading

We had to go round the corner and cry a little after Saturday’s Amnesty International reading at Charlotte Square. The only blessing was that it wasn’t us doing the reading or sitting next to someone doing it. They really couldn’t start blubbing, although I believe Joanna Nadin was close after her reading.

They get four authors to come and read every evening, and by fluke, or by utterly inspired design, three out of the four were children’s authors, mostly known for being funny. Apart from Jo it was Holly Webb and Steve Cole, as well as the perfectly ‘normal’ Oliver Balch.

You don’t know in advance who will be there, but we had inside information on Steve and Jo, which is why we made a point of going. The world is a cruel and unfair place and many writers are treated dreadfully for simply writing.

Steve read three Mexican poems by José Emilio Pacheco, Homero Aridjis and Javier Sicilia. Then Jo read a Guardian article about Razan Ghazzawi by Jillian C York, as well as a blog post by Razan Ghazzawi herself.

It fell to Holly to read the most horrifying piece of the evening, by Turkish journalist Asiye Guzel. I suspect many of us could have happily left then, but since Asiye couldn’t, why should we?

Finally Oliver read Pain by Shi Tao from China. The evening’s readings were introduced by Louisa Walsh from Scottish PEN, who reminded us of the Russian members of Pussy Riot who have just been jailed.

I’m glad PEN and Amnesty do these evenings, and very pleased the visiting authors give up their time for their less fortunate colleagues.