Make Hay (on Wye) while the sun shines

Well I have finally achieved an ambition that I have had for many years –  my first visit to the Hay festival; however it will not be my last visit I am sure.  For those who have never attended, I hope I can give you just a small flavour of this quite extraordinary and very unique event.

It takes place over two weekends (from 25th May to 1st June in 2017) and is a melting pot of events covering adult and children’s, non-fiction and fiction.  there are politicians, artists, reporters, authors and illustrators all expressing a wide range of views, so that almost everyone will find something to their liking.  Everything that I know about the Festival has been learnt from friends who have appeared or attended in past years.  Hay itself is a small town with the reputation of being the second-hand bookshop capital of the country (if not the world).  During the festival period it becomes overwhelmed by the number of visitors and accommodation is extremely difficult to find.  For those who are young enough and have the energy there is always the option of camping or glamping; however hotels and B&B s need to be booked a long time ahead if you want to be anywhere near the town.

This year I only attended for one day so my main concern was in finding parking.  Luckily this is extremely well organized with a large off site car park several miles away at Clyro Court. the cost was £6.00 for the day but this also covered the bus to and from the venue.  The buses are every 10 minutes and run until after all of the events have finished, so quite late in the evening.  However I also found that there are several large “Charity” car parks just outside the entrance to the site, so this is something that I need to investigate for the future.

The day that  I chose to attend was Monday 29th, mainly because Neil Gaiman was going to be ‘in conversation’ with Stephen Fry.  As my friends know I was lucky enough to be chair of judges in 2010 when Neil won the Carnegie Medal for “The Graveyard Book” (illustrated by Chris Riddell).  I also discovered that Sarah McIntyre was talking about her new picture book “Prince of Pants” (author Alan MacDonald) and Philip Reeve was discussing “Black Light Express” the follow up to “Railhead”.  I booked all of my tickets, including the parking many weeks before the date and was ready for the two hour journey when the big day arrived.

I knew that it was going to be good when I saw three people that I know within five minutes of arrival at the site; there is nothing like the feeling of belonging this can give you and the children’s book community is so open and friendly that it feels like seeing members of your family .  The Festival site is like a miniature city under canvas with a variety of tents connected by wide covered walkways.  This means that even in the rain it is a very usable space.  The first thing that really hit me was just how crowded the venue was.  With other Festivals such as Bath and Cheltenham they are widely spread out, but this is something totally different.  However it gives Hay a really sense of energy and excitement and you gradually get used to the crowds.

The tent city is well signposted and there are plenty of places to chill out, get something to eat and drink and generally enjoy the ambiance.  My first stop was the Festival Bookshop where all the signings were taking place.  there were several queues and it took a while to understand what was going on; however there is a board which tells you that each doorway is allocated to a specific signing queue, but some of them were very long and things became confusing.

My first event was Sarah McIntyre who was sporting another one of her fabulous outfits, both dress and hats; however it was the beautiful handmade bead necklace that had me drooling, the maker is obviously extremely talented.  As always Sarah got her audience to draw some of the characters from the book and also explained the whole process of creating the illustrations.  I think many were in awe of the skill that goes into interpreting the words that are given to an illustrator and it reminds us that the illustrators are of equal importance (Hence Sarah’s work on http://www.jabberworks.co.uk/pictures-mean-business/.   I then wandered over to the tent where Philip Reeve was talking about his new book.  He had some great digital book trailers which had been manipulated to give the feel of being in space.   Philip is an amazing speaker and he had his audience totally enthralled.  Just before the talk started I discovered that the lovely M G Leonard was sitting directly in front of me, so we were able to renew our acquaintance.  You really must read her two books “Beetle Boy” and “Beetle Queen” if you have not done so already.  After the event had finished I was able to spend some time talking to Sarah and M G before going in for the Neil Gaiman event.

Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman were discussing his new work “Norse Mythology” and making links to Greek Mythology, as Stephen Fry is currently working on this theme. This was a highly motivated audience of hard-core fans and they were even more ecstatic when Chris Riddell joined the others on stage and spent the entire session creating wonderful and very humorous sketches based on the conversation.  The event was a masterclass in illustration, interviewing and also the depth of knowledge that both speakers had about their subjects.  Although I had taken several books to get them signed the queue was far too long and I still had a two hour drive.  Still I hope that I will be able to hear Neil Gaiman speak at another event in the future.

Hay Festival turned out to be a real delight and I am hoping that in future years I will be able to go for several days and totally wallow in the experience.  It also shows that reading is still alive and well in this country and the range of material is absolutely huge.  I really do encourage people to go to this if they can, however it does require a fair amount of planning to maximize the benefits and see as many people as you want to.  I am sure that many of the events were sold out, so it is important to book tickets as soon as you can; trying to get tickets on the day will probably not work.  Thank you to everyone involved with the Festival, you are fantastic.

 

The Chickens are hatching

Barry Cunningham

“What on earth is she going on about?  What Chickens?”  Well in the publishing world this can only mean the fantastic Chicken House Books, founded and run by the amazing Barry Cunningham (yes, he did sign up J K Rowling).  Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending one of their ‘Big Breakfast’ events, where they present authors and books for the coming year.  It was held in central London, in the rather elegant surroundings of Home House (pronounced Hume like the prime minister?) and we were fed with a range of pastries and loads of tea and coffee.

The event started with an introduction to all of the authors and their books, luckily we were given packs with details of these to take home.  Although the emphasis was on the first six months of the year, there were several titles that will be coming out in the autumn.  We were delighted that so many of the authors were able to attend (I think I counted 10 or 11), however several of the American writers were understandably not there.  The highlight of the day was when several of the authors read excerpts from their new works.  They were all consummate performers and a far cry from the old days, when writers often found it difficult to communicate in person.

 

“Alice Jones: the Ghost Light” by Sarah Rubin.  This is the second in the series about a young amateur sleuth called Alice Jones and I must admit to being a fan.  It fits into that group of writers who would be perfectly at home in the “Golden Age” of crime fiction, although these books are set in the current period.  A great series for those who love Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine.

“The White Tower” by Cathryn Constable  is a new title by the author of “Wolf Princess”.  It is describes as “Magic realism” by the publicity and is definitely one that is on my TBR list.

“Mafiosa” by Catherine Doyle is aimed at the older teen and is the climax of the “Blood for Blood” trilogy.  Those who enjoyed the preceding  novels “Vendetta” and “Inferno” will no doubt devour this latest offering and also those who like a gritty and powerful take on their thrillers.

“The Secret Keepers” by Trenton Lee Stewart.  this is the start of a new series by the author of “The Mysterious Benedict Society” and it will be loved by those who like their fantasy/mystery to include a little bit of ‘playing with time’.  A watch that can make you invisible for 15 minutes could be very useful, but villains chasing after you are less welcome.  I am really looking forward to reading this in the next few weeks.

Maz Evans and Gemma Fowler

“Who Let the Gods out” by Maz Evans  is a debut novel and features the Gods of Olympus, but not perhaps at their best.  I have been looking forward to this for several months now and have started reading it, so no doubt a fuller comment will be added later.  Since ‘Percy Jackson’ we have seen many authors writing about the various pantheons of gods and I think this may well be up there with the other really good ones.

“The Elephant Thief” by Jane Kerr is due out in March and is a historical novel set in the Victorian period.  When you mix a lonely young urchin with a circus elephant and then send them on a journey it is likely that all kinds of adventures will happen.  This sounds like a book with a warm glow to it.

“Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee” by Mary G Thompson.  This sounds as if it is  not for the faint-hearted but it is sure to find a strong following with those who want a strong story-line and a plot that will take them on a roller-coaster ride.  The age advisory is 14+  for this one

“Moondust” by Gemma Fowler is one of the sci-fi thrillers that seem to be making a splash at the moment.  It is all about mining for a new energy source on the Moon and has strong themes about the environment as well as about the joys and perils of being a teenager.

M G Leonard

“Beetle Queen” by M G Leonard.  this is the second in her “Beetle Boy” series and is due out in April.  I was very  lucky last year and tool the author out to several schools. She was  tremendous  and the original “Beetle Boy” has seen huge success with lots of award nominations.  I can’t wait to read more about the female villain that makes Cruella de Ville look like a cuddly kitten.

“Bigfoot, Tobin and Me” by Melissa Savage.  We are having to wait until May for this story, but from what I have seen, it will be well worth the wait.  Aimed at the 9+ age group it is about dealing with grief, and since the author is a paediatric grief therapist it is safe to assume that she knows her subject. This is one I am really looking forward to.

“The Island at the end of Everything” by Kiran Millwood  Hargrave is a story of a young girl living with her mother on the leper colony of Culion Island.  When all healthy people are evicted from the island, Ami decides to try and return so that she can see her mother before she dies.  I get the feeling that you should not be reading this on public transport due to the “Heartbreaking” parts of the story.

A P Winter and Lisa Drakeford

“The Boy who went Magic” by A P Winter is described in the publicity as “being perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer”.  It is a fantasy, with just a hint of Steam punk (judging by the picture), so I think I am really going to enjoy this one.  It is aimed at what is now called ‘Middle Grade’, so the 10+ age range and will make a great summer read.

Three others that will be coming out later in the year are:

“The Crash” by Lisa Drakeford, which is aimed at the teen market and involves the aftermath of a car smashing in to the sitting room of a house.

“Witch Alone” by James Nicol is the follow up to the very successful “Apprentice Witch”, so this is bound to be another huge hit.

“Secret Cooking Club: Confetti and cake”  by Laurel Remington is the second in this series and I am very hopeful that it will live up to the high standards of the first book.

As you can see, we were spoilt with all the amazing authors and books that were presented at the big breakfast and I am going to have a lot of reading in the coming year.  I hope that you will find some titles that will suit you, or the young people you work with.

Welcome to 2016

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Chicken House, 9781910002704

M G Leonard is causing quite a stir with her first book “Beetle Boy” and the attention is very well deserved.  this is the story of Darkus, who has been living with his uncle since his father disappeared. He discovers mysterious goings on next door, including the presence of thousands of exotic beetles.  There are villains and heroes, some of them very unlikely but it really is a cracking story and is set to be a real favourite.  I am lucky enough to be taking her to a couple of schools towards the end of March, so photos will follow hopefully

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Katharine Woodfine

The case of the Jewelled Moth” by Katherine Woodfine is the second in her series featuring the young staff of “Sinclair’s” store in Oxford Street.  This time they are caught up with debutantes and members of London’s China Town as they fight against the villainous character called “The Baron” and try to recover a brooch containing a sacred jewel from China.  As before, there is a real sense of time and place about the book and the characters are growing stronger as the series progresses.  Now I just have to wait for another year until the third title comes out. (NG)

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OUP, 978-0192739384

Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection” by Julia Lee is a wonderful look at life in the 1930s, but from the perspective of a young girl called Nancy in her first job as a housemaid, but dreaming of becoming a great detective.  Once again we have a nod towards themes from Poirot novels, but this is more rooted in the reality of life for many working class people of the day.  Nancy has lots of dreams but discovers that she will need to work hard to overcome the barriers that she faces.  I am looking forward to reading more about this strong charactered young lady.

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Chicken House, 978-1910002513

“The Great Chocoplot” by Chris Callaghan (illustrated by Lalalimola) is enough to give palpitations to all chocolate loving people.  What would you do if it looked like the world is about to run out of chocolate and Cacao beans were no longer available?  There is a dastardly villain and a heroine called Jelly (Jennifer) who has to undertake a lot of investigations in order to save the world and chocolate.  This is a adventurous and funny story, best read with a chocolate treat at the ready.

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OUP, 9780192743558

“Electrigirl” by Jo Cotterill (Illustrated by Cathy Brett) is an original and exciting story.  It is partially a novel, but interspersed with sections of graphic comic, beautifully illustrated by Cathy Brett.  Holly was just an ordinary girl until the day she was hit by lightening and suddenly found herself with superpowers, with the ability to use the electricity in her body to perform amazing feats.  However there is an evil professor who wants to transfer all of that power to herself, meaning that Holly has a fight on her hands, not only to save herself but also to save the world.  A new super heroine is born.

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Walker books, 978-1406358964

“The Dark Days Club” by Alison Goodman is a new historical novel for teens, but with a large slice of the Gothic and a lot of vampires and other worldly creatures who ‘feed’ on the human world.  Lady Helen discovers that she is part of the small select band of people who are fighting to preserve civilization and she has to decide whether to follow her destiny, or to live a normal society life.  This is a really great story for those who in a previous generation would have been reading Georgette Heyer and who do read Jane Austen.  There is a mix of romance, excitement, and a story-line that keeps you hooked.  The historical background feels real and accurate and I look forward to reading the next set of adventures featuring this character.

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Faber and Faber, 978-0571325252

“Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton is a fantastic new story where the Arabian Nights meets the  Wild West.  When Amani tries to escape the idea of a forced marriage, after the death of her mother, she faces dangers that she had never dreamed of.  It is a teen novel that is full of magic and mystery, where science and myths conflict and the heroine must come to terms with who she is and the legacy she has been born with.  if this is anything to go by then this will be a really cracking and original series.  (NG)

I hope these will give you a taste of the fantastic offerings that are hitting the shelves in the months up to Easter.  Needless to say I am working my way through some more really amazing titles at the moment.

As always many thanks to the publishers and to Netgalley  (NG) for being so generous with titles.

A quiet time before Christmas?

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Claire Barker

Whispers in the walls

HarperCollins, 978-0007589203

As I had been through a fairly hectic period in September and October, I thought that the lead up to Christmas would be a lot quieter; how wrong could I be.  During October and November I worked with publishers to organize school visits for two really great new authors.  In October I took the lovely Claire Barker to four schools where she enthralled the year 3 and 4 children with tales of her new book “Knitbone Pepper, ghost dog”.  Then in December I arranged for Sophie Cleverly to go into another four schools to talk about the second in her series about Scarlet and Ivy, this book is called “The Whispers in the Walls”.  This series is aimed for the 8-12 age group and is full of mystery.  The children thoroughly enjoyed both authors and I am sure that the fan base has increased considerably.

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Sharon Tregenza

Early in November I was able to attend the award ceremony for the  ‘North2015-11-07 16.30.18 Somerset Teachers Book Award’ and it was an opportunity to meet friends such as Huw Powell and Sharon Tregenza (a Facebook friend)and also meet  Sam Gayton and Tom Moorhouse, Thank you to all those involved in this award and in particular Sue Wilsher the energetic organizer.

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Sam Hepburn and Barry Cunningham

At the end of November I spent a lovely day over in Cardiff, where Chicken House publishers were holding a Little Breakfast at which we were invited to hear from five of their authors about upcoming books.  There was Sam Hepburn, Emma Shevah, Linda Davies, M G Leonard and Helen Maslin; a positive cornucopia of talent to look forward to.  It was also great to see several old friends and to catch up with what is going on.

The lead up to Christmas was announced in December by the annual Andersen Press Christmas Party.  This is an event that is not to be missed if at all possible.  There were some amazing people there, all of whom are at the top of their professions as writers and illustrators; which only goes to prove that Andersen knows how to chose which books to publish.

Shifty McGifty

Nosy Crow, 978-0857631466

My final book related event was a week before Christmas, when Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton were signing books at Waterstones in Weston-super-mare.  Their adventures of “Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam” are becoming very popular and are really good to read to young audiences.  this was also an opportunity for the two of them to receive the award for the ‘North Somerset Teachers Book Award’ which they won this year.

So much for  a quiet month or so to prepare for the festivities.  However I think I prefer the excitement of meeting all of these amazing people and hearing about the wonderful books that have just come out, or will be arriving in the next few months.  I really am looking forward to what the new year will bring.