Mountains to Sea 2015

I used to travel light when I went to festivals, but nowadays I have quite a lot to cram into my suitcase…

But not as much as that Sarah McIntyre crams into hers…

She even carries three changes of gloves/gauntlets!

We were off to Ireland, where we’d been invited to perform the Cakes in Space show at one of our favourite book festivals, Mountains to Sea in Dun Laoghaire. It was in full swing when we arrived last Thursday, with lots of great children’s authors already doing their stuff. Here we are being Serious Writers with Shane Hegarty, Derek Landy and Holly Smale (Photo by David O’Callaghan from Irish booksellers Easons.)

It was also a chance to catch up with Mark Wright of Mossy Hare Productions and his partner Kathleen, who drove up from Wicklow to meet us on Thursday night. Mossy Hare were behind the Excalibur documentary which I did my best to help fund and publicise a few years back. It’s finished now, but finishing a film is the easy bit – getting it shown/distributed is a whole other story. Mark’s still in talks with TV companies about Behind the Sword in the Stone, and working on some new projects too.

Our first event was on Friday morning. It’s always nice when we get to do our thing in a proper theatre, and Dun Laoghaire has a great one, the Pavilion. It has proper dressing rooms with lightbulbs round the mirrors and everything…

This next picture makes it look as if we didn’t get much of an audience, but this was just the sound check. As you can see, I’ve gone prematurely blue.

Fifteen minutes later the place was full of local schoolchildren, and I think the show was one of our best.

Photo by Ger Holland

Sarah always shows the audience how to draw Pilbeam, the robot from our book, and I showed them how I’d draw a killer cake. Here’s just one of the results. (If you want to try drawing Pilbeam, there are instructions here.)

Afterwards, we walked down the seafront to Sandycove, and the Martello tower in which James Joyce once lived. McIntyre stood on the top to give passing ships a view of her latest fascinator.

Then it was back to work. We were on a panel about writing for children with Young James Bond author Steve Cole and top Irish children’s author Judi Curtin, with the Oxford Story Museum’s Tom Donegan (left) to keep us in line.

Sarah was trying out her latest hat, which she’d made in her hotel room out of bits of another hat and a sprig of artificial flowers which she bought that afternoon at Meadows & Byrne on the seafront. We were a bit worried that it would blow away or get entangled in chandeliers…

…but all was well, and she looked splendid in her flowery antlers, like the Monarch of the Glen.

We saw Judi again on Saturday morning. She’s a good friend of author Sarah Webb, who is also the organiser of the Mountains to Sea children’s programme, and they did a great event together about their books and how they came to be writers.

Sarah Webb talked about how she had wanted to be a ballerina when she was a girl, but how she never got any very good roles. Here she is demonstrating the costume she had to wear when she played the part of a brush in Cinderella.

That afternoon we had another Cakes in Space show to perform, for the public rather than schools this time. Since Friday’s show had gone so well were pretty relaxed about doing it again. In fact, we were TOO relaxed. As we waited in the wings for Sarah Webb to introduce us, I suddenly realised that I’d left the ALL IMPORTANT SPORK in the dressing room. The ALL IMPORTANT SPORK is the one prop we can’t do without; it’s introduced early in the proceedings, and then forms the pay-off to a sketch we do towards the end. So no sooner had we got on stage than I had to make my excuses and hurry off again, leaving my co-author to hold the fort. Still, at least I HAD a co-author to hold the fort – you can’t do that when you’re doing a solo event.

And it turned out that we had a Very Special Guest in the audience – Cakes in Space fan Oscar had come dressed as his favourite character, the Nameless Horror, a scary-looking space blob which turns out to be (SPOILERS!) quite sweet really. Here’s Oscar showing off his tentacles, while his mum shows off his Pilbeam drawing.

The rest of the show went well, and afterwards we signed a load of books. Book sales at the festival were handled by Bob and Marta from the brilliant Gutter Bookshop in Dublin and Dalkey, which is one of the finalists for the Bookseller Industry Awards Independent Bookseller of the Year. Here’s owner Bob Johnston, in tweedy mood.

Other authors were still arriving. David Almond was there, with his editor Anne McNeil, his agent Catherine Clarke and his very fine hat. (David’s most recent book, A Song For Ella Grey, was one of the titles I had to read for the YA Book Prize, and it’s superb; I’ll try to post a brief review later this week.)

Frank Cottrell-Boyce arrived to talk about his new book Broccoli Boy, and Francesca Simon and Stephen Butler were also there; we didn’t get a picture of them at dinner on Saturday night, but here they are on Sunday, doing a rowdy event where Francesca’s Horrid Henry and Stephen’s Dennis the Menace go head-to-head. Which of the schoolboy sociopaths would the audience declare the winner? (It was kind of a tie in the end!)

Just along the seafront from the Pavilion Theatre is Dun Laoghaire’s brand new library, the dlrLexicon, an impressive modern structure which slots in among the older buildings like a book on as shelf. (It also has a lovely water-garden and EXCELLENT CAKE.)

That’s where we ended up on Sunday morning, for an event about Sarah’s picture book There’s a Shark in the Bath. I didn’t have anything to do with writing that one, but I did write the lyrics for the Shark in the Bath song (music by John Dougherty) because all books must have theme tunes, oh yes. So I helped out with a bit of reading and some interpretative dance, and enjoyed watching McIntyre keep a room full of three, four and five year olds completely enthralled for a whole hour. They drew some great sharks, too! (You can learn how to draw your own shark here.)

Also in the audience were writer Oisin McGann, his wife Maeve, and his Thoughtful Gorilla T-shirt. (Their children were there too, but I don’t think we have a picture of them.)

Afterwards, we nipped downstairs and were able to catch the end of a talk by Chris Judge, creator of the Lonely Beast and illustrator of the very funny Danger is Everywhere.

Photo by Elaina Ryan (I think).

I don’t know how Ireland got it’s reputation as a place where it always rains – I’ve been to Mountains to Sea twice now, and each time Dun Laoghaire looked like the French Riviera. We walked in baking sunshine along the pier, making long detours around the queues which snaked from the ice cream vans. (McIntyre managed to avoid falling off the sea wall and becoming a danger to shipping.)

Sarah had to head back to London that afternoon; my flight to Exeter wasn’t till next morning, so I was able to enjoy another evening of M2C hospitality, and sit in on one of the adult book talks – a very funny and illuminating interview with drag queen & gay rights activist Rory O’Neill, which was the closing event of this year’s festival. I’d had a wonderful few days in Dun Laoghaire, and I hope I’ll be back with McIntyre in future years. Huge thanks to the organisers, the volunteers, and the unflappable technical crew at the Pavilion Theatre.

If you’re in Ireland, Sarah McIntyre will be doing her Shark In The Bath show at the Towers and Tales Story Festival at Lismore Castle on 18th April.

Now that spring is here, I’m tuning my ukelele, dusting off my space-suit, and heading out to do more author events with That Sarah McIntyre. We’ll be in exotic Walthamstow on Monday and in Leicester next week, doing big events for local schools. Then at the end of the month (18th – 22nd March) we’ve been invited to bring our Cakes in Space caketacular to the Mountains to Sea Festival in Dun Laoghaire. I love visiting Ireland, and we had a great time last time we did Mountains to Sea.  If you’re in the area, we’ll be talking about writing and illustrating children’s books with Steve Cole and Tom Donegan on Friday  and doing the full Cakes show on Saturday afternoon, and we’d love to see you there.

Photo: Sarah McIntyre

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.

Artwork by Sarah McIntyre

Mountains to Sea

The last time I was in Dún Laoghaire was when I dashed down to the ferry terminal to arrange our escape from Ireland during the Great Icelandic Volcano Sneeze of 2010, so it was a great pleasure to go back in happier circumstances, as the guest of the fantastic Mountains to Sea Festival.

The Irish summer seems to have been just as big a washout as the English one, but the sun came out for the festival, and it felt more like Italy than Ireland.  Here’s Sarah McIntyre posing beside a giant sea-urchin sculpture on the prom…

I confess I did a spot of photoshopping on this pic: pop over to McIntyre’s blog & see if you can Spot The Difference.

On Friday morning Sarah and I did a big Goblins and Monsters event for a theatre-full of schoolchildren. The Bratapult saw some action again: in this picture you can just see its goblin payload hurtling into the audience – but what on earth is McIntyre up to?

Photo: Emily Greene

It’s considered a terrible no-no these days to photograph children without written permission from their parent or guardian (the logical extension of this looniness would be to make kids wear a niqab or burqa whenever they leave the house).  So we had our audience draw Goblin portraits and then hold them up like masks, creating a truly terrifying TRIBE OF GOBLINS…

After the show we we recorded an interview for the RTE children’s TV programme Elev-8 with Orla Morris-Toolen  Here we are with her (right), cameraman Julian Hills and sound-recordist Elaine Buckley. (I can’t remember why we’re all bending at the knees like that.)

Photo: Orla’s mum!

Over lunch afterwards I discussed something deep and meaningful with tireless festival organiser Tom Donegan…

…and we also got to meet a friend from twitter, Irish film-maker Frank Kelly.  Frank’s busy finishing his latest film, Derelict, which will be having its world premiere at the Underground Cinema Film Festival in Dún Laoghaire next week.

On Saturday I helped Sarah do one of her famous Comics Jams with a group of about twenty young comics artists – there’s a full account of this on Sarah’s blog, so I won’t repeat it. Then came the Monster Book Lunch, at which the visiting authors were asked to describe what super-powers they’d like to have. I can never think of anything like that, so I suggested that the ability to call chocolate to me might be a good one (I always forget to take any with me on my trips, and then suddenly get the chocolate-munchies when I’m back in my hotel room at the end of the day and it’s too late to buy any).  Sophie O’Loughlin did this illustration of me as a chocolate magnet…

Then it was time for my final event, organised by the festival’s teen curators, Sheena, Chole and Erin, who chaired a conversation with me and Michelle Harrison, author of Unrest and 13 Treasures.  Like me, Michelle started out as an illustrator before becoming a writer, and it turns out that we were both inspired by Brian Fround, the legendary Dartmoor-based faerie-and-fantasy illustrator and designer of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.

Festivals are a great place for writers to meet readers, but they’re also a great place to meet other writers. It was lovely to run into old friends like Marcus Sedgwick (check out the reviews of his latest novel, Midwinterblood) and to be introduced to Robert Muchamore, Judi Curtin, Jeremy Strong, and illustrators David Mackintosh and Chris Judge. (I bought a copy of Chris Judge’s picture book The Lonely Beast for Sam: he’s a bit old for picture books, but I think it qualifies as a comic too, and he seems to agree.)

I also caught up all too briefly with the magisterial children’s book reviewer Robert Dunbar, who interviewed me on my previous visit…

The Children’s Books Ireland team are lovely too; here are some of them on Friday night: Mags walsh, Jenny Murray, Adrian White and Tom Donegan, with Kim Harte in the middle proudly displaying ‘a pint bigger than her head’.  David Maybury was there too, but somehow managed to end up not being pictured…

Booksales for the festival were being handled by The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin (recently voted Ireland’s best bookshop, or best independent bookshop, or possibly the best bookshop In The Whole World, I forget). I visited the shop last time I was in Dublin, and purchased Milo, who achieved a brief notoriety on Twitter last week when he started posting sock-puppet reviews of Mortal Engines...

And who’s this with me and Sarah Webb? ‘Tis our lovely agent, Philippa Milnes-Smith, who was doing a panel on Sunday afternoon called ‘Paths to Publication’.

McIntyre was still busy on Sunday too, with a ‘picture-book picnic’ in the People’s Park and a picture book panel too, but by then I was on the ‘plane back to Exeter,  with a head full of happy memories. What an excellent festival Mountains to Sea is: tremendously well organised, but feeling very friendly and informal.  Huge thank yous to all the organisers and booksellers and technical staff and volunteers, to Carrie and David and Jenny, and especially to those I saw most of, Marion Keyes, Tom Donegan and Sarah Webb

Unless otherwise credited, all the photos are by Sarah McIntyre or me.