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!

Dhaka rickshaw ride

The most interesting way to travel in Bangladesh is by cycle rickshaw. Dhaka is known as the ‘rickshaw capital of the world’ and the drivers (pedallers?) are known as riksha-wala (রিকশাওয়ালা).

One of the most striking aspects of these vehicles is the rickshaw art. Starting in the late 1940’s, the faces of movie stars started appearing on the hoods of cycle rickshaws. Since then a huge variety of bold bright designs proliferated. Illiterate rickshaw artists do this work for two to three dollars a day. Author Joanna Kirkpatrick writes:

I consider it “peoples’ art”. It is not necessary to force it into a unitary category as it combines folkloric, movie, political and commercial imagery and techniques. It serves the expression of heart’s desires of the man in the street for women, power, wealth, as well as for religious devotion. Rickshaw art also serves prestige and economic functions for the people who make, use and enjoy it.

Here is a thirty second video sequence I took on Wednesday afternoon – the edited highlights of a journey from the International School of Dakar to the Royal Park Hotel near Banani bridge. My ricksha-wala ‘Geniral’ was given his rickshaw by a New Zealander living in Dhaka – hence the Kiwi themed rickshaw art!

Visit to Solmaid Community School in Dhaka, Bangladesh

I arrived in Bangladesh today, and had the pleasure of visiting Solmaid Community School, a low-cost school run by Bangladeshi teachers for 130 children from their own community, with some support and training provided by expat teachers from the International School of Dhaka. This unique partnership seems to be bearing good fruit. The school currently has a waiting list of over 600 children.

Over the next few days, I shall be doing some talks and workshops for ISD students. But first some sleep – I’ve been awake for thirty hours now, and am feeling as goggly as a goggle-eyed goat.

Happy World Book Day 2016

I spent World Book Day 2016 at the wonderful Brickhouse Primary School in Rowley Regis, Birmingham. They’re saving their costume day for tomorrow, so no Skullduggery or Hermione pics, I’m afraid, but a good time was had anyway. Years 1 and 2 were reading DON’T SPILL THE MILK and then designing an extra spread for the book. One lad came up with the idea that Penda could come face to face with an amazing desert-dwelling spider called a – wait for it – cartwheeling spider! I looked it up as soon as I got back to the hotel, and he’s absolutely correct, such a creature really does exist. It was discovered in Morocco in 2014 and it turns cartwheels to escape from predators. That has totally made my day.

Two or three children chipped in ideas for some text for our new Cartwheeling Spider page, and very well they did too:

cartwheel_text

The other highlight of today was getting this pic from home – my daughters in their own World Book Day costumes. Well done girls!

World Book Day 2016 costumes
Noddy and Merida, ready to go…

Read to Feed 2016

I’m collaborating with the Read to Feed project this year, which is organized by the fabulous charity Send a Cow. The project is about nurturing children’s love of reading, raising awareness of Africa’s diverse cultures, and giving families a helping hand to lift themselves out of poverty. Do please like and share this video so that plenty of schools get to know about this fun new initiative. Being given a goat (even a naughty one) can really help a family to make ends meet.