22 April 2008

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.