Wow, I can’t believe it’s almost the end of April already! I swear it’s been the fastest year of all time. After a nice, leisurely couple of months to start the year, things have become a touch busier since March.
Stonebird was shortlisted for the Shrewsbury Book Festival Book Award, which is entirely chosen by kids. Over a thousand of them. So it was a real honour to attend the ceremony this week, which I’ll go into in a little bit. A couple of weeks ago, I also had an event with Horatio Clare at the FCBG conference just outside Birmingham. I got to meet some totally amazing authors, listen to Katherine Rundell give a VERY moving speech, and talk about the power of reading to an audience of industry professionals.
But let’s start with World Book Day, which I’ll be sure to always remember, because I got to meet the first ever person to dress up as a character from my book. (At least, the first I’ve heard of – if anyone out there has dressed up as someone from Stonebird, please do get in touch; there’s not much more wonderful than seeing someone enjoy your book enough to want to dress up as a character from it!) The uncanny Liam rushed over to the signing table, desperate to say hi, and he even had a little stuffed Daisy dog.
On the day itself, I was at a lovely school called Cumnor House in Sussex. They’d been in touch previously to say that they were studying Stonebird in some of their classes, so I was really excited about visiting. When I arrived, I was blown away by the effort the kids had gone to with their costumes. Every single pupil, and all the teachers, were dressed up as their favourite children’s book character. Of course, Liam was my favourite, but there was a particularly good Gandalf too. They had me wishing I’d brought my gargoyle costume!
I was so thrilled to see an entire wall of Stonebird artwork, too. I’ll never get used to the idea of kids drawing on Stonebird as inspiration for their work.
The day was run by the absolute champions at Pea Green Boat Books, Adriana and Richard, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as we created whacky gargoyles and used the magic egg from Stonebird to come up with inspiration for stories. I always love doing the gargoyle exercise, because it means every event is always different. I throw the floor open to the audience, and only draw what they suggest – which makes for some delightfully odd combinations of animals. And it’s not just animals, either. You never know what someone’s going to suggest.
Which was illustrated quite nicely the following day. I got a train from London up to the Lake District for a big school event with Jonathan Meres and Ross Welford. We were doing a joint event for two audiences of around 400 kids, which was an absolute joy. They’re both lovely guys, and there was great balance between the three of our books, I think. Ross did a brilliant magic trick in his talk, and Jonathan blew the roof off with his hilarious gig. During my segment, I did the gargoyle exercise, and one one of the pupils suggested a can of tuna for a leg. I can safely say that’s not happened before!
After that event, I didn’t have long before it was off for another: the FCBG Conference in Telford. This was a weekend-long celebration of reading and books with a wonderful cast of authors giving talks. I was particularly looking forward to it because I was appearing alongside Horatio Clare, whose book, Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, is terrific. And I was also getting to meet some authors I’ve heard a lot about but not had the chance to say hello to yet.
When I arrived, I met up with the guys from Hachette, who were with Curtis Jobling, the author of the upcoming Max Helsing series and a huge range of other books. I really enjoyed chatting to Curtis, and his events sound fantastic, so if you ever find yourself near one of them I’d definitely recommend going. We were at the Telford Innovation Campus, and the staff put on a lovely roast dinner to ease us into the weekend – which started that evening with an opening talk by Katherine Rundell.
I’ve been a big fan of Katherine’s books since Rooftoppers, which I picked up in Waterstones one day planning to read the first sentence, only to find myself three pages in within moments. Since then she’s also published a third book, The Wolf Wilder, and it’s utterly gorgeous. There’s something cosy and warming about the way she writes, and there’s a lyrical magic there that I’ve not come across anywhere other than in Neil Gaiman’s books.
She gave a very moving talk about herself and her family and the power of stories, how they can help you to overcome deep sadness. And she made me realise I’ve got to up my research game. I mean, she spent some time with real life actual wolves while planning The Wolf Wilder. Actual wolves! It looked like a properly stunning experience.
Over drinks that evening, I got to meet Phil Earle, who I’d heard a lot about (everyone says he’s the nicest man in publishing), and it was really lovely getting to know him a bit. He was in town for an event with Curtis, which was a total hit: he talked about being a reluctant reader himself, and they both showed the types of activities they can do at their events in schools, which involve live drawing (something I’m a big fan of) and dressing people up as heroes in some pretty funky attire.
Then before long it was onto me! I spent a bit of time chatting with Horatio in the green room, and we went out to a lovely audience and talked about how stories can help people to deal with issues that are often pretty hard to come to terms with. Stonebird obviously focuses on dementia, but it also touches on bullying; Yoot is a wonderful and funny and charming story that also deals with depression. We did a Q+A and then went to sign some books, and spent some time chatting with everyone before lunch.
THEN, following on from that, to cap off an eventful couple of months was the Shrewsbury Book Festival Book Award. I’d never been to Shrewsbury before, so I spent some time wandering round the streets looking for old shops and gargoyles.
Stonebird was shortlisted alongside some other fantastic books: In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll, The Accidental Prime Minister by Tom McLaughlin, How To Fly With Broken Wings by Jane Elson, A Tiger Tale by Holly Webb, and Half a Man by Michael Morpurgo.
I’d not met any of these authors before, so it was great to get to know them, and I think I speak for all of us when I say the award ceremony was outstanding. There were hundreds of kids packed into the theatre, and throughout the afternoon we saw some great book trailers the schools made for each of our books. They were all top notch, and you can see the best of them here, but let’s take a moment to appreciate this Stonebird trailer. It’s terrifyingly intense!
And there was some stunning artwork on display too. I was blown away by the winner, who took the top prize for his Stonebird drawing. Congratulations, Euan Hughes-Williams! You can see his beautiful drawing below, and check out the runners up here.
Now I’ve got a bit of time to relax and focus on preparing for the Stormwalker launch WHICH IS NEXT MONTH. I can’t believe it’s come round so quickly!