Tag Archives: Random House Children’s Books

Retiring Philippa

My pangs of envy and regret started even before Philippa Dickinson’s retirement festivities got under way on Monday. When you’re online you can see what everyone else is doing and quite a few people announced they were heading that way, making me wish I was too. But there are drawbacks to moving to Scotland, and the spontaneity of sudden trips south is one of them.

So I wasn’t there, and now I can follow – online again – those who were, and there are more pangs. But I’m glad there was a party, and that it was good, and that – almost – everyone else was there. Because Philippa deserves to be celebrated.

Philippa Dickinson

Back in 2009 when I was introduced to her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it felt a bit like meeting the Queen, although perhaps more relaxed. And six months later when her publicists invited me to actually come and spend a day in Ealing, I was impressed with her again, and not only for remembering me a little.

Random House Children’s Books felt like the most active publishing house at the time. And she might have been the MD, but Philippa was still hands-on (editing Terry Pratchett, the lucky thing), working like a normal person. During our brief meeting in her office, she made a point of showing me her personal recommendation and arranging for me to have a copy of Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza.

Philippa and I are almost the same age, and occasionally I have stopped and asked myself what I have achieved with my life, and why I couldn’t be a bit more like her. (Answers on a postcard, please.)

Sometimes when I think of Philippa and wonder what made her better or more interesting than other publishing bosses, I realise that apart from a few directors of smaller publishing houses, I didn’t meet or get even a little acquainted with anyone else.

So maybe that’s why. You need to be out there, possibly rubbing shoulders with the little fish.

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Fickle news

David Fickling Books

In the end my agonising wait resolved itself. I heard about David Fickling’s plans to set up his own publishing company back in January. I wasn’t sure I was allowed to mention it, so thought I’d ask David. I suppose I kept back from doing that, in order to save him having to tell me to mind my own business.

Not that he would be so rude, but you know what I mean.

So the official news a week or two ago was very welcome. It was out in the open. I didn’t have to ask any awkward questions (I might still, actually). The one thing that did surprise me was to find I’d got it wrong. I’d always thought David set up on his own, and was later taken in under the Random House umbrella. But it seems this is the first time David Fickling Books will be independent.

Poor, but independent.

I’ll be very interested to see how it goes. The principles for publishing should be what DFB will try to do; working with what you believe in, at the pace you decide, and with as little glancing at ‘what sells’ as possible. Please make this a success!

David Fickling Books

I wonder if they will [be able to] hang on to their lovely home in central Oxford? The place where Daughter and I encountered Simon Mason in the cellar. Now that Simon is going to be managing director, it might be unseemly to have him stashed away below street level?

We’ll see. When the news came, I’d already had witchy thoughts about tiny houses where you couldn’t even swing a kitten, because I remember David talking about modern houses with deceptively tiny furniture. I hope that doesn’t mean he needs to shrink his publishing palace, where the MD sits in the cellar and there is a dentist on top. Always so handy.

(The Book of Dust, could come in useful. Some people would be willing to hand over good money for a copy of that. In fact, my first introduction to David Fickling came through a letter I was sent while we were all waiting for The Amber Spyglass. [Long time ago!] In it David was telling the impatient fan of how wonderful the bits Philip Pullman had been reading to him from his work in progress had been. There was something about David’s enthusiasm, and the way he shared this with the fans, that suggested he was no ordinary editor.)

What Helen is doing next

First you have to decide which Helen I am talking about.

Fine, then. I’ll help you. It’s Helen Grant. She very kindly drove all the way to Stirling when we were in Bloody Scotland weekend before last. She came just to see us. Actually, there was some kind of sleeping bag on the agenda, but mainly she was wanting to share tea and cake and trilogies.

Those being some of my main skills in life, it seemed like a good idea. Although, I always forget that whereas Helen really is a lovely person, her books feel very, sort of,  menacing? She scares me more than most, and the way she taps into spooky German places, and now spooky Belgian places is, well, spooky.

Helen Grant and her new book, Silent Saturday

Helen has recently moved to Random House, and I like their cover for the new book. Which incidentally, and sadly, won’t be with us until some time in spring 2013. As I said, it’s a trilogy, and I’m not sure I felt reassured by the way Helen suggested the end might be a bit gruesome. Or at least, not all sunshine and happiness.

Helen Grant, Silent Saturday

But I am looking forward to Silent Saturday, since I have every reason to believe it’s going to be as fantastic a read as Helen’s previous novels.

She seems to be out of step with the places she is being scary in. As her first German book arrived on the scene, she moved to Belgium, and it’s only now that she’s back in Britain, that her Belgian novels are ready.

So my wait for some bloody Scottish novels could be a long one.

The tea was pleasant. Despite Stirling doing its best to close tearooms as it saw us coming, we found a new one I’d not tried before, and it was good. Tea with flavour for a change, and home made quality cake. Copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica lining the walls. Really proper for a literary chat.

Gent

Helen even brought me postcards from Gent, where the trilogy is set. I’m already worrying about someone falling off the tower. Not sure which tower exactly, but I happen to know she has done some high-up research, and someone is bound to fall off some tower or other.

Gent

At least they wore hats

Dodger poster

Stockport station had the right idea. It knew where I was going. (I mean, it would have, if railway stations could have ideas.)

I was somewhat less ‘with it,’ as I managed to pick the long way from Seven Dials (yes, how very Dodger appropriate) to The House of St Barnabas. But a witch has to have a hobby, and getting lost in London could be one of them.

On my eventual arrival I went where I always go; the ladies’ room. Random’s lovely Clare was there, and a Victorian lady of some kind. The Victorian lady turned out to be Philippa Dickinson in dress-up mode. She looked most distinguished. So did the many others who had entered into the Victorian spirit.

Victorians

No spirit for me, so I had a glass of elder-something with salad in it. Very nice and refreshing, on what was a pretty thirsty day. And whereas I hadn’t dressed up, I did wear black, and my jacket is so old it goes a long way towards being Victorian.

Punch, and friend

There was a Punch and Judy man in the corner of one room. He said Punch would be happy to pose for me, as long as I photographed his best side. I think I did. (Between you and me, he looked worn out. Must be hard work, all that wife beating.)

Terry Pratchett at The House of St Barnabas

After a while of drinking the salad and watching Punch punch Judy, there was a commotion at the door, and there he was; Dodger. I mean Terry Pratchett. Sir Terry! Very snazzily dressed, I have to say. Hat as usual, but not the usual hat, exactly.

He arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, bearing his own coat of arms. (There was such a crowd by the door I didn’t get a picture of the horses. Magnificent black beauties, they were.)

Clare, Philippa and Lynsey

As the Victorians circulated, us 21st century people photographed them and stared. A beautifully crinolined Lynsey, incongruously wired Terry in a most non-Victorian manner, and Philippa was similarly equipped for her speech.

The MD of Random House Children’s Books spoke about how well Dodger has been received (there is a good reason for that, people!) and that it had reached number one on some kind of list. (She pretended to be from the 19th century.) Philippa apologised for the elegant venue for this book launch, explaining that she’d had her PR ladies crawling through every sewer in town, but failing to find anything suitable down there.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

David Jason

Terry made a reluctant speech (odd, isn’t it, how those who have every right to blow all sorts of trumpets, rarely want to?). His pal David Jason voiced his sentiments about Dodger, although he admitted to not having read it yet…

But I do believe Terry hinted that the way to a sequel was clear and that something might happen. Yes, please!

Rob

There was more Victorian mingling and circulating – with Willikins looking most fetching as a Victorian gentleman – and I drank some more salad, watched Punch and his fellow ‘actors,’ and so on.

Terry Pratchett, A S Byatt and Larry Finlay

A S Byatt was there. (I like it to be known I rub shoulders with the best shoulders in London.) She’s a fan, I believe. Transworld’s Larry Finlay stumped me by looking terribly familiar, and I required professional help in working out who he is. (It’s my age. I know things, while at the same time I don’t know them.)

Eventually Punch quietened a bit, and I took my leave, and promptly got lost again. I should have broomed.

Dodger's horses

Dodger coach

‘Thank goodness I became a children’s writer’ – Jacqueline Wilson at Seven Stories

The first thing I did in Newcastle was litter the station, and I don’t mean by simply being there. Was afraid I’d be arrested if I enquired about their (seemingly non-existent) litter bins. That’s my pear core, in case you were wondering.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

Yes, I finally made my way not just to Newcastle, but to the fantastic Seven Stories. It’s shocking that I’ve taken this long, but at least I had the most incredibly good day once I went. They have a new exhibition (opens to the public on Saturday) on the life of Jacqueline Wilson, complete with her childhood bedroom, the pink chaise longue on which she writes her books, and some replica fluffy cat impostors. Even her childhood monkeys were present.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

You can also admire the green dress Sapphire Battersea wears, meet Radish the famous rabbit, and sit on the Dumping Ground sofa, fresh off the latest BBC series of Tracy Beaker.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

I very nearly said hello to someone I recognised on the press tour. Luckily I didn’t. I paused long enough to work out who she was, and the only reason I ‘knew’ Kirsten O’Brien is my misspent middle age in front of CBBC. I had also nursed vague hopes of ending up on Blue Peter (this coming Monday), but not only was it something they filmed earlier, but it was so early as to have been ‘yesterday’ even when I was there.

Insisting on your child being tidy will most likely backfire. The young Jacqueline had to put away all her dolls into her chest of drawers every evening, which will be why she now surrounds herself with dolls all over her house. And after the end of the exhibition she hopes to buy back the picture that the tireless people at Seven Stories managed to find on eBay. (Where else?)

After the press conference where Nick Sharratt needed to ‘shut up before I blub,’ we queued up to have our books signed. Nick seemed to be aware of having featured on Bookwitch before (I thought we’d been so discreet…), and Jacqueline said she also wanted to be called Bookwitch. Sorry, there can only be one and that’s me.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories with Nick Sharratt

Nick admitted to having done 170 pictures for the next book, The Worst Thing About My Sister, so that’s something to look forward to. And right now Jacqueline is seven chapters into the third Hetty Feather book, which is another nice thing to look forward to.

For the photocall I did what one has to do under these circumstances. I hid behind the pros, and piggybacked off their fancy flash equipment. It would also help if I learned the difference between the button that takes pictures and the on-off button.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

More filming and interviewing was necessary after this and us ordinary visitors had some spare time, so me and some magazine people from Dundee spent a while riding the lift up and down in a fruitless search for where we needed to go next. Random’s Philippa Dickinson was found, and then lost again. Eventually it was teatime and we repaired to the café. I’d like to think I was first in because I needed to take photos of the food before it was all eaten.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

I hid in a corner with my plate, and that’s how I met the B family from Leeds. Lovely people, despite some trouser issues… I found out why they were there, and I also learned who the two boys milling about were. I clearly haven’t been wasting as much time in front of the television as I used to. They are the stars of the current Tracy Beaker series, and the B girls were very excited. (Chris Slater and Joe Maw, if you have to know. Polite boys. They even shook hands. With each other.)

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

The tea was wonderful! So often these things look good and taste of cardboard. Here they looked good and tasted great. (I ate too much again, but only with a view to surviving until I got home late.) And the two women in front of me looked particularly Swedish, and so did the boy with them. But you can’t go around accusing people of being Swedish all the time.

On the other hand, when they then speak Swedish behind your back, it’s perfectly all right to accost them for a chat. At that very moment I worked out that the younger one was Brita Granström, the illustrator who I have just missed at so many events, and she was with her mother and one of her sons.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

We met in the attic, as you do, where someone had spent hours tying large bows on the chairs. As you do. Very pretty. The whole attic was lovely, with books hanging from the ceiling and special purple sofas just for me.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

It was speech time. Lots of speeches, all admirably short and to the point, and just right. We were shown an excerpt from the film a group of teenage girls had made about Jacqueline, which was excellent. I got the impression that Jacqueline and Nick both come to Seven Stories quite often, and they spoke of the work in the community done by Seven Stories.

Jacqueline’s speech was ‘short and sweet’ and then Nick started blubbing again. This time the rest of us joined in. It was good, and it was special. Time for a good cry. So it was lucky that Jacqueline once saved Nick from a herd of stampeding heifers. Working together has been good, but it’s their friendship that matters the most.

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

In place of ribbons to cut, they were given flowers. Nick’s matched his orange tie and lime green shirt. And surprisingly Jacqueline was wearing black again, but what a dress! She always hoped to be a successful writer one day, but she never imagined she’d have her own exhibition.

It was a good day. Super-organiser Nicky Potter and Lindsey Fraser shared a taxi back to the station with me. Lindsey bought us tea, and to make sure we didn’t expire en route for our homes, she also equipped us with flapjacks. Large ones. The children’s books world is a nice one. Did I ever mention that?

Bookwitch bites #42

In honour of the day I was going to link to a post on Alan Gibbons’s blog, but on consideration I feel he writes so much about libraries and it’s all so worthwhile that I’ll just put in a link to the whole blog instead and you can look at anything you like. And then go out there and save a library. After all, even old Andrew Carnegie is out protesting in Edinburgh. If he can, you can.

So much depends on libraries, when you think about it. This blog, for instance. Would it have got started if I hadn’t spent so much time in my first library? And would Meg Rosoff have become an author and told me what to do if she hadn’t had a library?

My interview colleague Charlie has been out and about again. His latest pursuits can be found over on CultureWitch this time, and I’d like to think that the boy’s reading fervour has something to do with libraries. He’s almost as crazy as I am.

Those crazy – but charming – mermaids of Michelle Lovric’s can now be seen in this short video clip.

It’s taken me a few years, but I’m finally dreaming Bookwitch. Usually the stuff you fill your time and thoughts with tend to feature in dreams, but it’s only very recently that I started filling my dreams with books. There was a good one last week. Except I’ve forgotten it. But before you draw a sigh of relief I need to mention the one where Random’s MD Philippa Dickinson made a house call (so hardworking, those publishing types) to hand over a new proof to me. It was green. It was also 1480 pages, which is a lot. I’m relieved it was only a dream, albeit an awfully precise dream. 'Carrot'

And last but not least, it’s The New Librarian’s birthday today. Happy 27th and may there be enough libraries for you to work in for years to come!

The Random Christmas Party

After frenzied discussions on facebook as to the level of insanity of me travelling in this snowy weather, it was all a bit of an anticlimax. Nothing untoward happened as far as my travelling was concerned. To go or not to go. That was the question. And until I put my coat on and locked the door behind me, I didn’t know myself.

Sat next to someone on the train who wrote a list of cocktails on his Macbook, and I wanted to scream when he listed vodke. But to point it out would have been to admit I was reading his document.

And while on the subject of drinks, I may have been standing in the part of the room at Random’s Christmas party where all (well, two) the wineglasses broke, but it wasn’t me. They simply exploded next to me.

I knew I was in the right place. Address, not exploding bits of glass corner of room. Partly because I’d been there before, and also because when I got to the front door Klaus Flugge stepped out of a cab, which was as good a sign as any.

Everyone was there. Except for all those less than intrepid souls who cancelled because of the weather. If I could broom in, then anyone could. Maybe. I understand it’s normally more of a crush at these parties, and although I was unable to hear myself think, Mum Clare told me it was on the quiet side. Of course it was.

Someone even missed Daughter, which was awfully kind of her, and it made Daughter’s day to have been remembered. I’d heard about these parties, and decided that people might dress to the nines for them, but that my Arctic explorer persona would allow me to be sensibly dressed. So I was only slightly disconcerted to find beautifully assembled guests ahead of me. And the rest of them changed into their party toilettes in the toilets.

So, who was there? Philip Pullman was there, until he left. I steered clear of him on account of me having complained about his writing speed only last week. Same for David Fickling, to spare him any more embarrassment. Eleanor Updale came, and I missed speaking to her too. Didn’t even see John Dickinson.

I did spy Sarah McIntyre, so decided to make myself known to her. Her beautiful spectacles and lipstick make her instantly recognisable. I looked at the floor to see if Sarah was wearing very exceptionally, extra high heels, but she wasn’t. I felt a wee bit short. Sarah introduced me to Neill Cameron, who’s one of her David Fickling Comics colleagues.

Neill has a book launch (for Mo-Bot High) today in Oxford, so make sure you don’t miss it. I hope Neill doesn’t miss it either. He looked worried when I said the forecast was for his non-return to Oxford, and said he’d leave at the first sign of a snowflake. We spent some time shouting to each other on a variety of subjects, from what three-year-old boys should read to me being followed on Twitter (and I don’t even tweet) by a fictional 17th century Scottish faerie (hi, Seth!).

I saw Jenny Downham, who actually had a new book out yesterday. I say they missed a seriously good opportunity for a book launch party there. I was introduced to Klaus Flugge, who is too old for blogs. I’ll show him!

Ian Beck was there, and so was Steve Cole, but I never made it across to say hello. Didn’t speak to Anthony McGowan either, and I so wanted to ask him to smile at me. Lindsey Barraclough was there. She’s the neighbour of Random’s Annie Eaton, and who will be a publishing sensation next year. Annie smiled at me and touched the sides of her head. She might have been saying her hair was very nice or that mine was awful. Either way she’d be right.

Agents Rosemary Canter and Hilary Delamere chatted by the window, and Philippa Dickinson made a good speech. It was all about hairnets and labcoats and Puffin’s Kaye Webb, whose biography we must read. I’m more worried about needing to wear a hairnet to operate my laptop.

At some point I found myself clasping a small spear and wondering why, as I had no intention of stabbing anyone, until I remembered it had arrived with a tasty mozzarella ball which I had eaten. Many delicious canapés were being walked around the rooms, but I seemed to attract mostly the sausages and the chicken. If there were no breadsticks left, I suspect it might have had something to do with me.

I have finally met Pete Johnson! And he wasn’t anywhere near as short as his name had lead me to believe. I was so overcome I couldn’t even recall the title of his book which I read about a year ago, so I had to assure him I could remember everything about it except the title. (The TV Time Travellers)

With elderly knee and hearing both giving out, I decided to call it a day before I ended up spending the night (I had threatened poor Clare that I’d come and sleep at her house if the trains were cancelled!) and broomed away pretty swiftly and caught the second last of the offpeak trains where I had a choice between sitting next to a John Boyne lookalike and a Nick Green lookalike. I picked Nick because he had a window.