Leipzig, Manga and more

Today, I’m in London packing my bags and making sure I’ve got travel insurance. (Thank you for reminding me, Post Office man.)

Tomorrow, I will be … well mostly on airplanes and trains, but on Friday I’ll be here …

manga2At the Leipzig Book Fair. Which, as you can see, isn’t just any book fair. As well as celebrating traditional books, this is the biggest Manga Comic Con in Europe. And as practically every teen I know who reads LOVES Manga, it’s definitely the place to be.

There will be drawing. There will be girls in blue wigs, and face paint, and wings, and space outfits, and boys in the same. There will be lots and lots of books. There will be my lovely publishers, Chicken House Germany, who kindly invited me, and me, reading from You Don’t Know Me, and thinking how much my characters would have loved to be there.

There will be fun. Wish me luck. Now I really must work out what to wear …

Manga

Stations, stories … and cake

I know you’re all dying to find out.

What happened in the Threads/Girl Aloud face-off in Euston station and Birmingham, when I went to the fabulous Halesowen yesterday?

Well, Girl Aloud won hands-down everywhere. Every single chart. I didn’t even take pictures. I put it down to the cover pinkness, naturally, and not the quality of Emily’s writing or the fascinating storyline. I only wish Emily could be here to see it, and not in Australia (where she lives with her family). Anyway, Emily, well done. You can stop now. OK?

However, despite the face-off, yesterday was a VERY GOOD DAY.

First, I went to Hasbury CE Primary School to talk to Year 6 (who were wonderful – see below), then I was wined and dined by the fabulous Ros Bartlett, before talking to an invited audience at Earls High School and signing yet more books. By the end, I felt like a film star. A film star who gets cake!

At Hasbury Primary School, I thought I was going to talk for an hour, but Sue Layton told me that I could ‘have all afternoon if I wanted’. I laughed hollowly, thinking that after about 55 minutes of me the boys and girls would be clawing at the walls to get out. But next thing I knew, Sue was telling me that the going home bell was due in five minutes, and I had to stop if I wanted the chance to sign anything.

Where did the time go? I’ll tell you where. It went into chatting to YET ANOTHER bunch of truly impressive young people. Boys and girls again. I’m getting used to this now. We started off with creative writing and I got them to do a whole story. Did they complain? Did they play up? Did they talk in class and make life difficult? Not for a moment. They got their heads down, wrote BEAUTIFULLY for twenty minutes, pausing only to ask how to spell Ferrari, and was the cheetah allowed to eat the peacock? (to which the answer, of course, was yes). And then they all volunteered to read out their stories.

Which were BRILLIANT. To the point, really, at which I wonder why I bother. Kids of today have fabulous imaginations, great storytelling ability and a great sense of pace, speech, visual impact, humour, shock value, you name it. How they put up with our stuff, I’m really not sure. They’re very kind.

Thank you everyone. You were amazing. I only hope you enjoy my story half as much as I enjoyed yours. And thank you for all your advice about what to put on the website. I’ll follow it up as much as I can, whenever book 3 allows.

Then Ros. Ros is a bit of a legend in the West Midlands book community and beyond. Now I know why. Ros’s stories include having Jacqueline Wilson to stay (‘Jackie’ to Ros), and what Anthony Horowitz said last week, and bumping into JK Rowling (I bet that’s ‘Jo’ to Ros) on the steps of her local bookshop.

Ros seriously knows how to look after an author and make her feel good. She also knows a local pub – pub is entirely the wrong word for it – maybe Gastro Experience – where the food and atmosphere are sublime. And she knows lots and lots of local kids and their parents whose love of reading has blossomed thanks to her book club, and who get to meet ‘Jackie’, and Anthony, and Cornelia Funke, and lots of other people … and me.

So this is the deal. You talk. You answer questions on your favourite subject – writing. You sign books, tickets, flyers, odd bits of paper and whatever is put in front of you. You meet lots of lovely, enthusiastic readers. You are fed yummy, home-made coffee cake. And you are put safely in a taxi in time for the last train home.

Is this the best job in the world? SO is.

My only problem was that I was having such a good time I stupidly forgot to take any pictures. So here’s a picture of me from the Bishop of Llandaff School in Cardiff on Wednesday, when Save The Children thoughtfully provided a photographer. I think I look a bit stiff and Victorian, and possibly slightly startled by the picture of the cute boy beside me (I wasn’t – I just wished I could give him a hug. He looked as if he needed one.)

In Cardiff, with Save The Children

Sorry this one doesn’t have all the girls who posed with me too. Hopefully there will be more later.

I now have to come down from my little cloud and actually do some writing. ‘Jackie’ somehow manages to do at least 1,000 words a day, regardless of where she is or what she’s up to. And I don’t think she means blogging. It’s done her no harm. I shall try and follow her good example. More later, people, when I’ve finished Chapter 4.

And thank you again for looking after me on Wednesday and yesterday, on part 1 of the international tour. I bet Britney Spears and Madonna don’t have nearly as much fun as me.

Cariad*

They warned me. My lovely publicist Mary definitely said ‘mixed audience’ and I said ‘yes, I get that’, but what I meant was ‘la la la la is that Danyl on X-Factor in 10 minutes?’, not, ‘Oh! I see! There will be BOYS at my next reading! Nearly 90 of them! Better think about that a bit.’

So when they all trooped into the hall at the Bishop of Llandaff School in Cardiff today, it was a bit of a sharp intake of breath for them and for me.

Threads is pink. It’s largely about fashion. I can’t help or hide that. Normally, it’s an advantage. Anyway, I apologised and focused heavily on the Save The Children campaign (there’s now a fundraising competition associated with the book which you can enter by clicking here: www.savethechildren.org.uk/threads) and the whole how-I-became-a-writer thing. And skipped over the pink corset slide mighty fast.

Anway, got to the bit where I asked for questions and 180 pupils and staff went very quiet. So I warned them I’d be asking again in a minute, and did another reading. Asked for questions again ….. and got LOADS. Probably more from boys than girls. All interesting (these were Year 8s, by the way. Love Year 8s), all fun to answer, all suggesting that there are a lot of would-be writers in that audience who are seriously considering career options at this stage. Several from boys asking if I’m going to write for boys. And looking disappointed when I said I’m rubbish at techno-gadgets/spies/chases/killer spiders/killer robots/fairies armed with techno-gadgets etc. Sorry to pigeonhole boys’ books (which by the way I think are brilliant at the moment), but I have an 8 year-old and read boy stuff a lot and that’s what we read.

I managed to salvage it slightly by saying that I love snakes (not sure why, but I was asked, and I do love snakes. And spiders are OK too). But despite all that, I got yet more fab creative writing later, and there was a raffle, and lots of boys ended up getting me to sign books for their mums and sisters for Christmas (and one said he liked reading and it was very definitely for himself. Go you!).

Not that the girls weren’t WONDERFUL. They were. But I was just very grateful indeed that their less pink-friendly classmates gave me a chance too.

Thank you, Bishop of Llandaff School. It was a fantastic day.

Oh, and talking of pink, on the way back Mary and I checked out the WHSmiths at Cardiff station, as you do, and found this:

Girl Aloud in WHSmith Cardiff stationLook at the very, very pink spine. It belongs to Girl Aloud, by Emily Gale, an online friend of mine, fellow Chicken House author and one of my favourite bloggers. I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for ages. And when I read it, it took me straight back to being 15. I felt as if I was there, in every scene. Even though my dad never tried to enter me into X-Factor against my will. (Note the lack of Threads in this picture. Must have recently sold out, hem hem.)

Got to Paddington. By now, I’d been up for many hours and my young family needed me (or so I like to believe). So, naturally, I had to check out the station’s rather larger WHSmith as well, before I hit the Tube. Where I found this:

WHSmith children's chart, Paddington

Now, look here, Emily Gale. You may be a friend of mine, but your book has been out for days. Days, woman! And it is making its way up the chart with unseemly haste. Make way for the rest of us, why don’t you?

So, gentle readers, if you are tempted to buy Ms Gale’s Girl Aloud, can I just say, don’t. You may find it touching, funny and beautifully written. But Threads needs all the help it can get right now. You know where your loyalties lie.

Dudley tomorrow. I’ll be checking those bookshops again. Look out, Emily Gale, is all I can say.

* Cariad is my favourite (and some might say only) word in Welsh. Lovely language. Lovely people. Lovely trip.

The view from the teacher’s desk

So, Sophia Bennett, how was your very first school visit to talk about Threads?

– It was a great experience, thank you. Exhausting (talking about myself is even more tiring than I thought). But fabulous to do. Special, because my elder stepdaughter, Emily, was there to chat to at lunchtime, and because at least one of the teachers had read the book in manuscript, so they’ve known about me and it for a long, long time.

What was the funniest bit?

– Probably trying to organise my first ever creative writing workshop while being snapped by two photographers with long lenses for the local press. Who kept checking their camera screens, showing them to each other and going ‘No, that’s really not going to work.’

And the best?

– Definitely those workshops. The girls were amazing. They got what they were supposed to do straight away (which was to incorporate four words that I’d chosen into the opening paragraph of a short story), and worked hard at it, thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were super-keen to share their mini-masterpieces, which were entertaining and excellent. I could have done that all day.

And the worst?

– In my third talk of the day, trying to remember what I’d already said about myself. And trying to name more than 2 authors who’ve inspired me. I was tired, OK? Tired!

And the other best thing, that you forgot to mention earlier?

– The profiteroles at lunch. I had five.

And the most unexpected?

– How interested the girls were in word count. How they were trying to imagine writing up to 80,000 words and not losing your place in the plot. And how amazed they were that 80,000 words in the finished text can easily be over 400,000 in unfinished drafts on your computer. All stuff I’m so used to by now, but it made them think differently about essay length, I think.

And what happened next? I know you’re dying to tell us, Sophia!

I had a quiet cup of tea in Colchester to recover (I really must remember not to talk about myself any more than strictly necessary) and my lovely publicist texted me to tell me that Threads has been mentioned in Heat. Heat, I tell you, Heat!!! And I went out and bought a copy and there it was, under the heading ‘Ripping yarn’ (loving the pun, Heat), in the ‘Things we’re loving this week’ section. And having looked at it about twenty times I read the rest of the magazine and it was FANTASTIC! Funny, witty, entertaining and not too unnecessarily intrusive or rude. Liking Heat at the moment.

Happy day.

Now you see me …

The Sophia Bennett international book tour of 2009 is about to start (international in the sense that it includes Wales). It probably doesn’t go down in history as the world’s largest tour, but it involves lots of train travel and meeting girls (and the occasional boy?) who’ve enjoyed Threads, and I think it’s perfect.

So, if you live in or near Colchester, Cardiff or the West Midlands, look out for me here … and here … and here …

Tuesday 17 November – Colchester

St Mary’s School, Colchester. I’ll be talking to years 7, 8 and 9. MY VERY FIRST SCHOOL VISIT (other than as a parent, obviously. Or a schoolgirl.) I think they’re nearly as excited as I am.

Tuesday 24 November – Cardiff

The Bishop of Llandaff High School, Cardiff. Years 7, 8 and 9 again … Hopefully I’ll know what I’m doing by then.

2.30 – 3.30 Borders, Cardiff. Hopefully they’ll let me sign a book or 2. If I ask nicely.

Wednesday 25 November, Dudley

Hasbury CE Primary School, Halesowen. I’ll be talking to Year 6.

Tea with children’s book magazine people. Ooh, exciting!

7 pm talk and signing at Earls High School, Halesowen. I think this is open to the public. And free! (and if you went to see Anthony Horowitz the week before it would have cost you £2! I am a bargain!)

And on 9 December I shall be visiting Simply Books, in Bramhall, near Manchester, which has just been voted the Independent Bookseller of the Year.

And if even one of the girls (or possibly boys) in the audience is as lovely as any of the people who’ve been writing to me via the Threads website, I shall be a VERY LUCKY AUTHOR and this will be THE BEST BOOK TOUR EVER!