Derek Landy at Hay Festival 2013 by Cameron Roberts

Cameron Roberts with Derek Landy

Cameron Roberts with Derek Landy

Cameron Roberts, 11 years, is a member of Hay Festival young writers club The Scribblers.

As many of you know, the bestselling author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, Derek Landy, visited the festival site this week. As a fan of these books, I was thrilled when given a chance to meet him in person before his event took place, and immediately accepted. It was a real pleasure to meet Derek as he was friendly and welcoming. When meeting him, there were many questions I wished to ask. I have listed them here, along with a summary of Derek’s answers.

Q. What was your favourite book as a child?                            

A. The Three Investigators, a series of books centered around three teenage boys who solved mysteries. Similar to the Famous Five, but American.

Q. If you were a sorcerer what class would you fall into?

A. I originally would have said necromancer as they look cool, wear black, stay in the shadows and control a very powerful weapon. After Book Four I decided on elemental as I gave them cool powers such as flying (who wouldn’t want to fly?). However in the end I decided on a teleporter, which trumps everything else.  A teleporter with Skulduggery’s fighting skills could appear all around Skulduggery whilst fighting him.

Q. How do you get inspiration for your writing?

A. Immerse yourself in books and stories. All sorts of experiences make you who you are. The books you read, the movies you watch, the music you listen to, everything that happens to you. Take inspiration; think about it, own it completely.

I also asked Derek if he had any news of a screen adaptation of Skulduggery Pleasant as there have been rumours concerning this subject. I am pleased to say Derek confirmed that there will be an important announcement about this in a few weeks’ time…

After my meeting with Derek it was time for him to do his talk, concerning his new Skulduggery Pleasant book. This took place in Google’s Big Tent, and the room was full of fans. Once on the stage Derek read us an excerpt from his new book, Last Stand of The Dead Men, which will be on sale this August. It was very humourous and left us all wanting more. Derek then spent the rest of the event answering various questions, and it was obvious that the audience appreciated his entertaining qualities. There were three particular questions asked by people in the event I would like to list, along with Derek’s answers.

Q. Why do you keep killing off main characters?

A. It’s important to kill off important characters to stop the audience feeling safe and complacent. As a child I loved a film called West World where the main character is killed off right at the beginning.

Q. What brought you into books?

A. My family were all big readers. I started off with comics, and they taught me how to read. At school I was always going to be a writer or an artist. I got easily distracted at school. I wasn’t cheeky or disruptive, just not ‘really there’. I went to art college, got kicked out, and my career as an artist was over. I was determined not to mess up as a writer.

Q. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

A. I sit back, relax and take the day off. I once had writer’s block for about seven months, which I finally broke through on a New Year’s Eve.

What Blew My Mind About Hay by children’s author Sarah Webb


Sarah Webb with Black Leg the lamb

I’m a Hay newbie so the sheer size of the festival made me dizzy – 444 adult events and 114 children’s and teen events in eleven days – astounding. (Or ‘shut that door’ as Laura Dockrill would say – more on her below.)

2) Magnificent Events

I managed to catch eight Hay Fever events: Cathy Cassidy – as charming and warm as always; Sarah Lean – with her adorable animal quizzes; the legend that is Judith Kerr in conversation with Michael Morpurgo. I must admit I shed a few tears at that event, it was wonderful – we all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Judith, who will be ninety very soon, and gave her a standing ovation after her adorable joint reading (with Michael Morpurgo) of A Tiger Who Came to Tea.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell’s years of experience shone through; Geekhood and Geek Girl was a highly entertaining look at the world of geeks and nerds and everything in between including a very spirited discussion of ‘nerd’ television show The Big Bang Theory with Andy Robb and Holly Smale; CJ Skuse and Matt Whyman made teenage grave robbing and cannibalism sound rather jolly, and Jonathan, their chairperson, had a delightfully light yet informed touch.

Sally Gardner, Nick Lake and Alexia Casale all spoke eloquently about writing YA fiction, violence on the page and also naming characters.

But for me another Hay newbie, Laura Dockrill, stole the show with her high-energy dramatisation of Darcy Burdock (a book I love) and her sense of fun. I’d never heard Laura speak before and it was quite the experience. Of course, I’d bumped into her in the loo beforehand where we’d bonded over matching pink bits in our hair (you always meet the best people in the loo, don’t you?) Definitely a writer to watch out for.

My favourite audience question came from a young Welsh boy at Laura’s event. He asked: ‘What spicy toothpaste do you use, Laura? Chilli or jalapeno peppers and cheese?’

‘I love the way you think,’ Laura told him, before sitting down on the edge of the stage to hear more.

Which brings me to:

3) Wondrous Audience Participation

I have rarely encountered such a responsive, enthusiastic, booked-up audience at a festival. The atmosphere at each of the events can only be described as joyful and electric – hundreds of readers, young and old, gathered together to celebrate books and reading.

It was a real thrill to meet keen readers from all over Wales and the UK after my own event – It’s A Girl Thing with Sophia Bennett and Luisa Plaja.

And finally:

4) Welsh Sheep And In Particular Black Leg The Lamb

During the festival I stayed with my relatives on their sheep farm (thanks, Jerry and Sue!) and met Black Leg, a motherless lamb. I even got to feed him, with a warm bottle – what a thrill! Sorry, I know, city girl to the core.

Thanks to all the Hay team for their hospitality and roll on 2014!

Sarah Webb writes the Ask Amy Green series for young readers. She is based in Dublin.

Happy Birthday Bookstart

Twenty years is, make no mistake, a very long time. If you do the math, Kim Kardashian could fit at least 100 72-day marriages into that amount of time. Just think how much quality reality television 20 years could produce? It would be like “divorced, beheaded, died…” (ad infinitum) for the twenty-first century. Well, you’ll probably be relieved to know that we don’t do any TV programming here at the Booktrust. But we do share books.

Over the last 20 years, our free bookgifting programme Bookstart has delivered 32 million books to babies and toddlers. Now, I know it’s hard to imagine what 32 million books would look like, or how many bookshelves or libraries it could fill. But just think, if the UK population is estimated at about 62 million, then 32 million books is a lot of books to a lot of babies.

Numerous studies have shown the positive impact reading of to your baby. Research carried out by Professor Barrie Wade and Dr Maggie Moore in the initial phases of Bookstart showed significant differences between families that received Bookstart packs and those that didn’t. The research concluded that not only do families that receive book packs continue to share more books, but that the quality of interaction between parent and child is enhanced. These benefits are far from short term. Wade and Moore found that upon starting school, Bookstart children were significantly ahead of their classmates in all reading and number assessments, and were still ahead in learning by the age of seven.

During National Bookstart Week last month Booktrust revealed new research concluding that nearly two thirds of parents are not reading with their babies at seven months. The research, carried out by ICM on behalf of Booktrust also found that 57% of parents do not own a single baby book until they receive their Bookstart packs, and 75% of parents reported sharing books with their babies as a direct result of receiving their Bookstart packs. These statistics prove the continuing need for programmes like Bookstart. And the wonderful thing about Bookstart is that no-one gets left behind. Every baby and toddler in every postcode in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receives their book packs.

And it isn’t just about giving books. Bookstart also provides resources to support and guide parents in reading with their children. Did you know that one in five London parents has such poor literacy skills they cannot read a bedtime story to their children? True story. Bookstart can help.

That’s why this year, in order to secure funding and support for Bookstart for future generations, we launched the campaign Bookstart 20. Bookstart 20 asks people to pledge their support by simply filling out an online form or postcard and pledging to share 20 books in 2012. If you would like to join the campaign to support Bookstart please makeyour pledge here:

HRH Duchess of Cornwall attended a Bookstart 20 celebratory event at the Kensington Roof Gardens as part of National Bookstart Week last month. The event gathered together many of Bookstart’s other marvellous supporters too, from publishers to celebrities, including Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson and presenter Lauren Laverne. The sun shone as everyone sang Happy Birthday to Bookstart and indulged in a scrumptious spot of birthday cake in a delightful afternoon.

Copy Credit: Iman Qureshi Photo credit: Tom Pilston

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Hip Hip Hoor-HAY!

Phew! We’ve just about recovered from the festival, which gives us chance to say a mahoosive THANK YOU to all the fantastic writers, illustrators, performers and organisations that made it so darn special this year.  But the biggest pat on the back has to go to all our wonderful young audiences, who bring the site to life and make every Hay Fever event so awesome.

Here are a few of our favourite moments from this year – thank you for the lovely snaps. More to follow later this week!

Atinuke sharing her amazing stories.

We rocked the wellies!

The amazing god mother of children’s fiction, Jacqueline Wilson.

Can you guess what it is yet? We love a good bit of face painting, especially when all the proceeds go to charity.

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Hay gets inventing!

There’s been a recent invasion at Usborne Towers – from the humble cornflake packet to the fancy aftershave box, piles of recycling have been adorning our offices in anticipation of this year’s Hay Fever.

Is it because we were simply too excited to tidy up after ourselves? Or were we attempting to break a world record for the biggest collection of cardboard? In fact, the truth was that we were planning to transform the Hexagon into an inventors’ haven:

Guided by Professor Boffin and Professor Egghead (AKA Carolyn and Amy from Usborne!), we delved into to the amazing world of inventions, from the groundbreaking to the downright silly.

After discussing inventions we couldn’t live without and the lives of famous inventors (did you know that Frances Gabe still lives in her very own self-cleaning house?!), it was over to the audience to get their thinking caps on to come up with their very own invention to wow the world with.

We were blown away (at times quite literally!) by the creativeness of our young inventors, who got straight to work inventing everything from a glow-in-the-dark book to rocket-boosting trainers. So look out for trampoline shoes, a mind-reading encyclopaedia and a time-freezing device – all coming soon!

But don’t worry if you missed the workshop, here’s our Crazy Professors’ guide to creating your very own patent-ready gadget:

  1.  Remember that inventions don’t have to be machines – from chocolate, to glasses, to anaesthetics and the humble post-it note, some of the world’s most popular inventions don’t require any cogs or pulleys!
  2. Think about what problem you are trying to solve (a popular one turned out to be eliminating teachers!). This could be anything from finding something that you always lose, to being able to get from A to B more quickly.
  3. What does it do? How would you describe it in one sentence?
  4. Think about what noise it might make – boing, buzz, whirr, clank, whoosh, zap… or will it be silent and undetectable?
  5. What do you need to make it? Does it need buttons? Does it need to be light so that you can carry it around?
  6. And finally, every invention needs a good name (e.g. ‘telephone’ comes from the Greek for ‘distant sound’) – so think about what you are going to call it. Make it memorable!

-  Pre-order your homework machines now!

Good luck budding inventors!

You can find out more about the world’s most fascinating and funny inventions in Usborne’s See Inside Inventions and The Story of Inventions, available at Pemberton’s bookshop.

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I’d heard the stories, read the blogs and seen the photos, but this was my first visit to the Hay Festival itself.

I arrived in driving rain, to flags whipping in the wind while clouds hovered overhead like an invading alien fleet. But it takes more than a drop of rain to put off the folk at Hay – the deckchairs may have been slightly damp, but festival goers carried on undeterred.


I have the directional sense of a trapped bluebottle, so the maze of green walkways caused a few problems and after five minutes I was lost. Luckily there were plenty of signposts to guide me.


I followed the trail of daydreamers to this mural drawn by Oliver Jeffers. The jumpers had been painted by various festival speakers, including Tim Minchin, Sara McIntyre, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Marcus Sedgwick. The artwork will be auctioned for the Volunteer Reading Help charity next week (see the festival website for details).


There was even more live art around the corner.

One of my childhood ambitions was to be a illustrator, so it was fascinating to watch Korky Paul, illustrator of Winnie the Witch (also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year), in action.


The first picture shows Korky starting to add colour to the outline sketch of Winnie. The second was taken five hours later and the picture is almost complete. After a full day’s painting, Korky was still happy to sign and illustrate a couple of his books for me. A true legend!


At two-thirty I headed across to the Starlight Stage for my event, 15 Days Without a Blog! Despite the downpour rattling the roof, the skies inside the tent were clear and sparkled with stars. I had a great crowd who asked some brilliant questions – one of my favourites being the young audience member who asked how I was hoping to finish my next book in four days when the first one had taken me four years to write. I’m still thinking about that one …


After the session I was rushed across to the bookshop to sign copies of 15 Days Without a Head.


Thanks to everyone who queued, and apologies to those who couldn’t get a copy when the book sold out. Then it was time for a quick photo with Matt Dickinson, author of the superb Mortal Chaos books.


Not a bad first day at the festival. Thanks for sharing my Hay Fever Haylights!


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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Hay!

Thank you to the wonderful Joe Berger who illustrated this beautiful picture to mark his visit to Hay with the other half of the dream team behind Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, Frank Cottrell Boyce.

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Emma Dodd: A hint of what’s to come!

An awesome sneak peek at some of Emma’s work before her interactive event with Kelly Gerrard tomorrow (Wednesday 6 June, 10:30am) Come and learn how to draw your very own comic strip!

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Ellen Richardson: You can be anyone you want

Our merry band of young writers, The Scribblers, posed some particularly brilliant questions to some of the artists appearing at Hay this year.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you their answers. A big summer thumbs up to ELLEN RICHARDSON.

Describe your latest book in 5 words.

Best friends, fun, mystery island

If you had to pick one of your characters to spend the day with, which one would you choose?

That’s really difficult. All three girls in the Flip Flop books would be great company. I’d choose Tash if I wanted a day sailing or seal watching; Elly if I wanted adventure; Sierra to go shopping with and because she’s funny. Since I can’t choose between the girls, I’ll have to pick Mojo the dog because I really want a border terrier.

Which writer, dead or alive, you would like to collaborate with?

Diana Wynne Jones is my favourite children’s writer and when I discovered her books as an adult, I felt an immediate sense of identity with her internal world. I’d love to have met her. But writing is an intensely personal thing and I can’t imagine sharing characters or a plot with another writer. Working with an editor is totally different and very useful.

What’s the best thing about writing?

The characters. They become like real people to you. Also, when you write, you can be anyone you want and have adventures and experiences you can’t in real life.

What’s your top tip for budding young writers?

Read constantly and read lots of different sorts of things. Realise that writing well – like learning to play an instrument or do a sport well – takes hard work and practice. Most of all: write the story you want to read yourself and make sure you have fun writing it. You have to entertain yourself or you’ve got no chance of entertaining your readers.

Catch Ellen at the festival, a week today, Saturday 9 June, 10.30am

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