Edinburgh Book Fest, Part 2

So, after my event with Holly Smale was over (and before I did a reading on behalf of Amnesty International, which was an amazing, moving event – if you ever get the chance, I urge you to go to one), it was exploring time.

Which, being me, involved a quick trip down George Street to the Edinburgh Harvey Nicks, where my son – it was him, not me, promise! – discovered … the Chocolate Lounge. They have a Chocolate Lounge at Harvey Nicks. For drinking chocolate. And eating it. How you are the supposed to get into the clothes they sell downstairs I have no idea, but frankly my dear, we didn’t give a damn.

It looked like this:

Edinburgh 2014 - 06Edinburgh 2014 - 07

 

With a conveyor belt, like a Yo Sushi! crossed with The Generation Game, but for champagne bottles and chocolate glitter teddybears. We shared this chocolate fondue:

Edinburgh 2014 - 08

 

Yes, it was as good as it looks. Sorry.

But we didn’t just do chocolate. We also did comedy. The best of it was free. Standing in the Royal Mile, we encountered this amazing ladder climbing, kilt-wearing, knife juggling (he juggled knives up there – big ones), stripping (yup) comedian, who attracted a crowd so huge we kept blocking the road. He was fantastic.

 

 

 

Edinburgh 2014 - 09Edinburgh 2014 - 10We went to the Pleasance Courtyard, the home of Fringe comedy, to see two comedians in a basement (quite funny) and a visiting American comedian, Alex Edelman, in an attic (pretty funny). Alex later won the prize for best newcomer, and can say that We Were There.

Edinburgh 2014 - 11Then we were lucky enough to stay the night with a couple of author friends, surrounded by books and cats. The perfect way to round off two days in the city.

Edinburgh, you’re brilliant. We’ll be back.

Edinburgh Book Fest, part 1

Last week was one of those ‘best job in the world’ weeks. I was invited up to the Edinburgh Book Festival, to talk about writing for teens. Every year, Charlotte Square is transformed into a tented village devoted to books, readers, coffee and cake. So basically heaven. Even if it is a little bit rainy, sometimes.

Edinburgh 2014 - 01I took my elder son with me, as I occasionally do, because he’s an avid reader and loves getting the chance to meet and talk to some of his favourite authors. (He is, however, not a fan of selfies.)

Edinburgh 2014 - 02

I didn’t have to worry about what to say, because my talk was chaired by Eve Harvey, a super-friendly writer and ex-bookseller and the only person I know who exclusively wears Doc Martens with ribbons for laces. She totally won the prize for The Coolest Footwear at the Festival. Her job was to chat with me and  the very lovely Holly Smale, who wrote … oh, you know what she wrote.

GeekGirlGeek Girl  was the best selling YA book of last year, and probably the funniest. In my humble opinion book 2, Model Misfit (set largely in Japan and featuring an irrascible cat called Kylie Minogue), is even better. If you haven’t read it, READ IT NOW. Book 3, Picture Perfect, is set in New York and I’m half way through it. That’s fab too. How does Holly do it? That woman is a WRITING MACHINE. She was also a great person to do an event with. We did a reading each and answered questions solidly for about 40 minutes.

Our biggest revelation? Probably that what you see on the page is not what we wrote the first time. Oh no. That is draft a hundred and fifty squillionth. Our first draft was rubbish. Always is. We worked on it to get it better. If you’re a writer, so can you. Don’t worry if you don’t love what you’re doing right now. Keep at it and, with practice and patience, you might write the YA smash-hit bestseller of the year. You never know.

We spent our time getting ready and chatting afterwards in the authors’ yurt. Just how gorgeous is this? (It is an actual, real yurt, not a tent, and is filled with coffee, cake, wine, helpful volunteers and famous authors. If I could live there, I probably would.)

Edinburgh 2014 - 03This picture is a bit wonky because I took it surreptitiously. The yurt is a place for looking like you hang out with Julia Donaldson and Meg Rosoff ALL THE TIME, and not wildly fangirling with your phone out. (However …)

Edinburgh 2014 - 05The Festival also has its own bookshop. This is where I’m quite pleased that I married a man whose surname is alphabetically close to Malorie Blackman’s. Shelf-wise, Malorie and I hang out quite a bit, and that’s fine by me.

Sadly, I didn’t see the real Malorie in the yurt, because she came a day later, but the Edinburgh Book Fest is the kind of place where you might find that the person pouring your coffee is the Children’s Laureate. See what I mean? Best job in the world.

But that’s not all we did in Edinburgh this year. Oh no. Coming up shortly … Edinburgh Part 2, featuring chocolate (lots of it), fairy lights, comedy, a rainbow unicorn and a semi-naked man up a ladder, juggling knives. I am only making one of those things up.

Come back soon and I’ll tell you all about it.

 

Top 10 books set in the Mediterranean

Today I’ve been lucky enough to write about one of my top 10s for The Guardian. And in honour of The Castle, this is a list of my favourite books for children and teens set against the dramatic backdrop of the Med. Lots of death and danger, and more than a little baking hot sunshine. Check it out here

Mediterranean beach

One of the Ionian Islands, home to Greek legend Odysseus, who plays an important role in Homer’s Iliad. Photograph: Alamy

 

How to Be a Writer

As you probably know, I write a regular blog post for Girls Heart Books, which is a great site run by writers of fiction for girls (or mostly girls), about us, and our books, and being a writer. If you haven’t already, check it out!

GirlsHeartBooksMy last post was advice I’d given to a 16 year-old girl called Nicole, who wrote to me asking if I could give her any help finding work experience in the field of writing.

She ended her email like this: ‘Therefore, essentially what I’m asking is, do you have any/know of any work experience opportunities for a hard working, creative and versatile 16 year old?’

It was a good question, from an articulate girl who was clearly passionate about what she wanted to do.

I remember feeling exactly how she felt when I was 16, so for Nicole, and for the 16 year-old me, and for all other teens who might be wondering what they should do to make their writing dreams real … here’s what I said last week on Girls Heart Books.

“Hi Nicole

Thanks so much for your message. I can understand your frustration and I sympathise!

While I know many writers who would just love someone to help them at home, it would end up being with all the things they have to do that aren’t writing, such as finding travel receipts, and filing, and other very boring jobs. Shadowing is also a tricky one, as all the interesting stuff is going on in an author’s head. Watching her make lots of cups of tea, procrastinate, spend too much time on the web, pick up her children from school and then madly tap away on her laptop while they’re having tea would probably not teach you much about the craft you love, sadly.

I think if you got the chance to work in a publishing company one day, that would teach you a lot about the commercial decisions that have to be made for a book to be successful. So take a job like that if you can. But as you say, they probably only take people over 18. My best suggestion would be to see if you can get a weekend job – paid or otherwise – in a bookshop. Especially an independent one. Then you’ll get your hands on lots of books and see what people are reading, what they love, what they ask for, and what booksellers like to recommend. All the booksellers I know are fonts of knowledge.

But meanwhile, the best, most obvious and most important thing you can do is ….

Just write. Every day. Read a lot and practise different styles. Finish your stories. Hone your craft. Imagining ‘what it’s like to be a writer’ (which I cheerfully admit I did all the time in my teens and twenties) is actually just an act of procrastination. When it comes to it, you just work that bit out as you go along. The important part is the writing itself, and you only learn that by doing it and doing it and doing it.

If you need to get out of the house, and you can’t do the bookshop thing, then get whatever summer jobs/helping people out jobs you can. They’ll all feed your writing. Help out at an old people’s home. Visit old ladies. Work in a kids’ camp. Meet people and see how they interact with other people. Notice what makes them tick. That’s what will make your writing rich and varied later on. Much more so than doing any writer’s filing ever could.

Good luck!

So that’s what I told Nicole. I would also add ‘Write for anyone who lets you. At this stage, don’t ask to be paid. Just do it for the experience. Create your own magazine if you have to. And keep a copy of everything you do.’

If you’re wondering what you can do on the road to becoming a writer, I hope it helps just a little bit. And if you’re a writer yourself, what advice would YOU give to someone like Nicole?”

The YALC Fringe

It was an idea that had been circulating for a while. Celebrate all those teens who read. Bring together the great community of writers who create the success story that is UKYA. Let fans meet authors, and authors meet fans. But organising a big event was complicated. Nothing happened. And then Malorie Blackman, the Children’s Laureate, stepped in.

What happened next was … YALC. The Young Adult Literary Convention, attached to the London Film and Comic Con at Earl’s Court last weekend. It started on one of the hottest days of the year, (with thousands of hot bodies and no aircon – I really wouldn’t have wanted to be a Chewbacca in the Earls Court halls that day), and it proved just how popular YA fiction is, and how passionate its fans are. If you want to know what it was like, the internet’s alive with posts about how amazing it was. Check them out.

Sadly, not all of us writers got to go. For those who couldn’t, and for the bloggers and booktubers who wanted to meet them, I organised the Fringe – where we were booked for 2 hours, stayed for 4 and had a brilliant time finally putting faces to the names we know so well on the internet. We also raised nearly £200 with a raffle for the Siobhan Dowd Trust, which had paid for some of the schools to come to London for the convention.

Jo Cotterill took some great photos. Here are a few of them …

Fringe books - Jo

The raffle prizes …

photo 1-2

Fringe authors 2 - Jo Cotterill

The authors – by Jo

Fringe authors - Jo Cotterill

The authors – by Liz Kessler, featuring Jo. (Ooh, I’m sounding like a rap album.)

Fringe bloggers - Jo Cotterill

The amazing bloggers and booktubers, who talk about what we do and make our lives worthwhile

Keren and Jim - Jo

Jim Dean and Keren David

Keris and Keren - Jo

Keren and Keris Stainton and … (? can’t tell from this angle. Tell me who!)

Lee, Hilary, me - Jo

Me, in the middle, with Lee Weatherley and Hilary Freeman

Liz - Jo

Liz Kessler

Lucy - Jo

Keren, Lucy Coates, and Beth Howard

 

BBAs, Eggs, Boats and Quizzes

It’s been a busy few days. I’m surprised how much writing, in the middle of it all, has been done. Not a vast amount, admittedly. But some.

Perhaps it helps that this has been my view since yesterday morning:

CornwallWindowI’m staying with friends in Cornwall, because I was a guest at the Kids’ Lit Quiz World Final, which took place in Falmouth this afternoon. It was FABULOUS, as it always is, with quizmaster Wayne Mills, from New Zealand, setting and asking all the questions, and teams from Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the USA and the UK all competing for the KLQ cup. And I’m pleased to say that, after a thrilling contest, the UK team – from City of London School for Girls – won! There was much celebration, as you can imagine, by the home crowd.

CLSGIt’s a brilliant event and any school can enter a team of Year 7s and 8s into regional heats, to compete for the national finals. If you’re at a school with keen readers, I recommend you do. Wayne asks challenging and imaginative questions about a vast range of books, from the classics to Veronica Roth. Next year’s world final will be in the USA. Just saying …

On the way, I popped in to a boat party being held in Bath by my old editor, Imogen Cooper (as in, she used to be my editor – she’s not remotely old), to mark the first birthday of her new and amazing Golden Egg Academy. Here’s Barry Cunningham from Chicken House, entertaining writers on the Penny Lane:

PennyLaneThe Golden Egg Academy was just a plan on Imogen’s kitchen table this time last year, and now it has 200 members – all aspiring children’s writers, who get access to top-level editorial input, workshops, writing tools and more, to help them find the heart of their story and get their precious manuscripts ready to submit to agents and publishers.

What was extra lovely was that the party was organised by some of the members themselves. As Ben Illis, a visiting agent, put it in his entertaining Q&A (yes, the boat party had an ask-the-agent Q&A – it was great), one of the most valuable things members would get from the GEA was support from each other, which would last throughout their writing lives. Go find them on Twitter. They’re always at it – asking questions and talking about books. When they’re not eating cake on a boat, that is …

Tea The week before, it was all about the Best Book Awards, run by the Booktrust.

BBACartoonsI’ve written about those on my website, so you’ll find more details there. To cut a long story short, it was another party (I know, but believe me, I spend most of my life not going to parties) and it was also great fun, because it was full of children and grown-ups who are passionate about books. And I lost out to John Green in the 12-14 Best Story Book category. JOHN GREEN! So that was really, really OK.

Here, in case you need to see them, are the shoes:

BBAShoes And here is Helen Skelton, who was one of the judges …

BBAHelenSkelton

And Michael Morpurgo …

BBAMichaelMorpurgo

And Mel Giederoyc, who was hilarious as the main presenter …

BBA2

And this was my seat. Frankly, the event was worth it for my reserved seat sign alone.

BestBookAwards

That’s not the end of the parties. There’s another one on Saturday, for lots of writers and bloggers attending the Young Adult Literature Conference in London. If you’re on the list, I’ll see you there.

Meanwhile, I should probably get on with writing a book.