Tag Archives: Theresa Breslin

Dark & Dangerous Worlds

It was beginning to look like another embarrassing admission from me, that I knew nothing about one of the authors at last night’s event in Charlotte Square. I’d never heard of this M A Griffin* who was appearing with Theresa Breslin, talking about their dark new novels with Daniel Hahn. But I assumed she’d turn out to be absolutely fine. Being heard of by me is no guarantee of anything.

Theresa Breslin

Following a fruitful and pleasant chat with Mr B[reslin] outside the theatre, we went in and sat down, and after a while I looked at the stage and discovered that M A was actually a man. Another 30 seconds and I realised I knew him. It’s just that three years ago he went under the name of Fletcher Moss, like the park in Didsbury. And I vaguely recall that I managed to force his real name out of him at the time, but had half forgotten it again.

So that was nice; knowing all three people on stage quite well. Not that I’d read the books, though. That will be my next task, once I’ve unearthed some copies.

Both Martin’s Lifers and Theresa’s Caged sound terrific. Their covers matched too, as Daniel pointed out in his introduction of ‘two very very nice people.’ Gritty, contemporary page turners is what they are.

Martin Griffin

The background inspiration for Martin came when he was failing to teach a class some beautiful poetry, and one of his students happened to mention how she’d like to camp on the grass outside the classroom when she runs away from home. As you do. He also acquired the word ‘screb’ from a pupil. (What Martin will do for supplies in future, now that he’s left teaching, is another question.)

Theresa’s book began with seeing young people sleeping rough in London, and then she mixed that with cage fighting, which she came across elsewhere. While talking inspiration, Theresa mentioned another of her books, Name Games, which she wrote on a train journey after overhearing two girls complaining about their names. Again, as you do.

Apparently Martin has three middles of his book; one in the book and two at home which didn’t make it. His editor is great, and will ask things like ‘is this where you want to go?’ (I suspect the answer to that is always meant to be ‘now that you mention it, probably not.’)

They both read short excerpts from their books, which made them sound even more grittily intriguing. Martin has discovered that unlike in films where a fight scene can take forever, you can’t have eight chapters of fighting in a book. And Theresa asks young readers of the target age to read what she writes, because they won’t hesitate to say they ‘could have written it better’ themselves.

Decisions play an important part in really good stories. Fighting a dragon is not such a big deal, whereas having to chose between something dreadful happening to your best friend or to your girlfriend is quite chilling stuff. Theresa mentioned hearing about homeless people who steal wheelie bins to sleep in, because they are dry and possibly safer than just sleeping outside.

Afterwards it was the usual signing in the bookshop, and I managed to chat some more with the former Mr Moss, and discovered that the young lady at his side was the once much younger Miss Moss whose pushchair played a part in our first meeting. And this time Martin had practised his signature before he needed to use it…

Martin Griffin and Theresa Breslin

It’s nice when you find out you’re not as ignorant as you thought, and it’s great to meet people again. I tried suggesting that Scotland is a good place to move to, especially if you are no longer using your local park as your nom de plume. However, it seems I might have a long wait for the sequel to The Poison Boy.

*I suppose I could always try this thing called research…

Nooooo..!

Please not the Cathy Hopkins books! Are we not finished with those? Are we not – both me and Daughter – over the age of 20? Are Cathy’s books not really quite fun?

Yes, they are. They are – almost entirely – staying. Three years on from The Move Clearances we are pruning here and there. Offspring’s sudden room switching (yes, no, neither live here any more) caused books to be looked at again. I thought maybe we could gain the half metre that Cathy’s books take up on the shelf.

But as you may have gathered, that didn’t go well. Although it depends on your point of view. Nearly all the Cathy Hopkins books will remain with us, minus the quiz books, etc.

Same with Caroline Lawrence. You can’t send the Roman Mysteries packing. Or Theresa Breslin. Definitely not Mary Hoffman. Oh no, those ladies are all just going walkabout in the house to rest elsewhere.

Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are semi-intact, with the very best still here. (I’m reminded of Son’s stash of toy cars. Age is no barrier to what you simply must keep. In fairness he recently parted with his third and fourth copies of His Dark Materials, sparing only two of each.)

But Doctor Who is leaving. Mostly. Even signed ones. (Yes, that was Daughter’s book you found in the charity shop. Lucky you.)

The Universe will make some other person happy, while the napkin folding guide stays. And she rather thought Helen Grant would want one of her cast-offs.

The other ‘great’ idea she had was to incorporate hers with mine, which only means taking every single book out and re-alphabetising the lot again; first and second rows on each shelf. I suggested her books might be in peril, come my next major pruning, but apparently her books can be post-it-ed.

Hah, as if I can be trusted!

On doing the impossible

The good thing about the Edinburgh International Book Festival is how impossible it is. The many famous and wonderful authors it will be impossible to see there, simply because they have so many such people coming.

The 2016 programme was unveiled yesterday and I have scanned it for the best and most interesting events. Of which there are a lot. So to begin with I will plan not to see quite a few tremendously big names in the book business, since even at a distance I can tell I can’t possibly get them on to my wishlist. Then comes that list, and then comes the more realistic list, and finally comes the actual list I will actually be able to do.

Maybe.

Best of all would be to have no opinion, but to go along one day, or two, and pick something off that day’s menu, where tickets are still available. That would be excellent.

I can’t do that.

There is a follow-on from last year’s YA debate with Daniel Hahn, and Anthony McGowan and Elizabeth Wein among others. Chris Riddell will deliver the Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, making it unmissable, and Michael Grant is back in town with his WWII alternate history.

Meg Rosoff will be talking about Jonathan Unleashed, and Francesca Simon is ‘doing away with’ Horrid Henry! Cornelia Funke and Vivian French have things to say about dyslexia, Nick Sharratt will talk nonsense (poetry), and Theresa Breslin and Debi Gliori and Lari Don and all those other lovely Scottish authors are coming.

Debut writer Kathy Evans is talking to Jo Cotterill, and Lucy Coats has some more Myths up her sleeve. And so does Kate Leiper, I believe.

Jackie Kay is doing stuff, and many of our finest crime writers are coming along to kill and thrill, and there are Swedes and other Nordic authors; some expected, others more unexpected. Quite a number of children’s authors are doing adult events, which I think is a good idea. Politicians will be there, talking about all sorts of things.

I know I’ve already mentioned Daniel Hahn, but as usual he will be doing so much that he should try and get a rest in now. Just in case. Hadley Freeman is coming, which makes me quite excited. Lemn Sissay.

Who have I forgotten? You see, it’s impossible. There are so many!

Stirling Literary Society

The Resident IT Consultant had been a couple of times, but I needed something special to tempt me out on a wet and dark Monday night, so it was my first time. Stirling Literary Society meet at The Smith [local museum] once a month, and the thing that got me out of the house was Scottish Children’s Literature. Dr Maureen Farrell from the University of Glasgow drove through floods to tell us about it.

When she realised that her degree didn’t cover any Scottish books Maureen decided to do her PhD on Scottish children’s literature, but was dissuaded because it was thought there wasn’t enough material for a doctorate… (I was unsure in the end if she went ahead with it anyway, or not. But whichever way, Maureen knows a few things about those non-existent children’s books.)

In the ‘beginning’ there were books, and some children read them. And there were chapbooks, sold by travelling chapmen. In the 18th century James Janeway published A Token for Children. Often books were written by puritans who wanted to educate, and needed to use language accessible to children. As early as 1744 there were ‘magazine giveaways’ with balls for boys and hoops for girls.

Then we had Sir Walter Scott. Naturally. He wrote a book for his grandson, but as a ‘very wordy writer’ it probably wasn’t all that easy to read. But he enjoyed it so much he wanted to give up writing adult books. The first proper children’s book in Scotland seems to have been Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House, where children played and were naughty.

Maureen Farrell’s criteria for what counts as Scottish literature are books by someone Scottish, set in Scotland or about Scottish people. If not, we couldn’t lay claim to J K Rowling or Julia Donaldson.

There wasn’t really time enough to talk even quite briefly about most Scottish authors. Maureen galloped past Treasure Island, The Light Princess, Peter Pan, and on to Theresa Breslin and Eric Linklater, explaining what the Carnegie Medal is (very elderly audience, but maybe not necessary?), Molly Hunter, Joan Lingard, and she showed us covers of lots of books, including The Wee Free Men.

She described the beginning chapter of Nicola Morgan’s Fleshmarket, and I decided I could possibly avoid fainting if I was lucky. Jackie Kay cropped up with both fiction and poetry, local author Rennie McOwan got some attention, as did Mairi Hedderwick and Debi Gliori.

And then there were the books in Scots, of which she had many to show us. I particularly liked Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which became The Eejits.

I reckon you can deduce that there’s enough for a PhD there, somewhere. We could have gone on for hours and only skimmed the surface. There was a lot I knew about, obviously, but there was also quite a bit I didn’t, because I was never a small Scottish child, unlike others in the audience who had strong and fond memories of many of the books mentioned.

The #16 profile – Theresa Breslin

It’s taken me a while to tie Theresa Breslin down for a profile, but now that it’s finally happened you can see what a natural she is for this sort of thing. Theresa has a new book out – An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Mythical Creatures – which is another of those gorgeous story books, illustrated by Kate Leiper (who does not seem to have a profile here… Oops). Well, let’s start with the Lego style Theresa:

Theresa Breslin Lego Girl

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

None. It was a One Strike Shot. Had a whole lot of support from a writers group and, in particular, a friendly female poet who pointed me in the right direction.

Best place for inspiration?

Walking in woods. Anytime of the year. The peace and beauty calms my spirit and makes me reflect – and always something to different to see.

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

Ahemmm! I did. Once. I was invited to contribute to a series and my name had to be Maria Palmer. The series was called ‘Horrorscopes’ (Get it? Horoscope > Palmer ) I became addicted to reading my daily horoscope. It all came in very useful later when I was writing The Nostradamus Prophecy

What would you never write about?

Couldn’t really rule out anything. I’ve already written about things I never imagined I would e.g. the scenes in Prisoner of the Inquisition.

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

My writing has taken me to some amazing and unusual places e.g. Walking on the cobblestones of ancient cities along the Great Silk Road and travelling through the desert places which appear in the film Lawrence of Arabia. I’m fascinated by ancient writing and the language and literature of the world. I love meeting young people of many cultures – special occasions were talking to teenagers in Siberia and a group of extremely lively twelve year old boys in Hong Kong.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

That’s a tough one, but possibly Matteo in The Medici Seal because he is with Leonardo da Vinci as he does dissections, paints The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, and when trying out his flying machine.

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

I’ve had work adapted for stage and screen and was given very good advice from a fellow writer who said to me (in the words of the famous song!) ‘Let. It. Go.

But that’s very hard to do, especially when scenes are deleted and characters conflated or removed. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always been consulted and listened to, and have had it explained to me why it’s not possible to cram everything in. It’s a totally different medium and (gulp!) yes, sometimes changing the text / dialogue works better than keeping the original lines. The new musical theatre script of Divided City for Primary Schools is very much abridged, but it has to be so that Primary School children can perform it. The Primary School Divided City is set up so that there can be a large cast and every pupil is on stage. I think that makes it worth accepting that some scenes have to be cut.

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

Recently an eleven year old boy asked if, as well as doing all the writing about what was actually happening in a book, was it hard for me to work out the emotional problems of my characters! We chatted. He probably doesn’t realise it but he could become a great writer. In fact I think he’ll be terrific in whatever career he chooses.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I cannot swim, cook, bake, shop for groceries, garden, keep house plants alive or do make-up, hair, or nail polish, and I don’t like driving. But, when my children were small and there was no shop-bought stuff available, I could make the best Hallowe’en costumes, ever. I also tell really good stories, especially Folk Tales….

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Growing up I was a Famous Five obsessive. I actually was George but had to keep this a secret from family and teachers at school.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Way too many to choose, Sweden is a country that punches way above its weight in famous folks. Obviously there’s a certain Bookwitch persona but for me it’s Pippi Longstocking, created by the wonderful writer Astrid Lindgren.

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

I’ve had bookcases specially made to fit around doors and have commercial ones and saggy shelf ones and that old favourite, pile-them-on-the-floor kind. My own work is arranged alphabetically. The surname part is relatively easy, but getting the titles in strict library order is a whole lot more challenging…

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

I’d like to talk to that boy first. I’d like to know what TV he watches and what film he’d watch twice. What music puts him to sleep, and what might make him want to dance in his pants. I’d like to know if he’s a Minecraft Man or a Candy Crusher. I’d like to know what ‘set’ texts he’s been subjected to and what reading scheme his school is using. I’d like to know if he’d pick up a book with an illustration by Albert Uderzo or prefer one done by Chris Riddell. I’d like know if he loves limericks or longer ‘story’ poems. I’d like to know if anyone at home would ‘share’ the book with him. I’d ask him to do my Five-Finger-Word-Spread test. I’d like to discuss book production with him and explain paper weight and shading, and font form and ink colour, and what the terms ‘leading’ and ‘margin’ and ‘gutter’ mean, and how these can affect the enjoyment of a book, and how he ain’t to blame if some books would repel a book-eating boa constrictor.

Possibly at this point I might have to explain to him that I am totally crazily passionate about children (and adults) reading.

Then, and only then, would I show him my selection of books and we’d flick through them together…

Note: The Librarian in me won’t lie down!!!!!

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

Oh, a real Stinko question at the end! And here was me thinking that you were a Bonnie Wee Witch! If all else fails then probably Reading. There’s nothing quite like it in the whole universe. Experience the resonance when you read a few lines, and, suddenly, your soul quivers like a struck tuning fork.”

Well, I say long live librarians! Especially colourful ones. But I’d obviously have to bring food should I ever approach Breslin Towers.

(As for the photo, it’s Theresa’s favourite. Just squint and you’ll see her.)

Cinnamon buns for Theresa

The things I do for Theresa Breslin! At the moment, as you may be aware, I’m in the process of having a new kitchen put in. By now I actually live in hope that it could be finished one day. Not this day, certainly, but some kind of day. This year.

A couple of years ago I was in touch with Theresa just before the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and she generously suggested buying me tea somewhere nearby. But then I felt too exhausted and cancelled all plans for Edinburgh, and there could be no tea.

To make up for what must have been a dreadful disappointment for Theresa, I mentioned we were about to relocate Bookwitch Towers to Scotland, and she must come and have coffee and cinnamon buns at my – new – place. ‘Soon.’

Yeah, right. It takes a while to move, and once you have moved you need to unpack. While my ‘new’ kitchen wasn’t perfect, it could have assisted me in the baking of cinnamon buns. But I had no time. And then the oven died, and there could be no baking. Instead there were hasty plans for a new kitchen a little sooner than intended.

So that’s where we are now. Almost at the point where cinnamon buns could be planned, and made. I bet Theresa’s holding her breath…

Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

Yesterday saw the long awaited birth of Kirkland Ciccone’s first ever Scottish YA book festival Yay! YA+, and I really appreciate his thoughtfulness in arranging it for the day on which I celebrated my first year in Scotland. Kirkie had lined up ten teen authors, 200 teens and one tardis-like venue in the shape of the Cumbernauld Theatre. In Cumbernauld. He also arranged for the lovely people of Scotia Books to come and sell books, and between you and me, they not only had the good taste to like my sense of humour, but their mobile shop was the best I’ve seen.

Scotia Books

Once we were all in, Kirkland explained how some authors would ‘be taken out’ and split up into tiny pieces. Yeah. I don’t think he meant that literally. He wanted to say that six of the authors would be ensconced in their own little rooms (=bars and subterranean dressing rooms), where smaller groups of the audience would come to hear them read from their books, or talk about their writing, or anything else they might want to do. Ten times. Eek!

Kirkland Ciccone

Cathy MacPhail

Meanwhile, Cathy MacPhail, Theresa Breslin and Barry Hutchison stayed in the main theatre and each had 25 minutes in which to charm the half of the audience left behind, which they did with real style. Twice. Multi award-winner Cathy started by sharing the trailer to her film Another Me, based on a nightmare she once had. She can see a story in anything (perhaps because she’s from Greenock, where you know everyone), and Cathy is surprised she writes such scary books, when she really is such a nice person.

Theresa Breslin

Theresa brought her gasmask, which looked quite uncomfortable to wear, and some shrapnel from WWI. She reminisced about travelling to America a month after September 11th, and hearing he same words then, that soldiers used a 90 years earlier to describe why they went to war. Some things never change. She read a tense bit from Remembrance, before telling us how good it is to write YA for teens, as they will read everything, with no set ideas of what a book has to be.

Barry Hutchison

Last but not least, Barry Hutchison talked about his fears, so it was back to his perennially entertaining tales of ‘Death and Squirrels’ and his childhood concern whether the dead squirrel was ‘proper dead’ or might come back and attack the young Barry. I can listen to his tale of weeing in the kitchen sink as many times as he will tell it. Or about his friend Derek. Barry read from The 13th Horseman, which must have made half the children want to buy a copy.

Roy Gill and Lari Don

There was lunch – with cupcakes and fruit – and signings and even some time for hanging out. Keith Charters turned up, and admitted to a life-long ignorance of sharpies. That’s not why he came, but, still. I contemplated stealing Kirkie’s sharpies-filled lunchbox, but didn’t.

Keith Charters

After the eating I aligned myself with half the group from Cumbernauld Academy for my rounds of the nether regions of the theatre, and they were both lovely and polite as well as interested in books. Although, I joined them after their session with Linda Strachan – in the bar – which unfortunately meant I actually missed Linda’s seven minute show, as I was sitting out the empty slot with Alex Nye (one school was missing). And you’ll think I have something against Linda, since she is the only one who does not appear in any of my – frankly substandard – photos (photographer had better things to do…).

Alex Nye

Anyway, Alex spoke about her cool books, Chill and Shiver, featuring snow and ghosts, before we went to join Matt Cartney who not only sat in a warm bar, but who had been to the Sahara. Admittedly, he had been to Hardangervidda as well. His Danny Lansing Adventures (Matt loves adventures!) are set in sand, and snow, and wherever else Matt might find inspiration.

Matt Cartney

Lari Don read from Mind Blind, which was her first non-fantasy, for older readers. She had been troubled by not being able to solve problems with magic. Lari is very good with school children. We then found Roy Gill in one of the dressing rooms, and the poor man was only allowed five minutes with us, so raced like crazy through his werewolves and a reading from his latest book.

Kirkland Ciccone

We finished in another dressing room where Victoria Campbell had brought her Viking weapons. Just imagine, small basement room full of young teenagers and some – possibly not totally lethal – weapons. She dressed one volunteer in a spiky helmet but didn’t let go of either the Dane Axe or the sword. Victoria asked what the best thing so far had been, and my group reckoned it was the selfies! Apparently some of her Viking interest comes from a short period living in Sweden (good taste). Before we left her, there was an almighty scream from – I would guess – Roy’s dressing room.

Victoria Campbell with Viking

Ever the optimist, Kirkie had scheduled a panel session at the end (a full 20 minutes!), chaired by Keith. Unsurprisingly, the authors had different opinions on nearly everything. But the questions were good. Very good. This was one fine audience.

KIrkland Ciccone tweets

Theresa brought out a gift for Kirkie, which might have been a chocolate boot. And while the panel wound things up, he and some of the others hastily got ready to run off to Edinburgh, where they had an(other) event to go to. All good things come in twos.

Theresa Breslin gives Kirkland Ciccone the chocolate boot at Yay! YA+

The very lovely Barry Hutchison offered to remove me from the premises, on his way home to Fort William, which meant I was able to actually leave Cumbernauld – something that had worried me considerably earlier in the week. He set me down outside the newsagent’s after some nice conversation, and a secret.

My verdict of the day is that if we can only get Kirkland to speak less loudly in places, this worked really quite well. Might let him repeat it, if he can find more dark corners in which to stash Scotland’s finest.

(I found the photo below on facebook, and because it has Linda Strachan in it, I decided to borrow the picture, a little.)

Linda Strachan, Lari Don, Roy Gill, Alex Nye and Kirkland Ciccone