Friday, 17 October 2008

That's not my name!

OK - I might not be famous, but J B Priestley and Joseph Priestley are and we all have an 'e' before that 'y'. Why do so many people want to spell it without? Huh? Huh? Huh?

I went to London today to do a turn at a Youth Libraries Group event next to Euston Station. Emma Bradshaw was my contact from Bloomsbury and once we had met and been badged up, we sat and listened to a very good talk by Julia Eccleshare from the Guardian. Julia's enthusiasm for children's books is evident in everything she says and she has been a great champion of them in her newspaper.

The Guardian's redesigned Saturday Review carries much less coverage of children's books than it used to, which is a great shame - particularly as it devotes a huge amount of space to items of questionable value (that means you, Audrey Niffenegger and your Night Badlydrawnmobile)

It was a chance to say hello again to Celia Rees whom I had met in Edinburgh. She gave an interesting talk about her new book Sovay, talking about the book and about her working method, which seemed very similar to mine when I write historical fiction.

In fact it was a very interesting experience to see other authors speak. Everyone has a different technique and people obviously vary a huge amount in confidence. Some have a very prepared speech and others - myself included - hoof it a little. The latter technique can backfire, of course, and I am beginning to wonder if I ought to write myself a script. The thing that stops me is the dread of sounding like some after dinner speaker with pre-prepared anecdotes and scripted ad-libs. But perhaps that's better than sounding like a babbling old twit.

We were all limited to twenty minutes, which is pretty tight when people want to have the chance to ask questions. I felt sorry for Debi Gliori and Marcia Williams who both needed more time really to get the concepts of their picture books across. It was nice to see Debi's rough work - it is always fascinating to see how another illustrator works. I didn't get a chance to see Sophie Mackenzie as we were on at the same time, though I did meet her briefly as we sat together at the book signing session.

Of the talks I saw, only Craig Simpson shared my lack of a PowerPoint demonstration. Although I can see the benefit of PowerPoint - Celia made the very good point that it provided a focus both for your talk and for the listener - I have always resisted its lure (for similar reasons to those mentioned above). But I think its time to drag myself into the 21st Century.

That said - I'm not sure authors were getting the most out of it. It is obviously useful for an illustrator to be able to show their work, but I think it has the potential to be more than simply a slide show. I think I would be more tempted to use it to provide a kind of ongoing illustration to my words. I would want to explore the possibilities of animation and sound. A well placed flicker of activity or high pitched scream might be fun. But only if it works of course.

I had hoped to Chris Riddell at the Observer, but after hours of talking and listening to librarians and writers - albeit very friendly ones - I needed some non-speaking time and so I wandered into town to potter around bookshops and remind myself again how I can't really justify buying anything in Paul Smith in the current economic climate.

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