Tag Archives: Sherry Ashworth

Becoming a little retrospective about mcbf 2012

At the safe distance of nearly a week, I feel almost ready to re-visit mcbf. How about the rest of you? I guess that even James Draper might have finished sleeping by now.

MMU

There are things I didn’t do, apart from author events I just had no stamina to attend. I didn’t make it to Cornerhouse for a screening of The Witches. And it would have been so very suitable too. (Swedish witch, and all that.)

I still have the war books exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North in mind, and will do until it ends.

James had a hard eleven days of it. At one point I thought he would have to finish the festival wearing espadrilles, when his pointy shoes gave up the ghost. And was it tired eyes that caused the spectacles to emerge one day?

Kaye did all right, wearing some lovely outfits and still seeming to feel up to starting to plan mcbf 2014.

There were others who did a wonderful job as well. Claudia travelled all over Manchester, and Kevin smiled in the face of exhaustion whenever I met him. Duncan was elegant in his suit until the bitter end, and Iris continued with her bright spottiness. Anyone else I’ve omitted mentioning will just have to forgive a confused old festival-witch.

I’ll leave you with some more photos, chosen with no plan or reason whatsoever.

Holden Gallery

MCBF audience

Jackie Kay

Liz Kessler

Steve Cole

Cathy Cassidy

Jacqueline Wilson and fan

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Josh Degenhardt and Julie Bertagna

Michael Rosen

John Sampson

Carol Ann Duffy

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Philip Pullman x 2

He doesn’t do many events these days, but not even Philip Pullman can say no to Carol Ann Duffy. That’s why we could all pile into the large lecture theatre at MMU to hear him talk about, well, stuff. And a little Dust, although we were left fairly much in the dark about it. Literally too, until someone finally switched on all the lights, and stopped switching them off again. (James!)

Sherry Ashworth and Philip Pullman

Sherry Ashworth acted the fan-struck moderator who wanted to know what most of us wanted to know. It’s reassuring that even Philip first read and loved Noddy, almost like a normal small person. He loved Arthur Ransome’s books, but not the awful illustrations, and he read Moomin, whose creator Tove Jansson was a real artist. The sex in the Alexandria Quartet made him want to grow up to be just like the characters in the books.

Philip enjoys being a ‘totalitarian’ when he writes. ‘I kill people, I bring them back to life, and I like it.’ Whereas when people read, they can read as they like, with no one seeing into their heads. Writing books, and persuading readers they want to read them, should be like sitting in the market, telling a story. People can stop and listen if they want, and they can pay a little, if they think it’s good.

Philip Pullman

There is a Lyra in every school class, and it’s love that Lyra does best. What Philip does, or so he says, is write three pages of Dust every day. He maintains there will be a book, eventually.

But one of the things that kept him from Dust was the archbishop’s challenge to write about Jesus, so that’s what he did. Philip said he thinks about God all the time. He also had to write the two short books set in Lyra’s world. (So that sort of explains the last six years, then?)

While Philip took a break, Sherry collected questions from the audience. It was a surprisingly young audience for an author who appeals as much to adults.

Pullman fan with books

He reckons his parents were mainly surprised that their dreamy son got a book published, but he is sad they didn’t live to see his real success. His advice to get published is to write a good book, and not to plan too much. He planned his second novel so carefully he got bored and had to write something else instead.

The armoured bears came as a surprise when he was writing Northern Lights, and he feels that if you’re writing things at school, you should write first and plan after. That way the two will agree and you will get much better marks. Philip doesn’t believe in writer’s block, and says you have to sit at your desk, because that’s where the ideas will come, and if you’re not there you will miss them.

His reasons for writing are to earn money, and because it’s therapeutic. It becomes a habit, it’s fun when all goes well and he likes getting language right. (Who or whom?) Page 70 is always the hard one, and he once gave up reading a book after two words. (That was the Booker winner.) Don’t start with a pronoun, or you’ll drive Mr Pullman crazy, and steer clear of the present tense. He loves The Magic Pudding and has re-read it many times.

When asked how he feels the Golden Compass film could be improved on, he suggested it would have been a good idea to put in the scenes actually filmed but not used. He’d also have preferred the real ending, instead of a resolution coupled with a cliffhanger. By now Dakota is too old and Daniel Craig too expensive.

Philip Pullman

Thursday evening finished with a signing in the next room, and it was good to see the stampede as the audience tried to get there first.

We didn’t need to, because we had our own appointment with Philip on Friday morning. We ran a little late in the downpour, with our train deciding to sit just outside the station for ten minutes. But Philip had checked out, and sat in the Midland’s lounge when we arrived, so all was well.

Philip Pullman

Greetings from shared friends were exchanged, and we reminisced about our last interview in Gothenburg seven years ago (and still no Book of Dust!). We did talk Dust a little, but you’ll have to wait to read what Philip said. There is another book that has sneaked in, and we talked about the various campaigns he’s involved in, and many other things. The advantage of doing it this way round is that we could concentrate on what wasn’t mentioned the night before.

Philip worried a bit about the possible cost of the tap water we had ordered, but I suggested he make a run for it, so he left to catch his train south through the floods. We stayed on, nursing our iced water for a while, reluctant to go back out into all that other water.

Six talk paragraphing at MMU

There was the killer camel, although luckily it didn’t succeed, or we’d have been one mcbf organiser short. If you suffer from asthma, don’t wear dusty camels on your head. (If that camel is lucky, it will be photographed one day soon.) Other than that, and the mermaid and the bunting, MMU Plaza – as I like to call it – was surprisingly empty on Thursday evening. That’s because the book festival proper hasn’t quite begun, and the stalls were waiting for Saturday to arrive. (Usually happens after Friday.)

And between you and me, like so many other venues, it is nicer when its designated users aren’t there. What am I saying? I didn’t mean that. Hundreds of children will enhance the place no end. Looking forward to it.

Liz Kessler, N M Browne, Julia Green, Lorrie Porter, Jacqueline Roy and Iris Feindt

I was there last night to hear whether there is any point in going to uni to learn to write children’s books. Five – or six, depending on your mathematical abilities – authors had come to talk to hopefuls and other interested people about paragraphing and commas, feedback and whingeing.

I have doubted that writing courses like the MA offered by the MMU and universities like Kingston and Bath Spa actually do any good, feeling that either you’ve got it or you don’t. But, you know, maybe there is something in this, after all. MMU certainly have a good track record, and Liz Kessler from their very first batch was there to prove how well you can do.

Several of the others both write and teach, and all have had different experiences of learning and publishing. MMU’s Jacqueline Roy chaired the discussion (since Sherry Ashworth had gone off to admire brand new grandchild), noting that all six of them were female. Reviewers, on the other hand, are often male.

Nicky Browne reckons she is still learning to write, after all those books she’s written. She writes fast, but only when she feels like it, and then she writes too much. She’s on her third identity as an author, and has temporarily given up her male persona of N M Browne.

Liz Kessler told how she wanted to hand back her advance when she found the writing hard going, but once she’d wanted to hand it back for several books, she recognised it as one of the things that happen, and which will pass. You learn through doing.

Julia Green’s parents read to her, and her father still checks out children’s books after all these years. She went on a writing course for David Almond once, and his encouragement was very important to her. Julia now teaches at Bath Spa, and one thing she finds her students doing is polishing their writing for the assessment, rather than for the work itself.

Lorrie Porter is a recent MMU graduate, with a contract for two books, the first of which will be published in February next year. She feels that writing is different from most jobs because you need to feel you can do it. ‘Normal’ jobs you just do, without thinking about it. She said it’s vital that you invest time in yourself. And it definitely is harder writing for children, because they will put down a boring book.

Iris Feindt was a reluctant reader and a bad speller, but once she learned to like reading and found Enid Blyton, it all changed. She recently graduated from MMU as well, and now teaches there, among other things. She calls herself the Queen of Paragraphing and thinks it’s good to teach, because it helps you learn. Giving feedback to others also helps.

Jacqueline Roy starts in the middle, with what she most wants to write. Otherwise she is scared. They all seem to have something they do to fool themselves. Jacqueline mentioned the importance of drafting, when asked for advice. And her editor always points out she has too much food in her books.

Julia found it useful realising that revision actually means ‘seeing again,’ and her advice is to consider point of view; making sure you get it right. Nicky warned against trying too hard, and her editor wants her ‘flashing teeth’ to flash a bit less. Iris thinks over-writing is a common mistake.

Liz favours ‘show, not tell’ and has her mother to thank for getting rid of lurching stomachs in all her books. Time travel is always risky, and it’s worth keeping in mind that Saturday comes after Friday. Every time.

The most important thing is to persist. But an MA in creative writing is no bad thing, and if that’s not feasible, then Arvon came highly recommended.

Maybe it was the tea and coconut cake before the event, but I couldn’t help admiring Nicky’s lovely dress. Or Liz’s boots and Julia’s jacket and Lorrie’s lace top. Jacqueline’s armband was great and she out-earringed even Nicky. For spotty dress (and I’m not even mentioning her bag) you couldn’t do spottier than Iris.

Unless you’re Liz’s Poppy (of pirate dog fame). Her lovely Dalmatian was not present, but we were given to understand that Poppy has adapted well to being famous.

Revolution

I could see the problem facing the heroine in Revolution long before Beth herself started worrying. What I didn’t see was how Sherry Ashworth was going to end her novel, and I can’t very well tell you about that here. I would have liked things to develop in a slightly different way, if I’d had any say in the matter.

It’s good to have a vaguely political story along with the more normal love angle and teenage angst. Is it just me, or did we have more of that in the olden days? Actually, put like that, maybe we didn’t, and it really is just me.

Beth and her best friends Gem and Ollie discover that their school is to be demolished before their Y11 is up, and they set about trying to stop it happening. There is a new boy, Nate, who has a lot of ideas on what to do, and seems to be a pro at organising revolutions.

While making banners and marching, Beth falls in love with Nate. It’s easy to see he’s not quite as wonderful as she first thinks, but what is his secret?

On top of the school closure, Beth has her incompatible parents to worry about, and there’s first love and the issue of losing your virginity, and best friend problems and hooligans. Most of it rings true, although perhaps most girls of sixteen don’t face all of the problems all at the same time. Revolution should work well to support girls who may be sharing one or more of Beth’s concerns.

Sherry Ashworth

Sherry is a pro, teaching creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan, and knows what she’s talking about. I met her at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival in July, and someone sensibly suggested she might want to give me a copy of her book, and I’m glad she did. I like it when books rain from above, although the photo on the cover of Revolution is so not how I see Nate and Beth.

Tea at last!

Good thing that greed won over the less gluttonous instincts I harboured at one point. I imagined I could do the reporting of the afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel unobtrusively from the sidelines, but luckily the lovely James Draper of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival said I could have the lot. Frank Cottrell Boyce and Sherry Ashworth, the tea and the quiz. For two.

Reading by Sherry Ashworth

The MCBF authors were treated to tea at the Midland on Saturday, and I’d have been more jealous if I hadn’t had Sunday to look forward to. The buffet table groaned and groaned under sandwiches and scones and cakes, and all of the highest quality. I do like a place that knows how to make scones. And tea tasting of tea.

Frank very sweetly came up to us and said hello, and explained he’d have to leave fairly soon after the reading. And Sherry gave me one of her books, which was so nice of her.

Sherry kicked off by reading from three of her books; Is He Worth It?, Paralysed, and Revolution. She picked out some ‘first experience’ pieces, seeing as this is the first MCBF. And I do agree with Sherry on walking uphill. And downhill again.

Reading by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Then we heard from Frank about his childhood school blazer in vomit green wool, which was so girl repellant that he had to take up reading books. Being such a modest man Frank wanted to treat us to a reading of something ‘better’ than his own books, so we got the wonderful short story by Frank O’Connor called First Confession. I think Frank laughed almost as much while reading it as we did. Wanting to murder your grandmother can be amusing. Then he did the same Porsche reading from Cosmic as the previous day, which just goes to prove that it’s a piece you can listen to repeatedly.

Frank Cottrell Boyce at the Midland Hotel

We threw ourselves at the tea table as Frank left, and then we settled in with our quiz papers. Made some silly mistakes, but felt fairly confident of our excellence on the subject of mainly children’s books. When the second prize was announced as going to The Two Witches team, Daughter looked totally blank. Well, duh. It was us. She chose a prize of three signed Doctor Who books. Naturally.

(Our opposite team didn’t know The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so answered James Draper instead. JD wasn’t best pleased when he found out.)

Second prize

Considering Daughter was vaguely reluctant to go out another day, it cheered me up when she said on the way home how much she had enjoyed it. Right now I feel as if I don’t need to eat for some considerable time. But should anyone say ‘tea at the Midland, witch?’ I’ll be off like a shot. That’s how much self control I have.

Cakes at the Midland

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The bookwitch and the weeping angel

Ood

At the sight of all those lifesize Doctor Who cardboard cut-outs Daughter cheered considerably. They were an unexpected bonus in Saturday’s full programme at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. We don’t often go for photos of cardboard photos, but we now have a nice selection of the Doctor and his ladies and some ‘monsters’. The Green Screen experience provided us with a great photo of the witch photographer in the Tardis, which is a very good fundraising idea.

Captain Hook

As we attempted to get our bearings more generally, we were interrupted by Captain Hook removing his moustache up on the first floor walkway to announce the next event, which was Frank Cottrell Boyce, so we dashed off for our Frank. He began the day with an Alka Seltzer, something which was lost on the youngest in the audience. It was an experiment, rather than a hangover remedy. And it failed abysmally. Twice.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank read from Cosmic, which is fantastic even when you already know the book. He also read from Framed after borrowing a copy from a young fan. He even remembered to return the book. Frank loves art robberies, and told the audience how to go about committing art theft, and also about readings in jails where that kind of thing is frowned upon. There was also the tale about his dying friend and George Clooney, as well as facts about the many Waterloos of the world. And I have to admit to having lost my Millions. Must be somewhere. I’ll look again.

Steve Cole with chonster

One very amusing man was followed by another when Steve Cole got started on his shenanigans. I don’t know why I always forget quite how funny he is, even when you’re more than forty years older than his target group. I’d like to bottle Steve as an anti-depressant. He jumps and makes the most astonishing faces, and he admits to forgetting how many books he has written and when the last one was published. There seems to be at least one a month, so with such riches I believe I’ll ask to have one dedicated to me.

Steve talks about chonsters and poofish and chocodiles, not to mention vampire bananas. Very dangerous. This man who has written as Lucy Daniels, spent his childhood looking for new Doctor Who books in WHS on a Saturday, before growing up to write them himself. He reckons he’s learned a lot from comics. It’s ‘hard to run out of stories, which is nice’ he says. It is.

Liz Kessler

Cathy Cassidy

With far too many lovely authors doing events (not complaining!), we had to miss a couple. Liz Kessler was on, but we run into her over lunch where she tries to sell my photographer a camera part. And signs her book. Cathy Cassidy we also had to miss, although we find her after her book signing for a brief chat and photo session. She praises the book festival, and we reminisce about when it was we first met, which tends to happen when people realise Daughter is no longer as young as she once was.

The MCBF have laid on sandwiches for the authors and we squeeze into the green room to watch them eat and catch up with friends. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman turn up together, and soon after Kevin Brooks walks in and so does Keith Gray a little later. Nice cups of tea are offered by the green room volunteers, one of whom has written a children’s cheese mystery, which I simply will have to hear more about. We get our books out for some signatures, and Mary gives Daughter a silver mosaic tile, as featured in her latest Stravaganza novel.

Mary Hoffman

After being fed Adèle and Mary go to their shared event on romantic historical fiction, which is really good. They take turns asking each other questions, rather like television presenters. Mary says she created her own parallel Italy in order to avoid readers looking for historical discrepancies, and Adèle admits to having introduced lemons into ancient Greece. They discuss when some period becomes history, and decide that the 1980s qualify.

They say that the 18th century is quite crowded in teen fiction now, and Adèle says she would never write about the stone age (so we can expect one quite soon then…) whereas Mary thinks she’d write anything for a large wad of cash. Adèle tells us she does the bare minimum of research, while Mary does a fair bit, always starting with the internet. She also creates scrapbooks for each novel, which is an idea she’s borrowed from Celia Rees. Both of them feel that it can be hard to teach children today about periods older than their grandparents’, and they’ve been really pleased when they find a young reader wants to know more after reading their books. And getting your book banned is always good for some attention.

Keith Gray and Adèle Geras

The final event is a panel discussion on teen fiction with Kevin Brooks, Keith Gray and Adèle, moderated by Sherry Ashworth. One conclusion they arrive at is that teen books should be sold in places other than the traditional bookshop, and especially not next to younger children’s fiction. Clothes shops and music shops are suggested. They also feel reading is tied too much to schools and libraries. It’s not as if you’d ask your teacher for advice on what music to listen to, and the same may go for books.

Losing It

You can’t research teenagers; you can only follow them, but not literally, or you might be arrested, as Kevin says. There is a problem with the ‘gatekeepers’ of teen books. It’s always the adults who are offended by the content, and never the teenagers themselves. Keith wishes books weren’t seen as ‘so dangerous’. They all self censor according to what they themselves feel is OK. Keith mentions Losing It, a new anthology he’s edited, which is about losing your virginity, and which some schools are refusing to let their students hear about.

On the question whether vampires have bled the market dry, they feel the publishers’ confidence has been ruined. They don’t try new and different things, which means there are fewer books and it’s less easy to live off writing. As Keith says, he’s never known any boring children, but plenty of boring adults. He writes the books he’d want to read, and Kevin does his Gordon Brown thing and agrees.

Kevin Brooks

In five years’ time Kevin is still writing more than ever. Keith will be doing the same, knows what his next three books are about, and hopes for more hair. Kevin replies ‘as if that will happen’. Adèle hopes she will still be here. So do we.

Elmer

Carol Ann Duffy

After the book signing we encounter both Elmer the elephant and the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, which goes to prove the wide range offered at the MCBF.

Daughter requires a last photo of herself and the Dalek, and I fail to understand why she laughs like mad when I oblige. It’s not that funny to see me with a camera, surely? ‘Look behind you’, she says. I turn, and find a weeping angel has crept up and is standing right behind me.

It’s time to leave. Preferably without blinking.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

The Midland, the tea and Frank

I’m beside myself with excitement, and that may well be a good place to be. Which will be best? Afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel in Manchester? Or afternoon tea at the Midland in the company of Frank Cottrell Boyce? (And a few others, I have to admit.)

Have long (very long) wanted to enter that establishment and never quite worked up the courage to do so. Yes, I hear you say. It doesn’t sound like me at all. But now, thanks to the Manchester Children’s Book Festival the Midland will be graced by the presence of a real bookwitch. If it looks too grand I’ll hide in a darkened corner, just so I can listen to Frank. There will be a quiz, which I’ll stand no chance of winning, and a reading. It’s the grand finale to four days of bookfestivalling.

I’ll miss Michael Rosen. Story of my life, that. I’ll be touring Fickling county when the festival starts on Thursday 1st July, and I’m travelling through Bali Rai-shire as it continues, with lots and lots of educational events. Carol Ann Duffy is at the helm of this great venture, and you can read more about it here. Carol Ann and Jeanette Winterson will also head the gala dinner at the Midland on Friday night.

Provided all that broomsticking doesn’t finish me off completely, I’ll be there on day three, however, and what a programme there is! Frank, again, Liz Kessler and Cathy Cassidy for all us girls, and Steve Cole for, um well, us girls again and for the boys, too. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman will be getting romantic and historical, which I know they’ll do well. And there is a big discussion on teen lit with Kevin Brooks, Keith Gray, and Sherry Ashworth.

My main fear is that I’ll be so knackered after Saturday that it’ll be hard to crawl out of bed for tea with FCB.

Slurp.