Tag Archives: Kate Leiper

The #16 profile – Theresa Breslin

It’s taken me a while to tie Theresa Breslin down for a profile, but now that it’s finally happened you can see what a natural she is for this sort of thing. Theresa has a new book out – An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Mythical Creatures – which is another of those gorgeous story books, illustrated by Kate Leiper (who does not seem to have a profile here… Oops). Well, let’s start with the Lego style Theresa:

Theresa Breslin Lego Girl

“How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

None. It was a One Strike Shot. Had a whole lot of support from a writers group and, in particular, a friendly female poet who pointed me in the right direction.

Best place for inspiration?

Walking in woods. Anytime of the year. The peace and beauty calms my spirit and makes me reflect – and always something to different to see.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

Ahemmm! I did. Once. I was invited to contribute to a series and my name had to be Maria Palmer. The series was called ‘Horrorscopes’ (Get it? Horoscope > Palmer ) I became addicted to reading my daily horoscope. It all came in very useful later when I was writing The Nostradamus Prophecy

What would you never write about?

Couldn’t really rule out anything. I’ve already written about things I never imagined I would e.g. the scenes in Prisoner of the Inquisition.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

My writing has taken me to some amazing and unusual places e.g. Walking on the cobblestones of ancient cities along the Great Silk Road and travelling through the desert places which appear in the film Lawrence of Arabia. I’m fascinated by ancient writing and the language and literature of the world. I love meeting young people of many cultures – special occasions were talking to teenagers in Siberia and a group of extremely lively twelve year old boys in Hong Kong.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

That’s a tough one, but possibly Matteo in The Medici Seal because he is with Leonardo da Vinci as he does dissections, paints The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, and when trying out his flying machine.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I’ve had work adapted for stage and screen and was given very good advice from a fellow writer who said to me (in the words of the famous song!) ‘Let. It. Go.

But that’s very hard to do, especially when scenes are deleted and characters conflated or removed. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always been consulted and listened to, and have had it explained to me why it’s not possible to cram everything in. It’s a totally different medium and (gulp!) yes, sometimes changing the text / dialogue works better than keeping the original lines. The new musical theatre script of Divided City for Primary Schools is very much abridged, but it has to be so that Primary School children can perform it. The Primary School Divided City is set up so that there can be a large cast and every pupil is on stage. I think that makes it worth accepting that some scenes have to be cut.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Recently an eleven year old boy asked if, as well as doing all the writing about what was actually happening in a book, was it hard for me to work out the emotional problems of my characters! We chatted. He probably doesn’t realise it but he could become a great writer. In fact I think he’ll be terrific in whatever career he chooses.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I cannot swim, cook, bake, shop for groceries, garden, keep house plants alive or do make-up, hair, or nail polish, and I don’t like driving. But, when my children were small and there was no shop-bought stuff available, I could make the best Hallowe’en costumes, ever. I also tell really good stories, especially Folk Tales….

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Growing up I was a Famous Five obsessive. I actually was George but had to keep this a secret from family and teachers at school.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Way too many to choose, Sweden is a country that punches way above its weight in famous folks. Obviously there’s a certain Bookwitch persona but for me it’s Pippi Longstocking, created by the wonderful writer Astrid Lindgren.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I’ve had bookcases specially made to fit around doors and have commercial ones and saggy shelf ones and that old favourite, pile-them-on-the-floor kind. My own work is arranged alphabetically. The surname part is relatively easy, but getting the titles in strict library order is a whole lot more challenging…

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

I’d like to talk to that boy first. I’d like to know what TV he watches and what film he’d watch twice. What music puts him to sleep, and what might make him want to dance in his pants. I’d like to know if he’s a Minecraft Man or a Candy Crusher. I’d like to know what ‘set’ texts he’s been subjected to and what reading scheme his school is using. I’d like to know if he’d pick up a book with an illustration by Albert Uderzo or prefer one done by Chris Riddell. I’d like know if he loves limericks or longer ‘story’ poems. I’d like to know if anyone at home would ‘share’ the book with him. I’d ask him to do my Five-Finger-Word-Spread test. I’d like to discuss book production with him and explain paper weight and shading, and font form and ink colour, and what the terms ‘leading’ and ‘margin’ and ‘gutter’ mean, and how these can affect the enjoyment of a book, and how he ain’t to blame if some books would repel a book-eating boa constrictor.

Possibly at this point I might have to explain to him that I am totally crazily passionate about children (and adults) reading.

Then, and only then, would I show him my selection of books and we’d flick through them together…

Note: The Librarian in me won’t lie down!!!!!

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Oh, a real Stinko question at the end! And here was me thinking that you were a Bonnie Wee Witch! If all else fails then probably Reading. There’s nothing quite like it in the whole universe. Experience the resonance when you read a few lines, and, suddenly, your soul quivers like a struck tuning fork.”

Well, I say long live librarians! Especially colourful ones. But I’d obviously have to bring food should I ever approach Breslin Towers.

(As for the photo, it’s Theresa’s favourite. Just squint and you’ll see her.)

Bookwitch bites #126

If you didn’t read Hilary McKay’s Binny for Short when it came out last year (and why didn’t you?), I can tell you it has just been issued in paperback, and it is still as good. The singing ought to bring out the goosepimples on any but the hardest of my readers.

Cathy Cassidy

In the exciting run-up to whether or not Scotland will drift off into the North Sea next week, I have two book festivals on home ground to look forward to. First it’s Stirling Book Festival Off The Page. It has all sorts of events in libraries and schools and theatres. For fans of children’s lit there is the dystopian Teri Terry, the amusing Chae Strathie, sweet Cathy Cassidy, illustrator Kate Leiper, and the magical Linda Chapman.

Off The Page runs seamlessly into Bloody Scotland, where much murderous stuff will happen. They are even putting forensics into Stirling Castle, to find out who killed the Earl of Douglas back in the 1400s. Good luck to them.

And if you too want to be able to write like the authors who are coming here to talk about their books, then you could do worse than to have a go at the Connell Guides essay prize. If you are lucky, Philip Pullman might read what you wrote. You do need to be of an age to attend sixth form, but we are all young at heart here. You can submit from September 15th until January 15th.

Good luck!

And read Binny.

Launching Ghost Soldier

Ghost Soldier launch

The plates of cake just kept coming. So did the sandwiches. That’s how you launch a book! Obviously the book matters, but people’s tummies do too. Especially if people are me.

Mr B at Ghost Soldier launch

Theresa Breslin launched Ghost Soldier in Glasgow yesterday afternoon, at The Penthouse, and they do very nice cake. And sandwiches. Lots and lots. Scones, with cream and jam.

While I’m on the cake front, there was a book cover covered cake, too. And Mr B had been put to good use selling books, while wearing his speciality book cover t-shirt, and his usual big smile.

Ghost Soldier

Ghost Soldier launch

I came across Kathryn Ross in the foyer, accompanied by Theresa’s illustrator Kate Leiper (who not only does beautiful kelpies, but has worked on Ghost Soldier too). Upstairs I found Cathy MacPhail, and had my first encounter with Kirkland Ciccone (he has never been to Spain, in case anyone wants to know), who is – probably – my nearest children’s author. Geographically speaking.

Kirkland Ciccone

Ghost Soldier launch

We chatted (about things like how Kirkland is young enough to have been a Theresa Breslin child fan), gobbled cake and admired Theresa’s fishy shoes. (That’s one of them, right there, being swung in mid-air for people to see, which explains the blur.) Then Theresa leaned on the Resident IT Consultant for balance. (Yes, dear readers, I brought him along. He needs to get out and meet interesting people. Besides, he’d never have believed me about the shoes.)

Theresa Breslin

After a suitable delay there were two beautifully brief speeches and Theresa read the first chapter from Ghost Soldier. She also told us the background to why she wrote the book, and how some of the unlikely things that happen in it had actually ‘sort of’ happened in real life, making them not so unlikely after all.

Theresa Breslin

She assisted the young girl, who had named the dog in the book, in cutting the book cover cake, which then was devoured by the other children present. There were loads of children, which was nice.

Ghost Soldier cake

Ghost Soldier launch

The Resident IT Consultant and I beat a retreat soon after, due to exhaustion. Perhaps it had been a mistake spending several hours at Ikea beforehand. Even the Resident IT Consultant needed to sit down at one point, and that is simply unheard of. In the end the people in charge of the premises paid us to leave, which was nice of them.

It’s a mercifully quick drive home from Glasgow, even if you include a diesel stop in Cumbernauld. I blame that on Cumbernauld-boy Kirkland. Plus we needed the diesel.

The 2013 Carnegie longlists

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals

When the Carnegie longlists were made public on Monday, I was too busy with reviews to blog about them. Besides, I thought it would be good to let everything sink in a little.

It was quite nice to see that the Daniel Finn book I was reviewing right when I received the notification of the longlists had made it on. If not – I mean if I hadn’t read it just then – it would have been yet another book I’d neither read nor heard of.

I’ve been counting. Not an easy task because the longlists are long; I think 68 for the Carnegie Medal and 64 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Then I counted some more, to see if I’d read a reasonable number of them or not. I must admit it’s more towards the ‘or not’ end. 21 and 6 respectively, of which one features on both the lists.

It’s too early to have witchy feels. But I reckon that An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales by Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin would be a pretty worthy winner.

When I reviewed Code Name Verity at the beginning of the year, I did say it was one of the best books ever, so I would obviously have no objection to Elizabeth Wein winning the medal. Several more of the 21 will make it on to my 2012 favourites list. They are all fantastic books. More of the longlist lie waiting in a fairly orderly fashion. Some will get my attention, and others won’t, despite their certain excellence.

Others, I have heard of. And many I’ve not. The question is why not, because they are hardly the Mills & Boon equivalents that I give a wide berth these days.

Taken together, the longlisted books are about as many as I have the capacity to read and review in a year. Seeing as I have read many others that haven’t made it on to the lists, despite being quality books, as well as recent enough, means the world is full of good reads.

See you for the shortlists in March!

Kelpies and other beasts

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper, An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

It’s not all Grimm. Or Asbjørnsen and Moe. Now we have Theresa Breslin’s An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, fantastically illustrated by Kate Leiper.

You don’t actually need Theresa’s stories to enjoy this book. And you know me, so you know I’m not saying anything bad about either Theresa or her stories. It’s simply that the pictures by Kate Leiper are really something. Theresa thinks so too, which is why I dare suggest her stories aren’t everything.

When I saw Theresa back in August we stood around, just staring at the beautiful kelpie in this book. I’m so glad this picture of the kelpie exists, because it helps me imagine Seth MacGregor’s ‘horse’ so much better.

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper, An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

In a way, these are the same stories we have heard many times before, only now wearing Scottish clothes. But that’s the whole point about folk tales. They get told, by folk, over and over again. They change a bit. Or they don’t.

Sometimes it depends what you heard first, what you will remember, and perhaps re-tell. Because that is what you do; you tell the stories. It’s less about reading and more about sharing tall tales. You know, the one about the clever boy who worked out what to do in a bad situation. The poor woman who wanted a baby. The man who really loved his dog, who loved him in return.

This time it’s Theresa Breslin’s turn to re-tell stories she heard as a child, or learned about in some other way.

It is all very, very Scottish. (And if you are not, there is a handy glossary for Sassenachs.)

The Kelpies Prize

Not all Scottish books for children feature a kilted man rowing across a loch. But it’s what it felt like to Theresa Breslin, many years ago as she contemplated what there was for Scottish children to read. She wanted something that was them, something which spoke their language.

Writer's Retreat

Theresa was at the Writer’s Retreat in Charlotte Square last night to present the Kelpies Prize to the 2012 winner. Floris Books support the prize, which is for unpublished manuscripts, aimed at boys and girls aged eight to twelve, and set in Scotland. The winner receives a cheque for £2000 and the promise to be published by Floris Books.

Winner's cheque

It was my first party at the book festival, so I was excited, but relieved it wasn’t me who was wondering if they’d win. I had a drink, looked at the nibbles, spoke to Vanessa Robertson of the Edinburgh Bookshop, and to Theresa, who later introduced me to Lari Don, a former winner of the prize.

Janis MacKay

Someone from Floris spoke about the history behind the award, and then Janis MacKay who won in 2009 read excerpts from all three shortlisted books, by Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson.

Top Secret envelope

Then it was Theresa’s turn to speak (and she really didn’t need to say anything about me), which is when the kilted danger to literature was mentioned. As she spoke, I noticed a man creeping up towards the open door, and I wondered about gatecrashers, until I realised it was simply Mr B, wanting to enjoy his wife’s speech and to take photos of her. (I had been told he was engaged in something football related!)

Tracy Traynor

It’s always hard when you don’t win, but I am really pleased for Tracy Traynor who did, and I think she’s got a promising sounding book in Nicking Time. (I had been admiring her purple dress beforehand, so perhaps I sensed she was the one.)

Debbie Richardson and Lari Don

My photo-grapher was indisposed, and as you can see, so were my own photographic skills. But it was dark. And very red.

It was good to meet Benedicte and Chani from Floris, and they very kindly gave me a copy of Theresa’s new book called Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, which has been gorgeously illustrated by Kate Leiper.

(The runners-up were Debbie Richardson with Pick ‘n’ Mix Mums, and Rebecca Smith with Shadow Eyes.)