Tag Archives: Julia Eccleshare

Coping with change

I found I rather liked ‘The Polar Bear,’ aka Steven Camden, at Wednesday evening’s bookfest event. I knew nothing about him, but would quite like to read his book, Nobody Real. I imagine most people were there for Melvin Burgess, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. With them was late addition L J MacWhirter, and they were all kept in reasonable order by Agnes Guyon. (I do like the French way of pronouncing Agnes…)

Steven Camden

Not that Melvin was ever out of my good books, but I appreciated the way he said ‘I love witches.’ His new book is The Lost Witch, and the subject of witches was suggested to him by his editor. I think. And that led to him thinking through what a book about witches would be.

Before this L J volunteered to go first, so she read chapter 11 about the stairs…

Steven didn’t have room for imaginary friends, and this made Thor Baker – an imaginary friend – angry. He read the A-level scene from Nobody Real. Talking about change – the topic for the evening – he said that what’s good is what you add to a situation.

Melvin feels that for teenagers change is obvious, and that’s why YA is interesting.

Agnes wanted to know whether the panel considered themselves to be feminists, and after rambling for a bit, Steven checked himself and replied ‘yes.’ Melvin said you have to be careful, because we all carry our prejudices around. He starts with a male character and then does a sex change halfway through. (Not sure if this is feminist behaviour.) For his next book he’s got a black character, and a friend had explained what he could and couldn’t do. L J loved writing Silas in her book. He’s a bit of a Poldark, apparently.

L J MacWhirter and Melvin Burgess

There were a couple of big names from the children’s book world in the audience; Julia Eccleshare and Ferelith Hordon. It was Ferelith who asked about morality in books. Melvin ‘objects to that’ and fears it might make you sound too pompous. Ethics, on the other hand, are interesting.

L J spoke of disadvantaged teenagers she had met, who wanted to do work that might not be an obvious choice for someone of their background.

Steven doesn’t know about morals. He’s ‘not a great believer in answers’ and prefers to trust his gut. Reading The Bunker Diary ‘messed me up for a week.’ (And then he asked the audience if we’d eaten. He was starving..!)

I’m not sure how we moved on to favourite books, but Melvin is very fond of Not Now Bernard, and Steven loves I Want My Hat Back.

For some reason this made L J mention dark books, which you want or things could get really boring. But after the dark, there should be hope. This might be from Geraldine McCaughrean, or it might not.

Can there be dark middle grade books? Ferelith told Melvin that his books are dark, and he said they aren’t MG, but she replied they are now, The Cry of the Wolf, Baby and Fly Pie (ending with a dead baby). He agreed this was a dark end with no hope.

Melvin doesn’t feel education has a place in novels. You go to school for that. You read about things [to find out about them] and that makes it private. He played around with the word ‘resilient.’ Teenagers can be too resilient = resilient to change. He sent us on our way, wishing us ‘good luck with the resilience.’

Launching Jonathan

It’s a long way to Chelsea, even if you don’t begin your journey in Scotland. The last mile or so was the worst, but when a witch is going to a Meg Rosoff book launch, then she is. And what more interesting place to launch than on a houseboat on the Thames? I was slightly worried the boat would sink once I hopped on board, but was comforted by Anthony McGowan promising to rescue me in return for a book review. (Deal! Can’t remember if it had to be a favourable one or not.)

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Hopping. Well, not so much. It was dark, and there were gangway things over bits of water and stuff. Once on board Meg sent me down some bannister-free stairs to ‘poke around.’ (Not her boat, by the way.) Was impressed by the row of plates nonchalantly leaning against the wall. And there were books everywhere.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Jonathan Unleashed

So, Jonathan. There were piles of copies of Jonathan Unleashed (I was under strict orders to get one for Daughter), and there was food and drink. Very nice canapés. Especially the little cheese toastie ones. Some of the salmon ones slipped onto the floor, but the only one who slipped [a little] on the salmon was Meg. So that’s ‘all right.’ She was wearing unsuitable shoes, anyway.

There was a nice mixture of people. Some I knew, others I didn’t. But I was able to chat to most of the ones I do know, and I grilled ‘Miss Rosoff’ on her university experience, the way old people tend to do, and gave ‘Mr Rosoff’ a brief lesson in Scottish geography.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Spoke to Elspeth Graham, Mal Peet’s other half, who remembered meeting me before. Which was nice. Chatted briefly to Francesca Simon, and to Steven Butler, and winner of Bookwitch best book of 2015, Sally Gardner.

Jonathan Unleashed launch

Met the new – to me – people at adult Bloomsbury, and their Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Pringle made a nicely brief speech, mentioning that she wrote Meg a fan letter after the publication of How I Live Now, which Meg doesn’t remember. She’d better remember me doing the same thing! Though I wasn’t able to offer a publishing deal for any future books.

Meg Rosoff

As I said goodbye, Meg recalled our ‘interesting’ car journey when we first met, almost exactly ten years ago. This time I got a taxi, and the driver only had a minor brainslip and made two wrong turns before getting it right. (I got quite excited when it looked like he might drive straight through a barrier. You know, like they do in films.)

The water had disappeared by the time I left. I don’t know if that was reassuring or not. And I apologise for the very poor quality of some of the photos. I was travelling light, so used my mobile phone, which I suspect I will never get the hang of.


How large is your stocking? I don’t want to get too personal, but isn’t this stocking business getting out of hand? Out of foot?

Having not grown up with this quaint custom, I am adapting as well as I can. I put the odd clementine in while Offspring were small. Then I took it off their piles of junk before it developed mould. But it’s the principle. I admit to putting some things into stockings that were more expensive than a clementine, or a small packet of raisins. But what went into the stockings was always small. Something suited to stockings.

I have in my inbox two emails offering me wonderful stocking fillers. Never mind that they are pricey, but I’d have thought the woollen jumper too big to go in. (They could have offered woollen stockings?) And as for the fantastic shoe shop we actually have in town, it’d feel wrong to put shoes or boots in a stocking, even if size was not an issue. Stockings might go inside boots. Not the other way round.

iPods would make expensive, but nicely small, stocking fillers. But I hope we’ll never be quite that crazy at Bookwitch Towers.

Saturday’s Guardian Review suggested Christmas gift books. Not for stockings, I think. Just for under the tree in general. The children’s section was suitably small, the way you expect. And I feel that however lovely a 30-year-old BFG is, or how classic and sweet is Peter Rabbit, that they could have come up with something more recent (helping living authors put presents under their own trees).

In fairness, Julia Eccleshare had half a page of suggesting picture books, which she did as well as she always does.

I will suggest two rather sweet and slightly different books. Both are reissued (40 or 50 years on) and I had heard of neither before. Palmer Brown’s Something For Christmas features a young mouse who wants to give something special to a special person in his life. And Rhoda Levine’s He Was There From The Day We Moved In, with illustrations by Edward Gorey, tells the story about the dog who needs something. But what?

Me, I don’t suggest books for Christmas. A book is for life, and all that. The books I have reviewed over the years will fit right in under any tree. (Not in the stocking.) Any time.

So get them for yourself, or get them for someone you don’t know. Nicola Morgan is yet again supporting Edinburgh Blackwell’s Christmas Book Tree. I can think of many favourite books that would be welcomed by any child.

The boy without a passport

We rushed to hear Fabio Geda talk about how he met Enaiatollah Akbari, and my goodness but my Italian has improved! It’s almost good. Or it might have been Fabio who was good, dragging me with him, so to speak.

OK, so Fabio came with an interpreter, because his modesty is such that he didn’t want to subject us to his English (which is pretty good, and a lot better than my Italian). Whatever you might think about that, it meant we all got earfuls of beautiful Italian, which made the whole experience so much more, well, Italian.

Fabio Geda

To be fair, Fabio took most of the blame for the absence of Enaiatollah Akbari, having realised too late that England – sorry, Scotland – being outside Schengen a visa was required. So he’s been all over Europe, but not this time. Enaiatollah also appears to have been busy sitting his exams, which is why practicalities were not seen to.

Julia Eccleshare summarised what In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is about, and then Fabio told how he met the Afghan boy at an event for another of Fabio’s books (fiction), and how Enaiatollah pointed out that his story was true. They met for months, just talking, and because Enaiatollah was unable to write it, the job fell to Fabio.

They didn’t see eye to eye on everything. Fabio was furious with the people traffickers, while Enaiatollah was quite matter of fact and felt they were simply there to do a job. The same applied to the Greek woman who helped him. It’s not important who she was, only that she helped.

On the other hand, names have been changed to protect others. To share what happened helped, and Enaiatollah really wanted to tell his story. There is a saying that it’s better to learn from the experience of others.

Enaiatollah has spoken to his mother on the phone, but the two can’t meet. Well, in theory the mother could come to him, but she has two more children who can’t, and she has already had to choose once before… So he uses the success of the book to study at university and to travel, telling others about what it’s like to leave your country.

If he were ever able to return, Enaiatollah would go home to his village and take the place of his murdered school teacher, the man who stood up to the Taliban and died for it.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is a very special story. Yesterday’s event was even more so, bringing everything much closer still. I’m with Julia Eccleshare on this; it’s a rare and moving tale that will remain with us for a long time.

Asked what it’s like to seek refuge in Italy, Fabio simply said ‘dificilissimo’. It was pure luck that Enaiatollah was accepted. It could just as easily have gone the other way.

Bearded off

You can’t leave a good yurt alone. It grows. The Edinburgh press yurt has sprouted an extra room over the winter. The sideways growth will no doubt prove to be a blessing. As the witch and her photographer fell across its threshold yesterday afternoon, suitcases and everything in tow, we found Claire Armitstead from the Guardian interviewing away in there. (Come to think of it, perhaps it’s the Guardian as BookFest guardians we have to thank for the space?)

My photographer returned General Sutton’s press pass from the Science Festival in April (don’t ask…), and then we set off with our fresh press passes for the year, with much softer ribbons, so we won’t be uncomfortable. At least not round the neck area.

Philip Ardagh

Gentleman with beard

We went looking for Philip Ardagh, of long beard fame. We found someone with an even longer beard! Although PA will be pleased to know he still leads in the excessive height and very large (red, nice) shoes department.

Philip Ardagh

Philip had moderated the Horror boys, aka as Alexander Gordon Smith, Barry Hutchison and Darren Shan. We missed their event, but not their signing, with a mile long queue of mainly boys, and some very useful mothers who queued for them.

Alexander Gordon Smith

Barry Hutchison

Darren Shan

(I fully believe Darren is starting an argument above.)

I can tell you that Patrick Ness doesn’t arrive in time for official photocalls. And we had been so pleased that he’d been considered important enough to merit one… Oh well. We got Nick Sharratt instead. Although as the photographer pointed out, there are only so many pictures you can take of a man wearing a cloud shirt, even of someone who happens to be her favourite illustrator.

Nick Sharratt

‘Hi, here we are!’ said Patrick when he arrived for his event A Monster Calls, in the company of moderator Julia Eccleshare. (Too late, I say.) He read the first chapter of his book with the same title. Then he and Julia talked about how the book came to be written, after an idea by Siobhan Dowd.

It was something she wanted, and Patrick has written it as a tribute to Siobhan, rather than trying to copy her style or even using the first chapter she had written. He got the general idea for the plot and the characters from Siobhan’s notes, and then he did his own thing.

That’s generally important to Patrick, writing for himself, keeping it private, and he reckons A Monster Calls is a sad book, but a hopeful one. He remembers only too well what it was like to be a teenager. He feels it’s important to have picture books like this, for older readers, and Patrick was involved in choosing the illustrator, Jim Kay.

To engage in some name dropping I can tell you that the Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson was in the audience, joining in asking questions afterwards. It was an almost full event, after which most of us obediently toddled over to the bookshop for a spot of queueing. It’s a something we can never have enough of.

Patrick Ness

Although it might have been the after-effects of the massive queue round most of Glasgow Queen Street station earlier in the day that finished us off pretty promptly, and meant that all my earlier ‘coughing’ all over Philip Ardagh came to nothing. I’d been hoping to hear him and Jenny Downham talk about her second novel You Against Me. But I’m sure it went well, even without my witchy presence.

We just went and stood in a few more queues on the way to our BookFest home-from-home. Edinburgh in August, is there anything better? (That’s a more or less direct quote from one of the natives. It would have been rude to disagree.)

Orion’s party

Lucy Coats

The first to arrive and the last to go, is how Lucy Coats described herself last night. I have to take her word for it as Daughter and I took slight detour en route for the October Gallery (I have to admit here that it was my fault and Daughter would have made a better job of it) and arrived when things were in – if not full – then some sort of swing. And we didn’t outstay our welcome (at least I hope we didn’t) so weren’t there to witness Lucy washing up at the end.

Orion's party at the October Gallery

Lots of Orion’s very lovely and our favourite authors were there. Lucy, as I said. Caroline Lawrence, who by now will be feeling she has to put up with us every week. Nice to see Mr Lawrence again. Liz Kessler, fresh from ‘research’ along the coast of Norway. The Michelles, Lovric and Paver, and Annabel Pitcher, Angela McAllister and Viv French. I was introduced to Lauren St John, whose book I was reading on the train, getting me into a very St Ivesey mood. Daughter has obviously been around the literary world too long, seeing as she was clinging to the fire escape throwing names about; ‘there’s Francesca Simon, and that’s Tony Ross!’. Right on both counts.

Michelle Lovric and Annabel Pitcher

Boss Fiona Kennedy made a speech, praising her writers. Nina Douglas and Kate Christer had worked hard to organise things, and the October gallery, complete with bones and ‘dead babies’, not to mention glittery paintings was a good place for a party. The weather helped. We were all out in the courtyard in the mild and sunny evening. London at its best.

Caroline Lawrence

Francesca Simon

The courtyard

Among the ‘non-authors’ present were the other Stockport blogger, Wondrous Reads (we’ll have to stop meeting like this, Jenny), Geraldine Brennan (about whom I had a strange but nice dream last week), Julia Eccleshare, Ted Smart, Catherine Clarke, and I am sure I have left out lots of worthy people, but I’ll stop now before I turn into Hello Magazine again. (Better class of people, but too many lists of human beings clutching champagne glasses, if you know what I mean?)

I have a dreadful suspicion that in among everyone in the photos there will lurk someone with a dark secret, or someone committing a crime or an indiscretion or something. If you find anything like that, don’t tell me. I was the one in the flower pot. I noticed a dreadful smell and realised the pot was a geranium pot and I had disturbed the leaves. I hate the smell of geraniums!

Beginnings and ends

Philip Pullman

It was a case of the incredible shrinking camera syndrome. The press photographers’ cameras were bigger than ever. My photographer was off building rockets in Leicestershire. Why? My replacement photographer did a sterling job with his smaller toy, and when he went off to hear the bishops speak (and Philip Pullman, it has to be admitted) all that was left was me and my teeny weeny camera. So, some photos are not nearly as good as the subjects deserve. And the photocall session with Sophia Jansson didn’t run late and it wasn’t cancelled, as sometimes happens, and is understandable. It ran early, so ran without us.

Introductory singing

Carol Ann Duffy

Jason Bradbury

Shock horror. Edinburgh is not being dug up. Last year’s dust and large wholes in the ground have moved elsewhere. There are tramlines in the streets. Didn’t see any trams, but tramlines are a wonderful thing on their own. Really.

Due to technical problems, this blog post is delayed. It is also going to be too short. And you, at the back, I heard you when you shouted ‘YES!’. It should be longer, and I may add things later when I’ve worked out how to write round a nonexistent internet supply. If I shout loudly enough, can you hear me?

Garth Nix

I started off with that Australian ‘walled garden-cum-watersprite’ author, otherwise known by his real name of Garth Nix. I know nothing about Garth, nor have I read any of his books (although the first one called Ragwitch, has a certain ring to it), and it was quite refreshing to sit down and listen to someone from scratch. I’ll only say here that the man is a liar of such proportions that even I am astounded. But charming, nevertheless.

Then Penelope had me foxed. I can’t cope with people who change their hair. And Penelope (Eleanor Updale to you) had not only done that but changed all the rest of her, too. So when she hugged Nicola Morgan I could only recognise Nicola.

Meg Rosoff

Later in the day it was time to listen to Penelope interview the Dukakis presidential campaign press release writer, aka Meg Rosoff. (I wish she hadn’t admitted to that!) She thinks about her funeral too much, and she also said a very dubious thing about the younger generation, which I will not repeat here. This ‘deeply immature adult’ finds ‘America such a weird place’, and she kept going on about dogs that weren’t there. Of course they weren’t. (She also had the nerve to ask me for a cut of 10%. Of what, I ask you?)

Julia Eccleshare of the Guardian got a lesson from Tove Jansson’s niece Sophia on how to pronounce Tove. She did remarkably well for someone her age. This adult event was full of adults. They all knew about Moomin and Tove. Real Jansson nerds, I’d say. Lots of good, although sometimes long, questions. The answers were also good.

Sophia Jansson

Afterwards replacement photographer and I had our interview with Sophia, but not until we’d been thrown out of a yurt. And that was not my fault. It was my very first interview in Swedish, so we shall have to see how that went. I think Sophia must have had a curse on things connected with her, since not only the photocall session disappeared for us, but the much admired recorder thingy I use was not performing as well as it should have. (But that was my fault.)

It may have been the first day in business for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but it was also the last day for Fascinating Aïda on the fringe. Before I went home to my lonely garret, I went to see them sing rude songs again. Heard them, too, obviously. Dillie Keane had promised me they’d stand up for me at the end, and they did.

But at least it was a nice day. The weather did its best to prove it doesn’t have to rain, just because it’s the Edinburgh Festival. That’s all down to Meg Rosoff’s clothes. She dressed for rain. And my umbrella might have helped, too.

Mid week trip 2 – or Mal Peet wins

the Guardian Children’s fiction prize with Exposure. Mal Peet

More witty blogging about this will follow later this morning, so do call back, won’t you…


Have you any idea how flat a slice of Jamaica cake can become under the weight of  nine books? Very. Flat. But it’s still edible, so I had a flat Jamaica slice with my tea on the train home last night. Well, home and home. Stoke, of all places, which was very tricky to leave. Whether to blame that on Stoke or the satnav remains to be seen. Had a brief chat with old Josiah Wedgwood outside Stoke station. He’s OK.

The Guardian

So, those books were dragged to the Guardian building in Kings Cross and back, all for some more signatures for your witch. It was a successful hunt, too. The only people who didn’t sign, were those who weren’t there, which I can forgive them for.

Andy Stanton's strawberries in chocolate

Very nice to see the new Guardian offices. Not that I’d seen the old ones, but I’m sure they didn’t have all those Bertoia chairs in the old place. Hot though. I’d suggest some form of refrigeration is put in before next time. Meg Rosoff looked as hot as I felt. We all glugged water by the end. And gobbled strawberries.

Andy Stanton, Fiona Dunbar, Patrick Ness and Lee Weatherly

Julia Eccleshare did a pretty good summary of all the longlisted books, before handing the speech-baton over to Patrick Ness, who did a good job of telling us who’d won. And as you have seen above, that winner is Mal Peet, whose book Exposure I finished reading two hours before the event. Must have ‘felt’ it… Mal received a mock-up Guardian front page, which was quite apt, seeing as he’s written about a fictional Guardián in his book.

Mal Peet with Andy Stanton and Patrick Ness

Fiona Dunbar, Meg Rosoff and Eleanor Updale

Unaccompanied by a photographer as I was, I did the best I could. If you were me you’d give me the sack, but hopefully dark and less sharp pictures are better than no pictures? And I suspect that Andy Stanton is an alien, because his red eyes refuse to be edited out. Maybe iPhoto knows something I don’t. Fiona Dunbar looked glamorous as usual. Straight from parents eve at school. Yeah, right.

Sally Gardner

Sally Gardner was disappointed by my lack of witchy clothing. We apologise for our shortcomings. Sally herself could have stepped straight out of the Gudrun Sjödén catalogue. And you can’t believe how scary Celia Rees and Mary Hoffman are. Especially together. The way Mary looked at the proffered sausages… (Celia, I like the hair colour!)

Celia Rees and Mary Hoffman, with Meg Rosoff and Fiona Dunbar in background

Marcus Sedgwick

Lee Weatherly looked wonderful, Marcus Sedgwick managed some Swedish, and I was introduced to Eleanor Updale. Also good to meet more of the lovely PR ladies, from Clare whom I’d seen all of 24 hours earlier, to Tania whom I’d not seen for over a year, but who had not changed her hair, so was totally recognisable. Reetu was there, and so was Nina, and I finally got to meet Lauren. Lee Weatherly

Can anyone give me a good reason why I don’t return to bed now?

(Photos by witch with shaking hands)