Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Fun with Chris and Neil

It’s a comfortable affair, hanging out with Chris Riddell and Neil Gaiman. One is in Brighton and the other in New Zealand, but that’s fine. The moderator glowed over them both, but Chris had to point out that he’s less impressive than Neil. (That’s a matter of opinion, but if it makes him happy…) They first bonded over The Graveyard Book a dozen or so years ago.

And before he knew it, Neil discovered that Chris had illustrated most of his books. (You can’t leave a man with a pencil and expect him not to use it.) When it came to Fortunately the Milk Neil was almost going to threaten Chris to make him illustrate it, but luckily he didn’t have to and there was an amicable agreement for some more pictures.

Apparently Chris is the most booked up illustrator in the world (so that doesn’t bode well for when I want him to draw for me), with the wonderful Levi Pinfold coming close behind.

When it came to their latest collaboration, Pirate Stew, Neil told Chris to ‘go wild on this’ so he did. For the book fest event Neil read us the whole book, and Chris retreated from the camera and let his hand draw pictures instead. Much more comfortable for him. Neil had only the one copy of his book, but had given it away to a 7-year-old, so was forced to read from his computer, potentially changing some words here and there.

It’s mostly pirates as babysitters, and stale donuts. Your children will probably want you to read it every night.

During lockdown Chris felt it made no difference, as he’s always in his shed working anyway. But suddenly it was no fun when everyone else did it too. He even found himself wanting to see people. (I’ll come!)

Their advice to children who want to draw or write is to start now. Chris recommends a blank book to fill with pictures, and maybe a passport wallet to tuck your words into (this is what Neil did with Pirate Stew, so he wouldn’t forget).

Or you could turn pirate and break into Chris’s shed and steal his sketchbooks. (This would be a bad thing to do.)

Travelling to Narnia

My first memory from meeting Katherine Langrish seventeen years ago, is that at the age of nine she wrote her own instalment of the Narnia books, because to her mind there weren’t enough of them. I was glad, because I used to feel like that about some of my childhood books, but I never got past page two. That was in 2004 and she was in our neck of the woods to talk about her first children’s book, Troll Fell, a Norwegian style fairytale. In fact, the days of Katherine are all Before Bookwitch, since the third book in the Troll trilogy was published on February 5th 2007, one day BB, making Katherine a very early author acquaintance of mine.

Anyway, back to Narnia. While I believe she might have shown us her childhood book then, I have now seen pages two and three up close, being used for the endpapers of her brand new book From Spare Oom to War Drobe, Travels in Narnia With My Nine Year-Old Self (isn’t that a glorious title?). This is a book I’ve been looking forward to so much, despite it being about books I have not read and firmly believe I wouldn’t like, just because, well because I am convinced this is a really great book (with a quote from Neil Gaiman on the front cover), and because we say that you should write about what you know best. And I believe Katherine has arrived in Narnia, where she belongs.

It’s a gorgeous-looking volume, and one I’m very tempted to read, if only to learn more about Narnia. Half the population can’t be wrong, and in her online launch this evening Katherine mentioned Philip Pullman and his dislike of the C S Lewis stories, not totally disagreeing with him. The way I understand it is that it’s a pretty academic look at Narnia and its creator. It’s got footnotes. And the support of many literary names.

One of them, Amanda Craig, talked to Katherine about her book, as one big fan to another. It was quite enlightening and I really enjoyed their chat. I like people who like things that much. It’s good to look at stuff in-depth and to have sensible comments to make. I understand Amanda encouraged Katherine to write this book, after having read her blog Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, which is mostly about fairytales, and which has left me in awe of all Katherine’s knowledge.

This could have been a great launch in real life, but as it was, online made for a different great event, with many of Katherine’s peers peering out from behind their respective Zoom cameras. And the sun shone on her, forcing her to keep shifting her position.

The difficulty of buying books

I went to Waterstones. I even went upstairs, despite me saying I wouldn’t (because of the crazy lift). I walked up. And down again.

It was a choice between spending my money on the High Street or online, so I went to the physical shop, stairs and all. I had about six or seven books on my list.

After trying not to fall over the outstretched legs of the family sitting in the armchairs upstairs, in the children’s department, I eventually found Malorie Blackman’s Crossfire. It had a ‘second book half price’ sticker, so I thought ‘Great!’ Because I was buying several books.

But there was no other book from my list.

I hobbled downstairs again and looked for the adult books on the list. Good Omens is not shelved under Pratchett, and after a bit I discovered it under Gaiman. Then I saw one with a nicer cover on one of the tables.

After which I found no more books [from my list].

I know. I could have ordered them online, to pick up in the shop. I just didn’t think I’d have to. They were all new novels by big names. To be fair, they had every single Skulduggery Pleasant book except for the new one. And that was the one I needed.

My next solution was to look for the books in the Charlotte Square festival bookshop. And three of them were available. I deemed one too expensive. It’s a hardback, which I hadn’t counted on. The other two were also hardbacks and so huge I came to the conclusion there was no way I’d walk round carrying them along with my daily burden.

All this makes online shopping quite attractive. I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet.

Good Omens, again

We’ve started on Good Omens on television again. The Resident IT Consultant and I watched it as soon as it was available, and managed to stretch it out over nine days, or something like that.

When Daughter asked if this was something she’d like – Good Omens, not the stretching – I only paused for a few seconds to run the possibility she might not like this wonderful book, especially on the screen, and especially with David Tennant in it. I could not come up with a reason against.

So now that we are all together in the same house for a few weeks, we’ve downloaded the episodes again and are watching with her. I’m fairly sure I could tolerate watching it with lots of different Offspring, one after the other, but I only have the two.

I’m relieved to discover we are having technical hitches even with someone young in the room. It’s clearly not just us old ones being old that causes it.

And you discover something new when you watch again. One day it might even become totally clear. Except it seems even God admits that the third baby is somewhat unaccounted for.

Terry Pratchett – Back in Black

It was the Barbican memorial for Terry Pratchett all over again. In the BBC documentary Back in Black on Saturday we could see an almost Terry. It’s enough to see someone wearing black, with a hat like his, and if there is a beard as well, then for a heartstopping moment it is Terry Pratchett. Here it was actor Paul Kaye doing what Terry didn’t have enough time to do. He did as good a job as you could ask for, speaking in the style of Terry, while not quite being our much missed author who has gone to be with Death.

I was able to point out to the Resident IT Consultant where I had been sitting, and towards the end when Eric Idle sang with the audience at the Barbican I got to see what I had to miss last year. Thank you for that.

Terry Pratchett postcards

Much of the rest of the programme was dedicated to alternately bless the world for having produced Terry, and crying because he’s gone. I have never before witnessed the seemingly unflappable Neil Gaiman even close to tears. We heard part of their story, some of which was new to me, filmed in the actual (?) place where a very young Neil interviewed a not so well known Terry.

And speaking of being not so well known; the clip from a 1990s television round table book discussion where they had the nerve to laugh and tut at our Terry was a real eye opener. If I was that woman I’d be worried about going out in public.

Val McDermid had good things to say about Terry as a lost crime writer, and many other friends shared their Terry with us. How I can sympathise with someone with a waist like the equator!

Rhianna Pratchett spoke about her father, mainly as a father. I’m glad he had time to be a dad in the midst of writing a couple of books a year and touring and getting to know his faithful fans.

And Rob Wilkins talked about the day Terry accused him of having mislaid the s on his keyboard. That’s the kind of thing that not only makes you want to cry, but you quietly begin to worry that one day you will lose your own letter s.

You – and I – have 28 days in which to watch [again] this lovely farewell.

And ten years on…

Ten years go so quickly, don’t they? While the fresh-faced Bookwitch looks good for ten, that other, tired witch propping her up is certainly showing her age. I reckon she thought she’d still be 29, ten years in. Whereas it’s more like, well, at least 49.

Meg Rosoff and the ALMA award, with Alice Bah Kuhnke and Katti Hoflin

I’ve often wondered if I’d last this long. The next wondering has always been whether to give it up. You know, nice round figure (and I don’t only mean me) to end it all.

Philip Pullman

But when I voiced this thought to Ross Collins last month he seemed shocked (and I’m not fooling myself into thinking he’s been here for the duration), so I immediately retracted my threat.

Julie Bertagna, bookwitch and Neil Gaiman

Ross then said I must have ‘got’ a lot of authors in that time, so I sighed deeply and said yes. He seemed concerned that I wasn’t sounding happier, which kicked me out of my morose state of mind. Yes, I do ‘have’ lots of authors, and I love every single one, and treasure them, and this is a cause for celebration. Not sighing. But you know, when you’re 49 sighing comes easily.

John Barrowman

In the last few days I’ve been in email conversation with someone else, about books and publishing and all that kind of thing, and I realised I’ve picked up quite a bit over the years. Not just authors, I mean.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Actual knowledge, except it’s more like English grammar; I couldn’t tell you what it is. I just feel it.

So don’t ask me anything. I don’t know.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

There have been many absolutely wonderful books. And some less so. There have been really fun and interesting events, many of them in unusual places I’d not otherwise have got to visit. And those authors. Oh, those authors.

Steve Cole

Thank you.

(That’s the ‘I will go on for many more years’ thank you. Not the farewell thank you. I hope.)

Sara Paretsky

The Children’s Launderette was here

Scottish Friendly book tour banner

When my window situation prevented me from seeing Chris Riddell in Edinburgh three weeks ago I was a bit upset. But when Chris came to Stirling yesterday – which I have to say was awfully convenient – I was happy again. I wish people would do this more often.

And then – me being me – I spent the morning wondering why I do these things; blogging in general, and arranging to see Laureates in particular. I can tell you why now. It’s because people like Chris Riddell are so very lovely to meet and talk to. They make you feel all nice and warm inside.

Children's Launderette

He had been invited by Scottish Friendly to be taken round the country by Scottish Book Trust in their friendly little book van, visiting as many schools as can be fitted into a week. That’s two a day, plus interviews with radio stations and Bookwitches and that kind of thing.

Tiny Vader

I joined them at Riverside Primary where the children were being mesmerised by Chris as I arrived (it’s not always easy to work out how to enter schools these days) and I had some time sitting in on the questions and answers session. They had put answers on cards in a cheerfully lit box, and Chris drew some cards to answer, and then he drew the answers on a thingummy which enabled everyone to see his hand and the drawing on a big screen on the wall.

Chris Riddell, the pizza tester

Little Cameron was quite taken when Chris drew him a personal Tiny Vader (really Darth Teddi), and that was after we’d seen [a drawing of] the scalpel that airport security had removed from Chris’s possession the other day, leaving his pencil blunter than it wants to be. If Chris didn’t draw, he’d be a [fat] pizza tester, and he rather hopes to be drawing until he’s very old (=for ever and ever). And if that lets us see lots more drawings of his drawers and other garments, that is fine with me. This Children’s Launderette is fun.

Chris Riddell

The session over-ran. Obviously. The queue for the book signing took forever, as it should. Chris gave the children attention and answered more questions. Scottish Book Trust’s Beth ran back to the van for more books when required. Her colleague Tom and I photographed the children’s own drawings, which were very good.

Riverside Primary drawings

Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour

Eventually it was time to squeeze them and me into the van, recently used by, and now decorated by, Sarah McIntyre. Fuelled by enormous chocolate buttons we drove to Toast (yes it was warm), and found they were about to close, but this was quickly resolved by going next door to Frankie & Benny’s, where the old witch had tea, the Laureate drank wine – because he could – and the young ones ordered attractive looking, but dubiously colourful shakes.

Yes, I did mention I was interviewing Chris, didn’t I? We got through all the important stuff, like his passion for reading and libraries and their future, before he was to be driven to a live radio interview in Perth. But apparently I shouldn’t feel sorry for him, for having such a busy schedule. Chris thrives on it. So far he’s eaten pizza three times, going from not so good to pretty decent. Somewhere in Perth clearly has a duty to come up with a spectacular one. And then an even better one in Aberdeen.

As Beth and Tom began hustling Chris out the door, I managed to get my copy of The Graveyard Book out for a little doodle, next to where Neil Gaiman had already given me a tombstone…

The Graveyard Book and Chris Riddell

Here I Stand

Here is a book you should all read. Here I Stand is an anthology for Amnesty International, where a number of our greatest authors and poets and illustrators have come together and written short pieces about the injustices in life as they see them.

Here I Stand

John Boyne writes about child abuse and Liz Kessler deals with same sex love. Both stories are hard to read, but at the same time they are uplifting and they make you think.

And it is repeated in every single contribution to this volume, whether by Jackie Kay or Jack Gantos, Sarah Crossan or Frances Hardinge. Bali Rai, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Laird are others who have important things to say about why life is far from right for many people in the world.

People who can be jailed or executed for the most normal behavior, or those who are simply too poor or too unfortunate in various ways. People for whom we need to continue fighting.

There is much in this book to think about. Please think about it.

Teary about Terry

When Terry Pratchett discussed his inevitably upcoming memorial with his assistant Rob Wilkins, the one thing he wished for was to be there. He was, in as much as we all had him in our hearts last night. We talked about him. And there were a number of heartstoppingly bearded men in black, wearing hats in the bar outside the Barbican theatre. But those fans have always been there. It’s just that on the other occasions, so has Terry.

Terry Pratchett memorial ticket

Why I was included on the guest list for this outstandingly special memorial, I don’t know. But there I was. And as we were warned not to take photos or have our mobiles on, or we might end up a bit dead, I didn’t, and we didn’t, and it was mostly too dark to see to write notes, so I’ll make up a few things now instead. There was a choir. There was a display of all of Terry’s books travelling through a time glass.

Terry Pratchett: From birth to death, a writer

Lord Vetinari kicked off – after the death threats – by thanking Terry from all his characters for putting them in his books before they ended up in someone else’s books.

After a long-wished-for opportunity to utter the words ‘do not let me detain you’ to Vetinari,  Rob was there to speak for the family, introducing others, including Terry’s daughter Rhianna. There were people from Terry’s past (whom I might have known if I knew more). There was a coven of Terry’s three editors; Philippa Dickinson, Anne Hoppe and Jennifer Brehl. Only once did Philippa fear she’d gone too far in suggesting a change in one of the books, but whereas Terry wouldn’t go so far as to say she had been right, he could see some merit in what she said.

Dried Frog Pills

Larry Finlay, MD of Transworld, told about the reports Terry used to send after every author tour; what the bookshops had been like, and the hotels. You could get a four and a half star rating (frozen peas provided for his aching signing hand), but never five. And the ‘first’ hotel of the country was so bad he could well believe it was. Old floorboards, and so on.

And then there was Steeleye Span. You could hear the collective held breath of the audience as we deduced we were about to be treated to some top notch music from Terry’s favourite band.

You can’t send just anyone in after such a music display, and they didn’t. We got Neil Gaiman, who had flown in specially for his old friend, reading his foreword to A Slip of the Keyboard, including the tale of their long trek through San Francisco when they really should have been on live radio. He was also able to spill the beans on a Manchester bookshop that did get a minus star in Terry’s ratings. (It’s when the staff lock themselves in and won’t come out until the customers have gone away.)

Terry Pratchett postcards

Rob told us about the four documentaries about Terry Pratchett. The three we may have already seen; on Alzheimer’s, about the Orangutans, and about choosing to die. Currently there is work on the fourth, and I suspect some of yesterday will end up in there.

By then we’d been there for well over two hours, and Sir Tony Robinson chose to come on stage and mention bladder control. He admired us for it, as well he should.  He had the opportunity to prove again how perfect he is for reading Terry’s words out loud. This time he chose a letter Terry had written. (In fact, Terry left behind a number of letters to friends and family, written one day in October 2014 when Rob was out of the office.)

Terry Pratchett memorial brooch

Another thing Terry had arranged was for some special jewellery for special friends; the less visible people who helped make everything possible, his agent, his editor, his illustrator, his banker and so on. The ones who Terry turned to in order to find out the necessary force needed to pull the head off a troll, for instance. They are the Venerable Order of the Honeybees, and their rewards were presented in a newly made version of The Luggage.

More singing from Steeleye Span, and special thanks to Maddy Prior, who came and sang to Terry at home shortly before he died.

Terry Pratchett memorial tissues

As you can tell, this was very much not a dry eye kind of evening. Luckily there was in the ‘partybag’ left on everyone’s seat a packet of tissues. I put mine away, and then wondered what the protocol was for nicking my neighbour’s pack which he hung onto for the whole evening. But there are always sleeves that can be put to good use.

Rob was aware that the clock was ticking, but he still talked us through what the future has in store. There will be no more Discworld books, but there will be books on all sorts of things, including a biography by Rob. Films are also in the pipeline, for The Wee Free Men, Mort, and Good Omens (with screenplay by Neil Gaiman, despite his agreement with Terry that they’d always work together).

And lots more.

The graduate (2)

Graduation St Andrews

Four years ago I wished for a pause in this graduation business, and I’d be an ungrateful parent to grumble now. Anyway, the second Offspring graduated yesterday and we went along to enjoy some typical British June weather and a bit of gown and town.

Four years ago I had a photographer taking photos. This time I had myself, and the results are not quite in the same ballpark. But at least I can show you a whirlwind being applauded by none other than Dr Vinton G Cerf, Vice President of Google. And she is my whirlwind. So there.

Graduation St Andrews - Vinton G Cerf and whirlwind

Some other subject will get Neil Gaiman this week, as their Honorary Doctor of something or other. But in fairness, on any average day in the life of the Bookwitch, I Google much more than I Gaiman, so I think it was appropriate that St Andrews made one more Honorary Doctor of Dr Cerf. Besides, thinking about his accomplishments, they are actually pretty admirable. He had been a bit disconcerted when told about the capping and hooding that would happen, but discovered it was all quite innocent.

Graduation St Andrews - Professor Aaron Quigley

And both the Professors of Computer Science who spoke did so briefly and interestingly, for which I thank them. The Principal and Vice-Chancellor (they are one and the same) Professor Louise Richardson did all of the capping, processing in the region of 200-300 new Bachelors, Masters and Doctors. The Dean of Science, Professor Alan Dearle, heroically spoke nearly every name correctly, and managed most of the titles for the theses as well (and some of them were outlandishly long and complicated).

The St Salvator’s Chapel Choir sang rather nicely, both before and after the ceremony.

Graduation St Andrews

Once we were done, we trooped into the Quad for some mingling and photo opportunities and lots of hugging. When it was time to go into the Garden Party the Resident IT Consultant gallantly sacrificed himself and let the ladies use the three allotted tickets. So he never saw the dainty Buckingham Palace style cakes. (Just as well, really.)

Met Birdie’s mother, who sported a very trendy Berså brooch, but I was too polite to mention I have the full dinner set… And as I said, we sat out in the cold, enjoying our little cakes, wondering why our warm clothes were in the car, but blessing the fact that it didn’t rain as forecast.

It was also good to finally meet the ‘teachers’ and more of Daughter’s classmates, since at this stage it is the kind of thing you don’t do much. Very good of the department to offer a light lunch beforehand. I’d be more than happy to return for more tropical cake another year.

A special witchy thanks to Dr Bruce Sinclair. Not so much for the cake, as for [only] doing his job so well and really making a difference.