Tag Archives: Royal Exchange Theatre

Jackie’s Royal Exchange gig

She does get oot and aboot, that Jackie Kay. Although someone tried to pull the wool over her eyes by making her think she was doing a gig in front of thirty children. It was more like 500, including me. I sat next to the screamers from Whalley Range. Those girls have got good lungs.

Thirty indeed! It was the Children’s Bookshow at the Royal Exchange, and it was full to bursting. Poetry isn’t dead yet.

This was another great gig (Jackie’s choice of word…) with a nice mix of poems and questions from the audience. She started with a poem based on her (12-year-old) brother’s tricks, went on to Dracula, in whom she believed when she was eleven and visited Romania. Jackie made the audience shout Mississippi for a sad poem about a slave who was forced to sell her child, and clap hands for ‘attention.’

Jackie Kay

When she asked if anyone knew what a Sassenach is I didn’t dare raise my hand unlike last time, but once we’d had some pretty imaginative suggestions, someone seemed to know it means a non-Scottish person. Audience participation in the Sassenach poem definitely dealt with any problems a person on too little sleep might have had. (I’m not saying there actually was such a person present.)

Miaowing along with The Nine Lives of the Cat Mandu, this not-so-posh audience gave vent to lots of noise. And to finish off we got the poem about Jackie’s imaginary friend, Brendan Gallagher. He seemed nice.

The questions were everything from fairly ordinary ones, to the more unusual. Jackie was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Glasgow. Her parents adopted her brother (the one with the tricks) first, and managed to get him as a baby by having no colour preference. Jackie was bullied in primary school, and one of her heroes is Martin Luther King. She likes music, reading and cooking.

Jackie Kay

Her favourite children’s book is Anne of Green Gables, she’s not as old as the audience seemed to think (not sure they quite got her plea for age flattery…), and when he was small her son thought Poetry was a place, because she often seemed to go there. Being a poet is both lonely, when you write, and social, when you do gigs. She is happy when writing, but the editing can take a lot of time.

What with the Exchange being a theatre in the round, it pleased me that Jackie kept turning round the whole time, so there was no front or back. Just hard work taking pictures of this whirlwind.

Jackie Kay

The copies of Red, Cherry Red seemed to sell like hot cakes and the signing queue was long. Jackie said she had never signed anything to a Bookwitch before, and I should jolly well think not!

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And these days he reads to the dog

I was the only one to get the joke when Ulf Stark sang his version of the Lucia song. His translator, Julia Marshall, wisely steered clear of that minefield. But it was a fun version, and one I’d not come across before. Obviously they weren’t complete morons back in the dark ages before I was a child.

Royal Exchange Theatre

Ulf came to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre on Tuesday morning, to talk to school children (and one elderly witch) as part of The Children’s Bookshow with Siân Williams. I’m uncertain whether the children had heard quite that much nonsense about farting from such an old adult ever before. They seemed delighted. In fact, were it not for his wild and white hair, I’d have said Ulf is about ten years of age.

Ulf Stark and Julia Marshall

Before the event I had wondered what language Ulf would be using, thinking it’s always hard to grab – and keep – the attention of children when you’re not a fluent English speaker. And that will be why they had imported the translator of his books all the way from New Zealand. Ulf would offer a short burst of incomprehensible Swedish (although he did say he hoped they would have learned by the end) which Julia transformed into something a bit more normal sounding. Apart from the singing. Or the whistling. She didn’t do those.

Ulf Stark

He’s blue and yellow. These days they are hopefully only the colours of the Swedish flag, but as a child he’d be patriotically coloured due to having an older brother, who did what older brothers often do. Come into your room and fart. Hit you and squeeze you until you’re flag-coloured.

Now that Ulf is older, he writes lots of books, one of which was handed over to baby Princess Estelle, Duchess of Östergötland (they learn to read very early over there). Ulf reckons his father would have been proud of him. He was so very lefthanded as a child that all his father could think he’d be fit for was as an excavator operator. He himself wanted to be a boxer.

Ulf talked about his writing, and warned people never to dedicate their books to girlfriends/boyfriends, because the time it takes to get a book into print means they will have ditched you long before, and that is so embarrassing. But it was ‘only’ a poetry collection, which he sincerely hopes none of us will ever read.

When Ulf found out about a writing award worth around £5000, he took six months off work to write a book to win the award. (And it seems he actually did, too.) After that, he didn’t need to go back to work. His first book was about a girl who is mistaken for a boy. Now he writes about things he knows, because he has never been a girl.

He told us about the background to another of his books, when his father invited a prince to dinner. His mother cleaned behind the radiators (that is where princes look) and hunted out a cookbook for princely food.

The background to Can you whistle, Johanna? was from when he took his small children to the north of Sweden for the snow, only to find there was none. So he showed them how to write a book instead, which the children tired of almost immediately. Ulf soldiered on, having dismissed his first idea of writing a rubbish book. And now it has become regular entertainment on television every Christmas Eve.

Julia and Ulf took turns to read from the book, and Ulf whistled the tune, so we’d know what the whole story was about.

There were plenty of questions afterwards, and we learned that thick books take longer to write, his illustrator (Anna Höglund) keeps having babies when he just wants her to draw pictures, and with his children grown up, Ulf has to resort to reading to the dog.

Ulf Stark

Long queues to buy Ulf’s books and to have them signed. I rarely see events book stalls selling out, but that seems to be what Waterstones did. Great that the children were interested. And great that they were taken to the Royal Exchange in the first place. I watched as some of the early groups arrived, and the way they looked and gasped at the theatre itself. Let’s hope they’ll be back for something else one day.

Siân Williams and MLF interviewer

While waiting to speak to Ulf I chatted to Siân about what she does, and we agreed that we need to see more foreign children’s books in Britain. Ulf did offer to send me the 400 or so he gets sent every year, but that’s not quite what we had in mind.

It was good to speak to Ulf, although I can’t remember what we talked about. The Gothenburg Book Fair, where he spoke at the weekend. Kulturrådet (Arts Council) where he gives away money after being sent 400 books to read. Touring all over the world. That sort of thing.

Ulf Stark

The people from the Manchester Literature Festival were there, and so was one of ‘my’ young men from Waterstones. It was a regular get-together, really. And Siân and I will have to change the world of books, somehow.

Mothers and daughters, and it’s goodbye from mcbf 2012

Samantha van Leer and Jodi Picoult

The double mother and daughter thing was too good an opportunity to miss. And a first time is always special, and no matter how many more times you do something, the first one is the only first one you get. So when Jodi Picoult returned to Manchester on Sunday, to sign new book Between the Lines, co-written with her daughter Samantha van Leer, I knew I wanted to be there, and I knew I wanted a chat with the two of them, and I knew I wanted my trusted photographer to make a better job of taking pictures than I have managed in the last two meetings with Jodi.

Samantha van Leer

It all came true, including my weird dream from a few weeks back. (So don’t tell me I’m not a witch.) Basically there were no people waiting at the Arndale. In my dream it had to do with being Good Friday, but in real life the queue had to stand inside WHS, instead of outside. So the fans were all there. Phew. (And I know it’s not Easter.)

Jodi Picoult

Glad to see the fans were as keen as ever, and happy to lay their hands on this great new fairytale-meets-real-life novel. Mum Jodi might have helped write it, but the idea was all Sammy’s. We watched as each fan (and there were a good number of men) sat down next to Jodi and Sammy for a photo and brief chat. Couldn’t help noticing Sammy is lefthanded like her mum, and no doubt she will soon be the second fastest signer in the west.

There was a cute baby, as always.

Jodi Picoult and baby

And then it was my turn. Jodi almost lied, saying it was nice to see me again. (It was obviously nice. It’s the again I don’t believe she remembers.) And at least I got my interview in before the BBC this time. If you’re up early, try Monday’s breakfast show for their version.

Sammy and Jodi had a tea engagement with another mother and daughter team, who had won a meeting with the two writers in a competition. (See, it is a marvellous idea.)

Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson at the Royal Exchange

Our own luck held, and we finished in good time for the mcbf finale, which didn’t come a moment too soon. Any later and James would have expired. As it was, all major players were still upright when Carol Ann Duffy and her best friend John Sampson told the sad tale of The Princess’ Blankets. It was my third time, but it’s still good. And this time I was sitting in a great seat upstairs at the Royal Exchange, while my photographer had the time of her life, clambering all over the central space capsule.

John Sampson

Carol Ann issued orders not to tell her how the tennis was going. John played his unusual instruments and pretended to be Mozart again. We in the audience got to do our shouting, and this time I was Picasso. After the poor Princess had warmed up, Carol Ann read us a new book called The Gift.

Carol Ann Duffy

And finally, James and Kaye could stand in the limelight and declare the last eleven days over, and John provided a classy trumpet solo to mark the moment. It has been really good. Rest a while now, and then get on with planning 2014! You know you want to.

Kaye Tew and James Draper

We’ll be back.

Bookwitch bites #72

Today will be mainly about what happens in toilets. And I’m relieved (no, not in that way!) that some of you love me a little. Thank you to all five who like me. I’m actually ecstatic to find I have more fans than Declan Burke on Crime Always Pays, who only has ‘three regular readers.’ Or so he claims. And I’m one of them. Not sure who the other two are.

My tale about the sweet singing in the Ladies at the Lowry caused the nice press person from the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick to send me a very kind email. This in turn made me aware of the theatre’s book festival, Words by the Water. I know, everywhere does them, but it feels rather special to have something bookish in that lovely theatre setting. I just wish I could go. It started yesterday, and whereas it mainly seems to be adult authors, I did notice Annabel Pitcher in the programme.

The next toilet ‘incident’ also involves a lovely email (perhaps I shouldn’t have asked for sympathy?), from a librarian I encountered in the toilet queue at the Philippines Embassy (as you do) at the launch of Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story a year and a half ago. Her school – where she does her librarian stuff – has a novel (to me) kind of book competition to encourage reading. And I’m proud that I inspired one of the books to be picked. (That would be the one I never finished reading.) I’d like to think I’m also partly to blame for the school’s newly started blog. I wish them the best of fun with their Battle of the Books.

I believe I will now move swiftly and virtually seamlessly from toilets to libraries. Blue Peter was broadcasting live from the John Rylands Library in Manchester on Thursday. (And I wasn’t there! Small sob.) Both their book awards had reached a conclusion, so Gareth P Jones was there as his werewolf mystery The Considine Curse was voted Blue Peter Book of the Year. He looked quite happy.

And the Best Children’s Book of the Last 10 Years was won by Jeff Kinney for his bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He looked quite happy too. And like me, he wasn’t actually there. He spoke to the assembled Blue Peter children in a recorded message.

Connie Fisher, Michael Xavier and Lucy van Gasse

I really need to remember that Blue Peter broadcast from Media City in Salford these days. And that is relatively close. Oddly enough, I had been to Manchester earlier on Thursday. And to end this post in a vaguely toilet related manner, I almost passed the John Rylands after stuffing envelopes for the Hallé, in the company of a volunteer from the Lowry who was enthusing about the Media City gardens, and the ‘celebrities’ one can see there. One of the stuffings was for Wonderful Town, the collaboration between the Royal Exchange Theatre, the Hallé and the Lowry. And it was the toilet from the launch which featured in my second paragraph above, and the volunteer also experienced a slight incident with the Bridgewater Hall’s facilities on Thursday. It was a mere misunderstanding, and she wasn’t in the dark for long.

I know. Things stopped making sense about 100 words ago. Sorry.