Friday, 11 December 2009

Yule Blog
(saving the best bit till the end, so DON'T MISS IT! Scroll down...)

I was looking for a nice Christmassy picture to put here, and came across this, which made me giggle: I especially like the 'too dumb to win an award' sticker. Looks like a fun stocking-filler.
So, what have I been up to? Well, I've been going to the dentist a lot.

 I could make a career out of going to the dentist. By the way, the above drawing lives on the wall in my house, along with half a dozen other vintage artworks by MOI. They are drawings I did for a magazine called Punch; this one is from a column by the late Miles Kington called "Let's Parler Franglais" – which is why I put in a caption in Franglais, a language he devised that could be understood by almost anyone who failed GCSE French (trivia: Kington was invited to join the Monty Python team, but declined).

Occasionally I have been allowed out of the dentist's chair long enough to go home, jot a few barely intelligible sentences on my computer, consume baby food and even go to other places like Winchester and Oxford. Because of my fragile dental state, my dentist arranged for me to be looked after by a tall bearded person whenever I ventured too far. It was very nice of said bearded personage (henceforth 'Beardy') to provide this service, as he was paid only in Chunky Kit-Kats (hmm...I wonder if my dentist is looking forward to some more fillings...?)


 OK, some of you are smart enough not to be fooled by the above and will recognise recent winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, Philip Ardagh, seen above at the SCBWI conference in Winchester, where I was a guest author (my first ever grown-up talk! To grown-ups!) and he was the hilarious after-dinner speaker. Lots of other authors were there too, including Meg Rosoff, who revealed that when she first became a 'children's author', someone told her that she would now have to 'put on a big necklace and go round schools'.  
The other picture featuring Beardy was taken at the Kids' Lit Quiz National Final in Oxford, where there were even more authors, among them Mary Hoffman, Alan Gibbons, Julia Golding...oh, far too many of us than it is wise to cram into one room (find out more here), and Harry Enfield. The kids were a very brainy lot indeed, and it was a close-run thing; congrats to the kids of Wheatley Park School, who won.

One of the teams in the final was from Cockermouth in Cumbria, which was recently in the news because of the terrible flooding there. Another fellow author, Chris Priestley, has been persuading lots of us to contribute signed copies of our books, so that we can do our little bit to help replenish damaged library stocks in the area. He was hoping to get the whole thing done in time for Christmas, but the flood was very inconsiderate and didn't schedule its arrival well enough in advance to make this possible. But the good news is that Chris' initiative IS going to happen – in the New Year. And possibly – though I don't want to jinx it – a very well-known TV show will get involved in the appeal as this space. Meanwhile, a very happy Christmas to all of you in the flood-stricken area, and I do hope that life gets back to 'normal' for you soon.

Last, but by no means least! My friend Candy Gourlay is going to fill a new website with recommendations for really special independent booksellers – because she is worried. 'With only a few big players left in the bookselling market - Waterstones and the supermarkets,'  says Candy, 'our reading culture which is enriched by diversity and choice is under threat.'
So: here is my contribution: 
Readers of past blog posts will not be surprised to learn that my choice is the wonderful Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. It's still only a baby – not even two yet – but is blessed with the knowledge and startling charisma of one far older. This is because it is run by two guys – Tim West and Simon Key – who have 35 years of book selling experience between them (that's Simon in the picture, with Horrid Henry). They set up shop after the last chain bookshop in Wood Green – where they worked – closed down. A brave thing to do, but the passion and dedication they bring to what they do is second to none. They wanted to offer:
 'The kind of bookshop that we’d like to visit ourselves...with a thoughtful range of titles, friendly knowledgeable staff and some cracking gems that surprise and excite us'. 
Exactly what I look for in a bookshop! They also have a very amusing blog.

It is a general bookshop, not a specialist children's one, yet their calendar of events (of all kinds as well as children's) and their involvement with local schools is truly impressive. Here are Simon's own very personal current favourite children's books (at this particular moment in time):

'The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle - A simple gorgeously illustrated picture book that I loved as a child and that is a clear favourite with my own daughter. She loves pointing at all the bad things the caterpillar eats before he gets a stomach ache.

'Olga Da Polga by Michael Bond - This in my opinion is a much better series of books than Michael's more famous Paddington Bear and follows the exploits of a rather extraordinary Guinea Pig. The stories in it are gentle and heartwarming, and it's a great bedtime read.

'You're a Bad Man Mr Gum! by Andy Stanton - This is a work of absolute genius. Andy Stanton has managed to write a series of books that adults and kids find equally hilarious. Very much in the vain of Roald Dahl, but with a modern twist.

 'Speaking of Roald Dahl, Danny Champion of the World is a book I read at least once a year. A magical story asbout the relationship between a boy and his father, who leads a secret life...As a story for boys, I'd say this pretty much tops anything.

'The Riddle of the Poisoned Monk by Sarah Matthias. Time travel, murder, mystery, fantastic characters and a hugely entertaining page turner for children aged 8-14. Written by Sarah for her own children, I devoured it in one sitting, and was left wondering whodunnit right until the end.' 
'Our customers are a real mix, which reflects Wood Green's demographic,' says Simon. 'Most people that come through the door are extremely well read and keep up with the latest reviews. We have particulary strong children's and literary fiction sections and also do extremely well with books on local history, which suggests there is an enormous pride in living in Haringey [the local borough].' 
Hurrah for booksellers who really love books, and know what they're talking about. Merry Christmas everybody!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hurrah for the big green bookstore in wood green and hurrah for you, fiona! thank you so much for this generous post!