Tag Archives: Melvin Burgess

Coping with change

I found I rather liked ‘The Polar Bear,’ aka Steven Camden, at Wednesday evening’s bookfest event. I knew nothing about him, but would quite like to read his book, Nobody Real. I imagine most people were there for Melvin Burgess, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. With them was late addition L J MacWhirter, and they were all kept in reasonable order by Agnes Guyon. (I do like the French way of pronouncing Agnes…)

Steven Camden

Not that Melvin was ever out of my good books, but I appreciated the way he said ‘I love witches.’ His new book is The Lost Witch, and the subject of witches was suggested to him by his editor. I think. And that led to him thinking through what a book about witches would be.

Before this L J volunteered to go first, so she read chapter 11 about the stairs…

Steven didn’t have room for imaginary friends, and this made Thor Baker – an imaginary friend – angry. He read the A-level scene from Nobody Real. Talking about change – the topic for the evening – he said that what’s good is what you add to a situation.

Melvin feels that for teenagers change is obvious, and that’s why YA is interesting.

Agnes wanted to know whether the panel considered themselves to be feminists, and after rambling for a bit, Steven checked himself and replied ‘yes.’ Melvin said you have to be careful, because we all carry our prejudices around. He starts with a male character and then does a sex change halfway through. (Not sure if this is feminist behaviour.) For his next book he’s got a black character, and a friend had explained what he could and couldn’t do. L J loved writing Silas in her book. He’s a bit of a Poldark, apparently.

L J MacWhirter and Melvin Burgess

There were a couple of big names from the children’s book world in the audience; Julia Eccleshare and Ferelith Hordon. It was Ferelith who asked about morality in books. Melvin ‘objects to that’ and fears it might make you sound too pompous. Ethics, on the other hand, are interesting.

L J spoke of disadvantaged teenagers she had met, who wanted to do work that might not be an obvious choice for someone of their background.

Steven doesn’t know about morals. He’s ‘not a great believer in answers’ and prefers to trust his gut. Reading The Bunker Diary ‘messed me up for a week.’ (And then he asked the audience if we’d eaten. He was starving..!)

I’m not sure how we moved on to favourite books, but Melvin is very fond of Not Now Bernard, and Steven loves I Want My Hat Back.

For some reason this made L J mention dark books, which you want or things could get really boring. But after the dark, there should be hope. This might be from Geraldine McCaughrean, or it might not.

Can there be dark middle grade books? Ferelith told Melvin that his books are dark, and he said they aren’t MG, but she replied they are now, The Cry of the Wolf, Baby and Fly Pie (ending with a dead baby). He agreed this was a dark end with no hope.

Melvin doesn’t feel education has a place in novels. You go to school for that. You read about things [to find out about them] and that makes it private. He played around with the word ‘resilient.’ Teenagers can be too resilient = resilient to change. He sent us on our way, wishing us ‘good luck with the resilience.’

Day #4 of the 2018 EIBF

That’s my fourth day, which to my surprise turned out to be a Wednesday and not a Saturday, meaning I was able to contemplate a much better train home. And as I said to Daniel Hahn when I waylaid him on his way in, having just the one event felt positively holidayish.

We exchanged fond memories of an event at Waterstones piccalilli three years ago, which Daniel seemed to remember even more of than I did.

I was there ‘early’ because I’d agreed to meet up with Toddler Tollarp and his mother. So we had a couple of hours chatting about everything under the sun. Almost. Unfortunately for TT, he slept through most of it, not even getting cake!

Sitting in the greenhouse watching the bookfest world go past, I saw Beverley Naidoo and Jackie Kay. Later on as I checked my train timetable outside the yurts, Nicola Morgan ran past, but I knew she was in a hurry, so didn’t run after her.

It was a pleasant afternoon, which meant lots of people were enjoying drinks on the yurt decking. Saw Alan Johnson and Allan Little walk to their event.

Melvin Burgess

Strolled over to my lone event with Melvin Burgess, Steven Camden and LJ MacWhirter, who were talking to Agnes Guyon. Chatted to friendly, but hungry, lady in the queue, who had a poetry tale to tell. Those are always the best.

L J MacWhirter

Steven Camden

Afterwards, I had my good train home in mind, so made sure the photo session in the bookshop was swift, and I didn’t stop to chat. So you know what happened then, don’t you? The train was late.

Oh well.

Tricks and threats

I liked reading about the various tricks people use to get their children to read, especially on holiday. The Guardian Review had some tips this weekend, and it’s always interesting to see what others have done. They can be quite sneaky, parents.

Once I had told Son that the one thing I expected him to do at school – this was in Y2 – was to learn to read, I don’t believe I did much else.

As parents we are supposed to lead by doing, and I did read. The trouble is that parenting takes time away from reading for pleasure, so I could have read more.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but for the formative reading years I went to the mobile library just before it was time for our three to four weeks in Sweden every July/August. I looked carefully at what they had to offer, and picked books that might suit both me and the Resident IT Consultant and Son. Children’s books, obviously.

Gillian Cross, Tightrope

There was always a lot of possible choice. But the authors that stand out from that period are Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Gillian Cross, Celia Rees, Tim Bowler. At the time I knew very little or nothing about all of these excellent writers. It’s a good sign that by merely picking holiday books I was able to discover many leading YA authors.

Malorie Blackman, Tell Me No Lies

I’d take about eight books. Any more and I felt the suitcases would be too heavy. But that averaged out at two books per week, which seemed fine. Son didn’t read that fast back then, and the adults were supposed to do adult stuff like feed Offspring and take them to the beach. Maybe fly kites.

But I never told anyone they had to read. I think I would have said ‘these are the books we’re taking this year’ and left it at that.

The only other discussion on what to read or whether to read that I remember was when Son was 14 and we couldn’t agree on which one of us should vet Melvin Burgess’ Doing It before the other one could read it.

I still can’t recall who did the vetting. I blame Tim Bowler, who came to school and was so enthusiastic about his friend’s book.

Occasionally I feel the pressure from Son to read certain books gets the better of me. I say ‘should I?’ and he says ‘well, I liked it.’

Schools for Charlotte Square

It’s short and sweet, the schools programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. ‘Making books more affordable’ is a good motto, I feel. May it be successful and reach the children who need it the most.

I know I shouldn’t read the programme and plan, but I can read it and think. Some of the authors on the schools list will be doing ‘normal’ events too. And there is always the perfecting my school appearance. One of these days it will work.

Last year someone I’d just met talked very enthusiastically about Jason Reynolds, whom I’d never heard of. Well, this American is coming over, for an event with Chris Priestley who has illustrated his book. That should be pretty special.

Clémentine Beauvais is someone else I’ve not seen before, and she will be appearing with Sarah Crossan, which will be good. James Mayhew I have always managed to miss, so I could perhaps undo that, and Melvin Burgess, whom I’ve seen a lot, is coming back after a break of a few years. Or did I merely miss him?

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimifard

Ehsan Abdollahi will return, which pleases me, and he’s appearing with Eloise Greenfield. I’ve not seen Beverley Naidoo for years, and I don’t know her events partner Marjan Vafaeian at all, which I hope can be remedied.

I will quickly tiptoe past the ‘star attraction’ on the Thursday morning, to mention that the last day will be special as always, with people like Theresa Breslin and Philip Ardagh and lots of other fun.

As you can tell, many school children will have some great events to look forward to. I’m always in awe of the school groups who get up before dawn cracks, to travel across Scotland to come to one of the events. Hopefully it will be a memory for life, and be the beginning of a bookish future for some.

Back seat

You might recall that I used to have author calendars. Really narrow ones. The calendars, not narrow authors.

I no longer do, as I don’t have that super-narrow wall that required them. And I ran out of time to organise the author photos.

Anyway. I was puzzled to find Melvin Burgess on the back seat of our car. But I left him there, having decided that no doubt the Resident IT Consultant had a good reason for keeping him somewhere handy.

But when Daughter arrived, she seemed to want to know why she was sitting next to Melvin, so she flipped him. (Sorry!) And I discovered it had been my fault all along.

Melvin was advertising Bookwitch. That day when the Resident IT Consultant was put to use as a taxi driver for my lunching authors, I told him he had to have a sign on the windscreen, so they would know his was the car to jump into, out of the rain. (You can’t park very easily outside, so he couldn’t do that taxi driver thing and stand and wave his sign in the station entrance.)

I like the fact that my authors are so versatile and forever useful. First they write books. Then they allow themselves to be photographed, after which they can serve as a kitchen calendar, and after that they are good for shopping lists and Bookwitch signs and anything else I can think of.

Taking refuge in a book

I sent the Resident IT Consultant into the offices of the Stirling Observer last week, bearing gifts. Every year they collect – new – toys for various charities, to give to children who might otherwise not receive any Christmas presents, due to circumstances in their lives.

You know me, I wanted to add some reading material to the enticingly packaged toys, and after checking last year if they would welcome books, I’ve had them in mind for the last few months. And that’s what he carried in. But he also came up with an idea of his own, which was that the Women’s Refuge might be able to use books. It seems they are one of the receiving charities, but I can see how they would have a use for books all year round. And I can see that it wouldn’t necessarily be just picture books for the under-fives.

It was that piece by Jenn Ashworth I had on here a week or two ago, about how she was saved by Melvin Burgess’s Baby and Fly Pie, which she discovered in the library at the age of twelve. It changed her life. And since she stole it, she clearly felt it was a book she’d need for longer than it took to read twice, in one sitting. (Btw, I’m so glad it wasn’t Junk! Good though that novel is, I was pleased someone could be that moved by one of Melvin’s ‘lighter’ stories…)

I will need to check if the refuge wants books. I’m thinking less for Christmas, but more everyday requirements. And because I don’t know if the need is temporary, i.e. a stationary library for children in a refuge to read over the hopefully short period of time they are there, or if there should be books they can pick up, but also take with them to where they go next.

If more of a library set-up, then fewer books are needed than if children can keep them. In both cases I am thinking – hoping – that used books would be fine. It’s both easier and cheaper to find lots of used, but still excellent books. On the other hand, if it needs to be new books, I could see myself trying to source them, including looking for them online, as cheaply as possible. But I know that I have books I will need to part with soon, on space grounds, and it would be great if they could find new homes. Just like the children in the refuge, in fact.

How to choose? Jenn obviously found hers by looking among many other books in the library, although her choice could still have been fairly random.

There could easily be many non-readers in a refuge, or children who find reading hard. On the other hand, the assumption that because they are in a needy situation they must be slow or un-developed readers is clearly wrong. Or that they would be quite young. Anyone could end up in a refuge. You just don’t know.

And perhaps finding the right book(s) might make a bad situation a little bit more tolerable.

I can think of several more of Melvin’s books I’d happily offer a teenager in need. But the world is full of suitable reading material. When I began compiling a mental list, it grew incredibly fast.

The effect of jail, and stealing a book

Or how good comes from bad.

Very pleased for Alex Wheatle who won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize last night, with his book Crongton Knights. Congratulations!

I know very little about Alex, who’s not been on my horizon long. But I like the sound of him. The one fact that seems to stand out when people write about him, is that Alex discovered books and reading while in jail over thirty years ago. So something good resulted from a fairly negative event; both the starting to read, and eventually writing books himself. And I believe there’s an MBE in Alex’s past as well.

Another vaguely criminal background story was given some attention this week when Chris Riddell illustrated a story by Jenn Ashworth about how she discovered YA books in her library as a child. In her case it was finding Melvin Burgess’s Baby and Fly Pie and reading it in one morning in the library, before stealing it.

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 1

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 2

Chris Riddell and Jenn Ashworth 3

Yes, that’s not to be recommended, but to find yourself in a book to such an extent, and to be guided by this new reading experience into becoming an author feels right.

Sometimes bad leads to good.

(And I seem to have done my normal thing and borrowed very freely from Chris. And I can’t claim never to have taken something that wasn’t mine.)

War Girls

Another irresistible collection of short stories for you. This time to mark the anniversary of WWI, and it’s all about girls. In War Girls nine of our best authors get together to tell the stories of the young females left behind. And there are so many ways to do that.

War Girls

I loved Theresa Breslin’s tale of the young artist who took her crayons with her as she went to France as a nurse. Matt Whyman looks at the war from the point of view of ‘the enemy’ in the form of a female sniper in Turkey. Very powerful story.

Mary Hooper has spies in a teashop, and you can never be too careful who you speak to or who you help. I found Rowena House’s story about geese in France both touching, and also quite chilling. I’d never heard about the theories for the outbreak of the Spanish flu before.

Melvin Burgess tells us about a strong heroine, who can’t abide cowardice, even in those close to her. Berlie Doherty’s young lady can sing, and that’s what she does to help the war effort. And singing isn’t necessarily safer or easier than being in the trenches.

Anne Fine deals with hope, and whether it’s all right to lie to make someone’s suffering less heavy. Adèle Geras has updated her story The Green Behind the Glass, which I’ve read several times before. It’s still one of my favourites and can easily be read again and again.

Sally Nicholls may be young, but she can still imagine what it was like to be old and to have survived as one of the spare women of the war; one of those who could never hope to marry. I don’t believe there is enough written about them, and Going Spare is a fantastic offering on the subject.

‘Children have the right to read rubbish’

Malorie Blackman

The children’s laureate was in Manchester yesterday. If anyone has the right to say something like that about children’s reading, it must be Malorie Blackman. And she was only saying what Patrick Ness said the other evening. I think we can all (well, most of us, anyway) agree that reading everything can only be good.

This was another school event organised by the Manchester Literature Festival and Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and Malorie was talking to Jackie Roy, who is a favourite chair of mine, someone who asks all the right questions. The event was at Z-arts in Hulme, which is a suitable venue for children of immigrant background in particular to find out how far you can get in life, and that it’s got nothing to do with what colour you are.

Malorie Blackman behind fans

The place was packed, and they even Livestreamed the whole thing to interested parties who were unable to attend. Until this year Malorie has also been unable to come, despite being asked by MLF every year, but as they say in Sweden, trägen vinner.

Malorie spoke about how far equality has come, but pointing out there is a long way still to go before fiction is ethnically diverse, with books featuring disabled characters without being disability books, and where people have a place regardless of sex, race, culture, and so on.

She read very little fiction at home, as her father said it wasn’t real and you ‘never learn anything from fiction.’ So Malorie practically lived at her local library from the age of seven until she was 14 and got a job and could buy her own books. She’d take a packed lunch every Saturday and spend the day, returning home with as many books as she could take, hoping they’d last until the following Saturday.

There were no black children in those books, and it might have been this which made Malorie write on, despite receiving 82 rejection letters from publishers. (She said that she almost gave up after no. 60, but vowed to carry on until the 1000th.) She wrote what she would have wanted to read as a child.

Malorie Blackman

While trying not to tell her readers what to think, Malorie presents a dilemma, and then asks questions to make her characters explore the things she herself is wondering about. It could be animal organ transplants as in Pig Heart Boy, or being a whistle blower versus allowing some things ‘for the greater good,’ like in Noble Conflict.

‘Oh my god, I thought that was an enormous spider!’ I’m not sure what she saw, but something almost made our laureate jump out of the sofa and run…

As a child – and still, actually – she loved comics, using her pocket money to buy them. Their use of cliffhangers has influenced the way she writes. Malorie describes how a teacher at school took her comic away from her and tore it to pieces, because it was ‘rubbish.’ The fact that Noughts & Crosses is about to become a graphic novel gives her great pleasure.

Her careers teacher told Malorie that blacks don’t become teachers, and that she would not pass her English A-level. She laughed as she described walking away from that advice session thinking ‘I’ll show you, you old cow!’

The young Malorie got hooked on computers instead and her first novel was Hacker, which Transworld took on, despite ‘all of it’ needing re-writing. This taught her how to plan, so she wouldn’t waste time writing, and it won her an award, which turned into a wonderful holiday to Barbados.

Malorie Blackman

‘Is that water for me, or has it been here for a long time?’ Malorie pointed to the water next to her when her throat felt dry. (It was for her…)

She’s currently writing her 61st book, and hopes to go on until at least her 100th. And if she didn’t write, she’d have some other book related job. Or maybe she’d be an English teacher. She laughed at that.

When asked if she’d be willing to become the next children’s laureate, her gut reaction was to ask if they had the right person. They were very big shoes to fill, with so many great authors who had done it before her. But she knew she wanted to do it, and it’s an honour to be able to spread her passion for books and reading.

Her mother would be very upset if she didn’t say she supports Arsenal, but to tell the truth she is not a football fan. She has rarely been recognised when out, except for one stalker incident in Sainsbury’s which was ‘well creepy.’

This lovely children’s laureate got the audience to sing Happy Birthday, when a girl asked if she could wish her friend a happy birthday. Our laureate also admitted to having carried around a leotard and tights and a utility belt for a couple of years in secondary school, just in case she ever needed to turn into a super hero in a school kidnapping scenario…

Malorie Blackman

Every book is like opening a new door to somewhere. Malorie loves crime and Jane Austen and can quote most of the first Narnia book. She admires many writers, including Benjamin Zephaniah, Melvin Burgess, Anne Fine, Patrick Ness, Jacqueline Wilson and Jackies Kay and Roy.

The character she feels is mostly her is Callum, and much of what happens to him in Noughts & Crosses has happened to Malorie in real life. As a teenager she was once told to go back to where she came from, so she asked for the bus fare back to Clapham.

Spookily, the launch for Checkmate was on 7/7 seven years ago, and she was having her hair done in central London, when the whole city shut down, and Malorie felt as if she was almost inside one of her own books. She doesn’t condone terrorism, but she can see why people become terrorists. Because of the book connection, she was interviewed on television that time, and there were even people who wanted to ban her book.

Malorie Blackman and Jackie Roy

I’d say that by now Malorie has shown that ‘cow’ a thing or two. The fact that there were two black women on that sofa yesterday made me very happy. One of them is a university lecturer and the other is the children’s laureate.

As I was waiting to go in to the event (gobbling down sandwiches again, having been driven there by the Resident IT Consultant, and trying not to drown in the incredibly deep sofa we hid in) I noticed Malorie disappearing off in the company of a young lady. I was introduced to Sophie (that’s her name) a few minutes later, and she turned out to want to interview me. Yikes. First Malorie. Then me. (Good taste, I have to say.)

Malorie Blackman

And now that Malorie has finally been, she promised she’d be back if the MLF would let her have one of their t-shirts. That seems like A Very Good Deal, so please don’t forget to put one in the post!

Malorie Blackman can be our superhero in a literary T-shirt. No leotard necessary.

Even more Edinburgh author photos

I’ll finish as I started, with a photo of a photo. This time it’s Patrick Ness posing for Chris Close with a duck on his head. Ear. I’d say Patrick’s reluctance to be photographed is waning. Just a little.

Patrick Ness by Chris Close

Simon Mayo usually hides on the radio, but here he is in his role as new children’s author.

Simon Mayo

Ali Sparkes is one of several Alis who always confuse me when I try and sort out who is who. The fault lies entirely with me. This is the one and only Ali Sparkes.

Ali Sparkes

At the end of the evening Jeremy Dyson, whom I don’t know at all, but who makes me think of vacuum cleaners, did an event with Melvin Burgess in his adult guise. (At least, that was before Melvin posed for Murdo Mcleod. Third pic.)

Jeremy Dyson

Melvin Burgess