Mountains to Sea 2015

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I used to travel light when I went to festivals, but nowadays I have quite a lot to cram into my suitcase...



But not as much as that Sarah McIntyre crams into hers...




She even carries three changes of gloves/gauntlets!


We were off to Ireland, where we'd been invited to perform the Cakes in Space show at one of our favourite book festivals, Mountains to Sea in Dun Laoghaire. It was in full swing when we arrived last Thursday, with lots of great children's authors already doing their stuff. Here we are being Serious Writers with Shane Hegarty, Derek Landy and Holly Smale (Photo by David O'Callaghan from Irish booksellers Easons.)


It was also a chance to catch up with Mark Wright of Mossy Hare Productions and his partner Kathleen, who drove up from Wicklow to meet us on Thursday night. Mossy Hare were behind the Excalibur documentary which I did my best to help fund and publicise a few years back. It's finished now, but finishing a film is the easy bit - getting it shown/distributed is a whole other story. Mark's still in talks with TV companies about Behind the Sword in the Stone, and working on some new projects too.


Our first event was on Friday morning. It's always nice when we get to do our thing in a proper theatre, and Dun Laoghaire has a great one, the Pavilion. It has proper dressing rooms with lightbulbs round the mirrors and everything...


This next picture makes it look as if we didn't get much of an audience, but this was just the sound check. As you can see, I've gone prematurely blue.


Fifteen minutes later the place was full of local schoolchildren, and I think the show was one of our best.

Photo by Ger Holland

Sarah always shows the audience how to draw Pilbeam, the robot from our book, and I showed them how I'd draw a killer cake. Here's just one of the results. (If you want to try drawing Pilbeam, there are instructions here.)



Afterwards, we walked down the seafront to Sandycove, and the Martello tower in which James Joyce once lived. McIntyre stood on the top to give passing ships a view of her latest fascinator.



Then it was back to work. We were on a panel about writing for children with Young James Bond author Steve Cole and top Irish children's author Judi Curtin, with the Oxford Story Museum's Tom Donegan (left) to keep us in line.


Sarah was trying out her latest hat, which she'd made in her hotel room out of bits of another hat and a sprig of artificial flowers which she bought that afternoon at Meadows & Byrne on the seafront. We were a bit worried that it would blow away or get entangled in chandeliers...



...but all was well, and she looked splendid in her flowery antlers, like the Monarch of the Glen.



We saw Judi again on Saturday morning. She's a good friend of author Sarah Webb, who is also the organiser of the Mountains to Sea children's programme, and they did a great event together about their books and how they came to be writers.


Sarah Webb talked about how she had wanted to be a ballerina when she was a girl, but how she never got any very good roles. Here she is demonstrating the costume she had to wear when she played the part of a brush in Cinderella.


That afternoon we had another Cakes in Space show to perform, for the public rather than schools this time. Since Friday's show had gone so well were pretty relaxed about doing it again. In fact, we were TOO relaxed. As we waited in the wings for Sarah Webb to introduce us, I suddenly realised that I'd left the ALL IMPORTANT SPORK in the dressing room. The ALL IMPORTANT SPORK is the one prop we can't do without; it's introduced early in the proceedings, and then forms the pay-off to a sketch we do towards the end. So no sooner had we got on stage than I had to make my excuses and hurry off again, leaving my co-author to hold the fort. Still, at least I HAD a co-author to hold the fort - you can't do that when you're doing a solo event.


And it turned out that we had a Very Special Guest in the audience - Cakes in Space fan Oscar had come dressed as his favourite character, the Nameless Horror, a scary-looking space blob which turns out to be (SPOILERS!) quite sweet really. Here's Oscar showing off his tentacles, while his mum shows off his Pilbeam drawing.



The rest of the show went well, and afterwards we signed a load of books. Book sales at the festival were handled by Bob and Marta from the brilliant Gutter Bookshop in Dublin and Dalkey, which is one of the finalists for the Bookseller Industry Awards Independent Bookseller of the Year. Here's owner Bob Johnston, in tweedy mood.



Other authors were still arriving. David Almond was there, with his editor Anne McNeil, his agent Catherine Clarke and his very fine hat. (David's most recent book, A Song For Ella Grey, was one of the titles I had to read for the YA Book Prize, and it's superb; I'll try to post a brief review later this week.)


Frank Cottrell-Boyce arrived to talk about his new book Broccoli Boy, and Francesca Simon and Stephen Butler were also there; we didn't get a picture of them at dinner on Saturday night, but here they are on Sunday, doing a rowdy event where Francesca's Horrid Henry and Stephen's Dennis the Menace go head-to-head. Which of the schoolboy sociopaths would the audience declare the winner? (It was kind of a tie in the end!)


Just along the seafront from the Pavilion Theatre is Dun Laoghaire's brand new library, the dlrLexicon, an impressive modern structure which slots in among the older buildings like a book on as shelf. (It also has a lovely water-garden and EXCELLENT CAKE.)


That's where we ended up on Sunday morning, for an event about Sarah's picture book There's a Shark in the Bath. I didn't have anything to do with writing that one, but I did write the lyrics for the Shark in the Bath song (music by John Dougherty) because all books must have theme tunes, oh yes. So I helped out with a bit of reading and some interpretative dance, and enjoyed watching McIntyre keep a room full of three, four and five year olds completely enthralled for a whole hour. They drew some great sharks, too! (You can learn how to draw your own shark here.)



Also in the audience were writer Oisin McGann, his wife Maeve, and his Thoughtful Gorilla T-shirt. (Their children were there too, but I don't think we have a picture of them.)


Afterwards, we nipped downstairs and were able to catch the end of a talk by Chris Judge, creator of the Lonely Beast and illustrator of the very funny Danger is Everywhere.

Photo by Elaina Ryan (I think).
I don't know how Ireland got it's reputation as a place where it always rains - I've been to Mountains to Sea twice now, and each time Dun Laoghaire looked like the French Riviera. We walked in baking sunshine along the pier, making long detours around the queues which snaked from the ice cream vans. (McIntyre managed to avoid falling off the sea wall and becoming a danger to shipping.)



Sarah had to head back to London that afternoon; my flight to Exeter wasn't till next morning, so I was able to enjoy another evening of M2C hospitality, and sit in on one of the adult book talks - a very funny and illuminating interview with drag queen & gay rights activist Rory O'Neill, which was the closing event of this year's festival. I'd had a wonderful few days in Dun Laoghaire, and I hope I'll be back with McIntyre in future years. Huge thanks to the organisers, the volunteers, and the unflappable technical crew at the Pavilion Theatre.



If you're in Ireland, Sarah McIntyre will be doing her Shark In The Bath show at the Towers and Tales Story Festival at Lismore Castle on 18th April.

Leicester Author Week

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My friend and co-author Sarah McIntyre is an old hand at Leicester Author Week. In fact, round Leicester way, they know for sure that Author Week is upon them again only when they see her latest hat disembarking from the train. But I’ve never been before, so I was very pleased to have a chance to go along and see what was happening, and why McIntyre always vanishes Leicesterwards in the second week of March.



The Author Week is a five day festival of Children’s reading organised as part of the city's Whatever It Takes initiative. All week, parties of children from local schools are delivered by the coachload to Leicester Tigers rugby club, where visiting authors talk about their work and run workshops. I arrived a day early, on Monday morning, so I got to see Sarah wowing some little ones with Jampires, the book she created with David O’Connell. She even had an actual Jampire with her!



Having told them the tale of these stripey-jumpered creatures, who arrive by night to suck all the jam from the doughnuts of the unwary, she led a workshop where the kids got to draw their own food-stealing creations - Lasagnepires, Pizzapires and IceCreampires among others. 



They had a great time, and went off promising to turn their ideas into comics.  I went off too, promising to find myself a nice cup of coffee and buy McIntyre some dry shampoo (without which our Reeve & McIntyre stage shows would be lank and uninteresting). When I got back to the Rugby Club she was in the middle of another show and another workshop, telling more kids about the jampires. You can see more of their drawings on Sarah's own blog - this is one of hers...




After which, we signed four hundred copies of Cakes in Space, ready for our shows the next day. One of the great things about Author Week is that the organisers buy a book for each child who attends. Sarah had already signed and doodled in four hundred copies of Jampires, which her audiences on the first day got to take home with them. It’s nice to do an event knowing that all the kids who are watching you will be reading the book. (Or maybe they’ll just use it to prop up wobbly tables, or throw at their sisters - but that’s up to them. At least they’ll have the opportunity to read it.) 

Naturally, after all that signing, we were in need of Sustenance, and hightailed it to Paddy's Marten Inn, which sounds as if it ought to be an Irish pub, but is actually one of Leicester’s many fine Indian's restaurants. We were joined by some local friends of Sarah’s - Jay Eales, Selina Lock, Steve Barlow, and Steve Skidmore and his wife Ali. I’ve been hearing about The Two Steves for years; they’re legendary on the circuit for their brilliant school and festival shows, so it was excellent to finally meet them. They’re the ones in the viking helmets in the photo below, and on the right is Tarzan author Andy Briggs. (Don’t worry, we weren’t dressed like this at the restaurant, this picture was taken the next day.)




One of our favourite things about doing festivals is getting to meet up with other authors. This year we also bumped into top YA author Bali Rai, local story-teller Jyoti Shanghavi, and Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face writer John Dougherty (here he is, just back from the Dubai Festival, signing his own pile o' books). 




Tuesday found us clad in teflon and back at the Rugby Club, where we did our Cakes in Space event, followed by a workshop (in which I left most of the actual work to Sarah and the children). Since Cakes in Space is about a food-making machine which goes wrong and produces MUTANT CAKES, we asked them to imagine other sorts of mutant food, and to start creating a comic about it. These are some drawings I did to give them the general idea:



                         

...and here's one of the children's pictures.



After that, there was a bit of a wait for the coaches to arrive, so we entertained them with more drawing - I got to doodle a Jampire...




Then we fetched our ukeleles and led rousing singalongs of the Jampires Song and the Sea Monkeys Song. We’d probably have gone on to do Help, Help, There’s a Shark in the Bath and even the as-yet-untested Theme from Dinosaur Police, but the coaches had arrived by then (at least, they said that’s why they were all hurrying for the exits).

And then we had to do it all again! But that was OK, because the children were great, and so were the Leicester Author Week helpers and organisers - many thanks to Juliet Martin, Dan Routledge, Sandy Gibbons, Nicole Dishington, Kate Drurey, and the rest of the team!




We were pretty tired when we got back to London, and had to stop at the St Pancras hotel, where we continued our ongoing quest to find The Most Expensive G&T in London. It was even more expensive than our previous Most Expensive G&T at Waterstones Wine Bar, but the ceiling was LOVELY. 




Not as lovely, however, as the time we’d had in Leicester. Thank you so much for inviting us, Leicester Author Week! 








A Black Tentacle for McIntyre!

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The Kitschies awards are a prize for 'progressive, intelligent and entertaining literature with a speculative element', and last night they awarded their Red Tentacle for Best Novel of 2014 to Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, while the Golden Tentacle for Best Debut went to Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre. But they also dish out an annual Black Tentacle for special achievements, and this year they have wisely awarded it to international celebrity hatstand Sarah McIntyre for 'her outstanding support of genre literature and her fellow artists ... McIntyre has worked to elevate the conversation around genre literature; she also recently started the #NonIdentikit challenge, in which she encourages other illustrators to present more diverse faces in their work.' 

She's also been working hard recently to help ensure that illustrators (and designers, and translators) get the credit they're due.




There's a notable unfairness in the way that illustrated books are listed on Amazon, in newspapers, and on awards shortlists: they are always credited to the writer, but seldom to the illustrator. This led to a ridiculous situation last year when Oliver and the Seawigs was longlisted for an award and, despite the fact that we created it together and both our names on the cover, it was referred to in their listings as 'by Philip Reeve'. 

Sarah was able to persuade them to look again at their policy, but it's a problem that keeps cropping up with other books and other illustrators.  It's not just about hurt pride; it's bad for business if illustrators names are left off listings, and it costs them book sales if people can't use an illustrator's name to search for their other books on sites like Amazon and Waterstones.  But where I would just grumble and shrug, McIntyre has leapt into action, drawing attention to the problem and sniffing out the underlying reason why it keeps on happening (because of metadata, apparently).

So I'm very proud of my co-author, and very pleased that our Dartmoor Pegasus has become the fat, flying poster-pony for #PicturesMeanBusiness.

                                                                                                           Picture by Sarah McIntyre



Mal Peet

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Photo:Tim Cuff/PA

I was very sad to learn yesterday of the death of Mal Peet. People in the publishing world always seem to refer to each other as lovely, kind, beautiful human beings - at least in public. In Mal's case it really was true; I've never heard a bad word said about him. I didn't know him very well, but he lived here in Devon, so I bumped into him a few times on trains to London or planes to the Edinburgh Book Festival. He was always wonderfully friendly, and great company.

He was so well-known and so highly regarded in the book world that I always assumed he was one of those elder statesmen who had been writing for decades, but in fact he only published his first novel in 2003 (although he had been working on educational titles with his wife, Elspeth Graham, for some years before that). He produced more fine books in the last twelve years than most of us will manage in a lifetime: Keeper, Tamar, The Penalty, Life: An Exploded Diagram... I saw several people online yesterday refer to him as one of our best YA authors, and that's certainly true, but Mal defied genres and categories, so it's probably fairer just to say that he was one of our best authors.