Tag Archives: Keith Gray

Witch on rails

Did you work it out? What did last week’s random posts have in common?

That’s right. It was Wien, although not perhaps Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume. It was more Daughter’s Träume to spend her birthday in Vienna. So we did. She flew in, while I revisited my youth and Interrailed. Much as I love trains, I’m not sure I recommend such a lot of train travel in one go. It takes a long time to get to Vienna. On the eve of my departure I realised that three books wouldn’t be enough, so added a fourth. Jolly lucky I did!

The Resident IT Consultant had looked up how to get to the hotel. ‘Easy,’ he said. Underground to Schwedenplatz and then a short walk from there. He reckoned I could memorise that. The hotel was where Daughter stayed last year and loved it so much that nothing else would do. She was right. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Although, not necessarily by rail.

Advised by Keith Gray who moved to Vienna last year, we went for birthday tea in a lovely café. I got up to inspect the cake counter to see what I’d like. ‘Was ist das?’ I asked and pointed. The nice young man told me, and it proved easier than expected to remember. Schwedenschnitte. It was very good.

We – well, I – wanted to see the Spanish riding school, so we went for its daily morning exercise session. Maybe not the best thing to do. I’d no idea that they have seats where you can’t see the ground [and thereby not the beautiful Lipizzaners]. After which it turned out that Daughter is allergic to horses…

The next day was Austria’s national day, which could be why we had tickets for a rather Straussy morning concert at the Musikverein. Luckily it was everything Daughter wanted it to be, except possibly New Year’s Day.

From there we walked to the Palmenhaus to meet Keith Gray and his family, for a chat and tea, sitting on the terrace in the late October sunshine. It was very nice, and a treat to see how the Viennese interact with waiters in cafés. Apparently forthright ‘rudeness’ is the way, and you really do say grüß Gott to everyone, even in the supermarket. And seeing as we never made it to Dunfermline to visit Keith at home, trailing after him to Vienna seemed like a good idea.*

During our remaining time in this beautiful city we squeezed in a few more cafés, purely in the name of research. Obviously. I even tried a piece of Gugelhupf, inspired by Tim in Airs Above the Ground. Books are dangerous.

And then Daughter got on her plane home, and I found my sleeper train. By the time I got to Köln I discovered that German German is so much easier than its Austrian sibling. I also found there is such a thing as a delayed German train, but I still managed to travel all the way home, a steady four hours ahead of Son who was ‘following’ me through that bit of Europe.

Finished my third book on Eurostar, starting on the fourth as I left King’s Cross.

*There is no way of escaping a witch. No matter where you move, she’ll come for her Schwedenschnitte. And you.

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Houdini and the Five-Cent Circus

I freely admit to not knowing a lot about Harry Houdini, other than marvelling at his abilities to escape. It seems he had a ‘normal’ childhood as Erik Weiss, and that’s what Keith Gray has written about here, when Erik was eleven.

Keith Gray, Houdini and the Five-Cent Circus

At some point I wondered how Keith knew all these things about the young Houdini, but soon realised that authors make things up. So this might be true, or it might not be. It still gave me valuable background to the great Houdini.

Erik’s friend Jack dares him to unlock all the shops in the main shopping street in their little American town. At least in this book, Erik displays autistic traits, so he does as he’s told, and can see nothing wrong with it.

Along with their friend Mattie they end up having another couple of adventures, based on Erik’s skill at picking locks, and you can see how he works out the direction he might go in, for some real success.

Really enjoyed this early window on someone so famous, reminding me that we all have to start somewhere.

Day 7

Let me tell you about Keith Gray. Eight years ago, on our seventh and last day of our first Edinburgh Book Festival, Daughter and I happened upon Keith Gray signing in the children’s bookshop. It had been a bit of a learning curve for us, and we realised when we discovered Keith sitting there, that authors might be there even if we hadn’t gone to their events, and even when we didn’t know there was an event.

Keith Gray

Back then I was less shy about being forward, so walked up and introduced myself, and we had a nice chat. Over the years Keith has tended to pop up in Charlotte Square at some point, and there have been other Scottish-based events as well. But ever since that day – the 26th of August 2009 – in my mind he has personified the happy coincidence of the bookfest.

Yesterday was also the 26th of August, and Keith and his family had organised farewell drinks in Charlotte Square, for their many book friends, because they are moving away from Scotland. It was lovely of them to do so, and they will be missed. Much less coincidental popping in future, I suspect.

Jasmine Fassl and Debi Gliori

So, it was especially nice that Daughter was able to be there with me, freshly extricated from the Andes. She was able to say hello to Frances in the press yurt, and – oh, how convenient – she was able to take photos for me as I had an interview to do. I’m nothing but an opportunistic user of my nearest and dearest.

Claire McFall

The interview was with Claire McFall, about her astounding fame. In China, in case you were wondering. She’s lovely, and didn’t even complain as we almost cooked her in the ‘greenhouse’ café. (There will be more about Claire later.)

We’d already spied Michael Rosen, and I’d caught a glimpse of David Melling with Vivian French as they walked over to the Bosco Theatre (which meant I missed out on their signing in the Portakabin) for an event. The signing no one could miss was Julia Donaldson’s, still taking place right next to us in the greenhouse, a couple of hours after her event.

Kirkland Ciccone and Sharon Gosling

Pamela Butchart

Despite not dressing quite as loud as usual, we still managed to see Kirkland Ciccone, signing next to Sharon Gosling and Pamela Butchart. Who else but Kirkie would have posters of himself to sign and hand out? Pamela wore some rather fetching furry ears, but it wasn’t the same. Also milling about in the children’s bookshop were Danny Scott and Keith Charters. The latter chatted so much to Daughter that I had to do my own photographing…

Keith Charters

I believe that after this we managed to fit in eating our M&S sandwiches, before keeping our eyes peeled for one of Daughter’s heroes; Catherine Mayer of the Women’s Equality Party.

Catherine Mayer

We searched out some shade after this, enjoying a wee rest next to the Main theatre, where we were discovered by Kirkie and Keith C and chatted before they departed for home.

Cressida Cowell

Noticed Gill Lewis at a distance as we sped across the square to find illustrator Barroux in the children’s bookshop, and then straight over to the main signing tent for Cressida Cowell. Her signing queue was most likely of the two-hour variety, and necessitated the services of her publicity lady as well, so no chat for me.

Barroux and Sarah McIntyre

And as it seemed to be a day for dressing up, we lined up to see Sarah McIntyre sign, in her queenly outfit. You can join her but you can’t beat her. Barroux, who was still there, seemed to think so, as he stared admiringly at Sarah.

John Young

After all this to-ing and fro-ing we had covered all the signings we had planned for, and we went in search of the drinks party out in the square. Debi Gliori was there, before her own event later in the afternoon, and she and Daughter had a long chat, while I talked to Keith Gray himself. He introduced me to a few people, including debut author John Young, whose book I luckily happen to have waiting near the top of my tbr pile.

Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney turned up, and so did a number of other people I knew, but mostly people I didn’t. We were all charmed by a lovely young lady, who spent most of her time smiling and playing on the grass. If it had been socially accepted, I reckon Daughter might have taken her home with us.

Little M

Daughter and I had placed ourselves strategically by the path, so that when Philip Ardagh strolled past, we cut him off, forcing him to chat to us for a little, while also giving Keith an opportunity to come and say goodbye. And then Philip made Keith take the photo of him and the witches. It only looks as though we are of different height. In reality Philip’s arm on my shoulder was so heavy that I sank straight into the mud, making me look a little short…

Philip Ardagh and witches

We’d never have got away if we hadn’t had a train to catch, so we got away, and the train was caught, but not before we’d encountered Jackie Kay on the pavement outside. Seemed fitting, somehow.

Patrick Ness – setting aside expectations

Ann Landmann clearly knew she could fill the George Square Lecture Theatre for the Blackwell’s Patrick Ness event on Saturday afternoon. So she did. People were queueing before the doors opened. There were plenty of young fans, but also a good number of unaccompanied adults. It’s OK. I was one myself, as was Kate Leiper who turned up again. (We’ll have to stop meeting like this…)

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

I knew it’d be good when I heard that Keith Gray was going to be the one to talk to Patrick about his new book Release. This was their third event together (and I’ve been to them all), and as Keith said, a lot has happened since the last time; three books, television, a film.

The edge of the stage nearly brought Patrick down as he entered, but he managed to right himself, and then he put his mic on, having left it off in case we could hear him in the Gents.

Keith wanted to know if he had anything he needs to get to before… ‘Death?’ Patrick is aware that every book could be the last, so he doesn’t hold back. He sets aside what the publisher and the market might expect, and writes what he needs to write. He pointed out that no one was expecting Harry Potter, and that J K Rowling’s joy with her book is clear.

Patrick never expected anyone would want what he wrote. Asked to describe Release to the people in the audience, most of whom had not yet read the book, he said it’s A Day in the Life of Adam Thorn, based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, from buying flowers in the morning, to a party at night.

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

He wants to kick off his safety net, and see how you survive the apocalypse; what feels like the end of the world. Asked why he wrote it now, Patrick felt the time was right. All his ten books are about him, but this one much more so. He’s not trying to be controversial for the sake of controversy. But it was time. It’s the book he’d have wanted to read when he was 16. And he can only write about his own experiences. Gay love needs to be described as more than romantic hand-holding, and he pointed out that his story contains ‘no worse’ than what’s in Judy Blume’s Forever.

Keith wanted to know if Adam might turn up in more books, but Patrick felt that was a terrible question. (He doesn’t know.) Yes, he does want to get people to read Mrs Dalloway and Forever, and there isn’t much difference between Stephen King and Virginia Woolf. Joanna Trollope’s name was mentioned, followed by a laugh. Patrick likes Donne, but not Wordsworth, which is perfectly valid.

Patrick only writes for himself at 16. He writes about everything that he’d have wanted to talk about at that age. When he wrote A Monster Calls, he knew he couldn’t guess how Siobhan Dowd would have written the story, so he had to do it his way. And books are like children; you love them, and send them out into the world, hoping for the best.

Angela in Release was based on his oldest friend, and he used the name Angela Darlington after someone paid £1000 (to charity) to have their name in his book. Someone wanted to know if Patrick would ever write about a trans character, and he replied ‘never say never.’ He mentioned his friend Juno Dawson [formerly James], who came out to him about being trans, and he feels it’s wrong that even now you ‘have to’ come out about sexuality.

Another question was about the world ending, and Patrick said he had waited for the apocalypse, but when the world kept not ending, he didn’t know what to do. Now he worries more about the boiler making odd noises, than about the apocalypse. He had a very kind answer to the age old question about what inspired him to become an author, and which book he liked writing the best.

Stories get to stew in his head for a long time before he starts the painful process of writing. And it never becomes what you think it will be. If he has a new idea when reading the first draft, he pretends in the second draft that he always knew about it.

Queue for Patrick Ness

Keith brought the discussion to a close, and Ann Landmann directed everyone where to go; those who had books for signing, those who still needed to buy books, and those who had no intention of stocking up on Christmas presents.

George Sq Lecture Theatre

Patrick Ness

As for me, I realised this was too long a queue for me to stand in (it was of Pratchett/Gaiman proportions), so I stared at the recently emptied auditorium, at Ann waving her hands in the air, took a few fuzzy photos from a distance, said goodbye to Kate, and walked out into the sunshine again.

And here is a prettier one ‘we’ snapped earlier:

Patrick Ness

(Photo above by Helen Giles)

Inaugural Scottish Teenage Book Prize Winner!

And we have a winner of the new Scottish Teenage Book Prize. Claire McFall has just won the £3000 prize for her book Black Cairn Point, beating Joan Lennon and Keith Gray, who each receive £500. These things happen. Congratulations to all three.

I’ve not read Claire’s book, but it’s been described as a chilling and atmospheric thriller set in Dumfries and Galloway, which explores what happens when an ancient malevolent spirit is reawakened.

Claire McFall

Claire says ‘I’m over the moon that Black Cairn Point has been voted the winner of the first Scottish Teenage Book Prize. It’s a brilliant award that encourages young people around Scotland to read books about and from their country and their culture. But it also encourages them to get involved by taking part in the competitions for readers that run alongside. Silver Skin and The Last Soldier are both terrific books, so to know that readers chose my novel is an enormous compliment. This is why I write.’

She is an English teacher and lives in the Scottish Borders. Her first book, Ferryman, is a love story which retells the ancient Greek myth of Charon, and it won the Older Readers Category of the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2013; was long-listed for the UKLA Book Awards, long-listed for the Branford Boase and nominated for the Carnegie Medal. The sequel is coming in September. Her second novel, Bombmaker, is about identity in a dystopian devolved United Kingdom.

So, Hades, a dystopic Britain and malevolent spirits…

New Scottish teen shortlist

Another week, another Scottish shortlist. Scottish Book Trust have just announced the brand new Scottish Teenage Book Prize. This is where children aged 12 to a6 read and vote for the books on the shortlist. And they are:

Keith Gray, The Last Soldier

Keith Gray, The Last Soldier

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin

Joan Lennon, Silver Skin

Claire McFall, Black Cairn Point

Claire McFall, Black Cairn Point

I know that the first two are terrific books, so I fully expect Claire’s to be as well. I’m glad that the reading and voting teens will have great stuff to get on with, and may the best great author win on March 1st next year.

FREE TO USE - Inaugural Scottish Teen Book Prize Shortlist Announced

As with the bookbug award, shortlisted authors receive £500 per book, and the winning author will receive £3,000.

Book Week Scotland Launch

Or Bookwitch Scotland, as I prefer to think of it. I mean, what’s the difference? Just a couple of letters and Book Week Scotland could be all mine. I’m sure the nice people at Scottish Book Trust wouldn’t mind [too much].

Could have sworn I saw poet Simon Armitage at Waverley station as I arrived, although if it’s a case of providing an alibi, then I will not swear at all. Book Week Scotland was launched so conveniently close to Waverley, that in order to get my daily walk I actually had to walk to the station at the home end.

Book Week Scotland starts on the 23rd of November, and I’d say it will be well worth the wait. The list of who’s on offer made even this tired and slightly jaded witch feel much less tired, setting her thinking of all the nice events that she could go to.

Where, it has to be said, she’d have to do a better job than at Tuesday’s launch, standing at the back, not quite managing to photograph the speakers, and then not quite managing to jot down the names of everyone or remembering to take the sheets provided home. That sort of thing.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

I recognised a number of people, chatted to Helen Grant, and photographer Chris Scott of multicoloured hair fame. Keith Gray was there to speak, which he did with his normal flair. Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, was also there, also doing a nice speech, proving that some politicians do read. She loves Narnia, but didn’t get that encyclopedia at the age of five that she asked for.

Book Week Scotland programme launch

There were partybags and there was bunting. There was food, including some very tasty ‘green goo on toast.’ It wasn’t me who dropped it, but I could almost have licked it off the floor…

Author Anne Donovan spoke about her very normal request for Wilfred Owen’s poetry at the age of 15, Alice in Wonderland, and her early fascination with Wuthering Heights.

Keith Gray

Former reluctant reader Keith Gray mentioned H P Lovecraft and how school can make you think books are to be studied, not enjoyed. He thanked his school librarian, who changed his life, and pointed out that a teacher only knows a child for a year or two, but the librarian is there for the duration of school. And ‘books are for life, not just for homework.’