Glasgow and YLG

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A very nice room

For the first time in quite a few years YLG has returned to Scotland for its conference.  It was held in Glasgow and the venue was the rather incredible Beardmore Hotel; fantastic rooms for all of us and our own major hospital next door.  Even the bills were made out to the Scottish NHS!  There is a long and fascinating story behind all of this, but I had no worries about what to do if I was taken ill. I was only able to go to the event for the Friday and the first half of Saturday and treated myself to a plane flight from Bristol, much better than 6 hours of trains.  It was great to arrive on the Thursday evening and to meet up with lots of friends, especially Bev Humphries, and to just sit and talk about books.2015-10-23 15.42.28

As usual there was a fantastic exhibition and a big thanks goes to all the publishers who travelled to put on such a good show.  So many good friends and some lovely new friends in the making.

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Amazing Grace, 25 years old

The Friday started out with a fascinating plenary session  by Karen McCluskey, the Director of the Scottish Violence reduction Unit, which reminded all of us of the major issue that we face in areas of deprivation.  This was followed by the first of the workshop sessions.  I attended the one run by Paul Register, who founded and runs the Stan Lee Excelsior Award, which is for comics (of the American variety such as X-Men, Superman, not the Dandy and Beano).  It was a great insight into a very popular and yet poorly understood area of young people’s reading and I am sure that many more schools will want to become involved with this award.  After the coffee break and celebration for the 25th anniversary of “Amazing Grace” I attended a workshop lead by Siobhan Parkinson, a past Irish Children’s Laureate and the publisher at Little Island Books, as she spoke about translating children’s books.

The afternoon provided the publishers with a 3 minute slot to promote their future books.  Some were very slick and others more homespun, but they all whetted our appetites for some really amazing books to come.  The third workshop period of the  day was after lunch and I spent an hour learning many things about my iPad that were new to me, despite having had the machine for several years.  I really must try and use it more effectively than I have done.

Author highlights of the weekend included Sarah Crossan talking about “One”  A lovely panel session with illustrators Catherine Rayner, Emily McKenzie, Holly Sterling and Ross Colin, celebrating the launch of a new book 2015-10-23 15.42.19by Andersen Press, “The Prince and the Porker” by David Robert and based on the story “The Prince and the Pauper”  by Mark Twain.

The Saturday morning was taken up by a Graphics novel panel consisting of the stars that are Mel Gibson and Paul Register, together with Liz Payton from the Phoenix magazine, as well as a talk by the very popular Sita Brahmachari.  This was closely followed by discussions with Barbara Band about boys reading and the gender gap and then Barry Cunningham talking to some of his  Chicken House authors, Sam Hepburn and Emma Shevah.  It was a shame that I had to leave at lunchtime and I missed several sessions that I know will have been great as they involved Gill Lewis, Jenny valentine Janetta Otter-Barry and Anna McQuinn.

One of the real joys of going to any conference is the opportunity to meet and talk to like minded people.  Over the years these become friends and you are constantly reminded what a truly friendly and dedicated bunch of people are involved in children’s literature.  I really want to say thank you to all the people involved in organizing the conference, I have that t-shirt and know how much hard work they put in, even though it is so worth while. A big thank you to the publishers for the exhibition, the authors and of course THE CAKE!

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Return to Cheltenham

For the first time in about 10 years I decided to pay a visit to the “Book it” section of the Cheltenham Literature Festival.  This was mainly because I could not fit in all the authors I wanted to see at Bath (I was on duty) and also because it was announced that the amazing Jane Churchill would be stepping down from her role as children’s coordinator at the end of this year.

I decided on the second Sunday of the event because Bath was over and there were several panels of writers that I wanted to see.  Perhaps the nicest thing about the Cheltenham venue is that it is in the Town Hall and on the green, which enables little activities to be taking place outside.  There was a real buzz about the place as children enjoyed learning circus skills, face painting and various other craft subjects.  Luckily the weather was fine and there was a really wonderful atmosphere.

the day started of with a session by Gillian Cross and Sally Nicholls talking about their books  “Shadow Cat” and “An Island of their own”.  The first story is about two young people brought together by circumstances and who form a common bond as they try and save a captive Serval and the second book is about a group of three siblings who are left some jewelry by an elderly aunt, but the catch is that she has hidden it and they have to go on a search.  It was great to hear two such talented writers speaking about their plots and how they came up with their stories.

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Holly Webb and Kate Saunders

I then attended a fascinating session by Holly Webb and Kate Saunders about their respective books which carry on two very famous classic novels.  Holly has written “Return to the Secret Garden”, whilst Kate has given us “Five Children on the Western Front”.  Both books have  a wartime setting, the Western front being WWI and the Secret Garden featuring refugees in WWII.  They are definitely  worth having a read of and provide an added perspective on times gone by.  I have just started reading Holly’s book but I read Kate’s book a while ago and it is a superb read, having been nominated for several awards..

 

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Shoo Rayner

The book tent was full of authors signing books for their fans and I was lucky enough to meet up with Shoo Rayner and then saw Tracey Corduroy and Michael Morpurgo from a distance.  Shoo had been talking about his new book “Dragon White“, which follow on from the previous title “Dragon Gold” and links a modern story with the myths of Wales and Merlin.  It is a similar theme to that used by Sarah Mussi in her book “Here be Dragons”, although her work is for a teen audience.  Shoo’s dragons are great for the younger confident reader.

 

 

 

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Katherine Woodfine

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Robin Stevens

My final event was one that had sold out and several of my friends were quite envious, it felt like having a ‘Golden Ticket’.  This was with Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine, both of whom have written brilliant books that I have mentioned in several blogs already.  They are “First Class Murder”, the third in the Wells and Wong mystery series and “The mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow”, the first in a series.  There was great elation when they both announced that new titles will be published in February and March 2016.  From Robin we will see “Jolly Foul Play”  and from Katherine it will be  “The mystery of the Jewelled Moth“.  I can’t wait to read both of them.  There is quite an interest in mixing history and mysteries and these two writers are  excellent examples of the sub-genre.

I must admit that I came away from this day in a bit of a golden glow.  There were so many lovely friends that I had seen and had a chat to as well as listening to some fascinating authors.  Most of all these festivals remind us that there are huge numbers of enthusiastic young readers out there, we just need to make sure that they are being shown books that they will enjoy.  I definitely think that Cheltenham is back on my map, even though my heart is in Bath.

Bath time again!

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An expectant audience

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 we2015-10-01 15.50.43 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.

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Mamillan, 9781447277897

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.

2015-09-28 15.17.33I 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.

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Corgi, 9780552570749

2015-10-03 11.13.21The 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 2015-10-03 09.33.19 2015-10-06 21.25.41November 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”.

 

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Andersen, 9781783443642

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 2015-10-04 16.33.05-1really 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 2015-10-04 16.59.01her 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.

Wonderful Walker event

A new book by Patrick Ness is always something to be shouted about and this one is no exception.  “The rest of us just live here” is about those who are not the superheroes, they are just kids trying to get along in life and cope with the problems of their teen years, although this does include OCD and dysfunctional families.  It  is a book that you would recommend to everyone and it is bound to be nominated for a variety of awards in the coming year.  There are two parallel narratives and although the second is told as the short headings to each chapter, gradually they begin to seep into each other.  You really must read this book.

Walker, 9781406367478

Walker, 9781406367478

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Patrick Ness and Tanya Landman

Thank you Walker books and Daunts in Marylebone for a  truly lovely evening. I was lucky enough to get a photo of two Carnegie winners as the wonderful Tanya Landman was there.  It was also great to see Celia Rees again and to meet Catherine Johnson and Non Pratt.  As you can see it was a star studded evening but the  undoubted megastar was Patrick himself.

Oh, and of course there was cake!  Lovely little cup cakes with a miniature book on the top.2015-09-02 19.05.04

Boldly Going…

Well, it might not be the final frontier but on Thursday there was a gathering at Daunts in Marylebone to celebrate the launch of the phenomenally funny book “The Bolds” by Julian Clary, with illustrations by David Roberts.

David Roberts and Julian Clary

David Roberts and Julian Clary

A fantastic crowd at Daunts

A fantastic crowd at Daunts

The Bolds are a family of Hyenas who have found themselves living in Teddington with their two children Bobby and Betty.  Once your brain starts to accept this fact it becomes easier to slide (laughing hilariously) into the story of their lives and the plot to save an elderly hyena, from the local safari park, from being put ‘to sleep’.  David Robert’s illustrations are as always amazing and and bring the whacky characters to life in such a vivid way.

Tony and Miranda

Tony and Miranda

 

Betty and friend Minnie

Betty and friend Minnie

This is yet another fabulous book for what used to be a very neglected age range, the 7-9 year olds.  I particularly like the very groan worthy jokes that Mr Bold creates for his job, writing the jokes for Christmas crackers and I am quite sure that the intended audience will be wowing their friends and family with them once they start reading.

A big thanks should go to everyone at Andersen Press, not only for the great party, but also for bringing together such a brilliant team as Julian Clary and David Roberts.  I can only hope that this is one of many collaborations and I know that a follow up is being planned for the Bolds.  I almost dread to think what they will be doing in suburbia next time around.  The one thing that keeps passing through my mind is “what if they had lived in Surbiton and came across Margo Leadbetter?”  A vaguely surreal and worrying prospect.

Andersen Press, 9781783443642

Andersen Press, 9781783443642

Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals 2015

Monday 22nd June was a fantastic day despite the really horrible weather.  The reason was the annual celebration of the best in Children’s Literature for the past year as shown in the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards.  You could say that I am somewhat biased as I had the great honour to chair the panel of judges in 2010 when Neil Gaiman won with “The Graveyard Book”  http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/2010awards/media_ceremony.php?file=1

2015-06-22 11.28.49This year had proved a mammoth task for the judges with over 90 titles put forward for Carnegie and 70 books listed for the Greenaway.  this was then pruned down to a more manageable number for the long-list and then finally the shortlist.  The titles that made it through the process were by a wide range of new and also well known and loved authors and illustrators; the thing they had in common was the immense quality of the work they produced and they way that this spoke to the audiences.

The award ceremony was back at the British Library after a break of several years and I know that for many of us it felt like a spiritual homecoming.  The conference centre foyer was buzzing as people met up with friends and colleagues from libraries and publishing.  All of the shortlisted nominees were there and were pounced on by their fans from the shadowing schools that had been invited, as well as by their adult fans as well.  The ceremony itself was full of laughter, with Mel Giedroyc (from Great British bake Off) acting as the compere and proving what a funny person she is.  The announcements themselves were greeted by loud cheers (and perhaps some secret sorrow, if your own choice did not win) and we then returned to the foyer for drinks and canapes, although you had to be quick to actually get any food.  The winner of the Carnegie medal is the lovely and truly talented Tanya Landman  for “Buffalo Soldier”, whilst the Greenaway medal has been won by new talent William Grill for his book “Shackleton’s Journey.”

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Tanya Landman, with Agnes Guyon and Mel Giedroyc

 

It was an occasion to catch up with old friends as well as meet some new people.  It also made me think that I will have to catch up with those books I have not read yet, but most importantly it reminded me that nominations for this year will open in September and I need to start writing a list of titles that I think should be on the list.

Congratulations to everyone involved.

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Sally Gardner with Elizabeth Laird

 

Tim Bowler with Tricia Adams of the SLA

Tim Bowler with Tricia Adams of the SLA

 

 

 

Children’s Laureate

Last Tuesday, 9th June saw the announcement of who would follow in the footprints of the fantastic Malorie Blackman and become the new Children’s laureate.  I think it was fair to say that most people were ecstatic when we found it was going to be the truly amazing and multi-talented Chris Riddell. His acceptance speech set the tone for the next two years and it promises to be a time when children’s and school librarians will feel supported in the work they are doing.

web-childrens-laureate-1-pa

 

Chris has been illustrator for many years as well as a very well respected political cartoonist.  His children’s work has covered from picture books such as the “Emperor of Absurdia”, through “Ottoline”, “Barnaby Grimes”, “Goth Girl” and the “Edge Chronicles”up to “Wyrmeweald”.  He has written and illustrated books by himself but he has also worked in collaboration with others such as Paul Stewart and Neil Gaiman.  Chris was in the vanguard of those illustrators fighting for the acceptance of illustrated books for those past the age of about 7 years and he is firmly behind the campaign to give illustrators equal recognition with their authors.

 

I have to say that my personal favourites are the Goth Girl series, which combine historical backgrounds with the absurdities that we all knew and loved Terry Pratchett for. I can’t wait for the “Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright” which is due out later this year.  Other titles to look out for are “Doombringer: second book of Cade” (Edge Chronicles) with Paul Stewart, “The book of Demons” with Daniel Whelan and “Witchmyth” with Emma Fischel. Keep your eyes open for all things Laureate related.  Sites to follow are

Twitter  @chrisriddell50    #ChildrensLaureate

Instagram     https://instagram.com/chris_riddell/

Tumblr     http://chrisriddellblog.tumblr.com/

 

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Walker books at the Barbican

What an amazing  evening this turned out to be.  the conservatory at the Barbican was jam-packed with librarians and publishers as well as the megastars that are the authors and illustrators.  It was a night that I will remember as I saw people such as Shirley Hughes, Anthony Horowitz, Chris Riddell, Jez Alborough and the main speaker Patrick Ness.

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the purpose of the evening was to introduce us to the books that will be hitting the shop and library shelves in the autumn and I think it is going to be quite a fantastic offering.  There are several titles that are celebrating anniversaries in the next year and the publisher will be setting up activities and events to mark the occasions.  However there are also many new and exciting books, from picture books to top teens,  that will have the reviews and blogs buzzing about them.

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This looks as if it is going to be another bumper year for Walkers and I am looking forward to reading some of their offerings.

Federation of Children’s book groups conference

My first big gathering of this year and so many friends to catch up with.  I have now been back from the conference for two weeks and I am just coming down from the clouds.  It really was an amazing event.  As always the exhibition was full of children’s publishers showing us their latest wares and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm.  It is always such a pleasure to meet up with these wonderful people and to come away with such goodies to read.

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One of the things we love about children’s book conferences is the opportunity to meet and listen to so many stimulating and exciting speakers, both writers  and illustrators, as well as the amazing Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow books.  As always we were treated to a generous amount of cake over the weekend, washed down by cups of tea and coffee.

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The weekend started with a truly inspirational talk about poetry by Sarah Crossan, the author of  “Weight of Water” and “Apple and rain”.  As small children we are totally surrounded by rhyme, from nursery rhymes to the work  of people such as Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd,but as we get older poetry is moved within a fence that many find difficult to overcome.  There are some authors who use rhyme in their novels but it is a concept that we need to get back to.  If we look at the history of storytelling we find that many of the major cultural tales are told in a poetic form; just like song lyrics,  which we find easier to remember.

Saturday morning started with a session on writing non-fiction, with a panel of Nicola Davies, Nicola Morgan and Marcia Williams in conversation with Zoe Toft.  All three authors have carved out a niche for themselves in this area and although they have very differing styles, they all appeal to their intended audiences.  Nicola Davies writes narrative non-fiction and approaches the task in the same way as writing fiction.  Nicola Morgan on the other hand feels that the two disciplines are very different and that over the years she has “lost the fiction muscles in her brain”.  Marcia Williams was enthused by a teacher who would read out loud to the class.  All three described how they had gradually developed their writing style and what influences had affected them.

The next session was with Tom Moorhouse who has written “The River Singers” and “The Rising”, about a family of water voles. Tom is a naturalist by profession and spoke about the reality of life for these animals as opposed to the images from books such as “Wind in the Willows”.  It was a fascinating talk and I know it will have made many new converts to his books.

The afternoon was taken up by the larger than life characters of Kjartan Poskitt, Philip Ardagh and Simon Mayle.  All three authors write humourous novels for primary age children, although Kjartan is renowned for the way that he brings maths alive to his audiences.  Our speaker at dinner was the amazing Frank Cottrell Boyce who was celebrating the launch of his latest book “The Astounding Broccoli  Boy”

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Sunday morning was another action packed session with a talk by Kate Wilson about Nosy Crow and how they have developed both their apps and the hard copy versions of the books.  It was great to hear that books are still a top priority, not least because they are such a variable size and format, whereas with technology you are limited by the size of the screen.  The other two sessions were an Illustrators’ panel with Rob Biddulph (Blown Away), Sophy Henn (Pom Pom gets the grumps) and David Shelton (A boy and a bear in a boat) and then a young adult panel with Non Pratt (Trouble),  Alice Oseman (Soliaire) and Lisa Williamson (The Art of being Normal).  We then finished off with discussions with Steven Butler and the really great Jonathan Stroud (Lockwood and Co.).

By this point were were all totally exhausted but very happy at having attended such a stimulating and very friendly conference.  I have  still only looked at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the books I brought home, but I look forward to many hours of great reading.

Brilliant Bath

I cannot believe that we have now finished the festival for this year.  Many thanks to all the people I had the pleasure of working with and especially to David Almond who was artistic director for the second year.  Next year we will be back in the very safe hands of John and Gill McLay, who founded the festival and were responsible for the impact it has had on children’s literature events in this country.  I was only able to help out for the first weekend as we were away on holiday for week two, however I still met up with some old friends, made some new friends and heard some fantastic sessions.

Miffy in Bath

Miffy in Bath

Perhaps the high spot was seeing the effort that people went to in making the Miffy event such a success.  Congratulations to Kelley Townley for her patience with the costume that was so heavy and hot – what a star she is.  I also had the pleasure of stewarding on the first night of the festival and saw Andy Stanton hosting a book quiz ( I did not totally disgrace myself with my knowledge, but some of the children were amazing) and then saw a panel discussion about the future of teaching.  Of course this was followed by the launch party at Waterstones and a real opportunity to catch up with the many friends I have made over the years.

Andy Stanton, a quiet moment!

Andy Stanton,
a quiet moment!

Saturday I had a day off, but on Sunday I was in Bath for the Miffy event and also a session by Thomas Williams, who was one of the curators of the “Vikings” exhibition at the British Museum, as he talked about his book concerning the life and death of King Harald of Norway. The only thing I had known about this king before is that he was defeated by our King Harold, who then went on to be killed at the battle of Hastings.

 

 

 

Monday saw me back at the Guildhall where Michael Rosen  spoke to several hundred children, all in his own inimitable style.  I then stayed on to hear the lovely Michaela Morgan talking about the two books she has written about Walter Tull (I hope to mention these in a special blog about WWI titles later this year.

with Michael Rosen

with Michael Rosen

 

with Michaela Morgan

with Michaela Morgan

 

 

 

I had hoped to go to the School Library Association Information Book Award on the Tuesday evening, but having been to the local Centurion Book Award ceremony in the morning (to receive the award on behalf of David Walliams) I really was beginning to run out of steam.

 

Martin Veal, Chair of B&NES council

Martin Veal,
Chair of B&NES council

 

I know that there were some great sessions later in the week, especially for teens and I know everyone had a great time.  I am sure that the team are already beavering away to create the programme for next year and they will have us stewards queueing up to help as it is such as friendly and enthusiastic event, with the most amazing yet down to earth writers and artists taking part.  I love this festival.