Ru from The Scribblers interviews Chris Riddell

Quickfire questions

Q: Glass half full or half empty?

A: Always half full. I’m an illustrator, that’s why I say that. Most of the writers I know will always be glass half empty. Do you know, I’ve started straight off by being nasty about writers, it’s a terrible, terrible start…

Q: Text or call?

A: Call.

Q: Notebook or laptop?

A: Notebook.

Q: Bunk bed – top or bottom?

A: Always top. Always top.

Generic questions

Q: If you could be any fictional character from a book or film, excluding your own, who would it be?

A: That’s a brilliant question. Do you know what I would be? I would be the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

Q: If you had the day off and money was no object, what would you do?

A: What I would do, I think, is sit down with a sketchbook and draw in it. Which is sort of what I would do if I didn’t have a day off. And that is weird because that is what I would do to relax. There’s no difference to me, it’s what I would always do. My big fear is that one day someone’s going to come along to me and say ‘I’m sorry, you’ve had too much fun, now you’ve got to get a real job.’ And it hasn’t happened yet, so I’m still just clinging on to that.

Q: If you were Prime Minister what would be the first law you passed?

A: That everybody would have to… there’d be statuory requirement to have a sketchbook or notebook on them, and you would have to – there could be tax advantages to this or tax breaks or incentives – you would have to draw something everyday. Wouldn’t matter what, no one would judge you, but you would have to draw. A nation drawing every day, that’s my slogan.

Q: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

A: Invisibility. Like a shot – I love that. Stand around, nobody knowing you’re there. Just listening – I wouldn’t let people know I was there, I’d just lurk.

Q: What would be your ideal workplace?

A: I’ve got it. It’s at the bottom of my garden, in a converted coach house, and it’s slightly screened by trees, so nobody knows I’m there. It’s almost like being invisible. My favourite time is Wednesday afternoons, when it’s a bit rainy, when you have to turn the light on, and I love that because I sit there thinking: ‘Maybe being here, and it’s all rainy, not a nice time to be out and about doing stuff, it’s the perfect place… It’s like my den. I love it.’

Q: What is your favourite part of the drawing process?

A: It’s never finishing it. It’s the beginning of it. I think it’s the first, maybe two, three minutes as the drawing starts to develop and you find out what it might be, and I love that, that beginning something. And what I like to do is actually draw without necessarily knowing what I’m going to draw. And you find characters and you find situations or settings, and this is why I often draw for fun, just to relax, because it’s the most relaxing thing in the world. Just to take a line – I think Paul Klee used to say ‘Drawing is taking a line for a walk.’ That’s exactly what I enjoy doing.

Special Questions

Q: When you’re creating a fantasy world, what realities do you start from?

A: I always start from a map because I think a map is a great way of minding out the parameters of the world, and by creating a location you start to think of stories, you start to think: what goes on in this place? Why is a city here? Close to an endless swamp or the edge of a cliff; or what goes on in these woods? It becomes a great engine for a story, beginning with the map; you don’t have to know what’s happening. I like to think of George R. R. Martin drawing a sort of Westeros thing and thinking: ‘Great. Now I’m going to figure out what goes on here. Oh look, up north there’s a big ice wall, something weird is going on.’

Q: What’s your favourite part of the body to draw?

A: I love hands. I love drawing hands, because hands are really expressive. All my characters, I think, have slightly had overly expressive hands, and it’s a gesture thing – you can tell a lot by a gesture of a hand. I do enjoy drawing hands. I also, oddly, enjoy drawing ears. Very keen on ears. It’s the first thing I was ever taught to draw; this friend of mine said, ‘I’ll teach you how to draw an ear.’ And he taught me how to draw an ear, absolutely correctly, and it’s a trick, it’s how you draw it, and once you’ve learnt how to draw an ear you will always be able to draw an ear. It’s a real trick. It is very cool. First thing I ever learnt to do and I never forgot it. I was about 10 or something. After that, every time I drew an ear, I thought of this guy in my primary school class who taught me.

Q: How closely do you work with the writer when illustrating?

A: With Paul Stewart, when I do the books I do with Paul, really closely because we write together, so I’ll write stuff with Paul, and then sometimes he’ll write things and give them to me, and I’ll rewrite them and give it back to him, so we’re doing it together. When I’m working with Neil Gaiman, he writes everything and then just sends it to me as a finished thing, and then he says to me: ‘You turn this into what you want it to be.’ And that’s fantastic, it’s two extremes, and they’re both fantastic. The really, really involved, and the not needing to be involved but being given a brilliant story to imagine the visuals.

Q: What is your favourite thing to draw from The Edge Chronicles?

A: I would say…The Spindlebug. This great big glass-bodied creature lives for hundreds of years. I love that. I love the fact that Tweezel knows his living history, he knows all the stuff. But I also like the fact that Paul actually wrote it because he was playing with me, and he wanted to draw a character that was really difficult to draw, so he said, he has a glass body and you can see everything inside him, and you can see people through the body if you were standing the other side and you look through the Spindlebug. And I thought, ‘Ok, that’s a challenge.’ So I sort of said, ‘Right I’m going to draw this and it’s going to be my favourite creature.’ I like it when he’s the butler walking up the stairs, and you sort of realize that’s the Spindlebug you saw in Beyond The Deepwoods but only earlier.

Q: Do you see your illustrations in your mind before you draw them or do they appear as you draw them?

A: It’s a bit of both. I sometimes find characters just by drawing in my sketchbooks. I often design characters for projects so I will do sheets of drawings. I need to see a character from all corners, a little bit like designing for animation, character design, I love that. Once I’ve designed things then you start to learn a bit about how they move and walk and what context you can put them in, and it becomes really good fun. I’ve done a character for a series of books about a girl called Ottoline and she’s got this best friend called Mr Munroe, and Mr Munroe is just like a curtain of hair with two little eyes looking through and these small hairy feet, and he’s about the most expressive character because you never see his expression and it’s weird, and kids love that because they are always imaging what Mr Munroe is thinking without me actually showing it. It’s a trick.

Malorie Blackman by Jaffa from The Scribblers

Malorie Blackman is the 8th Children’s Laureate and an inspiring author to many young adults. Her bestselling book series – ‘Noughts and Crosses’ – is a series of four books (Noughts and Crosses, Knife Edge, Checkmate and Double Cross) and her latest book is Love Hurts.

The first impression of Malorie that you get is that she’s funny and has a good sense of humour. She was being interviewed by a man from the Telegraph and along with very in-depth answers to all the questions given to her she also cracked a joke every now and again.

During the talk she spoke about many topics, one of them about wanting YAs/ teenagers to get more involved in reading for pleasure. She spoke about how she feels like structurally reading is seemed less ‘cool’ for boys, so if she meets boys (or girls in fact) that dislike reading as they don’t think it’s ‘cool’ she’ll insist that ‘IT IS COOL!!’.

She was also asked about her opinion on media becoming more diverse (or rather if media is becoming more diverse) as she often speaks about how when she was younger she didn’t read a single book with a black main character and only came across one in her twenties. She said how she believes books are becoming more diverse and including more varied characters, though she said TV and film have a long way to go.

Another thing she spoke about was tips for YA wanting to write their own stories. One of the topics she covered in the advice was character development and how she creates her characters. She said she writes profiles about them that include the little things like their favourite food and colour. She said when she was writing in multiple points of views she’d listen to a different piece of music for each character (for example when she was writing the character Toby’s point of view in Double Cross she listened to music like Greenday and Imagine Dragons as that was the type of music Toby liked).

Overall, it was a brilliant talk and Malorie was amazing, covering topics from what its like to be Children’s Laureate to social media and the impact it has on YAs. When people asked her questions she looked at the people who asked them and was thoughtful in response.

The Mozart Question Concert by Patrick from The Scribblers

There is only one thing more thrilling than reading a Michael Morpurgo novel – and that’s listening to the author read and act out the story himself, accompanied by five breathtaking musicians!

Michael Morpurgo, accompanied by actress Alison Reid, violin soloist Daniel Pioro and The Storyteller’s Ensemble, a string quartet, performed Michael’s 2006 story, The Mozart Question. The story follows a young journalist who is given the chance to go to Venice and interview legendary violinist Paolo Levi, but is told not to ask ‘the Mozart question’. When she arrives at Paolo’s house, he tells her the story of his childhood, his parents and eventually, all the mysteries and secrets are revealed. In fact, in the story, it is said, ‘all secrets are lies’!

The strings, as well as enhancing the story, helped to create the mood of each scene. The musicians played the pieces described in the story, for example Mozart and Vivaldi – this was a fantastic way to introduce children to classical music, as the music was part of the story. Daniel Pioro’s playing was stunning, plus the fact that he played without any music.

And they used other instruments too. When Paolo Levi tells the story of how he used to hear the snipping of the scissors in his father’s barber’s shop, the five musicians all brandished a pair of scissors and made the sound.

Another reason the story was so vivid was Michael Morpurgo’s acting. He didn’t just read it, he portrayed each character and gave the story life. He could portray any emotion, whether it be awe or despair, while also adding humour.

On the whole, the story has a positive, powerful message – it shows the power of music, and how music can give people hope in a time of horror. Paolo’s father tells him of the time he and Paolo’s mother, among many others, were sent to a concentration camp, and how they were selected to play in an orchestra. At the start, they used to play for the SS officers, and they would each play their absolute best – it was their way of fighting back against the Nazis. Then, they would play while people were loaded off the trains and the weak and vulnerable were sent to the gas chambers. When the camps were liberated, Paolo’s father vowed never to play the violin again, particularly not Mozart, as they had played Mozart in the camp.

It was music that kept those people alive, and so this story shows how music can change and save people’s lives, when there is despair all around them. The Mozart Question is a powerful way to introduce children to the Holocaust, and it is made even more dramatic by hearing the author acting out the story and the music itself.

Hannah from The Scribblers interviews Catherine Barr

As Catherine Barr’s daughter there isn’t much I can say apart from ‘it was brilliant’, which it really was. It was very inspiring to see Mum talk about her and Steve’s book The Story of Life when it has only just come out in print! I think the audience really enjoyed how they both invited children to join in with the talk, to come up and hold creatures drawn by Amy Husband along an amazing timeline made by my Granny. Also, one of the highlights was the question time at the end, which really showed they were all listening and learning. I think it was fantastic to see Amy draw a picture throughout the talk, to auction off to the highest bidder, and then they gave the money to the Hertfordshire Wildlife Trust.

Quickfire questions:

Q: Glass half full or half empty?

A: Glass half full.

Q: Text or call?

A: Call.

Q: Notebook or laptop?

A: Notebook.

Q: Bunkbeds – top or bottom?

A: Top.

Q: If you had a day off and money was not an object, what would you do?

A: I would go on a really, really long walk in the mountains, and then go back to a really, really nice hotel and have a bottle of wine and maybe even a swim in the pool.

Q: If you were PM, what would be the first law you passed?

A: I would pass a law to make sure that climate change had to be an absolute priority, and also all the money was taken away from the oil industry and put into renewable energy.

Q: If you had a super power what would it be?

A: To fly, because then you can get a good perspective on everything, and zoom in on the important things.

Q: What would be your ideal workplace ?

A: I would like an incredible hut overlooking a lovely view with lots of mountains.

Q: What is your favourite part of the writing process?

A: I have two favourite parts: to find everything out and do the research; and to decide which bits to put in or leave out, and I like it when I have a deadline, say, write a page by the end of the morning. I really like that feeling of a deadline.

Q: Did something or someone influence you to write your book?

A: Yes, my children. I wrote the book for my children to understand, for a start, why they came into the world, and the story of life on Earth, and I couldn’t believe that they weren’t learning it at school, and they were going to leave primary school not knowing what really happened at the beginning of life on Earth.

Q: Was publishing your book The Story of Life a quick process?

A: No, it was a slow process. Writing the book was fairly quick, but the whole process of publishing it was very slow, and I have been astounded by how slow the publishing industry is and the process of publishing and the process of actually producing a book.

Q: Did you write your book with an intention for it to be published, or was it just something you wanted to do?

A: Yes, definitely – I wanted to get it to schools and parents, and tables and kitchens and bedrooms.

The Scribblers interview Steve Cole

Quick-fire questions:

Q: Glass half full or half empty?

A: What glass? Where is this glass? I’d probably say the glass is probably half full.

Q: Text or call?

A: Text. Talk to people? That’s so last century, what’s that about?

Q: Notebook or laptop?

A: Laptop.

Q: Bunk bed – top or bottom?

A: Top. Who’d want bottom? Looking at someone’s butt…

Generic questions:

Q: If you could be any fictional character from a book or film, excluding your own, who would it be?

A: I’d like to be Spiderman, I’d love to be bitten by a radioactive spider, it was always my dream – I used to ask my mum to take me to a radioactive farm.

Q: If you had the day off and money was no object, what would you do?

A: I would go to the dessert in a 4×4. I’ve done it before and it was really fun, in a cool hat.

Q: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

A: I would like to be invisible because then I could sneak up on people and scare them. I would also like to fly and get out of traffic jams.

Q: What would be your ideal workplace?

A: Probably somewhere by the sea or in a hotel, somewhere different.

Q: What is your favourite part of the writing process?

A: Finishing it.

Special questions:

Q: Which of your own books is your favourite?

A: Well, I’ve written 165 books. The first one’s about TV shows… and I’m very proud of the Young Bond books. I’ve also written a series about space with 24 books in total.

Q: When did you start writing?

A: I started when I was quite young. I knew I wanted to work with words. I wrote some poems when I was little. In 1997 I wrote a lot of Doctor Who books and I liked the switch between editing and writing. It’s an unusual way of getting into it.

Q: Did you always want to write when you were younger?

A: I always wanted to be a writer and I used to draw front covers with the words STEVE COLE and then a little picture. I started lots of books but never finished them. When I was in my 20s I realised I could write a book. Before I finished a book, I did want to be a writer but I didn’t think I was practical.

Q: If you had to write a non-fiction book, what would it be about?

A: If I was to write a non-fiction book it would be about gadgets from the 1930s, like the one-wheeled motorbike where you sit in the middle.

Hannah, Finn, Cameron, Katy and Ru from The Scribblers interview Martin Chilton

On the sixth day of the festival, we had a chance to meet Martin Chilton, journalist and Culture Editor for The Telegraph website. Martin has been hugely involved with the festival, chairing events with the Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman and several others. We had a lovely chat and asked him a few questions, and he seemed really relaxed. We even ended up talking about football!

Quickfire questions:

Q:Glass half full or half empty?

A:Half full.

Q:Text or call?

A:Call.

Q:Notebook or laptop?

A:Laptop.

Q:Bunkbeds – top or bottom?

A:Definitely top.

General questions:

Q:If you could be any fictional character from a book or film excluding your own, who would it be?

A:I would be WC Fields in The Bank Dick because he is a very funny character.

Q:If you had the day off and money was no object, what would you do?

A:A day by the sea in Sardinia.

Q:If you were PM, what would be the first law you’d pass?

A:Free education for everyone.

Q:If you had a superpower, what would it be?

A:Be able to teleport; it saves time travelling.

Q:What would be your ideal workplace?

A:A hut near the beach.

Katy and Hannah from The Scribblers interview Abi Elphinstone

We were lucky to talk to and interview Abi Elphinstone. She was lovely and very inspiring to young writers. It was a real pleasure to meet her and ask her a few questions about her book The Dreamsnatcher, and a couple of general questions as well. We strongly recommend that any child who loves stories with adventure and living in the wild read the book or go to any talks she’s doing.

Quick-fire questions:

Q: Glass half full or half empty?

A: Glass half full.

Q: Text or call?

A: Text.

Q: Notebook or laptop?

A: Notebook.

Q: Bunkbeds – top or bottom?

A: Top.

General questions:

Q: If you had a day off and money was not an object, what would you do?

A: I would love to climb the fjords in Norway. I did that at Easter recently, and it was amazing. Yes – climb the fjords and hunt dragons.

Q: If you were PM, what would be the first law you passed?

A: Not to abolish libraries, and to make sure they are still around, because I think anybody should be able to get books from just down the road. Not that we were cutting down on them, that we were making more of them. And also a mode of transport could be dragons, as I love them.

Q: If you had a super-power what would it be?

A: I think I would love to fly because it might come in useful.

Q: What would be your ideal workplace ?

A: If I could have an office in a tree, that could be really cool. At the moment I work in a hut at the bottom of the garden, but a tree house would be amazing.

Q: What is your favourite part of the writing process?

A: It’s the bit I’m doing at the time. I do a lot of research, I love it when I do. And then when I write, I love that you get caught up in it all and it’s like, go go go! so it depends on what I’m doing. Although I do find it hard to put everything in order.

Q: If you could have everything in your house painted one colour, what colour would it be?

A: Yellow, because it makes me happy, but then my favourite colour is blue so maybe I would have the top floor yellow and then the bottom floor blue. I would love the ceilings to be painted like the sky.

Q: Why did you choose to include magic in your book, instead of something more realistic?

A: I think it’s because my brain is weird like that. I think I generally believe magic is real. And I think when I see an amazing waterfall I always wonder what might be behind it, and in a world where everything can be proved it is nice to have something that can’t.

Q: Where is the book set?

A: That’s a hard question. Well, it’s not a real place. Parts of it are based on places I went to as a child and things in my childhood garden such as the woods and treehouse.

Q: Did you come up with the poems and spells yourself (as they are very cleverly written)?

A: I did, yes. There was a poem by Edgar Allan Poe called ‘Annabel Lee’ and I used that rhythm to write some of the poems, and I just kind of made up the anagram ones.

Cameron from The Scribblers interviews Chris Priestly

Today, the fifth day of the festival, I had the fortune to interview Chris Priestly, author of the Tales Of Terror series and other macabre tales. Many of his novels are fascinating takes on classic Gothic literature, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or, in the case of his most recent novel, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. Uniquely sinister in its unflinching view of a maritime journey through limbo and back, The Dead Men Stood Together blows a welcome breath of life into Coleridge’s epic. Read on to hear Chris’ thoughts on writing…

Quickfire questions: 

Q: Glass half full or half empty?

A: Half full.

Q: Text or call?

A: Call.

Q: Notebook or laptop?

A: Laptop.

Q: Bunk beds – top or bottom?

A: Definitely top.

General questions: 

Q: If you could be any fictional character from a book or film, excluding your own, who would it be?

A: That’s very hard. I’d quite like to be Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island. That would be good.

Q: If you had the day off and money was no object, what would you do?

A: I would…that’s difficult. I would quite like to fly to New York. Does that count as a day off?

Q: If you were PM, what would be the first law you’d pass?

A: I would pass a law saying that 16 and 17-year-olds could vote in all our elections, because it seems incredible to me that 16-year-olds can join the army but they can’t vote. Seems mad.

Q: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

A: Flying. Definitely flying. I’ve always wanted to fly.

Q: What would be your ideal workplace?

A: My ideal workplace would be a little shed or cottage in a quiet spot next to a river. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of those. I work at a table in my bedroom!

Q: What is your favourite part of the writing process?

A: My favourite part is the middle part, after you’ve thought of the idea for the story and are properly writing the book. That’s the bit I really, really like before you get to the bit where you have to do all of the editing. I love that bit when you’re writing the middle of the book.

Special questions: 

Q: Why do you want to scare people with your books?

A: Why do I want to scare people? I don’t know. I think I quite like… writing scary things is a bit like writing a joke where, like a punchline, you’ve got a sort of scary twist. I quite like writing effects, things where you’re trying to get effects from your reader. I just like trying to make that work.

Q: Which Tales Of Terror novel was your favourite to write?

A: I think it was probably Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror because there were lots of stories in there I’d had in my head for a long time, and it was just great to see them published.

Q: Which writer’s work chills you the most?

A: There’s a writer called Robert Aickman, who I discovered in the last couple of years and he wrote very, very creepy short stories. His stuff is great. Steven King is also good when he’s writing scary stuff, as well as Edgar James and Edgar Allan Poe.

Q: Finally, if you had to write a non-fiction book, what would its topic be?

A: That’s a good question but a tricky one. I’m a bit obsessed with the 18th century, so it might be something about the 18th century. I wrote a book once about someone called Jack Sheppard, who was a prison breaker in the early 18th century, and the person that caught him was someone called Jonathan Wild, who was an amazing character. I would quite like to write a book about Jonathan Wild. He’s both the first proper detective and also the first gangster in one person!

Daniel Hahn, John Boyne and Jenny Valentine by Eleanor

Today I saw these three authors sit down and attempt an incredibly difficult task: choosing the top ten young adult (YA) novels. It was fascinating to hear what they picked and their arguments for them. I’ve often been put off YA fiction by the way it’s transformed into a genre full of The Hunger Games spin-offs- this event has definitely made me rethink that view and given me loads of great new books for my to-read list!
One really interesting part of this event was their discussion of what defined a ‘YA book’. As a well-recognised YA author, Jenny Valentine finds it patronising how people feel under an obligation to adjust their books, making the themes appropriate for readers. She doesn’t think about her audience when writing, saying that’s the publisher’s job. John Boyne agreed, saying he wrote YA books by writing adult books but then sticking children in them. This was reflected in the books he chose, with dark themes such as the Irish Troubles – he justified these choices by saying a book isn’t about the themes behind it but about the voice it’s written in. Even books with the most depressing of themes can be made light if written in the right style.
The audience had the the opportunity to let their opinions be heard, suggesting a tenth book for the list. The final result was a close call between His Dark Materials and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – the latter won but it felt that if only there were more time, the matter could have been debated endlessly. “If only it could be a hundred books,” Valentine said, which I feel summed up the spirit of the event pretty well.

David Almond, Jenny Valentine and Sarah Crossan at Hay Festival 2015 by Olga

I went into the tent full of excitement. I mean, a combination of David Almond (Skellig), Sarah Crossan (The Weight of Water) and Jenny Valentine (Finding Violet Park), who are all legendary, is too much to resist. All of them were happily chatting away, and were very friendly with everyone, and as a result the tent felt very cosy, despite the number of people. David Almond, whose most recent publication is titled A Song for Ella Grey, seemed at home in Hay, away from his home in the North. His book is set in Tyneside, and Almond manages to bring a certain quality and charm to an area known for being harsh. Almond’s novel is philosophical and complicated, but makes you want to find out more about Orpheus, Ella and Claire. Jenny Valentine is equally at home in Hay. She based her novel on some of her own personal experiences and, as a result, I found her book very easy to connect with. Jenny is very ‘laugh-out-loud’ funny and her anecdotes about her childhood made us all smile. In many ways Valentine is very similar to Sarah Crossan; they are both very honest, very funny and very blonde! Even though Sarah uses poetry in YA fiction – a dangerous move since generally poetry is considered boring for teens – she manages to hook her readers in and makes them connect with her character Apple. I would definitely recommend reading their books and coming to see them all when they are next at Hay!

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