Monthly Archives: May 2014

Michael Morpurgo and Rae Smith at Hay Festival 2014 by Eleanor

A massive crowd turned up and the atmosphere was wonderful in the packed tent. Michael Morpurgo decided to begin the event by telling us how he came to write ‘War Horse’. It all began when he was talking to a soldier in a pub in Devon. He learned about the special bond between the men and their horses, and just knew that there was a story to tell. So the book was published from the horse’s point of view.

Michael admits that he was originally dubious about the National Theatre’s plans to adapt ‘War Horse’ into a play: “It is in World War One, you can’t turn it into a pantomime with puppet horses!” But by now, he can see what a huge success it is.

Then Rae (‘War Horse’ artist) and Ben (‘War Horse’ actor and singer) were welcomed warmly on to the stage. The three of them created a spectacular performance. Michael read extracts of the book, Ben sang, and throughout, Rae was sketching scenes beautifully in charcoal.

But the most fantastic surprise was when Michael ordered us to be silent and Joey (the horse puppet) galloped into the tent! The puppeteers did such an amazing job that it was hard to believe he wasn’t real. In fact, when question time came, a little boy shot up his hand and asked, “Where did the horse, Joey, come from?”

By Eleanor.
Eleanor, 14, loves cats and reading fantasy epics (preferably about dragons).

Darren Shan at Hay Festival 2014 by Dylan

Shivers ran down my spine and my hair began to spike as Darren Shan read a disgusting and gruesome scene from his book Zom-B, one of the most descriptive books I have ever read! Darren Shan is an amazing author who writes horror/fantasy and does a good job of it too. His books are gripping and thrilling with suspense and great cliff-hangers that leave you thirsting for more. But thankfully he writes a book every three months so he doesn’t keep you waiting for too long. He has always wanted to be a writer and his mother inspired him the most because she taught him to read. Altogether he is an experimental, engaging and awesome author who writes brilliant, exciting must-read books!

By Dylan.
Dylan, 10, likes Minecraft, reading, trampoline and adventure.

Oliver Jeffers, Rachel Bright and Chris Haughton at Hay Festival 2014 by Eleanor

“All good illustrators give layers of a story,” said Rachel Bright. She, Oliver Jeffers, and Chris Haughton all write picture books, and all have their own stories to tell.

If you haven’t studied art at college, or you just have completely different interests, do not think that it is too late to get started with picture books? was one question posed to the panel. Oliver Jeffers had never intended to be an author, and Rachel Bright had numerous other jobs before writing. She was an air steward and even claims to have been taken hostage by Daleks – as an extra on ‘Doctor Who’. It was solar etching that she used to make her first book, ‘Love Monster’. She just loved the idea of “a book made of sunshine”. Now, as well as her books, she has her own range of witty greeting cards and gifts called The Bright Side.

Chris Haughton talked about the process of writing his three books – ‘A Bit Lost’, ‘Oh No George!’ and ‘Shh! We Have a Plan’. He says that one of the key aspects of creating a good story is to have a character with whom readers can identify. Chris was also greatly influenced by Fair Trade work he did with the ethical fashion business People Tree. He’s currently working on Monkey – an interactive app for toddlers. Fingers crossed, it will be coming out soon! Oliver Jeffers discussed his different experiences in illustrating. He was originally inspired to write when it occurred to him that his sketches told stories – stories that couldn’t be expressed in just a series of images. They needed to become books. And so he created his first book, ‘How to Catch a Star’.

A member of the audience observed that there was not enough illustration in adult literature; the art of ‘picture reading’ is becoming scarce. We need to learn to appreciate the beauty of picture books as well as novels.

By Eleanor.
Eleanor, 14, loves cats and reading fantasy epics (preferably about dragons).

Steven Camden (Polarbear) at Hay Festival 2014 by Ben and Ru

Steven Camden talked about how rhyme helped him throughout his life and his first-ever performance, a spoken word contest at the literature festival, Slam, where he learnt he could make a living out of spoken word poetry.

The event involved the audience writing short rhymes and saying them out loud. Steven also made up short stories and recited spoken word poetry.

We thought it was good fun for both adults and children, and we highly recommend getting his book. We really liked the way he included the audience and made everyone feel comfortable when reading out their rhymes.

The way he told his poems was just amazing, he acted along as he told his stories. The speed at which he recited the spoken word poems was phenomenal and his rhymes were witty.

By Ben and Ru.

Ben is 13 likes reading, music (listening and making), and gaming.
Ru, also 13, likes fencing, rugby and gaming.

Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart at Hay Festival 2014 by Eleanor

“I don’t know how we’ve managed to work together for so many years.” That was our introduction to Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, the funny, quirky, author and illustrator duo.

Together they explored the wonders of The Edge, a world where science works miracles, with floating cities and solidified lightning. Starting with just a map of this world, they created the best-selling series ‘The Edge Chronicles’. They read an extract from their latest book (one of a new trilogy), and then told us the exciting news that soon there will be a television series about the adventures!

It seems that the pair have been very busy lately. On top of the latest ‘Edge Chronicles’, Chris and Paul are working on a completely different trilogy of books: ‘Scavenger’. Both of them were obsessed with sci-fi novels as teenagers and have decided that they wish to return to the genre.

This story is set in the future, when humankind is migrating to a new planet, and their robots have turned against them. Men have had to go into hiding within their own spaceship. But the robots are hunting them down….

By Eleanor.
Eleanor is 14. She loves cats and reading fantasy epics (preferably about dragons).

Darren Shan at Hay Festival 2014 by Ben and Ru

We went to see Darren Shan talk about his new series of books called ZOM-B. He confessed that he wasn’t originally going to put zombies in his book as he mainly wanted to write a political novel about racism, but he decided to throw them in to spice things up.

Commenting on his book ‘Cirque du Freak’ being made into a film he said he never really got involved with adaptations from book to a film.

When asked what his main inspiration was he said, “My mum – I know it sounds corny”.

We thought that it was well presented and when he read extracts from his books he made the whole audience fall silent and listen intently, and we found out that Darren is going to be a father, so best of luck to him!

By Ben and Ru.

Ben is 13 and likes reading, music (listening and making) and gaming.
Ru is also 13 and likes fencing, rugby and gaming.

Matt Whyman and James Dawson at Hay Festival 2014 by Blake


Matt Whyman and James Dawson came to the Hay Festival to talk about their horror stories. Dawson has just published his fourth book, ‘Say Her Name’, about the legend of Bloody Mary. Matt’s latest book is called ‘American Savages’, the second in the ‘Savages’ series.

Dawson said he wrote about the kind of horror that ‘gets under your skin’. “Horror is a modern fairytale,” he added. But even though he writes horror, he doesn’t like the blood and gore you find in many stories.

He asked the audience to come up with a two-sentence story that got under their skin. One person said: “I heard footsteps upstairs. In my bungalow”.

Whyman said that he had once been out with his wife at a restaurant, having hired a babysitter for his children. He got home and walked the babysitter home. This was while he was writing one of the ‘Savages’ books. He left the babysitter at her home and was so terrified to walk back alone that he asked the babysitter’s dad to walk him home! And what’s even funnier was that Whyman was 40 at the time!

I thought the event was very good and scary! It made me feel how books, especially horror, can really give you very strong feelings.

By Blake.
Blake is very into sport (especially football) and supports Wigan Athletic. He is currently reading The False Prince trilogy and enjoyed reading The Hunger Games. At school, his favourite subjects are maths and history.

Simon Armitage at Hay Festival 2014 by Anna

Simon Armitage seems like a cool guy. He’s got this flop of hair and a kind of thrown together dress sense you can only find in a Yorkshire poet; you see him walking the moors looking solemn, generally in the rain, calling verses into the heath like Cathy from Wuthering Heights.
He sits down- cross legged, of course- a little nervous (who wouldn’t be, this audience is packed), you can tell he’s just drained a coffee backstage, but no-one’s here to critique him- we’re all here to admire him.
The interviewer, Johnty Claypole, sits opposite him, mirroring Simon’s stance; they exchange a look of friendly reassurance. The crowd falls silent, the shuffle of glasses moved down onto perched noses, everyone listening intently.
Johnty begins, introducing his guest, and we get cracking. The subject is Armitage’s newest escapade, a War documentary focusing on those points of view often ignored throughout WW1 history. The wives, the mothers, the nurses, the friends, the great minds, all fallen silent as time has caught up on them; their memories hidden in books, relatives, legends.
In the wake of the anniversary of a hundred years since the outbreak of WW1, Simon has paid homage to these forgotten voices by choosing seven of the most harrowing and emotive and turning them into poems to be interspersed within the documentary between the facts of these events.
Before each, he explains how he came to write them and how he chose them: the first from a nurse who served behind the lines at Normandy, telling her tale through a diary she kept religiously throughout the duration of the war. Scattered between vivid scenes of violence, gore and tragedy, she wrote of trips to the seafront where she would swim and cleanse herself of her worries.
From this, Armitage wrote a poem from her perspective. It is both emotive and brilliant, and you could tell how empathetic he is merely by his choice of words and the fact he had found her great nephew to read it out.
The other poems travel between a great scholar lost on the lines, Arthur Heath, the brave fighter pilot who made an extraordinary escape from a POW camp, the mother who lost all five of her sons, the miracles of small villages who had a complete return of all the men sent out to what they believed was certain death and the final two, poems of remembrance by the names of “Poppy” and “Memorial”.
Simon never pretends he can empathize completely, often repeating that he could not comprehend the sorrow, bravery and devastation faced during the great war, yet when it finishes there is a general silence across the hall before raucous rounds of applause in which we all remember.
Armitage has done what he intended to: the forgotten voices have been spoken, and through the power of his poetry they would no longer have that name.

By Anna.
Anna is 14 and likes Queen.

Joe Ducie at Hay Festival 2014 by Finn

Joe Ducie was great. He talked to us about The Rig, a story about a boy, Will Drake, who was a master at escaping from prisons. The last prison he had escaped from was Cedarwood, where he had accidentally killed a boy he had made friends with. The rest of the story is about him trying to escape The Rig, a high security prison for the worst of the worst criminals.

Then Joe talked about winning the Guardian Young Writers’ Prize and said he hoped to write a sequel.

Other than writing Joe has a very exiting life. He is part of the counter-terrorism team and during his talk he showed us X-rays of bags going through airline security. We had to guess where the guns or drugs were hidden or if there were any at all. It was great fun and there were some funny stories of what people tried to sneak on board: birds inside teddy bears, snakes in bags and birds under vests.

Here are some of the tips he gave us about writing:
-Momentum is key.
-Scribble it down and just get vague ideas.
-You have as many chances as you want so don’t worry.
-Don’t talk nonsense.
-5,000 words a day.

By Finn.
Finn, 11, likes reading, tennis, drawing, and being outside.

Adam Nicholson at Hay Festival 2014 by Clara

Adam Nicholson Talks To Paul Cartledge

As a first stop in a long weekend of lectures and debates, starting off with a discussion of Homer at 10am on a Saturday morning in the torrential rain can be daunting. It’s quite something to turn up to a literary festival after a full week of exams and remember that people are not only here voluntarily but also that they are enjoying learning.

And yet listening to people who are extraordinarily interested in their chosen subject can totally invigorate even the most boring of subjects. And Homer is not boring. As a Classics student, you learn pretty quickly that much of what you know is a theory, and so it was no surprise when the two speakers (one Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University and the other an accomplished author) began to argue about Homer’s influences and when, exactly, it was that he wrote his epics.

But they did agree that the stories are still relevant as a study of human beings and the way in which different cultures, or in the case of the Greeks and Troy (note that one, according to Adam Nicholson, is a people and the other an entity), civilisations view and interact with one another.

I was also interested to discover the differing viewpoints in the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. While the Iliad is about the courage and achievements of men (in the gendered sense, not the ‘mankind’ one), the Odyssey lends itself more to the capabilities of women – after all, any book containing characters such as Circe and Penelope can only send a message that women can be just as formidable opponents as their male counterparts.

I have grown up knowing the stories of the Odyssey, but most of my knowledge of the Iliad comes from watching ‘Troy’, and that stars Brad Pitt as Achilles so no one’s really very concerned with accuracy. As it turns out, the Iliad truly is a study of people as much as it is about the fall of Troy (which, incidentally, happens not in the Iliad but at the beginning of the Odyssey).

It’s so enticing, because everyone has different ideas about Homer and his poems, the reality, culture and timespan of the people the story depicts. Everything can be disputed when it comes to Classics, except maybe that the subject has been and always will be incredibly important.

By Clara.
Clara is 15 and enjoys Homer, but is an unabashed fan of Harry Potter.