Tag Archives: Melvin Burgess

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

Monsters, Mayhew, Melvin, Morgan

When Daughter sat down to hear what Jon Mayhew had to say about his Monster Odyssey on Saturday afternoon, my only option was open up the book and start reading. Admittedly, that’s a pretty good thing to do as well. But it’s not exactly the EIBF, is it?

I encouraged Daughter to go for the day, since it might be fun, and it would mean that at least one of us managed a few hours of the 2013 bookfest. I even – sneakily – hoped there might be the odd photo I would be allowed to use. (I only emailed her a long wishlist of who to stalk round Charlotte Square…)

Odd is not the word for Nicola Morgan. But I had heard a rumour that she had been given the Chris Close photographic treatment and I wanted to see what he had done to her. That, too, required someone to go and find Nicola and take a picture of the findings.

Nicola Morgan by Chris Close

Will Hill did an evening event for slightly older children (like mine, or thereabouts). I always reckon they offer something for young readers to go to while their parents do something more mature, like an event for the elderly or a visit to the bar. Or something. Daughter has liked Will’s books ever since one caught her in a bookshop a couple of years ago. Dangerous places, bookshops.

Melvin Burgess is doing a YA event in Charlotte Square today, and did an adult one on Saturday evening, complete with photocall and everything. His two Wagnerian novels, Bloodtide and Bloodsong have just been reissued, and very good they look too. I mean the covers. I read the blood books when they first came out, and they are fantastic.

Some of Melvin’s other oldies are also out again, including my personal favourites The Cry of the Wolf and An Angel for May, as well as The Baby and Flypie and Burning Izzy. So, lots of topnotch books to read for those who didn’t last time round. (The best excuse is to have been too young then.)

And let’s face it; by not travelling to Edinburgh we have more time for reading, don’t we?

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!