Tag Archives: Librarian

Why, why, why?

Why do they do it? Why do authors even bother to get out of bed before the crack of dawn, to travel for hours, possibly with trains breaking down or getting cancelled, or driving hundreds of miles in their own cars. This is before they even stand up in front of school children in classrooms, talking about books, writing, reading, to audiences maybe not terribly interested. Possibly they will be told off by teachers for drinking coffee from the wrong mug in the staff room. And then they go home again, always assuming their transport works. Or they stay overnight, in dubious hotels, eating badly, before repeating the whole thing the next day.

Yes, there is – can be – money in it. Authors need to eat too. Their books will get better known. And [some of] the children will benefit from the visit by a real, live author.

But it must be so tiring.

This whole subject came up on Facebook, again, the other week. A few of those who know what it’s like, gathered to discuss travel – and other – disasters, again. Barry Hutchison told us about one of his first author outings, quite a few years ago, and I’m reproducing it here with Barry’s permission:

Barry Hutchison

“When I was just starting out, I went on a tour with HarperCollins, where myself and a few other authors visited schools around London.

One school we went to really shocked me. The teachers openly admitted they couldn’t teach the kids, and were basically just containing them until they were old enough to leave. The police were called in most days. None of the teachers had the faintest idea why we had bothered to come to the school, and told us we were wasting our time. They laughed when someone from Waterstones turned up with books to sell.

We were split up into different classes. The kids I spoke to were around 14 to 15 – older than the target audience of the one book I had out. They talked among themselves during my talk. A few of them took time out to look me up and down, whisper something to their mates, then burst out laughing.

I had 30 minutes to talk to them. After 20, I was so thrown-off by everything that I ran out of things to say. I asked if anyone had any questions. Someone said, ‘Is you a paedo, sir?’ and everyone laughed.

The teacher said nothing.

I had maybe a minute left. I asked if anyone enjoyed writing stories, and one boy down the front, who had been staring at his desk the whole time, saying nothing, raised the tip of a finger.

‘Oh!’ I said. ‘You like writing?’

All eyes turned to him. His hand went down. He told me that, no, he hated it, but his mum sometimes made him do it as a punishment.

I said no more about it.

At lunchtime, we brave authors sat at a signing table, swapping horror stories, books piled up around us that nobody was going to buy.

After 10 minutes or so, Waterstones started packing up. We were just about to leave when the boy who’d raised his hand came up, looked around nervously, then took a copy of my book out of his jacket and asked me to sign it.

I signed it and handed it back to him. He leaned closer, whispered, ‘I’ve never told anyone I like writing stories before,’ and then about-turned and hurried off.

On the way out, I found out from the librarian that he’d asked her to borrow the money for the book. She knew she’d never see the money again, so made him a deal – she’d buy him a copy if he came to her book group to discuss it. He reluctantly agreed.

She emailed me four months later to say he was still going to the book group. It consisted of him and her.

I have no idea where that kid is now, but the thought of him has seen me through some pretty abysmal school events over the years.”

Those of us following this conversation that day all admitted to reaching for a tissue when we got to those last paragraphs. Perhaps that is why they do all this stuff. And librarians, eh?

Thank you.

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A brand new and fresh Gothenburg Book Fair

This time it’s Son’s turn to haunt the Gothenburg Book Fair. Thirteen years after he and I first went – because I had a silly brainwave – we have both developed into people who can use this gathering more professionally.

And, I don’t know many people. I mean, over there, still, after all these years. So the accidental bumping into them shouldn’t happen so much, except it does a bit, because it’s a small country and a big fair.

But online? I was intrigued earlier in the summer when the fair’s organisers sent out yet another jolly email about booking in time and all that stuff. They had chosen a couple of photographs to illustrate quite how good a time you will have there if you go.

bok o bibliotek

And I thought ‘that looks a little like Motala Boy’ and then, seeing the person next to him, ‘that looks a lot like his wife, Once New Librarian.’ So there they were, tucking into their lunch and studying the map of the fair, to see where to go next.

It is a small world, even if a librarian was involved, and her library assistant other half. I imagine Son might bump into them. Or Pizzabella, School Friend, or his Cousin once removed. And obviously all the people he has arranged to meet for professional reasons.

I don’t envy him the exhaustion that is about to set in. Other than that, it will be fun!

Who needs librarians?

We all do.

There is a new CILIP Great Libraries Campaign, launching on June 6th, to ensure that every child in England has access to a great school library. This sounds so sensible and so basic that really, there should not be a need for something like it. But of course, we know that there is every need to shout about this. And it’s not just England; every child needs a library.

I have a Facebook friend I’ve never met, but who does a lot of work for libraries and children’s reading. Her name is Dawn Finch, she’s a past president of CILIP, and last week she put the following on her Fb page:

‘Waiting at the bus stop this morning and a handsome young man out running smiled at me and stopped.
“Hello,” says he, “you don’t remember me do you?”
“No,” says I, frantically trawling my memory for sons of friends.
“I remember you,” says he, “you taught me how to read. You sat with me with an atlas and said it didn’t all have to be about stories.”
“Wow,” says I, “I still love an atlas. So what do you do now?”
Him, “I’m a pilot.”
Awesome.’

It is awesome, isn’t it? It shouldn’t make me want to cry, but it does. I realise all librarians won’t have time to sit down with every child, but it shows what a tremendous difference they can make. In this case to a young man’s life, and perhaps also to the rest of us who might fly on his plane.

And I feel slightly stupid, because it would never have occurred to me that you could learn reading from an atlas. It just goes to show that our needs are not necessarily the same as those of the person next to us. But we can [nearly] all learn to read.

I wish this library campaign will make it possible for many more Dawns to ‘get out their atlases’ and change lives.

Scottish Book Trust Awards 2018

After months of secrecy, all the Scottish Book Trust Awards for this year have been made public, culminating in an awards ceremony in Edinburgh last night.

I don’t actually know where to start. They are all important, so does one go from less to more, or the other way round?

OK, I’ll go with the Learning Professional Award. Where would we be without such hardworking people, especially someone who sounds as absolutely fabulous as Eileen Littlewood, Head Teacher at Forthview Primary in Edinburgh? First I marvelled at all Eileen has achieved, and then I quickly felt both exhausted and not a little envious of all her great work.

Eileen Littlewood upright pic - credit Jonathan Ley

When Eileen started, the school library had been dismantled, and in order to create her vision of an in-house library catering for all ages, she applied for and secured over £10k of funding. She was able to start a reading community, and also helped the Family Support Teacher to start a parent book group, using Quick Reads and comic books to engage parents who were reluctant to read.

Eileen has established a paired reading initiative, has organised author visits to the school and has ensured her staff are trained to deliver reading projects. She also runs a lunchtime book club for pupils, as well as regular writing workshops. And she has recently worked with parents to create a book of poems on mental health to share with their children.

The Outstanding Achievement Award has gone to Vivian French, who has written hundreds of books. She has also worked hard to promote books by other authors and illustrators. Vivian is not only an inspiring figure to those in the industry, but has also acted as a mentor to budding authors and artists. Vivian is an active advocate for dyslexia.

In 2012, she and Lucy Juckes set up Picture Hooks, a mentoring scheme to encourage emerging Scottish illustrators.  And Vivian has been Children’s Writer-in-Residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and a guest selector for the children’s programme. She also teaches at Edinburgh College of Art in the illustration department and is a Patron of the Borders Book Festival.

Vivian French wide pic - credit Jonathan Ley

Vivian’s comment to all this was; ‘I have the most wonderful time visiting schools and festivals, tutoring young illustrators, talking (always talking!) and discussing books and pictures… surely such an award should be for someone who’s earned it by the sweat of their brow? Not someone like me, who skips about having such a very lovely time! I’m not ungrateful – truly I’m not – it’s the most amazing award to be given… but I’m going to redouble my efforts now to ensure that I really deserve it.’

There’s modesty, and then there’s modesty. Vivian deserves this award!

SBT_BPBP_18_web-2124

And finally, there’s the Bookbug Picture Book Prize for Gorilla Loves Vanilla by Chae Strathie and Nicola O’Byrne, and the Scottish Teenage Book Prize to Caighlan Smith for Children of Icarus.

Caighlan Smith

Mustn’t forget to mention runners-up Michelle Sloan and Kasia Matyjaszek, Debi Gliori and Alison Brown, Danny Weston and Elizabeth Laird.

Phew, what a lot of talent and good books!

Library knot-tying

The New Librarian got married yesterday. That was Friday the 13th, in case you didn’t notice.

We were told on Facebook. I can’t help but feel that it would be so much simpler if everyone did this. Not necessarily the online announcement, but the going off and getting it done, without fuss, not to mention expense.

Wedding announcement

In this she followed the example set by her parents. Not that she was around to see that.

I’m guessing that School Friend (that’s the mother, btw) doesn’t even know about hats for bride’s mothers. What a relief! Another expense not spent. That money can go on books. Or Moomin mugs.

I’m fairly certain that a marriage is no happier for fortunes having been squandered. (Obviously if you fancy a hat, that’s fine by me. But maybe make it a cheap one?)

Some of our best wedding gifts were books. No hats anywhere.

Only thing is, this way I didn’t even get to buy the happy couple a book…

Bookbug and the Bookwitch

You know it’s bad when you spy someone like Ross Collins across the room, and instead of scurrying over to say hello, you remain seated, because you’re so knackered that nothing will make you give up sitting, now that you have bagged a chair. (Not literally, I hasten to add. I have every reason to believe the chair is still at the National Library of Scotland.)

The Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2017

It was the very first Bookbug Picture Book Prize last night, and despite my home town throwing heavy-ish snow at me, I made it to Edinburgh, where they had no snow at all.

All three shortlisted authors were there, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Nick Sharratt. There was mingling – or there was sitting on a chair, in my case – over wine/specially ordered tap water for me – and canapés. The nice men who were offering round the eats almost became my bffs through their sheer insistence that I have another one. And another one.

Bookbug mingling

Spoke to a very nice librarian who had come much farther than I had, and also through snow. We talked about how wonderful it is that all P1 children in Scotland have been given their own copies of all three shortlisted books. She asked which was my favourite (none of this bland ‘have you read any of them?’), and luckily we agreed on which one was best (out of three very good books).

Nick Sharratt, Alison Murray, Ross Collins and Bookbug

Then there were speeches, and after that the prizes were handed out, with Nick Sharratt being the overall winner with Shark in the Park on a Windy Day. Bookbug himself arrived and seemed really pleased to see us. Nick had to make a speech, which he claimed made him nervous. He did well.

Nick Sharratt, Ross Collins, Bookbug and Alison Murray

Vivian French was in the audience, and I made a special point of going over to introduce myself after all these years. She’s not so scary after all.

Balancing a small container of lettuce and prawns with tiny plastic spoon, I made my way over to Ross Collins, who I’ve emailed with but never met. He took my presence well, and he could chat while holding not only his own prawn thing but a glass of wine and his prize and an envelope which he hoped contained money…

As I did my last turn round the room I happened upon Scottish Booktrust’s strawberry milkshake Beth, so we chatted about her next book van passenger, who just happens to be Nick Sharratt, who will be driven to Liverpool. Where, he told me when I caught up with him, he’s never been. ‘My nice librarian’ got to him first, and had her photo taken with Nick, who was wearing an arty combination of three-piece tweed suit with orange tie.

Nick Sharratt and librarian

After this I Cinderella-ed myself away, since the trains still are doing inconvenient things like not running late enough. Walked past my cathedral which, even if I say so myself, looked splendid in the dark, with the moon hanging over its shoulder.

St Giles' Cathedral

And there was still far too much frozen snow when I got home.

Nick Sharratt and Aoife (3) read Shark in the Park on a Windy day

Elections

They do it differently in Iceland.

They have presidential elections next week. On Saturday, I think. And politicians are not reckoned to stand much of a chance against ‘normal’ people. Also, a president should be intelligent. People want to respect him or her. Yes.

OK, so the Icelandic president is more of a figurehead, and who or what they are might matter less. But it’s fascinating to see that they can do things this way.

In an article for Vi magazine they interviewed several authors, and maybe a librarian or two, who were all wanting to stand. Authors are highly thought of in Iceland. People read. A lot.

Michael Rosen

It’s an interesting thought. Living in countries with a monarch and a prime minister, it’s not entirely obvious how to imagine this scenario, but it has merits I feel. Michael Rosen* for Queen? Or send him straight to Downing St?

(*Insert author of choice. Although preferably not Martin Amis.)