Sunday, 12 September 2010


I've just returned from the Youth Libraries Group Conference in Cardiff. I travelled up yesterday by train. I didn't get to see much of Cardiff, but a considerable portion of it seemed to be shrieking and hooting outside my hotel at three in the morning.

That was after a very pleasant dinner which featured a fiendishly hard children's book-related quiz. I think I contributed two answers. It is always good to be among people who care so much about books and are so enthusiastic about writing and illustration. Writers still need librarians to guide and enthuse young people. Schools still need libraries - whatever successive governments may think.

The YLG are in charge of the selection process for both the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Carnegie Medal, both of which are awarded by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and we were all lucky enough to be given signed copies of both of this year's winning books - Harry & Hopper and The Graveyard Book.

The recipients had recorded video messages to the conference as they both live out of the country (Freya Blackwood in Australia and Neil Gaiman in America) . I particularly enjoyed Gaiman's warm and generous tribute to libraries and their importance in his life, and very appropriate that he should say it at this time when our public libraries are so much under threat. I'm not sure whether I would be a writer (or an illustrator for that matter) without the discoveries I made in libraries when I was young. As Gaiman rightly said - Google and Wikipedia are not a replacement.

It was also a chance to have a snoop around the publisher's stands - Chris Riddell (he had sadly left before I arrived) seemed to have a book on every stand. All the major children's book publishers were there along with their publicists. I was well looked after by Bloomsbury's Ian Lamb and Emma Bradshaw who provided a 'spooky tea break' before my talk and kept me fed and watered. It all seemed to go reasonably well considering I felt absolutely wrecked after the travelling and the lack of sleep.

Back to Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. . .

Many years ago - back in the late 1980s when it was not quite the common destination it is now, I travelled through Turkey for five weeks. I was travelling with my then girlfriend and it was not always a happy journey - particularly when I contracted a hideous stomach bug.

We travelled to Istanbul, went by ferry along the Black Sea to Trabzon - Trebizond of old - and then down through Erzerum, Van, Diyarbakir and Urfa where Jinn is partly set. We had met a kind and thoughtful German couple in Trabzon - Wolfgang and Ursula - and though our route took us in different directions, we had agreed to meet up in Diyarbakir. To everyone's amazement we did actually manage to find each other and moved on together to Urfa. It is from Urfa that we went on a day trip to Harran.

Harran is an ancient village (proudly boasting that it is mentioned in the Bible) made up of what are usually described as 'beehive -shaped' houses, but which frankly always remind me of breasts. But that might just be me.

Tourism was already starting to have an unsavoury effect on this place. A group of children rushed at us demanding 'bon-bons' (sweets), which we did not have. This was a fairly common occurrence in Turkey, but these children were especially insistent. One little girl in particular seemed outraged that we ignored her pleas and as we walked away she picked up a stone and threw it at us.

And that was how Jinn came about. . .

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