Tag Archives: Jackie Kay

Bookwitch bites #136

The rain is very wet as I write this. There is lots of it. We’ve got men working on making a new front garden and the Resident IT Consultant is feeling guilty for leaving them out in the rain. I told him they must do this a lot, so are used to it, and that they can’t very well put paving down inside the house anyway.

Here is Adrian McKinty reading the first chapter from his latest novel, Rain Dogs. It’s the one where Duffy meets Muhammad Ali. It’s rather nice hearing Adrian’s voice. It brings you closer to Carrickfergus.

Whether the weather was drier in Wexford when Eoin Colfer was a boy, I have no idea. But the photo the Guardian used for their column looks lovely and sunny. Here is the Laureate na nÓg musing about slightly illegal behaviour during his childhood. Me, I use my own photo to avoid argument (other than Eoin being told off for waving at me). It’s from the same occasion as theirs.

Eoin Colfer

Someone else who is very friendly and has a fancy title is the new Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay. I have to admit to being rather hazy on what a makar actually is, as I only encountered the term after moving north (for some reason you don’t talk so much about particularly Scottish things down south). Looking it up on Wikipedia the answer is poet or bard. And Jackie certainly is that. I’m so pleased they chose her as our new Makar.

Jackie Kay

And, there is the Manchester connection, too. Jackie still lives there, while being thoroughly Scottish.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

‘Children have the right to read rubbish’

Malorie Blackman

The children’s laureate was in Manchester yesterday. If anyone has the right to say something like that about children’s reading, it must be Malorie Blackman. And she was only saying what Patrick Ness said the other evening. I think we can all (well, most of us, anyway) agree that reading everything can only be good.

This was another school event organised by the Manchester Literature Festival and Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and Malorie was talking to Jackie Roy, who is a favourite chair of mine, someone who asks all the right questions. The event was at Z-arts in Hulme, which is a suitable venue for children of immigrant background in particular to find out how far you can get in life, and that it’s got nothing to do with what colour you are.

Malorie Blackman behind fans

The place was packed, and they even Livestreamed the whole thing to interested parties who were unable to attend. Until this year Malorie has also been unable to come, despite being asked by MLF every year, but as they say in Sweden, trägen vinner.

Malorie spoke about how far equality has come, but pointing out there is a long way still to go before fiction is ethnically diverse, with books featuring disabled characters without being disability books, and where people have a place regardless of sex, race, culture, and so on.

She read very little fiction at home, as her father said it wasn’t real and you ‘never learn anything from fiction.’ So Malorie practically lived at her local library from the age of seven until she was 14 and got a job and could buy her own books. She’d take a packed lunch every Saturday and spend the day, returning home with as many books as she could take, hoping they’d last until the following Saturday.

There were no black children in those books, and it might have been this which made Malorie write on, despite receiving 82 rejection letters from publishers. (She said that she almost gave up after no. 60, but vowed to carry on until the 1000th.) She wrote what she would have wanted to read as a child.

Malorie Blackman

While trying not to tell her readers what to think, Malorie presents a dilemma, and then asks questions to make her characters explore the things she herself is wondering about. It could be animal organ transplants as in Pig Heart Boy, or being a whistle blower versus allowing some things ‘for the greater good,’ like in Noble Conflict.

‘Oh my god, I thought that was an enormous spider!’ I’m not sure what she saw, but something almost made our laureate jump out of the sofa and run…

As a child – and still, actually – she loved comics, using her pocket money to buy them. Their use of cliffhangers has influenced the way she writes. Malorie describes how a teacher at school took her comic away from her and tore it to pieces, because it was ‘rubbish.’ The fact that Noughts & Crosses is about to become a graphic novel gives her great pleasure.

Her careers teacher told Malorie that blacks don’t become teachers, and that she would not pass her English A-level. She laughed as she described walking away from that advice session thinking ‘I’ll show you, you old cow!’

The young Malorie got hooked on computers instead and her first novel was Hacker, which Transworld took on, despite ‘all of it’ needing re-writing. This taught her how to plan, so she wouldn’t waste time writing, and it won her an award, which turned into a wonderful holiday to Barbados.

Malorie Blackman

‘Is that water for me, or has it been here for a long time?’ Malorie pointed to the water next to her when her throat felt dry. (It was for her…)

She’s currently writing her 61st book, and hopes to go on until at least her 100th. And if she didn’t write, she’d have some other book related job. Or maybe she’d be an English teacher. She laughed at that.

When asked if she’d be willing to become the next children’s laureate, her gut reaction was to ask if they had the right person. They were very big shoes to fill, with so many great authors who had done it before her. But she knew she wanted to do it, and it’s an honour to be able to spread her passion for books and reading.

Her mother would be very upset if she didn’t say she supports Arsenal, but to tell the truth she is not a football fan. She has rarely been recognised when out, except for one stalker incident in Sainsbury’s which was ‘well creepy.’

This lovely children’s laureate got the audience to sing Happy Birthday, when a girl asked if she could wish her friend a happy birthday. Our laureate also admitted to having carried around a leotard and tights and a utility belt for a couple of years in secondary school, just in case she ever needed to turn into a super hero in a school kidnapping scenario…

Malorie Blackman

Every book is like opening a new door to somewhere. Malorie loves crime and Jane Austen and can quote most of the first Narnia book. She admires many writers, including Benjamin Zephaniah, Melvin Burgess, Anne Fine, Patrick Ness, Jacqueline Wilson and Jackies Kay and Roy.

The character she feels is mostly her is Callum, and much of what happens to him in Noughts & Crosses has happened to Malorie in real life. As a teenager she was once told to go back to where she came from, so she asked for the bus fare back to Clapham.

Spookily, the launch for Checkmate was on 7/7 seven years ago, and she was having her hair done in central London, when the whole city shut down, and Malorie felt as if she was almost inside one of her own books. She doesn’t condone terrorism, but she can see why people become terrorists. Because of the book connection, she was interviewed on television that time, and there were even people who wanted to ban her book.

Malorie Blackman and Jackie Roy

I’d say that by now Malorie has shown that ‘cow’ a thing or two. The fact that there were two black women on that sofa yesterday made me very happy. One of them is a university lecturer and the other is the children’s laureate.

As I was waiting to go in to the event (gobbling down sandwiches again, having been driven there by the Resident IT Consultant, and trying not to drown in the incredibly deep sofa we hid in) I noticed Malorie disappearing off in the company of a young lady. I was introduced to Sophie (that’s her name) a few minutes later, and she turned out to want to interview me. Yikes. First Malorie. Then me. (Good taste, I have to say.)

Malorie Blackman

And now that Malorie has finally been, she promised she’d be back if the MLF would let her have one of their t-shirts. That seems like A Very Good Deal, so please don’t forget to put one in the post!

Malorie Blackman can be our superhero in a literary T-shirt. No leotard necessary.

Jackie’s Royal Exchange gig

She does get oot and aboot, that Jackie Kay. Although someone tried to pull the wool over her eyes by making her think she was doing a gig in front of thirty children. It was more like 500, including me. I sat next to the screamers from Whalley Range. Those girls have got good lungs.

Thirty indeed! It was the Children’s Bookshow at the Royal Exchange, and it was full to bursting. Poetry isn’t dead yet.

This was another great gig (Jackie’s choice of word…) with a nice mix of poems and questions from the audience. She started with a poem based on her (12-year-old) brother’s tricks, went on to Dracula, in whom she believed when she was eleven and visited Romania. Jackie made the audience shout Mississippi for a sad poem about a slave who was forced to sell her child, and clap hands for ‘attention.’

Jackie Kay

When she asked if anyone knew what a Sassenach is I didn’t dare raise my hand unlike last time, but once we’d had some pretty imaginative suggestions, someone seemed to know it means a non-Scottish person. Audience participation in the Sassenach poem definitely dealt with any problems a person on too little sleep might have had. (I’m not saying there actually was such a person present.)

Miaowing along with The Nine Lives of the Cat Mandu, this not-so-posh audience gave vent to lots of noise. And to finish off we got the poem about Jackie’s imaginary friend, Brendan Gallagher. He seemed nice.

The questions were everything from fairly ordinary ones, to the more unusual. Jackie was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Glasgow. Her parents adopted her brother (the one with the tricks) first, and managed to get him as a baby by having no colour preference. Jackie was bullied in primary school, and one of her heroes is Martin Luther King. She likes music, reading and cooking.

Jackie Kay

Her favourite children’s book is Anne of Green Gables, she’s not as old as the audience seemed to think (not sure they quite got her plea for age flattery…), and when he was small her son thought Poetry was a place, because she often seemed to go there. Being a poet is both lonely, when you write, and social, when you do gigs. She is happy when writing, but the editing can take a lot of time.

What with the Exchange being a theatre in the round, it pleased me that Jackie kept turning round the whole time, so there was no front or back. Just hard work taking pictures of this whirlwind.

Jackie Kay

The copies of Red, Cherry Red seemed to sell like hot cakes and the signing queue was long. Jackie said she had never signed anything to a Bookwitch before, and I should jolly well think not!

Red, Cherry Red

When I was struggling with poetry (and that’s reading it, not writing) all those years ago and getting nowhere, I could have done with Jackie Kay. Because here is a woman who writes sensible – and beautiful – poetry that even dunces can enjoy.

I’ve just read Jackie’s Red, Cherry Red and it is marvellous. Hers are poems about ordinary stuff; knitters, sad grannies, trees and herring. Very ordinary, and very special.

Jackie Kay, Red, Cherry Red

If you don’t want to read the poems yourself, the book comes with a CD where Jackie reads them for you. And that is better still. No one reads like the poet.

(In fact, the Retired Children’s Librarian gave the teen witch an LP of Nils Ferlin reading his own poetry. He was also a normal, sensible poet, and the poems did make more sense simply because it was him doing the reading. I guess the RCL was hoping to save and educate me…)

I still find it hard to read very much poetry. In my ideal world Jackie would read me one poem a day. Could this be arranged?

Becoming a little retrospective about mcbf 2012

At the safe distance of nearly a week, I feel almost ready to re-visit mcbf. How about the rest of you? I guess that even James Draper might have finished sleeping by now.

MMU

There are things I didn’t do, apart from author events I just had no stamina to attend. I didn’t make it to Cornerhouse for a screening of The Witches. And it would have been so very suitable too. (Swedish witch, and all that.)

I still have the war books exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North in mind, and will do until it ends.

James had a hard eleven days of it. At one point I thought he would have to finish the festival wearing espadrilles, when his pointy shoes gave up the ghost. And was it tired eyes that caused the spectacles to emerge one day?

Kaye did all right, wearing some lovely outfits and still seeming to feel up to starting to plan mcbf 2014.

There were others who did a wonderful job as well. Claudia travelled all over Manchester, and Kevin smiled in the face of exhaustion whenever I met him. Duncan was elegant in his suit until the bitter end, and Iris continued with her bright spottiness. Anyone else I’ve omitted mentioning will just have to forgive a confused old festival-witch.

I’ll leave you with some more photos, chosen with no plan or reason whatsoever.

Holden Gallery

MCBF audience

Jackie Kay

Liz Kessler

Steve Cole

Cathy Cassidy

Jacqueline Wilson and fan

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Josh Degenhardt and Julie Bertagna

Michael Rosen

John Sampson

Carol Ann Duffy

‘Go well into your Saturday’

James Draper and John Brooks

I am borrowing the above quote from Jackie Kay. It’s what she wished us when we left her, after a very enjoyable poetry session. This lovely Glasgow poet taught us (well, not me, obviously) what a Sassenach is, and she was excellent on audience participation. Jackie read us a selection of poems, interspersed with chatty comments about all sorts of things from the perception of Count Dracula in China to her son’s conversations with the bath plug hole.

Jackie Kay

MCBF audience

We began the mcbf fun day with Curtis Jobling, who managed to fill the large lecture theatre with some very young fans. They were vocal as well, leaving poor Curtis shouting down his (working) microphone. It was only Raa Raa the noisy lion who temporarily silenced his audience, some of whom started to remove the decorations even as he spoke, mere inches away. (James was dreadfully alarmed by this, and wondered what happened to him being the one in charge of older people.)

Curtis Jobling

After he had read from several of his picture books, Curtis gave us a lesson in drawing, and I have to say I did a pretty passable Bob the Builder. Curtis told the same Scarecrow with a parsnip nose joke as I’ve heard before, and it’s still funny.

Post-lunch (actually, for us diehards it was more a case of munching our sandwiches as quietly as possible during the author talks) it was Liz Kessler’s turn, and she was a little taken aback by the number of cameras pointing at her from all corners of the lecture theatre.

Liz Kessler

Liz got out her bag with ready made questions for the children to ask her, and they still had energy for some of their own, including what the best thing about the book festival is (her immediate reply was being able to stay at the Midland Hotel). Her more considered answer is that mcbf doesn’t just ask people to come to them, but they go out to meet people were they are. This garnered the question whether ‘she just said that’ to sound good… They are growing up, those children!

Liz Kessler

Having overcome her airhostess dream, Liz now glues her careful plot plans before writing, and if she needs to remove a giant, then she will. The next time-travel novel is North of Nowhere, and her next book to be published will be the fifth Emily Windsnap, from which she read us a taster, shark and all.

Curtis Jobling

Then Curtis was back with a talk for teenagers about his Wereworld books. That didn’t stop him from showing us his animated Curious Cow who repeatedly finds new ways to kill itself in 30 seconds. He drew us a werewolf, before reading from the first book, in this series of four books, which has now grown to six.

Horse and child reader

I did my best to dismantle the decorations in the theatre as Steve Cole started the last talk for the day. Talk. Well, I suppose he did talk a lot. He also jumped and waved and shouted and made faces and anything else you can think of. But no chonster, much to the photographer’s disappointment. Personally I quite liked his Werecumber, which proceeded to bite him.

Steve Cole

Like the boy he is, Steve said bad things about vegetables and fruit, and discussed ‘dinonauts’ and terrible sailors and poo-fish. According to his wife there is nothing remarkable about him. I don’t know how she can say that, because Steve knows about binocular-owning potatoes, and he wears (or so I understand) gold lycra shorts.

Steve is writing a new standalone book – his first – and he is running late. His fastest Cows In Action book took him three and a half days to write, but usually he writes an Astrosaurs book in three weeks. No need to worry about the future of his characters, however, since his audience told him about some sequels they are writing for him. ‘We are all authors.’

Then this fun day was over. We hung around to chat to Steve a little, and he did that very nice thing; gave me my very own dedicated book, signed and everything.

The mcbf zombie factory

Because it was a very full fun day we never had time for the Animal Stew readings or the smoothies or even the zombie workshop (???). Or most of the rest of everything we could have done had the day been longer. On the whole it’s good it wasn’t because there wasn’t much left of poor James as it was. The photographer and I hobbled up Oxford Road to catch our train home. But we’ll be back for more, once we’ve recovered.

The mcbf camel

(Photos Helen Giles)