Tag Archives: John Boyne


So, mid-interview when the person who has agreed to answer your questions says ‘hang on while I Google this, as I am no expert on what you just asked’… Should they politely offer something off the cuff that can later attract foul language on Twitter? So they can be accused of all kinds of shortcomings?

One thing I’ve learned after being the one who asks the questions, is to see more clearly when reading someone else’s interview how what was said might have happened. Often the person who has been interviewed is made to look as though they launched into a monologue on whatever it is, when in actual fact they were asked – or pressed – for their opinion, when it could be something they either don’t want to talk about or don’t know enough about.

Jacqueline Wilson

I have no idea what Jacqueline Wilson knows about transgender issues, but I’d guess it’s average, or above. She’s an intelligent woman, interested in life, and she is extremely polite, and kind and caring. That’s presumably why she talked about transgender children in her interview with the Telegraph (according to The Bookseller). An interview most likely arranged because she has a new book (Dancing the Charleston) out, and not about this topic. Or she’d have read up beforehand.

I’m the first to admit I only know an average amount about transgender issues, and I stay away from unpleasant spats on Twitter if I can. It’s only from hearsay that I know how badly John Boyne was treated recently.

Short of clamping your lips shut – and that would sort of defeat the purpose of an interview – there is no easy way to avoid being misinterpreted when the ‘chat’ is in print. (I’m obviously naïve for emailing my transcribed interview to discover if I’ve got anything dreadfully wrong.)

Having no wish to name Jacqueline’s attackers, I can only say that none of us have to be experts outside our own area, nor should anyone righteously tweet that they have worked for years on this subject, so they know best. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But others don’t therefore have an obligation to have done the same.

It would be better if these people continued working hard on whatever important thing they feel so strongly about, and then stand back to consider whether others must be accused of ignorance. And if you need to bring it up, perhaps don’t swear?

In the children’s books world there are countless lovely and kind people. Jacqueline Wilson is one of the kindest and politest. (I also suspect she has the ‘right’ opinions about the things that matter in life. But I’ve not felt I could ask her. Her reaction to Ann Widdecombe’s comments on siblings with different fathers, was to write Diamond Girls, about siblings with different fathers.)

(Photo by Helen Giles)


Here I Stand

Here is a book you should all read. Here I Stand is an anthology for Amnesty International, where a number of our greatest authors and poets and illustrators have come together and written short pieces about the injustices in life as they see them.

Here I Stand

John Boyne writes about child abuse and Liz Kessler deals with same sex love. Both stories are hard to read, but at the same time they are uplifting and they make you think.

And it is repeated in every single contribution to this volume, whether by Jackie Kay or Jack Gantos, Sarah Crossan or Frances Hardinge. Bali Rai, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Laird are others who have important things to say about why life is far from right for many people in the world.

People who can be jailed or executed for the most normal behavior, or those who are simply too poor or too unfortunate in various ways. People for whom we need to continue fighting.

There is much in this book to think about. Please think about it.

Nicely presented

If I was a native to these shores I’d probably know what the little round balls are actually called. As it is I will mutter gobstoppers, lemon sherbets and Turkish delight. I know it is none of them, but they are the sweets I know the names of.

John Boyne, Stay Where You Are & Then Leave

John Boyne has a new book out next month, titled Stay Where You Are & Then Leave. It’s about WWI, and without having read it – yet – it looks good.

So do the sweets. They came with the book, packaged in a paper bag and tied with plain string. Sort of olde worlde-ly. I sometimes feel sorry for the person whose job it is to wrap books in unusual ways. But only sometimes.

Obviously it makes no difference to me how a book comes. If it looks good I’ll try it. And if it actually is good I will tell you about it. I enjoy a good presentation as much as the next witch, but these non-gobstoppers will not buy me.

Just so you know.

(They look like little marzipan balls, as you might make for Christmas or Easter in Sweden. But we’ve already covered the iffy area of Swedes offering delicious things to eat. Much better they are not little marzipan balls. Nor are they lemon sherbets.)

The Random Christmas Party

After frenzied discussions on facebook as to the level of insanity of me travelling in this snowy weather, it was all a bit of an anticlimax. Nothing untoward happened as far as my travelling was concerned. To go or not to go. That was the question. And until I put my coat on and locked the door behind me, I didn’t know myself.

Sat next to someone on the train who wrote a list of cocktails on his Macbook, and I wanted to scream when he listed vodke. But to point it out would have been to admit I was reading his document.

And while on the subject of drinks, I may have been standing in the part of the room at Random’s Christmas party where all (well, two) the wineglasses broke, but it wasn’t me. They simply exploded next to me.

I knew I was in the right place. Address, not exploding bits of glass corner of room. Partly because I’d been there before, and also because when I got to the front door Klaus Flugge stepped out of a cab, which was as good a sign as any.

Everyone was there. Except for all those less than intrepid souls who cancelled because of the weather. If I could broom in, then anyone could. Maybe. I understand it’s normally more of a crush at these parties, and although I was unable to hear myself think, Mum Clare told me it was on the quiet side. Of course it was.

Someone even missed Daughter, which was awfully kind of her, and it made Daughter’s day to have been remembered. I’d heard about these parties, and decided that people might dress to the nines for them, but that my Arctic explorer persona would allow me to be sensibly dressed. So I was only slightly disconcerted to find beautifully assembled guests ahead of me. And the rest of them changed into their party toilettes in the toilets.

So, who was there? Philip Pullman was there, until he left. I steered clear of him on account of me having complained about his writing speed only last week. Same for David Fickling, to spare him any more embarrassment. Eleanor Updale came, and I missed speaking to her too. Didn’t even see John Dickinson.

I did spy Sarah McIntyre, so decided to make myself known to her. Her beautiful spectacles and lipstick make her instantly recognisable. I looked at the floor to see if Sarah was wearing very exceptionally, extra high heels, but she wasn’t. I felt a wee bit short. Sarah introduced me to Neill Cameron, who’s one of her David Fickling Comics colleagues.

Neill has a book launch (for Mo-Bot High) today in Oxford, so make sure you don’t miss it. I hope Neill doesn’t miss it either. He looked worried when I said the forecast was for his non-return to Oxford, and said he’d leave at the first sign of a snowflake. We spent some time shouting to each other on a variety of subjects, from what three-year-old boys should read to me being followed on Twitter (and I don’t even tweet) by a fictional 17th century Scottish faerie (hi, Seth!).

I saw Jenny Downham, who actually had a new book out yesterday. I say they missed a seriously good opportunity for a book launch party there. I was introduced to Klaus Flugge, who is too old for blogs. I’ll show him!

Ian Beck was there, and so was Steve Cole, but I never made it across to say hello. Didn’t speak to Anthony McGowan either, and I so wanted to ask him to smile at me. Lindsey Barraclough was there. She’s the neighbour of Random’s Annie Eaton, and who will be a publishing sensation next year. Annie smiled at me and touched the sides of her head. She might have been saying her hair was very nice or that mine was awful. Either way she’d be right.

Agents Rosemary Canter and Hilary Delamere chatted by the window, and Philippa Dickinson made a good speech. It was all about hairnets and labcoats and Puffin’s Kaye Webb, whose biography we must read. I’m more worried about needing to wear a hairnet to operate my laptop.

At some point I found myself clasping a small spear and wondering why, as I had no intention of stabbing anyone, until I remembered it had arrived with a tasty mozzarella ball which I had eaten. Many delicious canapés were being walked around the rooms, but I seemed to attract mostly the sausages and the chicken. If there were no breadsticks left, I suspect it might have had something to do with me.

I have finally met Pete Johnson! And he wasn’t anywhere near as short as his name had lead me to believe. I was so overcome I couldn’t even recall the title of his book which I read about a year ago, so I had to assure him I could remember everything about it except the title. (The TV Time Travellers)

With elderly knee and hearing both giving out, I decided to call it a day before I ended up spending the night (I had threatened poor Clare that I’d come and sleep at her house if the trains were cancelled!) and broomed away pretty swiftly and caught the second last of the offpeak trains where I had a choice between sitting next to a John Boyne lookalike and a Nick Green lookalike. I picked Nick because he had a window.

Bookwitch bites #26

Noah Barleywater Runs Away

John Boyne’s Noah Barleywater Runs Away is out next week. Although it’s been ‘out’ for some time, seeing as Random handed out proofs to all in the audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival. It’s a nice idea, and one I think would be good to try more often. What the proofs didn’t have were the pictures you get in the real deal. Oliver Jeffers has illustrated John’s story as beautifully as you expect from Oliver. (I like Oliver’s pictures, in case you haven’t worked it out.) But I’m puzzling over one thing. I’m fairly sure someone told me that the story had a particular meaning to Oliver’s own life. And I don’t know what it is!

Carl Hiaasen’s Scat is out in paperback. It’s worth noting, because I really liked it, and if you haven’t already got it, now is a good opportunity. It’s the one I feel is on a level with Carl’s adult novels, minus most of the sex.

You can download a sample of The Cat Kin by Nick Green here. Not that you should have any doubts about it, but freebies are always nice, so download and enjoy and then go get the book.

And finally, yesterday brought some news in the Bookseller about The View From Here magazine. Personally I suspect someone’s made a dreadful mistake, but I don’t want to complain.

Secondary to none

Your comprehensive witch turned ever more school-like on Monday. The very helpful press officer at the Edinburgh International Book Festival had watched me all week, and came to the conclusion that I really do look like a school after all. So I could go to the ball, and all that.

Debi Gliori

Being allowed to attend a couple of schools events in Charlotte Square meant some hasty reorganising of the social/business side of things. But it could be done. We got out of bed really early to have scones and tremendously dense porridge with Debi Gliori. She had the porridge and I had a scone, which was lovely, but no Flora McLachlan scone. It was raining so we sought shelter in the bookshop café. Debi was surprised to find a café in the bookshop, which just goes to show how much she gets around.

We talked of books, especially Pure Dead Magic, with and without scones. New picture books, and old ones too. Books (her own) that make Debi cry. Moved on to fiddling. That’s as in music, not what some unscrupulous people do with their accounts.

Then I had to dash to hear Julia Golding talk about her plentiful genres of books. Is there a genre the woman hasn’t tried by now? And 15 books since 2006? Honestly. She’s a book machine. Julia gave the school classes from Aberdeen and elsewhere a history lesson, and we will never forget Bluetooth now. Nor Thorfinn Skullsplitter or the blood eagling, as once done by Julia’s own teacher. Julia is another one writing about Venice, with her new book The Glass Swallow set there. And she likes being God, apparently.

John Boyne

More dashing. More food. But first John Boyne, who was lined up against the willows to have his likeness taken. Then to the Spiegel tent where Mum Clare from Random fed us. Although in the end there was no tea, as promised earlier. Random water did as well. I now feel I know everything that will happen in their book world for the next six months. Not sure where my reading time will come from. But will want to read. Lots.

Spiegel tent

The schoolwitch ran on to her next schools event with Keith Gray and Patrick Ness who were talking about Losing It with Daniel Hahn. And let me tell you; this was the best event so far. When I normally feel happy to leave after an hour, I could have gone on for twice the time. So could the schools, I imagine, except they had their buses waiting. The reason the talk was so good will have been the combination of the speakers and the topic and the audience. For once, we had an audience consisting primarily of the ones who should read the book. Not babies, not parents. Just teenagers. And – well – me.

Keith Gray

Brave schools which take their young readers to this kind of talk. Patrick and Keith were welcomed like superstars. Keith talked about the varying ages of consent around the world, and the trailer for Losing It was shown. Great trailer. And they pointed out the very recent changes in the law. Seven years ago this talk would have been illegal. Makes you think.

When writing his story for Losing It, Patrick expected it to be ‘toned down’. It wasn’t. Someone who turned down the offer to contribute, did so on the mistaken assumption that it had to be autobiographical. As Keith said, it’s not a book on ‘what goes where and how’.

Patrick Ness

Their advice to the teenagers is to read everything, including rubbish. And for writing they say to write what you yourself want to read. These are two authors who readers really listen to. We need more events like this one.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

No room at the Plaza

And let me start by saying this has got nothing to do with the nice people at the Plaza.

This is where I would have told you all about last night’s glittering ceremony for the Stockport Schools’ Book Awards. Quite logical to cover something so close to home, for a change, with no tiring travel. I thought so. The organiser with the library service thought not. I hadn’t been invited. (So, invite me.)

After months and months of helpful behaviour from publishers and friendliness from authors (thank you), I should have known better than to expect anything at all from those whose pay comes from our rates. They are from the very same organisation which informed me that my (then) eleven-year-old shouldn’t read Terry Pratchett. They are working for the same local council that refused practical assistance for child on crutches to get to school.

Anyway, after I found out about the event (Daughter was invited through school), I spent ten days trying to work out who to contact about getting a ticket/invitation/whatever. You’d think they would have a website/page that can be found. (But I now know that Stockport has a Curry Chef award.)

So, knowing that Tim Bowler had been shortlisted, I asked him. He was coming, he said, but any information would be with his publisher. So, on to OUP, where I now have contacts, and they put me in touch with the right person. She in turn gave me the name of the one who then took such delight in saying no.

A book award in Stockport doesn’t sound like much, but I understand it’s good. Many excellent and well known authors are shortlisted. For Key Stage 4 (where Daughter voted) we had Tim, Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne. In another group Lee Weatherly. This is why I persevered, when I’d normally give up. But my “sparring partner” was made of stronger stuff. What I read in her replies was that I was a suspicious character trying to sneak into a children’s event. (According to Daughter one of my friends was there…)

A very last minute plea to Daughter’s headteacher got a sympathetic reply, but I was too late. At least he was nice.

I don’t know if the Stockport Express was there. They have a larger readership than I do. However, my readers are interested in books, and cover the globe, and my blog reaches parts the SE doesn’t. But who cares about spreading the word about their book awards scheme?

You’ll be pleased to hear that Tim Bowler won the KS 4 award. And from another source of information I believe that Alan Durant won in a younger category.

And you’ll be even more relieved that after this little outburst the witch will attempt to be her normal sunny self for a long time to come. Attempt to, I said.