Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bath Festival of Children's Literature Day 1

Visiting Bath, entering the Guildhall for the Bath Festival of Kids Lit, is rather like walking into the Cheers bar. Everyone knows my name, everyone's glad I came. It's a good feeling.

This past week I've chatted with John McLay, one of my lecturers on on my MA, and the co-Artistic Director. I caught up with Julia Green, amazing author and my tutor on my MA. I touched base with several other Bath Spa MA people, tutors, former students, current students, and we talked writing, books, authors, agents, life. But even more strangely, after almost four years in the UK, I know some of the authors and publishers, too. It's been like a big, wonderful writing party.

So in between all the late nights, and long buses back and forth to Bath, I figured I should catch you up on it all.

I started Saturday by volunteering at the Geraldine McCaughrean and Caroline Lawrence event. The two authors were thrown together because they have Western-themed books coming out. But it was a fascinating conversation as they discovered how different they are. McCaughrean is a pantser (though she didn't call herself that!), inspired by character, and doesn't think much of sequels (though she acquiesced to writing this one because she loved her characters so much). Lawrence has of course made her name with her Roman Mysteries stories, she's inspired by setting, and is a total plotter. Lawrence kept mentioning how she plots using 7 steps, so when I got home, I had to look up her website to see the 7 steps. Hah! She's a John Truby devotee. What a coincidence!

The second event I saw might be the best children's lit event ever. It was Kristina Stephenson, author and illustrator of the Sir Charlie Stinky Socks books. She sang about farts and beans, she danced. Her musician husband had written an entire score for her reading. She recruited her children for speaking roles. She had a complete stage set (in her former life, she was a costume and set designer) with moving parts, pop up characters, mountains, castles. Her audience of parents and toddlers were mesmerized. I was mesmerized! Later, I was told the Festival often refers to them as the Von Trapp family. You can hear (audio only, unfortunately) one of Kristina Stephenson's readings here.

But I have to say, the best part of the day was what happened between those two events. Apparently, I had been noticed when I entered the room. No, not for my sunny disposition or cute new haircut. I was the shortest volunteer. So, given my advantageous height, the Festival asked if I'd be willing to dress up as Horrid Henry, so he could make an appearance to greet his fans.

The picture isn't me, by the way, but one from Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon's website. I wish I had had a camera handy, but it all happened so quickly. One minute I was happily volunteering, the next minute I had two Festival volunteers helping me dress in this ginormous plush costume. They warned me it would be crazy hot, we practiced signals to let them know when I was getting tired, so I wouldn't pass out inside Horrid Henry. But what I didn't expect was how horrid Horrid Henry's head would be. I had to put it on sideways, where the opening was biggest, then turn it to face forward. I couldn't see ANYTHING, and was totally enveloped in this giant, close-fitting, dark head. I've always been slightly claustrophobic, so for a moment, I really wasn't sure I could do it. But I would've had to disappoint all Henry's fans. Plus, I wanted to say I had done it!

I'm so glad I stuck around. Once I got outside the green room, and got mobbed by children, it was actually easier. They were all so excited to hug me and touch me and get a high five or a photo with me (never mind that I couldn't see ANYTHING and had to pat out with my hands to find their heads--my keeper assured me I did a fine job). I danced, gave the kids bunny ears, made faces, and wished I could see and really interact with everyone. But it was definitely one of the most fun things I've ever done.

Though taking off the costume was pretty fun, too. Fresh air!

Monday I sat in on a talk by Cathy Cassidy, Joanna Nadin, Samantha Macintosh, and Karen McCombie (the Queens of Teen), and another by Meg Rosoff, David Almond, and Melvin Burgess. Then Tuesday night I went to a Bristol talk by David Almond. All of them blew me away. More posts to come, I promise!


  1. Sounds like you've been having so much fun lately!

    You heard Meg Rosoff talk about writing and books for kids? [wistful sigh]

    Truby rocks! (of course you already knew I thought that LOL)


  2. Sounds like a great (if exhausting) time. And you even got to wear a giant head! Very brave. Thanks for sharing this event with those of us across the Pond.

  3. Anne, you're much more brave than I am. I could have never survived in Horrid Henry's costume. Never. lol What an adventure you had :)

  4. Okay, you've almost given me too much information to process. A book Von Trapp family? English writers who write American Westerns? (Why this surprises me I don't know. Elizabeth George is my favorite mystery writer and she is an American writing about English mysteries.)

    AND Horrid Henry? What a wonderful adventure you had.

    I like peeking into your life!

  5. I love that you dressed as Horrid Henry. That must have been fun. Though I'm guessing it was hot too!

  6. Brilliant, Anne – sounds like you had a great time. I'm really disappointed I couldn't make it to the festival this year. Who will you be appearing as next year I wonder? Yourself – promoting your own book, fingers crossed!

  7. Good for you for managing to wear that costume without fainting.

    Cathy Cassidy lives in Scotland and I met her at a talk and book signing here. I never meet ANYbody, so I was truly thrilled. And I'm all the happier to see her name again.

  8. Apologies all for how long it's taken me to respond to your lovely comments! It's been pretty crazy lately!

    Elisabeth: Yes, Truby does rock, and how fun to hear other (big names) authors use him, too. Meg Rosoff was great in person. Very funny.

    Anne: Thanks for stopping by! It has been super fun (although exhausting, especially after the giant head!).

    Andrea: But that's exactly why I did it, for the sake of adventure! I don't know if that's exactly brave... perhaps spirited is a better word. Or stupid. But thankfully there was no passing out! ;)

  9. Bridgette: Hah! That secretly was the whole point of my post: to overwhelm you! ;)

    Actually, if it makes it any better, Caroline Lawrence is part American. She was born in the UK, but spent most of her childhood in the US, then returned to the UK for university and stuck around. She has an American accent. A shame her books aren't better known over there, people here really love them.

    This is quite glamorous and exciting for my life. Usually I'm sitting quietly at home agonizing over words. Or watching TV. ;)

    Kelly: Thanks! It really was so much fun being Henry. The heat didn't bother me nearly as much as my claustrophobia, but I was sweaty and flushed for quite a while afterwards! Not so much fun for those around me. ;)

    Dave: You're a sweetheart. And you've given me a whole new fantasy to obsess over now! Hopefully I'll see you next year? Maybe we should schedule a UV meet up in Bath next autumn.

    Mary: I do feel so lucky for actually getting to SEE all these authors. I've hardly ever seen authors either, so this Fest is a real treat. Cathy Cassidy had a great sense of humor. Not surprising, of course!


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