Friday, 19 December 2008

Secret Santa

Ho ho ho, it’s Chris here and I have taken on the mantle of filling you all with festive joy because in the words of the great lyricist, Noddy Holder (of Slade fame), IT’S CHRISTMAAAAAAASSSSS!

Everyone at Scottish Book Trust is very very excited, as im sure you all are too? Everyone has their own reasons for loving Christmas so I thought that I would share a few of ours:
• A niece’s first Christmas and a nephew who is gonna be hyperactively happy (this is mine!)
• The chance to buy presents for the cat
• Going home to see momma M
• I have bought a new dining table especially for Christmas dinner
• Not coming to work
• Going back home
• The chance to see the children unwrapping their presents after Santa has been
• Or perhaps its because the X Factor single has hit the shops?

Like many other workplaces across the country we indulged in a spot of secret Santa action, although the identity of our Santa wasn’t very secret.

The rules were straightforward (£5 max bought from a charity shop) and it was amazing what people found. Olivier found pearls for Clare who in turn found a Christmas in Motown record for Paul. There was Play-doh, slinkys, artwork, books, cufflinks, cushion covers…I could go on and on but suffice to say we all received great gifts.

Here are a few pictures of the team enjoying themsleves at secret santa!

Caitrin, Jo and Julia really didn't want their picture taken!

Have a wonderful Christmas and just have as much fun as possible. We will be back in 2009 with an even bigger programme of tours, events, projects and much much more from the blog as well as the website.

Other news…Two of our authors have been shortlisted for the Angus Book Award; James Jauncey (The Witness) and J.A. Henderson (Crash). Also on the shortlist are Meg Rosoff ( What I Was) and Anne Cassidy(Forget Me Not)

Friday, 12 December 2008

Snow place like Scotland

Last week Jasmine and Jo took the author Nick Ward on a Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour of primary schools in Angus and Perth & Kinross. Nick has very kindly written us a blog of his travels. It sounds as if they had a great time even if the weather was a bit wintery! Take it away Nick...

I had an absolutely brilliant time on my trip to Perth and Kinross on the Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour, although I wish someone had told me to pack some ice skates or snow shoes! As soon as I arrived the temperature dropped and on our second morning I woke to find Pitlochry covered in four inches of snow. Brrr! It was cold, but it was very beautiful as well. The white hills looked like something from a fairy tale, and I must say I’m very jealous of some of the school children I visited. Their schools had the most spectacular views!

It was great to meet such wonderful and enthusiastic audiences – everyone had heard of Charlie Small and wanted to find out more about this lost boy adventurer. In fact most of you wanted to join my expedition to go in search of Charlie. Obviously not all of you will be able to come, but I hope some of you can join me – if you are able to be away from home and school for up to four hundred years that is!

On the third night of my trip the weather grew even colder, so I was not exactly thrilled when our hotel fire alarm went off at about ten o’clock at night! I was on the phone at the time and when the hooter went off I just dropped the phone and ran out to see what was going on. All of the fire doors along the corridor were closing automatically and I decided it was time to get out of there! It was just like a Charlie Small adventure.We clambered down the stairs to the emergency exit and rushed out into the chilly car park. It was then that I realised I hadn’t put my warm coat on. Yikes! Soon the fire brigade arrived and they were quickly able to tell us it was a false alarm and we could go back to our warm rooms. Is it always this exciting in Scotland?

I will always remember my brilliant trip to Scotland; the wonderful scenery; the friendly teachers and really great school children. Thank you all for making it such a memorable time.
Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for more Charlie Small journals. They could be anywhere! Have you searched your playgrounds yet?

Nick Ward
You can check out Nick's amazing website for much more info about him and the elusive adventurer, Charlie Small.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

How it feels to win a Royal Mail Award...

This week our special guest blogger is Royal Mail Award winner J.A. Henderson. So Jan, how was the winning experience for you?

"I have to say that I was astonished and delighted in equal measure at winning the Royal Mail Award for Bunker 10. I think the official term is ‘freaked out’. Bunker 10 had been shortlisted for another five prizes and managed to win exactly none (well, that’s not strictly true. I still have one to go). So I sat on my seat in the Award ceremony practising my brave face and reminding myself that being shortlisted was an honour in itself!

But I won! And I got a sheet of stamps with my face on it from the Royal Mail! Result! As soon as I got out I called my six year old son Charlie and told him. He was much calmer than me and suggested that I might like to split the prize money with him. That kid will end up Prime Minister some day. Or in jail.

I have to thank the Royal Mail (especially for the stamps, right) and the Scottish Book Trust for looking after me so well. But I REALLY want to thank the kids who voted for me. I’d written a whole bunch of books in the past as Jan-Andrew Henderson, but Bunker 10 was the first one where I decided to write exactly what I wanted. And there were plenty of adults who told me it was too complicated and too dark. And you proved that’s not true.

That’s better than having my face on a coin."

Thanks to Jan, and congrats again from all of us at Scottish Book Trust! If you haven't heard it yet, check out our interview with Jan talking all about writing Bunker 10 and loads of other cool stuff.

PS - if any of you out there are looking for Christmas present ideas, check out this list - only the finest selection of books, all of which make ideal Christmas gifts. Don't say we're not good to you...

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Royal Mail Awards: behind the scenes

As promised, we've gathered up the thoughts of the Scottish Book Trust staff to give you a little peek into everyone's experience of The Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books last week. And amongst them you'll see a smattering of candid snaps from behind the scenes...

"My favourite moments were when all the children started stamping their feet before the winner was announced!" Jasmine

"I loved the way all the shortlisted authors were welcomed in the hall like rock stars, with cheering, clapping and wolf whistles." Marion

"My favourite moment was the fireworks … I like explosions!" Michael
“I thought the props were particularly noteworthy. That hat! That Octopus! Seriously, it was fabulous to see so much hard work pay off. Kirsty Wark was brilliant and pitched it just right to appeal to the kids and the adults and I hope she does it again next year!” Celia

“Wow, what a day! It was a fantastic culmination to the project and I am so glad that we shared that experience with so many keen young readers and I am delighted that the fireworks didn’t maim any children (or authors)! My thanks go to everyone who attended and made loud slurping noises, to the authors for writing such great books and to the SBT staff who helped us not only at the ceremony but throughout the project.” Chris

"I loved Kirsty Wark’s Newsnight Review moment, running through the audience asking the kids where they liked to read!" (most said 'in bed') Marc

"I always look forward to the Royal Mail Awards ceremony – it’s really exciting to be with so many people who are passionate about books. This year more than lived up to my high expectations. The Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen is a fantastic place. I could imagine it being used as a set for an Agatha Christie adaptation (one of my own personal obsessions!). And what a packed ceremony – interviews, performances, the awards themselves – and fireworks! I may have to go and have a little lie down as I am getting far too excited all over again. Many congratulations to the winners, and a final thought about how good all of the shortlisted books were this year – it was a really close race and every book on the list is an absolute joy to read! Bye – I am off to a darkened room." Philippa

“What an experience, I now know what the Oscars must feel like! Despite knowing who had won already I was still overwhelmed by excitement as the children drummed their feet in anticipation of the announcements. A huge well done to everyone who took part and made it such a success.” Jo

"As a relatively new member of SBT staff, it was really exciting to be part of the day. I was amazed at how many kids were at the event and what a buzzy atmosphere there was during the ceremony. It was a rare treat to see authors get such recognition from their own readers!" Clare

"The celebrity reception which greeted the authors at the start of the show was amazing and, I would imagine, a new experience of stardom for them. But for me, the best part of the ceremony was the heel-drumming on the floor by the whole audience as the winning authors came on stage to receive their awards – it must have been planned, but how? It even beat the Mexican wave of books from last year." Jeanette

"I liked the bit when Caitrin phoned to say she had forgotten her keys to the office and might be a bit late." Caitrin (Returned from Australia and holding the fort back in Edinburgh - just)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

and the winners are...

This was the week of the long-awaited Royal Mail Awards: webmaster Paul tells us how it all went down…

So after many months of planning, promoting, voting, stressing and preparing, The 2008 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books took place in Aberdeen this week and, after all that build-up, they didn’t disappoint. The whole of the Scottish Book Trust staff decamped from Edinburgh to Aberdeen for the day, along with over 550 pupils from schools all around Scotland, the authors and illustrators of the nine nominated books, the day's host, BBC broadcaster Kirsty Wark, and a further assorted collection of publishers, parents and parliamentary persons (sorry, slightly shoehorning the alliteration in there).

It all made for an atmosphere that was genuinely buzzing in the packed Beach Ballroom; when the shortlisted authors were announced they walked out to the kind of adulation generally reserved for pop stars (“now I know how Kylie feels” was one of the nominee’s later comments). This year's awards saw over 9,500 votes cast from pupils across the UK, and you could tell that every child present really felt part of the proceedings; not just spectators but truly invested in the outcome of the Awards.

But there was fun to be had before the announcement of the winners, as first a brilliant group of pupils from Riverbank and Smithfield primary schools presented dramatised excerpts from the six books nominated in the 0-7 and 8-11 years categories. I particularly loved the Goat and Donkey in Strawberry Sunglasses section, as the kids delivered a hilarious ‘behind-the-sheet’ transformation of their main character. Everyone involved has earned themselves a high five from me, and I’ll have you know I don’t dish them out lightly.

Then it was the turn of Aidan Turner, one of our very cool pupil ambassadors, to take the limelight, as he hosted a Q&A with the three authors in the 12-16 years category. He did a great job (hey, anyone who can confidently carry off an interview under the watchful gaze of pro Kirsty Wark is doing well in my book), and asked very intelligent questions, bringing out the key differences and similarities in the nominees’ approaches and novels.

After Marie Macaulay presented the Gaelic prize, won by Rachel Kate McLeod, whose story was chosen from an incredible amount of entries, Kirsty Wark announced that we had reached the key moment, the announcement of the winners. As MSP Maureen Watt opened the envelope for the 0-7 category you could feel the tension rising in the crowd; feet were stomping, kids were shouting out their favourite titles – it was about as far from a library environment as you could imagine, and all the better for it! – and there were genuine woops of delight when Alan Durant and Ross Collins’ Billy Monster’s Daymare was announced as the winner.

D A Nelson’s Dark Isle and J A Henderson’s Bunker 10 were announced as the 8-11 and 12-16 category winners respectively, each eliciting similarly ecstatic reactions from the crowd (I’m certain I saw some kids actually jumping on their chairs…), and it was clear from each of the winning authors’ speeches that they felt truly humbled and honoured to have won, and all were full of praise for their fellow nominees.

So now it’s all over for another year, but my single description can’t really do justice to the day in all its fullness, so we’ll have more of the Scottish Book Trust staff members’ thoughts on the day up on the Blog shortly, as well as a special Royal Mail Awards interviews podcast on our site. But for the time being there are some pictures from the day up on the website, which can be found on our Awards Ceremony page.

But we need your contribution too! Were you at the Awards? What was your favourite bit? How was the whole experience? Tell us by adding a comment here or sending an email to and we’ll post it here.

We already knew that Keith Gray was a hugely talented author and that his novel Ostrich Boys was brilliant but he has now been nominated for the Costa Children's Award, one of the biggest in the UK! Congratulations Keith, good luck and everyone at Scottish Book Trust is rooting for you.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

"Underpants, charcoal, a best ever friend..."

Hello faithful readers! This week we've got another of our touring authors to add their own unique contribution to the blog. Writer and illustrator Simon Bartram (that's him on the left) came on the Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour with us around Moray this September - check out the pictures here - and he's written a fantastic poem that perfectly sums up his experiences on the tour.

Here it is:

Newcastle, Edinburgh
Firth of Forth
Dundee, Montrose
Motoring North

Aberdeen, then left
And along a jot
On target for Elgin
For events and whatnot

School and library
And school once more
Town and village
Sea and shore

Aliens, Rockets
Astronaut types
Powerpoint pointing
Red and white stripes

Shouting, screaming
Peeled eagle-eyes
Odd looking canines
Mini pork pies

Underpants, charcoal
A best ever friend
Pet shop, Craters
'Hooorays' at the end

Dimly lit breakfasts
Lunch by the sea
Coffee in staffrooms
Findhorn for tea

Fine Scottish cuisine
My haggis debut
'Cullen Skink Sir?'
- 'Don't mind if I do!'

A choice of twin beds
Travel-iron mishaps
New trousers soaked
By all powerful taps

Long winding roads
The purest of air
Soup made just here
+ Whiskey just there

School and library
School once more
Town and village
Sea and shore

Books to be signed
Names to spell right
Then south through the Cairngorms
And into the night

Farewell to Scotland
Off on the train
Edinburgh, Newcastle
And back home again

Big thanks to Simon, we love his poem, and we think he's pretty awesome too!

Plus, if you haven't done so yet, be sure to listen to our brilliant Neil Gaiman interview, and watch the Michael Rosen video podcast. In fact, you can watch it right here:

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Robert Dodds and Haunted Cattle

This week we have Robert Dodds author of The Murrian (which is book of the month) on blogging duty. Read on for a crazy adventure!

Hello blogpersons!

I’m very excited that Scottish Book Trust have chosen my new book ‘The Murrian’ as their book of the month for November, and also delighted to be invited to make a guest appearance on the blog!

This is my first ever blog. Aargh! What do I write about? How about a glimpse of my weekend? Well, on Saturday I met up with my friend Elizabeth who lives in the north of England to go for a walk near Chillingham in Northumbria, so I think you should know that it’s a strange and dangerous place to go, as it is home to both a wild castle and haunted cattle.

As we set off, the day was bright and clear. Yet the valley was filled with the sounds of phantom moo-ing, and we soon came across signs warning of the awful consequences of meddling with these fearsome creatures.

Obviously no-one in their right mind would ignore such a sign.

We pushed on, along muddy paths, where deep, squelching footprints showed where other brave souls had gone before us. None of the footprints were coming back the other way. What had happened to all these people?

The footprints reminded me of how the idea had come to me for my first children’s novel, ‘The Midnight Clowns’. On another muddy walk, years ago, it had occurred to me how scary it would be to come across a set of footprints in the mud made by great long thin shoes. Who would wear such shoes? Well, the obvious answer was clowns. But why would anyone dress as a clown to go on a walk in the countryside? The answer was, again, obvious – there might be people who didn’t just dress up as clowns, but really were clowns, with great long feet ending in toes like sausages, and brightly coloured faces. Since one didn’t see them about, they must only come out at night, like vampires…
Anyway, back in the present moment, it was bright daylight, and there were no clowns about, just the ghostly moo-ing from somewhere up ahead.
A little further on, we came across the entrance to the wild castle. Speaking of vampires, it had a creepy vampire bat gate. I felt an overwhelming urge to pose as a bat in front of this.

The wild castle itself was not visible beyond this forbidding gate, which was locked anyway, and we weren’t sure which way to go. Elizabeth decided we should climb over the wall.

On the other side, we found ourselves in a really spooky graveyard. The sounds of ghostly moo-ing were even louder here, and suddenly Elizabeth was knocked over by an invisible ghost cow!

In something of a panic, we looked around for helpful signs to get us out of this spot. All the signs were ambiguous.

However, a mysterious red arm appeared behind a tree trunk, pointing us away from the graveyard.

We followed this direction, and found ourselves safe and sound back at the car park. We drove to the local pub for a fortifying drink, and questioned the barman about the local wild castle and haunted cattle.
“Don’t you mean haunted castle and wild cattle?” he said.
We looked again at the leaflet describing our walk. Yes, it was haunted castle and wild cattle. That did make more sense. But what had knocked Elizabeth over in the graveyard?
If you’re feeling brave, try it for yourself. Go for a walk in the woods near Chillingham Castle.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Hello readers of textbooks, readers of fun books and readers of this here blog. Chris is back in the blog seat this week and he has lots and lots to tell you.

I’ve been travelling round Scotland quite a bit since I spoke to y’all last; Moray with Simon Bartram, Argyll & Bute with Chris Mould (you can now listen to our exclusive chat with Chris) and I have just returned from a weekend away in a remote lighthouse on Wester Ross.

It was a wild place: single track roads, horizontal rain, gale force winds that could blow you off your feet, stunning lightning storms, power-cuts and fresh hens eggs. I would recommend it to anyone who is brave (or stupid enough) to venture that far into the wilderness. I love travelling round this country, it’s amazingly beautiful and it constantly changes and on a road trip or tour you get to see so much that you just wouldn’t see or know about, The Drovers Inn, McCaig’s Tower or Rua Reidh.

I have just arrived back in the office following a fantastic event at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh with literary genius, Neil Gaiman, who flew up from London to do this special event for us. Neil was talking about his new book The Graveyard Book, a dark and spooky tale that will send tremors down your spine and have you hooked from the very first page. It was such a pleasure and privilege to meet such a hugely talented author. Celia, from the children’s team, was lucky enough to get to interview Neil (she is a massive, massive fan) and this will be up on the website soon so keep your ears cleaned out.

But all of these things are in the past and at the moment I am working like only a member of Scottish Book Trust knows how on a variety of projects. Of course there is the Royal Mail Awards, fast drawing to a close, votes flooding in but a huge ceremony to organise (its gonna rock)in Aberdeen. But I am not the only one who is working hard on the Royal Mail Awards, children right across Scotland have been reading the books, discussing them, voting for them and some like this lot from St Joseph’s College in Dumfries have been videoing and blogging about them. The videos are completely brilliant, crazy music, dazzling costumes and wonderful camera angles – you should not miss them and the best bit is that there is even more to come!

We also have a Halloween event with Vivian French in the spooky Caves on Friday complete with fancy dress and atmospheric lighting that promises to be a huge amount of fun. So I guess its all hard work with a few fun things thrown in there too.

Witch reminds me, as Halloween is almost upon us, we have this special feature from Debi Gliori who tells us her Top 5 Scary Places:

1 Any knife-edge mountain ridge. I am the kind of wussy hillwalker that lies down and sobs with acute vertigo when I find that the only way onwards is across one of these things. The only other option being turn back, descend and cross a field of cows. A knife-edge mountain ridge is one of those crumbly things about as wide as your boot with a sheer drop on either side. That's 'sheer' as in 'killer'.
Examples - An Teallach, Liathach Ben Ailligin( sp?), and just about everything in the Cuillins on Skye. Why do I go to these places if they scare me? Because clambering up to the roof of Scotland is the best fun this woman has ever had, even if it scares me witless.
2 Anywhere in front of a microphone in front of an audience. I may look as if I'm cool, calm and collected, but inside I'm a sobbing blob of terror.
3 Walking along the corridor in my house after dark when my partner Michael isn't home. I jump at shadows, imagine axe-murderers, hear pathetic am I?
4 Walking into the 'Lounge Bar' in Lerwick on the island of Shetland with my fiddle in hand to join in with the frighteningly talented Shetland Fiddlers. The only seat left in the entire bar was right in the middle of these geniuses. This is a bit like an enthusiastic amateur tennis player walking onto centre court at Wimbledon. Or a useless hillwalker like me heading off up to the summit of Everest.
5 Some nameless underground station in the bowels of New York City.
The platform was no wider than my handbag, there were rats running on the line below and I felt as if I had a big sign over my head saying "This woman is lost. Please steal her handbag and fling her off the platform for the rats to eat". Of course, this didn't happen. A complete stranger said 'Hey, Lady. You look lost. Can I hep' you?'.

Which only goes to show that the scariest places are inside your own imagination.

After all this I am going back on the road, heading north to see my niece for the first time and I might try and go surfing with a couple of friends.

Things im enjoying
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Conor Oberst
Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain on Audiobook
The West Wing

Quote of the week
"Writing is acting for shy people" - Neil Gaiman

Monday, 20 October 2008

"Duct tape... I LOVE duct tape!"

Hello! Celia here, the newest member of the children’s team, and gosh I’ve been busy since I arrived (that's not me on the left by the way - watch the video below if you don't know who it is!).

I’ve been all over the place. I went with the team to Keith Gray’s event in Fife, the Royal Mail Awards event in Moray, just over the road to The Scottish Storytelling Centre for Joan Lingard’s event and a few weeks ago we had an event with the brilliant Cornelia Funke in the Glasgow Film Theatre. I’ve read Inkheart, the first of her trilogy and I was completely hooked. It’s perfect for anyone who’s ever wished characters from books could walk right off the page, but then again, be careful what you wish for… Inkdeath, the latest and last tome in the Inkheart trilogy has just been released, and it is weighty enough to stun a burglar (not that I am suggesting that you should hit people with books.)

Four hundred kids listened to Cornelia Funke do a reading from her book in her soft German accent, and then watched the trailer for the new Inkheart film on the big screen! Afterwards she had plenty of time to answer everyone’s questions.

The film is out in the UK on 12th December and I think you’ll agree it looks pretty darn good:

That day there was also some excitement as a bat was found nestled above one of the pipes in our old building. He was quickly nicknamed Marlon (after another talkative bat in Vivian French’s Robe of Skulls). Bats are a protected species, so the helpful people at the Bat Conservation Trust instructed us to move the sleepy little guy to a box, feed him some water and then release him at dusk. We’re thinking of getting a bat box so if he comes back he’ll have somewhere to stay.

So what’s up next? Well, events with Neil Gaiman, Vivian French at Halloween (spooky), Malorie Blackman and Kenneth Steven. Can’t wait!

We have also received a recommendation from one of our Teen Ambassadors for a series she says got her into reading:

"The Percy Jackson Series is a series of books written by Rick Riordan.
They focus on a boy named Percy Jackson. In the first book we find out that his life is more than meets the eye, for not only is his father a Greek God, he is rumoured to be one of the "Big Three". His life is now destined for dangerous quests and some very strange meetings with members of the mythological world.

I found this series of books very imaginative and thoroughly enjoyed them as it opened my eyes to Greek mythology which I now find very interesting and enjoyable. I love these books and cannot wait until the next one comes out." - Annabel of Armadale Academy

See you soon!
Children's Programme Assistant and part-time bat handler

'Children's writers do good stuff for readers' story of the week!
In November, bidders on eBay will be given the opportunity to own an original
Emily Gravett illustration, a rare first edition set of Darren Shan novels or appear as a character in the next Cliff McNish book. These are just a few of the long list of pledges that children’s writers and illustrators have generously donated for the IBBY World Congress Benefit auction. What's IBBY? I hear you ask. Find out here.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Keith eyes up the Competition

Keith Gray invades the blog this week to tell us this...

I've been flicking through some of the early entries for the Virtual Writer in Residence writing competition, and I've got to admit to being genuinely impressed with so much of what I've read. What's great is the variety of the pieces - everything from funny fantasy to chilling crime.

Megan from St Columbas has written a moving and atmospheric piece about strangers meeting on The 2:30 Ferry to Belfast. You could call the meeting happenstance or serendipity. Perhaps you could even call it life-saving. What a brilliant piece of writing!

Scott from Bonnyrig has submitted a nervy, twisting ghost story called I Met Jennifer Parkinson, while Susannah from Invergowrie has entered a highly imaginative tale of dragons and nomesachs.

So far stories have arrived from all over the country. Intriguing sci-fi from James at Anderson High School on Shetland; playful fable from Hannah at St Mary's In Chesterfield; brutal murder from Abu-Bakr at Ilford County High in Essex. So that's pretty much the whole of Britain, then. North, South and the bit in the middle.

It seems like every day a new and exciting story arrives at Scottish Book Trust from an enthusiastic new writer with a story to tell. Thanks so much to everybody who's taking the time to write and submit, I'm thoroughly enjoying being part of this quest to discover the best young writers out there. And for anybody who hasn't submitted yet, who just needs that little bit of a nudge to get going, there's still plenty of time to watch my podcasts and get scribbling. The deadline isn't until December 12th and here at SBT we promise to read every single story we receive. We're especially looking forward to reading that one buzzing around in your head right now...

Keith Gray
Scottish Book Trust's Virtual Writer in Residence, author of Ostrich Boys and many more.

Belatedly reported news of the week
We forgot to mention this in last week's blog, but Becky Wright from Morgan Academy was recently announced as the winner of Barrington Stoke and Dundee LEA's book blurb competition. The prize is that her winning book blurb will be turned into a book, written by bestselling author Catherine MacPhail (pictured with Becky) and published by Barrington Stoke in 2009. Here's Becky's winning blurb:

"The school was dark. Empty. Phoebe and her 5 best friends sat alone in their maths classroom getting ready for a ghostly game of hide and seek. One after another they start to go missing. Will they be able to find their friends in time to face the danger that hovers around the corner?"

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Fabulous Dahl-ing

Hello there, I'm Paul, previously referred to on these very pages as both a 'guru' and a 'master', which is very flattering, but perhaps not quite true. I do a lot of Scottish Book Trust's web work; adding content, maintaining this blog, posting videos, adding Days Like This stories, and yes, much much more. Last week I was unshackled from my keyboard though, and allowed to roam free for a few hours in support of our Dahl Day event at the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow.

It was great fun, as you'll know if you were there, with a pretty funny video all about Dahl's life and work, as well as some great guests, including the wonderful Matthew Fitt, who read brilliantly from The Eejits. I got to be a 'roving mic' person during the Q&A section, where various pupils were able to ask Brough Girling - who was a close friend of Roald Dahl's when he was still alive - and Amelia Foster, director of the Roald Dahl Museum, any questions they wanted. Here's me in action:

<--- dreaming of X Factor?

You know, holding a mic is not as simple a responsibility as it might first seem: when you're standing in the middle of 400 kids, all of whom have thrown their hand up in near unison, each desperate to ask a question, the last thing you want to hear from the stage is "why don't we let our able assistants choose..." The pressure's too much I tells ya! So, what I'm saying is, if you didn't get to ask the question you wanted despite feeling sure that you really were the first one with your hand up... I'm sorry!

There was also lots of discussion on the day about favourite Dahl books, and I realised that my far-and-away favourite is Fantastic Mr. Fox. I'm not sure exactly why, but I think it's just the character of Mr. Fox - what a hero! When I grow up I hope I can be just as chivalric and daring as he is. But in terms of the most popular overall, it seems that The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory win most votes (in Glasgow at least). So what's your favourite Roald Dahl story? And did you know he wrote stories for adults too? Have you read any of them? They're pretty twisted... Anyway, add your comments to this blog if you have any answers or thoughts on these questions!

Until next time...

Paul G
Website Development Officer

Best serious piece of funny news this week
Also on the Roald Dahl theme, our friend Michael Rosen has set up the Roald Dahl Funny Prize to tie in with Dahl Day, shortlisting various authors in different age categories who continue with Dahl's spirit of silliness. You can see the full list here, but we're particularly delighted that Manfred the Baddie by John Fardell is nominated in the 6 and under group, cos we love it.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Let them eat cake...

Hey, Chris here again - so firstly I must apologise for the picture that the webmaster put up to accompany my last blog, I hate that picture: I look like a Dickensian fool! Oh that reminds me must get them to change my staff pic too!

In the office we love cake, and so for every birthday we take turns in baking. Last week we had three birthdays (Julia, Paul and Philippa) so we celebrated them all at once with three tastalicious cakes. I have never volunteered myself to make a cake; cooking I’m good at, baking... not so hot - but I decided to bite the bullet and make a cheesecake. As I’ve never made a cake I didn’t have the appropriate kitchen utensils, so it was off to the shops to buy ingredients - whisk, cake-tin and rolling pin. Came home without the rolling pin.

Turns out it’s really simple to make a cheesecake, even without a rolling pin. My blueberry cheesecake was brilliant - it's not the one in the pic, by the way, but not far off! - but don’t just take my word for it. Here's just a sample of my colleagues' reactions:

“Wow! I didn’t think you could cook” - un-named staff member who is yet to blog

“I’m impressed” - Jasmine (this means a lot as she is a cake-making Goddess)

“I think you should bake cakes more often, this is the bestest cheesecake in the world ever” - ok, so I made this one up but still I was happy with how happy people were to eat the thing.

I wasn’t so happy that someone (probably the cleaner) has thrown out the base of my cake-tin. It was NEW!

So our office is a happy, cake-filled office, it really is great to work with such a good bunch of people. I think that part of the reason that we get on so well is that everyone knows when to have a laugh or when to get their heads down and do the work. This week it's one of the latter times and I am doing lots of preparation for events in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Elgin and North Ayrshire, a tour of Moray, another tour of Argyle & Bute, the Royal Mail Awards (which is twice as big as last year) as well as a creative writing competition for teens. As I said it’s busy but fun.

Things that I am currently enjoying:

The Trouble with Dragons (publishing November) by Debi Gliori

Cakemaker Extraordinaire (and Children's Programme Assistant)

Friday, 5 September 2008

So when did writing stories suddenly become cool?!

Kevin Brooks, Julie Bertagna, Keith Gray and Anthony McGowan - cool?

I decided I wanted to become a writer when I was 14. Not that I told anyone. I didn’t dare. I didn’t want the hassle from my mates who thought I was a weird enough already.

I got my first book published ten years later, but there were still plenty of people who thought spending all day writing stories was kind of an odd thing to do. My parents wanted me to be something sensible, like a teacher. My girlfriend wanted me to be something normal, like an accountant. People seemed to believe writers were strange, geeky, nerdish creatures who shouldn’t be allowed out in public.

But not anymore...

I’ve really enjoyed the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year. It’s always a great event, but this year I was taking part as Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Virtual Writer in Residence’ and spent most of my time promoting the short story writing competition on the SBT website. I admit I was a bit worried it might be a tough sell - could I persuade a load of teenagers to do something as uncool as writing stories? So it was a shock and a surprise to meet so many young people who wanted to get involved, who were full of ideas, bursting with enthusiasm, and even wanted to be writers themselves.

And I reckon it’s because books and writers have changed since I was first published, definitely since I was at school. At the book festival I met Anthony McGowan, who’s sharp and funny; Julie Bertagna who’s gorgeous and clever; and Kevin Brooks who’s so laid-back cars can drive over him without scraping his nose. Three writers who are writing the kind of books people really, really want to read.

I guess it’s no wonder writing has suddenly become cool. It’s undoubtedly thanks to all of the inspirational authors around today, and the brilliant books they keep writing. So if the thought of becoming a teacher sends shivers up your spine, and being an accountant sounds like less fun than a week’s holiday in a nunnery, come and join us. Write a story, send it in. I’m looking forward to discovering all of the new, clever, funny, cool writers out there.

Keith Gray
Scottish Book Trust's Virtual Writer in Residence, author of Ostrich Boys and many more.

Need some inspiration before you enter our creative writing competition? Watch Keith's Creative Writing Masterclass (Part 1):

There's more vids where this one came from - right here.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Reach out and touch... Scotland

This week we've been on Edinburgh Book Festival Outreach with some great authors, one of whom was kind enough to do a bit of blogging for us. So it's over to award-winning writer Sophie McKenzie to tell us more...

My first time at the Edinburgh festival and I'm a mix of excited ('i'm at a festival!!') and apprehensive ('what if no-one turns up or I screw up my talks'!!). In the end its even more fun than I hoped it would be... the talk to a group of secondary school students, bussed in to the festival itself, goes really well. I'm on stage with Graham Marks, a friend and fellow teen writer. We're doing a new 'show' - in which we use a load of big screen visuals to talk about where the ideas for our books come from. Graham's an old pro at great events and gets me really enthused with all his ideas.

The next day, I take a road trip with the guys from the Scottish Book Trust as part of Outreach to schools in Alloa and Alva. Standing up in front of 200 14-year-olds is something I've got used to over the past year - but this was different. For a start, the schools are set in amazing countryside with mountains out the window! For a London girl, that's special!!! On top of that, I'm doing a new talk - where I get the students to pick items out of my bag. Whatever they pick, I have to relate to my writing in some way! The pupils at Alloa and Alva are fun and make it really easy for me to relax and enjoy myself - that's me with some of them in the photo - thanks for that, if you're reading!

All in all, I have a great time - Edinburgh is a beautiful city and there's a real buzz around the festival. It's all incredibly well organised and everyone's really friendly and helpful. I love events like these - a great opportunity to hang out with other writers and meet the people who're actually reading my books!

Which reminds me... I guess I'd better go now and get on with writing the next one... !!!

Sophie McKenzie
Author of Blood Ties, Girl, Missing and the forthcoming novel The One and Only
We're Famous! Moment of the week
One of the other fantastic authors with us on outreach this week was Sam Enthoven, who gave us a shoutout in his hugely entertaining blog. Follow the link and look for the reference to 'supreme ninjas'... fame at last!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Marcus Sedgwick and the Zombie Killer Rabbits

This week we welcome a guest blogger, award-winning novelist Marcus Sedgwick. To get a sample of his work, read his exclusive short story on the Scottish Book Trust website.

I think being a writer has got to be one of the best jobs in the world. But that’s because I’ve just handed in a new manuscript and my editor has given it the seal of approval. If you asked me a month ago I might not have been so charitable. With a deadline looming and that tricky last section to get down, I was an unhappy and nervous author. Happily for me it went to plan and I finished the novel that will be published in over a year from now, towards the end of 2009, Revolver.

In the meantime, I’m left in what has to be the best moment of a writer’s lifecycle – current project done, I can set my mind free and wonder what in the whole world wide to write about next. Zombie Killer Rabbits? Telepathic Tortoises? Tooth floss murders? It’s all out there waiting for me, and the thrill of deciding what to do next is certainly easier than actually doing it. That’s not to say that my work is done on Revolver yet – I’ll need to do two or three redrafts of it at least to really get it right, and redrafting is Not Fun, but I always think that that’s the time you earn your money as a writer, when it gets hard, because otherwise, to be paid for thinking up things that aren’t real and writing them down seems really unfair on everyone else. So that’s to come in the next few weeks, but meanwhile, I have a little clear space to ponder my next move. I have absolutely no idea what it is yet, and that’s more than half the fun.

Marcus Sedgwick
Author of My Swordhand is Singing, The Book of the Dead and many more...

Disappointment of the week:
The week began with the news that the release date of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been shifted from this November to July 2009. Normally, if a film's release date is pushed back it means the film company are worried that it's not good enough, but surely that can't be the case with HP... can it? It certainly looks pretty cool from the trailer:

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

How do I love books? In many, many ways...

Why is it that at the beginning of the summer holidays it seems like the school year will never start again, and then towards the end you are left wondering what happened to all that time? Here we are again: in Scotland schools start again next Monday (if you’re reading this south of the border count yourself lucky! You have another 2 weeks to go!)

The school holidays for us are our quiet time: to plan our forthcoming autumn projects and events (keep an eye out for our autumn schedule … we’ve got some really fantastic authors appearing) and to think about what we’d like to do in the coming year, and how we’re going to do it!

Next week sees the re-launch of our Writer in Residence programme, in which writer Keith Gray is getting the best teen fiction writers to write short stories appearing exclusively on our website … just up is Marcus Sedgwick’s story … have a read if you haven’t come across it already. A spooky tale about a near-death experience – not to be missed! But the best thing about the project is that we want teenagers aged 12-16 to send in their own stories … and as it’s all online you don’t have to be based up here in Scotland to enter. Go to the competition information here.

It may be quiet in our office but outside Edinburgh is bustling, bursting at the seams with festival attendees and performers. I’ll be at the book festival later this week for Lari Don’s event about her First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts, a fabulous tale including a centaur, a fairy, a Pheonix, a journey from the Borders to Orkney and back again and, best of all, a really feisty heroine.

Festival season is also party season, and I went to my first last night, the launch of Joan Lingard’s new book from Catnip, The Eleventh Orphan, a happy and chatty evening in Joan’s own house, making it a really special atmosphere. What I love about a book launch is buying your crisp, brand new copy and getting it signed – a really special thing to keep.

One of the best things about this job is that brand new, often not-yet-published books arrive on mine, Jasmine’s and Chris’s desk every day, and, although I’m not nearly as efficient as Chris and Jasmine at getting through them, the summer is a great time to catch up on some overdue reading! I’m very much enjoying Life, Interrupted by Damian Kelleher (due to be published by Piccadilly Press in January), although I know it’s going to make me weep. I’m also taken with Joe Donnelly’s original blend of thriller writing and fantasy in the second of his Jack Flint trilogy, Jack Flint and the Spellbinder’s Curse. Debi Gliori’s new picture book, The Trouble with Dragons, a timely warning about human destruction of the earth, is absolutely stunning. Finally my colleague handed me the latest Diana Wynne Jones book, The House of Many Ways, last week. I am a HUGE fan and exercising the largest degree of self restraint in saving it for a long plane journey on Friday! I cannot wait!

Children's Programme Manager

Next week: author Marcus Sedgwick drops in to the blog...

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Book Festival and beyond

Hi All – I’m Jasmine and I organise events and tours here at the Scottish Book Trust.

When we go on tour during the year with an author or illustrator, we do spend a lot of time with them. It’s great, because normally we get on really well. But imagine spending 12 hours a day with somebody you have never met before (also imagine that from the author’s point of view!), there are times when you run out of things to say. That’s where reading comes in handy. You can just read the author’s book(s) and have lots to talk about. Not that you wouldn’t read that particular book anyway, but it gives you a reason to read it NOW instead of letting it sink to the bottom of the ocean of all the books ‘I really wanted to read but did not get time to’.

I really like my job. Think of all the questions you might have about an author or their work; you would normally have to ask in front of lots and lots of people after an event. I can just ask them on the drive to the venue, over lunch or dinner, or just during the set up and sound check or waiting for the audience to sit down. You really get to know the author a little bit better.

July and August are quiet months when it comes to tours and events – the schools are on summer holidays. There is, however, the fantastic Edinburgh International Book Festival to tide-over anybody who can’t live without live literature. And because they bring such great authors to Scotland, we all thought it would be a shame not to show them some other parts of the country! That’s why Scottish Book Trust got together with Sara from the Book Festival and we came up with the Outreach Programme, taking six authors out of Edinburgh on six different days to do events in schools round the country – hopefully to a place near you!
Some of the books I have read in ‘preparation’ for the Outreach Events have already provoked lots of questions. Take Sophie McKenzie’s new book Blood Ties. It’s a fast-paced thriller about a boy trying to run away from the bodyguard he does not even know he needs (and that’s only the beginning). Why did Sophie chose a boy and a girl as main characters? How much research did she have to do for the book? Or Blood Child by the award-winning Tim Bowler – a novel about a boy who lost his memory, and is scared of what he finds out about himself. Has Tim based the plot of the story on a real event? How involved is he in the design of the covers of his books? Even TIM, Defender of the Earth by Sam Enthoven – a brilliant read that celebrates the destruction of London (to save the world, of course!). Why does Sam want to destroy a city so badly? How come the first defender of the world was a giant Kraken, but the next one is a dinosaur?

I have only mentioned a few, but if you want to know more about the authors we are taking on Outreach, have a look here. If you're curious about the answers, get in touch – I’ll let you know.

Children's Programmer

Interesting observation of the week:The biggest Christmas seller has already been found – 4 months before Christmas! JK Rowling’s Beedle the Bard is already in’s number one spot! If you are after another bestseller and can’t wait until Christmas, what about teenage author Stephanie Meyer’s new book, Breaking Dawn? It’s the fourth book in her fantastic Twilight Saga. Have a look.

Chris says howdy


I’m Chris, I am one third of the Children’s Team here at Scottish Book Trust and I’ve been here for a year and a half (this is the longest I've ever held one job, apart from being a student which really isn’t work) and I absolutely love it here. I just thought that it was about time that we (Scottish Book Trust Children’s Team) let you know who we are, what we do, the things we like and the projects that we are running for you.

I wont be the only one writing this blog, Anna and Jasmine from the children’s team, our web guru Paul, and even some top authors will be dropping in to blog their hearts out about whatever is going on in Scottish Book Trust world.

The summer holidays are fantastic aren’t they? It’s your chance to do as you please, hang out with your buddies without having to worry about getting up for school and generally cause mischief. I too love the summer holidays, I used to spend my summers jumping off cliffs, swimming in the sea, camping with mates in the fields around my town and listening to music. I’ve come to realise that I can still do all these things it’s just that I now have to cram them all in at the weekend.

Now though, the summer holidays are a chance to catch my breath from what has been a feverishly busy 2008, so far we’ve taken Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen on a
tour of Scotland’s major cities, launched an innovative Virtual Writer in Residence project with the brilliant Keith Gray (who has also promised us a blog entry at some point), announced the 2008 Royal Mail awards shortlist, completed 2 other tours, ran our first Children’s Festival and done about 20 one-off events and its only August! Phew!

The only problem about the summer holidays is the Scottish weather, so I thought that I would give you a few of my favourite books to read and some of my favourite Scottish bands for you to listen to. So if it’s raining, grey and miserable you can sit inside and read/listen or if it's gloriously warm you can sit out on the grass and lose yourself in a book or a song (but remember that although sunscreen is yucky and sticky it is good for your skin)!

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror – Chris Priestly
Ostrich Boys – Keith Gray
The Black Tattoo – Sam Enthoven
Creature of the Night – Kate Thompson

Twilight Sad
Sons and Daughters
Frightened Rabbit

Oh, and I nearly forgot about the
fantastic new creative writing competition for you, so do look out for the flyer in all your favourite spots.

Peace out,
Children's Programme Assistant

Cool thing we've heard about this week:
Best-selling author
Janey Louise Jones will take a trip to the Balearic Island this August where children will be treated to Princess Poppy party games and book readings from the author, as part of publisher Random House's new initiative with Thomas Cook holidays. Nice! Want to know more? Read about it here

Next week: Meet Jasmine, Children's Programmer extraordinaire...