Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Malcolm Rose: Forbidden Island

At the moment you can't stand at a bus stop, open a newspaper or turn on the news without encountering the topic of germs! Our blog is no exception - Malcolm Rose drops by to tell us how his career in chemistry, fascination with government secrets and love of British islands inspired his latest novel Forbidden Island.

Favourite British mountain: Ben Nevis (climbed four times). Favourite British city: Edinburgh (visited lots). Favourite British view: Edale in Derbyshire (sorry about that). Favourite British wilderness: Glencoe area (scene of several holidays). Favourite British islands: western Scottish (apart from the fictional one I invented for my new thriller, Forbidden Island).

You get the idea. As a writer, I’m inspired by highlands and islands. And secret Government experiments into germ warfare conducted on Gruinard Island, near Ullapool.

I first heard about Gruinard Island – where the British government experimented with germ warfare in the 1940s – about thirty years ago. I was a chemistry lecturer then and I was shocked that this country might have used my favourite topic to kill people. Ever since, I’ve had it in mind to base a novel on this event. It’s taken a wee while!

Forbidden Island is about a group of children who get stranded on a secret island like Gruinard. I didn’t visit Gruinard for research because the island in my novel is fictitious. Most of my research was about the scientific experiments. Having been a chemist, I know where to look for information and I can understand the jargon.

Science is all about inventing and discovering new and often controversial things, so it provides a steady stream of new ideas and conflict for a thriller and crime writer like me. I think my thrillers like Forbidden Island are about the corrupting effect of politics and money on science. In other words, the conflict doesn’t come from iffy science but its misuse by iffy people.

I have one simple method of writing. I have the basic idea, the main characters and an exciting opening scene in my mind. Then I start to write and see what happens. The plot is totally flexible. I didn’t know who would survive the exploration of the forbidden island and who would not, whether it would be happy or sad. That way, it’s great fun for me, like the reader, to find out what’s going to happen. It encourages me to keep thinking and writing because I really want to know the ending.
Malcolm Rose above

Other news:

Are you a poet aged 11-14? The John Betjeman Young People's Poetry Competition is now open to you! Budding poets are asked to write a poem about their local surroundings. The prize of £1,000 is up for grabs. The deadline is 31st August. Find out more information here.

Director Spike Jonze has turned Maurice Sendak's classic, Where The Wild Things Are into a film. It is released in the UK in December. Check out the trailer here.

Have you tried the new Scottish Book Trust book quiz? No?! Well try it now!! A new one will be added weekly.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Michael Merillo: A summer for a little sci-fi and fantasy

After a short time away, our venue manager Michael is back in the Scottish Book Trust office. We're all very excited to have him back and to mark his very real return we asked him to tell us what he's been reading whilst he was away - it seems that his tastes lean more towards the fantastical...

The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Robert E. Howard (Gollancz)

I started my summer reading off by cutting a bloody swath through the age of Hyboria alongside Conan the Cimmerian – thief, outlaw, mercenary, pirate, and king. While it’s true that he is a muscle bound, sword-swinging, uber-man, this brooding, blue-eyed barbarian is also an excellent example of anti-hero. My favourite kind of hero. When the story is resolved, usually ‘good’ things happen to characters around Conan, however, the motivations behind many of his actions are often selfish, amoral, and sometimes downright villainous. For example, in his quest for fame and fortune he disposed of the tyrannical king of Aquiliona by strangling him on the steps of his own throne, then taking the crown for himself. He found his fame and fortune, and the kingdom (and the world) was rid of an evil madman. And yes, before you ask, he always does get the women.

Robert E. Howard, a Texan writer, using Conan and his other character helped to create the very popular sword-and-sorcery genre of the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was also a member of The Lovecraft Circle of early 1900’s science-fiction, fantasy, and horror writers of America, with his regular correspondence and collaboration with H.P. Lovecraft. Conan, and his world, have been with us for over 70 years and he continues to cleave at popular culture - having spawned four Hollywood films, comics galore, many novels, television programs, games, and most recently a hugely successful MMORPG.

Gollancz has helpfully complied all the original Robert E. Howard stories in chorological order (as they appeared in the pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales) from 1932 until his death in 1936 into a single hefty, nearly 1,000 page long, tome of manliness.

Mortal Engines: Philip Reeves (Scholastic)

After stomping round in the dark forests and blazing desert of Hyboria with my barbarian compatriot, I thought I would hop a ride with young Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw in the Jenny Haniver. In a post-apocalyptic world of moving cities that hunt each other like a cats hunt mice, Tom and Hester have very different goals, but they have to work together to survive. Battling treachery, heartbreak, robots, hunger, and megalomaniacs the two young heroes seek to right wrongs and prove themselves right (and the other wrong).

Mortal Engines is the first in a quartet of books (plus another book that serves as a prequel) based in the Traction Era, by Philip Reeve. In the far future, the Earth was destroyed in the “Sixty Minute War” and many of the notions we hold dear today are no more. Nation no longer exist, instead each city-state – often entire cities mounted on huge caterpillar-tracks – fight a fierce battle for materials and often times merely for survival in a very Darwinist method. Hunting and eating other cities.

A good read for those who live in Edinburgh and wish the weather wasn’t so rubbish (even during the summer!) – If only the city could just start its engines and move south for some warm Mediterranean weather.

Other news:

Kate Greenaway Medal winning author and illustrator Emily Gravett will be illustrating Julia Donaldson's next picture book, due to be titled Cave Baby and published in autumn 2010. This will be the first time that Emily has illustrated someone else's work.

Film director Stephen Frears is going to turn Posy Simmonds' comic strip and graphic novel character, Tamara Drewe, into a film. Bond girl Gemma Arterton is to star in the title role.

Last night at Blackwell, Barrington Stoke launched Lari Don's re-telling of Tam O'Shanter. Alex Salmond sent a message of congratulations, although wasn't able to be there in person. Lari treated everyone to some wonderful readings from the book, which has an introduction from Sir Jackie Stewart, before we all enjoyed the wonderful cake which had the book cover in icing on the top!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Carolyne Latham: Back to the future for the holidays!

Carolyne Latham works in the children's department of Blackwell on South Bridge here in Edinburgh. Spending so much time surrounded by books in such a wonderful children's section ensures that Carolyne's finger is always on the pulse of new children's fiction. She takes over the blog to give us a few ideas for summer reading...

After work last Tuesday my colleague Julie and I had only to pootle down from the bookshop to the Dovecot Studios to view Mr Gumpy and Other Outings, an exhibition of artwork by John Burningham. The picture book author and illustrator was first to win the Kate Greenaway Medal twice for Borka and Mr Gumpy's Outing, and the collection of work provides insight into the creation of his distinctive books. The exhibition and its events programme coincide with the publication of It's a Secret!, in which a curious little girl discovers where her cat disappears to every night...

I did not realise there were questions over the whereabouts and wellbeing of Winnie-the-Pooh, but we are to be told everything in Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, sequel to The House at Pooh Corner, which is due for publication in autumn. In anticipation of the new Winnie-the-Pooh book, children beginning to read on their own can discover the A A Milne stories with their original E H Shepard illustrations, and enjoy summer with Christopher Robin and the Best Bear in All the World.

The familiarity of the Hundred Acre Wood is far from the forests of Finland, where creatures we know as Moomintrolls live. Author Tove Jansson wrote Finn Family Moomintroll, the first in a series of eight, with her remote environment as the inspiration for her highly artistic and imaginative work. With the publication of Moominpappa at Sea, book lovers over the age of eight can come along on every Moomin adventure.

The creation of the landscape of Scandinavia is one of the secrets we discover in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, my favourite book as a young adult. The original psychedelic cover had DON'T PANIC in large friendly letters on the back, just like the intergalactic guide book itself, and the story of Arthur Dent and his friends led to four more books in an increasingly inaccurate trilogy of five. After the death of author Douglas Adams, the publication in autumn of book six, And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer invites a new generation to discover the series.

So there's a little something for all ages - thank you Carolyne! Of course, keep checking the blog throughout the summer for even more titles to add to your 'To Read' lists!

Other news:

Walker Books has brought forward publication of a new Alex Rider novel, Crocodile Tears, to this autumn after author Anthony Horowitz delivered the manuscript earlier than expected. You can read more about this exciting development on the Bookseller website.

The latest Harry Potter film - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is released this week, (not that any of you eager muggles needed reminding!)

The diaries of Alison Uttley - creator of Little Grey Rabbit - have been edited by her biographer Professor Denis Judd, and are published this month by Pen and Sword. The diaries span the years between 1931 and 1972 and reveal a darker side to the author of the cute wee rabbit, from her contempt for Enid Blyton, to her dislike of her illustrators.

Many of you will have been following the news on the vetting of authors who visit schools (The Vetting and Barring Scheme organised by The Independent Safeguarding Authority). Please note that the proposal does not cover Scotland. For further information please refer to Disclosure Scotland guidelines at http://www.disclosurescotland.co.uk/.

Carmen Reid: Teenage Kicks

Carmen Reid looks back on her teenage years spent at boarding school in Edinburgh - the inspiration for her Secrets at St Jude's books.

The idea of writing for teenagers scared me, to be honest. I know nothing about what music they like, what gadgets and internet sites they use and now that we are in an 80s revival, I feel so sorry for them having to wear all those totally unflattering flouro colours, harem trousers and shoulder pads. I was there the first time round and I look back at the photos in horror!
But I realised the one thing I have in common with teenagers is that… I used to be one. Surely that must help?
I do remember feeling so torn between being a child and wanting desperately to be an adult. There’s such an inner conflict. Sometimes you make a big leap, like falling in love for the first time… sometimes, you fall backwards again and only your Mum and Dad will do.
Between the ages of 13 and 17 I was at boarding school in Edinburgh. The first year I was so homesick, I think I was clinically depressed. I was miserable, I was so far away from the people who loved me and living with strangers who didn’t really care. There were several strict and old-fashioned teachers who made the school day very cold and dreary and it took a long time to make new friends.
But by sixth form, I had teachers I really liked, I had a fantastic circle of friends and the centre of Edinburgh was a great place to hang out at the weekend.

Secrets at St Jude’s is a boarding school series, inspired by my Edinburgh years. It’s about four firm friends from different backgrounds, but because they share a dorm they become as close as sisters. It’s about school, friendship, first boyfriends, jealousy, awkwardness, pranks, making mistakes… all the things that matter to teenage girls.
I can’t tell you how much fun I have writing about the girls, I am desperate to know what happens next… I hope my readers are too.
The second Secrets at St Jude’s: Jealous Girl is out now.
Other news:

After the success of this years inaugural Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children's Book Award it has been announced that the award will be running again in 2010. The award will go to a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or the ethnic and cultural origins of its author. Find out more information about the award on the Seven Stories website.

In March 2009, Orion Children's Books, the Born Free Foundation and Waterstone's announched the launch of a nationwide competition to raise awareness of animal conservation and encourage children to this about the importance of wildlife buy making models of endangered animals from recycled material (judge Virginia McKenna OBE and author Lauren St John pictured left with the winning entries). The winners of the Animals Are Not Rubbish competition have now been announced. To see a compete list of winners check out the Born Free Foundation's website.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Kate Forsyth: Edinburgh, a city full of stories.

Last month children's author Kate Forsyth came to Edinburgh to do two events with us. She told us all about her latest novel The Puzzle Ring, and delighted her audiences with the gruesome tale of Mary Queen of Scots. Kate takes over the blog this week to tell us about her love of Edinburgh and passion for stories...

I love Edinburgh. It is one of my favourite cities in the world. It seems like a city out of a fairytale, with spires and towers rising high against the sky, narrow cobbled alleyways, strange stone faces on ancient fountains, grand squares and avenues with heraldic flags snapping in the wind, and towering over it all, the castle on its hill. So I was so pleased to come back to Edinburgh, at the invitation of the Scottish Book Trust, to talk about my new book, The Puzzle Ring which is set in Scotland.

I have lived all my life in Australia, seventeen thousand kilometres away from Edinburgh. Yet I was brought up on the old tales of Scottish history and folklore, stories handed down through the generations from my great-great-grandmother who was born on the Black Isle in the Highlands. Stories about ghosts and curses and fairies and battles and betrayals, stories filled with adventure and danger and magic. Just the kind of stories I like to write!

I was amazed to learn that my audiences had not heard many of these stories. The children were enraptured by the tale of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the bloodstain on the floor of her bedchamber that no amount of scrubbing can remove; by the story of Tam Lin and how he was saved from the Otherworld by his brave sweetheart Janet; by the account of old curses and prophecies and how they came at last to pass.

I learnt again that stories have the power to connect us all, to each other and to the past. My great-great-grandmother’s stories had travelled all the way to Australia, down five generations of storytellers, and then back to the land where they began. I think she’d have been very glad!

Other news:

Mr Gumpy and Other Outings, an exhibition celebrating 50 years of John Burningham's work, is now at Dovecot Studios, Infirmary St., Edinburgh, 7 July - 5 September.

On Thursday 9th July at 7pm, there is a screening of The Age of Stupid at The Scottish Storytelling Centre. All welcome!

Darren Shan, master of all things demonic, will be doing an event with us in Glasgow in October. Watch the Scottish Book Trust website for more information...

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Suddenly She Turned Into a Gerbil

Hello, this is Chris and i am happy to be back in the blog-seat. This is a blog about last week, last week was brilliant...

Last week was a brilliant brilliant week!Firstly, my bro and his wife rushed off to hospital to have twin baby girls (both very cute and tiny), which left me looking after my 4 year-old nephew. He is great fun and he took great delight in soaking my shorts with the hose while we were supposed to be watering the plants, for my revenge I beat him at draughts. Like every wee lad he is going through a cheeky-phase and is calling everyone Mr or Mrs Poopy-face, so it’s especially hard not to laugh when he calls the check-out girl in Sainbury’s Mrs Poopy-face (a silent chuckle from me instead).

It is Wednesday already and for our final Big Issue event of the 08-09 school year we thought we would try something a bit different: rather than us going into the school we thought it would be great if schools would come to us. So out went the invites, in came the responses and finally in came the pupils from Newcraighall, Burdiehouse Primary and Leith Primary School.

John Fardell talked about his latest exciting novel, The Secret of the Black Moon Moth, before guiding the children through the art of storytelling, imagination and illustration by asking them to think of what happens next and getting them to draw their suggestions. All of this happens on the flipchart at the front of the stage and it always reveals a mad story, crazy character and even crazier plot twists “suddenly she turned into a gerbil”!

Philip the photographer for The Big Issue then gathered the pupils around John for some group shots before Jane (Big Issue’s wonderful reporter) interviewed a small group of the children for the magazine feature which should be out in about a month or so. John’s events are always such a pleasure to be involved with because his enthusiasm and love of writing/illustration shines through and it is infectious – a little like swine flu only without the nasty side-effects!

Ok, so where are we now, Wednesday afternoon. Following our Big Issue event is was time for me to leave the office and take my shiny new car on its first road-trip: 3 hours north to Aberdeen. What was waiting in Aberdeen for me? One ticket to go and see rock icon, Neil Young with my dad! The gig was truly brilliant, loads of great songs, big-,loud riffs and outros that just went on and on and on and on – watch highlights of his Glastonbury set to see what I mean. Stayed with my cousin at her nearby cottage then up at 6am back in the car and back at my desk by 9ish to start another day - well worth the early start and the 6hr round trip.

Thursday, a peaceful but busy day back in the office tying up most of the loose ends of our Highland Tour in September with Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell- we are officially now good to go. All we need is somewhere to rest our heads each night, some places to fill our tummies and to get our stars up to the Highlands and back to London.

Finally Friday night, work is over for another week and it’s time for another gig – this time it is part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and sees 3 local bands (Eagleowl, Meursault and Found) scoring music to some archive film footage; a lovely piece about a fishing boat, the postal service and Laurel and Hardy visiting the Playhouse in Edinburgh (they were the Brangelina of their day).

The event made me feel nostalgic so as well as reading Fergus Crane by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, I picked up Michael Rosen's Sad Book off my shelf and read it repeatedly as well as Days Like This from the Scottish Book Trust as its full of people’s memories. Apart from spilling an entire pint of Guinness down my jeans I had a great time and it was a perfect way to end a brilliant week.

Over and out.