Tag Archives: Theresa Breslin

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

War Girls

Another irresistible collection of short stories for you. This time to mark the anniversary of WWI, and it’s all about girls. In War Girls nine of our best authors get together to tell the stories of the young females left behind. And there are so many ways to do that.

War Girls

I loved Theresa Breslin’s tale of the young artist who took her crayons with her as she went to France as a nurse. Matt Whyman looks at the war from the point of view of ‘the enemy’ in the form of a female sniper in Turkey. Very powerful story.

Mary Hooper has spies in a teashop, and you can never be too careful who you speak to or who you help. I found Rowena House’s story about geese in France both touching, and also quite chilling. I’d never heard about the theories for the outbreak of the Spanish flu before.

Melvin Burgess tells us about a strong heroine, who can’t abide cowardice, even in those close to her. Berlie Doherty’s young lady can sing, and that’s what she does to help the war effort. And singing isn’t necessarily safer or easier than being in the trenches.

Anne Fine deals with hope, and whether it’s all right to lie to make someone’s suffering less heavy. Adèle Geras has updated her story The Green Behind the Glass, which I’ve read several times before. It’s still one of my favourites and can easily be read again and again.

Sally Nicholls may be young, but she can still imagine what it was like to be old and to have survived as one of the spare women of the war; one of those who could never hope to marry. I don’t believe there is enough written about them, and Going Spare is a fantastic offering on the subject.

YAY! YA+

And they have gone live! I might have whispered about Kirkland Ciccone’s grand YA plans before, but now the website is publicly available and it’s actually got stuff on it. Not too much dust yet, either.

Kirkland Ciccone

We can’t let London have all the fun, and not even Edinburgh or Glasgow. It makes sense to take Scotland’s first YA festival to Cumbernauld. It’s where it’s all happening. (Secretly I’m hoping for Craig Ferguson.)

Keith Charters

But if I can’t have Craig, then Kirkland has put together a lovely list of YA authors from, or living in, Scotland. They are Catherine MacPhail, Linda Strachan, Barry Hutchison, Theresa Breslin, Keith Charters, Matt Cartney, Victoria Campbell, Lari Don, Roy Gill and Alex Nye. As well as Kirkie himself. There could have been more names on the list, and by this I mean that there are more YA authors in Scotland. Many more. Some were busy. And then I gather Kirkie and his Cumbernauld theatre venue ran out of space. (The answer would be a second day… Or a third.)

Theresa Breslin

The day we do have is April 24th and I’m so looking forward to it. I have demanded to revert to being 14 again. If that’s not possible, I’ll have a press pass (which will probably be home made by Kirkie, but hey, as long as it gets me in).

This time round it will be for schools only. It’s a good way to start, and will mean larger audiences than the old-fashioned way with organic ticket-buying individuals. But I would say that if you are of the organic persuasion, I’d pester. Like crazy. Or there is always gate-crashing.

Linda Strachan

I’m quietly hoping this Yay! YA+ will be a success, and that it will grow into something big, and regular. Because, as I said, we have lots more authors were these came from. This year’s list contains lots of my favourites, and erm, no one that I hate, plus a couple of unknowns (to me).

So that’s all pretty good.

Dragons, Selkies and Fairy Princes

Dragon at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Roy Gill

I should have known. I was reading Lari Don’s book on the train to Edinburgh yesterday, and it features a boy called Roy (which is a less common name than you’d think). Clearly it was there to warn me that within a few hours I would behave really rudely towards another Roy (Gill) in a way that can best be described as that unpleasant way older women say things. I shall henceforth strive for young age and better judgement, not to mention hearing. Possibly thinking before I speak.

Anyway, I’ll blame it on Kirkland ‘Him Again’ Ciccone. It’s the accent. It gets me every time.

Dragons, Selkies and Fairy Princes

Dragons, Selkies and Fairy Princes

So, there we all were, at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, to admire the art by three young illustrators, who have made fantastic pictures which accompany three traditional stories by Theresa Breslin (The Dragon Stoorworm), Lari Don (The Tale of Tam Linn) and Janis Mackay (The Selkie Girl), published by Floris. The exhibition will be on from today until the 24th January next year. Do go and see it, and have some tea in the café, which I’ve been assured is lovely. I’ll be trying it myself one of these days.

Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross

The ‘usual’ lot of Edinburgh literary people were present. The further west you came from, the less likely you’d be to have managed to get there, seeing as we were blessed with a bit of a storm. Not so much that the ferris wheel stopped for long, but enough to flood things and prevent certain people from travelling. Kirkie even checked with me to see if I thought we’d be unable to go, but the Resident IT Consultant could foresee no problems.

Matthew Land and Theresa Breslin

Speeches were made, and crisps were eaten, washed down with wine and juice. Theresa talked about her story while her illustrator Matthew Land told us about how he went about doing the pictures. Apparently a green dragon against the green hills was, well, too green. The dragon is now red.

Lari Don and Philip Longson

Lari wanted to thank people involved in making the books, including one person who she said she didn’t know what they did, but still. Her illustrator Philip Longson was saying how he’s not used to being with people or make public speeches. Illustrators sit on their own, working quietly.

Janis Mackay

Janis is the kind of woman who has seals born in her garden. She also made sure that us short ones at the back could see a little, by making the crowd part down the middle. Her illustrator, Ruchi Mhasane, was home in India, and had sent a message, which Janis read out.

Janis Mackay

Then there was signing and pictures were bought as well as books. With my distinct lack of wall space I merely looked and admired, but I could tell that other, less afflicted, people were buying some nice prints for Christmas.

Theresa Breslin's shoes

After admiring Theresa’s shoes (New ones, again! Why Mr B doesn’t put his foot down, I don’t know. He, in turn, wore one of his very fetching ties, and I told him about the wooden ties I’d just seen in the Christmas market.) I decided it was time for tired witches to go home, before more feathers were ruffled.

Kirkland Ciccone and Roy Gill

Kirkie decided he’d walk me to the station, only to discover – to his horror – that he had to travel on the same train. That should teach him. (It was raining, so he had to stuff his faux leopard into a carrier bag, floppy ears and everything.) He really wanted fish and chips, but all I had was humble pie, so he had to starve. That’s Kirkie, not the leopard. There was no Irn-Bru, either. I did offer my tale of not going to Linlithgow, however, so there was something.

Launching Ghost Soldier

Ghost Soldier launch

The plates of cake just kept coming. So did the sandwiches. That’s how you launch a book! Obviously the book matters, but people’s tummies do too. Especially if people are me.

Mr B at Ghost Soldier launch

Theresa Breslin launched Ghost Soldier in Glasgow yesterday afternoon, at The Penthouse, and they do very nice cake. And sandwiches. Lots and lots. Scones, with cream and jam.

While I’m on the cake front, there was a book cover covered cake, too. And Mr B had been put to good use selling books, while wearing his speciality book cover t-shirt, and his usual big smile.

Ghost Soldier

Ghost Soldier launch

I came across Kathryn Ross in the foyer, accompanied by Theresa’s illustrator Kate Leiper (who not only does beautiful kelpies, but has worked on Ghost Soldier too). Upstairs I found Cathy MacPhail, and had my first encounter with Kirkland Ciccone (he has never been to Spain, in case anyone wants to know), who is – probably – my nearest children’s author. Geographically speaking.

Kirkland Ciccone

Ghost Soldier launch

We chatted (about things like how Kirkland is young enough to have been a Theresa Breslin child fan), gobbled cake and admired Theresa’s fishy shoes. (That’s one of them, right there, being swung in mid-air for people to see, which explains the blur.) Then Theresa leaned on the Resident IT Consultant for balance. (Yes, dear readers, I brought him along. He needs to get out and meet interesting people. Besides, he’d never have believed me about the shoes.)

Theresa Breslin

After a suitable delay there were two beautifully brief speeches and Theresa read the first chapter from Ghost Soldier. She also told us the background to why she wrote the book, and how some of the unlikely things that happen in it had actually ‘sort of’ happened in real life, making them not so unlikely after all.

Theresa Breslin

She assisted the young girl, who had named the dog in the book, in cutting the book cover cake, which then was devoured by the other children present. There were loads of children, which was nice.

Ghost Soldier cake

Ghost Soldier launch

The Resident IT Consultant and I beat a retreat soon after, due to exhaustion. Perhaps it had been a mistake spending several hours at Ikea beforehand. Even the Resident IT Consultant needed to sit down at one point, and that is simply unheard of. In the end the people in charge of the premises paid us to leave, which was nice of them.

It’s a mercifully quick drive home from Glasgow, even if you include a diesel stop in Cumbernauld. I blame that on Cumbernauld-boy Kirkland. Plus we needed the diesel.