Archive for February, 2017
I’m just back from a week-long tour of Northern Ireland – the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, organised by the wonderful Beth and Tom of the Scottish Book Trust, with the help of Book Trust Northern Ireland. And I had a brilliant time!
I visited pupils from 13 different schools, in ten different events, ie two events a day from Monday to Friday. I read scenes from the first and sometimes the second Spellchasers books, and occasionally a bit of a Fabled Beast Chronicle too. I also chatted about how stories worked, and told a myth, legend or folktale in every school as well. I had a wonderful time in each school, and I can (almost) remember what we did in each session:
Holy Child Primary and St John’s Primary in Derry: our first school, so I took a risk and told a story about an Irish Celtic hero visiting Scotland. I got away with it, though it turns out I’ve been pronouncing Cuchullin wrong all these years…
Hollybush Primary in Culmore: This time I told a Scottish folktale, one I tell at home all the time, but it felt quite strange taking a Scottish story across the sea, almost like being an ambassador for Scottish trad tales! Also, it turns out that they don’t call potatoes ‘tatties’ in Northern Ireland…
St Joseph’s Primary in Dunloy: Their hall had a very echoey wooden floor and I was wearing very clunky boots, so after consulting the P4s (always wise people to consult) I took my boots off and did the whole session in my socks. I told a Viking myth, which meant that I got to be Loki in stocking soles and sneak around like a real god of mischief.
St Patrick’s Primary in Glenariff: they were reading Wolf Notes, and the hall was filled with wonderful pictures of wolves! (And centaurs…) Also, a pupil called Molly was our guide round the school, and she was remarkably relaxed about how badly I treat the Molly in Spellchasers…
St Comgall’s Primary in Antrim: This session started with a witch chasing a phoenix, and ended with an amazing Q&A session in which a P6 girl asked a question that I’ve never been asked before, and as I thought my way round an answer I found myself having an idea for a new novel while standing in front of 290 primary pupils…
Phoenix Integrated Primary in Cookstown and St Patrick’s Primary from Monymore: I couldn’t help myself. I was in a school called PHOENIX Primary, so I chatted to them about Catesby, the phoenix in Fabled Beast Chronicles, and we also come up with lots of exciting cliffhangers, not all of them about fiery birds!
Carrick Primary in Lurgan: The Carrick pupils created a story by trapping a tiger in a cage, but the tiger kept (almost) escaping. It was a relief that we reached the end of the story without anyone in the school getting eaten! Then, inspired by their tiger trapping, I told them a Hindu myth.
Templepatrick Primary and St Joesph’s Primary, Ballyclare: this was our biggest audience, with more than 300 children in one hall. They were incredibly well behaved and listened to each other’s ideas and questions so politely! We invented a chase in which a werewolf was trying to eat a rainbow elf. Did the elf get away safely? That’s the cliffhanger…
Lisburn Central Primary, Lisburn: I met some very imaginative pupils, who invented some great cliffhangers, and also come up with some very positive and cheerful endings for my favourite (but usually quite tragic) Viking myth.
St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Belfast: the very last school, with a very lovely warm welcome. (They brought us chocolate biscuits before we started…) It got a bit more dangerous once we started talking about stories, because we trapped a fairy godmother in a cave. With sharks. But it all ended happily, just like the tour!
I was asked wonderful questions in every single school. I can’t remember them all, because I concentrate on answering the questions, not scribbling them down. But I do remember the one which prompted a novel idea. And I’ll never forget the one which stumped me completely. Someone in the front row in St Patrick’s on Tuesday asked me:
‘If you had to kill one of Helen or Molly, who would you kill?’
I did try, but I just couldn’t answer it. So I wimped out and said I’d fight whichever baddie wanted me to make that choice, in order to give both my heroines time to get away…
Beth, Tom and I visited the Giant’s Causeway one evening as the sun went down.
And I found a 1000 year old fort, all grown over with grass, on a night-time walk in a town called Moira, and scrambled over it in the dark and the rain. (That prompted a few story ideas too.)
I must say that the Scottish Book Trust team were fantastic. Beth and Tom were extremely efficient and well organised, and looked after me very well (except when they took me to Dangerous Places) but they were also fun to spend 6 days with. We played several very serious games (or perhaps very silly games which we took very seriously) in the car. They taught me games involving actual horses and imaginary thimbles and I taught them one involving yellow cars.
They drove me around in a big car (small van?) which left Edinburgh full of boxes of books, and by the time we headed home was almost empty. Which I’m sure will make my publishers happy.
But the best thing about the van was the squirrel on the bonnet, and various other wonderful Scottish animals reading books painted on the sides – all created by the illustrator Sarah Macintyre. It was a lovely cheerful vehicle in which to visit all these villages, towns and cities.
And driving between the schools was wonderful, because Northern Ireland is very beautiful. It has lots of green fields and hills, but also dramatic glens and rocky coastlines.
It was a privilege to share stories with all those imaginative Northern Irish pupils, and to visit all their lovely welcoming schools. Thanks so much to everyone who put the tour together and who made it such a wonderful experience!
Archive for February, 2017
I love riddles! And I don’t try to hide my love of riddles: I’ve put riddles in every single one of my novels so far…
I shamelessly used the Halloween guising scene in Mind Blind to slip in one of my favourite short riddles.
You to look at bit sideyways to find the riddle in Rocking Horse War.
But riddles are an essential part of the plot of the Fabled Beast Chronicles, with the task of solving or matching riddles of some kind in every single one of Helen’s adventures.
And riddles are an even more important part of the Spellchasers trilogy, because they are an essential part of the life, job and self-image of one of the most important Spellchaser’s characters: Atacama the sphinx.
I slip riddle tales into my folklore and legend collections too, like the Russian girl who solves the Tsar’s riddles in Horse of Fire, and Odin putting on a silly hat to solve a king’s riddles in Dragon’s Hoard…
Where do all these riddles come from? In the folktale and legend retellings, I often use or adapt the original riddles. But for the novels, I always write original riddles. I could probably add riddle-writing to my CV now, I’ve written so many…
But why do I write them? There are so many fantastic riddles out there (I know because kids often bamboozle me with ones I haven’t heard!) so why do I make up new riddles?
Because the riddles need to fit the story. Sometimes the answers are linked to the plot, sometimes the riddles are designed to allow the characters (usually Innes…) to argue about the answers. Also, I want to surprise readers, rather than give them a riddle they might already know.
Also, honestly, I like inventing new riddles. There’s a satisfaction to it, an elegance and a logic that you usually only get with numbers. I sometimes call it maths with words – two of my favourite things together! (Yes, I love maths. I did maths at university. I love algebra and circles and straight lines and triangles and problem-solving… ) Also, one of my daughters is a riddle-master, and sometimes we collaborate on the riddles, which is great fun.
But I don’t just write riddles for books. Last autumn I wrote five new riddles for The Beginner’s Guide to Curses launch, and was very impressed at how fast all the young adventure fans answered them.
And now I’ve written three more riddles (with the help of Atacama, of course) for a competition run by my publishers to win a signed copy of the next Spellchasers novel: The Shapeshifters Guide to Running Away.
I wonder if you can answer them? Good luck…
(I might be doing a few riddle-writing workshops once Shapeshifter’s Guide is published, so keep an eye on my diary if you want to learn my riddle-writing secrets!)