Thursday, 2 December 2010

I'm really excited to be shortlisted for the Royal Mail Scottish Children's Book awards for The Witching Hour. Thank, you Scottish Book Trust, for organising it all, and for all the thousands of judges who are now busy reading all the books.

The competition's pretty fierce, as you'll see from the panel. I'm up against Cathy Macphail, with her novel Grass, and Gillian Philip with her novel Crossing the Line. There are three great stories in the Readers 8-11 category, Invisible Fiends: Mr Mumbles by Barry Hutchison, The Secret of the Black Moon Moth by John Fardell, and The Dragon Whisperer by Lucinda Hare. Then in the Bookbug 0-7 reader category, there is What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks, Love from Louisa by Simon Puttock, and Stormy Weather by Debi Gliori.

As you can see, the competition is horribly stiff! Still, fingers crossed for The Witching Hour.

Here we all are at the announcement of the shortlist (except for Gillian Philip who couldn't make it) at Trunks Close in Edinburgh.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Garbage King at the Unicorn Theatre

The Garbage King has now opened as a play at the Unicorn Theatre in London. It runs until the end of October. It's a great production with terrific actors. The book was adapted for the stage by Oladipo Agbouluaje, a very talented Nigerian playwright. I saw it for the first time last week. It was the most extraordinary and wonderful experience to see my characters come to life before my eyes!
Even more wonderful, a very special person was sitting beside me. His name is Belete, and when I met him in Addis Ababa, years ago, he was a street boy living rough with his gang of friends. He told me his life story, and introduced me to his gang, and their dog, Suri. I based much of the story of Mamo in The Garbage King on Belete's life.
Belete flew all the way from Addis Ababa (the first time he had been on a plane), to see the play. I think London came as a bit of shock! The picture above shows us together, near the theatre.
Sadly, Belete can only stay a few more days and will soon return to Ethiopia. He is doing very well, has a nice place to live, a job, and is going to night school, learning to read and write and speak English. He doesn't know how old he is (he guesses he is in his mid-twenties now).
Belete has started a drama group to help other street kids to work together and express themselves. If I hear news of it, I'll let you know!
Do come and see the play, if you get the chance.

Friday, 20 August 2010

I'm ashamed of myself for the length of time since I last posted a blog, but hey, I've had a good excuse.

I've become a grandma! And life has just been too exciting.

My little grandson is a gorgeous baby, called Iskander McDowall (Iskander means "Alexander" in Urdu).

Here's a picture of him needing a bit of a snooze.

I'm not sure where the summer has gone, but it's whizzing past. There was the wonderful Borders Book Festival at Melrose in June. That's where the winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was announced. It's a new award, and I was lucky to be one of the judges. Hilary Mantel won the prize for her extraordinary book, "Wolf Hall".

The next big thing is the Edinburgh Festival. I'm off tomorrow for a week of books and shows. I'll be doing an event with David Almond on Sunday 29th August at 6pm in the RBS Corner Tent. Not sure what we'll be talking about, but do come and listen! No pictures of this year's festival yet, so here's a rather belated one from last year, with the wonderful Philip Ardagh.

And the REALLY big thing after that, is a stage production of The Garbage King at the Unicorn Theatre in London. It runs throughout October. Here's a link to the theatre if you want to find out more.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Well, I'm sorry for all those people who couldn't go on holiday, or have been stuck abroad and couldn't get home because of the ash cloud. My sister was going to visit me from Norway, and she couldn't come.

But I can't say that I haven't enjoyed the peace and quiet without the planes roaring overhead. And I've never before seen the sky in London so blue.

Just compare these two pictures that I took in my garden. The sky when the planes weren't flying was a gorgeous, perfect blue. As soon as the planes came back, the vapour trails came with them, and misted the sky over again. Wouldn't it be great if we could find a way to fly without messing up the environment?

Friday, 2 April 2010

I've just been to a meeting at the Society of Authors, to hear Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter talk about blogging. Wow! Such professionals! But I think I'll just plod on doing my occasional post when I feel like it.

And I feel like it today, because I've received in the post the first copies of The Witching Hour in paperback. I think it looks great. I hope you do too.

The story transported me back to the seventeenth century when I was writing it, to remote, misty corners of Scotland. Just to give you a taster, this is how it begins:

"I was the first one to see the whale lying dead on the sand at Scalpsie Bay. It must have been washed up in the night. I could imagine it, flopping out of the sea, thrashing its tail and opening and shutting the cavern of its mouth. It was huge and shapeless, a horrible dead thing, and it looked as if it would feel slimy if you dared to touch it. I crept up to it cautiously. There were monsters in the deep, I knew, and a great one, the Leviathan, which the Lord had made to be the terror of fishermen. Was this one of them? Would it come to life, and devour me?

It was a cold day in December, the sun barely risen, and I'd pulled my shawl tightly round my head and shoulders, but it wasn't only the chill of the wet sand beneath my bare feet that made me shiver. There was a strangeness in the air. The early mist was clearing. Across the water I could already make out the Isle of Arran, rearing up out of the sea, the tops of its mountains hidden as usual in a crown of clouds. I'd seen Arran a dozen times a day, every day of my life, each time I'd stepped out of the door of my grandmother's cottage. I knew it so well that I hardly ever noticed it.

But today, as I looked up at the mountains from the dead whale in front of me, the island seemed to shift, and for a dreadful moment I thought it was moving towards me, creeping across the water, coming for me, wanting to swallow me up, along with the beach, and Granny's cottage, and Scalpsie Bay, and the whole of the Isle of Bute..."

Friday, 19 February 2010

It may be cold, it may be dark, and the winter is still with us, but I was on the Isle of Bute in the west of Scotland last week, and it was incredible! Brilliant sunshine and the most beautiful scenery in the world. If you haven't been there, you must go.

I set the first part of my novel, The Witching Hour, on the island. This is the view that the main character, Maggie Blair, would have had from her cottage every morning. Quite something, isn't it?

The action in the novel takes place three hundred years ago in the seventeenth century, when life if Scotland was a bit too exciting if you liked a quiet life. It's being published in paperback in April. Coming soon - a picture of the cover in my next blog post.

I took a day out from Bute , went over to the mainland and visited the school at Lochgoilhead. What a lovely place! The pupils from Strachur school came to join us for the morning, and here we all are together. (I'm the one at the back with the grey hair.) That's all the pupils from two whole schools you're looking at. It must be great to be in such a small school where you can get to know everyone really well. And the playground's not bad, either!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010


I've just stepped out into my garden on this cold grey winter morning, and found this daffodil about to flower.

Spring must be on the way...