Tag Archives: John Young

Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist

When you’re at death’s door, life’s not expected to be much fun, even – or especially – when it’s the door to Room 9, the one with the smiley. But then you don’t know Connor. He’s fifteen and he’s got terminal cancer. Well, we’re all terminal, because as Connor keeps saying, ‘nadie deja este mundo vivo’ which means no one leaves this world alive.

Which is very true. I don’t like ‘cancer books’ and I hate bullies and irresponsible behaviour. But while Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist has all this, it also has a lot of charm and fun and happiness to offer the reader. And before anyone says ‘well that’s easy for the author to write,’ the very sad fact is that John Young wrote the book as his own child was dying. I can’t even begin to understand where he got his strength from.

John Young, Farewell Tour of a Terminal Optimist

At the beginning, Connor is getting another kicking from his bully Skeates. Well, he did put a dead bird in his dinner. So Connor might be small and weak, but he’s not one for hiding. He’s got one friend, a girl called Emma, or Emo.

But when things turn really weird, it is Skeates he ends up running away with – although not in a romantic way. Connor’s father is in jail, his mum temporarily ill, and his sister died years ago. And he has cancer. Skeates decides they should try and visit Connor’s dad in jail, so they embark on a truly crazy, but also inspirational, trip across the Scottish Highlands towards Glasgow.

Unfortunately Connor escapes Stornoway without his medicines, and he’s not sure he can trust Skeates. It’s a good thing he’s feeling adventurous and positive towards most of the often illegal suggestions Skeates makes.

At least the adult reader sits there knowing this will not, cannot, end well. But what kind of not well will it be? How soon might Connor die? Or will Skeates or the Glaswegian football supporters kill him before the cancer does? Or maybe the skiing in Aviemore, wearing unsuitable clothes? The joyriding?

And then, there really is no avoiding death’s door.

This is sweet (yes really, Skeates), incredibly funny, and tremendously exciting. And there is a smiley on the door to Room 9. As Connor waits, he thinks ahead to what sandwich fillings his mum might choose for the funeral.

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Day 7

Let me tell you about Keith Gray. Eight years ago, on our seventh and last day of our first Edinburgh Book Festival, Daughter and I happened upon Keith Gray signing in the children’s bookshop. It had been a bit of a learning curve for us, and we realised when we discovered Keith sitting there, that authors might be there even if we hadn’t gone to their events, and even when we didn’t know there was an event.

Keith Gray

Back then I was less shy about being forward, so walked up and introduced myself, and we had a nice chat. Over the years Keith has tended to pop up in Charlotte Square at some point, and there have been other Scottish-based events as well. But ever since that day – the 26th of August 2009 – in my mind he has personified the happy coincidence of the bookfest.

Yesterday was also the 26th of August, and Keith and his family had organised farewell drinks in Charlotte Square, for their many book friends, because they are moving away from Scotland. It was lovely of them to do so, and they will be missed. Much less coincidental popping in future, I suspect.

Jasmine Fassl and Debi Gliori

So, it was especially nice that Daughter was able to be there with me, freshly extricated from the Andes. She was able to say hello to Frances in the press yurt, and – oh, how convenient – she was able to take photos for me as I had an interview to do. I’m nothing but an opportunistic user of my nearest and dearest.

Claire McFall

The interview was with Claire McFall, about her astounding fame. In China, in case you were wondering. She’s lovely, and didn’t even complain as we almost cooked her in the ‘greenhouse’ café. (There will be more about Claire later.)

We’d already spied Michael Rosen, and I’d caught a glimpse of David Melling with Vivian French as they walked over to the Bosco Theatre (which meant I missed out on their signing in the Portakabin) for an event. The signing no one could miss was Julia Donaldson’s, still taking place right next to us in the greenhouse, a couple of hours after her event.

Kirkland Ciccone and Sharon Gosling

Pamela Butchart

Despite not dressing quite as loud as usual, we still managed to see Kirkland Ciccone, signing next to Sharon Gosling and Pamela Butchart. Who else but Kirkie would have posters of himself to sign and hand out? Pamela wore some rather fetching furry ears, but it wasn’t the same. Also milling about in the children’s bookshop were Danny Scott and Keith Charters. The latter chatted so much to Daughter that I had to do my own photographing…

Keith Charters

I believe that after this we managed to fit in eating our M&S sandwiches, before keeping our eyes peeled for one of Daughter’s heroes; Catherine Mayer of the Women’s Equality Party.

Catherine Mayer

We searched out some shade after this, enjoying a wee rest next to the Main theatre, where we were discovered by Kirkie and Keith C and chatted before they departed for home.

Cressida Cowell

Noticed Gill Lewis at a distance as we sped across the square to find illustrator Barroux in the children’s bookshop, and then straight over to the main signing tent for Cressida Cowell. Her signing queue was most likely of the two-hour variety, and necessitated the services of her publicity lady as well, so no chat for me.

Barroux and Sarah McIntyre

And as it seemed to be a day for dressing up, we lined up to see Sarah McIntyre sign, in her queenly outfit. You can join her but you can’t beat her. Barroux, who was still there, seemed to think so, as he stared admiringly at Sarah.

John Young

After all this to-ing and fro-ing we had covered all the signings we had planned for, and we went in search of the drinks party out in the square. Debi Gliori was there, before her own event later in the afternoon, and she and Daughter had a long chat, while I talked to Keith Gray himself. He introduced me to a few people, including debut author John Young, whose book I luckily happen to have waiting near the top of my tbr pile.

Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney turned up, and so did a number of other people I knew, but mostly people I didn’t. We were all charmed by a lovely young lady, who spent most of her time smiling and playing on the grass. If it had been socially accepted, I reckon Daughter might have taken her home with us.

Little M

Daughter and I had placed ourselves strategically by the path, so that when Philip Ardagh strolled past, we cut him off, forcing him to chat to us for a little, while also giving Keith an opportunity to come and say goodbye. And then Philip made Keith take the photo of him and the witches. It only looks as though we are of different height. In reality Philip’s arm on my shoulder was so heavy that I sank straight into the mud, making me look a little short…

Philip Ardagh and witches

We’d never have got away if we hadn’t had a train to catch, so we got away, and the train was caught, but not before we’d encountered Jackie Kay on the pavement outside. Seemed fitting, somehow.