Tag Archives: Keith Charters

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!

Keith Charters’ action sandwich

He’s the kind of man who will regale you with stories about his appendix. In this case Keith Charters boasted an exploding appendix, and perhaps that is why he was chosen as the first author on the first morning of the first St Andrews Literature Live.

Byre Theatre

Byre Theatre

Yes, St Andrews now has its own litfest. It’s at the Byre Theatre today (and yesterday, obviously). And for a little litfest, it’s got a good selection of quite famous names, so I do hope it will be a success. Keith’s event certainly was, since most of his audience were the type who actively enjoy exploding appendices.

Keith Charters

Keith Charters

Keith’s exploding good-for-nothing appendix somehow turned into Lee’s appendix. Lee is the main character in Keith’s books, of which there are four, with the fifth being written, and there is no telling how many there will be before Keith might want to stop.

Perhaps because it was an inaugural sort of literary morning (beautiful sunshine!) there was a photo session where the assembled children shouted ‘green gorillas’ which I take to be a peculiar St Andrews tradition. The event was sold out, but when the witch turned up and requested a small corner in which to huddle, theatre staff were most helpful. Thank you!

Keith Charters at the Byre Theatre

If I have one complaint about this father-of-two-sets-of-twins, it’s that he didn’t stand still for long enough to be photographed. (But I have told him off, so no doubt there will be a change…)

It sounds like Keith worked in finance (I’m trying not to mention bankers and stockbrokers) some time after being born and attending university. During this time Keith wrote in his spare time (hah!) as a hobby, until some child of his demanded books suitable for children.

Keith Charters , Lee and the Consulmutants

I know Keith avoided mentioning poo, but there was barfing and puking and weeing into ‘milk bottles.’ Presumably this counted as the ‘funny disgusting’ option the children chose.

His action sandwich is not two pieces of bread with a broken Action Man in the middle; it is action, followed by setting the scene, followed by yet more action. Keith writes the blurb first, and then comes the sandwich, and finally you have to look back. And there’s your book. An important piece of equipment for an author is long and soft, and you lie on it while waiting for inspiration. You can close your eyes, but try not to snore.

Byre Theatre

I’m afraid when Keith was asked how many mistakes he’s made, I snorted in a most un-witch-like way, leaving one young man to turn around and stare… Keith writes fast and goes back to correct mistakes later. One book got written in 13 days, one took six weeks, one three months and one much longer than that.

To end the event, Keith had two copies of his books for the audience to win. The secret is to have the right birthday. Or possibly to lie. One potential winner was so upset at having won, that he burst into tears.

Keith Charters

The usual signing session ended the morning, and it looked as if the children didn’t want to leave. But once they did, I had a little chat with Keith, until he was carried off for soup and stuff. I had an assignation with a baked potato, so that was fine.

(And Keith, the David Bowie eyes are too late! I have read two new books this year, featuring those eyes.)

Byre Theatre

Keiths bearing gifts

‘The real deal,’ is how Keith Gray described his co-eventee Patrick Ness. This time we had Patrick round the back for a photocall and that might be ‘bizarre,’ but you do need to treat a double (or should that be triple?) Carnegie winner as the star he is.

Patrick Ness

While we waited, we sat outside the yurt in the sunshine. My photographer in one of the fun deck chairs, and myself more modestly on a plastic, blue folding chair. It was a good spot. We watched Chris Close making Vivian French play the toy guitar, while waving her leg in the air.

The deck chair

And just as we started feeling lonely, Keith Charters came past. He stopped to talk, because he’s such a lovely man that he even chats to witches. Especially to witches. And as he regaled us with tales of Gillian Philip finishing writing her latest Sithe instalment while balancing on a li-lo in Barbados, he sat down on the somewhat soggy carpet at our feet. Which was so not a good thing. He resorted to kneeling after a while. That’s how I like them.

When Keith heard I didn’t yet have my Wolfsbane, he went and got me copy. Just like that!

While he was down, the other Keith (Gray) arrived, and joined us. He, too, brought a gift. Which was very nice of him. They are a bit like that, those Keiths. Then we talked about lack of sleep and courgette baby food. Admired the second Keith’s blue and yellow lanyards. So very Swedish!

After the Keiths wandered off, a semi-Swede came up to chat, and the Guardian’s Claire Armitstead joined us, doing a good impression of knowing who Bookwitch is. She’s rather like the Head Girl and I’m a little scared of her. But she’s lovely.

The time for Patrick’s bizarre paparazzi moment came, which was when Chris Close borrowed him for a bit, having him hide his face behind his hand, and later, rummaging through the recycling bin… (If that’s not bizarre, I don’t know what is.)

I had time to re-connect with Patrick’s new-ish publicity lady Sarah, and when they went to get ready for Patrick’s event, we wandered off to find Philip Ardagh and Axel Scheffler signing after theirs.

Philip Ardagh

Axel Scheffler

After which I headed towards the Corner theatre queue, to listen to Patrick and Keith argue about who’s boss. But that – as they say – is another story…

The Bloodstone launch

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

We had a lazy – well, lazier – sort of day yesterday, mainly attending the launch of Gillian Philip’s Bloodstone at the Edinburgh Bookshop. Hadn’t been there since it was enlarged, and I have to say the shop looked good.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

People came and people mingled, and the able bartender served red and white and soft with aplomb. If anyone saw me with two glasses in my hands that’s because I had to hold the photographer’s drink. Nothing else.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Keith Charters of Strident Publishing hopped into the shop window and spoke. Not too long, and really quite well. They publish good books at Strident.

Keith Charters

Then it was Gillian’s turn, but before she hopped her shoes had to come off. (Always consider your choice of socks in these circumstances!) Gillian read from Bloodstone and a pretty good piece it was, too. The one about the bloodthirsty ‘horse’. That kind of reading is likely to make people want to buy, and even read, Bloodstone.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

Gillian Philip

We mingled some more. I spoke to Vanessa about her plans for the bookshop, and I talked to one of my faithful blog readers, before attempting to get her run over on the street outside.

Bloodstone launch at the Edinburgh Bookshop

And no, Seth wasn’t there.

Janne Teller, controversial jet-setter, continued

So there I was, not quite on the floor. Which is good.

Janne was our third foreigner in around 24 hours, although with not a single interpreter in sight. Not necessary, as Janne divides her time between Denmark and New York, which as chair Gill Arbuthnott said is so glamourous. Janne looks glamourous, too, but actually seems nice despite this. And those boots…

We sat in the adult’s row at the back with Janne’s publisher Keith Charters and authors Gillian Philip and Linda Strachan, who are both quite good with knives and swords.

DSC_0445

But nothing beats the (mental) goriness of Janne’s Nothing. She suggests. I faint.

I blame it on the fact Janne has no children. I think you can be much scarier if you don’t have them, and as we had agreed while waiting outside, parenthood makes a wimp out of you. She had been asked to write a children’s book, and first she thought she couldn’t, until Pierre Anthon (the boy who sits in a plumtree) spoke in her ear.

Then her publisher said the book was too strange to publish, so there was a delay until a teenage publishing offspring had been found who liked Nothing. At first the book sold badly and then it was banned in several countries. After which things appear to have picked up somewhat.

Janne read to us from the beginning, introducing the ‘heap of meaning’. It’s a weird feeling when someone reads softly and beautifully from what feels like a quietly menacing story, and doing so on what is really a glorified roundabout, with the traffic roaring extra loudly for Janne.

The end of the book was so hard that Janne wrote several. She was surprised by the reactions to her book, as she was under the impression she had written a ‘nice book’. This ‘nice’ book has been dramatised and has even been done as a musical in Denmark.

Her favourite character is Pierre Anthon, and she doesn’t particularly like her narrator. The humour in the story is absolutely necessary, she feels, although she is amazed at all the surveys that portray Danes as the happiest people. They ‘never’ smile, and she believes they just tick the happy box because it’s what you do.

There will be more YA novels from Janne. She has a short book about refugees (inspired by the xenophobia in Denmark), which features a Danish family fleeing to Egypt. And in every translation she changes the refugee family to one from the country in which it is published.

That’s what we need more of; something to make us think.

Afterwards I told Janne where I had given up reading. She told me nothing bad happens after that. Am I expected to believe her?

Nothing

The snake on the cover of the proof should have been a hint. So should one or two other things on the same cover. Did I look properly? No. Felt uneasy about snakey, but that was after he’d turned up inside the cover as well. David Almond has come up with a cover blurb that goes like this; ‘bold, beautiful, terrifying’. And I thought I’d be safe after that!

Janne Teller, Nothing

This is going to be one of my most incomplete book reviews ever. I rarely write about books I’ve not finished. I rarely read books I have had bad feelings about well before the book even gets to me. As soon as I heard about Janne Teller’s novel Nothing I knew I didn’t want to read it. Didn’t help that everyone raved about it. I was not going to read it.

But, you know. Keith Charters at Strident Publishing raved about it. I warned him. Then it turned out Janne Teller isn’t a Norwegian man. She is a Danish woman. And she’s coming to the Edinburgh Book Festival. And I did need a Danish book for my foreign challenge. And Keith had reserved a rare (?) proof for me. With a snake on the cover.

Nothing is 206 pages, of which I read the first 128. Had this been thirty years ago I would have been on the floor by page 128. I’m much better now, so I simply went off to make dinner, thinking I might return. After dinner I knew I was never returning. Never. Moaned to the Resident IT Consultant, who offered to sacrifice himself, so took the book and read it in one sitting in the bath. (That’s one long bath, albeit a shortish book, which is easy and fast to read. As long as you don’t stop halfway, in which case it’s faster still.)

Fable, he says. Very good. Interesting. Allegory, says Keith. OK, even I could tell that a 14-year-old boy who sits in a plum tree for a few months is not part of a normal, straightforward sort of plot. But even so…

Pierre decides life is nothing, so goes to sit in this plum tree. How this will help, I don’t know. And not even his having a father who is a commune hippy explains this kind of behaviour.

But it’s Pierre’s classmates who really take the biscuit. In order to get him out of the tree, they each have to sacrifice something. Each thing worse than the previous one. (Consider my first paragraph.) It quickly escalates into bullying of the worst kind, which I found really bad even at the snake stage.

I don’t care how allegorical it is. It’s still horrible. I understand it has been banned. (In Norway?) It has also won awards. I can understand that, too. I can condone lots of violence in books, and bullying and what have you. This was something else.

(Lord of the Flies, she whispers.)

But I recognise that many of you will like this book. Love it, even. So if you are not the fainting type, do try it. As the Resident IT Consultant said, it should spark plenty of discussion in classrooms and elsewhere. As it did here.

I will do my very best to meet Janne Teller later this month. I have tickets for her event. That might turn out to be a lying-on-the-floor-from-the-start kind of event. With earplugs.

(At least Janne is Danish. And a lady. Unlike Jo Nesbø, who really is male and Norwegian. Also in Edinburgh.)

The translator is Martin Aitken, who has done a good job. Some surprising Americanisms, which personally I find makes the book feel less Danish. But it reads well, as people keep saying.

A few days after the interrupted read, the dinner and the long bath, I’m thinking maybe…

No.

Probably not.

Bookwitch bites #40

Far too often you find out about thoroughly wonderful people when it’s too late. I have been wondering if there is any way of publicising the kind of appreciation you get in obituaries, before someone dies. Becca Wyatt, who worked on the Carnegie medal, is one such woman. She died suddenly and at far too young an age just before Christmas. And from what I’ve heard about her she sounds like someone I would have loved meeting. Here is an account of how Becca’s many friends paid tribute to her at her funeral last week.

Someone else who has died is Dick King Smith, who by all counts also was both lovely and interesting. And he wrote great children’s books. I remember reading one or two with Offspring when they were the right age. Other than that I’m a fan of Babe, that wonderful little pig with grand ideas. Lucy Coats worked with Dick King Smith when she was an editor, and I rather liked her blog post about him.

I first met Meg Rosoff at an event in the Jewish Book Week five years ago. Ever since they send me their programme, and there is often a lot that interests me. But, it’s not always at a time and place that fits in (first time lucky, I suspect) for me. I will persevere, however. And for those who are in London there is a Family Day on Sunday 13th February, featuring Francesca Simon, Andy Stanton and Inbali Iserles.

Just think; without JBW there would have been no Bookwitch blog… And I promise to go away and practise saying Inbali’s name correctly. I know I have been taught it once, so am sure it can be done again.

I have this silly notion that once we’re into the twenties in January it’s practically spring. It would appear I’m not the only one who is calendarically challenged (I just love making up new words). Keith Charters can be seen being interviewed wearing a short sleeved shirt (and trousers, I expect) in Scotland. In January. And there is something which I took to be a surfboard, but turned out to be a rocket instead.

Dead hamsters and other horrors

Joan Lennon has no business looking like the Resident IT Consultant’s cousin. But other than that, it was lovely to meet Joan on Friday morning. It was Lindsey Fraser who led her up to me and made the introductions, which was kind of her. As to the misguidedness in believing I’d be worth speaking to, I won’t make any more comments. Joan has a new website, which has been sworn over a great deal. That is often the case with such things.

Joan Lennon

Lindsey Fraser

Loitering with the intent of catching Keith Charters as he set off for Gillian Philip’s school event, was really what I was doing, of course. He’d promised me I could be Graham, which was an interesting experience. When I located Keith, he said that my photographer could be Alison, so she was. It seems Strident Publishing had a ‘Ten little what’s-its’ kind of  morning, with only Keith left standing. A real ‘shame’, that.

Gillian Philip

Gillian claimed to be nervous, but she had the tentful of teenagers gagging happily over all her gory gruesomeness. (Photographer looked slightly green, however.) She detailed, in a most detailed manner, the things done to witches in the olden days, and I almost changed persuasion there and then. Gillian read several well chosen excerpts from Firebrand, and told us how she had gone about writing it.

Backwards, by the sound of things. She loves her bad guy (knew it!) and is fond of kelpies. Of course. And did you know that the people who went round doing horrible things to witches back then, billed for travel expenses?

Gillian Philip

Keith Charters

Successful signing session over, we trooped back to the authors’ decking area where we snuck in. Again. We were there for our interview with Gillian of the witch hunt, and it ended up being half an interview with Keith as well. The more the merrier.

Philip Ardagh came up to say hello, and when he heard I didn’t have a ticket for Katie Davies later on, he went off to perform magic. Meanwhile the photographer appeared to be oblivious to the fact that Alan, Mr Katie Davies, was standing right behind her. Me not having an inkling that it was relevant, said nothing. Seems she wasn’t unaware as much as star struck and paralysed. Oh well.

Shirley Williams

Back to the press yurt for some actual work, and to do something about a late lunch. Shirley Williams was scheduled to do a photo call, but didn’t appear at the given time. Instead she came and sat down about a metre away from me, finishing off an interview she’d been doing. I have to say politicians do interview differently from authors.

I went off to hear Katie Davies on The Great Hamster Massacre, with the half of Philip Ardagh that remains as chair. Mr Davies came too, complete with baby in sling. They were the only ones to leave when baby Davies got noisy. Though there were an worrying number of bluefaced children in the audience.

Katie Davies

This was Katie’s first ever event, and she talked about selling baby hamsters for sweets as a child, which was probably less gruesome than it sounded at first. She read a number of passages selected, I suspect, by Philip, who did a good job as chair. He’s read 130 funny books recently and was slightly less keen on funny books right now, but had enjoyed Katie’s first two books. Though he protested when Katie pondered ‘working her way up’ to writing an adult book that there is no such thing, because children’s books are not lower than any other books.

But she does know how to kill off hamsters with green cashmere, even if only fictionally. I hope. The number of dead hamsters in her book had been kept artificially low to prevent upsetting readers.

As for me, I had to rush on to another dead hamster event on the fringe. These things just happen.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

‘It’s special’

Eoin Colfer once said he was sure school children only came to his talks in schools to avoid going to their maths lesson. Well, I don’t know what they expect from a trip to Charlotte Square and the book festival. I managed yet another schools event on Wednesday morning, when Simmone Howell tempted me enough to crawl out of bed far too soon after having got into it. Close to 200 teenagers had done the same, and they were a quiet lot. Although the questions put to Simmone were good ones.

Simmone started off by talking about places in fiction, from The Hobbit to To Kill a Mocking Bird through to her own two teen novels. She likes doing maps, and did them for her books. She also admitted to an early fondness for the word ‘peripatetic’ . In between talking about the background to her novels, she read short pieces here and there from Notes From the Underground and from Everything Beautiful. Simmone feels a need to write about what she knows, like places she’s lived in. She reckons she compensates for her childhood by rewriting her life in fiction form. And like a certain witch I can think of, Simmone keeps returning to the same places whenever she travels.

Simmone Howell

They may have been quiet, but many of the teenagers came into the shop and bought one or both of the books. One girl very proudly showed off her newly purchased and signed book to all her friends. She kept opening the book and showing the dedication, kept telling her friends what a special book it was, specially signed to her. It’s nice to see.

Emma ‘Long-Arm’ from Bloomsbury showed off how many books she can hold in one go. Lotsi, as one toddler I knew well used to say when counting. Very lotsi. And she didn’t drop a single one.

As I said earlier, I wasn’t exactly alone in getting up at the crack of dawn. Approaching Charlotte Square I noticed a long snake of day-glo-vested children on the opposite pavement. Later I found them, along with all the others, eating their packed lunches on the grass. Now I know why the mud is so famously muddy. It’ll be all the orange juice they pour out.

It can be hard to get used to all the authors wandering around ‘like normal people’, but I’m trying as much as I can. And one day I’ll pick up the courage to ask Vivian French for a photo opportunity and a signature. As Daughter and Son and Dodo were leaving with the witch to go in search of lunch somewhere quieter, we ran into Gillian Philip. But it’s a bit much when she recognises Offspring first, isn’t it?

Naomi Alderman

Philip Reeve

Ian Beck

Spent some of my spare time looking for more victims I could take pictures of while they were signing books, and I found Naomi Alderman, Philip Reeve and Ian Beck.

Mal Peet

My evening event was yet again with Marcus Sedgwick, this time in a heated discussion with Mal Peet, and kept in order by the queen of writing-about-children’s-fiction herself, Nikki Gamble. The audience was boosted by an appearance by Gillian Philip, accompanied by the two Keiths, Gray and Charters. And I’ll be forever grateful to Nikki for the revelation that Marcus has a past in an ABBA tribute band. Mal, on the other hand, is a former mortuary assistant.

That sort of difference between the two seemed to be a pattern. Marcus’s fascination with cold countries versus Mal’s with warm countries. Marcus plans his writing in advance, whereas Mal can’t even plan a cheese sandwich, whatever that has to do with novel writing. The ‘bone idle’ Mal finds writing boring and depressing.

Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus read from his new book White Crow, which is no a bundle of laughs, according to himself, and he feels he’s outdone himself with this one. In order to stop himself blabbering Mal read from Exposure, which is the story about Othello he stole off Shakespeare. He pointed out that novels have nothing to do with real life; what with characters speaking in complete sentences and how people never go to the toilet.

This was a real conversation about teen fiction. We need more events like it.

Some more photos for you…

if you haven’t already had enough. In fact, here are more photos even if you have.

Ian Rankin 2

Lynne Chapman and Julia Jarman 2

Gerald Scarfe 2

Linda Strachan and friends

Judith Kerr 2

Neil Gaiman

Val McDermid 2

Debi Gliori signing 2

Henning Mankell

Michael Morpurgo

Malorie Blackman 4

Adèle Geras and Jonathan Stroud

Anne Fine

Keith Gray 2

Rachel Ward

Michael Holroyd

Steve Cole

Jacqueline Wilson

Klas Östergren

Lucy Hawking

Henning Mankell

Theresa Breslin and Adèle Geras

Nicola Morgan

Keith Charters 2

Gillian Philip 2

Marina Lewycka 2

Philip Ardagh

Patrick Ness 2

Melvin Burgess

Elizabeth Laird 2

Bali Rai 3

Louise Rennison

And that’s it. So called ‘normal’ service will resume here really soon.