Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

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.

Eight I’ve read

At last. A list I’ve read. I’m beginning to like Daniel Hahn even more. Clearly great minds think alike.

For the Guardian Daniel has chosen eight of the best YA novels, suitable – indeed highly recommended – for adults. And I’ve read them all, which I suppose isn’t so strange, really. I thought when I saw the list that they were all recent books, but YA hasn’t been around all that long, so it’s understandable.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen exactly that list, but I could have.

And I realise I should never have absolved Daughter from having to read The White Darkness. She asked, only a week or so ago, whether she still had to read it, and I said no. It is such a tremendous book. (Is it too late to force her now?) Fancy Daniel picking Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick! Very good choice. Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan. That was a long time ago now, and I almost didn’t consider it a death/cancer novel, but I suppose it is.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, of course. The odd thing is that when I read it, I was – almost – not keen on Chris Riddell’s illustrations. I thought I preferred Dave McKean’s. Well, a witch can change her mind. Siobhan Dowd’s A Swift Pure Cry; the book I thought I might not like because I had set notions about that ‘kind of plot’… What an idiot I was. But it’s a testament to Siobhan’s writing skills that this ‘kind of plot’ can be marvellous.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond is the one book I remember less well. Possibly because at the time I read several of David’s books in quick succession. Patrick Ness gets three books in, as Chaos Walking is a trilogy, but you can’t have just the one part. For me they are books that have grown in stature over the years. And finally, Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram. One of the best. And now there will be no more.

I know that I tend to preach to the converted here on Bookwitch, but I hope that a few of today’s readers are doubting adults, who would never dream of reading YA. Until today. Because this is such a good start to a new life of reading YA books.

Lucky you.

I might wear purple

Terry Pratchett

Son ‘put a lot of sugar in it and showed it the milk.’ That’s Terry Pratchett’s coffee we are talking about, and you know why I’m writing about him, so I don’t need to announce to the world that Terry has gone to meet Death. I think what I’ll do is reminisce a little.

We were with Terry that time in September 2010 to give him a Mars bar, and because he had very generously requested a second interview with me. From me? Whatever. We came. We laughed. We left.

Terry Pratchett

I’d met Terry for an interview ten months earlier. He’d had such a long and busy day, and was so tired, and hungry, that all he wanted was a Mars bar. And because I don’t eat chocolate, I had nothing like that to offer. Otherwise, I’m a mother. You know. We always carry spares in case anyone needs anything.

He was upset that we didn’t get as long as he’d expected, even though it meant he could go and eat something. So he asked to see me again, partly – I think – to discuss the librarian I told him about, who wanted to ban his books to under sixteens. Maybe he even found me less hard work than the real professionals he had seen earlier, and liked a less intense kind of chat.

The interviews were followed by invitations to book launches, and a Terry Pratchett launch is like no other. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity, which I did little to deserve. But in general we don’t mind having that which we don’t deserve.

Terry Pratchett - Dementia Friends

When I heard about Terry’s diagnosis in 2007 I immediately assumed this would be the end for him, for his books, and everything. That’s why I have felt that every new book we’ve been given in the years since, have been lovely bonuses. I’m amazed Terry could keep going the way he did, despite the handicap of being unable to write. 66 is too young to die, but it is preferable to 59.

In 2008 when Neil Gaiman signed Son’s copy of Good Omens, he said it was a shame Terry wouldn’t be able to sign it as well. There was even a catchphrase that went with the Good Omens signature. Well, you know me. I didn’t feel it was too late, and it wasn’t. Terry’s signature might have ended up somewhat shakier than it once was, but he knew the words to go with it.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

The last time for me was the launch for Dodger, and Terry wore the wrong hat, by which I mean it wasn’t his usual style, but a hat for Dodger. And I should have gone up to him and said a proper hello. Instead I went all modest and assumed he’d not remember me, because I was merely a small cogwheel.

I’m lucky, though. I have not yet read all Terry’s books, if that’s not the wrong thing to admit to in company like this? I’ll eke them out. And I shall wear purple, even if it was a colour Terry didn’t like. So there.

Terry Pratchett and witch

Many, many thanks to Clare, Philippa and Lynsey who made my adventures possible.

‘So where do you come from?’

‘Sweden,’ 

‘Sweden?’

‘Yes.’

‘Hahaha…’

‘It’s not that funny.’

‘Yes, hee hee, it is, it is. Let me tell you a story, to get ourselves warmed up.’

Goodwill, to some

Before we all succumb to Christmas cheer and goodwill, I can’t resist mentioning this, to anyone who didn’t already read it in last week’s Guardian Review.

I love Lucy Mangan. I have, for some reason never managed to like Russell Brand. I have worried – probably unnecessarily – that I’m being unfair in this. I really like Chris Riddell and I have a strong admiration for Neil Gaiman’s work.

I envy Lucy’s power as a Guardian reviewer (although, where is she most of the time? I miss Lucy!), and the fact that when I want to be mean on Bookwitch, I run it past Thumper’s mum first, and then usually resist my urges. You can always say nothin’ at all.

So, it cheered me immensely to find Lucy writing this about Russell’s new book: ‘Chris Riddell’s tumbling, vigorous, plentiful illustrations give the book a beauty it does not deserve and a coherence the text does not deliver. It pains me to think how often he must have had to read the thing…’

I agree that illustrating Neil’s new children’s book was most likely a more satisfying task. I don’t know what The Sleeper and the Spindle is like, however. For some reason I receive very few books from this publisher, and after considerable email exchanges last year about Fortunately, the Milk, I ended up buying a copy. I feel sufficiently raw after that experience, that I will not mention this new book to the publisher.

It must have been something I said. This time I consulted with Thumper’s mum and she reckoned it was all right to write what I’ve just put in this blog post. But I’ll stop here.