Monday, 14 September 2009

Bernard Beckett: Genesis

When Bernard Beckett isn't teaching high school pupils in New Zealand he is an author of young adult fiction and has had many books published in his native country. His latest novel Genesis has been published in the UK. We were lucky enough to have Bernard as part of our Outreach tour this year. His events were excellent - Heather and Jasmine thoroughly enjoyed being challenged to think about human consciousness and the development of artificial intelligence, as did all of the pupils Bernard spoke to in Perth and Kinross. We asked him to tell us about his brief but incredibly busy visit to Scotland...

I arrive in Edinburgh feeling slightly beaten up by a flight which somehow ends up taking thirty hours from airport to airport with the added bonus of queuing for an hour for the friendly and heavily armed folk at LA airport. My first time on US soil and I don't even get a 'have a nice day.' Clearly television has been lying to me. Two hours after arriving in Edinburgh I do a reading for the Amnesty International event, and rather hope my jetlag mistranslates into gravitas.

Next morning and my senses are sufficiently sharpened to notice Edinburgh is one of the world's great cities, just so beautiful and with the slightly manic air of festival land stretched over it all, it's quite the sight. I begin to wonder if I might not be able to live here one day, but four words of warning echo in my head (this is their summer, this is their summer). I suspect I would miss the beach life.

My first event proper at the Book Festival is, in theory, me addressing a school group. Only the school cancelled (or there never was such a booking and the organisers are just trying to make me feel better). We're saved by home schooling. One young chap, his parents, a couple of ring-ins with New Zealand connections and the woman whose job it is to hold that microphone make for an intimate wee audience. We have a fine time nonetheless, as one must.

Get to record a video entry of 'The Book That Changed My Life', choosing the book in question as I walk into the fairy tale world of the Scottish Book Trust. Charming building and charming folk, and there's a fudge shop across the way, this city just gets better.

My evening event draws a crowd, thanks to the fact that I'm sharing the stage with Patrick Ness who is, you know, well known. I'm beginning to feel like I'm trapped in an episode of Flight of the Conchords, only I can't sing. We talk about talking dogs, as you do, and bright lights. A girl at the front has the most excellent laugh I have heard in a long time.

My favourite part of the Scottish adventure is the chance to travel north with two of the Scottish Book Trust wonders to visit and chat with students from a couple of high schools. The first is Blairgowrie and it's my great privilege to address two Religious Studies classes. I feel a slight pang of jealousy, we don't have much in the way of philosophy based education back home. The teens are smart and engaging, and capable of feigning polite interest throughout for which I am truly grateful. We talk about humans and machines and what the differences might be. It's fun for me; what it's like inside their heads I have no idea. Fantastic though to think some of the ideas in Genesis have traveled this far. A hugely gratifying thought, the biggest buzz of being a writer for me.

Next up is Perth, what a pretty town. It's hard not to feel a little aggrieved at whoever is responsible for not spending a little more on the school buildings. Again an audience brimming with an alert optimism, the sort only teenagers really manage to pull off. They deserve to be learning in palaces these young folk. What's more they arrive in their lunchtime which shows uncommon commitment I think. Two delightful students have read Genesis over summer (do you still use that word?) which makes me inordinately happy. As my talk begins the school band rehearse energetically overhead. Were I the rhythmic type I might try to keep time, as it is I bumble along to my own drum and once again the questions from the students are insightful and generous. My feelings towards Scotland grow still warmer.

Three nights in Edinburgh and it's back on the plane to Wellington New Zealand, another whimsical windswept city. And back to teaching. The more alert amongst my students have at least noticed I was away, bless them.

Here is Bernard's video entry for The Book That Changed My Life. You can read more entries on our website.

Other News:

Stephanie Myer and J.K. Rowling are set to have their biographies published in comic-strip form later this year.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Janis Mackay: Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest

Janis Mackay recently won the Kelpie's Prize 2009 for her book Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest. We asked her to drop by the blog to tell us a bit about her inspiration for the book and how it feels to be a prize winner.

My journey with Magnus Fin began over a year ago. My partner and I had recently moved into this house by the sea in Caithness. Day and night the waves pound or lap or sigh. When the waves have been powerful I smell the tang of seaweed. Having the sea as your neighbour is to live up close to mighty creative inspiration.

I became fascinated by what the tide brought in – and often horrified. Once, after three days of stormy high waves thousands of plastic bottles littered the shoreline. I saw how hard and dangerous it is to be a wild sea bird. Young herring gulls die of starvation. Carcasses of cormorant and shag are washed up. Then wonderful things too – a little carved wooden horse all the way from Prague! A lifebuoy from Norway, half a rusted bell from a sunken ship.
At low tide here the mast of a sunken boat is visible. That really fired my imagination. It gave me a glimpse into a hidden underwater world – so naturally I started wondering – what else is down there?

Then the story of Magnus Fin, a boy who goes under the sea, came to me quickly. I had huge sheets of paper and decided, before writing the story down, I would attempt to draw it. Drawing is not my strong point but I thought it might help me visualise the characters and the settings. In that drawing my underwater creatures were mermaids. Later I changed them (all except one) into selkies.

For a long time I have been a storyteller. Having written Magnus Fin as a 17,000 word story I told it – or the gist of it – to a friend. I could see her eyes widen. She liked it. Then I sent the 17,000 word script to Hi-Arts. They offer a work-in-progress critique service to writers in the Highlands.

And if, by any chance, my anonymous reader reads this – thank-you! The story then was entitled ‘The waking of Neptune.’ I was given many helpful suggestions and the written critique ended by saying – make the story at least 40,000 words and send it to the Kelpies Prize!
Wining the Kelpies Prize was such a joy. What a treat to meet Joan Lingard, and to receive £2,000 – and most of all to know that Magnus Fin and these windswept rugged and beautiful northern shores – and my imaginative underwater world – will go on a journey and who knows where that will take them?

The whole adventure that Magnus Fin goes on under the sea happens because he asks for it. He throws a bottle out to sea and in his message – sent to the deep unknown, he asks ‘to be more brave.’ Well, ask the ocean something like that and you can be sure you will be tested.
I have wanted to be a writer since I was five. I have taken a long way round – via journalism, acting, storytelling, teaching – but not long ago I too threw my bottle out to sea. The Kelpies Prize is a lovely answer.

Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest is published by Floris on the 22nd October 2009.

Other News:

Enquire spoke to Malorie Blackman recently and you can now listen to the interview on their blog.
An exciting literary festival - Eildon Tree 10: Celebrating 10 Years of New Writing in the Scottish Borders - takes place 25 - 27 September with a line up of writers including Janice Galloway and Kathleen Jamie. More information can be found on the Heart of Hawick website.
Lili Wilkinson has blogged about her Outreach events, you can read the entry here.
SBT's Jasmine and Chris set off this weekend on their tour of the Highlands with Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Our Chris is going to keep a video tour diary so look out for that on their return!

The Teens and Young People section of our website is getting better all the time. At the moment we're looking for lots of book reviews written by teenagers to be uploaded at the start of each month. If you or any bookwormy teenagers you know are interested in writing for us, please take a look at our Reviews section.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Reachout, no, Outreach

Back on the blogseat this week is Chris, you may remember him from such blogs as Suddenly She Turned Into a Gerbil, Secret Santa and Chris Says Howdy or you may not. He is here to blog about Outreach and being Festivaled-out...

A lot has happened since the last time I blogged here: the summer has come and gone, the Edinburgh festival flew past in whirl of entertaining wallet emptying, Michael Jackson died or was murdered (depending on who you believe) and we have just completed the Outreach events as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The premise of Outreach is simple, we take 6 authors or illustrators from the festival out to schools and areas who cannot get to the festival over 6 days. We had a dizzying array of talent in the Bookmobile over the last two weeks from all over the world...

First up, the wonderful Lili Wilkinson from Australia. We ventured north up to Brechin and then onto Arbroath top speak to students about Lili’s wonderful novel, Scatterheart, usually historical romance fiction is a non-starter for me but this book completely won me over. Lili had been doing research into her family tree and discovered that she had family in Brechin and we even managed to find her great-great-great grandmother grave at the cemetery! Lili also works on the award winning website for teen literacy Inside of a Dog – check it out it wont bite!

Day two and the rain is teeming down as we head over to Glasgow with the graphic novelist and comic book hero, Tony Lee. His previous work includes some small comic books that most folk wont of heard of, X-Men and Spiderman anyone!!! But we were there to promote his latest book, Outlaw: Robin Hood. Tony’s enthusiasm for writing and his sheer effervescent joy at doing what he loves to do shone through and was magically contagious. So much so that we all forgot about the rain and one wee lad in the second session who had the most outrageous laugh could not stop laughing. The poor lad nearly choked!

My next outing was with Liz Pichon who is a writer and illustrator of picture books including Bored Bill, The Very Ugly Bug and Penguins. We had two brilliant interactive sessions in Falkirk with quizzes, storytelling, drawing and colouring in – ace fun! Liz also runs a really amazing website, Show Me How to where you can learn to play your favourite songs.

During the morning session a wee boy came over to me and asked if I could tie his shoe-lace, so I did, but as I finished his teacher came over and told me that he could do that himself! So I asked him, “Why am I tying your shoe-lace if you can do it yourself?” His response… “Just cause” and off he went to finish his drawing.

We had a little extra time over lunch so we took Liz to see the Falkirk Wheel which is such an amazing feat of engineering and we also had a look at the prototype Horse Heads that they are planning on building.

My last day of Outreach was marred by stinking traffic in Edinburgh but once Frank Cottrell Boyce started reading it was soon forgotten. Frank (whose other work includes Coronation Street, 24 Hour Party People, Welcome to Sarajevo as well as film-adaptations of his books Millions and Framed) has written three novels – Millions, Framed and Cosmic. You may have seen Millions at the cinema or read about it winning the Carnegie Medal (not bad for a first effort!) and Framed was on the BBC this week, probably still on i-player and Cosmic was shortlisted for the Carnegie this year too! Frank thoroughly entertained his audience and his stories about his work and where his ideas sprout from were fantastic.

Also out on Outreach were Bernard Beckett and Thomas Docherty but as I was not at these sessions so I cannot comment on them but I have been reliably informed that they were excellent.

In amongst all of this, the Book Festival. Events with the Beano, Terry Deary (of Horrible Histories fame) and Michael Rosen (of Michael Rosen fame) as well as everything that the Edinburgh festival entails.

Phew! I'm knackered - I could sleep for a week, if only, there are 50 teachers coming round on Thursday and will need fed, watered and entertained!


Things what i'm loving
Broken Records
Phantom Band