I have become aware that some of my characters have been appearing in public without telling me. Fortunately a kind gentleman named Michael Dickinson managed to take photos of them while they were frolicking at large in Cardiff Central Library. (‘At large’ may not be the right term. ‘At small’ is perhaps more accurate.)
As you can see from the picture below, the runaway characters are preparing to make their getaway in a floating coffeehouse. Note the big, white kite used to pull the coffeehouse along the blue paper water.
Here are Hathin and Arilou from Gullstruck Island/The Lost Conspiracy, dangling their legs into the water.
Here is Neverfell from A Face Like Glass, attending to a formidably sized cheese. It may even be a Stackfalter Sturton…
…which means it should probably be kept safe from this gentleman.
Come to think of it, the little figure that is just visible through the lefthand window also looks somewhat suspicious. And… um… rather familar.
Here is a closeup of the tiny, belligerent paper Saracen…
…and another view of the coffeehouse, where other disreputable individuals can be glimpsed through the windows. The man dressed in a blue coat and seen from behind is Hopewood Pertellis, and the black-clad figure is Aramai Goshawk.
Many thanks to Michael Dickinson for creating this wonderful display, and for sending me these photos!
On the 6th December, King’s College School in Wimbledon witness a clash of titans – the National Final of the Kids’ Literary Quiz. The Kids’ Lit Quiz is an international literature competition for children aged 10-13, and each year the team that wins the National Final has the chance to compete in the International Final.
This was a second time I had attended the National Final, and once again it was a lot of fun. Every team is given an author as a sort of mascot. It’s very relaxing for the author, because the team does all the hard work, whereas the author basically sits on the sidelines making supportive ‘woo!’ noises and occasionally eating cake.
I was lucky enough to be handed to the team from Finham Park School, who were fun and interesting, and had a tiny cow as a mascot. As it turned out they were also brilliant, and carried off the second prize after a nailbitingly close battle.
Many congratulations to all the teams who competed, and to City of London School for Girls who will be going on to the International Final!
Last weekend, the appropriately named Future Inn opened its doors to the 25th ArmadaCon. This is Plymouth’s annual science fiction/fantasy/cult TV/anime convention. As I discovered, it’s also a den of colossal good humour, terrible jokes and swashbuckling geekery. And the attendees have all the best toys.
Aside from giving a couple of guest panels, I helped judge the ‘Masquerade’, where contestants were assessed on their costume, performance and flair. The overall winners were a duo who performed the whole of What’s Opera, Doc.
However there were many fine costumes that weren’t even entered into the Masquerade.
On Saturday morning I discovered that I had a stunt double.
On Sunday the lovely Anna came back with a costume based on my fifth book, A Face Like Glass. She even let me keep the goose and apron!
My fellow guest author David Wake spent the Sunday dressing as every Doctor Who ever invented, one at a time, including little known variants that had never reached TV.
Other high points over the weekend:
- The Turkey Readings. Dreadful books are read out, whilst the audience bids loose change to get the reader to stop, or continue in funny voices. Dire crimes against fiction are greatly improved when read in the voices of Winston Churchill, Jessica Rabbit, Gollum, Dr Evil or Dr Watt from Carry on Screaming.
- A stop-motion ‘silent film’ episode of Doctor Who, starring all the Doctors and featuring an entirely knitted cast. (Woollen daleks are unfeasibly cute.)
- The auction, where strange and wondrous things were sold to raise over £1300 for the RNIB’s Talking Books.
- Champagne and chocolate Tardises.
- Readings. Selkie tales, steampunk narrow escapes, and group readings/performances of scenes from The Derring Do Club and the Empire of the Dead and David Wake’s other works. (The latter included the confrontation of an evil Father Christmas, the perils of a particularly smart phone and an amusing case of steampunk hankypanky.)
- Tea duels
As a wonderful finale, on Sunday afternoon Mitch Benn arrived. He treated us to some of his clever, very funny and diabolically catchy songs, and was in some danger of being forced at sonic-screwdriver-point to sing all night. (I was privately delighted that he included my favourite, the “Bouncy Druid” song, but the miniature rock opera based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar is also required listening.)
Many thanks to everyone I met at ArmadaCon for a fantastic weekend!
Shortly after the St Jude storm had batted the British Isles around like a bored cat with a paper boat, I travelled down to Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention. Nobody had told the local winds that the storm was over, so whenever I ventured out I kept both hands clamped protectively over my hat.
Once again I had the joy of meeting a lot of people I only knew through Twitter, email and the mailing list of the Scattered Authors’ Society. (I grew quite accustomed to the words ‘I recognised you from your hat!’)
I was also introduced to Shadwell, one of the small felt pigeons acting as ‘ambassadors’ for Loncon 3 next year.
The first evening of the convention was Halloween, so there were many splendid costumes on display.
There were also magnificent displays of steampunk regalia, and three gentlemen with four-foot-wide hats made out of modelling balloons and flashing lights.
The Next Generation” Not in Front of the Children: How Far Should You Go in Young Adult Fiction? (Oxford)
Our chair, Sarah Rees Brennan, gave a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek performance as the Voice of Moral Outrage, declared us all ‘sinners’ and corrupting influences from the very start, and introduced us by ominous nicknames. I’m very happy with my new title, “The Grande Dame of Darkness”…
I have long held the view that young readers are tougher and smarter than many adults realise, and are generally the best judges of whether they are ready to read certain kinds of material. It became clear that most of the panel was broadly in agreement, but it was still a fun and interesting discussion. Chris Priestley gave an eloquent defence of books that purely entertain, rather than making heavy-handed attempts to educate or ‘improve’. Holly Black discussed the perpetual nervousness with which the adult world regards teenagers. Garth Nix stated that YA should not be considered subset of children’s fiction, but of adult fiction (hence the name). By age sixteen Chris Wooding had been not only reading horror novels but writing them.
On Sunday I took part in a joint reading with other children’s/YA authors from the Scattered Authors’ Society – a ‘taster menu’ of extracts offering a mix of comic, haunting, exciting and chilling. My fellow readers were Emma Barnes, Cecilia Busby, Teresa Flavin, Amy Butler Greenfield, Katherine Langrish, Katherine Roberts, Linda Strachan and Lucy Coats.
Over the weekend I had the chance to listen to a number of fascinating panels, covering subjects such as world-building, YA as a genre, historical fantasy and the influence of real landscapes and places upon fantasy writing.
In the upstairs art gallery, like everyone else I was hypnotised by Tessa Farmer‘s otherworldly aerial battle made almost entirely out of dead things, suspended from the ceiling by threads. Sheep skulls were dreadnaughts, and tiny ant-like fairies rode dead bees, beetles and sea-horses into combat. I also took a shine to Autun Purser’s Fantastic Travel Destinations, advertising trips to the likes of Yuggoth, Midwich and the end of the Earth with cheery 1940s style posters.
Now I have convention withdrawal symptoms… and I have to find somewhere to store all my loot.
Usually on a Halloween evening I would be lurking in full costume, waiting to dole out sweets to trick-or-treaters. (I usually end up eating quite a lot of them myself. The sweets, not the trick-or-treaters.) This year, however, I am instead heading to Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention!
On the Friday, from 4pm until 5pm, I will be appearing on a panel with a stellar collection of YA authors – Garth Nix, Sarah Reese Brenna, Chris Priestley, Holly Black and Chris Wooding. The title is “Not in Front of the Children: How far should you go in YA Fiction?” and the panel will be discussing how far sex, drugs, violence, etc. have a place in Young Adult fiction.
On the Sunday between 11am and 12am I will be joining a group of seven other writers of children’s fantasy: Emma Barnes, C J Busby, Teresa Flavin, Amy Greenfield, Katherine Langrish, Katherine Roberts and Linda Strachan. We will each be giving a short five minute reading from one of our books.
Meanwhile, my good friend Rhiannon Lassiter is holding her own online Halloween party. It’s a blog party celebrating the release of Little Witches Bewitched, a collection of short stories about two young people who remain admirably good-natured and level-headed when somebody transforms them into witches in a fit of pique. (Just for Halloween, you can buy the book at a reduced price.)
Have a wonderful Halloween, everybody, and hope to see some of you at the World Fantasy Convention!
There is something eerie about the onset of winter that cannot be fully explained even by the longer nights, the stark trees or the chill. Winter is more than just an absence of light, life and heat. It has its own presence and mystery. Humanity withdraws to its little pools of warmth and illumination, and dark, ancient forces walk abroad…
Today sees the publication of Twisted Winter, a collection of creepy winter stories edited by Catherine Butler. One of the seven tales is mine, and I am lucky enough to share the anthology with six very talented authors – Katherine Langrish (the Trollfell trilogy), Catherine Butler (Teaching Children’s Fiction), Frances Thomas (I Found Your Diary and The Blindfold Track), my writing buddy Rhiannon Lassiter (Ghost of a Chance and Bad Blood), Liz Williams (the Inspector Chen series) and the legendary Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising series).
Before you ask, no, this isn’t a tinselly gaggle of twee Christmas ghost stories. Every story handles wintry menace in a different way.
A teenage boy creeps out at night, for no ordinary delinquency. On the darkening marshes, a bully goes too far. A young girl makes an eerie journey of the spirit and imagination in her quest to understand her dead father. Complacent and greedy adults hold a Halloween party, and are visited by ancient forces. The discoloured light from street lamps bathes a graveyard encounter. A teenage girl reaches a fateful agreement with a snow-pure visitor. Persephone slips away from her summer abode, back to the lands of the dead.
On a personal note, Susan Cooper is a writer I have admired since I was nine years old. When my father captivated us by reading aloud the entirety of the Dark is Rising series, I never imagined that one day I would find myself writing for the same anthology as the author.
My current feelings are best summarised as follows:
I love Edinburgh. Whoever designed it apparently decided that you would be able to to see all the dramatic buildings much better if you crumpled the landscape like this.
It’s a beautifully precipitous city, with lots of drops, leaps and skylines standing on tiptoe.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival celebrated its 30th year by featuring unprecedented amounts of me. (Translation: it was the first time I’d been invited.)
As authors we got our own private yurt. (I don’t have pictures of it, since nobody was allowed to take photos inside. As shy, retiring little animals, we had to be allowed a shady, comfortable retreat where we could graze in peace without being startled by photography.)
On Saturday 17th I was lucky enough to appear on panel with the brilliant China Miéville (author of Railsea, Un Lun Dun and The City and the City). The event was expertly chaired by Charlie Fletcher (author of the Stoneheart trilogy). We discussed the joys of the subterreanean, ampersands, divination through theft, railway tracks as symbols of infinite possibility, YA fantasy as rebellion against over-protection, skewing a reader’s sense of the normal and the role of romance in fantasy.
Later that afternoon, I took part in the Imprisoned Writers Series, organised by Amnesty International and Scottish Pen. This daily event gives attending authors the chance to show solidarity with persecuted, imprisoned or censored writers around the world, by reading out their work or a piece about their lives.
The evening was spent at the Macmillan Children’s Books Edinburgh Festival Summer Party. Fireworks from the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo were just visible through the window, and I lost track of time while comparing volcano reminiscences with Rebecca Cobb.
Over the weekend, I even had time to see a Fringe comedy show with the lovely people from Macmillan, and catch some of the street performers…
A wonderful weekend, though I’m still sorry that I missed these beautiful and mysterious book-birds.
On Tuesday 13th August I turned up at Cirencester Library to take part in the brand new Cirencester Children’s Literary Festival. The audience were very tolerant of my charming new huskiness, and my not so charming new cough.
I also may have spent some time cackling insanely, to judge by this photo.
Books for the signing were ably supplied by staff from Octavia’s Bookshop, which is working alongside Cirencester Library to organise the festival. (Octavia’s Bookshop is The Bookseller Best Independent Children’s Bookseller 2013.)
Amongst the interesting questions at the event:
Q: Do you control your characters, or do they take control sometimes?
A: We’re in… negotiation?
Q: When you write, do you visualise each scene as part of a film?
A: Not exactly, no. A lot happens inside my main characters’ heads, and it’s hard to translate that to film. But some of the tricks I use are inspired by films I love, such as Hitchcock thrillers and film noir.
The Cirencester Children’s Literary Festival will be continuing for the rest of the week. All proceeds go to the Bingham Library Trust, to support its work in the community.
Imagine this. You’re at a play. You don’t have to worry about getting a seat with a good view. There are no seats. There is no view. There’s a stage of sorts. You’re standing in the middle of it.
The play starts with a death. Yours.
“Now That You’ve Died” is an ingenious and powerful walk-through story-telling, written by Carnegie winner Patrick Ness, directed by Hector Harkness and Kate Hargreaves and narrated by Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, Song for Marion).
Our tiny audience group numbered eight in total. We were first led through a desolate-looking basement, were the disembodied voice of Mr Eccleston told us (without ceremony but with a degree of wry humour) that we were all dead. We were welcome in the afterlife, but we would have to move on quickly. Thousands more new and hungry dead would soon be piling in after us, and we were not safe from them. Like well-behaved recently-deceased, we stepped into the waiting lift, which quickly succumbed to utter darkness…
…and remained dark until the end of the play.
This was a play for every sense except sight. We were intensely focussed on the subtle and unpredictable motions of our ‘lift’, faint whiffs of smoke, the taste of our rations and of course the voice of Eccleston, talking us through our afterlife journey with a beautifully judged mixture of sympathy, cynicism, black humour and menace. We imagined things too, as our minds tried to fill the void, seeing non-existent shapes in the darkness and feeling the warmth from unreal flames.
Darkness isn’t just an inconvenience. It afflicts your mind, making you feel powerless. The narrator and his comrades were invisible to us, the only glimpses of them offered through spoken descriptions, in a chilling accumulation of detail. But the narrator made it very plain that they could see us. They could see not only what we were doing, but everything we’d ever done, felt or thought.
Darkness isolates. There were no ghost train shrieks or giggles as our strange vessel ground, glided and shook along its mysterious route. None of us could exchange glances or smirks to forge a sense of wry camraderie. We were all trapped in our own heads, forced into introspection.
When you’re stranded with only a voice for company, you can’t help giving it your full attention, and letting its words play out across the stage of your mind. How far will you let that all-powerful voice lead you, as it tells you to cast aside everything that belongs to your old life – memory, regret, guilt and love? And at what point, in the quiet of your own head, do you start to rebel?
Despite the ominous theme, the final effect of the play was actually very uplifting. It was a story about resilience in darkness, about what is kept when all is lost, about what is important and what is not.
After a temporary darkness had affected me so powerfully, it was humbling to be reminded that a very large number of people handle loss of vision on a daily basis. In fact, this was the point of the event. The performance had been arranged by the RNIB to raise awareness of Read for RNIB Day on 11th October.
For the curious, here’s a behind the scenes video about “Now That You’ve Died”, including an interview with Christopher Eccleston.
On 5th July I headed to Liverpool for the UKLA Book Award Ceremony, since A Face Like Glass was one of the shortlisted books for the 7-11 category.
I didn’t win the award, but all the authors on the shortlists were presented with certificates and had a fuss made of us. The prize for my category went to the excellent The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan. (The Weight of Water is a verse novel, which makes it particularly unusual. It’s good to see the prize going to such an adventurous and interesting book!)
After a lovely dinner spent gossipping with some of the judges (who were all exceptionally good fun) I headed to the bar for the poetry readings. There were some excellent offerings from the talented Claire Kirwan of the Dead Good Poets Society (great name), but lots of other people also stepped up to read poems, including a show-stopping demonstration of ‘baby rap’ by Rebecca Patterson.
I can neither confirm nor deny rumours of a late night slumber party involving giggling and false moustaches.