Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Barbara Mitchelhill: Dangerous Diamonds

We were really pleased to recently host the launch of Barbara Mitchelhill’s new book Dangerous Diamonds with the help of Murrayburn primary school. Here is what she has to say:

Arriving in Edinburgh for the Scottish Book Trust’s launch of Dangerous Diamonds was exciting but quite bizarre. Here I was in the city where, over a year ago, I had dreamed up the whole story. The setting for Dangerous Diamonds is Edinburgh and I when I arrived at Waverley Station, I jumped into a taxi and went across town to visit friends whose flat in the Grassmarket is where the story starts and where Charlotte and Harry live. On the way, I passed the Assembly Rooms in George Street where their dad goes missing and I caught a glimpse of the grand house where the villain, Edina Ross, lives. All these were real places that but the characters were all out of my imagination.
That is the good thing about being a writer, you can put whoever you want into any situation.
The two days I spent in Edinburgh were great fun and all the children I talked to had wonderful questions. Most of all, I shall remember the Quiz Game we played and how they cleaned me out of every chocolate in the box!

Dangerous Diamonds is published by Andersen Press and available in all good book shops. Visit Barbara’s website:
http://www.barbaramitchelhill.com/ for more information about her and her work.

Other news:

Melvin Burgess has started to write Twitterfiction. Check out his literary Twitter offerings at@MelvinBurgess

Chris's Highland Tour video diary is very nearly finished. Keep checking the blog and the website!

If you're a budding author, or simply keen to get creative and have a little fun, check out Virtual Writer in Residence Cathy Forde's creative writing tasks. They can be found in the Virtual Writer in Residence section of the website.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Johnny O'Brien: Day of the Assassins

Johnny O'Brien is the author of Day of the Assassins, a fast-paced time travel adventure set just before the outbreak of the First World War. Johnny grew up in Scotland and has recently returned on a tour to promote his book. He tells us a bit about his tour and Day of the Assassins.

I grew up in Scotland and it’s a long time since I was here – it’s really great to be back. So far we have visited Linlithgow Bridge Primary, Forrester High School and Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh and Burgh School in Galashiels and Kingsland Primary School in Peebles.

I grew up in Peebles and went to Kingsland School so it was amazing to go back after more than thirty years. I’ve got to say that the pupils and teachers we have met have been brilliant - really welcoming and enthusiastic. Thanks to everyone! Along the way, we’ve had some great discussions about history, the First World War, the assassination in Sarajevo, ‘what if’ scenarios in history and loads more.

We’ve also had some great questions – my favourites so far: ‘Johnny – how much money do you make?’, ‘ you don’t really think that writing is a proper job do you?’ and, ‘do you know anything about rabbits?’ There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for the book – I explain that ‘Day of the Assassins’ is a good old action adventure (partly motivated by my need to get my own kids off the Playstation) – but set in accurate historical context so that people who read it, might learn something about history in the process almost ‘by mistake’ .

This seems to strike a chord – I read somewhere that history is ‘dying out’ in schools... and young people aren’t interested in it. Not so from what I’ve seen – we’ve sold so many books we’ve had to DHL another lot up from London.

You can find out more about Johnny O'Brien on his website.

Other News:

Francesca Simon, author of the Horrid Henry books, has teamed up with Innocent Smoothies in a project which aims to get children everywhere involved in creating 26 stories, each inspired by Innocents new Fridge magnets. They hope to create the biggest game of online consequences ever! Take a look at the Innocent website for more details.

Eoin Colfer is writing a stage musical called Lords of Love, which he hopes to bring to the Edinburgh Fringe next year.

Friday, 16 October 2009

My Week At Book Trust

This week has been one of quite a few hidden revelations I’ve discovered about myself. Partly, it’s all job orientated, but most of it’s about what sort of person I really am. I always thought I’d be rubbish working in an office environment, that I was more suited to somewhere else. Where else? I don’t know, but just somewhere else—since my experiences of going into offices have always been that they’re tediously boring places where nothing ever happens and the works all dreary and boring. I’m pretty much convinced that although some parts of the work that everyone does here at Book Trust will be tedious and boring (because let’s face it, in all aspects of life boredom will rank pretty highly in one of your most frequent emotions) but quite a lot of it seems to be, dare I say it, fun. Even when I was stuck doing spreadsheets (which aren’t a picnic, let me tell you!) I didn’t really mind. Which strikes me as sort of odd considering I would find that pretty boring in any other environment. I think it might be because even whilst doing those spreadsheets I felt like I was contributing to a higher purpose. At school, you rarely are given tasks that fully contribute to a purpose. Sure, they’re generally all contributing to your grade, which in turn gets you jobs—but honestly, what sort of purpose is algebra or trigonometry going to attain past your schooling years? Unless you’re a sadistic masochist person who likes to inflict pain on themselves, of which, I am surely not. I think part of the reason I’ve enjoyed my time here so fervently is due in large part to the people, but also to the feeling that I’m being given responsibility and independence and being made to feel like some of the work I’m doing really matters, like mail, writing blogs and writing about The Book That Changed My Life, helping out with an event and picking competition winners. You see, all of that matters, in some small way to someone, it will matter, largely and probably mainly, just to me.

Although I don’t really hate school (although sometimes the feeling of hatred is a very tempting emotion when mixed with the word school) I find it quite boring. I bet you’re thinking of course you do! Boredom is an emotion associated with teenagers. We are the army of the bored. All we are is bored. All we do is sit at home whinging about everything. I’m not going to try and pretend that’s not me. It quite frequently is, and school is often a cause of that moaning. During this week, I’ve managed to pinpoint the reason to why I struggle to like school as much as I loved this week. The reason is pretty simple. Here, I’m being given that allusive thing—independence, and its counterpart, responsibility. Here, although of course I’m being told what to do, I’m also being left to get on with it. At school, we are wrapped and wrapped in hoards of cotton wool, and after all that we’re STILL stopped every couple of minutes to check that we’re getting on OK. Sometimes I wish people would just leave me to get on with it—to make my own mistakes, to learn by myself, to find what I’m looking for with the one person I can fully trust. Me.

At school it’s all about working as a collective amoeba, and whenever you sort of veer off the perfect little arrangement and make a mistake you’re absolutely SCREAMED at. Getting something wrong is not the end of the world. Maybe the teachers need some life lessons, because mistakes are part of being that carbon-based life-form called human. Mistakes are what you learn from, and are what shape who you really are. If you don't have lots of errors in life then you're not human. But, how can you make a mistake if you constantly have someone a) telling you exactly what to do and b) tearing you limb from limb whenever you make one? Frankly, the two things just don’t add up with what their saying. Adults, particularly teachers, always say that mistakes can be made, so why don’t they practise what they preach?

I’ve just realised I’ve veered wildly off course. I was meant to be telling you about my time here, and about what I’ve learnt. But all of the above is what I’ve learnt. I’ve learnt about me. I’ve learnt that this sort of job is exactly what I want to do—when I’m not writing, which is my ultimate goal in life, to write and have someone like it—that I feel I thrive and seek enjoyment from the sort of environment I’ve been working in this week. That I find the one thing I so rarely find at school. I find some sort of passion and love. At school I go through my day like a bit of a zombie, always stumbling along, just getting on with what I’ve got to do, never really coming alive unless it’s English or History. Although on a whole I don’t find it mind-bogglingly hard (unless the class names are Chemistry or Maths) I just don’t find that magical, burning desire to really knuckle down and get on with it. I’ve found out that here, I want to get on with it, and I want to really try and do something that will be helpful. Even when I’m on the bus home and deliriously tired, I still want to be back there doing more. For reasons I cannot explain to you fully because they don’t make sense to me—I’ve loved it here. Absolutely, purely, decidedly, loved it. In fact, if they I could come back volunteering to do it next week, or in the near future, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Probably because when I’m here I’m not bored, and when I’m sitting at home, or sometimes even when I’m out with my friends (only sometimes, I’m not that serious and devoid of a likeness for social life!) I usually am. Not only have I had a real, true work experience (of the non-tea making variety) but I’ve discussed my ambitions and received advice from the people that know best about that sort of thing. One thing I know with utter certainty and clear clarity—I’ve had a life-changing week, one that if I was given the opportunity, I’d relive again and again.

Now it’s time to discuss my favourite books. I have so many favourite books it’s almost as if they don’t warrant the title favourite. I have many favourite books, but ranking pretty highly is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Purely because it’s gripping, romantic (if not quite tragic, what with the love being destructive and mad) and it's such a brilliant story, filled with wonderful, mad and generally unlikeable characters.

I also really enjoy the work of George Orwell. Having analysed both Animal Farm and 1984 for school, I am certain this man was a genius, with such excellent morals and ideas. His books have been life-changing, and truly opened up my eyes to the world around me. I also really like a prominently boy-book Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Another one I read for school, that I can say, with full integrity, I’d never have touched with a burning hot poker. My Dad tried to make me read it. I read the back, started some chapters, got to the killing of the Simon—and being the sensitive, squeamish girl I am; I felt violently sick. I stopped reading and put it back on the bookcase, wishing to never see it again. The following year, low and behold, it pops up for a book I’ve got to read and analyse. Great. The sarcasm and half-hearted attempt to re-read it came next. That was until I read it with an open mind, delved into the complexities of all Golding is trying to convey, and found out that whilst this book is violent, sickening and quite painful to read, it’s a very important, intelligent book, one I found myself liking more and more.

Of course I read normal books. I dabble in teenage fiction too—with one catch. It has to be intelligent. I can’t stand a book that’s all about the trials and triumphs of a first love, or falling out with your happy little close knit group of friends—and everything magically straightening out by the end. That isn’t real life. I prefer to read books that try to give me realistic expectations of what life’s going to be like when I step out that door in the morning. Filling me with silly whims and notions of princes on magical white ponies just isn’t for me. Sure, I like escapism and fantasy as much as the next person, but at the same time, I like my fantasy to be taken with a pinch of realistic salt. I like anything by Kevin Brooks; Candy, Martyn Pig and Lucas. I also enjoy Nicola Morgan; Sleepwalking, Fleshmarket and Deathwatch. Other books I’ve found intriguing are; The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, among many others. I sort of live for reading and writing, so you see, if I wrote all my favourites, it’d take you days to trek through them.

I honestly expect you’ve stopped reading by now. I probably would have, but if you’ve stayed along for the messy ride, I hope you’ve liked what you’ve been reading, and if you haven’t, then I’m sorry for stealing some of your precious minutes of life.

Other News

You can now listen to an audio interview with Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell following our September Tour of the Highlands. A couple of weeks ago Heather promised you all a tour video, this is almost complete so watch out for it soon! (Chris "Speilberg" Newton)

We also recieved a beautiful poem from at Raigmore Primary which you can read on their blog.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

National Poetry Day 2009

Happy National Poetry Day everyone! Many of you will no doubt be marking the day by reading new poetry, dipping into your old favourites or maybe even attending a poetry event. It was announced today that the nation's favourite poet is T.S Eliot - a pretty good choice we're sure most would agree. We thought we'd take a little office poll to see which poems the SBT staff love to read...

La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France by Blaise Cendrars, 1913

At that time I was in my adolescence
I was barely sixteen years old and had already forgotten my childhood
I was sixteen thousand leagues from my birth
I was in Moscow, in the city of the thousand and three belltowers
and the seven stations
And the seven stations and the thousand and three belltowers
did not suffice me
For my adolescence was then so ardent and wild
That my heart blazed in turn like the temple of Ephesus or the
Red Square in Moscow
As the sun sets.

This is one of my favourite poems because it is one of the first modern poems, a hymn to movement, travel, and adventure. Cendrars was a huge influence on Apollinaire, and this led to the birth of modern poetry. In addition, Cendrars worked with the artist Sonia Delaunay to create one of the greatest artists books ever made with this poem. Delaunay illustrated the poem with her abstract designs; Intended as an edition of 150, only 60 copies were printed, of which about 30 are thought to survive (The Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh has one). The book, a series of 4 sheets glued together in an accordion style binding, measures 199 cm tall when unfolded; the height of all 150 end to end would have equaled the height of the Eiffel Tower, a potent symbol of modernity at the time, and referenced in both the poem and the print.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot, 1915

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

I love the imagery used and the flow of the poem. Although I know it just about off by heart, I’m never quite sure I’ve understood the poem - perhaps one of the reasons I never tire of reading it.


To A Mouse. On turning up her next with the plough by Robert Burns, 1785.

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

This was the first poem I learnt and had to recite in front of my family and school assembly. I liked the way he had written a poem for the mouse and felt sorry for it - you can tell I’m an animal lover!


Entirely by Louis MacNeice

If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
and falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.

This poem was given to me by a friend years ago and has since been abroad with me – to different jobs and homes. I always find a place to pin it up. I read it from time to time to remind myself to stop being hard on myself for not being quite ‘there’ yet.


A Voodoo for Miss Maverick by Sandy Thomas Ross

I dinna like Miss Maverick –
This cushion’s for her heid.
I’m jumpin aa my wecht on’t,
An noo Miss Maverick’s deid!
Ye’re deid, ye’re deid, Miss Maverick,
An never mair ye’ll say
I dance like a hird o’ Ayrshire
Ky on a mercat day! I’ll pit ye ablaw the sofa –
Ye’re deid an yirdit baith,
An never mair ye’ll miscaa me –
Ye’ve drawn yer hinmaist braith!

My favourite poem is Voodoo for Miss Maverick by Sandy Thomas Ross, a much recited poem in primary schools up and down Scotland. I remember my brother learning it when he was a wee boy and having my whole family in stitches as he acted out jumping on the hated “Miss Maverick’s head” in the middle of the poem. Wonderful.


Things by Fleur Adcock

There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,committed or endured or suspected; there are worse thingsthan not being able to sleep for thinking of them.It is 5am. All the worse things come stalking inand stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

I found it really hard to choose as there are so many poems I love. I picked this in the end as I’m not sleeping very well and it sums up the state of insomnia very well.


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

This was Frost's favourite of his own poems. I love it for of its simplicity - and for the way it depicts life as a journey, for we all have 'miles to go before we sleep'.


Sneezles by A.A. Milne

Christopher Robin
Had wheezles
And sneezles,
They bundled him
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head.

I love all of the poems in A.A. Milne's Now We Are Six. It's also one of my Dad's favourite books which I think is one of the main reasons I love it - it's a shared passion. A.A. Milne captures the innocence of childhood beautifully and I think the humour delights adults and children alike.

Hopefully that lengthy list will inspire to read some poems today. Do let us know your favourite!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Catherine Forde: Online Writer In Residence

Scottish Book Trust is very excited to welcome Catherine Forde as our brand new virtual writer in residence, following Keith Gray's fantastic residency last year. Catherine takes over the blog this week to tell us a little bit more about the plans she has for her residency and for the regular blogs she'll be writing for us over the next year....

Welcome to the first regular blog I’ll be writing as Scottish Booktrust’s new Online Writer in Residence. I should confess that I’m completely new to this blogging game so in case I’m rubbish, I thought I’d better swot up a bit on the whole bloggy business by taking a peek at a few the famous, or rather infamous blog sites.

Perez Hilton’s was the first – actually the only blogger I could think of off the top of my head ( which tells you how tacky I am) . So I dutifully googled Perez, and have to say I have come away from the experience of his gossip-blog profoundly enriched with knowledge, some of which I’ll share with you.
Here goes:
Michelle Obama is going to be a guest on Sesame Street.
Suri Holmes/Cruise ( her dad’s that chippy actor bloke out of Top Gun, isn’t he?) has a pair of black and white stripy tights. She’s about four, by the way.
Sarah Jessica Parker has dyed her hair blonde…
And er… I think that’s enough of that. This is meant to be educational.

I’m just going to focus my blog on some of the things that happen on my travels as Online Writer in Residence instead. Unfortunately they haven’t actually started yet, although when they do, I’ll be visiting many different places in Scotland with Scottish Booktrust, giving talks on creative writing. Over the last few weeks I’ve been putting all my ideas together for what I’m going to discuss. That’s been quite a challenging experience for me because it has forced me to analyse the way I approach my own writing and break it down into chunks of information. These chunks will form the individual tasks you’ll be able to see on the podcasts over the next few months, and I hope they are helpful to any budding writers.

If you have watched my first podcast, you have beaten me to it as I will be on a train to London when it goes ‘live’. I am going to speak at the Shoreditch Festival and visit the Sydney Russell School in Dagenham. I went to Sydney Russell for the first time a couple of years ago and have been asked back. I am looking forward wandering about London in between work duties, feeling a like a tourist, although I’m worried about navigating their Tube system with its thirteen different lines. Being a Weegie I can only deal with the Inner and Outer Circle of the Glasgow Underground – if you miss your stop you just stay on and it comes back round twenty minutes later.

I hope I make it back to write my next blog…

You can find out more about Catherine's residency by reading the Online Writer in Residence pages on our website.

Other news:

It's Children's Book Week this week and to celebrate we're putting on two events with Darren Shan and Barbara Mitchelhill. Keep your eye on the website for more from them.

At the end of this week Heather and Jasmine set off on a tour to Newcastle with Debi Gliori. Scottish Book Trust have never toured in England before so we're all very excited about it!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Tom Eglington: The Spellbound Hotel

Earlier this year, Tom Eglington had his first book - The Spellbound Hotel - published. He takes over the blog this week to tell us more about himself and the weird but wonderful world he sets his stories in.


My name is Tom Eglington and in May of this year I had the pleasure of having my first novel published. It is called The Spellbound Hotel (in case you were wondering) and begins, like all great stories do, with a village where everyone is addicted to sausages and a bizarre soap opera called ‘What About Dave?’ Sound strange? Well, to be honest, it just gets stranger from there on in. There are shadows that run free, terrified ghosts, a mischievous pooka called Mr Quinn and a hotel that has a sinister life of its own, not to mention a giant trapped in a pit being forced to eat fossils. And don’t get me started about the cleaning ladies.

I blame school. You see, when I was a young lad growing up in Edinburgh I would walk to school each morning with a friend. And each morning, with nothing better to do, I would think up ideas for stories. Sometimes these would be good ideas, sometimes not so good. Eventually, though, my friend suggested I write some of these stories down. So I began to scribble, scribble, scribble. And that, as they say, is how it all started…

More information about Tom, as well as games and some 'Truly Awful Jokes' can be found on his website.

Other news:

Next week is Children's Book Week and to celebrate we're doing two fantastic events in Edinburgh and Glasgow with authors Barbara Mitchelhill and Darren Shan! Keep an eye on the website and the blog for more from the authors.

The Green Pencil Award 2009 was launched at the end of August. The competition is open to pupils within the Primary 4 to Primary 7 age range attending an Edinburgh school, and the deadline is 16th October. For details see the Green Pencil Award website.