Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Bookish Japes in Charlotte Square - Part 1

For most people, August is synonymous with summer holidays. Everyone gets a bit of time off from work or school and either takes steps to flee the country for a bit of sun, or (as has been particularly in vogue this year) elects to make the best of the British summer by embarking on a 'staycation'.

For the publicists of the book trade, however, (and their author/illustrator charges) August means just one thing. It's the month we pack up our best dresses, team them with a pair of wellington boots and make the pilgrimage to Charlotte Square for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This year I had so many authors and illustrators appearing that I had to make two trips, so I'll do two blogs, y'know, to break it up a little.

The first trip was definitely the busiest. I arrived in Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon and then on the Sunday I kicked off early doors with Catherine Rayner and her latest gorgeous picture book Sylvia and Bird. Catherine was the inaugural Illustrator in Residence at the book festival this year so as well as doing a number of her own events she also chaired the masterclasses of fellow illustrators, including Mini Grey and Oliver Jeffers, designed the book festival 'passport' and had various of her illustrations popping up all over the square. Her event went down very well with little-ees and parents alike. 

Catherine Rayner admires her creation Harris in the festival bookshop window.
(P.S. We don't have pint-size authors, Harris is not to scale!)

Next up was the always delightful David Roberts, who performed to a packed out audience of around two hundred and fifty Dirty Bertie fans. David's events have gone down very well for the past couple of years, but each time he performs Bertie seems to accrue yet more devoted fans. I was very impressed by the number of kids who could recount scenarios and characters from the books - they are Bertie-mad in Edinburgh! David nearly didn't get away in time for his train because his signing queue was so long!

And I almost didn't get away for the third Little Tiger of the day, Steve Smallman. Thank goodness I did though, because I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I sincerely wish Steve could read everyone a bedtime story every night because he would just send everyone off so peacefully. It was lovely to see all the little-uns sprawled out on cushions, totally mesmerised by Steve's stories. Although once he'd got them good and relaxed with There's No Such Thing as Monsters he stirred them right up again with the mischievous The Monkey with a Bright Blue Bottom.

Monday morning saw Kathryn White introducing a clever monkey and a nuisance crocodile in Click Clack Crocodile's Back! One of the terrific things about the festival is the chance for authors and illustrators to mingle with their peers and it's always lovely to see the sense of camaraderie between them. Stuck for someone to play the part of the crocodile in her event, Kathryn called on the very obliging Julia Donaldson, who played the part with great gusto!

Kathryn White with her croc' AKA Julia Donaldson

So that was all the pros done and dusted and Tuesday and Wednesday was time to focus on the Edinburgh novices. Illustrators Caroline Pedler and Simon Prescott ran terribly creative/messy events in the workshop tent. I always feel you've been cheated if you don't leave that particular venue covered in glitter, and I wasn't disappointed. (I think there'd been some fairies in there just before us!) Rounding the trip off nicely was Paul Bright, whose interactive event featuring dinosaurs AND underpants, not to mention a huge inflatable globe, went down a real treat. (You can't go wrong with that kind of combo!) He really got the kids pepped up and we met some die-hard dinosaur fanatics! 

(L - R) Lacey, Caroline Pedler, James (Caroline's other-half and a dab hand with a paintbrush, too!), Simon Prescott hanging out in the yurt.

I can't speak highly enough of this festival. The lovely Sara Grady and her dedicated team do a fantastic job of co-ordinating hundreds of events across two and a half weeks and the festival itself always runs exceptionally smoothly whilst appearing totally laid-back and effortless. I really don't know how they do it but I would very much like to know their secret!

Coming up in Part 2:
Zombaliens invade Charlotte Square, along with a giant moose.
Children's Laureate Anthony Browne is full of praise for Catherine Rayner.
I took some nice people for dinner and we all had a lovely time.
I managed to see some bits on the fringe and chuckled quite a lot.

Monday, 3 August 2009

I Love Libraries

I've got a card to prove it and everything. Ok, so it is my library card, but still. It's a pretty nifty little thing which proclaims 'Love Your Library'. And I do.

I have recently reacquainted myself with the library, and I couldn't be more satisfied with our rekindled relationship unless it started taking me out to dinner and telling me it loved me back. Now that we're back in each other's arms, I don't know why we ever parted ways.

I suspect it was probably because I started getting my free books elsewhere. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it already but before I joined the tigers whom are little I was a Bookseller for a big, shiny bookselling chain. At first I thought the extent of the benefits would be our generous discount, although this became somewhat surplus to requirements when deep discounting became in vogue, but I was soon to discover the joys that are review copies. When publishers cotton on to the fact that you've got an opinion on books and you aren't afraid to use it, they will actually send you free copies of their titles in the hope that you will review them/tell anyone who sets foot inside your shop how great they are.

Sadly this all came to an end when I became the person who sends out the free books, rather than the one receiving them. By this point I had accumulated a vast number of books, but on moving to London I was forced to downsize drastically (rental prices in London being somewhat different to Swansea) and the most obvious way to do this was to box up all my books and leave them in my mother's spare room. So I hit the big smoke with a handful of can't-live-without books (Paddington Goes to Town, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, The Incredible Book Eating Boy, a dictionary, an encyclopedia and Mr Shakespeare's complete works, for those who were wondering) and a suitcase full of dreams. Two years on and somehow that handful has multiplied into (hang on, I'm just going to count them) ninety-nine books (golly gosh!) adorning my bookshelves. That's not to mention the stack on my bedside table, the two in my handbag and the shelf next to my desk at work. This had to stop. My book purchasing had to be curtailed. The only sensible thing to do was to join a library.

As a child I absolutely loved going to the library. Many a happy Saturday morning was spent selecting my week's reading at Swansea Central Library and I also used to enjoy the activity sessions during the school holidays. Shamefully, my library attendance as an adult had been lamentable and how they have changed! I love Stoke Newington Library, my local, as it's quite old school and fits in nicely with the retro chic of Church Street. However, I am equally fond of the space age 'Idea Stores' of Tower Hamlets. I am all for bringing stuff into the 21st Century and I think the IS is an inspired move. 

So now I'm all about book-borrowing and the benefits are two-fold. I am richer and have more space. Ok, I'm lying, I just buy more shoes. I will leave you with, in no particular order, my favourite things about libraries:

1) Randomly picking up a book that I would never buy in a shop because 'it's not my thing.' and discovering it totally is my thing. (Most recently this was Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.)
2) The whizzy, modern reservation system. I can reserve pretty much anything and if my library doesn't stock it, they'll just get it from another library and send me a little note to let me know when I can go and pick it up - brilliant!
3) Chatting to the librarians. There is nothing better than talking to someone who is enthused by what they do. I can't take anything out without swapping recommendations.
4) Not being driven by price. I am habitually thrifty but it would really upset me to think that this governed what I read. 
5) Peeking inside Little Tiger and Stripes books and seeing how many times they've been stamped. Makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
6) Taking authors and illustrators to libraries for events. It still feels somewhat anarchic to speak above a whisper in a library, let alone encourage youngsters to roar like a monster.
7) Picking books with my nieces. Last time we went four year-old Bess took out seven books and we'd read three of them in the car before we even got home. I can't imagine where she gets it from . . . 

Summer holidays with kids can be severely draining on the finances, but there is at least one free thing you can do - take them to your local library and sign them up to Quest Seekers http://www.questseekers.org.uk/. It's a summer reading challenge run across libraries nation-wide which encourages children to read six books over the summer holidays. Should provide a bit of peace and quiet for at least a day, giving you time to get stuck in to some newly discovered gems. 

Go forth and borrow!