I have great memories of visiting Hay-on-Wye as a child. What could be better than a place that describes itself as a ‘town of books’? But although I’d visited previously, and enjoyed rummaging through the bookshops for treasures, and exploring the glorious countryside, I’d never actually been to Hay Festival before.
This weekend I was lucky enough to do just that. I headed to Hay for a brilliant weekend of book events – including chairing a fantastic line-up of YA authors, and doing my first ever author event for The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow!
First up on Saturday afternoon, was chairing an event with lovely author Maggie Harcourt and the fantastic The Bookshop Band, who’ve written two new songs inspired by her book The Last Summer of Us.
On Sunday I was chairing an event with US YA superstar Sarah J Maas, author of the Throne of Glass series. We talked about her new book, A Court of Thorns and Roses (and the Disney film of Beauty and the Beast, in some detail) with an audience of over 200 people.
That evening, I was back to chair two YA debut authors – Melinda Salisbury and Catherine Doyle. (You know it’s a great event when one of your authors is wearing horns!)
Then on Monday it was author time! Even though I felt cool as a cucumber about chairing other authors’ events, I was suddenly really nervous when it came to talking about my own book for the very first time. I was so glad to have fellow Mystery Girl Robin Stevens beside me for the event.
A photo posted by Robin Stevens (@redbreastedbird) on
Then came our event, on the beautiful Starlight Stage. Happily we had lots of friendly faces in the audience. We each talked about our books, and read a few pages (the first time I’ve ever read from The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow!) before interviewing each other. We discussed mysteries, the books that had inspired us, all things detective… and of course BUNBREAKS. Robin also talked about Gunpowder, Murder & Plot – the fourth Murder Most Unladylike Mystery set to be published in spring 2016 – and there were audible gasps from the audience when she revealed that the book would involve the death of the new Head Girl!
I was so chuffed to see that we had lots of questions from the audience too – and after the event, lots of people came along to the book signing in the Festival Bookshop. It was fantastic to see the lovely Michelle from Tales of Yesterday who took loads of great photos.
After all the excitement, I went along to one of Malorie Blackman’s two final Children’s Laureate events. The Love Hurts panel discussion was a brilliant discussion between Malorie, James Dawson, Non Pratt and YA Prize winner Louise O’Neill about writing YA.
To celebrate The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow‘s publication on 4 June, we headed to Harrods this week, for a lovely afternoon tea at the Georgian Restaurant.
It really was the perfect place to celebrate the book – from the piano music to the silver teapots, we could almost have been in the restaurant of Sinclair’s Department Store itself!
The tea was perfect – dainty finger sandwiches, delicious cakes, perfect scones, rose petal jam and even a trifle in a jam jar to finish with.
Afternoon tea features heavily in Book 2, the sequel to Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, which I’ve been busy writing recently – what better way to do research for a book than tucking into these delights?
Here’s me and my lovely publicist Maggie, who organised the afternoon tea (and is kind of hiding behind the giant cake stand!)
Thanks Maggie and Egmont for a truly delightful Clockwork Sparrow celebration!
The UK Children’s Laureate was the first such post anywhere in the world, but since it began in 1999, many other countries have set up similar positions, whether they are called a ‘Children’s Laureate’ or a ‘Reading Ambassador’.
Following a meeting of the Swedish, Irish and Australian Laureates in Bologna two years ago, it was decided to bring as many of the Laureates from around the world together for an ‘international Laureate summit’ at the Bologna Book Fair in 2015 – so I was off to the Fair with Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman!
It was my first visit to Bologna, and I was excited to see what the Fair is like. The event is very much aimed at children’s publishing professionals: it’s a place where authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors, packagers, distributors, printers and booksellers all come together to buy and sell rights to children’s books and properties, learn about new developments and trends, network and find new business opportunities.
Here’s my Bologna Book Fair diary from the trip:
Day 1: Sunday
My flight out was at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning: on arrival, I had time for a very a quick look at the beautiful historic centre (and to say hello to Malorie who was staying near the Piazza Maggiore) before checking into my hotel near the Fair.
Even though the Fair didn’t officially open until the next day, we had our first Laureate event that afternoon. After a bit of a confusing time trying to navigate the site, where set-up was underway, I found my way to the room where our event was taking place, where Malorie and several of the other Laureates from Australia, Ireland, Finland and Sweden had already gathered, along with their teams.
The first event was a private meeting, designed to give everyone the chance to get to know each other. Julia Eccleshare, children’s books editor for the Guardian and stalwart of the UK Children’s Laureate Steering Group, facilitated a roundtable discussion in which each Laureate had the chance to introduce themselves, and to talk about their work. The group also discussed their aims for the summit and what we all hoped to get out of the next few days.
Laureates hard at work!
That evening I attended my first Bologna party, given by Penguin Random House USA, where I also drank my first glass of Prosecco for the trip – a Bologna essential!
Next up was dinner with the Children’s Laureates and their teams – it was great to have the chance to talk to people who do similar work in organisations from all around the world. While we were there, the two Welsh Laureates arrived to join us – Anierin Caradog who is the Bardd Plant Cymru, and Martin Daws, who is the Welsh Young People’s Laureate. After much pasta (seriously, more pasta than I would ever have thought possible to consume in a single sitting) we all headed back to our hotels for a much needed rest ahead of Day 2!
Day 2: Monday
To the Book Fair! I headed for the main entrance, where the first thing that caught my eye was this amazing Alice in Wonderland carpet.
Our next Laureate session was an invite-only event aimed at organisations from other countries that were interested in learning more about the Children’s Laureate initiatives, and in gaining useful information that might even help them set up a Laureate programme of their own. Representatives from countries including Italy and New Zealand, attended to hear more about the Children’s Laureate, including how the schemes work on a more practical level. Building on the discussions the previous day, the Laureates also had chance to talk in depth about what they wanted to get out of the summit, and possible ways to work together in future.
After the event, Malorie and I spent some time exploring the Book Fair. There was so much to see: we visited some publisher stands including the Barrington Stoke stand where Malorie received a rousing welcome and we embarrassed her by making her pose by her name for this picture.
Next it was on to the very large and impressive Penguin Random House stand where Malorie was introduced to author Sophie Kinsella, whose first young adult book Finding Audrey is published this year, as well as fitting in a quick photo and interview for Publishers Weekly.
There was plenty more time for exploring in the afternoon. I visited colleagues from Ireland on the Children’s Books Ireland stand, and from Australia on the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance stand where Australian Laureate Jackie French was chatting to visitors, and Ann James was demonstrating the mud painting techniques she used in her book I’m a Dirty Dinosaur. Justine from ACLA showed me a lovely animated version of the same book, with Ann reading aloud: this is part of the StoryBox Library project, which is designed to allow Australian children the chance to hear stories told in Australian voices.
There were so many publisher stands to browse. As well as all the familiar English language publishers, there was also a host of international stands to explore from publishers I was completely unfamiliar with. It was a great way to get a snapshot of the global publishing industry, and I enjoyed taking in everything from unusual European illustrations, to beautiful papercraft from Asia – not to mention spotting characters such as Miffy, Peppa Pig and Pikachu wandering around.
Obviously it was also essential to stop for a brief gelato break in the sunshine!
Most of all, I enjoyed looking at the incredible illustration exhibitions including an exhibition of work by illustrators from this year’s Guest country, Croatia; a display of ‘silent books’ (wordless picture books); and of course, the famous Bologna Illustrators Exhibition which displays the best new illustration work from around the world. I could have spent hours looking at all the lovely work on display, and it was only the fact that my suitcase was already full to bursting that stopped me immediately buying a copy of the exhibition catalogue to take back home!
I also loved looking at the Illustrators’ Walls – Bologna’s unofficial exhibition spaces. Lots of illustrators come to Bologna each year, from established children’s illustrators to students and aspiring illustrators, and many of them add their leaflets, posters and postcards to the Illustrators’ Wall, which gradually becomes more and more crowded with work, forming a sort of ever-evolving collage.
After an afternoon of enjoyable exploring, I met my Down the Rabbit Hole co-host Melissa and her colleague Florentyna at the Macmillan Children’s Book stand, where they were celebrating two new books from Meg Cabot. We hopped on the free bus into Bologna town centre, where Melissa took Florentyna and I on a tour of some of Bologna’s bookshops, including a fabulous children’s bookshop in a converted church, and the wonderful Ambasciatori librerie.coop – part bookshop, part trattoria, where books were sold alongside wine and all sorts of delicious food – basically, the perfect combination!
Our next stop was a reception being held by Scholastic at the Palazzo Re Enzo – a glorious old building on the Piazza Nettuno, where the guests were entertained by a fantastic speech about reading for pleasure from Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey. We went on to join some of the Scholastic team for a special dinner for Axel Scheffler, and after many courses (including even more pasta) we headed to the Swine Bar for what else but a glass of Prosecco to round off an excellent day.
Day 3: Tuesday
After breakfast in the hotel, I headed back to the Fair to catch up with the lovely Kristen Harrison from Curved House Kids.
We took in a couple of events from the Fair’s seminar programme: first up, a session about children’s books in translation, followed by a presentation of a new cultural app for kids, Art Stories, at the Digital Cafe. After a quick panino in the sunny courtyard, it was on to the announcement of the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Award. This year the Award was given to South African reading organisation PRAESA and it was fascinating to hear about some of their work.
In the afternoon it was time for our third and final Laureate event – a public session bringing together all of the Laureates at the Authors Cafe. We were joined for this session by the newly-arrived Mexican and Dutch laureates, giving us a grand total of 10 Laureates in all! The event, which was once again chaired by Julia Eccleshare, was a fantastic celebration of reading promotion around the world, including a Welsh song from Anierin, and a spot of performance (with audience participation) from Martin. Afterwards it was time for the all-important group photo.
After the event, Children’s Books Ireland held a reception on their stand. I head back into town to join Egmont’s party at Le Staze. It was great to meet some of the Egmont team before heading to join Malorie at a dinner for Frank Cottrell Boyce, given by Macmillan Children’s Books to celebrate his new book The Astounding Broccoli Boy.
Day 4: Wednesday
After packing up and checking out of the hotel, there was just enough time for a final visit to the Fair. I wanted to spend some more time looking at the exhibitions, but also to visit the amazing Fair Bookshop. I could easily have spent a fortune in there, especially on the heart-stoppingly beautiful array of picture books from all around the world!
I said goodbye to some of my Laureate colleagues and had the chance to chat about the next steps for our international work: we’re all excited to continue the conversations that started in our meetings, and to reconvene in Bologna again in two years’ time for our next ‘summit’. I also popped along to the Egmont stand where I spotted a proof of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow! And last of all there was time to squeeze in a final gelato before heading to the airport.
Arreverdeci Bologna – you were marvellous! I hope I’ll be back again next year.
I had such a lot of fun celebrating World Book Day this week! I’m currently working on the Blue Peter Book Awards, which Booktrust manage, and we announced the winner’s of this years awards on the show on World Book Day. This year, Best Story was awarded to the fab The Spy Who Loved School Dinners by Pamela Butchart and Thomas Flintham, and Best Book With Facts went to The Side-Splitting Book of Silly Stuff by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett. Find out more about the Awards.
One of the nicest things about the Blue Peter Book Awards is that the overall winners are voted for by over 200 children in schools around the UK, and some of them were in the studio to meet the winners. Malorie Blackman was also on the show to present the winners with their awards, and was surprised by Blue Peter’s highest accolade – the gold Blue Peter badge!
Meanwhile, back in London, I was delighted to be taking part in the World Book Day TeenFest. This event for teen readers took place on 4&5 March, and included a whole range of online activity, including hangouts, interviews, blogposts, playlists and more.
I had the chance to interview the brilliant young adult author Non Pratt for TeenFest. Here we are, trying to understand out how Google Hangout works, revealing the amazing cover for Non’s new book Remix (which publishes on the same day as The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow!) and laughing quite a lot.
The next night I was back to interview the lovely Holly Smale, author of the bestselling Geek Girl series. Here’s our Google Hangout, in which I ask Holly questions from participants including the likes of ‘What is your favourite pudding?’ and ‘Who’s your favourite Gossip Girl character?’
I enjoyed the Geek Girl glasses we wore for the video so much that I found myself wearing them the next day too… (Well, World Book Day is all about dressing up, right..?)
2014 has been quite a year for me – but I’m very aware that one thing I haven’t done very much of is writing here. I decided to take inspiration from one of my favourite bloggers, Sarah McIntyre (aka Jabberworks) for this post, to sum up 2014 with a few pictures. For 2015, I’m making a resolution to get back to writing here on a more regular basis. There should be plenty to write about – it’s going to be an exciting year!
But for now, what happened in 2014? It’s going to be a big one, so take a deep breath…
We kicked the year off on the Isle of Wight, celebrating New Year with friends in the countryside. January is also my birthday month, so Duncan and I went away for a weekend to one of our favourite places, Rye in East Sussex. We spent a couple of days enjoying wild and windy seaside walks, cosy pub dinners and afternoons reading books by a roaring fire.
February got off to a pretty exciting start, when we welcomed a gorgeous new nephew, Little Frank!
The first Down the Rabbit Hole also happened in February, after I’d cooked up the idea of a children’s book radio show in response to all the discussions about the lack of children’s book coverage in the media, and pitched it to London’s art radio station, Resonance FM. We had three amazing guests for the first show: Tanya Byrne, Laura Dockrill and Alex T Smith. Also taking part were the wonderful Melissa Cox and Louise Lamont – and hey presto, a Down the Rabbit Hole dream team was born!
It was pretty amazing to see all the fantastic responses to the show online, and I guess Resonance FM were looking on too, because they soon invited us back to turn Down the Rabbit Hole into a regular series.
Tanya, Alex and Laura in the Resonance studio for the first EVER Down the Rabbit Hole
Meanwhile, there was also exciting news for me on the writing front. After interest from several children’s publishers, I was lucky enough to secure a two-book deal with Egmont UK. The announcement that they had acquired The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow coincided with London Book Fair in April of this year, and even dropping my phone down a toilet in a fit of excitement (or well, OK, actually because I was in a rush and late for work, but book deal excitement is a better story) didn’t ruin the moment.
Signing the contract!
A few weeks later, Louise and I were at The Wolseley on Piccadilly with the lovely Ali and Hannah from Egmont to sign the book contract and celebrate with cakes, tea and a glass of champagne or two. What better place to raise a glass to The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow?
Melissa with our studio guests for June’s Picture Book special – Ed Vere and Nadia Shireen
What can I say about the summer? It was a super busy few months with lots of highlights, from chairing children’s book superstars Michael Rosen and Malorie Blackman at the Foyles Festival to the amazing (and slightly mad) party we threw in July to announce the winners of the first ever Booktrust Best Book Awards.
The graffiti wall at our Best Book Awards party
We had a little too much fun with the photo booth
Then of course, in July YALC happened, and it was one of the most incredible weekends EVER. Need I say more?
Hooray for YALC and all the amazing authors who took part!
I was pretty exhausted after the madness of YALC, so we went away for a few days in the countryside. We stayed in a little shepherd’s hut in deepest Kent, and spent our time sitting by the campfire, cycling down country lanes, reading in deckchairs, discovering country pubs and reading old children’s books. The weather was perfect and I half expected to see Pop Larkin driving his Rolls Royce down one of the Kentish country lanes at any moment.
A few handy books for a bit of campfire reading
August means Edinburgh Festival time! In spite of the unseasonal weather, we had a lovely few days mooching around one of my favourite cities, with ice-creams from Mary’s Milk Bar, coffee at Peters Yard, and of course lots of time at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square, where I was pleased to find that my shoes perfectly matched the carpet in the Authors Yurt.
In September, I got married! Duncan and I had a gorgeous London wedding surrounded by friends and family.
We headed to Budapest for a few days for a ‘mini-moon’ which involved lots of walking, eating, drinking, reading and sleeping.
Once we got back home, wedding and holiday swiftly became a distant memory. Far from a relaxing start to married life, the rest of the autumn was packed with things to do and see. I loved visiting the House of Illustration to hear Johnny Duddle talk about illustrating the new Harry Potter covers, and going to the opening of the fantastic new Oliver Jeffers exhibition at the Discover Centre with the Booktrust girls.
Getting into the spirit of things at the Discover Centre… ice-cream cone, wine and cheesy grin.
In October, Seven Stories announced their Diverse Voices list at the Guardian’s offices: a list of 50 of the best children’s books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK. I was lucky enough to be on the selection panel for this list, alongside Julia Eccleshare, Sarah Smith, Debbie Beeks and Jake Hope, which was a really fascinating experience, and left me with a lot to think about.
Just a few of the fantastic authors and illustrators featured in the 50 Diverse Books list at the Guardian launch
In the same month, Claire and I went to visit the Story Museum in Oxford, and had a lot of fun dressing up and exploring their 26 Characters exhibition. My highlight was definitely Holly Smale as the Snow Queen in the Narnia room: open what looks like a wardrobe door, and push through the fur coats to emerge in a glittering winter scene. While we were there we were lucky enough to hear the amazing Frank Cottrell Boyce give a hugely inspiring David Fickling lecture.
Also in October, it was back to Earls Court for the Winter London Film and Comic Con, for a mini YALC ‘spin-off’. Our pop-up YALC included a Waterstones bookshop and two YALC panels. I had a lot of fun chairing the first event, ‘Hey YA!’, which brought back two YALC stalwarts, James Dawson (cosplaying as Katniss especially for the occasion, naturally) and Non Pratt, alongside US author James Frey, who was touring the UK for the publication of his first young adult book, Endgame. The second event focused on female characters in YA fantasy fiction, and was ably chaired by Liz de Jager, with fantastic panellists Samantha Shannon, Zoe Marriott and Laure Eve.
The YALC lanyard came out again!
November took me off to Birmingham to visit the new Library of Birmingham for the Blue Peter Book Awards judging meeting. Hannah and I had a great day with Blue Peter judges Anna James, Liz Pichon, Michael de Souza, Ewan Vinnicombe and the Blue Peter team.
And of course in December, I had the chance to talk alongside author Matt Haig about the popularity of YA fiction – not a bad way to finish off a very busy year!
There are so many other things I could mention here – BOOKS, exhibitions, theatre, lovely book launches and events (Judy Blume! Rainbow Rowell! So many more!), friends, weddings, new babies, food and fun, but I won’t go on any longer.
Instead, I’ll finish by saying how excited I am to see what 2015 has in store. There will (hopefully!) to be a second YALC to look forward to, and there will be lots more from DTRH – we’ll be celebrating our first birthday in February.
Most excitingly of all of course, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is published on 4 June: the first proofs are beginning to wing their way out into the world, and the writing of a second book is underway. 2015 is going to be the Year of the Book and I’m looking forward to documenting it here!