This year’s Federation of Children’s Book Groups‘ conference was held this last weekend, and I was fortunate enough to be there in the company of a panoply of some of the best writers and illustrators living in the UK.
Things kicked off on Friday night with award winning author Michelle Paver. Although perhaps best known as the author of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, a series set in Stone Age Europe, she wrote several books for adults before writing Wolf Brother (the first book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series). Michelle talked about the process of writing, and how she researches her novels. She was graceful, charming and fascinating to listen to.
Next up was an ice-breaker of a quiz evening, hosted by The Two Steves, who are often described as “Britain’s most popular comedy writing and performing double act for young people.” They were indeed very funny, and also pretty mean quiz masters! A personal highlight of the evening was when I took part in a performance of one of their stories, dressed as a dog talking in a silly accent (all to get my team bonus points you understand)
Saturday morning kicked off with Annabel Pitcher and Marcus Sedgwick in conversation with Graham Marks. Hot from her well deserved success at the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, just 36 hours earlier, Annabel talked about her second novel, Ketchup Clouds, whilst Marcus talked about the themes he explores in his latest book, the spinetingling and mesmerising Midwinterblood. Graham Marks did a wonderful job drawing parallels between these two very different books.
Illustrator Emma Chichester Clark was next to entertain us. She talked us through lots of images from her new version of Alice Through the Looking Glass, and also from her forthcoming collaboration with Michael Morpurgo, a retelling of Pinocchio, with over 80 illustrations. She delighted us with tales of Plum, her beloved dog who has her very own, and very funny blog.
The next session brought together two writers with very different approaches to historical novels; Mary Hooper and Sally Nicholls. Whilst Mary talked of her love of research, Sally admitted she did as little research as she could get away with. And whereas Sally is keen for there to be a message, a point, to her novels, Mary said her focus was much more on pure entertainment, without the need or desire to reflect on modern issues through the historical lens.
The pre-dinner speaker on Saturday was Elizabeth Wein, whose novel Code Name Verity, a thriller set during World War Two, is shortlisted for this year’s Carnegie Medal.
After dinner we were royally entertained by Jonathan Meres, author of around 20 books, most recently the World of Norm series. He wouldn’t want me to mention this, but it is true that he used to be a stand up comedian. He also used to be in the Merchant Navy, but his jokes were much better than his naval knowledge Still, I was sorry he didn’t show us the Erasure video in which he appeared…
Sunday morning was sublime. The day started with Kevin Crossley-Holland talking us through the books which have mattered in his life, about the pages which have held power over him. He opened with Ted Hughes’ March Morning, just the tonic we all needed given the snow and the cold and the bitterness outside the conference hall. I was taken completely by surprise by the magic of his reciting a short piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry. I couldn’t understand it, but something in Crossley-Holland’s voice and delivery brought a sudden lump to my throat and before I knew it I was in tears.
Next, two authors whose books might appear to be rather grim and depressing from the outside were in conversation: Rachel Ward and Melvin Burgess. They discussed whether any topics were off limits for children’s literature, and where their ideas for books came from.
Conrad Mason then talked about goblins and world building, and juggling his day job as an editor of children’s books, with his evening/early morning job of being a writer.
Conference ended with all of us roaring with laughter as Eoin Colfer regaled us with all sorts of very funny anecdotes, some related to books and stories, others… others just witty life observations. He was full of energy, and a perfect way to end a wonderful weekend.