Monday, 26 January 2009

Simon Puttock: I BLAME THE KIDS

The author of the 2008 Royal Mail Award nominated Goat and Donkey in Strawberry Sunglasses tells it like it is:

On Thursday, as I went about my usual writerly business of talking to children about… well, stuff, I was faced not with just the usual one or two classes, but an ENTIRE school - P1s to P7s, the whole caboodle. The gamut. The lot. All 25 of them (24 actually, 4 percent were/was absent.) Even I, who prefers the unexpected and likes to wing it, was thinking this could prove to be too much of a good thing.

So there I was: serious-faced P1s to the left of me. Boisterous P3s at twelve o’clock. Almost nearly a bit grown-up P7s to the right. And the rest jostling for position in between. Now, just as bicycles need ankles in order to go, when it comes to school visits, I need questions. (Of course I read stories too, but questions are the engine of a session.) And at that moment THE question was, how much questioniness was there in this room? I should know better than to worry about these things…

Because although I am verbose - I ramble - I TALK TOO MUCH - what happened next really wasn’t my fault. One hour (and then some) of talking, falling over (only once), drawing the world’s worst cactus/duck/person, and general literary analysis and I was NOT responsible. I was still answering questions as I pulled on my coat and started to dash for my taxi but again, don’t look at me. It was those pesky children and their excellent QUESTIONS, making me THINK, forcing me to SAY STUFF. It’s happened before. There is probably nothing I can do to stop it happening again. Because when it comes to a good school visit, like I say, I BLAME THE KIDS.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

January Survival Kit: The West Wing and books

If December is about celebration January is about survival: you just have to get through it. And, according to my colleague Clare, last Monday was officially the most depressing day of the year. Well, we got through that so things must be getting better…

There are two things helping me survive Edinburgh’s dark January days: series 3 of The West Wing and books. Now I’m going to tell you a secret. My colleague Jasmine deals in books. Like all dealers, she runs a slightly covert operation. She’s not one to shout about things. And the currency is enthusiasm, not hard cash. But, gradually, over a few days, you suddenly realise pretty much everyone in the office is reading the same thing, and that their supplier was Jasmine. One of her most recent offerings has already made a brief appearance on this blog, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, but I was so struck by it I thought you wouldn’t mind my mentioning it again. It’s reality TV taken to its very extreme – read it. You won’t be disappointed. Also on my reading list at the moment is Bad Faith by Gillian Philip – another dystopian world where this time the Church has taken over. I’m only 100 pages in but it’s gripped me – I can’t wait to get to the end. And, because it’s January, there’s got to be some comfort reading. And mine, I’m almost ashamed to say, is Jane Austen. Not Pride and Prejudice – that’s good on telly, not so good in book form – but Mansfield Park. You can’t beat it.

There are two other readers in my household. The first is deep in Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. For the second, perhaps 'reader' is stretching it a bit … she’s only 2. But she does love her picture books. She can be fickle in her taste – her favourites change daily. Currently top of her list are Follow that String, A Lark in the Ark, Natalie Russell’s beautiful new book Donkey’s Busy Day and Viv French’s first two books in her new series Sparkle Street. But there’s a couple of books she comes back to again and again … an ancient edition of Babar’s Big Book of Words, given to her by my cousin, now 16, who loved it when she was 2, and the Janet and Allan Ahlberg classic, Each Peach Pear Plum, at the end of which she always clammers “again, again” (either because she loves it so much or because she has worked out it delays bedtime by an extra few minutes – sometimes I suspect the latter).

But January hasn’t all been doom and gloom … here’s Jenny Watson, coordinator of the wonderful Aberdeen Reading Bus, to tell us about her January highlight:

“The Reading Bus and team had a fantastic day out at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 15th January 2009.

“The Reading Bus had a spectacular parking spot under Arthur's Seat and hosted a Scots Reading Champion Session. The guest class from Newcraighall School enjoyed an enthralling hour with Sheena Blackhall, Matthew Fitt, Bill Wilson, MSP and youngsters from Hanover Street School and Kittybrewster School.

“Inside the Scottish Parliament team members, including pupils, showcased examples of the innovative practice developed by The Reading Bus to an audience of MSPs, Scottish Book Trust representatives and a wide variety of guests from literacy organisations, authors, illustrators and poets.

The Reading Bus is extremely grateful to Maureen Watt, MSP for North- East Scotland for hosting this fantastic opportunity. It was a grand day out for all and a wonderful opportunity to share the work of The Reading Bus with a national audience.”

Enjoy the rest of your January!


Monday, 12 January 2009

Christmas holidays – otherwise known as On The Road

Before we put the comfortable memory of Christmas behind us for another year, please indulge us as Scottish Book Trust's General Manager Jeanette Harris gives us a peek at her rather adventurous few weeks:

With great sadness (ahem) we locked the doors of Scottish Book Trust on 23rd December for the long-awaited Christmas holiday break. Of course it was practically impossible to drag the SBT team from their desks, but the enticement of lunch and a glass of Irn Bru did the trick.

But my Christmas road race had started before then. I could give Jack Kerouac a run for his money with stories of being on the road. Have a look at this...

22 December – To Perth return 90 miles. Collecting Dad and dinner with family, including nephews (age 2 and 4) who entertained with Christmas carols learned at nursery, dressed as shepherds.

24 December - To Perth return 90 miles. Because we forgot to bring some of the Christmas parcels on 22 December.

25 December – Santa delivered! To Bo’ness return 50 miles. Christmas dinner with family, lasting 6 hours, with long recovery breaks between courses. Entertained by nephews, singing the rude versions of Christmas carols learned at nursery, dressed as Spidermen.

28 and 29 December – To Peterhead return 330 miles. Delivering Dad back home to be met at the front door by the debris of an Amarylis plant which had fallen off its shelf.

30 December – To Fife return 44 miles. Beautiful walk up Benarty Hill to blow away cobwebs.

31 December – To St. Abbs Head return 102 miles. Walking the dog Gill. Hat blew off and probably now in Norway.

1 January – To Kirknewton return 25 miles. Dinner at friend’s with her children – my how they’ve grown – aged 23, 27 and 30!

2 January – To Portobello then to the Grange (Edinburgh) 10 miles - 2 parties in one day – live music at both, Scottish variety of course!

4 January – To the Falkirk Wheel 56 miles return - walking on the Antonine Wall (named for Antoninus Pious, left) – Christmas history lesson.

5 January – Back to work... But it doesn’t stop there! To Glasgow at midnight 94 miles return. Collecting daughter and partner who missed their earlier flight from Heathrow! Back from Australia via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia and the orangutans in the Sumatra jungle.

891 miles in total – trust the General Manager to do calculations during her holidays!

I even had time to read a bit:
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Man Booker prizewinner 2008), for my book group.

Oor Wullie (pictured top), published by DC Thomson, because it’s a tradition.


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Frohes Neues Jahr!

As 2009 kicks off, we hand the blog reins back over to Keith Gray, to tell us a bit about his holiday reading...

Hello. Hope you all had a good time during the holidays. ’09 already! Kind of scary. I didn’t manage to finish half the stuff in ’08 that I was planning on doing...
I’ve got to admit, however, the last few days of the year were excellent. I went to Vienna, to stay with my partner’s family (because that’s where she’s from) and to experience Weihnachten and Sylvester - or Christmas and Hogmanay Austrian-style. So I could tell you about all the Schnapps I drank, the Wiener Schnitzel I ate and the waltzes I danced. But this is a Scottish Book Trust blog so I reckon rather than talk about how drunk, greedy and two-left-footed I was I’d tell you about the excellent books I read while I was away.

First up is ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins. It’s a brilliant slice of sci-fi dystopia, where the rulers of a post-apocalyptic America punish the citizens with a deadly, reality-TV style, gladiatorial fight for survival. 12 boys and 12 girls are chosen randomly, and these 24 ‘tributes’ are put into a wilderness arena before having to fight to the death in front of the cameras. There’s echoes of traditional folktales with the idea of sacrificial virgins, as well as new twists on recent stories (Stephen King’s ‘The Running Man’ or ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson), and it’s possibly the most exciting book I’ve read all year. I should have been enjoying snow and Sauerkraut with my in-laws, but I was many years into the future willing Katniss and Peeta to make it to the end.

And the other book I read was something a bit different. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bit of a ‘Doctor Who’ fan, but I’m definitely not a nerdy obsessive (a Whovian). But I have been interested in the Russell T Davies book about the writing of the programme and was lucky enough to find a copy in my stocking. And what a great book ‘The Writer’s Tale’ is! If there is anybody out there interested in writing (stories, books, scripts) it’s an insight into how writing works, about ideas, about characters, about re-writing, about re-writing, about re-writing... It’s also a fascinating glimpse of a hugely successful writer who’s possibly a bit mad, definitely obsessive, sometimes egotistical, but mostly genuine and warm. I reckon it should be the new Bible for all writers out there, professional or wannabe. And it’s so big I was able to use it as a duvet to sleep under in the freezing Viennese temperatures.

So there’s two quick recommendations to kick off ‘09. If you read them, get in touch and let us know what you think.

Prosit Neujahr.

What have you been reading over the holidays? Add your reviews and recommendations below...