28 October 2008

We Are All Born Free & The Graveyard Book

Last night, courtesy of the lovely people at Bloomsbury, I attended the UK launch of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Very aptly the party was held in the crypt of St Martin's in the Field, and the atmosphere was completed by the presence of various 'ghosts' mingling amongst the guests. Mr Gaiman was, once again, a consumate professional, and signed endlessly for the various book people in attendance - and much to my delight the two illustrators (One book title, two versions, one illustrated for adults and one for children, one by Dave McKean and one by Chris Riddell) were there, and I managed to get my copies signed by them too!

Danny - who may comment later - and I had earlier in the evening been at Waterstone's on Piccadilly to attend the launch of another wonderful book, this time the launch of Amnesty International's celebration of 50 years of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - We Are All Born Free. We watched the wonderful short video that's being shown in cinemas and looked at all the glorious illustations - each Right was assigned to a different illustator and so the book is a wonderful mix of styles, which somehow really keeps you focused and keyed in to the message. As an aside, my favourite is Jane Ray's - just because the style is so unlike the one she is famous for!

Anyway, Danny had also found an absolutely spot-on Shelley quote for The Graveyard Book, and I showed it to Neil Gaiman, who loved it. Now I simply have to email to Ian at Bloomsbury who, being a nice chap, will forward it for me. All in all? A lovely evening - though I am now very tired. I always forget at launches - don't drink the wine until AFTER the food!

27 October 2008


Last night it was Neil Gaiman talking as part of Jewish Book Week - and he as absolutely delightful. I adore his work, so to find him charming, relaxed, insightful, eloquent and just as intelligent as one could hope was lovely. I'm deeply indebted to Ian at Bloomsbury who has invited me to the official launch of The Graveyard Book tonight, so I get to fangirl Mr Gaiman all over again :)

My only quandry is - which version to buy? Chris Riddell or Dave McKean?

26 October 2008

City of Bones

Yay, I finally got to see Hamlet! Actually, I do know that Hamlet isn't quite a children's book - but I do have some excuse for mentioning it here as there were loads of kids (some very young) at the RSC's Courtyard theatre on Friday evening. So...a little aside here to say how much I enjoyed Mr Tennant's performance. And to marvel at how incredible skinny he is!

In my book world though I'm reading Cassandra Clare's City of Bones. It's a vast urban supernatural that leans heavily on past glories in the genre, but is nonetheless really enjoyable. It's one of the few books I've ever read that is wired securely into the online world. Many many references to the internets and its culture, from gaming to manga to blogs. It's really refreshing, as in so many books around now you'd think kids didn't have this alternative world that they disappear into...

eta: I'm now reading the online fuss about it - the Amazon comments are fascinating!

And tonight? Neil Gaiman talking at Jewish Book Week! Hurrah! I'm torn between just going, listening, then leaving, and going, listening and taking my copy of Coraline for him to sign (or possible one of this comics, though - which one of The Sandman? Or should it be The Wolves in the Wall? Oh, choices!)

20 October 2008


I spent the weekend with in-laws and their new baby (two months old and really far too cute). The awe-inspiring thing? They are actually reading the Ultimate First Book Guide and thinking seriously about books and reading. Amazing - and deeply touching. Why? Maybe as editor I feel almost as if the books slide off into a vague 'elsewhere', where they look pretty on shelves but don't get used. But this baby? Oh, no, his reading will be shaped by the book and the info inside it. Like I said, awe-inspiring indeed!

And as a 'leaving work for maternity leave' present, everyone at sister-in-law's workplace bought a copy of the book they remember loving most as a child. The whole collection was popped into a hamper with some pretty baby stuff and smellies for the mum. What a lovely idea...

16 October 2008

Cheltenham II

As Leonie said, a lovely Cheltenham weekend, with unaccustomed sunshine but everything else just as we'd left it after last year's festival (which doesn't feel a year away...). And yes, our event with Anne was really fun, a very frank discussion (I don't think Anne does any other kind, now that I think about it) ranging widely over books and reading and schools and bookshops and children and age ranging and libraries, to a lovely, engaged audience of parents, teachers and others...

As always, as Leonie suggested, there is for us a lovely social aspect to these festivals too - while the UBGs allow us to work with great people, it happens remotely and we very rarely actually get to meet them in person, so events like Cheltenham allow us to sit on a stage with some of our longest-serving contributors, to have coffee with Caroline in the Writers' Room, to have breakfast with Anne at the hotel, etc. Anne, incidentally, has been a great supporter of the UBGs since we first started talking about them all those years ago, and she's done us a new introduction for the revised edition of the 8-12 guide, which goes into production in eight days!

I also chaired a couple of other panels while I was there, which is always fun, and Jane always gives me some real treats. One event this year was on picture books, with three illustrators whose work I love - Emily Gravett (I've posted enthusiastically on her before), David Lucas (whose books include the delightful Halibut Jackson) and Polly Dunbar (creator of the enchanting Penguin); the second was on thrillers for teenagers, with Tim Bowler, Cathy MacPhail and Sophie McKenzie (UBG contributors all). I'd never read Sophie before this, but did read Girl, Missing in preparation for the event and it's excellent - gripping, sympathetic, moving, well plotted. Looking forward to reading her second (Blood Ties) before too long. Both have been recommended for the forthcoming revised edition of the U Teen B Guide, btw.

Currently reading and enjoying Tim's Frozen Fire, then moving on to a few other books for the new UTBG - Triskellion and Seventh Tide are next...


PS How exciting to hear that Neil Gaiman is coming to do some events in the UK! My friend Naomi Alderman (who is a huge fan of his) is interviewing him on stage on Sunday 26th in north London, and I've already booked my ticket. Saw him speak last year at Hay and he was very good, and anyway just to be in a room with the man who created Coraline... (Scary scary scary book...)

15 October 2008


What a week! Mad things at work (real work, in the actual library) and a mad weekend away at the Cheltenham Literary Festival for UBG work... I have to admit that Cheltenham was the best - the festival is always gorgeous (especially when the town is basking in unseasonally glorious sunshine - I didn't wear a coat all weekend), beautifully run (thank you Jane Churchill, wonderful organiser of the Book It! children's festival) and probably my favourite of the yearly book events. I even managed to sneak out to the racecourse theatre (yes, there is one) to see Russell T Davis and John Barrowman discussing Dr Who and Torchwood... laugh? I nearly fell off my seat!

Our event was on Monday, and somehow Jane had persuaded Anne Fine to share the stage with us. Yes, we felt totally not worthy, as Anne is not only one of the few truly great writers for children, but is one of the sharpest and most intelligent observers of the way reading is treated in this country. Luckily for us, she also happens to be a great person to share a stage with! We signed afterwards - and spent a while marvelling at the table that held Anne's back catalogue... can anyone else have written so much, so successfully and for so many ages?

It was all great fun, and afterwards Caroline Lawrence was in the green room too, so we spent a while catching up and being amazed that the Roman Mysteries series is almost reaching its end! What are kids going to do now? Let's hope Caroline's next series will be just as long and popular.

Once our event was over (and the adrenaline rush had faded) there was shopping to do and a train to catch. Danny and I shared an otherwise almost deserted carriage home, and read / dozed our way back to the real world.

01 October 2008

Sorry sorry sorry...

Two months without a post - shameful.

My excuse is that I've been away and busy, but it's not a great excuse, I realise...

(Susan has a much better excuse - since last posting she's had a baby - Emily - who arrived at the start of August! One more child to road-test books for the UBG, pleased to say...)

For me, August was spent in China, which included a few days at the International Translators' Federation congress in Shanghai - among other sessions I heard a few on children's books, including the Norwegian translator of Harry Potter, an academic from Turkey on Turkish versions of E. Nesbit (not something I ever in my life expected to know about), and a brilliant presentation by B.J.Epstein from the Univ of Swansea on translation of allusions in children's literature (with examples from Lemony Snicket). You can find out more about her and her work at her blog here.

Didn't read any Chinese children's books while in China, but there and since getting home have had a few great pleasures reading, among other things, Perrault's fairy tales (when did I last read those?) which are incredible - often very funny, and quite appalling sometimes and exciting and odd. What fun.

Also greatly enjoyed in the past weeks Ann Kelley's The Bower Bird, John van de Ruit's Spud, and currently onto Keith Gray's excellent Ostrich Boys. I like all Keith's books, but this is especially sensitive, funny, thoughtful - definitely worth a read. Next will be the latest books by Tim Bowler, Sophie McKenzie and Cathy MacPhail, for an event I have coming up (about which more below).

These three are all going into our new teen book guide, which we deliver to the publishers in a few months. Building on our 2006 UTBG, this has over a hundred new entries, and new contributors including Frances Hardinge, Joanne Harris, Grace Dent, Anthony McGowan, Tanya Landman, Patrick Ness, Jenny Downham, Chris Riddell, Jonathan Stroud, Jenny Valentine and many more. As ever, a great pleasure and privilege to be working with so many people whose own books we admire so much!

Some event dates for the diary, while I remember - Leonie and I have a morning at Worthing Library on November 28th, and an evening at the Lewes CBG on January 28th. But before that comes Cheltenham, of course (if it's October it must be...); I have two lovely events to chair:

--12th October, 2:30pm - Big Picture event: David Lucas, Polly Dunbar and Emily Gravett. Of these I've only met Emily a couple of times briefly (most recently at a great party at the Kensington Roof Gardens to launch Puffin Post), but looking forward to meeting them all properly there. If you read this blog regularly you'll have heard my enthusing about Emily's books in particular but they're all illustrators & writers I think are marvellous.

--12th October, 5:45pm - event for teenagers, with Tim Bowler, Catherine MacPhail and Sophie McKenzie (all, I'm pleased to say, UBG contributors!) talking about writing thrilling fiction for teens...

And then...

--13th October, 10:15am - Ultimate Book Guides event, with me and Leonie and Anne Fine, which will be loads of fun. Anne is one of the most stalwart of UBG supporters, and has just done a new introduction for the new edition of the 8-12 which is just about to go to press (hooray!).

That's it for now - won't leave it so long before the next post...