Saturday, 3 July 2010


If you read this early enough you'll just have time to scoot along to some of the last events of the inaugural Manchester Children's Book Festival, A couple of us went up last night to join Sherry Ashworth's table at the gala dinner. Sherry - whose recent book with Five Leaves is Revolution - was pretty high profile over the Festival, today chairing a discussion on teenage fiction with Kevin Brooks and Keith Grey, and Adele Geras depping for Jenny Valentine. Tomorrow she will be hosting an afternoon tea with Frank Cottrell Boyce. Keith was phlegmatic about sales of good young adult books not being brilliant right now, but excited about the amount of good material out there. Kevin put the blame on publishers (we always get it in the neck) because teenage books should be where teenagers go, in Topshop for example. Good point, anyone got a contact for them? He also referred to the current fashion for twiglet books. Everyone else knew what he meant, and laughed. 34 minutes later I did too.
Carol Ann Duffy was pretty much in evidence, the Festival being one of her products, and organised by Manchester Met University Creative Writing team, where she is based. At the gala dinner a couple of her new handwritten poems, one called "Shirt" (Wayne Rooney's England shirt) was particularly good, were auctioned off for about £800 each for the NSPCC, though attention began to wonder when the auction got on to an old copy of the Hello, Hello annual.
Jeanette Winterson, in her after dinner speech, told us about her battle with her adopted mother to read, Mrs Winterson believing that "books are bad for you because by the time you have found out how they end it is too late" (that may not be an exact quote). Her mother burnt Jeanette's hidden book collection. As Keith Grey said today, "books are dangerous". But then he also said that the "twiglet" books are all about how to avoid having sex, so they are not written for the likes of him, because he is a bloke...
Finally, Mary Hoffman was encouraging us all to read the great American young adult writer John Green, who is all but unknown here. Disconcertingly, since he is an American, his website is awash with stuff on the World Cup. Is there no escape?

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