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.