My friend and co-author Sarah McIntyre is an old hand at Leicester Author Week. In fact, round Leicester way, they know for sure that Author Week is upon them again only when they see her latest hat disembarking from the train. But I’ve never been before, so I was very pleased to have a chance to go along and see what was happening, and why McIntyre always vanishes Leicesterwards in the second week of March.
The Author Week is a five day festival of Children’s reading organised as part of the city’s Whatever It Takes initiative. All week, parties of children from local schools are delivered by the coachload to Leicester Tigers rugby club, where visiting authors talk about their work and run workshops. I arrived a day early, on Monday morning, so I got to see Sarah wowing some little ones with Jampires, the book she created with David O’Connell. She even had an actual Jampire with her!
Having told them the tale of these stripey-jumpered creatures, who arrive by night to suck all the jam from the doughnuts of the unwary, she led a workshop where the kids got to draw their own food-stealing creations – Lasagnepires, Pizzapires and IceCreampires among others.
They had a great time, and went off promising to turn their ideas into comics. I went off too, promising to find myself a nice cup of coffee and buy McIntyre some dry shampoo (without which our Reeve & McIntyre stage shows would be lank and uninteresting). When I got back to the Rugby Club she was in the middle of another show and another workshop, telling more kids about the jampires. You can see more of their drawings on Sarah’s own blog – this is one of hers…
After which, we signed four hundred copies of Cakes in Space, ready for our shows the next day. One of the great things about Author Week is that the organisers buy a book for each child who attends. Sarah had already signed and doodled in four hundred copies of Jampires, which her audiences on the first day got to take home with them. It’s nice to do an event knowing that all the kids who are watching you will be reading the book. (Or maybe they’ll just use it to prop up wobbly tables, or throw at their sisters – but that’s up to them. At least they’ll have the opportunity to read it.)
Naturally, after all that signing, we were in need of Sustenance, and hightailed it to Paddy’s Marten Inn, which sounds as if it ought to be an Irish pub, but is actually one of Leicester’s many fine Indian’s restaurants. We were joined by some local friends of Sarah’s – Jay Eales, Selina Lock, Steve Barlow, and Steve Skidmore and his wife Ali. I’ve been hearing about The Two Steves for years; they’re legendary on the circuit for their brilliant school and festival shows, so it was excellent to finally meet them. They’re the ones in the viking helmets in the photo below, and on the right is Tarzan author Andy Briggs. (Don’t worry, we weren’t dressed like this at the restaurant, this picture was taken the next day.)
One of our favourite things about doing festivals is getting to meet up with other authors. This year we also bumped into top YA author Bali Rai, local story-teller Jyoti Shanghavi, and Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face writer John Dougherty (here he is, just back from the Dubai Festival, signing his own pile o’ books).
Tuesday found us clad in teflon and back at the Rugby Club, where we did our Cakes in Spaceevent, followed by a workshop (in which I left most of the actual work to Sarah and the children). Since Cakes in Space is about a food-making machine which goes wrong and produces MUTANT CAKES, we asked them to imagine other sorts of mutant food, and to start creating a comic about it. These are some drawings I did to give them the general idea:
…and here’s one of the children’s pictures.
After that, there was a bit of a wait for the coaches to arrive, so we entertained them with more drawing – I got to doodle a Jampire…
Then we fetched our ukeleles and led rousing singalongs of the Jampires Song and the Sea Monkeys Song. We’d probably have gone on to do Help, Help, There’s a Shark in the Bath and even the as-yet-untested Theme from Dinosaur Police, but the coaches had arrived by then (at least, they said that’s why they were all hurrying for the exits).
And then we had to do it all again! But that was OK, because the children were great, and so were the Leicester Author Week helpers and organisers – many thanks to Juliet Martin, Dan Routledge, Sandy Gibbons, Nicole Dishington, Kate Drurey, and the rest of the team!
We were pretty tired when we got back to London, and had to stop at the St Pancras hotel, where we continued our ongoing quest to find The Most Expensive G&T in London. It was even more expensive than our previous Most Expensive G&T at Waterstones Wine Bar, but the ceiling was LOVELY.
Not as lovely, however, as the time we’d had in Leicester. Thank you so much for inviting us, Leicester Author Week!
I’ve also been busy reading the shortlist for the YA Book Prize. It’s been a pleasure, because it’s a very strong list, and I’m very impressed by the quality of books being published for young people at the moment. There are at least five which I’d be quite happy to see win when the award is announced on 19th March. (I’ll blog about all my favourites afterwards.)
And finally, it’s just been announced that Cakes in Space is one of the titles selected for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, a brilliant initiative which gets thousands of kids reading through the summer holidays every year (Sarah M did the illustrations for it last year). We’re very pleased that Cakes in Space is going to be a part of it, and OUP have just revealed the slightly simplified cover design for the paperback edition, which will be released this summer.
It’s been nice to see Cakes in Space turning up in some of the festive Best Children’s Books round-ups. I won’t link to them all because that would be Showing Off, but Sarah McIntyre and I both liked this review from 5-year-old Alan on Space on the Bookshelf. And I love the accompanying pictures, which prove – should you be hunting for last minute presents – that Cakes in Space and Oliver and the Seawigs do fit neatly into a Christmas stocking…