Tag Archives: Julie Bertagna

Book Week Scotland 2017

Starting on Monday, 27th November, is this year’s Book Week Scotland. And there is much you can do.

But don’t delay. There is no point in me suggesting you catch James Oswald in Auchterarder, because he’s already sold out. And because I have now more or less decided what I will and won’t do, I have stopped looking at the ticket booking facility, so won’t know what else might be too late.

Crawford Logan, aka Paul Temple, will do an event in what seems to be an undertaker’s ‘service room.’ But I don’t see why not. After all, he was last seen by the Bookwitch family doing a reading at the Grandmother’s funeral. He knows what to do.

Mairi Hedderwick is appearing all over the place, while still not doing so at a venue or at a time that suits me…

A place and time that is surprisingly good for me is Rachael Lucas talking about Asperger’s at Waterstones on Monday night. And more locally, I have Alex Nye coming to my nearest library (not that I’ve measured), and Alexandra Sokoloff will be talking at Stirling University.

Lin Anderson will be in Alloa, and Badger (the lovely dog) is coming to Cumbernauld.

And I could go on. But I won’t, because if I mention all the people I would like to see but can’t, because they are booked to speak in Shetland or (almost as bad) Orkney, I will get upset. But if you happen to be close to my far flung places, then off you go to a lovely event or two. Julie Bertagna, for instance. Or Debi Gliori.

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Riveting Reads with Julie and William

I knew my place, so sat at the back for Julie Bertagna’s event with William Sutcliffe. I was glad to see there were a good number of actual, proper teenagers in the audience. They are often the hardest group to tempt to book events; neither old enough nor young enough.

Julie Bertagna and William Sutcliffe

Chaired by Calum McGhie, Julie and William told us the background stories to Exodus and Concentr8. In Julie’s case it was a news story about a sinking island on the opposite side of the world, which became a Scottish island in Exodus. And now, 15 years on with a special anniversary edition and a new cover, we have much more of a refugee crisis and climate change to worry about.

William had been astounded to learn from a doctor friend that parents bring their children in, demanding to have Ritalin for them, because a diagnosis of ADHD means money for the family. He was shocked to find that people would put their children on what is a kind of amphetamine, for this reason alone.

William Sutcliffe

He’s aware that North London’s middle classes prefer to hide behind the familiar. It was after being the victim of a crime ten years ago that he became a mentor for a teenage boy, and it’s having known this boy so well that helped him get ‘the voice’ in his book. He feels that you can become another person by reading a book, whereas you don’t by watching a film. William said he borrowed from the 2011 riots, because it’s always good to start a book with a riot.

Julie was asked if she’d been tempted to re-write anything before the republication of Exodus, and she had, but in the end felt you can’t tamper with an already published book. Books are slower than films, and you are more in control when you read.

Julie Bertagna

She decided to make the tale more immediate by writing in the third person present tense; something that some readers have had difficulty with. You change the future by how you live your life, and the young have time on their side. Julie also admitted to having rearranged bits of Glasgow to fit the plot.

William described himself as neither a leader nor a follower, and said that when faced with an alpha male group leader it is generally impossible to either say no, or to leave the group. He has made it a point to hide which character you’re meant to like or dislike, which is so common in stories these days, and this has caused some negative reviews.

When it was time for questions, Julie and William almost talked at the same time, both eager to have their say. Julie likes the dynamics of the young; things might go wrong in YA literature, but there is hope for survival. And William pointed out that there is more to a book than the last ten pages.

Asked if they have worried that no one would want to read their books, Julie said yes, but that she’d tried to write what she would have enjoyed as a teenager, whereas William believes you shouldn’t think too much about the readers.

Why YA? William had written adult novels before, but needed a book to be YA for plot reasons and then started reading more teen books and liked them. He also feels they have a longer life through school events and similar, and that in the shops all YA novels sit side by side, no matter what genre, because YA itself is a genre. Julie reckoned that children’s books was a quiet backwater where she felt safe, until Harry Potter and Philip Pullman came on the scene and things started happening.

Books to recommend brought out Louis Sachar’s Holes from William, and Julie suggested the not yet published Book of Dust by Philip Pullman.

Julie is currently working on A Girl Made of Stars, about the Hadron Collider, and she knows what dark energy is. Or so she said. And asked if she’d get on the boat [in Exodus] or stay, she’d go on the boat, if there’s room.

Julie Bertagna, Exodus

Day 1

What a day! Now all I need is for the rest of the Edinburgh International Book Festival to be as good. And if the sunshine could continue shining? As I might have mentioned yesterday, I had a good line-up for Tuesday, and it did not disappoint. Nor did any of the day’s little bonuses.

After collecting my press pass, which is a new, edgier design this year, I picked up my events tickets from a boiling entrance tent. I reckon they were expecting rain with that ‘glass’ ceiling in there. I nearly expired, and was grateful I wasn’t queueing up for returns for Peter May.

I ate my M&S salad and ran for Barry Hutchison’s event, where I found Lari Don, busy checking out the competition. Well, she said she was enjoying seeing her colleagues, but… In the bookshop, after I’d taken hundreds of pictures of Barry, I encountered Keith Charters standing next to the Strident shelves, surreptitiously checking they looked all right. They did. He’d been expecting to rearrange them.

Strident books

While we were talking about running, and stargazing, Theresa Breslin arrived on her off-day, and the conversation turned to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. Then Keith and I went over to bother Barry for a bit, and to find out how he writes quite so many books quite so fast. He was mostly – I think – pondering the groceries he had to buy on his way home, and how appearing at the book festival wasn’t quite as glamorous as it was the first time.

Barry Hutchison

Glamorous would be the word to describe Judy Murray, whom I saw as I returned to the yurt area. Onesies never looked classier.

Stephen Baxter

I did another turn round the bookshops, and found Stephen Baxter signing for adults, and in the children’s bookshop a signing table for, well, I’m not sure who it was for. But after some googling I’d say that the people in this photo are Ehsan Abdollahi – who was originally refused a visa to enter the country – and I think Delaram Ghanimifard from his publisher. And I only wish I’d stopped to talk to them. (I didn’t, because the books on the table confused me.)

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimafard

Begged some tea in the yurt before walking over to Julie Bertagna’s event with William Sutcliffe. I noticed a man in the queue behind me and my witchy senses told me this was Mr Bertagna, which was confirmed later. And I couldn’t help noticing that ‘my’ photo tree either has moved, or the Corner theatre has, or the theatre has grown fatter over the winter.

Tree

Was introduced to Mr B and also to Miss B in the bookshop, after Julie and I had covered Brexit and Meg Rosoff and lunches in our conversation. And then I needed to go and queue for Meg’s event, which seemed to draw a similar crowd, with much of the audience being the same as at Julie’s and William’s talk.

Julie Bertagna and William Sutcliffe

Miss Rosoff had come along, as had Elspeth Graham, who has been involved a lot with Meg’s work on Mal Peet’s last book, which Meg was here to talk about. Spoke to Louise Cole in the signing queue, before Meg persuaded me to miss my train in favour of having a drink with her.

Meg Rosoff

So she and I and Elspeth chatted over wine and water on the deck outside the yurt, and many people were discussed, but my memory has been disabled on that front. Sorry. They had a French restaurant to go to and I had another train to catch.

I hobbled along Princes Street as best I could, and hobbling fast is never a good look, which is why I paid little heed to being hailed by someone who insisted on being noticed, and who turned out to be fellow ex-Stopfordians Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney. They had been to a church half-filled with water. Apparently this was very good.

My train was caught, and the Resident IT Consultant and I ended up at our destination almost simultaneously. I believe we both thought that our day had been the best.

Låt stå!

‘Who are you seeing tomorrow?’ Daughter asked last night from her Andean mountain. ‘Barry, Julie and Meg,’ I replied. We don’t bother with surnames at Bookwitch Towers.

Today is my first day at the 2017 book festival. It feels fitting that it was Meg Rosoff who lost out last year, as far as I was concerned, appearing on my last night when I was tired and didn’t go because I was travelling the following day. I suppose someone felt they had better put her in on what is my first night this year, and it’s been over 24 hours since I travelled.

My Swedish neighbour felt we could stay longer. ‘Are you not retired?’ she asked. ‘Mwmph,’ I replied. I might have to explain about Bookwitching and book festivals one day. People who are holding on to tails of tigers don’t retire.

The Resident IT Consultant is continuing his trek across Scotland, as I trek across Charlotte Square. We both required sandwiches, and with emptyish post-holiday cupboards this was a harder task than usual. Can you put frozen peas in sandwiches?

In the olden days Swedish teachers used to write the two words ‘Låt stå’ next to anything they wanted to remain on the blackboard, which presumably prevented cleaners from wiping important stuff off. I might have to take to doing that in my fridge. The greek yoghurt I’d carefully planned for to stand there and survive until I returned (they last a long time) was gone. Both Offspring have been visiting during our absence.

Oh well.

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.