Tag Archives: Scottish Friendly

A Scottish Jamboree for books and reading

It’s not every birthday a couple of former children’s laureates come my way. In fact, I’d have to say yesterday was a first. To celebrate twenty years of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tours, they and Scottish Book Trust gathered a few of the many authors and illustrators they have carted round Scotland for two decades, entertaining school children and making a difference.

Chris Riddell, Cressida Cowell, Jacqueline Wilson, Pamela Butchart, Lorenzo and Robin Etherington

2000 children descended on the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow for a couple of hours of fun with some of the best. As they began to arrive, the invited authors came out onto the front steps, in the famous Scottish sunshine, to pose for the gathered photographers, and where would you be without the fun and crazy Etherington Brothers?

The former laureates were Jacqueline Wilson and Chris Riddell, and they were joined by dragon trainer Cressida Cowell and Scottish star Pamela Butchart. In front, complaining they’d never get up from their semi-kneeling positions, were Scottish Friendly’s Calum Bennie and Scottish Book Trust’s Marc Lambert.

Scottish Friendly bag

I was pleased to see two of my favourite publicists, Naomi and Rebecca, and a brief conversation about exams took place. Time goes so fast! I was also trying to pass a message on a piece of paper to Pamela Butchart, without her thinking I was a crazy, random Witch. Luckily she had a handbag-holder person with her.

Now, it takes time to seat 2000 children, even when they are so well behaved and the operation going really smoothly. To keep them happy once they’d got in Chris Riddell sat on stage doodling away, using his instant machine thing that displays the drawings on a large screen. There was applause whenever they approved of Chris’s work, and none more so than when he went a little political towards the end, with the 45th President seemingly having problems with gas while playing golf, and our PM and her shoes stuffed upside down in a dustbin.

Chris Riddell

After an introduction from host Sian Bevan, Chris told the children not to draw on the walls at home – like he did, aged three – and how his mother cut his discarded pieces of paper into ever smaller pieces. ‘Get a sketchbook! he told us. He suggested his new book Doodle-a-Day, explained how his hairy daughter turned into the Ottoline books, and read a beautiful piece by Katherine Rundell on libraries.

When it was Jacqueline Wilson’s turn she told us about being small and lonely in Dundee many years ago, and how her years ‘in the linen cupboard’ were some of the best. There were midnight feasts, apparently. Tracy Beaker narrowly avoided being Tracy Facecloth, which is just as well, now that there will be a new Tracy Beaker book. Jacqueline’s historical writing got a mention, as did the ‘new’ Tay Rail Bridge, and her recent book about WWII evacuees.

Jacqueline Wilson

At this point I discovered I was hungry. I’d been so interested in what was being said that I’d forgotten to eat. And speaking of needs, I thought the stealthy trailing out to the toilets and back in again was well orchestrated. As done by the children, I mean.

Cressida Cowell seems to have come up with her dragons from the shape of the hill on the Scottish desert island her father always took his family to every summer. Besides, they had no television. She wanted the children to understand that the ability to write books does not come from how good your handwriting is, but it’s your ideas that matter. So despite having bad handwriting, Cressida’s books are turning into ever more films.

Cressida Cowell

Dundee teacher-turned-author Pamela Butchart makes up everything. She briefly showed us all her books, which are mostly about schools. She even got the headteachers who were present to bark like dogs. Pamela introduced us to a ‘real alien’ who turned out to be a normal human baby. Hers. Apparently she ‘sometimes speaks too much’ and she finished by inviting a member of the audience up on stage to investigate making fiction with the help of magic crisps. Salt and vinegar.

Pamela Butchart

To finish we had the Etherington Brothers, Lorenzo and Robin. They caused much loudness to happen. It’s all about stuff. Something is. Having the ‘wrong prop’ is important, whether it’s ‘never take a tomato to the beach,’ or having a sock parachute. It’s about having choice, and choosing the wrong thing. And then they turned round, posing for the camera, with the whole audience behind them, waving to the children who were watching this online at school.

Lorenzo and Robin Etherington

All six special guests returned to the stage to wave, before – presumably – being revived with food and drink prior to facing 2000 signatures. Again, this was very well organised, and everyone took turns and it was never too crowded. Or at least I think it wasn’t, since I left while they were peacefully signing away.

I hope they are not still there now.

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The #21 profile – Nick Sharratt

Scottish Friendly (such a Friendly sounding, and Scottish name, don’t you think?) are currently trundling Nick Sharratt round Liverpool. Lucky Liverpool! We are all very lucky that there still are some who take books for children seriously. The Bookwitch family have always treasured Nick’s services to reading, as without him and Tracy Beaker – and I do mean the pictures – Daughter wouldn’t be where she is today. Although I think she should have pestered him that time they were on the same train. Unless that would have killed a new book idea…

Here is Nick now, with bats for tats:

Nick Sharratt

How many books did you write/illustrate before the one that was your first published book?

None. I was primarily a magazine illustrator when I found myself commissioned by Oxford University Press to illustrate my first picture book, ‘Noisy Poems’, and as I remember it, the first book that I wrote as well as illustrated (‘I Look Like This’, now called ‘What Do I Look Like?’) was coaxed out of me by my editor at Walker Books.

Best place for inspiration?

A very long train or plane journey. Nothing to distract from truly getting to grips with an idea in one’s head.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

Never thought about it.

What would you never write about?

Can’t see myself writing a violent crime thriller somehow.

Through your illustrating: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I was placed next to the actress Fenella Fielding at a book festival dinner once. (I loved Carry On films as a boy and Carry On Screaming was a particular favourite.) She was delightful.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Timothy Pope’s dad in my Shark in the Park books. He’s a bit of a rocker.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Good. Please can I have animated films made of several of my books?

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Will you draw a bat for me so that I can have it turned into a tattoo?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can juggle with jellies – and frequently do.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

The Famous Five. I liked the sound the hot chocolate and Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe though.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

I have four equally favourite Swedes and they comprised Abba. (Yes, I know Anni-Frid was born in Norway.)

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

By height.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

If you have to choose between reading or drawing, which would it be?

Please don’t ask me such an unsettling question!

Sorry. Didn’t mean to. Getting some hot chocolate ready as I write. But NO jellies.

I do like a man who knows his Norwegians. And for some idiotic reason when Nick said he organises his books by height – which is quite sensible – I visualised them all high up, because he is so tall. (Yes, those are his feet down there.)

Nick Sharratt's socks

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

Scottish Friendly

Yes, he is. Very Scottish Friendly. Look who’s here!

Scottish Booktrust - Chris Riddell

I reckon Chris can carry off the kilt look. Don’t you?

Another Scottish Friendly

You might have noticed before that the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tours tend to offer some really rather good authors and illustrators to schools around Scotland. Their past list reads like a Who’s Who in children’s books. I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear they were bringing Sarah McIntyre here next.

Sarah McIntyre

Sarah is both an illustrator and an author. She arrives this weekend, for five days in the Highlands, which in this case means she starts right up north in Thurso and works her way ‘south’ to Inverness. Well, to me Inverness is still pretty north, and this week is pretty full of other things, and I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Sarah and her Highlands will have to be witch-free this time. But there are ten lucky schools who get her full attention.

And occasionally (what am I saying? It happenes all the time) Sarah gets attention in other ways too. She’s not the only one, but the other week she wrote a blog post about it, which is too good not to share. The ‘it’ being hopeful wannabes who ask illustrators to do the illustrations for the book they’ve just written. Usually without any idea of how much work that entails, or that an illustrator would like to be paid, or even being able to be polite once they’ve been turned down. (At least they got a reply!)

The trouble is that even to someone like me who understands that work takes time and you can’t work for free, these professional illustrators make it look so effortless. And I must admit that whenever I daydream about having a book out there that is all mine, my next daydream is who to ask to illustrate it, or at least do some nice cover art for me…

Bookwitch by Sarah McIntyre

Oops. Very easily done.

I am the proud owner of a genuine McIntyre. Digital, but very lovely. I believe it was something Sarah ‘threw together’ on her sickbed, one day when she was too tired to do anything else. She’s made the wicked old witch look quite pretty.