A weekend surrounded by authors and illustrators

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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.

Michelle Paver
Michelle Paver

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) ;-)

The Two Steves
The Two Steves

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.

Annabel Pitcher, Graham Marks and Marcus Sedgwick
Annabel Pitcher, Graham Marks and Marcus Sedgwick

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.

Emma Chichester Clark
Emma Chichester Clark

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.

Mary Hooper
Mary Hooper
Sally Nicholls
Sally Nicholls

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.

Elizabeth Wein
Elizabeth Wein

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…

Jonathan Meres
Jonathan Meres

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.

Kevin Crossley-Holland
Kevin Crossley-Holland

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.

Rachel Ward
Rachel Ward
Melvin Burgess
Melvin Burgess

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.

Conrad Mason
Conrad Mason

The penultimate session was especially fascinating for me, for it brought together two very different, but very brilliant illustrators, both of whom also write: Jane Ray and Alex T. Smith.

Jane Ray, Graham Marks, Alex T. Smith
Jane Ray, Graham Marks, Alex T. Smith

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.

Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer
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9 Responses

  1. What a treat! Thanks for letting the rest of us be a fly on the wall.
    Mrs Brown recently posted..For the love of reading …

  2. Sounds like you had a fascinating time, thanks for sharing I now have a few new authors to discover
    Damyanti recently posted..A Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy

  3. Anne Booth

    Sounds wonderful!

  4. That weekend was chock full of exciting events. What a wonderful assortment of topics and such interesting people!

  5. Wow! What a treat!

  6. It sounds like you had a wonderful weekend, Zoe. Thanks for sharing it with us :)
    Melissa @ Honey Bee Books recently posted..Keeping it Real: A Roald Dahl Biography

  7. Dear melissa, choxbox, barbara, anne, Damyanti and Mrs Brown, thanks, yes, the weekend was wonderful, a real treat. Pretty intense too! And very enriching.
    Zoe recently posted..A weekend surrounded by authors and illustrators

  8. The conference looks like it was really a wonderful experience and it looks like you totally enjoyed it. I would love to have heard Elizabeth Wein’s speak. Code Name Verity is one of my very favorite books.
    Alex Baugh recently posted..Bloggiesta 2013: At the Finish Line

  9. Alex – I’m just in the process of working with Elizabeth to get the text of her talk to put online – I’ll let you know when it is available.

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