We are very lucky to live within striking distance of the Bath Children’s Literature Festival here, which is the biggest of its kind in Europe. Little Owl and I headed up there on the train on Saturday. We hit the rugby traffic on the Bath train from Bristol, and I had to put Little Owl on a luggage rack to stop her being squashed, but otherwise our travels went smoothly.
Our first event at the Guildhall was a discussion between authors Hilary McKay and Michelle Magorian. You might recognise Michelle’s name from the cover of Goodnight Mister Tom. She has written many books but that is the one she is most famous for. I still get goosebumps when I think about Goodnight Mister Tom and the impact it had on me when I read it in Year 6. I know it’s a special book for a lot of people and I enjoyed chatting to Michelle after the event about how her audiences are often multi-generational now that the book has been around so long. Hilary McKay is not so well known but has written a colossal amount of books for children which have a similar sort of feel to Michelle’s books. Last year Hilary won the Costa Book Award for The Skylarks War, which is a very beautiful book indeed and one I highly recommend. On stage they are both quite considered and softly-spoken people, which is unusual in the children’s book world where there are a lot of celebrities and big characters. What was very special for me was hearing about their writing processes and the lengths they go to get to know their characters. It was fascinating.
After lunch and the all important ice cream dessert, we went to see Liz Pichon who writes and illustrates the Tom Gates books. These books have been a world-wide sensation. In a similar way to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, they mix hand-written text with a doodling style of illustration. They have been credited with helping lots of reluctant readers get into reading, and they certainly helped Little Owl, who struggled with learning to read. Liz had a big screen up so that we could all see her doing some live Tom Gates illustrations. She broke them down step by step so that the children could follow along. Later on Little Owl was delighted to get her doodles stamped with the Tom Gates official stamp of approval when we went to get her books signed. I think one of the nicest things for Little Owl was discovering what a nice person Liz is. These events must be exhausting but Liz was unfailingly smiley, enthusiastic, interested in the children, generous and inclusive. I think children can tell when someone is tolerating them and when someone really likes them, and the sense we got is that Liz really loves children and being part of their world.
It was dark and raining by the time we arrived back into St David’s station here in Exeter. We sprinted past big puddles in the road so as not to be splashed by passing cars. Big Dreamer was waiting for us at home with mugs of tea and jam on toast, eager to hear of our adventures. It was a lovely end to a wonderful day.
Next week we are off on our holidays so there will be no post from me. We are heading down to Cornwall for a week of walks on the beach and board games by the wood burner. I’ll fill you all in on my return!