Tag Archives: Liz Kessler

Liz Kessler on Read Me Like a Book

The fact that I had looked forward so much to reading Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book, doesn’t mean that I believe it will be all straight sailing. That’s why I nailed the lovely Liz to the spot and asked all kinds of questions on how she sees the future for this new book of hers:

Liz Kessler

So, from mermaids via fairies and a bit of time travelling and some plain invisibility, to a book on discovering you are gay… That’s quite a journey. (I know you actually began with the gay book, before moving on to more conventional mermaids.)

You’re right, I did write this book first – and it has been sitting in a drawer for over a decade! I personally don’t think of this as ‘the gay book’ though. I really hope it’s much more than that! But yes – definitely quite a journey!

Do you reckon your first fans are old enough to be ready for this complete change of genre? In fact, perhaps this older book is what you need, to hang on to readers as they outgrow the mermaids?

My first book came out in 2003, so I guess many of my early fans will now be in their late teens or even early twenties. Hopefully that means they are well within the age group for a YA book! I do hope that some of my readers will progress through my books, and that they will see the similarities and the links in terms of themes between all of my books. I don’t see this book as a complete change of genre at all. I just think it’s a book aimed at a different age group. Like almost all my books, this one deals with subjects like learning to accept others, becoming comfortable with yourself, standing up for what you believe in and being bold and honest. As to whether my readers are ‘ready’ or not – well, you’ll have to ask them that! All I know is that I very much hope they are!

Have you any fears regarding parental gatekeepers, or is Read Me Like a Book purely for readers who decide for themselves?

Up to this point, I have only received positive comments, and the book seems (up to now) to be coming out in a climate of celebration and support. Perhaps some of the gatekeepers – be they parents, librarians or teachers – might have issues with some of the content of the book. If they do, there is nothing I can do about that. To be honest though, I think that they would have to be fairly extreme in their views to be worried by this book. It isn’t setting out to be controversial in any way. It is about many issues which all teenagers can hopefully relate to, whatever their gender or sexuality. As to whether this is a book purely for readers to decide for themselves or not – it’s no different from any other YA book in that respect. I can only write the books. I can’t decide who will pick them up or what their motivation or decision-making process will be.

Are you expecting a ‘Melvin Burgess, Doing It’ type of outcry in schools?

No. Not at all. I don’t think anyone who has read both books would see any link between them. This is not a book about sex. It’s a book about first love, about the struggles of teenage years, about coming to terms with who we are.  

You seem like the kind of woman who’d encourage your fans to ask questions about all sorts of things. Has anyone ever sought advice on gay issues?

Not yet. I do encourage people to feel able to ask me questions, and if as a result of this book I am asked questions on LGBT matters, I’ll do my best to give my own honest answers and hope that they will help.

It’s been a while since you wrote Read Me Like a Book. Are there significant changes to society that affect gay teenagers, be they good or bad?

Society has changed a lot since then – and I would say that most of the changes are for the better. More famous people are ‘out’ today than fifteen years ago, so young LGBT people have more role models. The nasty, homophobic ‘Section 28’ no longer exists. We have anti-discrimination laws to give more protection to LGBT people. Attitudes are more positive. But we’re not there yet. If we were, I don’t think I would be asked whether I’m expecting an outcry for publishing this book! 😉

Why not write a completely new book? Was it hard to go into your first book and start editing it to fit 2015?

I do write completely new books all the time! (I think you’ve read most of them!) This book is important to me, and I wanted to get it out there. I’m glad that my publisher has agreed with me that the time is right to do that. There was a lot of editing to get it up to date, and up to scratch. Many things had changed in fifteen years, so I did a lot of work. In fact, I would say it probably feels like a new book now!

Is there anything you’ve worried about to do with this new book? Other than it is a new book, and you can’t know before it’s out there how it will do.

Yes of course – I worry that not everyone is as accepting and ready for the book as most people seem to be. I worry that some parents might not realise it’s a 14+ YA book and buy it for a younger child (although we’ve done everything we can to hopefully prevent this). Perhaps I worry that I will be asked to do too many interviews that make me feel like I’m having to defend a book that I don’t feel should have to be defended in this way! But my mind is mostly focused on the excitement I feel about it, not on worries.

What are you most looking forward to with Read Me Like a Book?

Getting an email from a teenager telling me that my book has helped them to feel confident about who they are and not feel alone. If I get one email like that, my job is done.

Might you write more books like this, or is it straight back to fantasy now?

I don’t think I write fantasy – I think that I write books about the real world, but quite often they have a magical element in them. I will continue to write those for the Middle Grade age group, and I am planning to continue to pursue a YA strand as well.

It seems that I am far more worried about the world than Liz is. And she’s quite right; finding out – and learning to accept – that you are gay is actually much the same thing as discovering you are half mermaid. We’re all a bit different, but also the same. I wish her book and its readers all the best.

Coffee, beer and a book launch

You’ll have to excuse me, but I saw so many authors on Thursday that I am unable to list them all here. Not because the list would be too long, but simply because I no longer recall absolutely everyone, nor did I necessarily see or recognise them in the first place. But if you were there, tell me and I will add you to the list.

I had crawled out of bed to go and have ‘coffee’ with Marnie Riches who was also in town. She’d been doing her own book related things the night before, and was now up for grabs while on her way to CrimeFest via Paddington. We chatted and drank ‘coffee’ and then I accompanied her to her train and made sure she got on it, to join her murderously minded colleagues in Bristol. (I provided her with a secret list of who to talk to there, but I doubt she’ll obey.)

After some admin and a good rest (because having ‘coffee’ is hard work…), I packed my going to do an interview and going to a book launch bag and went off to Hampstead in the rain.

Anthony McGowan's beer

First I did a recce at my second Waterstones in two days, before walking uphill (they have some surprisingly steep hills in Hampstead) to a very old pub suggested by Anthony McGowan as a suitable venue for me to grill him on all kinds of authorly secrets. He was right; it was a good place to go, even if there was a slight but steady drip of water from the skylight above me. Before leaving for the book launch we were going to, Tony took his t-shirt off, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

He brought me along the scenic route to Waterstones, and we encountered new author Nicole Burstein in a café across the road, and she came along as well. And then everyone started the game of turning their books face out on the shelves. Nicole’s bookshop past also meant she had to tidy all the book piles on the tables, and I have to admit it’s hard to resist…

Caroline Green, Rachel Ward, Joy Court and Anthony McGowan at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Laura at the Read Me Like a Book launch

More and more authors kept arriving at the shop, and even a few ordinary people. Liz Kessler, whose launch it was – for Read Me Like a Book, arrived accompanied by her wife. Before long the upstairs at Waterstones was full of guests, and after a while it was just about too crowded to move about and take photos of people, because there was always someone else ‘in the way.’ But believe me when I say they were all there.

Read Me Like a Book launch

There were drinks, and there was the most enormous cake. And you can’t celebrate a novel like this without some speeches. Orion’s Fiona Kennedy spoke of her decision to publish Liz’s book; because she ‘didn’t want anyone else to have it.’

Read Me Like a Book launch

Liz herself talked about why she wrote Read Me Like a Book, and how things on the lgbt front have changed over the last twenty years or so. She thanked all the people in her life who had made the book possible, from her former English teacher, to her wonderful agent and her publisher, to her wife.

She read a chapter from the book, where Ashleigh stays behind to talk to her English teachers, just because she needs to.

Liz Kessler at the Read Me Like a Book launch

Finally there was a short speech from Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall. And I believe there was even a little time left for the buying and signing of books

Read Me Like a Book

You get this warm glow of happiness towards the end of Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book. It takes a while for her heroine Ashleigh to find herself. At times it looks like she won’t, or if she does, that things might be grim. But this is Liz Kessler, and you’re safe with her.

This time Liz is writing for older teens, and the reason Ashleigh has problems is that she is gay. She doesn’t know when the book starts, at the beginning of her last year at college, in the Uppper Sixth. Even though she lands the desirable boy from the party she’s gone to, she’s not happy. And it takes her a while to work out why.

Liz Kessler, Read Me Like a Book

School is not much fun either. At least not until they get a new, young English teacher, and Ashleigh falls in love. But the teacher is female, and while Ashleigh’s infatuation is good for her essay writing, we know nothing lasting can come from a teacher-pupil relationship.

At times the reader and Ashleigh are both looking round at her friends and acquaintances, wondering if any of them are gay, and might be girlfriend material. Young love is generally not easy, and when you don’t know what sex to direct your longing at, it must be far worse.

Things at home are bad, with Ashleigh’s parents close to splitting up. But even that can lead to a few silver linings. You just don’t know what’s waiting for you.

I really hope Read Me Like a Book will both entertain and help young readers, whether or not they are uncertain of their sexuality. It’s a book I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard it was being published, and I can’t believe we’ve not been ready for gay YA before.

Poppy the Pirate Dog and the Treasure Keeper

It’s lampshade time for Poppy the Pirate Dog. Oh, the shame of it.

Poppy and George the kitten, and the children, are preparing for Mum’s birthday. Things go a bit wrong, before they go a bit all right. And in the end it is actually thanks to the dreadful lampshade Poppy has to wear, that the all right bit happens.

You know me; I adore Poppy. This is another of Liz Kessler’s Early Reader stories featuring her own Poppy. And I know that Liz tried to interest her Emily Windsnap fans in telling their younger siblings about the Poppy books, but you can never be too old for Poppy. (OK, so I read it rather quickly, but it’s 100% enjoyment.)

Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?

Jessica Jenkins first became a little invisible in her double geography lesson. You know how it is. The lesson fails to grab your interest, so your mind drifts a bit and before you know it you are asleep. I mean, invisible.

Liz Kessler, Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?

That’s what happens in Liz Kessler’s new book. It might look somewhat pink (though mostly blue) and girly, but you’d be wrong to dismiss it. Like all Liz’s books it is fun, and exciting, and an overall enjoyable story.

Whereas Jessica and her best friend Izzy first treat this new superpower as an opportunity for fun and to play tricks on people, it soon becomes more serious. Jessica isn’t the only one with new, sudden powers. She and Izzy have to work out how and why this has happened, and come up with some startling ideas, not to mention getting up to the kind of things best described as ‘don’t try this at home.’

As always with Liz, this is a story about friendship, which is why it leaves the reader with a deep glow of happiness, once the superpowers have been investigated and sorted out. A little romance, perhaps.

Many years after discovering Liz and her books, Daughter has yet to grow out of them. That appears to apply for me too.

Superpowered

Sunday morning’s first event was Liz Kessler being all low tech (it seems last year she went more high tech than she liked) with a bunch of fervent fans, and a couple of children’s authors, and ‘oh, hello’ a witch at the back. Liz wanted us to keep talking, ‘no, seriously, keep talking,’ while she rustled with paper bags and got herself sorted out with her low tech goods. When we were too well behaved to obey, she asked for someone to tap dance, but no one came forward for that either.

Starting off by interviewing her audience, because she likes knowing who is there, she was pleased to find a fan who treats books on fairies as non-fiction. Liz herself writes about mermaids, fairies, time travel and superpowers.

Then it was time to pick items out of her little box, and the first was a pair of sunglasses; her friend Fred, the Invisible Man (if covered in bandages and wearing sunglasses it had to be him, but we know it’s really Steve Cole). This led to Liz’s brand new book, Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? and she read the bit where the recently made invisible Jessica goes into a department store where she ‘misbehaves’ in an amusing sort of way. (Jessica became invisible during a boring geography lesson, but I suspect Liz remembered the event where there was a geography teacher in the audience, and she had to do some hasty backtracking regarding the merits of geography… Oops.)

Her tiniest book is a German edition of Emily Windsnap (which made Liz read some Emily to us) and then it was story cube time (which is where you throw dice with pictures on, to get the creative juices flowing, or in this case, Liz threw them at her audience). I mean how can you fail to write some epic work with props like torch, bee, beetle, arrow and fire? Especially with lightbulb thrown in as a valuable extra.

She is very funny, actually, this ‘work-shy tearaway’ from Liz’s old school reports. Her box holds a bouncy ball because it looks nice. Her notebook (this is where I dropped mine) means she loves stationery, and she showed us some old paper napkins and a restaurant menu on which she had in the past written really important things to incorporate into a book.

Liz Kessler

Her best book is one she hasn’t written yet. There will be no more Jessica Jenkins books, but Emily Windsnap 6 is on the way, and so is her YA novel Read Me Like a Book, which will be out next year.

Having stolen Cathy Cassidy’s idea of throwing sweets at her audience, Liz finished by off-loading her remaining sweets. Her own I hope, and not Cathy’s.

And if I’d not lost my touch – or my mind – I’d have been first in that signing queue afterwards. Not all Liz’s fans outgrow her books.

Lizday

At 9.59 there was considerable panic among Horrid Henry fans. Parents were seen running with their children across Charlotte Square, and then back again a minute or so later. It’s also known as ‘I didn’t need the toilet before but now I do.’ The event started at 10.

Liz Kessler

Francesca Simon

My first – literary – port of call was with Liz Kessler. I then had half an hour in which to take pictures of her signing, run across the square to see if I could catch Francesca Simon still at it, and then get myself to my second event with Gill Lewis. That’s when I remembered I had a book I wanted Liz to sign, and being a popular sort lady she still had a long queue and I wasn’t anywhere near the front of it. So I thrust the book at her publisher Fiona Kennedy and asked her to see to it that Daughter got an autograph. Surprisingly, Fiona seemed to know who I was.

Gill Lewis

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

After Gill’s event I had slightly longer, so had time to take pictures of her, and to dash across the square for Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart in the other signing tent. Had to remember to go back to base and get my hopefully signed book back. Then I went to meet Caroline Lawrence, whose Saturday event I had been forced to miss, but who very kindly sacrificed some of her time on me today.

Norse monster

Norse monster

Norse monster

Kate O'Hearn

We decided there was time for an ice cream – because we both carried spare food in our rucksacks, so didn’t need lunch – and we exchanged news and discussed what’s hot and what she’s working on now, and then she ran on to hear Kate O’Hearn, whose rather fantastic team of Norse monsters were a sight to behold. I caught up with them in the bookshop an hour later, where they chatted to babies (who will never forget this early literary experience) and posed and were generally rather unsusual.

Michael Rosen

Meanwhile I had found Michael Rosen signing across the square, talking to his young fans with his normal charm and performing facial acrobatics. He too had caused a late rush on the toilets, so that seems to be a hazard with young fans.

Simon Armitage

‘Backstage’ I found Carol Ann Duffy and I saw Peter Guttridge at a safe distance from sleeve-tugging. Again. While I waited for Simon Armitage to come to his photocall, Kate O’Hearn and her monsters returned, and thanks to Chris Close I got another opportunity to snap these fantastic creatures.

Kate O'Hearn

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Laird

Chris Riddell

My final event this book festival was another couple of Elizabeths; Laird and Wein. I even had a few minutes during which to take photos of Liz and Liz, as well as of Chris Riddell who was still signing away an hour after his Goth Girl talk, before I ran off to find a tram to the airport. It was high time to collect Daughter from her Californian adventure.