Tag Archives: Tom Palmer

The Ruth Rendell Award

I first met Tom Palmer eight years ago, at Media City in Salford, where he arranged games of rugby in his book event for the Manchester Literature Festival. I have to admit I only went because it was one of fairly few children’s books events on offer. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I didn’t join in with the ball playing. (It was on the fifth floor..!)

Tom Palmer

A year later he was back, and so was I. This time it was football in Manchester Town Hall.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Tom writes sporty books featuring both team sports and running. Things he likes. Things that many boys like, and because of that they read his books. This is the man who didn’t read as a boy, unless maybe it had to do with sport. Tom knows what it is not to read.

Many of us well meaning book experts don’t actually understand enough about this. Which is why I’m so terribly pleased, and not in the least surprised, that Tom has been awarded the Ruth Rendell Award for his outstanding contribution to raising literacy levels in the UK. I didn’t know there was such an award, and it couldn’t have been given to anyone more deserving.

I haven’t read quite all Tom’s books, but I have read more than my share of these energetic tales, and they are all extremely good. I intend to keep reading them, and to keep telling others to do the same.

Last week when the Resident IT Consultant and I discussed abridged and adapted classics for children, and I listed examples of books that the little Bookwitch had enjoyed, he said ‘but they all sound like books for girls.’ And he was right. I pointed out that what we need for boys are books like Tom’s.

The next day I learned of his award. Very well deserved!

Farewell to EIBF 2019

Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

This may surprise you, but I occasionally wonder if I’m doing the right thing. In this case the ‘thing’ is children’s books and their authors. But the event honouring Judith Kerr this week, proved to me I was in the right place, and not even crime – the fictional kind – can hope to reach such heights, pleasant though it it.

George Street

There was such a perfect feeling of how good it can be, and I suspect that this is hard to achieve away from children’s books.

And chatting to Chris Close about Judith, I was pleased to find that he too had special memories of her. I was also a little surprised to discover that while he couldn’t instantly recall Daniel Hahn’s name when he walked past, he knows perfectly well what t-shirt Daniel wore in 2010. As you do.

What I was really wanting was to talk to Chris about his photo of Sheila Kanani [in Space], and I like the way he remembers virtually all the people he has shot in his spot in Yurt Gardens. Apparently most of Space this time was made up of St Abb’s Head, which I suppose is the photographer’s ‘bottle of washing up liquid’ in using whatever comes to hand.

Sheila Kanani by Chris Close

When it doesn’t rain, the new style Yurt Gardens is a good place to hang, as proven by the gang of crime writers just round the corner from my sandwich spot. There’s ducks, Chris, and the passing through of many people, who either are very famous, or carrying trays of food. All are important. (Though no ‘Kevin Costner’ this year…)

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

What’s always good in the festival’s second week are all the school children. They have come for the same thing as I have, and often getting the most exciting events combos. I even spied a few teens wearing the authorial blue lanyards the other day. Made me green with envy, that did.

It’s not only old age and feebleness that determines when I attend. Trains have a lot to do with it. They were better this year; partly to do with the new electric rolling stock (pardon me for getting nerdy), and partly because I tried to avoid the worst hours of the day. But when the doors refused to open as we got to Haymarket one day, I learned from the guard that it’s all down to computers now. I wish I didn’t know that!

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

We mentioned teeth in connection with Mog’s nightmares. I haven’t been able to ignore the fact that so many authors also have teeth. Well, I suppose most people do, but I am always struck by the wide smiles, full of perfect teeth. And not just the Americans, either. I’ll be spending this winter practising smiling in front of the mirror, but am not hopeful.

Here’s to EIBF 2020, when we will see more clearly?

Jim Al-Khalili

(Most photos by Helen Giles)

Cracking the Reading Code

You can’t hear enough about getting children – or even old people – to read, especially if they have extra obstacles to deal with. Well, I can’t, anyway. And I’d already heard the background stories of Tom Palmer, Sally Gardner and Alex Wheatle, but they can do with being repeated. Often. Until everyone who wants to can read.

Sally Gardner, Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

The three guests were ably interviewed by Mairi Kidd in Tuesday’s event hosted by Barrington Stoke, where she used to work. She knows about this business of dyslexia friendly books. And so do the three; with Tom probably having written the most books for Barrington Stoke, Sally being the most dyslexic while still writing the the most wonderful stories, and Alex for knowing what his readers know.

Tom Palmer

I do like the sound of Tom’s mother, getting him to read by giving him books and articles on football. And then he went to night school where he was supposed to read Shakespeare and Chaucer! It wasn’t until a tutor introduced him to poetry about Leeds United (!), and took students out to the actual ‘Wuthering Heights’ that Tom felt he could get on with this reading.

Sally Gardner

Not sure I like the sound of Sally’s school for maladjusted children (whose fault is it if children are maladjusted?), but at 14 when she tried reading Wuthering Heights for the second time and she suddenly was ‘in the f***ing book,’ things changed for her. As Sally said, you can be good at something and it needn’t be only academic for it to matter. We need ‘diversity in the brain.’

And Alex, who did read a bit as a child, from Huckleberry Finn and Ivanhoe to sports books, finally discovered books in jail at the age of 18. His cellmate, and mentor, gave him The Black Jacobins to read, as he ‘wouldn’t have anything better to do in there.’

Alex Wheatle

Asked to read to us, Alex again chose the bit from Kerb Stain Boys about being in detention, and this time it was Sally who asked if he reads his own audio books. And after Sally had treated us to a dyslexic pirate in Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon, Alex returned the compliment. Sally does have a great voice. Last but not least, Tom read from Armistice Runner, which is close to his heart, featuring both running and fells, and it still makes me cry.

Mairi asked the three about graphic novels; if they make reading easier. Sally mentioned Shaun Tan, and the ‘most genius book ever,’ which has no words at all. Both Alex and Tom were fans of Shoot Magazine, but understandably Sally’s not. Talking about Tom’s novel Scrum, and the revelation it brought a young boy at a school; ‘Miss, I can read this!’

Sally gets angry when people say to those who have listened to an unabridged novel as an audio book, that they ‘haven’t really read it.’ This is snobbery. She suggested to someone in the audience that if they can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.

The last question of the evening was not a question but a thank you, from a teacher who uses these books in her school. And it seems that Scotland might be better in this instance, not having reading rules, which means that teachers can let the children read anything, even if it’s not from the right part of a reading scheme. (This brings back dreadful memories of Son being forced to read ‘backwards’ so as not to rock the boat of equality.)

We then gathered in the bookshop where people were so keen to continue talking about this important subject, that poor Tom was unable to sit down at the signing table for quite some time.

This is what we like.

The #25 profile – Tom Palmer

To my surprise I have read most of Tom Palmer’s books. When I was sent the first one I was happy to read it. A bit sporty, you know, but a fine story. And the books kept coming, and I kept reading and liking them. All that football… But the man writes a good story, and he is gold with boys. I know that’s a little sexist, but there you are. And he has written about girls and sport. Now that Tom’s moved deeper into war stories, he’s got even better. I have no idea where this will end.

Below Tom makes short work of my silly questions, and here is a handsome photo of him and his dog, Finn. Woof.

Tom Palmer 2018 (with dog)

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

Three. Amid a hundred-plus false starts over 20 years.

Best place for inspiration?

A moving train.

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

Yes.

What would you never write about?

Torture.

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

A Russian oligarch’s bodyguard. A cruise ship prison cell. Not at the same time.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Ernest from Armistice Runner, because he knows what it feels like to win a fell race.

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

A good thing. Largely financially, to be honest. Though I’d like to see Armistice Runner on camera for the lovely scenery.

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

Why do you support Leeds United?

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I have a superb reputation in the family for decorating cakes.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Famous Five.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Pontus Jansson.

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

Categories that become corrupted very quickly.

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

I’d have a chat with him first to find out what he is into, then suggest something. But – without any of that intel – I’d say Eoin Colfer’s The Legend of Spud Murphy.

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

Writing. Reading makes me really happy, but I think, when it’s going well, writing makes me even happier.

Well, this just goes to prove how weird people are. Leeds United … well. The author questions, the secret skills. Their Swedes. (I had to look Pontus up.) But Tom’s got great taste when it comes to advice on reading. And I’ll have a slice of that cake if you don’t mind!

D-Day Dog

It’s possible to like war too much. Maybe you don’t stop to think about what war really means, or you get carried away by the excitement of weapons and explosions. And there is that idea of patriotism, duty to your country.

Tom Palmer, D-Day Dog

In Tom Palmer’s D-Day Dog 11-year-old Jack loves all things to do with war, as does his Reserve soldier father. They play war games at home, and Jack just knows that to serve your country is the greatest honour.

Then comes the school trip to the battlefields, and his father is called up, and life turns upside down. The children are told to find a dead soldier to read up on; someone whose grave they can visit. Because Jack has a dog, Finn, which he loves more than anything, he is pointed in the direction of a paratrooper who served in the war with his dog.

And suddenly it all becomes too real and Jack begins hating war.

There are probably many boys who love the idea of war and violence, and this book will be a good way of finding out what’s important in life – and death – and why people do what they do. It also brings attention to the Falkland war, Afghanistan, and Syria, where one of the girls in Jack’s class comes from.

Behind everything on the trip we see Jack’s love for Finn, for his dad, and his fear of what might happen to his family. For anyone unfamiliar with the details of D-Day, or with any war for that matter, this is a powerful little story.

And you know, they have dogs in Syria too. It’s just that Jack had no idea.

Armistice Runner

Tom Palmer doesn’t usually make me cry. Yes, I enjoy his books, which are thoughtful and deal with a mix of children today and people from the past, with a sports element, and the reader learns through them. But this one, Armistice Runner, was something else. Published in the Conkers series by Barrington Stoke, it’s a little longer than the usual dyslexia friendly books.

Tom Palmer, Armistice Runner

It’s about Lily who is a fell runner, practising for an important run near her grandparents’ house in the Lake District. She worries about her gran who has Alzheimer’s, and she fights with her younger brother.

In one of her more lucid moments, Lily’s gran brings out an old box for Lily. It used to belong to Lily’s great-great-grandfather Ernest, who was a fell runner before he went to war in 1918. Lily reads his log book, which is almost like a long letter to his dead brother Fred; about running and about the war.

It’s so gripping, and as the reader along with Lily herself desperately wants to discover if someone will be all right or not, Tom does a very naughty thing and interrupts both us and Lily with something much more urgent, and there was a wait to find out what happened.

Even if you’ve read countless other WWI stories, and this obviously has overlaps with many other tales, it also has something that belongs only to this book. It’s very good. And sad.

But also inspiring.

(As long as I don’t have to do any fell running. I’m still out of breath.)

Gorgeous cover by Tom Clohosy Cole.

Defenders – Killing Ground

Another football-based book from Barrington Stoke by Tom Palmer. Tom is good at writing stories about sport to tempt reluctant boy readers, and then adding something else to entertain and educate.

Tom Palmer, Defenders - Killing Ground

In Killing Ground we meet Seth, who lives with his mum in Halifax, a few minutes from the football ground. They both love going to matches, but now Seth’s mum is ill, so it’s becoming harder for her to go out.

And Seth sees things, old-fashioned looking people, sometimes scary looking. He’s not sure why or how, but it’s getting worse, and he needs to do something about it, and not just because the bad vibes in town causes Halifax to lose to Stockport (sorry about that!).

Are those Vikings he can see? Seth’s best friend Nadiya is good with books, and together they look up the facts about local history. But how to stop the Vikings from killing local, innocent people, a thousand years later?