23 April 2008

We're currently adding some last-minute titles to our revised edition of the 8-12 guide, in an attempt to make it as up to date as possible before it goes to press. To this end, I've started reading The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, and unfortunately am now falling asleep at my desk, having stayed up long after lights out last night to read just one more page... and just one more.

Which might explain why I just inexpicably forgot I was in the middle of writing a blog entry, and instead started searching the Internet for Thomas the Tank Engine trains for my son's birthday...

I think I'll go now.

22 April 2008

Waterstone's Hampstead

OK - third time lucky.

Our event in Waterstone's Hampstead is now confirmed for 7pm on Thursday June 5th.

Looking forward to it.


Brighton Children's Book Festival

Brighton must have the country's highest concentration of brilliant illustrators and writers for children outside of London - there's an amazing collection of people living and working in and around the city. So it's a perfect place for a children's book festival, which was launched last year and had its second outing this past weekend.

Festival director Laura Atkins (a UFBG contributor, of course...) again brought together a wonderful array of writers and illustrators and others to talk and run workshops on the theme of 'Leaping from the page', exploring the various ways in which children's books can be manifested in other media - film, theatre, etc. - as well as other ways in which books can be brought to life (pop-ups, comic-strip illustration, etc.).

I was there for most of the day on Saturday; the day began with Kitty Taylor, who directed Charlie and Lola for CBeebies, talking about the process of bringing the books to the screen, working with Lauren etc. And we got to see a bit of the results which were typically charming; I don't know a child who's seen C&L on TV and hasn't loved them, and I do think they're really delightful too.

Next up came Nicky Singer - she was talking about three examples of her work being re-imagined in other genres - TV/film, musical theatre and opera. Nicky's always a good speaker (I introduced her when she had a BCBF slot last year) and I'm a fan of her books. Feather Boy is the best known, of course, but Doll, Innocent's Story and Gem X are, while very different, all very good bits of writing. (Glad there was a question from the audience about Gem X - it's a book I liked a lot, and as Nicky said, there aren't many of us who've read it...)

She also talked a little about her new book, just completed a couple of weeks ago,
The Knight Crew, a reimagining of the Arthur story into modern gang culture (you can see how it'd work thematically - honour, rivalry, justice/mercy...). When she and I had coffee about this time last year she'd started working on it and I remember thinking what an interesting idea and what a good fit it probably was, and hearing her in her talk this weekend give examples of particular moments in the book and how they worked I'm all the more excited about reading it. I bullied her into e-mailing me the manuscript, so look forward to settling down to it soon.

One of the workshops allowed children to work on a scene from Feather Boy, the musical, which after lunch they presented to the audience - with, I thought, amazing confidence - lines learned, all blocked and singing - very impressive!

A Q&A with Dakota Blue Richards, the star of The Golden Compass, and the forthcoming film of The Little White Horse, was next; she comes across as reassuringly normal - part confident, part shy, very personable and generous with her attention and happy to talk. But no, she still doesn't know whether there will be more His Dark Materials films made; and no, the movie of Little White Horse is nothing at all like the book so don't get your hopes up...

Then the biggest treat for me - a David Almond double-bill. First David himself speaking (about stories - utterly wonderful), followed by a screening of the recent TV adaptation of Clay, introduced by adapter Peter Tabern (responsible also for the TV Feather Boy adaptation). David is one of my favourite writers around - for teenagers, possibly my very favourite of all; and so of course it's wonderful to hear him speaking with intelligence and enthusiasm and warmth etc. He's one of the very few writers working in this field today - can I think of any others at all? - who clearly sees the world a little differently from everyone else, and whose writing makes you see it like that too; all his books do truly do that. Kit's Wilderness is my favourite of his to date, and I think the most inexplicably magical thing I've read of his. but they really do all have that odd, wonderful quality, of changing how you see the world, making it richer somehow.

And David Almond is also - apart from being a wonderful creative writer, delightful man and all-round genius - the person who wrote the introduction to our teen guide; seeing him talk on Saturday reminded how very proud indeed and lucky we are to have him.

Sorry not to have been able to stay for the Sunday events - Michelle Magorian! - but have no doubt it was another great day. Many congratulations to Laura and everyone else who worked on making it such a good event and looking forward to next year and BCBF3.


18 April 2008

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway 2008

Like the arrival of the first swallows, the arrival of the Carnegie/Greenaway prize shortlist is a sure sign that Spring is springing...

An this year, yet again, the Carnegie list is fascinating, with more than a few top-end titles in the mix. Well, actually there's only two books that are really general children's books - as opposed to 12+/teen:

CRUSADE by Elizabeth Laird
GATTY'S TALE by Kevin Crossley-Holland
RUBY RED by Linzi Glass (12+)
APACHE by Tanya Landman (12+)
HERE LIES ARTHUR by Philip Reeve (12+)
WHAT I WAS by Meg Rosoff (12+)
FINDING VIOLET PARK by Jenny Valentine (12+)

The Greenaway list is far less contentious:

SILLY BILLY by Anthony Browne
PENGUIN by Polly Dunbar
MONKEY AND ME by Emily Gravett
THE LOST HAPPY ENDINGS by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Jane Ray
BANANA! by Ed Vere

The link to the CILIP pages with all the info is http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/2008awards/carnegie_shortlist.php

My personal vote? For the Carnegie, Crusade by Elizabeth Laird and for the Greenaway Penguin by Polly Dunbar (though Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears would be a close second!)

16 April 2008


Sorry to say, the Waterstone's Hampstead event has had to be postponed (yes, again...), but we hope it'll be rescheduled before too long and we'll post the date. Meantime, next event is Ipswich - me and Leonie - on Thursday of next week, 24th April, 7pm at the local Waterstone's.


Exeter, Inkheart, Quercus, Siblings

As Leonie said, the FCBG conference at Exeter was brilliant - many congratulations to all the organisers, and thanks for having us as a part of it. The UBG seminar which Leonie and Susan ran was very well attended and full of people eager to share their own experiences, learn from each other's ideas, etc. (And I just sat quietly in a corner and resisted the temptation to interfere, and did very well, I thought...) And I then chaired an event with four lovely writers - Justin Somper, Julia Golding, Ally Kennen and David Gilman. Always a bit tricky with that many people trying to be part of a single conversation, but it was fun, I thought, and good to see Justin (as ever) and to meet the other three. And on top of that there was the UFBG cake (picture to follow, I hope - it was quite something), and other events with great writers and illustrators such as the lovely David Roberts (mentioned by Leonie below) and many others...

Since then the finishing touches have been put onto the manuscript for the revised UBG for 8-12s, including the final selection of final last absolutely final books for inclusion; the PA children's books supplement has gone out with the Guardian including our picture-book recommendations and a UBG read-on map; and the National Year of Reading sampler has come out too, meaning that now any young person in the country joining a library (the next 250,000 of them, at least) will be given a free mini-UBG. So as Leonie said, a busy couple of weeks... And tomorrow we start commissioning for the updated teen guide...

I finally managed to get time to return to Inkheart, which reluctantly I had had to put aside mid-read a few weeks ago when I just didn't have the time, but delighted to have been able to sit down with it properly now and finished it over the weekend. Very highly recommended. What a thrilling imagination Cornelia Funke has, and such a good story-teller (with the assistance of her translator, the great Anthea Bell); a book I hesitated to pick up (it's long, it's fantasy, and all sorts of other prejudices against it...) but I'm very pleased I did, and the characters and setting have really stayed me in the days since I finished. I'm holding off reading the second book in the series, but only because the third isn't out yet and I want to pace myself so I don't have too long to wait for that - Inkspell is no. 2, and Inkdeath the third, published in October.

Just noticed, incidentally, having mentioned Anthea Bell, that The UBG doesn't credit translators, which is very bad indeed - don't know how we/I let that happen. We have to fix that.

Started Hazel's Phantasmagoria, by Leander Deeny, also this weekend, which made me laugh out loud several times in the opening three or four pages; I'm going to enjoy this one. It comes from a publisher - Quercus - who're launching a new children's list; and while I'm a little bitter because I can't get them to answer my mail, I'm pleased to have found such a strong debut in their launch list - bodes very well.

Incidentally, looking for good books to give to two/three year olds about to be afflicted with a new baby in the family. I've just read Minty and Tink, which is one possibility; any other thoughts, anyone? Help!


10 April 2008


Well, it's been a mad two weeks - and I've been to Devon twice! The FCBG conference went really well. The organisers did a fabulous job and I can say, from what I saw and heard, that everyone had a really good time! The sessions that Susan, Danny and I were involved in seemed to go well and I thoroughly enjoyed all the talks etc. that I went along to listen to. Andy Stanton? Wow! He has to be one of the most hilarious speakers around. Mal Peet? Articulate, intelligent, funny - love him! Oh, and David Roberts - who can draw, speak AND have great hair, all at the same time... what's not to love?

There were so many other speakers, both on and off stage, who entertained, enlightened and generally made the whole trip more than worthwhile. The only downside was the weather, as it poured and poured all weekend, so we couldn't make the most of the university's gorgeous grounds. Maybe next time?

Since then I've been back to Devon for a week's holiday... and this time the weather was on our side, and I spent many a happy hour sitting on a bench in the garden, listening to the birds and reading. Best of the bunch? M.G. Harris's The Joshua Files, Invisible City, which is a fast-paced adventure that rips you from Oxford to the Mexican jungle and scarcely lets you take breath!