Tag Archives: William Sutcliffe

Riveting Reads with Julie and William

I knew my place, so sat at the back for Julie Bertagna’s event with William Sutcliffe. I was glad to see there were a good number of actual, proper teenagers in the audience. They are often the hardest group to tempt to book events; neither old enough nor young enough.

Julie Bertagna and William Sutcliffe

Chaired by Calum McGhie, Julie and William told us the background stories to Exodus and Concentr8. In Julie’s case it was a news story about a sinking island on the opposite side of the world, which became a Scottish island in Exodus. And now, 15 years on with a special anniversary edition and a new cover, we have much more of a refugee crisis and climate change to worry about.

William had been astounded to learn from a doctor friend that parents bring their children in, demanding to have Ritalin for them, because a diagnosis of ADHD means money for the family. He was shocked to find that people would put their children on what is a kind of amphetamine, for this reason alone.

William Sutcliffe

He’s aware that North London’s middle classes prefer to hide behind the familiar. It was after being the victim of a crime ten years ago that he became a mentor for a teenage boy, and it’s having known this boy so well that helped him get ‘the voice’ in his book. He feels that you can become another person by reading a book, whereas you don’t by watching a film. William said he borrowed from the 2011 riots, because it’s always good to start a book with a riot.

Julie was asked if she’d been tempted to re-write anything before the republication of Exodus, and she had, but in the end felt you can’t tamper with an already published book. Books are slower than films, and you are more in control when you read.

Julie Bertagna

She decided to make the tale more immediate by writing in the third person present tense; something that some readers have had difficulty with. You change the future by how you live your life, and the young have time on their side. Julie also admitted to having rearranged bits of Glasgow to fit the plot.

William described himself as neither a leader nor a follower, and said that when faced with an alpha male group leader it is generally impossible to either say no, or to leave the group. He has made it a point to hide which character you’re meant to like or dislike, which is so common in stories these days, and this has caused some negative reviews.

When it was time for questions, Julie and William almost talked at the same time, both eager to have their say. Julie likes the dynamics of the young; things might go wrong in YA literature, but there is hope for survival. And William pointed out that there is more to a book than the last ten pages.

Asked if they have worried that no one would want to read their books, Julie said yes, but that she’d tried to write what she would have enjoyed as a teenager, whereas William believes you shouldn’t think too much about the readers.

Why YA? William had written adult novels before, but needed a book to be YA for plot reasons and then started reading more teen books and liked them. He also feels they have a longer life through school events and similar, and that in the shops all YA novels sit side by side, no matter what genre, because YA itself is a genre. Julie reckoned that children’s books was a quiet backwater where she felt safe, until Harry Potter and Philip Pullman came on the scene and things started happening.

Books to recommend brought out Louis Sachar’s Holes from William, and Julie suggested the not yet published Book of Dust by Philip Pullman.

Julie is currently working on A Girl Made of Stars, about the Hadron Collider, and she knows what dark energy is. Or so she said. And asked if she’d get on the boat [in Exodus] or stay, she’d go on the boat, if there’s room.

Julie Bertagna, Exodus

Day 1

What a day! Now all I need is for the rest of the Edinburgh International Book Festival to be as good. And if the sunshine could continue shining? As I might have mentioned yesterday, I had a good line-up for Tuesday, and it did not disappoint. Nor did any of the day’s little bonuses.

After collecting my press pass, which is a new, edgier design this year, I picked up my events tickets from a boiling entrance tent. I reckon they were expecting rain with that ‘glass’ ceiling in there. I nearly expired, and was grateful I wasn’t queueing up for returns for Peter May.

I ate my M&S salad and ran for Barry Hutchison’s event, where I found Lari Don, busy checking out the competition. Well, she said she was enjoying seeing her colleagues, but… In the bookshop, after I’d taken hundreds of pictures of Barry, I encountered Keith Charters standing next to the Strident shelves, surreptitiously checking they looked all right. They did. He’d been expecting to rearrange them.

Strident books

While we were talking about running, and stargazing, Theresa Breslin arrived on her off-day, and the conversation turned to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. Then Keith and I went over to bother Barry for a bit, and to find out how he writes quite so many books quite so fast. He was mostly – I think – pondering the groceries he had to buy on his way home, and how appearing at the book festival wasn’t quite as glamorous as it was the first time.

Barry Hutchison

Glamorous would be the word to describe Judy Murray, whom I saw as I returned to the yurt area. Onesies never looked classier.

Stephen Baxter

I did another turn round the bookshops, and found Stephen Baxter signing for adults, and in the children’s bookshop a signing table for, well, I’m not sure who it was for. But after some googling I’d say that the people in this photo are Ehsan Abdollahi – who was originally refused a visa to enter the country – and I think Delaram Ghanimifard from his publisher. And I only wish I’d stopped to talk to them. (I didn’t, because the books on the table confused me.)

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimafard

Begged some tea in the yurt before walking over to Julie Bertagna’s event with William Sutcliffe. I noticed a man in the queue behind me and my witchy senses told me this was Mr Bertagna, which was confirmed later. And I couldn’t help noticing that ‘my’ photo tree either has moved, or the Corner theatre has, or the theatre has grown fatter over the winter.


Was introduced to Mr B and also to Miss B in the bookshop, after Julie and I had covered Brexit and Meg Rosoff and lunches in our conversation. And then I needed to go and queue for Meg’s event, which seemed to draw a similar crowd, with much of the audience being the same as at Julie’s and William’s talk.

Julie Bertagna and William Sutcliffe

Miss Rosoff had come along, as had Elspeth Graham, who has been involved a lot with Meg’s work on Mal Peet’s last book, which Meg was here to talk about. Spoke to Louise Cole in the signing queue, before Meg persuaded me to miss my train in favour of having a drink with her.

Meg Rosoff

So she and I and Elspeth chatted over wine and water on the deck outside the yurt, and many people were discussed, but my memory has been disabled on that front. Sorry. They had a French restaurant to go to and I had another train to catch.

I hobbled along Princes Street as best I could, and hobbling fast is never a good look, which is why I paid little heed to being hailed by someone who insisted on being noticed, and who turned out to be fellow ex-Stopfordians Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney. They had been to a church half-filled with water. Apparently this was very good.

My train was caught, and the Resident IT Consultant and I ended up at our destination almost simultaneously. I believe we both thought that our day had been the best.

Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist 2015

The latest shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards has been announced today, and from now until next year young Scottish readers can vote for their favourite books.


Bookbug Readers (3-7 years)

Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray (Nosy Crow)

Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Ross Collins (Andersen Press)

Lost for Words by Natalie Russell (Macmillan)

Younger Readers (8-11 years)

Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith (Birlinn)

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens by Alex McCall (Kelpies)

Pyrate’s Boy by B. Collin (Kelpies)

Older Readers (12-16 years)

Dark Spell by Gill Arbuthnott (Kelpies)

The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Bloomsbury)

Mosi’s War by Cathy MacPhail (Bloomsbury)

What’s nice about this – among many other things – is that small publisher Kelpies have got three books on a list of nine. Another nice thing is that this is for Scottish authors and illustrators. And then there is the handing out of free books to readers; ‘Scottish Book Trust will give a free copy of the three Bookbug category books to every Primary 1 child during Book Week Scotland.’


As Jasmine Fassl at Scottish Book Trust says, ‘The Scottish Children’s Book Awards are much more than a celebration of Scottish literature – they are about expanding children’s horizons far beyond their physical boundaries and barriers. By simply reading just one of the shortlisted novels in their category, a 5 year old can imagine what it’s like to have rampaging robots as babysitters, a 10 year old can hop aboard a pirate ship, and a 15 year old can be transported into the mind of a teenager in a war zone.’

I’ll read to that! I can’t vote, but we will find out who wins on 4th March next year, after Scottish children have had their say. And the rampaging robots.

The Guardian 2013 longlist

Might this list change lives, I wonder?

At first I thought there’s not much you can say about a longlist, even though I usually do when the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize lists are published. I toyed with the idea of saying nothing, but then I remembered that fateful list nine years ago. Nine years!

This older reader saw a book called How I Live Now mentioned and just knew she had to read it. (She’s a witch. That’s probably how she knew this.) The book wasn’t even out yet, so had to be ordered and waited for. Not only was it the best book she’d read, but it changed her life.

So perhaps one of the books on this year’s list will have that effect on someone, somewhere?

Of the eight, I have read three and a half. All would be worthy winners. The half, too. I can only assume the remaining four are pretty good as well. They could all be life-changers, and not necessarily for the authors.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

David Almond, Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and Rebecca Stead have already done well. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t go on and do even more well. Katherine Rundell, William Sutcliffe and Lydia Syson are new to me, but so was Meg Rosoff that time. She turned out all right, didn’t she?

I hope someone finds the reading passion of their life in amongst these books.

And then there’s the competition for critics aged 17 and under to write a review of  one of the books. In the nine years since my moment of discovery I have been acquainted with two such young winners. I hope winning changed something for them too.

You just never know what will be waiting round the corner. It could be a literary longlist.

(I seem to recall people expect me to predict. OK, the shortlist – because that’s all the predicting you get at this point – will be Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and William Sutcliffe. And I’ve used Sally’s book cover here because Maggot Moon is truly extraordinary, and since the other books are pretty marvellous, that tells you how good it is. The 2004 winner agrees with me.)