Can it really be a whole year since the last Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, well yes it can. This year sees the return of John and Gill McLay as the artistic directors. They founded the festival and nurtured it during the first 6 years of its life, now they are back for year 9.
The events started off with a wonderful talk by the iconic Judith Kerr (pronounced Carr, so we were informed?) in conversation with Julia Eccleshare. She spoke about her childhood but also about her many books and in particular her new work “Mr Cleghorn’s Seal” which is based on an event in her father’s earlier life. After this many of us transferred over to Waterstones for the launch party which was full of lovely authors, illustrators, supporters volunteers and friends of the festival.
the next day saw me reporting for duty in my first volunteer session of the year. I was lucky enough to work on a session by Kristina Stephenson for her “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Pirate’s Curse” which was full of music activity and a wealth of energy. The children absolutely loved it. I then had the great pleasure of seeing the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell talk about his latest book “Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright” as well as watching his amazing talent as an illustrator. The queue for book signing was enormous and I was unable to get my book signed as I was booked to go and listen to the amazing Patrick Ness talking about “The rest of us just live here”. A book that I have written about before.
I must admit to then having a day off in order to catch up on the more mundane things of life, as well as doing a bit of reading. However on Monday I was off again, this time it was attending a school visit with the lovely Bali Rai. I have heard him do a short talk at a conference in the past, but this was the first time that I had the pleasure of hearing him work with a young audience. He absolutely held all of them spellbound, something that is quite difficult with over 100 year 9s and year 11s. He spoke about writing in general, his background, the influences he finds and also about racism and extremism across a wide spectrum. I would recommend any school to have him talk to their older pupils.
The second weekend of the festival I was working on both days, but only half a day on each. Saturday I worked the morning shift at the Guildhall and was able to see Elen Caldecott and Robin Stevens talking about writing crime for younger audiences. Elen is a local author and and her latest book is the second in a series ‘Marsh road Mysteries’ and is called “Crowns and Codebreakers”. Robin has really hit the spot with her wonderful series about the two schoolgirl sleuths Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong and she was talking about the third in the series “A first class Murder” which is a homage to “Murder on the Orient Express” I also spent some of the morning learning how to draw “Wookies and Droids”, which might come in useful when my grandson is older. With the next Star Wars film coming to the big screen in November this was very well times. I also saw the amazing duo of Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve in the green room as they were about to go to their “Pugs of the Frozen north” event. I then met them later when they were off to their individual events for “Railhead” and “Dinosaur Police”.
Sunday was the last day of the festival and there were so many events that I would have loved to attend, however I did steward the events for Julian Clary and David Roberts, talking about their book “The Bolds”, which is a great read for those younger confident readers. they shared the speaking and then David also produced illustrations so that the audience could see how a character is developed. I then worked on the session with the poet John Hegley – he is really brilliant and it is a major ‘experience’ to hear him speak, play his ukulele and generally entertain his audience.
The final bit of icing on the cake was meeting Jennifer Donnelly in the Green Room and getting her to sign copies of her books “Rogue Wave” and “Dark Tide”, the second and third titles in her series about a world with Mer nations and wars for power.
Of course all of this was just the tip of the iceberg and there were so many other fantastic events going on at other venues. The programme is so varied that there is something for everyone. For small children there were some favourite authors and illustrators, such as Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and for teens there was Joe Suggs and Jacqueline Wilson. If you haven’t been to Bath before, then I suggest you book the dates for next year.