Blood and Ink at Harbour Front Literary Festival in Hamburg

Just back from Hamburg, where I spent a couple of days at the kind invitation of the Harbour Front Literary Festival. Two readings, one at Aladin (who this summer published Blood & Ink in German) the other at a youth event laid on by the festival. What a wonderful city Hamburg is. Can’t wait to visit again.

Roald Dahl Day

To celebrate the centenary since Roald Dahl’s birth, pupils at my daughter’s school are dressing up as characters from Roald Dahl books. I wanted my daughter to go as Mrs Twit (because THE TWITS has always been my favourite) or as Matilda (because it’s an easy costume to make!) but Libby had other ideas.

Her first comment on the matter was ‘I don’t like Roald Dahl.’ I picked my jaw up from the floor and pretended not to have heard the heresy. The truth is, Daisy Meadows (Rainbow Fairies) is currently an all-consuming fire in my daughter’s heart, leaving little room for other suitors. We have listened to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in the car and her class is currently reading THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE, but she doesn’t know the other stories yet.

Her second comment was ‘I want to go as Veruca Salt’. She didn’t stamp her foot or wag her finger in true Saltesque fashion, but she managed nevertheless to bend her father to her will. So Veruca Salt it was, complete with golden ticket in her hatband. She went merrily off to school saying, ‘I want an oompa loompa, I want a squirrel, I want five thousand two hundred Pokecoins’ etc.

Daughter 1 as Veruca Salt on Roald Dahl Day 2016

There were plenty of other Charlie and the Chocolate Factory characters at the school gates, as well as a gaggle of Matildas and one excellent Mrs Twit (with a ping pong ball for an eye – love it!).

mrs-twit

When I was my daughter’s age I read and adored Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Witches and The BFG. I was in awe of Roald Dahl then and even more so now. I do hope that my daughters enjoy his stories for themselves in due course.

Here’s a documentary about Roald Dahl’s life and work. Watching it I learned lots of interesting things about the great man, including that he wrote the screenplay to the Bond film YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. If you’re interested in Dahl and his work, you’ll be sure to enjoy it.

Summer in France

I turned forty over the summer, which was a great relief, because I’ve felt forty since I was about fifteen. Even though I am now officially old, the September Back to School period still makes me want to rush out and buy shiny new pencil cases, protractors, set squares and exercise books. I managed to resist the urge this year, and have instead invested in a box of Sharpies, which will enable me to sign books without smudging them. There, you see. Progress.

I spent the summer with my family in Brittany, France. In the afternoons I cycled, swam in the sea and played Pokemon Go. The Pokemon Go was with my six year old daughter, but the truth is, I sometimes play it without her, too. I LOVE that game. Don’t judge.

krabby

In the mornings, I wrote. I managed to write a whole book in a month, which just shows what you can do on a diet of pain au chocolat. The book is set aboard the Titanic, and it’s told from the point of view of a twelve year old boy called Jimmy. I wrote the second half of the book in the drawing room of a very grand chateau, which made it easy to imagine the opulence of the Titanic’s first class state rooms. I would very much like to write in that room all year round, but no, I’m back in London now and back in my cupboard at the top of the stairs.

Chateau_reading_room

Now that September is here, I am myself going back to school. Or rather, back to schools. Getting to visit lots of schools in the UK and around the world is one of the highlights of my job, and plenty of bookings are coming in. If you would like me to visit your school, do get in touch. I am particularly looking forward to visiting Malawi later this month, where I will be touring five schools and no doubt meeting plenty of enthusiastic readers.

Talking of enthusiastic reading, I’m devouring The Borrible Trilogy at the moment, which is a fantasty series set on Battersea High Street where I live. Borribles are outcasts and runaways. They are skinny, scruffy, quick-witted and pointy-eared. They dwell in the shadows of London, living by their wits and a few Borrible laws – the chief one being Don’t Get Caught. Great stuff.

As for picture books, the current favourite in our house is Miss Fox, which my wife says is dark and subversive. It sort of is, but it’s also great fun and my three year old loves it. It was our Book at Bedtime every night for a month, no kidding. I wrote to the author Simon Puttock and the illustrator Holly Swain to tell them so.

Comment below, if you feel the urge. Let me know what you’re reading at the moment, or indeed your Pokemon Go #CatchoftheDay. I will be genuinely interested in both!

Playing Pokemon GO in Battersea, London

Pokemon GO players can find rich pickings in Battersea, if you know where to look. Even though the streets are full of pidgys and ratatas and the riverside walk groans under the weight of magikarp, there are also some rarities to be snapped up.

Whitgift Anthology 2016

Last night I had the pleasure of joining staff and students at Whitgift School for the launch of their 2016 anthology, a collection of writing from across the school community.

During the past year or two I confess that for me the act of writing has sometimes felt like a chore, instead of feeling as it used like a fierce and joyous compulsion. But reading the boys’ poems caused me to remember vividly what it was like to write for the love of it – to write because you have things to say and you want to say them well.

The Whitgift anthology takes its reader on an extraordinarily imaginative journey. Within its pages we go back in time to a prehistoric valley and forward in time to a chilling dystopia. We go back into the memories of old men, forward in the dreams of young men. We go to Africa, to India, to forests and volcanos, we come to Whitgift, where ‘peacocks with plumage proud strut in cool gardens’ and then we turn a page and find ourselves ‘in nasty blizzard of mid-winter in deep dark trenches full of rats’.

The editors chose to order the anthology not by year group but by the mood of the writing, starting with cheerful hopscotchy poems and moving on to darker material. In their lovely foreword the editors invite us to experience ‘the full journey, from elation to annihilation’!

One of the finest wordsmiths of the twentieth century (Bertie Wooster) said this: “I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.” So well done to the editorial team for making us feel particularly braced with things in general and then for sneaking up on us so stealthily with the lead piping of Fate. They have effected a truly knock-out blow.

All proceeds from sales the Whitgift Anthology go to Book Aid International. Do let me know if you would like to buy a copy, and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can procure one for you!

There are over fifty poems and short plays in the anthology – here is just a small sample:

Blood & Ink: Die Bücher von Timbuktu

I’m delighted to announce that Blood & Ink has found a publishing home in Germany. On 28 July this year (my fortieth birthday, as it happens) Aladin Verlag will publish a hardback version translated from the English by Katharina Diestelmeier and titled Blood & Ink: Die Bücher von Timbuktu. The book is beautifully designed and printed, and contains on the inside covers this striking, almost luminous, map of the Timbuktu area (click to enlarge).

Blood & Ink: Die Bücher von Timbuktu map
map by Christian Schneider

Aladin’s founder Klaus Humann used to run Carlsen Verlag, a Hamburg based publishing house. Carlsen were not a big publisher when Humann started there, but that was before they bought the rights to Harry Potter and Twilight. As you would expect, these two series did them a bit of good.

After fifteen years at Carlsen, Humann got tired of running a big company, so in 2012 he founded Aladin Verlag – an independent children’s publishing house. His five-member team publish just 28 books a year, but they have complete creative freedom to seek and acquire ‘unique and special’ books.

Klaus Humann - Aladin Verlag
Klaus Humann (picture by Nina Stiller)

What I particularly love about Aladin is the ethical value that they attach to children’s publishing, summed up by this quotation from Klaus Humann himself:

The good thing is you’re doing something worthwhile for society, because if you bring the best stories to children then it’s going to be a better world — at least this is what I hope. There’s still hope that with good stories, there are better children, better people, and better human beings.

Is this too idealistic? Too much weight on the shoulders of us frail children’s authors? I hope not. Humann’s bright-eyed positivity reminds me of something similar which Amanda Craig wrote last year:

It is children’s authors who are what Shelley called “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. From them, as much as from parents, a child receives an idea of how the world could or should be.

Though a tense and at times violent read, Blood & Ink is a well-intentioned story, and I am thrilled that Humann has judged it unique and worthwhile enough to publish. It is about radical Islamism, a subject of global relevance and concern, but it is also about radical courage and radical compassion, and I hope it is received in that spirit.

I shall be visiting Germany this autumn and speaking about Die Bücher von Timbuktu at the Harbour Front Literaturfestival in Hamburg on 21 September. The event will include a dramatized reading by German actress Verena Wolfien, which I am really looking forward to. More about that another time.

Harbour Front Festival in Hamburg
Harbour Front Festival (photo: Jonas Wölk)

Spring and Summer 2016 author visits and Able Writers Days

Author visits in schools inspire children to read widely and to write for pleasure. Here is my school event itinerary for the coming weeks. I won’t add any more events in May or June, but if you would like me to visit your school in July, do get in touch. For rates, testimonials and session content, see Stephen Davies Author Visits, or drop me a line at sahelsteve@gmail.com.

DateSchoolLocationNature of Visit
28 April 2016St Mary's Catholic Primary GillinghamAble Writers Day
3 May 2016Holy Trinity CofE PrimaryMaidenheadAble Writers Day
6 May 2016Burntwood AcademyBalhamWriting Workshop
13 May 2016Burntwood AcademyBalhamWriting Workshop
18 May 2016Whitgift SchoolCroydonTalks
24 May 2016Alveston PrimaryStratford-upon-AvonWriting Workshops
7-8 June 2016Westfield PrimaryWokingAble Writers Day
9 June 2016St Mary's Catholic PrimaryGillinghamAble Writers Day
14 June 2016Ottershaw CofE JuniorOttershawAble Writers Day
15 June 2016TBCWandsworthWriting Workshops
16 June 2016Brentwood PrepBrentwoodAble Writers Day
22 June 2016Stocks Green PrimaryHildenboroughAble Writers Day
23 June 2016Willington Independent PrepWimbledonWorkshops
6 July 2016Monks Orchard PrimaryCroydonAble Writers Day
Claires Court Able Writers
Claires Court Able Writers Yrs 1 & 2

These girls from years 1 and 2 had a good time at a recent Able Writers Day. Here’s their own account of the day.

The Complete Walk : a celebration of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death

Went on the Complete Walk along the South Bank of the river today. Wasn’t sure how many screenings I would be able to see, due to having a three year-old in tow. As it turned out, the problem was never the three year old, but the technical difficulties which beset the whole event. The Globe blamed Obama’s visit for the many blank screens. A few of the screens were working, though. We got to see Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labours Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King John. And the sun was shining.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

This wonderfully titled book The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts is written by renowned travel writer and journalist Joshua Hammer. It tells the true story of Abdel Kader Haidara, the mild-mannered librarian who spearheaded the smuggling of Timbuktu’s priceless manuscripts out of the city in 2012, when they were under threat of destruction by Islamist extremists.

abdel_haidara

My own novel BLOOD & INK recounts the same story from the point of view of Timbuktu’s teenagers. Whereas my book is YA historical fiction, Hammer focusses on the adults and sticks to the facts. He recounts these facts in truly dramatic fashion, though – the story has been called ‘a heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven’. Reviewer Jeffrey Brown comments that ‘the stories of Haidara’s colorful and sometimes perilous journeys to gather manuscripts make for some of the book’s most exciting passages’.

I look forward very much to reading it myself.

THE BAD-ASS LIBRARIANS OF TIMBUKTU comes out tomorrow, published by Simon and Schuster.

BLOOD & INK is already available in the UK, published by Andersen Press. It comes out in the US later this year, published by Charlesbridge, and in Germany, published by Aladin Verlag.

Badass_Librarians_reviews

ALL ABOARD FOR THE BOBO ROAD publication day

“All aboard for the Bobo Road, the most beautiful road in the world!”

In my new picture book, Fatima and Galo load the luggage while their dad Big Ali drives the bus. Help count on bikes, rice, melons, goats and chickens as the bus travels through the stunning scenery of south-western Burkina Faso. Illustrations by Christopher Corr.

My wife and I used to live in the northern ‘Sahel’ region of Burkina Faso, the shore of the Sahara desert. We often thought wistfully of Banfoura and Bobo Dioulasso down in the south-west of the country, which are always lush and green by comparison.

Banfoura is famous for its picturesque waterfalls and ancient rock domes, whilst Bobo Dioulasso is the cultural capital of Burkina Faso, known for masks, dancing and drumming. This region is also remarkable for the number of different ethnic groups who live there – literally dozens of ethnic groups living in an area the size of Wales, all with different languages and traditions. Chris Corr has captured the cultural vibrancy of the region in his wonderful illustrations. Check out these stunning Gurunsi houses, for example:

gurunsi_houses

The journey from Banfoura to Bobo is very close to my heart. I have done it on three occasions, with different travelling companions, and all three have great memories attached.

I really enjoyed writing this book and seeing it take shape. Unlike my other picture books, this one went through many completely different drafts. At one point it was even called THE BANANA THAT BROKE THE BUS. I am grateful to my editor Libby Hamilton for coaxing the book into its present form.

Free BOBO ROAD colouring sheets

To celebrate publication day, Chris has produced two fabulous colouring sheets. Feel free to print them out for children to colour in. If the results look good, please do take a picture and email it to me for display here on the blog.

All Aboard for the Bobo Road colouring sheet 1

All Aboard for the Bobo Road colouring sheet 2

You can read early reviews here and buy a hardback copy of the book here, or (even better) order from a local bookshop. Paperback will be out sometime next year, I imagine.

BEEP BEEP! Happy reading!