Tag Archives: Julie Bertagna

Old hands and celebrities

Following on from my thoughts yesterday, my new, bright, idea was to find some unknown names on the days I’ve planned to go to Edinburgh. And then to go and listen to these new possible stars.

There was just one problem. There weren’t many. I’m not saying there were none.

But I recognised most of the authors and illustrators in the children’s books programme. I reckon I found three or four new names in total, by which I mean they have only one book published, and/or have not done many events.

A couple of them I had highlighted, but they had lost out to another event on at the same time.

The other thing is that with celebrities now ‘writing’ children’s books and appearing at book festivals, there is less room for the new Julie Bertagnas or Joanne Rowlings.

And of course, even if they were going to be there, and even if their books are fabulous, that doesn’t mean they will be household names in ten or twenty years. I suspect it’s the household names that will be raking in more money and more fame.

Were you there?

It is so easy to pick the best known names, or even the known names; authors you have come across before and want to see, or see again.

I have just been choosing events I would like to go to this August in Edinburgh. The numbers are realistic, so not too many. Will probably end up being fewer once I get a little tired. Have I picked any new authors? Am I being adventurous? Let’s have a look.

Hmm, well, it wasn’t as clear-cut as I’d expected. There are people new to me, and people new to the British market. But even if I haven’t seen them before, I have read and enjoyed their books and actively want to see them.

No adventure there, really.

It’s actually hard to make a completely unknown name stand out in a programme, making you go for it. I often think I should go ticket-less on a random day, and simply pay to see someone who ‘happens’ to be on later in the day.

Last year I saw Kathryn Evans, who had a debut book and who was also a book festival debut. But I’d read her book and I’d ‘known’ her for seven years or so. I wasn’t being brave in my choice.

Twenty years ago two new authors appeared at the festival. One of them has told me how she sat next to someone called Joanne Rowling for the book signing afterwards, and how they signed a book for each other… If she has any sense, Julie Bertagna has her Harry Potter under lock and key. Or she has sold it and spent the money. I’d like to think that Joanne still has her copy of The Spark Gap on a shelf somewhere.

Both books are terrific. Both authors have gone on to publish more books.

Looking back from where I stand, it’s obvious that anyone would want to see them. But I wonder how the audience made the choice in 1997?

Were you there?

Meg unleashed

Five years on, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow looks the same. It’s just that in my mind I couldn’t make my photographic memory of what I call the ‘Sara Paretsky room’ match up with the ‘Julie Bertagna café’ area. After my search for the Aye Write! box office yesterday – I only had to ask three people – I was able to connect the five year old dots. Turned out I didn’t need a ticket after all…

The Mitchell is a nice place, where people come to use the computers and eat in the café and take their shoes off and strum their guitars. Warm too, but I was reluctant to remove my jacket in case the fire alarm would see me and go off.

Anyway, I made it all the way up to the 5th floor for Meg Rosoff’s event, and sat down to wait, surrounded by several seriously psychedelic carpets. Getting an authorly hug was nice, and I was glad that Meg had put me on a list to get in. The audience was exclusively female, if you don’t count the two male Aye Write! volunteers.

Introduced by local author Zoe Venditozzi, Meg discovered she’d already gone native by saying she’d talk a ‘wee bit’ about Jonathan Unleashed. She’s feeling ‘happy and well adjusted’ at this stage between writing and publication, unlike when she feels that ‘there will never be another book and my family will starve.’ On the other hand, good writing requires that she keeps ‘that balance of terror and confidence.’ And ‘maybe [Meg’s] brain is emptying out’ of books…

Yes, quite.

Meg told us how she woke up in August 2013 with the first line of the book, and just knew this was going to be her next book, without knowing what else would happen or why. Being what she calls a bad plotter, she described how her good friend Sally Gardner tends to come to the rescue. Sally was also able to see who Jonathan’s romantic interest should be.

She loves Lucky Jim, and she doesn’t mind stealing plots. Jonathan is a big ‘numpty’ really, and she read the bit where he first takes ‘his’ dogs to the vet’s. Meg apologised for not being able to do a proper British accent, after all her years in England.

Greeley, the character of uncertain sex in the book, is the way he/she is because it’s how Meg feels; never quite fitting in and not managing to heed her mother’s advice to be ‘more ladylike.’ In her writing she gives her clueless characters friends in order to help them. She said how together, she and her husband Paul are not ‘so nutty’ as they would be on their own.

Penguin dropped her when she wrote this adult novel, and Meg said how exciting it was to have Jonathan Unleashed auctioned both in Britain and in the US. Meg didn’t exactly mince words, and one of her more quotable lines yesterday was how ‘one could if one were a more generous-minded person.’ And then there was her first work, the ‘dark pony book.’ She blames the internet, which is where weird people find more weird people interested in the same thing, like My Little Pony or dinosaur sex.

Asked what books she has enjoyed recently, Meg mentioned Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm and that old ‘children’s’ classic A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. (If Meg were to see a child read it she said she’d take it away from them.)

To sum things up, novel writing is basically about getting stuck halfway, suffering, and tearing your hair out.

Meg Rosoff

And on that cheerful note we ran out of time. Not wanting to walk down five flights of stairs, Meg and I and a librarian got the lift down, after which we realised we had no idea where Meg was supposed to do her signing. We found it in the end, but the search was a new and different experience.

Wanting to take me out for a drink afterwards, Meg asked around for ideas of where to go. We left the building, only to stand on Julie Bertagna’s corner outside, staring at Meg’s mobile phone app. Which might have been upside down. The phone, not so much the app. Once we’d turned the motorway the right way round, and rejected one Indian restaurant, we ended up at the Koh-I-Noor, which I in my witchy way had clocked as I crossed the motorway earlier.

I clearly sensed it was for me. We shared their sharing vegetarian thali (apparently Meg is veggie these days, unless she is force-feeding Cathy Cassidy chicken stock) and gossiped about publishing, authors, children, growing older. And then I went off to Charing Cross for my train and Meg limped bravely back to her hotel, blisters from new boots and all.

Which, more than anything, brought home to me how hard the lovely people who write books work, travelling all over the place to meet the readers. Not just favourite authors, but all of them.

Thank you.

Bookwitch bites #131

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

David Almond scooped the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize on Thursday. Congratulations to him, and commiserations to young ‘Master Sally Nicholls,’ who at his very young age let his disappointment that Mummy didn’t win be known. I like a baby who can cry when the time is right. And apparently he was passed round like a – very valuable – parcel, so I’m quite jealous I wasn’t there.

Sally is also on the shortlist for the Costa, so perhaps the young Master will appear at another awards event soon. Because as he well knows, Mummy’s is one seriously good book, and he will read it as soon as he can.

Someone (Muckle Media. And you know, I blogged about muckle only the other day) has been looking into who is most popular on Twitter in Scotland. It seems J K Rowling does quite well with followers and such. And what’s fascinating is that I’ve never heard of some of the top names, although Ian Rankin and Val McDermid ring a bell. As do Bookwitch favourites like Gillian Philip, Nicola Morgan, Julie Bertagna and Helen Grant. Long may they tweet.

On Twitter (where else?) I learned that Teri Terry was interviewed when she was in Denmark recently. Her answers are perfectly easy to understand. For those of you who still don’t read Danish after all those Killings and Bridges, I can only suggest you guess what Teri is replying to, as the questions are in Danish.

Anne Rooney has been interviewed by the Society of Authors about non-fiction (I thought of it first!), and it makes for very interesting reading. Times are hard. Being interested in everything is good. Anne is good.

If all this feels like it’s getting on top of you, counselling is at hand. Nicola Morgan is now the proud owner of a Certificate of Counselling, part of her Diploma in Youth Counselling. She is so good at so many things. And I’d have happily unburdened myself to Nicola even before she was certified.

Bookwitch bites #119

There are things happening in Scotland. Just saying.

They give books away, for one thing. The Scottish Book Trust are giving books to children, again. Five different categories, from baby to Primary 1. Three books each. I think that’s really good, and while I know I didn’t need it for Offspring, it would still have been nice.

More on the Scottish front, Malorie Blackman is coming for a four city tour; Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I would love to catch up at one of these events, but it is a busy week at Bookwitch Towers.

Julie Bertagna has written a graphic novel, which is about time, since they were a major topic the day we first met, as she discussed cool stuff with Neil Gaiman. It’s called John Muir Earth – Planet, Universe, and because I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read it, I’ll say it’s a sort of green book. You can download it here, because – this is Scotland, again – they are giving it away to school children.

To prove this isn’t just about Scotland, here is the Branford Boase shortlist, which – as with all my recent reading – I have not got enough personal knowledge of to say very much about. Except that I wish them well, and let the best author win.

Winter Damage by Natasha Carthew, edited by Rebecca McNally
Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood, edited by Venetia Gosling
Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones edited by Mara Bergman
Red Ink by Julie Mayhew, edited by Emily Thomas
Alex the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Montgomery Ross, edited by Rebecca Lee & Susila Baybars
The Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss, edited by Imogen Cooper and Barry Cunningham
Geek Girl by Holly Smale, edited by Lizzie Clifford

Murderous mug

You know, authors can do just about anything. The other day I carelessly mentioned that this mug doesn’t worry me. It would almost be an honour to be killed off in a book. Wouldn’t it? It’s fiction. You’d live afterwards. (You would, wouldn’t you?)

And I annoy better than most.

As I said, authors can do a lot of things. I have to admit to certain maternal pride over this:

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

(I actually believe this is a book about me. I do wash regularly, but the alien-ness can’t be disputed.) It’s clearly a book to be dedicated to offspring, and I admire the lovely Steve Cole for his triple dedication, in one fell swoop.

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

 

So I don’t think Aliens Stink. They are the best.

 

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.

Not the EIBF – for me

I was so sure I’d be able to fit in a little EdBookFest this year as well. On top of everything else, I mean. But I’m not.

I have enthused about the programme. I have gone through it in detail. I finally picked my dates, allowing me four days in the middle. Yes! It was the mid-weekenders who would have won. Until common sense kicked in and I told myself very sternly that something had to give, and it would be really useful if it wasn’t me.

So, that’s one book festival less for me, and maybe for you, if you were counting on me doing it on your behalf. I spent the other evening undoing what I’d so far arranged to do, hoping that not too many people would be overjoyed by the witch-free aspect.

So that’s no tea with Theresa Breslin and Julia Jarman. Big sob. No meeting with Badger the lovely dog in person. No Jon Mayhew, or Elen Caldecott (finally, as it was to be…) or Charlie Fletcher. Similar fate for Prentice & Weil (who I hope are not solicitors, despite their names), Melvin Burgess and Keith Gray. There will be no Keiths at all for me.

I was going to hear all about Jonathan Stroud’s new book, and even get close to Arne Dahl.

The list could go on. I have it here, right next to me, colour coded and with indecipherable comments, that once meant something.

I would have had to miss Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry. Again. But these ladies at least have something exciting going. You can win their books, if you go here.

As for me, I’m looking ahead to the next thing, thinking if I plan properly – and early – I will not have to cancel more events. But things always look very doable when looked at in advance.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

For all others – and the crouching tigers – Edinburgh International Book Festival starts today. Mind the mud. And the puddles.

And have fun!