Tag Archives: Theresa Breslin

An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends

First I went for the story set at Stirling Castle, and it was quite satisfying. I knew the tale before, but this was a lovely, and humorous re-telling about the man who tried to fly down from the castle. (Don’t try this!)

If you’d asked me, I would have – almost – thought that Theresa Breslin couldn’t possibly manage another host of Scottish stories. She and illustrator Kate Leiper have already produced a couple of gorgeous collections, and here they are with An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends.

It’s everything you’d expect it to be. What you’d want it to be. From the wonderful cover by Kate, to every last little story by Theresa, set in different castles all over Scotland, and taking place at varying times in history.

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper, An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends

I especially like the sepia coloured map of Scotland, with sepia coloured ‘postcards’ of the castles, at the front of this rather large volume. It is a little hard to hold, actually. For us small ones, anyway.

And also the show-stopping night skyline of Edinburgh. Some of us would pay to put that on the wall. I can understand how Kate might have sat in some suitable spot to capture that, but I wonder how she got the selkies and the various monsters and other creatures to pose for her?

As for the stories, well, they are what you know Theresa can tell. I’m sure they are all quite true, but she does do nice things with her characters. The stories are mostly short, so make for easy reading at any age.

I didn’t know that thing about Nessie. Or Walter Scott’s great-many-times-granny. As long as you have the arms for it, this is a great book. And if you don’t, it is actually greater still. You might need a child, but I managed just fine on my own.

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OBE

Yay! Theresa Breslin gets an OBE for her services to literature. This is well deserved on many counts, as Theresa is a hard-working author and defender of libraries, and all sorts of other things. Here she is with Mr B in Charlotte Square, which is how we like to think of her. Them.

Theresa Breslin with Mr B

Theresa is much admired by so many, and at Bookwitch Towers I am occasionally chastised for not having read one of her books. Usually it’s me doing the same to Daughter, but she’s a fanatic fan of Theresa’s. (I bet it was that bribe of – I mean kind invitation to – tea and scones ten years ago!)

(Photo Helen Giles)

‘One of the best jobs in the world’

Librarian tree

That could describe my ‘job,’ but in this case it’s what Deena Wren who has just been awarded the 2019 Scottish Book Trust Learning Professional Award, said at the Lighthouse in Glasgow last night. I think I’d like to be a pupil at Beeslack Community High School, if I could have her as my school librarian. Take everything good that could possibly be said about a librarian, and that’s what everyone at the school did say as they were interviewed for the video we were shown at the award ceremony.

Alan Windram at Scottish Book Trust Awards

Last night was an award-studded event where the winners of the 2019 Bookbug Picture Book Prize, Alan Windram and illustrator Chloe Holwill-Hunter were presented with their prize money for One Button Benny. Following last week’s announcement, John Young was there to receive the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, and Kerr Thomson, one of the runners-up was also present.

Theresa Breslin at Scottish Book Trust Awards

And after all that it was time for the Outstanding Achievement Award to be given to Theresa Breslin for her thirty-year-long career as an advocate for children’s literacy and libraries. I know how hard Theresa has worked, and she’s also written ‘a few’ books. About fifty. Ever modest, Theresa praised Deena Wren for her excellent work, telling us what it had been like when she did an author visit at her school. (Something about sandwiches, I believe.)

The Lighthouse was full of teachers and librarians out in force to celebrate their own, and – I’m guessing – to have a nice night out. There was wine, and the thing to eat right now seems to be deep fried cauliflower, with some sort of dribbled chilli icing. I might have eaten quite a few of those.

Theresa Breslin at Scottish Book Trust Awards

As usual I encountered Mr B, Theresa’s ‘stalwart husband,’ along with a Theresa ‘twin’ who turned out to be her sister, and I’m just not saying anything about how old anyone is. There were daughters, and at least one niece, and possibly friends and neighbours. The award was embargoed, so it had been awkward inviting people along without saying what to. Theresa herself came and sat with us, for at least a minute, before she was called upon to get up and talk to people.

I’m glad Mr B was there with his camera, as mine really didn’t enjoy the dark, or the fact that I am short and couldn’t reach far. One junior Breslin even climbed up on a chair.

Scottish Book Trust Awards

As I took a few turns round the place – which unlike me is quite tall and narrow, and might explain the name Lighthouse – I encountered Barbara Henderson, down from Inverness. It seems that we both sort of invited ourselves… Barbara introduced me to Kerr Thomson, and also to Lindsay Littleson whom I’d not met before. The conversation then strayed to unicorns.

John Young, Kerr Thomson and Barbara Henderson

It was the kind of evening when you remember why you read and why it’s something most of us need. Reading makes us feel better. And your reading can improve if you have access to good librarians with a passion for books.

(Photos of Theresa by Tom Breslin)

Historic women

Honestly, they didn’t look that historic. Theresa Breslin and Holly Webb had a full house on Saturday afternoon, Terry Deary in the Main theatre notwithstanding.

Theresa has written around 40 books, but Holly easily beats that with an exact 128 ‘quite short’ books. Daniel Hahn, who chaired this unusually young [for him] event, asked how Theresa’s The Rasputin Dagger came about. She said she saw this gorgeous bejewelled dagger at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and when Mr T refused to steal it for her she needed to put it in a book.

Holly’s book The Princess and the Suffragette started with A Little Princess, and her favourite The Secret Garden (which apparently caused her to draw maps, badly). She didn’t want to centre her story on Sara, but chose little Lottie – the girl who was only four when she was sent to boarding school – instead.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Research is all very well, but it should make a story, and not just a list of interesting facts. Holly discovered the changing skirts. When skirts got wider, women could take longer steps and walk faster. Women were supposed to be well behaved, but ignorant.

Siberia was part of Theresa’s research for The Rasputin Dagger, and there’s the vast difference between a life filled with jewels and a life of starvation. She read us the part where the women protest against having to queue for bread and how this eventually led to Russian women getting the vote earlier than in most other countries.

The reason Theresa started to write was she read books and wished there’d be more, so she wrote the continuation of what had ended too soon. She always wanted to be the heroine in the books she read. Whereas Holly didn’t want to write at all, and was glad to discover she could work for publishers, reading books and editing.

Inspiration for Holly was Philip Reeve, Frances Hodgson Burnett and C S Lewis, while Theresa received support from Anne Fine, Joan Lingard and Michael Morpurgo.

An excellent question from a girl in the audience was about what’s unfair to women in the world. Theresa mentioned things like women not being allowed to drive in some countries, were not allowed to go out freely, that they receive limited information. Holly pointed out that women are paid less and are always the ones expected to look after children.

Theresa’s favourite book is – probably – A Tale of Two Cities. Holly liked Prince Caspian best.

A very crafty young lady asked four questions of each as the ‘last’ question of the session, when there was very little time left… Of their own work, both authors prefers the latest book, and Holly admitted to feeling that her first book would improve if she were to rewrite it. The best thing about being an author for Theresa is that she gets invited to events like this one, and the worst that she has to know ‘what comes next.’ Holly likes working from home, but it’s hard having to finish writing something.

This event was aimed at eight to twelves. Holly has many much younger fans, and there were a lot of five-year-olds in the audience. Parents take note?

(Photos Helen Giles)

EIBF 2018 – Day 1

Philip Pullman and I talked about the weather, which was Goldilocks-like. Not too hot and not too cold. Not wet. Nor sunny. It felt very British, on this the first day of the book festival in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Philip Pullman

It’s a new, streamlined square. Less higgledy piggledy, although no doubt more ‘character’ will find its way onto the fresh decking before long. I offered them my sandwich wrapping, but it seems they didn’t feel the need for it. I now know how they were able to make the Main theatre bigger. They picked up a whole theatre and put it in the middle of George Street. Very clever.

The Photographer and I arrived early and had a leisurely start, collecting tickets and getting to grips with all the changes, saying hello to press boss Frances, and gossiping with Theresa Breslin’s Mr B – whose t-shirt sported Mary Queen of Scots on the front and Rasputin’s dagger ‘in’ the back, so he had everything covered. Waved to Cathy Cassidy (wearing an unexpected red…), before venturing across to George Street to watch her signing in the much improved signing tent.

Cathy Cassidy

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

After noting that the festival regular with the magnificent beard was there again, we went to Theresa Breslin’s event with Holly Webb, chaired by Daniel Hahn. It was really full, despite Theresa’s grandchild choosing to go to see Terry Deary instead.

Chatted to Kate Leiper in the bookshop afterwards, and then went back to the behind-the-scenes decking where we found Philip Pullman with a pile of [his] books. Had a second go at chatting to Cathy Cassidy, and watched as Chris Close photographed an unknown, attractive female author who, when I got to my next event, turned out to be Tomi Adeyemi, appearing with Sophie Anderson.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Tomi Adeyemi and Sophie Anderson

This was another full event, and I realised that having left the Photographer to deal with Philip, I was on my own and needed to take pictures of Sophie and Tomi in the bookshop. I’m short, so was able to use the entrance for hobbits and munchkins. Saw Vikki Gemmell and wanted to say hello, but she ran away. Quite understandable.

There is a blur after that, but I definitely saw Linda Strachan and Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Kathryn Ross, and Carol Ann Duffy. Val McDermid was around, as Philip Pullman’s chair. Someone came up to me and asked if I was Bookwitch, so I had to admit I was. Seems our paths have kept crossing, and now she wanted to say hello.

L J MacWhirter found me mid-prawn sandwich, and I had no idea that this would scare her off so fast. Didn’t mean to, L J! And while I was enjoying those prawns I watched as Chris Close commented on Jacek Dehnel’s outfit – it was very, erm, chequered – before persuading him to pose.

Jacek Dehnel

Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was being interviewed nearby, before also getting the Close photo treatment, and director Barley himself brought some more tartan for this venerable author.

Ngūgī wa Thiong'o

My Photographer returned when Philip Pullman’s sold-out event came to an end, and we gathered ourselves and went in search of a train home, hoping that seven was both early enough and late enough and would mean there was room for two tired witches. There was. Just.

(Photos Helen Giles + Bookwitch)

Escape from Lochleven Castle

I mentioned last week that today’s children know a lot less about Mary, Queen of Scots than their parents or grandparents do. This is why Theresa Breslin wanted to write a picture book about Mary, to help children understand who she was and what happened to her, and why they should take an interest in Mary.

Also, as someone said last week, much in Mary’s life was unsuitable for younger readers, because it’s not as if she had a wonderful life. But the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots in Lochleven Castle wasn’t too bleak, in comparison.

Theresa Breslin and Teresa Martinez, Mary, Queen of Scots - Escape from Lochleven Castle

The book first gives the reader a very brief but thorough summary of who Mary was and what had happened to her, and her husbands, her son, her parents, and so on.

Then we find out what happened on that small island in Loch Leven, when Mary was desperate to escape and didn’t know how, and how a young boy came to the rescue and she got ut.

Unfortunately, her success didn’t last long, and the rest of her life was a bit downhill, especially after she asked her sister for help. But this short story helps both with understanding Mary’s life, as well as making her into a real person for that brief time at Lochleven Castle. We get to know her, so we learn to care.

This is a good way of making history relevant today.

The illustrations by Teresa Martinez make Scotland look glorious, and now I want to go and see Loch Leven.

From lunch to launch – Mary, Queen of Scots style

A hug from a man wearing a Mary, Queen of Scots t-shirt is exactly what a witch requires on entering Waterstones Argyle Street in Glasgow, having cut her travelling uncharacteristically close. The man was, of course, Mr B who always supports his wife’s latest book launch with a new personalised item of clothing. Last night we were there for Theresa Breslin’s new picture book, Mary, Queen of Scots, Escape From Lochleven Castle.

Theresa Breslin

I was returning a scarf left behind by Mrs B at Bookwitch Towers the day before, but judging by how many people were there, it won’t have been done on purpose so I would come and launch the book with her.

Mary, Queen of Scots cupcakes

Encountered David MacPhail eyeing up the specially baked little cupcakes. They were for the children! Found a good chair to sit in and then switched to the one that appeared next to it, thereby engineering a more comfortable chair for me, and a free seat next to me for David. Well, he couldn’t eat all those cakes standing up, could he?

People

Apparently children today don’t have an interest in Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s because they don’t know her. This new book is intended to introduce them to Mary, so that when they next encounter a sign proudly claiming that ‘Mary, Queen of Scots, slept here’ they might get a little excited. It’s a picture book – illustrations by Teresa Martinez – but much of what happened to Mary is not exactly child friendly, so Theresa carefully chose Mary’s escape from Lochleven Castle as a safe topic, with no backs being stabbed, or anything.

An early review from a very young lady pointed out that it would have been good to know why Mary was imprisoned at Lochleven…

Quite.

Theresa compared Mary’s life to that of Diana, the way she had to live her life being watched by everyone. She mentioned how all Mary’s half-siblings fought for power, and how her half-brother believed that he could seize power by telling her what to do.

Theresa Breslin

After a short reading from the book, her publishers gave Theresa flowers, and then it was time for the book signing. And it was pointed out to us that we should remember to pay for the book before leaving!

Theresa Breslin and David MacPhail

There was quite a bit of evening left, but Theresa needed it in order to sign all those books. The queue was massive. I had plenty of time to chat some more to David, and I was also introduced to Victoria Williamson. Much interesting stuff on writing and publishing was said, and when David went to get his book signed at last, I liberated the last cupcake. (I’m short, so nearly a child.) Seems no one had ‘had their tea’ yet and they were all starving.

Theresa Breslin and Mr B, with the team from Floris

I believe I’m beginning to recognise members of the ‘Breslin’ clan now, and it’s good to see all the grandchildren turning out for every new book.

Theresa Breslin

I decided to leave before they locked us in, only to discover they had locked us in, but a big bunch of keys was produced, and as I walked up Buchanan Street I joined all the other people being chucked out of Glasgow’s shops.

It was a wonderfully sunny evening, and my train ride home was beautiful. Those Ochils… I wonder if Mary saw them like that?